Interview with Frank Mottershead


Interview with Frank Mottershead


Frank Mottershead grew up in Australia and volunteered for the Royal Australian Air Force. He flew operations as a wireless operator with 463 Squadron at RAF Waddington. The whole crew had a tradition of always flying with a gold kangaroo pendant in their pocket.







01:13:50 audio recording


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AMottersheadF160430, PMottersheadF1603


AP: Right. So this interview for the International Bomber Command Centre’s Digital Archive is with Frank Mottershead who was a 463 Squadron wireless operator in the Huxtable crew in the latter part of World War Two. The interview is taking place in Myrtle Bank. A suburb of Adelaide. It’s the 30th of April 2016. My name’s Adam Purcell. So, Frank if you’re, well let’s start with an easy question I guess. Can you tell me something of your early life and what you were doing growing up before you joined the air force?
FM: Before I joined the air force. Well, how early do you want me to go?
AP: Go. You can start wherever you want.
FM: Well let’s start from [unclear]
AP: Good.
FM: Maybe that would be the best.
AP: Sounds good to me.
FM: I went to Scots College in Sydney. I [pause] my father having been in with the Vestey organisation did a trip to England every three years. So I had to go to England with mother, father, my brother and back again and I had to repeat intermediate year at Scots College in Sydney. I joined the Cadet Corps there which was a Black Watch Regiment. I know none of this is air force but it’s the lead up.
AP: That’s alright.
FM: Then went, when I left school me and a couple of mates, we joined the 30th Battalion. Part of the 8th Infantry Brigade. Went to camps. And then about three weeks before, three weeks before they got sent to New Guinea I got called up by the air force. And that’s when my air force career started. I was in the air force. I, naturally, everybody wants to be a pilot. So and they wanted pilots too what is more. I got sent to Narromine to train as a pilot but unfortunately, I was not good enough to pass there. I had a bit of difficulty in telling the difference between blue and green. That makes a bit of a problem, you know with landing an aircraft. And the other point that made a problem in landing an aircraft was a Tiger Moth had a tail skid, not a tail wheel and you land it on grass. Not on cement. It doesn’t like being landed on cement because the tail thing wears away. And the instructor that sits behind me in a Tiger Moth training plane, there are two-seats, one at the front and one at the back. The instructor didn’t like me wearing the tail of the plane away so he put in a bad report on me and they said, ‘No. You’re no good as a pilot.’ From there I got sent back to Bradfield Park which was the enrolment depot. And from there you choose what you want to be. A bomb aimer or a navigator, or and I thought well a bomb aimer. I don’t want to drop any bombs after the war, so I don’t want to be a bomb aimer. Navigator. I was a bit, you know, maybe alright. Maybe not. Air gunner? Well, I’m not going to start shooting people after the war. So that was no good. So wireless operator interested me because I thought there might be some sort of a future in wireless. So that’s how I became a wireless operator. From there I got transferred to [pause] I did a bit of training at Bradfield Park on wireless and from there I then got transferred to Melbourne embarkation depot and we went. We got transferred from there to Hobart, Tasmania. A place called Brighton outside of Hobart. To wait for a vessel to take us over to Canada. And we went over on the Isle de France. Eighty two thousand tonne vessel. And from there to, via Hawaii, Vancouver. No. Los Angeles — then up to Vancouver. Vancouver to Edmonton. Edmonton was the personnel depot for distributing the various people who wanted to go to either bomb aimer training or air gunners or whatever and I had chosen to be a wireless operator and so I had been transferred as such. So I went to number 2 Wireless School at Calgary. After I, oh whilst there I contracted scarlet fever. So I lost all my mates that I was in the same class as and I had to go on to the following class. From, from there when I progressed from there I went to Mossbank. Trained for gunnery because a wireless operator also had to be an air gunner in case you lost an air gunner. Then you take his place after you get him out of the turret. From, from there I went for, I graduated at the Air Gunnery School so I became a wireless operator/air gunner and I got my sergeant’s stripes then because before then you’re only an leading aircraftsman. Go to Vancouver. And then Vancouver Island to an OTU to train on the old Hampdens that had been finished with during the war. And supposed to be, they were trained, being trained to do torpedo attacks in the Indian ocean. And being sent back to Australia. Mr Churchill thought he’d like to have us over in England, so I never got back to Australia. We got sent then over to the other side. Ottawa or wherever the big ships come in there and we went over to England on one of the Queens — Mary or the Queen Elizabeth. I forget which. And went over to England. And from there to Brighton which was a receiving depot. Spent a bit of time there and then had to do another refresher course on the wireless because the different sort of a of wireless. And they called them Marconi’s 1054/55. Then over to OTU. They had Wellington aircraft there at the OTU. OTU being Operational Training Unit. And it’s at OTU where you crew up. And everybody’s there — pilots, navigators, bomb aimers, wireless operators, gunners. Everybody is there because that’s where you split up and crew up. And they called all the pilots in to a room outside and the purpose of that was for the pilots to have a talk. We didn’t know what they were telling the pilots but obviously they were telling the pilots, ‘We want you to go outside and pick your crew.’ So, it was the pilot’s job to pick their own crew. And purely by coincidence Don Huxtable, who was at Narromine at the same time as I was saw me. So he said, ‘You’re for me.’ Not because he thought I was any good or anything like that but he knew me so he thought better to have somebody I know than somebody I don’t know. And between Don and I we picked the balance of the crew. And our rear gunner’s name was Bill Fallon. And our mid-upper gunner’s name was Brian Fallon. No relationship. Then the, we had a navigator who came, actually he was an Australian navigator, but the pilot wasn’t happy with him so he got, he decided he didn’t like that navigator. So they gave him another navigator who was a flight lieutenant and had done some trips, some sorties as we call them, over in North Africa. So he joined us as a crew which was very good to have a chap who’d had all that experience, you know, as a navigator. What happened then? Yes. All the engineers of course were English. Because they came with the Lancaster. They had to know every piece of the engineering of the Lancaster so that’s how we all got English engineers. From then on, we had to go. Wellingtons are twin-engined aircraft and then we had to go then from there when we’d crewed up and done our training on OTU. Spent quite a bit of time there and then you’ve got to go over to a conversion course on to a four-engined aircraft. So went to Lichfield to do our training on Stirlings. A Stirling is a queer looking plane. Sort of sits up like that, you know. And after we’d done that you do a conversion course. And you do a bit of a break. You have a bit of a holiday the boss then decides where you’re going. Of course when you go to a squadron, a squadron doesn’t receive all that, all those people at the same time. They received maybe four or five crews but it is a complete crew that they get for the Lancaster. So we went to Waddington. 463 Squadron. And from there that’s where we did our sorties.
AP: That’s how we get to operations. Alright. Let’s backtrack a little. Can you, in fact, backtrack a lot. Can you remember where you were when you heard that war had been declared? And what were your thoughts at the time?
FM: When war was declared I was in the 30th Battalion. I think that would be about the right. I’m only guessing. But I think —
AP: So you were already in the military at that point.
FM: Yes, but the difference is I had an application in to join the air force and the only reason I could get out of the 30th Battalion was that I was a volunteer you see. From, from my, the Black Watch regiment. I think, what was it called? In Sydney anyway. It was the black. They wore the Black Watch kilt and the green tunic and the yellow border along the thing. And we, so from there went to — and I think war was declared whilst I was in there. Then had to, because that was when we started to have to do camps. When I first went in to, first transferred to the New South Wales Scottish Regiment that was it called. Transferred that to the 30th battalion. Well the volunteers, if they had applications in for some other navy or anywhere else they could be called out. But conscription had come in, so they were, the conscripts were left there but of course they could be sent to New Guinea. And three weeks before they were sent to New Guinea I was called up by the air force.
AP: Why did you choose the air force?
FM: They were [pause] Why did I? I didn’t like all, I was in the, what do they call it? The [pause] where you push a bomb down a tube. What’s that?
AP: Mortar. A mortar?
FM: A mortar platoon. Thank you. Yeah. And I, and a lot of marching. A lot. Which was not my favourite [laughs] so I had decided, well I would like to join the air force but I, you know, I had joined the air force before I got called up to the 30th battalion. So I don’t know how that happened. That part of it I forget really. How that turned over. And I also felt that in the air force you get a lift and a seat. You don’t have to walk. [laughs]
AP: You’re not the first person to tell me, almost word for word nearly [laughs] ‘I don’t have to walk very far.’ I think someone said they liked the idea of going to war sitting down.
FM: That’s right.
AP: Anyway. Alright. Can you tell me about the first time you ever went in an aeroplane?
FM: Yes. At Narromine. Yes. With a chief instructor sitting behind me because the pupil sits in front. And that was the first time. I could take the plane off alright. I could fly it reasonably well. But apparently, I couldn’t land it very well. So that’s how, you know, I mean you had to be good at everything, you know, to get through being a pilot.
AP: Did you, did you encounter any accidents along the way? Or did you hear of or see any accidents. Training or whatever?
FM: At Narromine do you mean?
AP: Well specifically but elsewhere as well perhaps. While you were training.
FM: While I was training. At OTU, I think, on Wellingtons there was a Wellington that had a crash and I saw a little bit of the remains of that. But that was the only time I saw an accident. I suppose the only other problems I had that I can remember. Well, when I was at OTU at Vancouver — on Vancouver Island, a place called Pat Bay. And off Pat Bay was a place called Sidney. S I D N E Y. And there, I think, all together they’d lost about twenty three. So I’m told. I don’t know for sure. But I was told that they’d lost, during the war when I was training there they lost twenty three Hampdens that went into the drink. They were old planes, you know by that time. But the one accident that — I never saw it but I was told about and one of the Hampdens lost a lot of height. Was right down because you were practicing at about five hundred feet off the surface of the water in torpedo attacks and this Hampden didn’t want to get any higher than five hundred feet and ran straight into the side of the Vancouver ferry that takes you from Vancouver to Vancouver Island. That was it. I heard about that. How true it is I don’t know.
AP: They didn’t have a very good reputation I believe. Yeah. From what I hear.
FM: Yeah.
AP: Alright. So you’re a young Australian just arrived in wartime England. What did you think of wartime England?
FM: Quite alright because I’d been there two or three times before with my, you know, parents. And that’s why I had to repeat my intermediate certificate year twice because — once. Because I had been overseas and then back and I didn’t pass the exams. The intermediate examination. I had to repeat that. And so, but really I was ten years old really when we came to Australia. So I was really not old enough to appreciate, you know, the things about the country except for the last, say year or two.
AP: But what did you think of wartime England in particular? How did you think that was – ?
FM: Oh wartime England. Yes. Well, you, I suppose I think [pause] I think that they were really very, managed things very well from what I could see. When I was at Brighton you used to go to, on parades and things like that and just little — at the big hotel they had at Brighton. It was, had been taken over by the Air Ministry, where they kept all the air force people before they sent them out somewhere else. They were quite good. Food was good and then they treated you very well. That, as far as the system of organisation was concerned they seemed to organise things in a very good way. And one thing that happened whilst I was was that my brother came over, from. He was also a wireless operator/air gunner but, and he was two and three quarter years younger than me but I had to salute him because he was an officer [laughs] and I was only a sergeant. Or a Crown sergeant. And we used to have nine days leave, you know, whenever. I got special leave for when he arrived there. Yes. There was a club there where all the Australians used to gather up. The Boomerang Club I think they called it. And we, we used to all, you know go and have our drinks etcetera there. And London itself. Had a bit of time to have a look around London and that. Yes. I think I could say I enjoyed myself in England.
AP: What sort of things might you have gotten up to on leave? Apart than going to the pub and having a beer.
FM: Well —
AP: I imagine a lot of that happened.
Other: They asked him to stick with the crew.
FM: And oh I did go and made a visit to my mother’s mother. My parents were English you see. And they, my, they came from the Manchester area where there’s quite a few Mottershead’s around the Manchester area and I visited the north. In the North Wales there was a place called Rhyl. So I went and spent some time there in Rhyl. But apart from that we really moved around as a crew. The two air gunners, the pilot and myself mainly. The bomb aimer didn’t seem to mix much with us even though he was Australian. Whilst the engineer and the navigator were both English. They had their own things. I got invited to a place in England, somewhere. Where was it? Near the eastern coast. Not too far from where the aerodrome was. Got invited there to a family. Families used to invite various people, you know. To stop with them, you know, for a while and you’d come back. One of the gunners and myself went there and we spent a few days there with the family and they took us around. Just as a part of life. The same thing happened in Canada. The general manager of Philip Morris Cigarettes took two of us into his house and we stayed there for a week. He had a beautiful great big boat. He took us for a ride. Coeur d’ Alene I think was the name of the lake that he was at. And we stayed there for a week. Enjoyed ourselves very much. But that was before going England. I got things a little back to front.
AP: That’s no problem at all. That’s the way memory works sometimes.
RM: What about motorbikes in London?
FM: Oh that was when we were on the squadron. Yes.
AP: Right. We’ll get to that shortly I imagine. Excellent. Alright. So we’re almost on squadron. You go to, it would have been a Heavy Conversion Unit or maybe a Lanc Finishing School where you first saw the Lancaster.
FM: Well the Stirling was the four engine. That was it. That was, that was a Conversion Unit.
AP: And then —
FM: And then, there is something I can’t remember but between there the Stirling had gone on. The Lancaster. We did something. I can’t think what it was. See the memory.
AP: There was, there was something called a Lancaster Finishing School which was, that might be what you’re talking about. So the question relates to that, what was your first impression of a Lancaster and particularly your position as the wireless operator in a Lancaster?
FM: Well, I thought the Lancaster was a beautiful aeroplane. Compared to all the other things I’d flown in. in all my training at Calgary for example you’re flying in Ansons, Norsemans and all sorts of different types of planes you know. But of all the planes I flew in the Lancaster was certainly the best. But then of course it was the largest and the four-engine one. And the more modern one.
AP: what did — ok can you describe the wireless operator’s position? When you’re in position on the Lancaster what’s around you? What are you looking at? What’s it like?
FM: Straight at the transmitter and receiver. Transmitter on the top. Receiver below the transmitter. And we’d got three frequencies. There’s red, yellow and blue. Which is medium range, long range and short wave. Not range. Wave. And I, but I forget which is which. Which is the red, it’s red, yellow and blue. I think red was long range, blue was medium range and yellow was short wave. I keep on calling it range. It’s wave.
AP: Whereabouts in the aircraft was that?
FM: In front of the main spar. Main spar of course is connected to the two wings. The mid-upper gunner’s just the other side of it. I sit in front of it facing the front of the aircraft. The navigator in front of me but he faces the side. He faces out to the port side. And then the pilot and engineer of course face forward. The bomb aimer faces forward. The poor old rear gunner only faces backwards. And the mid-upper gunner. He has the best sight of the lot you know because he can turn his turret around to starboard, port and so on. And the amazing part about it is that the mid-upper gunner fires a gun and he’s coming around. Says he’s following, trying to follow a plane. Firing at it. The gun stops firing as soon as that gun gets within the tail. It’s got two fins and rudders and you don’t want to shoot them off.
AP: No, you don’t [laughs].
FM: So, the gun ultimately is set in the, in the equipment there, you know. It stops the gun from firing. And also, it fires above the rear gunner so I don’t think there was any problem there.
AP: At least not in your crew because they liked each other. Yeah [laughs]
FM: That’s right.
AP: Yeah. Alright. So we get to Waddington now. It was probably a more permanent station then ones that you’d seen before.
FM: Oh yes. That was it. That was the last station. That was permanent.
AP: So what was different about Waddington compared perhaps with, with the previous places you’d been, in England particularly?
FM: Well, in Waddington you had better accommodation. The other places were long dormitories and things like that. And you didn’t, whilst there was, say, more than a half a dozen of you in a place, from what I can recall it was better accommodation than the other places. And of course when you get your commission you get a room of your own in the officer’s quarters. So that was better accommodation still.
AP: Indeed. So you did get a commission did you, while you were on the squadron?
FM: Yeah. About two thirds of the way through the sorties.
AP: And do you know why in particular they picked you or it was an automatic thing?
FM: The two gunners and myself. Two gunners and myself got all got commissions at the same time. I think, I don’t know whether I’m thinking about that you know making myself look good or not, but the pilot got the DFC. Don Huxtable. We got our commissions two thirds of the way through. The pilot, by that time was a flying officer. But we had thirty five, I think it was originally thirty five trips and they cut it back to thirty trips because they, they thought, well it was coming towards the end of the war because my last trip was the 9th of April and I think the war ended on the 10th of May. And so [pause] I’ve missed the point I was going to get at. What was the question?
AP: We were talking about commissions.
FM: Yeah. We’re talking about two thirds of the way through.
AP: Yeah.
FM: We got the commission.
AP: So, so therefore you moved to the officer’s mess.
FM: That’s what I was saying. Much better accommodation.
AP: What sort of things went on in the officers mess? I’ve heard numerous stories wild antics and things?
FM: Well, there were a few wild antics, yes. I suppose.
AP: Any that you’d care to share?
FM: The rear gunner and myself. I forgot to mention that you’ve just mentioned we’ve got ourselves motorbikes whilst we were there. His was a Norton, I think. His was I think 250cc. I wanted to go one better. I wanted 500ccs. I wanted to race Ulster. But my motorbike was nowhere near as good as his. His proved to be a lot better than mine. But unfortunately, he didn’t come back. Neither of my mates came back. Which was unfortunate. And his name was Johnny Williams. And the other was Johnny Trelaw. But Johnny Trelaw wasn’t on 463 Squadron. He was either on 467 you see you didn’t, couldn’t mix all together. He was on 467 Squadron for a while and then he got posted away to another squadron. The whole crew that is got posted away from the squadron. So that left Johnny Williams and myself out of the three on 463.
AP: So what —
FM: Unfortunately, he didn’t make it.
AP: What sort of thing did you get up to on the motorbikes, what did you use them for?
FM: Oh going down to the local. At Lincoln. You know. And you know, go and have, I suppose the pub would be about the most popular place to go to. But we did used to have a ride around and have a look at the various, in England you have these, a lot of these little villages around the place. And we had a mass of interest to go and have a look at them, you know. That’s about all I can remember. Doing that.
AP: You were talking about the local earlier. I believe the pub in Waddington was called the Horse and Jockey.
FM: Horse and Jockey.
AP: Tell me about the Horse and Jockey.
FM: Yeah. Well the horse and jockey was owned by a chap whose wife, and I think he had a daughter who also helped there. And the way the three of them looked after us was really wonderful you know. But then again we went as a crew. We always, we sat down there and the [pause] strangely enough, well not strange because it was normal. Beer was the main thing to drink. You didn’t have much choice of any other drinks. Whiskies and things like that. During wartime those sorts of things were a bit scarce. We drank beer mainly. But of course not twenty four hours before a trip. Not allowed to. Well we weren’t allowed to. It might have been. We weren’t allowed to.
AP: Hux, I knew Hux quite well.
FM: Did you?
AP: He never had some very complimentary things to say about English beer. He said you didn’t have to wait for it to to go, they didn’t have to worry about it going flat because it was already flat.
FM: That’s it.
AP: And you didn’t have to worry about it going warm.
FM: Different sort of beer.
AP: Because it was already warm too.
FM: Oh yeah. No, that is right. You’re quite right. They didn’t have cold beer like we have in Australia. Their beer was warmish beer. Well not warm. Not hot but just not like, not a cool, cool temperature.
AP: Not chilled. Yeah.
FM: And it always came out of the pump you know. Not bottled beer.
AP: How, well ok, were there any sort of superstitions or hoodoos or things on the squadron, or rituals associated with operations?
FM: I don’t think I remember of any. We used to always wear a little kangaroo. A gold kangaroo on the pocket. Our crew did it anyway. We reckoned if you didn’t take off without that gold kangaroo in your pocket then you weren’t coming back. That was the suspicion we had. Did Don mention that one?
AP: No. No. I haven’t heard. I can’t remember that one in particular but it’s a question that I ask everyone.
FM: Yes.
AP: And some people say, ‘No. Not at all.’ And other people think about it for a minute. ‘Oh yeah, we had that little — ’
FM: One thing that happened at Waddington. The Germans used to come over at times and drop what they called butterfly bombs. And outside our quarters one night the Germans, one plane as far as I know, I don’t know of any other, came over and dropped a butterfly bomb. One of the ground staff went and picked it up. And he blew himself up too. You know, because he didn’t realise what it was. He thought it was just something lying on the ground outside the huts. It didn’t do the hut any harm but it certainly did away with him, you know. That was a thing that happened there. What else can I think of?
AP: What did you do while you were, apart from going to the pub because we’ve done, talked about that for a bit? What did you do when you were not on duty?
FM: Not on duty. Oh just around the ‘drome. The aerodrome. Not allowed off the station. So the rear gunner and myself as far as motorbikes we had bicycles there too. Because we used to ride our bicycles around. The air raid shelters — the aerodrome had quite a number of air raid shelters and we’d drive up the side of the air raid shelter. Jump the other side and down on the other side. You know. And we used to have a bit of fun doing that with our bicycles. And that was the rear gunner and myself. The motorbike episode was another. Johnny Williams he was. A different bloke. Different crew.
AP: Very good. Alright. You did thirty trips I think?
FM: Thirty. Yeah.
AP: Thirty. Yeah. Thirty trips.
FM: Yeah. I might have done thirty one because I did a, I hadn’t been on the ‘drome more than forty eight hours when one of the crew had, a wireless operator had gone into hospital with some sort of a complaint. Kidney or — anyway, he couldn’t fly and he, but they said well I was the one picked on because I’d done two OTUs. I’d done one in Canada and one in England and it’s not natural, you see to do that. So they picked on me. I had to do the spare bod trip they called it. Which is in the book there. And that and fortunate not to do, complete a tour. And I think, from memory I think the trips that were, they were thirty five and they brought them back to thirty. And we’d done our thirtieth trip and, as a crew this is. Did our thirtieth trip. Who should come out to meet us as we got out the plane but the Group Captain of the Waddington air force. He shook hands with each one of us saying, ‘Good job fellas. Good. Did good work, ’ you know, or some words to that effect. And his name was group captain, four stripes, his name was Bonham Carter. Now, I’ve got an idea. I was told, rightly or wrongly that his grand-daughter is the Bonham Carter who was the actress. Whether that’s right or wrong I don’t know.
AP: I’ve heard a little bit about Group Captain Bonham Carter.
FM: Yeah.
AP: He was known by a particular nickname I believe.
FM: Oh yes.
AP: On account of his large hearing aid.
FM: I don’t know. I’ll tell you what. You’ve reminded of something else now. He wasn’t, he wasn’t a bad bloke because when we, on one of our trips England was fogged in a lot, right. On one of our trips returning to England the fog was so bad it comes in quickly. And the fog was so bad we had to go right up to Lossiemouth to land in Lossiemouth. Lossiemouth was an OTU for Coastal Command, sort of Air force. Royal Air Force. And of course we were different. We were Bomber Command and we were actually on active service. They hadn’t reached active service yet. And you should have seen the fuss they made of us. And they were asking us all the questions under the sun they wouldn’t know. We slept there the night. Flew back the following morning and in flying back the following morning Don Huxtable spotted the Flying Scotsman. He may have told you this. I don’t —
AP: No. He hasn’t told me this one.
FM: Yeah. Well because it was against the rules [laughs] that’s probably why he didn’t tell you.
AP: No. That didn’t stop him telling me other things.
FM: Down to the Flying Scotsman. The Flying Scotsman, the train driver didn’t like that idea at all. Attacking his train. Coming down from Scotland to London. And so he must have, oh we’d got a dirty great big J O B on the side of the aircraft and so he reported it to Air Ministry. Air Ministry reported it to Waddington. And Group Captain Bonham Carter, when, after our plane had landed he said, ‘Would Flying Officer Donald Huxtable please report to the Group Captain.’ So he had to report to the group captain. And, you see, Don said all he said was, ‘Naughty boy. Don’t you do that again,’ [laughs] ‘Don’t do that again.’ Things come back to you, but you forget about them you see.
AP: That’s, that’s all part of the fun. I was just saying to Keith Bruhn just this morning. Part of the fun of oral history is you never quite know where you’re going to end up. I love it. I really do. That’s alright. Do any of your other operations stand out in memory in particular?
FM: Oh yes. What was the one we discovered? You see, I’m forgetting and I can’t read so this is why I had to get my son. Flushing was it?
RM: Where was it? [pause — pages turning] Here we go. It was December the 4th 1944. Heilbronn.
FM: Oh Heilbronn.
Other: Heilbronn is it?
FM: Yes. That’s where we, I wrote in the [unclear] we shot down a Junkers 88. Right. Not me. The gunners [laughs] and the, you can never say you shot down a plane unless it’s confirmed by, I think it’s two other planes. They’ve got to confirm your, otherwise anybody can go in and say I shot down a plane. Anyway, it was confirmed later on that we had shot this plane down and the, I, I heard somewhere that we actually destroyed that plane because it was, there was some fire coming out of it anyway. I heard but I don’t know if it was true but it was destroyed but it’s written in there that it was.
RM: Yeah.
FM: So I put in my own logbook. I put — destroyed. But that’s cheating. That was one of them.
AP: Do you remember much about that particular incident? That particular action. Do you remember what happened?
FM: Well, yes because you’re getting tossed around all over the place. The corkscrew. And, you know, you’re hanging on to something. And it was a night. That was the night, the do and at night time the only thing the wireless operator can see at night time is to stick his head up in to the astrodome and if he sees a plane on fire well that’s what you see. It’s different in the daytime. In the daytime you can actually see a plane being destroyed, you know but you can’t, you can’t do that at night time. So all I can say about that, is that it was that. I get two things mixed up. One, where the, it was another occasion. I think it was a different occasion. It’s in there.
RM: You’ve got, “The night fighter hit us several times putting one engine out of action.”
FM: That’s right. That’s the one I’m trying to remember.
RM: Yeah.
FM: Yeah, we’d lost the starboard inner engine. Now the starboard inner engine works the generator that drives the, provides the power to the wireless. So I had a bit of a rest then [laughs] because I didn’t, I had no wireless. So I put my head up in the astrodome to have a look around but in destroying that engine a plane on three engines won’t fly as fast as a plane with four engines and we are bringing up the tail end and it’s a bad position to be in, being in the tail end because to be in the tail end a Junkers 88 and Messerschmitts and what have you, they just love that because they’ve only have got one plane to worry about. But we so being last, running last we were fortunate we’d already lost the engine, so it was no good having another go at us. Once is fair enough. And we, crossing, as you cross the English Channel if you’re not in your stream coming back as you should you’re supposed to identify yourself. Now, I can’t identify ourselves. In any case you’re pretty close to the English coast as it is. You’ve got to identify yourself somehow. How do you identify yourself? Stick a cartridge, it was the wireless operator’s job, he carries two cartridges. Stick the cartridge in the verey pistol which is next to the, see I’ve forgotten the name of this. Where you stick your head up?
AP: Astrodome.
FM: Astrodome. And pull the trigger. It fires the colours of the day. I mean the Germans don’t see it. If you try to identify yourself any other way the Germans can pick it up. But they can’t pick up — they don’t know what colours of the day are. So as you cross the coast, to stop being shot down by our own artillery because they’ll shoot you down if you don’t identify yourself. You pull the trigger on the pistol, on the verey pistol and that fires the colours of the day. Then you’re alright. You can go ahead. So that was a bit of excitement for that point.
RM: What about the time where you had to go in low? Three hundred feet.
FM: That was on Flushing gun sites. Yeah.
RM: Yes. Flushing gun sites. That’s right.
FM: The Americans. The British. The French had all gone towards The Rhine. The River Rhine. But this pocket of Germans had been left behind and somebody didn’t like the idea of having these Germans behind them. So they told us that we had to get rid of them because they were being a nuisance. In what way I don’t know but they were being a nuisance. And so over we go to get rid of these, I think it was 463 and 467. I don’t know if there was another squadron. I don’t think there was. And we were, had to go and get rid of them from three thousand feet. Well, from three thousand feet is a bit low for a four engine Lancaster bomber. And then we, we got recalled because cloud had come in and we couldn’t we couldn’t see the target properly. Then, so we had to go, had to re-do that trip. And I think Don Huxtable said blow this for a joke, you know. We’re going to get under the cloud and we’re going to drop these bombs. And we did. We got down. But of course being so low the anti-aircraft guns on the ground are meant to fire a lot higher. To fire at a plane at only two thousand five hundred feet. You can imagine how they would have to be going like this all the time to try and adjust where the guns are going to fire ‘cause they’re a real gun. A cannon, you see. So what they do is I call them pom poms. They fired these pom poms at you and they were like oranges and they were coming up at you. The oranges. They come all around us. Not one of them hit us. They’re actually, they’re coming up beside the mid-upper gunner, they’re coming up behind me, and they’re coming up all around the plane but none of them, none of them I don’t know if Don told you this but it was the most amazing thing ever happened I think. Not one of those pom poms hit us. But an artillery shell goes up and it bursts way up in the air. Right. Well if the pom pom hits you, bang. And it sets you on fire straight away. That’s as I understand it. But none of them hit me so I don’t know whether it was true or not [laughs]
AP: Good answer.
FM: So that was, that was another one of those little things. What was the —
RM: What about the other one where you say that the, one of the Junkers was —
FM: Oh yeah.
RM: Yeah.
FM: And, no I think, I think it was an ME 109 that time. It doesn’t matter. It was enemy fighter.
AP: That’ll do [laughs]
FM: Now, you can imagine a gunner and a mid-upper gunner. Neither of them can put their guns down. Right. The rear gunner can go all the way around. Starboard to port. And behind. He can’t fire forward. The mid-upper gunner can do the same thing but miss those tails. You know. And the, what was it we were getting at?
RM: The plane. Yeah. That he started —
FM: Oh yeah.
RM: Waving to you.
FM: This German came from below us because he couldn’t get, he couldn’t get hit below us and he came up practically alongside the forward of the mid-upper gunner because that way he couldn’t be fired at by any guns that way. And he just waved his wings like that and Don Huxtable said, ‘Don’t shoot him,’ he said, ‘He’s run out of ammunition.’ Apparently that meant that he’d run out of ammunition. I don’t know if Don told you that one.
AP: I can’t remember him saying that. I’ve heard a similar story about it, about the same thing, a pilot — another aircraft come up next to his Halifax and the same thing. Just went nah. He saluted and rolled away.
FM: Yeah.
AP: Much the same. Yeah.
FM: I don’t mind telling Richard that I don’t know whether he waved or saluted. But he was on the starboard side of us. He came up from below and on the starboard side. Now you don’t salute with your left hand.
AP: That’s true.
FM: You salute with your right hand. So it might have been just a wave, and off he went, you know. But the, now there was oh yeah it was the time that we got our starboard engine shot to pieces. Was that below, before or after or what? You see I can’t read.
AP: It’s in here somewhere.
RM: Yeah.
AP: It’s alright. We’ll have a close look at that later on I think. Very nice. Alright. Are there any other operational incidents before we have a couple more steps? Any stories that you’ve heard?
FM: Have you got anything? There was that [pause] I think Don told me over the telephone something about again the wireless operator could see anything. The Tirpitz in the Norwegian fjord. Did he mention that to you?
AP: Not to me.
FM: No. Well I don’t think it was. I don’t think it was Don. It was somebody else because I said we didn’t do the Tirpitz because we were on — when we were called, when the squadron was called to do the Tirpitz we were on nine days leave. So we didn’t do the Tirpitz. What else was there?
AP: There was a story that Hux liked to tell of flying sideways through some radio masts. Does that ring a bell?
FM: Radio masts?
AP: Scotland rings a bell, but I could be wrong.
FM: Yes. There was. There is something about that. What on earth was that? Was that on the trip back from Lossiemouth?
AP: It could have been.
FM: I think it was on the trip back from Lossiemouth. Not only did, I think we were paying too much attention to the flying Scotsman or something like that. They were doing, there was something like that yes. But I can’t remember the details.
AP: That’s alright. That’s alright. That was, that was a favourite story of Hux’s, that one. We heard it many times. Anyway —
FM: Did he tell you about the time that we couldn’t get rid of a bomb?
AP: Go ahead.
FM: I forget what the target was. I can’t remember but we couldn’t get rid of this bomb. So you don’t, if you can get, if you can get rid of it you get rid of it on the enemy territory. If you can’t get rid of it, you don’t get rid of it over your own territory. You do get rid of it in the English Channel. Right. Now, the damned thing wouldn’t get. Wouldn’t leave us. It made quite a friendship with us and you know whether we’d — I don’t know to this day whether we landed with it on or not because the bomb aimer and again I don’t know what he, the bomb aimer had got a panel and he has to press these various switches and buttons on the panel to fuse the bombs. You can’t take off with bombs that are already fused because if you make a mistake in taking off or crash in taking off you blow the whole plane and crew up you see. You don’t, you don’t fuse the bombs until you’re getting close to the target. Then you can. Then the bomb aimer can fuse his bombs. Now, whether if you have what we call a hang up — they used to call a hang up. If you have a hang up and they can’t get rid of the bomb whether the bomb aimer can then neutralise it or not I don’t know that we did have a hang up and I believe we had to land with it on. I don’t know whether that’s true or not.
AP: Ok. Something in your log here that says a twenty sortie check. Any idea?
FM: Twenty sortie check.
AP: Yeah. Any idea what that was?
FM: Maybe in black.
AP: It is in black. Yes.
FM: Yes. Now, red, red is night sorties. Green is daylight sorties. Anything in black is local stuff.
AP: Yeah.
FM: Where you — a twenty sortie check would be the boss of the squadron wants to know whether you are doing things right or wrong and I think he comes with you to see that you are doing things are right or wrong. I can’t understand why it should be after you’d done twenty trips.
Other: They want to check if you’re doing things right or wrong but there you are.
AP: Bad habits. Yeah. Bad habits. They still check pilots on airlines. They check them every six months.
FM: Oh yeah.
AP: So, I thought it was something like that, but I’ve never seen it in a logbook before, so I just thought I’d ask you. I’ve turned the next page and there’s one to a place Ijmuiden or something. Ijmuiden. And it says recalled.
FM: [unclear]
AP: Yeah, that’s it. Sorry.
FM: A daylight.
AP: Yes. Why were you recalled?
FM: It could only be cloudy weather. If would only be, if you can’t see the target it’s no good, you know. But then of course you’ve got to drop all your bombs in the channel. It was a waste. A waste of good ammunition.
AP: In fact that was one of your last trips. Your second to last and it was a recall.
FM: [unclear]
AP: Yeah.
FM: Hamburg. That was. That was one. A really hard, I can tell you because of the daylight and it should be green.
AP: It certainly is. Yes. I’ve just realised that except for my eyesight.
FM: Halifaxes were coming down all over the place because, yeah, about two or three months before, I don’t know just how long the Junkers 88 had remodelled themselves, let’s say. Or there were different Junkers 88s. They were fighters, they were Junkers 88 bombers, you know. They used them according, and modified them according to what they wanted them to do. The latest Junker 88 fighter, they used to call them night fighters, but they used to be daytime too had eight machine guns and four cannon. Now, you might think when I say cannon I’m referring to the type of gun that the army have. No way. It’s a misnomer you see because we call them cannons in the air force because they were about that diameter as against that for [unclear] for a bullet you see. So, the Junkers 88 then had two cannons and four machine guns on each wing and they were the ones that caused a hell of a lot of trouble because apart from the fact that we had about twenty six squadrons of fighters — Mosquitoes, Hurricanes, Spitfires and American Mustangs. That’s right. All supporting us on the Hamburg trip because you can imagine at one time the fighters couldn’t come over and support you all the time because they couldn’t get the distance. But as the troops moved closer and closer to The Rhine and France became liberated the English fighters could then land on French soil and they could go further in and support you. And that’s how they could support us on Hamburg, because they’d come off a base that was closer to where your target was. And you didn’t, you needed the support because it was a daylight trip and Lancasters weren’t built to do daylight trips. They were built to do night time trips because the Super Fortresses were supposed to do the daylights. But yet they, I think it was Mr Churchill wanted to please everybody and let us do it. We didn’t want to do it. No. Let the Americans see if they could do daylights. But they had waist gunners. They had belly gunners. They had tail gunners. They had forward firing guns. They had guns all over the place. But they had to pay a price for that. The price they paid — they couldn’t carry the bombload that we carried. A Lancaster carried a bigger bomb load than the Fortress.
AP: And more crew.
FM: And we had seven crew. They had [pause] every time you carry more guns you carry more ammunition.
AP: Of course. It’s not just the gun. So that was your last flight. You didn’t —
FM: Hamburg was my last flight.
AP: You didn’t realise until after you landed.
FM: No. I went, that’s right. That’s when the group captain and his offsiders came up to meet us and said, ‘You’ve done your last trip.’ We said, ‘What? Last trip. We thought it was thirty five.’ No. Thirty.
AP: And what happened next?
FM: Ah, well then a great big do in the mess. In the officer’s mess. Oh yes. I think , I think, we all mixed together. Sergeants and officers and everything, you know. That was for our benefit. Our crew. Because there was other crews hadn’t finished theirs because the war didn’t finish until the 10th of May.
AP: So, after then the war in Europe finishes what happened for you?
FM: From then on, we went on leave back to London and the Boomerang Club. It wasn’t very long before we got on. The pilot and I came back together. The two gunners wanted to go to Tiger Force. It was being, Tiger Force was being formed to attack against Japan. But of course the big bomb was dropped before Tiger Force could get into operation. But it then meant that the gunners didn’t come back with the pilot and myself. The pilot and myself came back which was amazing because the pilot and myself joined first and we were last. And here we are. Well, I’m the last one left. He’s only just gone. All, all coincidence.
AP: Yeah.
FM: Yes. We came back on one of the Queens. Yes. Straight to Sydney.
AP: Were you one of the four that then, I forget what the detail was we spoke about earlier. Were you one of the four that built houses on Pretoria Parade in Hornsby?
FM: No.
AP: No. There was —
FM: That’s where Don lived of course.
AP: Yes. And at least two other members, possibly three members of the crew all built houses next to each other.
FM: Oh well. Yes. I knew one of them. The name started with an L and I can’t. No. He won’t be in there. No.
AP: Very nice. So readjusting then to civilian life after your wartime service. How did you find that?
FM: Well, I was with the Bank of New South Wales before the war as well as my little bits with the Scottish regiment. They were only playing games though in that part of it. But my job, my actual job was in New South Wales. Today it’s called Westpac and I got back, and I did about, what a couple of months I think back with the bank when I decided I couldn’t stand being in four walls. And so I decided I’d retire from the bank and they gave me a hundred Australian pounds for my effort in helping the country through things, you know. The Bank of New South Wales were very good. And then I thought well now I’m going to get a job. My father was, being in the meat industry, he was the cost accountant for the Vesteys and he got me a temporary job with the company and as a trainee to be eventually become one of the higher up people. They bought out Angliss and Company. They were meat people. Billy Angliss had butcher’s shops in Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia right across. Well, the Vestey’s bought them out. The Vestey’s owned nearly half of Northern Australia if you remember their name. But anyway I was to be trained then to get, go further in a job in there. So I had to go to learn how to make smorgas, frits and frankfurts and things like that at a place called Produce Meat Supply Company, which is in Sydney at [unclear]. Which was — they kept the name Angliss. From there I got tired of that one. And from there they said, ‘Right, we’ve got another section in this organisation which is manufactured goods,’ which are canned goods. Camp pie, camp corned beef, steak and vegetables, and all those things. Everything in cans, you know. So I went into that and I became a commercial traveller. Did Sydney first and then did the country after that. I got transferred to the country after that, or to the suburbs first and then the country after that. I did a fair bit of New South Wales except the eastern coast. I didn’t do the eastern coast. I did it from Singleton, up north. Up through Tamworth. Tamworth became my headquarters and right up through up to [unclear] Inverell out to [unclear] and all those places out there. And after a while the boss called me in. He said, ‘I want a sales manager for South Australia. He said, ‘Are you interested?’ I said, ‘I don’t particularly want to leave Sydney.’ He said, ‘It would be good experience,’ he said. ‘Alright. I’ll give it a go.’ And that’s how I came over to South Australia. As a take over from a man who was due for retirement. That’s why they wanted me there. And in our company, the manufactured goods side of the business was, the man in charge, the boss, was my boss. Not the local South Australia manager. The local South Australian manager was not my boss because he was on the meat side. [unclear] It had two sides. It had the meat. Fresh meat and all that sort of thing. And small goods and what. And the other the manufactured goods sides and I was on the manufactured goods side. Equivalent to say, you know the estate manager for Gold Circle Pineapple and all that. And I was, you could say the estate manager, even though I was called a sales manager because I was within this big company I was really in control of all. I had five travellers eventually and that’s where I stayed. I didn’t, I didn’t want to go any further than that. Until I retired at sixty one and a half years of age in ’83.
AP: Just before I was born. But anyway that’s another story. Alright. Final, final question. Perhaps the most important one. For you what is Bomber Command’s legacy? And how do you want to see it remembered?
FM: Well, I want to see it remembered as probably the major force in winning the war. But that might be, let’s put it this way, without Bomber Command having done what it did the others couldn’t do what they did. The others did a very good job. I can’t, I can’t talk about the navy. Excluding the navy because I’ve got no idea. You know, I just know that they probably did an magnificent job just as the army did a magnificent job. But the army couldn’t. Neither the American, nor the English, nor the French, none of the armies could have done what they did do without the destruction of the ground in front of them that they had to go through. So that’s why I think the legacy of the importance of the winning of the war really is Bomber Command. And I’m not saying that because I was in Bomber Command. I could as easily have been in Coastal Command or some other command, you know.
AP: Very good. Any final thoughts?
FM: No. I wish I could get younger.
AP: Unfortunately time only goes in one direction. Thanks very much Frank.
FM: Thank you for having me.
AP: An absolute pleasure.



Adam Purcell, “Interview with Frank Mottershead,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 24, 2024,

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