Interview with Donald Solin


Interview with Donald Solin


Donald Solin grew up in Perth, Western Australia and worked in a store before joining the Air Force. He served in Europe and North Africa. and flew 40 operations as a pilot with 624 Squadron, a special duties squadron dropping supplies and agents into occupied Europe. He was demobilised in 1946 with the rank of Flying Officer. He rejoined the Royal Australian Air Force during the Korean War and eventually retired with the rank of Air Commodore.







01:32:13 audio recording

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JM: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre, the interviewer is Jean Macartney, the interviewee is Air Commodore Retired Donald Solin. The interview is taking place at Don’s home in Carrara, Queensland, on 20th February 2017, also present is Don’s friend Helena. Don let’s start at the beginning I believe you were born in Perth in 1924.
DS: Yes.
JM: Yes. And does that mean that you lived in Perth for your early years of?
DS: Until I was eighteen.
JM: Eighteen.
DS: And the day I turned eighteen I was conscripted of course into the RAF as everyone else was I think, and I ended up in well it was a crowd called, and there was a you know stopping, stopping the bombs, no bombs, you know. Anyway, er, we were tying explosives around bridges you know [unclear] that was our main watch that happened, concerns about the Japanese invasion and then we wouldn’t explode them, we would rush off somewhere and say yes they had exploded and after that we would go back untie them all again for tomorrow. Now that went on for several months and it didn’t appeal to me very much because I would always wanting to fly. So I pulled all the strings I knew which were not many, I had no one in particular to help me but anyway we made it finally. In the meantime being in the Air Force, er not very at there was an idea where we took twenty-one lessons prior to joining aircrew, and I started on a session of lessons, and for one way and another of course I then became switched over after a lot of trouble from the Army, and I then became an AC2.
JM: Right. Let’s just pause there for a moment.
DS: Yes.
JM: And go back before you were eighteen and you were conscripted, your schooling was in Perth so you —
DS: Ah t was all over the country.
JM: It was all over the country.
DS: Yes, all over Western Australia.
JM: What because your family were travelling or?
DS: Well mother had been, ‘cos she was a district nurse and she had been divorced for very good reason and there were two small children living with grandparents and I was one of those, been looked after very, very well, we lived in Donborough, and we had all the delights of being able to fish and swim every day, and go rabbit shooting, and fox hunting and god knows what, and it was all very good. So that was brilliant in-between until we got a bit older, not much doing, very little, so I had a lot of catch up to do of course as soon as we go on to these twenty-one lessons from the Air Force, and it introduced me to things like algebra, geometry, and trigonometry, which I hadn’t really done much more than hear about average schools don’t cover too much, I finished it but boys one year you can’t catch up too much, so anyway that was it.
JM: So that was like equivalent to an intermediate certificate?
DS: Yes I believe it was Union [?] University, Western Australia.
JM: Right.
DS: That was hard as I went back I was very good really but nonetheless so there was plenty of catch up work.
JM: And so you that would have been sixteen you finished sort of that schooling?
DS: Er, I finished schooling at fourteen.
JM: Fourteen.
DS: And left school then.
JM: At fourteen okay. So between fourteen and eighteen when you were conscripted what sort of things did you do?
DS: Nobody asked me that for a long time, but I, I got a job, any type of job all I wanted to do was to work and get a few dollars. Now I got a job with Harris [?] Centre the big hardware people in Western Australia and they were, they covered a whole lot of things and you could do everything from broom sweeping to filling bottles and I did all that, it was all right, l had a, they were a good crowd, very good. But that was it then that covered two years at least may be three out of the four, anyway and then —
JM: And was that in Perth?
DS: Yes, yes. And then I did something else for a pharmacist for some time until the day I was eighteen.
JM: And had your mother come back to Perth at this stage and you were living with her or were you had the grandparents moved in to?
DS: Yes she was back from er, I don’t know, I’ve forgotten. I think the last, her last country post was Greenwood [?] she was the matron at the hospital there, and I lived there for a while until the local [unclear] you can’t do that because the maternity ward is just so close to where you were sleeping and what’s going on there is not good for growing boys, something in that order so they said right oh well you’re out. So some very nice English lady who already had three children more than, more than she could manage was good enough to take me in. So that was it whilst we were in the country we were staying with this and finally we got together with mother in Perth for say about twelve months before the call up date.
JM: That’s call up, so you had your call up and sort of then from the time, well I think you did your initial training, in June 1942 at Clontarf, so that would make you twenty, a bit over twenty, about twenty and a half so then you were in the Army for about two years?
DS: Oh no, no, no.
JM: No, not that long?
DS: Probably.
JM: Right okay.
DS: I was only the Army for about three or four months.
JM: Oh okay, right.
DS: Not that that matters, and then we were in the course of doing these lessons from the Air Force the crowd that gave you lessons, I’ve forgotten, er but I’m not sure about the time but anyway —
JM: No, no, I think it was my actual, I’ve got an arrow in the wrong place I can see where I’ve made the mistake so that’s okay. So then you did your initial training at Clontarf and then did your pilot training —
DS: At Cunderdin
JM: Yes, that was when you were in to Tiger Moths.
DS: Yes we were on Tigers but then you did the solo bit.
JM: Yes.
DS: In time yes.
JM: So how long before you went solo?
DS: Six months, quarter hours I think it was something like that.
JM: And how was your experience first, of your first solo flight?
DS: Oh well, course all of you, you know, all of you are as proud as punch you can’t think of anything else really, er, but we were mostly very happy about that, but then it was only a matter of another weeks or a month or so we went off that job and of course on to —
JM: Avro Ansons? Ansons, Avro Ansons?
DS: Oh Ansons, yes, and of course they were very reliable you, you could make a dozen mistakes you know and they would still be in the air, but, er —
JM: Which was a little different to the Tiger Moth situation?
DS: Oh yes, oh well the Tigers you had do give them some respect because they were so gentle but really that’s about it the way you had to treat them and once you get used to that you’re right, gentle [unclear]. They used to say there was a saying, gentle treat them like a woman, and so that’s what we tried to do and that was successful. So we went on the job and that was another four months graduating [unclear] with hundreds and thousands of others, and then it was only a matter of days or may be weeks and we got the posting and of course the posting was to the UK. And well there was via Laporte.
JM: Freemantle.
DS: I went to Melbourne.
JM: So Freemantle to Melbourne.
DS: Melbourne.
JM: And then Melbourne to —
DS: Sydney by train.
JM: Oh okay right.
DS: And then there was an amalgamation of bodies and they got on, we went on The Matson Line.
JM: Right.
DS: The Matsonia [?]
JM: Right, so when would this have been?
DS: It was about the middle of ‘43.
JM: The middle of ’43.
DS: And, er, wended our way to the US and across the US, in the normal way, and then —
JM: Across to New York obviously.
DS: Yes, sometime in New York big camp [unclear] there, enormous place a small city in itself and then finally we got on a boat to England, that was the Queen Mary.
JM: Right the Mary, yes.
DS: All very nice that was the first of the [unclear] that could go unaccompanied by a whole of plethora of ships because they were fast, it was fast enough —
JM: To out speed the German U-Boats and all the rest of it?
DS: Subs.
JM: So did you land in Scotland, land in Scotland?
DS: Yes, yes, and finally ended up on the south coast.
JM: To Brighton?
DS: Brighton.
JM: Yes.
DS: Where there was a whole load of us and er, not much time there and then we were off to a whole load of different training, we’d go do this course, that course.
JM: You do your affiliation in a sort of is that where you first started flying Wellingtons?
DS: Er, Wellingtons was the first large aircraft yes, yes.
JM: So it was a conversion from your Avro Anson to your Wellingtons?
DS: The Wellingtons was the next. Did that, and it was a nice old aircraft really you know and of course it was the mainsail of Bomber Command early in the piece [unclear] you know a first class bomber. Always did stay as a bomber but of course less and less significance, anyway —
JM: And from that conversion course did you then get, is that when you were posted to 149?
DS: Oh no, no, no, oh crickey you can’t get away with that, there was half a dozen courses in-between, one on stars you know meteorology, another on beam landing systems, and another on some other, oh there was a whole load a plethora of reasons that we had to do another week here, or a week there, always in a tent it was winter, and anyway—
JM: In a tent did you say?
DS: Mostly in a tent somewhere?
JM: So you didn’t even have the Nissen hut?
DS: Oh yes, we lived in, we had our permanent time there, but when you’re posted off to a course somewhere you know you’re a week away from it.
JM: Right, so if this is approaching the end of ’43 you’re coming into the winter?
DS: Yes, I, I, I [unclear] a little bit because we had to have someone on patrol every night you know with the heater in the middle of the, of the unit you know there was thirty-six bodies I think in the, in the tin shed that we were in, but they were nice units but just made to put beds in after all, and we, but we had this fire in the middle and that was very useful, very useful. Anyway so it was only then a matter of getting another posting to another place and we then converted onto the next step up.
JM: Then the Halifaxes or Stirlings?
DS: Stirlings.
JM: Stirlings right.
DS: Stirling was the first four engine that we had and we loved it.
JM: How did you, what sort of differences would you feel you experienced between flying the Stirlings and the Wellingtons, anything stand out for you?
DS: Not really no.
JM: Only major difference is four engines versus two obviously —
DS: You just had to get your fingers over the fourth thing you know make sure that you had it covered, I remember having initial problems with it you know not my fingers but obviously it, it becomes easier, no trouble at all, so that was it amen, you finally get a post.
JM: Posting.
DS: A post, at we got ours at 149 Squadron, but, just out of London, north of London, and but ah her we go, we were quite happy to go, go off in a Stirling really but they had mainly Halifaxes and Lancasters there so, they’d only just getting the Lancs so what happened the first thing we did was oh you can’t fly that you’ve got to do a course first. In the usual way so we did our course on the Lancasters and about the last day or the second last day a posting came through from whoever does the postings in the UK to say your crowd, your crew 82 special duties.
JM: Right. Just before we go to that you by this time had a crew.
DS: Oh yes.
JM: So where did you crew up?
DS: Before we got in the four engine aircraft.
JM: So
DS: That was after the Stirling, after er, —
JM: At —
DS: After the Wellingtons.
JM: After the Wellingtons.
DS: After the Wellingtons yes, that was about crewing up time.
JM: That was crewing time. So who what sort of crew did you have, did you have a mixed, mixed crew then if it was 149?
DS: They were mixed.
JM: Oh no you weren’t actually on 149.
DS: We went into a, the expert way in which it’s done, your shoved into a room like so many cattle, and said, ‘Right everyone’s got to make their own crew, pick their own bodies, seven, seven each, and that’s it.’ Very scientific of course. So how much, how do you know who the hell unless you know people, and as a pilot you, you only learnt people’s names and friendships since you’d been on the course, so it’s the luck of the draw really right from day one. But of course that’s the whole of the Air Force then became Bomber Command is a story of the luck of the draw and if you’re really lucky you’ll be all right, [unclear] bad luck. So anyway we crewed up all Western Australians and that was my scientific method of ticking the box, a perverse, quite a perverse crowd, navigator for example who was subsequently killed in an accident we had in Italy, er, he was a great [unclear] of a person he was over twenty-eight most of us were still eighteen or —
JM: Twenty, I think you probably would have been about —
DS: Nineteen twenty.
JM: Nineteen twenty by this stage.
DS: So whatever it was, you weren’t all that old. Anyway you crew up and you ask what, what was the crew, I mean there was a bomb aimer from Sydney who had done nothing much but drift in his life but a nice guy, and then the wireless operator who, whose still alive we became you know real, real close, he’s the only member of the crew that’s still around other than myself, so and then we’d got an English engineer who had according to him had all kinds of experience in a Rolls Royce factory but in fact I think in practice had very little experience but a nice bloke but he was a womaniser and loved drinking, but you know all full crews had that I guess, [unclear] anyway that was it that was our crew.
JM: That was your crew. So you’re together you did your concluding together for Wellingtons sorry Stirlings and then you get the you’re about to start on Lancasters when your told you’re going off to, so you didn’t actually do any operations, do any ops?
DS: No less. No, I did no operations at all in England.
JM: In England right.
DS: As it happened at the time well it was something to do with someone who [unclear] because the timing was right it was just at the end of our conversion course. Obviously they didn’t want another crew although the squadron had have a number of losses but, er, and that was it. I would they made to go on oh you’re content for a week here, the posting [unclear] about a week second time down to somewhere in the South of England, we were then flying Stirlings and we had to press a button, right here we go it’s a brand new aircraft no hours on the clock. [unclear] you’ve got to give it every check possible, it’s yours, it’s yours if there’s any complaints feel free but give it now because it’s then yours, so we did just that.
JM: And this is a Stirling?
DS: Yes. Talk about it performing perfectly the whole time, we wouldn’t have given it back anyway so [laughs] there was no way, and that was the aircraft we took away with us.
JM: Right.
DS: Another week or so later they said, ‘Right you’re off to across Africa.’ We didn’t know you know we just got a posting that’s all, so we were posted to Radar Salem, North Africa [?] and we stopped there for the night and thought oh you know we’re on our way certain we were going to the Far East because they were very short, the Japs were getting the better part of the war there, so we reckoned we were on our way. But no it wasn’t that at all we got a posting to North Africa and another part of North Africa if you’d like to call it that, BNA, British North African Forces. And so we go to Algiers it was a place called Blida, big aircraft, a big Air Force base just outside of Algiers the capital, and they said, ‘Right oh you get this ops here.’ And we, we were in, we were actually posted to 624 Squadron that was our first post and we flew several on to [unclear], Africa South, but just across the Mediterranean from there. That was about the time there was a big upheaval when we, we lowered, took over, captured or freed up whatever, a lot of, held up ships, French, French warships, that were valuable to the allies but were being held up and put away the German fleet. Anyway so we thought oh we’re here for ages, but no we were there about four or five, six maybe six days, not sure, and a signal came through this time saying we’re going to the Far East, but no we’re going to Italy then.
JM: Right just before we get off to Italy, in those four, five, six trips, did you drop any bombs at all, were you just surveillance or what?
DS: All bodies.
JM: Sorry?
DS: We dropped bodies.
JM: Bodies right. Were they Special Forces or something?
DS: A whole lot of activity going on particularly in Southern France.
JM: So they were what Special Forces that you were dropping or?
DS: Oh yes, well we were in, of course still 624 Squadron was a part of the Special Forces, Special Bomber Command Forces. And then when we, we moved over to when we got the posting to Italy we found out that was Brindisi and that was Brindisi 148 Squadron which was still of course RAF, actually it was all RAF [unclear]. We had any, we had a mishap and [unclear], on take-off on one trip apart from that it was [unclear] aircraft.
JM: So how did you go with any particular damage to the airplane or?
DS: Well the aircraft was in pretty [unclear] shape I’m not too sure whether they could fix it up or not because we didn’t stay long enough to see what and you asked blokes about it, ‘Oh no, oh no, never heard of it.’ Anyway.
JM: So that was the most —
DS: That was the excitement.
JM: The excitement in those half a dozen or handful of trips, yep.
DS: Brindisi we got to.
JM: Got to Brindisi —
DS: Brindisi yes. We had, there was a Polish flight, really nice squadron on the other side of the airbase, we were on this side, whichever side you were looking at. They were operate, they operated absolutely separately from us and I have to say they were fearless, there were lots of days that we couldn’t fly because of the weather because of the distance, it didn’t worry the Poles they were always flying, and particularly a bit later on we had four trips towards Poland, er, we weren’t allowed to go fortuitously or otherwise a week or so before we got there, maybe it was that week, we were helping, we were trying to help the Poles, when the Russians were approaching and of course they had the German Panzer there, then they had the Russians coming that way. They appealed to every squadron everywhere, commanders in chief the lot, we want all the assistance we can get, anyway it was quite a game, half a dozen [unclear] as many as they had planes for about five hundred or more were lost over wasn’t over Warsaw but it was I would say the battle for Warsaw.
JM: But you weren’t on that particular mission?
DS: No, no, oh no fortunately, once again luck of the draw, and they said cancelled all, all, all those trips to Warsaw, Poland, but there were plenty of others till we [unclear]. We never ever had a prime aim or you’ve got to do this or you’ve got to do that. We just —
JM: Mission by mission basically.
DS: We were on call.
JM: Yes, yes, for whatever they decided they wanted to be the next target.
DS: One of the big thing was, or one of the big things if not the biggest, Tito of course was commander of the forces over the, over the war, and Tito was a very vigorous fighter, we weren’t too sure whether he, which side he was on but we were supposed to be helping him and each second or third crew were surprised you know we used to call it [unclear] with the Luftwaffe quite [unclear]. There were all kinds of things they introduced I remember a land mine in those days of course these things were about this round all big heavy —
JM: A couple of feet wide?
DS: Oh anyway all the holes in aircraft that you get in and out are square you see so we had to cut a big round hole to accommodate these, course we had —
JM: So these were the bombs that —
DS: Oh we didn’t drop them as bombs —
JM: You didn’t drop them —
DS: We dropped them as for TJ [?] forces when we dropped those kind of things, that was quite a frequent player because arms and ammunition actually were always short for on the other side. Mind you we didn’t know too much of what was going on, they very rarely opened up to say we’re going to do this, or you are going to do that, or you’re going somewhere, but you never ever well very rarely ever knew there was no fixed place. Mainly the trips at night when we were dropping bodies were in the dark and mostly on a hillside that was hard to find always of course, but that, that was all part of the, part of the act of course.
JM: And what, and you still had your initial crew?
DS: Oh yes, yes.
JM: That you’d crewed up with —
DS: Yeah we had —
JM: That would have been 14 —
DS: 148 —
JM: Stages there, so that crew had come through from all each of these different stages, you still had the same crew?
DS: And we were all together except the navigator who we lost on the, oh what trip it was but it was on 26th December ’44, would have been ’44 or ’43?
JM: Probably ’43 I’d say.
DS: No.
JM: No ’44.
DS: And we crashed, I should never have ever really, this is off the record of course, but I should never ever have going forward we lost an engine on take-off, so many times it’s easy to turn back your excused you know so it’s just to press on, this was an occasion I thought we’d press on you know the old story, press on regardless —
JM: And you were taking off from?
DS: Italy.
JM: From Brindisi?
DS: Brindisi. When we got to about the Slavic Coast, the north coast it became pretty evident our engines were overheating and the engineer said, ‘Oh we can’t go anymore.’ Because dropping stuff we have to go low and then you’ve gotta, so it got to the stage that we thought we’ve gotta go back, and we went back cut across to Italy and we looked for a nice soft landing spot of course and we picked a fairly good spot it was a grape growing place in, a place called San Pico [?] if I remember rightly, and unfortunately you, you don’t know the aircraft but the Halifax was, we were flying [unclear] the navigator used to be way beyond the front and you had to climb two flights of stairs to go up, and at, on that particular flight we were loaded to the hilt, there were extra clothes and food it was Christmas time you know, and er, he just couldn’t get up the stairs he had the certain navigation equipment that he should have done this with but struggling up to get the stairs and sooner or later of course you know he the props flew off, the right, the right hand motor had been what do you call it not seized up, but it had been cut off because —
JM: Feathered?
DS: It was propeller, it had been feathered [unclear] but it had been freewheeling there’s a word for it special [unclear] anyway. So as soon as the prop hit the ground the bits just flew off and fortunately the pilot was just about that far in front of where the props fly off so it missed you know who, but unfortunately the navigator was right in the road and it cocked him, so I don’t know what number trip it was but we, that was, we flew on for months after that you know borrowed a navigator. You’ll have to excuse me I’ve got to go to the toilet frequently.
JM: We’re just resuming now we’re picking up on December ’44, so where you had —
DS: We did a number of very interesting trips following that —
JM: Following that —
DS: The most interesting one was when we took four very brave characters to the Hitler’s retreat[?] up in the mountains, of course we came from Southern Italy just a bit to the left, our big concern, biggest concern in getting there and getting back there was, there was a squadron of Messerschmitt 362 had moved into somewhere near Trieste, and of course we had the option of our own of doing our own navigation you know we were well away from this crowd, so we dodged them without any trouble, then we had to find this virtually a torchlight, and I said, ‘oh no trouble.’ We’ll follow the mountains close to the mountain peak of course and they were all mountain peaks [laughs] heck of a place. So anyway we finally estimated what we reckoned what was right, confirmed by the blokes we were carrying because the method of identification was pretty raw really, but that’s the problem we were happy when they was off, snow and it was desolate you know but very close to his headquarters, we flew around a long time looking for the place but anyway we’d done what we were doing for months no too keen on that trip at all but anyway —
JM: And they dropped successfully?
DS: Oh yes, yes, the drop was. Unfortunately we never or very rare ever heard back from the blokes as whether it was successful or otherwise. But obviously some of the operations were captured before the blokes got to the ground, because the, they’d been the fellas down there had been captured by the Germans and they were using the signals you see, but you know that’s war and I guess happens all the time. Anyway so that took us up till about they declared armistice in Europe and then of course we thought well we’ll get a week have a little rest and peace and quiet, but the next important job was flying all the oddbods all over the place back to Europe, and of course that was a very joyful task, but we didn’t partake because the next day or the day after another signal came through all Australians have got to be returned they wanted everybody in a hurry so that was it, and then we boarded the first ship, or a number of aircraft ready we’d got over to Egypt and we were on the banks of the river there, The Nile, for months, months, and then the war finally ended whilst we were there, they dropped the big bomb —
JM: Hiroshima?
DS: Hiroshima, that was it, end of story.
JM: And when you were in Egypt there you were just —
DS: Doing nothing.
JM: Doing nothing just waiting?
DS: Waiting, waiting, waiting.
JM: Okay backtracking to Brindisi again, you obviously because it was such a long period of time a long posting do you have any recollection of how many ops you did altogether?
DS: We did forty.
JM: Forty ops?
DS: Forty trips yes.
JM: Okay from Brindisi?
DS: No, no all told, our log books recorded, I don’t have mine I lost it mine years and years ago, Rod Harrison said we logged forty trips.
JM: Right, right. A fair reasonable number would have been while you were at Brindisi?
DS: Oh yes, yes.
JM: So what sort of things did you do in your down time during ops?
DS: I’m afraid we probably drunk too much red wine but I’m ashamed to say, but there wasn’t too much to do —
JM: That’s the point —
DS: And you had to fill in the day and every now and again of course they did say the weather was so terrible, but the Poles can fly but you can’t, so we got four days off we’d say right we’re off to, the favourite place was Pollina[?] in Sicily but that wasn’t very far away from Mount Etna, a road goes through from Pollina [?] up to, to the mountain, and you know it’s a story really but we got hemmed in there was the biggest snow of all time there were hemmed in just as we’d kind of settled in ready to come back [unclear] very little time.
JM: So what you’d driven up —
DS: Oh no, no, oh you’d get to the, the accommodation was in Pollina [?] a little place by the coast and then you would scrounge your way up there was plenty of vehicles going all the time Italian vehicles, so we got up there without any trouble it was the getting back of course we had to have a quick lessons in skiing, and you know we were trying all the time to do a bit of this and of course falling off most of the time but—
JM: So where did you get the skis from?
DS: Oh they loaned us to, they said, ‘Right you’re quite welcome to them just hand them into whatever centre it was back in the Pollina [?]. So I think one or two of them were badly bruised but we didn’t break anything except didn’t break any bones really they were badly bruised, lucky because when you can’t steer properly you’re bound to hit a tree and things like that, anyway we were much better skiers at the end of the time because it was a hell of a long way from up top down to where the road, where the snow stopped, a long way, unbelievable.
JM: Did you have any sense of time, sort of was it four hours, five hours, or any sense of timing at all?
DS: Really lots of time.
JM: And how did you sort of navigate, how did you know where —
DS: Ah well you know but it’s —
JM: You followed the road I presume?
DS: Yes, well more tried to follow the road but you knew if the road was east to west you knew that it was basically east to west or whatever it was, so that was one of our special trips, mind you we did quite a number of others. I don’t think we ever told the story, we were going north, north to Naples but anyway that’s another the story, but we were particular keen about Malta [unclear] never done this, never done that, there was a thousand rogues and vagabonds there, every street corner was covered with them, and of course if you were stupid enough to be out after dark you were asking for trouble, anyway we, we probably had a few drinks one day or every day I guess, but we it was after dark and we were still out and of course we got the greatest lashing of all time the whole crew.
JM: The whole crew?
DS: No there were only five of us there I think five out of the seven, the two other were too smart to come with us but probably a good idea of what was going to go off, but anyway —
JM: So how did you get to Malta?
DS: Ah, that’s another story. We had a, I’ve forgot the name of the type of [unclear] kind of a major repair very close to us, they fixed all kinds of aircraft from all over the place, so if they had anything that was flyable that we thought we could, that I thought we could fly we flew, so we had this water repair and we could [unclear] there was supposed to be —
JM: Another type?
DS: Another type, yes, that’s right. And we just squeezed in should never have had quite that many but anyway I was, I thought I could fly this in and so we did, I got it down there but very glad to leave it to someone else to fly it back because I don’t think I could have done it again but, and there were all kinds of other trips we could do.
JM: So just going back to you flew, so you got this aircraft it —
DS: Yes. Borrowed it.
JM: Borrowed it, flew over to Malta, had a bit of a day or so in Malta and then you in the evening you copped a bashing, and how did you —
DS: Get home?
JM: Get home then?
DS: I’m not too sure but we finally made it, there were some reprimands of course [laughs] but fortunately it didn’t extend beyond that, mind you they wanted, they wanted crews to fly, so they couldn’t, they couldn’t kind of send us off and say right you can go somewhere, but that was, it wasn’t our biggest adventure really, but these are the things that you know, all the aircrew, or nearly all aircrew were up to it one way or the other.
JM: No that’s right and of course the difference being with you being over there in Brindisi was very different to squadrons back in the UK —
DS: Oh yes.
JM: When they had leave they could go to London or wherever it was, but as you say sort of very much almost left to your own devices at Brindisi.
DS: We were entirely, entirely. Eventually it was rare when well Rome particularly was always a magnet to go up and you know you had to have your photograph taken in —
JM: For the —
DS: In all the places that were old and historic and that was all good fun but —
JM: So how many times do you think you would have gone to Rome?
DS: Oh several, several times.
JM: Any particular incidents stand out then?
DS: No, no real nasty incidents, we were stuck on the road sometimes, all you could see were Indians, and you know you think —
JM: How did you get to Rome?
DS: Always vehicles going, coming and going all the time, sometimes took an aircraft halfway if it was down for servicing or going back again, there was always a you know, never really anything exciting happened other than the historical photographs outside this place and that place, and of course seeing it, ah that’s right I forgot to mention our, our historic visit was the day we visited Rome and we had a special trip, an invitation from one of the padres that were training, under training here and they were quite a few of them a good number of Australians’. And anyway so we had this invite, special invite, a couple of cartons of cigarettes you know to do all this, so but we did it, and we had this personal interview with the Pope and received his blessing.
JM: Goodness me.
DS: That was a, we thought it wasn’t a big deal, but everyone else thought it was a big deal after, but it was exciting, and you can remember things you try to have a good look and see the big ring on his finger all that.
JM: So that was what a ten minute —
DS: Oh that was, we had an audience —
JM: An audience?
DS: There was a great crowd out the and we sat out there, he had a thing like this right up at the front, and at that stage he used to stand, I’ve read about it since, he’s now down on the floor level for some reason they cut out this special groove, ‘cos they were all first to get the blessings if there’s any blessings left [unclear] they on the floor, but anyway that was you know so at the time, but otherwise it was all pretty average, pretty ordinary you know, all we wanted to do really was to get home, and but we then spent four at least four months over in Egypt waiting for a ship before we got home, that was the time the bomb was dropped, the big one. We got home as peaceful civilians you might say.
JM: And when you were flying did you have any lucky charms, or any of the crew have any lucky charms, or have any suspicions that you used to that they following that anyone followed, ‘cos some I know that having talked to a few other chaps that you know other chaps did have lucky charms, and did certain things in a certain routine that you know never varied, I mean obviously the usual checks and all the rest of it.
DS: We were a pretty ordinary crew really, a pretty ordinary crowd. One of our, well it wasn’t a problem but for social aspects all the rest of the crew were under twenty-one years of age and we had these two blokes were twenty-eight and they were quite elderly.
JM: By comparison yes.
DS: Yes, so that, that upset some of them, well it didn’t upset them but it, it was divisive in as much as they didn’t all want to come with us, but mostly we drank too much anyway, nearly all the time if we could get booze but you couldn’t get good beer anywhere.
JM: Not in Italy I wouldn’t have thought.
DS: So you just drank what there was.
JM: What there was?
DS: So to cut a long story short, mother was very pleased to see us get back, she was down at the ship there so [laughs]
JM: I’ll say. And I didn’t check before did you have any brothers or sisters?
DS: I had a sister who joined the Air Force about the same time as I did and she became a radio operator and they used to be stuck up in the bush up around Jordan [?] or out north from Jordan [?] in the bush there, where the [unclear] that was it she —
JM: No it’s just that so for your mum there was only the one that she had to worry about coming back, returning from overseas, yes.
DS: Yes.
JM: So that was in you came back and then you ultimately were discharged in February 1946, is that right?
DS: Yes, that would be.
JM: Is that right?
DS: Yes. Had a week or two after we got back not very long, anyway.
JM: And then what did you do for the next few years?
DS: Well, they were very, very busy years, because when I was in the desert waiting for the ship we bought a store at Mingenew[?], do you know west at all?
JM: Not really that area no.
DS: You’ve gotta know Mingenew relatively speaking, it’s not the most salubrious town around, a typical country town, wheat and sheep, but all the good properties all the nice houses are way up in the [unclear] not many around town except the pub and our store that was good whilst it was there. I was there for not long a year or so but it was everything was rationed you know, milk, you were around at that stage or were you?
JM: Not quite no.
DS: But everything was rationed, I mean cigarettes and booze were most wanted, hard to get but you know, you couldn’t buy extra milk or cream or butter, a whole range of stuff, it was very difficult to even think that we were like life could have been like that, but anyway that didn’t last for long. I trained to be a schoolteacher, quite stupidly, god knows how I got the thing in that you know, but anyway so we left the store round there and a fortune with it for an academic career. And we were going fine, I was I did the teacher’s course and it was only two years.
JM: At Perth? Was this at Perth?
DS: At Perth yes. Became a I forgot what they call it something psychological and so and so expert you know, I only had about five minutes of training on the course. Anyway that was, that was good until and I was gonna, oh mother was happy with that, she said, ‘You’ve got a job for life son you’ll never get the sack, oh there’s permanent holidays’. Anyway so I was busy teaching, I had because of my training you know I did ended up as a special class of kids, children, and some of them had an IQ as low as fifty-five and that’s a if you know IQ’s that’s getting down a bit, nice you know, lovely children and all that but you know I was happy to stay doing this every day of the week. Ah in the meantime I’ve bought another store [unclear] you’re good at this and I thought should be a supplies store, and my wife said oh I’ll look after the store through the day and we had a manager in as well, he used to drink all, a fair drop, it was hard to get of course, and everything was sailing along beautifully for the first several months but until one day two big burly strong fellas came in and they were from the union the teacher’s union, and of course they said, ‘Oh we understand that you’re not in the you know, you haven’t joined the teacher’s union.’ And I said, ‘No that would be right I haven’t.’ They said, ‘Oh you’ve got to join the union otherwise you can’t stay, you can’t be a teacher you’ve got to be in the union.’ And I said, ‘Well, you serious about that?’ So I said, ‘Okay well.’ That was a very big silence and there we are I went off to the headmaster and that finished that job. [laughs] So no more, no more academic career for me.
JM: What, what sort of years was this, this was about ’48, well you said you did about two years training so are we up to about —
DS: No, no, no, not two years training.
JM: Teacher training I thought you said.
DS: Oh yes, yes that’s right yes.
JM: So are we up to about ’49?
DS: Well, what, two years on top of what after the discharge, would have been about right, I needed another six months to get a leaving certificate as well.
JM: Right.
DS: To allow me to do it.
JM: Do the two years.
DS: So there’s two and a half years, busy years, between drinking and, and school work, there was no spare time, oh and of course I got married in the meantime.
JM: I was going to say you mentioned your wife there, so we, I was going to find out, fit that in as well, when you got married and how, when you met your wife?
DS: Well, we met in the usual way, before I left we were both in the surf club.
JM: Which surf club?
DS: City Beach.
JM: City Beach.
DS: City of Perth, and it was you know, things were very rough and ready out there, we had a, although we had a nice, nice big shed for dressing and undressing, and we had a nice big heavy surf boat, which, which it took about eighteen blokes to just get off the ground, but we had to walk across the sandy beach you know to get it back up to the surf club. Anyway, that was, that was the recreation side, but I met Julie used to come along with several other elderly sisters, two elderly sisters and another one or two girls, and you know in the usual way we got to talking, a bit of this, a bit of that, and we decided it mightn’t be a bad idea all the rest of ‘em had said they were getting married, doing this and doing that. So we said that would be a good idea, but not till we got, not till I got back from overseas. So we did just that, got back from overseas and a couple of months later I still hadn’t turned twenty-one so it was pretty quick but it was all fixed, and she was very good she looked after the shop while I was still teaching, and then she took over the ladies section up at, when I bought the big place up at Mingenew [?], and of course you know very handy to have a wife, who suffered the most. [laughs] Very handy. Anyway you know and then the Korean War hit.
JM: So then yes, so what you decided to give teaching away?
DS: I gave it away, I packed up
JM: Yes you gave it away after that —
DS: And it wasn’t short, no it was about that time I started to get letters from Air Force Headquarters, and so they, they decided that things were getting serious again and we were needed to re-arm and the Air Force of course had let everyone go, a lot had gone [unclear], so the first thing they wanted was old aircrew back particularly, oh of course we were still on the active reserves so wanted to see you back, so that took some months of wangling and selling my business and you know cleaning up. And then you don’t have a house to go to, Air Force then had very limited accommodation, so you had wherever you went you had to buy your own house and you know self-accommodate, so we did that of course, you just get by. And then of course they said all of you we’d like you to stay and they gave you, you get up as your old rank was flight officer. So you go back as that and then, I don’t know whether that’s when I got a new number was it? Perhaps it was 051723. Anyway, so that was it, it was just a nice long career in the Air Force.
JM: But well yes. So you were still based in Perth at that time?
DS: Oh yes, that lasted about five minutes.
JM: And from there?
DS: Melbourne.
JM: You moved to Melbourne yep. And that how long were you in Melbourne roughly?
DS: A very short time.
JM: A very short time.
DS: So then you, you needed experience of course.
JM: Because at this point you’re not flying?
DS: No.
JM: Your in —
DS: I was doing a bit of flying but there were too many old war time pilots that had gone back and they were very, very jealous of their careers and they didn’t want any extra crew around, so they said, ‘Oh you better do this, you better do that, become a teacher you’ve got the qualifications.’ So I said, ‘No, no, no I don’t want to do that.’ And I took the job as equipment officer and, I, all I know about it, all the girls used to hand stuff over the counter, when you wanted clothing and stuff you know, I thought that’s what the equipment officer, that’s what they do. So of course, it is what they do, it’s a very small part of it of course, so that was my view of it. So we did this there was really no appreciation of time you know you get [unclear] So we got, till we got up to Canberra, and of course once you’re there you’re stuck there, you know it doesn’t matter what you do or say or where you wanna go. Oh we had a couple of years in the States.
JM: Okay, what sort of, heading up a base or something?
DS: No, no, no, they didn’t want too many strangers, too much for them. There was the nicest, kindest people in the world as long as you didn’t cast any shadow on the mishap or the US generally, well no, no trouble, I mean we enjoyed the place it was all very nice. So we had two years ensconced to the Air Force base, and I was the chief missiles man quite a new sidewinder missiles they’ve still got some a very basic missile but very, very effective.
JM: So what you were looking after their —
DS: Well looking after our interests or trying to.
JM: Or trying to.
DS: Yes. And that was an Air Force base where they’ve got a lot of [unclear] and we they were kind enough to lend me a, an F100 which was very modern aircraft and the gentleman with me the pilot he’d got a flare for me you know and it worked, and we saw it work it was all good fun.
JM: So that would have been a very different flying experience to your Stirlings and your Lancasters?
DS: Oh yes, a world apart, world apart, but mind you Bomber Command was Bomber Command and they had nothing better anywhere, and the States never got, never got up to the bombing raids because they were, their aircraft weren’t specifically built for that particular job whereas our aircraft were, and they might have been clumsy to get around them because there was bits of stuff sitting out the floor here you know, but they were essentially for carrying bombs, the more they could fit on the better, and they did just that. Well —
JM: And, except when they were used for transferring all the at the end of the war, after the war had concluded and were transporting all the troops back from, from Europe back to England, of course then it was a fairly difficult exercise trying to get the chaps you know I believe they just packed in and sat on top of their parachutes.
DS: Well in some parts in others they only had a handful of blokes.
JM: So how many, you did a few of those —
DS: No, no, I was ensconced in Egypt by then.
JM: Yes, yes, in Egypt by then.
DS: But my friends, who one was a Kiwi, another a great Englishman, and we were in close contact with and they had some terribly exciting trips to all parts of Europe picking up two blokes here and three blokes there for different reasons why there were only two or three there, and of course there were other sad scenes too where they got a lot of others, but anyway that was and I, we weren’t there, I missed out on all that I’d have loved to have been there, but so endeth the —
JM: So then, we were just talking about that flight you know comparing that flight for you in that F100 —
DS: Oh yes, yes. F100.
JM: Compared to the experience in —
DS: Oh, chalk and cheese.
JM: Chalk and cheese, yes that’s right. Again that’s more or less the fighter pilot which again you know as we said, we’re talking specifically designed for bombers, for bombing raids.
DS: Yes.
JM: So that’s a major, major difference there and then. So what sort of roles did you ultimately do in Canberra?
DS: Oh well, briefly I’d have to say pen pushing, there was a lot of politicking and inter-action with the department you know the crowd that were close to defence and —
JM: Defence affairs?
DS: No, no, defence affairs, there were well I should, I should be able to spout it off but I can’t, anyway that, there was a lot of as we got sent on a course, lot of politics.
JM: Foreign affairs?
DS: No, Air Force Headquarters.
JM: Oh Air Force Headquarters.
DS: You know you always had to be a bit careful of which side of the camp you know, we got a very nasty senior civilian in the Department of Defence, he was the first of the Defence Ministers that was oh rough, and gruff and anti-services, so there used to be this constant battle all the time you know to get, to get to do this to do that, now of course many years later there well and truly integrated, were into their department as well as they’re are with us and hopefully things work differently now sometimes they do, but anyway that’s not for me to say. But I enjoyed it every minute, the last couple of years when I was Air Commodore the last year anyway when I was briefly in charge of our branch, er, I used to be at work at seven in the morning, half past seven, but purely there was a load of stuff to do always, always working, always behind, but I always had my dilly bag and maybe a carrier bag, I’m afraid I wasn’t not much of a nightlife at home because had to do the books, the Air Force books every night, anyway that’s another matter, but I enjoyed it anyhow.
JM: Which Air Force books were those, which Air Force books?
DS: Oh, the books, the books, er, well our own branch in particular because we had thousands of blokes in the branch, but you so far away from most of them you only know the names of all those that are up close and we did it, we had a an Air Vice Marshall who was actually senior to me and he was posted to Defence so it didn’t leave too many others round our way, but that didn’t matter, we enjoyed, I enjoyed life, and going to the mess and having a few grogs, but not half as many as I drank as a younger bloke, not half as many.
JM: No.
DS: So it got to be different anyway.
JM: Oh that’s right, that’s right. And of course as well I mean you were going home to your wife and all the rest of it so that’s a totally different situation.
DS: Yeah well we flew over from Perth with, er, we only had one child at that stage, and he’s since dead, died, what we did bring over was a big cattle dog, I’d been, one of the blokes had come back from the Kimberley’s and he was a drover and he bought it origin magnificent countryman good family, he said, ‘There.’ But cattle, on the cattle side I can speak for exactly [unclear] crossed with a dingo, but he said, ‘He’s a faithful animal.’ So we had this, I called it “Aspetari, Aspetari Peter” so that was his name [laughs] not quite an ordinary dog’s name.
JM: Not quite.
DS: My navigator we used to in the end we used to call him, the navigator that replaced poor old Fred, we used to call him Aspertari which is Italian for going slow, or a derivation of that anyway. Anyway so we brought our big dog over, he used to bite anyone he could, oh he was always heeling and very, very rarely would he break anyone’s skin, but I bought a lot of socks for people, he used to grab it and anchor it you see, grab a bit of sock with it, there all good stories.
JM: That’s right yeah.
DS: All good stories.
JM: So when you, so you retired in what?
DS: Ah, it would have been, it was either ’80, ‘4 or ‘6, or ‘8, it was one of those multiples, I’m gonna say the middle one about ’86.
JM: About ’86.
DS: Yes, it’s very close to that anyway. So I didn’t need to retire I could have they wanted someone to take over the support command and then post another bloke into my job, so I went home and told the bad news to Julie my wife and she said, ‘Oh love, I just don’t wanna move again, I, we’ve been from there, to there, to there.’ So then we bought three or four houses along the road, none of them very good but good enough to live in for the time being, and that we’d, she’d had enough and I wasn’t far behind so I didn’t take much convincing so I threw it in. But you know there comes a time for everything.
JM: That’s right. And did you stay in Canberra then?
DS: Oh no, the day, oh we left the house and oh we came straight up to the Gold Coast that’s right. I bought a block of flats pretty clapped out they were but all they needed was a little bit of —
DS: Oh perhaps a lot of TLC.
JM: Okay.
DS: But anyway, that was, the story is they were right next to the Grand Hotel, you don’t know the Grand?
JM: Not really, where, which part are we talking about?
DS: On the coast, on the Gold Coast, at Labrador.
JM: Labrador, right okay.
DS: There’s this much water between us and the ocean.
JM: Goodness me.
DS: The road up there, anyway, I didn’t, we didn’t realise at the time what an asset it was but of course I don’t know why you know you get the urge when you’re younger and for some reason you want to do something else. Anyway this crowd came up from I don’t know Canberra probably and offered a price and it meant I made a few dollars, and I was silly enough to sell it, mind you the wife had worked too hard there and I wasn’t too keen about that either but, and so, I was stupid enough then to buy I think we bought some more flats but they, they weren’t as good, oh anyway that’s another story. I bought two more blocks of in Main Beach and they did become very valuable, but by that time I’d gone, we had a house a very comfortable place but you know there you are.
JM: Yes, by this stage a few years had passed by —
DS: To get away from the Air Force too, you can’t go to any of the, we went to the reunions till they finally wore out.
JM: Yes.
DS: But there’s a limit, there weren’t that many bods around here, but —
JM: So in terms of then maintaining contact you said that your wireless operator is still alive?
DS: Oh yes.
JM: And what was his name?
DS: Rod Harrison.
JM: And whereabouts is Rod?
DS: He lives in, um, oh, it’s 19 —
JM: No just the, Queensland, New South Wales?
DS: Oh sorry he’s in Perth still.
JM: Oh he’s in Perth okay right.
DS: Yeah, when we were younger and fitter we used to visit each other of course, his wife died at the end of the century and my wife died nine years ago, so we’d been on our own, he was foolish enough to remarry at the age of eighty-four but you know that’s life.
JM: And what sort of contact, you said made reference to a couple of other chaps that you’ve spoken to, a Kiwi chap and another chap are they Bomber Command people were they?
DS: Yes the Kiwi blokes gone he was with us in 14, 148 Squadron, yes he died, and the other guy I can’t remember.
JM: Can’t remember that’s okay that’s fine.
DS: It was bad enough remembering, you know ’cos I’ve been in the RSL for years and years and years, but even there the old timers have all gone and I’m the eldest member there certainly the only ex Bomber Command, so nobody knows anything about it, nobody cares, that’s my how I get the message, and it wouldn’t matter if you walked in with the VC tomorrow it wouldn’t upset any of them. Anyway that’s enough.
JM: So that’s —
DS: I’ll come back to one or two reasons, the luck of the draw and if your just lucky, and postings come up and they protect you, I mean I was protected with going to a special unit, how you’re picked for it, God knows and he won’t tell us, so you can never find out, but these things just happen that’s it.
JM: And it was good, it was good for you too that you were able to take your whole crew with you at the same time which makes a big difference because having that core of people around you to come back to, and when you came back, I mean obviously as you say they’ve all passed away now bar Rod but did you keep in contact with the initial ones?
DS: Oh except our engineer, the old Englishman and even nice correspondence didn’t elect any, he was that kind of a character.
JM: He just didn’t want to maintain contact with you?
DS: No, but he was a happy-go-lucky engineer. So, but you know that’s life, I’m very fortunate to be around I suppose although there are many bloody days I think that’s a misfortune, one of them is that I’ve gotta go to the toilet all the time, and I’ve gotta go again.
JM: You’ve got to go again. Well, is there any other particular things at this point that you wanted to bring up?
DS: No.
JM: Well we’ve covered a tremendous amount of territory there Don and I very much appreciate your, your candidness and —
DS: Well nothing to hide, nothing to –
JM: No, no, no, just being able to sit and reminisce that’s so important and I’ll thank you for it. Thank you



Jean Macartney, “Interview with Donald Solin,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 20, 2024,

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