Interview with Bob Porteous


Interview with Bob Porteous


Flight Sergeant Bob Porteous grew up in Australia and after spending time in the bush he joined the Royal Australian Air Force. After training and spending time in the United States, he travelled to Scotland on the Queen Mary. He flew operations as a navigator with 622 Squadron from RAF Mildenhall. On one occasion he describes a secret operation to Gibraltar and Tangier on a Lancaster that brought back gold. He also explains his role as navigator and equipment such as H2S.




Temporal Coverage




00:52:20 audio recording

Conforms To


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BG: OK, so I’ll introduce us just the way they suggest. Which is, this Interview is, this interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Bob Porteous and the interviewer, interviewee is myself Barry Green and its taking place at Bob’s home, Meadow Springs Estate in Mandurah. So, first of all Bob, um, you, you’ve signed the agreement?
BP: Yep.
BG: And so the mainly the focus of this is your experience in Bomber Command but if, to set the background, [clock chime] where did you grow up?
BP: Born in Kalgoorlie, grew up in, er, William Street in Perth, Customs House in William Street in Perth. Then, er, my mother divorced the old man because he was infe— infidelity and then she married a Lawrence Povey of Povey’s Furniture Manufacturers and we lived in North Perth. And I did all my schooling in North Perth School, state school, and then Perth Boys’ School and, because the old man was an abusive drunk, I went bush. Did a few things in the, er, bush, came back and he — first thing that Seth [?] asked me what was I doing after a couple of years in the bush? And I said, ‘Oh, I don’t know. I think I’ll go and enlist or something or other on Monday.’ Of course that was on the Thursday and I said, he said to me, ‘What about tomorrow?’ Being a Friday. So, I said, ‘OK.’ And Friday morning I went into the A and A [?] House I think it was then and enlisted, and I was the last person on my course, and we went to England.
BG: What, what year was that?
BP: It was 1942 and, er, luckily he unknowingly gave me a good, good thing, because everyone who enlisted on the Monday they went to Rhodesia to train and then they went up to the desert and they are either still in the desert or they became POWs in France, in Italy. So, his words about when I should enlist actually served a good purpose.
BG: Right. So, what happened from there?
BP: Trained at Cloncar [?]. I have a friend here. He’s in the next room. He’s an ex-padre and we always have fun and games over the fact that he’s a padre and I tell him that I spent more time in chapel than he did. And he wanted to know why. And I said we were billeted in, in a chapel. So I sent three months in a chapel. [laugh]
BG: So, this is when you were training as a navigator?
BP: As a navi— no, I was just training as an airman then and we were then sent to Mount Gambier. That was a navigation school and, er, gave, given the choice of going Point — to other places, Evans Head and all the rest of it, and we had a lot of air cadets fresh, fresh out of school, who all wanted to go to Port Pirie because it was nearer to Perth, but we being a few old heads we said, ‘No. We’ll go to Evans Head.’ So, according to the Air Services and all the rest of it, we, well I, went to Port Pirie and all the other boys went to Evans Head. They went up to the islands and they’re still up there.
BG: So, from there you were — at what stage did you first get into an aircraft?
BP: A trainer or a real one?
BG: Well, the trainer, yep.
BP: The trainer was, oh, about three or four months after I enlisted and we had great fun and games because three of us were training as navigators and we had three, er, navs and a pilot to train in an old Anson and they drew straws as to who was going into the first leg of this triangular course and I lost, and consequently I drew the nav table, and I opened the nav drawer to put my charts in it and found that the chap who had it before had been sick in it [laugh] so consequently the pilot, when we returned, he complained to — and the chap they found out who had been the person who had been sick and he had the job for the next couple of weeks of examining all aircraft every morning before they took off to find out that they were fit, besides his ordinary work. [laugh]
BG: So, how long did you spend there before getting into, er, operations?
BP: It took three, five, six months of actual training before we were graduated as navigators and got a weeks’ leave and then we went to Melbourne and we were billeted in the embassy. Gee, a cold bloody hole that was [laugh] and then came the day we were issued with our, um, woolly flying gear, which was no indication we were going to England but that was no indication in the Services of the gear that they issued you, er, meant that you went there because I have known people being sent to the tropics with their woolly flying gear. Any rate, we were on this boat and we were told we were going to Vancouver because we had some EA air cadets, EATS cadets, who were to be trained in Calgary. So, after twenty-odd days on the ship we pulled into Panama. The next thing we know we go through the canal and we land in Boston. And, er the OC troops on the ship says, ‘We want volunteers to take these air cadets to Calgary.’ So they numbered us all off and he said, ‘Alright, everyone on — with a two in their number is a volunteer.’ So, I had a free trip according to the CPR railways to Calgary with these four hundred-odd cadets. Consequently when I got back to Fort Hamilton in New York all the rest of the chaps who’d travelled on the boat from Melbourne they, had been shipped to England. Unfortunately that ship was torpedoed and they were lost in the North Atlantic. So twenty-two of us had an extra couple of weeks in New York where I was fortunate enough to be billeted with a millionaire. [cough] His name was Mendenhall which was a — not an excuse — was a bit of a blow because the final drome that we had in England was Mildenhall so I had to think to whom I was talking and what about I was talking as to what was the name of the place, whether it was Mendenhall or Mildenhall. [laugh] Any rate, we, er, oh —
BG: So, how did you find New York? How long were you there for?
BP: A couple of weeks. They knew absolutely nothing. They were dead bloody hopeless. My opinion of the Yanks and their learning ability is zero from what they knew. Lofty and I were walking down Fifth Avenue dressed in our RAAF uniforms and a couple of cops pulled us up, thought that we were Austrians [emphasis]. They couldn’t bloody well read.
BG: Yep.
BP: ‘You come from Australia?’ They had said, ‘I thought, oh, that’s a little island in San Francisco Bay?’ Alcatraz. And things like that they were bloody hopeless [emphasis] as far as geography and things like that were concerned and the more I learned about them during the war the, the less I thought about them. [clears throat]
BG: Right, so from New York ship across the —
BP: Ah, as there were only twenty-two of us we were put on the Queen Mary, QM1. We had seventeen thousand Yankees, a regiment of them, on the boat going over and they — everyone had to do a job. So they said, ‘Twenty-two Australians. What on earth will we to do with you?’ So they gave us submarine watch on the bridge. It took — we were two hours on, one hour off. It — where we were billeted down on the boat I was Blue C4. It took twenty minutes to — from there up to the bridge, you spent two hours on bridge watch, then twenty minutes back, which gave you twenty minutes time to go to the toilet and that and you had twenty minutes to come back again so we told the first officer, ‘What’s the use of giving us an hour off to go and do that? We might as well stay up on the bridge.’ So, he agreed the thing. So the first officer and Captain Bisset (he was the captain of the Mary at the time) — so we used to do navigation exercises so I’ve navigated the Queen Mary. [laugh]
BG: Right. You’d more time to think about that.
BP: Yeah. Well, so, er, navigation exercises for five days. The twenty-two of us we navigated the Mary across to Greenock in Scotland.
BG: Right. Go on.
BP: Got, got to Scotland and we were then sent down to, mm, Padgate. That was a PDRC outside Warrington, and of course mum had always told us if you go anywhere do see as much as you can of the place. So, one thing and another, the first thing we did was when we put our gear down and all the rest of it, ‘What’s the time? Let’s go into town.’ We wanted to see town so during every spare moment my friend and I we visited whatever we could. So, over the whole of my tour in England, I visited most of England in one time and another. Any rate, we went to Warrington. We used to go in there and come down to the coffee shop, which was opposite the railway station, have our tea in there. Actually it wasn’t coffee. It was a bun, sticky bun and tea, and so when the train pulled up we hopped, raced across the road and hopped into the train because we didn’t have to pay for it, being servicemen, Australian ex-servicemen, Australian servicemen. Only this happened to be — we did that on the Wednesday and the Thursday. On the Friday we did the same thing only the train happened to be special train going to Manchester. So, the first time I went to Manchester was by mistake. [laugh]
BG: So your first operational unit when you got to the UK —
BP: [cough] It all depends what you call operations because when we were on, um, at Bruntingthorpe we were on Wellingtons at the time and we were given the job of annoying, under Operation Annoy, and annoy the German air flak gunners on the Friesian Islands and all up and down the coast. It was our job to fly up and down just out of range, toss window out the chute and all the rest of it, and annoy the German gunners. So, they didn’t call that operational but we were two crews still hut [?] we flew H-Howard and another crew flew, Bert’s flew M-Mike and we, er, did the first twelve trips alright and came the thirteenth one and we got down to the briefing room and found out that the silly looking operations officer there had made a balls up of the things and we were listed to fly M-Mike and Bert and his boys flew H-Howard. So when we came back after the raid they told us that it was OK to land but beware of the burning plane in the funnels. That was Bert and his crew in our plane. So that was my first experience of Bomber Command and their misdeeds.
BG: So, you, you were up in the, you went up in the wrong plane basically but as it turned out the best plane to be in?
BP: Yes.
BG: And this — what squadron was that?
BP: That was on Heavy Conversion Unit, HCU, before we even got on the squadron so we thought to ourselves if we can do things like that before we got on the squadron what do we do when we get on the squadron and we went to — I was posted — actually, I went to the ablutions hut one morning and had a shower and a shave and all the rest of it and someone stole my navigation watch. So the crew was delayed a couple of days while we faced a court of enquiry as to how and why and where I’d lost my watch. When we got on the squadron we found out that the crew that had taken our place were, um, had been in this particular hall and we were delayed on entering because they were cleaning the, their gear out. They had, er, taken off the previous night and hadn’t come back. So, could have been us.
BG: Yep.
BP: Any rate I was on 622 up at Mildenhall and being a base drome, three other aerodromes around the place, and a couple of [unclear] squadrons on the drome we got the dirty work. Why should they go out to one of the satellite dromes and give their information and all their rest of it to someone else. So, being new chums on the drome we got the, er dirty work of doing things around the place. So as far as operations work my work on operations was very limited and — [cough]
BG: So, getting back to your — this was your first operations and your, your log books. Tell us more about that.
BP: The things that we did with the odd jobs around the place and my six [unclear] for instance, they got us on a special trip. We supposedly flew an admiral and a commodore with their aides. In actual fact was all they wanted was a Lancaster to fly to Gibraltar because the officer, secret service officer down there said, ‘Alright, we’ll do a trip over to Tangier.’ And when we went to Tangier we had a chappie there who was another, er, secret officer, who gave us a tour of the town whilst they left, whilst we had left the plane on the drome, which we were not supposed to do but he, being a wing commander — alright, he says, ‘Leave the plane there and go into town.’ You don’t disobey the wing commander so we did. When we came to take off we found out the plane was heavy. We had flown from England to Gib, taken off and flown into Tangier. By then we should have only had, oh, probably a half a petrol load. But that plane was fully loaded. We found out of course when we landed at Gib we were heavy in the landing and of course you don’t land a heavy Lancaster the same way as you do one that’s half empty, so they had to tell us we had a full load on board, but they didn’t tell us what the load was. Turned out to be seven tons of gold [clears throat] so in actual fact it had been a gold smuggle. They wanted the gold that had accumulated from Africa into Fez and Tangier and then taken to Gibraltar to pay for he lend lease of the British war effort so it’s one of those little things and yet it’s not in my log book. When I have been to Canberra to talk to my old veterans over there I found out that their log books do not agree actually with what they did. One chap has had twenty trips written into his log book that he never did. I mean, he said twenty-five trips, you know, he actually did but he’s listed as forty-five trips. The other twenty-five, where did they come from? The same as my log book. I do not have it to be able to verify it, but I have seen a copy of the records and the records that, that have been obtained from the — Canberra and all the rest of it do not agree with my memory of the log books. So, knowing a few things that have happened during the war and that, the log, the record keeping of the Air Force or Air Ministry and that is up the balls up.
BG: So were you mostly flying as the one crew or was the crew —
BP: We — a chap Quinn and crew, the same crew all the time and, er, luckily we kept it al— always. They were mainly things that, um, other crews around the place — we were very disappointed over the fact that we didn’t do more trips, operations, than the, that the others but we were listed as the “bunnies” round the place doing the odd jobs. So, they put us on things like, um, gardening and Operation Manna, Operation Exodus bringing back ex- ex-POWs from France, from Juvencourt and that and we had the job of Operation Python, bringing back, taking people out to Italy and bringing them back from there. So, shall we say I was not a fully operational man. I did my work with 622 but the thing was after the VE Day they wanted people to fly with Operation — what was it? Out to Australia, out to Okinawa — I can’t think of it.
BG: The, the nuclear thing or —
BP: Yeah. They wanted us to go out to, um, Okina— join up with a crew, not that crew, but to join up with 460 Squadron to go to Okinawa and fly and bomb Japan and — what’s the hell name of that?
BG: Do you mind if I keep going because, you know this will be edited? So, I’m trying to think the name of the place.
BP: I’m trying to think of the name of the thing that we all joined. [clears throat]
BG: As in a —
BP: Well, it’s a well-known thing that all the Australians in England were given the opportunity of joining 460 Squadron to come out here and we trained for a couple of months, low level work, heavy loads and things like that to fly out to Okinawa and bomb Japan.
BG: Right. So this was after —
BP: After VE Day.
BG: After VE day, right.
BP: When VJ Day came along the — we had a Wing Commander Swan. We were being briefed to take off the next morning when the chappie came in with the wireless thing and showed him and said Japan had surrendered. He said [slight laugh] — he threw the message down on the table and he said, ‘I don’t know what you buggers are going to do but I’m going in the mess and get drunk.’ He said, ‘Anyone who wants to go into town go and see the adjutant.’ [laugh] So we all shot through to London for V, VJ Day.
BG: So how long were you in England?

BG: ’45.
BP: ’45. And we got on board this ship, the Orion, SS Orion, which set out to reclaim its record to Australia but had broke down in the Bay of Biscay and unfortunately the, er, one of the insurer’s representatives had found us at Southampton and as we had surplus Sterling money on us got us to insure our kit bags and that and, er, I said OK and I had a couple of pounds so I insured my kitbag. Any rate we went back to Southampton and they sent us on a train up to Millom [?] in Scotland. They reopened an old drome at Millom and instead of sending us on leave as they should have done. So we stayed at Millom for about a fortnight and they promptly found out that we were causing too much damage to their turkey flocks because, being Australian and that, we were very expert of killing sheep and skinning them and also ringing turkey necks so consequently they sent us on leave in London and we finally left England on the Durban Castle and then —
BG: This is after VE Day?
BP: After VJ Day.
BG: After VJ Day.
BP: And it was not until I arrived back in Australia that I learned that my flying kit bag had gone missing for which actually I had insured and got forty pound, yeah, Australia was still in the Sterling bracket, I got forty pounds insurance money for the kit bag, but the thing was I lost my log book.
BG: Ah, right back then.
BP: Yeah. So that’s where it is.
BG: So any, any particular missions that you went on? You’ve mentioned a few. Any others that sort of come to mind?
BP: Actually no because we just did — we dropped people over in France and things like that so we didn’t do actually bombing missions or mine a harbour or two or something like that but the war was nearly over by the time we had so all my actual war experience was on 622 but I still, we still had to fly.
BG: So you were flying over, over enemy territory in Europe?
BP: All the time, yeah. We, even though they had, the Air Force had a lot of planes and crews doing nothing they put on tourist trips where we had to fly people, ground crew and interested parties on the drome, we flew them to places like Normandy and the, um, the bomb sites and things like that, and also up and down the Rhine to see how the bridges that we, that had been bombed and things like that. So, er, I cannot claim to have done very much bombing experience.
BG: So, you said you did some mining, mine laying. What, what was involved in that?
BP: Oh, that was on Hamburg Harbour and, um, one place we did bomb was Hamburg but that was just a mass raid and everything like that because, er, later on the experience that the padre (he is an ex-serviceman padre) and when I told him when I was examining the window and told him, you know, it looks nice and bright this scene of a burning town and told him that it looked like Hamburg and that and he said, we bombed that and he said, ‘Yes. I had a job of clearing it up afterwards.’ They sent him over as a padre in that place so he and I don’t exactly get on well together. [laugh]
BG: Right.
BP: I’m trying to think of that name [beep sound] and I forget what the American, New Zealand squadron was to represent them.
BG: Yep. I’m just trying to get the name. I can’t help you there. I’ll put that in the back and it might pop out a bit later. So did you cop much — had any mechanical problems on your flights?
BP: I don’t know about mechanical problems, the only time we got shot at properly we were on supposedly on a safe [emphasis] trip dropping food to the Dutch. We were to fly in over a racecourse, I think it was this first time, and drop food. Lancasters had all the food up in the bomb bays in the open top coffins. And, er, sometimes the drop bars would come high up and the food would drop and sometimes the whole of the assembly would drop, and you could see a, an incendiary container hit a cow, or something like that and everyone had cow meat for lunch. And when we came back the ground crew they said we were very lucky. They counted we had ninety-seven bullet holes in our plane and luckily underneath the navigator’s seat was one of these incendiary containers that hadn’t fallen off, and in the bottom of it was half a dozen dents from bullets, where the bullets had struck. So the worst raid that we had was supposed to have been the safest because we had four of those. [clock starts chiming] We got shot up the first time. The second time I think we had a couple of bullet holes in the wings but nothing as near as bad as that so, um, that did count as one of our operations.
BG: Right. So how many was in the crew?
BP: Seven.
BG: Do you remember them all? Do you remember names? Do you want to mention names or not?
BP: Oh, Frank Quinn. He got married over there. A chap, Nobby Clarke, was the bomb aimer, and we had Bill Day as the tail gunner, Chick [?] Anderson as mid upper gunner and — I forget the name of the wireless operator. That was one of the things that as, er, Bert and his boys, before he bought it the — I was in the crew, I was in his crew and when they had a pretty good night in the mess his navigator got too, too well liquored up and he cycled across the paddock instead of going down the roadway and went, went over a creek, which was by then was frozen and the ice broke and he went into the water, and he went into the hut and other than getting dry or anything, he went to bed as he was and he got pneumonia and died. So the replacement chap was a friend of the other crew so we changed crews so the crew that had Bert and his crew, which I was originally on, was the crew that bought it. So the new crew was Frank. So, I outlived that one all right. [clears throat]
BG: A cat of nine lives.
BP: And a few more. [laugh] [clears throat]
BG: So, the mechanics of the aircraft. Pretty reliable? You didn’t have too many —
BP: They were very, very good. We lost, um, two motors one night on doing something or other and they gave us — they said they were no good, that they — we’d have to get another plane because they had no engines to fix it up so they sent us to, the duty crew, took us to Lindholme and Lindholme had a, a warehouse and alongside the warehouse had been a hut site for two dozen huts with their concrete floors and the air strip. And so went in and, er, signed for the new aircraft and the chap said, ‘Oh. That one there,’ he says, ‘You can have that one.’ So, okeydoke, and when we took it, when we looked at where we had to go to get to the strip, it was over these concrete bases, and he said — we complained or Frank complained that every time we went over a bump the wings, you know, fluttered and all the rest of it, and he rang up on the radio and said that it was a horrible bloody ride, and the chap said, ‘The wings stayed on,’ he said, ‘That’s part of the test.’ So, okeydoke, so we had a new aircraft we had to take up and test out so, um, apart from that, the loss of two motors things, otherwise things were OK. The only accident that we saw occur was one where we were doing low level flying around two hundred feet in Britain in dusk. That is not recognised as being very healthy and, er, this particular time I, being a pretty good navigator, I was in the lead and the others had to follow. We had our tail plane, er, painted so that they recognised who was the lead navigator. And so I was in front and the rest were following me and the chap at the rear, his, one of his motors caught alight and he said, ‘Bail out.’ And at two hundred feet bailing out at that height it’s a no-no and they couldn’t find out where he landed and it was a week later they found out that he had landed in a farmer’s silage pit, so he drowned in a load of shit.
BG: Not nice.
BP: Not nice. [clears throat]
BG: So, tell us more about the navigation. What, what you had to work with. So, were you good at maths at school is that why you went down that path or —
BP: Actually, I was colour blind and I did, when I was at ITS, I had to go into town once a week or twice a week and that, and see a Dr Rardon [?] and have my eyes tested, and all the other things that he did, and I found out when I got back to navigation school that all our maps were orange not red. So, consequently, being red colour blind didn’t affect me. So all the lines on our radar maps were either black or orange so as you — they were big, not semi-circles, eclipses [emphasis] with the radar stations that were bases in England so you had, er, diverging lines going out over the continent, so you had to do your cross, T-crosses, where they crossed and so it was the further you went from England the worse it got. There was no such thing as accurate map reading. The only thing it was that we had a new invention. They called in H2S. It was a radar dome in the bottom of the aircraft which gave you an excellent view of things like rivers or lakes or, um, coastlines and things like that. The only catch was that the Germans knew when you operated that they could trace the signal so if you turned your H2S on you were liable to be to be shot at. And of course they had just developed the German night fighter with up firing guns so consequently they lost a lot. So they did not like you using H2S too frequently. The only other time that we had trouble, one place we were at, that they had, um, war-time huts. They were ordinary, just about cardboard, you know, hard cardboard and that —
BG: Right.
BP: [cough] And a couple of the chaps had been to the mess this night and they’d come in the rear door and they had left the, er, outside door open because they had a door, you know, a light lock on the two doors at each end and, er, they’d hear this plane buzzing round the place and this silly little chap went down and opened both doors and stood in the door way. ‘What’s going on?’ Of course, the chap came down and shot him. [slight laugh]So, we — there were twenty of us in the hut and we had to claim baggage insurance on the baggage insurance, go down to the warehouse and claim new baggage.
BG: So, in terms of your navigation, did you use D-Beam, inter-directional beacon? Did you track on VHF transmitters or anything like that?
BP: No. Dead reckoning all the way because they were just — you were so, so scarce on navigation aids it was dead reckoning. Unless you were good you’d had it. [clears throat]
BG: So, I mentioned I worked on the Becker navigation which I understand came out of Loran. Did you have any experience with that?
BP: No. We didn’t on that. The Pathfinder Force boys were the ones that got Loran. They wanted, everybody in Pathfinders wanted it, and they were busy making Pathfinder Force a regular thing, so we just did not get it because it wasn’t available.
BG: Right. Right. So, do you want to perhaps describe your, your job from — so prior to the, um, mission you’d be — tell, tell us what you’d be given and the process you’d go through. You’d have some time to plan your course before you went out or what?
BP: We didn’t have much time. They’d take you down to briefing around about 4 o’clock and you’d be given what, where you were going that night and they’d tell you what routes you had too and they would say what the expected winds were. And never rely on the Met men. They were bloody hopeless. They were worse, they were worse than the people we have at present. And they would tell you it would be a nice fine night and of course there’s be 10/10 dense bloody cloud and then you’d have the opposite. So, you know, you’re going to have a bumpy ride tonight and it would be a clear, clear fighter moon night. So you just didn’t know what was going.
BG: So, on the overcast nights, um, your dead reckoning’s pretty challenging I would think?
BP: Yes. Oh, you had to, you had to be on the ball, what you were, and of course the thing was that if it was a clear night you could actually see [emphasis] people. Of course the odd person didn’t switch their lights off and things like that. They were bloody hopeless. You were supposed to go with no navigation lights, nothing, and yet you could see half a dozen lights around the place. You knew, you knew that you were somewhere right because you had someone following you. Whether you were in the wrong place you had half a dozen people in the wrong place.
BG: So the missions that you were on were mostly not bombing missions so you were a lone aircraft. You weren’t part of —
BP: Part of three or four people, planes that went out.
BG: Right, so in most cases there would be, you wouldn’t be a single aircraft going out?
BP: No. Very rarely were we ever single.
BG: So you kept in visual contact with the other aircraft or —
BP: Tried not to. [laugh]
BG: Tried not to. Right.
BP: Because of the reason, the fact of the enemy could see the other aircraft and have a go at him and they could also, also see us so it was a case of beware, get out.
BG: Yep. Did you encounter German fighters much or
BP: No. We were lucky in that regard that we didn’t. We, once we had a few stray shells come. Where from, we hadn’t clue. We were flying, you know, I wouldn’t say it was dense cloud. It was very misty, foggy and things like that a couple of stray bullets came up through the — well, they weren’t bullets. They were blody fifty millimeter shells or something like that. Yeah, they tore holes in the fuselage sort of thing. But uneventful.
BG: Do you want to have your cuppa?
BP: Oh, yeah. You can shut it off for a while.
BG: At the end of the war, did you come back by ship?
BP: Yep. We came back by the Durban Castle. That was the ship that the, after the war, the steward murdered someone, some girl, and pushed her out the port hole.
BG: Life was cheap in those days. [laugh]
BP: Yeah. We had an ENSA party on board and, er, we were coming down the Red Sea. Nice clear night, nice and smooth, the moon was out and things like that, and the ENSA party was on the front deck. They were, um, doing Service songs and Service skits and things like that. The Dominion Monarch pulled up alongside of us. They had the, er, Maori Battalion on board. So there they are, the two ships, within ten yards of each other, doing twenty-odd knots down the Red Sea and the ENSA party having a whale of a time and come midnight [coughing]. You talk too much and you get a tickle in your throat.
BG: Right. [pause] So, do you want to call it quits with that? Have you had enough?
BP: No. I’m just going to finish off there. [pause] So, it was on New Year’s Eve, this New Year’s Eve party, and it came to the end of the party at midnight and there was a hoot on the hooter from both the ships and the Maori battalion gave us the haka. It’s a sound that you, a scene that, I’ll never forget. The two ships, the moonlight and where we were in the Red Sea and the haka being — one of those, one of those things that you would never ever forget. And that’s the thing that war always reminds me of, the finish of the war.
BG: Yep, yep. Then you came back to Perth?
BP: Yes. The old man was still alive. So, I told mum, ‘Alright. He’s alive.’ So I went and joined 37 Squadron, where we used to fly up and down to Japan and, er, we served BCOF in Japan where there was a few points to the Philippines and that and we used to fly up to New Guinea, New Britain, [unclear] round Australia. Even flew politicians around from bloody Canberra to Melbourne or Sydney and back. Don’t ask me about that.
BG: So, how long were you in the Air Force after the war?
BP: Three years. [clears throat] And one of those things, I met a girl. Her husband used to work for the manager. He was where they had a B and B up in Noarlunga and he used to be manager of CSR in Fiji and he had this B and B and they were looking for someone to make up a four for bridge. They used to hold a bridge night each Tuesday night. So they found Norma and her husband had been up in New Guinea during the war. He got killed. So, er, I finally met her. So the four, two of us lived for four years. She suddenly dropped [clears throat] dead one day. She was the second fiancée of mine to die. The first one was by a flying bomb in England. We used to — it’s a funny thing. I was on the, on the squadron and all the rest of it. Bomber squadron. We used to go on leave to Croydon which was the middle of flying bomb alley. Over the road from us on the thirteenth green from us was a flak battery. They used to fire across the roof of the house at the bombs as they came up the Thames valley and Faye and I used to go to the local pub two hundred yards down the road. Been to an English pub?
BG: No.
BP: Smoke, smoke and more bloody smoke and all the rest of it and of course one thing is I don’t smoke. So, I said, ‘Better get out of here. You know, too much smoke and all the rest of it. Come for a walk down the road.’ ‘I want to talk to the girls.’ ‘Talk to the girls, alright.’ So I went down the road and I only got a hundred yards down the road when a flying bomb flattened the pub. So instead of going on leave I went to a burial party.
BG: Bad lot.
BP: One of those things yeah.
BG: So you got back to Western Australia. So, you said you sent the rest of your life in Western Australia?
BP: Yeah. Oh, sent a few years in Sydney. Then, er, mum wanted me to come home and I said I wouldn’t come home until Seth [?] died. Of course he died on the operation table from something or other. So, I managed to get through uni and that ultimo and came over here and I joined the BP refinery and they were wanting people to manage the place so they sent a few of us over to Grangemouth to learn how to run a refinery. You should have heard mum, ‘You’re away for fifteen bloody years and all the rest of it. You come home for a fortnight and you go to London for six months.’ [laugh] She was not amused.
BG: So I guess your engineering experience through the Air Force would have been invaluable in your later life?
BP: [clears throat] Well, I was their emergency controller. By day I did nothing. All, all the time I did nothing but if the siren went and there was an emergency I was in charge of the place. So people had to do what I told them. I didn’t have to know names. All I knew was what people could do, so I said, ‘You do it.’ And of course they couldn’t argue about it because I could tell them what to do.
BG: Yep. So getting back to your time — so you were always RAF crews. They didn’t mix crews up of Air Forces?
BP: Well, we had a Scottish engineer. He was from Glasgow. His family were in, er, Coventry when it got bombed. That was the reason why he was a very good — he joined the Air, he joined the RAF. When we used to go to France on Operation Exodus and other such things, rather than wear the RAF uniform, we used to outfit him with the blue RAAF uniform. We were WOs at the time so we also gave him a WO badge. He was only a sergeant, flight sergeant, in the RAF but he was a WO in the RAAF. [laugh]
BG: Right. So in the week typically how many missions during the —
BP: Two, three but of course during the off times, in the summer time, they used to send all the spare bods out to the farmers to pick peas and dig potatoes and you name it and we were veg— I wouldn’t say we were vegetarians, we were gardeners. [laugh]
BG: Right. So that was part of the job.
BP: Part of the job. I’ve got some photos if you were here long enough to show of me doing things like that.
BP: Recreation. Now, that’s censorable. [laugh] No. I knew Faye but I was a good boy. For recreation we used to go to London. Of course, thing was we used to be paid what? Thirty bob a day then. And we had an odds incidental form, Form 1257. You got paid three pence for a bloody hair cut or three pence a week because you didn’t — a hard living allowance or you didn’t have a batman or things like that, so every three months we used to get this sheet which was about another thirty pound. So, every month we had about forty pound to spend and every third month we had about sixty and so we used to go to London and spend it.
BG: So, it wasn’t a bad life if you survived.
BP: If you survived it was a good life because I used to go to wherever I was. I’ve seen more places in England than a lot of English people purely because they iss— as we were RAAF people we were allowed a rail pass to anywhere in Britain.
BG: Right, right.
BP: The RAF or the English people could only go to their home town. We went to anywhere so go down to the pay clerk and say you were on leave, for your leave warrant, and coupons and that. ‘Where are you going this week?’ We had a map. ‘Oh we’ll go there.’ [laugh] Been over cotton mills and steel works, you name it, and all the rest of it. I’ve been from Plymouth up to Lossiemouth and things like this. We had bags of fun.
BG: Well, it’s been great talking to you Bob and I really appreciate you taking the time.
BP: Well, if you had a couple more days to talk I’d tell you what I really did. [laugh]



Barry Green, “Interview with Bob Porteous,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 16, 2024,

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