Interview with Ralph White

Title

Interview with Ralph White

Description

Ralph White grew up in Melbourne, Australia and originally joined the army. He later volunteered to become aircrew and undertook initial pilot training at Benella and Mallala in Australia before sailing to the UK via San Francisco and New York. He flew operations with 192 Squadron from RAF Foulsham and recounts and attack by a Ju 88. After the war he took part in Operation Post Mortem. English operators went to Germany to test their equipment while his squadron mounted a mock raid. This was to see how effective the British and German technology had been.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2016-06-07

Contributor

Julie Williams

Rights

This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Format

01:09:52 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

AWhiteRR160607

Transcription

AP: This interview for the International Bomber Command Centre is with Ralph White. A 192 Squadron Halifax skipper. A Special Duties squadron he tells me. The interview is taking place at Ralph’s place in Burwood in Melbourne. It is the 7th of June 2016. My name’s Adam Purcell. Ralph, we might start from the beginning.
RW: Yes.
AP: If you don’t mind.
RW: Not at all.
AP: Can you tell me something of what you were doing before the war and where you were when you heard that war had been declared?
RW: Initially I was employed as a junior clerk or office boy at the Melbourne City Council. From there, when the [pause] when I turned eighteen I wanted to join the air force. But my parents were not signing forms. So I then made a very silly mistake and joined the army and I spent eighteen months in an infantry battalion. Which — when the, when the Americans came into the war 7th of December ‘41 the unit I was with got, were sent to Western Australia. So while spending my time in Western Australia I got up as far as Geraldton and they were looking for aircrew trainees to join the air force. So I volunteered as an air crew cadet in from Geraldton starting off with recruit training in Busselton and then sent as an aircrew guard while we were waiting to start ITS training. Poor aircrew. You were made aircrew guards which didn’t, didn’t worry us, being out of the army. The guard duty was ok except that when we got to Pearce which was the air force main ‘drome in those days — located nearby was petrol dumps. Forty four gallon drums of petrol in the bush and it was our job at night to guard the petrol dumps because light fingered Perthites were coming out and stealing forty four gallon drums of petrol. But once, not — I didn’t do it, but someone caught someone or someone had pulled up in a car so they felt suspicious and they fired a shot and we were never troubled with them again. So that was the start of my aircrew career as a cadet. From there, once initial training started after we’d done our duties as air crew guards we were sent to Victor Harbour. ITS at Victor Harbour. EFTS at Benalla. Went solo at Benalla on Tiger Moths. Over to Mallala on Ansons. Got my wings at Mallala. Came back to Point Cook to do beam studies and from there was sent to the UK to start with the RAF.
AP: How — alright tell me about your first solo.
RW: First solo. Oh God I wish you hadn’t as a matter of fact [laughs] At Benalla. Yes. Went about, it was about seven and a half hours I think that was there and I had a very good instructor. The instructor had four pupils. One of them was scrubbed. That meant three of us. But when it was my turn to do the solo trip Mr, Squadron Leader Kinnear was a very big man. And squadron leader. And I did the solo test with him which was the usual things. Loops, slow rolls, stalls and just little areas before we did the circuits and bumps just to pass the pilot’s test. And then coming in to land I really didn’t take into account that he was a very big man in the front cockpit. Which, when I came into land it sank too quickly on me and I bounced across [laughs] across the aerodrome which wasn’t the right way to go. However, I said to him there, I said, Oh, you know, ‘I’m sorry sir but I reckon I can do better than that.’ He reply was, ‘I wouldn’t fly with you again. Too dangerous.’ So I got, I got my wings. So that was that. So I wish you hadn’t asked me because it was not done in glory.
AP: It very rarely is. What was a typical day like at EFTS? What sort of things were you actually doing?
RW: What? At Mallala?
AP: EFTS. So Benalla.
RW: EFTS. EFTS would be — each time you’d practice something different. First was familiarisation. Just on there. With an instructor. Practicing stalls and spins and recovery. And from then on you were sent out to practice by yourself. Every couple of days they might give you a taxiing test or something of that nature. But it was just a matter of going up, practicing yourself and coming back. Stall turns. You know some aerobatics you did better than, or I enjoyed better than others. But as a slow roller I was impossible. The, I’d lose so many feet, about five hundred feet every time I tried to slow roll. It was never done graciously. But that was about it. It was a matter of getting, I think, eighty hours. I think I had to get eighty hours up before they’d pass you on to the next unit at Mallala.
AP: And what did you think of the — what did you think of the Tiger Moth?
RW: I loved it. I think it was great fun. It was more or less a joy ride really. Really. It was responsive. It never let you down. If you did the right thing the old Tiger would do what you told it. But apart from that it never gave me any trouble.
AP: An instructor of mine once said, ‘A Tiger Moth is easy to fly but hard to fly well.’
RW: Well yeah. Well, I can remember an instructor once saying to me, ‘No matter what way you fly as long as you do it smoothly,’ which was fair enough but they won’t let you down. The funny side in all of it really when you’re saying about Benalla, thinking back we had similar weather to what we’re experiencing at the moment. That, the first flights in the morning that took off this particular day when we, when we were coming in from whatever shift we were going to do the flying the afternoon there were five Tiger Moths all with their nose in the ground. All sitting up. They had landed but the ground was boggy and they all tipped over. All you could see across the field was Tiger Moths.
AP: I was, I was actually going to ask you about accidents in training. Were they common? Did you see a lot of them?
RW: Not really. No. The only trouble was that sometimes before you were told to do something I’d go out and say, practice stall turns, practice fancy slide slipping. I can’t think what other ones we were, but at one stage we weren’t allowed to, we weren’t allowed to do a loop until we’d had a few more hours up. And one of the boys tried to do the loop. Stalled at the top. Spun in. And actually he got out of it which was lucky. He didn’t get killed but just badly shaken up but showed him that, you know, when you get to the top of the loop you just have to have sufficient speed to get out at the top.
AP: Nothing has changed. The laws of physics are exactly the same. Yeah. Very good.
RW: But you can’t help enjoying flying a Tiger Moth. It was just pure fun.
AP: I would agree exactly with that. Absolutely. What sort of things happened at Mallala?
RW: Mallala was modest flying. The old Anson. It wasn’t a good, I don’t think it was a good aircraft to train on because with the coming in to land with an Anson you were given a speed. I think it was, from memory, sixty. I think we still operated sixty with dual aircraft. Flying two together. Two pilots. We were usually flying together so one would do one hour as pilot and you’d sit back and do navigating. And then the other chap would have a turn of his hour flying. And they were very bad because as you might remember from the Tiger Moth you don’t pick up a stall with your ailerons. And with an Anson you could pick up a stall with your ailerons. You’d have to pop out and kick the wing and it’d come good. It was that placid. It used to stall at forty seven. It was nearly stopped. So I, from that area, a lot of the chaps we were with that went solo at Mallala, from Mallala, and stayed in Australia they went on to Beauforts. And I often, I often put down to the fact that so many of our lads went on to Beauforts and spun in. And I think it was picking up their wings with their ailerons. But that was some of the things. Very awkward to fly solo. You had to do solo flying in an Anson but it meant getting out of your seat and changing petrol tanks and they were sliding ones. Ones that you slide up and slide down cutting off and they weren’t ever maintained very well. But you had to get out of your seat, get over to the side of the aircraft and try and change tanks and get back to the seat again before you hit the ground. Very rough. It was all good training. ‘Cause when we got to Point Cook after we got our wings we didn’t know we were alive when we got on to the Oxfords at Point Cook because they were comfortable. Automatic undercarriage and flaps and all those sorts of things. It was good.
AP: Moving up in the world.
RW: But learning to fly in Australia was very easy compared to going over to the UK. Picking up the practice of flying there that they were more precise. When you got to the UK in the RAF initially we had to wait a while before we could start flying. And I did something that you’d be familiar with. We had to learn aerodrome control. Which was, was good fun at the time but the practice then of course was the way you approached it you approached the landing and did your circuit before you landed each time which made it a bit of hold up when you were trying to land. The queuing up to get on the ground particularly if it was two squadrons on one station was a bit, a bit tricky. But the Ansons never gave us any trouble as I can recall really. The, the second pilot in an Anson used to set up as a single pilot but the co-pilot had to plunge his control in with, you know, a ratchet to get the controls picked up. And quite often it would jam and wouldn’t do it so you were left to hang on ‘til the co-pilot could do change over and change pilots. But they were very old fashioned. Lovely old things. They had no vices. That’s why a Lancaster has got no vices. I think they learned a lot from that.
AP: Avro. Avro. Yeah. Background coming through I suppose. Can you remember much of the process of a beam approach? You were saying you did beam approaches at Point Cook. Can you just tell how they worked and what they were.
RW: Well beam approach. Beam approaching the point, that of course, you understand that the beam approach is a beam. A signal that you’re getting and once you get on to a beam it’s a single note until you drift off the beam. If you go to the left well you get dit dit dit dit dit so you know you’ve come off the beam. Steady note and your, and the other one would be a dash, dah dah just to try and get you back on the thing. But the beam set up in Point Cook was what they called a four degree beam that went out in that. The further you got out the wider the beam was. And when we got to the UK of course, we said yes we’d done beam work. ‘Righto. Off you go and do beam work on Oxfords.’ But their degree of signal was point four — not four degrees. It was point four of a degree. So you really once you got near the control that was sending out the beam you had to be spot on. Which was good. Once again good training. But to be truthful when you think back on it we didn’t use the beam that much. Occasionally with the fog you might try and put it on but you were never left to go around training too long while the fog was coming in and you couldn’t find the approach.
AP: So beam approach though — you trained on them though.
RW: You trained on them but you never, never used it.
AP: Not usually used in anger.
RW: Well, I don’t remember. Maybe some other people did. I can’t remember. At Foulsham, when I, when I finally got to 192 the, the aerodrome there at Norfolk was on low lands but it was fitted with FIDO so we had the approach shown with the burning the old FIDO so we didn’t really need the beam.
AP: That’s, that’s one way of getting around it I suppose. Fair enough.
RW: I never used it anyway because each time, coming back we were usually in the mornings and it was ok.
AP: How did you get to the UK?
RW: Oh the UK. From Sydney. There on an American vessel. I think it was nineteen days to San Francisco. Across the States by train to New York. And then from New York to Gourock in Scotland on the Isle de France. A big French liner that eventually was sunk in the harbour. At New York — sabotaged. Sabotaged but we got there. It was big but very rough getting there and what I liked about it — when we landed in Gourock which was just up north of Glasgow I read the notice in the train. It didn’t say if there’s an air raid. It said when there’s an air raid you do — [laughs] so it was just a difference.
AP: That was, that was going to be my next question actually. First impressions of wartime. Of the UK in wartime.
RW: That surprised me because we got down to Brighton there. Once we got off the boat we went to Brighton to wait. To wait to start our training again. Flying training after doing the aerodrome control. But it [pause] very close. Brighton’s not that far. It’s only twenty two miles, I think, across the channel to, to the occupied France at that stage. And every now and then a 109 would come over and particularly on parade mornings. He’d come up, rip up to Brighton and try and catch us, you know if we were on the parade ground and things like that. That’s what you got used to it. And then of course going to London occasional raids coming across until — you know the raids really stopped and then started again with the buzz bombs and that sort of thing but we got used to it there. The people sort of take it naturally. I can remember even going down Brighton this 109 used to come across at regular intervals. But people would be queuing up for something. Old ladies. You know. Civilians. And blokes going to pubs. And as the warning came out that he was coming again people would just drop on the ground. Once he flew over they’d all stand up again. So that took a bit of getting used to.
AP: Just a part of life I suppose.
RW: It was really.
AP: Yeah.
RW: And particularly going in to London. To see them sleeping on the underground tube stations.
AP: Yeah. I’ll be there in a minute. So you mentioned aerodrome control. Tell me a bit about that.
RW: Well it would be so different from yours. The girls did it all. It was just that we were standing by in case we were needed. But originally the idea was you would ask for permission to land which was always cheating because within ten miles [laughs] ‘I’m number one.’ Everyone dodging their position, but the idea was you came over, identified yourself over the ‘drome. You went on the, about at a thousand feet straight down the runway, to the crosswind. You’d go cross wind and tell them when you were turning cross wind. Go across wind. Come down wind. Down wind, middle of the down wind you’d let the tower know that you were downwind. Then you were turning in to crosswind again and then once you were in the funnels you said, if you were in funnels you just notified you’re in the funnels and you were given the ok to land. But that’s all it was. It was just an acknowledgment and then you had each one doing it and then turn. And you spaced yourself out. Now, does that make sense to you?
AP: Yeah I can, I can understand. I’ve got a vague idea.
RW: It’s none of this coming straight in [laughs]
AP: No. No. Of course not. No. Of course not. Just sort of moving, moving forward a little bit.
RW: Yes.
AP: To, to operational life.
RW: Yes.
AP: You said, you know, when two squadrons arrive at the same time. How did they sort that out?
RW: Well, they just, as you, as you called in. Whichever your call sign was. They’d give you a spot. In other words you know, when you were overhead. If you were overhead you told them you were overhead. If you said you were approaching then they’d give you a situation. If you got too many there that, around, that they were, you were starting to stack them around the aerodrome which was a bit dangerous then they’d send you off on a cross country. Give you a, you know —
AP: Come back.
RW: Anyone short of fuel would be happy but being on special duties we didn’t carry a bomb so we only carried overloads. So at any time we came in we were always sent on cross-countrys. They knew we weren’t and of course cunning ones that had lost a motor you know they would say, ‘I’m approaching on three.’
AP: On three.
RW: Or something like this. To get priority. Feather his motor.
AP: One veteran I have interviewed for this programme said — he was a wireless operator and he said he patched in the more powerful power supply in to their RT.
RW: Yeah.
AP: So that they had a range of thirty miles.
RW: Oh yes. That’s it.
AP: Instead of fifteen.
RW: He’d be saying he was overhead and he could be thirty miles away.
AP: That’s right. Sneaky.
RW: And I think after a while the, I think the signal would come in and then they realised they were weak and you’d say, ‘Stand by,’ and if you could understand he was cheating a bit because we [pause] normally, on special duties, they were very secretive. And of course we only would, sometimes only use two out of the squadron and things of that nature and wherever you were sent was a little bit off key because instead of being through Bomber Command you went through Air Ministry. Which was rather unusual. Now, now you might have to correct me here but I think our instructions came through Air Ministry. From department A14. That doesn’t mean a thing but it was out of Air Ministry. It wasn’t out of Bomber Command because old Butch, he can’t stand — unless you were dropping a bomb you’re no use [laughs] but we were given that and would have been given the — I’d better not get too far ahead of myself.
AP: That’s alright. We’ll, we’ll —
RW: But that was the idea. There was always a little bit of a give and take with the approaching.
AP: Very good. Alright. After Brighton what happened next?
RW: After Brighton, went back on to Tiger Moths. Of all things at a place called Fairoaks but it was really Windsor Castle’s —
AP: Take a couple.
RW: With Fairoaks and we were given, and we were now sent to Smith’s Lawns. Smith Lawn, which was Windsor Castle’s own private airfield. So we did our flying from Windsor Castle. Smith’s Lawn it was known as. And that was just, just routine. Getting familiar with English conditions and flying the Tiger Moth. We weren’t particularly given any aerobatics to do. It was mainly cross-countrys and things of that nature to get us used to the countryside really. Because as we, as we went there you got a bit sick of just doing cross-countrys because I remember once that they’d taken all the street names down. I shouldn’t say town names so it was always a cunning move if you were ever lost was to try and nip down to a railway station to see what the [laughs] where you were. And they didn’t have that there so I was going in and out doing this cross-country. So many hours up and back on different courses they give you. And I’d put, “Crossed road. Crossed railway. Crossed road.” I couldn’t mention, I didn’t know a town. Any there. When I handed my navigation papers in the instructor very sneeringly said, ‘What did you do? Go by road and come by rail?’ [laughs] But no that was the sort of training we did there and from there on I don’t know how many hours we would have done there. It was very interesting being at Smiths Lawn being Windsor Castle. We had one of the lads on flight with us. An English lad. Or English Czechoslovakian. He was royalty from — Prince, oh I know, he was Prince Peter. And he was from Yugoslavia or somewhere. One of those states over there . And as a result with the prince there the RAF were looking after him a bit. So when it came Sunday we were all invited to go to the chapel at Windsor Castle with the royal family. And it was interesting too. He of course went off and sat with the royalty. The ones he knew. But we, the lads we all stood at the back there of the chapel just having a good look around. But of course it was Princess Margaret and Princess Elizabeth were there with the King. King and queen. And afterwards we went for a bit of a tour around the, around the castle and we got to their own home garden and of course the royal family were interested in growing food for, for the sake of wartime restrictions. And we noticed that Princess Elizabeth’s garden, she had a plot of her own, it was perfect. You know beautifully done. And I thought, oh I know what’s happened here. You know they’ve got the gardeners to do it for her. Then we were taken [laughs] then we were taken to see Princess Margaret’s garden and it was a shambles [laughs]. Weeds and everything. So no she obviously did her own gardening and so did the king and queen. We presumed. We didn’t look at theirs. But that was just one little thing.
AP: Yeah.
RW: That was Smith’s Lawn. While we were waiting then to go back to, to go on to Oxfords. Our next.
AP: What particularly made England different to fly in than Australia?
RW: The, the amount of flying from Tiger Moths and the Ansons we had there was that here we have set towns. You know you’d go to Benalla. You know you’d hardly, I’ve forgotten half the towns up there now. Wangaratta, and the different, Winton Lakes and things but in England there were villages and towns and little bits and pieces here, there, everywhere. Like a patchwork quilt compared to an expanse. And that’s what we got used to. One of the things that the aerodromes, usually — not like ours you know. Benella was miles away and there wasn’t another aerodrome anywhere near it. But if we were in England there was an aerodrome somewhere near you somewhere so you had to watch your pick. In fact, it got to the stage of, really in the UK that on the approach to the different ‘dromes — like Foulsham would be FU. You’d see FU up there so you’d know you were heading for Foulsham. But there would be five or six ‘dromes all around that you could jump into if, if you knew who they were. But you had no identification really from small towns. In other words I’m thinking of when we got to South Cerney when we did proper navigation we flew at Bibury which was a little village say a couple of miles away. Then further north was Cheltenham and Gloucester and places. Not Gloucester. Oh, Cheltenham. See I’ve lost track of the towns but they were bigger towns heading towards Manchester and the Cotswolds and places like that. But it was different flying. You had to get used to the difference of finding out where you were. But eventually that was while we were just flying on AFU. Just on, we were virtually doing solo in the Oxfords.
AP: Alright. What happened after that?
RW: After that. That was beam. Once we got on to Oxfords you went and did the beam course again and then you did advanced flying. Even to the extent of, a lot of the instructors you had at AFU were ex-operational pilots having a rest from operations. And the, it was just a matter of flying around and getting used to things. One of them even said you know who we were flying around with the instructor would get in and say oh we’ll go in flying here, there and everywhere and go down towards Bath or some place like that. And he said, ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘It’s too nice just to be sitting here doing nothing.’ He said, ‘How would you like to try a roll?’ And I thought, my God. A roll. I was rotten in a Tiger [laughs]
AP: Rolling in an Oxford.
RW: He said, ‘Let’s do a roll.’ I’d do the roll, but of course he did the roll but it meant that we had to stay in the air for ten minutes because all the gyros had tumbled [laughs] So that was, that was your training for not using your instruments all the time. You couldn’t use your instruments for ten minutes. But that was it. He was a Canadian pilot but he didn’t, he did the roll alright but it was a barrel roll. But I thought I’ll do it when I’m not seen.
AP: A bit flak happy perhaps.
RW: He could have been. Yes.
AP: Yeah.
RW: I think he was actually relaxing after operational stuff. I don’t know what he, I can’t remember what he came off to start with but a lot of them weren’t staff pilots there. You had a lot of staff pilots on these places to beam courses.
AP: Alright. And the next step was Operational Training Unit.
RW: OTU. Yes. OTU was good. That was on Wellingtons. Wellington 10s. I did pretty well on, on Wellingtons except the aircraft we were flying. They were clapped out. We had to do, you know, cross countrys at night and this sort of thing to imitation targets and that type of training. Getting used to it. Getting used to night affiliation where you’d get attacked by a fighter aircraft with cameras to see how you go. But on one occasion there the aircraft I picked up was u/s. It was u/s. You couldn’t fly it that night. So we had to get out of that, go and get another aircraft and then pick up with a dummy raid. But it meant I got attacked left, right and centre but halfway through it I lost a motor. And then I had a fire in the, a fire in the wireless ops room. He put the fire out. I said, ‘Righto Lin.’ They were always grizzling they never came out front to have a look out. So I said to Lin, the wireless op, I said, ‘Come up and have a look out now. Now that you’ve put the fire out.’ No sooner got him sitting up front there than the motor went. And of course — had to go home. So we came home and of all things had to do a, I had to a left hand circuit instead of a right hand circuit because I’d lost the port motor. And it came in on one and put it down beautifully, I say it myself because It was a perfect landing and the crew reckoned it was only perfect one I ever did [laughs] But that was, that gave me a, I think that started off why I finished up on special duties because I got reassessed as above average and then, well volunteered for required, didn’t require, ‘Would you volunteer for Pathfinders?’ ‘Yes,’ and was accepted for Pathfinders. And the crew. And that was at OTU so that was on Wellingtons to then, and got, and got a commission. I was commissioned from OTU and then finished up joining, doing heavy duty conversion to the big, to the Halifax 3s and eventually a squadron.
AP: Tell me how you met your crew.
RW: The old — everyone in the hangar [laughs] Yes. Now, the, the hangar there. There was twenty pilots, nineteen navs because I had, I had a navigator with me that I wasn’t satisfied so I had to leave him behind to do more training. Bomb aimer, wireless op and forty gunners. And when I went in to the place there a little bloke came up to me and said, ‘Have you got a crew yet?’ and I said, ‘No. Would you like to be mine?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ And he was the wireless operator. In the meantime he’d gathered a bomb aimer and one gunner. But that was, it just sorted out. Eventually the navigator was replaced because he would have been a sick, a navigator gone sick the previous course so he was a spare and I picked him up as a spare and I used him all the way through.
AP: What — what sort of things did you do when you were on leave in England to relax?
RW: We’d go to Lady Ryder’s billets and things. I didn’t have a girlfriend or anything like that. I was sort of a bit keen on the flying and all that sort of thing and a bit more, I was interested in, you know, I wanted to be a pilot and that was it. But a lot of the boys had girlfriends. The crew. OTU there was an Australian pilot. We jumped up together. We’d flown since the time we left Australia till we came to OTU and he and I would probably go to a different billet as they were called in those days. Staying with different people and enjoying the peaceful side. Go to Edinburgh for a trip up to see what Edinburgh was like. Glasgow. But that’s about all on leave. There was, I didn’t have any relatives over there to visit but that would be about all I can recall really what we did on leave. Go and get, go to — you’d mix with different courses you were on. Perhaps you’d get someone a bit familiar when you were at AFU. There would just be pilots only so you were more or less stuck with pilots. Perhaps if you met a mate there you would go and have a few drinks and go into town for a night. That business. Have a drink up.
AP: What was, what was the local pub like? What sort of things happened?
RW: The local pubs. The AFU was Cheltenham and you got to know how to get over the back fence. And that rationing had come in and every now and then they ran out of beer so you had to know which fence you have to go in. A lot of the beer in the pubs in, particularly in Cheltenham, very posh towns there. Very lovely towns really. And to go into the pubs in our dark blue uniforms quite often they had, instead of beer they’d have ciders and you got used to watching your step there. I was leaning on the bar, with my elbow on the bar, sort of, say drinking and with that the barmaid come up and said, ‘Love take your elbow off the bar, it’s in all the drinks.’ And I said, ‘Oh sorry.’ She said, ‘No. It takes the dye out of your uniform.’ [laughs] So I had better watch this. You did meet the locals in the pubs. They’d quite often take you on. Or they’d be playing darts and they’d be all over the place like madwomen on scooters. You know they’d be throwing their — and whatever game they’d challenge you to a game. And of course immediately they challenged out came their special darts. You’d play them. You’d play. They’d beat you and you’d have to buy them a beer. But they were cunning. They conned us [laughs]
AP: What, what was your first impression of a Halifax?
RW: The Hali I thought was lovely. I was very impressed. Actually when I did the aerodrome control it was Halies then but of course they were the old Hali 2s and 5s when I was doing that. And once again when you’d done Conversion Unit. They’d all been all clapped out. The aircraft we were flying had been ex-French squadrons we were using but when I got used to her she was beautiful. I loved the Hali. She was good to fly. She was responsive. Never gave me any trouble. The only thing I’d say that was wrong with the Halifax I think everybody had the same trouble — brakes. The brakes weren’t effective. You know, you’d have full brake on and you’d still keep going. But I liked the Bristol Hercules. They were very powerful engines so she could climb like a homesick angel as we’d say. They were good. They were comfortable. They were responsive to fly. I had no complaint with them.
AP: Alright. Now you’re getting towards your squadron at this point. Where was that?
RW: Squadron. Yeah. 192.
AP: Where was 192 based?
RW: Hmmn?
AP: Where was the squadron based?
RW: This was in Foulsham in Norfolk.
AP: Foulsham. That’s right. Cool. Right. So where and how did you live at Foulsham?
RW: Lived there as, once again an officer at that stage so that was in billets mainly. Mainly pilots together because the crew was still — the flight engineer was, he had done a special tour. He had already done one tour, the flight engineer. Which we picked up at Marston Moor when we did the conversion. So he was, he would be in the officer’s mess with us and and the rest of the crew would be in NCO quarters. But we were usually two to a room perhaps. That would be — mostly if you got a room on your own you were lucky. But they’d bunk you in with someone else. And 192 of course had, as I’ve showed you that photo with, they were all the Halifax pilots but we had a Mosquito flight on 192 because when you, when you accepted special duties we weren’t bound by the thirty, thirty trips for a tour. We had to do forty five straight. And once you were forty five straight you were tour expired. They never wanted you again on that. For that reason. So you were a little bit different from Bomber Command itself because we had our own set up there. And it was comfortable. Good living. It’s just someone that spoke to me the other day. In fact it was Laurie Macpherson? Laurie. Laurie Larmer?
AP: Oh Laurie Larmer. Yeah. of course.
RW: Laurie. We were talking to him and he said, ‘Whitey, can you remember when we got the bacon and eggs before we went on a trip?’ And I said, ‘Oh yes.’ He said, ‘What time did you get it?’ And I said, ‘We used to get it about, I don’t know, depending on what time we were going out. 11 o’clock. I don’t know. 12 o’clock. Depending on when we were going to fly out. Yeah.’ He said, ‘Ah. We used to have ours in the morning.’ And I said, ‘What?’ Then I didn’t realise. He was doing daylights.
AP: Oh of course.
RW: Because we were all, we were still doing night work so it was just one of those things. You forget little things like that. The same old thing. People could never get used to it. Telling you about, you know how the Benzedrine tablets were there to take, you know. These days we would have had so many druggies we wouldn’t have known what happened [laughs] But that was, I didn’t realised that the Benzedrine tablets were to keep you alert whilst — I never used them which I was lucky to say. But some people did. They’d sort of get their Benzedrine, they’d take the wakey wakey as it was called and of course then all of a sudden the op would be cancelled and they were bright eyed. They’d sit there playing billiards half the night because they were awake [laughs] I learned that but I believe the idea was you took your Benzedrine tablet when you were coming in to the target and of course — so as far as we were concerned we found that very often we didn’t have targets. We, most of the time if it was a special we were escorting a bomber group out you’d got the track drawn in. I think with operational units the track was in the, the navigator didn’t have to alter course for as long as it was in the ten mile bracket that they gave for the ten. Now we were, one of us would be on one side and one, the other from 192 would be on the other side checking on the counter measures. It was all radar. Radar. Radio and radar counter measures. Basically with the special operator. And of course depending on which operator you had, he wasn’t a regular one. When you had to there were two waves going in. We had to hang around the target area whilst the next wave was coming in which was usually two minutes and two minutes and two minutes. So it was always hang around waiting and not very often we would change over. We wouldn’t be in communication with the other 192 bloke and just hang around. The big thing was that when we did go out because normally we would just wander. They’d give us so many set courses to go and fly and we were just flying with the, with the RCMs listening in to what they could do. If they, if they went on a target then the German speaking one would — with 192 they can tune into the, we could tune into the Germans talking. And of course no good for us but the German translator he could chip in to give them the fighters the wrong info which was a bit sneaky [laughs] But no the funniest thing was that on one of the ones that we were in just out of Oslo. Norway. Tonsberg. When we came and the bombers had done their two minutes and we were hanging around waiting for the next wave to come in and while we were doing and whilst we were there we were having a marvellous time. We could see the lights of Sweden in the distance so we were busy. So busy were we looking around not being alert. We were looking at the lights of Stockholm or wherever it was and over us — we were here and over like that, it would have been as high as this ceiling an 88 went right, just over us like that. Here I am down sitting here. We’re having seven or eight blokes all supposed to be looking out for it and he just went. In fact I can see, I can still see the dirt on its belly to this day and I ducked [laughs] But it one of those things that only goes to show you, you know a moment’s lack of concentrations. Everyone’s gazing. And I think the German bloke was doing the same thing. I think he was looking at the lights and wasn’t looking because after a while our operators could pick out when, when we were being tabbed. And the Germans were very good at your height. The flak bursts were pretty well spot on with the height but they couldn’t find you just where you were. And the rear gunner was always very much aware that if he saw two flashes coming very close to his tail he’d let us know when to divert and get away from it. But that’s about it really. About the only excitement we ever had. Except that while we were cruising around, and before all this aircraft where the 88 went over us the crew said, ‘How about,’ because we had money. We carried the gold sovereigns to give to the patriots, ‘Why don’t we have a forced landing in Sweden, spend the money, wait for them to rescue us and we’ll go home and perhaps the war will be finished.’ Which it wasn’t at that stage. And I was the most miserable man you’ve ever met. ‘I said Martin. Mark. You won’t do it. You won’t do it,’[laughs] It was just a bit of a joke but that I think was why we were, I can say messing around arguing about whether we should make a forced landing in Sweden just to get rescued.
AP: A very, very forced landing.
RW: Where was the honour amongst thieves I don’t know.
AP: So what, what sort of things— you were talking about the German speaking operators.
RW: He was special, he would come in once we’d — we didn’t know what they were doing really. We had no idea. They, they’d come and get on board. They were always known, as far as we were concerned they was a co-pilot. Just a squadron bloke learning to, if you got, if you were forced down he was Milner. I only knew him. He just joined us to do an experienced trip. You know. You knew nothing about him because you couldn’t let on that he knew how to speak German if you were forced down. But that’s about it really. I don’t know really what else I can tell you.
AP: What I was just trying, I have been reading a little bit about the radio counter measures.
RW: Indeed.
AP: And the sorts of things that were done.
RW: Initially we were told about the idea. Because, you know we thought oh bloody hell, you know. We want to drop bombs when you go there and special duties were ok but it was just special duties on what we were doing. Just fiddling around with the special operator. And it was initially told to us that the Window was cut to a certain length and it had to be cut to the length of whatever the radar, or the radios were working on. So that the window would be effective against jamming the radar. But I don’t know if that’s right or not. That’s my recollection of what we were told we were doing. And the idea was that if you, no matter where were just floating around in a — going up to Norway you know. It was still active so far as the Germans were concerned because at that stage we’re now getting there that France had been occupied up to Paris at that stage. So there’s nothing, we didn’t have to be required to go to Italy which we were initially sent to get to know, you know, what was wrong with the Italian radar. But it was all German so it didn’t make much difference I gather. But it’s, we had to, we had to take a photo of where we’d been though. You must remember that no matter what, what jobs you did you still had to take a photo of something to prove that you’d done your trip. Which evidently at times certain blokes would get the twitch. All they’d do is go out and wander around the North Sea, drop their bomb and come back. And so then you had to take a photo of your ,where you’d been to prove that you’d done a trip.
AP: How, how would you time that as a special operator? Without a real target. You just go somewhere and say that’ll do?
RW: With the real target you’d just go and bomb him. If, in the case of the one I just mentioned. Tonsberg there. That at some stage of the game you’d go over the near target, let go of the photoflash and go home. But until, until you’d got your trip because obviously there would be a timer on your camera because we were supposed to stay there for always for the second wave to come in so they’d have to. You’d have to prove your point.
AP: So, so your tour essentially was just go flying?
RW: Go flying.
AP: In random directions.
RW: The only.
AP: And then come back.
RW: The only thing we had that, I’d say that JU88, I would think that he’d been sent. Because he was almost the same height as us, you know, just over the top of us, that I think he’d been sent to find us and he didn’t find us thank God because otherwise, it might have been a different story.
AP: So —
RW: That’s about the only excitement I can give you, Adam.
AP: It sounds like an ideal tour for someone who just wants to fly an aeroplane.
RW: The only thing is if you had to fly you’ve always got the twitch. No matter where you are you’re supposed to be, you know ready and willing and able to do evasive action. Because every time we did there because when the war finished they even sent us out to do [pause] oh God. Simulated attacks. I can’t think of the word. Affiliation. Fighter affiliation. You had to do fighter affiliation and then do corkscrews and that sort of thing. So you were always on the tip of your toes. It wasn’t relaxing flying.
AP: Of course not. What —
RW: The only part that was relaxing was the fact that the Bristol Hercs were a very reliable motor. Hardly coughed.
AP: The — you were saying before about doing aerobatics in an Anson and they toppled the gyros.
RW: Yeah.
AP: How did a corkscrew —
RW: Oh no, the Oxfords
AP: The Oxfords, sorry. Oxford. Anson.
RW: The Oxford. Yeah.
AP: They’re very similar [laughs] but how did a corkscrew affect the gyros in the Halifax?
RW: Oh the, well we didn’t go out. We didn’t. You had a certain a certain limitation on what we could do. With the gyros were of course actually in the cockpit. They were in the Sperry panel there and the gyros were set up in the thing. Whereas in the Halifax the master control was down the back end where you had the gyroscope down there which was in a cradle. And a bit like a centrifuge I suppose it would be called. But it didn’t affect them at all.
AP: Ok. So it was sort of more designed for —
RW: Because really we didn’t, you know, with all due respect to the Hali a thirty degree you very seldom would put her wing down to forty five to do it. But as long as you were giving your gunners maximum deflection that’s all you had to do. And of course when you do your corkscrew and of course up top you were a sitting beauty for any [laughs]. Anyway, but you didn’t really throw her on her back. No.
AP: Right.
RW: But the old Sperry panel, I think it was the gyros were fitted in the panel. I gather that they were. I could be wrong on that.
AP: Not a, not a technician so I don’t know. How did you, how did you cope with the, I guess the stress of these operations? Was there stress?
RW: I think there was. I think you slept well. I think you were actually six, eight hours. See the minimum you would do would be six and a half and otherwise eight. Eight hours. By the time you’d done you were tired really and you went to sleep. I think we, we only had to operate once every three days. It gave you time to recover from the stress because I think once you were where you’re going and you’re going over enemy territory no one’s very friendly to you if — whatever’s happening. There will always be flak around you. Not intensive as the target. To be truthful I’m not too sure. I think we were young and stupid. [laughs]
AP: Fair enough.
RW: I don’t think. I think it must affect people differently because up until that stage, you know, until we got to squadron it was just joyful flying. Whether you were doing a conversion on to a four engine aircraft you were still just practicing over England. But once you went over the enemy coast you really felt you, instead of relaxing you really would hang on and I presume that’s what it was. And I think as a captain of the aircraft you’re inclined to get a bit snappy with people and I think that at that stage you got on well with your crew but you very seldom complained to them about it. They crew would complain. The navigator would always complain that you weren’t flying, you know, true course that he wanted. And this and that and all the rest of it and, and of course the bomb aimer had nothing to do and he was our second nav. And they used to always be, we had the friction between the navigator and the bomb aimer in jobs to do. In other words it was a bit useless having a bomb aimer on but he had to be on there to say it was an ordinary bombing aircraft.
AP: Ok.
RW: And that bit. My navigator had, the navigator I got was a very good one. Thank God I did because as I say I had to lose the first one and, but he was always late. Once, you know you’d go to the briefings for whatever we were doing that particular night and he would always be the last one to get in, you know. He’d always be dawdling to get in to the briefing. And it used to irritate me a bit and I’d tick him off for not getting there on time. And eventually I thought I had to teach him a lesson because we were, the boss, or the flight commander said to me would I go down to Woodbridge. You know, it’s an emergency ‘drome down there. Evidently someone had left something down there and so they decided to send an aircraft down to pick it up. A table or whatever it was [laughs] but I went down to Manston to, I said, ‘I’ll go down and pick it up for you.’ So I told Derek and the gang to, you know, ‘We’ll go off about half past ten. We’ll go down to Manston. Pick up this table they want us to get.’ And of course I’m waiting there. You have to pick up your ‘chutes and all that because you were going out and Derek’s not there. So I said to Terry who was the bomb aimer/navigator, I said to Terry, I said, ‘Could you navigate me down to Manston?’ He said, ‘Oh yes.’ I said, ‘Right. We’ll go.’ So we all marched out, went out to the aircraft, picked up the aircraft less a navigator. And went down there and when I came back of course there was a furious navigator [laughs] ‘How dare you take off without me.’ I said, ‘Just to show you you’re not essential.’ But you know it’s one of those silly things. One thing that you can find that you get a bit snappy with them but the — when you’re taking off with, well you’ll probably see on those pilot’s notes where the controls are very far apart and I haven’t got a very big hand. So taking off, and with four, four Bristol Hercules all pulling in one direction your aircraft wants to weathercock and quite often you’d let two go. Let two of the throttles go and just keep going with two. And your engineer would be standing behind you and he would be watching his gauges which he was supposed to do because when you’re taking off your fuel pressure goes down. And anyway, he was supposed to carry on just when I got full bore, then he’d bring the other throttles up to me and once we were taking off and it was on this Manston trip I think that he must, the fuel pressure lights were blinking like hell because I could get a reflection from them and I thought it was trouble. And he had shot the two throttles up and locked it. Locked the throttles on, which is grip. And of course all of a sudden I started doing a mighty spin so I had to unlock it and take them back and I ticked him off for not watching what he was doing. But he was really watching the pressure gauges. But you can get a bit crusty with them I’d say. If I was under tension. I don’t know. I think so. I think probably the tension caught up with me in later life.
AP: How did your tour end?
RW: The war ended.
AP: The war ended. Oh fair enough.
RW: I only got twenty two in so had I, had I got a full trip tour to — it finished on the — the last op I did was the 25th of the April which, the war was still going, but you know, it was knocked off. And initial thing was when I said that we were only going to do forty five trips. We were going to do thirty on Halifaxes and fifteen on Mosquitoes. So the final fifteen I would have been transferred from the Halifax flight to do fifteen on the Mossies. So that, I missed out on that. So that just finished. After the war we then did [pause] it was called Operation Post Mortem where we took English radar operators over to the German side of things for them to operate the German equipment and we then put on a mock raid in daylight so that they could see the effectiveness we did. We did a mock raid with Lancasters. The whole lot. In daylight. Over to [pause] I can’t think. Gjol. A place called Gjol in Denmark. We did that as a bombing trip and it showed us, you know where the faults were in the British equipment and where the faults were in the German equipment. It was quite an interesting exercise. But after the Post Mortem then the squadron disbanded and that was it. And I came back at Christmas time.
AP: How did you then find re- adjusting to civilian life?
RW: A little bit ratty I think, then. I think I was getting stuck into the grog too at that stage in the game and I think that might have been a little bit of an indication of what it was but that was when we came back home. And as you can imagine I said I started off as an office boy in the Melbourne City Council. And it, you know it was a pretty dead sort of existence after [pause] after the flying days. And then I didn’t settle so I went off and went into insurance broking. And that was what I finished the rest of my days as. I only flew once. In 1953 they called us up on the reserve to train as instructors and we’re back at Moorabbin on Tigers. So I got some flying in again. But I tell you what. I wasn’t the brave boy I was at Benalla. When, you know — I think we had to finish, at Benalla we had to finish our aerobatics by three thousand feet and I’d get to three thousand feet — too bloody cold. This’ll be fine. Another thousand [laughs]
AP: That’s —
RW: So there it is. It caught up with me eventually. That’s about it I think unfortunately.
AP: So how [pause] my last question then.
RW: Yes.
AP: How is Bomber Command remembered? What’s its legacy? I mean, how do you want to see it remembered more importantly?
RW: I think what you’re doing now is ideal because being an odd bod which was the only thing left for us originally when we came back in so far as the Air Force Association which we, you know, we kept up straightaway through ourselves and odd bods there, But I think what you’re doing at the moment is something peculiar, special –not peculiar. Special to Bomber Command and the Bomber Command boys and seeing you’re part of their group then that’s the place I find it’s more comforting. And I think that now we’ve started to take it there I think quite a few bomber boys including myself were very disappointed with the RAF not giving us the bar for the odd bods. For the area we did. And eventually John [Frayne?] and Laurie — I think we both complained to John [Frayne] that nothing was done to remember Bomber Command and I don’t think we actually had a day declared which now is taken as been either the 30th of June or the 1st of July. I take it. Would that be right?
AP: As in the one we’ve just done?
RW: Yeah.
AP: So it’s yeah. The first Sunday in June is the day.
RW: 1st Sunday in June.
AP: Yeah.
RW: I had an idea it was either going to be the 30th no, the first Sunday in June.
AP: The first Sunday in June.
RW: Now, that’s, that is ideal. I think it’s just what we need there. Because Anzac Day really doesn’t mean as much to us and now that we are just going to travel in a motor car I don’t find is it’s like a parade really. But I think what we did yesterday was worthwhile and just feel that though yesterday was unlucky that the weather didn’t give us much chance to talk. Plus that bloke pinched my umbrella [laughs] so if it’s raining there you’ll have to blame whoever it was. I don’t say pinched but he obviously took it by mistake. No. That was I think full marks to Jan Dimmock and the rest of you good folk on the committee now as I know. I thought you were doing it by yourself at one stage of the game.
AP: Not quite. We’ve got some good help.
RW: No. But you did a sterling job but you were battling by yourself for quite a while weren’t you?
AP: I wasn’t. There was, it was Jan and Ed Robbin set up the first one.
RW: Yes.
AP: I came on board about three years ago.
RW: Did you. That was round about the same time as —
AP: So I’ve been involved with about three now.
RW: I took an interest in Bomber Command then.
AP: It’s been, personally I moved to Melbourne about five and a half years ago so.
RW: And you came down from Sydney?
AP: I did.
RW: Three years ago did you Adam?
AP: A bit more than that but I so my background is Sydney. So I was in Canberra on Saturday night.
RW: Yes.
AP: At that gathering.
RW: At the gathering.
AP: And then came down early for our one on Sunday.
RW: Are they in each state?
AP: Not quite on the same day.
RW: No.
AP: There’s a few different days around the place.
RW: Ok.
AP: But yes. Except for the Northern Territory each capital city has a ceremony.
RW: I was just going to say yesterday we didn’t realised that there was that RSL thing was on at the shrine as well.
AP: Yeah. Yeah.
RW: Has that affected our attendance?
AP: I think it affected some of the dignitaries.
RW: Did it? Oh yes. Because there was quite a few apologies.
AP: Yeah. I think it kept their numbers down a little bit.
RW: A little bit.
AP: Yeah. And it meant that we had to sort of rush through a bit and get out quite quickly afterwards but —
RW: Was that, were they before you?
AP: They were after. They were at 4 o’clock.
RW: I wasn’t aware of that.
AP: Yeah. Neither were we when we booked it.
RW: Serve them right.
AP: Yeah. Oh well. But yeah it all, It worked out quite nicely. We’re looking forward to the next one.
RW: Yeah. Looking forward to the next year. That’s good. And thanks Adam.
AP: Any final words before I turn the tape off.
RW: No. Just to wish you well and whether you find as I say I have no memorabilia that I can really give you that is of value because a little thing that actually happened there. When I was getting commissioned I had a month off or something. They did all the commissioning in the UK. And I was down — staying down in London whilst I was getting measured for my uniform I think. Something like that. And I had a bike, a kit bag and a suitcase, and I was going to Earl’s Court which was where we stayed overnight on leave. And whilst I was booking in I had three things to get inside. So I left my suitcase, took my bike and kitbag in and someone pinched my suitcase from outside. And in it was all the, all the papers. Quite a lot of bombing atlases and maps I had there but someone pinched it and eventually when I got back I found out that he got six months for pinching it. But did I have this Halifax book there.
AP: Yeah. I think it’s in this pile.
RW: Halifax. There was just something to read. That’s something that you don’t really see. We used to call them H sheets. That was [laughs] there was my perfect landing. I had to keep it [laughs]. The little bit down below.
AP: That’s commission of — yeah. Very nice. Perfect single engine landing. You’re, you’re not the only veteran who has told me flying a Wellington and something —
RW: Goes wrong.
AP: Engines stops or something like that. You’re about the eighth.
RW: Eighth. Really?
AP: It happens a lot.
RW: Mind you the poor old things were clapped out.
AP: Yeah. Of course they were.
RW: The very thing that happened with that there — the Halifax that I ended, the Wellington that I changed over to and took the one that the engine broke down — the reason why it made such a fuss is that ten days later that Wimpy was out on a cross-country in daylight because that was at night time, but daylight, and it went in. Killed the lot of them. And it sort of brought it to light the fact that that particular one because it played up with me because I had a fire and the engine and the throttle, actually it was the throttle connection that vibrated out so it must have been vibrating terribly to ruin it within ten days from being —
AP: It happened again.
RW: Previously being done.
AP: Yeah.
RW: So it was a bit of a shame.
AP: Yeah. Who was the last bloke? Someone told me a very similar story as well. How they flew. And it was a Wellington and it had a problem and then a couple of days later someone else flew it and in they went.
RW: Well, that was it. You just couldn’t.
AP: Yeah.
RW: You know, you can’t, you couldn’t tell and that happened and that’s happened when you finally got there. You said what did I think of the Halifax because all of a sudden I’m not flying a 2 or 5 at Con Unit but I’m flying a brand new 3.
AP: Yeah. Like me driving a brand new car.
RW: Yes there you are. That’s right. Everything’s right. But thanks very much.
AP: No worries. I shall turn this off.

Collection

Citation

Adam Purcell, “Interview with Ralph White,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed August 13, 2020, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/3518.

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