Interview with Don Browning

Title

Interview with Don Browning

Description

Don Browning volunteered for aircrew and began his training as a wireless operator in his native Australia. His arrival in Brighton in the UK coincided with his first experience of an air raid. Don was posted to 463 Squadron at RAF Waddington. He did an extra operation from his regular crew when he travelled as a 'spare bod' with another crew. He was briefed to travel with that crew again but when he discovered his own crew was operational he opted to stay with them. The other crew were all killed on that operation. After the war Don became very involved in the 463 / 467 Squadron Association eventually becoming the president. He was very involved in the establishment of the Bomber Command Commemoration Day in Australia.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2016-06-13

Contributor

Julie Williams

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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

01:07:58 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

ABrowningDJ160613, PBrowningDJ1601

Temporal Coverage

Transcription

JH: This is John Horsburgh and today I’m interviewing Don Browning of 463 Squadron. He was a wireless operator in 463 RAAF. We’re at [ deleted] Warrawee in Sydney, New South Wales. And this is part of the IBCC Oral History Project. It’s Monday 13th of June 2016. So, good evening Don. Maybe we can start with when and where you were born.
DB: I was born in Strathfield, New South Wales on the 22nd of July 1923.
JH: So, Don was there any history in the First World War with your family in Sydney?
DB: Yes. My father was in the First World War. He was an officer in the 19th Infantry Battalion and he went away on the SS Ceramic. The 12th reinforcement or the, the 19th Battalion. He was in charge of the body of men that went over. I think there were a couple, it was rather unusual, I think there were a couple of twins I think on this trip on the Ceramic. And as far as I know they went to Egypt and then on to France.
JH: And I gather he, he was involved in some of the major campaigns in, in France.
DB: Yes. He was involved in the campaigns around Pozieres, Ypres, Billancourt, and I don’t know what the other one was now. I can’t think of it. But most of the ones that the 19th Battalion were involved in. In the — from Algeria.
JH: And I believe you went to school at King’s and that had a fairly strong army military background —
DB: Yes. First of all I went to a Burwood Public School. Up to fifth class at Burwood Public School. Then I went to King’s at, I think the age of about eleven. And because I had played the drum in Burwood Public School I became involved playing the drum at King’s. And consequently was in the cadets from the age of thirteen, eleven — sorry eleven or twelve and remained in cadets right through my schooling.
JH: And before you got involved in the RAAF presumably you left school before you joined up. What were you doing?
DB: I, when I left school in 1940 I, I went to Wentworth College which was a part of the Metropolitan Business College to do a business course. And then from there I went out in to the business world. I was employed as an auditor with quite a large firm of chartered accountants called Smiths Johnson. I was mainly out at the glassworks. Australian Glassworks which was part of Australian consolidated industries.
JH: What year was that Don?
DB: That would be in 194 —the early part of ’41. Possibly [pause] yes. Early part of 1941.
JH: So then you, you enlisted in the army I believe eventually.
DB: First of all I enlisted in the air force and was waiting for a call up to have my medical and so forth but then I got a call up for the army. And I went to the boss and told him that I was I had a call up for the army and he told me that I was employed in essential duties sort of thing because I was auditing companies that were involved in munition work and so forth and I needn’t go into the army. But I told him I had already enlisted for the air force and he said, ‘Well in that case you might as well go.’
JH: Don, what with your father, his history in the First World War and you obviously had some military training in the cadets what made you want to join the air force?
DB: Oh, I’d experienced the renown of Kingsford Smith and various aviators. Amy Johnson etcetera and those that were, were involved in the early aviation. And I had a desire to join the air force.
JH: Of course you got to know Rollo Kingsford Smith quite well and were —
DB: Not, not at that point.
JH: But we’ll come to that as we —
DB: Yeah.
JH: Go through your history in the RAAF. So, Don perhaps you could talk about when you went across to the RAAF. I think it was by now 1942 and I gather you went through some training courses in Australia and then set sail for the UK. Perhaps you could talk about your training in Australia.
DB: Well, yes I was. When I joined the air force it was the 17th of August 1942. I joined in army uniform because I’d been employed in the army right from ‘41 until then. And I went to what they called Initial Training School at Bradfield Park, Sydney which is, was down in the Lindfield area on the Lane Cove River. I was there actually for a period of [pause] I should have brought my torch light in here. I can’t see. From the 17th of August until the 1st of October. I think.
JH: What sort of training was that at Bradfield, Don?
DB: Well, that, that was initial training was a lot of square bashing drill. Morse code. [unclear] or electricity and magnetism particularly. A bit of mathematics and aircraft law — air force law, aircraft recognition and general matters to do with the air force.
JH: Yes. So, so from there you were posted to Parkes.
DB: Yes. Well, of course naturally everyone wanted to be a pilot as I wanted to be but a lot of us were made wireless operator air gunners. Particularly those who had done physics at school and I’d been there until leaving. Doing physics and that sort of thing. So quite a number of them were made wireless operators air gunners. I think at that stage the Empire Air Training Scheme were working on the fact that the four engine bombers and that sort of thing would be employed later in the war and they were preparing crews to go on these four engined aircraft. We were selected according to the exams and so forth that we did at Bradfield for training as either observers, wireless operator air gunners, pilots [pause] and I think that that was the general selection of categories. It was only later that the observers became a choice of navigators and bomb aimers and the wireless operators dropped the air gunnery to wear a signals wing. I think that happened in March ’43 if I remember rightly. But it was —
JH: But you still, you still had to do some gunnery training.
DB: Oh yes.
JH: And I think you went to Port Pirie.
DB: We had to do all the training for air gunnery because you could be used in the different categories depending on where you were sent. Whether you were sent to, up to the islands or over to the UK. And of course we hadn’t at that stage. I think that Britain had only been using Wellingtons and Whitleys.
JH: Yes.
DB: And the four engine planes hadn’t even been contemplated.
JH: Yes. Yes. So, so by then you’d passed probably with probably flying colours and you were selected to, to go to the UK.
DB: No. From there we went, we were sent on our various courses. I went to Parkes to do my wireless operation course.
JH: No. I meant, meant from Port Pirie. After Port Pirie.
DB: After Port Pirie where we did the gunnery. Yes. We were sent overseas.
JH: Yes. Yeah.
DB: We came back to Bradfield. That was number 2 Embarkation Depot.
JH: Yeah.
DB: We were there for about ten days.
JH: Yes.
DB: Or a fortnight. And then I remember being, marching down George Street waving to my mother on Farmers Corner. And caught a train up to Brisbane and I went on the Matsonia across to America.
JH: Yeah. So how many were in the contingent marching down George Street?
DB: I couldn’t tell you what the numbers were but there were pilots, there were navigators and or observers at this time.
JH: Yeah.
DB: As they were called then. And some of those did further training in Canada.
JH: Yes.
DB: But I was qualified as a sergeant wireless operator air gunner and I went after a short period in America. I went on the Queen Mary to Scotland and down to Brighton.
JH: What did it feel like marching down to the ship?
DB: Well, it was a bit [laughs] a bit of a surprise because I used to go home every night from Bradfield. And each night I’d go back or each day I’d go back to Bradfield. I didn’t know when I was going to go or anything or what was going to happen and the last night I can remember going home and I said, ‘Well, I think we might be going tomorrow. We’re doing a march down George Street.’ And my mother came in to watch us.
JH: Did she realise you were heading to the ship though?
DB: She didn’t realise what was happening but she might have had an idea.
JH: Yes. So what an adventure. How old were you then Don?
DB: Let me just have a look and see. I think I left on the [pause]
JH: This is in 1942.
DB: No. It was ’43 that I left. Sorry. I said ’43 for that signals wing. I think that was early ’44.
JH: Right.
DB: I think I was a month ahead of it. Twelve months ahead of myself. I left 2 I, Number 2 Embarkation on the 26th of May 1943.
JH: Ok. So, tell us how you got, I think your destination in the end was Brighton of all places.
DB: Yes. Well we first of all went on the Matsonia to America. We went into Auckland I think it was for about six hours leave we had there. And then we went.
JH: Did you pick up some New Zealanders there?
DB: We picked up some New Zealanders.
JH: Yeah.
DB: Certainly. And it was a, there was a lot of American wounded on board the ship as well. And we as aircrew we had to do gun duty on the various guns all around the ship. And the ship travelled on its own. It didn’t have any escort or anything because it was travelling at about twenty knots. We changed course every seven minutes all the way across the Pacific. We arrived at San Francisco and went by train across America. We were at Camp Myles Standish in America. And it was a very, very large camp. Much much bigger than the showground in Sydney when I was in the army. And it had four PXs. Which would be, well I would describe them as the equivalent to a small shopping centre that we know of today. They could come in a stock which covered everything from gold watches [laughs] the troops were able to buy. But one of the main things I used to think of was the enormous quantity of ice cream that we could get. We did a pass out parade in — on this proper station. And we asked the American band to play at a hundred and twenty paces to the minute because that was the pace that we were used to marching at. The Australians were very proud of the way they used to be able to do a stamp, eyes right. We really impressed these raw recruits in the American camp. We did a marchpast in front of the general and, who they greeted with the hottest version of “Tiger Rag” with this band with about six or eight trombones in the front row playing, “Hold That Tiger.” [laughs]
JH: So, before you headed off to the UK were you getting reports of the, and this would be in ’43, some of the heavy losses that Bomber Command were suffering?
DB: No. Not really. We didn’t get much, much reports about them but we knew that there were losses.
JH: Yes.
DB: It was a bit, it was a bit dicey over there.
JH: Yes.
DB: But my first night at Brighton gave me a surprise because we had an air raid. We were staying at the Grand Hotel in Brighton on the beachfront and all of a sudden the Bofors guns started up and there was aircraft coming in to drop bombs. But —
JH: So you had to —
DB: We had to go down to the basement.
JH: Into an air raid shelter or the basement of the hotel.
DB: No. We went down to the basement of the hotel actually but there were air raid shelters there. Although there were other air raid shelters elsewhere.
JH: Yes. What was the target do you think?
DB: Well, I don’t know but Lord Haw Haw used to say, ‘We know the Australians are in the, at the Grand and the Metropole at Brighton.’
JH: Did he?
DB: So they knew all about us coming.
JH: You may have been the target. So, Don after Brighton you started some more training. Was it at Lichfield?
DB: No.
JH: That you went.
DB: The first training was at the Advanced Flying School training. And I was, I was quite a while converting from the AWA material that we had been trained on to the Marconi equipment which was used in the UK. There was quite a bit of work on that. And then they put us out of practical work on the direction finding station. And finally we did training on Ansons. Avro Ansons. And we did cross-countries and various things on that as wireless ops. We went as number 2 wireless op and then becoming number 1 wireless op in the plane. We had navigators doing training there as well.
JH: Was that at Lichfield?
DB: No. That was at Millom.
JH: Millom. Ok.
DB: In Cumberlandshire.
JH: So after that you went to Lichfield.
DB: After that.
JH: OTU.
DB: That was about, oh three months I think that I was there. I then went to Lichfield which was an Operational Training Unit and it was here that we met the other categories of aircrew and we had to crew up. And this we did in a, in the sergeant’s mess. I remember it quite well because Alan Stutter was to be my pilot. He came and asked me if I’d be a wireless op in his crew. And I think at that stage he might have also had the navigator Paul Wilkinson who had been a schoolpal of his at Canterbury High School. Both of them were quite smart cookies I think. They both had eight A intermediate passes. And we also got the two gunners. A mid-upper gunner who was Malcolm Woodgate. He came from Queensland. I think he’d done his course at Evans Head on the north coast of New South Wales. The other gunner was Dick Holmes and he’d been at Parkes with me and was scrubbed as a wireless operator because the scrubbing for wireless operators was very high because we had to be very very competent in Morse. It was one of my worse subjects. However, I soon was able to conquer it eventually and I finished up passing out about oh I think it was 18 22 25 words a minute. But the minimum was 18 20 22. And following that we then went and did the gunnery at Port Pirie in South Australia.
JH: So, maybe we, we can just mention the crew a little bit more before we talk about operations.
DB: Well, the other members —
JH: This was an all Australian crew, Don?
DB: I was an all Australian crew.
JH: Yeah.
DB: The final member that we picked up at OTU was our bomb aimer. He was much older than the rest of us. I can’t actually recall what age Paul would have been but I think he would have been about twenty eight or so at that time. I think he was thirty one when we came home. But he was, he’d been involved in the radio on the ABC and he had done the early part of a legal course but I think that the Depression came in and stopped that. And he then worked for the ABC from then on.
JH: You — I believe you continued on with the crew and you completed a tour.
DB: Well —
JH: Of thirty six operations.
DB: Yes.
JH: Is that correct?
DB: We picked up — following Lichfield we went to a Conversion Unit where we flew Stirling bombers. That was our first introduction to four engine planes. And it was here that we picked up our flight engineer who was an English fellow in the RAF and he was [pause] his name was Harry Walsh and he came from Leeds. And then we were then a crew of seven. Now, all these fellas worked most assiduously and with their courses that they were, had to, had to accomplish. And I think most of them were given an above average assessment at Con Unit. The whole of our crew finished up with commissions. With the exception of the rear gunner. Dick Holmes was a warrant officer [unclear]. I don’t know just what went wrong there that he wasn’t commissioned. But everyone else was a flying officer in my crew.
JH: Perhaps we can talk a little bit about some of the operations. But before you went on operations by this time you were posted to 463 at Waddington.
DB: No. Before being posted to Waddington I did what we called Lanc Finishing School at a place called Syerston. Somewhere near Nottingham that was. And that was a short course of about I think of about a fortnight or three weeks perhaps. But prior to going there we had to wait until we got, had accommodation there to do that course. We went to Scampton and we did a sort of a commando course for about three weeks there. That was in, in command of a British major who was a pretty tough task to follow. He used to come around looking for the dust on all our [pause] Scampton was a peacetime ‘drome and it had very good accommodation. But he used to come around and he’d put, climb up on the stool to have a look and see if you had any dust on top of your lockers and this sort of thing. And if there was anything there he’d have your running around the with full gear on around the parade ground and so forth. Quite an education.
JH: I don’t suppose you got your own back and took him on one of the operations in a Lanc.
DB: No. We didn’t get our own back there. But I had some other altercation with some of the people when I’ve been in charge of courses at the Advanced Flying School.
JH: So, did you do some nickel raids? These dropping leaflets.
DB: The nickel raid we did —
JH: Propaganda. Yeah.
DB: Was in a Wellington and that was done from Lichfield.
JH: Yes.
DB: On that particular event we ran short of fuel and the navigator had to change over the cocks to the wing tanks.
JH: Yes.
DB: On our way home. Our nickel was to a place called Chartres in France.
JH: Yes.
DB: And we didn’t see any action or anything much but there might have been some searchlights and things like that.
JH: Why did they call them nickel raids?
DB: I don’t know why it was a nickel raid. I don’t know.
JH: This was dropping leaflets.
DB: They were dropping —
JH: Yeah.
DB: Pamphlets there to advise the French people what was going on.
JH: Yeah.
DB: Anyway, on our way back we couldn’t change these cocks on the petrol thing over to the wing tanks and we had to call up Darkie because we were running short of fuel. And we, we were in the vicinity of Boscombe Down. We knew that. And Alan tried calling up on his normal RT set but the range was rather limited with that to about five to ten miles and we didn’t get any response. So I said, ‘I’ll fix it. I’ll zero beam to the tower at 11.54,’ which was the transmitter that we had on to the Darkie frequency which I think was 6140. And anyway I did this and Alan called up on that. Of course we nearly blasted them off the air so they put the lights on and let us land. It was a grass runway or grass strip and they wanted to get rid of us pretty quick. But they came out. They said, ‘What’s wrong?’ We told them we couldn’t shift the cocks and so forth. So they sent the mechanics out. They fixed those and they said, ‘Right. You can go now.’ When Alan ran the motors up he wouldn’t take it off because we’d had a magneto drop so we stuck. We were stuck there overnight which somewhat aggravated the people at Boscombe Down because they had all these experimental aircraft and so forth there and —
JH: So what was Darkie? Explain what Darkie was?
DB: Well, Darkie was a, was a short range radio that [pause] that you could use anywhere in England. Call up, and people used to answer and say, they would be Darkie Derby or Darkie, well wherever they happened to be. So you’d know then where you were.
JH: So, I hope the skipper bought you a beer that night when you got back.
DB: Well, we didn’t. I can’t remember what we had there at the time. I think we went into the mess. They gave us something. Probably a flying meal of some description which was always an egg and a bit of bacon and [unclear] or tomato.
JH: Ok. So, Don let’s look at your first operation. Tell us a bit about that.
DB: Well the first operation I did was on the 1st of August. That was to a place called [pause]
JH: This is ’43. 1943 or ’44.
DB: That was, no that was 1944.
JH: Yeah.
DB: My first operation. The 1st of August 1944. It was after D-Day. And I actually went to the squadron on the 31st of July and the first thing they, we had to do was a cross country to make sure that we were capable of carrying out instructions etcetera. And my first op was to Mont Candon. It was a flying bomb site. And I got the feeling that we didn’t, we didn’t drop bombs on that occasion. We were recalled. But, but there were, I think that was the time that two of our friends went down in a collision over the target and fourteen members were lost.
JH: From 463.
DB: Well, no they were on 467 actually which was the other squadron that was on our, the same ‘drome as ours on Waddington.
JH: At Waddington. Yeah.
DB: But these fellas had been training with us at, on Stirlings at Swinderby only a matter of weeks before.
JH: And I believe after that you were on a raid to Calais.
DB: Well, I did four operations there that were daylights.
JH: Yes.
DB: They were all on French targets. Mostly on flying bomb sites. Then I, my next operation was to Chatellerault in France. That was a night operation. That was 6.45. The next operation we went to Brest. That was a daylight. And that we were down attacking shipping. We did the Clemenceau I think was the name of the ship that we hit. And that was in the Brest Harbour because the Americans were waiting outside. They wanted to use the harbour at Brest and they were waiting to try and get in. These two ships were shelling them and they were having a bit of a problem with them. So we went in and cleaned the two of them up.
JH: So you sank the ships. Or damaged them.
DB: We certainly hit it because we had photographs of all of our targets. At the time that I was operating we always had an automatic camera operating as soon as you opened the bomb door.
JH: Yeah.
DB: So, take pictures and this was I suppose designed so that people would not be dropping bombs willy nilly. But they should be showing their marking point.
JH: Yes.
DB: And so forth.
JH: What was the main worry there? Anti-aircraft fire or were there fighters operating.
DB: It was anti-aircraft was the problem over Brest. And in fact Alan made the remark that he thought that the Yanks might have been firing at us too.
JH: For good measure.
DB: The sky was black with anti-aircraft fire. We got hit in one of the motors on the way in into the target and we got hit coming out in the other motor and we actually came back on two motors. Although I got a [pause] when I spoke to base on the radio they said we should go to a crash landing ‘drome. Alan said, ‘No. We’re not going to,’ He didn’t like sleeping in a strange bed so we’d go back to base and, which we did. And he got a, made a quite a good landing on two motors but we just finished short of the bomb dump. But that would have given them hell of a surprise with a big bang if we’d gone a bit further. But anyway all of the hierarchy in the squadron — that is the group captain and the squadron commander and so forth, they all came out to the plane to congratulate him on coming home on two. I think we might have been one of the early ones to come home on two.
JH: Yes.
DB: And during the debrief, debriefing, the intelligence officer said to me that Alan had done a great job and he would be recommending him. Recommending him for an immediate decoration. Well Alan at that stage was a flight sergeant.
JH: Yes.
DB: And he would have got a DFM but he never got the DFM from the thing and it didn’t come through. He got a DFC at the end of the tour.
JH: Yes.
DB: The same as most pilots who had completed a tour of operations. That’s at Brest.
JH: Yes. What about the Calais raid?
DB: Now, well following Brest I went to Stettin. That was a night job. 7.49. Darmstadt, I flew with a spare bod as a spare bod with another crew. That was an eight, eight and a half hour trip.
JH: What was that like? Fitting in as a spare bod.
DB: Well, you didn’t like doing spare bod trips because you got used to operating with your own crew. But crews [pause] Roe’s crew was quite an experienced crew. And I don’t know what was the matter with their wireless operator but anyway I went with them on that raid to Darmstadt. And the next raid I was to do with them was to Königsberg which was probably one of the deepest raids of Bomber Command. That was, we were airborne for ten hours thirty two. And we, I actually went on the trip with my own crew but I’d been briefed to go with this Flying Officer Roe again and when I found my crew was available to fly I said, ‘No. I’d sooner fly with my own crew Roe. Thanks very much.’ And the signals leader went in my place on the trip to Konigsberg with Roe. They were shot down. So there was a case of being in the wrong place at the right time sort of thing.
JH: Did they survive?
DB: And that was the luck of the game.
JH: Did they survive, Don?
DB: No. They were all killed. Following that I went to [pause] there was — we were coming through fairly thick and fast at that time because this was in the summer period in England. And I did another daylight trip to Boulogne in France. I did Bremen. Dortmund. And then the first trip to Dortmund Ems was early in the piece. That was the 23rd of September.
JH: Was this bombing the canals?
DB: That was bombing the canal to let the water out because a lot because a lot of the transportation of goods and ammunition and so forth was done along the canals in France and Germany.
JH: And successful in creating havoc.
DB: Oh yes. Well, that was. They were always very good raids. It was one that we did on a regular basis. About once a month we went down over there and it took them approximately a month to fix it up again to get the water flowing in it. And we go and let the water out for them. I did some daylights in Wilhelmshaven and Walcheren Island. And I’m just trying to find this trip that I did on Calais which [pause] where was that? I think it was in September. Calais. Calais. Calais. Yes. There we are. This was an interesting trip. This one to Calais. It was the 24th of September and we were briefed to do this raid very early in the morning and we would expect to go in at dawn. But the weather was so bad it was to be an army co-op job because the army were outside of Calais waiting to go in but they were being held up by gunfire from a battery of guns that were down near the harbour in Calais. And anyway it was described as being a death or glory raid and we were [pause] and it was one of army co-op. Well we had, we went out to take off probably shortly after dawn but the weather was so bad they called us in. We had breakfast. We went out again to the aircraft and sat there in the dispersal area until lunchtime. Came in again and had lunch. And about, let me see what time it was that we took off. We took off at [pause] I can’t read this thing. 17.30. 5.30 in the afternoon.
JH: After waiting all day.
DB: After waiting all day to do this raid. And we were told that we had to clean these guns up. We were to bomb from eight thousand feet. Or ten thousand I think it was but, but we were to go no lower than twelve hundred feet or we’d go up with the bombs. And when, as we approached Calais we were, we were down at nineteen hundred feet. And my, our bomber aimer Paul O’Loughlin was a most meticulous bomb aimer and he wasn’t going to go in and drop his bombs willy nilly. He made us go and do an extra circuit to get himself on the right line to bomb.
JH: Were you first in?
DB: No. There were others there but I just can’t recall. I, I was busy trying to get radio communication because they had picked a frequency that was right on the BBC and all I could get was the BBC coming through strong and clear. And I can remember it quite well because the mid-upper gunner was a fella who liked to sing songs and he’d seen these dollops of light flak coming up six at a time and the BBC radio was playing, “God Save the King.” You can imagine what he said about the king wasn’t very good at all. But he was, he was singing his song about he’d, “Like to Buy a Paper Doll to Call His Own.” [laughs] Alan made some comment about that in the [pause] in an article he wrote about this raid later on. But it was rather frightening to see these red dollops coming up from the ground. And I had a particular friend there who’d been at, used in Kodak House with me when we were sorting mail. He was going to be a navigator on coastal patrol but we went out one night in London with some highly decorated Bomber Command people and he decided he’d come to Bomber Command instead. He changed his mind and came up there as a bomb aimer. Well, I think he was I’m not sure how many actually got out of his plane but it wasn’t many. It might have been two or three. And he was captured and held in German headquarters underground. And the British kept shelling and, and the junior officers had the white flag up but the senior officer there when the British kept shelling sent them up to pull the flag down. And this was going on for quite a while. It was about three hours difference evidently and Doug, he said they were all drinking Cognac and he thought he might as well be drunk as a way. He said, ‘They were going to kill me one way or the other. Either the shells were going to get me or your bombs from up above were going to kill me.’ Anyway, as it turned out the losses were very substantial but with the muck up of the radio there had been a recall sent out. The aircraft didn’t get it but they were —
JH: They didn’t get the signal. Yeah.
DB: There were fifteen aircraft that actually bombed it and eight were shot down. Seven were the Lancs and one Halifax.
JH: Well, you, I think your crew did thirty five or thirty six operations.
DB: Thirty seven. They did thirty six and I did thirty seven.
JH: Yes. And, and quite a few of those were with a very famous Lancaster.
DB: Oh yes.
JH: Do you want to talk about that?
DB: We were given Nick The Nazi Neutraliser as our permanent plane. And actually we had hoped to fly it on its hundredth operation but it, but it was involved in an accident with a Hurricane. It was doing fighter affiliation with the Hurricane and the two collided and the eight air force personnel were killed. The whole lot. So we got another to fly but I don’t know whether we, I can’t remember if we actually called it that but —
JH: So this was the nose art. There was a picture.
DB: Yes. It was ninety six operations and I’ve got —
JH: Yes.
DB: I’ve got every operation that it flew in this history that I’ve, you will scan. And all the crews that flew it. Those were all the skippers names.
JH: Yes. I think you told me you did nineteen operations. Nineteen on it.
DB: We did nineteen. We were the second highest. The first crew that got it brand new was Flight Lieutenant Ray Howden. He was the pilot. I’ve got his crew listed there and they did twenty nine trips in it.
JH: Don, so you completed the tour and I believe you actually did some extra operations.
DB: No. I only did the one operation extra.
JH: One more. Ok.
DB: One extra one which took me up to thirty seven.
JH: Yes. Yeah. So —
DB: Following that, following the operation I was on the squadron right ‘til the time the war ended, in Europe ended because I was employed as a analysis officer. Examining the crew members to make sure that they hadn’t lost any efficiency. My bomb aimer had the same job as a bomb aimer and the pair of us remained on the squadron until Victory in Europe Day. The 8th of May ’45. And I don’t know that either of us had a drink on that day because we were serving. Being all the airmen and all the crews around in one of the hangars it was a big party.
JH: I believe there were some parties in the mess on occasions, Don.
DB: Well, that’s it.
JH: Perhaps you — I heard about one or two things there from people. What about the pyramid and the, a few gunshots now and then?
DB: Oh yes. Well, they used to. Australians were a bit scallywags. They used to play up occasionally but they sort of took a blind eye to this because you know these fellows didn’t know whether this was going to be their last trip or whether they might finish a tour. They had no idea.
JH: Indeed.
DB: That was the way things were in those days and, but on one occasions they built or I think on several occasions actually they built a pyramid in the mess. They usually put it on four mini glasses with a table sitting on those and then they’d put the lounge chairs and various things and on one occasion they even had a motorbike on the top of the thing. Up near the ceiling. And this was in a peacetime ‘drome so the ceilings were pretty high and but the, the fellas climbed up and wrote their names across the ceiling with their cigarette lighters. It wasn’t very well received by the RAF people and the CO [laughs] he made them all go up, get up and scrub it down and clean up the mess. But on another occasion they mucked up a bit. We had one fella come in one night singing, “Pistol Packin Mama,” or something or other and he took his revolver out and put six shots across the ceiling. He was damned lucky he didn’t hit anyone up in the upstairs rooms.
JH: So, so let’s talk about, well obviously winding up there. And did you go down to Brighton. Waiting for a —
DB: Yeah.
JH: Embarkation to come back home.
DB: I went down to Brighton. We were there up ‘til, I think the 30th of August. We left to go to Liverpool to catch, and we got on to the Dominion Monarch which was quite a big ship. And we had a very long trip to Australia because we went down to Suez. We took on water and oil and so forth. And we weren’t allowed off the ship. So much so that they took us then down to the Bitter Lake and we spent the night in the Bitter Lake. Right out in mid-stream so there was no chance you could get off and go anywhere from there. And then we went straight non-stop to New Zealand. To Wellington. We got our first leave in Wellington. We had six hours leave I think it was. And they said well seeing you had New Zealand prisoners of war on and there was no ferry going down to the South Island for several days we had to go down to Lyttelton, the port of Christchurch with these New Zealand prisoners of war. And then we left Lyttelton and it was quite a long trip up into Lyttelton as I can remember. And I could actually see the relief on the skipper’s face when the pilot came on board of the ship and took charge of it up the [pause] Sound I suppose you’d call it, of Lyttelton. To the port where we let these fellas off. And following that we took off and we didn’t stop again. We came straight through Cook Straight into a tremendous sea. It was very very rough.
JH: Yes.
DB: In fact we had Royal Navy boys on board and they said a destroyer could not go through that sea. She’d just have to ride it out and shut down. Anyway, some of the fellas were in pretty high spirits and they were, they were shooting the waves across on A deck. Water had come in through port holes and so forth. And they were shooting the waves as they went across the loungeroom or whatever it was there on their lifejackets [laughs] Anyway —
JH: A long voyage. A long voyage. Yeah.
DB: We arrived home on the 14th of, the 14th of November.
JH: So, how long was the voyage, Don?
DB: Well, I thought I might have been wrong in my dates there but no. That is the date that I got off the thing. The 31st of August ’45 to the 14th of November ’45. I’ve got that down.
JH: Yeah. About six weeks.
DB: Yeah. Six week trip. Now, I would like to say about my crew that both Alan Stutter and Paul were schoolmates. They both had very good passes as I had already said. Paul O’Loughlin was a first class bomb aimer. He had an above average assessment of fifty one yards from twenty thousand feet. I was considered as an above average wireless operator. In fact all of the crew were commissioned with the exception of the rear gunner, Dick Holmes and he was a very [pause] well a very good gunner. Most particular in his work. He was always cleaning his turret, cleaning his guns and very, a very important member of the crew. I can’t see why he wasn’t commissioned as well but he was the only one of the crew who did not receive his commission and, but he, when he came back from the war he went to Sydney University and did Arts or an Arts course that he did and went teaching. Paul Wilkinson went and did dentistry. And Paul O’Loughlin became Director of Drama of the ABC. Alan Stutter became a Master of Science and he was, worked in fabrics and so forth. He was with Bradmill when they designed the material for the first Americas Cup Challenge with Gretel. So each one of them achieved quite a lot and I think as a crew we were considered to be an above average crew. And I think that it’s right that I should mention that they all worked very, were at the top of their ability when they were operating in our aircraft.
JH: That’s some very good comments and I think the fact that you did a full tour, the crew, certainly endorses how good you were as a crew. Now, what about you, Don? What did you do after the war?
DB: Well, I did accountancy. And then I did, I knew I was going to be involved with the family business so I went into a hardware business with an air force mate of mine. Had that for a while. Got a bit of experience in operating a retail hardware business and experiencing, well quite a lot of things apart from accountancy. But I did the books and everything for that. And then I became involved in the retail game and following that I ran a, I bought a run-down orchard and turned it back into a commercial proposition. Retiring at seventy two.
JH: Yes. I should point out that Don is the president of the 463 467 Squadron Association and he’s been very much involved in Bomber Command veterans for some time now. And also Don was one of the instigators of the Bomber Command Commemoration Day which now is, is, has grown quite a bit and we’ve just had the ceremony in Sydney. It’s in Canberra, Melbourne, Brisbane and of course London.
DB: And South Australia.
JH: Yes. Do you want to say a bit about that, Don?
DB: Well, initially I was on the committee of 463 467 and I have been involved there for many many years and as the presidents retired or died off and so forth. The first one we had was Roy Crossman. He was the president for a long time. Then we had, following him Reg Boyes and Don Huxtable then nominated me as a vice president of 463 467 and eventually when Reg departed I was made president. But Rollo Kingsford Smith whilst he was involved initially with the establishment of the Association he then went to De Havillands and became managing director of De Havillands. So he was away from the Association for a while. But then towards the end he came to me and he said, ‘Look, I would like to see some commemorations for Bomber Command because we’ve now got this Memorial going up in Canberra and it should be utilised. Now, I realise that our squadrons represented only about twenty percent of those involved in Bomber Command. It should be [pause] it should be really taken over by Bomber Command because all these Squadron Associations will eventually fold up for the lack of numbers and so forth. And I would like something done to commemorate these people who I wrote I wrote so many letters of condolence to their relatives and so forth, and next of kin.’
JH: This was Rollo speaking.
DB: Yes.
JH: Yes.
DB: ‘And I would like to see something done. Can’t you do something about this?’ And I agreed with him that it was probably long overdue and something should be done. So he said, ‘Well, let’s call, get a meeting. You can bring them up to my place at Exeter and then we’ll have a discussion about it and see which way we go.’ So, I actually got Ross Pearson who I knew as a wireless operator who subsequently became involved in the law. He, and he actually worked for the ABC as well. I don’t know in what capacity but I know he had legal degrees. I suggested he might join this group that were going to meet at Rollo’s place. And as a result of this meeting and subsequent meetings that we had we formed a Bomber Command Commemorative Day Committee. And I think we were really instigators of, of the Bomber Command Memorial being commenced in Britain because it was only following our Bomber Command Memorial that we established in 2005 that people started to think again about Bomber Command. And now we have this wonderful Memorial in Green Park, London which really started from these meetings that Rollo had organised and I was actually the first secretary and Ross Pearson was the president of that group.
JH: That must give you a lot of satisfaction, Don. That something you instigated here has grown so much.
DB: Yes. Well, I’m very pleased to see that the recognition that has been given to Bomber Command. We’ve now been given a commemorative clasp that goes on the ’45 Star. And also those of us who were lucky enough to survive to be given the Legion of Honour from the French government.
JH: Don, that — I have to ask what from that what are your thoughts on the fact that there was no Bomber Command campaign medal?
DB: Well, there was an attempt earlier in the peace by Bomber Harris or Air Chief Marshal Harris. He was the commander of Bomber Command. An attempt to get a Bomber Command medal. I think it was actually struck by his — I think his wife might have had something to do with this. Lady [pause] she was, what was she? I’ve lost myself. Just a minute [pause] I can’t think what her first name was but she was Bomber Harris’ wife and there is a medal. A Bomber Command medal. But I don’t think it was officially recognised by the British government. But I have one but I’ve got a feeling that we had to pay something for that. I’m not sure.
JH: Yes. So, what, what were your thoughts on the treatment of Bomber Command after the war?
DB: Well, I suppose it must have been the change of government and Bomber Command was not terribly favourably received by those who received our bombs. Those people in Germany. And you know, there was quite a lot of antipathy as to the fact that we were, had bombed towns and so forth. But during the period that I was involved with Bomber Command it would seem to me that our objectives were more to do with war effort and so forth than actual bombing of cities. Our navigation had improved so much that we were able to put the bombs where we wanted them. And they had also put these cameras in the bomb bays so that the people didn’t put them in the wrong place. I believe you know that in certain instances of course if you, if you were in trouble you had to get rid of your bombs and there could have been accidents and so forth that might have happened over a period of time. But generally speaking the efficiency of the air force improved very much in the latter part of the war and of course it’s got to the stage now they can put it through a window and kill an individual sort of thing. So, and let’s face it war is war. Germany had already started bombing. Indiscriminately bombing cities in Britain.
JH: Yes. They started that type of bombing.
DB: They started the actual bombing of cities.
JH: Yes. That’s true.
DB: So, that’s what, that’s what happens.
JH: Well, Don I think we can wind, wind up the interview. It’s been a fantastic story and to come through thirty six.
DB: Thirty seven.
JH: Operations. Is something outstanding and, for you and your crew. So, thank you very much, Don, we’ll, we’ll sign off here.

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Citation

John Horsburgh, “Interview with Don Browning,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed November 27, 2020, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/9287.

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