Interview with Lachie McBean


Interview with Lachie McBean


Lachie McBean grew up in Australia and joined the Royal Australian Air Force when he was 18. He was a pilot at a Heavy Conversion Unit when the war in Europe ended. After the war he returned to Australia and became a farmer. He also took the opportunity to research his family history and wrote a book about one of his ancestors.




Temporal Coverage




01:22:58 audio recording


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AP: This interview for the International Bomber Command Centre’s Digital Archive is with Lachie McBean who was a pilot at the tail end of World War Two. The interview is taking place at Lachie’s home in Ballarat in Victoria. It’s the 22nd of October 2016 and my name is Adam Purcell. Lachie, start from the beginning. Can you tell me something about your early life? Where and how you grew up and what you were doing before you enlisted?
LM: Yes, Adam. I was a country boy. I, we came from a place, a town called Seymour in Victoria. My people originally came from Moulamein in New South Wales but I was still, I was going to school in Geelong when I turned eighteen and on turning eighteen a friend of mine and myself both joined the air force. And we were told that we had to finish our school year out before we would be called up. So we did finish our school year out and then in January the following year we were called up then. So, I didn’t have any work experience or anything like that before I went into the air force.
AP: What, what were your thoughts and how old were you when you heard that war had been declared?
LM: Oh I think I would have been about fourteen or so and I remember, I remember the occasion very well when Mr Menzies announced that Australia had declared war. It’s quite vivid in my mind. I guess in those days being a school boy it didn’t, it didn’t have a great Effect on us but we were aware of people joining the services and going away. It was a little bit ahead for us being only about fourteen or so at the time.
AP: Did you have any thoughts about whether or how you might have been involved yourself eventually?
LM: Not initially. Not initially, Adam but as the time goes on when we were getting towards the age of eighteen it wasn’t discussed amongst school, school mates at all but we all, I think we all just automatically understood that we would be joining the services. There was no thought of, not in my mind, of doing anything else. I think everybody, almost everybody, just assumed they would be in the services.
AP: What — did you sort of see any effects of the war as like in those few years before you enlisted yourself. So home front type things.
LM: Sorry I didn’t —
AP: Sorry. Did you see any effects of the war? Like in, on the home front in the first sort of few years before you enlisted yourself? So as a, as a civilian essentially did the war have any effect on your life in Australia?
LM: Oh yes, certainly. Certainly by the, being aware of the people who were joining and going away and yes we were certainly as school kids aware of the effects of the war, but we certainly were pretty sheltered by it. Looking back on it I think we should have been more aware. But we still remember all of the, all of the more important things that were happening through newspaper reports of course and radio.
AP: Why did you pick the air force?
LM: It seemed to be an automatic choice. I just, I wouldn’t know when we picked the air force. I think I must have been always a little interested in the air force because I did know a little bit about some of the aeroplanes that were used prior to that. I remember, for instance, the Hawker Demon, the Bristol Bulldog. There was another one that I [pause] won’t come to mind at the moment. I remember when the Avro Anson first, first came out to Australia, well, pre-war. So I must have had a leaning. Leaning that way. I certainly didn’t give it a lot of thought.
AP: It was always, always going to be the air force. Alright. What about the enlistment process? So, once you were, once you were called up what happened next. How did you enlist? Where did you have to go and what did you have to do?
LM: Well, we, I went, I went to Melbourne. I can’t think exactly of where it was. We, in civilian clothing of course. We were put on to a troop train to go to Sydney that night. There was a troop train ran every night from Melbourne to Sydney. I well recall going for the troop train because there were all army, mostly army personnel on there and we were dressed in civilian clothing, young people. They knew we were in the air force. We got, we got a lot of cheek from the army blokes. And I do remember we were very pleased to get shut into the carriages that were there. Away from the [pause] what were they calling us? Blue orchids or something to that effect. But I know that we were quite pleased to get away from the army thing and I can even remember an incident on that troop train going. We were stopped outside, outside Wagga. I think it was just the southern side of Wagga. There was a big army camp there and a lot of the army people used to come from the camp, hop through and the train would stop and they would get a ride into Wagga on the troop train. And one of the, one of the army fellas was trying to get through the fence and he got his pants caught on one of the wires. And a train stopped there with hundreds of people hanging out the windows barracking at him [laughs]
AP: Can you remember much of the interview or medical process that you had to go through before you were accepted?
LM: No. I remember very little. Very little about it. We did a medical. We did a medical I’m not sure if it was on that day. Certainly we had to do a medical, a medical. But, no, I don’t remember any details about that.
AP: Were you on the reserve for any length of time or did you just go straight in?
LM: No. I went straight in.
AP: Straight in. Scratch that question off the list. Alright, so you were on a troop train up to Sydney. Presumably your Initial Training School was at Bradfield Park.
LM: It was at Bradfield Park, yes.
AP: Tell me something of that. What happened there? What was the place like?
LM: Well, it, it was a surprising place because it was the nearest railway station I believe was Lindfield and quite a built up area and the Bradfield Park camp was not very far from the station. Probably about a mile. But when at, at the camp you wouldn’t know you were in a built up area. There was a very steep bank at the back of the camp going down to the Lane Cove River. It seemed although, although in a, virtually in a built up area it wasn’t noticeable at all there.
AP: What sort of things happened there? What can you remember of what you did? What you learned.
LM: Well, certainly the thing that I most remember there was the drill instructor that we had. He was, he was a corporal, Corporal Sheriff. And Corporal Sheriff had more power than any officer that I’ve ever came across I think. He used to be a professional boxer and showed all the signs of it. He had a flattened nose. I had heard of cauliflower ears before I went into the air force but once I saw Corporal Sheriff I knew exactly what cauliflower ears means. His grammar was out of this world really. He, he would say to you things like, ‘What was the first thing I learned yous was when I seen yous?’ And you had to answer to him, ‘Corporal that yousil tell us nothing wrong.’ He wouldn’t, he wouldn’t stand you saying, saying, ‘You wouldn’t tell us anything wrong corporal.’ You had to say that, ‘Yous’il tell us nothing wrong.’ And I have great memories of Corporal Sheriff. And although he was rough and tough I now regard him as one of the people who had a lot of influence on my life. He was a strict disciplinarian. Disciplinarian. And he wouldn’t stand for anything but your best effort. And I think I learned a lot from Corporal Sheriff.
AP: What was the accommodation like at Bradfield Park?
LM: Oh well, I thought it was excellent. We were in a Nissen hut, about thirty people I think. And very good, and very good meals. Yes. It was, it was, naturally from a kid coming straight from school it was an experience. I hadn’t had any experience of the outside world and that was all new to me but I coped pretty well.
AP: Some of the, can you tell me some of the, well about some of the other people who were in your course? In your intake. Like — did you make any mates in particular?
LM: Well yes. I actually did go, one of my friends, the friend who we joined up together did go in with me so that was a help. And also another. I had another friend who unexpectedly was called up in the same draft. He was in a different flight from me but I knew him very well. But there were a few characters in amongst them. I had been used to, because I’d been at boarding school, I’d been used to living with other people. But there was certainly a few characters. One — Kevin Brennan, I remember was a great character. Another one — Lou Murray who was older than most of us. He was twenty five or six and had been in the army and Lou was a great character. That, we all got on pretty well together.
AP: There was a lot of helping each other out with the lessons and the study and all that sort of thing as well.
LM: I don’t know so much about helping each other out. Yes. I suppose we did. We all, we all [pause] well, we all coped. We all seemed to cope and we had, I can’t remember a lot about it but it was almost in a way like going back to school again because we, we had, most of the day was occupied with lectures of some sort or other.
AP: That was going to lead me to the next question. Was there any sort of time off or time spare at ITS and what did you do with it if there was? Was it go, go, go the whole time?
LM: We, we did have leave in the [pause] I’m not sure if it wasn’t every second weekend. No. It might have been every weekend we had leave and could go in to Sydney and do. Do little things. There wasn’t much in the way of sports from what I, what I remember. Quite a bit of work in the gym. But no, I don’t remember. I think we were kept pretty well, pretty occupied. I don’t know what we did in the evenings but we, we coped. I just don’t remember what we did in the evenings.
AP: That’s alright.
LM: We were not allowed out. We were not off away from camp in the evenings.
AP: So, I think it was at ITS that you did a selection board or something where they chose where you were going next.
LM: Yes. We had a Category Selection Board that we had to front up and I well remember that because I was the last one interviewed on, on the particular day. It was considered to be a pretty big ordeal for, for trainees to front the Category Selection Board. And when I was called, called into it there were three officers on the board and I certainly remember it well because Corporal Sheriff marched me in. He, he gave me, you know, ‘Right turn. Halt,’ in front of the, of the officers, ‘Left turn.’ And then said, ‘Sir,’ which meant that he handed me over to the officers. And at the time I thought I didn’t think. I thought there was something wrong with the interview. It didn’t seem to be going smoothly. And then I realised that I was, had put so much attention in trying to do everything correctly that I had forgotten to salute. We were supposed to give them a smart salute. And I waited until there seemed to be an appropriate answer and I threw a salute to the three officers. And something strange happened then because the one who was in the centre had a lot of papers in his hand and he picked these papers up and put them up in front of his face and he seemed to be shaking a bit. But the officer on each side of him both dropped their pencils on the floor and they took a fair while to get their pencils back again. I wondered. And when they did one of the officers made some sort of a comment which I thought was a bit like a school-girlish comment and they all burst into laughter. And of course, you know having this this recruit forgetting to salute them was a great joke to them. And after that the interview went, went pretty well. I know that they kept talking about my navigation. They asked what category I’d like to be and I said, ‘A pilot,’ and they kept talking about and saying my navigation was pretty good, ‘What would you I think if we made you a navigator?’ And I said, ‘Oh well if I’m made a navigator I guess that’s right.’ Anyhow, it turned out at the finish that they did select me for my first choice so that was lucky. But actually when I forgot to salute I was more worried about Corporal Sherriff standing behind me than I was about the officers. And in fact now that I remember it that Corporal Sherriff took me to task. He said, ‘You’s has disgraced me.’ [laughs] and he sent me down to his hut. He said, ‘At the double.’ He said, ‘There’ll be, there’s a couple of pairs of boxing gloves behind the door. Go and get those and meet me in the gym.’ Which I did. I was terrified about that and when I got there Corporal Sherriff was working on a punching bag and he was a lather of sweat and anyhow I thought this looks pretty bad but he said to me, ‘Put them down there and get out of me way. Clear off.’ [laughs] Which I did pretty smartly.
AP: Excellent.
LM: He was a great character, Corporal Sherriff.
AP: Obviously had you well, he had you well figured out. Or he had trainees well figured out.
LM: My word he did.
AP: Yeah [laughs] very good. Alright, so you’ve just found out you're a pilot. You then get shuffled off to EFTS.
LM: Yes. I went.
AP: Where was that?
LM: I went off to EFTS on Tiger Moths at Narrandera in New South Wales. Southern New South Wales. Yes. Can’t remember. I think there were two or three of us there but I don’t remember the other people who went there. So —
AP: What, what happened at Narrandera? Tell me about the learning there.
LM: Narrandera. Well it was, it was pretty interesting. The, it was in the wintertime and I’ve always thought since that you didn’t know what a frost was like until you’ve experienced one at Narrandera. You’d sometimes be flying at 7:30 in the morning and you could see the whole countryside absolutely white below as if it were covered with snow. It was very, and of course an open cockpit. When we got down you would probably not be able to feel your legs ‘til probably 10 or 11 o’clock in the morning. But Narrandera was good. Yes, we enjoyed that. And that’s about it, I think, for Narrandera.
AP: A question I have to answer every pilot — tell me about your first solo.
LM: Yeah, my first solo was interesting in that I was having a bit of trouble landing and I thought that I was probably going to get scrubbed because I could do, handle everything else but I was having a bit of trouble landing. And when it came to the critical time they gave me another instructor and he straight away, he straight away identified the problem that I was having with it. I was able to correct that to land it perfectly well. I had about two flights with him and then he, he hopped out and said, ‘You’re on your own,’ and so that was, I had no trouble afterwards landing. I think I was, I didn’t realise that, I think I was trying to sort of to wheel them on and didn’t realise, and hadn’t been really instructed by my original instructor about three pointing them. But it was just a matter of just one, you know, one comment, or one from the new instructor that fixed it.
AP: I can, yeah, I have a story that’s almost exactly the same. I was flying at Bankstown in a Cherokee and I’d completely forgotten how to land.
LM: Yeah.
AP: This was shortly after I’d got my licence. I just couldn’t land it. New aeroplane, new instructor ‘cause I was getting checked out there.
LM: Yeah.
AP: And I did about two hours with him and then, or two or three hours with him and I just couldn’t figure it out. And then I went with another instructor who had something like thirty thousand instructional hours.
LM: Yes.
AP: And he went, ‘You’re looking at the wrong place on the runway.’ It was as simple as that.
LM: Yeah.
AP: Fixed it. Never had a problem since.
LM: Well, I was trying to bring them in on a, I think, touch the wheels down instead of just holding it off. Stalling it on to the ground.
AP: Very good.
LM: Yeah. Very, very simple and very effective from the new instructor.
AP: How — did you spend any time there as one pilot’s called it, tarmac terrier? Starting engines up and things like that before you started.
LM: No. No I didn’t do any of that. No. No.
AP: Just straight into it. After EFTS you went to a Service Flying Training School.
LM: I went to, on twin engines on Avro Ansons at a place called Mallala in South Australia. Just north of, north of Adelaide. And I really, I really enjoyed being at Mallala. And —
AP: What happened there? Why did you really enjoy it?
LM: For some reason we, we used to have, I think, three days off every second weekend at Mallala and we could go into Adelaide. I’m not a city person at all but I really liked Adelaide. I felt at home over in South Australia and have ever since actually. But it was, it was a cropping area around Mallala and we used to do a lot of cross country flights to interesting places. Up to the Flinders Ranges and Port Lincoln over to the, to the west. They were, used to fly those with, with two trainee pilots. One would be navigator on the way out and swap over. Swap over with the other pilot and the course was very interesting. But for some reason I seemed to feel at home over in Mallala and I didn’t, I didn’t realise until later in life that my forebears first came to Adelaide in South Australia. And an old forebear arrived in Adelaide in 1838 and became an overlander. And I just seemed to feel at home there. So yes I enjoyed Mallala. Yeah.
AP: There was Ansons you said. What did you think of the Anson?
LM: The Anson. Oh I really liked the old Anson. They seemed reliable and not complicated. And I think a lot of people were not very impressed with them but yes I’ve still got a soft spot for the old Anson. Yeah. But they, they seemed to me to be simple and safe, yeah I enjoyed them.
AP: Where did you go from Mallala? What was next?
LM: I think, Mallala — after Mallala was to [pause] must have been to the Melbourne Cricket Ground as embarkation depot I think.
AP: Tell me about the MCG.
LM: Well, the Melbourne Cricket Club, the Melbourne Cricket Ground, yes. It was an interesting place to be. I lived there for three weeks. Under no circumstance were we allowed to set foot on the ground itself but we had parade grounds on the tarmac in front of the, I think it was in front of the old, the original old members stand. Yes, three weeks there for — I actually was, I was meant to go overseas a little earlier than I did because I’d been given pre-embarkation leave. My mother had gone to live in Canberra at that time and I had only a few days. I think about four or five days embarkation leave and the train, I was late back because of a train not connecting and when I got back the rest of the boys were all ready to go overseas and I remained there another couple of weeks. And, and by doing so the ones that I had been with had gone on a ship via the Cape of Good Hope. And the ship that I travelled on went via New Zealand and the United States. So I probably would have selected that way of going.
AP: Right. Tell me about that boat then. Tell me about that trip to the UK.
LM: To the — well we were taken to Brisbane. We were in camp at a place just north of Brisbane for two or three nights and embarked on a, on an American troop carrier called the Matsonia. The Matsonia was almost empty because they had taken troops to New Guinea and we, we travelled from Brisbane quite close to Lord Howe Island. I would think probably only a mile off Lord Howe Island. They’d got these remarkable high cliffs that I’ve always remembered there. From there to Auckland. Not allowed off the ship at Auckland and then from there to San Francisco, and we had about a week or so in San Francisco which was pretty interesting to young blokes like we all were. Not long left school. About a four day trip across the United States by train through — I remember going through a tunnel called the Moffat Tunnel which was, I think was something like seven and three quarter miles long. The longest tunnel in the world. I remember seeing the first snow I had ever seen. The place might have been called [unclear]. Salt Lake City. Places like that. Passing through. Detroit. Passing through them and then we had a week or so in New York. The American people were absolutely great to us. I know that on at least two occasions some others and myself had had meals in a restaurant and had gone up to pay for it and been told it’s already been paid for. And people had already paid for them and not even come up and told you they were doing so. That happened at least on two occasions. So, yes the American people were great.
AP: Can you tell me some more about New York?
LM: More about New York.
AP: Yeah. And your — well you spent a week there. What sort of things did you do?
LM: I think —
AP: What did you think?
LM: Well, first of all at San Francisco when we had a week or so there we were, we were camped on an island in the San Francisco harbour which was quite close to the famous prison island which is [pause] won’t come to mind now but there is a famous prison island in San Francisco and we were quite close to that. But in New York we, I know that we were billeted for a few days with a doctor who took us to an opera. It was, the opera was called, I believe, “Carmen Jones,” and it was all black, all black cast. He took us to his country, his residence in the country further to the north. I can’t remember just where but I do remember it was very cold at the time and I was with a friend of mine called Doc Davies from , who came from Perth. And there was a pond. He had a country property. There was a pond on this property that he had which was covered in ice. It was a beaver pond. The pond had been made by beavers and I remember Doc being, I suppose silly enough but walking out on the ice there and went through the ice and into the freezing water. But he was able to get out easily enough but, it — we looked of course at all the buildings. The famous buildings in New York. I think most of us went to visit Jack Dempsey’s bar. He was, I think, had been World Heavyweight Boxing Champion prior to that. That was a famous place. And anyhow it was a great experience for young people. From young people from the country in Victoria.
AP: You’re not the first person to tell me about Jack Dempsey’s bar, so —
LM: Is that so?
AP: Yes. A lot of people have mentioned it.
LM: Yeah.
AP: Yeah very good. Alright. Then you go across to England.
LM: Yes. We, we went to, if I remember correctly there were only seventeen in our party and yes, we, I was put in charge of the baggage of this lot and I was taken down to the wharf with all the baggage. The day prior to our sailing I think it was. But however we travelled on the Queen Mary and in New York harbour tied up along, beside the Queen Mary was the Queen Elizabeth. So the two biggest ocean liners in the world were tied up together. We were fortunate to travel up together in the Queen Mary which was a great experience. There were lots of rumours. The Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth carried lots and lots of troops to, to England. And there were lots of stories about u-boats looking for them. Hunting them. However, we had a, we had a — our trip was ok. I believe that the trip that I did was to that time had the record number of troops on it than it had so far. And I understand that there were twenty two thousand troops on because there were a lot of American troops being taken to England prior to D-day. And I understand they had one soldier sleeping in a bunk in the daytime and a different one sleeping in the same bunk at night. And I can remember them having the canteens on the decks and the American troops had to line up. To line up at these and they’d have to, they’d get their rations slapped on to plates and then they had to run for about a hundred yards away. They had American service police who were belting them on the backside with a baton and saying, ‘Get moving buddy.’ And they’d belt them on the backside with batons to make them run so they would clear the area out and not be hanging around there. And I might add they’re talking about the meals on troop ships the meals we had on the American troop ship, the Matsonia were absolutely magnificent because the ship was almost empty and probably four or five course meals, unbelievable for troops. Yeah.
AP: Lovely. This is the first time obviously that you’ve been overseas isn’t it?
LM: Oh yeah.
AP: Yeah.
LM: Yes. Yes.
AP: It would have made a fairly big impact I imagine.
LM: A fair?
AP: A fairly big impact.
LM: Oh yes. Oh well, but I guess, I guess we took it all in our stride. It surprises me now that they didn’t seem to be big deals. All the young people just seemed to take it in their stride.
AP: So you, you then land in the UK.
LM: Yes, at Greenock.
AP: In Greenock. And presumably you then, you probably caught a train down to Brighton or something similar.
LM: Yes we would have caught a train to Brighton. That was, that was our first posting in England, to Brighton.
AP: What did you think of England? Seeing it for the first time as a young Australian.
LM: I guess again, I guess again we just took it in our stride. We just accepted what we, what we saw. I don’t remember having any particular thoughts about it. No. I can’t think of any immediate. Any impressions that I had.
AP: Did you, when was the first time that you realised you were now in a war zone?
LM: Oh well it didn’t take long to realise that because of course there were — beaches were, were fenced off with barbed wire along there. There were anti–aircraft guns on the beach front. More or less in front of our billets. We were billeted in a couple of the big hotels. There was the Royal and the Metro. I can’t remember which one I was in but I know there were plenty of signs of wartime then. You often used to see in the evenings the, off the coast you would see what certainly appeared to be gunfire. I understand the little motor torpedo boats used to get involved in little actions off the shore. You saw plenty of signs of that at night. Occasionally at Brighton, even at Brighton occasionally sirens going, air raid sirens going off. Oh no, it was soon very very obvious that [pause] I think we could get down to the beach. The beaches were not sand. They were, they were pebble beaches and absolutely marvellous for throwing stones. Skipping stones across the water. And I had one friend Henty Wilson and I — there was one place you could get down to the water and throw stones and we regularly went down throwing stones in the water there.
AP: Where did you go next, after Brighton?
LM: I can’t quite remember. I was at Brighton for, for a while. I don’t remember quite where I went but probably there was a, we went to a camp which was an interesting posting. We went to one called Credenhill near Hereford and it was not to do with flying. I can’t remember the purpose of the camp. We did a lot of exercises. Climbing over walls with nets on them and through big pipes and all that sort of thing. We did a lot of, did a lot of, a lot of exercises but it was interesting in that camp because after we’d been there for a few days all of the pilots on the course were called in to be given a talk by an RAF officer. And I don’t think we, I don’t think we understood what the talk was about really. But when he’d finished his talk he, he said, he asked us if any of us would volunteer to retrain as glider pilots. And we could hardly believe this. Nobody was remotely interested in it. He not only asked, he not only asked if anyone would volunteer. He more or less pleaded. He seemed to be quite insistent and, but still nobody even remotely thought of doing. We thought it was a backward step. And I don’t think, I don’t think we thought any more about it after that but about a month later after breakfast one morning I can recall.
[phone ringing, recording paused]
AP: Now you were saying about a month later, a month after —
LM: About a month later, near at the end of the course we were out after breakfast doing some exercises and we could hear the drone of aircraft, and suddenly aircraft appeared towing gliders. Going straight over our heads. Not at great height. Probably fifteen hundred feet or thereabouts and the sky became full of aircraft towing gliders and if you looked to the north as far as you could see and looked to the south as far as you could see they were gliders everywhere there. Strangely, at the time we didn’t immediately realise what was happening. It was later in the day that it was announced that the D-day landing had occurred and then of course we came to understand why we were asked if we would consider remustering as glider pilots.
AP: Wow. That’s great.
LM: So that was a, that was a pretty interesting posting to that place.
AP: Wow. That’s a good story. I like that one.
LM: Strangely I, I can’t I can still see them going over today but I can’t remember. I think they were mostly DC3s towing the very big gliders. Mostly DC3s and I can’t, I can’t even remember anyone commenting on what the aircraft were that were towing them. But the sky was full of aircraft as far as you could see. North and South and even from where they were coming they took quite some time to go over us.
AP: Suddenly we understood. I like it. Alright, were there any other training, well there were some more training units. After that did you do AFU or something like that? An Advanced Flying Unit.
LM: Oh yes. We did, we did a refresher course on Tiger Moths and I think we did a beam approach course on [pause] I can’t remember what they were but we did, did an AFU or whatever on Oxfords. Airspeed Oxfords, which were a bit of a step up from the Ansons I suppose they were but I would still prefer the Ansons myself. And yeah, that was I can’t think where we were doing that but it was quite a comprehensive course on Oxfords. There was, there was another interesting posting. I think it was actually where we were doing the Oxfords. Yes. I think it was. It was at a place, at a small village called Badminton which I understand is pretty well known because of horse trials they have there. But it was, it was interesting in that in doing this course and yes I’m pretty sure it was with, with the Oxford — on one of the runways the one that was mostly used on taking off it went directly over the top of a very, very large mansion. It was, I think about three storeys high this mansion, and stone. Had a magnificent looking garden and driveways around it and had a big area of park like grounds surrounding it with scattered trees and a herd of deer in the, this surrounding land. And the deer didn’t seem to be worried in any way by the aircraft going over but, but the home belonged to the Duke and Duchess of Beaufort if I remember correctly. But we, and when it took off and going up straight over the top of the building we’d only be probably two or three hundred feet over it, night flying as well. And we couldn’t understand why that would be allowed because, especially because it was the wartime residence of Queen Mary. Queen Mary being the wife of the late George the Vth. I think he died in [pause] probably seven or eight years prior to the war. Anyhow, that was Queen Mary’s wartime residence and here are these aircraft flying directly over the top of the thing. Could not, and once we were very fortunate that we were invited. The dominion blokes who were on the course. Probably about a dozen Aussies and three or four Kiwis. Might have been a Canadian, I think. A couple of South Africans probably. We were invited to go to this. It was called Badminton House I think. We were invited to go and watch a film being shown. The film was, “Pygmalion.” And we were taken over in a bus, shown into this very large room barely furnished that had a screen for showing the film on. It had a row of about oh probably seven or eight more or less comfortable chairs and then probably about three or four rows of wooden benches. And also had a table with cups and saucers and things on it. Very big room. Very high ceiling. I reckon probably about twenty foot ceiling or something. So we were shown into that room and after a while a door opened and two very good looking girls walked in there and that caused a fair bit of excitement amongst all of our blokes. And soon after that they were followed by a couple of fairly foppish looking young blokes about the same age. That caused a bit of comment too I can say. And then two or three other people came into the room and then Queen Mary herself came in and she stood at the doorway and she looked at all the troops and beamed at everyone, looking around. Then she took up her seat and we all sat down. The lights went out. They showed this film, “Pygmalion.” I think later called, “My Fair Lady.” A couple of, I know a few of us were a bit worried about that because we knew the word, ‘bloody,’ was used a couple of times [laughs] in this film. Anyhow, we watched the film and enjoyed that and when it was finished the lights went on and Queen Mary stood up. And we would only be sitting, you know, probably three rows, three to four rows behind her. Probably ten or fifteen feet or something behind her. And she stood up and she beamed at everybody again and walked out followed by the others. Not a word was spoken in the entire time from when the time the girls came in ‘til everyone went out. Not one word was spoken. We were then given our cups of tea and some sandwiches and off home. So we were pretty fortunate to have that opportunity. Yeah.
AP: Yeah. Presumably Church Broughton happened fairly soon thereafter.
LM: Went to Church Broughton.
AP: Yeah. You mentioned Church Broughton.
LM: Well we would have gone soon after Church Broughton was OTU. Where we crewed up. Crewed up at OTU. Yeah.
AP: Tell me about that process. How you crewed up.
LM: I don’t remember much about it. I mean, I think the process was that we were, a whole lot of us were let loose in a room and we had to make up our own crews I think. And I don’t really remember much about that process but we came out of it with a crew. We had, two of us were Aussies, a couple of Scotsmen and a couple of Englishmen. Six in the crew at that time. But, yeah. I just can’t remember much about the process. I think, I think most people are you know, sort of understood pretty well what happened but, you know I just don’t remember much about it.
AP: What sort of flying did you do at Operational Training Unit?
LM: Well it was on Wellingtons there and first of all it was mostly daytime. It was getting familiar because it was the biggest step of all, I think of, of going from an Oxford on to a Wellington. It was , yeah it was a bigger step than [pause] certainly bigger than previously and then of course there was a crew there to be thought of us as well. And yeah, quite, quite a big step and did, did mostly daylight until I guess we became familiar and competent with it. And mostly night flying after that. And it was, it was good joining with a crew. We seemed to get on pretty well I think and I think most crews got on. Most people on crews got on well. I really can’t think of any times when there was problems amongst the crews. I guess there were at times but I’m not aware of them and, you know, our crews certainly got on well.
AP: What was I going to ask you next? [pause] So you’ve now been in England for a little while. What sort of things did you get up to on leave and when you were off duty?
LM: Well when I happened to have a few relatives that I was able to visit. I certainly didn’t do enough visiting them but I had an aunt, a sister of my father who actually lived at Hove which was within walking distance of where I was at Brighton. And I’m really sorry to say that I can only remember going up a couple of times while I was there to visit them. I had two half-sisters who lived in, were living in England then. One that was more convenient to go. I used to go there on leave to stay with them. She lived in Stockbridge in Wiltshire, I think. Might have been Hampshire. Later on I had a motorbike and I did a little. We had a lot of leave later. In the latter part and I was able to get petrol for my motorbike. I’m not going to go into too much detail how some of that petrol was got [laughs] but we seemed to manage that and sometimes on a few occasions the whole of the crew went. I remember going, all going to London once because one of the English boys lived in London and I used to like trying to do sightseeing and visiting, looking at famous buildings like Winchester Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral and those sort of places. I can’t think too much more of leave but certainly at the, mostly at the latter time, of course, when the war had finished when we did have quite a bit of leave and that’s when I did the motorbike work.
AP: Can you tell me something more about that motorbike? What sort was it and where did you get it from?
LM: Well it was a Norton 500 and it was said to be the fastest bike on the station and the way I got it was that the flight engineer that joined our crew after we’d finished OTU, when we went on to Heavy Conversion Unit the flight engineer that we picked up had been a, been a racing rider, motorbike racing rider. And he organised this Norton 500 for me and he taught me how to ride it and that’s probably the most terrifying time that I had when I was, entire time when I was in England because he used to go — belt down these narrow country lane. We’d do a left turn for instance and he’d yell out, ‘Go over.’ I didn’t know much about going over as you turned a corner and then he’d yell out, ‘Come back.’ And we’d have to do but had traffic been coming the other way there was no way we could not have collided. He absolutely terrified the living daylights out of me. I don’t know if he was putting on a special show or for me or not, just to show me how good he was but anyhow I was pleased when my lessons were finished on that. It was years and years afterwards that I, it occurred to me that I don’t know whether the bike was registered or not. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have been insured and I certainly didn’t have a licence, and I didn’t think a thing about this. And I can’t remember what happened. When I finished either. I think I just left it on the station.
AP: What a shame [laughs] Very nice. Did you see or hear about any accidents while you were training?
LM: Any accidents?
AP: Accidents. Like flying accidents.
LM: Oh yes. Oh well, yes, there were. There were some. There was. On EFTS originally at Narrandera one of the chaps who was quite a good friend of mine he baled out. Had to bale out of his Tiger Moth. But unfortunately he hit the release button instead of pulling the rip cord and that’s the first. That was the first accident, but oh yes, there were. There were accidents throughout the training and it I remember, I remember when we went to Bottesford on the Lancasters when we were taken on to the station. The first thing I saw was that, well we all noted it, was a graveyard of two or three wrecked aircraft, which struck a bit of a cord. Yeah. But yeah, there were often accidents with undercarriage, through landing and that sort of thing. Taxiing accidents too. Fortunately, I wasn’t involved in any accidents at all.
AP: So after your OTU, you’re on a Heavy Conversion Unit. That was, you said was at Bottesford.
LM: That was at Bottesford. Yes. Yes.
AP: Ok. Can you tell me something about Bottesford.
LM: We picked up, picked up the seventh member of the crew.
AP: What, what did you do there? Actually tell me of your first impression of a Lancaster.
LM: Well, I guess they were, they were big and, was the first impression. Big and powerful. But seemed to be, seemed to be, you know perhaps easier certainly than the Wellington. The Wellington was pretty heavy on the, on the controls. And the Lancaster just seemed to be easier to come to convert on to. And they were, they were a marvellous aircraft yes. But that’s about it I think. I can’t —
AP: What did your position, your pilot’s position in the Lancaster? What’s around you? What does it look like? What do you feel?
LM: What was the —
AP: Well the pilot’s position. What does it look like and what does it feel like when you’re sitting in a Lancaster?
LM: Well, the viewing was very good. Seeing out of the, seeing out of the aircraft which was important. There was no obstructed viewing. They looked pretty high when you were sitting. Sitting in them when you first got in to them. Pretty high off the ground. They just, they appeared, they seemed to me to be fairly easy after the Wellington. And I suppose it seems strange with young people who are not even twenty one and that having, and not perhaps being mechanically minded or anything like that, but everybody coped perfectly well. I don’t think I can add much to that.
AP: That’s alright. Some, a place where many things happened was the mess at various airfields. What was the atmosphere like in a wartime mess?
LM: In the wartime, in the mess?
AP: Yeah.
LM: Well it was usually fairly lively most nights [laughs] and I think there was some who used to hang on there longer than others. But I think they were yeah, I just remember enjoyable experiences of the mess as far as I’m concerned. There were occasionally, there was a lot of line shooting went on there I think. You’d see people standing at the bar waving their arms and manoeuvring with their arms and I think that’s where there were a few tall stories there. But I used to, I used to enjoy going into the mess and everybody got there. We used to play darts and all that sort of thing in there and that was a great little hobby, like going down to the local village pubs at night. That was a great little thing and we used to do that a lot. Most of our crew would go down there. And we’d get home alright at night usually [laughs] without too much trouble. But I used to even have my own set of darts that I used to take down to play. And I can imagine the, all the locals how much it would have upset them with all these kids practically coming in and pinching their dartboard and making nuisances of themselves in the local quiet little pubs. They were a great atmosphere in those little country pubs, yeah.
AP: What, you’ve just gone on to the front door of whatever your favourite pub was, you open the door, you step in. What do you see?
LM: What do you see? Well you usually see a fairly good crowd of people in there. And you’d see the blokes, you’d see the local blokes sitting down and playing draughts. A few of the others playing, playing darts. You’d probably notice the great big pots they had instead of a, instead of what we would normally have. They’d have a pint pot and a pint was a pretty big, pretty big volume of liquid. But that’s what they mostly did have there. Oh yeah, well I just think often the pubs that we used to go into were little, little country pubs because you know having an airfield near them you’re not near built up areas. And they were a great atmosphere.
AP: What was the English beer like?
LM: Well, I think you were almost duty bound to criticise it [laughs] but, you know, for all that everybody drank plenty of it. I think it was thought to be warm and this and that and the other but everybody — it didn’t put people off drinking, drinking it. But I think for most Aussies I think it was part of your duty to be critical of it.
AP: Still is. Do any of your flights, all throughout your, your flying career with the air force do any of your flights stick out in your memory in particular?
LM: Do any particular ones?
AP: Flights, yeah, any of your flying. For whatever reason.
LM: I don’t, I don’t see, I don’t think of any being any being particularly remarkable for any reason because we finished our training. It coincided with the end of the war. Pretty neatly I think. We, ours were all routine, routine training flights. There were always times that everybody would have experienced, you know, some drama or other. That happened, you know all the time I guess. There were little things of drama. But I don’t remember any being of any particular significance.
AP: So the end of your, you came to the end of your training and it happened to be the end of the war. How did you find out? Did you know that the end of the war was coming? Did it, you know was there we’re just waiting for it to happen now or, how did it actually happen?
LM: No. It’s such a long time ago now. I think, I suppose my thought is that probably it was only in the last week or so that from from my point of view that I, it seemed it was going to. There was talk of it earlier but to my way of thinking it was only in the last when it was actually coming up to the last week or so that I realised that it was going to. You seemed to be involved in what you were doing and you know I really haven’t got, you know good memories of that time.
AP: What were your feelings when the war did end? You found out. It’s over. Now what?
LM: I I suppose, I think I just thought, well that’s it. That’s it, you know, what happens now? I can’t remember having thought about any great sighs of relief or anything. I think it was, in those days you seemed to, you seemed to live day to day. You did what you had to do and didn’t sort of speculate much on other things and, yeah. I just feel that you went on with life. What was happening, you just went on with it you know. One thing finishes, something else starts.
AP: What did happened next?
LM: What did happen? Well we were sent, from my memory then, when we finished the course, from my memory I think we were sent up by train up to 467 Squadron and we were not taken on strength by them. There’s nothing in my records about it but I think we were sent up to 467 and then, and then without being taken on to the station I think we were issued with new rail passes and sent back again to Bottesford. But that’s getting a long, long time ago and from what I understood was that the crews on our Heavy Conversion Course, the ones that were all English crews, as I understand it, they were, they were sent on to a tour of duty flying prisoners of war back from Italy. I think minus the gunners of course, but the pilot, flight engineer, radio operator and navigator. I think that they were sort of retained. That was my understanding that the English crews did that. And we were sent on leave virtually I think at that stage. We used to get leave extended by a couple of weeks all the time.
AP: And that’s when you were hurtling around on your motorbike most of the time.
LM: Yeah. Yeah.
AP: Great. I’ve seen some photos of Scotland in your photo album there. Tell me something of that little trip.
LM: Oh well I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to go to Scotland. And my forebears came from the Scottish Highlands so that was all very interesting, and that’s the, that’s sort of the destination that I eventually headed to. I did a lot around the Scottish Highlands, Isle of Skye, that sort of thing. And, you know, I was extremely lucky to have the opportunity of doing that. The motorbike seemed to go pretty well and I don’t think I ever had troubles with it. I can’t say what else but yeah, I got, I saw a lot of the Highlands and you know the, the lands that your forebears came from. So I was very lucky there. I wouldn’t have been able to do so otherwise. And I was able of course, with the motorbike, to get down to where my half-sister was living in the south of England. So I don’t know that I can enlarge on that.
AP: That’s alright. So travelled all over England after the war ended essentially is a summary of it.
LM: Well yeah. Well I travelled more, you know, more Scotland and — yeah. More Scotland rather than over the rest of England. Yeah.
AP: So how did you get home?
LM: I came home on a ship called the Athlone Castle. It came from Southampton and I don’t remember it but I noticed in one of the photographs I’ve got there is a photograph of the Queen Elizabeth at Southampton. So therefore I’ve seen the Queen Elizabeth on two different occasions. We came home through the Suez Canal. I think we arrived in Fremantle just before Christmas and if I remember we had Christmas Day between Fremantle and Melbourne.
AP: Christmas Day 1945.
LM: Yeah, ‘45 that would have been. Christmas Day 1945. And one thing I do remember about it. It would be about Christmas Day coming across The Bight between Fremantle and Melbourne. I remember seeing quite a number of whales that were spouting or blowing I think they call it. Yes. Which was quite interesting.
AP: So how long before you were demobbed?
LM: Not long at all. I was demobbed, I think, within a couple of weeks of getting home. As I mentioned my mother had moved, moved to Canberra and I think I had a, just had a short bit of leave, about five or six days or something and was demobbed soon afterwards.
AP: What happened then? How did you find re-adjusting to civilian life? Getting a job. A real job for once.
LM: It was quite unsettling really and I had, we were given, we were on the ship coming home we were given a few lectures on the future thing. We were, we were given the opportunity to go to, to apply for the university if we wanted to. And quite a few of my friends did take that opportunity of doing a university course. I think quite a few of them went. They had a campus at Mildura at the time. Straight after the war. And I actually think I filled in papers to do engineering at the university but I scrapped that. Soon after we got back I wanted to go on, decided I wanted to go on the land and do something because my people had always been on the land in the past. That didn’t, I don’t think that that fact that families had been on the land would influence me but I seemed to come to that decision that I wanted to do that. So I scrapped my, any thought of going to the university, to do engineering. But yeah it took a while to settle down.
AP: So you were a farmer for your working life. Is that what happened?
LM: Yes. Yes. I actually qualified to get a soldier’s settlement block under the Victorian scheme and I think I was very fortunate for that to happen. And it happened in a great area as far as I was concerned. So yes, I was very, very lucky. And until eighteen months ago I’ve lived on that. We lived on that property until eighteen months ago. We were over sixty years there. So that you know that was a really good opportunity.
AP: That was, that’s Lismore I think you said, wasn’t it?
LM: Sorry?
AP: That was Lismore area.
LM: At Lismore area. Yes. Yes
AP: Tell me about the book you wrote.
LM: Well I knew that I didn’t know much about family history but I knew that I had an old forebear who’d come out in the very early days to Adelaide in 1838. I didn’t know much about him really, really at all, and I think the first real interest that was sparked when I was training at Mallala. I had to do a cross country from Mallala across the, across the Mallee country to a place called Pinnaroo, somewhere. And where we crossed the Murray River, I noticed on the chart, just near the place we crossed the river on that flight there’s a place called McBeans’ Pound, and that made me wonder why that would be. I didn’t know anything about it but I knew there was a branch of the family living near the Barossa valley in South Australia and had been there for a long time. I did actually ring them up and speak to one of them while I was at Mallala and I was invited to call out. We used to do a lot of flights around. I remember [unclear] Kapunda, and things flying over, over there. They lived, their property was near Truro which I don’t think I ever flew over, but I did ring one of them. I was invited to go. To go out and visit them. I didn’t get the opportunity to, but that’s, that’s all that I knew and later on I got to, got to hear a few. There were always stories told about this old fella. He settled up in the Moulamein area mainly in New South, New South Wales, but there were lots of stories that were told about him. In fact, when I was boy of ten or twelve or something like that people used to visit my grandmother. And that’s all they seemed to do was tell stories about old Lachie and, but though they were mostly stories about his closeness with money or his eccentric ways or less eccentric ways. When I was a little boy, about ten or twelve or something like that I used to get really annoyed at these people telling these stories and I used to think, you know that story’s not true, and this sort of thing. And eventually, that must have been the first time really thought of the old fella and added to that scene this place called McBean pound on the Murray River caused me to look into it quite a lot. And so eventually I did research and as much as I could and put together this little book that I wrote about him. And I think it’s probably, probably one of the most important things that I have done because all of this history about the old bloke would have disappeared if I hadn’t written it down. Heaps of people in the past have had the opportunity and no one’s done it. And it would have all disappeared so I am pleased that I did write that.
AP: Lovely. Alright. Final question. What, to you is the legacy of Bomber Command and of your time in Bomber Command and how do you want to see it remembered?
LM: To see Bomber Command remembered. Well I suppose [pause] I suppose one thing it certainly taught discipline and that’s anyone who served learned plenty of that. There were certainly huge sacrifices made by, by young people with everything before them and you know as long as that’s remembered and known by people then it can only be a good thing. It would be, you know very sad if a lot of this stuff was lost, and there are not very many of them left these days. But [pause] well, all I can say is that I hope every, you know, every move that made us successful in remembering the efforts of Bomber Command and I don’t think I can add any more.
AP: Before we turn off the tape any final thoughts, stories.
LM: It would be a great weight off my mind if you turned off the tape [laughs]
AP: Alright [laughs] thank you Lachie.
LM: Alright. You know to think of you coming all this way just to do that.
AP: Not a problem at all. It’s been great.



Adam Purcell, “Interview with Lachie McBean,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 20, 2024,

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