Interview with Alan Pugh


Interview with Alan Pugh


Alan Pugh was in training at a Heavy Conversion Unit when the war ended.







02:12:20 audio recording


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AdP: Set that up. Just tap this to make sure it’s working. Alright. Get rid of that, sit down, pick up my list of questions and we’ll go. So, like, like I did last time I’ll just do a short introduction.
AlP: Yeah.
AdP: To set the scene.
AlP: That’s alright.
AdP: And we’ll go from there. This interview for the International Bomber Command Centre is with Alan Pugh who was a navigator in training at a Heavy Conversion Unit when the war ended. It’s the 25th of June 2016. We’re at Alan’s nursing home in Warragul in Victoria. My name’s Adam Purcell. Alan, we might start somewhere in the beginning. Can you tell me something about growing up and your early life and first job and schooling and things like that?
AlP: I was at school here. I was born and bred in Warragul. No. Sorry, in Colac, Western Victoria of ordinary parents who — my father was, worked in retail and he was, during the war a sergeant instructor in the Volunteer Defence Corps and was therefore quite keen that I, as a teenager growing toward eighteen in the 40s, early 40s, should go to my choice of the RAAF. And I had been two years by that time in the Air Training Corps once it started up in 1941 or something like that. And I wanted to fly. I just wanted to fly. And so in the process of the period between sixteen, my age of sixteen and eighteen, I did have the opportunity of going to an air force station. It was the south side of Melbourne. Laverton. Which was a service [pause], servicing facility I suppose. And I got the opportunity there for a weekend exercise and had a ride. A ride, I thought in, in an Avro Lanc. No. Not a Lancaster. An Avro Anson. And as I, as I flew over my home town which is only less than a hundred k’s away I had the excitement of seeing my home environment in this unfamiliar sense and that thrilled me to the back teeth. And so I was destined to go in to the RAAF and hopefully aircrew, if they’d accept me, in 1943. January 1943 found me at work. I’d left school. The family economy was not strong. And other members of the family. So I resumed my education by correspondence in the year eleven. By that time also I, I was admitted in the ATC. Air Training Corps. And quite rapidly studied the airmanship, Morse code, aircraft recognition. All those things we did but even, even as well as drill. So in September 1943, my birthday, eighteenth birthday arose. But just before then I received a letter from the military forces telling me that I would need to report to the army base out at western [pauses] Western Melbourne. West Melbourne. What was it Adam? Do you remember?
AdP: West Melbourne.
AlP: The big suburb out there. It’s our big suburb.
AdP: Not Footscray.
AlP: No. It’s further out. Further out.
AdP: Oh right.
AlP: Anyway.
AdP: No. I don’t know.
AlP: I wrote back, and I said that I’d already indicated to ATC that I wanted to join the RAAF and I’d wait for their call up. I received another letter back from them to say that if I don’t receive a call up by, I think it was 7th of October 1943 the first letter stands. I still report to the army base. Fortunately, I got my letter from the RAAF and very early in October I fronted up in Melbourne to, with a bunch of other country lads and city lads who had just recently turned eighteen and we were interviewed and some of us selected to report to Somers, Number 2 ITS, on such and such a date. Which was very, very close to that date. And so we did. And so I was interviewed. Did all the medical tests. All the ones. The intimate ones as well. And Number 46 course commenced during October. And there I found myself AC2. The lowest deck of the RAAF. AC2 Pugh, AH. 438436. Next to me was AC2 Salmon, Ralph — who received the number 438438. And we still see each other periodically these days. We remained friends all that time.
AdP: What, where were you when you heard that war had been declared and what were you doing at the time?
AlP: At school. I was at school. I was probably only second or third form then. The headmaster, AB Jones called us to school assembly. So we went all out in to the quadrangle. Lined up to be told that war has been declared and as of that date Australia, or Britain, the Prime Minister of Britain had declared war on Germany. And as of that date we also were at war.
AdP: What were your feelings when you heard that?
AlP: Pardon me?
AdP: What did you think when you heard that?
AlP: I don’t know what I thought about that. We were all muttering, ‘War. War.’ It’s something. World War One was history we were being taught. Many stories we knew, and we didn’t know what to expect. Hadn’t thought about our own involvement. But our parents. What we got from our parents was pretty much what we, what we thought. This is terrible but we’ll have to do it. Go through it all over again. My dad himself was very quick to offer his services if there was to be a Dad’s Army. But because of us kids and mum he wasn’t prepared to, to enlist. He was over age.
AdP: So, alright, can you, can you tell me something about the interview? The medical process that you were talking about. Briefly.
AlP: No. I can’t remember very much of it. It was, it was height, weight. Stethoscope stuff. Looking at our teeth. I know I had, had to have a couple of fillings very early in my time at Somers. The short arm inspection was the intimate bit. And do I have to describe that? Or would that –?
AdP: Please go ahead.
AlP: It’s an examination of one’s genitals to see that we weren’t [pause] that A) we were male and B that we didn’t have a noxious disease. A noxious disease. I call it noxious. That was a periodical through our career. A warning. Incidentally, of course, also we received, I received the injections for, against smallpox. What do we call that? Vaccination. That was done as well. That’s as much as I remember, Adam.
AdP: So what memories do you have of Somers and your training that you did there?
AlP: Somers. I remember arriving. This bunch of sheds. Cabins I suppose they were. They had belonged to the education department. And moving into there there was a, I seem to remember that there was a Tiger Moth elevated on a pole in front of us and there was an emblazoned sign —RAAF. Number 2 ITS Somers. In there we were soon allocated our uniforms. Full uniform. Plus battledress. Plus forage cap of course. Blue dress uniform. Several shirts. Tie. Underwear. Several underwear. Socks and shoes. And the notorious bag of straw. The pallias. Then we were taken around the various areas. Shown the features including the parade ground which we frequently frequented and the [pause] I don’t think there was a parachute section there. No. That wasn’t. That was later. That was later in the course. There was no need for parachutes because we weren’t — there was no flying at ITS. Then in the classrooms it was a bit much more of ATS. ATC rather. Air Training Corps continued day after day. Study at night for a certain amount of time plus drill. Plus some rifle training. And several route marches along the shore of Somers being a bayside suburb. And I remember the drill instructor. A disastrous boy. I won’t use the other words because there might be children listening. But he was one of those members who exercised his anxiety and anger against trainee aircrew. I heard the rumour that he was a failed candidate himself. So this was his revenge. This may not be true. May not be true but I know he didn’t like two or three of us and exercised some discipline. The boy corporal. I remember, and we almost worshipped the squadron leader Hubert Opperman who was our physical training. Head of physical training. Hubert Opperman was world champion cyclist. Australian world champion cyclist. And Australian being world champion cyclist in a number of areas prior to the war. And I used to watch him in the Warragul — sorry in the Melbourne to Warrnambool race. Annual road race. A hundred and eighty miles. As he travelled through Colac because we would watch every year. Watch that race. The contestants going through. There were contestants from several parts of the world. Hubert Opperman. Big name.
AdP: What did he do? He was a drill instructor or a PT instructor or something?
AlP: He was — no. He was in charge of all that. So I’m not sure what he did but he did operate the exercise class for us with fitness tests and so on. But he didn’t do the work out of the, out on the drill. Drill ground.
AdP: Yeah.
AdP: I don’t remember much else. Indeed, I can’t remember the name of the CO. Nor any of the other officers. The teachers. Those who led the classes. The classes were comprehensive. Maths and more Morse code and more aircraft recognition stuff. That was where we had to learn a vast number of aircraft, I think by the time. By this time Japan was in the war. With a little bunch of [toras?] So we had to recognise American, British, Italian as well. Aircraft. And get to recognise them in part of a second. They were flashed on the screen and we were tested for progressive growth on that. Improvement over the period of the three months.
AdP: What happened at the end of that training?
AlP: The end of the ITS training? Well, among other things we were, in the very last stage they took us, gave us the opportunity of getting of getting onto the link trainer. The link trainer was a device that you sat in and you used your hands, your feet and your eyes to, to focus. Each of these, your impulse, each of your limbs controlled a light. And this, as I remember it, and this could be a bit vague the, as we set in motion a simulated movement but actually we were just rocking around and our, our hands, each hand controlled a light. We had to focus that on another moving post. I don’t know what the moving thing was. It was something on the wall. It maybe was another light. We all, we tried that. That tested our hand and eye and foot coordination. I didn’t like it. I thought this is something I don’t want to be part of. What else have we got? But they gave us the choice actually. Do you want to be pilot? Do you want to be a navigator? Do you want to be a wireless operator? No one offered to be an air gunner. We all wanted to be one of those three I guess. I think most of the guys wanted to be a pilot. I liked the academic aspect, if you can call it that, Adam, of the study and the work. We had some prelimary work on map reading and navigation. Map plotting and so on and I rather liked that. So when it came to the choice of what we wanted to be I was amazed that I wanted, that they gave us a choice. And I said, ‘Please sir, I choose to be a navigator trainee.’ We were called, it was called air observer at the time. Alias navigator/bomber. Navigator/bomb aimer. And that would be probably a second last week we were at Somers. The last week we were summoned to parade in our chosen [pause] where we were advised before this [pause] after that, after that, that period. The last week we were advised whether or not we had achieved our choice. And I had. I’d achieved mine. And just before the end of the week we were paraded in our, in our chosen trades. There were thirty two of us from that course, 46 Course, Somers who wanted to be navigators. Two of them were Dutch. One a mixed-race Dutch Indonesian. And they were told that, ‘You will be staying in Australia. You remainder thirty. You are on final leave as from now and you’ll be going to Canada. And you will be, you are to report to,’ such and such a spot. A place in [pause], it was in, at Spencer Street Station. That’s right. We were to report such and such a date, at such and such a time at Spencer Street Station early in January. This by the way by now we were in, we were in December. We went on final leave. Sent home to tell our parents. Took me five days before I could tell my mother. She hinted at it. Dad wasn’t at all worried. Dad was a very loyal Australian would-be soldier. And then he accompanied me to Melbourne that day. That date. We got to Spencer Street Station. Got on the Sydney Express. Said a tearful goodbye and off to Sydney for embarkation to Canada. Got to Sydney and there was a slight change of plan. And the change of plan was that we were leaving from Melbourne. Oh well, I thought. There were no perfect organisations in the world. There was only one perfect person and that was a long time ago. So we were, I think only a day or two in Sydney and back. Back to Melbourne and we left the train at Flinders Street. Or Spencer Street it would have been wouldn’t it? And entrained then or bussed I suppose it was. We were bussed to Melbourne Cricket Ground. The last time I was in Melbourne Cricket Ground I was standing on a wooden box watching a test match between England and Australia.
AdP: Yeah.
AlP: Seven years earlier. I was eleven. Here I am now. Eighteen. With the privilege of sleeping on the concrete stands at the cricket ground. The Grandstand of the cricket ground. And with, again with a cursed pallias to sleep on and given four days, indicated that in four days we would be leaving fully equipped with the, to go, to go, to be embarked from Port Melbourne but this was secret. We were not to let anybody know. It was too be highly secret. We were, the day before we, we left by train we were given a message. We were the day before we would rise at 4am and we would, I don’t think we even ate. We were to pick up our gas masks, our eating irons, our equipment and our bag of course. Our sausage bag. Have you seen the sausage bags Adam? The long.
AdP: The kit bag.
AlP: The kit bag. Yeah. And marched across the cricket ground. Around it perhaps, would have been. Around the cricket ground to the railway line which ran the further, this is the southern side of the Melbourne Cricket Ground. And that was the southernmost line through Flinders Street Station. It was late but never mind. We, we all embarked, and the train took off on a very halting journey to, through Flinders Street Station. Still a bit dark, but not quite as dark as had been. The idea was to be we were travelling in secret. And by the time we were travelled through the main traffic stream in South Melbourne it was 8 o’clock. Full daylight and traffic everywhere and people waving and seeing us on the train and, ‘Good bye boys.’ ‘All the best boys.’ All this sort. The most publicity we could have got. Down to the ship on the port at Port Melbourne. It was the USS Hermitage. An American. An American troop ship. And a pretty old ship. And on, on board we encountered some American GIs. A lot of them. A lot of [pause] quite a few Chinese civilian refugees and some Russian civilian refugees on different, different decks from us. We were given a small portion of one of the first deck I think. Upper deck. And then there was quite a lot of, below decks, a load of Lascars. Indian seamen. Merchant seamen on their way to America. Probably to pick up new, new ships. Whether they’d lost their ships. Whether they’d been sunk or what we didn’t know. We didn’t have any relationships with them. They were kept away from us. In fact everyone was kept away from us. We were about, well besides us Victorian members from ITS, navigators and bomb aimers and wireless operators we had the ones from Sydney as well. Maybe some from other states. I don’t know. We all came back in the trains anyway together. Back from Sydney to Melbourne as I described earlier. And on one bright sunny January morning we made our way out of Port Phillip into Bass Strait on our way to the US. California. January 1944. A hot and beautiful summer. And very soon we started a rather haphazard course. Zig zag course. And within a few days it was getting cold. And then it got quite cold and we couldn’t understand it. We were going to California. We reasoned it out of course that our course was taking us south of New Zealand and it wasn’t until we noticed, noticed clearly that we were on a north east.
[background voices regarding blood pressure tests]
Other: Hello. Alan, it’s Meredith.
AlP: Meredith. Yes. Meredith. Nurse. This is my friend Adam. He’s interviewing me again.
Other: Gents, I’m really sorry to interrupt. I know you’re right in the middle of stories but Alan I do need to do your blood pressure again and go through those questions that we ask.
AlP: Yes.
Other: Because I’m just about to ring the doctor. Sorry.
AdP: No worries. I’ll cut it out later. I’m quite used to it.
AlP: You’re happy to stay Adam?
AdP: Yeah. No worries. If you’re happy with that.
AlP: I had a fall this morning. Not a major one but I skinned my toe.
AdP: Oh bugger.
Other: Alan, can you tell us where we are?
AlP: Where we are? Yes. We’re in my room in Fairview Homes at Fairview Village. And in Warragul.
Other: Well done. And what’s today’s date?
AlP: Today’s date is Saturday the 25th of January.
Other: Oh will we change the January bit?
AlP: Yeah. I’ve just been talking about January. I’m sorry. January 1943 I’ve been talking about. Let’s call it June.
Other: Alright. Good. And what season would that be?
AlP: What season?
AdP: That’s going to confuse him to.
AlP: It’s as cold as it could be. It must be winter.
AdP: We’re just talking about on the boat. On the way from Australia to the US when it was summer in Australia and then it was getting cold and they couldn’t figure out why. That’s literally what we were talking about as you walked through the door.
Other: Oh and so here I am. There’s no doubt here why it’s cold.
AdP: No.
AlP: No doubt here.
The sun is too far away from us.
AlP: Yeah.
Other: Now.
AlP: Yeah.
Other: You forget that sort of travel where you actually experience the changes as you go.
AdP: That’s right.
Other: Whereas you now get teleported from one side to the other and bang you’ve gone from summer to winter.
AdP: Well if you imagine the heat on this ship.
Other: Of course.
AlP: The heat of — the heat of January.
Other: Yeah.
AlP: The heat of January.
Other: Yes.
AlP: And the ship was heading in a southerly direction. We couldn’t understand why. Well we were dodging enemy, enemy shipping.
Other: Ok yeah. Yeah.
AlP: So we went right south of New Zealand.
Other: Yes.
AlP: And then gradually ending up towards America.
[Background chat and blood pressure checks etc]
Other: Well, it’s obviously an exciting story because your blood pressure is up a bit.
AlP: That’s right. I hope the blood pressure is down a bit. Not too far down though.
Other: No. Up a bit Alan. Up a bit.
AlP: Is it?
Other: Yes. It is.
AlP: Probably it’s because I’m excited talking to my friend.
Other: Yeah. That’s what I mean. Yeah. It’s all good.
AlP: It’s not every day I have a microphone pinned on me.
AdP: No.
Other: Adam are you doing this for your studies?
AdP: It’s a project for a group called the International Bomber Command Centre in the UK.
Other: Oh right.
AdP: They’re developing a digital archive of oral histories and scans of photos and logbooks and all that sort of stuff.
Other: So you’re an historian.
AdP: I’m not an historian. I’m actually an air traffic controller. But that’s another story. But deeply interested in the Bomber Command sort of idea and they got very excited when they found out that I lived in Melbourne because they said, ‘We don’t have an interviewer in Melbourne yet.’ So now I’ve done twenty three of them.
Other: Oh wow. So you would have heard some extraordinary stories.
AdP: There are some astonishing stories out there.
AlP: Oh yes.
Other: My, this gets a bit convoluted but it’s my sister’s father in law so my brother in law’s father. Whichever way you’d like to look at it. He was, well he not a commander. Who sits in the tail? A navigator?
AdP: The tail gunner sits in the tail.
AlP: Tail gunner.
AdP: Rear gunner.
Other: So he was a tail gunner. And in, is it G for George?
AlP: G-George yes that’s the famous.
Other: Yeah. That’s right. Because they restored it.
AdP: Yes.
Other: And he was the tail gunner for —
AdP: Very good.
Other: Yeah. So unusual in the fact that he could tell the story. That’s not so usual.
[interview resumes]
AdP: Where were we? We were zigzagging. It was getting colder.
AlP: It was getting colder. We came up and we stopped and we soon learned from word of gossip that we were at Pago Pago. Refuelling. Pago Pago was part of the port of Samoa. A Samoan port. Samoan America. American Samoa I should say. Samoa is an independent nation. It was a British colony. Part of it was American. Two islands. The second island was Pago Pago. So we were refuelling there so we realised we’d been south of New Zealand. Up here and we were now into the mid-Pacific. And we zigzagged all the way across there until we arrived in California another two and a bit weeks later having only once been alarmed that there was, could be enemy shipping around. Because as Japan was in the war they had a number of submarines known to be in The Pacific. And Germany had, from the beginning of the war and around the Australian coast even and sunk a lot of allied shipping with their raiders. Their war ships disguised as, as traders. Trading boats. Very humble trading boats. They were, they had, one of their bases was on the island of Goa which, the Portuguese positions off the coast, off the west coast of India. There’s a great story about that. About how [pause] oh it’s not my story. So we, we got through safely and landed there and went on to an American base, military base and stayed there for three days before we were entrained then to go up to, up to the east — west coast of California. Up into the next two states to the edge. To the border of Canada. Vancouver. To the city of Vancouver. That’s at the — British [pause] sorry. I’m trying to think it was the province of Canada it’s [pause] Never mind. Anyway, Vancouver was the city where we left the American train which was luxury. We’d had black American staff cleaning our shoes each day. Not that they got dirty because there was nowhere to walk. We stayed on the train all that time. We then entrained across to, across Canada on Canadian National Railway I think it was. On our way to drop off the bomb aimers, the wireless operators who would be trained at Calgary. At Calgary, we changed trains and headed north to Edmonton. Still in Alberta. The southern, the province of Alberta where we navs and bomb aimers were to do our training at Number 2 Air Observers School. 96 Course, Edmonton, Alberta. That took us a couple more days to get there. Big state. Big states those, those provinces. And that’s where we started in. By this time I guess we were to February, and perhaps late January and where ever we looked from the time we got out towards Calgary it was snow. There was snow. On top of that at Calgary there was more snow. It was snow from one region to another. There was snow for the next three months. How, we thought, can you learn to navigate over snow? There was nothing else, we thought, to be seen. Certainly not from the train. That was the reaction. Is that useful or not?
AdP: That was very useful. I like it. Ok. So how did you learn to navigate over snow, is the obvious question?
AlP: That was a good one. Well. Yes. We were now part of the Empire Air Training Scheme of course. We’d known a little about this in our, in our indoctrination. Here we gathered together with New Zealanders, with Canadians, with Brits who’d been sent over from Britain to Canada for their navigation training and their ITS. So we were all, we thought there would all be a bunch of eighteen years olds but we weren’t. There were fellows who were Australians in our, among ours number, we learned this on-board ship, who had been in the Middle East. In the army. In the AIF. And they had re-enlisted in the air force. They wanted to fly. There were new Zealanders also of the same category who’d been away. And they were, some of them were of a commissioned rank. And they were reduced to working with us AC2s. By this time we were LACs by the way. By the time we’d graduated from ITS we were promoted to LAC. Leading aircraftsmen. Interesting thing about the New Zealanders, by the way we all wanted to keep our own uniforms and our uniform being dark blue uniforms stood out like dog’s hind legs and but the New Zealanders they kept theirs too. Canadian kept theirs. And the British of course had the original. But the New Zealanders kept their rank as they were training. As did the Australians. Now, the Australians, their rank was a military rank. Whether they were lieutenants or captain or what. I don’t think they’d be any higher than a captain. They lost their, temporarily lost their rank but it was being held for them for when they graduated. If they didn’t graduate I suppose they’d still get it back. The New Zealanders kept their rank right through and they ate with the officer’s in the officer’s mess which didn’t worry us too much I suppose. So we started in a pretty luxurious kind of a station compared to what we’d been used to in ITS. We had real beds and sheets. We had our own shower rooms and so on. And then, and the sports facilities were very good. And being winter there was an ice rink. That was the tennis courts were covered over and the, and we were able to learn to, learn to skate. I’m not sure whether that was part of our training or part of our recreation. Studying we moved in to refreshments of stuff we learned at ITS. Then quickly moved into navigation and bomb aiming and the learning of the principals and the use. How we used the mathematics into, into our study now of the navigation in reality. It would include, by the way, astro navigation. So we were doing night flying as well as day. Day flying. So we used our maths, particularly the trigonometry for understanding triangulation which you need to, to navigate. You get, you need three points of reference and whether you are on the land or whether you’re land based with your, with your map reading. Or we learned map reading of course as a very basic principle. But to navigate you need three points of reference and you draw a line from those and where those three lines intersect is where you are on the land. Same principle when you’re doing astro navigation except you’re looking upwards rather than downwards. We didn’t have any radar there. We had, of course we had Morse code for the wireless operators to work on. I think we, I think we must have had staff wireless operators. We had staff pilots because there was no pilot training at Edmonton. Certainly had staff pilots. And they took us on their chosen pre-selected courses. A cross-country programme using a triangular one. We even, despite the snow, we did find points of reference. They were often wheat silos that could be identified from reference material that we had. There was a vast amount of wheat produced in Western Canada. Middle of Canada as well. We did a lot more practicals. Practical stuff on, on the ground in a simulated flight condition. A room set up with your desk and your implements which included [pause] straight, a straight rule. This is metric, metric by now. No. It wasn’t. No. No, it wasn’t. A ruler. A compass. A thing we called a computer which was actually a box, rectangular box with whatever inside. We didn’t ever know. But you pressed buttons and pulled levers and that showed on a screen where we were from the references we’d taken from this map reading or this site. Site thing. Of course I didn’t mention the, the [pause] instrument we used for photographing the stars.
AdP: Sextant.
AlP: Yes. The pause] what did you say?
AdP: A sextant maybe.
AlP: The sextant. The sextant of course, yes, the sextant. And we had a series of maps of course and we had, with our log book beside us and from here, from — the principle was that we read off our positions by taking into consideration wind velocity and direction. And which is, I think to say the direction is part of it. No it’s not. And our plotted course and see the variation. The difference between our course as to whether we instructed the pilot to fly and the actual track which we were to follow. So if, depending on the strength of the, of the velocity of the, of the wind we would allow a certain number of degrees to port or starboard of the one plotted on the track so that the wind would take us back and relocate us on, on course. When we say on course we really meant on track. And of course because there was an interval between the different readings of these sites we we’d seen on the map. The reference points. We had to plot our airspeed. Or what we believed was our ground and what we believed was our ground speed along the, along the track to make the appropriate adjustments and then still plan to be within three minutes of the, of ETA. Estimated time of arrival at the given point that we were on track for. So that, when the, in the Avro Anson was not very difficult because it wasn’t a very speedy. We travelled around about a hundred and forty, a hundred and fifty knots. I think. I don’t know. Do you know any better than that Adam?
AdP: That sounds about, about reasonable I think.
AlP: Yeah.
AdP: Something like that.
AlP: Yeah. So of course that became a bit easier in some respects. The ground was daylight flying as the snow melted. And it melted quite quickly. To our amazement.
[someone enters the room — recording paused]
AdP: Where weren’t we? The snow. The melting snow.
AlP: Yes. Melting snow. So the time was going past very quickly. Our bomb aiming testing was being, would also be included. Then again decided completely whether we’d all be, which of us would be navigators or bomb aimers. But that there was a chosen aiming point sometimes was connected with this exercise. Flying a navigation exercise. Sometimes just straight out from base. We dropped flour bombs would you believe? Twenty five pound flour bombs. And they, why they used flour because? Well they would break of course but they would leave a mark and that mark could be measured by ground staff from the point of, from the aiming point. The distance from the aiming point. And we were qualified. We were marked if you like by that, by our score on how close we were to that aiming point. That’s about all we did. Whether we did that at the end of an exercise. A navigation exercise or separately. It did vary. With, with astro navigation we did a lot more study. We had to night study in that. Because the earth is continually moving on its orbit and in relation to the rest of the stars of the firmament and the, and the various, and the North Star in particular varies. I think there’s four degrees in a year. Let me get this right. Four degrees either way of the North Pole. The North Pole is not strictly north anyway. And we were given logbooks. Remember the logarithm books you had at school? We were given those. That sort of book. And they made it, gave every, the relationship of every major star and the North Star and earth at any minute of the hour of the day in a particular month. I think, I think it’s as accurate as I can give it. But every day you saw something different. So we’d be out on a Monday night, for instance, out in the, in the airfields with our sextants and shooting three stars. The North Star first. Another one would be [pause] oh golly. Let me think of this a moment. The constellations I can remember clearly in view in my mind’s eye including the one we see here as the pot. It’s the only one that can be seen. The north ones we can see from here.
AdP: That’s right.
AlP: Anyway, we’d see two other stars. One to our north. North east and another perhaps to our south east of us or south west. And, and take the reading off the sextant and then plot. Plot it and then on across a map of our territory, of northern Canada. And then two minutes later plot one of the other ones. Plot that across the map. And I’m blowed if I can remember now where the third one — how, how we used that little log book to to tell us where we were exactly. You’ll have to go back to your friends with all the navigation equipment.
AdP: Yes.
AlP: He’ll tell you. It just escapes my mind. You know, we learned that. We spent weeks of that in the latter part of our course in, in Edmonton because it was going to be important in Europe we thought. So it was told. And we did our night flying and with, with that sextant again out through the blister on top of the Avro Anson. We had, we had a better and more modern sextant, a sextant. It plotted sixty shots in a minute. It took sixty shots and when we plotted it, plotted the average of that on to our chart I can remember doing that. But when we did flying and the aircraft was moving you don’t get a perfect cross. So you can try and get a cross like that and how big it is or how small it is depends on the weather. How much you’ve being buffeted by the wind. So it was a bit haphazard. We, so we, this took us now well into June and we had our examinations in June. I finished up in hospital just about the time of the examination. I’d had an accident. Not a flying accident. An accident on the ground and injured my leg and I was admitted for a few days. So I had a little bit of extra time to study. Went through, did our exams and came the time of graduation. A party was held. It was great. We’d been saving up the liquor, the alcohol, for some weeks. And I didn’t drink. Those who did didn’t need it evidently. So the party was held and we had friends in Edmonton that we invited and came but the graduation ceremony was before that. I had some photos of all the graduates and I’ve lost them since my wife died and we closed up our house. Sold our house. And I don’t know where those things, some of those things went. Anyway, I graduated as a navigator with an N wing and sergeant’s stripes. Two or three of our team, of our course graduated as pilot officers. Maybe. Maybe more than three. They were the ones who got the best marks in the course. In the written course I guess and their performances over their charts. Their charts were all examined at the end of your flights and you were marked on those too, no doubt. So I was ready to leave Canada as a sergeant navigator. A week later we were, went by train to Toronto and down to New York for some furlough. Some leave. A week in New York. In New Jersey where we were hosted by American people. Great fun. Great time. We were robbed by taxi drivers. We were travelling in a group in a taxi. Charged each one for the fare on the meter, lousy. That was the only bad thing I’ve got to say. Climbed. Climbed the Empire Building. Empire [pause] what’s it called?
AdP: Empire State Building.
AlP: Empire State Building. Taken up there on the lift. Got taken up in the actual head of the Statue of Liberty. Climbed the ladders inside that. These were privileges. Really great. Then at the end of that time we went back by train. Back down to Halifax in, what’s the state? What’s the province?
AdP: Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia.
AlP: Nova Scotia. That’s right.
AdP: Yeah.
AlP: Down to Nova Scotia. On board a big ship. A very big ship. A lot of troops. A lot of American troops and a few, quite a few Empire Air State, Empire Air Training people from different places. Courses terminating about that time. And we zig zagged across the North Atlantic to arrive in, by this was summertime now of course. July. August. It was, it was early August we arrived in, at Liverpool in Manchester. Near Manchester of course. And from Liverpool bussed across to a holding station called Padgate. Well known. It’s a suburb. Quite a big suburb of Manchester. A Mancunian friend of mine knows it well. We were there for two weeks. No. We were there for one week. Why would they hold us here for? We want to get to the war. We’re here for the war. We were trained. We were quite excited. We didn’t see any effects of the war yet. And then we were summoned and entrained to go down to London. That’s when we saw the effects of the war. It was appalling. We, it’s quite a long journey from, from Manchester to London and we passed through a lot of towns. Saw some damage. But London. The thing is, that grieved us most there was, it still brings tears to my eyes. We weren’t going to stay in London. London we were only passing through. We were going to Victoria Station to go down to Brighton, and every station we passed through on the underground there was lined along double decker bunks. On every platform of every station. People bombed out. We had seen a little of the bomb damage at Euston. Was it Euston Station? I think it was where we embarked. Where we disembarked we saw a bit of damage there but by the time we got in to [pause] to Victoria we saw a lot more outside. Above ground. Down to Brighton. Down there for two weeks. Why? Holding us there at the two hotels. The [pause] Royal and the, I forget what it was. Air force property, RAF property for the duration of the war. And there was some damage in Brighton. There was some damage in most places I guess. We, the Blitz was long since over but the V1s were about. And we could go up and sit on the top deck of the, of the hotels, and we did this, watching the V1s go over, the buzz bombs, filling in time, filling in time. Eventually we got told to go on leave in London. Somewhere we could go on leave and I chose to go to London. I wanted to see more of the damage. I wanted to see St Paul’s. I wanted to see all those things that we’d learned about at school. And then I saw the damage, extensive damage around St Paul’s. Man. And, and along the river. Well, we took off. We were entrained after that two weeks to go up to north east England. Up to [pause] to do a commando course. Again, we were saying, some of us we were together from Somers, still together, quite a few of us. And what are we doing here? This commando course. The town, I can’t think of the name of the town but it was a town. It had a lot of damage as well but the air force had taken over quite a bit of it for accommodation for the commando training and other army uses as well. We got halfway through that course and we were called back and they said, ‘You’re leaving tomorrow and you’re flying. You’re going across to North Wales.’ So can you imagine? Manchester, London, Brighton, up here to North England and across here. A triangle. I used a triangle for navigation. And there we went back, back on to a little place called Llandwrog. Got to say it properly —L L A N D W R O G. Welsh town. Welsh township nearby. This air force station again had Avro Ansons and it was an Advanced Flying Unit. AFU. And we had to do a refresher on what we had. All our flying, navigation flying in, in Edmonton, but much compressed. Started off with day flying and, and map reading. That was easy enough. And even, even reading day flying using points of reference because there were so many of them in the North West Wales, North Wales and the Western England. Manchester, Lancaster, Lancashire and those, those counties. And I’m not sure, I don’t think I did any astro there. Three weeks or four weeks there and we were, we were discharged if you like. Taken out of there, going to Number 17 OTU. Operational Training Unit of course. Now where was that? [pause] It was in the north, in the Midlands. I can’t think where it is but you’d find it easy enough.
AdP: 17 OTU is it?
AlP: 17 OTU.
AdP: I can’t remember off the top of my head.
AlP: And there we, we met a lot of Canadians, Americans, sorry Brits, more Australians, Kiwis and so on. And the day after we arrived, like two days after we arrived we were told to gather at, our group anyway, we were told to gather at such and such a hangar. Went over to the hangar there. A crowd of blokes around there, and quite a lot of Australians. They said, ‘You can find yourself a crew there. Pilots have a look. Have a look around you pilots and see if you can find yourself a crew.’ That’s how, and that’s how we were mustered, gathered there. We picked out. An Australian bloke came over to me and he said, ‘Have you got anyone to fly with? Have you got a pilot to go with?’ I said, ‘Not yet. I’ve only just arrived.’ He said, ‘Where were you trained?’ I told him where. He said, ‘Are you alright?’ ‘Yeah,’ I said, ‘I’m alright I think. I got very strong marks.’ ‘Would you like to join me?’ I said, ‘Ok. Yeah. Thanks.’ So then he gathered his bomb aimer and his wireless operator and two gunners just likewise, six crew. So we started flying in a couple of days time and we were told, and it was lousy weather even though it was now September. It was lousy weather. We were told to, not to fly if we caught a cold. Too many people were catching cold. Our crew were dead keen. We wanted to get ahead and I caught a cold. And so stupid me. And my ears blew out. One ear did. My right ear blew out. It was so painful it was awful and I got deafened. And of course had to report sick and I was grounded. Grounded for six weeks. I said goodbye to my crew, they gathered another navigator. They moved on. So six weeks. I don’t know what I did. I don’t remember what I did. I just floated around at that time. Reporting sick, reported until I was well enough and there was another mustering of trainees at the hangar. And I gathered. I gathered. I was summoned to gather with them and an Englishmen, tall Englishmen named Johnny Bulling, Flight lieutenant, approached me. I thought, flight lieutenant? He must be good. He must have a lot of experience. And I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ He said, ‘You can drop the sir.’ He said, ‘Have you crewed up yet?’ I said, ‘Not yet sir. I’ve been on a crew. I’ve done some flying but I was grounded through a bit of illness.’ He said, ‘Want to join me?’ I said, ‘Thank you.’ And that’s how he gathered his crew. Jock someone or other. I’m trying to think of his surname — pilot officer bomb aimer. He gathered him in. Bernie Alden Hogan, Australian sergeant wireless operator or air gunner, gathered him in. And then two Londoners, Ernie, no, not Ernie. Peter and [pause] who was the other one? I can’t think of his name. The other one was about thirty years of age. He was much the older of our crew. They gathered. We gathered them in. And the next day we were doing circuits and bumps in a, on a Wimpy. And that’s how our crew started.
AdP: What did you think of a Wellington?
AlP: Pardon?
AdP: What did you think of the Wellington?
AlP: I thought it was a lovely big aircraft. That’s what I thought at that time. I had heard bad stories about it. But it was a bit cramped in my space but what I started to learn was that funny instrument. It looked like, I was going to say, with a small TV but it was a small screen. What was that? It was called a Gee. What that’s about? That’s when I started to learn about the Gee navigation. And the other one there was the one with the [pause] that transmitted a signal and brought back another picture of the land underneath. Well that was wonderful. It makes it a lot easier to do your map reading. Except you couldn’t use it over enemy territory because it transmitted a signal and you, you were a sitting duck. So, but it was handy once you got back to, back home base. And then we started to learn Gee navigation and I loved it. It was great stuff. I mean you could, you plotted these three signals. Do you understand it at all Adam?
AdP: Only, only very vaguely.
AlP: Well it has three transmitters. One in the southernmost England, one in the Midlands and one in the north.
[recording paused for lunch]
AdP: So we’re resuming after lunch. We were talking about Gee I think.
AlP: On reflection Adam I think we might have been introduced to it over at Llandwrog. At AFU. Just introduced so that we knew that there was more to it than we’d been doing in Canada. There was no mention that we were doing any astro navigation. So when we got to OTU and went out with my first crew and then, of course after I was grounded, my second crew. Six weeks interval is a long time in a war. In an air war anyway and I mean think of the time that was wasted by the time we landed. It probably amounted to about twelve, fourteen weeks lost battle time if you like. Lost purpose time. Anyway, I guess we did strengthen our muscles a little bit with our course of body training at commando course. So, I’m with my second crew now. Johnny Bulling’s crew and we were given a lot of a programme ahead, a lot of cross country flying. Incidentally, I should remember about 17 OTU. I can’t think of the name of the station. The satellite station was Silverstone. Now, Silverstone has since been a motor raceway for many decades. So if you find out what county Silverstone’s in, Silverstone Raceway, you’ll find where Number 17 OTU is and what county. I have a feeling it might be Lincolnshire, but no I’m not sure really. So then it was, by this time it was October. Weather’s getting bad, quite bad. We were flying in rotten conditions. Wind, rain, sleet and snow. So on. And we finished at OTU. Actually by this time we’d moved over to the satellite. I don’t know why that happened. Anyway, we did. And we were sent on leave. Sent on leave. Six weeks. Six days I think. So Johnny said, ‘What you are going to do?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. What do you reckon?’ He said, ‘If you’d like to come over we can go to Devon and get warm because this is shocking, this stuff.’ I said, ‘Right we will.’ So we went off on leave. I went off with him and the other Englishmen went off to their home places no doubt, and Jock the Scotsman. And I don’t know what Bernie did. I think he had a girlfriend somewhere. And so we went to London. We said we’ll stay over in London for a night. Go to a show. So we, we, got digs, a room, a room in somewhere out at Earl’s Court, which is West End. And spent the night there and that night I bounced out of bed. I remember clearly I landed on the floor. ‘What’s wrong?’ A V1, V2 — the second rocket. The long ones, the big self-propelled, landed. Sent out from the coast of Normandy and landed into London. They sent, they sent hundreds of those. This is, this is the successor to the V2s which were less efficient, still pretty nasty. And it landed not far from us evidently and it was a heck of an explosion and it bounced me out of bed. So, I don’t think I slept any more that night waiting for the next lot to come. Fortunately that landed in the Thames somewhere. I can’t imagine which direction it came from. Anyway it was said many of those V2 rockets landed in less serious or less serious targets than the Germans hoped. The next day we headed south, down. Took the train down to Devon and we stayed there at a — walked and looked up the street. Walked up the street. Found a hotel. Found we could get a room there and we stayed there for six days. Swimming on the coast down at the beach. Actually that afternoon we stripped off. Johnny put on, put on civilian pants and I didn’t have any civilian pants but I had my spare uniform pants so I didn’t worry about it. Went down and laid down on the beach and did a bit of sunbathing. The tide came in on us. We got wet but anyway we worked that out in the night. The next day we went walking. We did a lot of walking that week. It was excellent. I’ve written a story about our encounter with a land, a groundsman, who caught us walking through these fields. He was [pause] we were heading back in late afternoon, heading back to the hotel in the township. And we were running a bit late. We had walked a bit too far and we were walking and this fellow came around the corner behind a hedge with a shotgun cocked over his arm and he said, ‘What be thee doing?’ Well, we got a shock you see. And we said, oh Johnny said, ‘We’re just walking back to our hotel. We’re on leave.’ I don’t think we were in uniform. We were probably only in trousers and shirt. It was lovely weather. Beautiful. And he said, ‘Well thee can’t be doing that here. Now get thee off this land.’ And I got cheeky. I said, ‘Why? We aren’t doing any harm. We’re only going to walk in a straight line. It’s too round about on the road. We get back quicker this way. In time for dinner.’ ‘I don’t care what thee be thinking. Get thee off this land.’ I said, ‘Who said we should get off this land.’ ‘This be my lord’s land. Now get thee off.’ And we did. We did. Very, very belligerent he was. But I thought well if they can be that belligerent as civilians we should win this war.
AdP: [laughs] Love it.
AlP: So we returned to our given destination which was 1661 HCU at a place called Winthorpe. Do you know it?
AdP: I do.
AlP: You know I lay awake for an hour last night trying to think of that.
AdP: Oh dear.
AlP: I did. Winthorpe. I thought of all sorts. Winthorne? No that doesn’t sound not right. What sort of –? And I think that’s, what county’s that in? Can you remember?
AdP: It’s near Newark.
AlP: Near Newark is it?
AdP: Yeah.
AlP: New Castle.
AdP: Nottinghamshire maybe. I don’t know.
AlP: New Castle.
AdP: I’ve no idea.
AlP: That’s the castle that’s on one of the brands of cigarettes. So there we were. We lined up there and I saw my first Lancaster.
AdP: What did you think the first time you saw a Lancaster?
AlP: Wow. What a machine. I still think of it. I saw it in London a couple of, four years ago. Saw it in Canberra again. G for George. I don’t know. So we did circuits and bumps the next day and Johnny hadn’t, I think he’d seen them before but he hadn’t flown them before. So we went around and around around and around. I was sure we had to swing the prop for that for the, for the compass. I don’t think. I think it was an advanced compass. Anyway, we got inside it and I thought it looked, it was massively crammed, my gee it was cramped. And I was overwhelmed again. ‘Am I responsible for this aircraft? Am I? Have I got the authority on this wonderful machine?’ I was, even now I’m enthralled and we set off to do circuits and bumps and then did our position. Got filled in with our positions on the aircraft to — we added another member here by the way. This was when Peter Smith came in, went to our crew as air [pause] well virtually co-pilot but he was called —
AdP: Flight engineer.
AlP: What was he called?
AdP: Flight engineer.
AlP: Engineer. Flight engineer, Flight engineer, that’s right. We had slightly different positions. I was sitting right behind the pilot as the navigator and the wireless op behind. Funny thing in our crew, you know. We were the two Australians but we weren’t good buddies. I don’t know why but he was less than friendly but he was co-operative and we had to work a lot together. But Jock, the Scotsman, the co-pilot, the err the bomb aimer, he was very co- operative. The air gunners were wonderful young blokes. Johnny and I got on very well. I must tell you. Go back to when we were in London. We were walking along the street together. Along Fleet Street actually up from Australia House. I went to see if there was any mail for me. The mail was sometimes delayed as we were moving around. And walking along and we were stopped by a corporal with a service policeman arm band, ‘Excuse me sir,’ he said to Johnny, ignoring me, ‘It is not permissible for an NCO to walk with a commissioned officer.’ And I was ready to explode. And Johnny said, ‘Quite right corporal. You are quite right. Flight Sergeant Pugh you will fall in behind and at my command we will quick march. Quick march.’ So we walked up Fleet Street marching. He did it. He did it. We got around the corner and stopped it. Wondered what people thought of these stupid fellas. We can’t win a war with these sort of fellows. Anyway, we were —that was just one digression. He was a good artist. He used to do portraits and he was excellent. He did, he did a book of illustrations for his job, his profession. And we used to write. Write poems together. Write songs together. Make up songs as we were going along. We saw one fellow come along the street that day. A little civilian in some sort of a suit. He had a tiny moustache like a toothbrush, and he held his head upright. And Johnny said, ‘There’s that fellow that looks like he’s got a smell under his nose. And I said, there was current song then, “I’ll walk alone.” I don’t know if you know that song, “I’ll walk alone”, a war song anyway. And so we, and we added the lines as we walked, “I’ll walk alone because even my best friends won’t tell me, yet I know they could smell me. It seems I have BO. Oh yes I know. I’ll walk alone.”
[someone enters the room. Recording paused]
AdP: We were talking about, oh you were telling me the song about BO.
AlP: Oh yes. I’ll walk alone because even my best friends won’t tell me. Even though they could smell me. It seems I had BO. Oh yes I know. I’ll walk alone. Although though I try my own preparation. Still I smell like a station. Or like a zoo. What can I do? No one will come near me. And I wonder why. Sometimes I smell myself. I’ve no one to cheer me. So until I die I suppose I will always be on the shelf. I walk alone. I walked alone until somebody told me at last boy. Now at last I have a wife boy. I am not alone.” That was paraphrased on a song, “I walk alone until you come back from the war” and that sort of stuff. So it was pretty, pretty cheeky of us. And we did this walking along the street in London. No wonder they won the war. They wanted to get away from us. Are you still there Adam?
AdP: I’m still here. Certainly am. What other sorts of things did you get up to on leave?
AlP: On leave? Well we had dates with girls. We certainly did that. We found there’s a Cricklewood Palace somewhere out in North London. It was a very popular dance hall and whenever I was in London I’d go down there. I met a girl there and she was, I found her interesting and she worked in one of the big retail stores in London. One of the big names. And as I was working in Coles I was part of the Coles organisation. At that stage just an ordinary hand in a country town but going back to being in the management training plan. So she and I got friendly. And when I went down to London I’d pick her up and we’d go to a dance out there together. It was a very popular place but unfortunately one night a brawl broke out. We were a bunch of, I don’t know, a bunch of Brits and Australians and there was some, we were all in uniform and there was a brawl against some Americans. The Yanks of course were subject to being attacked. Sometimes they attacked some of us if we gave them any cheek. It was unfortunate. There were two wars going on. There were a lot of Americans in Britain at the time. Some back on leave, some back wounded, some ready to go out to the front again. They lost heavily in the war. But you know the biggest single unit loser in World War Two? [pause] Bomber Command. We lost more men and crews in proportion to our numbers. I think, I think it was there were a hundred and twenty five thousand members of Bomber Command. That might have included ground staff, I’m not sure. You might be able to check.
AdP: No. That’s aircrew.
AlP: That’s aircrew.
AdP: Aircrew only. Yeah.
AlP: I’ve heard of fifty two [pause] fifty two thousand. Fifty five thousand perished. There were ten thousand Australians among those. And four thousand, no four hundred, no. Wait a minute, four thousand two hundred of us didn’t return, so that’s forty two percent. Fifty five percent was the loss ratio for the, it might have been less than fifty five out of a hundred and twenty five. Over fifty percent anyway. We were the biggest losers in proportion. What else did we do on leave? We cycled. We went on, went on trips up to the Lake District. Things like that. Sometimes together as two or three of us. Sometimes alone. Met a lot of interesting people when you go with your peers. Played tennis when we could. Played cricket when we could. I went to the first test match after the war. We’ll talk about it a bit later. But you ask a question.
AdP: Where did you — where and how did you live on the stations?
AlP: We lived in Nissen huts mostly. They were comfortable. We had blankets. Didn’t have sheets. That I can recall anyway. The ablution huts were commodious. We had sports facilities there and of course there was, we could, there was no drill required of us unless we misbehaved. Once we were in combat mode. But we, we had the sergeant’s mess of course and the officer’s mess. We, we made friends across, across the barriers of nation. You know we had English friends, New Zealand friends, even though they weren’t necessarily of our own crew. But Johnny and I and our crew often went out as a group to a pub, and say outside Newark for instance. As a full crew there at one of the pubs in Newark. I remember one day, one night we were there and sitting on the hob beside the fire in the, in the bar were two old gentlemen in uniform. In the red jacket of the Chelsea Pensioners. Do you know about the Chelsea Pensioners? They were down in London. North London. Is Chelsea in North London? I’m not sure. But anyway there’s a Chelsea Pension House and old, some, how they qualify to get in I don’t know but former servicemen from World War One inhabited that place. And they could travel around the countryside if they were fit but you’d often see them in London walking in the city. Anyway, these two fellows were sitting there, sitting there by the hob of the fire with the half pot in their hand and a poker in this hand, poking the fire. Loud hissing. And drink their warmed beer, warm mild, not bitter, mild. And so Johnny photographed one of them. Not photographed, he drew one of them. He always carried a pad in his jacket pocket.
AdP: Oh wow.
AlP: And oh it was, it was so good. And so he would, we’d go to other places and he would do drawings. Artistic. Artistic work. I lost track of him, I lost track of my whole crew. I’m sorry about that. Yes. There were plenty of dances in the villages and towns as well and pubs were very popular.
AdP: What, what sorts of things happened in pubs apart from Chelsea pensioners with their pokers?
AlP: Well [laughs] you didn’t see many of those. Well, sometimes there were disputes, a little too much drink. There was a tendency among aircrews to live now for tomorrow we may die. We weren’t like that. And we weren’t total abstainers by any means. But we were [pause] we had our eyes on the future. It was said and I think Bernie, the other Australian in the crew, he spent less time with us in, on leave than anyone else did. Jock was a little bit heavy on the whisky. He loved his whisky but he was a Scotsman. He was probably brought up on the stuff. We didn’t see a lot of offensive drunkenness. It sometimes happened in the mess. A bit of disputing went on. I’m not sure why. It’s too far back to remember.
AdP: Yeah.
AlP: Motivations. Anyway.
AdP: What — you’ve mentioned earlier briefly that you did one operation.
AlP: Yeah. That came —
AdP: Tell me about that.
AlP: Well that’s coming up shortly.
AdP: Alright.
AlP: We was looking forward to linking up, I think the squadron that was on, co-habited our airport — airfield was 217. An English squadron. You might check that. I’ve got a feeling it’s the, we were certainly I wasn’t going to be in one of the Australian squadrons. Incidentally did you know that the Australian squadrons were not as self-governed as the Canadian Squadron?
AdP: Yes.
AlP: You knew that.
AdP: Yes.
AlP: That was a pity. I wonder why. Anyway, that’s beside the point. So we, we had a series of cross-country’s to do. Much the same as AFU. OTU rather. But we were across to the Irish Sea. Out a bit to the, into the North Atlantic. Sometimes down to Scotland and that way. Sometimes. And up The Channel. But never, never in to enemy occupied territory. But to be looking, what I was looking forward to was the forthcoming and necessary bullseye over London. Have you heard about that?
AdP: Yes. Yeah. Tell us. Tell us more about it.
AlP: Well, we were to go out on this exercise over to the Irish Sea. Up, out again to the North Atlantic to points of, no points of vision, just points on the, on the radar. Out and then across towards the Bay of Biscay and then to another focal, another point of time and place. And then over the coast, south coast of England, not far from Brighton and Hove. More nearer Hove. And it was a given ETA at each point. As we were flying out over the Midlands and out towards Ireland I asked Bernie for, for a position. He said, ‘I’m in a mess here.’ I looked around and he’s got his radio in pieces. He said, ‘Something’s melted here.’ And so I reported it to skipper. Skipper said, ‘Shall we? Shall we continue? Do you want to continue navigator?’ We were all very formal in the air. I said, ‘What do you think Bernie?’ He said, ‘Give me a little while. See if I can get it together.’ So we got out almost to the west coast of England and he said, ‘I can’t do it.’ So the skipper said, ‘How’s your, how’s your Gee box?’ I said, ‘It’s working fine skipper. It’s ok.’ He said, ‘What about H2S?’ That’s the one with the picture on it. Bringing the picture up from the ground. I said, ‘Yeah. It’s fine. Is fine.’ He said, ‘Well we can’t use it too close over the water.’ I said, ‘No. I realise that. It would only show you lots of waves.’ I said, ‘We’re alright on the Gee. It’s ok.’ ‘What’s your recommendation?’ I took a deep breath. I said, ‘I suggest we proceed and we’ll go by dead reckoning.’ ‘DR it is then.’ And then we took it, we arrived at a point out in the Irish Sea. Hopefully, it was the one we wanted. I was confident on my charts that it was and I gave him the change of course. And the weather was good. Not a lot of heavy wind. We were flying at eighteen thousand. Sixteen or eighteen thousand and it can be tricky up there. It can be quite different from down low. It can be quite contrary in fact. So, anyway, we went down below in due course, another hour and a half or something. Maybe two hours. I’ve forgotten now. The next point out in the middle of the Atlantic you see because nowhere else could be seen anywhere. Everyone reported water. Water. So my ETA was, was accurate I felt. And so we headed off towards the Bay of Biscay. This might be different. And anyway it turned out almost flying due east. Two seventy to that point. Turned again. Now was the test. We were on ETA down to the coast of England near, as I said, near Hove. ‘See the coastline?’ ‘Yes. I can see the coastline.’ Surely took bearing on the actual physical bearing, visual bearing on the point where you expected to cross and we were within the three minutes of ETA after flying for, I think it was five hours. What a sigh of relief. So I let the skipper know all was well. The crew were relaxed. We had nothing other than dead reckoning. And then to London. Well, I don’t know whether we changed height but the London was to counteract the balloons which were always there and they were put up. The lights. Searchlights. And as we were getting towards south London we started to see the searchlights combing the sky. Quite a lot of them. And then we saw some fighters. We could see flashlights in there. There were fighters in the air and we had to dodge all this, get through to drop a photographic bomb if you know what I mean, over Green Park. The centre where the target of London. Right near Buckingham Palace. You know where it is? And we, so Johnny said, ‘Prepare for evasive action,’ and we started evasive action. Right. ‘Down to port,’ down we’d go port side. ‘Levelling out. Forward. Ahead fifteen thousand. Fourteen thousand. Climbing to starboard.’ This was yelling. We were all getting, we were all hearing this and this was anger. We were going to be five times G. Five gravity. Five times gravity, and we got through it. It was a magnificent experience but horrifying, but [unclear] was going up and down like this. And then up and down like this with a ,with somebody and we were dropped, Jock dropped his photo. Took his camera shots over the target and then returned to base. Thank heaven that was over. And that was as exciting as it was going to be I thought except until we were just called out to go out over enemy territory because those searchlights are horrifying. Terrifying. We were graded on that, I don’t know, I forgot the score but we did quite well evidently. Particularly as we did it without really navigation check-ups on the way. See my heart’s pounding already. It was a few days later we were called to join a squadron. I don’t know whether it was 217 or what. We were making, making a raid over Southern Germany. Now, you mentioned earlier that someone had done a raid over — your uncle?
AdP: Yeah.
AlP: Over Berchtesgaden.
AdP: Berchtesgaden. No.
AlP: Berchtesgaden.
AdP: That was another of my interview subjects. Yeah.
AlP: Oh was it?
AdP: Yeah.
AlP: Now I don’t know if it was there. It was somewhere over the southern Ruhr it was going to be I guess and the weather had turned foul. It was now. I’m trying to think back to my logbook because I’m so sorry I lost that. I think it must have been April. And so we loaded up, bombed up and gone through out processes ready for the real thing.
AdP: And you were in a Lancaster by this stage?
AlP: Yeah. The Lancaster.
AdP: Yes.
AlP: Oh yes. In a Lancaster. We were briefed. Had our charts in front of us. Taken to our separate briefings of course. We always were. And brought back as a crew for crew briefing. Then into line and we become part of an attack. I think probably a number of squadrons and their satellites like we were a satellite. And we flew up, up to a fictitious point at ten thousand feet somewhere over the North Sea, or maybe over Holland. Then a change of course on a very bad night. Not only a bad night. Pitch black. Pitch black night. No moon, which of course a moonlight night is too dangerous for a, for you being a target to stop. But it was nothing. It was bad weather. We changed course heading [pause] heading south from there with the somewhere about two, twenty three thirty degrees something like that. East. And southeast. At, to twenty thousand feet and then joined. We must have been, we must have had, but we acted independently because we joined a flight group there and then changed course for the target and then got the call back. We were trip aborted, and so we were out by this time. Out by about two hours I guess. And skipper took the, the bomb aimer, the wireless operator took the code message and passed it on to the skipper. It was a great disappointment. We were there. We were scared. We were dead scared. No doubt about that. It was going to be out first trip but there was no option. So I had to set a course to come back and I’ve forgotten — it was a deviate, a deviant course. And I think we were just sort of grieving this all the way back. And one thing we had overlooked or didn’t know. We should have been aware of. Even though we had IFF on our aircraft, all our aircraft. Identification Friend or Foe. What had been happening while the Luftwaffe attack force or defence force was much depleted they were still shooting down aircraft. They had new tactics. They were flying with their FW190s with guns, cannons pointing upwards. They’d fly under our aircraft going or returning from attacks, from bombing raids. There was one of the things they were doing. And even with depleted numbers they were successful. They were very fast with their 109s, ME109s of course. And there was rumours they had a faster one but the 190s were fast enough. But what they were doing was following and getting into, into returning groups. Flights and squadrons. By now a bit, perhaps being a bit careless and not looking out, the gunner, not a lot to look at. And they were picking off returning aircraft crossing The Channel. And so we were approaching a town and we could see the lights of home sort of thing. Some lights over in Britain. Then suddenly Peter, the rear gunner yelled out, ‘Skipper, there’s someone, there’s someone firing verey lights here. I’d better report.’ Johnny said, skipper said, ‘Well what are they? Green or red, rear gunner?’ ‘They’re white skipper.’ ‘White. There aren’t white verey lights. They’re not verey lights gunner, that’s tracer.’ We’ll scramble. And we did scramble and we avoided it. If they were tracer, if they were attack aircraft. I don’t know what else could they be? Johnny couldn’t think of anything else. We scrambled to another airfield. We got a message out. They lit up for us with searchlights. No. Not searchlights. Lights of the trucks and so on outlined the airfield. The airstrip. And the next day we flew back to base and we weren’t reprimanded. So then it wasn’t long after that came May the 6th. Or was it the 5th. Anyway, the word was getting around things were, things were but they were much more shorter trips. And they were, the attacks were along the, along, I think enemy ground forces. And we didn’t get another trip. Word came out Hitler had suicided. Then the word came out — Admiral Donitz was it became the vice chancellor? He took over and he surrendered. And our crew were told well actually you may now accept to disarm. Not disarmament. To [pause] you may return to civvy life. Demobilisation. And they just broke our crew up like that. The Australians — they sent us to a place called Worksop which was further over. Cambridgeshire way I think. And we were told that Australians, the Australians on our HSU, HCU I should say or were English squadrons. Navigators, probably navigators, bomb aimers, wireless operators taken to special school for a secret training school. Ours was training for navigation and we were to be retrained for the war against the Japanese. And so we were given leave then for a time. A few weeks. I think a fourteen day pass and we were able to go to London. We went on VE day. Actual VE day. We were in a vast crowd of troops and civilians of many nationalities. Air force, navy, military forces travelling from all corners around to Buckingham Palace. And I can remember walking up the [pause] what’s, what’s the big, big parade up into, up into Buckingham Palace. Anyway, up to the threshold of Buckingham Palace. And there were hundreds. Seemed to be hundreds of thousands of us all around Buckingham palace waiting for the king and queen and the two princesses to come out. We spent hours there cheering like mad, waving our flags and I looked around and there were so many air force uniforms with so many different badges on their shoulders. Not only us from the Commonwealth or from the Empire but there were pilots, and air gunners and all kinds. Ground staff. They were there too. From the European nations. Those that had managed to get out of Europe before Hitler had conquered their country and they were still able to fight on. So that was the end of that. And we went down to Worksop to do the study. And we were six weeks into the course and by this time now we were in to April/May. May/June/July. The, the war was weakening in in Southeast Asia. And then we got the word in early August, an atom bomb had been dropped. We heard that this atom bomb was going to be something in the future. We heard about this. Then we heard another one. We were still in the workshop in this place. In this school. And the message came Japan had surrendered. The end of the war. The Englishmen out of Bomber Command well certainly some of them might have been, stayed and been trained for going to Burma. But we were certainly not going there. And we were then equipped with paintbrushes and tools and anything to fill in our time on demolishing or painting or building at this station. Incidentally, we had already celebrated with a bunch of Australians the night before VE day at somewhere just near [pause] near the airfield. Near HCU anyway our 1661. The castle. Where the castle was. Anyway, they gave us leave again to report back to, back to Australian headquarters, Australia House and where we collected our pay book. [unclear] sorry. Again. And we got, our mail was gathered to there. And then they told us we could get, join a, join in a find a job. A civvy. [unclear] speech is getting [unclear] a civvy course. And I got a job in an [pause] a course. An office in a big factory in the Elephant and Castle. A big, big factory. And they were short of staff and that’s was nearly two months of pay, extra money. I was able to opt to be employed. I was living at the home. An Australian House place that they appointed for. Now my voice is going. My voice is going. And it was, wasn’t until November. Then again focus on another [pause]. Ship. A ship.
AdP: We might, we might leave it there. We’ve been going for a while now.
AlP: I’m sorry.
AdP: That’s alright.
AlP: I’m losing my [pause] Anyway, I trained, ship home. Home in January again. Again [unclear] away. With my family. Home. And I was back to my job. A month later. My home. Civvy job. Boy. It took a hard job getting over the same job. The home job. Home to my mum and dad with my bike. At work. Back to [unclear]. Leave it at that. You’re right. Adam.
AdP: That’s a good idea. So thank you very much. Shake your hand.
AlP: Thank you so much.
AdP: Thank you.



Adam Purcell, “Interview with Alan Pugh,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 1, 2023,

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