Interview with Douglas Stanley Smith


Interview with Douglas Stanley Smith


Douglas Smith grew up in New Zealand and on leaving school he joined the Post Office. He joined the Air Force and he flew Tiger Moth, and Gypsy Moth aircraft at New Plymouth. On one of his flights there was a warning note in the cockpit not to do aerobatics. He slow rolled the aircraft and was covered in hot oil from the engine and was advised by the chief flying instructor, that he would soon get his chance later on to do aerobatics. He was posted to Ohakea flying twin-engined Oxfords. He arrived in the UK to commence training and was posted to RAF Upwood, an OTU flying Blenheims. He completed thirty operations. Whilst flying in Transport Command in India, he was carrying former prisoners of war from Delhi to Calcutta and his undercarriage developed a fault so he flew around the area to burn off fuel, and he crash landed the aeroplane, with no injuries to his crew or passengers. He was given a green endorsement in his flying log book.



Temporal Coverage




00:42:08 audio recording


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ASmithDS180921, PSmithDS1801


JB: Yes.
DS: I was eighteen years old, I think. Eighteen or nineteen.
JB: Ok. I’ll just need to —
DS: And when the war started—
JB: Could I stop, just stop you for a moment because I just need to do a little introduction to say who you are. This interview is being carried out for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Jennifer Barraclough and the interviewee is Douglas Smith. The interview is taking place at Mr Smith’s home near Auckland, New Zealand on the 21st of September 2018. Now, sorry to interrupt you. Yes.
DS: I was —
JB: Let’s go.
DS: Educated at Thames High School which was a high school down at Thames. Thames was a town of about five or six thousand people, and it was the middle of the Depression in New Zealand anyway. I went down to the bank. I had matriculation or university entrance, and the bank manager said to me, ‘Have you got Higher Leaving Certificate?’ An extra year at high school. I said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘My father can’t afford to send me there again.’ He said, ‘It’s a pity. The bank can’t employ you in that case.’ So, he said, ‘Go down to the Post Office. They may take you as a Cadet.’ So, I went down there and the next thing I am a Cadet. Cadets were the lowest of the low, but never mind it was a good experience. I learned to drive. I learned to do a little bit of Morse. Not much, but a little bit and I learned all about Post Office. You know, where you put your letters in. What do they call that? I can’t think of that now. Post Office. Did all to do with mails and things like that. I learned to go around all the sub-offices, of which in New Zealand there were many. But mostly adjacent to Thames so really, I was quite busy. I had my hat which I kept on my head. I was not allowed to put the telegrams in my hat. I had to carry them in my hand, and ride my bicycle, and fight off the dogs and all that sort of thing. I suppose it was a pretty mundane experience really, but I didn’t know any better. Anyway, I’m never ashamed of Thames High School. I think they taught me well, and it was a co-ed school so I was in first touch with girls, you know, for the first time really. I’d never had a girl and I never, I have said that at that High School for four, four or five years, and I never had a girl at the end [laughs] But I didn’t do particularly well. I was in the first fifteen and the first eleven in cricket and football and all that nonsense and I think the nicest thing we did really was to go and play other schools like Hamilton High School. We played them at rugby. We’d go up to Auckland and Auckland Grammar. We were lucky enough to play Auckland Grammar, and they were a good school and very good team. So, it was quite interesting really. And came the war of course, and about nineteen, what’s that? 1940. It began to be obvious to me that it was only going to be a matter of time before conscription was brought in to New Zealand because Mr [pause] what the heck was his name? He was a Scot, was very keen that New Zealand should follow the old country. Where they go I will follow with New Zealand sort of thing. In those days, you know, people made those sort of statements, and they expected the country without any sort of saying do you want to go to the war? We were all in the war and the Air Force took quite a while to get themselves organised but they did in the finish and I would have been in the tenths class perhaps. Classes were about sixty people so there were quite a few of us. We started off by going to school again because they didn’t think our maths were good enough but heavens knows we never used them anyway. And then we started to learn to fly the aeroplane and I was sent down to New Plymouth where we flew the Tiger Moths mainly, and the Gypsy Moth. I was given the old Gypsy to fly one day, and when I got in the aeroplane it had a big notice in front of me. I couldn’t help but read it, “Do not aerobat this aeroplane.” And I had practically no flying experience at all. However, it wasn’t my second or third flight that I thought oh, I wonder if it does a slow roll. Of course, it didn’t do a slow roll properly. Not with me at the controls. And I sort of got it over like this on its back and a great stream of oil came out of the engine and all over me because I’m sitting in the back of that and all over the aeroplane. So, I thought I’d better go back, you know to the hangar with the aeroplane and I was taxiing back when unfortunately, I met the chief of flying instructor. And he took one look at the aeroplane and me covered in oil and I can tell you that oil was hot, and I was quite badly burned about the face and things but he said, ‘Amongst the many attributes that you don’t have, Smith,’ he said, ‘I find that reading isn’t one of them. What does it say on that notice?’ And I said, ‘It says, “Do not aerobat this aeroplane.”’ ‘And why did you do that? What did you do? A poor slow roll I suppose.’ I said, ‘Yes, sir. That’s exactly what, what I did try to do.’ He said, ‘You will be taught that sort of thing in the fullness of time,’ he said. I’m talking a bit in the foreign language that we used in those days but there we are. So, I started off on the wrong foot and I don’t, I don’t think I ever got out of it [laughs] Anyway, I managed to, to pass through the initial flying training they called that, and I had Tiger Moth on my logbook. We did about fifty hours on the Tiger, and then we were sent down to Ohakea, which was a new station for New Zealand. It hadn’t been built long, and it had a different type of aeroplane. It had an aeroplane called a [pause] what the heck was that thing called? You know, I can’t remember these things. Could you get me a logbook out of the second drawer down over there? Now —
JB: Yes. Certainly.
DS: The aeroplane that I flew at Ohakea was a twin engine light bomber called the Airspeed Oxford. It was a nice little aeroplane to fly. It was quite a bit bigger than the Tiger, and of course it had many things that you weren’t allowed to do with it, and the first thing of course I was flying with a friend of mine, we used to fly in pairs and I said to him, ‘I wonder if this thing will slow roll.’ I said, ‘I tried to do it on a Tiger, and I didn’t have any success so let’s have a go.’ So over we go. We get this Oxford upside down and there was a terrible crash down the back of the aircraft and I said to my friend, ‘You’d better go and see what that crash was over there. I’ll keep it straight and level.’ So, I flew this thing straight and level. He went down the back and he said, ‘Well, the radio is in pieces all over the floor. You know they’re not going to be happy about that, Doug.’ I said, ‘I bet they’re not.’ [laughs] And I got in to terrible trouble that. I nearly got fired. I nearly got sent back to the Army. But anyway, they persisted with passing me out of there so [pause] but I still was out. I wasn’t out of trouble really. When the end of the course came we had an end of course party because we were all going to England. All that course was, and there were about twenty five in the course. So we had a party and we all got drunk of course. Stupid. I had a motorbike at that time. Now, Ohakea must have been four or five hundred kilometres from Auckland, and I lived in Auckland so about 10 o’clock at night I’m full of beer. As we used to call it, full as a boot. I don’t know why. And I got on my bike, and I started off for Auckland. I got as far as Huntly which was quite a way. I was lucky to be able to get petrol at Te Kuiti otherwise, I wouldn’t have had enough petrol. But I got enough petrol and the road from Te Kuiti to Auckland was sealed. There was white dots in the middle of the road. Well, I suppose I was on that for about a half an hour, and the white dots are flashing in front of me because it was about four in the morning. Flashing in front of me, and I went to sleep on that bike and I went off the road, into the railway crossing which had these big boards in it like that. The bike went straight in to that and got stuck, and the speedometer which was mounted on the handlebars hit me straight in the face and broke my nose, fractured my skull, and didn’t me any good. And I should have been knocked out and killed really but I wasn’t and the, I managed to stagger out on the road covered in blood and all dressed in uniform and everything, and a man was coming to work, must have been a sharemilker, I suppose. Milking cows, you know. So they, he took me in to Hamilton Hospital where they patched me up, told my parents what had happened and of course my mother was secretly pleased. She thought, well look at him they won’t take him like that. He can’t fly anymore so he does not have to go to the war. I was an only child you see, and she was terrified I’d have to go to the war because my father went to the First World War so that’s where I was born in England. And so there it was. I, oh I spent up ‘til Christmas and, doing nothing and then I got a posting. I had to go to a medical board and they looked at me and they said, ‘Well, you’re a bit of a mess. You won’t have much fun with the girls will you, with that face?’ [laughs] I said, ‘No. I suppose I won’t.’ Anyway, I said, ‘I don’t fly the aeroplane with my face.’ Well, I said, ‘It’s only part of me.’ So there we are. So I got on a boat and we went through Curacao, and Panama. That’s right. We went up to Halifax. We waited for the convoy to take us across the Atlantic but the convoy left us behind because we were so slow. That boat was a First World War freighter so you can imagine. But we all had to go on watch all the time. We watched for that, for the U-boats that were sinking us but luckily we didn’t get any. So that’s how we got to England. We landed at Liverpool. I don’t know what happened then. Oh, we went, the two of us went in to a fine looking hotel in Liverpool which was called the Adelphi, and it looked pretty good to us. So, we went in there and they had big containers with biscuits and cakes and things in them and of course you had to pay for them. We didn’t know this so we just helped ourselves and there was a terrible fuss over that because we didn’t have much money and we found out that we had to pay for everything we had eaten [laughs] And of course, we were hungry. And of course, we were sergeants you see and the place was full of admirals and goodness knows what and one admiral said to me, ‘What are you doing in this place, boy?’ He said, ‘You don’t belong here.’ I said, ‘No sir. No sir, I do not belong here. I’ve just arrived from New Zealand.’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘That’s different. Have a drink.’ So, he gave me a drink and he said, ‘If I were you, I’d better go out and find another hotel where your class will be welcome.’ He said, ‘You won’t be welcome in here.’ Oh, he said, ‘The Navy don’t drink together. The officers drink apart from the men.’ So, we had to go there and then we were sent down to Brighton. Brighton, which you might imagine is a nice beach but of course it was mined and everything like that and it’s full of stones in the first place. It’s a terrible beach really. And then we went on to Bournemouth which was much nicer and there, we were there for about, oh quite a long time. I don’t know how long we were at Bournemouth. July. Well, it must have been half way through the year, and we’d started off so yes, we got a posting to Grantham. See it here. And we were flying Oxfords again. And then, when we flew those for quite a while again. They didn’t seem to know what to do with us. And then we got posted to — where the heck was that? [pause] Oh, Upwood. We were sent to Upwood which was an Operational Training Unit, and they were flying Blenheims. Bristol Blenheim, which was a twin-engined light bomber again. Terrible aeroplane but still, it was an aeroplane and we used to use that for going over the Channel in daylight. Two of us would go over in daylight and if anybody got back, they were lucky. Very lucky indeed. Most of them were just shot down by, by the German fighters because they were no match for the German fighter. So, we spent quite a while doing that ‘til we ran out of Blenheims. And then all of a sudden we were out at the airfield one day watching and I said, ‘Hey, there’s a couple of new aeroplanes coming in. They don’t look like anything I’ve seen before.’ I said, ‘They look like they’ve got nose wheels.’ And I said, ‘No aircraft in the RAF has got a nose wheel so they must be American. I wonder what they’re doing here.’ Well, of course they were for us. So, the two girls landed both aircraft, you see. One, two and they said, ‘You’ll be flying these boys.’ ‘What?’ I said [laughs] ‘How will we learn to fly?’ ‘You’ll learn to fly when you have to fly them. If you’re going to crash, you know you haven’t learned enough. You be careful of them as they’re a bit tricky for you. But if you read the books and don’t do anything smart, you’ll be all right.’ So, I said to Doug, ‘You’d better stop, your, your light ways of getting in to trouble all the time. These aeroplanes will kill you.’ So, I read the books from cover to cover, and I talked to people that had flown them and the CO said to me, ‘Right, Smith, have you read the book?’ I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ He said, ‘Have you talked about it?’ I said, ‘Yes, I talked to the chief flying officer. He’s flown them.’ ‘Right,’ he said, ‘You’ll find them quite easy to fly in the air.’ He said, ‘They’re a nice aeroplane, and they’re quick.’ He said, ‘They’re almost as quick as the German fighters.’ ‘Almost,’ he said. ‘If you get a start on them you’ll out distance them on the way home. Remember that. Break off the fight early and go for home. Don’t stop and try and shoot them down because the German fighters will get you.’ So, I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ So I flew those for about maybe a year and a half. I did about eight or nine trips on those over Germany. Over Northern France really. And those were, my operations started there. So, I’d done about eight or nine trips when I did something stupid again. I came back from a low-level cross country. I hope you know the technicalities I’m telling you.
JB: Some. Some of them —
DS: Yeah. Some of them anyway. But I came back from a cross country, you know they used to send you out on cross countries low level, and we were up at fifty feet. About as high as these buildings. And we used to go around all of northern England and that sort of thing. And I did one of these and I came back and I thought, oh I’ll give the boys in the officer’s mess, I’d been made an officer by then, in the officer’s mess a bit of a shake-up. So, I came over the officer’s mess and I didn’t know that Viscount Trenchard who was the chief of the Air Force was sitting on the other side having a cup of tea. And of course, as the Boston came over it was noisy and low and he spilled the tea on his number one blue uniform and he was not amused. He said, ‘You will know what to do with that young fool. Send him up to Sheffield.’ Now, Sheffield was what they called a Glasshouse. In that they meant that it didn’t matter whether you were an officer or anything. You marched around all day with a pack on your back. All that sort of thing. In other words, they were going to break your spirit there. Well, they didn’t break mine, but they very nearly did. But I didn’t. I didn’t give in. I marched around until I dropped. I literally fell on the ground. Fell on the ground with just marching around, you know. So, they thought oh goodness me. We’ll have to send him to the sick bay. See whether he’s kidding or not. They found out I wasn’t kidding all right. My legs had given way and, and I was off duty for quite some weeks really. So, so they sent me back to my squadron, said I was cured [laughs] But there we are. Just made me more stupid I suppose. No. But I wasn’t completely stupid. What happened then? Oh, no. I’ve got it all wrong. When I, when I flew over the mess when Viscount Trenchard was there he said, ‘You send him up to do, fly the heavy bombers.’ Gee. The [pause] what was the bloody thing called? It must be in here somewhere.
JB: Not the Lancasters?
DS: Oxford. Wimpy. Wimpy. I don’t know where he is. A York. I can’t find that aeroplane. Must have lost it [pause – pages turning] And I’ve got Wimpy here. [pause] Yes. That’s it [pause] I can’t find that aeroplane.
[recording paused]
DS: The Wellington.
JB: Wellington.
DS: Not the Wellington.
JB: The Lancaster. It was Lancaster.
DS: Lancaster.
JB: Lancaster.
DS: Yeah [laughs] Four engine bomber. And it was quite a good old aeroplane to fly. I sat in the front there, you see. The gunners, the bomb aimer sat, no, that’s the navigator. No, he isn’t. He is. The bomb aimer sits there, and he’s got a little hatch under here. The wireless operator and the navigator sit in the wing area there and the two gunners sit there. Yeah. So, we were lucky to get on the old whatever it was called [laughs] What was it called?
JB: Lancaster.
DS: [laughs] You know your memory’s gone. Lancaster. Yeah. That’s right. So, we did the, we’d done about ten I think on the Boston so our crew, that was my navigator and my engineer, my radiator officer, radio operator and myself we went on, on rest when we’d done thirty. Thirty trips. So, the [pause] most of those were Berlin, I think. Where the heck was that? [pause] Chapelle. That was our last trip on Brunswick. Stuttgart. Frankfurt. Frankfurt. Berlin. Essen. Nuremberg. We were on that Nuremberg raid when they shot down a hundred of us that night. Now, that was too many for us to take. We couldn’t take more and that was just before D-Day. So, there we are again. Berlin. Berlin. Berlin. Nuremberg again. Berlin. Berlin. Leipzig. Stuttgart. Schweinfurt. Augsburg. All the big German towns we were bombing. So, there we are. We got away with that and I don’t know how we got away with it really. So, after we’d done thirty trips they sent us away. The three of us. And we just parted. We never saw our previous crew members again until after the war had finished when we all met when the squadron held a, you know, a reunion, and everybody came so we met our crew members again and were able to talk with them and we made friends with them this time. So after that we were given I think a six months rest period when we taught the new boys coming from New Zealand how to fly which was just about dangerous as going over Germany I can tell you. They were pretty dumb [laughs] same as we’d been. And, and I think that’s, that’s when the war finished. D-Day came. I, I did one of the raids on Paris where we dropped our bombs right in the middle of the railway yards in the middle of Paris and all the bosses were frightened. They thought that we were going to kill a lot of Frenchmen with that but we did well that night. We didn’t kill very many people at all. Then we bombed this, this marshalling yard which was going to be used when D-Day came. The Germans were, had all their trucks and all their trains and things in there so we destroyed a lot of them. It was a good raid really. I did a couple of those, and then we were sent to what? A, an OTU which was a New Zealand OTU. OTU. Operational Training Unit. Well, I think I was there for well over a year and then — no. The war came, that’s right the war finished. The war finished. That’s right. Do you think you could put that thing over my —
JB: Yes. Is that right?
DS: Yeah. That’s ok.
JB: Ok. So, what did you do after the war?
DS: So, the war came to an end you see, and I got a note to go down to headquarters in London. And I met Air Commodore Gill down there. He was a good Catholic and he was nasty to me. He said to me, ‘You have a wife and two children have you not?’ He said, ‘I found that out.’ ‘Yes sir. I have.’ He said, ‘Are you married?’ I said, ‘No sir. You can’t get married in a wartime easily. In fact, you’re very lucky to get married at all. We shall probably have to wait until the end of the war.’ ‘I’m ashamed to talk to you,’ he said. Good Catholic you see. It didn’t matter how many Catholics had got English girls in to trouble. And I know one of my friends did that and they, and they adopted the child and he was married you see so they just sent him back to New Zealand. So, he was treated right but I wasn’t because I was a heretic I guess [laughs] Anyway, I was lucky. I found someone in the headquarters that said to me, ‘You flew Lancs didn’t you, Doug?’ I said, ‘Yes, I did.’ He said, ‘Do you have you anywhere near five hundred hours?’ I said, ‘Yes, I’ve got close on that.’ He said, ‘Would you like to fly the Avro York?’ I said, ‘What does it do?’ he said, ‘It’s Transport Command. They fly all around the world with very important people.’ ‘Oh,’ [laughs] I said, ‘Am I experienced enough?’ ‘Yes, of course you are.’ He said, ‘People with five hundred hours flying is very experienced in this war.’ So, they sent me to a like [pause] now I’ve forgotten that word. What’s the squadron called? Wasn’t it —
Transport squadron it was and we went down the south of England. We were based down there quite close to Reading and we flew from Reading. I did a year and a half on that. And my last flight really was, with the Royal Air Force I came from Singapore to Calcutta on to Palam, which was Delhi in India with fifty prisoners of war. Ex-prisoners of war of the Japanese, and they were very poorly fellas, you know. They were. They were knocked around something awful. So, we had to treat them very gently. So, there I am taking off from Palam in India to go to Calcutta. We sort of just had big steps like that to go until we got to England and halfway through the take-off the undercarriage, or the wheels, you know the wheels. It had four wheels on each, two on each side. I think it did. Anyway, there were enough. We were taxiing on the take-off run, and we had about eighty five miles an hour which wasn’t quite enough to make it fly. It would have to be about ninety before it actually got into the air ‘til the pressure of the wind on the top of the wing lifted it up. And about, just before that I heard this undercarriage come past my ear like that and looked at the panel and on the panel were two green lights for the undercarriage. Well, there should have been two green lights but as I looked at them they went red meaning that the undercarriage was slowly coming up. So, the aircraft had to be two things done to it. It either had to pull the undercarriage up completely and crash it on the, where it stood or it had to be flown and I chose to fly it. I made an instant decision and it was the right one because I got it into the air and we flew it. And we had to fly it around for four hours to get rid of the fuel so that we didn’t have that much more fuel to burn us and the aeroplane. And we did that. So, we flew around Taj Mahal. That was in, and what was the other place. There was a triangle. We flew around there. Flew around for four and a half hours. I went and talked to all these people. These fifty boys. One fella said to me, ‘You’re going to kill us aren’t you, sir.’ I said, ‘Don’t be stupid,’ I said. ‘The war is finished. Why would I kill you for goodness sake?’ I said, ‘I’m living. I’ve got two children, a wife.’ I said, ‘Why would I kill you?’ I said, ‘You just sit there with your head in your hands like that,’ and I said, ‘You’ll be alright. Now, don’t go jumping up and down and trying to get out of the aeroplane until it stops.’ I said, ‘Wait ‘til it stops. If it’s not on fire then you can get out easily.’ And there it was. And I stood. Of course, I had to fly the thing so I put it down. And it wasn’t a bad landing, you know. It was pretty good without an undercarriage and everybody got out. Nobody got hurt. So, they gave me a green endorsement in my logbook for that. I think I’ve got that somewhere up the back here.
DS: Oh yes. There it is. There. But I don’t think it will come out.
JB: No.
DS: Green. There’s another green there. So, I got two greens [laughs] And this one here, “Gross carelessness. Taxiing accident.” So really that was all my, that was all my career really. If you want to take this disc, have you got a player?
JB: I haven’t. I’ll just switch this off now.
DS: My last flight with the Royal Air Force. After that they said, ‘It’s time you went home. You’ve been here for six years and — ’


Jennifer Barraclough, “Interview with Douglas Stanley Smith,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 17, 2024,

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