Interview with Joe Shuttleworth


Interview with Joe Shuttleworth


Joe Shuttleworth was born and raised in Brisbane but also spent a lot of time with family in the Melbourne area. He volunteered for aircrew and soon began training as a gunner. After initial training he sailed to the United States and on to the UK. While at operational training unit at RAF Bruntingthorpe he went to the local village where a chance encounter led to meeting his future wife who he married in 1943. He was posted to 50 Squadron as an air gunner and was based at RAF Skellingthorpe. On his twenty fifth operation which was to Berlin he experienced a sudden flash and a searing pain. One of the crew managed to pull him out of the turret. He was taken to hospital at RAF Rauceby where he lost his eye. The rest of his crew continued to fly but they were all killed in a later operation. Joe returned to Australia where his wife joined him a year later. He remembers his time with Bomber Command as a wonderful experience which led him to see the world. After the war Joe never left Australia again.




Temporal Coverage




01:03:05 audio recording


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AShuttleworthHJ151021, PShuttleworthJ1501


AP: This interview for the International Bomber Command Centre’s Digital Archive is with Joe Shuttleworth. A 50 Squadron rear gunner. The interview is taking place in Surrey Hills which is a suburb of Melbourne. It is the 21st of October 2015. My name’s Adam Purcell. So, I think we’ll start, if you don’t mind Joe with can you tell me something of your early life, growing up? What you did before the war.
JS: Well I grew up and born in Brisbane and had a pretty charmed life. Went to a state school. Wasn’t much but was good at ball games and I enjoyed life with my mother and father. Father had a job whereas, you know in the Depression years in the 1930s times were pretty rough really. I remember kids taking food out of rubbish bins at school. That didn’t ever happen to me. My mother and father came from Victoria and they moved up to Queensland at some point about 1920/21. And they came. Big families. And I had the opportunity of being sent down to, to Melbourne when I was ten and again when I was fourteen and caught up with my, my relatives on both my mother’s side and father’s side. And after a long time my mother and father agreed to, that I join the air force. So I went to the air force place and I was accepted to air crew. And that was February 1941. That was before the Japanese war but I wasn’t called in for a uniform until May of 1942. By that time the Japanese were well advanced in the, in Northern Australia. I was at 3 ITS. The Initial Training School that was based at Sandgate and the waterfront was just outside, you know. Do you know? You know Brisbane I suppose?
AP: I don’t. I don’t know it very well but —
JS: Do you know Sandgate then?
AP: No. I don’t actually.
JS: The water was just outside the area there. There I was told I wasn’t accepted to go in aircrew because I had an eye deficiency. I wasn’t smart enough to be accepted as a navigator. They were the boys with all the brains. So I enlisted as a wireless operator/ gunner and went to Maryborough where I was there for about seven months. Whilst there I got the mumps and I was in the, in the hospital at the camp for a few days and then I went down to a convalescent place nearby. Spent a couple of very enjoyable weeks there. Life in Maryborough was, was pretty good and we stayed in huts of about forty blokes in there. Food was pretty good. I palled up with a particular bloke who came from Bundaberg. He had a brother that was killed in the early stages of the war. And we saw a bit of Bundaberg, went down to the various beaches on the back of his motorbike. Then after Maryborough went down to Evans Head to a, to a gunnery school and did a bit of flying there. We had Fairey Battles aircraft pulling a drogue and we’d have a pretty, what do they call it, a go gun to shoot at the drogue. About 5 o’clock everybody was saying to me go down to the, to the beach. Occasionally I went to Lismore for the weekend and I stayed at a hotel there. Was presented with the, with the wings and went back to, to Brisbane. Stayed around on, on leave there for a few weeks. The air force then sent us down to Melbourne. We, I was able to get caught up, caught up with my relatives. Uncles and aunts on both side. Saw my grandmother who died when I was overseas. And then, surprisingly the air force decided to send us back to Brisbane. We sailed from Brisbane in about May of ’42. Went down to the wharf and got on to a ship. A Dutch ship. The [pause] What was its name? Anyways, under, under American command. We had bunks down in the holds of the ship. It was, the air was pretty putrid there. I elected to sleep out most nights on the, on the deck. Sometimes I got a bit wet but just a light shower. Life was pretty good. There was lots of good reading material there. Particularly a publication, a Saturday Morning Post, err Saturday Evening Post. But it ceased publication but I read a lot about American life. We had nineteen days on the, on the Pacific. Didn’t see another ship. Didn’t see any land at all. But it was a very enjoyable nineteen days. The weather was pretty good the last couple of days going into San Francisco. In San Francisco it got a bit rough but not too bad. Went in under the Golden Gate Bridge and the ship docked just in the bayside outside Alcatraz at the, the big prison there. After about a day and a half we went across to, to Oakland. Got on a, sent on a train and we went on the train — spent about four and a half days on the train going across America. Went up through Sacramento and that’s where I saw my first snow. I hadn’t seen snow in my life because my previous trips to Melbourne were in the summertime. It was. There was no, no snow up there [unclear]. And we went to, we sat up during the daylight hours and there’d be an American negro putting down the beds that we could sleep on at night. But it was very interesting going across America, seeing. I recall going across on the boat — we didn’t have any ice cream and I think I had the best ice cream in my life at Salt Lake City early one morning. Bought a, bought a packet. It was great. We continued on the train across the, across the Mississippi which the negro, the negro fellow pointed out to us and went outside to a place called Taunton which was outside Boston and there we had some leave. Got down to New York. Saw The Rockets. They were a dancing team. Also, the Rockefeller Centre which is an ice rink there. Lots of American people skating around on, on ice. Went down to Philadelphia to see a, the father, I previously worked in Brisbane at the SKF Bearing Company and an American GI, I believe went in there to enjoy himself about his father being employed at the SKF Bearing Company in Philadelphia. So, I went down there, introduced myself and they looked after me very well. Went back to Boston. We used to get leave in the, during the day. Went down to, to Rhode Island. And life was, was pretty good really. Then we went down to New York. Got aboard the, the Queen Elizabeth and at that time in the next berth was the Queen Mary and alongside again on an adjoining wharf was the Normandie, the French ship which was sunk there — caught fire and they pumped so much water I think it was always suspected it was a, as a ploy really because the Normandie would have been a great asset to the allies ferrying troops to and from Europe. There was only about two hundred Australians there. We were selected to do anti-craft, anti-aircraft watch on the, on the ship. And that was a bit, a bit of a thrill for a twenty year lad on the QE. Was it just the Queen Elizabeth? The QE1 it was subsequently called. Spent about four and a half days getting across the Atlantic. Went in to Scotland to, to Greenock. Stayed there on the ship for about a day and a half and then got on a train and sent down to Brighton. And one, one evening I was out on the, doing the anti-aircraft watch and a Sunderland circled around and it was pretty atrocious weather and I thought not Coastal Command. It’s not for me. I’ll take my risk on Bomber Command. So, after a few weeks in, in Brighton I was sent to 29 OTU at Bruntingthorpe which is now still an operating airfield. The equivalent of something like Moorabbin. It’s not, not an RAF station. But Bruntingthorpe initially was pretty much lectures and the operation of turrets and I did reasonably well on that. I was selected by a flight lieutenant, a Scotsman from Dunoon in Scotland and he, he thought I had potential evidently. There was another chap, Bill Bottrell. He was an Irishman and he had an Irish wireless operator and they were very keen for me to join their crew but I didn’t do so. But fortunately, or unfortunately they were all subsequently killed. At the OTU we lost two aircraft. One disappeared off the Wales Coast and another coming back from dropping pamphlets over France crashed. There was an Australian air gunner, rear gunner, he died. And the only person who got out of it, a chap named Terry Wilder who I subsequently met and I’ll refer to him later. The flying was at an subsidiary airfield Cresswell. And on OT, on Wellingtons, which were pretty well clapped out, one night we were doing circuits and bumps as I used to call them. Just circling around. Mainly to get the pilot practising in flying the Wellington. Circuits and landings and take offs. But one night when we were just about on air speed of about a hundred, a hundred kilometers an hour got a tyre burst and the aircraft crashed and slewed around. We all walked out of it unscathed but the risk was that sometimes in those circumstances if it caught fire because the Wellington was only fabric covered. Then whilst at Bruntingthorpe the adjoining village was at Lutterworth and there was a bit of a fair there one night and I was walking around and girls, two girls came up and one girl, Joyce Barry asked me did I have any change which I was able to oblige but I palled up with the other girl Freda who I subsequently married. We, we spent a lot of, a bit of time together. I was, after leaving Bruntingthorpe, I went up to Bitteswell and converted there to four-engined aircraft. Particularly the Lancaster. What’s so interesting in my father’s era pretty well they were all smokers but in our crew, there was only two smokers — the wireless operator and the top gunner. And that was pretty representative of the situation, I think, everywhere really. So, it’s the attitude to smoking has changed so much over the years. At, at Bitteswell we could, I was sent up to Skellingthorpe to do fighter affiliation work. We had Australians flying Tomahawks and, you know they were just making a simulated attacks on the aircraft and there would be a camera so that it would record what you did and the circumstances. We also changed the wireless operators at Bitteswell but I was up at Skellingthorpe so I don’t know really what happened. I wasn’t there to. Then we went to Morton Hall. To a commando school really. Jumping over fences and getting through wires etcetera. Unfortunately, I sprained my ankle on the second day so I was, did very little. I often thought subsequently that Morton Hall could have been the Command Centre for 5 Group but I, I don’t know whether that was right or not. Also, when we were at Bruntingthorpe we could hear engines running and just talked about, you know a place down the road running engines. We subsequently found that it was Frank Whittle, subsequently Sir Frank Whittle developing the jet engine. What happened then? I think we went to, posted to Skellingthorpe. Now, one thing about Bitteswell, that was a permanent RAF station and the accommodation was in brick buildings whereas at Skellingthorpe it was a wartime aerodrome. Lived in what we called Nissen huts — accommodation for about ten crew. And there would be a stove in the centre of the hut where we burned coke to keep us warm in the, in the cooler times. Also, before we went to Skellingthorpe went to Syerston. That was another permanent RAF station where the accommodation was in brick buildings. Actually, I saw my first snow drop at Syerston. That was the first I’d seen in England. Life on the, on the squadron, 50 Squadron and the flight insignia on the aircraft was VN and I’ve got a plate inside where that, the N is showing. We tended to go up to the flight office about 9 o’clock in the morning to see whether there was a war on. If there wasn’t we’d go out to the aircraft and have a mess around. Have practice of getting out of an aircraft into a dinghy. The food was pretty, pretty reasonable. It was certainly the best available in England. Sausages were mainly a lot of bread. I often thought I wouldn’t eat baked beans again but I quite like them now and again. But certainly, food at the squadron was the best available in England on the operations. If the war was on we were given an evening meal and briefed as to where the aircraft, where the target would be. The wing commander would say where, where the target was that night. We’d see the target. The flights into Europe, we did a lot of trips to Berlin and they were generally about ten hours. Sometimes you went in, flew over France. Other times it would be over north, over Denmark and into Berlin that way.
Other: Do you want a drink of water, dad?
JS: Pardon?
Other: Would you like a drink of water?
JS: No thanks. No. Yeah, perhaps so.
JS: The great losses of aircraft at that time — we would be sending out about seven hundred and fifty aircraft and we’d generally lose about fifty. So, on a tour of thirty, statistically it’s impossible to get through a tour but some, some did.
AP: What time was this?
JS: Pardon?
AP: What time was it? What? Or when was it?
JS: We tended to, to go off just before dark. About an hour, this is English time. I suppose it would be about 8 o’clock really because there was double daylight saving over there then. So it was, you know normally light till about ten and we’d probably take off about eight and get back about ten, ten hours later. That was coming back after a flight. The, all the, the squadron leader and the wing commander and sometimes the air commodore would be there to greet you. Hot, hot chocolate drink to drink. It was a bit hard at times, you know. It would come back to you, you had to go to bed but sometimes representatives of other crews didn’t survive. On one occasion we did three, three flights in and, then in four days we did two daylights. Take off at daylight. Another one we turned, turned up about midnight. Came back in the light and flew over England. And I recall one particular occasion coming back over the south coast of England, seeing the white cliffs of Dover and up through England. I often thought that, you know life was pretty great really. What else? When I was at Skellingthorpe I used to go down and see Freda, my wife and often hitch-hiked back and often stood outside the Trent Bridge Cricket Ground waiting for a lift back to Skellingthorpe which is just outside Lincoln. Eventually, one night coming back there was a flash about 11 o’clock high and I felt immediate pain in this eye. I think one of the crew dragged me out of the turret. We got back to, to England and went to, to hospital at Rauceby which was outside Grantham. And there they gave me the decision that they couldn’t do anything about the eye. It would have to come out because the piece of metal there was, was too big. And then after about, oh about a month in hospital there I went up to Hoylake which is outside Liverpool. The RAF had taken it over as a convalescent. It was a public school and they’d taken it over as a reception recuperation place for aircrew personnel and I had a few months there. Quite, you know, life was good. Used to have various exercises to keep us, keep us young and fit. One particular bloke that I met at Rauceby, an RAAF bloke, an RAAF bloke he came from Barcaldine in Queensland. He’d married one of the, the nurses at the hospital. A bloke named Templeton. I guess he came, eventually came back to Australia. The, after Hoylake I went back to, to Brighton and they asked me did I, they told me I was declared unfit for further flying. They asked me did I want to go up to Kodak House and stay in a clerical position or come back to Australia. And I said, ‘No. I’m going back to Australia,’ but I went up to Kodak House and did clerical duties there for a couple of months. That was, that was alright. Eventually they sent, took me back to Brighton and I waited then a decision on, on going home to Australia. Whilst in London I had the husband of a cousin of mine on my mother’s side who had been in the Royal Navy since about fourteen or fifteen years of age. He was a lieutenant there and I saw quite a bit of Keith. Also, Australia House they had a Boomerang Club where they used to serve luncheons there. It was all done in a voluntary capacity. A lot of Australians would go there and meet fellows that we’d met at various times at our training. Eventually the word came. Get on a train. Went back to Greenock. Back on the Queen Elizabeth. Back to New York. By that time there were very few Australians there. Only, only about a hundred of us and there was no, a few Americans going back after being injured in various parts of the UK. Well, whilst at Hoylake we went down to the luncheon. The BBC news came on and announced D-day. That was a great thrill. It was eventually on. My brother in law, Fred is my sister’s husband, he was in the, in the army and you know he got out at Dunkirk. Went around to North Africa. Involved in the, in to Sicily and in to Italy. Back to England and then went into Europe about two, about two days after D-day. So, they certainly had a tough, tough life. One of the things at the RAF stations we used to have sheets on our beds. That’s something that we didn’t ever have in Australia but we had lovely blankets and the idea was to hang onto your Australian blankets because they were real wool and warm whereas the English blankets tended to be a bit feltish. At [pause] New York we, we had constant leave. Went down to one of the United Services Club and they invited me to go down and meet a couple of girls there, you know. Palled up with one girl. Went out with her and she took me home to a place on Great Neck and introduced me to her sister and her father who was involved in the forestry business and, yes they looked after me very well. Took me to a nightclub. Café society. And I got a signature of Joe, Joe Lewis — the American world champion boxer. Had quite a number of other signatures in that, in that RAAF diary but it’s disappeared like a lot of other things. Back on the train to San Francisco. This time we went on a more southerly route in those rather poorer areas of America. Whereas the country up north around Denver, you know was lovely and prosperous but the southern parts looked, looked pretty tough. Went to a staging camp, Petersburg. Was there for about a fortnight. American people often took us for drives around the country. Eventually we went on to a ship, the Monterey. One of the American liners. Went to, sailed it across. The ship was full of Americans going out to the Pacific war, warfare. Sailed into Finschhafen, saw my first American Duck in the water there. Spent a couple of days there. Then went up to Hollandia, changed ship there on the Swansea and that came down to Oro Bay and Milne Bay and back to Brisbane. That’s about it.
AP: That was pretty well your story. Well, we may as well go, have a look at some of the things in a bit more detail if you don’t mind.
JS: Yeah.
AP: I love it. I ask one question and thirty minutes later we, we’re just about finished. We’re not really. Where were you when you heard that war was declared? And how old were you and what did you think at the time?
JS: I was [pause] When the Japanese invaded or are you talking —
AP: Well, right back at the beginning. 1939.
JS: Oh yes. Yes. I remember. I was working then at the SKF Bearing Company in Brisbane and a couple of months after the war started it was obvious we wouldn’t be able to get ball bearings and roller bearings from Europe where most of it was coming from. Not a lot from Sweden. So, the boss said to me, ‘Well Joe. Sorry.’ But I was a stock clerk there and quite an interesting job. Enjoyed it. So, I was able to get a job at a warehouse in Brisbane — Hoffman’s and Company who sold supplies to, to the small shops in those days. Of course, there was small shops over the Brisbane area and over the Queensland area. And I was there until I was, went into the air force then in, in May of ’42. One thing too that I may, should have mentioned. At Sandgate we were, just before lunch, there was an American Airacobra who flew around the station. But he got too low. Dipped his wing in the water and crashed. And in those days I was pretty, pretty fit so I and a few others swam out but he was dead unfortunately. Whilst I didn’t see it that same afternoon another one crashed out, out into the sea.
AP: You were on the Reserve. The Air Force Reserve for a fair time, I think. You said it was.
JS: Yeah.
AP: It was almost a year.
JS: From February. Yeah.
AP: Yeah. What, did the air force give you anything to do in that time?
JS: Yes.
AP: Or did you just carry on?
JS: We attended educational classes in airmanship and particularly Morse code which I never really ever mastered well. Formed quite a few friendships of fellows there. In Brisbane a number of fellows who, who went to, to England there was a very high casualty list amongst them. Fellows that I went to school with, who knew in various parts, you know, didn’t come back. But I, when I was discharged at the [pause] just after the world war, the Japanese capitulated, I joined Veterans Affairs and worked at Veterans Affairs for a couple off months off forty years. First in their administrative offices in Brisbane. In Perry House. I was there for a few years. Then I went out to the Greenslopes Hospital. Was there until 1959 when they, for the last six months I went to Kenmore which was a TB sanitorium out [pause] out Lone Pine way. Out that direction. And then in 1960 I applied for positions. The blokes ahead of me weren’t going to move from Brisbane. My father had died. My mother was living with us and we were in a, built a home in Corinda in Brisbane and we’d only two bedrooms. My mother was in the lounge and she had relatives in Melbourne of course so I applied for a job in Melbourne. Eventually went to, to Heidelberg and I was there most of the time in Heidelberg. My last job there was director of administration which was an exceedingly interesting job. You know, in charge of the domestic services, food services, ordinary stores and administrative people. And I had a lot of liaising with the, the medical people and specialist departments like occupational therapy, physiotherapy. Yeah.
AP: So that’s the repatriation hospital at Heidelberg.
JS: Heidelberg. Yeah.
AP: Yeah. Ok.
JS: Yeah.
AP: Just for context because this is going to the UK.
JS: Yeah.
AP: Why did you pick the air force?
JS: I had a fear of fighting in the trenches of France.
AP: Did you have any —
JS: And I was always interested. We lived in, in Sherwood in Corinda and it wasn’t so many miles across to the Archerfield Aerodrome. And I often used to cycle out or being taken out by somebody to see visiting aircraft. Had a few joy flights out that way. My father, airlines had prospered, it meant that caught an aircraft, a Stinson to Townsville and then changed aircraft. He was going to Cairns and he got into a Dragon Rapide. Only a little two-engined aircraft. And going out the weather closed in. They landed on the beach. Stayed there for a couple of hours. The pilot said, ‘We’ve got to get out the tide’s coming in too quickly.’ So, they went on to Cairns. Now, fancy that happening that way.
AP: Now [laughs] yeah. It’s a bit different. I was going to ask you something about that. Alright. The first time you went in an aeroplane. Apart from those joy flights. When you were in the air force tell me about your first flight if you can remember it.
JS: At Maryborough. That was my first flight.
AP: What, what did you think of it?
JS: They were pretty basic aircraft but they were pretty good in those days.
AP: That was a Battle?
JS: They had wireless sets and you’d practice your Morse code and verbal communication. Yeah.
AP: Very good. You’ve told me how you got to the UK. That’s very good. When, what [pause] that was the first time you went overseas?
JS: Pardon?
AP: That was the first time you went overseas?
JS: Yes. Yeah. Yeah.
AP: Yeah. What did you think of wartime England? First. First thoughts on arrival.
JS: Oh, lovely country. Lots of beautiful girls. Lots of warm beer. It was pretty hard to get cold beer in those days. The countryside was absolutely beautiful.
AP: Alright. That leads on to the next question, I guess. The beer question. What did you do to relax when you weren’t on duty?
JS: Where?
AP: What did you do to relax when you were not on duty?
JS: Where?
AP: Ah, well anywhere. On the squadron. On OTU. That sort of thing. When you were on leave. Or not even on leave.
JS: Very often I was going to and from Lutterworth to see my wife.
AP: And you actually got married in England.
JS: Yes.
AP: Yeah. That’s —
JS: Got married on the 30th of December 1943.
AP: Tell me about a wartime wedding.
JS: It was at Bardon Hill just outside Coalville. We toasted with a bottle of Australian wine. How it happened to be there I’m not quite sure but it was there. I realised, you know, that people in England had it pretty tough in comparison to, to life in the Australian household. You know they didn’t have a bathroom. They’d have a tub which, which you’d have a wash in that. Whereas of course in Australia, you know I grew up in a house, a timber house on stilts. Had a copper down, down under the house where you washed your clothes. But if you wanted a hot bath you had to bucket water up in to the bathroom. I remember a chip heater being installed to heat the water in the bath. That was a great advantage. Subsequently of course before the war it was put in an electrical system [pause] And domestic appliances. In those days there was no dishwashers, vacuum cleaners or anything like that. Cleaning the floors was done by a broom or down with a cloth. Hand and knees. I remember my mother, you know washing the floor and polishing the floor which was in those days was linoleum. Whereas these days we’ve got all these modern cons and every, and of course, you know people get fairly gigantic loans to get into houses but you know they, they want and expect everything at the same time. All of those modern cons. Two cars in the family which is pretty well a necessity these days.
AP: Different, different times I think, Joe. Different times.
JS: Yeah. Yeah.
AP: Alright. We might, might talk a bit about, well ok the aircraft. The Lancaster. What did you think the first time you saw a Lancaster?
JS: Yeah. Well it was, was built to carry bombs. Pretty light construction really. I saw the one earlier this year. Went up to the War Memorial in Canberra. And whilst we, we thought it was huge back in 1943 you know, they’re pretty tiny now. And one of the, one of the things that the RAF didn’t miss on. You know, you often thought that the aircraft would be attacking you in to the, in to the turret but what was happening would be German aircraft perhaps a thousand feet down below you and what they didn’t know — the Germans had a gun pointing up like that and of course the aircraft was sending out a certain amount of exhaust fumes so we were sitting ducks to the German fighter pilots. And the RAF didn’t ever wake up to the fact that this was what was happening.
AP: Did, did the crews themselves have some sort of an idea of that? Or —
JS: No.
AP: There was just no, no one had, they just disappeared.
JS: It didn’t seem to get through to anybody.
AP: No one worked it out. What’s a turret look like when you’re in it? You’re sitting in your turret. What’s in front of you? What’s beside you?
JS: There was, in a Wellington it was two guns — 303s. And in the Lancasters four. Four guns. The ammunition. Every, about every tenth shell would be a tracer so that you could see it in the sky. I didn’t ever fire a gun at a fighter pilot. A fighter. I didn’t see one. And of course, our gunnery was 303s whereas the English, the German fighter pilots certainly .5 or 20mm.
AP: Yeah. There was a bit of an unfair fight, I think.
JS: Yes. Yeah. The, the Halifax, I didn’t ever have a flight on it. I was very impressed with the turret in the Halifax. A Boulton Paul whereas it was a Fraser Nash in the Lancaster. And I’ve been told that they were easier to get out of if there was an emergency.
AP: I’ve heard of that sort of thing. That kind of declares my next question null and void. But I suppose you did fighter affiliation. What’s, what’s the drill when you, if you were to spot a night fighter somewhere —
JS: Yes.
AP: What happens next? What’s the drill?
JS: You’d do a corkscrew. Down. Down to port or to starboard. So, go down and up, down and up again to get out. That was a case of being attacked from the rear by an aircraft. Now that didn’t ever happen to me and I don’t think it happened to too many.
AP: What was a corkscrew like in a turret?
JS: It was up and down, you know. That wasn’t, that wasn’t too bad you know. In the turret of course, we had heated, heated suits on. One night coming back across Denmark mine petered out and I had a fairly cold trip back. But I survived alright [laughs] the temperature outside me would be down. Down to about fifty degrees centigrade. Centigrade.
AP: What, what was your evacuation drill if you had to leave an aircraft in a hurry? What would you have done as the rear gunner in a Lancaster?
JS: Well, you had to get around, open the doors, grab your parachute. The parachute wasn’t in the turret. It was inside the aircraft. Grab the turret and either get it back and jump out of the, from the turret or get out through the main door. And the idea was to roll over so that you didn’t get hit by the tail fin.
AP: It sounds like it would take a fair bit of time that you probably might not have had.
JS: Yeah. And if you were doing it at say eighteen thousand, you know we would be bombing at about twenty one thousand. You know. You know, coming down all of a sudden. Pretty hard getting out I’d imagine.
AP: How many, how many trips did you actually do?
JS: Twenty five.
AP: Twenty five. And it was the twenty fifth trip which you were injured.
JS: Twenty fifth I met my Waterloo.
AP: Do you know what it actually was that hit you? You said you never saw a fighter.
JS: No. I suspect it was — of course the Germans were sending out anti-aircraft fire from the ground. But I strongly suspect it was one of these, these fighters that were down below, below me and sent up a shell hoping to knock out the aircraft. Perhaps his shot wasn’t all that good and hit the turret.
AP: Was that the only damage to the aircraft that you know of?
JS: Yes.
AP: Yeah. So, and you were the only one injured.
JS: Yeah.
AP: Luck of the draw isn’t it?
JS: Yeah. Luck of the draw.
AP: Yeah. Very much so. Do any of your other operations stand out in your memory at all? Any, any other interesting ones?
JS: There was one particular night there was a bit of a disagreement between the navigator and the pilot as the track which we should go back on and we wandered over, over France and got coned by about a half a dozen searchlights. We thought we were a bit lucky to get out of that and didn’t deserve to get out of it really. Another night, taking off, the aircraft swung across to starboard and pretty much out of the control of the pilot really. Scooped off the runway. Got up alright but was a bit dicey there for a few minutes. You know there was a tremendous amount of people killed over there as a result of sheer accidents really. You know there was six hundred and fifty two thousand killed in Bomber Command and a very high percentage of those were due to accidents and not involving operations.
AP: Yeah. It was a large, it was, was a certainly a large —
JS: Yeah.
AP: Before they even got on to a squadron let alone —
JS: Yeah.
AP: Yeah.
JS: There was about four hundred plus or minus a few Australians killed over in, in Europe.
AP: Yeah. There were quite a few.
JS: Yeah.
AP: Oh, Morton Hall. I was going to ask you about that. My great, this is the personal bit for the tape. My great uncle, so my Bomber Command connection spent some time at Morton Hall as well.
JS: Yes.
AP: It’s written in the back of his logbook. I don’t know what he did there.
JS: No.
AP: So, if you could expand a little bit on that that would be really cool.
JS: Just a commando school to make us physically fit. It was, you know, it was important to be fit for flying. It was also if you happened to parachute down into Europe to try and escape. You know. It was good fun and I enjoyed it very much until the second day I sprained my ankle.
AP: That was the end of that.
JS: Harris, the, in charge of Bomber Command. We didn’t ever see him at the airfields. We used to refer to him as Butcher Harris.
AP: London is, is something that comes up often in these interviews. Aircrew sort of seemed to gravitate to London on leave or as they were passing through on the way to other things. Obviously, you spent a little bit more time there than most at Kodak House.
JS: Yes.
AP: But I’m interested in perhaps in what, what sort of things you did in London. What did you see? What did you do? When you weren’t, when you weren’t necessarily at work.
JS: Well I used to see my cousin a fair amount. We’d often go out for a few drinks. He knew the London area pretty well. He’d been there since well before the war. Knew a place down near Victoria, Victoria Street station where we could get some steak. That was a pretty important factor over there. We weren’t great drinkers. I was never a great drinker, and I wasn’t a smoker.
AP: That’s, yeah that’s it’s something that a lot of people seemed to meet friends in London as well.
JS: Yeah. Yeah.
AP: The Boomerang Club for example.
JS: Yeah.
AP: There was a signing in book or something. You’d look through and go, ‘Oh, I know him.’
JS: Yeah.
AP: Yeah. Very good. I guess we’re getting pretty close to the end of my list of questions. You said you weren’t a great drinker. Did you spend any time in the local pub near Skellingthorpe? What was it called? And what happened?
JS: No. We spent more, more time in the local pub at Lutterworth drinking some of the warm beer. Looking at the fire. There was always a fireplace so, and there was always somebody who could play a piano, have a sing song and very enjoyable nights.
AP: Excellent. Piano is something you don’t get very often these days either.
JS: Yeah.
AP: Alright. I guess we’ll jump down towards the end now. You’ve told me what you did in civilian life. How is, how do you think Bomber Command is remembered and what sort of legacy do you think?
JS: Well, unfortunately, of course they got a bad name on the, on that last raid to Dresden. A lot of people think that that was unnecessary. I think it was probably at the request, to some degree by the Russians and of course not only did the RAF operate at Dresden the Americans sent daylight aircraft over there. And that seems to be, seemed to be forgotten. You know, Harris after the war he didn’t get any, any knighthood. He went back to South Africa, I think. I’ve got an idea he went to Kenya where he’d come from originally.
AP: So, for, how do you remember your time in Bomber Command. What did you get out of it, I suppose?
JS: A great experience. Great experience. I had a world’s trip.
AP: I guess that’s —
JS: A selfish, selfish attitude but that’s what it was.
AP: That’s —
JS: I, you know, saw places. I’ve never been back to England. I haven’t been outside of Australia at all.
AP: That was, that was your one opportunity and you grabbed it.
JS: Yeah. Yeah.
AP: Very much so. Well, I guess that’s, that’s really all I’ve got for you.
JS: Yeah.
AP: So, thank you very much Joe.
JS: That’s alright.
AP: It’s been a pleasure.
JS: How much do I owe you?
AP: [laughs] Not at all.
[recording paused]
JS: Control at the aerodromes were girls.
AP: Ah yes.
JS: Talk you in. Sometimes you’d come back after operation — you might be ten or fifteen thousand feet and you’d come down on five hundred feet levels.
AP: Someone would have to control that.
JS: Yeah.
AP: Yeah. Do you, do you remember much about the process of arriving back at the base?
JS: Well I was, you know we were treated like heroes when you came back. As I’ve said before the station commander and the wing commander if he, sometimes he’d be on operations but generally he wasn’t. They were there to, to greet you. And sometimes the commodore within 5 Group was 54 base and that covered Skellingthorpe, Bardney, number 9 Squadron. And 463 and 467 at Waddington. It was 54 base and there would be an air commodore in charge of that and sometimes he’d be there to, to greet you.
AP: That’s pretty [pause] yeah. Excellent so , ok why not keep going? When you, when you arrived back you come back to dispersal, the engines shut down. What do you feel? What do you think?
JS: Relief. It was nice to get out. Out of that aircraft. Get some of that flying gear off. You know these Taylor suite. These great huge yellow heated suits. Get that off and out of uniform would have underclothing. Cotton. Warm underclothing. Long strides and singlets. So, you liked to get that out of the aircraft. Outer garment off. It was a relief of that’s another one towards the twenty five, from the thirty. They didn’t, we’d hoped to, our aim was to complete the thirty and then go to Pathfinders. Kind of liked an eagle on my uniform but I didn’t.
AP: Did the rest of your crew go on?
JS: No. No. They were all, all killed.
AP: Oh really?
JS: They went on flying and were killed.
AP: So you, I guess you got away with it didn’t you?
JS: Yes. Yes, I was one of the lucky ones.
AP: Yeah very much so. What was, what actually was the target that night and when, what night was it. Can you remember?
JS: No.
AP: No. Sorry. That you were. That you were — sorry.
JS: Yeah. Well I was in hospital.
AP: Sorry.
JS: Yeah.
AP: The night that you were injured what was that?
JS: Berlin.
AP: Berlin. On which trip? What night? Do you know what the date was?
JS: 25th .
AP: Of?
JS: ’43. No. No ’44. ’44.
AP: ’44. So, March. Was that March?
JS: Yeah.
AP: Yeah. Ok.
JS: Yeah.
AP: Ok. My great uncle was on that trip as well.
JS: Yeah. Of course, as you know they had some disastrous trips. Leipzig, they lost seventy nine and about ninety six, ninety seven at Nuremberg.
AP: Yeah. They were all in, in that area.
JS: Yeah.
AP: And there was a Munich trip in there as well.
JS: Yeah. Yeah.
AP: And there was a whole bunch. Yeah. That was a particularly bad time to be operating actually.
JS: Yeah. Yeah.
AP: Yeah. Wow. That’s, you were very lucky then.
JS: Yeah.
AP: To be taken off ops then.
JS: Of course, the Americans saved us really with their capacity. The manpower and their capacity to build ships and provide aircraft. I don’t think England would have been able to survive without American help. If the Japanese hadn’t have come in I think ultimately Hitler would have been, invaded England.
AP: It could have been a very, very different war.
JS: Yeah. Yeah.
AP: Yes, that —
JS: You know, the American capacity. I know was probably a stunt but they, they built one of those Liberty ships, about ten thousand tonnes in three and half days. Working twenty four hours, seven days.
AP: Craziness. Shows what wartime economies can, can achieve.
JS: Yeah.
AP: To a certain extent for unlimited. Very good. Ok. Anything else you have to add?
JS: No.
AP: Just before I turn it off again.
JS: No. That’s about it, I think.
AP: That’s about it. That’s, that’s very good actually.
JS: Yeah.
AP: That’s some very good stuff there.



Adam Purcell, “Interview with Joe Shuttleworth,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 5, 2024,

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