Interview with Don Southwell


Interview with Don Southwell


Don Southwell grew up in Australia and worked for RKO Radio Pictures and as an Air Raid Precautions Warden before volunteering for the Royal Air Force. After training in Australia and Canada, he flew nine operations as a navigator with 463 Squadron from RAF Waddington. He describes crewing up and everyday military life at the station, and gives accounts of his operations and being chased by Me 262s over Hamburg. He remembers ferrying liberated prisoners of war as part of Operation Exodus.




Temporal Coverage




01:42:57 audio recording

Conforms To


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DES: [unclear] have you?
AP: My little question sheet.
DES: Oh, good, [unclear] you should have given it to me before.
AP: No, no, no.
DES: [laughs]
AP: So what I do, uhm, because of this little adapter, if I unplug it, the careful tuned thing dies and it gets embarrassing cause it never works. So, instead I have to plug in earphones, so that I can check cause this is a little splitter. I can plug in earphones so that I can listen to it, because if I just try on the speaker, it goes out the earphones so, anyway. It works now, that’ the most important thing, I’ve had a couple of interviews where I had to use the little microphone built in here cause I never know if this thing’s working. Very very [unclear].
DES: I didn’t know there was a mike in those. See, I use one of those all the time. [unclear]
AP: Well, some of them, some of them do, so there is actually a little camera up here, there is a little microphone there, so it is like for web cam, is not for very good quality and it picks up all the noise that’s around, this seems to be more, uhm, localised to adjust your voice, which [unclear] in the recording. I did one of those with a bloke, uhm, Jack Bell, who, he was shot down in Libya, uhm, he’s 98, he was shot down in Libya in 1942 and spent the rest of the war as prisoner, ’43, very early [unclear].
DES: Ah, prisoner.
AP: 42 [unclear]
DES: In Germany?
AP: Uhm, in Italy and then in Germany.
DES: Ah.
AP: Uhm, and the house next door was actually being demolished at the time we did the interview. In the background you can hear a little bit of it, but not very much. So, for a twenty dollar E-bay special, they are pretty good. Anyway, if you are comfortable and ready to [unclear]
DES: Yeah.
AP: All this is, as you know, IBCC interview, uhm, basically we just have a chat. Uhm, I’ve got a sort of list of questions to get us started, but basically I’ll let you run and we go wherever we go and then we might come back and fill in gaps, all that sort of stuff.
DES: You edit it. Yeah.
AP: Yeah, uhm, we just go until one of us begs for mercy basically. I know what you are like, so it could be for a while [laughs].
DES: No, no, no, it’s not right. No, I, whenever this comes up and I’m in a group, I know the people who’ve got all the interesting stories. I’ve been doing this since Australia all over.
AP: No, I.
DES: Down in, [unclear] I’m gonna write him a letter too, but, uh, Ian McNamara and uh he was, uhm, I was all, I did directing, at, down there, I got the, we got this bloke and got this bloke, got that bloke, got that bloke, he’s gonna get all interesting blokes, you know, I knew [unclear] too long [laughs] and they didn’t want me [laughs] Yeah.
AP: Very good. Anyway, uhm, so, look, the shortest interview I’ve done went from forty five minutes long to three and a half hours or so, you know, whenever we get, we get, it’s quite ok. As I said, there’s a list of questions to sort to start of, so
DES: Forty five minutes, [unclear]
AP: That’s very short one, that was very hard because I had to keep asking questions to. Uhm, my favourite one.
DES: You’d might have to do that.
AP: We’ll see what happens when I ask the first question, that’s always the same question I start with and once the opening response went for about ten words, the longest one has been an hour and fifty before I had to say anything else. Which
DES: [unclear]
AP: It’s astonishing, it’s really really good. Anyway, so, uhm, I start off with a little spiel, so, kick off with that now, just to sort of set the time and the place, uh, so, we are recording and it looks good. So, this interview for the International Bomber Command Centre is with Don Southwell, who was a 463 Squadron navigator at the tail end of World War Two. Interview is taking place at Don’s home in St Ives in Sydney, it’s the 24th of April, I should know that, it’s their [unclear] day, my name is Adam Purcell. Uhm, so, as usual, Don, we will start with the normal question, can you tell me something of your early life, growing up, what you did before the war.
DES: Yes, I can certainly do that. Ehm, I was born in Croydon, in New South Wales, in number 10, Hardidge [?] Street as a matter of fact and I was the third child of my mother Cathy. Ehm, I had my brother Brian, my sister and myself, we were four years between each of us and we lived in Croydon, in Sydney. My father died when I was thirty, when he was thirty five and my mother brought us all up to the [unclear], my, I went to school in [unclear] High school and I had, oh I had a job when I left high school. I was, uhm, my first job was at, uhm, RKO Radio Pictures and I was there for about eighteen months and uhm, my mother thought that this picture business wasn’t the sort of place that [laughs] her son should be spending his career in. So, she started to work on various people and I finished up with a job at the MLC. At the MLC, at this particular stage, they only took you with the leaving certificate. My mum couldn’t afford to keep me on the leaving, so, while my brother and sister went to Fort Street High School and did the leaving, uhm, my mum couldn’t afford it. Anyway, we, I went to RKO Radio Pictures and we, uhm, I lasted there and, uhm, I got the job at the MLC and my sister actually worked and that’s how I probably had a little bit of influence and they didn’t want to appoint me first of all but I reached the stage where there weren’t getting many men in because of the war and the war had started and this was in 1941. And so, uhm, I was very fortunate to get that job because I remind there laws about 90 and that’s not a jag either, this is quite true and I [unclear], I have to write, yeah, uh, I was there for eighteen months and the war came and I’d already enlisted, I’d already joined the air training corps, it was 24 Squadron at Ashfield and under control of squadron leader Whitehurst and he had the grads there and we did all the courses for the air training corps and I was also an ARP warden on my bike and I had an ARP band on my arm, patrolling the streets at night to make sure the people were keeping to the blackout rules. I used to sit in those, sit at the top of the town hall at Ashfield and looking for [laughs] Japanese planes coming over. We didn’t get any Japanese planes but we had to report all things that were going in there and then I got the call up for the army. Because I was eighteen the army called me up and because I was in the air force, I had already been in the air training corps it didn’t make any difference so I went up to the infantry training battalion at Dubbo in central New South Wales and, uhm, I was there for about three weeks, while the rifle regiment came in on a motorbike and looking for [unclear] and took me back to the, you know, the orderly room, I was put on a train to Sydney, I was discharged from the army and sent down to Woolloomooloo. In Woolloomooloo was the air force, uhm, recruiting depot and there we did the medical tests and so forth and I was then posted off and I to number nine Glebe Island [?], which is a wharf in Sydney, I went in as an aircrew, I was called, the air force had so many people for aircrew that they couldn’t cope with them at a particular time and they made us air crew guards and I served for three months in Sydney, there’s an aircrew guard, some of them got posted all the way from New South Wales but I was fortunate enough, I caught number nine Glebe Island, where we guarded little beds, belonged to the air force and so forth and we also did jobs working on the wharves and I was part of the secret war people talk about, that the wharfies continually being out on strike and so forth and they asked the, they sent one of us down to do various jobs on the wharves because later all the supplies were going up to New Guinea, was on a ship called the Marino and it belonged under contract to the air force and now, the wharfies were pilfering stuff from this convoys that were going up to the, the trips up in New Guinea, they were pilfering stuff there and so we had a, we were put, what do you call it? A revolver, a Smith and Wesson revolver around their waists and I did stay for one night, I’d be inside the wharf for one day, inside the wharf in the stores where they had all the stuff there laying. We had a guard on the door, a guard on the, uhm, where the crane came down and picked the, uhm, supplies up, one on top on board the ship and one down in the hold. And we virtually stopped the pilfering in the, but there was a great war against the wharfies in those particular days but a very interesting book has been written about the secret war and it’s not only happened there, but it happened in the army and all around the place. So, that was just a little side set up, while I was waiting to go to aircrew. I was then called up to number 2 ITS in Bradfield Park, to go and do my initial training school and, uhm, so began my career in the air force. Then, do you want me to go further?
AP: Yeah, can you keep going as [unclear].
DES: I’m in the air force then, ok.
AP: Yeah, yeah, go ahead. Absolutely.
DES: We’re in Bradfield Park and Bradfield Park was the centre of two ITS and we did the normal parades on the [unclear] rid marches, uhm, we did cross country runs, we did all sorts of subjects that were pertinent to air crew and so forth, meteorology, all that sort of business and we, uhm, that took us about three weeks to do that and then I was categorised as a pilot. Cause I wanted to be a pilot because my brother was a pilot and so they made me a pilot. They sent me off to number 8, I think it is number 8, EFTS at Narrandera and so began my career, started my career as a pilot. The time limit for getting through, through the school was you had to go solo in twelve hours, now came twelve hours and I hadn’t gone solo and the, uhm, my instructor said; ‘Come on, Don, we gotta get you through this’ and we were operating from a little satellite area, outside of Narrandera, he said you gotta go up and go solo today [laughs]. So, I worked out all what I had to do in the circuit and so forth and I went up on the, took off, made a nice take off but I got the wind changed and then [laughs], I didn’t know the wind had changed and I’m doing the circuit on the basis of when I took off, I did the left-hand circuit and so forth and coming, all of a sudden there is a Tiger Moth coming up beside me, it was my instructor and he was pointing down to the wind sock and I didn’t know what he was talking about, you know, so I didn’t, I just went up and landed, I did a beautiful crosswind landing, it was a good crosswind landing but that’s the last time I, I think I lasted for another half an hour or so flying and then they decided that I, you know, I hadn’t gone in twelve hours, didn’t look like it, so they scrubbed me, I was scrubbed and that was a terrible thing to happen to me, to be scrubbed, I wanted so much to be like my brother who could fly before the war. And, so, uh, I was then, I thought, oh, I’ll have it now the air crew but they transferred me. The boy that got a B in mathematics 1 and mathematics 2, the intermediate, they transferred me to embarkation depot as a navigator and so, but I, and then I stayed at the, I came from Narrandera back to Sydney and I stayed there at the embarkation depot and uhm, just as on the side, we used to, get my [unclear] at Burwood, that was a [unclear] about twenty minute train ride from Chatswood, we used to have a night down, tucked down under the barbed wire, get down a lady game driver, was not a lady game driver this near, walk up to take off, picked to be kept, seen the fiver air crew, when I say we there were a lot of fellows doing this, and we get, I get the train to Han, I spend the night at Ham (or Han), get out of bed at about five o’clock, then come back and up [unclear] at five o’clock ready for parade. And so that, that didn’t go on for long of course, but I did my, that was our waiting game but of course, we were going overseas an therefore we couldn’t leave Australia until we were nineteen, that was a government rule, they just couldn’t, you couldn’t leave, you couldn’t get out, be transferred out of Australia unless you were nineteen. So, I kept going, I was before I turned nineteen, I went to embarkation depot, so I kept [unclear] just about every day reminding them that I was, I’ll be nineteen on the seventeenth of April. Anyway, to cut a long story short, we were bound on a train up to, from Central Railway, we went up to Queensland and transferred to Kalinga and the army came, was a big army came and we slept in tents, oh, by the way, the train trip was terrible, we were in, we had to sit up or some fellows were sitting up, lying down on in the luggage racks upstairs but we had a terrible trip that night, that train, they put us like cattle in there, and so we got up to Brisbane to Kalinga and we had to wait there for our ship and that was somewhere around the first or second of July in 1943, ’43, yeah ’43, and we uhm, one night we had the cars or the truck all arrived and took us down to the boat, was the Noordam, was the United States army transport going back to San Francisco, empty or as empty, except for us air force, because they’ve been bringing all those hundreds of thousands of American troops over to Australia for the Pacific War and uhm, so uhm, we set sail from Brisbane heading or Morton Bay and then shortly about two or three hours out from Brisbane we [unclear] and we wonder what we were doing because of the Japanese submarines and all that sort of thing and it was the, only about three or four days before, or, yeah must have been before, we have to because the Japanese had sunk the hospital ship, the, the, the, the, because they sunk one of their hospital ships and we had two minutes of silence we expected to be torpedoed [unclear] and we headed on our way to, I think it took us about eighteen days to get to San Francisco and never been past Hornsby, past Wollongong, never seen the Blue Mountains, I hadn’t been out to the parks to the, in the [unclear] and to Dubbo in the army and, uhm, here I was, just coming into San Francisco harbour and so I made sure I was at the front of the ship and I never left that ship till about two o’clock in the afternoon, we came by, saw the Golden Gate bridge [unclear] I was nineteen years of age and we heard the, we saw the [unclear] prison and the San Francisco bridge and we landed at Oakland and from there we were put on a train and sent up to, up the uhm, West Coast of America, uh, to Vancouver, where we switched trains for our trip on Canadian national Railways, was a steam, was an old-burner train and we went to, went on our way through the Canadian Rockies to Edmonton and slightly north of Calgary at and the thing that strikes us, was the difference in travelling in Australia in the cattle trucks, where we had, uhm, they weren’t there for our Americans in those days but they were there for Americans were waiting on us, we had sleepers, everything was laid on, the Canadian people, the Canadian government were fantastic, and here we were, we were only leading aircraftsmen, we weren’t even sergeants, and so anyway, we got to Edmonton, I went to the, uhm, manning depot, manning depot and I have a big photo in my home here of the, uhm, on one of our parades, you can pick me out in the [unclear], we had the morning [unclear], you can pick out the Australians because of their blue uniforms, all the rest wore khaki, was in summertime, but anyway, you could pick us out, pick me out with the manning depot and then I was transferred from there, which was just across the road, really, to number 2 AOS Edmonton, that’s where I did my navigation course. My first trip on navigation course was a real, [laugh], was a real did last as far as I was concerned but I’ll tell you about it. We, uhm, I had a, uhm, another navigator, we were flying Avro Ansons and, well, just digress slightly on our Avro Ansons and then poor our navigator had to wind the wheels of the Anson, Avro Anson up, a hundred and forty-nine times to get the wheels up, that was their job for, just straight on take-off. Anyway, we went on from this first navigation trip, I had a second navigator with me, who was supposed to be giving me fixes and that sort of thing and I got lost and so while I was suggesting we do, the pilots by the way were all civilians, they were not in the air force, they were under civilian contract and that was [unclear] Canada and, uhm, Maxi Titlebomb his name was and he suggested we get out and have a look at the railway sign [laughs] so we went down to the railway station and were at a sort of place called Wetaskiwin, not far out of Edmonton, but it was Wetaskiwin so I proceeded to [unclear] I knew where I was, I got me air plucked for Wetaskiwin and went up and we continued on our course, I expected to be scrubbed straight off on that score but I wasn’t, no, they didn’t, was the best thing that ever happened to me because I made a mistake on my first trip, you were never, the navigators rule was never to drop your air plot and I dropped me air plot because if you kept your air plot [unclear] end your life to get a position, make some sort of, where you think it was but you, you’d always got the opportunity to do that and, so a navigator never had to, should never drop his air plot. But anyway I finished up, was about six months course, was about six months and we, incidentally we had to, people talk about the weather these days, it was forty degrees, one night it was forty degrees below zero, now was in Fahrenheit was thirty-two degrees and so was seventy-two degrees of frost. We had to warm the aircraft up in the hangers before we went out and we had winds, sometimes we had headwinds where we were going backwards up in the north part of Canada [laughs], you know, very, very frightening for a nineteen year old [laughs] that didn’t know a lot about navigation, but we got through all of it and we, I finished up with a reasonable max coming out of my course, I was always better at the air plot than I was, I always had trouble with my theory things, wasn’t very good on the theory but I was, even if I say so I was reasonable as a navigator. And so we got our wings there and was around December 1943 and I haven’t been out to find many [unclear] since I came across my fellows book called Navigator Brothers the other day and I wrote to the author, because in there was a photo of one of the group that was having their passing air parade, cause a big deal the passing air parade, the Canadians really put on all their pomp and ceremony for their passing air parade. The, uhm, uh, yes, we got our wings and we proceeded then to go to, uhm, to uhm, we’d being posted to Montreal [unclear] I just had a thought, we went to Montreal and we had to wait a bit to go over to England and, you know, during my stay in Montreal, we stayed at a place called the Sheen, we were sent off for six weeks up to a ski lodge, so they didn’t have a boat to take us over to England so they sent us, was about thirty of us, we were all sent up to a ski lodge, luxurious place for, you know, a couple of weeks, two or three weeks, we learned to ski, we learned to use the tennis rackets on the feet to walk in the snow, we learned to ice skate, to do all sorts of things, it was wonderful. Anyway, we got back from, we went back to the Sheen and I found out that my brother, was, uhm, who was a pilot in the Middle East and an instructor at Lichfield, which would probably entirely they said to be Bomber Command.
AP: Absolutely.
DES: But he, uh, I found out he was coming over on his way home to Australia having completed his tour, he was transferred back to Australia but on his way he had to go, he was [unclear] to fly back with a brand new Liberator and Bryan was in New York with his crew, but they’d been flying Liberators although a lot of these fellows who did this were Lancaster pilots, cause there’s two hundred of them eventually, and then Bryan and I we shared a room in Belmont Plaza Hotel in New York for a couple of days. Then he went on his way home or to California, I should say, where he did three months before he flew off back to Australia, If you like I might talk about that later on. But, then I went back to Montreal and we then got advised that a ship was waiting for us in Halifax, so we did a night trip to Halifax from Montreal and we joined the maiden [?] vessel called, the maiden [?] vessel called the Andes, was a flat bottom boat, a, yeah, a 20000-tonner I suppose, but it was very fast and on that boat we had a complete Canadian armoured division, were ten thousand fellows with their tanks and about a hundred aircrew, [unclear] pilots joining there, there were navigators, there were wireless operators, there was bomb aimers, all been trained in Canada and sending us all over and so we went over there on our own, we didn’t go in a convoy, we went on our own, took us about seven days, we went up towards the North Pole and [unclear] in Liverpool but we didn’t have any, uhm, we didn’t have any [unclear] things happening to us except that we, was a [unclear] taking more than seven days but it was a fast trip was what we did and we weren’t allowed about decks at night time, so, at night time you couldn’t go up on deck no matter what it was because people had a habit of lighting cigarettes and submarines could catch you but some of these, the Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mary, they were too fast for the submarines so they, we zig-zagged all the way across and we arrived in Liverpool and uhm, we uhm, got, we arrived nearly as the morning met by the salvation army, they gave us food and so forth, we went in the big tunnel out of Liverpool and came down to, went down to Brighton PDRC and that’s where I started my first, uhm, flying, my first events in England.
AP: What did you?
DES: Now.
AP: What did you think of wartime England when you first got there?
DES: When?
AP: As a nineteen year old Australian, you are now in wartime England. What?
DES: What I thought of it? Well, uhm, when I first got there I, we went by train down to, we skirted to London, we went to, Brighton was a lovely place but, we were, there was the IFF that had taken over the uhm, the uhm, the Metropole and the, the Metropole and the, the two big hotels, I have just forgotten their names but it was where Margaret Thatcher was blown up later on, she escaped the bombing near in Brighton some years later but we went straight down so, we didn’t see much of the, uhm, the countryside. We were billeted out from the hotels, the [unclear] were billeted out in homes quite near the hotel but we didn’t see any great, you know, people had their coupons, that sort of thing and I saw a lot of it after on my first leave to London, then was when I, you know, realised how terrible things were but there in Brighton, where we were, all the beaches were, they’re all pebble stones not sand all the beaches were mined so you couldn’t go there. If anybody knows Brighton as the Brighton pier, and then it had been chopped in half purposely and the bottom half was used by the air force to, but we used to go and gonna get paid there, we used to go and collect the money on a Thursday or whatever it was, and so uhm, we didn’t see, uhm, in all fairness, you know, I didn’t see, you know, it was, I wouldn’t say, you know, nasty looking, you know, there wasn’t, there was no visible damage that I saw down in Brighton but, my mother and father both came out from England in 1912 so I had relations to go to in England and so I was, uhm, my first leave I had when I went to, I went to a place called Maidstone where my mother was born and uhm, I went to see uncle Ted and auntie Gladys who became [unclear] mother while I was there and I stayed with them and they had a big two story home. He was the general manager of Fremlin’s Brewery, which was a big brewery [laughs] in London and Maidstone, and was a white, the emblem was a white elephant on all the London busses and he was the general manager of this [unclear] and so naturally I was well looked after. If they wanted some meat, if they wanted a steak or some, which was very rare, she takes it, make sure you keep the uniform on and we’ll go down to the butchers today and she, he’s my cousin from Australia you know and they’d toss out some special food for us. But uhm, they seemed to live pretty well you know I think they were, you had to be careful with petrol rationing and that sort of thing but in the group that I sort of as, you know, these people were part of, put in mind, you know, reasonably well off as people and, but she was a real mother to me, she used to take me round on, I always used to go there on leave but she used to take me round and onto, show me the Rochester cathedral or Ramsgate, where my mother used to go and swim as she was a kid and so forth, you know, and I’ve met all my relations but I, I don’t have any, it’s only when later on I went down when I was in the middle of the buzz bombs and the V2 rockets that I realised, you know, how terrible that, uh, what the Germans had done to our people here in London and, you know, when you see streets that are just completely, [unclear] smashed, it was quite something but generally speaking I can’t say that I, you know, I go shopping in London and I, one of the girls there I used to take out, Elisabeth Fulligan, she was a solicitors clerk in London and I used to see her every now and then when I was on leave but I generally speaking, you know, the, I go into a restaurant but we might have a bit difficulty in getting decent sort of stuff but, you know, I can always get eggs and bacon or some I think we had horse meat at some places in London but I didn’t know we were eating horse meat until somebody told us but. Uh, all I can say is about, the people there were marvellous [unclear] and if I can just get back, the people in Canada I missed them, I spent a lot of time when I was in Canada doing my course, one of the fellows on my course was Harry Thompson and he was a Canadian, he lived in 1065 107 Street and we used to go to weekends there and you know, they couldn’t do, his parents and their friends had us all out to their places and we go, they take us to their places and, you know, you can never pay for them, they , it was fantastic in what they did for us and I had, as I say, I had relations in England and they are all the same and I, I think that I was fortunate in that I had relations to go and stay with, all our on the other side of that I missed seeing a lot of England, I used to go down on leave to Wesperdale [?] , good to be when I was there, I was enjoying myself immensely you know, I didn’t drink beer, I drank cider and that was worse. I can always remember going to a Rotary club meeting in Maidstone and they introduced me to a sergeants household and I had to get up and say who I was and I didn’t drink beer and I thought I’d have some cider and I think I was silly as anything because I didn’t realise cider was, I any, I didn’t know much about the air force and before we finished I’d like to speak about to something about the air force that I would like to say but I answered that question there and that’s about the best I can do about the people and the conditions and that sort of thing.
AP: So.
DES: Except that I had a good time.
AP: Well, that’s the important thing.
DES: When I was on leave that was, all my leave [unclear], that’s when you notice these things.
AP: So, from Brighton, where did you go next?
DES: Oh, ok, from Brighton my first port of call was, I think it was 29 OTU, operational training unit at Bruntingthorpe, which was near Leicester and that’s, no, I’m sorry, that’s not where I went, I went to the advanced flying unit in Freugh in Scotland. There’s a good story about Freugh and that’s where we did our first lot of real navigation. We did all trips, day trips out to the Mull of Kintyre, we’re up right in the north of Scotland, no the north, but half way of Scotland, and we were doing all these trips. You went over pretty close to Ireland, we’re doing all these marvellous trips, you know, that’s where we really learned to be navigators, really into, we got our wings in Canada, but this where we really did the real thing and there we spent, West Freugh is near Stranraer and Stranraer was the main port of call when you go over to Northern Ireland and now we are on the maps, normal maps, you can find them on google now but on the normal maps you buy, you will never see West Freugh, I’ve asked many a Scottish bloke about West Freugh but they can never find West Freugh, they can only assume it was probably a farm of some sort but they had especially for that, they made it [unclear] because it was flying, we’re on Avro Ansons again, we were flying Avro Ansons there at West Freugh, they’re a two-engine aircraft, and they had two navigators on board and then we, uhm, so, I think from a point of view of a AF advanced flying unit, by the way, it was number 4 [unclear] which is [unclear], we stayed there about, uhm, oh, we didn’t stay there long, we stayed there from July ’44 to the end of July, early July, 5th of July to the 21st of July and that’s where we did our AFU advanced flying unit . Now, from there, we graduated from there and we were only doing cross country trips and that sort of thing from there. From there we went to 29 OTU at Bruntingthorpe and that’s where what we called crewed up and that’s where we, uhm, we’re all pilots, navigators, wireless operators, correct me if I’m wrong, there was, we didn’t have any engineers cause we didn’t have engineers at that stage we had two air gunners, not certain about if we had all, and the wireless operator and so we all, where we were, we were put in a big room and we were told to find yourself a pilot, navigators find yourself a pilot sort of, so, all was a real PR job, you know, we’d all yeah and there might have been a few drinks [unclear] around too as I say but they all, we were all supposed to be friendly and you wanted to find out if you, you wanted to find you’ll gonna have a team that you could work together with and I, I don’t know how I picked my pilot but I [unclear] [unclear] from [unclear] and was slightly older than me, he’s a big man and he had the biggest hands I’ve ever seen, he was a, he had a grape, not a vineyard, well it was a vineyard but he had dried fruits in [unclear] and now was to sitting behind a big bomber and we had to carry a full bomb load and with his hands gave him a great confidence. But I’ll get back to the Bruntingthorpe now, but we, we got together and we finished up with whatever we had to do and we all then did various cross country fighter affiliation where they send up and you get up in the air find another fighter plane to come and meet you and then attack you and all that sort of thing and all various subjects pertaining to air, Gee, H2S, all that sort of thing and we we’ve been introduced to, that was our navigational aids, air positioning indication, that was another thing we learned all about but that was, an hour on Wellingtons, Wellington bomber, well, they were bombers in the early stage, they were being used for training at this stage now and uhm, the uhm, and so we, when they thought the pilot was satisfactory, off we went then to, let me see, we went to, from to HCU which was the heavy conversion unit and that was our introduction to four-engine aircraft and we caught the Sterling, now said and the, uhm, we were there for a short time, that was just, this was mainly the, the pilot getting used to and the navigator, we were doing more, more uhm, things that we had done before, you know, were dropping bombs and packed us bombs and we were doing long, uhm, long cross countries, uhm, you know, five hours, two hours, that sort of thing and uhm, we, uhm, we’d be when the pilot was satisfactory trained, we were showed off to what we called the Lank finishing skill, it was the Lancaster finishing skill and we were introduced to Lancasters and the, from and that was once again, we all did our own thing with the pilot and he just had to become a professional on that particular type of aircraft and from there we were sent to the squadron. Which was Waddington, which was just a few miles away and, and that was when we started our operational flying.
AP: So, what was your first thought of the Lancaster when you first [unclear]?
DES: Oh, after being on the Sterling [laugh], after being on the Sterling it was marvellous, uhm, yeah, with, uh, yeah because [unclear], the carry under the Lancaster, you know, this was probably the best aircraft that had ever been produced at that time for the duration of the war uh, but everything was, when you are a new pilot on the squadron, you usually get the [unclear] aircraft, but some of them, some of had been there for a while had their own aircraft made sure that they kept their own aircraft, we were not allowed to do this, I was on my first start, we were on one particular type of Lancaster and but everything was so modern and up-to-date, you know for us the Gee was, the navigational instruments were all spot on, you know, we never, I don’t know who did the, to this day I don’t know who did all the mechanics and the [unclear], our aircraft was already, it was one of the ground crew base but, you never saw them at work, at least I never saw them at work, unless something really went wrong but yeah, the gap at the back steps of the Lancaster and to walk along the, yeah, it’s try I suppose when I first went up there, you wonder, Gee, where am I going, you had to walk over a big spare but then again I had my own room, well, area, it was just a small area with a black curtain around it but I had a nice desk, had the astro[unclear] up on top which would flashed the various maps down on the and the stars onto the table, everything was spot on and you know, we came to expect, we’re on a Lancaster, we’re on the best we had and that was the feeling that I had, that I was very, very fortunate, you know, some people like the Halifax , you know, but, you know, they say, I love the Halifax and so forth but we just happened to, uh, it had such a good reputation and such a wonderful aircraft and could carry so many more bombs than anyone else. Uh, you know, I think that, uhm, that was my feeling about my first, but I was amazed, really. I was in awe. Yeah.
AP: So, you then go to Waddington from, what’s it, I think, I saw Skellingthorpe in [unclear]?
DES: Yes, I did, I went to Skellingthorpe I thought that was after. I went to Waddington [unclear].
AP: [laughs]
DES: No we didn’t get to Skellingthorpe.
AP: You didn’t get to Skellingthorpe? [unclear] after.
DES: No, we went to Skellingthorpe after the war finished. We went to Skellingthorpe and we were all transferred to Skellingthorpe and we were, uhm, we had our final passing air parade in August, August 1945. We had our passing air parade.
AP: So, alright, we will get back to Waddington then.
DES: Yeah, get back to Waddington.
AP: Yeah [laughs]. Uhm, where and how did you live on the Squadron at Waddington?
DES: Oh, well now, Waddington was a permanent station in England, a permanent RAF station. It was, it had been there for many years and it consisted of what you would call apartment-type of accommodation, it was brick, big brick flats and in that we’d all, the officers, my pilot now was a flight sergeant right through but as soon as he went to the Squadron, he got his commission and that was the rule then he got his commission. And so he went to the officer’s mess and they had their own specific area and we had our own, we were in dormitories and, uhm, I had, I sort of, well, I was a flight sergeant a lot of that time but I was regarded as a bit senior, not senior but, I seemed to be the one that organises for when and what we are doing outside out of the, you know, for our recreation cause my pilot didn’t smoke or drink and that is marvellous, [unclear] didn’t smoke or drink, he was young too but, but he was a great one for, uhm. He was really wrapped in aircraft, which he should be I know, no, but he gathered at the end of the runway if we weren’t flying a particular day on the squadron he’d go off at the end of the runway and watch them all take off and that sort of thing, he was, he was a wonderful bloke and then he took a great interest in everything, but he. My brother was the same, he would do all that sort of thing, you know, they’re really wrapped but others might be doing something else, but, we used to, well, there were various things we could do, I used to take them down to the, we used to go down to The Horse and Jockey, which is still there, the hotel, but it was a hotel in the , you know, we could go and have something to eat down there, or we’d have a few [unclear], play darts, [unclear] balls and that sort of thing and there a lot of our lot, we had pushbikes and we could pushbike down to the Horse & Jockey and that was in the little town of Waddington, was only a little place and uhm, uh, a lot of our time was spent going around and then we’d have, every six weeks we’d have leave. But, sticking to Waddington, uhm, you know, we had a lot to do, we had dances, the west [unclear] we would have dances all night, yeah, we’re all, uh, I reckon that we were all well looked after and they really were, I’ve recently been back to the Horse & Jockey, and, you know, they are so pleased to see you and they were like that in England. Most, I think of most of them were, I’m not being a snob but I think most of them were pretty good party fellows, there were not a lot of drunks, gave me a favorite to drinks, we had a, we had right a bite back and a [unclear] who used to stop us every now and then and say: ‘Aye, aye, aye!’ but they wouldn’t do anything to us. They were quite, uhm, quite pleasant. But I’ve really found that the people there, I didn’t get involved in anything much outside [unclear] leave I had relations to go to [unclear] wonderful, cause I had my mother’s side and my father’s side so I had relations of both so [unclear] he was from, my father was from Maryport in Cumberland, right up in the north and I have been there a few times since. I met my grandfather that I had never seen and a bit quite of the other relations but the grandfather was the closest, he was a tenner and there was gaslight, there was no electricity, was gaslight, and he, I had to sleep with him, he had no other accommodation there was I think he had a family gone but there wasn’t a very big place and I had forgotten he had, I was [unclear] he was one of six brothers, my father was one of six brothers but later on I found out that my grandmother had fourteen kids so that meant we, in the last few years I’ve been chasing up all these people we’ve met, since I didn’t know we had but sticking to the, uhm, on the Squadron, yeah, we, uhm, I don’t think I had much more [unclear] than I, I had just a normal [unclear], I used to go to church at the Lincoln Cathedral every now and then, I used to go to Southwell. In case you don’t know that Southwell was six miles south out of Newark in Robin Hood territory and it’s a cathedral, it’s got a cathedral so it’s a city, it’s only a small place but it’s a city of Southwell, although they call it Southwell, and so I went there a few times, I was made very welcome and incidentally the Southwells in Australia is one of the biggest families in Australia but, and I am connected with them but they’re in Canberra and they, their offshoots are all, uhm, there is an enormous lot of them, probably the biggest family in Australia, the Southwells. You might, [unclear], but the government gave them a grant in the bicentenary they have their big reunion in Canberra, so there must be some truth in there.
AP: So, you mentioned The Horse & Jockey earlier. Uhm, if you walk into the Horse & Jockey, in wartime, what’s there, what does it look like and what’s going on?
DES: Looks like an old English pub.
AP: Yeah? Funny that.
DES: Yeah, a bit out [unclear] cause I went back a few months again and I hardly knew the place, it had been changed around, they moved a lot of the chimneys out, but I can’t remember getting to a reunion in 1995 at the Horse & Jockey and they had an upstairs everybody could go and we had a great get together that day which was been back on Channel 9 and I was lady in the singing of all the wartime songs in Waddington but it was a real meeting place down, there was another pub we tried [unclear] plus I didn’t drink much but I went to that, oh, I was drinking as at that stage I hadn’t started to drink but that’s another story. My brother, I didn’t mind, now I never drink in our family and my brother on his way back he came up to see me in Montreal at one stage and he said: ‘Would you like a beer?’ And I said: ‘Oh no, I will have a lemonade’. And he said: ‘I will have a beer’. I said, oh, so I didn’t say anything to him. And when since I got back to Montreal, I’ve had a beer and I’ve been drinking beer ever since [laughs]. But, you know, Canada was a funny place for beer because it’s a, they don’t sell beer in a, in those days they didn’t sell beer in a hotel, you had to go into a place that was especially designed and sit down and have a beer but you put salt into the beer to get the gas out of, it was so gassy, that’s another story. But, the Horse & Jockey now, I gonna say now because honestly I’ve forgotten what it was there like but now they have a lot of dart boards around, we played darts and we played balls outside, it was fun, uhm, but it was just, you know, there were members of the public, you know, the people that were working there, we would fraternise with them, they were all friendly with, so, it was generally, it was nice, actually it wasn’t a bad place to go and have a [unclear] and a [unclear]. No, I wouldn’t say that, [unclear] we were [unclear] but more recollections of the Horse & Jockey that was, I said, the crew kept together, I kept the crew together, we were all there together, it was the whole other six of us, there as, that didn’t mean, there was no worry about that but I would like to add that I had [unclear] to my place in about 1950 or 60 and he [unclear] smoked. So, [laughs], [unclear] it’s been a change, he remained a bachelor all his life. But he was wonderful fellow and he was another one, as I say he was very, very keen on, what he did, he took on the training course after the war in [unclear] and he was, he got a medal for that, an RFD or doing something like that, royal returned forces, no, not returned, what’s it, returned something forces decoration? Not returned forces. Anyway, as an RFD, as a, there’s a post normal or medal, but he, he got one of those. But he was a great fellow and he brought us home safely.
AP: [unclear] Alright.
DES: But I had a lot of confidence in him, as I was saying, earlier on, [unclear] blessed hands, they were bigger than mine, I got the tiniest hands you’ve ever seen, mine, my wife’s gloves won’t fit me, you know, they’re my hands, my hands are so tiny, but, yeah, he was, yeah, that’s about it, [unclear].
AP: Yeah, we’re going alright still. So, a little bit more about this daily life in Waddington. The Sergeants Mess, what was that like, what sort of things happened there?
DES: Oh yeah, the Sergeants Mess. Yeah, well, we spend a bit of time there, no, after a trip we do was going to the mess and there’s a lot of, a lot of untoward things went on in the Sergeants Mess and some of the other persons over there, a bit longer than I was, tell some wonderful stories about bringing a donkey into the mess and there’s the Officers Mess and all sort of that. But, we, uhm, I can’t recall, my memory is not that good for the Sergeants Mess. I can, I know what it was like but it was not a place that, you know, we all met there at various stages and had our lunch there and our dinner there and all that sort of thing but, uhm, this never stayed in my mind as being rather relevant to me, I don’t know why but I know we ate there and had our meals there and you know the ordering officer would come round and say: ‘Any complaints?’ [Laughs] Every day in the evening we had our meal there, the ordering officer would come round and say, quite often it was one of the, one of your pilots that, [laughs] you know, was his turn to come over from the officers mess and say: ‘Any complaints?’ What’s the officer, orderly officer, any complaints, I don’t know, that I had many complaints, no, I can’t help, I can’t recall a lot about the Sergeants Mess.
AP: Did 463 and 467 Squadron eat in, did they have their own officer’s mess [unclear]?
DES: No, we were all together, they had their own, the two were there together.
AP: So it was more [unclear] Waddington.
DES: yeah, yeah, yeah. Was Waddington, yeah. Yeah, when we went back to Waddington in, when we went to the Officers Mess there was just one place, yeah, there was only one place, there was 463 and 467, yeah, we got to know each other 463 and 467, as you know 467 was the first Australian Squadron, first Squadron on, uhm ,first was their own Squadron, they were formed in about 1941, something like that and then after they got a big bigger, we wanted to have another Squadron, so 463 grew out of [unclear]? Yeah, [unclear], grew out of [unclear], is it about November or December? ‘43, would that be right? 47 might have been ’42, I think it was ’43.
AP: Yeah, ’43.
DES: Yeah, it was ’43, I think. And so that’s how 463 was. Uhm, and that was under Wing Commander Rollo Kingswood-Smith, who send me off the parade ground for not having a shave. And I was only a young bloke who only shaved about four days a week and I was on, and they sent me off the parade ground for not having a shave. And then later on of course, I’m going ahead of fifty years I became the secretary of 463 Squadron, Rollo was, he is the patron at present, no, he is the patron, I think but he was and he came up to me, oh, I did know him a bit afterwards so. He came up to me and looked at me and said: ‘Oh, Don, you’ve done your shave today’. And days before he died, he said to me: ‘Don, you had your shave today’ and I reminded him when I came back from England but I became quite a good friend of Rollo, when I finished, cause he is really very, very good, he always [unclear], you know, he was a flight commander, no he was a CO, or was a flight commander, whatever he was, he wasn’t a station commander, because that was different from, but he was, he was a 463 commanding officer but he did his trips at the time, he never, he always did his trips, so, he could have quite easily have said, No, I’m going tonight or something like that, but Rollo would always do his trips and never fail. And he was always very good with his, I know, with his writing to people for, you know, lost their and lost their sons and but I believe he was a very strict, he was a very, very strict man, as I say, he was quite different in late years, well, he was, you knew where you stood with him but, and I think he had to be to be the commanding officer at that particular, and we had all walks of life in our, uh, in the air force.
AP: Did 463 Squadron have any superstitions or hoodoos or anything that you are aware of of [unclear]?
DES: Not that I am aware of, I always used to carry my RAF, I had no RAF scarf, always carry my RAF scarf, had to go back one night to get it, but, which I had forgotten, I had to get back but that was only a personal deal I don’t think I was really superstitious about I had to carry my RAF scarf, it was a scarf, it wasn’t a tie, it was a scarf, I didn’t see many of them, I still got mine on my top drawer beside my bed I’ve got my Royal Air Force scarf. I also had my Royal Air Force [unclear] [laughs].
AP: [laughs]
DES: Some [unclear].
AP: We were talking about off tape before we started. Very good. So, you flew nine operations [unclear].
DES: I did nine operations, yep.
AP: Do any of them particularly stand out?
DES: Yeah, was a couple I can have. The trip, uhm, I did to Pilsen. We took off, was a long trip, Pilsen was in Czechoslovakia and it was a long trip and not, we had a couple of hours and now one of our engines went and the skipper said to me: ‘Do you think we can make it?, and I said: ‘Yes, I think so. I think we can take a few short cuts [unclear] we might be able to make it, we don’t tell anybody whatever’. And he said, [skimming through pages of a book], yeah, the uhm, I said: ‘I think I could make it’ and I did a few calculations and even though I say [unclear] I reckon I did a pretty well navigation so I think that was that day because you know you had to be careful if you gonna take any short cuts it couldn’t stand out we were on a track that you were given and as long as you stayed four miles or five miles out of the side of the track you are fairly safe because that’s where all the other aircraft were going, and we were tossing out the silver paper, the Window, that made look as if there are more aircraft out and that sort of thing. But we had to be careful if we went out of it, you could be picked off by the German radar, so you had to be a little bit careful. So, anyway, we got there on time, uhm, we uhm, and uhm, so that was a long trip that I got a bit of praise for by my skipper in the briefing that we went back to and that was about uhm, eight hours and we bombed on three engines. We were diverted when we got back cause we didn’t have much fuel left, uhm, we landed at Boscombe Down that particular night and, uhm, then the next day went back to, uhm, to, uhm, Waddington but uhm, yeah, it was that. And one other night we went to [unclear]. I was in a couple of thousand bomber raids, daylight, we were over Essen and Dortmund and I, we bombed through a cloud there and this was, you realised we were getting towards the end of the war and the master bomber was down below the clouds and he’d come up the cloud, drop the target indicators and go back down again and see how they went and he turned on the RT, the radio telephone and he turned into [unclear] TI by ten seconds or something like that, you know, and he’d be conducting the whole operation from down below. And, so we were just, we just dropped bombs, we didn’t see where they go, we just dropped them on top of the cloud, and that was on the Krupp works at Essen and Dortmund and. But there was another one I was going to mention and we went to [unclear], and uhm, which is just south of Hamburg and the wind changed that particular night and the whole force was all over north-western Europe, we got a little blown away but well, I got a little bit off course, I got to say this, I got a bit off course and we were chased by the German jetfighters, the 263 I think it is? The 263, something like that, the 263? But, we went into a cork, we did have, we were well-trained, went straight away and went into the corkscrew and we did all that, and, cause they can only stay up for about ten minutes and so they, you know, you, if you did your corkscrew properly, probably you were safe so we got out of that but that was, we were picked off there because I got a bit off course. And then I went to uhm, smaller refineries, Bohlen, I went to Bohlen, that was out near Leipzig, for people that might know where Leipzig is, a lot of these synthetic oil refineries were in Eastern Germany and, uhm, we’re at the crossing of the Rhine when the British army were, uhm, crossing the Rhine, uh, we were given the job of bombing Wesel, we were given the job of bombing Wesel and, uhm, which we did and I think it was only, it was only our, you know, our group went that particular night but the British army were on one side of the river and the German side, the Germans were on the other side, and we bombed the other side but we were given a certain time because the British were going into the water at a certain time to go over and I took it with the loss of one life, I think it was in, General Montgomery, Field Marshall Montgomery, he, send the message back to, they brought it over to the loudspeakers the next day on parade, do you want something to eat?
AP: No, thank you.
DES: It was on parade and we were on parade and they read out a message from Montgomery to say how wonderful it was and we did a wonderful job bla, bla, bla, yeah, and uh, yeah that was interesting because you can, if you go to Wesel afterwards it’s quite, you know, I’ve seen some photos of it lately and I think they have rebuilt most of, most of the place. And lastly we did the last operation of the war which was on Tonsberg, which was in the southern part of Norway and we approached it from the North, so it was a long crossing over the North Sea, this was the last operation of the war, on Anzac Day, and with the, we came down the coast, I was coming down from Norway, with Sweden on the left hand side and Sweden was all beautifully lit up, all lit up and the other side was all black, blacked up there was the, Norway which was under the control of the Germans, anyway, we, uhm, that was the last operation of the war and we, uhm, that was bombed successfully but on, if I check forward about fifty years, I was at a funeral and, uhm, of a lady who was of Norwegian birth and the ex-consul of Norway was there and I went and spoke to him and I said: ‘I’ve never been to Norway except on the air’. And he said: ’When were you there?’ I said: ‘Oh, I was there on the 25th of April 1945’ and he said: ‘Well, your aim was pretty good that night’. [laughs] Not at all, so I thought we did pretty well. He said yes. He said, but some of your bombers did bomb the shipyards, some of them went astray and they bombed some of the civilians and he said that all the people of Norway, the war was coming to an end, the 8th of May was the end of the war, the war was coming to an end, they are all thrilled, all happy because everybody knew the armistice was coming on that particular day and he said, now, all the people in the rest of Norway, he said, we were burying our dead and he was very nice about the whole thing and, you know, he is, I got him down as a likely speaker for whoever wants someone to speak about it but, they were very understanding and. So I must really go to France these days, you know, the people in France they were terribly bombed, you know, was, they are thanking you and thanking you and we did an enormous lot of damage but they realised that we had to, that we had to do that for, uhm, sake of winning the war.
AP: So, you mentioned that Messerschmitt, or the jetfighter.
DES: Jetfighter, yeah.
AP: And the corkscrew. So, you are the navigator. You hear corkscrew port go. What happens next?
DES: I have been difficult. Well, we gotta a set of pattern what you got to do the, if the plane’s coming in from the port, you corkscrew port go the rear gunner or whatever the hillside part will do his corkscrew and he’d go down fifteen hundred and he’d turn and he’d go up fifteen hundred feet and it’s quite a ring morale to do but you fly, if you do it properly you fly, you know, a certain course even [unclear] and so, you know, it didn’t do much damage to our [unclear] we didn’t have to make much allowance for an hour in our navigation, if you had to corkscrew port, you, you could just sort of forget about it and just there’s, as long as you weren’t [unclear] too long but generally speaking you flew a net course for this business, all designed to and it was very successful the corkscrew but I, I think we did this about three times I suppose.
AP: What does it feel like?
DES: Oh, I don’t mind, don’t forget we are nineteen years of age there, this was just, this was just wonderful, trusting the aircraft. Oh, of course you were worried a bit about where you were being shot down that goes into it, but generally speaking the corkscrew never, we thought if we did the corkscrew port we would be safe. You’ve got that feeling in your mind that you’d do that, I always remember Redge Boys [?] he was our hero, he was [unclear], he was our navigation leader at Waddington and Redge he did two tours and he said he never believed himself that he’d ever be shot down and he tried to, he despite the fact that the pilot was the chief, he always made sure the crew were all, you know, positive about what we were doing, they were all, they were always convinced that they were gonna get through this. They had this positive attitude that they, you know, and I think it helped, while you’re up there, [unclear], I tried to adopt that attitude that, you know, we all wanted to get home and see the people and I want to get home but, I must admit that, when we were on a bombing run, I used to see, a navigator didn’t have his parachute on, he, you couldn’t work on a desk when, cause we had a chest parachute that fitted on a harness on your chest and you had it sitting beside you. Now, uh, if I was to leave there at my desk, I’d always put my parachute on and I would go, if we were on a bombing run, I would remember the course you got to steer after we dropped our bombs and I’d turn the light out and I’d go up and stand behind the pilot, and watch all the, what was going on and I could then pop down to the rear gunner, near the rear gunner and say, could I have a look at the pilot [laughs] and you’d see the fires and all that sort of thing in the background. But, you know, I felt as if I wanted to be part of the thing so I wanted to see what was going on. Cause everyone else could see what was going on except the wireless operator and what’s the name because we were sitting [unclear] bomb’s gone, you’d have to wait a while, while the photo was taken, away was given course 270 and off we go. And, yeah.
AP: Yes, that’s unusual, most, uhm, most navigators I have spoken to would, you know come up and have a look [unclear] take the head and go, no, don’t ask me to do that [unclear].
DES: Oh, now, that’s, that’s another story. Well, that is. After, a lot of people don’t know about this. But after the war we disarmed, the war had finished and we were disarming with all our, [unclear] disarmed and we had to get rid of all the bombs on the station. So, what they did was we’d [unclear] might have been a couple of weeks, I could look that up but that’s been a couple of weeks, we flew out of Waddington with four bomb loads, headed to the North Sea, about two and a half hours and straight course out, dropped our bombs, they were dropped safe, they weren’ dropped armed but they were dropped safe, and there, I know what the Greenies [?] had signed out because they knew all these thousands of bombs now there was really thousands of us, there was not only our Squadron but every other Squadron was doing this. We go out there and then we come back and if you were above the cloud, we used to have a lot of fun with the pilot with going over the cloud, as if you were low flying. We had some lovely time so, but what I’m coming to is I thought this particular dive [?] was navigation record, no had Gee operator, [unclear], I didn’t done any, I didn’t have to do any strict navigation set up, I, cause I had near position indicators which told me, anyway, we, I thought I’d like to get into the rear turret and I saw [unclear] was the rear gunner and he could come up and sit in the navigation seat and I’d coming in here for a couple of hours, you know. So I trotted off down to the and the [unclear] showed me what to do and [unclear] I couldn’t have gone out of there, couldn’t have gotten there faster, was scared stiff, you know I’d never been because you’re away from the tires of the aircraft, when you are sitting back behind you, so, you are sitting out in the open. You know, you’re away from the aircraft so you feel like it and I think [unclear] having to sit [unclear] on our trip to sit in this thing, you know, you’d be, mind you, these, while our air gunners had had the experience of flying they knew what they’d, you know, they’d got used to it I suppose but me as a person I was scared stiff, I was more scared stiff getting into, getting out of that turret than I was, say, sitting out there in the navigation and bombs, looking down and looking at bombs going off and [unclear] I was scared stiff on that trip. And I had the greatest of admiration for our rear gunner out there, how they could [unclear], and [unclear] you know, I’m not necessarily claustrophobic but I thought oh, Jeez, I couldn’t do this. And I realised how well off I was, because the navigator was lucky I reckon because, as I say, on a ten hour trip you’d have, you had to get a fix every ten minutes or so and, you know, you no sooner that you’d got your fix, you’d plotted it, as you got your fix, you plotted it, you’d make the necessary course, the course change and so forth so If you had to make any change and it took time and the time went quickly this was what the beauty was the pilot was the same, he may be sitting around looking, you know, sitting out on the front [unclear] putting on a [unclear] every now and then, yeah, most of the time but he, and but the navigator had to do and the wireless op was something similar to, he had a lot of work to do, he had to keep the schedules and report back and we had our jobs and our logs don’t forget, as soon as we got back, were handed in to the navigation leader and you were marked as if you were at school and you get 60 percent, or 50 percent or 75. And uhm, you know but this is why we had, oh I must say this as a navigator, that we had marvellous navigator, the navigators were, the Royal Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force, they were wonderfully trained, they, don’t forget, they took as about eighteen months to get into operations, the Americans, I understand can get in as navigating, get in about six weeks training, you know, and that’s not exaggerating, I believe as I say, because some of the B-24s out of Darwin carried, the Americans carried Australian navigators if you look up your history, which is not widely spoken about, but we were well trained and, as I say, we strictly [unclear], we knew our work was big marked anyhow so you had to be, you really gave you a greater incentive to be [unclear] but above all, you know, a ten hour trip might have seemed by far, you know, then, yeah.
AP: VE-day.
DES: Ah, VE-Day. This is all vivid with me, I had wonderful times on VE-day but VE-Day I did three trips to France bringing home, I think it was on VE-Day, yeah, it was on VE-Day, I don’t know if it was three or two we didn’t the next day, you know I did three trips of bringing home prisoners of war, we’d go over in Juvincourt in France and load up twenty five, it was called Operation Exodus and we were out, we load up to twenty five British war, British prisoners of war, they’d been, some of them had been there since Dunkirk in 1940 and the first load we carried, oh, they sit, the twenty five of them sat in the fuselage of the Lancaster on cushions, not seatbelts, uhm, they just had to hang on and [laughs] they just had to sit there and there were thousands of them, we brought out prisoners of war with this Operation exodus by the way, but they were, uhm, It was a wonderful experience, it was one of the greatest experiences of my life, you flew these guys out, they’d been prisoners of war all these years and they, uhm, the first load I carried they were all Sikhs, they were Indians the first lot we carried out. The next load we carried were all obviously from England and it seemed to be most obvious, I made sure that I went down and I got them to come up gradually when the white cliffs of Dover came, got them, and we ferried them up but it was nice and orderly and hear the tears was rolling down their cheeks, you know, was absolutely wonderful to see the, uhm, and they all shook hands when we, uhm, they all shook hands when they got off the aircraft and that was what I did on VE-Day. Now, shortly after VE-Day we had a lot of celebrations and I, you know, I can always remember smoking a cigar, having a few beers, I was Mister Churchill at one stage, you know, was a lot of hilarity and joyness and it was a wonderful feeling, they, you know, all the station was all together and we were all having, officers, ordinary, you know, the airmen, we were all together having a and they’d put on some wonderful [unclear] there and at that particular time and that’s my, I worked on the VE-Day there and we were so glad we were doing, and the guy that wrote our 463-467 book, Nobby Blundell he was a, uhm, he was a fitter, he was a fitter, uhm, an engineer and on a ground staff and he wrote our books incidentally, all the books on 464-647 fisher [?] books were all written by Nobby did a magnificent job but the uhm, was great the, uhm, he managed to, you know, get, gives us all the particulars that we wanted to know, I don’t know, and he was all of our flying set up, all of the, he’d used the, [unclear], is that called, the evidence of our doing your trip, he used to get all these information from the [unclear], he spend years on doing this and so we were forever grateful and he did this but, uhm, getting back to VE-Day, I was more than, more than pleased with what was happening and then of course we had to start thinking about what was gonna happen as it was after VE-Day.
AP: Uhm, how did you get back to Australia?
DES: Ah, that’s a good [unclear], you’ve got some good questions. They are very good, you know, [unclear], we uhm, the uhm, oh I made two efforts to get away. We were disbanded by the way, we were disbanded in August at, uhm, Skellingthorpe, I think it was Skellingthorpe, we’d moved to Skellingthorpe from the Squadron and they formed a Tiger Force for people that were gonna go out to fight the Japanese and uhm, we uhm, managed to particular Tiger Force the uhm, [unclear] you know just asking [unclear].
AP: How did you go home?
DES: How did you go home, yeah. Lost my train of thought. At my age you can.
AP: That’s one. That’s the first one in [unclear]
DES: No, I forget.
AP: Off you go.
DES: Oh, good. [laughs] I know you can scrub that out, yeah, but getting home. Yeah, but I wanted to mention about, we disbanded and then we were transferred to Brighton to wait for a boat and the [unclear] came along. Now, a lot of people in the Air Force know what happened there, there was virtually no, [unclear] but the conditions on the [unclear] which is the [unclear] boat, there was no P&O those days, [unclear] made all the newspapers that a lot of the trips walked off the ship at Southampton because of the conditions, I didn’t want to go twenty five days or so we gotta go and we went back through the canal and [unclear], well we didn’t stop, well we stopped in a few places, the uhm, it was, the, in Brighton we went from, we’d gone onto the ship on the [unclear], we’d got onto the ship and we sailed eventually, we sailed to half of it and wouldn’t you believe we broke down in the Bay of Biscay and the war was over, there was no submarines or so, the war had finished at this time, this was in August or September 1945 [unclear] and we, in between time we had been flying, we’d been doing, taking stuff out to drop the bombs and we’d been doing fighter affiliation and all, we then found work for us to do. Anyway, we set sail out of Southampton and we broke down, and we were flying the black flag, anyone knows it’s out of control and so we eventually we got, we slipped back to Southampton, the first time I have ever been sick was on that bay because we just it [unclear] and happened [unclear] it was about 20000 tons and was their luxury ship when the [unclear] luxury could have been made into a troop ship and we went back to Southampton we were sent then up to Millham. Now Millham is right up near West Freugh, up near Stranraer, right up on the North-West of England and [unclear] us all up to, it was the middle of winter. And we were in Nissen huts and we had to try and keep warm and they had to heat us there but ran out of coal, they couldn’t get, we were rationed the coal, so we smarty Australians [unclear], there was the coal, we got into the coal, [unclear] and pinched the coal, I caught a couple of sometime [unclear] about but we had to go and pinch coal to keep warm. And uhm, we eventually went from there, we were there about a week I suppose and then they found another boat for us which was the Durban Castle, it was a [unclear] ship which went from London, used to go from London to Cape Town and that was a nice ship was made up of air, the complement of going home was a lot of air force people, we had New Zealanders coming home uhm, was quite an interesting lot of people that were on board but we were in [unclear], I was a warrant officer then I’d got up to warrant officer and there under the normal chain, six months of flight sergeant, twelve months of, uh, sorry, six months of sergeant, four months of flight sergeant, then you’re put and made a warrant officer, that was the RAAF and so we’d became warrant officers and then was commission if you got a commission. And the uhm, we uhm, [pauses] [unclear] yeah, yeah, we’re back, we’re off from and, yeah, we were now on the Durban Castle, we’re on the, I forgot, the Durban Castle and the Durban Castle and we had a lot of, we pulled into Gibraltar, can remember Gibraltar, the conditions on the boat were good, the food was good, I put on a stain on the way back because, you know, we put a lot of potatoes, they had a lot of stuff [unclear] but they fed us well, it was a full ship really, but we picked up people on the way, we went to Gibraltar but that was to drop off somebody who was sick so we didn’t pull in, it was just off Gibraltar and we could see the place and if anybody is interested they oughta go to Gibraltar, it is one of the most interesting places to go there. Uh, you don’t expect to see what you see, so we, Gibraltar just a night, we dropped these people off and then we went to Taranto in Italy, in the heel of Italy and there we picked up the New Zealand war brides, that had married a lot of the New Zealanders, who were fighting in Italy, they’d either gone home or [unclear], but the war brides were on their own and so we picked up the war brides and that filled the boat a bit more and then we went from Italy to the Canal, went through the canal, and they wouldn’t let us off the boat in the canal and, you know, none of us would have been through the Suez Canal and so, that was working of course and so was [unclear] to Port Tewfik, Tewfik? No, Port Said, we went to Port Said and they, one of the guys in that was with me at the time, was called [unclear] and he had a DCM, Distinguished Conduct Medal which he had earned in the Middle East but he was in the Air Force, he was, he was a gunner in the Air Force but and he’d been to Port Said, you know, he knew all about this place and we had to get to Port, [mimics the gunners voice] so there was a ladder down at the back of the ship and so a few of us got out of the bumboats as they called them [unclear] and we went ashore, we went ashore, we didn’t take any notice of them people [unclear] we, most of the people were doing this but they were not supposed to. And so we were wondering around the town and the Arabs tried to come and sell us something, dirty postcards on sale [laughs], you know, and we were looking, [unclear] got out, went off and he hit one of these blokes, he hit one of these blokes, you know, because he was trying to do something wrong or I don’t know what it was but he knew what he can get away with, he slapped him on the face [unclear] we gonna get caught [unclear] being in a riot, anyway we got back to our ship alright and went up the gangway this time, no one said anything so. We went through the canal which was a great experience to go through and see how that operates, I’ve never been through the Panama but a lot of our fellows went through the Panama, which I would have liked to have done, uhm, then we went into Aden, and then we, that was near Yemen, and that was in Yemen where you nearly got a lot of troubles and then we went to, uhm, Perth, we went straight across the Indian Ocean to Perth and that’s where we dropped of the Perth blacks [?] and I remember carrying, not carrying but helping a bloke who’d had too much to drink in Kings Park and we were gonna miss the boat, cause you had to be up to Perth and the boat was at Freemantle, we had to get back by train and we had to get him back so [unclear] helped him back but he was not used to Australian beer cause the British beer was pretty, uh, pretty weak and this Australian beer was pretty, you know, pretty [unclear] anyway we got back, we came around the [unclear] to Melbourne, and was Melbourne we got off the boat and went to, uhm, went on the train, went on the train to Sydney, I don’t recall, must have been the train of the time, we sat up but we didn’t have sleepers, and no, we went up to Sydney and the Vietnam blokes all complain that they didn’t get a welcome home. Well, none of us got a welcome home but we were quite happy, cause we arrived at Central Station on platform number one, my mother and sister were there to meet me, they took me home and then a week later I was to report at Bradfield Park, I went to Bradfield Park, they gave me a dischargement home and I went back to work.
AP: That was it.
DES: That was it.
AP: Did you have any issues settling down again? [unclear]?
DES: No, no, no, I had no issues. The only thing is for a while so I went straight back to my job that I left at the MLC and I had been there eighteen months, for eighteen months so I didn’t know much about the business and so I got into, when I went to, I applied when I went back, this is in early 1946 I uhm went back to the MLC and they put me on, they had to put me on that was the law, they had to put you back on staff and they sent me to a department where I was the only fellow with a hundred and forty girls. I’d been in the Air Force all this time with fellows, we had the well WAAF around but generally speaking you weren’t used to mixing around with women, you know, and they put me there for, they put me there for a purpose, of course, and they put next to me the girl that spoke the most [laughs] she was a real gossip, she spoke the most, Shirley Reed, and Shirley, and I, the first two weeks I didn’t hardly, apart from doing my work I didn’t say anything but not because I didn’t [unclear], I was just out, I don’t know what to do, you know, I was just doing my work but I thought, and I wasn’t that good at conversation at that particular time [unclear] we had lunch at our desk in those days, we bought some sandwiches and had lunch at our desks, she kicked the chair from underneath me, I was leaning back and she kicked the chair it was dangerous, she kicked the chair, I went down under the [unclear], well, everybody laughed and I laughed and from that time on I was married [?] [laughs]. I was in that department for about two years and I was still the only fellow. And I have great memories of that, of that two years because I was single, I went to so many birthday parties and twenty-first birthday parties, to weddings, I talked to get a few other girls, my wife was one of them and well, became one of them and I went to work for her in the department and I made [unclear] she came to England for four years and then came back and I married her then but I don’t, was I was then move to, I went again they sent me to Tasmania to open up the office in Tasmania in Launceston and then I was there for two years and then I, they did that in those days, don’t do it nowadays, then I was sent to, I was in Sydney for a while and then I was posted to Adelaide in 1960 and I, I was in charge of the collector branch there in Adelaide and we had two children there, Dave and Jane and that was another wonderful experience and then. I’ve got to say something about the air force, don’t let me forget.
AP: [unclear] of course.
DES: But, we had, Adelaide was a wonderful place to bring children up, I became a fan of the, I was a rugby person, rugby union, I became a fan of Australian rules when I first went to Adelaide I was, uhm, every Monday we had lunch with a group in the industry, in the life insurance industry and I didn’t have much to, I didn’t have much to talk about because I didn’t know anything about the Australian rules, for all they talked about were the teams that played at the weekend so I thought, oh, the best thing for me to do was to join those, if we were gonna have, [unclear], I’d better join them, better go out with them, so, they were members, a few of them were members of the Stirling football club, Aussie [?] rules club, and, no, The Double Blues, I can sing you the song if you want me to sing it, but they are The Double Blues and I became quite a rugby, an Australian rules fan, I’m not forgetting me rugby cause I’m a rugby person still but the, I used to, family, it was a family setup, we’d go out on a Saturday and we’d go, we’d have the radio would be on at the eleven o’clock match and then we’d go on, we’d have lunch or something then we’d go up to see the afternoon, the main game in the afternoon and then we’d finish there we’d go and buy some beer and some food and we'd watch the replay of that game and then we’d watch the replay of the main game in Melbourne, that was our Saturday but all the kids were all around at home that particular day and they’d come to the game in Adelaide, then they got so much free bottle they could pick up and the kids used to go and pick it up and make a lot of money on a Saturday [laughs] and but I became quite a fan of that we won the premiership four weeks running and that was my introduction to Australian rules, what a wonderful thing to be, but it’s a wonderful game and I love Australian rules and I do follow the Swans, uhm, but I don’t go out and see nowadays, I don’t go and see the rugby except on [unclear] occasions again I go and watch the rugby but. And in Tasmania I played rugby union and my [unclear] was the president of the North Tasmanian rugby union, we had three teams and I played in one of the teams and, uhm, that was in Launceston and, oh I forgot, New Zealand. I was in, I was two and a half years in New Zealand and I was there for the Springbok Tour in 1956 and I saw quite a bit of the football there, I used to go to the football in those days but New Zealand was another great place to be I was married there but I came back to Sydney, married Dorothy and then came back to New Zealand when she came back, she came back to work at the MLC for twelve months and, uh, and then we came back to, and I had a wonderful time because I have got relations there In New Zealand, so, I had places I had to go, so, I’ve seen every city in New Zealand except Gisborne and I don’t know why I’m saying that but, uhm, it was a wonderful place for me and it was a good place to, uhm, yeah it was a good, I was the, I joined the Kendala Lawn Tennis Club and I played tennis and I became the treasurer of the Kendala Lawn Tennis Club and so I fitted into the New Zealand mob, cause New Zealanders by and large as a group don’t like Australians, you know, but they do like, when they meet individually we’re all great, you know, we might talk about the Anzac business but they have really odd, that’s only my observation of course, they don’t’ really and I’m a, I regularly go to funerals in New Zealand at the moment but you know I’m a great fan of New Zealand and they as a group, they are jealous of Australians, I think, cause we’re so big.
AP: Ok, could be something.
DES: Yeah.
AP: Yeah, worked with a few kiwis, anyway. Uhm, yeah, you were gonna say something [unclear].
DES: I was gonna say, I do a lot of this, you know, I’m gonna plug in for the Bomber Command Commemorative Day and I’ve been involved with 463-467 Squadron Association, I’ve been involved with, uh, the Bomber Command Commemorative Day Foundation but that’s just a little aside. Uh, I’m doing this really because [clears throat] I owe the Air Force something. [sighs] When my, when memoires bring us [unclear] when I went away on the Air Force, I didn’t know anything, I was a real greenhorn, I was a green eighteen, didn’t know anything cause mum, you know, we were never allowed to play cards on a Sunday as I’d never, we never had cards in the house, mum didn’t, mum was a bit, she was an Anglican and uh, but she wasn’t, she wasn’t an [unclear] or anything either but a [unclear] drink she might have been, we never had but grog in the place, I tried to have [unclear] sherry sometimes [laughs] she went [mimics and astonished expression] when she heard, she was a great mother by, a great mother by the way but our mum, I’m trying to get the message over that I didn’t know a lot about the world until I went to the Air Force and the Air Force made me and I feel I gotta make some contribution to the Air Force and the same thing applies to the office MLC, that they to me were absolutely marvellous and I only retired from there about two years ago when I, I retired in ‘84, I went back to do a job for three months, to set up the database, helped set up the database in the MLC and now twenty five years later I’m still there with two, with another guy, it was five of us who stayed on for a while, but then, three had died and two of us are still left. But the MLC were, they, you know, I was on a, I tell you I was on a two and half percent mortgage for a time at the MLC, and they didn’t pay as much as probably some of the other companies but you know, I never, you felt you had a real, uhm, you know, they never sacked anybody except if you pinched money [laughs] and that, it remarks the office that didn’t happen but the MLC were wonderful to me, the Air Force and the MLC were wonderful to me and a lot of my friends are not jealous of me but they would have loved to have had a job like I’ve got, working with the MLC until I was just on ninety and, uhm, and I was doing every bit as good a job as I was as the people beside me that I was working, I was doing all computer work and this sort of thing. Oh, when I say computer work, it wasn’t on a main frame but it was, was all the stuff was all set up for us to do but I did some work on the telephones and that sort of thing but there was a lot of sixty plus, sixty five plus fellows that could, they some of the companies could, instead of putting them off, give them extra time, you know, keep them employed on a, say, five days, four days, three days, because, you know, I was bored stiff for a while when I first retired and when I got this [unclear], I was a bit two-minded about going back and doing this and that was one of the best decisions I have ever made and so there for that, this is not wartime setup but the MLC they could have paid when I was in the Air Force but I was getting more money in the Air Force than I was in the MLC [laughs] so I didn’t much from it but. Had I not been in the aircrew I would have probably cause we were paid extra in the aircrew, not a lot but we were paid extra. And, yeah, so that was, I have a lot to thank the Air Force for and that’s why I’m doing, I do this work now with volunteering with doing various things on Bomber Command Association and the 463 business, anything to do with the Air Force I like doing, you know, and I meet a lot of nice people.
AP: Good. Final question. Uhm, what do you think the legacy of Bomber Command is and how you want to see it remembered?
DES: Uh, well, I don’t think we will ever see another Bomber Command, in these days we will never see another Bomber Command because the days of the, uhm, what do we call them? The, you know, the things that fly on their own? You’ll never see another Lancaster bomber bombing places, you will see atom bombs or, not atom bombs, but these other sort of, what do you call the little?
AP: Drones. Yeah.
Des: The drones, you see, just here in one of our Squadrons here now, the 462 Squadron in Adelaide, they are mixed up in drones, you see, and so, you know, I’m very proud of, uhm, joining and taking part in Bomber Command. I think they did a magnificent job; they’d had a rough trot until 1942, when they weren’t hitting their targets, [unclear] as things got better, they did the, I’m fully happy with all what the Bomber Command did. I think the world of Air Marshal Harris and I get, I get annoyed sometimes when people who want to criticize him. You know, every year I get a message from Melbourne about Dresden [laughs], which, you know, which annoys me, more than anything else, because Dresden deserved what they got, you know, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, London, Liverpool, Coventry, they all got a similar treatment and I don’t think, you know, there was a lot about Dresden that, and I’m sorry I brought that up but we know that there were a lot of people operating in Dresden which were military, they were hidden, slightly like the people today are putting, uh, children and some of these in where real targets are and there were definitely a lot of things in Dresden that deserved to be bombed and, you know, we’re at war, we had to do our best to do that but I’m quite proud of what we did in Bomber Command and I’m very, I think I finished my speech at the reflections at the Bomber Command thing in Canberra a few years ago and I was very proud and fine with Bomber Command and but I don’t think we will see another Bomber Command type of people, there will never be a group like us ever again, so I don’t’ think there is any future, but it will be done by the drones, what it’s gotta be done I think will be done by the drones and then that creates a bit of loss of life to civilians but I’m afraid when you are fighting a war it’s just, you know, it’s just the way it goes. Uhm, I don’t know, of [unclear].
AP: How do you want to see it remembered?
DES: How will I remember it?
AP: Yeah, how do you want to see it remembered, how do you want Bomber Command to be remembered.
DES: Oh, [unclear], oh, I just like the people here today to and that’s what we’re in the business with the Bomber Command Commemoration Day Foundation, we want the children of our people to carry on and thank the people of, like the 5000 who died, not us particularly but, ah yeah, the 5000 Australian airmen we hope you’ll remember them, you might forget them, as I hope you won’t forget the Vietnam people and the people who went to Korea and the people who went to [unclear]. We do remember them and I pray that they remember them on Anzac Day, uhm, but I think that, uhm, I would like to and I am amazed at, uh, the young people today that we have come into their [unclear] up to about four or five years ago and never heard of some of the things of their fathers and grandfathers had done. And I’m amazed by the number of people who came out of the woodwork to find out more about now and it’s up to us now, cause we are talking here now, it’s up to us to make sure that we get the message out to the younger people that their living today because of the sacrifice that the people made, that died over in the Bomber Command raids and that sort of thing, that they would be, uhm, might be leading a different sort of life, that they, uh, if it hadn’t been for the actions and the deeds of those who fought in Bomber Command. But I’d like them to think nicely of us and I think most of them do. I get, not amazed, but I’m really interested and pray that today for instance I’ve been talking to people that were involved and had involvements, you know, a lot of them didn’t know to a certain extent what things we’d done and how we’d helped shorten the war and that sort of thing, cause we did really and I suppose dropping the atom bomb bought us to and I’ve got no objections to the atom bomb being dropped either, it probably saved a lot of lives too. It’s a terrible thing but once, if I can say again, I’m amazed at the young people that are so interested and yet there are some families that they are not interested at all, not interested at all and parts of families, including my own, now, some of mine are not that interested, my son is and but, and I think [unclear] but one of my grandchildren is very interested. It’s on the other side but that’s their decision, we probably haven’t got the message over to them which is [unclear] and I am disappointed when I speak to some of my friends who don’t want to talk about it, it’s not boasting about these [unclear], people should know that these sort of things went on, that these, because of their actions, they’ve had fifty, sixty, seventy years of freedom here, even in Australia which might never have happened if those people hadn’t made the sacrifices that they did and volunteered and don’t forget, all the aircrew in Australia were volunteers, there was no, no one was conscripted, they were all volunteers. Yeah.
AP: Oh well, that’s the end of my questions. So.
DES: Well, that’s good. Yeah.
AP: You’ve done very well.
DES: [unclear] How long was that?
AP: That was one hour forty two.
DES: That was alright, well, that was [unclear]



Adam Purcell, “Interview with Don Southwell,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 23, 2024,

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