Interview with Cecil Parsons


Interview with Cecil Parsons


Cecil Parsons was born in 1918 in Victoria, Australia. He volunteered for the Royal Australian Air Force in 1939 and trained as a pilot in New South Wales and Canada as part of the Empire Air Training Scheme before being posted to England in 1940. He was stationed at RAF Linton on Ouse, flying Whitleys with 58 Squadron and as second pilot on Halifaxes with 35 Squadron. He completed a tour of operations and describes flying operations over Europe, including Berlin and recalls an early occasion when his plane accidentally landed at a dummy airfield. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross before he returned to Australia in 1942 and served as an instructor with the RAAF. He later worked as a commercial pilot and then a schoolteacher.




Temporal Coverage




01:02:15 audio recording


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AParsonsCER160817, PParsonsCER1601


DB: Ok. This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Doreen Burge. The interviewee is Cecil Parsons. The interview is taking place at Mr Parson’s home in Ocean Grove, Victoria, Australia on August the 17th, 2016. Now, is it alright if I call you Boz?
CP: Certainly.
DB: Ok. Can you tell me what your birth date is?
CP: 12th of September 1918.
DB: Right. So you’re soon to turn ninety eight.
CP: That’s right.
DB: And where were you born?
CP: In Colac, Victoria.
DB: So not too far from here.
CP: No. No.
DB: And you grew up on a farm or —
CP: Yes. My father had a property near Beeac. Between Beeac and [Kirk?], and that’s where I was born, the youngest of a family of six.
DB: Right. So did you have a cattle farm or sheep?
CP: It was a mixed farm, yes, and we all had horses.
DB: Yes.
CP: All the kids had horses. Dad was a very great cattle man and all the children grew up on horses. I was the youngest of six.
DB: So I bet you could ride well.
CP: Yes. I could. I could ride. I remember riding behind dad in the buggy and I’d always been told that if I looked around I’d fall off. And I did [laughs]
DB: Proved the point to you.
CP: Yeah.
DB: And so can you tell me any more about your family background?
CP: Yes. My mother came from a property near Colac. She was born in the country. My father was born in Gippsland and was on a farm from a very early age, and became a farmer and a very good stock man. And he died when I was only seven so — but I was the youngest of a family of six. So we were very much a country family.
DB: Yes. So your father came from Gippsland.
CP: Came from Gippsland. Yeah.
DB: And moved to Colac.
CP: Yeah. Yeah. That’s right.
DB: When he married.
CP: He came to Colac because my mother’s family had property at Colac.
DB: Right.
CP: And he bought into that family. Into that family’s properties. Yeah.
DB: And so when he died did you all still stay on the farm?
CP: No. We moved in to Geelong.
DB: Right.
CP: Because I was, when he died, he died when I was about seven and I was the youngest of the family of six, and we moved into Colac and then to Geelong.
DB: Yes.
CP: As a family.
DB: So the farm, the farm was sold.
CP: Yes. Sold off.
DB: Yes. And so what — you did your schooling in Geelong.
CP: In Geelong. Yes.
DB: Yes.
CP: Yes.
DB: And your brothers and sisters were all there too.
CP: All educated in, in Geelong. Yeah.
DB: So you haven’t moved too far away.
CP: [laughs] No.
DB: That’s right. And so after your schooling what did you do?
CP: I went to, I went to school in Geelong and after schooling I went to university in Melbourne, and into residential college. Trinity College. And —
DB: So that’s at Melbourne University.
CP: Melbourne University.
DB: Yes.
CP: And at the end of those three years it was 1939 and the war came. And I went to the war.
DB: And so what made you decide to go, go to the war?
CP: It became almost automatic I think at that time. I thought of nothing else but going to the war when I finished my university degree in ’39 and went straight in to the air force.
DB: So you were twenty one then or about twenty one.
CP: Twenty one.
DB: Yes. And what made you go for the air force rather than the army or the navy?
CP: Family. Cousins. Friends. And also I was very much attached to flying. My cousins had been flying, and there wasn’t any other thought of doing anything else.
DB: So you really wanted to be a pilot.
CP: Yes.
DB: Right from the start.
CP: Yes.
DB: Yes. Now I’m just going to stop this for a minute to make sure we can hear you alright.
[recording paused]
DB: So Boz do you recall where you signed up? Was it in Melbourne or —?
CP: Indeed in Melbourne. I was, I was at university at the time.
DB: Yes.
CP: And so that was — signed up in 1940 I think.
DB: And so where was your training, most of your training held? Do you remember?
CP: Yes. Indeed. I went almost straight to Narromine and started flying on Tiger Moths.
DB: So is that in New South Wales?
CP: Yes.
DB: Yes.
CP: Yes. In central New South Wales. Near Forbes.
DB: Ah yes.
CP: Yeah. And that was the main training. This was early on in the war because it would have been in November of 1940.

DB: Yes. Yeah. And so what did your training while you were at Narromine — what did that involve?
CP: It was just an introduction to flying. We flew Tiger Moths.
DB: That would have been fun.
CP: Yeah. It was. It was something I had wanted to do and hadn’t been able to afford to do, and so I lapped it up, it was great fun.
DB: Yes.
CP: And great. I was the fourth course going through so it was early days and they were a wonderful batch of recruits at that time. You know, they had the pick of the, pick of the bunch really.
DB: So how, how had they selected the people to become pilots? Did you have to sit a test?
CP: Yeah. Quite a, quite an interesting interview, and people who were interested in flying particularly so I got first preference. And you needed to have a reasonably good background in education. Well, I’d been to university so I was well up in the education area.
DB: So what had you studied at university?
CP: I was studying science.
DB: So that would have helped.
CP: Oh yes, yes. Very much so.
DB: Yes. Yes. And so after you did the interview that was when you were selected to be trained as a —
CP: And interestingly enough at that time there wasn’t much of a wait.
DB: Oh right, yes.
CP: They were looking for people. And so we went straight into training.
DB: Right.
CP: It was marvellous. And I think I had to wait for about two or three months, that was all, before I was called up.
DB: Yes. And how did your, the rest of your family feel about what you were doing?
CP: Well I only had a mother. I was the youngest of a family of six and, dad had died when I was only about six.
DB: Yes.
CP: And so it was all up to mum really but —
DB: And how did she feel —?
CP: Well —
DB: About you becoming a pilot?
CP: I don’t know.
DB: She didn’t try and stop you.
CP: No. Certainly not.
DB: And did you have, did any of your —
CP: I’d been to university.
DB: Yes.
CP: And, you know I was pretty well on the —
DB: You were pretty independent.
CP: I was independent.
DB: Yes. And did any of your, did you have brothers who -
CP: Yes. I had an elder brother, five years older than me, he was a medico.
DB: Right.
CP: He did medicine and he went straight into the army.
DB: Yes.
CP: At that time. In 1940.
DB: So it was just the two of you who served then or did some of your other siblings —?
CP: No. I had four sisters, and they all went into something or other. Jan, the eldest was a secretary in Geelong and that’s where she stayed. She was a [Frank Guthrie?] secretary. And my brother was a doctor and he went into the services.
DB: Yes.
CP: He finished his medical degree. He was five years older than me.
DB: So did quite a few of your friends from that, from university sign up as well?
CP: Yeah, practically all of them.
DB: Yes.
CP: Yeah. At that time in 1940 it was, everyone was joining the services.
DB: Yes. Yeah. So how long was your training at Narromine?
CP: Five months and then we went on to more advanced aircraft at another place.
DB: So do you remember where that — where you went after Narromine?
CP: I went to [pause] gee whizz I just can’t quite remember now.
DB: Was it in New South Wales as well?
CP: In New South Wales. Yes.
DB: Yes.
CP: Yes.
DB: And then did you then head overseas or?
CP: No [pause] Yes I did, I did. In November of 1940 I got on a ship and sailed to England. Yes. I did indeed.
DB: Do you remember which ship you went on?
CP: No. I couldn’t tell you.
DB: That would have been —
CP: The [unclear] sounds, you know, sounds familiar but I couldn’t tell you for sure.
DB: Yes.
CP: Yeah.
DB: And there were a lot of you I guess.
CP: A lot. A lot. Yeah. 1940 it was.
DB: And what —
CP: We got to England, you know, at the height of the Battle of Britain. Yeah. A very interesting time really.
DB: I bet.
CP: To be in London.
DB: Yes. Yeah.
CP: Yeah. A different world.
DB: So what sort of experiences did you have when you arrived in London?
CP: Well we pitched in to the very height of the war really. The Battle of Britain had been and London was blacked out. It was an exciting time. It really was.
DB: Very different to being in Melbourne.
CP: [laughs] Absolutely. Yeah. It really was. England was, you know, really fighting a war.
DB: Yes. Yes. And so where, where were you sent to? When you —
CP: We went — I was sent up to Yorkshire and did my training up in Yorkshire. And it was interesting, an exciting to be, to be in England.
DB: Yes. Yeah.
CP: Yeah. Very exciting time. And it was new to me. I’d never been overseas before.
DB: No. Very exciting.
CP: You know. A very exciting time. Yeah.
DB: And what, so which base in Yorkshire were you sent to when you first arrived?
CP: Went to Linton on Ouse.
DB: Right.
CP: Which was a wartime station. Very famous station actually, Linton, and expanding like mad. We had bases all around us you know and Linton itself was a, had been a permanent air force station before the war and had permanent buildings.
DB: Right.
CP: But they were the only permanent buildings we were ever in. We were in Nissen huts most of the time.
DB: And it would have been cold.
CP: Yeah. Cold [laughs] yes.
DB: So you continued training when you got to Linton.
CP: Yeah.
DB: And what, what aircraft?
CP: And then we went on old Whitleys.
DB: Yes.
CP: Yeah. Early on. And I went from Whitleys, very temporarily onto Halifaxes while I was a second pilot, and then I went back to Whitleys as a, as a captain in, at Linton. So I got to know that area very well. But flying during a winter in England in RAF Bomber Command on Whitleys, a very early, early aeroplane.
DB: And what, how did you find flying a Whitley compared to —?
CP: Oh it was, I thought it was marvellous. You know. First time in a big aeroplane. You know.
DB: Yes.
CP: Big twin engine aeroplane.
DB: So what crew did you have with you?
CP: A crew of five.
DB: Right. Yes. Yeah. And were they, were they all English? The crew you were with on the Whitleys?
CP: Mixed. Mixed. But mostly English. Yeah. Just, I had an Australian navigator.
DB: Yes.
CP: And the Australians were just sort of coming in.
DB: Yes. Yeah.
CP: But it was an exciting time, 1940.
DB: Yes.
CP: And ’41.
DB: And how were your crews formed at that time? Were you told who you were going to fly with or did you get to form your own crews?
CP: Well very limited amount. We went to a sort of a base and we were really just thrown together. You know, you didn’t have much choice.
DB: Right.
CP: Yeah.
DB: Yes. So did you stay with that crew then for quite a long time?
CP: Over a year.
DB: Yes.
CP: Yeah.
DB: So you, do you remember when it was you started your operations?
CP: Yes. About September/October 1940.
DB: Ok. Yeah.
CP: Early on.
DB: Yes.
CP: Yeah. Really early on.
DB: So you did some training though for a while.
CP: Oh yes.
DB: And then —
CP: Yeah. I couldn’t tell you exactly but I would have thought probably my first operations were the beginning of ’41. We would be training up until that time.
DB: Yes.
CP: Yeah. But they were, you know they were early operations in Bomber Command. 1941.
DB: Yes.
CP: Yeah.
DB: So your first operations were on the Whitleys.
CP: Yes.
DB: Or did you do all your ops on —
CP: I did some as a second pilot on Halifaxes, because they were on the same squadron. On the same airfield. And Halifaxes were — I think somehow or other they must have been short of, short of second pilots I think and they tossed us in there to get air experience really. And then we went back to fly as captains on the Whitley.
DB: Right. Yes. So do you remember how many operations you did on each, each aircraft?
CP: Well I did five as a second pilot on Halifaxes to start with. And then I went back to Whitleys, and I did twenty eight operations over Europe in the Whitley.
DB: Right.
CP: Which is a tour.
DB: Yes.
CP: Yeah.
DB: Yes.
CP: Yeah. Anything between twenty five and thirty.
DB: Yeah.
CP: And then you got taken off.
DB: And did you have the same crew?
CP: Crew.
DB: Through most of that time?
CP: All the time.
DB: Yes.
CP: Yeah.
DB: Yeah.
CP: Yeah.
DB: So tell me, tell me what it was like doing your first few operations.
CP: Well the first few operations I did were on Halifaxes as a second pilot. And in fact I didn’t even know where the controls were on the Halifax, you know. You just learned what to do for, you know, raise the undercarriage for the captain, you know. It was, you were really there for experience.
DB: Yes.
CP: To get operational experience.
DB: Yeah.
CP: Yeah. And it was, it was an exciting time. It really was. We were up in Yorkshire then. Lissett.
DB: And do you remember where you flew? Which? What the targets were?
CP: We did everything over Europe. It was a sort of acme of things was to be able to go to the big city. To go to bomb Berlin, you know. And I did that quite early on actually as a second pilot on the Halifax. That was the first trip.
DB: And what did you think?
CP: Oh it was just unbelievable. You wondered what was happening really, you know. You’re so [emphasis] inexperienced and it was such an extraordinary experience, you know. You can’t describe it really.
DB: No. And was the pilot you were flying with quite experienced at that time?
CP: Well I suppose they were very inexperienced. But they were experienced in our view at the time you know. They were a captain of a Halifax, you know. It was just unbelievable.
DB: Yes.
CP: You know.
DB: Yes.
CP: Wonderful aeroplanes.
DB: And did you have any difficult, particularly difficult operations? Or ones that stand out?
CP: I thought they all were [laughs]
DB: I bet they were.
CP: We, very early on I remember we landed at a base back in England that turned out to be what was known as a Q site. It was actually, it was a dummy airfield. We shouldn’t have landed there [laughs] I mean the war was very early on. It was really quite amazing that you survived. But —
DB: And so on —
CP: We landed on I was only the second pilot. I didn’t know, you know, what was happening but he landed on this and we only [pause] we hadn’t even touched down. We were just in the approach and all the lights went out. He had to land, he was, you know he’d committed to land you see.
DB: Yes.
CP: And it wasn’t on an airfield at all.
DB: So what did he —
CP: It was a dummy airfield, you know, but fortunately it was, it was serviceable you know.
DB: So you did managed to land there?
CP: We landed. Yeah. You know. The aircraft stopped you know. No lights. Nothing. Pitch dark. And the tail gunner called out, ‘Christ skipper. We’re in a cornfield.’ [laughs] We’d landed on this dummy airfield. We’d gone through a hedge and stopped and then I mean fortunately there was, it was open country.
DB: Yes.
CP: And we were — no damage done. Flew out to an airfield. At least taxied out to an airfield the next morning.
DB: So you were able to —
CP: Yes. Take off next morning. Yeah.
DB: There was an airfield nearby that you could get to —
CP: Yeah.
DB: And just take off again.
CP: Yeah.
DB: I wonder what the farmer thought who owned the cornfield? [laughs]
CP: [laughs] Yeah. Extraordinary.
DB: So that was, that was one of your early?
CP: That was very early on.
DB: Yes.
CP: Yeah. I then became an experienced captain after that.
DB: And tell me about some of the ops that you did when you were a captain.
CP: Oh we did, we did everything I think. From flying to the big city. Which was going to Berlin. To going to places like on the French coast to St Nazaire. To the aircraft [pause] submarine pens.
DB: Yes.
CP: Used to do a lot of bombing of that area. Oh, you know. We had a very interesting time, you know, quite exciting.
DB: Yes. And did you, did you get to know many of the other people in the, on the squadron?
CP: Oh yes. Did. Yeah. You were living with them.
DB: Yes and what were the losses?
CP: At that time not too many Australians.
DB: No.
CP: And we had an Australian crew but mostly Englishmen. Mostly English people.
DB: And did you have any Canadians or New Zealanders?
CP: Yes. Yes. A lot.
DB: And which, which squadron were you with?
CP: I was with first of all I was with 35 Squadron which was an RAF Halifax squadron. But then I went back to Whitleys and went into 58 Squadron.
DB: Right.
CP: Again, it was again an English squadron. They were all English squadrons.
DB: Yeah.
CP: We were just Australians crews in English squadrons.
DB: Yes.
CP: Yeah.
DB: Yes.
CP: Yeah. It was early times. It was 1940, ‘41.
DB: So if you started your operations in ’41 do you remember when it was that you finished your twenty eight or thirty? What —
CP: I did them in a year. In about a year. Went through a winter. You were on standby often in the winter time. You can’t, can’t always fly, I mean the weather’s so bad.
DB: So you’d be all briefed and ready to go.
CP: That’s right. Yeah. Get cancelled. A lot of cancelled.
DB: And how did you find that when you’d be all ready to go and —
CP: Oh it’s, you get all keyed up to go you know, it’s a nuisance really. It’s a bit of a mind.
DB: You’d rather just get going.
CP: Get going. Yeah.
DB: Yes. Yes.
CP: You would be all keyed up to go and [pause] oh it’s a long time ago.
DB: And are there any other of your particular operations that stand out in your mind?
CP: Oh yeah. Any, any operation which was going to take you to Berlin was something that stood out.
DB: Yes.
CP: Because it was the, it was the furthest to go in most cases and not the best place to go.
DB: No. Well defended.
CP: It was well defended.
DB: Yes. Yes.
CP: Yeah. You weren’t terribly keen about going to Berlin. [laughs]
DB: And what —
CP: I went to Berlin as a second pilot on a Halifax but then I went about three times when I was captain of a Whitley.
DB: So you had a few trips there.
CP: I had. Yeah. I’d have to have a look at my logbook.
DB: And were they flying as far as Milan and going to Italy at that time?
CP: Oh yes. Yeah. Interestingly enough I never went to Italy. I got briefed to go to Italy on a couple of occasions, and we always wanted to go to Italy because it wasn’t heavily defended.
DB: No. No.
CP: And you know it was much more fun to go there where there weren’t too many guns. To go to the Ruhr was like going to the bloody home of arsenal.
DB: Yes. Yes.
CP: That was the most heavily defended area in Germany of course.
DB: Yes.
CP: The Ruhr valley and then Berlin was not nasty [unclear] but it was much further. And you had a lot of flying over the north part of Germany to get to, and then you’d go. We used to fly almost on the coast, on the north coast of Germany. And then you’d fly almost as far as Stettin and then turn down to the right to go down to Berlin and it was a bloody long way.
DB: And defended all the way I guess?
CP: Well, no not too bad really because you could fly over the North Sea for a long time which was a great help. And that was alright, flying over the North Sea, unless you came across a gun boat, and you never knew where they were. And you’d get a bloody burst from that [laughs] yeah.
DB: Yes. That would —
CP: A ship.
DB: A bit of a shock coming out of the blackness wouldn’t it?
CP: That’s right.
DB: Yes. So the furthest target you went to would have been Berlin.
CP: It would. Yeah.
DB: Yes. Yeah. And the closer ones were the French. The submarine pens.
CP: Oh going the other way yeah. Yeah, yeah.
DB: Yes. So you did a few of those as well.
CP: Yeah.
DB: Yes. So you had the same crew with you for that, for all your ops.
CP: Well except when I went as a second pilot and I was going with a totally different crew but when I started flying as a captain I had the same crew.
DB: Yes.
CP: Yeah.
DB: And did they all survive the war too?
CP: Yes.
DB: They did.
CP: Yeah. Yeah. We were lucky.
DB: Yes. And so you completed your tour at thirty. Thirty operations?
CP: I only did twenty eight.
DB: Right. Yes.
CP: You were meant to do thirty.
DB: But they were happy for you to finish at that point.
CP: That’s right. It worked out that way.
DB: Yes. And what did you do then?
CP: I went instructing.
DB: So —
CP: That was the normal thing.
DB: Yes.
CP: But I must have come back to Australia, you see. When did I come back? I came back. We were all itching to get back as soon as the Japanese came in you see, my first lot of flying was well before the end of 1941. You see I was flying in 1940.
DB: Yes.
CP: In England.
DB: Yes.
CP: And, you see, the Japs didn’t come in until December ’41. So, and none of us came back to Australia until ’42.
DB: And you were pretty keen.
CP: I’d been very early. Very early on. I was the fourth course to go through.
DB: Yes. That’s early. And [pause] now what was I going to ask about? Oh where did you do your instructing?
CP: In England?
DB: Yes. When you went on to instructing after your ops.
CP: The Garden of Eden. The Vale of Evesham. Down south of Birmingham.
DB: Right.
CP: Oh what a beautiful country. The Cotswolds.
DB: Oh beautiful.
CP: I hadn’t realised what a beautiful part of England.
DB: Yes.
CP: I was there for a year instructing. Oh glorious Berkshire there to Somerset.
DB: So you enjoyed your leave time when you were there.
CP: Lovely.
DB: Yes.
CP: England is a most beautiful place.
DB: It is very beautiful. And getting to see, see it from the air must be very special.
CP: Oh it’s lovely, it’s a beautiful country.
DB: And how did you find instructing after having been flying for so long?
CP: Oh I enjoyed it. Yeah. Yeah.
DB: So you were instructing different nationalities. Were there Australians and —?
CP: New Zealanders.
DB: New Zealanders. Canadians. Yeah. Lovely. A lovely life. Beautiful. You know. Interesting people. Interesting. So they were pretty well educated you see. That’s what the beauty of it was.
CP: So they were pretty well trained by the time they got to you.
DB: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Good.
CP: So at that time had the because I know my dad was trained in the Empire Air Training Scheme in Canada.
DB: Yeah. Yeah.
CP: Of course I did that.
DB: Oh you did that too?
CP: Yep.
DB: So did you go from Australia to Canada did you? Before you went to England?
CP: Yeah.
DB: Right.
CP: Glorious. I hadn’t realised what a wonderful time we had. We went to [pause] I was in Calgary for the whole of one winter.
DB: It would have been cold.
CP: Cold. But skiing up in the mountains. What a beautiful country.
DB: Yes.
CP: Yes.
DB: So you did a lot of your initial pilot training in Canada.
CP: I did.
DB: As part of the Empire Air Training Scheme.
CP: Went from Tiger Moths in Narromine to Ansons in Calgary.
DB: Right. Yes.
CP: You know. What a wonderful life you know. It was a wonderful time.
DB: So you —
CP: And you know, great companions.
DB: Yeah.
CP: Doing something different, you know. Flying. You couldn’t get anything better for a young man. I’d just finished university, you know, so I was more mature than most of them and you know and just, it was wonderful.
DB: And so you —
CP: The beginning of the war.
DB: Yes. Yes.
CP: 1940.
DB: And you were with a big — big group in Canada training.
CP: Yes, yeah.
DB: Yes. Yeah.
CP: But I think we were the third, third lot to go through.
DB: Right.
CP: You know. So it was all new. And the courses were pretty well picked, you know. The cream of the lot we were really. We were marvellous, had a marvellous time.
DB: And did you have did you feel the instructing was good there?
CP: Excellent, excellent. Some of them were almost professional instructors, you know. Some of them were American. There were senior Canadian pilots, you know. We got the best of the lot.
DB: Yes.
CP: A wonderful time. And ah, [pause] for a young Australian. I was just, I’d just finished university really.
DB: But you were ready for some adventure.
CP: Yeah. Absolutely. You know.
DB: Yes. Yeah.
CP: You know. I wasn’t young. I was twenty one, twenty two, twenty three.
DB: Yes. There were some younger than that weren’t there?
CP: Oh yes. A lot.
DB: Yes.
CP: Yeah.
DB: Yeah. So did you, did some of the people you trained with in Canada go on to the same squadron as you? Did you keep some?
CP: Yeah. Not a lot but you know, quite a few went through the procedure, you know. I think I had one or two that were on [pause] in my crew that had come right through. Yeah.
DB: So did most of the people you trained with survive the war?
CP: I couldn’t tell you.
DB: No. Did you —
CP: I don’t know. You see, because wars sort of go on don’t they? I came back and went into the war in the Pacific.
DB: Right.
CP: You see.
DB: Yes.
CP: I went through a tour of operations in Europe, and then I came back to Australia just after the Japs came in at the end of ’41. And started all over again.
DB: So where were you based then? Were you based somewhere in Australia or — ?
CP: Came down to Darwin.
DB: Right. Yes. That would have been very different flying.
CP: [laughs] quite a difference.
DB: Yes.
CP: Quite a difference.
DB: Yes.
CP: Yeah.
DB: So just getting back to England and Bomber Command your son, Bill mentioned that you were awarded the DFC.
CP: Yes.
DB: Can you tell me how? How that came about?
CP: No. Well [pause] If you stayed long enough you you were bound to get a DFC [laughs]
DB: Oh I’m sure that’s not quite the case.
CP: It almost is but you know. Right you see, I suppose I’d done a tour in England and I had done a bit of flying when I came back to Australia, and so it wasn’t a unique thing for me to be given an award. I became a quite senior pilot very early on.
DB: Yes.
CP: On Australia.
DB: So your DFC was awarded when you were in the Pacific.
CP: Yeah.
DB: Yes. Yeah. So you’d done quite a bit of flying by that time.
CP: I’d done a tour of operations in Europe.
DB: Yes.
CP: Yeah.
DB: Yes.
CP: Yeah.
DB: And so what, what was the actual flight that resulted in the DFC?
CP: No. In the course of time really. Nothing particular. Just having stayed the distance.
DB: Right. Yes. And you were mentioned in dispatches a couple of times too.
CP: I was. That was pretty automatic too. Provided you stayed alive. [laughs]
DB: So that was during the Pacific flying time or was that in Bomber Command?
CP: No, that was England.
DB: Right. So do you remember?
CP: No.
DB: What that, what that flight was?
CP: I honestly don’t know.
DB: No.
CP: No.
DB: So that was one of your trips over Europe though.
CP: Well, probably not a particular one. Probably having survived several I think.
DB: Yes. So were you commissioned? You were commissioned when you were still in Canada at the end of your —?
CP: No.
DB: No.
CP: I wasn’t commissioned until I’d finished a tour in England.
DB: Right.
CP: I did my first tour as a sergeant.
DB: Yes. Yeah. And then you became a flight lieutenant, is that right? At the, at the end?
CP: I was commissioned when I was in the RAF.
DB: Yeah.
CP: And I just progressed to it through the stages.
DB: Yes. So tell me the things that really stand out in your mind from your time in England. What are the sort of important memories for you of that time?
CP: I think my important memories first of all was when I was seconded to [pause] as a second pilot to 35 Squadron which was a RAF Halifax squadron as a second pilot. And I was flying with some very — I was flying with the squadron commander. Quite a senior RAF wing commander, and it was, he was in command of 35 Squadron in Yorkshire and I was sent up there as a second pilot. He was the first really professional RAF man I flew with. He was just a marvellous man. He, he was a squadron commander and he did more flying, I think, than any one else in the squadron.
DB: Do you remember his name?
CP: Yes. Robinson.
DB: Right. Robinson, yeah. And so you did your —
CP: I, you know, I worshipped him. I thought he was a marvellous bloke.
DB: So you must have been very privileged. Felt very privileged to fly with him.
CP: Well I was very privileged to fly with him as second pilot.
DB: Yes.
CP: Yeah.
DB: Yes. And he would have —
CP: Wonderful man.
DB: Taught you a lot I guess.
CP: Great bloke.
DB: So do you recall where you went on that flight with him?
CP: Yes. We went to Berlin. My first flight as a second pilot was with Wing Commander Robinson. He was the most unflappable bloke I’ve seen. Wonderful example.
DB: Yes. And that would have given you a great sense of security to go with him.
CP: Marvellous. Yeah. Yeah. It was great. I was very privileged. Yeah, lovely man.
DB: So that’s probably one of your most special memories.
CP: Ah, you know. Stands out in my mind.
DB: Yes.
CP: Great.
DB: Yes. And are there any others that stand out of your operations?
CP: I met some very good Australians. I came back to Australia you see. I did a tour of operations in Europe because I was over there, I was very early on. I was the third or fourth course to go through the Empire Air Training Scheme.
DB: Yes.
CP: So I was in England very early, and I came back to Australia you see, because the Japs didn’t come in ‘till, you know, we thought the war was nearly over, end of ’41, beginning of ‘42 and I’d been over there since 1940.
DB: And you’d done a year of instructing then after your ops.
CP: I did. That’s it. And then came back. To Australia.
DB: And then you were able to come back. Yes. So you came back by ship then. Yes. And there was quite a group of you coming back to continue on.
CP: Yes. Yes. Yeah. In Australia. Yes.
DB: And were —
CP: The war didn’t start out here until the end of ‘41 beginning of ‘42 and I’d been in since 1940.
DB: Yes. So you were ready to come back.
CP: Yeah. Yeah.
DB: Yes. And did you keep in contact with any of the people you flew with in England?
CP: No. Not really.
DB: No. So not any of your crew, your own crew.
CP: Yes. I left them behind. Because they hadn’t, they hadn’t done. My navigator I finished up with in England was a bloke called Wilf Stone, an old Scotch College boy, but he stayed behind. I got sent back to Australia you see.
DB: So he was still flying.
CP: He was still flying in England. Yeah. Yeah.
DB: And did he survive the war?
CP: I think so. I think so. Yeah. Wilf Stones. Funny how I forget what happened to him. He went flying with somebody else, I know. A good navigator.
DB: And what about the rest of your crew that you flew with. Were they —
CP: In England?
DB: Yes.
CP: They were all Englishmen.
DB: Right.
CP: Yeah. Yeah. They were all Englishman.
DB: And did they go on and continue with other —?
CP: Yeah. You lose track.
DB: Yes.
CP: Yeah. Yeah.
DB: And they —
CP: I came back to Australia you see. When did I come back? End of ’42. Yeah.
DB: And how was it coming home?
CP: Oh it was different world. You know.
DB: Yes.
CP: There hadn’t been a war out here when I left but there was very much a war when I came back.
DB: Yes.
CP: Yeah.
DB: Yeah.
CP: Yeah.
DB: And did you come back to Melbourne before you were sent to Darwin?
CP: Yeah.
DB: So —
CP: Well, I had a month’s leave I think.
DB: Yes. I bet your mother —
CP: I’d been away for a long time.
DB: Yes. Your mother would have been pleased to see you.
CP: Yeah [laughs] yeah.
DB: Yes.
CP: Yeah. All the family were in the services then. My brother was a doctor. He was five years older than me but he was up in New Guinea.
DB: Yeah. And so how much longer were you in the RAAF then when you went and fought from, flew from Darwin? And so how long —
CP: I stayed in the RAAF after the war.
DB: So you were a career pilot for a while then, yes. So is that what you continued doing for very long?
CP: Well I thought I was going to stay there forever. But I then went. Left and I went flying commercially.
DB: Oh did you? Yes.
CP: I went flying up in Alice Springs. Bush airline. Some of the best flying I ever had I think. That was after the war.
DB: So how long did —
CP: I would have, I would have stayed on flying I think but I was getting married then. The family didn’t want a kid when flying. Yeah.
DB: Did you miss it?
CP: Yeah. I did.
DB: Yes. So —
CP: I went farming, it nearly killed me. I loved flying.
DB: So that nearly — that nearly killed you more than flying in the war did.
CP: I think so [laughs]
DB: Where were you farming then? Were you down this way again?
CP: On York Peninsula.
DB: Oh. In South Australia.
CP: That’s where my wife came from.
DB: Right. Yes. So was that cropping farming?
CP: Yes. Yes.
DB: Yeah.
CP: Yeah. I did that for two years. Then I went school teaching.
DB: And was that in South Australia as well?
CP: No.
DB: No. You came back here.
CP: Came back and I bought a farm out here. Just sort of got or had [unclear] my son’s.
DB: Yes. So that’s close by here is it? Yes. Yeah.
CP: That’s where I came from you see. We came from Geelong originally.
DB: Yes. And —
CP: I went school lteaching.. That became my profession.
DB: So did you teach primary school or secondary?
CP: Secondary.
DB: School. So what subjects did you teach?
CP: Fundamentally agg science but I taught physics and chemistry up to leaving level. Up to you know matric level. And I’d done a university degree before the war.
DB: Yes. Yeah. And so did your, do you think your experiences in the war contributed to your teaching later?
CP: Oh certainly, certainly. Certainly contributed to my, my positions as a house master and what not. Senior positions. Because they were better for you. Very much. Understanding people better I think.
DB: Yes. And you would have —
CP: I was quite mature really when I was teaching. I’d been through the war.
DB: And got, got to know many, many different people I think.
CP: Absolutely. Yeah.
DB: Which would be very helpful with teaching wouldn’t it? Yes. And did you do any more flying?
CP: I continued to fly. I continued to fly. See I went flying professionally after the war for a while. I would have gone on flying forever I think but family didn’t want to.
DB: So did you keep it up as a hobby at all?
CP: Yeah. I still fly.
DB: I saw something on YouTube that your son Bill sent me where you went flying. Was it for your ninetieth birthday?
CP: [laughs] [unclear]
DB: And there’s a film of you climbing up into just a two seater plane.
CP: Yeah.
DB: And looping the loop and all sorts of things.
CP: Yeah.
DB: Yeah.
CP: That was recent. Victor Harbour.
DB: Right. Yes. And what —
CP: I still love flying.
DB: Yes.
CP: It gets in your blood. But I had some marvellous flying in Alice Springs. That was some of the best flying I ever did I think. In old aeroplanes and carrying the mail all over the territory. That was wonderful fun.
DB: That would have been very different to flying over England and —
CP: That’s right.
DB: Over Europe.
CP: Totally different.
DB: That huge expanse of country.
CP: Old planes too.
DB: So what sort of planes did you fly in Alice Springs?
CP: Flew a Dragon, DH Dragon twin engine. Two light twins. Great aeroplane. A dragon and a dragonfly. A Dragonfly was a more modern one. Had self-starters.
DB: You didn’t have to get out.
CP: [laughs] No.
DB: Crank the engine.
CP: No.
DB: And did you have crew with you at all on those?
CP: Mail plane?
DB: Yes.
CP: No. No. No. But we often had passengers.
DB: Yes.
CP: But no you were on your own. Lovely.
DB: So what would you say your main memories are of your time flying in England with, with Bomber Command?
CP: In England? In England.
DB: Yes.
CP: [pause] It was two very different sorts of flying because some of the flying was just in England either instructing or in just flying in England. Was nothing to worry about. Or flying from England over Europe which was very tense. Yeah. So some of the flying over England was beautiful.
DB: Yes.
CP: Lovely. Glorious.
DB: Yes. And how did you feel of that tension that you referred to in flying over Europe? How do you think that affected you?
CP: I think I’m, I think I’m a very fortunate person that I don’t get very tight. I’m able to relax pretty well. And I’ve been in some very difficult situations but I’m very fortunate not to get too uptight about it.
DB: Yes.
CP: But some of the flying over England — England is the most beautiful country. It really is the most beautiful place. But when you divorce it from the flying at, from war flying it’s a lovely place.
DB: Yes. And did you enjoy your, your leave times when you were in England?
CP: I did. I did. I did. It was all new to me but I, you know I had good friends to visit.
DB: Yes.
CP: And relations to visit, you know. And it felt like home, you know.
DB: Yes.
CP: England is the most beautiful place.
DB: Yes.
CP: Absolutely beautiful.
DB: So did one or either of your parents have family in England?
CP: Both did [pause] but my mother’s family more so I think although they were fundamentally Australian. Mum was born in Australia and was brought up in the country. Near Colac. And dad was brought up in Australia, a country man from Gippsland. And — but both with strong English connections.
DB: Yes.
CP: So we had a lots of relatives over there. England is such a beautiful country.
DB: It certainly is.
CP: Compared to the vastness of Australia. But I’ve been fortunate to know Australia. Because I’ve been based as an airline pilot in Alice Springs. You’d hardly call it an airline pilot. A bush pilot. [laughs]
DB: Well that would have been great flying experience to do that.
CP: Wonderful. Real. I’ve had a wonderful flying career.
DB: Yes.
CP: You know. Lovely.
DB: Yes. So you’ve had very contrasting flying experience haven’t you?
CP: Absolutely. Yeah.
DB: Yeah. Because it would be very hard to compare flying over outback Australia with flying over Europe during the war.
CP: Yeah. England particularly. England. What a beautiful country.
DB: And have you been back there?
CP: Yes I have. Yeah. Yes.
DB: Yes.
CP: Yeah. We’ve been back quite recently.
DB: And did you go back and visit your old squadron when you went back. Was it still there?
CP: No.
DB: No.
CP: I went back to Stratford. I was training in Stratford in the Vale of Evesham. What a glorious country.
DB: Beautiful.
CP: Absolutely beautiful. Yeah.
DB: Yes. And so you’ve not had much contact with your, your compatriots from that time since the war.
CP: No. No.
DB: No.
CP: Not at all. No. Not at all. England. England is just the most. It’s a garden.
DB: Yes it is.
CP: Do you know it well?
DB: I’ve been a few times. Yes. Yeah. I went with my father and he took me to his old squadron in — he was in Elsham Wolds.
CP: Oh yes.
DB: And there were a few old buildings left in 1995 when I went there with him. So —
CP: Elsham Wolds.
DB: Yes. He thought it was a beautiful place too. He loved it. He had a lot of visits back there as well. Yes.
CP: Beautiful country.
DB: Yes.
CP: Glorious country.
DB: So before we finish I suppose I should just ask if there is sort of one most important or special memory that you have of Bomber Command. Or your [pause] what’s your overall feeling of what Bomber Command was like for you?
CP: Well, I was, I was there very early on compared to what most of them went through later on. It was much more sort of an individualistic sort of operation when I was there. And I was young. I was young. I was enjoying flying. It was a new adventure for me and I just had the most glorious time in England. Glorious time. I met some lovely people and lovely families. And the war was really on then in 1940/41 and London was so different, you know. It was really a city under siege in 1941.
DB: Yes.
CP: So I feel very fortunate to have had the experience.
DB: Yes.
CP: Lovely.
DB: I’ll turn this off now.



Doreen Burge, “Interview with Cecil Parsons,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 21, 2024,

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