Interview with Ernest Truman


Interview with Ernest Truman


Ernest Truman completed his initial training in Australia as a navigator before arriving in the UK. He was posted to 460 Squadron at RAF Binbrook. One of his ops was to destroy the oil refinery at Merseburg and he recalls the explosion was so bright he could have read a book by the light. His plane was shot down on one operation by a night fighter. The pilot and two gunners were killed outright. Ernest lost one of his flying boots during his descent and knew he had to seek help. He knocked on the door of a house and told the young girl to, ‘Go get the Luftwaffe.’ Which she did and he began his time as a prisoner of war.




Temporal Coverage




01:18:56 audio recording


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ET: I went to join, I tried to join the Navy one night and the bloke said, ‘We’re busy come back.’
JB: Did he?
ET: Yeah [laughs] So, I joined the Air Force.
JB: Where did you train?
ET: Oh, I went to [pause] they took blokes in and had them as aircrew guards and they did so much guard duty at various places and then they went in for training at Number 1 ES at Somers.
JB: Yeah.
ET: Somers camp. And that’s what I did. I was an aircrew guard. AC2 is what they called it at, in the Western District wouldn’t it have been?
JB: Yeah. I think my father was at Somers.
ET: Yeah.
JB: A lot of —
ET: He would have been. Somers is Number 1. Number 1 and ITS. Initial Training School.
JB: Yeah. And what did, a lot of blokes went over to Canada. Who were those blokes?
ET: They were no reason for going here, there or anywhere. They just did and they just sent them to Canada to train.
JB: Right. And so from training. So how long was training?
ET: Well, nine months.
JB: Nine months and I heard that —
ET: Nine months before graduation and then there was training and training and training and training.
JB: And did you want to be, did you, did you start off knowing the position you’d have in the crew or were you just —
ET: No. We weren’t, you were an individual.
JB: Yeah.
ET: I went to Benalla on Tiger Moths. Did well on Tiger Moths. Passed, and passed out okay. Then I went to Deniliquin on Wirraways, and I couldn’t handle Wirraways and they scrubbed me.
JB: Yeah.
ET: So, I said I’ll go as straight gunner and the, I was working in an office there and I got to know the sergeant there and the sergeant went to the chief ground instructor and was nattering to him and the chief ground instructor, ground instructor came out and says, ‘You’re not going to be a gunner. You’re going to be a navigator.’ No, sorry. ‘An observer.’ In Australia we were observers.
JB: Yeah.
ET: We did a three months course that were thereabouts at Mount Gambia and then we went to Gippsland. Did a gunnery course. And then we went to Evans Head, did a air, astro-navigation course.
JB: Yeah.
ET: Right. And then we came back and we was billeted at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. We were, by then we were either sergeants or pilot officers. I was a sergeant and we, I was booked one night to be orderly sergeant and I said to the officer, I said, ‘What do I have to do?’ He said just, he told me. So I go into the airmen’s mess and I yelled out, ‘Stand fast. Orderly officer. Any complaints?’ And no complaints [laughs] So, we were billeted at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The best meals you’ve ever, you could ever imagine and we slept in the outer area near grandstands converted to a sleeping quarters and then we caught the Nieuw Amsterdam, a Dutch royal family liner out of Port Melbourne and went via Durban to England. Durban, South Africa.
JB: Did you stop off in Durban?
ET: For a fortnight.
JB: I mean, it would have been exciting to go.
ET: Pardon?
JB: It would have been very exciting.
ET: Oh yeah.
JB: The thought of going on an overseas trip.
ET: We had a ball. I was almost broke when I got to Durban because I hadn’t had much luck playing poker.
JB: So was that what you, all the way over everyone played poker.
ET: Oh no. There was two up school. We had the two up dice. Heads and tails dice. I think I’ve still got them somewhere and I wasn’t, look I wasn’t concerned with winning money on the ship. I played poker but if you’d got in to a job like Two Up or Ins and Outs, that was another game they had gambling or [pause] Crown and Anchor. Have you ever played Crown and Anchor?
JB: I’ve heard about it. I don’t think I’ve played it. No.
ET: Well, there’s a mat like that and there’s six squares. There’s hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades and a crown and an anchor and if you put your money on, on a heart and there’s three dice and you throw the three dice. If there, if no heart comes up you lose your money.
JB: Yeah.
ET: If two hearts come up you get two to one. If three hearts come up you get three to one. So you’d say it’s an even money bet but ahh there’s a trick to it. You see if three hearts come up the banker pays out on three to one on one square but he collects on five.
JB: So the odds are with the house.
ET: The other five you see. So the odds are with the house and after one the blokes said, ‘Go partners with me.’ I said, ‘I’ll tell you what we’ll do.’ So we set up shop and I said two to one the treble two, sorry four to one the treble and everybody betted on us and then the silly buggers, I said this, the opposition said five to one the treble and had odds on the others, better odds and I said, ‘They’re losing odds. I’m not playing anymore.’ But we had a good night and —
JB: So, was the food, what was the food like on the ship?
ET: Oh, the food on the Melbourne Cricket Ground was the best food you could —
JB: Oh.
ET: Oh, it was beautiful. Yeah. You had to walk up about ten, right up to the top of the Melbourne Cricket Ground grandstands. The old grandstands. They’re not there anymore. And that was beautiful. On board the, we got plentiful going over on the, on the Nieuw Amsterdam. That was alright but and you got plenty to eat because half the blokes were seasick.
JB: And did you have to train on the boat or anything or did you just sort of play? Just gamble all day.
ET: No, we, they had, we had sports.
JB: Yeah.
ET: You know, but running on a boat that’s going like that is a bit a bit awkward but I had a, I had a go. Yeah. And we picked, we went to Durban and we picked up four hundred Polish WAAFs.
JB: Oh, that’s good.
ET: Oh, not four hundred. I don’t know. A number of Polish WAAFs. But they were watched. They were watched like a bloody hawk, you know.
JB: Hang on. I’ll just, make sure I’ve got it all. This is, hang on. So, I’ll just —
[recording paused]
JB: This is just such good stuff.
ET: When we got to Durban the only Australians that had been there before that apart from a ship’s crew was the 6th Division. Now, the 6th Division left Durban. Hello.
Other: Hello.
ET: They —
[recording paused]
ET: Central traffic area. Redirected the traffic in a different direction. They [pause] One woman was waiting at the, at the, for the traffic to stop with a pram and a couple of blokes walked out and stopped the traffic. This 6th Division soldier came back, picked up the woman’s pram and picked up the woman and took her across the corner. And she yelled off and smacked one of them. So, they picked her up and took her back [laughs]
JB: That’s fantastic. Yeah.
ET: And it was —
JB: So where did they go on to fight? The 6th Division. They would have gone in to Africa, wouldn’t they?
ET: They went to, went to England.
JB: Yeah.
ET: And —
JB: Yeah.
ET: I’m not an authority on that.
JB: No, I just wondered.
ET: I’m not an authority on that but they went up to, up to England. I know they had, a couple of them did work shearing in half a day. A week’s shearing in half a day but at any rate I had an uncle who was one of them and when we got there I heard somebody say, ‘These people are real gentlemen. Not like the last lot.’ [laughs] And you know they redirected traffic. They did everything. And we were taken for a drive. They commandeered the taxis and they took us for a drive into the Valley of a Thousand Hills or something like that and the taxi driver was a woman. She says, ‘I was taken with, we got the job of taking the Australian Army out,’ and she says, ‘I told them I couldn’t. I had to be back because I had to pick up my son from school.’ They said, ‘No, you don’t.’ ‘They took, they took me to the school and I went and got my son and came back and then they said, ‘Where are we going?’’ and she says well so and so. And they said, ‘No, you’re not. We’ll go somewhere else.’ And she says, ‘I had the best afternoon, best day I ever had with these Australian 6th Division blokes and my son had a whale of a time.’ And any rate, we went. We were there for about six days and we were, we went to the main hotel and one of the boys was Tully. I don’t know what, he was Tully’s. Have you heard of Tully’s whiskies and wines?
JB: Yeah. Yeah. And brandy.
ET: Well, that was one of, he was one of the sons.
JB: Cool.
ET: And we, we went there and oh, half a dozen, I think. More than, I think there was about nine of us walked into this pub and it was the same pub that the diggers before us took on the, took over and they got, we got, you know preferential treatment. Cleared the area. Got a big table out. Put the tables together and made it side by side and Tully he got hold of the head waiter and talked wines to him and we had a good meal. Yeah. And I, I bought a little trinket for my mum made of ivory. It was ivory. They make an ivory ball that you could see into and inside the ivory ball was an ivory elephant and I’m not too sure whether they’re ivory or bone but still and in all there you are. And then we, we arrived in the top of Scotland at a place called Crewe, I think. Crewe. And, no, it wasn’t a place called Crewe. We came down in a train and it happened to my uncle and to us exactly the same. We, we pull up at a place and one of, one of the blokes says, ‘Where the bloody hell are we?’ And a voice on the platform said, ‘This is Crewe.’ Just like that see. And then we came down. Went all the way down to, to Brighton. The RAAF bought one, two, oh at least four pubs in Brighton and a three storeyed house on the corner opposite one of the pubs and these pubs, two pubs. The Metropole. The Metropole and the, and the Grand I think was, were on the waterfront and the, and the other two in rear streets and we —
JB: The RAF, RAAF bought the pubs.
ET: Yeah. They bought them. And when the war was over people should say, were saying you were, you should let us have those pubs. They were, and the answer the RAF, RAAF gave was that when the, when we bought them they were sitting on the waterfront at Brighton and you look over the English Channel and there was Germany. All they had to do was to put a bomb under Germany and go straight in to the front of the bomb and go over the top and you were very very happy to get rid of them. Now, you’ll just have to wait until we’re finished with them.
JB: That’s fantastic.
ET: And from there we went to various training places. I went to Southern Ireland and they gave us all the warnings in the world about how to behave in Ireland. And that was a whole lot of bull.
JB: Yeah.
ET: Ireland was, you’d get in a, the first night we were there I bought three pots and three whiskies. And it was Irish whiskey and the whiskies were oh bigger than any I’ve ever had before and there was three of us and we downed those and I paid. I gave him ten bob and he gave me seven and something change. So that’s not bad. And —
JB: And were the Irish people welcoming? Because it —
ET: We were supposed to stay. Oh, sorry I’m getting mixed up there. This is after the war.
JB: Yeah.
ET: This is after we’d done our ops this is you know and Symesy and I we were supposed to stay with the people named Lamb. Lamb’s Jam, they were famous for. But they had a death in the family so we fell on our feet. They took us out for a drive in their little horse and cart and very boring and very [laughs] lovely countryside and then they, they, they said, ‘Can you — ' we said. ‘Don’t worry about us. We’ll be right.’ So we went in to [pause] oh a pub. Booked in there and in the pub was all, lots of medical students. Doctors, you know. Trainee doctors and that and they immediately latched on to us and we were in civilian clothes because Ireland was still you know a a a non —
JB: Neutral.
ET: Neutral country. Yeah. Sorry. And so we, we put on these civilian suits and these couple of trainee doctors come in and said looked at our uniform and they went to the dance in our uniform so that and I, that was and yeah —
JB: So, then you, so —
ET: Then we came back and we were on the ship coming home.
JB: No. No. No. You’re in Ireland so you’re still training. So now —
ET: No. I’m sorry, I got out of, that’s this is the war is still going on but we’re, we were, sorry.
JB: We’ll start again.
ET: I was a POW.
JB: Sorry, but you, so you but you’ve reached England.
ET: Yeah.
JB: And you, and you get, how did you get in to 460 Squadron.
ET: Well, you see that’s where I’m wrong.
JB: Right.
ET: We, we, went to [pause] did go to Ireland.
JB: Yeah. Alright.
ET: But not, not the Ireland you mentioned. We went, I got, that’s where I got side tracked. We went to Northern Ireland.
JB: Yeah.
ET: On a, on an Air Force base in Northern Ireland. The CO was about seven foot tall and he said, ‘You give me any cheek,’ he said, ‘You can come into the ring with me.’ Nobody gave him any cheek.
JB: Was he an Aussie bloke?
ET: No. No.
JB: No.
ET: No. No.
JB: Irish.
ET: Pom.
JB: Yeah. Pom. Right.
ET: Yeah, and we, I forget how long we were there but we were doing, you know routine training and then we came back and [pause] oh crikey. Can you tell me where are we?
[recording paused]
JB: So, you would have come back to [unclear]
ET: Keep going.
JB: Bombing. Bombing. Number 3 BAGS. I don’t know what that is.
ET: Keep going. Bombing and air, bombing and gunnery.
JB: Righto. Gunnery again. Astro-navigation. Oh rightio.
ET: That’s Queensland.
JB: Yeah, gee.
[pause-pages rustling]
JB: Broughton. Broughton. Church Broughton.
ET: Church Broughton. Now, that was —
JB: So that’s in May. May two thousand and oh two thousand, May 1944 it would have been wouldn’t it?
ET: Yeah. And Church Broughton was a, was a —
JB: So, you were still training then.
ET: Yeah. That was, yeah. But we were on —
JB: Wellingtons.
ET: On Wellingtons. That’s right. And we did, did oh various things. What did, what did they call it?
JB: Circuits.
ET: Circuits.
JB: Cross country bombing.
ET: Circuits and bumps.
JB: Yeah. Yeah.
ET: That right?
JB: Yeah.
ET: That was for the pilot. He was converting from ordinary aircraft to Wellingtons. Go on then.
JB: So you were on Wellingtons all that time and then, and that’s May and then June.
ET: What does it say? What are we doing?
JB: You’re doing, you’re doing cross country bombing. You’re training.
ET: Yeah. Alright. Go on. Keep going.
JB: And then solo cross country, solo cross countries and then in [pause] So then in September you’re at Lindholme.
ET: Lindholme was a, was a satellite drome from oh what’s the place? Anyway, go on. What am I doing there?
JB: And you got a flight. You’ve got Birt.
ET: Flight Lieutenant Birt.
JB: Birt. Gardener and Birt.
ET: He was a, oh he’s a sergeant, flight sergeant. Birt. He was our pilot. He was a bloke. We’d crewed up by this time. We’ve got Birt, Symes, Truman, Benbow the wireless op and the two gunners, Wilson and O’Hara.
JB: So how did you, how did you find your crew? How did you crew up?
ET: They put us all together in a room. There must have been oh, about ninety or so. Anyway, there was a multiple of six.
JB: Did you feel nervous that you won’t be picked? Or —
ET: Eh?
JB: Do you sort, it’s like that old getting picked for the school footy team.
ET: Yeah.
JB: You feel nervous you don’t get picked. Or is it all sort of —
ET: No. No. No, you’re just all there in a hall like all individuals and a bloke comes up to me and says, ‘I’m a pilot.’ He had the pilot wings on.
JB: Yeah.
ET: He was a flight sergeant and he said, and I got the navigator badge and he said, he said, ‘Would you like to be in my crew?’ And I says, ‘Well, if you take me you take Spencer Symes.’ He’s my cobber. ‘Oh.’ And I said, ‘He’s a navigator. I’m the navigator bomb aimer.’ ‘Oh,’ so the first thing he said, ‘Alright.’ Symesy comes over and he asks Symesy. And Symesy said to him, ‘You any bloody good?’
JB: Oh.
ET: It’s typical of what you’d expect. He said, ‘That’s for you to find out.’ So, anyhow we got a pilot and then he went away and he got a wireless operator and he got, and we crewed up. We got six of us. And I remember I said, you didn’t know where you were going yourself see. So, I said, I prayed to God that I wouldn’t be, let my crew down. And well, that’s how, that was the case see.
[recording paused]
ET: So, and Symesy was a bloody good navigator. I relied on Symesy and I was a good mate to him. We, we had a bond that was something to be valued and I said to Symesy [pause] what was it? I’ve lost it.
JB: You’ve just, you’ve crewed up and you’ve —
ET: Yeah.
JB: Got your mate Symesy who was going to be the navigator.
ET: Yeah. He was a navigator. I was a navigator bomb aimer and that’s how we stayed and I I was quite happy with my position and I was quite [pause] then we start to do circuits and bumps.
JB: Yeah. Circuits and landings. Fighter affiliation.
ET: Yeah.
JB: That’s in October ‘44.
ET: Fighter affiliation where, where you get attacked by a friendly fighter and you take fighter —
JB: It’s when they you do that corkscrew stuff, is it?
ET: You do evasions.
JB: Yeah.
ET: And he, he chases you and we saw, we were at Hemswell, I think. I forget now when we saw a fighter and a Lancaster doing that and the fighter cut the tail off the Lanc and the rear turret landed in a football ground. The pilot landed, landed about from here to the house across the paddock and a, from the sergeant’s mess and the whole lot were killed plus the Lanc went in to the Gas Defence Centre and there was eleven or twelve bodies in that.
JB: Was that the first time you saw people killed in in, that would have been, I mean, yeah it would have been fairly frightening, wouldn’t it?
ET: I think it was.
JB: Yeah.
ET: I think it would have been the first. And anyway —
JB: So then in [pause] you’re at Binbrook with 460 Squadron.
ET: Binbrook.
JB: And you’re still, so —
ET: Binbrook was our squadron.
JB: Yeah. So —
ET: That was the head of the, Binbrook was the head of the, the Group. That means that it had all the high wigs there. The, the village inn was something to behold. The village, it wasn’t a village inn as you know it. Sorry, the officer’s mess. They called it that. And it was, the officer’s mess was something out of this world. Our CO was Hugh, H U G H, Edwards VC.
JB: Hughie Edwards.
ET: And VC was, being a VC everybody saluted him no matter how high the rank. All the high-ranking blokes, the whatsthename was there but everybody saluted the VC winner.
JB: Yeah.
ET: And he was, he was one of the boys, you know. He was. He, he was, he got in to all sorts of trouble. Low flying and all that. He he wrecked a couple of aeroplanes and he had a bad limp because of it. And —
JB: Was he well respected by everyone? All the —
ET: Everybody.
JB: Yeah.
ET: Yeah. He, he’d come to the sergeant’s mess dances. Never missed a sergeant’s mess dance. I never saw him get drunk but I understand that he used to before then because, well he had a wife. He had his wife on the station and they had married quarters in those days.
JB: Oh.
ET: Yeah. And he, you got a story about him.
JB: Yeah. In that —
ET: In that —
JB: Yeah.
ET: What’s the name book there. So, and the first, our first raid was when?
JB: One thing I, so 460 Squadron you’ve got raids happening and people and training at the same time so it would have been pretty busy. I didn’t realise that. I thought they were sort of you trained and then you went to an operational squadron.
ET: Oh, no. You were —
JB: Yeah.
ET: You were, you were flying all the time.
JB: Yeah. So, you’re first —
ET: Yeah.
JB: Sorry. Oh. I think your first raid was at a place called, was it Düren? Düren. Düren.
ET: D Ü R E N.
JB: Yeah.
ET: With a circle.
JB: Yeah.
ET: Fixed over the U.
JB: Same as in the Champagne.
ET: Yeah.
JB: Düren. That was the first raid. In November.
ET: Yeah. Well, Düren that was a, they got word from, you can guess that Düren was a [pause] was a rendezvous for a SS —
JB: Oh.
ET: SS, oh division. Squadron. You know. Panzer division.
JB: Yeah. Yeah.
ET: A Panzer division was in Düren waiting supplies because Düren happened to be a junction of the railways and there was trains stacked up everywhere. What are the [pause] Tanks.
JB: Yeah.
ET: And so really and we went there and as we were there we were approaching this cloud. Ten tenths cloud and the master bomber, the master bomber was an invention brought in later in the war to give direction to bombers as they approached their target. The, and what they did was they used to say, they spoke in code. ‘Pickwick,’ they said. ‘Come down to ten thousand feet boys. It’s lovely down here.’ That’s, that’s the sort of talk they did. ‘It’s lovely down here. Down to ten thousand feet.’ And I said, ‘Bloody hell, a kid would be able to hit us with a pea shooter.’ But in, in the event there was no anti-aircraft fire whatsoever. There was nothing and so we went across and this bloke in the, the Pathfinder bloke said, ‘Bomb Pickwick boys. Bomb Pickwick. Beautiful. Doing well. Bomb Pickwick.’ And Pickwick was code for the leading edge of the smoke. So —
JB: Righto. Yeah.
ET: And as you bombed, as bombed Pickwick like that the smoke crept right across the town. And then when we got back the, they were ecstatic over the result. Right. That’s that one.
JB: One you told me that was the biggest. What was it on? Nuremberg the biggest. Was it —
ET: Oh, Nuremberg’s another matter. Go on.
JB: Well, then you bombed. You bombed Aschaffenburg. Ashfreiburg?
ET: Aschaffenburg.
JB: Aschaffenburg. Yeah.
ET: I don’t remember much about that one.
JB: Freiburg.
ET: Freiburg. Oh, wait a minute. Wait. What’s, what’s, tell me the story of Freiburg.
JB: Freiburg. Yeah. No [pause] then Merseburg.
ET: Merseburg.
JB: Merseburg. Yeah.
ET: Ah, now Merseburg was an oil refinery.
JB: Yeah.
ET: And the Yanks went to bomb it and in daylight of course. They don’t bomb at night time. They bomb in daylight and I’m sorry but the, that bomb, that raid I just previously talked about on Duisburg.
JB: On Düren.
ET: Düren. That was in daylight. We decided to do that one in daylight. The powers that be they know what they’re doing see.
JB: Yeah. Yeah, that’s —
ET: But, but Merseburg the Yanks had tried to go at that and it was an oil refinery and it was just about [pause] it was about to start producing synthetic oil. Now, that’s a prime target. No one, know that Germany’s in trouble with shortage of oil. Shortage of fuel for aircraft. Shortage of fuel for tanks. Shortage of fuel for anything. So, the Yanks went there to do it in daylight and they shot the leading aircraft down just like that and the Yanks said we can’t handle it, they said. So, we said, they said all right we’ll, so we went the first night and there was more anti-aircraft fire than you can imagine. I reckon that the version was that they threw up more. Even somebody said they saw the sink, they saw the kitchen sink come up at them. And anyhow, we followed. A Lancaster, got coned by searchlights and we followed him across the target area, dropped our bombs, no good. So the next, we had to go back again. They said no, no matter how far, how long it takes that oil refinery has got to be done. So anyhow, the next time we did it we did another trip to Merseburg.
JB: Yeah. You did two.
ET: Yeah. Alright.
JB: Yeah.
ET: Well, the second trip to Merseburg. I’ll do the Merseburg over first and this time we, we were, we were all of a sudden the bloody hell of an explosion came up. I could have read that book it was so bright in the cockpit and we were up at oh about eighteen thousand feet I suppose. Somewhere in that vicinity and I could have read that and I thought oh beauty. And then in the light of the aircraft and the explosion I could see a Lancaster there. Two Lancasters there and I says, I said, it could have been any one of the four. Four or five of us. So that finished Merseburg off.
JB: Nuremberg on January the 2nd.
ET: Yeah.
JB: Merseburg.
ET: Let’s [pause] you, you I jumped over it —
JB: You went to Gelsenkirchen.
ET: Gelsenkirchen. Yeah.
JB: Yeah. Gelsenkirchen. Yeah. [unclear] St Vith. St Vith.
ET: Oh. Gelsenkirchen. I can’t remember that one. St Vith. Now —
JB: Yeah. St Vith.
ET: Have you ever seen the picture the Battle of the Bulge?
JB: Yeah.
ET: And you’ve seen Clark Gable and Lana Turner in —
JB: Yeah.
ET: Yeah, in one—
JB: Oh, that was there.
ET: That was always, that was, that was their story. The Yanks, they all told the story of the Battle of the Bulge and Lana Turner where Lana Turner gets, dies of her wounds or something or other with Clark Gable and, but all of that was on one side of the Bulge, the Battle of the Bulge and the Canadians and the British were on the other side and that’s where St Vith was and we couldn’t, we were grounded by lack of, by cloud cover and then it cleared up and we went in and bombed St Vith. And we had to had to take note of the angle of incidence whether the aircraft was up or down at any time because some idiots had bombed the Canadian troops. But in the end we bombed, and we bombed St Vith and they were quite happy. Now, what else is there?
JB: So, Nuremberg.
ET: Nuremberg. The worst raid. The worst raid of the war was on the beginning of, the end of March 1944 on Nuremberg when how many [pause] oh, there was eleven hundred, no. Oh sorry. A thousand and ten Lancasters and Avro, Avro Lancasters and Halifaxes went to bomb Nuremberg and it was the worst raid in the world, of the war suffered by RAAF, by the RAF Bomber Command. They lost a hundred aircraft over the continent. Four-engined aircraft. And another thirty two crash landed in England.
JB: Jeez.
ET: They, they estimated that they lost more airmen in that one raid than in the whole of the Battle of Britain. Anyway —
JB: Because was Nuremberg just so heavily fortified.
ET: Yeah. But see things went wrong.
JB: Yeah.
ET: They were. But anyway we went back to Nuremberg and by this, at this time they had, and I was on the second raid on Nuremberg. I think it’s in there.
JB: Yeah. 2nd of January.
ET: Right. We, we went there and I was on that and I think we carried four long delays.
JB: Yeah. Yeah. I think that, yeah. Yeah. I can’t, I don’t know the coding but —
ET: What is it?
JB: It’s 1..4000. 12…500 DCO.
ET: Yeah.
JB: I don’t know the [pause] so it’s 1. 4000.
ET: I can’t read it any bloody way.
JB: [unclear]
ET: Any rate, we carried, Nuremberg was a long long flight. The more petrol you had the less bombs you carried. So —
JB: And, and Nuremberg it sounds as though everyone Nuremberg was a, was a, everyone was particularly scared of Nuremberg because of what had happened. Is that —
ET: Nuremberg was one of the places where Naziism started.
JB: Yeah. So it was a significant one.
ET: So Nuremberg Stadium there. I went past it in the train.
JB: Yeah.
ET: And they had the Nuremberg Stadium there and so and they had later on, after the war they had the Nuremberg trials there if you remember with Spencer Tracey in it.
JB: Yeah.
ET: And we, any rate we had the four thousand pound cookie. We always carried a four thousand pounder.
JB: That’s the —
ET: And we had, I don’t know what else we had.
JB: Twelve five hundred pound bombs.
ET: We had four five hundred long delays.
JB: Yeah.
ET: And well, the long delays they, they have a fuse in the tail. The bomb does. They screw this fuse into the tail of the bomb and when it, when it, when it hits on impact the, the it breaks a container of oil or acid that works on a, on a washer that’s holding back the firing pin. And it takes a minimum of six hours to, to dissolve that washer and release the firing pin and the bomb explodes. A minimum of six hours and a maximum of twelve hours. So, if you, after you drop your bombs you go, you’re back to England and a bit of supper, debriefed, put your flying gear away. Up in the contact. And your bombs are still sitting there waiting to be detonated. If they, and the fact that they don’t, delayed means that they, if they hit a building they penetrate the building and they’re right down in the guts of the building. If they’re in the guts of the building and somebody finds them if they try to unscrew that that fuse out of the bomb it automatically explodes. So I don’t know how many poor poor Jerries, and the bomb disposal people they they had that job in in Germany, in England. In every other place where there was bombs. It’s not a job you’d like is it?
JB: No. No.
ET: So any rate, there you are.
JB: So, then I suppose so then you bombed Stuttgart and you failed to return. So, what happened? You —
ET: Yeah. I blamed that to a certain extent on, oh you can always get, see that’s a lot. Yeah. You can, you can, you’ve got to [pause] when we were shot down as I think I told you earlier there was a, oh I can’t think of his bloody name. I know I had an argument with this. I had an argument. The bombing leader. We did, we did a few more daylights and I would tell the pilot to shut the bomb doors immediately I saw the bombs leave the aircraft. You see the longer you have the bomb doors open the least manoeuvrable your aircraft is and that, I was, not much but enough. And that was what my pilot wanted and my pilot was my boss. And the flight, and the flight lieutenant was a rank higher than my pilot. That didn’t matter a bugger. The pilot’s in charge when he’s in, in the air. And I had an argument with this flight lieutenant. He said, ‘You’ve got to do this.’ I said, ‘You can tell me what you like but I do what my pilot tells me.’ ‘Your pilot is wrong.’ I said, ‘That’s in your opinion. In the air he’s the only man in charge.’ And it was getting a bit heated and the [pause] oh what’s his name? I can’t think of his name but he came over and said, get it, get it stopped you know. Poured oil on troubled waters if you’d like to put it that way. But we were right. We could, you know. The quicker you got your bomb doors closed the quicker you could get away and that and I could see the bombs go and I could. No. You can’t do that at dark time. At night time because you can’t see. It’s dark. Anyway, how’s that? [background third party conversation]
JB: So then you were shot down over Stuttgart.
ET: Yeah. Well, we, when we were at Stuttgart we, we did the stupid bloody thing and everybody can say that when they’re shot down I suppose. Before there was a squadron leader came up to us and said, ‘You’ve got a load of incendiaries.’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, and that was the first time we carried incendiaries. We’d always carried high explosive and that was just how things worked out and he said, ‘Well, just to make things more effective could you fly at over twenty one thousand feet?’ And I said, ‘But our bomb sight’s only made to bomb from twenty thousand feet.’ He said, ‘Oh yeah, but —’ he said, ‘You could make allowance for that.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I suppose I could.’ So, the navigator and the pilot were there listening to him and it was okay. We did that but you know that’s exactly where a night fighter would be. Just over twenty thousand feet and that’s where we copped it.
JB: And —
ET: Yeah.
JB: So you lost four crew, three crew.
ET: The pilot and two gunners were killed.
JB: In the, in the by the night fighter.
ET: Yeah. By the night fighter.
JB: So, how did your, how did the plane stay stable for you to bale out?
ET: I don’t know.
JB: Yeah.
ET: I, I’ve often thought by the sacrifice of the pilot.
JB: Yeah.
ET: But how do I know that? I was, I was up in the nose of the aircraft. Therefore, I was the first man out.
JB: So, what’s it like parachuting out of a —
ET: Oh, I’m happy to get out.
JB: Yeah. It would have been a pretty —
ET: The bloody things, we got the port inner engine windmilling. Windmilling means it’s out of control.
JB: Yeah.
ET: And anti-aircraft fire going. Circuit, there’s a, I can see the, see anti-aircraft shells explode. They explode if they don’t hit the aeroplane and you can see a load of explosions and where the aeroplane is. It makes it so you can see that and you go there and you know and so the, your pilot says, ‘Get out,’ and we got —
JB: So, he told you to bale out.
ET: Oh yes. He gives you the order to bale out and that’s it.
JB: Yeah. It would have been pretty lonely parachuting. Can you see the other crew members? Or were you on your own.
ET: No. I was happy to get out.
JB: Yeah.
ET: No, I [pause] I landed, when I was got out of the aeroplane I, trying to be cunning I got a, I put my hand over my head like that, knelt down at the opening, put me foot out and that tossed me, tossed me out but it also lost me a flying boot.
JB: Yeah.
ET: I lost a flying boot up there. So, I landed in the, in snow covered country and I’d never had any experience. I hadn’t seen snow in my life before I went to England. And I went there and I went walkabout and I walked in the snow until I got to [pause] until it got daylight and I walked, turned in to the, in to the forest and walked a good distance through the forest. Got under a tree where, a pine tree and crawled under there and was sat there massaging my bare foot.
JB: That’s got to, yeah.
ET: And when it came daylight I was right on the edge of another bloody road and there was a bloke, a German bloke skied past and I could have [laughs] yelled out and shook his hand. And anyway, I I go on that road and I don’t take, I don’t take, oh more than [pause] don’t walk more than a hundred yards when I can’t feel my foot below the knee and I wake up then. I’ll have to knock on some bugger’s door which I did. And they, I said, there’s an older elderly couple there with a young girl. A young German girl. Rather nice looking. I said, I said to her, ‘Go and get the Luftwaffe.’ And she did. She got the Luftwaffe and they came and got me and painted my foot with blue purple dye.
JB: Why the Luftwaffe? Because you didn’t want to fall in to the Gestapo —
ET: I don’t know.
JB: Yeah.
ET: But, the Luftwaffe I go to the Luftwaffe’s camp. I asked for the Luftwaffe. I thought that was the best shot.
JB: Yeah.
ET: And I —
JB: I think you’re right too.
ET: Yeah. No, it proved to be right and they, this bloke comes to me and I throw a packet of Camels. I had a packet of Camels. I pulled it out my pocket and threw it to the old bloke and they took me and painted my left foot with purple dye. And —
JB: And did they treat you well?
ET: Couldn’t have done better I don’t think. Well —
JB: You’re lucky you got the Luftwaffe, I think.
ET: Eh?
JB: I think you were lucky you chose the Luftwaffe.
ET: Well, I, yeah. I don’t know.
JB: Yeah.
ET: You can answer. You can answer that question if you like but I, they took me in to Luftwaffe’s, they put me in a bunk and painted my foot and the young, young German girl came in and went crook at me [laughs]
JB: For what? For what? Because you were, you were in Bomber Command.
ET: I’m bombing their town.
JB: Yeah. Righto.
ET: Yeah. Yeah. ‘Why you bomb? Why you bomb?’ I said, ‘Well, you know it’s a, it’s a two-way street,’ or words to that effect and then I was picked up by [pause] we were marched. Oh, I get hazy on this. It’s a long while ago. And we went down and I can’t, they can’t walk me to the Interrogation Centre. The Interrogation Centre is on the banks of the Rhine. Oh, what’s the name? What’s the town on the Rhine? It’s the biggest town there is on the Rhine?
JB: Not Stuttgart. No.
ET: No. Not Stuttgart.
JB: It doesn’t matter.
ET: Anyhow, back on to the Rhine and we on a week’s solitary confinement and that drives you bloody nuts but —
JB: Could you, had you seen any other aircrew around or were you just absolutely on your own?
ET: No. On the first night I was there I met up with Doug Benbow. Our, our wireless op.
JB: Ah yeah.
ET: And that was, I was given a blanket and, I was given a blanket and he said, ‘Blanket?’ They said, ‘He’s cronk.’ That means I’m crook [laughs]
JB: Oh yeah.
ET: You don’t get one [laughs]
JB: Oh really [laughs] Yeah.
ET: And it was a good blanket though. And —
JB: So then you go off to a POW camp after the weeks, so the weeks in solitary was pretty tough.
ET: Oh yeah. That drives me nuts. I wouldn’t have, there was, I understand there was a German officer [pause] sorry an English officer there. They were keeping him more than a weeks’ solitary confinement because they think he might have known something. But the interrogations officer oh, if you got Conrad Veidt, do you know Conrad Veidt? The actor. If you got him down and made him a little bloke he’d be a dead ringer for this bloke. He walks in, monocle [laughs] plus fours.
JB: Oh, like [laughs] —
ET: He just tosses a book on the table, ‘You can have a look at that if you like.’ So I said I liked and I remember, and I saw a photo of a fella I knew. They’d have known that any rate. And oh yeah, if you talked you were there for more. The longer you, the more the talk the more you stay there I think but any rate I was there, I was there for the standard size. A week. A standard time. And they gave me a pair of American Army boots. They were peculiar boots. They had wooden insert instead of using leather and I couldn’t work that out. But that’s, they were boots about that long. Yeah.
JB: So, then you go off to a POW camp.
ET: Yes. They took us to a train and they gave us a lovely packed lunch. I said, ‘Oh, this is alright.’ So, I promptly ate it. Everybody else did the same. But that’s all we got for three days. Oh crikey. Yeah. That’s all we got for three days.
JB: So, what was life like in the POW camp? Boring. Or things to do all the time? Or —
ET: The Germans had finally woke up that if you keep, if you make a man hungry all he can think of is food. Any sort of food. But he, that’s all he can bloody well think of is food if you’re hungry enough. And you’ll do. And there was one golden rule. You weren’t allowed to give, buy food with cigarettes. Like if there was a bloke who wants cigarettes he’ll even give food away to have one. But you never ever bought a man’s food from him.
JB: Yeah.
ET: And they gave us, they said we’ll have a shower. We go there. I had a towel that long and that wide. That’s all I had and that was filthy but I went to the shower and they, all they did was wet us. Then they turned the water off. No. They turned the cold water on and that was, I thought they, that was bastardly really because we were all wet cold. Worse, dirtier than we were before we got. Black water was running down the fellas faces like that you know. And any rate, we, I was absolutely buggered. I mean a young bloke of you know, in my younger, a better half of twenties and I mean absolutely exhausted and get back to the hut and that’s it.
JB: You, the story about the commandant coming out in the morning and the bloke in the line saying —
ET: Yeah. Oh. There was a lot of funny things like that. This, we were standing there and we were cold, we had no, we, we our flying gear was warm but it wasn’t as warm as [pause] it kept us warm but we had heated, heated aeroplanes, you know.
JB: Yeah.
ET: It wasn’t cold so when we were on the ground in the snow we were bloody well shivering and we were kept waiting for them. There was about six or seven hundred blokes all in this one and this tall bloke, I understand he would have been in the Russian front and got back and he came back and so one of, one of the boys said, ‘He’s a great big dumb bastard.’ And the German behind me on the fence said, ‘I agree with, I agree with you emphatically.’ That’s exactly what he said. ‘I agree with you emphatically.’
JB: And he was a German guard.
ET: Yeah.
JB: Yeah.
ET: And that’s exactly what an Australian would say wouldn’t he?
JB: That’s right. Yeah.
ET: Eh? ‘I agree with you emphatically.’ Oh yeah.
JB: So, then you got, who liberated, who liberated the camp?
ET: Blood and guts.
JB: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
ET: Yeah. I didn’t see him but they tell me he walked, he walked around there. I saw the German front line going back there. They had nothing except, you know their fighting gear. Overcoats down to their bloody ankles and that and they had rifles and when they, our, our prison guards were all lined up ready to surrender to Patton when he came and they shot a few of those. Then they kept going past me.
JB: Who? The German front line did.
ET: Yeah.
JB: You’re kidding.
ET: Well, they were, they were surrendering you see. And these people are, are fighting. And the Germans fought. Fought. Fought. Fought. Fought. You’ve got no idea that they’re, if you want a soldier you go and get a German.
JB: So the German front line you could, like were marching down the road or —
ET: No. They’re, they’re running backwards.
JB: Yeah.
ET: And firing you know and but there there’s they got no. I didn’t see any mechanisation and they went past and that, you know and they weren’t firing at us. I was standing there watching them go past.
JB: And they shot some of the guards.
ET: And they shot, shot in to the guards standing outside the prison gates, you know.
JB: Gee whizz [pause] So, nice to be, I mean nice to be liberated. It would have been.
ET: Not bad [laughs]
JB: Yeah.
ET: Yeah. We, we walked out.
JB: So, the way that operates they just open the door and off you go, is it? Or —
ET: Oh no. On the 4th of, the 4th of April they marched us out and they wanted, I think they wanted to march us away. I don’t know. It might have been a Geneva Convention arrangement or something like that but they did it everywhere. They opened, they marched the allied prisoners away from the advancing Russians and at least that was our theory. And on the 4th of April 1945 we marched out of Nuremberg prison and got on the road. And we start—
JB: Towards the advancing Americans or the —
ET: Towards the advancing Americans.
JB: Away from the Russians.
ET: Away from the Ruskies. A couple of interesting things. The, what was it, what was I going to say? Oh yeah, there was on the side of the road there was a, we saw them laying there. There was a couple of blokes and they had a great big quantity of German, German booze and they were handing it out to the people [laughs] And I went in to the town. Went in to this, it wasn’t Nuremberg but it was some sort of, some town on the road and I walked in there, in to this hardware shop trying to look for something, you know that I can use because we had no tools or anything. And I grab a, a cold chisel and then a bloke walked in the other door and I said, ‘I’m sorry, sir.’ And walked out. He was a German owner of the shop. It makes you sick.
JB: What? What —
ET: He was still living there.
JB: Yeah.
ET: Yeah. The German front line had gone past him but I walked in to his hardware shop. The bloody hardware. The hardware was terrible, you know. And I walked in there. I picked up a chisel I think it was and, ‘I’m sorry.’ All I could think of was saying, ‘I’m sorry.’ Yeah.
JB: For pinching the chisel basically.
ET: No. For intruding in to his premises.
JB: Oh, yeah.
ET: I had no right to be there but I thought it was empty.
JB: Yeah. Sorry.
ET: Yeah.
JB: What’s, anything else? Oh, and then how long did it take to get back to Australia?
ET: Oh. We went to, they took us down to Brighton and we were given, we had a, we dressed [pause] my foot was better or just about and I’d got these bloody heavy boots on. Right. And we were in Brighton and there’s the dome and there’s two, two big dance halls there. And my cobber Murray Walsh he, I met up with him again. He’d, he’d fought four rounders in the stadium in Melbourne so he was handy. And they, a couple of sailors picked on him and he dropped them both. Then walked, walked in to the manager of the dome, the dance hall and says, ‘I’m sorry sir but I’ve just knocked out two sailors who’d picked on me.' And the bloke said, ‘You don’t have to pay a penny to come in to this place.’ [laughs] ‘From now on.’ Murray Walsh. Yeah. And —
JB: So just, when you got home how long did it take you to get home? Back to Australia.
ET: I was, when I was, we were marching back. I, just for curiosity I went up to a German couple. They [pause] they marched us from the 4th of April. They started to march us towards the Yank, advancing Yanks and I got, I was going past this German house and there’s folks walking everywhere and I said, ‘Good evening.’ And they, they could speak English quite well. ‘Good evening.’ And I asked them about the, the major raid on, on Nuremberg you know. And this was where I was of course. We were in, we just walked out of Nuremberg on the way home. That’s where the camp was. And they said there was oh sixty odd thousand killed. They had no electricity. No tap water. They’d no water. Therefore they had they had no sewerage. They had no wherewithal to bury the dead. And you can imagine you know how terrible that was and she, they said they had lots of homeless people. People who were living in, living in a building that’s collapsed and they were living, burrowing in to, in to the rubble of it and living there and that sort of thing. So, it’s not a very nice thing to happen.
JB: No.
ET: And any rate, I said, I said, ‘I will be home in Melbourne by Christmas time.’ And as it turned out I was home for the Melbourne Cup.
JB: Ah.
ET: Comic Court won, I think.
JB: Great horse.
ET: Comic Court. Forty to one.
JB: Ah.
ET: Yeah. We, we got to Wellington and we’d been in Wellington drinking in the pub. The first thing we do we go to the pub and I said to the Pommy sailors, I said, ‘Don’t, don’t treat this beer like English beer.’ It’ll probably be twice the strength. And a bloke comes up to me and says ‘What are you blokes doing?’ I said, you know, definitely a local Kiwi and he said, ‘Come with me.’ I said, ‘Why would I want to go with you for?’ And so I said, ‘All we want is a beer.’ And he said, ‘Come with me.’ And he said, ‘Come on.’ So we went with him and he went round gathering blokes. He took us to the Commercial Travellers Club up on the third or fourth floor and they turned on free beer and food and everything you could, whatever you could want. But they turned it on. That’s not bad is it?
JB: That’s fantastic.
ET: Yeah.
JB: And so you got home by, was your mum pretty happy to see you? She would.
ET: Yeah.
JB: They all would have been.
ET: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. My mum was. Yeah. My [pause] and before I left England I, we could get Yankee cigarettes so I filled up a box about that by about that deep and by about that. A wooden box and I said what have I got to lose and I put a, tacked a card notice on it. My home address in Yarraville. 10 Canterbury Street, Yarraville. And took the cords out the window. That wasn’t, that wasn’t damaged because they were going to rebuild these places anyway, and tied it all up and you know a bloke got a, I got a phone call from a bloke in the Yarraville station and he said, ‘Come and get this bloody wooden box that’s here addressed to you.’ It arrived in my door and I remember there was a box of Prince Albert pipe, pipe tobacco and my old man said that’s, that makes a beautiful cigarette.
[recording paused]
JB: Rightio. I think [pause] I reckon that’s —
ET: Did you get all of that?
JB: I think so. That’s fantastic. I’ll, that’ll be for me.



John Bowden, “Interview with Ernest Truman,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 18, 2024,

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