Interview with Laurie Woods


Interview with Laurie Woods


Flying Officer Laurie Woods DFC was born in Deloraine, Tasmania, in 1922. He grew up in Tasmania, and at the age of eighteen, despite being in a reserved occupation, he volunteered for Air Crew in the Royal Australian Air Force. Initially training in Victoria, then Somers, he achieved high scores in his maths exams and was put forward for Navigator or Observer. During training flights over Spencers Gulf in Anson aircraft, they were tasked with spotting Japanese submarines. He received his Observers wing and was promoted to Sergeant, then selected to go to England. He travelled from Victoria on an American cargo ship, via Sydney and Brisbane to Myles Standish, America, awaiting transportation to England. He eventually arrived at Brighton via Grenoch, just as Lord Haw Haw announced an operation on Brighton. He was then posted to West Freugh flying Ansons, then to operational training units flying Wellingtons. His crew were allocated the Lancaster K2 in 460 Squadron. The operations included, leaflet drops over Paris, Mailly le Camp, railway and oil installations in the Ruhr Valley, Gelsenkirchen, West Brunswick, and his last operation Wanne-Eickel. On his last operation he took over from the pilot who had been injured and flew the aircraft home. The pilot recovered sufficiently to land the aircraft and Laurie was subsequently awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. He also talks about being afraid going on operations, and how, many years later he suffered a breakdown because of his experiences. Laurie is President of Queensland 460 Squadron Association and has written a number of books about his experiences. In Australia he has been awarded the Order of Australia.







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LW: This is a recording of my time in Bomber Command and my name is Flying Officer Laurie Woods, I hold an AEM an Australian medal, which has recently been awarded to me for significant research and writing of five books on my time in Bomber Command. I also hold an immediate award of the Distinguished Flying Cross, having flown home to England on my last trip in a Lancaster, and thus saving crew of seven and a Lancaster. I was born in Deloraine Tasmania, in December 1922, I grew up in Tasmania, and at the age of sixteen I made an attempt, or I asked my parents to sign for me to join the Royal Australian Navy as a cadet bandsman. They refused and so I carried on in my civilian life in working in the Tasmanian railways. Then at the age of eighteen, there was talk of conscription being introduced in Australia, and I talked with my parents and said if I volunteer in the air force I will not be conscripted other wise, I’m afraid I told them a lie, because I was in a reserved occupation, but I thought that I should serve, and it could, if I survived be possibly beneficial in my later life. So I persuaded them to join the air force, and when my mother found out that it was aircrew, she kept on telling, writing to me and saying please fail in your exams, and I wrote back and said ‘if I fail I would end up in the cookhouse, and I don’t want to be a bloody cook’ so when I was just, approximately one month before the Japanese entered the war I volunteered for aircrew in the RAAF, The Royal Australian Air Force that is. Then I was placed on, successfully accepted, and was placed on the reserved force for six months and I had three nights a week educational [hesitation] assistance to bring me up to the level that was required. Several times I said to my instructor I don’t think I can make it, but I carried on and finally I was taken into the air force on the 19th of June 1942. First it was to an initial training school in Victoria, it was the first time I had been out of Tasmania, and I was horribly seasick because it was the Bass Straight, it was one of the roughest sections of water in the world, and it took me about three days to get over that, and then we settled into a place called Somers for initial training school, which lasted for three months and unfortunately I got eighty seven percent in my final maths exam, so the aircrew allocation board decided I should be a navigator, or an observer as it was then, despite the fact that I had asked, or when it was offered to me, [inaudible background] I was asked what I would like to be, of course everybody wants to be a pilot, so I said I wanted to fly as a fighter pilot, and then rather a silly question I thought, ‘what sort of planes would you want to fly?’ And I said ‘well the fastest you’ve got’ and they said ‘well would you mind being a navigator, bomb aimer, gunner?’ and I said ‘no if I’m selected that way that’s the way I’ve got to go’ So because I had the eighty seven percent in maths I was made an observer. We spent three months at the initial training school, three months then on navigation, during the navigation exercise we did some cross country flights, and the Japanese were reported in Spencers Gulf which was off Adelaide, and we spent three days searching in Anson planes for these Japanese submarines, unfortunately we pointed it out that if the wind was blowing quite hard as it does in that area, we could end up going backwards. We didn’t have any guns if we spotted a submarine, what do we do with it? So they sent a squadron of Beau fighters to be fairly close so that if we did report, these Beau fighters would come in and deal with the submarines. Then following on I was, I received my wing a half wing, the observers wing and I was promoted to Sergeant. Then I was selected to go to England and we left the training section in Victoria, travelled to Sydney we were five days in Sydney and then we travelled north to Brisbane, and we sailed from Brisbane in an American cargo ship, and we were four hours passed the hospital ship Centaur when it was torpedoed and sunk with the loss of two hundred and forty seven lives, just off the coast of Brisbane. We crossed to America, crossed America by train and we were then two months in camp Myles Standish waiting for shipping to come to England, and on the 5th of July 1943 we left New York [hesitation], yes we left New York in the Queen Elizabeth, twenty two thousand troops on board, a lot of Negro soldiers from the American army were sleeping in the enclosed upper deck, and then there were probably about 240 Australian airmen, and some sailors who were coming over to England to return home on the HMS Shropshire, which had been granted to the Australian Navy.
Halfway across the Atlantic we were almost tipped out of our bunks at midnight, by the ship taking a ninety degree port turn, and then clapping on all speed, the ship was shaking from stem to stern, and for twelve hours, we found out we had been doing approximately forty three knots in the Queen Elizabeth, which was pretty fast for a big ship. But they thought we had run into either a pack of whales [?] or a pack of submarines. Anyway we finally got to England we landed at Grenoch, and overnight we travelled to Brighton by train, we were passing through London just as the sun was coming up, and the amount of damage that we saw made us pretty determined that the sooner we got over Germany and dealt out some of this to them, the more satisfied we would be. Anyway we settled in at Brighton, and the first night there Lord Haw Haw had announced that he knew that the Australians had moved from Bournemouth to Brighton, and they could be expecting a visit from Goring’s fighters. Anyway the attack came, and it was quite exciting we were hanging out of the Hotel Grand’s windows watching, and got very excited when we saw some tracer bullets out over the, the water, not very far out, and suddenly saw this explosion and presumed that it was a German fighter or bomber that had gone down. Anyway during the course of our time, we went to Whitley bay where we did a commando course, and then from there we went to West Freugh flying in Ansons, then to operational training unit flying in Wellingtons, there we did a leaflet raid on Paris, and after we left the target area, we were attacked and these tracer bullets seemed to follow us along explode, and then follow along a bit further, explode follow along a bit further, explode, and we came back and reported to intelligence that we thought they must have been magnetic or something because they seemed to be chasing us, and he told us we were perhaps a little bit stupid, that there was nothing like that, we found out many years later that it was the, probably the beginning of the heat seeking missiles that the Germans had developed. From Lichfield we carried on and we converted to Halifax, we did two diversionary raids out to round about two degrees east and then we finally arrived on 460 squadron the senior Australian Lancaster squadron, flying in Lancasters. Lancasters to us were just like going from a T Model Ford into a Rolls Royce, they were a marvellous plane, very responsive to controls, and of course they carried a terrific load of bombs. So we started off on our first raid approximately a fortnight after D day, and it was to a village in northern France, and things were going ok it seemed, well we were a little bit excited because we had been assigned to K2 ‘The Killer’ and it had a swastika on the nose, and it also had about thirty four trips up at that stage, and we hoped that it might last and keep us safe for quite a few more trips. Anyway we were sailing along and suddenly the rear gunner reports enemy fighter, dive left, so down went the nose, and being as I had volunteered to do my tour as bomb aimer, because they were a bit short of bomb aimers at that time, and I found very quickly that I was spread eagled on the roof of the plane because the nose had gone down so quickly, and so we did our first corkscrew, we were attacked by three fighters on that particular trip and it was quite exciting, but we got home safely. So from, that was the first raid we had been briefed for 21 raids in the first 7 days we were on the squadron, but we only flew three of them, and we went on raid here, raid there, raid somewhere else, and there were seven crews arrived on 460 and replacement crews for the raid on Mailly le Camp in France, where it was one of the heaviest percentage raid losses during the second world war, and we were one of the replacement crews. Now of those forty nine fellows five months later on the 9th of November on the last trip, there were only 6 in our crew left, and two other people, so it gives you an idea on how severe the losses were at the time, because we were flying in support of the British army after D Day and many of the raids were on troop concentrations, railway, railway stations or railway yards and then oil installations in the Ruhr Valley which was known as death valley by the crews because of the number of people who had been lost there. On our seventh trip we were assigned in, to fly the trip to Gelsenkirchen, and everything was going ok coming up on the target ahead it was just like a hailstorm of flak, and it got me a little bit worried I started to shake and shiver all over, I was that frightened that I didn’t think that I would be able to do my job, and this carried on for probably a minute or more and then suddenly there was this terrific explosion, and a Lancaster, we found out afterwards had blown out, blown up just above us and took half the pilots canopy out, and from the moment of that explosion I was as cool as a cucumber, you could say, carried on and did the necessary job, and we got through without too many holes, I think we had about thirty four individual holes from that trip, and I found out afterwards the navigator of Group Captain Edwards plane was Burt Uren [?] and he said that Group Captain Edwards, the first man to win the Victoria Cross, Distinguished Service Order, Distinguished Flying Cross, in the RAF he was seconded to, [hesitation] yes he had been seconded pre-war to the RAF, and he said that Edwards just flew straight on through all the debris that was coming down and had not tried to dodge anything at all, as an experienced flyer I suppose he thought that in flying straight through he had just as much chance of getting through as what he would if he tried to dodge -, that, that was group captain Edwards, he was a pretty reasonable sort of a man and he was very much admired by the people operating on the squadron, he was their hero as a matter of fact. Excepting on one occasion, he always took rookie crews and he would fly around the target after the bombing. On one occasion on one target he went down to about fifteen thousand feet circling the target he was about forty five minutes late getting back to the squadron, everybody thought he had gone in, but he was [hesitation] he was, credited with probably about eighty to ninety raids, but he did probably another tour, with these rookies and although there were nine squadron commanders under him who were ordered a DSO, he did not get another decoration during his term, later he was of course a commander in chief of the, in the Suez crisis, and then he became governor of Western Australia and died about 1985. But, we carried on and everything was going ok, some raids you had trouble other raids were comparatively quiet, but in each case over the target it was just a little bit of bedlam, in Gelsenkirchen for instance they estimated there were five hundred ack ack guns and approximately three hundred searchlights, over each of the Ruhr targets that is Cologne, Essen, Stuttgart, we did nineteen trips altogether into the Ruhr, so we were fairly familiar with what to expect and what it was like over the Ruhr. But, we, on one occasion we were to fly to West Brunswick and drop a load there that's getting over towards the Russian side, and on the approach as soon as I opened the bomb doors our four thousand pound cookie dropped off and of course it was photographed, when we came back we reported that and they, the squadron people thought we might have dropped it in the North sea, as that had happened in several cases where crews had dropped their cookie over the north sea, because that was the most dangerous bomb we carried, and after several investigations during which time they were going to court martial me for doing that, or for dropping the bomb illegally before we got to the target, and finally I demanded a review on the plane and the bombing leader came with me and we had the engineer leader underneath the plane and I went through the procedure of dropping the bombs, and suddenly as the wiper wound round over the bombing station the engineer officer yelled out quite loudly, we checked with him and he had put his hand up on the the release station for the four thousand pounder and in doing so he received quite a bad shock. So they checked and they found that the wiring through he floor had frayed a little bit, and when the release was activated, or when the bomb bay was opened, power went through and fired the cookie station and dropped it away, they checked the planes on the squadron and there were about twelve Lancasters were in the same condition, and they had to renew the wiring, so they didn’t even say sorry about that but anyway we carried on. The last trip we had was to Wanne-Eickel in the middle of the Ruhr once again a oil, [hesitation] oil plant, and being the senior, one of the senior crews and the last operation for us, the, we were given the right flank and A flight commander was in the middle, and C flight commander was on the left flank, and we led Bomber Command through the target. We were flying at eighteen and a half thousand feet and had just dropped the bombs, when there was a terrific, quite a sharp explosion and then ‘Laurie Laurie quick’ and of course I shot back, I knew it had come from the pilot and I found him slumped over the controls and we were going into a dive, and he had a shell splinter had gone in just under the left eye, and it would be about two and a half to three inches long, and almost the size of an ordinary finger, and anyway I pulled the stick back so that we weren’t diving, and then the engineer and the navigation leader who was our navigator on that particular trip, lifted him from his seat, and laid him on the floor just beside the pilots seat and I took over. He had given me a ten minute [hesitation] shall we say a go at the controls, ten minute flying to see if I was able to fly a Lancaster, and from that he designated me as the, if he was in trouble that I was to be the one to take over. So on this particular occasion, so I took over with ten minutes flying experience, the one compass had been damaged, one had been toppled, and having been a boy scout I knew how to get a bearing from my watch, and fortunately we were still above cloud, and by lining the watch six and twelve in line with the sun I was able then to work out from my watch a course to fly back to Manston in, on the heel of England, so on the way back it was necessary to get the plane down below oxygen height so that [coughs] the engineering leader could, and the [hesitation] flight engineer, [corrects self] the navigation leader and the flight engineer could patch up the skipper, and so they stopped the bleeding as much as they could, he was bleeding out through the wound, through the mouth and through the nose, and I suppose because the shell splinter had been white hot when it went in, it seemed to seal off the bleeding because the bleeding stopped almost instantly, and so despite very rough flying conditions, and thoughts of whether I would be home or not and then telling myself to knuckle down I had a job to do, we carried on and the, to get down below height I had to select a break in the clouds, and so when one came up I put the nose down and we went down through a little bit of cloud, and then it thickened up and we were icing up very badly and the mid upper gunner was telling me, were icing badly we’d better get out of it, so I pulled back on the stick and we came out of the cloud, instead of flying straight and level we were practically over on one side, so I wasn’t going to circle or anything like that to try and get down through the cloud to a lower height, so I waited for the next break and then I put the nose down before we got to the break, sort of estimating that I would come into clear air about half way down, which did happen but once again the engineer [corrects self] the mid upper gunner got very excited because we were icing up badly and of course with a whole lot of ice on the plane you just crash, there is no way of keeping the plane flying, but we broke into clear air fortunately and then getting down towards the bottom, I had to go into cloud again and once again heavy icing but it was, in my opinion I just kept going and we broke through the cloud, and we were very close to the French coast flying under the cloud at fifteen hundred feet and I asked the navigator to take a fix half way across the channel, and that was the first, first input from the navigation on how we should be flying or what course we should be flying and I changed, or he gave the position, change course five degrees to starboard, which I did do and then as we crossed the coast the runway at Manston was directly underneath us, or directly ahead of us, so I had been thinking about it, worrying about the crew and so I spoke to them and said I am going to try and save Ted try and land and if you want to bail out I’ll take the plane up to minimum bailing out height of three thousand feet, firstly the rear gunner came on and said he volunteered to stay, and then the others one by one volunteered to stay. So with the aid of the engineer coming into land we got down to about a hundred feet with the fifteen degrees of flap, and everything all set and then he lowered the under cart, and as it went down of course the plane shakes and the pilot got the idea that he wanted to, by that time he was conscious, he had been unconscious most of the way because the navigator had given him on my command a hmm [hesitates] an injection of morphine, and many years later he said he couldn’t do that [slight laughter] and I remember quite distinctly saying when he said he couldn’t do it, I said ‘you bloody well do it because I’ve got to try and fly this plane and I can’t get down to do this injection too’ anyway we lifted him back into the seat and he made a perfect landing and then, but then halfway down along the runway in the landing, he collapsed over the controls so the engineer and I closed the motors down and turned everything off, we ran to a standstill and the ambulance people came and took him out to the hospital , where two eye specialists and a bone specialist operated on him next day and removed the, the [hesitation] shell splinter and for the next six months he slept with his, his left eye open and he recovered ok. We were flown back to Binbrook, by a Flying Officer Woods who was a new pilot on the squadron, and then I was sent down to London to be measured for my uniform, and after I came back I had two days leave and was recalled to do an air sea officers rescue course at Blackpool, and there it was when I was there a few days, when word came through that I had been awarded an immediate Distinguished Flying Cross, and of course the station there was commanded by a lieutenant commander from the Royal Navy so he spliced the main brace and great celebrations and they had sent a ribbon of the DFC for me and I took it home and, put it away in my bag and next day I went back to school, and he was waiting at the front door and he said ‘where’s your decoration ribbon?’ and I said ‘its home in the bag’ and he said ‘ well, from here on that’s part of your uniform, and if you don’t wear it next time you come here I will put you on a charge’ hmmmm, so I thought, didn’t think much of Royal Navy fellas you know, but I didn’t realise a decoration had to be worn as part of your uniform once you were, [hesitation] once you knew or had been advised of it. Then after the course was finished Runstead, General Runstead, had made the breakthrough almost to the coast and been turned back, so it was decided that the squadrons would not be having an air sea rescue officer because at that stage of the war, they, the powers that be decided that it wasn’t really necessary. So then I was sent to the aircrew allocation at Brackla, where we did a six weeks, sort of investigation whether, how we were placed and how we were, and all that sort of thing and they offered me a six weeks, [hesitation] sorry, they offered me a six year navigation course at Cranwell, and, or repatriation to Australia and as the Japanese war was still going on I said ok repatriation to Australia. So I returned to Australia, we did not get very much of a reception there were no brass bands to meet us and we found that it was a little bit of resentment against those returning from the European theatre, and we were very conscious of the fact that during our time on the squadron there had been a lot of fellows who had received white feathers signifying cowardice because we had not been fighting for the Japanese, and there was one case in particular a fella by the name of Ren Stobo who was a bomb aimer and the bombing leader had asked me to mentor him on the squadron and for maybe about six weeks he and I were together all the time we took his skipper on his first familiarisation trip over Germany and then on a trip, we came, when we came back just after this, we came back and the fog had closed in so we were diverted to another drome and then we were diverted to Water beach, a Liberator drome there they had wonderful food compared with us, the food that we were having, and the problem was they didn’t have any beds so we slept on the floor in the mess, some of the fellas who were lucky enough to get an armchair they were a bit lucky, we, the rest of us slept on the floor, the next morning when we came out, after breakfast to fly back home, the yanks could not find where to put the fuel in the Lancasters and of course we had the bomb bay doors open to check that everything was ok there, and the yanks were quite amazed they were saying, oh the Liberator carried eighty, eighty, one hundred pound of bombs how much was there? and only a hundred and seventy five thousand pound of bombs, which was a bit more than double the Liberator, anyway when we were taking off I’ve never seen so many cameras in all my life there were probably two or three hundred of them all lined up round the, [hesitation] the approach to the runway taking photographs of these battle scarred Lancasters. Anyway we got back and this Ren Stobo and his crew was reported missing, and they got down too low and they crashed into a hill very close to the drome and the mid upper gunner who had been injured over the target and was unconscious was blown in his turret a half a mile, and landed in a tree, and when he came to, he thought he was still over Germany and had to be careful, so he didn’t realise he was up the tree and he got out of his turret and of course dropped to the ground, hurt both his ankles, and it was daylight and he saw a two story house over a little way and there was an old fella digging some potatoes in the field, and down inside our boot we had a razor sharp knife that was used to cut the top off our boot to make it look like we had peasant boots, and so he cut the top off his boots and then he hobbled over and he grabbed this old fella put his arm round his, put his arm round the old fellas neck, held the knife to his throat, and because we had a little card that had German and French written on it, he asked in German ‘where am I?’ and the old fella didn’t answer, and then he asked him in French ‘where am I?’ and the old fella still didn’t answer so, Jack Cannon, was the mid upper gunners name, he was a sports writer on the Age in Melbourne, and when he hadn’t received an answer he said ‘ I wish these old bastards could speak English’ and the old fella sais ‘thee be in Norfolk lad, over yonder is Kings Lynn’ so they got the police and others and they thought he might have been a German spy dropped into the place but they, after interrogating him they cleared him ok, now Jack Cannon returned to Australia and about 1985 he went back and there was a young lady who had been there and knew all about him from his original landing there, she showed him where the parachute was buried, and looked after him and that’s how they discovered that he had blown half a mile in his, in his turret. Anyway I left Tasmania in 1956 and I went to Northern New South Wales and I was there till 1980 then I moved to Brisbane, in 19, 1990 the, they were having a reunion in Brisbane and I had joined up with 460 squadron, and Christmas morning of 1989 I suppose it would be, I got a phone call and a fella says ‘is that Laurie Woods?’ yes, ‘were you on 460 squadron? Did you fly in K2 the Lancaster K2 the killer? Yes ‘Ah was Peter O’Dell your engineer?’ yes ‘ well I’m Clive Eaton his son in law’ and I said ‘oh, where’s Peter O’Dell then?’ he said ‘oh he’s right here’ so for the first time in hmmm, 45 years I spoke with Peter O’Dell our engineer, and I during the course of the conversation, I said to Peter ‘why don’t you and your wife come to Brisbane in a couple of months time to the reunion’ so Peter said he would think about it, a couple of days later I got a phone call to say yes he and his wife Lorna, were coming to Brisbane, so they came for six weeks attended this reunion and we renewed our mateship I suppose you could call it, as we had been flying together for around about 8 months, and back home they came, just after that they had a, our annual meeting of 460 squadron for Queensland and the president said would someone else like to take over he said ‘I’ve had this reunion over and I feel someone else might like to take over’ so I put my hand up, and I was appointed as the 460 squadron president for Queensland, the Queensland branch, and so up to that date I hadn’t talked about, I couldn’t talk about my war experiences and I, because I was asked to go to schools and talk to school children and various other places, I gradually got that I could talk about it, and several times I got asked questions that I couldn’t possibly answer, it was, it just seemed to upset my whole system and so. G for George the Lancaster in the Australian war memorial in Canberra had been re-furbished and was being, going to be put back into the war memorial in 2003, December 2003, December the 6th 2003, so I had helped in organising a reunion in Sydney and I said to these fellows ‘What about a reunion in Canberra for the re-introduction of G for George?’ So they thought it would be a good idea but they couldn’t do it, and Western Australia couldn’t do it, South Australia couldn’t do it, and I said ‘ well I will’ and the reunion at that stage was about 330 people, members of 460 squadron and wives, and I approached this the cheapest way, and the most satisfactory way was to approach the Dutch ambassador because of the Manna drop of food to the starving Dutch people in, [hesitation] in the end of March 1945, when a thousand Dutch people were dying every day because of lack of food, and so the Dutch ambassador said ok, luncheon engagement, and of course we had to talk, and the minister for veteran affairs who organised a dinner and a visit to the memorial hall in parliament house in Canberra, and then we had a welcome dinner which was attended by the minister for veteran affairs, and I had a phone call from Group Captain at that stage Group Captain Angus Houston, and he was the commander of the Australian air force at that stage. He came and he enjoyed it so much, but he couldn’t leave until the minister for veteran affairs left, so I asked her when she would like to leave and she said ‘oh it depends on Angus’ so it depended on both of them, and they stayed till after 10 o’clock, which was quite a feather in our hat, but Angus during the course of the evening told me that his father had been taken prisoner, he was in the British army and had been flown back to England by a Lancaster, but he wasn’t sure and he never ever came up with an answer what squadron, anyway Angus was going off to the middle east the following day and they left a bit after 10 o’clock. The Lancaster of course, we had a preview of it, we were the first persons to go in there and see the Lancaster and it was pretty terrific to catch up with the Lancaster once again, its something that the, I think all the aircrew of bomber command who flew in Lancasters think that the Lancaster was such a wonderful plane, and its very moving to go and see, and just stare, well as a case in point we, my wife and I came to England, and we stayed with the engineer and his wife and we went to one of the museums where there was a Lancaster, and we were standing there, we walked all round it and we’re standing there looking and I don’t know for how long and then our wives came along and said ‘when are you two fellas going to move we’ve been here long enough’ but it was just [hesitation] well, I don’t know what you would say, but it was such a moving experience to see another Lancaster, Wonderful! However after writing that book, and I kept on getting questions I had a website 460 squadron, after getting all these questions on the website, and whenever I gave a talk I thought well there’s a lot of, a lot of interesting stories, wonderful stories really, and so I decided I should sit down and I wrote a further three books on the bomber command, and this is one reason I suppose the government have awarded me Australia medal which is the equivalent of an OBE, and I return to Australia because one week from today on the 8th of May 2015, I go to government house in Queensland to be presented with my award. But I find that it is very much a closure for a lot of people, I have been kissed, cuddled, squeezed by the women, fortunately not by the men, but the men have shaken my hand that many times and I’ve had my photo taken, I don’t object I think that people, if they want to take my photo, ok, I always wear my medals for the book signing but, I was at a book signing shopping centre, and a person came along and they said ‘ah, do you know Joe Harman?’ no I don’t ‘well he’s got an interesting story you should look him up’ so I [inaudible] pulled out this one book at opened it up, I said ‘is this the fella you’re talking about? Joe Harman’ ah yes, he got a DFC but he was one of the smart [laughter] smart pilots, they’re all smart [laughter]pilots, and he had given the order, they were on fire over a target and he’d given the order to bail out and after the last fella had gone he reached for his parachute just as the plane blew up and he was blown out without his parachute into clear air, and he’s coming down and he felt something so he immediately grabbed and it turned out to be his mid upper gunners legs, and they both come down on the one parachute together, almost unbelievable that anyone would risk their life. And then I was at a reunion, at this reunion in Sydney, and a fella Harold Joplin who was there his, were talking and of a particular target and he said ‘we were over there’ I think he said first over or second over and I said ‘ I don’t think, I think we were in front of you’ so we had a bit of an argument and I said to him ‘well what do you, what was your most memorable experience in the air force?’ he said ‘ well on that target we were shot down’ I said ‘what happened?’ and he said ‘well they, we were hit and we were on fire so I gave the order to bail out’ and he said ‘everybody had bailed out’ and then the mid upper gunner tapped him on the shoulder, and said ok skipper its time to go, and the mid upper gunner Don Annett turned round and he walked back through the, the plane on fire to the door where we entered the Lancaster, and picked up the pilots parachute went back hooked it on him and he said ‘ ok now skipper we can go’ so they jumped and on the way down of course the plane was circling on fire and crashed, and Harold Joplin the pilot landed in the middle of a street, just as a German patrol came through looking for him or looking for any of them, so he had dumped his parachute and he joined in on the back end of this German patrol looking for himself, one of the German soldiers said something to him and he said ‘ya ya’ and that sort of satisfied the German fella, came to a little side street and Harold shot down this side street and there was a field of corn at the end of it, he hid, he hid in there for 3 days and the resistance people found him, and he joined them then on a couple of the raids, and a couple of them said to him ‘if we had a gun carriage or tank or something like that we could probably do a lot more damage’ so next morning Harold disappeared, a couple of days later he turned up again, riding a tank down the middle of the main street, and so he joined them in another couple of raids and then they, he said he wanted to get back to England because once you’ve been flying you want to keep on flying, and you had six weeks on and then six days off in that six weeks on of course it was all on, six days off no matter where you were you would see bomber command going out and the first 3 days I personally found, I thought oh, good luck fellas, the next 3 days I’d see them going out and think I should be there with them helping them, I should be still flying, anyway, Harold decided he wanted to get back to the squadron back to flying, and so three Belgian girls went to the check point where there were German guards and they flirted with the German guards while Harold went through behind them, and he got back to England and he reported to the squadron and they said, he said he wanted a decoration for Don Annett for what he had done, he thought it was absolutely fantastic that a man should go back through a plane that’s on fire, all the others had bailed out and get his parachute and bring it forward and save his life, and they said well were there witnesses? And he said ‘well I told you everybody had bailed out and Don came forward to bail out, he and myself were the only two left in the plane’ well, sorry about that we can’t do anything without a witness, and we cannot accept your word that he was there as a witness. So that was that, but that is, a couple of the stories that stand out in my mind there is of course many many stories like that and well in writing five books you can imagine there’s a lot of stories like that I came across that I could not believe that these fellas had survived, and yet they had done so, and I found that it was very much a closure for a lot of people to be able to come along and just talk to me or buy a book and, or have their photo taken with me, and so it has been a dedication of my life for the past [pause] hmmm 25 years on preserving the name of 460 squadron, Bomber command association might not agree with me, but on the records 460 squadron Australian Lancasters was the top squadron in bomber command, unfortunately we were the second highest in casualties but, we were commanded by Group Captain Edwards the VC man and out motto was, ‘press on regardless’ and I suppose his actions on that Gelsenkirchen trip would be enough to pass on to anyone, as Burt Uren [?]said he flew round afterwards and he was saying ‘come up here you bastards, come up here you bastards, let me get at you come on, come up here and have a go’ but that I think was the attitude of a lot of Australians, when we lost fifty percent like everyone else, but the survivors were very very happy that they had done, what they had done, and I think it was pretty universal that the majority of them would not talk anything of their actual fighting experiences, but anything like any fun that was top of the bill, we had a pilot who decided he wanted to go and use the toilet or as it was called the Elson down the back end of the Lancaster, so he put one of his crew into the seat to fly straight and level while he went back, he got back there and don’t know whether it was a little bit of roughness or a bit of movement by the non skilled pilot, he sat down on the seat and at forty degrees centigrade, [corrects self] minus forty degrees, if you touch metal with bare skin you stick to it so he stuck to the seat and he had to get three of his crew to haul him off and left a ring of skin of course, on the toilet seat, so for one month he was eating and drinking or whatever off a shelf high enough, like a mantle shelf or whatever, and he was continually asked how is the decoration going [slight background laughter] I’ve just forgotten what it was called but everybody knew this pilot could not sit down, and that he had lost a ring of skin off his bottom. All part of the game lot of fun, flying in bomber command was fantastic, the Lancaster was fantastic, it was a part of a job that we had to do we had volunteered to do it, and I think most of us afterwards appreciated the fact that we had survived, and that we had done something worthwhile in our life, I think, that after the war I had a pretty good time up until the, I turned about [hesitation] ooh about 1968, 46, I had a breakdown, and I was taken into hospital and they gave me shock treatment, and then fed me I class them as suicide pills, I felt like I wanted to end it all, but I had a wife and daughter that I needed to look after and a friend came by and he said ‘ why don’t you throw those medications they gave you into the river?’ I thought about it for a couple of days and I threw them away and for about one month I suffered withdrawal system [corrects self] symptoms, and I think that in many cases the medications that are given to fellas who are suffering from, oh what do they - PSD, or whatever they call it today, medications are the wrong type of medications and my advice to many of the fellows has been, write it down on a piece of paper and then, even if you throw the paper in the bin afterwards at least you’ve told someone and it does relieve a lot, because I found writing these books has taken a lot of that out of my mind and I have survived quite ok. And in doing the work I have it is only this Australian medal like an OBE, has been very satisfying and has helped me a lot in my life, I had just recently, a fella came up to me at Carandale and he was carrying his little girl on his shoulder, and I said ‘ when I came back from the war, my daughter was two years old and I carried her on my shoulder just like that’ and he said ‘I don’t like shopping centres’ and I thought that’s a strange thing to say and I said ‘ why don’t you like the shopping centres?’ and he said ‘well I’m just back from Afghanistan and everyone is coming toward me, or most of them, I think I wonder if they’ve got a knife or I wonder if they’ve got a gun’ and he said ‘ I just want to get her away out of the shopping centre, it just sends me completely’. Well I dunno I think I’ve said enough and so my name Laurie Woods of Australia of ex 460 squadron RAAF bomber command thank you for the opportunity of speaking with you.
MJ: This is Michael Jeffery at the interview with Laurie Woods on behalf of the International Bomber Command Centre I would like to thank him for his recording on the date of the 1st of May 2015 on the time of 12.30, thank you.



Mick Jeffery, “Interview with Laurie Woods,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 15, 2024,

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