Interview with Alexander Elliott Jenkins


Interview with Alexander Elliott Jenkins


Alex was fostered by the cricketer Bill Woodfull and studied at Melbourne University. He had to go from Somers to defend his decision to join up in 1942. He trained at Benalla and converted onto Wirraways at Deniliquin where he qualified as a pilot. He was imprisoned at Geelong for low flying. In 1943, he sailed to Liverpool via the United States where he was billeted with the McGraw Hill publishers and socialised with Jimmy Durante and Lena Horne.
Alex did elementary training in Brighton and went briefly to a Photographic Reconnaissance unit on Mosquitos. He did diversionary raids and dropped Window as part of his Lancaster training. He joined 460 Squadron at RAF Binbrook in December 1944 where Hughie Edwards VC was at the squadron. His first operation was part of the Battle of the Bulge. Alex went to Dresden and shortly after, was shot down by a Me 262 in Lummen, Belgium, on a return journey from Dortmund. He was the only survivor and was hospitalised but well treated.
Alex was taken back to Britain and took over another crew. His last raid was to Berchtesgaden on Anzac Day. He was involved in Operation Manna and was selected to make a photographic record of the destruction in Germany. He joined Tiger Force at RAF East Kirkby and prepared for bombing Japan. He brought back prisoners of war from Bari in Italy. He recalls VE Day and shares his views on Dresden and the treatment of Bomber Command.
Alex describes his very special recognition by the city of Lummen.
Alex became a university professor. He was able to board the ‘G’ for George Lancaster at the Australian War Memorial where there was also an Me 262.




Temporal Coverage




02:00:55 audio recording


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RG: Preamble to the interview with Alex Jenkins of 6 Belton Place, Orange, New South Wales, Australia. Alex was a Lancaster pilot in 460 Squadron who was shot down and although he spent some time in a German hospital it was only a matter of a short, a fairly short time. He wasn’t ever in a prison camp. He was returned to the UK and resumed operations in 1945. Interviewers are Rob Gray and Lucie Davison. Also present at the interview was Alex’s wife, Pauline.
AJ: In fact one of my colleagues coming in clipped the top of Lincoln Cathedral and he went, he could have really cracked. Clipped the top and he had to, after that to just, for some reason or other he couldn’t continue but he continued, lost height slowly and finally belly landed [laughs] not all that far from where he’d come down. But he went clean through the biggest chicken farm [laughs] in the whole of England. Can you imagine all of the, all of the God-damned chickens. We renamed him after that for obvious reasons.
RG: Chook.
AJ: Chook.
LD: Do the intro.
RG: Hmmn?
LD: Do the intro.
RG: Yeah. I’ll just do a quick intro, Alex. This is an interview with Alex Jenkins. Former pilot with 460 Squadron.
AJ: Yes.
RG: And survivor of being shot down. Interview. The date is the 8th of July. Interviewees are Rob Gray and Lucie Davison. So do you want to lead off?
LD: Yeah. Look, I’ve basically, I’ve kind of, you know compiled just a little order of service but it’s really just to make sure that we try and cover all bases.
AJ: Yes.
LD: You know.
AJ: Yeah.
LD: It’s certainly not meant to be definitive. So —
AJ: I know. You’ve got to have some guidance.
RG: Yeah.
LD: Yeah, it’s —
RG: But on the other hand also this way, because you’ve done interviews and things before haven’t you?
AJ: Yes. Some time back I had an interview. Pauline. My memory, by the way is, short term memory, is very, very poor now. I’ve been a bit ill and so on and I can’t remember accurately even some of the simple things.
RG: Oh yes.
AJ: So Paul, when she comes in, if there’s something that I can’t remember she knows a fair bit about it.
RG: She’ll know about it. Yeah. Ok. I was going to say though that we were particularly interested in, like your personal recollections.
AJ: Yes.
RG: So if something comes to mind.
AJ: Right.
RG: Please feel free to divert from the original question.
AJ: Yeah. Right. Right.
RG: So Lucie do you want to —
LD: Yeah. Just interested in your background and, you know, where you grew up.
AJ: Right.
LD: And why you joined the air force initially.
AJ: Yeah.
LD: And so on.
AJ: Yes. That’s rather interesting because it starts really with the history of my father who was terribly knocked around in the First World War. In the, in France. He wasn’t at Gallipoli, but he was in France. In the gunnery groups. And he was gassed and terribly injured. Came back home. And from the time he arrived home just before the war finished in France, he was in and out of military hospitals. Never really recovered enough long term and as a result of that — and my mother was born way up in the Kelly country of North Eastern Victoria with the, her surname was Cann. C A N N. Now, C A N N.
LD: Cann River.
AJ: Now, Cann River and all those things were well documented. The Canns were horse breakers and they were rabble rousing. And in fact William Cann, and this is not apocryphal, William Cann was the principal horse breaker and roustabout in the Kelly gang.
RG: Ah ok.
AJ: And William Cann, he was actually jailed after the shoot-up and so on and served his time. And as my dear mother used to say, ‘Don’t you mention that you’ve got a relative — ?’ [laughs] Most people were very interested. Particularly since he was the one who used to, they had a little tin with a bit of wire around and, and make the fires. It was nicknamed — billy can.
RG: Billy can. yes. Yeah.
AJ: Billy can.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: That’s where the term first started to be used. Used. It’s in —
RG: Of course. Yes.
AJ: The Billy can.
RG: William Cann. Yes.
AJ: Anyway, my father was in and out and he, on my eighteenth birthday I was one of the first Legacy awards. We were raised in the slums of Toorak. Toorak, you know, down by the railway lines in those days was a cut-throat area. It was criminals, and God knows.
RG: That’s like Surry Hills in Sydney at the same time. That sort of —
AJ: Yeah.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: That was my raising. We were very, very poor. I was brought back from the country where my mother was — she went there I think after they got together. I’m not quite sure how they got together straight after the war. But I was a sort of lad that was caught up in the Samuel McCaughey whip around in the north. I think, darling that if you wouldn’t mind when we have the tea that you sit here too with me as I —
PJ: Why. I’ve heard it all a thousand times before [laughs]
AJ: I mean, I was saying my memory is pretty terrible in various things. Anyway, she [pause] I was brought down under the state government’s attempt to round up these uneducated wild kids.
LD: Right.
AJ: Of which I was one. And we were forcibly removed from the family in North Eastern Victoria, black books, and brought to Melbourne for our own good. Shades of the roundup of the aborigines.
LD: Yes. Absolutely.
RG: Oh yes. There was more than one stolen generation.
AJ: As a result of that I was often in sort of foster care. And my mother was ill. Etcetera etcetera. And dad had had such a terrible life that —
[background chat]
AJ: It was impossible, it was quite impossible for me to forget that sort of thing. And my dad finished up, when I’d turned, was approaching eighteen I was fortunately a gifted kid in education. And I finally got to Melbourne Boy’s High and had an excellent career there and my legacy guardian was none other than Bill Woodfall. The great cricketer.
RG: Oh ok.
AJ: And they, oh they were wonderful people and they looked after me. And I, as 1942 turned over I found myself at Melbourne University in first year. So —
RG: What, what discipline?
AJ: In engineering.
RG: Engineering.
AJ: Engineering yes. And metallurgy. Materials. So I, at the time when I’d completed first year university at Melbourne that would be ’42. I felt, on my eighteenth birthday, dad was in Bundoora Mental Asylum, behind the wire.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: Terrible.
RG: As a result of the war.
AJ: Yeah. And I said I’m going to get even for dad and so I joined up at eighteen. On my eighteenth birthday. 29th of October 1942. Well, all hell broke loose because that was a protected profession.
LD: Yes.
AJ: You weren’t allowed to join the service.
LD: Yes. I was wondering how you could join up.
[background chat]
AJ: I got as far as Somers camp and the university and the government people forced, came down and said, ‘You’re coming back. You’re man-powered. You can’t join the services.’ I went back to Melbourne Uni and I stood before the enquiry group of the profession and some of the representatives of the professorial board at Melbourne University and the government official who was man-powering people. I said, ‘I’ve got news for you. You can all get stuffed. I’m not going to continue my course. I’m going to join the service.’ Prof Greenwood was the professor. An English don of the old school.
RG: The old school.
AJ: He was a wonderful bloke. He was called the pink professor simply because he spoke out, you know, more on moral social issues.
LD: So pink as in shades of communist.
AJ: Yeah.
RG: Shades of red.
AJ: Yeah. And he fought for me and he won. He said, ‘This man must be allowed to serve. And join and serve. He has had such provocation. And we will see him on his return when he can resume his course.’ Well, that was it then. I joined the air force. Went in to training at Benalla and went solo and so on there. And after a lot of argy bargy after I’d completed the conversion on to Wirraways at Deniliquin. The great Australian fighter. We graduated to get our wings. You know, to become young sergeant pilots. Well, in the interim, just briefly I had been leading a small group of three on our last, final flight before graduation. Now on a long cross country to be twenty, fifty feet above all obstacles. Low flying exercise. And as part of that low flying exercise by tradition we used to bring the Wirraway down. You could imagine at nearly two hundred miles per hour and the great wheat fields, if they were in that stage —
RG: Yeah.
AJ: Which they were when I was ready for graduation you’d bring it down, you’d look in your rear vision mirror and when you were cutting a furrow along the top of the wheat.
RG: You were low enough.
AJ: You were low enough. But —
LD: So, six feet will do.
AJ: Three of us. And the trouble was that the farmers, they hated this practice.
RG: I can’t understand why.
AJ: Because, you know this was low. We had to get the low flying experience. And the air force had the horror of seeing me charged by the civilian.
RG: Authorities. Yeah.
AJ: They appealed you see, and I was made an example. I was the leader of that flight. And so instead of just rapping me over the knuckles and saying, ‘Don’t do it again because you’re so close to graduation,’ I got sentenced to twenty eight days in the Geelong jail.
RG: My God.
AJ: As a civilian. As a young man in training. It caused such a colossal outcry. You know, here what the hell is it coming to.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: If a guy can’t train for war and the civilians say he can’t do that.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: Anyway, it was famous. People went through all the business and when I got out.
LD: So you did have to serve the time.
PJ: Oh yes.
LD: The RAF wasn’t able to —
AJ: Oh it was terrible because they brought all the rapists and the murderers down from the Queensland coast. They were frightened of the Jap invasion up there. And they were all, all of the worst types. And myself at eighteen and another young lad. A young bloke. I don’t know what his offence was. We served, but we served, and you could imagine what those nasty bastards. I didn’t know anything about male practices on other males. I was innocent. But finally we turned around and the other bloke and myself and we were young. Fit. And we belted some of these, some of these vicious saddoes and guards up. And they took it out on us and really did us over. Anyway, the end of the twenty eight days came, and I got back to Deniliquin, and graduation. Another month. I was a month behind after my internment. And the graduation came, and everyone, step forward so and so, sergeant so and so, step forward so and so such. And the Hs, you were doing it. And the I’s. The J’s came and went, and my name wasn’t mentioned. K L M N and right through to the end. And then there was a bit of a drum roll and the commanding officer and the big wigs thing there then said, ‘Step forward Pilot Officer Alexander Jenkins.’ They commissioned me of course. And that —
RG: And that’s, that would have been extremely unusual.
AJ: Oh that did. That caused. Anyway it was so bad in many ways. The whole history of the event. The parliament had gone crazy about this sort of stupidity.
LD: So you’d be there [unclear]
AJ: Two weeks later I was on a troop ship. Fast troop ship.
PJ: Just to digress so you can have another mouthful and another piece of cake or a biscuit or something. This went into limbo as far as Alex was concerned. He had to appear in court on a driving, a possible driving offence. He was not convicted but the barrister representing him said, ‘Alex, you didn’t tell me you’d already been in jail.’ And it was still on the records.
RG: Records. Yeah.
PJ: That he’d been in jail. So that was then. They did the right thing and removed it but you know he’d forgotten all about it at this stage.
RG: You would wouldn’t you? After, you know, you would.
PJ: He was sixty or something, you know and anyhow —
AJ: Being an officer and two hundred and fifty airmen. Sergeants, you know. Navs, pilots and so on, on this troop ship which took us solo straight over to the —
PJ: San Francisco.
RG: Oh.
PJ: You went to —
AJ: Coast up to San Francisco. And from there —
PJ: You went over. You were based in that. You know there’s that big base on that island there by the harbour of San Francisco.
AJ: Past Alcatraz. Yeah.
RG: Oh ok. Yeah.
PJ: San Francisco.
AJ: But from there on —
RG: Yeah.
AJ: As an officer I, it was fortunate that I suppose I was because we did our training.
PJ: But at your exercise in New York he was billeted out with the McGraw-Hill, the McGraw-Hill book people.
RG: Oh yeah. The publishers. Yes.
PJ: The millionaires. So he was billeted with them and they carted him around and he ended up meeting people and singing with Jimmy Durante and —
LD: Oh wow.
AJ: Lena Horne.
PJ: Lena Horne.
AJ: Lena Horne and I became very firm dance partners etcetera. It was quite a, quite a business and then —
RG: Quite an adventure for a young man from —
PJ: That’s right. From the bush in Victoria.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: It was fascinating.
RG: Yeah.
LD: Do you remember the name of the ship that you went on?
AJ: No. I don’t, darling.
PJ: On the ship. Let me think. Was it the Mariposa?
AJ: No. It wasn’t a —
PJ: It was —
AJ: I think it was the Lurline.
PJ: Yeah. Well the Lurline, wasn’t the Lurline the one that came across? It will be there in your, in your book.
AJ: Yeah.
RG: Yeah.
PJ: I’ll have a look and see if it’s there.
LD: Well that’s alright. It was just —
RG: It was just —
AJ: But anyway —
PJ: I’ll just have a look and see if it’s in his history there.
AJ: Eventually after about a month in New York the great convoy was formed and off we go. And that was —
LD: So, you did go across as part of a convoy.
AJ: A tremendous convoy.
LD: Right.
AJ: And accompanied by American flat top battleships. You know, the ones that had no structure on top.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: Just guns.
RG: Yeah. Yeah.
AJ: Things like that. We lost an awful lot of boats.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: Of course. It was submarine attacks.
RG: So this was the end of ’42 wasn’t it?
AJ: This would be —
RG: What? Early ’43?
AJ: ’42 I joined. ’43. ’43.
RG: [Unclear] Battle of the Atlantic. Yeah.
AJ: And I got to Britain and my first thought as I saw Liverpool and all these barrage balloons. I said, ‘God almighty if they cut those balloons the bloody island would sink.’
LD: So, so did you arrive directly in Liverpool?
AJ: Hmmn?
LD: Did you arrive directly in Liverpool?
AJ: Yes.
LD: Or did you go around through Greenock.
AJ: No. No.
LD: Ok.
AJ: Directly in Liverpool. And from there the Australian contingent was taken down to, eventually down to Brighton on the south coast where we [pause] I did various training things. Learning to — how to get out of parachutes if you landed in water and all that sort of thing.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: I wouldn’t call it nonsense but it was very very tough.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: Activity. And I had.
RG: So that was sort of survival training.
AJ: Yeah.
RG: Yeah.
PJ: Eventually I was.
LD: Sorry, was that done at Brighton or was that done —?
AJ: Yes. That sort of introduction to survival and elementary training in use of parachutes and things like that was all done at Brighton.
LD: Wow.
AJ: And then you were, well I was eventually posted up to places. I had completed first year uni and therefore in training I had a good mathematical background etcetera.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: And so they fast-tracked me in training in the centre part of England for eventual allocation to the famous Mosquito high flying.
RG: Yeah. Yeah.
AJ: PRU. Photo reccy unit.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: And I was completely just flying so high, so fast.
RG: Did you have a multi engine licence at this point?
AJ: I was trained.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: I went on first on Oxfords and that kind of.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: Standard training for me. But that PRU interval — I thought this is great. Flying that fast and no one could see you or shoot you. That only lasted a couple of weeks because they said, ‘Look, we’re now Bomber Command.’ This is coming through now. The year would be ’44. And they said, ‘You’re, Bomber Command for you lad.’
RG: So when did you arrive in Britain, Alex? When was that?
AJ: I arrived in Britain in December ’43 and spent all of ’44.
LD: Yes.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: Right through ‘til the end of the war.
RG: Yeah. Ok.
AJ: Ok.
RG: Just trying to get a sort of timeline on it.
AJ: Yeah.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: That’s right. I was rapidly put into the Bomber Command thing. They were taking pilots from anywhere they could get them because the losses from Bomber Command were so —
RG: Well they had, the losses were, well the Battle of Berlin was just running down then wasn’t it and —
LD: Horrendous.
AJ: And I actually joined the squadron, 460 at the very last part of December ’44. So I, fortunately missed out on the Battle of Berlin and all that sort of thing. But I’d been flying at that time up and down the coast in our training, dropping aluminium foil and trying to assist in the confusion.
RG: The deception for D-day.
AJ: Yes.
RG: Was that, was that in Mosquitos? Was that in Mosquitos you were doing that? Or in —
AJ: No. No. Lancasters.
RG: Lancs. That was Lancs. Yeah.
AJ: Lancasters.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: That was part of the training. So that that went through. D-day came and went and by that time I had not joined a squadron but aircraft like ours were deployed on all sorts of weird jobs. You know, we would fly way up to, right along the French coast, over the North Sea, dropping this aluminium foil.
RG: Yeah. The Window.
AJ: And D-day came and went. And then the awful business of starting to do, being injected into the bomber stream with, before the squadron. Before I joined 460.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: I’d completed all of about half a dozen raids into the German areas near the coast.
RG: While you were under training.
AJ: While training.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: They were —
RG: They had the spoof.
AJ: We were losing so many aircraft.
LD: I know.
AJ: And of course when the jets came in, the ME262 jets came in around about October, I think of 1944. And our losses were just so, there was no answer to it. And so by the time I was finally allocated to 460 Squadron myself and my crew were well versed in some of these dangers. And the —
LD: So was this a crew that was set up within the OTU or —
AJ: I beg your pardon?
LD: The crew that you joined the squadron with.
AJ: Yes.
LD: Did you guys set up within the OTU or —
AJ: Yes.
LD: Right. Ok.
AJ: That’s right.
RD: Yeah.
AJ: It was a fairly standard practice that I went through once I was on the, on to the heavy aircraft.
RG: Can I ask you, Alex, how did that crewing up occur? Because we’ve spoken to other veterans and it’s a mixed bag between people actually just finding oh we need a pilot. There’s someone over there. We’ll just grab him. And a bit more formalised.
LD: Some people even meeting in a pub.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: Yeah.
RG: So how did yours work?
AJ: Actually that was quite strange the way that crews were formed. Now let me think. The crew that I finally, my first crew it would be at [pause] let me think.
PJ: This is Campbell in all this lot.
AJ: Yes. That’s right. Now where the devil did that take place? But the system was, I might remember where it was. Somewhere in central England. Firstly, you’d get up, the officer group and there were only a few officer, officer pilots because the pilot was the, was the first. He was the senior man.
RG: Yeah. Yeah.
AJ: Crew captain.
RG: Captain. Yeah.
AJ: The pilots that were officers, firstly stood up on this platform and there was all these —
[background chat]
PJ: Alex is deaf. Very deaf. So he wears a hearing aid but you might have to speak up a bit.
RG: Yes. OK.
AJ: Yeah.
PJ: Anyhow, I think it was the Lurline, Alex. I can’t find it, but I think it was —
AJ: At Lichfield.
PJ: No. The Lurline. The ship you went out on.
AJ: Oh the Lurline. Yeah.
PJ: The Lurline. But —
AJ: Anyway, the pilots, officer pilots would stand up first and give a bit of a spiel saying, you know, where they’d trained. Because a lot of them had trained in Canada.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: Some in South Africa.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: And I stood up and said I was trained fully in Australia and commissioned off the course. Which was most unusual.
RG: Yes. Yeah.
AJ: I didn’t go into the fact that I was in jail [laughs]
RG: It might have scored points with you Alex.
AJ: Yeah. And after that, you know the other pilots would get up and do the same and then the meeting in the great hall would dissolve from formalities and you’d just wander around. And then you’d have groups of guys. Gunners would tend to, they tended to stick together. And the navigators and the w/op wireless operator blokes. They’d all, they’d be talking and some of them had teamed up with another group. And they’d come up and talk to the pilot. Many of the pilots. And after a while things sort of settled down and I got, in my crew, I got, there were two Englishmen, ‘cause the first Englishman had to be the bloke sitting at the front with you on the right.
RG: The engineer.
AJ: Not the pilot.
RG: The engineer.
AJ: Hmmn?
RG: The engineer.
AJ: Yeah. Flight engineer. Because they weren’t trained out here. They were almost invariably Englishmen.
RG: Oh. Were they? Oh. Ok.
AJ: And the man who I, who came up to me had been in the army and was highly skilled. He was thirty two years of age. An old man.
RG: Yeah.
LD: That was an old man.
AJ: But his rank, I think was oh, major I think.
RG: Wow.
AJ: Frank Stone was his name. A real gentleman.
RG: Was he a sergeant then or was he still commissioned?
AJ: No. He’d re-joined —
RG: Yeah.
AJ: The air force as a pilot officer.
RG: Right. Ok So that’s a big come down though from major to pilot.
AJ: A big come down. He was, I remember he was the first guy. So I had, as the pilot, the flight engineer, Pilot Officer Frank Stone. And he had, for some reason or other known this rear gunner and he, those two joined me. And then the other group of Aussies — the mid-upper gunner, the navigator and the wireless operator were all Australians. A couple of them were, one of them was commissioned. Now, who would that be? Anyway, one was commissioned. And so that’s the way the crew was formed. Well, we went finally, as a crew. We got posted to 460 Squadron which was, you know, we all thought oh that’s it because 460 had a great reputation and what’s his name? The VC.
PJ: Hughie Edwards.
AJ: Hughie Edwards.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: Was at that time the 460.
LD: Apparently, he was the world’s worst driver.
RG: Oh was he? [laughs]
LD: Yes. He had a Mercedes.
RG: He was a pilot. Yeah [laughs]
AJ: He was a shocking pilot. Oh my God.
PJ: And then he had a Mercedes and apparently, he had more dents in it because there was a 460 Squadron —
AJ: But everybody said that you fly with Hughie [laughs] at your own risk. But he was charismatic.
PJ: Yeah.
AJ: How he could instil wonderful, wonderful feelings amongst his squadron.
PJ: One of those, one of those sort of pulling off bays, you know, along the highway. In Canberra.
LD: Yes.
RG: Yes. Hughie Edwards bay.
PJ: There was a Hughie Edwards there and his brother that was, that must have been put in, I suppose seven or eight years ago. I can’t remember but we were down there.
AJ: Yeah.
RG: It’s been a while.
PJ: And his brother was there, and he was telling a story of what a frightful driver. He had a Mercedes and he had more dents in it than you could poke a stick at.
AJ: Anyway, I’m probably getting too far ahead for your questions.
LD: No. No. We’re actually.
RG: No. No. it doesn’t matter. We’re actually ticking them off as we go. Just carry on Alex.
AJ: I started flying in combat from 460 right on [pause] almost New Year’s Day of ’45. When the, I’d been flying in, in to but not in to direct combat. We were doing interjections before that as a crew.
RG: So was that the sort of the spoof raids?
AJ: Yeah.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: Those sorts of things. Anyway, the first real operation was either New Year’s Day or immediately after. And —
PJ: Weren’t you involved in that Battle of the Bulge? Where, you know, there was such terrible weather.
AJ: Yeah. Yeah.
PJ: That was New Year’s. That was Christmas Day.
AJ: Yeah. Well that’s —
RG: Oh that’s right. Christmas.
PJ: It was terrible weather.
AJ: It was awful weather.
PJ: Nobody could have — the Germans couldn’t come in and the —
AJ: Yeah.
PJ: What’s the name of the town?
AJ: We were all grounded.
PJ: I’m trying to think of the name of the town.
AJ: The bomber force was grounded because of the weather.
PJ: Because there’s a memorial to the Yanks.
AJ: And then it lifted and oh God they launched everything including training aircraft against the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge. Anyway, my first raid was done as what they called a second dickie.
LD: Oh yes.
AJ: That’s a senior pilot and his crew would take you. You’d sit there in the flight engineer’s seat.
RG: Little seat. Yeah.
AJ: And you went through the raid and learned that whatever and if you were lucky you’d return. They didn’t like second dickie trips. I’ve taken a few too on when I was skilled.
RG: Yeah. When you were — yeah.
AJ: And you never liked them because for some reason or other they seemed they were cursed.
PJ: Bring you bad luck.
AJ: Bring you bad luck. Yeah. It was a fair few. Well, ok I started after that with the crew and we had a series of raids which I won’t go into but near the, on about the 20th or something of February we went to Dresden. Awful. Awful. You know the story of Dresden and so on. How we, most of us just made it back because the tremendous long trip to Dresden and the awful conflagration. I’ve often been back to Europe with Pauline.
PJ: Well, when we were in Prague. He wouldn’t go to Dresden.
AJ: We’ve had opportunities to go back to Dresden.
PJ: That was only a couple of years ago.
AJ: Just over the border and I just said no. I just can’t. I’ve never returned to Dresden.
PJ: One of the most interesting things I find with history is its very one sided. It depends who’s telling the story.
RG: Absolutely.
PJ: And you get an enormous amount and when I, ‘cause this is the second marriage for both Alex and I but we’ve now been married thirty two years so it’s been a long, a long hard road [laughs
AJ: I lost my first wife, the mother of my kids to cancer. Breast cancer.
PJ: Anyhow, the thing is that when I first married Alex he was still having nightmares about the Dresden raid etcetera and so forth and you hear a lot about the horror of the Dresden raid, but you seldom hear about the horrors of Coventry. You know, if you go to the cathedral and you see walls left and that amazing cross and so on.
RG: Been to the cathedral. Yes. Yeah.
PJ: You seldom hear this. You seldom hear. And when I was first in Europe in, because I wasn’t in the war, I’m younger than Alex but I was first in the Europe in ’54 ’55. So I was there for the tenth anniversary of the end of the war and so on. And I went through Hamburg. I went through Germany and I couldn’t believe it. You wouldn’t know there was a war there because the Marshall plan had rebuilt everything.
RG: Rebuilt. Yeah.
PJ: But London was still derelict.
RG: Yes.
PJ: All around St Paul’s was still flattened and so on.
RG: Yeah. In fact, just last night we were watching a film which was made in London in — 1953 was it?
LD: ‘51
RG: ‘51. Yeah It was in —
PJ: Still all the bomb damage.
RG: It was in the city and there was buildings down everywhere
AJ: Well, I’d better continue hadn’t I?
PJ: Oh yeah. Sorry.
PJ: That was my fault Alex.
AJ: No. No. It was —
PJ: The history is interesting.
AJ: It is interesting.
RG: It is.
PJ: Interesting.
AJ: After the Dresden we got home and the, the three nights later we went to Dortmund. A bombing raid which was pretty rough. Pretty terrible. And coming home it was midnight. Snow on the ground. And the worst possible conditions for bomber aircraft because it was heavy cloud low down. Full moon. And just above the top of the cloud which was at our return flying height, so we were in and out.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: But often silhouetted.
RG: Yeah. Silhouetted.
AJ: Against the white cloud below. We were caught by — over the German Belgian border by a Messerschmitt 262. Jet.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: They were so fast. Fully armed with cannon.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: Not just machine guns. And it blew the starboard wing of my Lancaster clean off. I mean there was no, no, you know, pilot stay in his seat, hold it until the rest of the crew baled go.
RG: Just go.
AJ: And the poor crew of course who were serving. They were at their desks and so on. Never. Their parachutes were strapped to the side of the Lancaster.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: So they always had to somehow get to them, put them on.
RG: And then get out.
AJ: While I held the aircraft.
RG: But you couldn’t do that.
AJ: Theoretically in a position where they could bale out. Well there was none of that because the cannon blew the starboard wing right and the aircraft just disintegrated at twenty two thousand feet. We all went out. I never saw my crew again. Naturally. They fell to their deaths. And I, being a pilot, occasionally you’ll see this in the record in such a case the armour plated bucket seats, which I’m sitting on, sitting on your parachute went out like a cork out of a champagne bottle.
RG: The whole seat.
AJ: The whole seat. Yeah. And I don’t remember anything of that naturally. Just the disintegration. Nothing. I must have fallen. Well, I obviously did because I came to at about two thousand feet. And there’s no steel seat. Somehow that had got lost in the fall down and the parachute harness was still on me but the parachute was unopened. There’s a stick sort of thing.
RG: Handle. Yeah.
AJ: And on fire just above my head.
RG: On fire.
AJ: Yeah. And this great hero at that stage looked down and here’s a church. And we were in a little a place called Lummen in Belgium. And I looked at that and so help me, this is written up and it’s quite true. There’s no exaggeration. You know, I’m a few seconds from death. What do you think the great hero thought at that time? Christ, if I don’t bloody do something that, that’s going to go up my arse. True [laughs]
LD: [laughs] Well it would have looked very small from that height too wouldn’t it?
AJ: Talk about anti-climax. I think people who ask me what’s my, my biggest memories. I said that little thing [laughs] I thought oh gawd. So I gave the rip cord a tug and so help me this burning sticker top opened up just sufficient because I landed in the church yard.
RG: Yeah.
LD: Not on the steeple.
AJ: Not on the steeple. And I think, they say I landed in the peach tree, somewhere near, in the gravestones and so on. In any event I survived the fall. It was in no man’s land. And the Luftwaffe were in charge at that time around that part and of course we had some respect for the, or a great deal of respect actually for the massed combatant. Combatants of the Luftwaffe and there wasn’t —
PJ: And he was also quite seriously injured.
AJ: Wasn’t particularly, if you’d seen the Wehrmacht or something they would have slit my throat. I believe, quite soundly, I was finished in a field hospital of which the Germans were in charge and they saved my life. And all things went on in there and I won’t go through that but some time later —
PJ: They were retreating. The Germans were retreating and left him behind.
AJ: Eventually the Canadians moved through the area and I remember being interviewed there. I spoke up for the Luftwaffe nurses and staff.
RG: Did they leave staff there? Just for interest’s sake, some staff?.
AJ: Yeah. They didn’t want to get back with the, because they didn’t want to go to Russian front.
RG: Oh. Ok. Yeah.
AJ: And I said these people had treated me very very well. I honoured them and they wished to be taken in charge as prisoner of war ectera. ‘Yes. Yes. That can be done. But you’re under arrest.’
RG: Alex, this is becoming a habit [laughs] you know that don’t you?
AJ: And this was, this was a pommie colonel.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: Oh did I give him hell.
RG: Why did he say you were under arrest though?
AJ: Good question. You know, I said the same thing, ‘What the f’ing hell are you talking about?’ Anyway, he went out and about an hour later he came back.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: And he confirmed some of the basis of the story that I was saying.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: And the point was that he raised that issue early because such was the loss, terrible losses of our crews.
RG: Yeah. Yeah.
AJ: I must have to be sorry to say that it’s not often mentioned in the records. Many of our bomber crews cracked under the strain.
RG: Yeah. Yes.
AJ: And they used to fly over such places to become prisoners.
RG: Yes.
AJ: Or even better to get into Sweden, Switzerland or something and save themselves. They’d had enough. They were cracking.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: And really the Germans were winning the air war. There was no doubt about it.
PJ: Yeah. If Hitler wasn’t such an idiot, he would have won.
AJ: He would have. He would have won. All he had to do was keep on going a little bit longer, you know. But anyway as a result of that I was pulled back to Britain some, a week, or ten days. I forget the length of time, later. And instead of being repatriated home immediately which was the usual thing the wonderful base commander, also an Australian. And that was —
RG: Don’t ask me what his name was. I can’t remember.
AJ: Binbrook was —
RG: This was the base commander not the squadron commander.
AJ: That’s right.
RG: Yes.
PJ: [unclear]
AJ: I was flying with the Australian commander at that time. I forget his name now. But the base commander was an Australian too.
PJ: Cowan. Wasn’t it? The base, not the base commander but Cowan.
AJ: No. Cowan was the guy who came in. His crew I finally picked up.
PJ: I can’t remember the name of that fellow. I met him at that —
AJ: No. Anyway he said Alex I’m going to ask you a pretty terrible thing. He said we now have, because of the losses being brought about by the jet aircraft which Churchill refused to allow our air force commander Butch Harris to try and describe to we, the crew because Churchill believed that we’d all surrender.
LD: So did you not —
RG: Did you know about those?
LD: You were not informed that these aircraft —
AJ: No. We were kept in the dark about these engineless things.
PJ: Aircraft.
AJ: That were shooting us down. It was deliberate by Churchill because he had no faith in Bomber Command. He hated the bloody air force. Anyway, he said, ‘I want you to stay here and to pick up the new squadron commander, Wing Commander Cowan.’ He had no experience anyway. He was barred from flying. Anyone above the rank of full squadron leader was barred from flying, because of our losses. And he said, ‘We can’t, we have his crew who were perfectly ready to take over, but they won’t have a pilot. We want you to volunteer to continue in action.’ I said, well I thought about it for about one second and said, ‘Yes, I’ll volunteer.’ So, I was appointed the pilot and commander of the new untested crew. Mainly Aussies. And —
RG: I wanted to ask. Can I just ask, how did that, so they worked up that they were the wing commander’s, Wing Commander Cowan’s crew. They’d worked up with him, trained with him and whatever. And then he goes and you, you jump in.
AJ: Yeah.
RG: How did it work out with them? How did you —
PJ: He’s still friendly with — there’s one in Melbourne.
AJ: Yeah. Well the camaraderie within the squadron was absolutely tremendous. Even though we were being shot to ribbons. And people respected me because they all believed I was dead. When I turned up [laughs] I just rescued my tin in the steel box of personal goods from the, that’s called the graveyard down in London. They used to take —
RG: Sorry, what was that? They used to take the stuff down to what was known as the graveyard.
AJ: When crews went missing or were killed in action. And there were many. Their personal belongings were generally put in a big steel trunk. Sent down to London to the, ‘dead meat factory.’
PJ: Then to be shipped home.
AJ: And then shipped home
RG: We were going to ask you about that if you don’t mind. The Committee of Adjustment term that we’ve heard which is very little information on.
PJ: Never heard of it.
LD: These were the people who picked up —
PJ: Oh yes.
RG: It’s an old term from the nineteenth century. It’s an old British army term and I’ve heard it in Bomber Command. That how, when a crew went missing, were killed that process of who, who did it. And it varied in different squadrons and stuff.
AJ: Yeah.
RG: Who came and picked their kit up.
AJ: Yeah.
RG: And we’ve also heard about censoring. That they’d go through and —
AJ: It was the same committee that — I’ve heard of it. I don’t know much about their operations because they were — you didn’t want to know.
RG: No. No. You wouldn’t.
AJ: But they were the ones too who used to pick up the belongings of people who cracked up in combat. Many of us did, you know. Many, many guys would return and they’d be [pause] and they were sentenced. Sentenced. Think of the modern treatment of such people. LMF. Lack of moral fibre.
RG: Lack of moral fibre.
LD: That’s another —
AJ: That was the worst term in the air force.
LD: Yes. Yes.
AJ: Lack of moral fibre.
RG: So what happened, again LMF is naturally there is very little information because no one wants to —
LD: And what you read is so inconsistent.
RG: Yeah. And different squadrons, different groups seemed to do this different in different, well the Canadians did it differently from us.
AJ: That’s right. They all had their certain people that looked after that. And they were ostracised. It was almost too, too much to bear to talk to such people. You know, you’d be, even as an officer in the permanent quarters where my room were because I was a pretty senior officer, combat officer. And, you know, you’d be at breakfast or something after a raid or [pause] and, you know, ‘Where are they? What’s happened?’ And they these people would take over. And when you saw them I could recognise them, but they never socialised with any of us.
RG: Who were they?
AJ: I don’t know.
RG: Were they officers?
PJ: Were they part of the air force?
RG: Were they officers or were they —
PJ: Were they part of the air force or civilians?
AJ: Oh yes. They were air force guys.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: They would dress just like the rest of us but from memory now, that’s right, they had a tag. A tag up here and if you saw them we used to, well we had various words for them. Death heads or something or other. I forget now. But there was no camaraderie with such people. They were terrible around. They had an awful job to do.
RG: They did didn’t they.
AJ: But in my case, I got back. I take over Wing Commander Cowan’s crew and away we go. And from thereafter I think we did another ten or fifteen combat bombing trips. Some finished up in daylight with the American Forts. I admired them, the Yanks. Even though they were bombastic bastards [laughs] we used, we used to fight like hell in the pubs. They were always, we reckoned chasing our women. Our women. We used to call the ladies from Grimsby that we’d invite out to the officer’s mess, famous mess out there called the Village Inn, the Grimsby night fighters. For obvious reasons. But they were, they were lovely, lovely lasses. And strangely enough it wasn’t a sexual trend although that obviously went on. But it was, they were, they seemed to accept their role in a beautiful manner. They’d calm you down when you were dancing, and these are the memories now that are very strong in my mind.
RG: Yes.
AJ: Since the horrors and the trauma of my experience after my recent illnesses for some reason has faded away.
RG: Faded away.
AJ: And I am now touching ninety two and as Pauline says I have a, I don’t have the awful trauma. Only the funny things
RG: The good ones.
AJ: Of the Grimsby, of the Grimsby girls.
PJ: In your second stint, that was when you did Operation Manna.
AJ: Yeah, that’s interesting. As Pauline has just said. After [pause] no. Before the war finished the — a group of Germans and the whole of Belgium and Holland was grounded. It was sealed by Montgomery’s army. And Hitler being Hitler refused any suggestion that these people, that the German and there was a hell of a lot of Germans there, should surrender. And therefore the Red Cross and International Red Cross I think it was mainly who organised a cease fire in order that Lancasters, because of their great load carrying ability would be used to drop food to the starving Dutch.
PJ: Yeah. All the dykes had been busted.
RG: Yeah.
PJ: So Holland was all flooded so there was no production of food.
RG: Yeah. Yeah. It was impossible to get any other way.
AJ: That was amazing. I did about three. Three or four of those.
RG: That was amazing thing, wasn’t it?
AJ: And the worst thing about it was that there were only certain areas that you could drop this food and the stuff we were dropping, you know. Big two hundred pound bag of potatoes and bulky packets.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: Of all sorts of food wired up in our own bomb bays. And we’d release those at about, to nearly two hundred mile an hour. We had to fly no higher than a thousand feet over all of the approaches to this area. And the German gunners were, this was unofficial trips.
RG: Yeah. Yeah.
AJ: You could see, you could set the watches on the —
RG: 11 o’clock. We’ll, yeah, it’s over.
AJ: And we I remember so well the time when the plane in front of me in this great field that was up above the flood waters fence. And all around the fence would be the German troops keeping the starving, and they were starving.
RG: Yeah. Starvation.
AJ: Ordinary folk away. Well the plane in front dropped successfully and suddenly, terribly the German troops, they laid down their arms and raced to get the food. They were starving too.
RG: Yeah. Yeah.
AJ: And then followed by the people. Can you imagine it? I’m approaching.
LD: Oh and you’re coming.
AJ: And suddenly dropped them as you came in.
LD: Carrying two hundred pounds of potatoes.
AJ: I’ve got to drop. I’ve got to drop. The plane is ready to drop. So I dropped my load and so help me God. You could see them. You know. if you get hit in the head with a two hundred pound bag of spuds at two hundred miles an hour.
RG: Two hundred miles an hour.
AJ: There’s not much of you left. Well I did about three. Three or four of those. And in there I have a plaque that was issued to those of us on Operation Manna. And on the way back, trying to recover our sanity we went on, going past these great windmills with great Lancasters — four engines. You approached the windmill [boom] and the wheels — vroom [laughs] We had photos of that which have gone missing now. That was Operation Manna. And then, after the war, some three days after the war, Churchill ordered the air force to provide a skilled crew. A pilot, with the facilities in this Lancaster for photography. For the record over all of Germany.
RG: The destructed. The destroyed cities. Yeah.
AJ: And hence my first long range. I was selected, and you had, I had on board about eleven or twelve senior people, photographers, ladies, WAAF chiefs. Some of them were very senior people. And at a thousand feet we flew all over Germany taking those. They were quite famous photographs.
PJ: These are the negatives we gave to the War Memorial last year.
AJ: The negatives we gave. We have the copy. Particularly that famous one.
RG: Of the bridge.
AJ: The bridge of Cologne.
AJ: Over Cologne. And the funniest thing of all I guess was the fact that those long trips the ladies of course, it wasn’t set up for ladies in a Lancaster.
LD: From what I’ve heard the elsan wasn’t very well set up for men either.
AJ: The elsan. I had strict instructions I gave to my rear gunner that he wasn’t to switch. I could sense when he moved his turret.
RG: Turret. Yeah.
AJ: I said, ‘You keep that bloody turret looking out.’ But a couple of times there I could sense what was going on. And he was laughing like hell there. So there was some funny things.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: Then further on we joined the new force.
RG: Tiger Force.
AJ: Single Australians with very long, highly experienced crews.
PJ: Tiger Force.
AJ: Tiger Force. At the home of east, at East Kirkby which is famous anyhow.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: And we started to bring back, we’d fly tremendous distances all over Europe doing various tasks to get experience for when we were to be based in Iwo Jima.
RG: In bombing Japan.
AJ: That had just been taken by the Yanks. To bomb Japan. Can you imagine these long range Lancs up against the Japanese Zeros defending their own land? Over Tokyo. But the worst thing about it was that we would not have enough fuel to return to Iwo Jima.
RG: So what was to happen? Land in China?
AJ: We were too overfly. Think of this for a crazy bloody.
RG: Planning.
AJ: Arrangements made by that idiot Churchill and others to overfly Tokyo in to deep Soviet Russia and to land at a field of opportunity.
LD: Oh because it would all just be sitting there.
AJ: There were no maps. We were just told that you overfly if you survive. You can overfly, land where you’ll be refuelled and rearmed and you could come back. There was no way we would come back. It was a flight to death. But that’s what we were up for. But before we got down on to that level we were, we did a lot of flying down to the south of Italy to the coast. Bari.
RG: Oh yeah.
AJ: Because that Bari became the central point for the collection of all the poor darned prisoners of war.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: From all around that area.
RG: From right up through Europe. Not just to Italy. Everywhere.
AJ: Down. Yeah. All the prisoners that were to be returned to Britain were to be, as far as possible collected from Bari.
RG: Brought back through Bari. Ok.
AJ: We’d fly down and bring them back.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: Ten on each side of the Lancaster, strapped.
LD: Of course I’ve heard this, and I’ve wondered where they put them and how they put them.
AJ: Well that’s it because the Lanc became, of course almost unmanageable with twenty people. It’s centre of gravity was all over the place.
LD: Yes.
AJ: It was highly dangerous work.
LD: Yeah.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: But we did quite a few of these trips and on one trip — this is quite a funny story really. We had realised and so had the people down in Bari that a nice little trade could be organised. We’d take down the, we’d bring back the prisoners but what do we do?
RG: Come back empty.
AJ: About taking them down because you can’t sort of turn up an opportunity to load up your Lanc bomb bay. In a station like Binbrook there were hundreds, literally hundreds of push bikes.
LD: Of course. Of course. Yes.
AJ: Pushbikes were, of course, used by everyone. When a crew went missing no one’s interested in the pushbikes. The bicycle dump was bigger than the bomb dump. And we, a lot of us got our little heads together and said if we take down bikes wired up in the bomb bay and then exchange them down there for fruit, Italian jewellery, you know. For all the goodies that were missing in England. Ah, great. So this trade started. Well we’d done quite a few of these trips bringing back the prisoners itself was —
RG: Key thing.
AJ: A very emotional experience. But mid-way through this exercise the bloody military police down in, our own coppers —
RG: Yeah. Yeah. The crushers.
AJ: Down in Bari. They had a racket or two going too and we were undercutting them, you know. And so they decided that they were going to stop us.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: By arresting a few of the crew and causing mayhem.
RG: You didn’t get arrested again did you Alex?
AJ: What happened was that I got, to there was about six or eight in this flight. I happened to be leading it, of Lancs from Binbrook with our bikes. And we’re flying at about fifteen thousand feet down the Med. We get a call from base saying, ‘Get rid of those bloody bikes. The cops are waiting for you in Bari.’ How do you get rid of bikes fifteen thousand feet over the Med? Obvious.
PJ: It is really.
AJ: I opened the bomb bays and wired them, and at my command, ‘Bombs away. Bikes away.’ And so that’s what happened. And can you imagine suddenly out of the [laughs] hundreds of bikes?
RG: You’ll see them down there on the floor of the Mediterranean there is all this piles of bikes.
AJ: That’s it. in the future, five thousand years away there will be some stupid palaeontologist saying these are unusual.
LD: There’ll be some child who was down on the beach that’s going, ‘Mum, can we go out and get some of those bikes that fell in to the sea?’ ‘Oh, you stupid boy.’
PJ: Wouldn’t believe it.
AJ: Oh dear. But when we got down there and the cops raced into the aircraft. Nothing there. Bomb doors open. Opened the bomb doors. Nothing. I can still see [laughs] they knew they’d been beaten.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: Didn’t find anything.
LD: What did you do with those bloody bikes. What bikes?
RG: What bikes?
LD: They didn’t find anything else to arrest anybody for instead did they?
RG: I’ve just got this mental image of all these people riding pushbikes in these 1950s and ‘60s Italian movies.
PJ: That’s right.
RG: And they’re all RAF bikes.
PJ: Of course they had no transport so —
RG: Yeah. Yeah.
AJ: So there was some funny stories amongst the tragedies.
PJ: What else is there? I can’t think. Actually now there’s, in Lummen, where Alex came down.
RG: Sorry what was the name of that town again?
PJ: Lummen.
RG: Yeah. How do you spell it?
AJ: L U M M E N.
RG: Ok.
AJ: Lummen.
PJ: They now have a street, an Alexander Jenkins Street, Strasse in the new subdivision there.
RG: Oh truly. Oh wow.
PJ: Yeah. The mayor wrote last year.
AJ: Yeah. What happened was oh about 1983 or thereabouts.
PJ: It was ’83 because that was when I was going through those things for the Department of Foreign Affairs.
AJ: ’83. They, the local people in Lummen. The younger men and women who had no real experience of the war decided that they knew all of them now. They knew the history of that terrible night. The number of aircraft shot down over their, over their area on the night of the 20th.
PJ: Very close to the German border.
AJ: And they decided that they knew that there was somewhere in this rhododendron swamp. Beautiful rhododendron forest but there were bits of my aircraft that had been in that swamp. Had not been discovered and taken away in the great clean-up straight after the war had finished. And they were just resting in pieces until then. And a number of them, the patriots decided they’d find the remains of my Lanc. Which they did. They were amazing the way they did it. And anyway —
PJ: They didn’t find much.
AJ: No. They didn’t find much. The heavy undercarriage survived of course. A few other bits and pieces. So at about ‘83 this occurred, and they finally had got through the ID markings on the, on the remnants. They knew that it was a bomber from Binbrook. The records showed that that was the site of the Lanc. And they decided that they would try, they knew there was one survivor. The pilot.
PJ: They didn’t know that at the outset did they because that young, the young girl that looked after the graves, first of all they had all of you.
AJ: Oh yeah that’s right.
PJ: Lost.
AJ: It took a long time.
RG: For everyone.
PJ: For them all. And we met this young girl who, she was a twelve year old when she used to look after the graves.
RG: Yeah.
PJ: Because they were buried in the village.
RG: Yeah.
PJ: Now they’re in the war cemetery.
RG: War cemetery. Yeah.
PJ: But in the small war cemetery.
RG: Yeah.
PJ: Not in any major ones.
AJ: No.
PJ: Because they said, you know, their our guys. So it’s a small war cemetery.
AJ: They decided that they would get this, these bits and pieces and build a memorial. And the identification — they searched everywhere. Records and so on to try and find the name and the whereabouts of the surviving pilot. Me. Well, officialdom, particularly in Australia and for good reasons you make at that time, you make an enquiry like that and — no comment. Because of the threat of retaliation and bribery and things. People getting even if they handed out that sort of information.
RG: Yeah. Yeah. Fair enough.
AJ: Where Joe Blow was, who was doing this at that time in the war. Where is he now? I want to go over and shoot him.
RG: Yeah. Yeah.
AJ: So they didn’t pass any info at all. They couldn’t get anywhere with it. But in any event, they finally did, through the university system. See, I was a professor in the, I was a foundation professor at the University of New South Wales and eventually also a professor in charge of the Department of Materials and Metallurgy at Sydney University. And Sydney, the university has this international academic thing over and they, apparently there was a publication in England about me.
PJ: Well there —
AJ: And they found me.
PJ: Apparently, yeah, apparently, there’s a university magazine that goes out and this fellow in Belgium put an ad in this university magazine seeking the whereabouts of this Alexander Jenkins.
RG: Yeah.
PJ: And Alex had already retired so the registrar of the Sydney Uni rang Alex and said, ‘I don’t know what you’ve been up to.’ And also the Department of Foreign Affairs got in touch.
AJ: Yeah. They said, ‘What have you been up to? You’re wanted.’
RG: Again. Get stuffed.
AJ: Well we were —
PJ: It was.
AJ: Planning to go back at that stage.
PJ: Well, I was working and when I married Alex he said I’d like you to retire in five years. So, ok, because he didn’t know what he was going to be doing. So by the time I retired he was on every rotten board in the country and he was never at home so I could have killed him. But that’s beside the point. So the people I worked for, they, they knew I was going to retire so this was ’86. It must have been. And they said, ‘Look you’ve done a good job for us. We think you should get a new car. We’re suggesting you get BMW and we suggest you go to Munich to pick it up.’ So I was quite happy to do that. So we knew we were going to be in Europe. And we took a house about fifteen kilometres out of Florence for about six weeks or something. So we had all this in place. Well then when they finally got hold of Alex we said we could be there etcetera and so forth. So we went, and we drove into this town and there were thousands of people and Alex said, ‘It must be market day.’ It wasn’t market day it was us and him.
LD: It was Alex Jenkins day.
PJ: And it was incredible.
RG: Yeah. Yeah.
LD: Did you go by car and wave like the queen?
PJ: It was a big deal.
AJ: It was a big deal.
PJ: The head of the NATO forces for Belgium was there. Colonel [unclear] And there was the Australian Ambassador to France, I think he was. And there was the British Ambassador to somewhere or other. They were all there and it was interesting and we, and Colonel [unclear] said to me they were going to unveil a memorial to Alex’s crew.
RG: Yeah.
PJ: Outside the church. So, and Colonel [unclear] he said, because it was a Flemish area. There was a book written about Alex, but it was in Flemish. Have you ever tried to get Flemish translated in this country? It’s almost impossible.
RG: I know one person who can do it.
PJ: Well, I found one person who could do it and she was in Adelaide. And it was interesting. My daughter was working for the Commonwealth Bank and the girl at the desk next to her, she was saying, because Alex was coming up for his eightieth birthday and I was trying to find some way to get this translated so he could, so that I could give it to him for his eightieth. Well, so Louise was helping me. And somehow, she said something to this girl and she said mum, she’s a translator. She’s married to an Australian but she’s from the Flemish region of Belgium. Anyhow, Colonel [unclear] said it in Flemish and then he said it in English and so on. And there was a guard of honour drawn up for Alex and they were all the Resistance fighters. And they were all old, and they were gnarled and they were a tough looking bunch. And they made him an honorary member, his medal’s in there, of the resistance. Well then Colonel [unclear] had said to me, ‘Be prepared for a bit of a surprise.’ So they go through all this and then they gave him a flypast of F16s.
RG: Wow.
PJ: They came over the top of the church.
RG: Yeah. To recognise.
PJ: It was quite amazing. It was a very emotional day. We’ve been over a couple of times since. But —
AJ: It was quite something. I’m standing there and in front of the dais and the colonel and there’s all the Resistance. Wartime blokes. God [laughs] they were a rough bunch with their berets and so on and when he said that there would be a celebration and he didn’t really describe it except that I thought, you know this is something to do with this air force business.
PJ: No. He didn’t tell you. He told me. You didn’t know anything about it.
AJ: No. I didn’t. And anyway, the, I’m standing there and just waiting. And, in the background, I heard vroom vroom vroom and I thought, My God. that’s a bloody aircraft on full power, flaps. It’s a, there’s a word for it in some tactical approach. Supersonic aircraft flying as slow as possible with flaps down.
RG: Flying down.
AJ: And undercart still retracted.
RG: Ok.
AJ: But flying as low and as slow.
RG: Slow as possible.
AJ: It takes tremendous power for a plane like that to do that.
RG: Yeah. Yeah.
AJ: And they were revving the engines. Vroom. Vroom. Vroom.
RG: Virtually standing on the tail. Yeah.
AJ: I thought, oh my God, I think I know what might be coming because that’s the first part of a ceremonial, highly meaningful but seldom performed performance by aircraft in the honour of a fallen or a number of fallen comrades. Prince of Wales Feathers it called. Anyway, sure enough and low on the horizon was that. How many were there? About six weren’t there? I think so.
PJ: No. I think there was four or something [unclear] to make the Prince of Wales Feathers.
AJ: No. Six it would have been.
PJ: Anyhow, whatever.
AJ: Anyway just over the top just above the ground really and I’m looking at that and I thought I know what’s coming now because what happens is that they move away. That’s meant to be the sound of the human heart.
LD: Yes. Yes.
AJ: Vroom vroom vroom. Then they move away. Get out, away from the crowd and everything else. They reassemble and this time —
RG: Come back.
AJ: They come in with full power as an arrow group.
LD: Yeah.
AJ: And then vroom just above and straight up and then they.
LD: That’s where they get the name the name the Prince of Wales Feathers. Just spreading.
AJ: Prince of Wales Feathers.
LD: Spreading like the feathers.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: Yeah. The beating of the human heart first and then the departure of the soul to heaven.
RG: Yeah. Ok. I didn’t realise the significance.
PJ: These, we were guests of this —
AJ: Gosh it was so impressive.
LD: What a wonderful thing for your crew isn’t it.
AJ: I had tears in my eyes.
PJ: The pilots took us to dinner. Their wives took us to dinner that night and one of the wives was saying that she, she, they used to hide under the table during the war. And she said her mother used to say she could hear the Lancasters going over and she’d say, ‘There goes the sound of freedom.’ So —
AJ: Yeah.
PJ: She’s but she —
AJ: What a story that —
PJ: This Colonel [unclear] was the air attaché to the Belgian Embassy.
AJ: He was a wonderful bloke.
PJ: Embassy in Washington. And his wife told the story that when they went over there they had three daughters and the youngest, the littly really spoke no English at all. The other two were bi lingual. Anyhow she gets her there and she didn’t know whether to send her to school or not and so on. So she sends her to kindy and when she gets home her mother said, ‘How was it? How did you like American kindy?’ She said, ‘Mum, it’s quite good but, ‘she said, ‘You know none of the kids could understand a word I said.’ So she said it took her a while. But they were delightful people. When we were there a couple of years ago he was too ill to meet us but no this first trip we went one of the, oh well there’s a, there’s a little memorial. Alex has photos there and it’s made of the, the what do you call the big straps that the wheels go in.
AJ: The oleo legs.
PJ: Ok. And they made a chapel of them.
AJ: And then on top there’s this —
PJ: But then they, and there was an ink drawing of Alex falling out of the sky with his parachute on fire and so on. And there were a whole stack of kids. There was just so many people there. And I tried to, I was saying to these, trying to explain to these kids that that old guy, he didn’t have a beard then but that old guy over there was the guy falling out of the sky. They looked at him. They looked at it. But this bloke from the Australian Embassy had very kindly brought a pocket full of little gold kangaroos, you know so they dispensed these out to the kids.
RG: Yeah.
PJ: And they thought it lovely fun. But at the same time there was a dinner that night a reception that afternoon and a fellow gave Alex, this father and his son came out and the son spoke very good English as they all do. The father wasn’t [unclear] but he had a gold watch he had which belonged to one of Alex’s crew and he asked if we could try and return it to the family. Well I was still working, and I tried and as Alex said earlier you can’t get any information. People don’t give you any information. So when I retired I couldn’t find out where this guy had come from or anything, by the name of Campbell. Anyhow, when I retired I tried again and I struck. I told the lass this story, you know, what was going on and she was quite helpful and said he came from Mudgee. So we did some research. It was very hard. You know, it was a long time ago and people change and die and move on and so on.
LD: Yes.
PJ: Anyhow, we eventually found his three sisters and we gave them back the watch that apparently their mother had given to their brother for his twenty first birthday and so we were able to give them that.
AJ: By the way we have been back several times and I think the last time that we were in contact the people the people in Lummen because we are, we have the freedom of the city and so on.
RG: That’s one place in the world you’re never going to be arrested. You know that [laughs]
AJ: Yeah. That’s right.
PJ: The last time we went —
AJ: Well, the last time we were there they had the signs up.
PJ: But we said, ‘Very low key please. Very low key.’ So we arrived, well first of all they picked us up from the railway station in Brussels. And they described, there would be three guys and they described themselves and their description was absolutely spot on. There was a short guy, a tall guy and a fat guy. Three guys. So they picked us up and we drive into town and there was all these, “Welcome Alexander Jenkins.”
AJ: And since then —
LD: So it was lucky it was low key was it?
AJ: They have, there was a big estate.
PJ: Yeah. Well as I said your name.
AJ: That’s been formed. The principal avenue was named after me. Alexander Jenkins Strasse.
PJ: Strasse but they, you know we were.
AJ: So I’ve got my name in that part of Belgium.
PJ: And we had a reception. And all these kids. A group of kids I think they were probably eleven. Ten or eleven. Something like that. And their job was to draw the story they knew and to draw what they thought of this fellow coming out of the plane. Well, they all stood there literally and came forward and presented Alex with their, their drawings. Which was all very nice. But the only thing, you know, because I worked in the not for profit sector and I used to bring people from overseas as speakers I was very conscious of the luggage that people had to take back, but jeez you know, when we were there last time they presented Alex with a beautiful crystal vase about so high and about so big with everything engraved on it. It weighed three tonnes.
AJ: Yeah.
PJ: And how on earth we were going to get this home, but we did but, no its —
AJ: Anyway that’s the —
PJ: That’s his story. Is there anything else you want to know about?
AJ: That’s my story basically. I know I’ve rambled.
RG: No, that’s, that’s fine.
LD: Oh no. No.
AJ: But the funny parts about it are when I think the last couple of weeks, so we went down to this function which we generally go to once a year.
LD: Yes.
AJ: Of the 460. Under G for George.
PJ: The 460 under the wings —
LD: I was going to ask you to talk about your connection with G for George.
AJ: Yes. Well G for George is of course a Lancaster from 460 Squadron. One of the most weird aircraft we ever had in the squadron. Long before my time. Ninety eight trips. Combat trips. And it’s still in one piece. The C flight, there were various flights on 460 Squadron. A B C D. Twenty six aircraft actually to the squadron, six commence of the four and two spare, and C flight always has G for George, And I finished as the command of C flight of 460 Squadron. And therefore, and I’ve flown of course during the war when this one had returned to Australia. Peter Issacson and others for the, brought that plane back for the — raised funds at the time. I’ve flown G for George. G10, G11, G12 because the average life of the Lanc was only three months.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: Before it would be shot down. So I’ve flown quite a few G for George’s but I’m also the ex-commander of that one, C flight which is —
PJ: The one there in Canberra is the one that flew under the Harbour Bridge.
RG: Yeah. Yeah. On that.
PJ: When Peter Issacson was flying.
AJ: They let me in to that aircraft as a special dispensation.
PJ: This was last Friday.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: Last Friday. I’ve often said to Pauline and others I’d just love to, once before I go to —
PJ: I’d heard —
RG: Seriously.
AJ: To get back in to my plane.
LD: That would be a wonderful experience.
AJ: It was so lovely.
PJ: I’d heard that you could do this. So when we were talking about taking stuff down, well first of all to give something to the War Memorial isn’t that simple.
RG: No.
PJ: You’ve got to go through a terrible lot of rigmarole. They don’t want you to bring stuff there and so on. I was talking I just left a message and this young man rang me back. And I said look we’re going to be there. I said, ‘My husband is elderly. It doesn’t matter if we bring the stuff. You have a look.’ ‘No. We’re not interested. We’ve already got that.’ ‘That’s fine. But at least then we know.’ And I said, ‘While I’m calling you I understand that if you were a pilot of a Lancaster you can have a sneaky inside.’ And he said, ‘Oh I’ve never heard of that.’ Anyhow, they rang back and said there was this special thing etcetera etcetera. So, there was a message waiting for us when we got to Canberra last week and they said to ring so we rang, and they said well we’re not supposed to. We’ve had to get authority from the highest but as a very special thing and the big thing is apparently a couple of years ago there was an old pilot was up in there and he had a bad fall and severely gashed his head.
RG: Yeah.
PJ: So now it’s totally taboo.
LD: And it’s a good long way up.
PJ: Yeah. So what they had there was two delightful young men. One went in front and one went behind and they had one, of course they used those ladders, you know, those wood ladders, flat on the top.
AJ: My ambition was to get in.
PJ: Anyhow, he got there.
AJ: I knew I wouldn’t be able to get and sit in the front, in the pilots seat because it’s all wired up with dummies, but what I wanted to do, and any Lanc crew member would understand what I’m saying. I wanted to get over the main spar.
RG: Yes. Yeah.
AJ: That main spar was the continuation of the wing structure through the middle of the plane. It used to cause tremendous problems to us. Particularly if you were in combat and you needed to bail out.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: Oh. It was awkward. Anyway, I got in, struggled along the plane and I came to the main spar. And I think the bloke said, ‘Do you think you can?’ Because I’ m pretty weak. ‘Do you think you can get over there?’ I said, ‘I’ll do this or die.’ And I got over it.
LD: So does it look like, I’ve seen people climb over it. It doesn’t look like there’s much room.
AJ: Oh yeah. Once I was over there I could see the cockpit and everything else.
PJ: He was a very happy chappy.
AJ: I was a happy chappy and I came back over again. Top of this great ladder and I looked down and opposite in the recess were the two aircraft. One of them the ME262.
RG: Oh yes. Of course there is.
AJ: The one that shot me down.
LD: Yes. Of course you were —
PJ: That’s right.
AJ: And the other was what we called the chase me Charlies. They were the rocket ships that used to go.
RG: ME 163.
AJ: Straight up. And the trick about them was that they had this great cannon which if you were hit with that you didn’t, what I got, blown to bits. You go, it goes up and then it levels out. It levelled out in the stream and selected a target and that was the end of the target. But when you could see it going up we thought oh my God, you know. You watch. You watch. If you see a, the thing stop and then the trail continue you breathed a sigh of relief because it’s going away from you.
RG: Yes.
AJ: Because of the jet at the back. But if it went up.
RG: And vanished.
AJ: And there was darkness it was. ‘Oh my God.’
RG: Coming towards.
AJ: It’s coming to us.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: So those two planes. I looked down and the blokes with me knew what I was thinking.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: I said, ‘Yeah, I remember those two,’
PJ: Are you going to see David Griffin?
RG: No. We haven’t been able to get back in contact with him. I’ve tried ringing all week.
LD: We did want to try and see him.
RG: And his phone’s been ringing out. He may have gone away. I’m not too sure.
PJ: He’s got a daughter here. David is ninety five or ninety six.
RG: Yeah. So ninety six. Yeah.
AJ: Very weak.
LD: We were kind of a bit concerned that the phone just kept —
RG: Yeah.
PJ: Well do you want me to ring a friend who is quite close to them. Literally living close but they have a lot to do with David. He also was a headmaster of a school but David was the headmaster of Orange High. But if you like I can just find out if they know whether he’s there.
RG: That would be nice Pauline. Yeah. Because we thought what we might do is we’ve got his address. We might just pop around because I said we’d come today.
PJ: Yeah.
RG: We hadn’t organised a time And I haven’t been able to do that, so I thought we’d pop in and say look we’re —
PJ: His daughter’s here. You had no trouble with the Belubula River. There was a flood. Did you come down through, down it.
RG: No. It’s up but it was no trouble though.
PJ: And where is it in Cowra that you like to stay?
RG: There’s a — you know where the airport is? And then the Grenfell Road. The road that just goes up and up
PJ: Oh yes. Yes.
RG: Well just before Grenfell Road there’s a little road called Back Creek Road that goes back the other way.
PJ: Yeah. Back by the racecourse or whatever it is. Is there a racecourse out there? Yeah.
LD: Yes. There is.
RG: Is there? Oh. As you go down Back Creek Road there’s through a bunch of vineyards and there’s a little vineyard down there.
PJ: Oh yeah.
RG: And there’s a little cottage in the vineyard right up against the creek which is now just about running a banker.
PJ: That’s right.
RG: And it’s beautiful. It’s just a quiet little spot.
PJ: I went, I went to boarding school in Cowra, so —
RG: Oh ok.
AJ: Well, that’s been a rambling thing. I’m sorry.
RG: Can I just ask you. You said something and I’ve kind of lost context of what but it was to do with jinx. That’s right. The second dickie runs, and the second dickie runs , and you said you hated them because the jinx thing. Did you have a talisman or a token or anything that you — ?
AJ: No. I did not and a lot of guys, you’re quite right, a lot of guys swore by them. See it’s strange you know. You were a very old man at twenty five in Bomber Command.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: Very few guys older than twenty five. It was a business for very young and hopefully very fit. Yes, we were very fit. Even though we drank like fish. The one reason I have never smoked in my life I can put down to my service as a Lancaster bomber bloke because we drank, naturally. And we all, we had very strict rules though. We used to police ourselves. We didn’t need the service police who used to be around for all sorts of reasons on a squadron.
RG: Yeah. I know.
AJ: They used to pick up every now and then. Spies and so on.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: And we drank, and I found that if I had a cigarette then nothing would happen on the ground but as soon as I used to have to go on to the oxygen mask which is at eight thousand feet, or —
LD: Yes.
AJ: I’d give the command to, ‘Masks on.’ I’d become violently ill. Now, if you’ve got to sit in the pilot’s seat strapped in, its bad enough to have a wee because you couldn’t get out.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: And the poor bomb aimer, you used to have to butter him up because he used to carry a peach tin or urine bucket they called it and you’d have to struggle and have a widdle if you could into there. And he’s down there and you’re up so sometimes a splash [laughs]
LD: He’d want you flying straight and level while you did that.
AJ: That’s one thing. But to be absolutely sick in your oxygen mask.
LD: Yeah.
LD: Which you couldn’t take off.
LD: Yes. Yes.
AJ: And spend eight, ten hours.
LD: Oh God.
AJ: So naturally I never smoked.
LD: No.
And it’s served me so well in my life.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: Being a non-smoker.
RG: Yeah. I agree. I was smoker.
AJ: I wouldn’t say that I was a non-drinker but I’ve cut that down now, obviously on medical advice to just red wine.
PJ: They don’t, they don’t, haven’t heard that he was going away or anything but he’s terribly deaf so —
RG: He may just have not heard the phone. Yeah.
PJ: So I’ll give you the address.
RG: I’ve got that. I’ve got his address.
PJ: Got it. 90 Gardener Road.
RG: Yeah.
PJ: You know Gardener Road.
RG: Oh we use the sat nav. It’ll get us there.
PJ: So I suggest you go and knock on his door.
RG: Yeah. That’s what we thought we’d do because he said he’d written a book which has never been published.
PJ: Oh yes.
RG: He’s got the manuscript and Lucie checked. Because I wrote a book about a friend of mine’s father who was in the 2nd machine gun, 1st Machine Gun Battalion during the war.
PJ: Oh yes.
RG: So, and it’s just a little personal thing for her.
PJ: Yeah.
RG: But Lucy checked with the National Library and they said yes, they’d be happy to take a copy of that.
PJ: Oh yeah.
RG: And a copy of David’s if it’s, providing it’s typed. And if not, we can do that for him if he wants.
AJ: Because he’s an English fellow who was in the RAF.
PJ: But he’s, he’s very deaf. He almost yells. He has good days and bad days. Some days he’s not terribly with it and sometimes he’s fine.
RG: When I called him, you know, he said, ‘Oh look I don’t know.’ He said, ‘I’ve done a few of these interviews I don’t think I could contribute any more,’ and then an hour and a half later I was still trying to get off the phone [laughs]
AJ: [laughs] Yeah.
PJ: He’s a bit of a hoot you know. He comes. Well the people I’ve just spoken to, Bill he won’t wear — because he’s got a service medal but he did, because he didn’t, he was too young. Bill is just ninety. He was too young to actually, he was in the air force, but never got anywhere.
RG: Didn’t go on ops. Yeah.
PJ: He said, ‘I’m too embarrassed to wear the medal I’ve got.’ Whereas David comes, and he has every conceivable pin that he’s ever got, and said. Well the Russians do.
RG: Yeah. Or the Americans. Oh yeah.
PJ: All the bits and pieces. But no, Actually one of my nephews was in the navy. He went through [unclear]
RG: What was his name, just for interest sake?
LD: My brother was at [unclear]
PJ: Was he?
LD: Yes.
PJ: Well me nephew is now, because he is exactly twenty years younger than me. So, we share a birthday so he must be sixty three. But —
RG: Well that’s almost my age. What was his name. We were in at the same time.
PJ: Mark Dowd.
RG: Do you know what he did?
PJ: Yes. He was a diver.
RG: Oh I didn’t know any divers really. Yeah.
PJ: And it was interesting. It was very interesting because you know there was something like twenty of them in this diving class for starters. So I think there was twenty one or something finished.
RG: Very few get through.
PJ: They were either psychologically unsuited. Physically unsuited. There were a few deaths because of accidents and so on but the navy did Mark a great service because he was [unclear] whatever he was. He went to Vietnam. I think they had to make sure there were no mines. They had to clear.
RG: Under the ships.
PJ: Under on the ships and so on. But then he came back and started his own diving business. I don’t mean sort of leisure. It’s like —
RG: Professional diving.
PJ: Cables and this sort of thing. Dams.
RG: They were very well trained. The navy divers were very extremely well trained.
PJ: I’d say Mark has done very well. The navy did him a big favour but no, so his two sons. Neither went into the navy. One’s an engineer. The other one is doing something. I think science at CSU so, not CSU ANU, in Canberra. Alright. Ok.
LD: Just a couple of really short things.
AJ: Yes, love.
LD: One is do you know what a command bullseye is?
AJ: A command.
LD: A command bullseye.
AJ: Command bullseye.
LD: That’s in the diary that I have and it’s from the context it seems to me like it’s the, it’s like the kind of last exercise you do at the OTU before you go on ops. So, you know ,you go out, you fly at night. But I just haven’t actually been able to find the term anywhere.
RG: [unclear] crew, they did, “Did their command bullseye today” was pretty all what they said and they went to London.
LD: Yeah, they went to London.
AJ: Yeah.
RG: They did it over London. But other crews we’ve heard of doing it over France as well.
AJ: No. I don’t think I came across that.
LD: It’s alright. I know It could have even been a local term.
RG: Well Ken was a little, a fraction before you. he went down in December ‘43 and I noticed that terms and practices and things came and went.
AJ: Oh they sure did.
RG: Yeah. There was no consistency.
AJ: I went to Lindholme — and in the final set up. Yeah. Command bullseye. No.
LD: No. That’s fine.
RG: Might have been a local.
LD: Yeah. And just the other thing. I don’t know how you would feel about this but I, in Katoomba I met a man who was busking. He had the most beautiful voice. This baritone and he was busking in a shopping centre. And he was so well-presented. Anyway, I got to talking to him and he was from Dresden.
AJ: Oh dear. Came from Dresden.
LD: Yeah.
RG: Yes.
LD: He was born and grew up Dresden. Middle aged man.
AJ: Oh dear.
LD: And he busks as a professional and he said he busks in Dresden. And he said he goes to the old city and he sings to the old people. And I thought that was really lovely that —
AJ: Yeah.
RG: Yeah.
LD: You know, that he, you know this is his contribution.
PJ: Well the world moves on. I mean this is —
AJ: I have a horror.
LD: No. No. I mean he sings to the people.
PJ: Yes.
AJ: In relation to Dresden no man who bombed Dresden will, he will never be the same because it was such an awful set up in execution that, you know it scarred any conscience. And the worst thing about it was that it was specifically ordered by Winston Churchill to impress Stalin. And when the British public quite rightly revolted in revulsion even in the wartime and admittedly there was some technical reasons why Dresden had to be bombed because they were concentrating German troops and so on there. But Churchill just wiped his hands. He said, ‘I never.’ He blamed Sir Arthur Harris. Better known as Butch Harris. Sir Arthur Harris never, was never recognised except just before his death. And above all Churchill was so furious with the outcry that in blaming Sir Arthur he never forgot that Bomber Command, in his view needed to be brought to heel. And in that way, I don’t know if you know that story that when the great Victory Parade was organised Bomber Command was the only command refused permission to march in the Victory Parade, and yet Bomber Command was the only service for quite a while that was able to take the —
RG: To Germany. Yeah.
AJ: Oh God. We have the clasp. Have you ever seen that clasp that was awarded?
RG: No. No. I haven’t. No.
AJ: I’ll show you. The clasp was for those in Bomber Command.
PJ: Do you want your medal?
AJ: Yeah. Just the main medal because the other one hasn’t got it.
PJ: It’s not exactly a big deal.
AJ: The British government, queen and parliament eighteen months ago passed a motion of condolence and regret and apology to Bomber Command for the insult delivered to us in the peace. The processions etcetera and by command of the government and the queen a special clasp, a gold clasp was awarded to those of us who served in Bomber Command. When the papers came here and to my colleagues and so on almost to a man, here in Australia we initially refused. In fact I was ready —
PJ: That’s all it is. That’s the bar.
RG: Bomber Command.
AJ: Ready to rip it up. Put it in the application envelope and send it back.
RG: Send it back.
AJ: You know, with the words, ‘Get stuffed,’ but I had second thoughts.
PJ: It was interesting, like last Friday we were at this thing and there’s all these young people there.
RG: It is late but it’s the least they can do now.
PJ: Twenty six or something but every time they go away they get a medal.
RG: It is recognition finally isn’t it? It’s late and it’s long overdue but —
PJ: Always. Every one’s is a different tour of duty, so.
LD: Yeah.
AJ: They’re campaign medals.
PJ: They’ll have five or six medals and they’re about twenty five and, ‘Where did you get all them?’ ‘Oh well, you know I’ve been to Afghanistan. I’ve been to Iraq.’ Or something. But anyhow.
RG: Yeah. There is that.
PJ: Did you know, I’m trying to think? What’s, what’s the naval bloke here. Harris, Harris?
AJ: Yeah.
PJ: Harris.
AJ: Yeah.
PJ: His wife’s name is —
AJ: I can’t remember.
PJ: He was actually the naval attaché to the [unclear] of Paris. What’s his name? I saw him on Anzac Day. Kim. And he’d be older than you.
AJ: Not many. Not many people.
PJ: I was one of eight. And there was a boy, then six girls and then a boy. So the three youngest girls that’s me, my sister. Monica and my sister Dot. We’re the only survivors. But we did very well because until the last two years. My younger brother died, I don’t know probably fifteen, twenty years ago. And my elder sister died when she was only about fifty one but the rest of them, they’ve all been well in to their eighties. I’m eighty three. The next one’s eighty four and the next one’s eighty five.
AJ: You don’t look eighty-three.
PJ: Well thank you. In a good light.
AJ: Now I’m getting nice.
RG: Indeed. Alex. One other question I’d like to ask. VE Day. What was —
AJ: VE day.
RG: Do you have any remembrance of that? Do you remember it?
AJ: Yes. Yes and no. VE day the crew and I were in London. Naturally. I think we all descended on it, and I was actually, I’d been somewhere around Australia House in the morning, early. And they had up on the thing a little notice that guys from certain squadrons and so on represent for, and they had a sort of a bus, open topped bus and I put my name down for 460. I was the one who was chosen to sit on the bus and we got very close, you know, to the royal family. Waving away. And the celebrations though. The Aussies had a number of bars whose names now I forget but we, we descended on the bar in this particular place and we’d actually used the time and time again with the darts that they had for the dart board. We, after a celebration or a particular bomb raid that had gone well and, you know we were proud of it we’d put a few details and twing.
RG: Threw them up on the ceiling.
AJ: Anyway, we decided that they should come down.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: And so we got ladders and things and I remember being fully inebriated trying to get up these ladders to pull darts out of the roof.
PJ: It’s a wonder you survived all the things you got up to.
AJ: Well, I mean basically we were young and stupid.
RG: Yeah.
AJ: Yeah. So VE day was quite a day.
RG: I had to ask because the chap in Canberra Arthur Louden we said to him you know where you on VE day when the war ended. He said I was in bed with the wife up in Scotland. Someone knocked on the door and said, ‘The war’s over.’ I thought, good. And went back to bed again.
AJ: Oh dear that last raid that our squadron was involved in on Berchtesgaden. Hitler’s retreat. We blew the side off the bloody mountain. 460 Squadron was involved in it. It was Anzac Day. I remember that. Anzac Day they blew the side off the bloody mountain. When Pauline and I went back there I remember somewhere. We looked across, ‘I blew the side off that mountain’.
LD: ‘See that landslip there. I did that.’ Wow.
PJ: It’s interesting. I think it’s a shame that more, whilst still there’s people like Alex around that school kids aren’t given more information about the Second World War.
LD: Yes.
RG: Yeah.
PJ: At the present time of course it’s a hundred years —
AJ: That’s a moot question.
PJ: Yeah. But at the present time it’s all a hundred years of course of the First World War and so on.
AJ: The First World War.
PJ: But they don’t get a lot of indigenous history in school but very little about the Second World War.
AJ: Yeah. It is a shame. I’m ambivalent about that.
PJ: You know it’s a bit like —
AJ: I don’t know whether it’s good or not.
PJ: I don’t know if you have children, grandchildren or whatever, but, you know kids today like I said to me granddaughter who will turn up in a few minutes, ‘What are you going to do this year?’ You know. She said, ‘Well, grandma, I can’t decide whether I’ll go to Japan or Italy again this year.’ She went to Italy last year. But she’s never been to Cooper’s Creek or Cameron’s Corner or out in to the outback of Australia or where the various explorers went or even around here which was Mitchell’s territory. You know, she knew nothing about it. I do think it’s a shame. I think there should be more of, yes ok the indigenous. My next-door neighbour, his daughter married an indigenous, and. I keep saying, ‘Don’t blame me I, my I had three Italian and one French grandparent so it’s nothing to do with me,’ but —
LD: It’s a question of getting the whole story isn’t it?
PJ: But how do they ever give you the whole story?
LD: And not, you know, eschewed to one side.
PJ: But we’ll become so politically correct.
LD: Yes.
PJ: That it’s ridiculous and —
LD: My daughter went to Munich.
PJ: Oh yes.
LD: Last year. A couple of years ago. Whenever it was, Brother in law was married in Norway so they did all that. And she came back, and she said, ‘Oh mum. Munich’s beautiful.’ And then she said to me, ‘Did you know it was bombed during the war?’ I thought, ‘Hello.’ Would you like to tell? I could tell you, ‘I could tell you the name of people who did this if you like Polly.’
PJ: It’s very interesting.
LD: And I was just gobsmacked that my daughter who I thought was.
PJ: Yeah. But they don’t.
LD: She’s not a silly girl.
PJ: No. But it’s not, it’s not a part of their scene. It’s a bit like oh well, you know once again I’m not indigenous bashing but alright so the indigenous were here. So Captain Cook arrived so they established colonies etcetera, etcetera [unclear] I think was the first bod that arrived up on the West Australian coast, but yeah. Like, who’s going to grab England? Who are you going to go back to? The Gauls?
RG: Well exactly yeah. Yeah.
PJ: Or France or anywhere.
RG: I’ve got, I’ve got a Norwegian skin problem. So where did my family come? We’re from the north of England, ok.
AJ: Oh yeah.
RG: Originally.
LD: With the Vikings.
PJ: So it’s crazy you know.
RG: Yeah.


Rob Gray, “Interview with Alexander Elliott Jenkins,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 21, 2024,

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