Interview with Donald McDonald


Interview with Donald McDonald


Because of his dislike of the army, Don enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). He went to Somers Initial Flying Training School and became a pilot. At Elementary Flying Training School at Western Junction, Don flew Tiger Moths although he damaged an aircraft. Point Cook followed where Don flew the Oxford. He sailed to Liverpool via the United States and Canada.
From Bournemouth, Don went to RNAS Whitley Bay on a Battle course and on to an Advanced Flying Unit where they flew Oxfords; the flying conditions were different to Australia. They crewed up at an Operational Training Unit. Don describes an incident when they were iced up and had a difficult landing; another crew lost two men and Don defended the captain. He went to RAF Rufforth, a Heavy Conversion unit, on Halifaxes before being posted to the 462 Squadron on Halifaxes. However, this posting was cancelled and he was posted to RAF Burn on 578 Squadron where the Commanding Officer, David Wilkerson DSO DFC, was an outstanding leader.
Don describes some of the operations he remembers, such as the sight of all the ships on D-Day and electrical storms going to Karlsruhe. He recounts his second ‘dickie’ trip to Berlin, with an experienced crew, when they were shot at by a German night-fighter.
Don started a second tour as an instructor at RAF Moreton in the Marsh on Wellingtons. He recalls a memorable Christmas. He talks of how they relaxed, including drinking beer when he was concussed.
Don speaks highly of Bomber Command’s contributions and sacrifices.







02:10:05 audio recording


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AP: So this interview for the International Bomber Command Centre’s Digital Archive is with Don McDonald who was a Halifax pilot during World War Two [DM coughs]. Interview’s taking place at Don’s home in Doncaster in Melbourne [DM coughs]. It’s the 13th of October. My name’s Adam Purcell [DM coughs]. Don, I thought we’d start from the beginning. Can you tell me something of your early life growing up [DM coughs], what you did before the war?
DM: I was born in Melbourne and at an age too young to remember, the family moved onto a dairy farm at Koo Wee Rup [?] which is about seventy k south-east of Melbourne. I was born in 1920 and my first recollection of the dairy farm was in early school years, six and a half, seven. It was a pretty tough life, tail end of depression, appallingly low prices for our produce and there was a family of seven children, three girls and four boys so it was a, a tough life [emphasis]. As the result of poor income, low income, low prices, I had to leave school at age fourteen and I was lucky enough to have a, get work in the local post office and general store which was very much a part of Victorian Australian life. My wage was ten bob, a dollar a week for a forty-seven hour week. After a couple of years of that, I entered for an examination for the Commonwealth Public service and, and passed the exam. The examination was held in the Wilson Hall, the old Wilson Hall at Melbourne University. When I say the old Wilson Hall, it was a beautiful building but it was subsequent, post World War Two it was burnt down in a fire which was quite tragic. There was about four-hundred entrants for this examination and there were about twenty positions available, typical of the depression era or immediate post depression, world war depression era. And I was lucky enough out of the four-hundred, I came in ninth, and I misread one question, otherwise I would have gotten third, and I was pretty up, up staged about that because having only got to grade eight in school I was pretty happy with that outcome. And then of course 1939 came World War Two. In about 1937, just after I’d passed the examination for the Public service, I had to move to Melbourne to take up the position and was staying with an aunt and her, and her family. By the time I paid fares plus board and lodging there was no money left for anything else, and another guy who’d paid the same exam as I had, also from the country and equally short of funds, suggested that we should join the 4th Division Signals, because if you attended a parade one night a week you got the princely sum of five shillings fifty cents and, but that was one heck of a lot of money to both of us in the situation which we were in, and so we joined the Signals and so I was in the part time Army. Bear in mind there was no war, there was no ‘your country needs you,’ no loyalty, call on loyalty, no drums banging or cymbals playing to get you to enlist, it was pure economic necessity [emphasis] that we joined the Signals. I was a terrible [emphasis] soldier, absolutely shocking [emphasis] soldier. I didn’t think much of the Army and I didn’t give the Army any reason to think much of me. We attended our once weekly parade round and learnt Morse code and then came the outbreak of war, and with the outbreak of war within a month [emphasis] of the outbreak of war, I found myself in camp at Mount Martha, a newly formed military camp in Victoria on Port Philip Bay. Everything was absolute rudimentary. They were just still building the camp and our tents, we were living in tents and some of those leaked because they’d been stored at a military depot out in Broad Meadows, a northern suburb of Melbourne since World War One, and so they were pretty daggy [?] believe you me. As mentioned I was a shocking [emphasis] solider, I couldn’t – if something could be messed up, I would mess it up, and I’d do right turn instead of left turn on the, out in the bullring, the parade ground. My Morse was okay, I didn’t have any trouble with that, but apart from that I could drop a rifle in the middle of present arms and God, if you wanted to send a sergeant major ballistic that’s a guaranteed way I can assure you. I, I didn’t, I detested [emphasis] the Army and applied for aircrew and was accepted, and of course having left school at grade eight I was really playing catch-up. Our first Air Force camp was at Somers, purely ground subjects, no flying whatsoever, and it was rather amazing. As I say, I was on catch-up but in the evening quite often a lot of us would go down to the lecture huts and instead of going down to a picture show or camp concert or something like that where all the gym [?] there was – and we would help each other out on different subjects, whatever our forte might be, we would help someone, and I got a lot of help and made the grade as a pilot. I’d been brought up in a very [emphasis] strong, very astute Protestant family, and any thought of dropping bombs on people would have been absolutely abhorrent in our home, yet wartime dictated that was how and where I would finish up. I, I – after Somers initial flying training school, elementary flying training school was at Western Junction, the civil airport for Launceston, Tasmania, where we flew the Tiger Moth. Said to be unprangable, however I failed [?] up that story on solo flight. I apparently came in just a shade low, clipped the post on the boundary fence and finished up in an ambulance and in hospital. When I was well enough that prang meant that I had to have a scrubber [?] test with the chief flying instructor. He gave me an incredible [emphasis] drilling, he found out exactly what I’d learnt hitherto in my Air Force training, but I think he also found out what I hadn’t [emphasis] learnt and that was the important. And got to the stage [?] – he was very fair, very fair, he got to the stage of flying test and I think I – ‘cause this was a scrubber [?] test. Any, any messing up on this and my days as a pilot were finished. We, he put me through a few exercises in the air and then said [?] ‘trip’ [?], said ‘take it in and land it.’ And I think I did probably the best [emphasis]landing of my career. I absolutely breezed [emphasis] it on, you hardly knew when we, whether we were airborne or whether we’d touched down. Years later when I would try and relate this story about the perfect touchdown to my crew on a squadron they would laugh like all hell [emphasis], because they couldn’t believe that I could ever have done a decent landing. I from there went onto Point Cook, flew the twin engine Air Speed Oxford and – which was renowned as having bad stalling habits but I never did have any trouble whatsoever with them. Life – speaking from the viewpoint of mere male, to me life in the Air Force is very like life in marriage. Best to do what you’re told most times, the quicker the better, and as I say, happened to do what I was told I ended up in Bomber Command in, in England. Flew the, flew the Oxford again for a few hours and then OTU and crewed up and flew the twin engine Whitely, which was outdated pre World War Two and yet some of our very early people in Bomber Command had to fly the jolly Whitley on operations. No wonder their life span was so short. Alright, carrying on?
AP: That’s a, that’s a very good start. Sorry I wasn’t sure if you were carrying on or not there. Alright we might, might go back a little bit. The enlistment process – so you’re in the Army at this stage and you’ve decided to join the Air Force, so you go and sign the papers, presumably that was Melbourne. Can you remember much of the process? Was there an interview involved, some sort of medical tests? What happened on that day?
DM: Yes the medical test for aircrew was very, very strict, very exhausting and I passed that, not that I was in any great physical specimen then or now, but I managed to pass it. There were several interviews, one heck of a lot of questions, some of which seemed totally irrelevant but they were, they were there and they had to be answered. And it was a result of passing those questions and what have you that I was accepted and went to Somers on initial training school.
AP: What sort of things happened at Somers?
DM: Somers was great. Quite an emphasis on physical fitness, a lot of PT, a lot of square bashing or we used to call them the bullring parade ground drill. I formed an opinion there and it might be a totally incorrect opinion but I still reckon that to be a good drill inspector, the two main or the main attributes are a loud voice and not necessarily much between the ears. That might be quite unfair on DIs because they’re very decent blokes really when you got them away from the program, from the parade ground but they could give you one hell [emphasis] of a time when you were on the parade ground.
AP: From your assistive [?], your service flying training, so your Oxfords in Point Cook, you then somehow got to the UK. How did you get to A to B?
DM: We passed out of Point Cook, got my wings at Point Cook which was quite a thrill. Somers where we posted as instructors around various schools, flying schools around Australia. Some were posted as staff pilots flying trainees around other trainees such as navigators and bomb aimers around, flying them around to give them experience in the air and experience of navigation. I was from Point Cook and this, as I say, we had no say in, in what, in what happened to you. I was posted to pre-embarkation depot which was at the Showgrounds which are in a suburb of Melbourne. We were there for some weeks, awaiting, awaiting a ship. Shipping was very limited, very, very secret due to avoiding enemy action, not giving any secrets away in case – there used to be the saying: ‘tittle tattle buggers battle’ and tittle tattle, you know, words, things said unintentionally, if they got into the wrong ears, you have to be in a pub or something like that, and there was a fifth columnist there, well he would relay the shipping movements and make you ready made for a submarine attack. We, we were at Showgrounds for about six to eight weeks and then one Saturday morning, I can remember it quite well, they said ‘pack up all your gear you’re on your way.’ And we had no idea what ‘on your way’ meant. We finished up at Station Pier Port, Melbourne, weighed anchor late afternoon. Down port full of boat [?] and of course there was a lot of conjecture, a lot of guess work, ‘where are we going?’ ‘Well we’re going to Canada’ because a lot of our fellows went to Canada to finish their training, or ‘we’re going to South Africa’ because quite a few went there to finish their training. We got outside the hedge and turned port, so it was pretty obvious that we wouldn’t be going to South Africa. We hit it off, it was into the dark by now and about three days later we came in sight of land, and it was the coast of New Zealand. We entered a harbour, somebody recognised it as Wellington. We docked there, took on a few Kiwis and headed off again, much conjesture, conjecture [emphasis] and guessing. We all reckoned we’d be going to Canada – would we go around the, the Cape of South America or would we perhaps go through the Panama Canal, and we were heading off in generally speaking a north-easterly direction and after a certain time we were calculating our direction by the watch, you know, point the twelve o’clock at the sun et cetera, et cetera. And after a certain time we reckoned ‘oh no we’re not going around the Cape, we’re too far north for that,’ and then after several more days now, well we reckoned we must be passed the Panama Canal by now, and so it was guesswork, ‘where the heck are we going?’ And one beautiful, bright, sunny Saturday morning we woke up, walked out on deck, and were under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco Harbour. Oh we reckoned this would be pretty good, we’d be able to paint the town red that night and, and, and you know, thinking up things we were going to do and not going to do, and about four o’clock on the afternoon, they pulled us into a floating jetty, probably a couple of hundred metres long, and on each side of which, shoulder to shoulder, were big black American policemen with rifles, all with rifles so there was no hope of jumping, escaping, doing anything that we, we would like to do. We were marched up on this floating jetty, straight into a train and that night instead of painting San Francisco red we were heading off east across America. And we spent five days and four nights on the train and ultimately – I better finish this [AP laughs] – we had five days and four nights on the train trans-America, experienced some very kind and generous hospitality from ladies clubs and that sort of things at stations where we’d pull up to refuel with coal or top up the water on the steam engine train. Some extremely [emphasis] generous hospitality, and we ultimately arrived early in the morning at a place called Camp Myles Standish. It was a transitory camp just outside Boston, from memory about thirty miles outside Boston. The nearest town was a place called Providence. We were given – ah when we arrived at Myles Standish we were taken off the train onto trucks and then dumped inside the gates of the camp, and the Americans had a band there to welcome us and they played us into out billets to the tune, among others, of “Waltzing Matilda,” and that was pretty great, pretty special of them to do that. We were granted leave that night and we went into the local what they call Legions Club which is the equivalent of the Australian RSL, and we were made very welcome, given the VIP treatment. We had heard during our time at Showgrounds in Melbourne that it was worth collecting a few kangaroo pennies. Now penny was currency at the time, the second lowest denomination of Australia currency, and some of the nine, pennies in the 1930s were struck with a kangaroos on the back of them, on the reverse side, and we were told that these were in great demand, the kangaroo. And we were having a drink at the bar of the Legions Club and one of us produced a kangaroo penny. Well the Americans who were in the club at the same time went berserk [emphasis] for them, and most of us had kangaroo pennies, as I say we’d been given the mail [?] about them, and if you produced a kangaroo penny you couldn’t buy a beer for the rest of the night. There wasn’t a bloke who – the recipient wanted to shout it for the rest of the night, so that was pretty good fun. After about, I think about two and a half weeks in Myles Standish, there was nothing to do. A few of us shall we say got itchy feet, and five of us decided that we would go AWL down to New York. Fancy being within a few hours of, you know, the Big Apple and not getting there, the temptation was too great. So we sneaked out of camp undetected, got into Boston to the railway station, and thankfully, very, very thankfully bought return tickets. It was a bit over a four hour trip down to New York and we had a great [emphasis] time. The Americans, the Australian uniform, Air Force uniform stood out fairly well because it was known as Air Force blue and it had Australia on the shoulder pads and we, we had a great time. The one thing though which we did [emphasis] discover was that an Australian pound didn’t go very far in New York and a sergeants pay as we then were, a sergeants pay was not very great and after about I think it was fourth day the five of us were all stone motherless broke [emphasis]. We didn’t have two pennies to rub together, and so this, as I say, was the good thing about buying a return ticket. If we’d, if we’d bought a one way ticket we’d have been stranded in New York, so we, we thankfully as I say, had the return ticket. Went to the station about ten o’clock, caught a train about ten o’clock at night, got back into Myles Standish somewhere between two or three o’clock in the morning. Again undetected, and hadn’t been in bed long and we were shaken awake, ‘wakey, wakey, wakey, wakey, you’re on your way.’ Well as I say, the good – there is a wonderful [emphasis] virtues of being stone motherless broke, not having two pennies to rub together. The great virtue on this occasion was okay we were awoken as I say after a couple of hours in bed, on another train and we finished up in Canada, a place called Halifax, a port, and we were put on a ship on our way to England. Now, the beauty about having the return ticket was this: had we not been able to catch the train to New York back to Boston [emphasis], we would have missed the ship from Halifax to England, and would have been classed as deserters. Now, desertion is a very, very serious offence in the forces and instead of getting the ship to England, we’d have been put on a ship back to Australia and arrived in Australia in handcuffs and gone straight to jail, so don’t ever worry I suggest about being stone motherless broke, it can have its virtues [AP laughs]. The ship was the, the ship from Melbourne had been the New Amsterdam which in peacetime was a luxurious Dutch liner. It had been revittled [?] in South Africa and there was only about three hundred of us airmen and about another forty or fifty New Zealanders so it was a pretty comfortable [emphasis] life. We got onto the ship in Halifax, it was the Louis Pasteur which had been a luxury French trans-Atlantic liner pre-war converted to a, a troop ship. America was in the war by now, and there were fourteen thousand [emphasis] troops onboard the Louis Pasteur. It was just incredibly packed, we didn’t get anything, the bell would ring for mess and there was nothing that even resembled edible food. You couldn’t blame the cooks, trying to cook for fourteen thousand people, they didn’t have a hope [emphasis]. The ship, for the first couple of days out we had a Destroyer escort and they were incredible, the way they would charge around. You’d swear they were going to be cut in half, they’d just you know, clear the bow of the Louis Pasteur and the Louis Pasteur, bear in mind you’ve got some pretty big Atlantic seas once you get out of a little bit from the coast, big, big waves, and the Louis Pasteur changed course every seventh minute. Quite violent change of course, and the reason for it being every seven minutes was it took a German submarine eight minutes to line you up and shoot a torpedo at you, so by changing course every seven minutes you had the German subs pretty much at your, your mercy, but it was very violent change of course. That plus the mountainous Atlantic seas, you really were getting your money’s worth I can tell you, and at times fourteen thousand troops – there was no treatment for the sewage it was just pumped out, raw sewage pumped out, and with these violent waves plus the also violent change of course of our ship, it was quite possible at times to have waves break over the stern of the ship and you’re up, you’re standing there knee deep in raw, untreated sewage. Strangely enough we didn’t hear – there may have been but if there was any sickness, any outbreak of sickness it was kept a very, very clever secret because there was never any word of it or any indication of a, a sickness outbreak from this as I say, almost living in untreated sewage sometimes. But after, after about three days I think it was, three or four days, the Destroyer escort just disappeared and one day we saw a speck on the horizon and there was much conjecture, ‘is it one of ours or is it one of theirs?’ It was an aircraft in the distant horizon and it turned out it was a four engine RAF Sunderland flying about and it took over the escort until we got almost, almost into Liverpool and another Destroyer came out and met us, took us under its wings for the last few hours, and so we landed at Liverpool late in the afternoon. Most wharf areas that you go to are not terribly exciting. This far from being exciting was rather depressing because it had had its share of Jerry bombs dropped on it and there was devastation everywhere. It was a quite a depressing sight actually, yeah.
AP: So that’s probably one of your first impressions of, of wartime England, is the –
DM: That’s right –
AP: You know, bombing damage.
DM: Yeah.
AP: This is the first time you’ve gone overseas presumably.
DM: Yes, yes, yes.
AP: As a young Australian, what did you think of wartime England?
DM: It was interesting. We’d left here at the end of early, rather early March, early March at the end of a rather dry and harsh Australian summer, and we got on a train at, at Liverpool and the first hour or two was in daylight and the – having left the harshness, the brown harshness of an Australian summer – there of course it, in March, you’re into spring and the various shades of green on the trees, the far [?] leaves. There was such a contrast to what we’d left back here about six or eight weeks earlier, and if it was very, very impressive without a, without a doubt. Beautiful shades of, of green, it was very, very impressive. We went from Liverpool by train down to Bournemouth. There were a number of delays in the journey, and we got into Bournemouth getting on towards midnight and that was our, we were to have our, that was to be our first English meal, a meal of English rationed foods. Our mess there had been an indoor bowling green in peacetime. Bournemouth is on the south coast as you almost certainly know, one of the most popular holiday spots in England pre-war but it had been evacuated. All the women and children had been evacuated out to the country. It was almost like a service town. All the hotels which had been packed with tourists in peacetime were taken over and used as billets for the three services. We – that was actually on a Saturday night and we got up on the Sunday morning and there was a church parade. Those of you who have been in the services know what it was, the Catholics went one way, the Jews went another way, the Protestants went another way, off to your various denominational services. We came out of our church service – the Catholics had an earlier service than us and some of their guys had gone back to their hotel, got their ground sheets which were a waterproof sheet, multipurpose thing, and laid them out on the lawns and there were a lot of lawns in Bournemouth, and they were enjoying a bit of Sunday morning sun [emphasis], and we came back out of church a bit later than them, and all of a sudden there’s a clatter, clatter, clatter. Now we’d been in England just over twelve hours – clatter, clatter, clatter. It was machine gun fires and so we suddenly realised ‘boy oh boy, this is a warzone.’ And the clatter, clatter from machine guns was German, what they used to call ‘tip and run raids.’ They didn’t do a lot of damage [emphasis] as such but they did cause one hell of a lot of disruption, and they were German fighter planes which would come in low, low, low over the English channel. Low so that the radar couldn’t pick them up, and when they got into, when they got over land they’d up to about a hundred and fifty, couple of hundred feet and they were just shoot. I don’t, I think at times they weren’t shooting at anything, they were just opening up their guns and as I say, nuisance value rather than damage. But interestingly enough I was saying these fellows had come home and come back to the hotel and got their groundsheets. Two of them were lying on a groundsheet, probably not much more than a metre apart enjoying the morning sun and a cannon shell ripped the groundsheet in two but neither of the blokes were harmed, it was quite, quite an initiation to, to fire and to the fact that they were in a warzone. We were there for a while, and there’s nothing worse for morale than having a congregation of guys with nothing to do so the powers that be decided that they would send us to a battle course up just outside Newcastle, Whitley Bay, just outside Newcastle. Here we were to have our introduction to Pommy drill instructors. Now when they use the word Pommy, often it’s used as a sort of derisive type of word. Later on I was to have five Poms in my crew, and whenever I use the word Pom it’s not one of disrespect, it’s more likely to be one of admiration. And anyway, I might have mentioned earlier about the main qualifications to be a good drill instructor being a loud voice and not much between the ears – these Pommy drill instructors did nothing to change that opinion. Whitley Bay had concrete strips, concrete streets, and this was a battle course to harden us up. We were, you know, scaling fences, going into trenches, God knows what, and marching clip-clop along the concrete streets with Army boots which had steel toes and steel heels, and we just about drove the Pommy drill instructors nuts when it came too hot [emphasis]. They would sound like a machine gun, and they used to let us know this, instead of – hot, you know, everybody exactly the heel on the ground at the same time sounded like a machine gun, and they, the more – they would take it out on us, they would make us double, they would make us run with our rifle above our head, but then at night we’d get in the mess or one of the local pubs and have a beer together and laugh our heads off with the Pommy DIs knowing quite well it was going to be more of the same tomorrow. But it didn’t do us, do us any harm, and from there we weren’t back to Bournemouth and on to AFU, an advanced flying unit which was where we flew the Oxfords again. Got a few hours up, the flying conditions were just so [emphasis] different there from what they are back in Australia, though Pommy instructors, and they bet us that they could take us up in the air, fly us around for quarter of an hour and we would be lost [emphasis]. They won the bet. The conditions, particularly around, we were just outside Oxford, and there are railways lines going everywhere [emphasis]. In Melbourne, Point Cook, if you’ve struck a railway line, spotted a railway line going west it’s almost certainly going to go to Bellarat. If it’s going north it’s almost certainly going to Seymour. Here you had railway lines going everywhere, little paddocks about ten, fifteen acre paddocks, whereas here we used to paddocks of hundreds of acres, and the instructors, as I say, won the bet. We were hopelessly lost after a quarter of an hour in the air. Good fun, all good plain sport, we used to have some good laughs about it, and from there we went to OTU, operational training unit. This was where you crewed up, which was quite an interesting exercise. There were probably about twenty-five or thirty of us on the course, and so you were going to have a crew of five, so it meant you had about shall we say thirty pilots, thirty navigators, thirty bomb aimers, thirty wireless ops, thirty tail gunners, and we were put in a hangar together and told to, you know, see if you could pick out someone you liked, you thought you’d like to fly with, and I saw a bloke standing there and went over and spoke to him, and his name was Pat. He was a navigator and started off, mostly, most people started off as a navigator. Skippers, most skippers started off as a navigator, and I had a bit of a yarn with Pat and Pat was, as the name might suggest, an Irishman and he was a wild Irishman. He’d been in a mercenary in the Spanish civil war when they were overthrowing I think it was King Alfonso that was overthrown. Pat was pretty wild sort of a guy and we decided, had a bit of a yarn. ‘Okay well do you want to try, do you want to, do we want to have a go together?’ ‘Yep.’ So then we looked around and saw a few bomb aimers and walked over and had a bit of a chat, and ‘ah yes,’ same sort of thing. So by now we were a crew of three, and the three of us then looked, went over to where the wireless ops were assembled, talking around and what have you. Incidentally, as I mentioned, Pat was a wild Irishman, the bomb aimer was a Kiwi, a New Zealander, the wireless op was from, a Pom from Cheshire, it was culturally [?] often called Cheese, nicknamed Cheese, and, and the – so we were a crew of four by now, picked, like picking number out of a hat really, and then we went over and had a look at the gunners and picked up a fellow, Taz Mears, who was a Pom from Brighton, and so there was the five of us and we decided we would give it a go together. The only unfortunate thing that broke that crew up was Pat got pneumonia and the Bomber Command appetite for replacement crews was insatiable [emphasis] so we couldn’t wait, we weren’t allowed to wait for Pat to get back out of hospital and rejoin us. That might have put a week or two weeks delay on our availability at the squadron, and so the CGI, the chief ground instructor, got us together and asked us would we try another guy who had been separated from his crew. Well this other guy was very, very different from, almost the opposite to, to Pat. He was an ex-public, an Englishman, ex-public school, a bank clark, and our initial meeting was to say the best was quite cool, quite – and when I say cool, not cool the way kids use it today, it was cold, it was frigid. But anyway, we didn’t have much option but to give it a try and it turned out to be good, he turned out to be a top navigator. He, he was ten years my senior, I was twenty-two, he was thirty-two. There were times where he was a steadying influence on the whole crew due to that bit of extra maturity, and we finished up despite the frigidity of our initial meeting, we finished up great mates. We, I went to his mother and sister, the father was deceased. The mother and sister lived at Exmouth, just outside Exeter in Devon, and I went down to their place numbers of times on leave, and the way they treated me was embarrassing. The food rationing in England was extremely severe, like two ounces per person per week of meat, two ounces of either butter or margarine per person per week, one egg per person per week, and we used to say perhaps, but they would save some of these rations so that when Wally and I – his actual name was Philip, Philip Hammond, but the English opening bat test, cricket batsman at the time was Wally Hammond, so Wally, Philip became Wally Hammond as far as the crew was concerned. But we finished up as I say mother and sister would save a couple of pieces of meat so we could have a bit extra and it was embarrassing [emphasis]. They killed us, killed me with hospitality. From OTU we were flying the old Whitley aircraft, a twin engine thing that was out of date before the war started and yet in the very early stages of the war, airmen had to fly the things on operations over occupied Europe, and it is no [emphasis] wonder that the losses were so great. As I say, there were hopeless [emphasis] bleeding aircraft, heavy on the control, sluggish to respond, low air speed, nothing going for them really. But we finished OTU, had a couple of nasty incidents there, and then onto the four engine Halifax. We were stationed just outside York and here further crew selection went on. We had to get a mid upper gunner and a flight engineer, and the same thing as I mentioned at the OTU, you went and had a yarn with a couple of blokes and we finished up with a fellow Pom from Newcastle, his name was Bell, surname Bell. To this day I have not got a clue what his real Christian name was because from day one with the crew he was Dingle, Dingle Bell, and what his true name was, as I say, I hadn’t a clue. And the other was a just turned eighteen year old, in fact I think he might have put his age on a bit, Johnny Cowl, and Englishmen from Kent as our mid upper gunner, so we had our compliment of five for the, for the Halifax.
AP: You mentioned a couple of nasty incidents at OTU, can you expand a little bit?
DM: Yes, the, the worst incident was there were only five crews on this particular course at OTU all of whom had been selected at OTU the same way as I mentioned ours, and we were briefed one night to do a cross country. Now cross countries were meant to get you ready, really ready for ops, and they could last five, six hours and the weather forecast was absolutely shocking [emphasis], and take off was postponed several times due to the weather forecast, and then ultimately it was decided that we would go [emphasis]. And as I say, why it was decided I do not know, but anyway, five crews, one had a crooked motor and didn’t get off the ground, another one of the crew took sick and I don’t blame him in view of the forecast [laughs]. I wish I [laughing], almost wish I had decided that I was sick, so there was two that didn’t get off the ground. Three of us got off the ground, one of them hadn’t gone far when he had a faulty engine and had to return, so that left two of us to – and of course we didn’t know anything about the other three, what had happened to them, we just pressed on. And after a while the control started to get heavy and as I say, the aircraft ultimately [?] was slow to respond and, and this was making it a bit worse, and then we started hearing things hitting against the fuselage and we couldn’t make out what it was, and it turned out, it was decided after we’d gotten back after everything was analysed that it was bits of ice flying off the propellers and hitting side of the fuselage. Things got worse and I lost our air speed indictor. Now what had happened, the pitot head – in case you don’t know what that is, it’s a little narrow tube that protrudes, protrudes out under the wing and the pressure at which the air hits that is converted to the air speed indictor in the cabin, via which we flew. Now, we lost the air speed indictor, and it’s a pitch black night, pitch, pitch black and so how the hell do you judge the airspeed if you haven’t got an ASI? Well with one hell of a lot of good luck, is all I can say. But anyway, we finished the, the course and got back over the airfield. Navigator did a marvellous [emphasis] job, incredible job, and bear in mind we’re only trainee crew, and I call out and said to the flying control, and told them, you know, ‘we’ve got no airspeed indicator and the aircraft’s hard to handle due to the ice, the wings and everything being so iced up,’ and the, the fellow in chargr of flying for the night was a flight lieutenant who’d done a tour of ops and a good bloke, good bloke, and he took over from the airfield controller and said, ‘okay, come in high, come in fast.’ And, which was good [emphasis] advice, no doubting the wisdom at all of his advice but how the bloody hell do you know fast when you haven’t got an ASI? So we, I, by the greatness of God and one hell of a lot, managed to do that and touched down. And it was screaming along the runway because I had come in really [emphasis] fast, screaming along the runway, brakes starting to overheat, no reverse thrust of course in those days, and the human mind is a funny thing really, I believe. I had my hands really full trying to look after and control the situation and I must [emphasis] say, just diverting for a moment, I must say the crew were absolutely marvellous [emphasis]. There was never a beep out of any of them, they each did what they were asked whenever they were asked, they fed whatever information they could to me, and they were absolutely brilliant [emphasis]. But anyway, as I say, we’re charging along the runway, brakes starting to overheat and lose their effectiveness and the human mind, suddenly it dawned on me about the excavation at the end of this runway. I would imagine there had been excavation and they’d taken the stuff out to build the runway and the perimeter tracks and what have you, and so ‘oh my God’ [emphasis]. You couldn’t possibly think of going into that, so I jammed on hard, hard left rudder, going as I say quite fast, and we went into a magnificent bloody ground loop and ultimately shuddered to a, to a halt and you know, we were off the runway, up the middle of the patty [?], out the middle of the airfield somewhere. And we hardly stopped, hardly come to a standstill and this flying duty officer who I’d mentioned to you, who’d gave us the instruction, ‘come in hard, come in fast,’ he, he was out there and up in the aircraft beside me, and anyway he was saying, you know, ‘good show, good show’ et cetera, et cetera, and we went off and, and were debriefed and went to bed. And we got up the next morning and they took us, drove us out to the aircraft, drove the crew out to the aircraft, and there were some bloody great slabs of rubber which had been ripped off the tyre when we went into the vicious ground loop at speed, and we, you know, looked and thought what might have been, what could have been. But we were by no means the main topic of conversation because the other crew I mentioned, you know, three didn’t go, we were the fourth. The fifth aircraft, he lost control [emphasis]. He couldn’t control his aircraft any longer, undoubtedly due to the icing and plus he may have let his airspeed get a bit low and perhaps close to stall. But anyway, he couldn’t control the aircraft and he gave the order to abandon aircraft, jump [emphasis]. And his bomb aimer – it was the bomb aimer’s job, he was the nearest to the front hatch, that was the only exit in the Whitley was the hatch at the front. He, his job was to lift the hatch, jump, and the others in theory follow, that was the theory. He lifted the hatch and froze, he couldn’t jump, and worst still he was blocking the exit, and the skipper, you know, he gave the order again a couple of times, and nothing was happening so he jumped out, out of the pilot’s seat to the front hatch, virtually threw this bomb aimer bloke out of the way and said ‘follow me,’ and he jumped because he knew quite well how low they were getting, so he jumped. Another two jumped and got out, but the bomb aimer and probably the tail gunner went in [?] and were killed. And I, I fell foul of authority because this skipper of course, he was being castigated. You’re supposed, you know, skipper’s supposed to be the last man to leave the sinking ship type of thing. Well I had the greatest admiration for him, because I’ve said, and our crew was agreed, better two blokes killed than five blokes killed, and I was told that I had to give evidence at, at a subject court of, subsequent court of enquiry, and I was marched in with a corporal with a bloody rifle, almost as though I was a criminal [emphasis], and I got in front of the desk where the chairman of the enquiry and a couple of other blokes were seated, and saluted and was told I may sit. And the way, the way the chairman told me, I think put us at loggerheads straightaway, you know. We used to talk cattle dog on a farm [emphasis] nicer than the way he spoke to me, and when I sat down he said ‘you’re, you’re required to answer some questions,’ and I [laughs], ‘I’ll answer any questions you ask me provided I can first make a statement.’ Well, t’was not spaghetti what hit the fan I can tell you. He lectured me about insubordination and this and that and the king’s regulations and God knows what, stathan’s [?] standing orders, and when he’d finished I repeated what I said, ‘I’ll answer any question provided I can first make a statement’ [emphasis]. And he was about to light up again when one of the other fellows on the board of enquiry asked what, why was my attitude such as it was, and I said to him just what I’ve said to you, I, the, ‘the skipper of that aircraft should be congratulated not castigated in my book.’ And anyway, after that a bit of reason prevailed and I was able to make my statement and the questions came thick and fast, and so that was, that was a rather nasty experience at, at, on Whitelys at the OTU so that was what I referred to before. From, from there it was – oh yes I, from there it was onto four engineer aircraft, Halifaxes, at a place called Rufforth which is now a suburb of York, it was just outside York at that time, and I finished HCU, that was called the heavy conversion unit, conversion on the heavy engine aircraft, heavy four engine aircraft, and I was posted to the Middle East. 462, an Australian Halifax squadron in the Middle East, and I thought ‘crikey.’ Just digressing a bit, my father came from the north of Scotland and he still had a couple of sisters, and I still had a number of cousins up near Inverness, right up the north of Scotland, and I’d been up to visit them a couple of times on leave since I’d been in England, and so going to the Middle East I sort of reckoned ‘well, I’m not half way home, I’m a third of the way home from Middle East, so I’ll probably be posted back to Australia.’ So I thought I’d better do the right thing and went up and saw my two aunties and cousins up in Inverness. We had a fortnight’s leave and I, after about a week or so, life up there was a bit dull and the bright lights of Lomond beckoned, and so I said to my auntie, said that I was going to go back down to have a few days in London before I left and that was all a-okay. If you change your address while you’re on leave you had to notify the adjutant’s office back on the unit where you were, so I sent a signal, no email of course in those days, sent a signal notifying my address as chair [?] of the boomerang club in London. I got down to London okay and sort of figured there won’t be much to spend my money on out in the Middle East, might as well have a good time here so there was no show I couldn’t afford to go to, there was no pub I couldn’t afford to drink at. I had an absolute ball and ala New York, just like New York I was stone motherless broke and went back to Rufforth, the camp where I was, the station where I was, and there was a party on in the sergeants mess so I borrowed ten bob, a dollar off one of my mates so that I could afford a beer and I was just about to have the first sip out of this pint of beer, and the CGI, the chief ground instructor came up to me and said, ‘what are you doing here McDonald?’ I said ‘just back from leave sir,’ and he said ‘well, your crew’s been, Middle East’s been cancelled, your crew’s been posted, you’ve been, you and your crew’s been posted to a squadron. The crew have all been over at Burn for two or three hours, two or three days. Be at the front door here with all your gear at seven o’clock in the morning and you’ll be on your way over there too.’ So, what had happened, I’d sent my notice as I mentioned back to the adjutant’s office, but they, they hadn’t profiled it, progressed it, hadn’t put it through the system and so I didn’t, the rest of the crew were recalled. They’d gone, you know the five Poms had gone home and Murray [?] had given the key, we, I don’t know where he’d gone, but they all got recall notices whereas mine hadn’t been put through the mill, and my change of address hadn’t been put through the mill, and so – but that was a great streak of luck, I would say, because I got over to Burn. The, it was almost straight into the CO’s office and he told me to sit down. He proved to be the greatest leader of men I have ever met or am ever likely to meet. He, I was Mac from the moment he met me. ‘Sit down Mac, I know you’re late arriving. Your crew’s been here for two or three days, but I also know that you sent a notice back to the adjutant’s office, you did all the right things’ he said, ‘you’re not, you weren’t in anyways wrong. This is a new squadron,’ and I think we were, I think we were the fourteenth crew there out of squadron strength was normally about thirty, maybe about thirty-two if you were lucky. We were about the fourteenth crew, and among other things he said to me, he said ‘Mac’ – and he’d already done a full tour, and had been selected to form up this new squadron, and one of things he said to me, he said, ‘Mac, you won’t – the only thing we’ll ask of you here is that you give off your best, and you’ll know whether or not you’ve given off your best,’ and so, you know, ‘go and get the rest of your crew round so we can have a bit of a yarn.’ And as I say, he was the greatest leader of men that I’ve, I’ve ever met but very, very [emphasis] sadly, he finished his second tour, was selected due to his ability and compatibility and all his virtues, he was selected to head up a very special training school and went over there. He always wanted to know what was happening to the men under him, and he wanted to find out more about what was happening, what was the routine with these fellows at the special school when they got in the air, and so he said to the commanding officer at this station, ‘I want to go up with, with a crew and find out a bit more detail.’ And the command officer looked his – ‘well everybody’s booked out, they’re all full crews today,’ and he says ‘doesn’t matter I’ll go with somebody, I’ll sit on the floor.’ And that was the type of guy he was. Sat on the floor and the bloody aircraft pranged on takeoff and he was killed after he’d done two full tours of ops, and as I say, his leadership, ah, outstanding [emphasis].
AP: What was his name?
DM: David Wilkerson.
AP: Wilkerson.
DM: Yes, David Wilkerson.
AP: [Unclear] record –
DM: Won a DFC on his first tour and a DSO on the second tour when he was in charge of us. David Wilkerson DSO, DFC.
AP: So you’re, you’re at your squadron now. This is 578 Squadron, am I right?
DM: That’s right, yes.
AP: Where and how did you live on the squadron?
DM: Beg your pardon?
AP: Where and how did you live [emphasis] on the squadron?
DM: On the squadron – David Wilkerson I just mentioned, the greatest leader of men, one of the things he said very early in the piece, ‘don’t muck around with saluting and things insofar as I’m concerned, unless there’s a senior officer there with me. If there’s a senior officer there with me, well then salute because they’ll wonder why you don’t salute me as a wing commander.’ And life on a squadron, there was no bull dust [emphasis], there was no drill, you did what was required of you. There wasn’t, strangely enough, a lot of flying because the aircraft was wanted for ops. The only time you did non operational flying was to do an air test if the aircraft had been damaged and you as a skipper and a crew who were going to fly it were entitled to fly it after it had been repaired, so you’d do an air test. Might be half an hour, you might go on a cross country or something like that, but there wasn’t, very, very little non essential flying. As I mentioned, David Wilkerson didn’t want any saluting. He didn’t have to demand respect, he commanded it by his own example, by his own demeanour, as, as squadron commander. He had to seek permission before he could go on an operation, the reason for that being the losses were such, highly qualified blokes were pretty scarce [emphasis] and promotion on a squadron could come incredibly quick. I knew of one case where a fellow got his commission, was a pilot officer and six weeks later he was a squadron leader. In other words, he’d pilot officer, flying officer, flight lieutenant, squadron leader, everybody above him had been knocked off, hadn’t returned from ops, and so within six weeks from pilot officer to squadron leader. Impossible if it wasn’t for the chop rate, and now and we – life was, I wouldn’t say on the squadron, I wouldn’t say it was ill disciplined, but there was no bull dust, there was no parade ground, no square bashing. As I say, David Wilkerson didn’t want to be saluted unless a superior was there, so it, other than when you were flying, I suppose a bit lay back is the, would be a suitable word. A bit lay back. The aircrew, the close knittedness if that’s the correct word of aircrew I couldn’t describe and I don’t know that anybody could describe. You just relied on each other, you were part of a close knit team. As I mentioned in that icing incident, not a mumble or a grumble from any of the crew and they must have wondered what the bloody hell was going on at times, but very – and mutual respect and likewise [phone rings] the ground crew [phone rings], they would do anything [phone rings]. That’s it, you got it. Absolutely anything [emphasis] for their aircrew, and the close knittedness if that’s the word between aircrew and ground crew was so close to that between the aircrew that it didn’t matter. We were, we were issued pre takeoff with compasses and escape maps and that sort of thing, and also with a thermos of coffee, some glucose tablets for quick conversion to energy, molten milk tablets, and a, and some very, very [emphasis] dark chocolate, was almost back, terrible [emphasis] looking stuff, and we would always try, the aircrew, try and save a few bits of that for the ground crew because as I say they would do absolutely [emphasis] anything [emphasis] for us, absolutely anything. And one night, I mentioned Wally Hammond, the navigator, an Englishman. Wally had quite a large nose – now I’m the last one who should speak about a large nose but Wally put mine to shame [emphasis], and one night we were on our way home and, bear in mind that the aircraft thermometer went down to minus thirty-five degrees, the needle went down to minus thirty-five, and it would disappear right off the clock, minus fifty God knows what, and this night Wally wanted to blow his nose. He had a bit of a dew drop, and he pulled off his oxygen mask but before he could get his handkerchief to his nose, a big dew drop fell down onto his navigation chart and was immediately snap frozen. Now, as I say it was a big dew drop and as you would know, a dew drop is almost semi transparent, and as I say, when these, with these chocolate molten milk tablets and et cetera, we’d always try to save something for the ground crew, and some crews they’d, they’d hide them, they’d have the ground crew in and have them hide and seek. We never ever did that, we’d always try and have something for them, and this night, as I say, this giant [emphasis] dew drop, almost transparent, and one of the ground crew came up into the nose, the aircraft, the navigator’s area [?] and looking for his goodies, and Wally said ‘would you like a dewb [?] Jonny,’ because it looked a little bit like a clear, transparent clear dewb and [laughs] well, Jonny – and he’d almost got it into his mouth and Wally smacked his hand and knocked, knocked it out [laughs] and told him the origin of the dewb [?] [laughs].
AP: What, what happened in an officers mess in a squadron? What, what sort of things happened?
DM: Well I wasn’t commissioned until fairly late in my tour –
AP: The sergeants mess then [laughs].
DM: Sergeants mess, you can have some real [emphasis] good piss ups at times without a doubt, and the officers mess wasn’t any, the limited time that I was in there wasn’t any, any different. No, no formality as such as there is in the permanent Air Force mess. They could be very, very formal you know. The draw with the wine at the end of dinner was a port night, you would, the waiter would put a port glass down in front of everybody, and then the very strict rule was that the bottle didn’t touch the table until it was empty, you had to hand it on hand to hand to the bloke next to you, right to left, right to left and things like that. Very formal in the permanent mess, quite informal in the, in the wartime mess. Just on the subject of mess, I would reckon the best Christmas dinner I had – well okay, take the ones you can first remember, first Christmas you can remember, they’ve probably got to be your greatest. For those of us who have little kids, the next best Christmas you could have was when your little kids open their presents and sat up at the table. My third, my best Christmas other than those two and nothing can supplant them, my next best Christmas was when I was instructing after I’d finished my tour. We were at a place called Moreton-in-Marsh, in the Cotswold country of England. For those who don’t know the Cotswold country, on the corner of the Moreton airfield was the four shire stone, a stone denoting the joining of Gloucester, Oxford, Warwick and Worcestershire, the four shires all joined together there, and I was instructing there, and magically out of nowhere about two or three weeks before Christmas about six or eight geese appeared and it was much activity making an enclosure for them. We pinched bits of wire form everywhere and made an enclosure for them, and so the geese was the, there was no turkey but there were geese for Christmas dinner. This was Christmas 1944 and there were a lot of Australians on the station at Moreton-in-Marsh, and a couple of them gathered the rest of us together and suggested, ‘look, we can’t get home for Christmas. What about if we go to the CO, the commanding officer, and tell him that all the Aussies are prepared to stay on the station over Christmas and let the maximum number of Poms go home for Christmas dinner with their family.’ This was accepted and all we Aussies, I was commissioned by then, and we went to the airmens’ and the WAFs’ mess and waited on them for their Christmas dinner. Went and got the, the meal out of from the kitchen and took it and put it on the table for them, which was great and they appreciated that, and then the same thing happened with eh sergeants’ mess. We went over to the sergeants’ mess and waited on them which was absolutely great [emphasis]. It was absolutely marvellous and we got our own Christmas dinner I suppose at about four o’clock or something in the afternoon, but that was very, very, as I say, next to being a little kid and then having your own kids. That’s the, my most memorable Christmas, mm.
AP: Do any of your, your operations stand out in particular?
DM: I suppose whilst it was – we had a pretty easy trip, although we did lose our flight commander. D-Day was incredible. As skipper, you’re pretty preoccupied watching your instruments, flying your aircraft, looking up from time to time for other aircraft because there were bloody kites everywhere [emphasis], but the rest of the crew were – and we were a very strongly disciplined crew, very strongly disciplined in that we didn’t tolerate any unnecessary chatter, but the sight on D-Day was such that I take my eyes away from the instruments and other things from time to time and have a look out. But the rest of the crew, you know, the, the, the gunners and the navigator and bomb aimer down the nose of the aircraft, the engineer had a window beside him, as did the, the wireless op. They, you know, the sight, all [emphasis] those watercraft, God [emphasis] it was an unbelievable sight. As I say, we had a, a reasonably easy trip but we did lose our flight commander who was very experienced, he was on his second tour, and [phone rings] he unfortunately, as we used to call it, copped the chop [phone rings], mm. Now that would be one of the most memorable. Couple of the others weren’t as kind as that [laughs] was, but that was an incredible sight.
AP: Are they, are those other trips something that you’re – are you able to tell us something of some of the other trips?
DM: Er, yes. Our – Karlsruhe was very unpleasant, nasty weather, a lot of electrical storms. Very, very nasty and it was pretty hot over the target. They certainly gave us a, a warm welcome. We were lucky, only, only minor damage. Now look, yeah Karlsruhe was the most, probably one of the most – Essen, they certainly didn’t welcome you Essen, you know, the home of crops. Germany’s biggest armament manufacture, they, they let you know that you weren’t wanted. My – you, as a skipper you were sent with an experienced crew. You’d done everything in the way of training except being put under fire, and to try to give you some experience there, they would send the skipper to an operational squadron to do either one or two ops with an experienced crew. We, I took off with one of the flight commanders and we had an engine fault and had to return early. The target was Berlin and that was, that was, this was the first briefing of course that you’ve been to and you’ve got no idea what you’re in for. And when the squadron commander ripped the curtains back from the map on the wall and said, ‘there’s our target for the night, Berlin,’ there were groans, there were moans, there were some said ‘not again,’ others screamed out ‘the big city,’ and that was interesting for a first time. And as I say, we had to do an early return. Couple of nights later, experienced by then, I’d been to one briefing, so I’m into the second briefing, and it was Berlin again and indicative of how temporary life on an operational squadron could be is this example. There were two of us sent over to, to Driffield, the Australian Halifax squadron to do our second dicky trip with an experienced crew. The other fellow, Doug, Berlin the target again, was shot down just before they were to release their bombs, so his total experience on an operational squadron was about four hours, slightly less than four hours. Berlin was about a seven hour, roughly trip seven, depending on wind direction and whatever, and his total experience on an operational squadron, four hours as I say, it’s indicative of how brief it could be. The second time I took off with another, with a different crew and we – interesting, you know, you’re sitting there in the co-pilot’s seat in a Halifax, take it from me, no aircraft, no wartime aircraft in which I entered had any consideration of comfort for the crew, and indeed they seemed to have protrusions everywhere which, you know, as though they set traps for you to hit your head on or bump your shoulder against or some such, but as second dicky in a Halifax you pulled down a wooden seat from the side of the hall. It had no padding on the back of it, just timber, and precious little padding on the seat, and nowhere to rest your feet. You dangled your feet in midair a little bit like a very small kid in a church pew, just dangled his feet and that’s all you could do. And so, as I say, no thought of comfort and the guy with whom I was flying on this second attempt at Berlin was a fellow named Gus Stevens. Very experienced and very good pilot, and I can remember approaching or probably about half way there, ‘oh this doesn’t seem to be too bad,’ and bit further, ‘oh I’m getting close to the target. I’m not too sure this is all that good.’ Getting into the target area, ‘oh my God, there’s, there’s, I reckon there’s a few places where I’d rather be,’ and then over the target itself, ‘I know bloody well there’s a whole [emphasis] lot of places where I’d [laughing] rather be.’ And anyway, we got in and out of the target area okay and we’re stinting [?] along on our way home when all of a sudden a heap, a trace of bullets started flying everywhere and we had one of the inner engines were, were knocked out. The rear gunner didn’t spot him. Obviously if it was one of those German night-fighter aircraft where they had the upward pointing firing guns, which was a very [emphasis] bloody miserable trick in, in my book. God, talk about all’s fair in love and war, there’s nothing fair about, about that. Anyway, the – this was interesting, we’d done plenty of fighter affiliation at heavy conversion unit. They’d set up Spitfires and Hurricanes to, with us and the gunners both had camera guns so that we could, the aim could be assessed when they got back on the ground. But anyway, and with, you know, we’d thrown the aircraft round corkscrew port, corkscrew starboard et cetera, et cetera, and generally speaking the rougher and more violent your corkscrew, the more effective it was likely to be. Would you like a beer by the way, or anything like that?
AP: I’m alright thank you, but you’re happy to keep going? Carry on?
DM: No, no I hope I’m not boring you.
AP: Oh not at all.
DM: Anyway, the, one of the, I think it was the port inner engine got knocked out, but Gus Stevens, the pilot, the skipper told me to feather the engines so he could keep his both hands on the control column and put it into a steep dive. Well, there was almost like a deadly silence other than air swishing around, and Gus had, we worked it out later what he’d done, he’d put it into such an incredible [emphasis] dive, used such force that all the petrol, all the fuel was forced up centrifugal force off the bottom of the fuel tanks, and you had what was known as constant speed control on your, on your propellers, but the moment they were relived of any load [emphasis] they just went into runaway mode, and so, as I say, you had this short period when the fuel was off the bottom of the tanks and you just had air rushing by and then when he pulled it back in and the fuel went back onto the bottom of the tanks and entered the fuel allowance [?], entered the motors – the motors of course as I say, they had constant speed, like governors on them and, which governed the air, the air screw, the propeller speed to about three and a half thousand revs, but with this load moved, taken off them, I reckon they were probably at about four and a half thousand. And then when the petrol went back and into the – the bloody row [emphasis], the vibration of the – I didn’t realise what punishment a hellick [?] would take until that moment. You know, I thought I’d done some pretty rough and tough stuff on [phone rings] when we were doing [phone rings] our fighter affiliation in training, but nothing [emphasis] like [phone rings] this. Bloody vibration it shake [emphasis], I thought the thing would shake to pieces.
AP: I suppose that shows the value of the second dicky trip, going with an operational pilot [unclear] –
DM: That’s right, that’s right, yes, ah yes, yes, yes.
AP: It’s yeah, unreal.
DM: Yes, and interesting side line to that was back at the heavy conversion unit, the training unit again the next day, the CGI, chief ground instructor – there was a class in progress, I’ve forgotten what it was, and I was marched in and he said ‘I want you to tell your experience, your experience from last night.’ So I started, and he said ‘hold up Pilot McDonald, hold up. You don’t have to say any further. We’ve been in touch with the flight commander and the skipper concerned and we know almost as much about it as you do, so you can save your voice.’
AP: Very good [DM laughs]. Well I guess flying operations wouldn’t have been the most stress free existence. What sort of things did you do to relax?
DM: Give the grog a good nudge [laughs]. Yes, there was sports. You could have, there was tennis courts near the squadron and you could have a – we used to play a game that was a cross between AFL and rugby. There was you know, plenty of blokes from New South Wales and Queensland. They, they’d never heard of AFL at that time, and so we would, we’d have a game crossed between AFL and rugby. And of course the blokes, the rugby boys would tuck the ball under their arm and never think of bouncing it or anything like that, and that, that, that was a bit of good fun, and most, most messes would have table tennis facilities so you could have a game, and some would also have billiards or snooker to fill in time at night. And of course you’d have the odd game of cards here and there and those who liked to play poker could put their pay on the line.
AP: Can you – I gather you probably spent a fair bit of time at the local pub?
DM: Oh yes [emphasis], yes, yes.
AP: [Unclear].
DM: Yeah, not really funny thing, but the mid upper gunner of my second crew – when the war finished in Europe, I had just started a second tour. Indeed I only did one trip and the war in Europe ended. I – back at Moreton-in-Marsh, I, flying the twin engine Wellington which were a lovely, lovely kite to fly. As I say, twin engine. I’d had about three single engine, I’d had three single engine landings in about five weeks, and it wasn’t the fault of the ground staff. The motors were copped, cuffed out, they’d, they’d had it and no matter how good the ground staff had been, they would have had troubles keeping them airworthy. So I’d had about five single engine landings in about five weeks. The first two were highly successful. The last one, the third one, I was very lucky to walk away from. And the – sorry where were we up to when I digressed [?] –
AP: So we were – pubs.
DM: Ah yeah pubs. Yeah, and, and so we – I was very lucky to walk away from it. And on the sort of subject of pubs, as I say I was an instructor at this time, and I finished up in an ambulance and at lunchtime I was about to have a pint of beer because the flight commander had said, you know, ‘your flying’s finished for today.’ And so I thought I’d have a pint of beer at lunch and I was just about to have my first sip out of it when the MO, the doctor came up to me and said, ‘I think you can put that down, and, and you better come with me.’ And I didn’t realise but I had concussion, and he put me into hospital. Now, there’s two things outstanding about this. Some miserable sod got that pint of beer and drank it and never owned up to me, never paid me for it, never owned up to me for it, and so if I ever catch up with him I’ll, I’ll get my [AP laughs] money’s worth. The other thing was at night a couple of the other instructors, they were, we were all instructors at the OTU were ex-op fellows, and a couple of them decided they’d come down to the hospital, the sick quarters and see how I was, and they bought a couple of beers with them. So that was great, very good medicine, and the next night about four of them came down and finished up after three or four nights was about six or eight of them, and, and we were having a great old time grogging on in the station’s sick quarters, and lo and behold, who should come in but the doctor, and caught us all with our grog there. He ordered the other blokes out and said to me, ‘you’ll be in the flight office at eight o’clock tomorrow morning McDonald, and I’ll be there to make sure you’re there.’ And so that was the end of that medication, so that’s, you know. Looking back, looking back at him, I sometimes wonder and indeed think that possibly we were pretty much at the stage of eat, drink and be merry, tomorrow you may die, and I think that did tend to take over, yeah.
AP: We’re getting, we’re getting close to the end of [both laugh] –
DM: No worries.
AP: We’ve been going for an hour and fifty-seven minutes.
DM: Truly? Oh my God.
AP: Believe it or not, flown by –
DM: Yeah.
AP: It’s been great [emphasis]. I guess, well yeah, coming back to Australia. How did you find readjusting to civilian life and what did you do after the war?
DM: I reckon for the – I had been in the Public service, as I mentioned, when I enlisted and when I got back I took twelve months leave from the Public service, leave without pay, with a view to hopefully [?] adjusting or readjusting myself. I went back to the bush, back on the farm, and I reckon for about the first three weeks I got up and helped with the milking in the morning and then spent most of the day sitting under a big pine tree. I’ve got no idea what I would have been thinking, and the, the owner of the local general store and post office said, ‘what about coming and working for me? I need someone.’ So it was a bit more than ten bob a week at that time of course, and I accepted his offer which suited me really because I was, meant I had to be meeting people, getting out amongst them, them coming into the store, me getting out amongst them, and I think that was a good move. At the end of twelve months I resigned altogether from the public service and got married and went into business on my own. First one was a little grocery store, a newsagents and post office out at Fawkner, northern suburbs of Melbourne, just near the Fawkner cemetery. I sold out of that and worked for another guy for a few months and then opened a grocery store in Hampton, a beach side southern suburb of Melbourne. That was when self service first started to come in. Prior to that when you went in to the grocer’s shop you asked the grocer what you wanted and he put it on the counter and gave you the bill and then self service came in. We had one of about the first twenty self service shops in Melbourne and then frozen foods came in, and we had one of I think it was about the first six [emphasis] deep freezers in Melbourne. After about six, seven or eight years in that business I sold out, worked around for a while and went into radio communications. The neighbours said, ‘look, we want someone – our company’s just going into radio communications. You know a bit about it from your Air Force experience.’ And the job was virtually painted [?] there on a platter for me so I worked in that, and I could see a need for some towers. It was roughly line of sight communication – radios such as in taxis and in trucks and plumbers and electricians et cetera, communications, mobile communications, and I could see that to increase the range we needed some towers, and the company with whom I was working wouldn’t listen to me, so I said to them ‘okay, you won’t provide them, let me provide them.’ And I did and we finished up with about six of these around Melbourne, and then I, I started renting a few radios. I could see a requirement for rental and people didn’t want to buy, and once again the company with whom I was working were disinterested so I started renting radios which I owned. And then later on I saw a need for little hand-held portable radios for security people and crowd control and parking et cetera, and actually I just sold out of the last one of them in the last twelve months. But we finished up with roughly a thousand of them little hand-held ones, and we, we do some, well I’m out of it now but we did some quite big jobs. Probably the biggest was the spring carnival at Flemington in Melbourne. The Melbourne Cup is a world famous race and a big requirement for these little hand-held radios, not worth them buying them because they only need them for about two weeks of the year. The rest of the year they would be on the shelf and be knocked off or the batteries would go flat and so there’s the, you know, just a little inside there, there’s the parking, there’s security, there is crowd control, catering. Imagine what it would be like if the bird cage or some of those quite exclusive enclosures at Flemington ran out of champagne, so you’ve got to be able to engineer, develop a system so that they can get down into the bowels of the earth as it were, under the big grandstands and everything so that we could control the flow of champagne up there to marquees and the likes spread around the ground. Quite, quite an interesting, quite a challenging exercise, and, and it was, as I say, I’m sold out of it now but it was financially fairly favourable, and no Lord Nuffield or Rockefeller or anything like that but enabled a quite good standard of living.
AP: Excellent. I guess the final, the final question, perhaps the most important one. From your personal perspective, how was Bomber Command remembered and what sort of legacy do you think it’s left?
DM: A good question. A lot of condemnation on Bomber Command. If Bomber Command hadn’t done the duties they were called upon to do, and likewise many other branches of the service, if they hadn’t done the things they were called upon to do, goodness knows how much longer the war might have gone on. The French government just this year, seventy years later after peace was declared, seventy years later gave, made some awards. Now, one of the qualifications was that you had to be involved on D-Day. D-Day for a lot of the French people and a lot of the people of occupied territories was the first time for five years that there was any light to be seen at the end of the tunnel. That D-Day signalled in my book, the beginning of the end and Bomber Command were well and truly involved in D-Day and they were involved subsequent to D-Day, stopping Germany getting their troops and their supplies up to the front line. The V1s and V2s, the Doodlebug, flying one, call it what you like, if Bomber Command hadn’t put down the launching pads for those V1s, almost all [emphasis] of London and southern England would have been laid waste in my book, there’s not any doubt about that. And of course the V2, terrible [emphasis] weapon. There was no combating the V2 once it was in the air, there was no ways [unclear], and so what did they do? They sent Bomber Command over to the launching pads and manufacturing plants in Scandinavia. Some of those aircraft were in the air fourteen hours. Now, as I mentioned, there was no thought of comfort for the crew in a bomber aircraft. Temperatures, as I mentioned, the thermometer went down to minus thirty-five and the needle used to go right off the clock, right [emphasis] off the clock. The gunners had electrically heated gloves, other crew members had three pairs of gloves on: silk next to the skin, woollen to try and keep the warmth in and then the big elbow length, fleecy lined leather gauntlet. Bomber Command [phone rings] didn’t get, did not [emphasis] get the credit [phone rings] for which it was due [phone rings]. Almost sixty thousand people killed [emphasis]. Young men in their prime, fit, you had to be fit to be an aircrew. Fit, young men in their prime, almost – now for Victorians or Australians, almost sixty thousand, that is the equivalent to every man, woman and child, the city the size of Bellarat. There were eight thousand killed on training – I mentioned the icing experience before, eight thousand killed on training. Now, for any Victorians, that’s the equivalent of a provincial city the size of Bellarat or the size of Colac. Every man, woman, child in that city, killed. So as I say, the legacy of Bomber Command, the ruddy war might still be going on. It did not get its true dues in, in, in my book, and as I say, it would have gone on a lot longer. Yes, we’re finished I think.
AP: I think we’re done.



Adam Purcell, “Interview with Donald McDonald,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 30, 2024,

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