Interview with Ken Macdonald


Interview with Ken Macdonald


Ken Macdonald grew up in Australia and volunteered for the Royal Australian Air Force. He flew operations with Bomber Command.







01:33:10 audio recording


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AMacdonaldK170222, PMacdonaldK1703


JM: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Jean McCartney. The interviewee is Ken MacDonald. The interview is taking place at Mr MacDonald’s home in Banora Point, New South Wales on the 22nd of February 2017. Ken, let’s just start right back in June 1924. You were born in Dee Why.
KM: Dee Why. That’s right. Yes.
JM: Yes. And does that mean that you and your family lived around Dee Why and stayed around Dee Why?
KM: No.
JM: Or —
KM: My parents came out from Scotland six weeks before.
JM: Right.
KM: With five children and me on the way.
JM: Gosh. Yes.
KM: And I was born in Dee Why. Yes. Dad was a farmer in, just out of Glasgow and that’s his farm up there.
JM: Oh my goodness. Yeah.
KM: Yeah. Which is — I think it was knocked down during the war.
JM: Right. Which part? Which side of Glasgow was it?
KM: Dalmuir.
JM: Dalmuir. Which is —
KM: Yeah. Don’t ask me, you know.
JM: Oh ok. Right. Right.
KM: You’ve got the river. The river and then Dalmuir would be out somewhere.
JM: Yes. Yes.
KM: In farmland in those days. Yes. Yeah.
JM: Yeah. So you never had the opportunity to go to back and see where it was?
KM: I went back to Scotland when we, during the war I went there. I never got to Dalmuir. I met my uncle. You know.
JM: Uncle.
KM: Relatives. Relatives who lived around the place.
JM: Yeah.
KM: They were farmer’s as well. Yes.
JM: Right. Ok. Well that’s all very interesting. So then did your family live at Dee Why? Or —
KM: They had a, yes we lived at Dee Why for about five or six years. They had a corner store. Something different for mum and dad, you know. It was a twenty four seven job, you know. Every day of the week and so forth. They worked very hard. From there we went to Cessnock.
JM: Right.
KM: They bought into a fish and chip shop. They’d never done that either.
JM: That’s even harder work. Yes.
KM: Yeah. In Cessnock. And the MacDonald’s Fish Shop was in the town up until about ten years ago.
JM: Gosh.
KM: It passed down through the family and then one of my nephew’s had it and he retired from it.
JM: Gosh.
KM: From there we went to Victoria Street, Potts Point. One side of the road was Woolloomooloo. The other side was Pott, was Potts Point. They had a private hotel.
JM: Right.
KM: And do you want the others? Where we went after that?
JM: Well, where, where so how long were you in —? So you would have finished your, so if it was five years you would not have actually not have started your school in Dee Why, I assume.
KM: No. I started my school at Cessnock.
JM: In Cessnock.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Yeah. So did you — how long were your parents running the shop?
KM: We were there ‘til about 1934.
JM: 1934. So —
KM: Yeah. Then I went —
JM: So —
KM: To Manley for a year.
JM: Yeah.
KM: Manley. And then Darlinghurst Public.
JM: Public, yeah.
KM: Then in 1937 I went to Sydney Boy’s High.
JM: Boy’s High.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Ok. Right. Yes. So at Sydney Boy’s High did you do both your intermediate and your leaving?
KM: Yeah.
JM: Right. So you finished your leaving.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Yeah.
KM: I didn’t excel but still I passed them.
JM: Well, that’s, that’s —
KM: I left school in 19 — when did the Japanese come into the war? ‘42 it would be.
JM: Well presumably —
KM: ‘37 ’38 ‘40
JM: Yeah. So you would have, you would have left —
KM: No. Forty —
JM: ’42 you would, probably you would have finished up school in ‘42.
KM: ’41.
JM: ’41.
KM: I finished school. Yes.
JM: Yeah.
KM: ’41. And then I turned eighteen on the 16th of June.
JM: June in ’42.
KM: Yeah.
JM: And that’s when you enlisted I presume.
KM: Yeah. I did my medical on the 29th of June.
JM: Right. Ok.
KM: But I wasn’t called up until the 5th of December.
JM: Right. Ok.
KM: Yeah.
JM: And —
KM: Bradfield Park.
JM: Yeah.
KM: Then to Maryborough.
JM: Yeah. Well, so you did you ITS at Bradfield Park.
KM: Yeah. Yeah.
JM: Right. Ok. And —
KM: I was in 35 course at Maryborough but I had to repeat the last month.
JM: Right. Ok. I’ll come back to that. I will just backtrack for a second. When you were doing — in your youth did you help mum and dad in the chip shop? The fish and chip shop at Cessnock?.
KM: No.
JM: Or you were too young.
KM: I was too young. Yeah.
JM: Yeah.
KM: I was too young. Yeah.
JM: Because you were under ten.
KM: Yeah. Yeah.
JM: Up to ten so yeah.
KM: Yeah.
JM: I guess that would be. Then what about the private hotel. Did you do any? Help out at all?
KM: Yeah. I learned how to iron and different things like that. Yes.
JM: Yeah. Yeah.
KM: Helped as much as I could.
JM: Could. Yeah. Yeah. That’s right.
KM: And then —
JM: Because they had, so they would have had that all the time that you were at school then.
KM: Yeah.
JM: I would assume.
KM: Yes. Yes. Yeah.
JM: Yeah. Ok. So and what —
KM: And after school I went to, I ended up going, in the last few months I was at teacher’s college.
JM: Oh ok.
KM: That was just, just to make —
JM: Between. Just between that that six months between you finished your leaving certificate and before you were old enough to enlist.
KM: Well I had, I had a job with a real estate man who was going to train me. He didn’t have any children and I think he was going to train me to sort of take over but he was killed in a car accident so that put the kibosh on that.
JM: Right.
KM: So then I went to teacher’s college.
JM: Right.
KM: Just to make sure if I was lucky enough to come home from the war I had a job to come back to.
JM: Back to.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Yeah. So what sort of teacher training were you doing? Were you doing primary school?
KM: Primary school.
JM: Yeah. Right.
KM: At Sydney’s Teaching College.
JM: College. Right.
KM: I did six months there.
JM: Right. Ok.
KM: Then I went in to the Air Force. Yeah.
JM: Right.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Did you do anything else? Did you play a lot of sport? Did you join the Air Training Corps?
KM: Oh yeah. I used to sport. I was never a champion but I got involved in everything.
JM: Yeah.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Lots of team sports or —
KM: Yeah. Rugby. Rugby mainly.
JM: Yeah.
KM: Cricket. Yes. Anything that was going.
JM: Right.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Did you ever join the Air Training Corps or anything like that?
KM: Yes. I was in the Air Training Corps.
JM: When did you join that?
KM: Oh, I was [pause] I was still at school when I joined that. That would be about 1939 or something. Yeah.
JM: Right.
KM: I was in the Air Training Corps.
JM: Right. And did you stay in the ATC through.
KM: ‘Til I joined up.
JM: ‘Til you joined up?
KM: Practically, yeah.
JM: Which means that you basically just transferred over.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Once you were eighteen I presume. So did you do any flying or anything or just theory when you were in the —?
KM: It was just theory. I learned how to send Morse, so when I went into the air force I had a background in Morse code.
JM: Morse code. Right.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Ok so —
KM: So when I was at ITS, you know, they said, ‘Have you got any desires what you want to be?’ And I said, ‘Wireless, air gunner.’
JM: Yeah.
KM: Because I had that basic training.
JM: Training. Yeah.
KM: I didn’t think I’d be good enough to be a pilot. Yeah.
JM: Right. Ok. So you did you medical. And so then you say you did, you went to Maryborough and then did you follow straight on from Maryborough with a gunnery course at Evans Head?
KM: Yeah. Yeah.
JM: Yeah. Ok. And then from there you went to, you had some leave before —
KM: I think I had a week’s leave and went to Melbourne. We left on a Saturday and arrived there on a Sunday. Straight on to a ship and sailed out on a Monday.
JM: Out of Melbourne.
KM: Out of Melbourne. Yes. On the Nieuw Amsterdam. Yeah.
JM: Yeah. Yeah.
KM: Yeah.
JM: So that was in December.
KM: No. That was the 26th, I think, of September.
JM: September.
KM: Yeah. When we sailed.
JM: Ok. Yeah. Yeah. Ok. Yeah. Ok. And so that was September ’43 wasn’t it?
KM: Yeah.
JM: Yeah.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Yeah. Just pause while a little gentleman flies overhead. Mr Virgin or Mr Jetstar.
KM: Yeah. Or Tiger.
JM: Yeah.
KM: Or could be Air Asia.
JM: Yeah. Could be anyone. That’s right.
KM: We went to New Zealand from there. Then to San Francisco. We had leave in San Francisco for a few days and then went by train which was great. Got the train across to New York where we had porters on board and everything. They were great troop trains. Better than we had here in Australia. And then from New York we went —
JM: Just — you went straight through but I presume —
KM: We used to stop off at various places.
JM: Places yeah —
KM: And that. Yeah. Give you a bit of a march and — yeah.
JM: Yeah. You didn’t have a chance to look around as such.
KM: No.
JM: But if you did a bit of a march.
KM: Yeah.
JM: I guess you were out in the streets a little bit to take in the different —
KM: A bit of exercise for us.
JM: Yeah.
KM: To keep us going. Yeah.
JM: Going.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Yeah. And did you form any impressions? Were you able to see different contrasts between the various places that you stopped off or you were just not really looking around that much at that stage.
KM; No. No.
JM: Yeah. Yeah. Because five days was a long time to be cooped up on the train.
KM: That’s right. Yes.
JM: Because you had probably — what? Several bunks in one area.
KM: Well we had little, we had —
JM: Cubical type things I suppose.
KM: Yes. It was like a [pause] it was just like a passenger train really.
JM: Train. Yes.
KM: And had the bunks. Tiered bunks. You know —
JM: Yeah.
KM: Which were the, they weren’t made especially for the troops. They were just —
JM: Yeah. Normal.
KM: What the passengers used to use and had the porters there to look after you. Yeah.
JM: Yeah. And so you get to New York.
KM: Yeah.
JM: And you get a few days leave in New York.
KM: Yes. Yes. Yes. And we had about a week in New York.
JM: What sort of things did you get up to in New York?
KM: Oh. Normal things.
JM: Normal things. Yeah.
KM: You’re not — you couldn’t drink in a lot of places because you had to be twenty one.
JM: Yeah.
KM: That was the first thing we struck when we got off the ship in San Francisco. The first place we went to was a bar. He wasn’t going to serve us at first because he said, ‘How old are you?’ And we all — we told him.
JM: Honest.
KM: He said, ‘You’ve got to be twenty one.’ We said, ‘Oh we’ve all just turned twenty one.’ Of course we were in uniform and everything like that, you know. We were sergeants. You’d think that they would have given it to us which they did. Yeah.
JM: Yeah.
KM: And people were very good. Very kind. Americans were beautiful people I thought.
JM: Yeah. So, so you had a bit of a wander around New York. Saw some — as well as going to a few bars.
KM: Yes. Yes. Yeah.
JM: And saw some of the main sights there.
KM: Yeah. Yeah.
JM: Yeah.
KM: The Empire State Building. Rockefeller Centre. That’s what I can remember now.
JM: Yeah. Yeah.
KM: Had a ride in a Hansom cab. Cab around, you know, horse drawn. Around Central Park with a young lady I met. And it was nice. Yeah. Course you fall in love quick quite easily You fall out twice as quick [laughs]
JM: Yeah.
KM: That’s where I first saw Danny Kaye. Do you remember Danny Kaye the actor?
JM: I do indeed remember Danny Kaye.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Yes.
KM: I went to the theatre and he was on. There was a film on as well which I can’t remember what that it was. But he was on as a just doing a few acts and I thought he was tremendous. As a matter of fact I’ve sat through the film again to see him. Yes. He was a great comedian. Got lots of people. Yeah.
JM: Yeah. Yeah.
KM: And from then we went across to England on the Queen Elizabeth where there was about eighteen thousand troops I think on there as well.
JM: Yes.
KM: No, no escort or anything like that. Just flat out. The way to go.
JM: Yeah.
KM: And I must tell you that there was one of our, one of my mates Mick Jordan and another chap called Douglas McCartney — they ran the Crown and Anchor.
JM: Yes.
KM: Which is a gambling thing.
JM: Yes.
KM: Yeah. And took my money.
JM: Did they now?
KM: Yes. Yes [laughs]
JM: I see.
KM: You can’t win at that.
JM: You can’t win at that.
KM: No.
JM: No. Now, I don’t know whether it was this trip or not with the QE2 but I haven’t got the dates with me unfortunately. But one, one of the QE2 voyages they had to deviate via Greenland because they were being pursued by a —
KM: No. It wasn’t us.
JM: It wasn’t you.
KM: No.
JM: Right. Ok. So you went in to Scotland.
KM: Yes. And from there on to a troop train and down to Brighton.
JM: Yeah.
KM: Yeah.
JM: And so you were in Brighton for your —
KM: At the Grand or, Grand or Metropole hotels.
JM: Hotels yeah. Yeah.
KM: Yes. And we were there for two or three weeks I suppose. Then we went to Whitley Bay for the commando course. Gee, you’re stretching my memory.
JM: Yeah. That’s alright. So then from that commando course —
KM: I must tell you while we were at the Grand there there was a chap. There was, around the corner from the Grand Hotel there was a bar that used to, you had a dance there as well. It was like, you know, a bit like a nightclub. And one of the boys who I didn’t know but he, when he was coming back one night he was half full. And there was a keg outside the, outside the place which was full and he rolled it back around to the hotel and we all carried it up to about the fifth floor and proceeded to drink it [laughs]
JM: So you actually got it up to the fifth floor.
KM: Yeah. Yeah.
JM: Well that’s interesting because one of the other chaps I’ve talked to said they tried to do something similar and they’d covered it with a coat etcetera but they got, while they were covering it, while they were carrying it one of them slipped or something slightly and they lost their grip on it so the coat slipped and suddenly revealed that it was a keg and so they were sprung and they were told to — they didn’t get into trouble per se but they just got told to put it back down again and that was it.
KM: That might have been the end of war.
JM: Was it?
KM: ‘Cause I did hear that this same chap.
JM: Yeah.
KM: He tried it later on.
JM: Later on.
KM: Yeah. After the end of the war and he was caught. But the police let him off.
JM: Off.
KM: Because of the fact it was the end of the war.
JM: The war.
KM: Yes. But this keg we got it up. Whether it might have been the fourth floor or the fifth floor but I know it was up high enough. Yeah.
JM: Yeah. Yeah.
KM: Yeah.
JM: And it required a bit of effort to get it up there.
KM: Yeah. And it was terrible beer as well. It was. The beer was shocking over there when we first arrived. The first, the first drink we had we walked in to the pub and I think we all had about one mouthful and that was it. We left the rest and walked out and said we’re going to have a very sober time here in England. But it’s surprising how your tastes change. Yeah. [laughs]
JM: Tastes change.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Yeah. So roughly how long was the commando training? Roughly.
KM: I think it might have been a couple of weeks.
JM: And where were you off to after that?
KM: We went on leave then.
JM: Where did you go for your leave? Do you —
KM: To Edinburgh. Yeah. For a few days. I’m a bit lost after that [pause] and then I went to, I was posted to Milham after that. I don’t think Dougie went there did he?
JM: No.
KM: No. That’s, that’s when we sort of broke up. Milham was a place on the west coast of [pause] west coast of Cumberland. In Cumberland. Not that far from Blackpool. But it was cold and wet and it was a bugger of a place. It really was.
JM: Was.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Yeah. And so was that some —
KM: That was —
JM: It wouldn’t have been an OTU it would have been a —
KM: No. It wasn’t an OTU.
JM: It was a —
KM: It was an AFU more or less. Yes.
JM: Yeah.
KM: Advanced Flying School.
JM: That’s right. So what were you flying there?
KM: Avro Ansons.
JM: Right. OK.
KM: Yeah.
JM: So would that have been your first sort of full flying experience?
KM: No. We did a fair bit of flying at Maryborough.
JM: Maryborough.
KM: Yes.
JM: Oh yes that’s right. But they were —
KM: They were Wacketts.
JM: Wacketts. Yeah.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Yeah so that would have been —
KM: And at the air gunnery school they were Fairey Battles.
JM: Yes. Yes.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Yeah. So — but the Avros are slightly different to both of those.
KM: That’s right they were two engine kites.
JM: Kites. Yeah.
KM: Yeah.
JM: And fully enclosed.
KM: That’s right yeah.
JM: Yeah. So —
KM: That’s where that [pause] you know the chap that appears in the other side there Stan Jacobs.
JM: Yeah.
KM: He’s on the right hand side.
JM: Yeah.
KM: He was in a plane. They crashed into a mountain. They weren’t killed, you know. He broke a leg and so he was off for a little while.
JM: Right. Right.
KM: Then unfortunately later on he was on a Halifax still training and they iced up over Oxford and crashed and they were all killed. Yeah.
JM: Gosh.
KM: He was a lovely man. Yeah.
JM: Yes. And so roughly how long were you at Milham?
KM: I think about five or six weeks.
JM: Yeah. And so where —
KM: I didn’t shine there.
JM: You didn’t shine there.
KM: No. I got am [pause] it’s in my logbook saying my discipline was poor.
JM: Oh?
KM: Because I had a couple of run-ins with some of the, you know the —
JM: Officers.
KM: Well not officers. No. The drill sergeant.
JM: Oh ok.
KM: And officers. Different people like that.
JM: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
KM: Objected to being told what to do.
JM: I see. Right.
KM: The thing, you know, it was just one of those things there. Nothing serious.
JM: No.
KM: No.
JM: Just the usual Australian.
KM: Well that’s all it was. Yeah. Yeah.
JM: Vernacular batmanship.
KM: Yeah.
JM: That’s right. So they didn’t formally discipline you or anything I presume.
KM: No.
JM: No. Just a word about calm it down MacDonald.
KM: Yeah. Yeah.
JM: Yeah.
KM: But it was reported.
JM: Right.
KM: Yeah. And there was, I’ll tell you about one occasion that happened at Milham.
JM: Yeah.
KM: I was in the bar this night having a drink with another chap and he’d had quite a few drinks and then we were going back to our hut and another Australian and he wanted to go to the tut and I said, ‘Well, we’re almost there. Or go behind that hut.’ He said, ‘I’ve got a better idea.’ There was a ladder outside one of the huts. The workmen had been doing something. So he climbed up the ladder. He got to the top there and there was a bit of a chimney coming out because every hut used to have a coke burner inside or a coal burner inside there and he pee’d down the chimney. And all the blokes [laughs] were sitting down inside and all of a sudden there was steam and you know you could hear the yells. Of course we went for our lives, you know [laughs] He managed to get down and we got into our hut and the next thing the door burst open and they said, ‘Has anybody just come in here?’ ‘No. Of course not.’ And the other boys said, ‘No.’ And they said, ‘Well why have you two got, these two got their great coats on?’ I said, ‘Well because we want to go. We were just about to go to the toilet.’ If they’d have caught us they would have killed us. As I said before that was my first occasion of being close to death [laughs] At the time there we thought it was a great joke.
JM: Joke. Yeah.
KM: Yeah.
JM: I presume you didn’t have any of those sort of hijinks when you were at Whitley Bay?
KM: No. No.
JM: No. That was —
KM: I wouldn’t tell you if your father was involved.
JM: That’s maybe why you should tell me but anyway, ok, so from Milham?
KM: To Finningley.
JM: Yeah.
KM: That was OTU.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Yeah. And whereabouts is Finningley?
KM: Out of Doncaster.
JM: Oh ok. Down. Yeah.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Down south right.
KM: There I crewed up.
IJM: I was going to say you would have probably crewed up there. Yeah.
KM: Yes. With three Canadians.
JM: Yeah.
KM: And two Englishmen at the time. That made six of us.
JM: Yeah.
KM: Then they, from there we —
JM: What were you flying at —?
KM: Wellingtons.
JM: Wellingtons. Yeah.
KM: They were doing, they were building a new runway there. Or improving the runway so we went to a satellite ‘drome called Worksop.
JM: Right.
KM: And we were on Wellingtons there.
JM: Right.
KM: Yeah. That, well, you know that skipper was going very well except one time he tried to land the plane thirty feet up in the air and we just dropped like a stone. Luckily we had the undercarriage down but it pushed all the undercarriage back up. He had a screened pilot with him who immediately pushed the throttles forward and we took off again. We had to fly around for quite a while. They had the ambulances and the fire brigade and God knows what there because they thought we’d have to belly land.
JM: Land yeah.
KM: But fortunately they were able to, we were able to hand winch them down.
JM: Hand winch them down.
KM: That went down. Yeah. It didn’t go against the skipper. It was just one of those things, you know.
JM: Yeah.
KM: Yeah. He wasn’t as close to the ground as he thought he was.
JM: Thought he was. Yeah. Right. So that was a bit of a —
KM: It was another one of those things.
JM: Yeah. Yeah. And I might just pause for a minute because of that noise outside.
[voices outside. recording paused]
JM: Ok. That group of people have passed by now. So we won’t have the voices just drifting in and that.
KM: Yeah. Yeah.
JM: So ok so was that the only sort of a bit of a hairy moment for you?
KM: Yeah. Yeah.
JM: in the flying at OTU.
KM: We did a lot of flying there. And night flying.
JM: Flying.
KM: Day flying. Yes. Yeah.
JM: So what was your pilot? Was your pilot one of the Canadians?
KM: Yeah. Canadian. The pilot was a Canadian.
JM: Yeah.
KM: The navigator was Canadian and the bomb aimer was Canadian.
JM: Right.
KM: The mid-upper gunner was English and the rear gunner was English.
JM: Right. Ok. Ok. So you finished your OTU and did all fair number of hours doing your day and night flying all around there. And —
KM: Yeah.
JM: Yeah. And then —
KM: And then we went to [pause] it was a Heavy Conversion Unit.
JM: Yeah.
KM: Just have to get my logbook and see.
JM: Yes, certainly. We’ll just pause. [pause] Have you got a summary at the back there of your [pause] sometimes they put, they put a little summary at the back of the various bases or something.
KM: Yeah. No, I’ve just got the name of the aircraft.
JM: Right.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Right.
KM: I know it was 1667 Heavy Conversion Unit.
JM: Yeah.
KM: Gee.
JM: That’s alright.
KM: I should know.
JM: Yeah. That’s alright. We’ll — it may well come back to you shortly. We’ll continue on and we’ll, as I say, see how — if it comes back that’s good.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Otherwise it’s not a problem. It’s not a problem.
KM: Here’s Lindsey.
JM: Lindsey coming in is he?
KM: I think he’s bringing his logbook. You want to scan it or something don’t you?
JM: Yeah but not, not at the moment.
KM: No.
JM: I want to finish chatting to you first.
KM: Yeah. Yeah.
JM: Yeah. Yeah. So maybe he didn’t realise. So we’ll pause while Lindsey comes in.
[recording paused]
JM: And so we’re resuming after a brief interruption. Lindsey Hibbard, whom I have interviewed a previous day happens to live just a couple of doors away from Ken and he just popped in to see us for a moment. So Lindsey’s now gone. Returned to his home. So we’re now resuming and we were covering Heavy Conversion. You were doing Heavy Conversion on Halifaxes.
KM: Halifaxes. Yeah.
JM: Yeah. And that would have what? A few weeks of flying you think. And then, any particular, do you remember any particular incidents?
KM: No. There was no particular incidents there. No.
JM: No.
KM: No.
JM: Ok. And after you finished your Heavy Conversion is that when you were posted to 12 Squadron.
KM: No. From there we went to —
JM: Oh you had to do a, a Lancaster, yeah.
KM: Lanc Finishing School. Yes.
JM: And where did you do, where did you do your —
KM: At Hemswell.
JM: Hemswell. Right.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Ok. And —
KM: About a fortnight we were there.
JM: About a fortnight there.
KM: Yeah. Yeah. And from there we went to [pause ] that’s where we picked, we picked up the —
JM: Engineer.
KM: At the Heavy Conversion Unit that’s where we picked up our engineer.
JM: Engineer. Yeah.
KM: He was a, he was a Welshman.
JM: He was a Welshman was he?
KM: Yeah.
JM: Ok.
KM: Yeah. So we were a variety of nations of crew.
JM: Yeah. Yeah.
KM: I was the only Australian.
JM: Yes.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Yes. Indeed. As was the case with quite a few crews.
KM: Yeah.
JM: So, so then it was off to Wickenby to 12 Squadron.
KM: Yeah. Yeah.
JM: You’re getting —
KM: Before that we’d lost our rear gunner. I’m sorry, mid-upper gunner was — he went missing.
JM: Did he?
KM: Yeah. I think that he might have — it was too much for him.
JM: Too much.
KM: Yes. Yeah.
JM: So —
KM: Whether he went — we just don’t know.
JM: No.
KM: He never came back to us.
JM: Came back.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Ok. So who came in and replaced him?
KM: Oh another English bloke.
JM: Another English bloke. Right. Yeah.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Ok. And was that during the Heavy Conversion or the Lancaster Finishing?
KM: The Heavy Conversion.
JM: Conversion. Yeah.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Okey dokes. And so nothing else. You would have had a little bit of leave and that between these courses.
KM: I had leave. Yes.
JM: What sort of things did you do?
KM: I went up to — I never, I very rarely went to London because I thought it was too big and, you know, very impersonal. Used to go to Nottingham where there was ten females to every man. So [laughs] so it was a good place to go to. Yes. You were never lonely.
JM: You were never lonely.
KM: Never lonely. Yeah.
JM: No. That’s right. You had a wide choice.
KM: That’s right. Yes. Yeah.
JM: Yes.
KM: Yeah.
JM: And did the whole crew go when you were on leave or did you go your separate ways generally.
KM: Well. Yes. Mainly. Mainly I went on my own because the others, you know, they used to go home or something like that.
JM: Yeah. Well, presumably the Englishmen.
KM: Yeah.
JM: May have been a bit harder for the Welshman to go home but certainly.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Probably the English chaps went home. The Canadians probably stuck together then I suppose.
KM: Yeah. Well there were two officers among the Canadians and then the skipper he became an officer as well. So —
JM: Right.
KM: Yeah.
JM: So did you feel that created a bit of —?
KM: No. No. No.
JM: No. Right.
KM: The skipper was great. He was, he was —
JM: What was his name?
KM: Johnny Murray.
JM: Right.
KM: John Grimler Murray.
JM: And —
KM: When we were on the squadron you know when we weren’t flying we used to — you see you talk about pubs a lot.
JM: That’s alright.
KM: It’s probably one of the things but we would ride our bikes down to the local pub there and he’d come up with us and play darts and you know, other things and then drive back home again. A bit hairy coming back. Especially during the snowy weather when the roads were very icy and everything. Yeah.
JM: Yeah. Any tumbles?
KM: You tumbled on occasion. Yes. And then when we, when we got back to the squadron there we were very friendly with the service police or military police whichever you want to call them and we’d call in their headquarters and they used to be able to purloin bacon and eggs and different things like that so we’d have a little bit of a feed with them. Yeah.
JM: That’s good.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Good to have these cordial relationships.
KM: That’s right. Yes. Yeah.
JM: Yes. That’s right. So any other particular incident? Well, that stand out at this stage or you really, this is when the hard work starts. When the op starts.
KM: That’s when the hard work starts when we got to the squadron. Yeah.
JM: The squadron. Yeah. And what sort of — where were you going and what sort of things were you doing?
KM: What raids were we on?
JM: Yeah. What raids were you on?
KM: The first two we did Essen. Essen. Cologne. Cologne.
JM: Right.
KM: Two nights and two days.
JM: Days.
KM: It was a little bit of shock to the system to start off with. But the, you know especially when you’re on the tail of the target. And on the way to the target as well. If you’re off course at all well you could run into problems there.
JM: And any difficult — any real difficulties I mean?
KM: Not in those four. No.
JM: Not in those four.
KM: No. We got shot up on one occasion. We had to — we had no [pause] no brakes, no flaps or anything like that. We had to land at one of the emergency ‘dromes which they had.
JM: Right. No hydraulics in other words.
KM: No. That’s right.
JM: Yeah.
KM: And they’re about two miles long the runways. With an overshoot, you know, of about a half a mile. When we landed we took the whole length. Just rolled to the end. We were lucky. Yeah.
JM: But was it a belly landing or —?
KM: No.
JM: No. You were —
KM: Got on the, manually wound the —
JM: That’s right.
KM: The undercarriage down.
JM: Yeah.
KM: And then the blokes. They were great there. Manston I think it was. The chaps there. The mechanics worked all night and got us back flying the next day.
JM: Right. Gosh.
And we got back to our ‘drome. Yeah.
JM: And what [pause] which raid was that raid during that you got that flak? You’re not sure.
KM: I’m not certain.
JM: Yeah. That’s ok.
KM: I’d be guessing.
JM: No.
KM: Doesn’t make a great deal of difference.
JM: No. That’s right. So that’s, they were the first few raids.
KM: Yeah.
JM: And then what? What — where did you go next?
KM: We went to Nuremberg. Munich. Bochum. Didn’t get to Berlin. Nuremberg was a very dicey one.
JM: Yeah.
KM: We lost quite a few planes there. Then towards the end we went to a place called Royan in France which was still an enclave that hadn’t been captured by the French or the allies, you know. And we bombed it but apparently, we found out since then, I only found out recently that we should never have bombed it. It was an agreement between an American officer and, you know some of the French and there was a bit of — they’d been drinking and there was a misinterpretation and there was a hell of a lot of civilians in the town which we — I don’t think they came out if too well. Yeah. We should never have bombed it. Yeah.
JM: Bombed it. But you were not to know.
KM: Oh we didn’t know. We were just told. Every target we went to it was ostensibly a military target. It was either oil wells or different things. Factories. But never civilian targets. Actually civilians would be killed because everybody is not that accurate with their bombing. Yeah. So we were never, we were never told to bomb civilian targets.
JM: That’s right.
KM: Even though people thought that we did but we didn’t. Yeah. And then on the 14th of June — 14th of January.
JM: 14th of January.
KM: Yeah.
JM: ‘45.
KM: Yeah. We were on our way to Merseburg. It was 11 o’clock at night and a German fighter got us. It was —
JM: How far out were you? Were you right over Germany?
KM: Yes. We were well and truly into Germany.
JM: Germany.
KM: We still had our bombs on board.
JM: Right.
KM: Hit us with cannons and so forth. Set us on fire and we took evasive action and actually got the fire out. Then we dropped our bombs. We jettisoned our bombs there. And the fighter came in again and hit us again and set us on fire again.
JM: Yeah.
KM: Skipper said we had to bale out and were waiting to bale out. We were on fire at the back. Couldn’t get to the gunners. I tried to get to them but, you know it was all fire. Couldn’t get through. The front was jammed a bit. The front escape was jammed a bit. Finally got it open and then we blew up.
JM: You still had fuel on board I suppose.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Yeah.
KM: None of us went out through that. We were just all blown out.
JM: Yeah.
KM: And the skipper, engineer and myself were the only ones that came out of it. The others were all — well the gunners had both been wounded.
JM: Wounded.
KM: And the others were killed in the explosion.
JM: Explosion.
KM: Yeah.
JM: And so you had your chutes on at this stage?
KM: Yeah.
JM: Yeah.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Yeah. So you —
KM: It was the first time I had done up my harness. I never used to do up a parachute harness you know. I’ve never had, never put a parachute on. But I soon put it on that night.
JM: Yes. Yes I can imagine.
KM: Yeah.
JM: So —
KM: And so we landed in the snow. It was a beautiful feeling. I went out — I was unconscious. I came to in the air. It was a beautiful feeling falling, you know. And I thought will I pull rip cord or not? But then I think self-preservation came in. I pulled it. And went out to it again and landed on the ground. But I lost my flying boots on the way down. And I met up with my engineer. We decided to escape. Go to Switzerland which was three hundred miles away.
JM: Yeah.
KM: We were in the snow and I didn’t have any flying boots. Yeah.
JM: What, how were your boots sort of damaged is why they came off?
KM: The rush of air used to get them. That was the trouble. They had a fault with them. And then they brought in a new type of flying boot which was an escape boot.
JM: Boot. Yeah.
KM: Which you took part of the flying boot off and you end up with a shoe.
JM: Shoe.
KM: Yeah. But I hadn’t been issued with those.
JM: Issued with those.
KM: The engineer had.
JM: Oh ok.
KM: So what we did we took the top part of his flying boot off and wrapped it around my feet, you know. But we only, we went two or three hours and my feet were absolutely frozen.
JM: Frozen.
KM: So I said to him, ‘Well I’m going to give myself up.’ So we came to this few houses and knocked on the door. It was about 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning. And knocked on the windows and called out, ‘Australians.’ You know [laughs] But there was women in there. They wouldn’t open the door. I think they were frightened of us.
JM: Yeah.
KM: We got to another place and a bit of a farmhouse and just went in to the farmyard and let them know. A bloke came out and put us in a barn and we spent the night there. And then the police arrived the next day. The farmer by the way gave me a pair of old boots to put on.
JM: Oh that’s good.
KM: They weren’t the right size.
JM: Size.
KM: But still they were something.
JM: They were something. Yeah. Gave a bit of protection.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Yeah. Did they give you any food or —?
KM: I think he might have given us a cup of tea. Yeah. They, the farmer, they wouldn’t be too badly off. But the Germans were you know [pause] their place, you know, was in a mess. From there we went in to this town called Wetzlar and it was and — there wasn’t a thing standing. They put us in the local jail and we got kicked around a little bit but still —
JM: So this was just the normal German police at this stage.
KM: No. That’s where they handed us over to the army there. Yeah.
JM: Oh right.
KM: Yeah. Admittedly they did get a doctor to come and have a look at me because I’d done my shoulder in as well. I lost the sleeve off my battle jacket. You know, it was torn off. My shoulder was injured and they got, the doctor did come which was good I thought. Yeah.
JM: And did he, was he able to do anything? Or did he just strap it up or what?
KM: No. He just looked at it and he put a couple of dressings on the leg and feet. Yeah.
JM: Yeah.
KM: Because it was eating right in to the ball of my feet, you know eating away. Yeah. From there we went to Dulag Luft which was the interrogation centre. Had a week there in solitary confinement which, we were in a room where you can’t see out and you didn’t know if it was day or night and they’d turn the lights off. On and off. And the heating. They’d turn that on and off as well. On the wall there were, you could see where blokes had scratched the number of days. I don’t know whether the Germans had put it there to upset us or not but [laughs] you’d look at and you’d say, ‘Oh God.’ Yeah — but the Germans —
JM: But did they try to —
KM: Well they tried —
JM: Torture you in any other way. I mean obviously this was mental sort of torture.
KM: Yeah that was mental torture. The interrogation. Interrogation part was, they were very good to you. They tried to be nice to you. They’d offer you cigarettes and everything like that, you know. But they knew what squadron we came from.
JM: From —
KM: Yeah.
JM: And their English was reasonable?
KM: Oh his English. There was a chap that I had he was, he had an American accent. And he said he’d spent all his childhood in America.
JM: Right.
KM: And he’d just came back with the war. Yeah. And we were, we were carrying a new piece of equipment which I didn’t know what it was. I, you know, I wasn’t properly aware of it. What it, what it, how to work it or anything like that so they couldn’t get anything out of me about it. They, they were very interested in that. Yeah.
JM: And was your engineer with you? Still with you at the station or had they separated with you at this stage?
KM: Oh we were in separate. Yeah. Never saw him.
JM: You were in separate cells but —
KM: Yeah. Never saw him. Not during that period. No.
JM: No. Well yes obviously in solitary confinement. No.
KM: Yeah.
JM: But you were both, but you were both in the same station.
KM: Yeah. So was the skipper.
JM: Oh was he?
KM: Yeah.
JM: Oh he’d been pulled in as well. Right.
KM: Yeah. He’d been brought in as well. Yeah.
JM: Right. Ok. Right.
KM: Yeah.
JM: So at least you knew the three of them ultimately you knew there was three.
KM: I knew there was three. There was three of us still alive.
JM: Yeah.
KM: Yeah. And then they let us go. We went to a transit place where they gave me a new top. Some American flak jacket or some bloody thing. I don’t know. No collars or anything like that. And then put us on a train to Luckenwalde, which was south of Berlin. We spent about seven or eight days on that train. One of those where forty men or eight horses. You know. We were supposed to go up to a camp on the north of Germany but I think because of the bombing I think we were being diverted all the time and switched and everything. It wasn’t the, wasn’t the greatest of trips. It wasn’t as good as the trip across America [laughs]
JM: No porters in other words.
KM: Yeah. And it was very awkward. There was no toilets or anything. If you wanted to go and do a wee, you know, you’d have to, you could open the doors but the cold, you know. It was freezing cold.
JM: Yeah.
KM: And I had, I could only stand on one leg.
JM: Yeah.
KM: And standing there and you’re swaying.
JM: Yeah.
KM: And getting abused by everybody because the doors were open.
JM: Abused by everyone else because the doors. That’s right. Yeah.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Yeah. And trying to, you know, make sure the wind was blowing in the right direction apart from everything else.
KM: That’s right. Yeah. Yeah.
JM: Because this was, what? This is January. This was what? Towards the end of January I suppose by this stage if you were in —
KM: It was. Yeah. That would be it would be yeah. Would be the end of January.
JM: Because you’d had seven days in solitary confinement so —
KM: Yeah. Yeah.
JM: Yeah. So you’re getting towards the end of January.
KM: Yeah.
JM: So yeah. So I mean gosh. It’s just so cold. That’s just peak midwinter.
KM: Yeah.
JM: It’s freezing.
KM: Then we got, we finally got to Luckenwalde and it was a camp. It was a very big camp. It was about thirty miles south of Berlin.
JM: Yeah.
KM: It had a multitude of different prisoners there. Russians, Italians, French, Poles, Americans. You name it. The hut that I went into — Hitler at one time had tried to form an International Brigade. He wanted people to fight for Germany against the Russians. Not to fight against England. And he, what he concentrated on were the Irish because the Irish were only in the war because they like fighting. So anybody with an Irish name they went to this camp and they were offered, you know fight to, to join the army and fight for Germany. Very few did it but I ended up in this Irish hut. And it was north of Ireland one end and south of Ireland the other. They didn’t talk. Some of them, they’d had been prisoners for four of five years you know and there was still that division between them. Yeah. When I was there [pause]I was going to say something but a different type, you know. Coming from Australia and being very young you’re not going to be aware of this sort of thing. I couldn’t understand it. Actually, I still shake my head in bloody amazement. The fact that people could be like that you know.
JM: So stubborn.
KM: Yeah.
JM: In the circumstances.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Yes.
KM: It was religion as well you know. But still.
JM: So you didn’t. So —
KM: And I was lucky while I was there. There was an American. He’d been captured. He was in the airborne division and was captured at Arnhem and they’d marched them all the way across. He still had some Sulfanilamide powder which he put on my feet because the, there was, you know holes about that far in to my feet you know. I couldn’t walk. And he put the Sulfanilamide powder on and that brought them back to life. Yeah. Eventually. Yeah.
JM: And were the pilot and the engineer also brought into this same camp?
KM: Yes. The engineer was. The pilot — he was over in the officer’s compound.
JM: Compound yeah.
KM: Yeah.
JM: So did you see, and then see the engineer from time to time?
KM: Yeah. Saw him a lot. Yeah.
JM: Yeah.
KM: And then eventually the Russians liberated us. Didn’t want, didn’t want to let the — we were in the, you know where the Americans had stopped at the River Elbe and we were, I suppose about forty or fifty miles from there. They wouldn’t let the Americans come through or anybody else. What they wanted to do was to bring us back, take us back through Germany and then claim the money. You know. And we weren’t supposed to leave the camp.
JM: What were conditions like in the camp? Generally speaking.
KM: They weren’t —
JM: I mean obviously it’s a prisoner of war camp so it’s not going to be great.
KM: Yeah.
JM: But I mean, you know — any particular things stand out for you?
KM: Food was very light on, yeah. Conditions weren’t the best but —
JM: How many people in each sort of hut type thing?
KM: I suppose could be about a hundred I suppose. Yes. Yes. It’s a bit hard to remember now. Yeah.
JM: No. That’s alright. Just an impression.
KM: Yeah.
JM: That, you know. I mean —
KM: There would have been about [pause] in the camp itself — it was a big camp. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there was fifteen to twenty thousand there. You know. The Russians were treated atrociously because they didn’t have the Geneva Convention. Yeah. And luckily we did get some, on occasion we got a Red Cross parcel and through that we could buy bread with cigarettes or, yeah, chocolate. Yeah.
JM: So how long were — how long before the Russians came in? When did the Russians come in?
KM: They came in the end of April or beginning of May. Beginning of May, round about. We were forbidden to leave the camp. Which is like a red rag to a bull [pause] and the chap that, the English chap — I used to muck in with him, you know. We used to share things like food and everything like that. And he’d gone in to, in to the town and he’d met up with two frauleins or fraus they were and he sent a message back for me to come in. So, I went in to the town and when I was in the town there, there was two bloody British officers and I said, ‘Hello,’ to them and they handed me over to the Russians and that was the first time I was really scared. There was, you know, they couldn’t speak English and there was this big Russian officer and a Mongolian offsider and they had me in the room there interrogating me and I thought [laughs] I thought — you know.
JM: This is not good.
KM: Not good. They said, ‘Stop here.’ And they left the room. I did a bunk. Thank God.
JM: Yeah.
KM: Then I went around.
JM: Why? Do you know why the British officers would have just handed you over to the Russians?
KM: Because we’d disobeyed the rules.
JM: Oh. Ok.
KM: Yeah. They were Air Force blokes, you know.
JM: That’s ridiculous.
KM: It’s amazing. Yeah.
JM: But had they been prisoner of war as well?
KM: Yeah.
JM: Yeah.
KM: They were out of the camp.
JM: They were from the camp as well.
KM: They were out of the camp. Yeah.
JM: So why were they out of the camp? Were the officers allowed?
KM: Well they were, they were allowed. They were on duty to make sure that the —
JM: There were none of the underlings running around the town.
KM: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
JM: Ok. Right. Cushy job to get that then wasn’t it?
KM: Yeah. I went and caught up with my mate and I had a bath there and he said, ‘Stop the night,’ and I said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘I’d rather wait to get back to England.’ Yeah. So I went back to the camp. That night, after I’d left there he said there were two Russian soldiers came to the door and came in and he said, he met her put their arm around him and he said, you know, and the he was looking in the barrel of a shotgun and one of them raped one of the women. And then they came back and the other one raped the other one. My mate said to me, he said, ‘Jeez I wish you’d been there Aussie,’ he said, ‘We would have done something about it.’ I said, ‘Thank God I wasn’t there because I wouldn’t be here now.’ Yeah. Then two days after —
JM: Did he, did he then come back to camp as well did he or —?
KM: He came back to camp the next day. Yeah.
JM: Yeah.
KM: But then he went back to town.
JM: Ok.
KM: And then two other chaps and myself we purloined a couple of bikes each. A bike each. There were three bikes. And we set off on our own towards the River Elbe and we got to a town and there was an American truck there that had come in to do some liaison with the Germans. With the Russians and he picked us up and took us back to the American line. And on the way there we passed two other chaps. They were officers. RAF officers riding their bikes and we said to the Yank to stop the car, the truck. He stopped and we told these blokes to throw the bikes away and get on board. They said, ‘No.’ They were enjoying the ride. Fair dinkum, you know. So we told the driver to, bugger them and he and we drove on. When I think about it now they could have even been Germans dressed up as — yeah.
JM: Yeah.
KM: Yeah. When you think about it. Because I don’t think anybody could be that stupid.
JM: Stupid. No.
KM: Yeah. Yeah. So then I got —
JM: So back to the American base on the Elbe.
KM: Yeah. We were there for a day and then we went on to another place and then the surrender came through while we were there. While I was there. Yeah. And then the next couple of days, you know, went to [pause] flown to Calais, then caught a tank landing ship —
JM: How did you get flown?
KM: British.
JM: British?
KM: Transport. Yeah. We were taken to an aerodrome.
JM: Yeah. So that was —
KM: Some place in Germany.
JM: Near Berlin then I presume.
KM: No we were in the American lines. We were well from the, well away Germany —
JM: Oh ok.
KM: From Berlin.
JM: Berlin.
KM: Because Berlin was well inside. They had to stop at the River Elbe you see.
JM: Yeah. Yeah.
KM: British and American.
JM: Yeah.
KM: Had to stop there.
JM: So it was on the other side of the Elbe.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Yeah so —
KM: Back towards France.
JM: Yeah. Ok.
KM: And they were picked up by a small plane there and flown to Calais
JM: Yeah.
KM: Put on a tank landing ship and went across to Portsmouth. Portsmouth —
JM: Did the engineer go with you? So were you —
KM: No. I was on my own then.
JM: You were on your own then.
KM: Yeah. Yeah.
JM: And the pilot was obviously being —
KM: Yeah. Yeah.
JM: Handled differently again.
KM: Yeah. They were still in the camp.
JM: Oh ok. Right. Oh that’s right. You’d gone on your bikes and —
KM: Yeah. We escaped.
JM: You were a couple of Irishmen were they?
KM: No. English.
JM: Oh a couple of English.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Ok. You say you got back to Portsmouth.
KM: Portsmouth and then they put me on the train. Sent me down to Brighton.
JM: Right.
KM: And that was good because I had my battle pants on. Had an American jacket without sleeves.
JM: Yeah.
KM: Without collar.
JM: Yeah.
KM: Then one of those brown knitted caps that the Americans wore.
JM: And you didn’t have any sort of coat. You must have been freezing just about all the time just because you were still —
KM: Yeah. When I say coat it did have sleeves on it.
JM: Oh ok.
KM: It did have a sleeve yeah.
JM: Oh of course but this time it’s May isn’t it?
KM: Yeah. Yeah.
JM: Do you know roughly, do you have a date that you got to Portsmouth in mind or you don’t remember exactly?
KM: I think it was about the 11th of May.
JM: Right.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Right.
KM: Yeah.
JM: So then you went —
KM: And I know I was having a feed in the mess at Brighton and I broke all the rules because I still had the cap on. I hadn’t taken it off yet. You’re not allowed to wear a cap in —
JM: In the mess.
KM: At the mess. Yeah. Yeah. And from there had a week’s leave, a week or two leave and then I had six weeks at a rehabilitation place. Yeah.
JM: Yeah. Where was that?
KM: Hoylake.
JM: Hoylake. Right.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Whereabouts it that?
KM: Hoylake is near Liverpool.
JM: Yeah.
KM: In an old home that was right on the golf course. They play the British Open at Hoylake. Yeah.
JM: Open there. Yeah. That’s right. Yeah.
KM: Beautiful old home.
JM: So you were able, you said you had, before you went to Hoylake that you went to — had a couple of weeks leave.
KM: Yeah.
JM: What did you — were you able to enjoy that?
KM: Oh yeah.
JM: Or were you still banged up a bit from — well your feet and your leg would have been still giving you problems still I presume.
KM: No. My leg was alright then.
JM: Oh right. Ok.
KM: I had a couple of medical appointments in London as well.
JM: Yeah.
KM: For my arm. That was the reason they sent me to Hoylake.
JM: Yeah.
KM: Because I’d damaged all the nerves in my arm. It’s still not right, you know. It’s permanently damaged.
JM: Damaged. Yeah. So did you have leave in around London then?
KM: Around London yeah. Of course there was —
JM: Yeah. So did you go to any shows or anything like that?
KM: No. There were some people that I knew, that I had known here in Australia. They’d gone over to London in some sort of capacity. You know. Repatriation capacity. I saw them a couple of times. Yeah. Then I went to Hoylake. We were allowed to get out. Go to the pictures. I met a girl there. Fell madly in love or that’s what you think [laughs] She was going to come back to Australia but it never eventuated. You know, I can’t think of her surname. Isn’t it terrible? I can think of her Christian name and no surname. Yeah. She was a lovely girl but still. One of those things. And then in the end they said, because I got in to trouble with the doctors there as well because I used to be late home from a night. You had to be home at 11 o’clock and I used to in about twelve. Yeah. In the end they said they thought the best thing they could do for me was to send me back to Australia. And I said, ‘For once I agree with you.’ Yeah.
JM: Yeah.
KM: Yeah. But I can always remember in the place there, there was, you know. You think you’re badly off but there was a young bloke about my age. He had lost both arms. I went past his room this time and you could hear him crying, you know. I thought what sort of a life has he got to look forward to? Yeah.
JM: Was he English or Australian?
KM: English.
JM: English. Yeah.
KM: Yeah. I don’t know how he lost them but yeah I did. I did speak to him.
JM: Perhaps he was army. Possibly army perhaps he was army because I mean —
KM: No. He was Air Force.
JM: He was Air Force ok.
KM: It was an Air Force convalescent home.
JM: Oh this was specifically Air Force. Right. Ok. I thought —
KM: Yeah.
JM: Sometimes they were multi service ones.
KM: Yeah.
JM: But that was — right ok.
KM: So then we got on the Orion and came home via the Panama Canal. And halfway home the Japanese surrendered. So I missed the bloody victory in Europe and I missed victory over Japan. Yeah. So —
JM: On the other hand you were safely on board a boat.
KM: I was safe. Well, yeah. Yeah.
JM: On a, the Orion would have been reasonably comfortable was it?
KM: It wasn’t bad. Yeah. Yeah. Not — it was still, still a troop ship.
JM: A troop ship yeah. How many? Was it?
KM: I can’t remember.
JM: Can’t remember.
KM: I know that there was a lot of English sailors on it who were coming out to join the, you know, the fleet they had out here in Australia. Yeah.
JM: Yeah.
KM: Then home here. I had two or three weeks leave and then I went to a convalescent home at Sussex Inlet. The air force had it. Had it down there.
JM: Right.
KM: And then I was finally discharged in February ’46.
JM: Yeah.
KM: Yeah. That’s my story.
JM: Yes. So then that’s —
KM: It went on for a while.
JM: No. That’s — so February ‘46 you were discharged.
KM: Yeah.
JM: And so what, what, did you feel that you were fully recovered then from — after you’d had that time you had at Sussex Inlet? I mean the time were the physical injuries more or less —?
KM: Well they couldn’t do anything with me down there. They couldn’t get this repaired so that was it. It was just —
JM: Yeah.
KM: Yeah. And so then I went straight to university and did dentistry which I failed my exams which was understandable. I didn’t go back to teacher’s college because after the life I’d led in the air force I felt that teaching was too mundane, you know. It just, it didn’t appeal to me then. So then I had a couple of other jobs and I ended up going to the Commonwealth Bank in 1949. Got married in 1949 as well.
JM: So you’re back in Sydney at this point.
KM: Yes.
JM: And you’d been living with your parents?
KM: At Kirribilli.
JM: So they’d moved to Kirribilli.
KM: Yeah.
JM: By this stage.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Ok so they had sold — had they sold —
KM: Sold. Yeah.
JM: Potts Point.
KM: They had another business after that.
JM: Oh ok.
KM: They had a business in Margaret Street in, next door to the Scotch Church at [unclear]
JM: Oh yeah.
KM: Yeah. Lammington Hall was — yeah. They sold that and then went to Kirribilli.
JM: Right.
KM: And —
JM: And what did they have at Kirribilli?
KM: Same sort of thing. Private hotel. Yeah.
JM: Private Hotel. Yeah. Yeah. And so you were staying with them?
KM: Yeah.
JM: While you were in those other couple of jobs.
KM: Yeah. Yeah.
JM: And then —
KM: And when I got married we just had a small unit at Mossman before we went to Mona Vale.
JM: Right.
KM: Yeah. And then we lived at Mona Vale for about forty years until I retired and then moved. Went to Nambucca Heads for a year, ten years. Then to Cabarita Beach down here. And Helen developed Alzheimers and I’d looked after her for about ten years and it got to the stage I knew that she’d eventually have to go, she would have to go into care so that was the reason I came to this place here, because they had the nursing home. It was easy for me because I could go over every day and see her. Bring her home if I wanted to. But she was only for about three months when she died suddenly. Yeah. So that was six years ago.
JM: Six years ago.
KM: On the 20th of February. Yeah. But I’ve got three kids, seven grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
JM: And are the children around the area at all or —?
KM: The two girls are.
JM: Yeah.
KM: My two daughters are.
JM: And where are they?
KM: One’s at Kingscliff and the other one’s at Tanglewood.
JM: Right.
KM: Which is out at Cabarita beach.
JM: Beach. Right ok.
KM: And my son’s at Dee Why in Sydney.
JM: Sydney. Ok. So back in Sydney still. Right. So from basically ’49 to when you retired in — when did you say you retired?
KM: I retired in ’82.
JM: ’82. So you did all that time in the Commonwealth Bank. Did you stay in Sydney all that time in Sydney all that time, or did you do any country postings?
KM: No. I was a relieving manager. I used to relieve all over New South Wales. But —
JM: Right.
KM: But I didn’t [pause], they wanted me to, wanted to know if I was mobile which meant I’d go to any country town and I said no. Because we had a nice, we were living in Mona Vale. The kids were just going to school. We, you know, so they, you know, they had continuity. It cost me promotions and things like that but that’s not everything.
JM: No.
KM: No. And the Commonwealth Bank was never my kettle of fish. It really, you know, it was a job which I did to the best of my ability but I wouldn’t say that I was overly enjoyed working there.
JM: Yeah.
KM: Yeah.
JM: But it gave you the security that you needed.
KM: Well it gave me security. That’s right. Yeah. Well in those days that’s what you looked for.
JM: Yeah.
KM: They don’t seem to worry about that these days. Security doesn’t mean, seem to mean very much.
JM: No. That’s right.
KM: In those days everybody took a job in public service or Commonwealth Bank or something like that, you know where you were going to have a job for life. Yeah. Yeah.
JM: Yeah. That’s right. So, and of course obviously that was while it was still part of the government before. I’m just trying to think when did the government sell it off. Before or after you retired?
KM: No. They sold it off before I retired yeah.
JM: Retired. Yeah.
KM: Yeah. And that’s when it —
JM: Started to change.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Yeah. Wait a moment. No. I had retired. I’m Sorry. I had retired. Yeah.
KM: Yeah. That was probably a good thing you were out before. Yeah. It was ok for the first few years but then it became a dog eat dog job. I had mates who were in there.
JM: Yeah.
KM: And they said you’ve got no idea what it was like.
JM: Like. Yeah. Yeah.
KM: So all they were after was the mighty profits.
JM: Yeah.
KM: And it was it was functioning well before that. We were the leading. When I joined the bank we were tenth. There was ten banks and we were tenth. And of course there was an amalgamation and everything like that. When I left we were first.
JM: Yeah.
KM: But we hadn’t, we were still a government bank.
JM: Bank. Yeah.
KM: Yeah. And then it all they want to do now is to make big profits.
JM: Profits. That’s right.
KM: And I think the banks are terrible. You know the — [unclear] set up here. One of my mates was telling me. Went in there the other day. There’s no tellers.
JM: No. That’s the new style. That’s right.
KM: You’ve got to go to an ATM.
JM: ATM. Yeah.
KM: And what they forget is that old people are frightened of ATMs. Well they’re not frightened of them. They just don’t trust them.
JM: They just don’t. They prefer not to use them that’s right.
KM: They don’t trust them and you know that’s one of the things. You like to go in to a bank and speak to a teller.
JM: That’s right.
KM: But yeah and —
JM: And just going back to post-war as such. Were, have, did you maintain any contacts in the post-war with the pilot?
KM: I did —
JM: And the engineer?
KM: I did for the engineer for a little while and then like all things that you drop off. And then with the pilot I had contacted him for a while as well and that dropped off.
JM: Yeah.
KM: But then a mate of mine, he was with 460 Squadron.
JM: Yeah.
KM: They had an Association and he told me that 12 Squadron had one which was called the Wickenby Register. And he managed to get me an application form to join it so I joined it. They sent me a booklet and there was my pilot’s name in there. So I wrote to him and then we went over to see him.
JM: Yeah. What year was that roughly? Seventies. Eighties.
KM: Eighties.
JM: Eighties. Yeah.
KM: Yeah.
JM: That was after you retired.
KM: After I retired yeah.
JM: Yeah.
KM: And then they came out here. Then we went over again. And they came out again and then she died and then he died after that. Yeah. Yeah. But we had [pause] we met one time. We met them and we met them in, we went to a squadron reunion. It was at Nottingham and from there we went to France. We had a, got a car which we arranged. It was a left hand drive car. It was manual. It was a brand new car. A manual sedan, and he wouldn’t let me drive because it was on the wrong side of the road. But the trouble was after we’d been driving for a while I had to tell him when the lights were changing because he’d had to have an eye operation beforehand and he hadn’t had it [laughs] Then we had a little bit of a prang and that’s when he let me drive. So I drove up all the way after that you know, to Belgium.
JM: Yeah.
KM: Holland.
JM: Yeah.
KM: Germany.
JM: Germany. Yeah.
KM: France, Spain everywhere.
JM: Gosh. A fabulous trip.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Yeah.
KM: But it was difficult because you were on the left hand drive and a manual car as well.
JM: Yeah. I know.
KM: The gears are on the wrong side.
JM: You’re on the wrong side of the road. I know.
KM: Every time you put your indicator on it was your windscreen wipers came on.
JM: Windscreen wipers [laughs]
KM: It was a good trip. A real good trip.
JM: Yeah. You covered, you must have covered a lot of territory.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Yeah.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Yeah. So you didn’t go back to Germany at all.
KM: Yeah. We went through Germany. Oh yeah.
JM: Didn’t do go anywhere near where you —
KM: No
JM: Didn’t go far enough up to —
KM: To the camp
JM: To the camp. Yeah.
KM: No. No. No.
JM: Did you go to any of the places where you —
KM: The rest of the crew were, they’re buried in Hamburg.
JM: Yeah.
KM: In a joint grave. They were at Wetzlar and were taken over there which I think was a joint grave because I think they had trouble identifying them. Yeah.
JM: So did you go to Hamburg at all?
KM: No.
JM: No.
KM: No.
JM: Right.
KM: That was too far over.
JM: Over. Also, yeah.
KM: As a matter of fact I just discovered this the other day [pause]
JM: And did you go to any of the places that you bombed?
KM: What happened after the war he went back into the Air Force.
JM: Oh ok.
KM: Went to university and then went back to the Air Force and he was stationed in Germany for, for quite a number of years so he got to know a lot of people. So we went to places where he knew.
JM: That you’d been over during the war.
KM: Yeah. Yeah. And that’s with the mayor and the council of some town.
JM: Town. Yeah.
KM: They made a presentation to us. It’s all in German.
JM: German yes.
KM: So don’t ask me what the name of the place is now. I’ve just discovered that the other day.
JM: Gosh, amazing. And they gave you a little presentation.
KM: Yeah.
JM: How did they know you were coming?
KM: He, he’d been in touch with friends.
JM: With friends. Right.
KM: And his friends over there got in touch with the council. Yeah.
JM: In touch with the council.
KM: And I didn’t know we were going there.
JM: Going there.
KM: The pilot. That’s him on the — over there I think. Yeah. Johnny.
JM: Right.
KM: This chap’s [pause] yeah that’s my pilot and that’s his wife.
JM: Right.
KM: And that’s Helen there.
JM: Right. Yeah.
KM: That was Helen.
JM: Yeah.
KM: And that was me.
JM: Yeah.
KM: I know that they’d taken a small gift over. Did that just go off?
JM: No. That’s all right.
KM: A small gift. I didn’t know we were going there. It was a bit embarrassing because we didn’t have anything to give them, but still.
JM: But if you didn’t know you couldn’t —
KM: That’s right. I could do anything about it. No.
JM: No. That’s right.
KM: Yeah. But they were great.
JM: Yeah.
KM: But do you know it’s an amazing thing. I had not yet met a German, and we met a hell of a lot of them while we were there, and not one of them was a Nazi.
JM: Yeah. Yeah. Not one of them was a Nazi.
KM: Not one of them was a Nazi [laughs] you know. None of them liked Hitler.
JM: No. That’s right.
KM: And I can tell you as a prisoner of war we were fed with this propaganda of how terrible the Germans were and what they did and everything like that. They’re exactly the same as you and I.
JM: Yeah. There’s some nice people and some not so nice people.
KM: Yeah. Yeah.
JM: Yeah. [pause] Goodness me. And just going back to your flying. So how many —
KM: Fifteen and a half.
JM: Fifteen and a half.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Ops, you did. And in those —
KM: Yeah. That’s what I say. Lindsey did thirty and he got a DFC.
JM: Yeah.
KM: I did fifteen and a half and I got a prisoner of war badge.
JM: Yeah. Yeah. That right.
KM: An ex-prisoner of war badge.
JM: That’s right. And the crew did any of the crew members have any good luck charms or superstitions or anything like that?
KM: No. No.
JM: No. They were just —
KM: Yeah.
JM: Straight up and down.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Just happy chappies.
KM: Yeah. Yeah.
JM: Yeah. What [pause] what is your overall feeling about having been a prisoner of war? Was it —
KM: It was an experience.
JM: Experience.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Yeah. You feel that —
KM: Air force life I loved.
JM: Yeah.
KM: Yeah. I often feel I should have stopped in the air force. But if I had I wouldn’t have met Helen and I wouldn’t have had the kids I’ve got.
JM: No.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Where did you meet Helen?
KM: At Narrabeen in Sydney.
JM: Yeah.
KM: My parents were in between businesses. We took a house on Narrabeen Lake and she was living next door with her sister. Her sister was married and they had a couple of kids there and Helen was sort of helping out as well, you know, with the kids although she was working. And my brother, he told me, he said, ‘Gee,’ he said, my brother was married. He said, ‘There isn’t a bad looking girl living there.’ I said, ‘is that right.’ And I came home from uni one night and I was walking down and she was putting out the garbage so I just spoke to her and, you know, we were talking. I said, ‘Would you like to go to the pictures?’ She said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘On Saturday night.’ We went to see “The Jolson Story.” And my mother came along as well. And I [laughs] I still don’t know if she was there to protect Helen or me. But I said, when I said we were going to “The Jolson Story,” she said, ‘Oh gee, I’d like to see that as well.’ Yeah. So yeah.
JM: Yeah.
KM: So then yeah just things developed from there on and we were engaged for about eighteen months, and, yeah.
JM: Married and —
KM: Six years later she had our first child. Yeah. Yeah. We had, we had no money when we came from honeymoon. I think we had twenty pounds between us.
JM: Yeah. Where did you go for your honeymoon?
KM: Came up the inland highway through the floods. There were big floods in those days.
JM: Yeah. So this would have been, when would this, these weren’t the ’54 floods was it?
KM: No. The ’49.
JM: Oh the ’49. Yes. Right. Yes. ’49 yes.
KM: Came up to the gold coast and just stopped off at different places.
JM: So just a little touring the rounds.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Yeah. Well, that’s an incredible experience that you’ve had. And it’s [pause] like many, very different. I mean every one, every one’s story is different.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Because they’ve had different experiences. Different circumstances they found themselves in. But yet, you know, everyone has contributed in such a way that —
KM: Yeah.
JM: You know, hasn’t been recognised up until now and that’s why it’s so good that it’s finally happening even if it is just so late.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Just so late.
KM: What do you do is you remember the good times. You don’t remember the bad. There probably were occasions when things weren’t going right with the flying and everything like that but I can’t remember them now.
JM: Yeah. So strongest memories are all the good times.
KM: Yeah. Yeah.
JM: Well, yeah, with the exception of course one particular, you know.
KM: Well even that has [pause] just an experience. You know. When we were shot down and it doesn’t. I don’t think it was a momentous occasion or anything like that. It was just something that happened unexpected. Yeah. You follow?
JM: Yes. Yes.
KM: Yeah.
JM: But yet you had some training, so you had some skills to call on.
KM: Yeah.
JM: To know how to handle it.
KM: Well you knew it could happen but yeah.
JM: Could happen. Yeah.
KM: But you always had to go on it wasn’t going to happen to you.
JM: Yeah.
KM: Yeah.
JM: And when it did well —
KM: It did. Well, it happened. Yeah.
JM: You can’t change it. You had to go with it.
KM: And I must say I wasn’t scared.
JM: Right.
KM: I can honestly say that I was never scared. The first time I was really scared was with the Russians.
JM: With the Russians.
KM: Yes, in the town. And of course the war was over as far as I was concerned, you know.
JM: Yeah.
KM: It was to end and then what’s going to happen now?
JM: Yeah.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Yeah. And even when, you know, you were on earlier raids and you got some flak and all the rest of I. Oh it sounds like we just have to have another little pause while we wait.
[recording paused while plane passes]
JM: Yes.
KM: Had nine months off work.
JM: When was that?
KM: Just before I retired.
JM: Retired. Oh goodness.
KM: It showed that I could retire without problems.
JM: Right.
KM: Yeah.
JM: So where were you knocked down?
KM: At Taylor Square.
JM: Taylor Square. Ok.
KM: Yeah. I was doing some relief out there and I was outside. We had a thing of a morning that we had keys in combinations. You didn’t go to the bank first. You had to wait and send, you know, of the younger ones in because they used to break in to the ceiling and hide in the ceilings and then get in you know in the bank and wait for someone to come with the keys and take them hostage sort of thing and get them to open up the safe. So — and this morning this girl was, she never late. She was late. Running late. And the car came around the corner, mounted the footpath and put me through the window of a funeral parlour. [laughs]
JM: I guess you would have had a bit of damage then out of that.
KM: Yeah. I had my leg all smashed up.
JM: Yeah.
KM: Pelvis as well. But — yeah.
JM: And what about the glass? Did the glass not sort of shatter?
KM: No. No.
JM: Not lacerate you?
KM: Actually behind the plate glass there was a brick wall. So it just sort of shattered, you know. I was lucky.
JM: Lucky. Gosh.
KM: A piece of glass went down and cut my pants. Brand new pair of pants I had on [laughs] That was the only time I ever wore them. [laughs]
JM: And before we just paused there for that aeroplane we were just saying —you were saying you were never scared, and I was just going to come back to sort of, couple of the early raids. You did have a fair bit of flak around and had a few holes in the plane.
KM: Yeah. Yeah.
JM: That, that, you weren’t scared then.
KM: No. No. Not really. No. Apprehensive but not scared. You were still flying alright though.
JM: Yeah.
KM: You know. Yeah.
JM: And you managed to deal with all the cold and all the rest of it when you were flying.
KM: Yeah. Yeah.
JM: So you didn’t have any real ongoing sort of issues.
KM: No. When I was flying there when I was cold I used to control the heating.
JM: Yes. So you were always comfortable. And was the gunner always freezing?
KM: Well the heating didn’t get back to them. They had —
JM: That’s right. They had —
KM: They had electric flying suits on them.
JM: Suits. Yeah.
KM: No, that would be terrible. Being a gunner.
JM: Yeah.
KM: They were out on their own. Got nobody to talk to, you know.
JM: To talk to. Very hard.
KM: Yeah.
JM: At least you could —
KM: Well I was right next to the navigator.
JM: The navigator. That’s right.
KM: He was, I could see what he was doing. There was a bod there near you. Yeah.
JM: Yeah. Well I guess at this point unless there’s something that we haven’t covered that you’d particularly would like to mention as I say that we haven’t covered through then we might wrap it up at this point.
KM: Yeah. That would be fine.
JM: Yeah.
[recording paused]
JM: Right. We’re just talking with Ken again a little bit. I got a map out with the various raids over Europe that — and Ken’s just looking at the map. In the first instance you remembered where you did your —
KM: Conversion Unit.
JM: Your conversion. Your Heavy —
KM: Conversion Unit.
JM: Your Heavy Conversion Unit was where?
KM: Lindholme.
JM: Lindholme. Yeah.
KM: Yeah.
JM: And now were just also looking at the map of various raids and looking and you were pointing out where you were headed when you on the raid that you were shot down and you were —
KM: Yeah. Near Leipzig.
JM: Leipzig and what else?
KM: The prisoner of war camp was just south of Berlin there.
JM: Yeah.
KM: And we were shot down near, not that far from Wiesbaden.
JM: Wiesbaden. Yeah.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Yeah. So that’s a reasonable distance. So you were on trains weren’t you.
KM: Yeah. We were on trains yeah. Yes. Yeah.
JM: Yeah. And so your raids basically were.
KM: We went to the Ruhr a few times. Yeah.
JM: Yeah.
KM: Yeah. I shall have to have a look at my logbook now to see where most of them were. Yeah.
JM: Yeah.
KM: We were all over the place.
JM: Place. Yes.
KM: Yeah.
JM: Yeah. Something here. Something there.
KM: That’s right. Yeah.
JM: Ok. Thank you.
KM: And before we finish as a personal disclaimer I should say at this point that a couple of times Ken has mentioned a Doug McCartney. And in the course of setting up this interview, because of Ken’s extraordinary memory he remembered that there was a Doug McCartney on his wireless operator training at Maryborough. And in about the second phone call he raised this with me and I looked up my records of my father’s service and indeed they were together there and it turns out for about the following six months. And so it has been an amazing experience as never did I think I would meet someone who knew my father after all these years. So I thank you very much Ken.



Jean Macartney, “Interview with Ken Macdonald,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 14, 2024,

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