Interview with Gerald McPherson


Interview with Gerald McPherson


Gerald joined his brothers in the Royal Australian Air Force in 1943, following the Air Training Corps. He went from Melbourne and to the Initial Training School in Somers. At the Air Gunnery School in Ballarat, Gerald chose to be an air gunner rather than a wireless operator. He was sent to the Air Gunnery School at Sale where he flew in a Battle. He then sailed via America to Liverpool, arriving in January 1944.
Gerald was posted to RAF Silverstone, where he crewed up on Wellingtons, and went to the satellite station at RAF Turweston. He recalls lending his watch to another wireless operator who was killed. He went to RAF Methwold to get fit for their conversion unit at RAF Shepherds Grove. He recalls a German fighter damaging several Stirlings there. He went to a Lancaster Flying School and to 15 Squadron at RAF Mildenhall. They lost an engine and their pilot on another flight. The crew wanted to stay together and went back to RAF Wratting Common heavy conversion unit. They did a Lancaster course at RAF Feltwell and were posted to 186 Squadron at RAF Tuddenham in October 1944. Gerald carried out 37 operations and describes several memorable ones. His squadron was transferred to RAF Stradishall.
Gerald describes his life on the squadron and his role as a gunner. He explains the difficulty of adjusting to civilian life and the importance of Bomber Command.







01:25:29 audio recording


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AP: This interview for the International Bomber Command centre’s digital archives with Gerald McPherson, a rear gunner with 186 Squadron during World War Two, the interview is taking place at Gerald’s home in Box Hill, in Melbourne. My name’s Adam Purcell and the date is the twenty-first of February twenty sixteen. So, Gerald, we’ll start if you like with er, well at the beginning, erm, tell me something of your early life, where you grew up and early education, and things like that
GM: I was born in Dimboola in Victoria on the fourteenth of November nineteen twenty-four, and er, moved to Horsham when I was five and did all my schooling at Horsham [pause] what else do you want to?
AP: Ok, well, I’m sorry, what were you er?
GM: I was one of er, seven boys and er, one girl in the family, three of us were in the, air force, one was a dive bomber pilot, my eldest brother, another was a rear gunner on a Halifax and myself
AP: What were you doing before the war though, what first job and things like that?
GM: I joined the Bank of Australasia, in nineteen forty, and moved to Neale in nineteen forty-one, and in nineteen forty-two I was called up to the air force [pause] nineteen forty-three, January forty three
AP: Did you have any prior military service, for that?
GM: No, just air training, I was in the Air Training Corp
AP: Ah, what did that involve?
GM: I was just going to lectures on maths and that sort of thing
AP: Ok, um
GM: I also learnt er, [pause] morse code, and er, my brother was a telegraphist, and fortunately he taught me morse code
AP: Excellent, um, why did you enlist in the air force, why did you pick the air force?
GM: Ah, my two elder brothers had already joined the air force, and I felt I’d rather do that then foot slog [laughs]
AP: Sounds, sounds quite reasonable, erm, what about, alright, so, having decided to join the air force then, erm, can you tell me something about the enlistment process, what you had to do, to actually get in?
GM: Well, I had to have permission from the bank to join the air force, for the first place, er, once I did that, being in the Air Training Corps, you just filled in a form for application to join the air force. My father was in the area office for the Army in Horsham, and he, ensured that I wasn’t called up for the Army before I was called up for the air force [laughs]
AP: Was erm, can you remember much about the interview or the medical tests that you had to do?
GM: Ah yes, erm, in late January forty-three, I caught the train from Melbourne, er, from Horsham to Melbourne, we over landed at three thirty in the morning, arrived in Melbourne and went straight to er, Preston Motors in Russell Street, I think it was, for my medical and spent all day there, checked medical, colour blindness and everything else like that, spent the day there, and then er, that night we went down to Somers
A: Oh, so this was after you’d enlisted, and you’d been accepted and essentially called up, the first medical that you actually did, was that day that you were called up?
GM: Hmm
AP: Is that right? Very good
GM: Yeh, I say we because I was with a friend of mine who, I went to school with from when we were both the same age, we both came down together
AP: Right, excellent
GM: Erm, years later, a fighter, fight pilot in the Middle East
AP: So, you got to Somers which is the initial training school, what happened then?
GM: Er, had training and er, had trouble with my teeth, because in those days during the depression we had a lot of decay and er, I went to the dentist at Somers, [pause] and he said ‘I’ll have to take all your top teeth out’, yeh, he took four out and he said ‘how are you feeling’, I said ‘alright’, he said, he took another four out, ‘how you feeling’, ‘alright’, he finished up taking all the teeth out in one sitting, that night I was in hospital, bleeding, and he had to come and stitch me up [laughs] [pause] and I had to go back a course, because I was, thirty seven course, to thirty eight course, to finishing course, because I had to have a couple of weeks sick leave because of the problem with my teeth [laughs]
AP: What’s erm, what’s air force dentistry like, what’s air force dentistry like, I don’t?
GM: Not bad, erm, probably the best set of teeth I’ve ever had, with the first set, I smashed them playing football at Ballarat when I was in the air force [laughs]
AP: Alright, what’s, what sort of things did you cover in ITS, what sort of things did you cover in your initial training school?
GM: Oh, er, morse, mathematics, er, aircraft recognition I think, can’t remember what I did down at, it was mainly like, back at school, and when I was interviewed at the end of the course, er, I, give allotment, and he told me I was to be a wireless air gunner, I wasn’t very happy about that, but er, probably my training in morse, that had er, influenced that, I would have been as probably a better, would have been a better navigator ‘cos my maths was pretty good, anyway, that’s how it fell, probably I’m lucky he did make me, because I’m still here [laughs]
AP: So, you finished at Somers, actually, just before we leave Somers, can you tell me something of what Somers, what the actual camp was like, how it was set out and what a normal day sort of entailed?
GM: Er, the camp was good, you did a lot of drilling, erm, [pause] it was just like school I suppose, back at school, you did your lessons and went to bed, unfortunately I, when I arrived there they, gave us a pallet [unclear] to fill up with hay, usually there’s a pallet, but by the time I got down there, all the hay had gone, so I finished the next two months sleeping virtually on an empty bag on the floor, you can imagine what that’s like [laughs]
AP: Yeh, what time of year was it?
GM: Nineteen forty, January, February
AP: Oh, so at least it wasn’t too cold
GM: Or February and March, it wasn’t cold, but your hips, lying on your side, and then, half an hour later you’re on the other side, it was dreadful, that was the only major inconvenience down at Somers, was er, lack of sleep because of the er, virtually sleeping on a wooden floor [laughs]
AP: What er, was it like then, a barracks sort of building?
GM: Yeh, barracks, a tin, tin hut, er, Nissan huts I suppose they were
AP: How many, how many men might have been in there?
GM: Oh, twenty
AP: Twenty, something
GM: Down both sides
AP: Alright, so, you then left Somers, and I think you went to Ballarat next?
GM: Ballarat, yes
AP: What happened at Ballarat?
GM: I was at air gunner school, er, I could do the morse, but I couldn’t cotton on to the theory [pause] er, my other brother had, had, the same trouble, and he, he, they made him an Australian air gunner, so I said oh, that’ll do me, so I told them then that I didn’t want to finish the course of wireless operator and be a straight air gunner, er, that’s it. It was the coldest place we’d ever lived in, Ballarat, the Nissan huts had doors on either end, there was about twenty in each Nissan hut, we used to put on our flying gear to go to bed, it was that cold, the doors were, weren’t flush on the base at either end, and the wind used to come in one end and right out the other end, and it went right through the huts and er, most of us felt cold there, it’s always a cold place Ballarat anyway
AP: It is, I was just there, last weekend and it was only about twelve degrees in the middle of summer, anyway, erm, alright, the first, can you remember something about the first time you went in an aeroplane, what was it and what were you doing?
GM: Erm, I didn’t do any flying at Ballarat, er, I was only there for about four months, and they sent me to Sale, air gunnery school, and there I did my first trip in a Fairey Battle, I was with another gunner, in a practice air to ground gunnery and er, after the other airman had done his, his exercise, I stood up to put the magazine in the gas operated gun, the round magazine, and we, we’d been told that if we lost it, it would cost us five pound, now five pound was a lot of money in those days, for us, a few, couple months pay, and, I was stood up in the Fairey Battle to put my magazine on the gun, it slipped out of my hand, the plane bumped about a bit, slipped out of my hand, was sliding down by the side of the plane and I reached out and caught it sliding down to the ground, sliding down the side of the plane, and, I then realised that I’d taken off my safety [laughs] and I was half way out of the plane, [laughs] anyway they caught the, caught the magazine and [unclear] I finished my exercise
AP: This is your first ever flight?
GM: Yes
AP: Right
GM: [unclear] fumes in the Fairey Battle were dreadful, I couldn’t stand fighting in them too often, just as well I played cricket, a lot of cricket, because otherwise I would have lost that magazine
AP: Indeed, erm, did you encounter any accidents or anything, did you see any accidents or hear about anything during training?
GM: No, not down at Sale I didn’t hear of any, or see any
AP: Perhaps, later?
GM: [pause] No, I saw a plane shot down
GM: Not so much accidents, but we’ll get on to that shortly, I’m sort of more looking at training at this point. Alright, so, you’ve finished at er, at Sale, you are now a qualified air gunner
GM: Yeh
AP: Then you get shipped overseas
GM: Come out of Sale, then we went to Ascot Vale, showground embarkation depot, we were only there for a couple of weeks and they moved the embarkation depot to Melbourne [unclear] er, there for about a fortnight, sleeping in the old southern stand, underneath the old southern stand, we called it pneumonia alley, and on the seventeenth of November we were, headed off to er, [pause] Port Melbourne to sail to America, on the [unclear] line, we left Melbourne and went down south, New Zealand and up to San Francisco, we were there at Angel Island which was just near Alcatraz, we were at Angel Island for three or four days and then we went across America by train, there was about two hundred and fifty of us, mainly air gunners. [pause]
Arrived New York at two thirty in the morning, calm morning and had to march about a month to Fort Slocum, [pause] walked about a mile, [unclear] to Fort Slocum where we were billeted for the next fortnight, we had a great time in New York, it was Christmas time, Anzac House looked after us, every day, we had somewhere to go, on the weekend we would go to a family, Christmas Day we went to a family, I can’t say enough for Anzac House in New York, the way they looked after us, went to all the major buildings, the Empire State building, the radio station, went for a weekend down in [pause] where was it? A suburb of New York, New Rochelle was it, not sure, I can’t remember now, we had, three of us had a very nice time down there for the weekend, [pause] we left New York on New Year’s Eve, on the er, er, what’s the name of the ship? [pause] some’ at, Samaria, it’s about twenty thousand tonner which used to run on the Odessa line, and, twenty thousand ton ship with fourteen thousand troops on board, American, mostly American, a lot of erm, negroes, and the first night out was very rough and, a lot of the Americans hadn’t been to sea before, and the next morning it was terrible, sewage was all overflowing and it was floating down the gangways, [laughs] you know. We got up to see if we were in a convoy, two of us, a friend of mine, and er, it took us about two hours to get up to the promenade deck, we were down on eighth deck, two hundred and fifty Australians in one room, with one door each, so you can imagine what happened, we were below water line, if it was torpedoed, and the kitchen was in the same area, and there was, three tier bunks, all around this area, counting the two hundred and fifty Australians, and I was just near the exit door.
When we got up to the promenade deck we saw ships everywhere. We were in a convoy of about one hundred and twenty ships I think it was, the oldest battle ship Texas, was right next to us, which was a bit, a bit thankful for that. [pause] Unfortunately, we only had two meals a day and we missed breakfast because it took us another hour to get downstairs, and our meal time was over, so we had to buy some chocolate in the canteen for breakfast. [laughs] [pause] Seven days later we arrived in Liverpool, luckily, we avoided any submarines, although at one stage, the smoke was coming from our funnels and the Texas signalled us, I read this on morse, ‘if you don’t stop the smoke you will have to drop out of the convoy’, that worried us a bit, [laughs] luckily, they stopped the smoke and we were able to stay in the convoy. We arrived in Liverpool on the seventh of January, I think it was, forty-four, and er, caught a train down to Brighton, and er, [pause] we were billeted in the, in the Grand Hotel in Brighton, [pause] we were offered er, leave, at, people’s homes, in, in England, and I, accepted that offer in one case, and went to High Wycombe where I was in a town for a week by a family by the name of Cook, the husband was a, headmaster of a, college in High Wycombe, and they were very nice, treated me very well, there was only four hundred, their house was only four hundred yards from Bomber Command headquarters along the road. [laughs]
After that, we were posted to, in February forty-four, late February forty-four, we were posted to Silverstone, which is now the, the er, you know erm, the car racing, where they had Wellingtons, after a couple of weeks there we were formed into crews, all the, all the airman were assembled in a hangar, and said, right oh, sort yourselves out into queues, crews, well, I’d been a friend of another gunner since we’d arrived and the Melbourne cricket ground he, he, came from Griffiths, in New South Wales, and we decided we were both at Silverstone, we decided that, he’d be a mid-upper gunner and I’d be a rear gunner and try and get in the same crew, and a New Zealand pilot came around and said ‘have you got crew yet,’ ‘no, no’, so we told him we’d be prepared to fly with him as mid upper and rear gunner, he also got an Australian navigator, an English wireless operator and an English bomb aimer, that completed the crew of six at that stage. We then went to Turweston, satellite aerodrome of Silverstone, to do flying after we’d been doing lectures on aircraft recognition, gunnery and guns, etc, etc, and we’d only been there a couple of days and, our wireless operator was asked to fly with another crew on a gunnery exercise near the North Sea, and er, the wireless operator, he came to me and said ‘Gerald’ he said ‘I’ve got to fly with another crew and I haven’t got a watch. and I’ve got to send messages back at certain times, will you lend me a watch?’, and I said ‘yes’, the family had given me a watch as a send-off present a couple of months earlier, that afternoon I heard that the plane had ditched in the North Sea, lost an engine, and er, [pause] the only one that didn’t get out the plane, ‘cos there were about nine on the plane, was the, our wireless operator, he was killed. I asked one of the Australian gunners what happened and he said well he was sitting in my ditching position next to me, and all of a sudden he got up and raced back to his set and he, he must have been knocked out, because he didn’t get back, and I said he went back to pick up my watch, that’s the only reason he’d have gone back, they put them on the desk, the wireless operator, so they could see the, that’s been on my mind ever since. [pause] That night, seven, six people from the same hut as us, there was about three crews in the hut, were all killed in the aircraft accident, they were doing circuits and bumps, and er, obviously something wrong, went wrong, and they crashed near the aerodrome. There were seven killed in our hut, out of about twenty in one day, [unclear] this other crew and Australian pilot, er, [pause]
They finished our training at Turweston, without any further problems, and returned to Silverstone to do er, [pause] er, what do they call them? They used to fly around England, and training?
AP: Navigation flying
GM: Navigation flying
AP: A cross country thing
GM: Cross country, yeh, flights, [pause] one night we were, we’d just taken off towards dark, on a cross country up to Scotland, and back to Wales and then back to base, and er, ran, ran into the edge of an anvil cloud, and er, it ruined all of the electrical circuits in the plane, [pause] er, the navigator had to do all his navigating on his own, wireless operator couldn’t help him, and when we were due back to base, we didn’t know where we were, because there was a lot of fog about, we weren’t sure where we were, and er, I spotted a lantern flashing two letters, and I told the pilot and he said what were the letters and I said, I told him what they were and the navigator, thanks very much, we know where we are now, we were only a few miles from home, [laughs] we arrived home safely, and that was about the only incident, worth noting I think [pause] [unclear] not sure, yeh, that’s right
After finishing at Silverstone, went to [pause] Methwold, were we did some, didn’t do any flying, we just did some er, PT, physical training and getting fit for conversion unit at Shepherds Grove, we were only at Methwold for about a week, left the Shepherds Grove, er, conversion unit [pause] and er, [pause] had a scotch engineer when we arrived there, he, he was brilliant, he was an engineer, although he was only twenty two, he was an engineer in the civil air force before he joined the air force, finished up with a DFM, had er, on one occasion at Shepherds Grove, we were going on a cross country and he went out to inspect the plane we were to fly in, with a small torch, you know, like a pencil like torch, the size of a pencil, inspect seven planes with this pencil before he’d get in one to fly, I said ‘this’ll do me’ [laughs] he’d point out the discrepancies on the plane, to the ground staff and said, ‘I’m not flying in that one’, eventually got one that we flew in and managed to get back. While we were at Shepherds Grove, one night were [pause] there was a Nazi, er, a German fighter came in and shot one of the Sterlings down at the base and crashed into the hangar and cleaned out two more Sterlings, three Sterlings, plus the one night, we didn’t know anything about it until we went down to the flights the next day, and saw the wreckage, it just missed the conning tower, the er, control tower, [pause] Shepherds Grove, we did some cross country, [pause] [background noise] and then we went to [unclear] Con unit, er, LFS, Lanc finishing school at the [unclear] and er, the first time I’d been in a Lancaster, I, was sitting in the rear turret and all of a sudden, the pilot sent the engineer full power, [emphasis] and I just went back [emphasis] and I thought, this’ll do me, I said [unclear] flying and taking off in Wellingtons and, and er, Sterlings before that, I used to say a prayer they’d get up off the ground, but I knew the Lancaster would because you could feel the power. We were only there for about, a week, and then we went to 15 Squadron at Mildenhall, on the twenty-third of July, we went on a loaded climb, er, three hour flight with bombs on board, to give the pilot practice taking off, with bombs in bomb bay, then we returned to base at Mildenhall, we, unfortunately, the skipper forgot he had a heavy load on, tapped the engine before we reached the runway, it landed on the road and bounced over the fence and onto the runway, [laughs] luckily there were no cars on the road [laughs] That was the only problem we had at Mildenhall, until a few days later our pilot was selected to go out with another crew on their last trip, as a second pilot, going to experience before he took his own crew on ops, on the first night, they returned early because the rear gunner got convulsions on over the target, and er, the crew returned to Mildenhall without carrying out their exercise, bombing raid. The next night, they were sent off again on a raid on Stuttgart, towards the end of July, [pause] about two hours before they took off, I could see the pilot was distressed, he really couldn’t find his lucky charm, a little tiki, and I spent an hour going through all his, with him, going through all the gear and everything for his tiki, we never found it, yes a [unclear] and when he left me, I think he had a premonition, because the crew never returned that night, they were shot down over France on the way home, all they were killed. The next day the Wing Commander, asked us if we’d consider being spares, stay at Mildenhall and be spares for other crews, with different er, people unavailable from illness or replacements, we said no, we were a crew, all we needed was another pilot, and he accepted that, after a lot of discussion, and then we then went back to Wratting Common conversion unit to find another pilot. [pause] [background noise] There, we picked up an Australian pilot, [unclear] class and completed a conversion unit course with him, we then returned to Feltwell to do, for a week or so, to do a course on Lancasters, and then we’re posted on 186 Squadron in Tuddenham in Suffolk, on the twenty-sixth of October nineteen forty four, twenty eighth of October forty four, we did our first op, and the Wing Commander took us on our first op, he had a habit of doing that with new crews rather than sending a [unclear] other crews. [pause] Our first target was Flushing, Scheldt estuary, and bombing at eight thousand feet, when we arrived out at the plane to take off, I got into the rear turret and found out there were no guns in the rear turret, so I called up on the intercom to the Wing Commander, to tell him there were no guns in the rear turret, and he said ‘oh well it’s too late, to change planes, we’ll have to go without them’, he said, ‘oh well, keep your eyes open and tell me what you can see’, so I’m probably the only rear gunner that’s ever flew on an operation without any guns in the rear turret, thankfully we were not attacked by any fighters or anything, but I did notice a lot of flak. [pause] The following day we went on another daylight operation to Westkapelle on Walcheren Island, going bombing at eight thousand feet, on er, gun, gun placements I think it was, the target, [pause] a few weeks before that, a couple of friends of ours, was shot down over Westkapelle and were taken prisoners of war, two gunners that I’d met at Melbourne cricket ground when I was, and we became firm, pretty good friends, they were in a different squadron, in 5, er, 5 Group, er, now, and our first night trip was our third trip to Koblenz on the sixth of November, forty four, and on the way home over France, I saw a light miles behind us, and it was following us, I didn’t report it because it was well away from us, couldn’t work out what it was though, then all of a sudden it went straight up in the air, [emphasis] I said, talked about a sight, I didn’t know what it was but I think later on, I think I realised it must have been a, a, er, jet, they called, what’s the name, ME, Messerschmitt 262 was it?
AP: Yep, 262 was a jet, yep
GM: Whether it was or not, I don’t know, but I wasn’t going to mention it in debriefing when we arrived home because they might have thought I was going mad, [laughs] and take me off ops, that wouldn’t have been fair to the crew, so, I said nothing. And then, erm, we, the next er, [background noise] the next date, nine, ten, ten operations were in daylight, mainly to the Ruhr, on er, tagging er, [pause] oil refineries and er, communications, [pause] [background noise] on one of those raids on Gelsenkirchen, I, I saw a crew that slept in the same billet as me, shot down, [pause] er, they were hit on, and they were only about a hundred yards to our port and er, they were hit by flak, caught fire, and I saw three or four of the crew bale out, when the pilot, he must have been very brave because his whole cabin was on fire and he kept it steady for some twenty odd seconds, half a minute or so, and I saw three of the crew bale out, and then all of a sudden the plane went into a steep dive and crashed, a dreadful sight. [pause]
What else can I tell you? [pause] [background noise] Yes, thirteenth of April, there was a night raid on Wurzburg, near Leipzig [inaudible] to tell, there were seven hundred and fifty anti-aircraft guns guarding this, this place, like fireworks that night, looked like them [laughs] I believe them, [laughs] I er, we were hit, on this raid, by flak, and er, lost our air speed indicator and the pilot decided to land at the emergency aerodrome at Woodbridge, which had a very long and wide runway, they got down, did repair and got permission to land, cranes and everything on the side of the runway just in case you crashed, [unclear] for the next plane coming in, they put us up for the night, the next morning I saw all the great area of smashed planes [laughs] fighters, bombers, [laughs] everything, they were parked in an area safe to the aerodrome, er, [pause] at the end of December, forty-four, our squadron was transferred to Stradishall from Tuddenham, er, early in January, our wireless operator was late back from leave, and missed an operation that we, we were put on, so the Wing Commander told him that if there was ever a shortage of a wireless operator through illness or late back from leave, he’d have to replace him, and this happened, a couple of weeks later, the wireless operator, another wireless operator back late from leave, and er, our wireless operator was called up to replace him, he went to briefing, was out in the plane, a night operation it was, and er, he was sitting in a plane waiting to taxi out, when all of a sudden he got a tap on the shoulder, ‘this is my crew you can nick off’, in other words, so he, I, he packed up and went back to bed, [emphasis] meanwhile, we were in the mess area drinking as all the planes were taking off, and all of a sudden, a terrific explosion at the end of the runway, one of the planes had crashed and exploded, enquired what plane it was, it was the plane that our wireless operator was briefed to fly on, so we went back to the bar and had a couple of drinks on him, then went to bed, and now, the rest of the, the pilot he wasn’t with us but er, the rest of the crew were NCO’s at that stage, we all went back to our barracks and went to bed, the wireless operator didn’t sleep in the same barracks as us, as he had a room at the inn, where we used to keep all our parcels from Australia and had a primus stove, and used to cook our meals, and had a good meal now and again because you didn’t get a very good meal in the sergeants mess, and er, next morning, we didn’t know he’d gone to bed, and the next morning he appears at the door of our barracks, ‘where have you been?’, ‘why?’, I said, ‘you were on that plane that crashed and exploded last night’, and he said, ‘oh no’, he said, ‘the other wireless operator turned up and kicked me off the plane’, he went white, later that day, three other Australians in the crew got notices that they got parcels at the post office to be collected, the base post office, and there was nothing for him, our wireless operator, and he usually got as many parcels as anyone, so when I went down to pick my parcels up, he came with me, and he casually said at the WAAF behind the counter, ‘any parcels for Warrant Officer Perry?’, ‘oh yes, we are sending them back to London because he was killed last night’, we then realised that no one else knew that the other wireless operator had turned up, so we raced down to the adjutant, and told him, [laughs] and he was about to send off the telegram [unclear] for our wireless operator [laughs]
Er, what else can I tell you? [pause] Oh, one of our daylight raids, we were badly, hit by anti-aircraft fire, and er, when we were hit, we started to go down, and I called up on the intercom and no one answered me, so I prepared to get me shirt and bale out, and all before, I took me helmet off, hold on we are out of control, what had happened was, as we were hit by anti-aircraft fire, at the same time we ran into the slip stream of another Lanc, and then went into a dive, and the pilot said, had been too busy getting control of the plane to answer me, so, luckily I didn’t bale, hadn’t bailed out by then, we arrived home, found out that [unclear] the aircraft incendiaries shell had burnt itself out in the spars between the petrol tanks
AP: Ooh
GM: I understand it was sent to, to Air Ministry and they didn’t know that the Germans had these, the anti-aircraft shells in the, in the shells that they were firing, we thought we were a bit lucky there. [pause] Erm, thirteenth of February, we went to Dresden, night operation, and we were told that the Russians had asked us to bomb it, said he, and that er, Dresden did produce precision implements for the German forces, like binoculars for the tanks, bomb sights and er, periscopes, so we had no hesitation, in, we believe we had no hesitation in going on that raid, although I have said some [pause] people have had misgivings since then, but [pause] it certainly was a, heavy raid and er, caused a lot of damage, we were told that the Russians, which were about thirty or forty miles away from Dresden, where they were being held up by troops coming through Dresden and that was the reason why they asked us to bomb it. [pause] What else can I tell you?
AP: I’m just letting you go at this point, [laughs] I will have some more questions for you later but I’m seeing if you answer them as you go, so
GM: Ah yes, on the ninth of March forty-five, we were [unclear] on a daylight raid to [unclear] which is a coking plant, daylight raid, and er, after we’d taken off we lost an engine, about ten thousand feet, fly around England and the pilot and the engineer discussed whether we could still complete the raid, on three engines, climbed to twenty thousand feet, and they agreed that they could, provided they cut corners on each dog lick, well, when we arrived over the target, we were about the twelfth plane to bomb, arrived back safely, the er. [pause]
On the raids, daylight raids on Gelsenkirchen on the fourth of march forty-five, we were severely damaged by flak, and er, on the way back the mid upper gunner told me to turn my turret to starboard and had a look at the, er the, power plant, and, which I did, I saw there was a hole about six inches by twelve inches in the elevator, only a couple of yards from where I was sitting, I think the shell must have gone clean through the elevator and exploded above us, all tanks were holed except one on that same trip, [unclear] ever, hit twice, and a big hole near elevator, forty holes in the aircraft, and when we arrived back it was sent to the scrap heap, as far as I know [pause]
Er, one of the other daylight raids, we were [unclear] Munster railway marshalling yards and we were the leading aircraft, in the whole of the hundred and eighty-four planes, hundred and eighty odd planes in the raid, we were leading the raid we were about to bomb, when I saw another squadron directly above us open their bomb doors, so I reported to the skipper, he had er, they opened their bomb doors and started dropping bombs, [laughs] so we had to direct the pilot to dodge the bombs coming down, [laughter] wasn’t very nice. We were on time and I think the planes there, the squadron there was ahead of time [pause] What else can I tell you? Oh, our last raid was on, last operation was my thirty seventh, we went to Kiel on the ninth of April, [unclear] she was, after dropping our bombs we were covered in searchlights, and the, pilot threw the plane around like a fighter, the engineer assured me that at one stage we were upside down, on a ninety degrees bank, and the pilot got us out of that and eventually, we, after about ten minutes, we escaped the searchlights and headed back home. We were briefed, that once we crossed the Danish coast and North Sea, we were to descend to four, seven thousand feet, well we’d lost a lot of height whilst over the target. The pilot was tired and he said, I’m going to put the nose down and go like a bat out of hell to get down to seven thousand feet, well, all of a sudden, I sitting in the rear turret, I felt the tails skin and I instinctively looked over the side, and there were two gunners, the rear gunner and the mid upper gunner looking at me from another Lancaster, well that was about two o’clock in the morning, you get a lot of light, in the northern Europe, I still don’t know how our tails didn’t hit each other and the fins on the, I reckon we couldn’t have missed them by more than a feet, a few feet, the other [unclear] the other plane. After we’d returned from that raid, we were told that we’d finished our tour and we’d already finished it before we went on the raid, because a signal came through from the Air Ministry reducing the tour from forty to thirty-five, and our crew had already done more than thirty-five. They bought the notice of the new Wing Commander who was an Englishman, and he said, ‘oh they are on the battle order now it’s too late to change and let them go’. Nice, virtually could have been our last trip for our crew and another crew if we had hit each other over the North Sea. Anything else?
AP: Always more, erm, always more, right so, you have given me a pretty solid erm, one of my questions was do any of your operations stand out in your memory, and I think you’ve answered that one, [laughs] but erm, some more general questions if you don’t mind, erm, your life on the squadron, can you describe the sergeants mess and the sort of things that happened there?
GM: [laughs] Ah, the sergeants mess, well we were all officers in by January
AP: Ok, well the officers mess, the mess, describe the mess
GM: It was great the officers mess, sergeants mess wasn’t too bad, we used to enjoy a drink together, we were like a family, er, there wasn’t much variety in the food, but we were well looked after by our own parcels we received from Australia, we had a little stove which we used to cook things on, if we felt like a good feed we had one, had plenty of tinned sausages and fruit cake, tinned fruit, soups, we had er, we looked after ourselves if we had to. That was when we were in the sergeant’s mess, in the officer’s mess we didn’t have to, that’s because we were well looked after there
AP: What did it look like, the officers mess, how was it arranged and?
GM: Well it was a, Stradishall was a peace time station and all buildings were brick, [unclear] and brick, yeh, just like a reasonable life
AP: Did er, how did you cope with the stress of flying, you did thirty-seven trips, so presumably you got pretty good at them, but what did you do in your downtime and how did you sort of wind down?
GM: You got leave every six weeks, two of them on the squadron, I used to go to, stay with friends of a brothers, she was, she looked after three hotels for her father, one was in Louth, in Kings Head in Louth, another in Leicester, another in Lincoln, and I was invited down there anytime I was on leave, to any of those places, she was managing the place. I went to the three of them
AP: Did er, did you actually catch up with your brother much at all, in England?
GM: Ah yes, I, after I finished at Silverstone before I went to Methwold, I had seven days leave and I er, he was up at Kinloss, north of Scotland, not far from Inverness, and I went up there by train and I didn’t tell him I was coming, and I reported to the guard house and they tannoyed for him, and he didn’t appear, so they said he must be in town, so I sat in the guard house for a couple of hours, and all of a sudden a bus comes in from town and out staggers my brother. ‘What are you doing here?’ [emphasis] I said, ‘I have come up to see you’, he said ‘you didn’t let me know’, I said, ‘no I didn’t, took me this long to find out where you are, a couple of months.’ Anyway, he organised a bed for me and we had a couple of days together before I went back to base. He completed the tour, he er, his crew had a mid-air collision near Rockford, while they were in training, the crew of the other Wellington were all killed including one of his best mates and his plane was, had a supervising pilot, he bought the plane back down in the paddock, at night, the plane was on fire and my brother couldn’t get out of the rear turret and they chopped him out with an axe. I understand that the pilot got the George Cross for that incident. [pause] He completed, he only did a tour of twenty and his crew had taken off ops to go down to Boscombe Downs to test flight the Avro three, er the Halifax 111, and he was down there several months doing that. Then he was sent up to Kinloss
AP: Were there any superstitions or hoodoos within your squadron or your crew, you told me about the tiki thing, were there any other sort of, lucky charms or [inaudible]
GM: Oh, I had a kangaroo around my neck, a little kangaroo that was given to me, round my neck, I didn’t think it was a lucky charm, I just thought it was something that had been given to me
AP: Fair enough
GM: I used to say a prayer every time we took off, going up, sitting in the rear turret, [laughs] I’m not as religious now as I used to be [laughs]
AP: I guess that it concentrates the mind some what?
GM: Yeh
AP: It would, that’s an interesting question in its self I suppose, was there much in the way of religion or spiritual guidance or support or something during your tour?
GM: No, I didn’t notice any
AP: Nothing in particular?
GM: No, nothing in particular, there
AP: Erm, all right, so er, a general operational question I guess, you as a gunner, you are sitting there in the aeroplane and you see a fighter and you say, ‘corkscrew, port, go’, what happens next?
GM: Oh, I didn’t have to fire me gun
AP: Well, that was lucky because you did one trip without them
GM: No
AP: Ok, theoretically, what happens next, I suppose you would have done fighter affiliation and that sort of thing?
GM: Well, yeh, you try and focus on the plane, you can’t fire until he gets closer to you, he’s probably firing at you because he’s got cannons, you’ve only got 303 machine guns, and you can’t fire at him when he’s miles away, but er, when he got within four hundred yards, you were entitled to have a shot at him, and, you had to arrange a deflection, and planes, your own plane is going down in a corkscrew and he’s coming across, they got fired at, and you have to allow deflection, and try and hit him, [laughs] but I didn’t have to. We were told that er, if you saw, at night time, you saw a plane, a German fighter, try and avoid them, we did see one coming back from Koblenz on our first trip, he was an 88, a Junkers 88 and he hadn’t seen us, well we didn’t think he had, we told the pilot and the pilot said, ‘well I’ll just change course and see if he follows us’, which he did, and he didn’t follow us, so we, we just kept away from him, and that was our instructions, we weren’t there to fight them, because we were there to bomb and carry out the operation and do our bombing, if we keep away from the fighter was the best thing to do, was to try and avoid them
AP: Can you describe, you’re sitting in your rear turret in a Lancaster, what’s around you, what does it look like, what does it feel like?
GM: Well, in daylight you saw a lot, see the, as you’re leaving the target it would be the bomb going off and you know the
AP: Shockwaves
GM: Shockwaves going out with the four thousand pounders going off, and er, at night time it was just dark, [emphasis] [laughs] below me looking over in the dark, trying to see anything, and er, probably the biggest problem was your own planes, collisions, there were a lot of collisions during the war over Germany
AP: Probably more than we think as well, two aeroplanes just sort of going missing, yeh indeed. Erm, I might back track a little bit, let’s have a look what else. Your, when you first got to England, what did you think of wartime England as an Australian just arriving in war time England, what was your first impressions?
GM: [laughs] Well, I can’t say that any impressions were, I was surprised that the [pause] well there wasn’t that much to worry about in those, forty, early forty-four, some fighters used to come and fly over Brighton and fly over but never caused any trouble while we there
AP: What did you think about the English civilians?
GM: They were brave, they must have had to put up with a lot more, I know that, the big cities. I wouldn’t want to be seeing what I saw in daylight over Germany, I wouldn’t want to be down on the ground there, it would be the same for the English people
AP: Indeed, right we will go back to the very beginning, erm, where were you when you heard the war was declared, and what did you think at the time? You would have been relatively young I imagine?
GM: Yes, I was er, fourteen, fifteen. I came to church and I came out on Sunday night and I heard Mr Menzies [unclear] England’s at war and Australia was there for them
AP: What did that make you think?
GM: It didn’t mean much to me at the time because I thought it would be over by the time I had to go there, be done with it [laughs]
AP: Were you in the Air Training Corps at this point or did that come later?
GM: No, no, oh that didn’t start until, oh a year or two, and after that they started the employee training scheme, they produced that at me
AP: So, alright, and now we’ll jump to the end, you’ve told me how your tour ended, erm, how did you find readjusting to civilian life?
GM: Very difficult, I was drinking too much, smoking too much and luckily, I played cricket, and I think that was what got me through er. [pause] I had work and er, and cricket probably, and then football, I played cricket and football, all the year round so it kept me reasonably fit
AP: Was that amongst servicemen or was that just in a general team?
GM: Err
AP: Were there other servicemen involved in those clubs, or was it?
GM: Ah, just a few, yes, yes, there were a few, a navy man, a navy man in my team, [unclear] first eleven [pause] My brother had a worse, I think he was a bit worse than I was, he became an alcoholic, really, he had a heart attack and died when he was about fifty-six
AP: This was your, the one that was in the air force?
GM: Yeh, the one that had the mid-air collision [pause] My father was, where was he? Oh, at church at Horsham, and superintendent of the Sunday school and he was a bit disgusted in Harry, my brother came home from England, because he was rolling home drunk every night, but er, my oldest brother he was er, a dive bomber pilot, and the same like me and told my father to forget about it because of what we’d been through [cries] [pause] That was pretty difficult as a family [pause] I don’t know that they had er, what they have now the stress problem, they probably did, but they didn’t know anything about it in those days, we didn’t get any counselling when we got home [pause]
AP: So, it took you a number of years to get back to normal, so to speak, you think?
GM: Yeh, I think so, I was a pretty heavy drinker for a long time, which didn’t help when you are working in a bank. I think they understood, I hope it
AP: So, I guess that my, my final question, perhaps the most important one, what do you think is the legacy of Bomber Command, and how do you want to see it remembered?
GM: Well, I think they helped win the war but no, they helped out, the damage they must have caused to the communications and synthetic oil plants and oil plants, and we were on mostly daylight targets, we had GEE-H which was supposed to be more accurate than visual bombing, er we were specifically targeting not, area bombing, we were targeting, targets like marshalling yards, went to Cologne four times, and we bombed the marshalling yards four times in daylight, went over, turned out years later the Cologne Cathedral just needed a, the yards were still there [laughs]
AP: Certainly is
GM: I remember one raid on Cologne, there was so much flak, it was a clear day, by the time we left the target there was a cloud over the, over the city, it was just flak, flak
AP: How do you think Bomber Command is remembered today, how do you think Bomber Command is remembered today?
GM: Well, I think it’s remembered more than it was, than just after the war, I think people have got to realise that they did do something other than bomb Dresden [pause] I’m not one for thinking things like all that, I’m one that remembers things, [laughs] what happened
AP: Fair enough, that works. So, any final thoughts?
GM: No, just glad that I’m home [laughs] still going, [laughs] don’t know whether it will increase my life or not, but I’m ninety-one now, and I still remember all these things
AP: Very good, well, on that note, thank you very much Gerald
GM: It’s been a pleasure.



Adam Purcell, “Interview with Gerald McPherson,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 21, 2024,

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