Wartime Experiences of Lawrence William McGowen

Photo: Squadron_RAAF.jpg 


‘WAR TO-NIGHT’ 

When war was declared in September 1939, I was in my second last year of school. In October of that year, Russia invaded Finland and we were busy collecting warm clothing and tinned food to be forwarded to the people of Finland. It is very doubtful if any of the material collected by schools in Australia ever reached the Finns.  In early April, ’40, Germany invaded Norway after a period of quest called “The Phony War”. At this stage, it looked as if the war would last long enough for me to participate and there was no doubt at all that I would join the air force when old enough. 

After the “Blitzkrieg” when German forces rolled up the map of Europe and considered an invasion of England it looked to me as if the war would be over in a very short time. I could not help a feeling of disappointment that it should end so soon. Looking back over the years I find it hard to understand this attitude, but I guess this applied to most young men of my age. I know that most of my schoolmates had this same attitude. The “Battle of Britain” put paid to any invasion attempt of England by the Germans. The bombing of London and other cities continued now at night instead of by daylight and it now looked as if the war was not over yet. The subsequent invasion of Russia and Africa by Germany looked like prolonging it for me. Although armchair experts predicted the Russian campaign would be over in six months.  The Japanese entered the war with the bombing of Pearl Harbour in December 1941. Now it was global warfare and seemed endless. Indeed, Australia was threatened with invasion. 

After obtaining my leaving certificate I joined the Commonwealth Bank at Nowra, N.S.W. and was transferred after three months to Carlton, N.S.W. branch. On my 18th birthday, I obtained an application form to join the RAAF and forwarded it to my father for his consent to my application. He duly consented and returned it with the words “Don’t procrastinate”. 

The bank also granted me permission to join the forces. Banking was a reserved occupation, but the bank did not stand in the way of anyone who wished to join up. In fact, they encouraged it. 

In due course, a notice was received by mail to report to No. 1 Recruiting Depot at Waterloo for medical examination and aptitude tests. The medical was particularly thorough and I was accepted as aircrew after passing both. Entry to the air force was not immediate and we recruits were notified that we were placed on reserve and advised that we could expect to be called up in about six months. We were also © 2019 David McGowen required to attend night classes at our local high school for instruction in various subjects pertaining to the Air Force, i.e. navigation, Morse code, and maths, etc. We were also given a lapel badge to wear noting that we were reservists.

As time dragged on I decided not to wait for the Air Force call up and applied to the Navy as a Midshipman Gunnery Officer. After the usual medical etc. I was accepted for training and put on the reserve until the next course was available at the Naval College in Melbourne. I remember my Navy number was NR 3213. Approximately two weeks later I received a very irate phone call at work from a Naval officer telling me in no uncertain terms that they had found out I was on the Air Force reserve and what the bloody hell was I doing wasting their bloody time. I explained that I was sick of waiting to be called up. If they were withdrawing my naval application I would join the Army. He told me in a rather rude manner that the Army had also been advised that I was Air Force reserve and not to be so bloody anxious to go to war. There was nothing to do but wait for the remaining months for my call up. Eventually, it arrived early July 1942, allowing me some weeks to put my affairs in order and take all weeks' leave from the Bank. 

On 15th August 1942, I, in company with a few hundred others, reported to the recruiting depot bringing with me a cut lunch as requested. I can’t remember if I had a suitcase with me or not. All I can remember is the utter confusion as we all milled around wondering where to go or what to do. Recruiting Sergeants soon brought order from the chaos by calling out the different trade categories from ground staff to form either to the left or right and for aircrew to form up to the rear. As aircrew, we had to undergo the same medical and eye tests we had done before. Those of us who had not attended night classes for some reason or other were interviewed individually by an officer to explain why. I gave my reason, as the Bank was short of staff we were required to work nights. This he accepted and after a short algebra test decided I had sufficient educational qualifications. I did not admit that the real reason I did not attend these classes was because I did not know what the hell the teacher was talking about. 

At approximately 1 PM we aircrew were marched out to waiting buses. Well sort of marched, more like shuffled. We disembarked at Bradfield Park, Lindfield NSW. This was then No. 2 initial training school to be our home for the next few months. 

Firstly, we were divided into preassigned groups then shown our quarters. Kitting out was the next job – issue of uniform, blankets, webbing equipment and work overalls, shoes and work boots. This took approximately 1 ½ hour then we had to report back to our huts and stow our gear. The next instruction was to put on overalls (known to all and sundry as “goon skins”), boots and berets. 

Next on the list was to be issued with a palliasse (a straw mattress) then go to the storeroom to fill it with straw. Two of the members of my group were ex-ground staff sergeants who had re-mustered to aircrew. Like us, they now had the glorious rank of Aircraftsman Class 2, the lowest rank in the Air Force. They advised us to stuff the palliasse with as much straw as we could. From experience, they knew how straw soon compacts and the mattress would be extremely uncomfortable. © 2019 David McGowen 

After being shown how to fold our blankets and mattress we were paraded outside the hut to meet our Drill sergeant. We knew in a very short time that we were not civilians, but the lowest scum on earth. Sgt. Dean had a large bristling mustache and a face fierce enough to go with it.  Now, we were obliged to go on to the Morse code room to test out skills. We were to receive and send Morse. God how I now wished that I had attended those night classes. I found that a few of my group looked as if they had the same thought. We put headphones on and we're supposed to interpret the series of dits and dahs, coming through the headset. It was a complete mystery to me and also the blokes next to me.  Those who knew Morse were praised, but we who did not receive a tongue-lashing. We idiots were now assigned to “signing classes”. How embarrassing it became during the next few weeks, the whole group of signing d’dah = A dad d’d’dit = B etc. but it sure worked, we all became far more proficient than the so-called experts did.  We can’t say that we were fond of our Sergeant, but over the period we became used to his “pick up your feet you bloody animals”. He did turn us into a formidable marching team. 

Time passed quickly. I liked the subjects and had very good results although while at school my marks were only fair.  Well into our training we had to appear before a category selection board. On the strength of this interview and exam results were categorized into various aircrew branches i.e. observer, wireless operator and air gunner. The interview was quite an ordeal. We had to march individually down a long hut, salute the members of the board consisting of some high-ranking officers and subject ourselves to questioning. I think most of us wished to be pilots. I was asked which category I wanted then had to explain why I wanted to be a pilot and why I should be selected as such. After thirty torrid minutes we were dismissed, our fate unknown. 

Towards the final days at Bradfield Park all groups of 31 courses were paraded to hear our various postings, by this time I knew to my disgust that I was to be an observer. Various names were called and their postings as time went by, it seemed hours in the hot sun, my name still had not been called. This left some very few of us who were still left standing wondering what was happening to us. Then we heard the following names, mine included, were to report to embarkation depot, Caufield Racecourse, Melbourne to embark for training in Canada. Misery turned to joy in a second, suddenly the envy of those to train in Australia. 

After a weeks embarkation leave we were proceeded by train to Melbourne. I had by this time been promoted to Leading Aircraftsman, another rung on the ladder. Arriving at Caulfield by bus we found our quarters were in one of the stands, sleeping 

between the seats. Most uncomfortable, but we could put up with that because it should not be for long.

Time spent here was very boring and confusing. No set duties or exercises, just everyone more or less sitting around waiting for word of a ship. Leave was fairly generous and a few of us spent a lot of time traveling around Melbourne by tram. 

One incident that sticks in my mind is when five of us stayed overnight at the YMCA, Melbourne. When we woke up in the morning we didn’t have a pair of pants between us. Some thief had taken the lot. I was lucky enough to find a pair in a trash can that did not belong to my mates and they were quite a good fit. As I was the only one with pants, I had to ring the store's officer at the depot and explain our predicament. He was sympathetic and sent four pairs to us by cab and waited to take us back. I wasn’t keen on Melbourne after that. It wasn’t until many years later that I grew to like the place. 

Word had passed around the depot that we were to embark the next day, and all communication with the outside world was to be cut and all leave canceled. I remember my first sight of the ship. It seemed enormous and a lot more than we expected. She was the USS West Point about 40,000 tons and formerly the liner USS America. Her complement was US Navy and marines. 

We were billeted on the after promenade deck, really comfortable and not crowded. Our first day at sea saw me assigned to the mess deck to assist serving dinner. I had to serve from a large vat, a sloppy mixture of mincemeat and asparagus. The smell and the heaving deck soon had me perspiring and dry in the mouth. I soon got permission to get some fresh air and only this saved me from being seasick for the first time in my life. 

Our first port of call was Auckland to ship some New Zealand aircrew. Some of who were my good friends throughout training in Canada. 

The trip to San Frisco lasted six weeks. Nothing to do except play cards swim in the pool, with an occasional submarine watch. Except for the occasion when the ship fired two star shells at night and we thought we had been torpedoed, nothing exciting happened. I doubt if we saw another ship during the whole trip.  Prior to disembarking at San Francisco, we were told that our issue blankets were to be rolled and carried from the ship. Most of us objected to carting these damned things around the world and one brave soul tossed his over the side onto the wharf soon to be followed by a deluge of blankets. I often wondered what the Yanks did with hundreds of RAAF blankets. 

We saw very little of ‘Frisco. Just some of the bay and what we could see from the back of a truck while we were being transported to catch our train. It was now January and quite cold as we were dressed in summer gear. 

The train was something else indeed. A genuine Pullman Coach greeted us. Plush seating, Negro attendants, and white linen service in the dining car. Remembering our Aussie trains this was luxury. I had a rude awakening much later catching an Australian troop train. 

The meals were fabulous. Turkey, Chicken, Ham etc. but proving much too rich for us after shipboard fare. We all had various degrees of stomach upset and it was a long wait at the W.C. We had a several hours stop over at Vancouver which enabled us to do some sightseeing. I was very impressed with the beauty of the city and have always wanted to return. From Vancouver to a staging camp at Edmonton, Alberta. Most of us had dug our warm uniforms from our kit bags, but some had not bothered. On leaving the train at Edmonton all were lined up at the station and addressed by a fur-coated Canadian Air Force Sergeant. His first words to us were “Gentlemen, please observe the formation of the snow crystal”. As a slight blizzard was blowing, we could not have given a dam about a snow crystal. We were freezing and all wanted shelter. The RCAF Sgt. was mercifully brief and in spite of our misery, we were impressed with his attitude and politeness. A definite contrast to some of our Airmen Leagues. I found that the emphasis on discipline in the RCAF was very different to ours. With very few exceptions the NCO’s and officers were courteous and friendly. My stay at Edmonton is now blurred as it was not a very impressive place and too cold to do very much. I have now forgotten how my stay was, but I remember it was very forgettable. 

At last, I received a posting to No. 7 Bombing and Gunnery School, Paulson, Manitoba. The township of Paulson was very small and apart from a small café serving a very good apple pie and ice cream and disgusting coffee, there was nothing else to see. Fortunately, most of my friends from Bradfield Park were on the same posting. 

Now I would be flying and it was here that I had my first flight in an aircraft, actually my first flight ever. It was a familiarization flight in a very doubtful Avro Anson powered by two very oily Cheetah motors. However, it was a real thrill to take to the air, that is, it was until the pilot ordered me to wind up the wheels. There was a crank near the pilot’s seat, which needed about 600 turns to get the wheels up. Exhausted by then I was starting to enjoy the flight when I realized that it was going to take the same number of turns to get them down again. 

In spite of the cold, I enjoyed Paulson, the practical work in the air put meaning into my job. Recreation was limited, but a few of us had our own ice skates and a rink could be quickly set up in the freezing weather. 

By this time we had graduated from Ansons to a more modern aircraft the “Bolingbroke”, a twin-engine plane with front and mid-upper turrets. This aircraft was really the obsolete British “Blenheim” a light-medium bomber. In mid-February ’40 we commenced our bombing exercises. Despite sub-zero temperatures most of the time these exercises were very interesting and of short duration, two hours being the longest. Gunnery exercises were a different matter. Sitting in the mid-upper turret without heating and semi-exposed to temperatures to –40 to –60 F. The first few times firing the guns was exciting; occasionally I would shoot at a pack of wolves, without any visible effect. 

I had a slight touch of frostbite once when one of the guns jammed. It was a No. 1 stoppage, which meant re-cocking the gun, but with three layers of gloves, it was an impossible task. Removing the gloves from my right hand, I pulled back the cocking lever leaving patches of skin on it. On landing the tips of my fingers had gone dead white which meant they were frostbitten. Recovery is extremely painful. 

I do remember helping to clean snow off the runways in –60 F. Either shoveling it or spreading course salt on the snow from the back of a truck.  We completed the course at Paulson at the end of April when the snow had thawed. It was beautiful flying over endless pine forests and hundreds of small lakes.  The next posting was to No. 1 Air Observers School, Malton, Ontario. Malton was only a few miles outside Toronto and a very large base. Lancasters were built and assembled there and also quite a number of USAF Fortresses landed there from time to time. 

The weather now was perfect and so hot that we could freshen up our suntan. Most of this course consisted of navigation and aerial photography practical exercises.  The most memorable part of the course was our visits to the city of Toronto. We always stayed at the Royal York Hotel, known to the airforce as the only brothel in the world with eight lifts. We were so innocent then that if a girl or girls knocked on the door of our bedroom, we answered like stunned mullets. They usually went away laughing. 

It was during one of our visits to town that through a services association, I met the Faircloughs. Mr. Fairclough was an ex-fighter pilot of World War 1, with numerous decorations. His daughter Mary later introduced me to the very gorgeous French Canadian Gwen de Mont. 

It was unfortunate that my time with Gwen was only too short. There was a mutual attraction and we corresponded during and after the war, meeting only once again.  Mid-June our course finished and a graduation ceremony was held. We were paraded on the parade ground and as each name was called had to march up to a podium to be presented with our Brevet. In my case the observer's badge (“The Flying O”). It was a proud moment, especially in front of all our girlfriends. Now we felt we were fully-fledged airmen and what’s more, Sergeants. This was the beginning of the end of our very pleasant stay in Canada and all we could look forward to was the business end of our training. Canada is a beautiful country and Canadians a warm and friendly people. It was with reluctance we said goodbye to our friends, especially hard to say so to Gwen.

We were granted two weeks embarkation leave and four of us decided to spend it in the USA. Some time was spent in New York, but in the main for some reason Washington DC. A wonderful leave after meeting Jerry, a beautiful blond Texan. She was working in a Government Department and showed us all the sights of the capital. It was very hot like Sydney in January and a lot of evenings we spent on the banks of the Potomac River listening to an unusual orchestra playing on a floating barge. On one occasion two women cruising around in a Packard ‘coupe’ picked up two of us. One was an artist and took us up to her studio for drinks. After that to dinner at a restaurant, a dinner they paid for, and then to the other girls' home. They were married with husbands overseas and I could kick myself now to think we didn’t know what they wanted. 

Another time I met a waitress in a café, who was a New Zealander. She took me back to her flat in some obscure part of Washington. I remember climbing stairs on a wooden walkway that seemed to go on for miles over roofs. Once again I was too naïve to understand. 

All good things come to an end and it was time for me to report back to Toronto. In no time we arrived back in New York to embark on the “Queen Elizabeth”. I remember that while boarding one American marine said to his mate “Christ aren’t they young and all bloody Sergeants too”. 

The “Queen Elizabeth” was more like a city than a ship and with l6, 000 troops on board, a prime target for the German Navy. We sailed without an escort as the ship was too fast for a submarine and most other naval vessels. Her armament was equivalent to a cruiser and, after experiencing gunnery practice one day, she seemed as if she could hold her own in any fight. We were fortunate to still be together; friends who had joined up at the same time. Eighteen of us occupied what would have been a single room cabin. It was crowded, but in comparison with American troops who had to sleep in shifts, luxurious. Duties on board were light with submarine watches included. These watches could be miserable, if the weather was rough, stuck out on the flying bridge and soaked with spray. On a fine day, they were quite enjoyable.  Mealtimes were breakfasted from 6am to 9am and after three hours, lines started forming for dinner lasting until all had been fed. We were fortunate that a friend, Bill Hancock, knew an assistant cook and we were able to supplement our two meals with bits and pieces from the kitchens. We spent most of the time in our cabin, as it was too crowded on the promenade decks. During heavy seas, the decks were almost empty except for a few hardy souls who had a need for fresh air. I have never seen seas as big as we experienced, before or since. Enormous waves towering high above the ship seeming to crash on us at any moment. The “Elizabeth” rode them all fairly comfortably.  We did not realize it at the time that this was a historic trip. The ship carried the most number of troops ever carried and also we passed the “Queen Mary” at sea. This was the first time that these two great ships had crossed paths. I can’t remember the duration of the trip, but I think it was about a week. Eventually, we disembarked in Scotland. Then by troop train to Brighton in the south of England. The RAAF had taken over the “Grand Hotel” and all the Australian aircrew were billeted there while awaiting a posting. In other words, it was really a staging camp. 

I did not drink then except for a glass or two of beer, nor did I smoke. However, unfortunately, I had purchased several cartons of cigarettes as we had heard in Canada that they were in short supply. We now found that cigarettes were fairly easy to obtain and I started smoking to use up my cartons.  Brighton was extremely interesting, a peacetime holiday resort, with hundreds of pubs. The area was full of history, and I made several trips to Hastings, trying to recapture the atmosphere of 1066. 

Some experiences still stick in my mind. The time when in Sherry’s Bar a British soldier machined gunned his girlfriend and her new boyfriend at the bar. After everyone had scattered for their lives, we later found that he had killed them both. 

Another time while four of us were walking along the street, some girls invited us in for a drink. Naturally, we obliged and I headed for a really cute little blonde. We stayed there until mid-night cementing our relationships. I took my blonde out several times until one of the other girls told a friend she was 14 years of age. This was the end of our relationship, I never saw her again. 

After about a fortnight in Brighton, we were told we were to be trained as Air Bombers or more familiarly as known throughout the service, as Bombaimers. We were posted to No. 9 Advanced Flying Unit, Penshos, Wales. Penshos is in North Wales near Anglesey. It was summer and it was a very beautiful area, although the locals spoke Welsh and appeared to be not too friendly. The village itself was very small with a couple of pubs and a great bakery, which sold terrific cakes. We made good use of the bakery as we were starving most of the time. 

This was our first experience of RAF messing and a pretty rude shock to the system. Our meals seemed to consist of cheese three times a day with an occasional sawdust sausage thrown in. Terrible meals, but it made us realize what the English had to put up with during the war. As a result, we spent most of our spare time stuffing ourselves with cakes from the village. We tried to make friends with some of the better-looking girls in the pub, but their parents soon put an end to any likely relationship. Apart from the fact they spoke perfect English, they would speak Welsh amongst themselves, which was quite off-putting. The only girls we got along with were some lasses holidaying from Liverpool. One of them carried on a correspondence with me until later on when she received no reply.  We did startle the natives when we went surfing in the Irish Sea. Quite a good surf was running and large enough waves for body surfing. The beach, as usual, was all stones and care had to be taken to drop off a wave before reaching shallow water. It was entirely new to the locals and they turned out in droves to watch, as did quite a lot of the Englishmen on the station. 

Flying duties were concentrated sometimes flying on three exercises a day. Quite often we had Polish pilots who were slightly mad. On navigation exercises over the Irish Sea they loved to fly at about 50’ above the sea. This was naturally exciting and dangerous and totally unauthorized. One day while flying at about 100’ the pilot wanted to use the toilet and asked me if I could hold the aircraft steady. I told him that I thought I could and with that, he left his seat and told me to take over, while we were still flying low. I found that flying straight and level was fairly easy, but it was too low. I pulled back on the stick and climbed to about 1000’. The pilot returned screaming bloody murder in Polish. While using the funnel to relieve himself, he had fallen over as I climbed and wet the front of his trousers.  With double summertime, we seemed to be going to bed in sunlight most of the time. I can remember playing cricket at 9 PM in full sun. A perfect summer. The course finished at the end of August and this was when a lot of friends and I parted company with my next posting. 

I arrived at No. 27 Operational Training Unit, Litchfield, Staffordshire early September,’43. The training was now serious, as it would not be too long before I was posted to a squadron. 

A few days after arriving, we were told that we would be “crewing up”. This was a process where pilots selected their own crew from a mass of aircrew. It was an utterly confusing and embarrassing business, but at least each aircrew member had his choice as to whether he would join a crew or not. I was standing around looking as confused as the others when I felt a tap on my shoulder. A pilot said, “I’ve got a Navigator and Wireless Operator and would you like to join us”. I said I would and went off to meet the others. On the way, he also recruited two gunners. This method of forming an aircrew was considered by the airforce to be far better than assigning people to a certain pilot. For a start, you felt proud to be selected by the pilot to become part of a team. 

The crew now consisted of - Tom Davies (Paddington NSW) Pilot 

Mark Edgerley (Adelaide SA) Navigator 

Denis Kelly (Ned) (Cheltenham Vic) Wireless Operator 

Myself – Bomb aimer 

Colin Allen (Nundah Qld.) Rear Gunner 

Jim Culver (Townsville Qld) Mid Upper Gunner 

The first thing to do was to get acquainted – so it was off to the canteen for a few beers. We all got along extremely well and the conversation soon flowed. As a crew, we spent all our time together for the next three months of our training. We all made friends with other crews, but it was our crew that was important, as we had to rely on each other for survival. We were now flying Wellingtons, an obsolete bomber recently taken off operations. The first part of our training was “circuits and bumps” to settle down as a crew and familiarise ourselves with the aircraft. Bombing and gunnery exercises followed with a mixed bag of results. Soon we were doing cross-country exercises lasting five hours or more at this stage in daylight. As there was no second pilot, Tom decided that I was to learn how to fly. During these trips, I spent quite a lot of time at the controls and, on the ground in a simulator, the link trainer. 

Next, we commenced our night training with the usual “circuits and bumps”. Just prior to this training we had our first leave in London. Mark did not accompany us, but the rest of us booked into a hotel near Piccadilly Circus. I did not drink much then and followed them from pub to pub drinking orange juice. It wasn’t much fun at all watching them get full as boots. I picked them up one afternoon at the Windmill Theatre, a strip show. They were all full and I sober, so it was a shock when we were ejected for making too much noise! I then decided that as they were having all the fun and me none, I would join them. The next few days passed in a rosy glow. 

Night flying had started in earnest with simulated bombing raids over England called “Command Bullseyes”. These exercises were of up to 6 ½ hours’ duration and could be dangerous depending on flying conditions. Some of my friends were killed during these trips. On the 10th of November, we took part in a “Nickle”. This was a trip to France dropping leaflets for operational experience. One crew was shot down and another got completely lost over France. They saw an aerodrome lit up, circled it tapping “Mayday” in Morse. It proved to be a German fighter base. Somehow they managed to arrive back. 

By now we had settled down as a crew and were feeling rather experienced. Practical gunnery and bombing had vastly improved. The course finished up mid-November and the next project was to be a six weeks commando and survival course. We were taken to some base somewhere in the wilds of England. What a miserable time in a miserable place. It was now approaching winter and very cold. Hard physical training all day long and nowhere to go at night, except the canteen. Some of the lectures on survival in an occupied country were to come in handy later on. 

The survival part of the course, apart from the lectures, was to be bundled into the back of a closed truck and dropped in pairs miles from anywhere, no money and no food. The object was to return to base without getting caught by police, soldiers and service police. Some of us were missing for days and, as far as I can remember, none made it back under their own steam. 

We also had day exercises where we were dropped near a large town. Col Allen and I were dropped off near a bridge outside some large village. Experienced in craftiness by now, we carried cash in our shoes and a bar of chocolate in our blouses. We walked into the village, without being challenged, although the bridges were supposed to be guarded. After a nice morning tea, we adjourned to the pub and then when the pub shut at 3 p.m. went to the local pictures. At the railway station, we enquired about how we could get back to our base and then caught the train to a town nearby. A short walk and we were at the base reporting back. We were congratulated on our success as all the others had been caught. It was pure luck and the fact we had cheated a bit. 

Thank God the course finished and a much fitter crew finally reported to No. 1654 Conversion Unit, Wigsley, Lincolnshire.  What a ghastly place was Wigley! It was early February and freezing. The first view was snow, fog, and bare trees. I had been cold in Canada, but nothing like this. Whereas in Canada the cold was dry, here with fog like drizzle it seeped into the bones. Ned and I shared a room with a little pot-bellied stove and most of our spare time was spent scavenging coal along the railway line. As the coal was sodden, the only way we could light a fire was to get the powder out of a very cartridge and light it. It was a wonder we did not blow the place up. At one stage Ned finished up with a green face for a few days when the powder blew back through the top of the stove.  We were now converting from twin-engined aircraft to four-engined Stirling bombers. These looked gigantic after the Wellington. The Stirling was immensely strong and it proved so when our instructor bounced three times when landing. The first bounce was about ten feet and while it gave us confidence in its strength, not much in our pilot's ability to fly it. This aircraft proved to be troublesome, whether because of its age or some inherent fault. A number of times a motor would cut out in the air and we were fearful that one or two would cut out on take off. As the bomb aimer, it was my job to assist the pilot on take-off and when he reached a certain speed he needed both hands on the control column. I then took over the throttles to reach full power. Tom did chastise me earlier when I pushed them forward too fast. He said that it was possible the motors would cut out and that would have been the end of us. 

On one exercise a motor cut out again and its partner decided to overheat at the same time. It was necessary to make an emergency landing. Mark plotted a course to the nearest aerodrome that we could land on. After a successful landing and interrogation, we were taken to the sergeant’s mess where we were advised a party was in progress. What a party. As we were in flying gear and still had a parachute harness on everyone thought we were operational aircrew who had made an emergency landing and gave us a marvelous reception. A very attractive young WAAF grabbed me around the neck and then burst into tears. Sobbing she said I was the image of her brother who had been killed. She was also pretty full, but I didn’t mind. She wouldn’t let me go even when a couple of the crew tried to pinch her from me. I remember Ned dancing in flying boots and falling over and unable to get up from the floor. The new girlfriend eventually passed out and had to be helped back to her hut by her quite unsteady friends. In the wee small hours of the morning, the party finally finished and we rolled off to our huts.  There were a lot of Americans at this base and as we passed their huts we saw them cart two unconscious girls inside. Dear, dear. Colin Allen disappeared at this stage and a hilarious search was made for him. We finally found his clothes spread all over the parade ground and him in his underpants, sound asleep in the toilet.  The next morning after repairs, we took off as shaky as the aircraft. On full oxygen, we got over our hangovers quickly and laughed at the thought of the mechanics faces when they saw all those tiny practice bombs on board. 

We finished the course much earlier than the other crews and Tom suggested to the adjutant that we should go on leave. This offer was refused, but Tom said he was dammed if the crew was going to wait for the rest to finish. So we went to London again on unofficial leave. There was hell to pay when we got back, but the Commanding Officer took the reasonable view that he was getting rid of us soon and there was no point taking the matter further. He did let Tom know what he thought of the attitude of the Australians. 

With our posting to No. 5 Lancaster Finishing School, Syreston, we were on our final stage of training. From my logbook, this lasted from April 1st to April 9th, but it seemed much longer to me. I guess we must have been there a while before flying commenced. 

I have fond memories of the “Elm Tree” a pub on the opposite side of the Trent from us. To get across the river the pub provided a launch with an electric outboard motor. There was a cage around the boat so that nobody would fall out, especially after a few hours of drinking. I got to know the publican and family quite well; the daughter was particularly friendly. 

My first mode of transport, a BSA 250cc motorcycle was purchased for 50 pounds while on the station. Shortly after Ned and I bought a 1928 Morris Minor sedan for 39 pounds. What happened to this vehicle I can’t remember, but I think Ned sold it to some other suckers? 

The bike was handy for touring the countryside and while not an exciting machine, was reasonably reliable. 

The other pub we sometimes frequented was the “Red Bull” about a two-mile walk from the station. On one occasion Ned rode a bike and at closing time the rest of us started walking back in a very dense fog. Ned went flying past on the bike and we heard an almighty crash to soon find him lying in a ditch. After picking him up and brushing him off, he set off once again only to find that, when we got back, he had crashed into the side of a hut at full speed. He was a lot worse off from the experience. 

Our stay at Syreston was a happy one, but we were apprehensive about the future, mainly because we wondered how we would measure up as a squadron crew. All our training had finished and it was now up to us to survive. Our posting was to 467 Squadron RAAF Waddington. The station Waddington is situated three miles outside Lincoln and a permanent RAF base. We left Syreston 20th April ’44, but due to a transport mix up arrived at a totally different squadron. After sorting out this problem arrived at Waddington.  After an introduction to the C.O. and administration staff and our Squadron Leader, we were given the job of placing bundles of metal strips, called “Window” into the aircraft that were flying this night. Normally a new crew could expect a few days familiarisation before flying on operations. However, a transport truck pulled up at the aircraft we were loading and the Flight Lieut. told us we would be flying that night. We looked at each other in dismay. God this wasn’t fair, the first day on the squadron and on our first op. We learned that our pilot was Wing Commander Tait DSO and 2 Bars, DFC 3 Bars, a real veteran. It was a normal procedure for an experienced pilot to take an inexperienced crew for their first couple of trips. He was known as a “Screen Pilot” and assessed the performance of the pilot and crew. It was bad enough to be flying, but with a pilot of his experience and God knows how many hours of operations, was nerve-wracking, to say the least. 

After our first briefing, we found the target was La Chapelle, a marshaling yard in Paris. Take off at 2200 hours with a bomb load of 14812 lbs and 1350 gallons of fuel. As we crossed the French coast, I obtained a pinpoint for the Navigator so he could check his course. There was some desultory flak, but nothing to speak of. Shells that seemed to be coming straight for us burst a long way off. Nearing Paris flak was a lot heavier but as yet no fighters. Just prior to the bombing run, W/C Tait told us through the intercom that the airspeed indicator had packed it in and he decided not to bomb. This was a disappointment but, as he explained, this was a precision bombing and he did not want our bombs falling short or overshooting because they could do untold damage to the civilian population. 

It was an anti-climax to jettison our bomb load on the Channel. So ended our first trip, fairly uneventful, but at least only 29 more to go.  The next morning on visiting the Bombing Leaders section to look at the photographs of the raid, only one stick of bombs had landed outside the marshaling yard and these landed on buildings occupied by Germans. No civilian lives were lost. Also on the blackboard was the good news “NO WAR TONIGHT’. Later on, we came to dread that blackboard. Everyone out to explore the local pubs in the village of Waddington. We now felt as though we were part of the squadron and could speak to the other crews on an equal footing. At least we thought so, but as time went by we realized that crews with 1 to 5 trips were regarded with friendly scorn.  On 22nd April there it was again “WAR TONIGHT”. W/C Tait was to be our pilot and this time our target was in Germany. At the briefing we heard, with some trepidation, we were going to Brunswick or “Braunschweig”, quite deep into Germany. We had heard all the stories before about the flak and fighters over German targets and the chances of getting back in one piece. 

As we crossed the coast of Denmark in a company with about 400 other aircraft, we encountered some flak from the flak ships and other coastal defenses. No effect was noticed except to the inner-man. As the bomb aimer, I had the best view of the crew, a perfect 180 degrees although the front turret restricted the view above somewhat. I was able to see things that the rest did not know were going on. I had, unfortunately, the best view of incoming flak and sometimes it's better not to know what is going on. 

The flight across Denmark was quiet until we reached Germany. So far I had no idea just how many searchlights could fit into what seemed a very small space. A few craft were coned, but for most of us they seemed to drift away. It was bad for the unfortunates who were caught as every anti-aircraft gun in the area had a go at them. I saw my first aircraft shot down in flames and it brought home the reality of what we were doing. On the run-up to the target, I could see that the city was already on firebombed by the first wave. It was an awesome sight. On the final fun it was: 

“Bomb Aimer to Pilot” 

“Bomb doors open” 

“On target” 

“Left left steady” 

“Right 5 degrees 

“Steady, steady” 

“Bombs gone” 

During this time the pathfinder master bomber was calling “Bomb the red, Bomb the red”. This being one of the incandescent markers dropped on the target by him as an aiming point. 

After the bombing, W/C Tait, much to my horror, said he was going down to assess the raid. We descended to almost low level and circled the city. It was a pretty ghastly sight at this height, fires still blazing, whole blocks still blazing and explosions everywhere. How we escaped I’ll never know, maybe due to his skill, but I know that for a second trip this was terrifying stuff. We reached home base without incident but shaken by the experience. This is the stuff heroes are made from and Tait certainly was, but to jeopardize an entirely new crew certainly was not. He did, however, congratulate us on our performance and said we were proficient enough to go on our own. 

I always found it difficult to sleep after a raid. Arriving back in the wee small hours of the morning or in daylight all pepped up. We also took Benzedrine tablets before and that sometimes made sleep difficult on return. Eyes aching from searching for fighters also did not help.  For the next few days, we were doing the exercises we were supposed to do before flying on an operation (op).

28/29-4-1944, St. Medard-en-Jalles: 

467 sq sent 13 a/c and 463 sq 14 a/c to join 88 Lancasters of 5 Group attacking an explosives factory at St. Medard-en-Jalles, near Bordeaux. Only 26 aircraft bombed the target because of haze and smoke. The master bomber ordered the remainder to retain their bombs. No Losses. *LM 440.  On 28th April we first flew by ourselves. The target Bordeaux was in the south of France approx. 200 kilometers from the Spanish border. Crossing the French coast near St. Malo we attracted some attention from enemy defenses, but only light flak. We flew over Brittany, skirting Rennes, as it was heavily defended, then over the coast again into the Bay of Biscay. 

It was a perfect moonlight night and flying over the sea, a few miles from the coast was quite beautiful. Nearing the target Ned received a message from Head Quarters that we were to circle Lake Gironde just north of Bordeaux. We finished up circling the lake for twenty minutes. This was a dangerous business with 600 aircraft doing the same thing, the chances of collision were big and I saw at least four aircraft burning on the ground. It seemed that there was some foul-up, either Pathfinders had been shot down, or could not properly identify the precise target. The upshot was that we were recalled without bombing and again 13,800 lbs. of bombs were dropped into the sea. It was, of course, too dangerous to land with a full load especially in the event of a crash landing. The return trip was uneventful, except we had an emergency landing at Hareford. 

29/30-4-1944, St.-Medard-en-Jalles: 

467 sq sent 8 a/c and 463 sq 11 a/c to join 68 Lancasters and 5 Mosquitos of 5 Group returning to the explosive factory. They were successful in a concentrated attack. No losses. LM 440.  29th April saw us off to Bordeaux again, but as German forces had been alerted by the previous night, our reception was warmer. This time we successfully bombed the target and obtained excellent results. The whole trip took 7 hrs 20 mins and was extremely tiring as, except for flying over England, we were in action all of the time. Even over England, you could not relax as the German Airforce made a practice of infiltrating the Bomber stream with fighter intruders and shooting down Bombers when helpless while landing. Our fighters were doing the same thing to them. 

1/2-5-1944, Toulouse: 

467 sq sent 9 a/c and 463 sq 11 a/c to join 131 Lancasters and 8 Mosquitos of 5 Group attacking an aircraft assembly factory and an explosives factory at Toulouse. Both targets were hit. No losses. LM448.

On the 1st of May, we were detailed to attack Toulouse again in the south of France and about 100 kilometers from Spain. The trip was similar to the two Bordeaux operations, but of 8 hours duration. I should mention at this stage that as well as the bombs we carried a photoflash. This was a long aluminum cylinder carried in a tube mid-aircraft. It was full of incandescent material and had the explosive power of a 250lb bomb; also it flashed at the equivalent of 1 million candle power. As the bomb release button was pressed, the photoflash was also released and the camera timed to run when it exploded. This resulted in a very clear photograph of the target and enabled the intelligence section to plot exactly where your bombs landed and indeed if you had bombed at all. It had been known for crews to release their load before reaching a heavily defended target and then return home. This was a very rare happening, but some people lacked the moral fortitude for combat.  I digress, but it is important to know how the flash worked as it has a bearing on one trip we did. 

My bombing results were good and so far, I had all aiming points, that is all bombs had fallen in the target area. Fifty or sixty yards short or over doesn’t make much difference when dropping high explosives. 

We had survived five trips and as it was said after five there was a better chance of completing a tour of thirty. Air Marshall Harris who was in charge of 5 Group of which our squadron was a member, said that if a crew completed five trips and bombed on the fifth, they had paid for their training. Small comfort if you had happened to get shot down on that one. 

3/4-5-1944, Mailly-le-Camp: 

467 sq sent 10 a/c and 463 sq 12 a/c to join a 1 and 5 Group attack with 346 Lancasters and 14 Mosquito markers on the German military camp near Mailly. The marking was good and the controller, W/C Chesire, ordered the force to bomb. 1500 tons of bombs were dropped accurately, 114 barrack buildings were hit, also ammunition dumps, and 37 tanks destroyed: 218 soldiers KIA, 156 serious injuries. The German report is long and detailed. The night fighters from a nearby field arrived during the bombing and 42 Lancasters were lost: 11.6 % of the force. 460 Squadron RAAF from Binbrook lost 5 of the 17 Lancasters they dispatched. 467 Squadron lost F/S C. Dickson and crew; 5 KIA, 1 POW, 1 Evaded. 

463 Squadron lost P/O Fryer and crew; 7 KIA, LM 445. 

3rd May, war again. This time the target was Mailly-le-Camp, not far from Paris. At the briefing we were told that a Panzer division had camped there and consisted of 20,000 German troops and tanks. The object was to destroy as many Germans and their equipment as possible. Most of us had second thoughts about bombing French targets because of the damage to the French population. This was different. Now we could really hurt the enemy and so it was with anticipation and some excitement that we took off.  After crossing the coast at 15,000ft, to avoid flak, we gradually descended to 8000’ approaching the target. Fighter opposition was fierce, although we were not attacked. Cannon fire from the fighters was distinctive, like a row of pretty blue lights. I saw many poor wretches being shot at and on fire. One of my friends, Stan Jolly, was shot down but survived. 

On the bombing run, I could see lines of burning huts and numerous explosions. At this stage, we were carrying a 4000lb BlockBuster and a mixture of 1000lb bombs and incendiaries. We were now flying at 5000’ and as the safety height of the BlockBuster was 4000’, any lower and we could have blown ourselves out of the sky. As it was, turbulence made the aircraft difficult for the pilot to control and extremely difficult for the bomb aimer to bomb with accuracy. Fighters and flak were very active on the way home, but we safely arrived back at the base. The next morning I anxiously went down to the bombing section to see the photographic results of my bombing. To my chagrin I had missed out on an aiming point, bombs were plotted just outside the target area. I put this down to air turbulence, but some consolation was that they had landed in a vehicle park. 

I heard from the French that months later they were still recovering bodies from the debris and that the Panzer division was virtually wiped out. 

6/7-5-1944 Sable-sur-Sarthe: 

467 sq sent 12 a/c and 463 sq 11 a/c to join 64 Lancasters and 4 marker Mosquitos in the 5 Group attack on an ammunition dump at Sable-sur-Sarthe which was destroyed by what crews described as one enormous explosion. No aircraft were lost? 729 

6th May after three days of bad weather and time spent with the crew repairing a wretched 1935 Ford 4 cylinder that I had purchased; Louailles was our next target. For some reason, I can’t remember a thing about this trip or even remember where it is. Obviously, it must have been a milk run, when nothing much happened. 

8/9-5-1944 Tours: 

467 sq. sent 11 a/c and 463 sq. 11 a/c to join the 5 Group attack with 58 Lancasters and 6 Mosquitos on the airfield at Lanveoc-Poulmic near Brest. The attack was accurate and 1 Lancaster lost. 

No loss from Waddington, LL792. 

Oh! But the next one I remember very well. On the 8th of May, we attacked Brest, a large German sea base on the tip of Brittany. The approach to the target was horrific. I had not so far seen flak like it. There was no way through it that I could see. Lines of lazily running strings of balls of fire that crisscrossed the sky ahead of us. For the first time, I knew we were going to get shot down and had the sickening feeling that I had forgotten my parachute. I reached over to its container and to my enormous relief, there it was. I put it on immediately mainly for a quick escape and as I was prone all the time to protect my chest from shrapnel, which occasionally rattled against the fuselage. 

The flak was fascinating to watch as it seemed to rise so slowly, but the nearer it got the faster it came until it passed in a flash. Somehow the lines of fire seemed to open up to allow a passage through it. A phenomenon was well known to experienced crews. The bombs landed amongst buildings, which I felt a reward for the fright we had.  As operational crew we were entitled to nine days leave every six weeks, extra food rations and petrol coupons. With relief, we could look forward to no flying and nine days in London. 

I loved the times we spent on leave in London. It really was a fun time. The “Cheshire Cheese” on Fleet Street was one of our favorites, but we also visited as many as we could. Every pub had a piano and a great time was had by all singing around it, especially after ten or twelve pints. English beer then gave you a beautiful glow rather than feeling drunk. Leaving the pubs at the closing time meant trying to find your way back to where you were staying, in a complete blackout. The streets were always crowded with people, good-humouredly bumping into each other. You sometimes were lucky to bump into a soft body, grab it, a quick kiss and on your way. It could also be the other way around. I’m sure the girls loved it too. Occasionally you found one who was more passionate than others and wouldn’t let go. It was just a time that will never be repeated. 

Breakfast was usually a bottle of beer and a “wakey-wakey” tablet (Benzedrine) than a round of pubs until nighttime. While it may seem as though we drank too much, it was the only way to forget what we were doing. Even the most temperate became drinkers before too long. Really a non-drinking crew very rarely seemed to survive for too long. It has been said that most Air Force personnel who were charged with LMF (Lack of Moral Fibre) were non-drinkers. Fortunately, LMF was rare.  Our leave was over now and back to war. We arrived back at base to find that we were going to Duisburg on 21st May. 

21/22-5-1944 Duisburg 

467 sq. sent 16 a/c and 463 15 a/c to join the Main Force attack on Duisburg with 510 Lancasters and 22 Mosquito markers. 

The target was cloud-covered but the Mosquito Oboe sky markers were effective and the raid successful. 

467 sq lost P/O Harris and crew: 7 KIA 

463 sq lost P/O Pratten and crew: 7 KIA and F/O Archay and crew: 7 KIA. LM 119 Now Duisburg is in the notorious Rhur Valley, the industrial heart of Germany where it was said you could put your wheels down and taxi on the flak. Duisburg was defended by some 2000 ack guns and the best fighter pilots the German Air Force had. To give credit where it is due, German night fighters were very efficient indeed. 

After crossing Denmark we ran a gauntlet of anti-craft fire, but fighters seemed to be holding off. Several aircraft were lost on the way. On the approach to the target, which was then on fire, the sky was a bright orange-red. It was almost as light as daytime and I could see fighters attacking others, but while the gunfire was very heavy, I felt confident that we would go through unscathed, which was the case. However, about forty aircraft were shot down. This was our ninth trip and still a long way to go. 

22/23-5-1944 Brunswick: 

467 sq sent 15 a/c and 463 sq 14 a/c in the 5 Group attack with 225 Lancasters and 10 Mosquito markers on Brunswick.  The raid was a failure. The weather was predicted clear over the target, but when the force arrived, it was completely cloud-covered. The master bomber had radio failure and the bombing was scattered. 

5.5 % of the force was lost none from 467/463. LM 119 

22nd May saw us on our way to Brunswick once more. The usual hairy trip through Germany, plenty of fighters, plenty of guns. This time, however, we ran into a belt of searchlights stretching from Bremen on the coast to Osnabruk about 100 kilometers long. A turkey shoot for fighters as the dreaded master light, of blue colour, suddenly lit up and immediately coned an aircraft. We managed to get through in one piece and bombed. The return route fortunately took us away from the searchlights flying up to the North Sea, avoiding Bremen and Wilhemshaven. The trip home over the sea was a lot safer than by land. On this occasion, 35 crew failed to return. 

We had two days rest due to weather conditions before flying on practice exercises. When I say rest, it does not mean we lolled about all day. There were still practical exercises in escaping from a dummy fuselage, flying practice in the link trainer and also machine gun practice and either rifle or revolver practice on the 25-yard range. It was pretty rotten weather with rain, fog, and electrical storms. 

27/28-5-1944, Nantes: 

467 sent 17 a/c and 463 sq 14 a/c to join 100 Lancasters and 4 Mosquito markers attacking the rail junction and workshops at Nantes. 

The first 50 bombed so accurately that the master bomber ordered the remainder of the force to bring their bombs home 

No aircraft lost from Waddington 

The main force attacked five other targets. Total sorties for the night were 1,112. 

2.5% lost. LM 119 It wasn’t until 27th May that we were briefed to attack Nantes. The target was railway marshalling yards once again. When we took off it was fairly light and an electrical storm was in progress. It was fascinating to see from 6000’ lightning strike the ground. I had not realised before the number of ground strikes during a storm like that. The whole trip was of six hours duration and proved to be reasonably quiet. We had now done our 11th op and were entitled to call ourselves veterans. Actually, we were one of the longest surviving crews at the time. 

Following in quick succession was Cherbourg on the 28th, target the seaport and on 31st to Saumur. 

31/5 – 1-6-1944 Saumur: 

467 sq sent 15 a/c and 463 sq 12 a/c to join 82 Lancasters and 4 Mosquitos attacking the railway junction at Saumur, which was destroyed without loss. Meanwhile Main Force attacked five targets, railways and radio stations. 

Losses were 1.3 percent. LM 450 

The target over a river. This was not a successful raid as the river mud absorbed the impact of the bombs. We were glad to see the end of the 13th trip.  3-4 /6-1944, Ferme-d’Urville 

467 sq sent 13a/c and 463 sq 13 a/c in the 96 Lancasters and 4 Pathfinder Mosquitos of 5 Group to the important German signals station at Ferme-d’Urville.  Three of the Oboe Mosquitos placed their markers perfectly and the station was destroyed. 

No loss from this raid. DV 372 

June 3 our target was Ferme-d’Urville on the Pas de Calais. On this occasion, we successfully bombed Flying bomb launching sites. 

5/6-6-1944, St. Pierre-du-Mont: 

467 sq sent 14 a/c and 463 sq 14 a/c bombing coastal batteries at St. Pierre-du-Mont in the Main Force attack with 1,211 aircraft on batteries at Fontenay, Houlgate, La Pernell, Longues, Maisey, Merville, Mont Fleury, Pointe-du-Hoc, Outerham, St. Martin-de-Varevilles, and St. Pierre-du-Mont. 

At least 5,000 tons of bombs were dropped the greatest tonnage in one night so far in the war. 

F/L L. Hawes of 467 sq carried F/O Lendrum and P/O Morris, photographers of the RAF Film Unit, and came down to 3,000 ft below the cloud to give them an opportunity to shoot useful film.

In the early hours of 6th June, the Allied Armies landed on five beaches of Normandy. The armies were ashore before the bombers had returned to their bases at 0700 hours. 

No losses from Waddington. 

June 5th we were detailed to attack Pierre-du-Mont, gun emplacements on the French coast, forming part of German anti-invasion defenses. We took off at about 0230 hours on the 6th and were timed to arrive over the target at 0515 hours. The weather was shocking, thick cloud all the way and we began to ice up badly. The ice was breaking off the wings and hitting the aircraft with bangs, also my compartment was thick with ice and I had no visibility at all. It would, under those conditions, be impossible to bomb. Tom, our pilot, decided to descend below cloud level into warmer air. At about 4000’ we flew around for twenty minutes or so until the ice melted. 

Immediately we saw a sight that never will be seen again. Hundreds and hundreds of ships in an area twenty miles long and seven miles wide. The invasion of Europe had started. 

At this stage of the trip, we were very late and not another aircraft in the vicinity. I obtained a pinpoint crossing the coast at what is now known as Omaha beach. Mark plotted a course for the target which soon appeared, but bomb damage seemed to be light. It was full daylight and it was a perfect bombing run. I could see a radar mast still standing and aimed for it. It was a perfect drop, the bombs forming a line running up to and through the radar installation. I was unable to assess the damage but Col, the rear gunner and Mark reported seeing the mast topple over. That was our contribution to D-Day. 

However, there was still a light glowing on the bombing panel which meant that one bomb had not dropped. I removed the inspection panel to the Bomb Bay and saw one 1000lb bomb still remaining. Jettison bars were activated, but no result. Mark also tried to release it through an access panel in the body of the aircraft, but again no result. We opened the bomb doors again and flew out to sea away from the invasion force. Jinking all over the sky to get the dammed thing to drop did not work either. Now, this was pretty hairy as we had to land with a bomb on board. Arriving back at the squadron 30 minutes late, we radioed the information to alert emergency services. We went into our usual landing pattern as carefully as possible. On the landing there was a slight thump somewhere aft. The landing had finally released the bomb that was only retained by the bomb bay doors. Ground crew had to work gingerly to remove it safely. 

6/7-6-1944, Argentan: 

467 sq sent 17 a/c and 463 sq 19 a/c to join 1,065 bombers attacking German positions. 

5 Group bombed Argentan without loss. DV 372

The same night we attacked Argentan in an effort to assist invasion forces by bombing road junctions, railway yards etc. The object was to disrupt access by German tanks to the slight bridgehead held by allied troops. The trip itself was uneventful, but two in one day was getting a bit much after nearly nine hours flying over enemy territory. 

8/9-6-1944, Rennes: 

467 sq sent 14 a/c and 463 sq 15 a/c with 483 bombers attacking railway yards at six points to prevent German reinforcements reaching Normandy. 5 Group attacked the rail junction at Rennes with success. 

A 467 sq aircraft flown by P/O H. Parkinson was hit by flak. The crew attempted a crash landing back at Waddington, but the aircraft was almost uncontrollable and the landing was heavy. F/S Mossenson was the only survivor. 6 KIA 

F/O Sanders of 463 sq had a tire blow out on takeoff, but had reached just sufficient speed to make a risky takeoff. The control tower personnel had a moment's worry as the aircraft barely missed hitting the tower. 

617 sq used the 12000lb “Tallboy” bomb for the first time in this raid on the Saumur tunnel. The raid was prepared in great haste because a German Panzer unit was expected to move through the tunnel. 617 dropped the “Tallboys” accurately. One bomb penetrated the roof of the tunnel, exploding underground and creating a miniature earthquake that brought down a huge quantity of rock and soil and blocked the rail. DV 372. 

A day’s rest then off to Rennes on the 8th of June. The target was similar, the disruption of transport communications. On the return to England, we were informed that our base was fogged in and the whole bomber force was diverted to an aerodrome near the Scottish border that had fog-dispensing equipment (FIDO). Arriving there we could see several aircraft burning on the ground and we did not like the idea of circling in company with about 400 others. Tom decided that we would fly south and take our chances of finding a place where the fog was clearing. After a mayday call, we heard from our old training base that the fog was lifting and should be clear enough to land in thirty minutes. Petrol was getting low as we had used 200 gallons per hour on an average. It was necessary to land immediately. How Tom brought the aircraft down I’ll never know as I was about 4’ ahead of him and could not see anything but dense fog. It was a remarkable landing and confirmed my faith in his flying ability.  We had now completed our 17th op and were the longest surviving crew on the 467 sqn. The others called us the “flak happy” crew. I had a photograph taken around this time which I later destroyed. It showed a gaunt figure with a drawn thin face and dark circles under each eye. The strain showed even though at the time I did not feel it.

10/11-6-1944, Orleans: 

467 sq sent 14 a/c and 463 sq 16 a/c in the 532 bombers attacking four rail yards.  5 Group concentrated on Orleans, seriously delaying German supplies. 

P/O/ Fletcher and crew were lost from 463 sq.: 1 KIA, 4 POW, 2 evaded capture and returned to base. DV 372. 

No rest, as on the 10th we attacked Orleans. Our target, railway yards, etc. and had to be accurate because this historic town was not to be damaged. On the bombing run we were attacked for the first time by two JU 88-night fighters. As they came into the attack Ned picked them up on radar and called to the pilot “Corkscrew Starboard”. This was our basic evasive manoeuvre. A violent dive to starboard down 500’, a roll then down 500’, roll and climb 500’, port roll starboard 500’, all repeated while under attack. We avoided the main attack, but a loud bang indicated a hit somewhere. Our port inner motor had been hit and stopped dead. The prop was feathered and we continued on to bomb. A safe return and on inspection the next day showed that a stray cannon shell had hit it. 

12/13-6-1844, Poitiers: 

467 sq. sent 16 a/c and 463 sq 16 a/c in the 5 Group attack on the rail yards at Poitiers, now listed in the RAF history as one of the most accurate attacks of the series. 

Main force meanwhile attacked Amiens/St. Roch, Amiens/Longueau, Arras, Caen, and Cambrai.  It is interesting to note that, with the exception of Caen, all these targets were the sites of well-known battles of earlier wars and Caen was soon to be the scene of fierce fighting. 

The total effort for the night was 1,083 sorties. LM 119. 

Our next target was Poitiers on the 12th of June. This town was familiar to me as my father had fought there in the first world war with the 1st A.I.F. I remember that he told me there had been 5000 Australian casualties on one day and I just prayed that I was not going to be another. However, this was not to be and we had a reasonably quiet trip on return. 

14/15-6-1944, Aunay-sur-Odon: 

467 sq sent 16 a/c and 463 sq 17 a/c in a hastily prepared raid in response to a call from the army that there were strong German positions in front of them at Aunay.  223 aircraft of 5 Group attacked the positions with good markings and accuracy. The target was completely crushed and thereby countering the army saying, “What bloody Air Force…..?” when it had not received the help it wanted. 

No aircraft were lost. LM 119

On the 14th of June, we were detailed to attack Aunay-Sur-Odon. The British army was to cross the Odon River at this point and it was up to Bomber Command to destroy the bridge and road junctions on the approaches. All told it was a pretty quiet trip. 

15/16-6-1944, Chatellerault: 

467 sq sent 15 a/c and 463 sq sent 16 a/c in the 5 Group attack on fuel dumps at Chatellerault destroying 8 sites.  Marking by Mosquitos was very detailed and accurate. 

No aircraft were lost. LM 119 

The next night we went to Chatellerault somewhere near Orleans and a trip of 6 ½ hours. I can’t remember anything particular about this target. This was our 21st operation, real veterans of the squadron. 

We received good news the next morning. Our very own aircraft was waiting for us. Up to this stage, we had been flying any spare aircraft available. We could not wait to get out to our dispersal area to see it. There it was, brand new and only eleven hours flying time on the clock. It was totally black and to us like a new Cadillac. The flight test was perfect and it had new type propellers that would give a higher ceiling. 

On the 18th we were advised that we would shortly be going on a low-level raid into Germany and practice was scheduled for that morning. This was great; an authorized low-level flight was very rare. Our ground crew asked if they could go along with us and this too was authorized. We took off and immediately descended to ground level after reaching flying speed. This was exciting stuff and the view from my compartment superb. Flying at 200 mph and at 20 – 30’ was thrilling. As we roared over the countryside at this height, frightening everybody and everything in sight, certain incidents stick in the mind. Like the time we flew over someone plowing a field. He jumped off the plow and the horse bolted ruining his once straight lines. Also flying over a truck carrying hay – most of it was sucked into the air.  We had so much fun that on returning to our base, the pilot requested permission to go around the course again. Permission was granted and off we set again. I changed places with the rear gunner so he could have a better view of this time. From the rear turret, we seemed to be awfully low. Flying over a town, I remember seeing chooks rolling along one back yard and a shower of leaves as we flew over a tree in somebody’s back yard. Then down into the canal and waving at a train full of people on the bank above us. 

As we flew over the coast into the wash, I felt that we were too low. Turning the turret I could see spume being sucked up by the propellers. Just then Tom said there was a small boat ahead and he was going to shoot him up. I was just about to tell him that we were already too low when there was a God almighty bang. We had hit the water and I could see small pieces of aircraft on the water, also our port inner prop was bent right back. We staggered and shuddered into the air again and managed to reach home. Getting out we inspected the damage. There were small branches sticking out from our port wing and a few panels missing from our starboard wing. The motor was wrecked and our ground crew promising that they would never fly again – at least with us. As you can imagine there was hell to pay. Tom was paraded before the Station Commander and there was talk of a court martial. 

19/20-6-1944, Watten: 

467 sq sent 14 a/c and 463 sq 15 a/c in a special attack by 5 Group on a large reinforced concrete flying bomb store at Watten near St. Omer. 

617 sq dropped their “Tallboy” bombs, but visibility was nil and 467/463 squadrons were recalled without bombing. 

F/O D. Demally and crew with P/O J. Mitchell of 467 sq flying as the second pilot was lost. 8 KIA. 

The flying bomb attacks on southern England and London had started six days after the invasion. The only practical defense was to wreck the launching sites and storage dumps, but they were well concealed and built of reinforced concrete. Bomber Command carried out relentless attacks on the sites whenever the weather permitted. It was not until the Army overran the area that the menace was cleared. LM100 

June 19th saw us taking off for Watten in Germany at a low-level. Not quite as low as before and this time flying someone else’s aircraft. Over the sea was quite beautiful, as visibility was good. Nearing the target we were recalled without bombing. On the return flying over a road in Germany which was quite visible, I could see the lights of a vehicle approaching. I stood up in the front turret, sighted on the road and pressed the triggers. The twin machine guns fired and lines of tracers raced along the road and the vehicle ran into them. A flash of fire and then we were away into the night. Shortly after and flying at about 300’, we were attacked by a fighter. A very intrepid fighter pilot indeed. He disappeared without any effect on us. The rest of the trip was uneventful except that nearing the English coast; an aircraft flying alongside of us caught fire. It must have been a Pathfinder as it started to spew green and yellow fire from underneath. It crashed into the sea. 

21/22-6-1944, Gelsenkirchen: 

467 sq sent 17 a/c and 463 sq 17 a/c in the 5 Group attack on the synthetic oil plant at Gelsenkirchen. 

Bomber Command diaries claim that the attack was on Wesseling nearby, although some aircraft may have been detailed for Gelsenkirchen. The target was cloud covered and the 5 Group low level marking could not be used and no results were observed. British Official History, Vol. IV, P.323, records there was a 20% loss from the plant.  12.7% of the force was lost. 

467 sq lost F/L L. Byrne and crew 6 KIA, 1 evaded. 

463 sq lost F/L E.A.L. Smith and crew 6 KIA, 1 POW. LM 100

Again into Germany on the 21st. The target this time Gelsenkirchen in the Rhur valley. We were not very keen about this as the weather was lousy and the target heavily defended. By the time we got there, the first two waves of bombers had bombed and the sky was ablaze with red. On the bombing run, the target was obscured by cloud and I could not locate the markers. I told Tom we would have to go around again. He did not like it one bit, but then I was in charge while bombing. The next run was better and I could see some fire below. It was a perfect bombing, the incendiaries falling ahead of the fire, the Cookie (4000 lbs.) on the fire and remaining incendiaries just over. On turning away I could see another Lancaster ahead and below flying through the heavy flak. It was incredible, one moment it was there and the next the sky was empty except for a small patch of smoke. Although we did not know it at the time, this was to be our last time over Germany, for which I thank God. The enemy night fighters were now totally proficient and death was only a matter of time. 

22/23-6-1944, Limoges: 

467 sq sent 16 a/c and 463 sq 15 a/c in the 5 Group attack on the rail yards at Limoges. 

The target was accurately hit. 

No loss from 467/463 squadrons. LM 101 

Flying to Limoges on the 23rd I remember seeing a Heinkel 111K directly below us. I tried to get a shot at him, but could not depress the guns far enough to fire. I told Tom to throttle back to let him get ahead, but the crafty bugger kept station with us. It was a German medium bomber that had infiltrated the stream and no doubt was radioing our course and airspeed. Plenty of fighter activity, but once again we got away scot-free. 

27/28-6-1944, Vitry: 

467 sq sent 16 a/c and 463 sq 14 a/c in the 5 Group attack on the rail yards at Vitry. Meanwhile, the Main Force attacked six flying bomb sites and two rail yards.  From a total of 1,049 aircraft, 0.9% were lost. 

463 sq lost F/O Rowe and crew. All of the crew evaded capture and returned to Waddington. LM 373 

On the 27th we were detailed to attack marshaling yards and storage depots at Vitry le Francois. This was a disaster. Apart from out losses, pathfinder markers had landed in the town. It was said later that Germans had set a spoof marker near the town. However, on this occasion, we bombed the town and 900 French people lost their lives. Later on, the French asked me if I was on that raid, but I denied it. It seemed more diplomatic at the time.

29-6-1944, Beauvoir: 

(First daylight attack from 467/463)  467 sq sent 14 a/c and 463 sq 14 a/c to join the 286 Lancasters and 19 marker Mosquitos attacking two flying bomb sites and a store at Beauvoir in daylight.  467 sq lost F/O G. Edwards and crew: 3 KIA, 4 POW  Our first daylight trip was to Beauvoir on the 29th. It really was a sight to see. Hundreds of aircraft spread all over the sky – the bomber stream. A lot of people had the idea that we flew in formation like the Yanks. At night this was impossible and in daylight, we did not have the experience. When we arrived over the target dense clouds of smoke and dust concealed it. I bombed what I thought was the center, only to find out later I was 3 miles short. A very poor result for all. 

Now on leave. Instead of going to London this time Col Allen and I decided to have a trip in the northern counties in my Ford. It was an enjoyable leave staying at small village pubs and private homes. Ford gave me all the trouble in the world. A broken big end had to be repaired and it must have used 40 gallons of oil. On our return trip we stayed in a very ancient house in Sherwood Forest in a very picturesque village in the middle of the forest. It was so old we almost expected to see Robin Hood and his merry band. 

We returned to the squadron on 11th July to find we would be flying the next night. We were now nearing the end of our tour and anxious about the target. 

12/13-7-1944, Culmont-Chalendry: 

467 sq sent 12 a/c and 463 sq 12 a/c to join 378 bombers attacking railway targets. 

5 Group attacked Culmont-Chalendry, and it was accurately bombed. 

No losses from 467/463. LM 119 

On 12th July we bombed Chalendry, a town near the Italian border and a flight of 7 ¾ hours. Once again I remember little about this trip and can only assume it was fairly uneventful. 

The weather was rotten for the next five days and only cleared on the 18th when we were briefed to attack Caen by daylight. 

18-7-1944, Caen 

467 sq sent 19 a/c and 463 12 a/c to join 942 bombers attacking five fortified villages in the area east of Caen, through which the British Second Army troops were about to make an armored attack.

The raid took place at dawn in clear conditions, and 6,880 tons of bombs were dropped. Elements of two German divisions, the 16th Luftwaffe Field Division and the 21st Panzer Division were badly affected by the bombing. This raid was considered the most useful carried out by Bomber Command in direct support of the Allied armies.  W/C Forbes of 463 sq. led the force from 5 Group in this attack. He carried S/L Green, a 5 Group Officer, as an observer. 

Other support operations were flown and the total effort was 1,052 aircraft. 0.8% were lost, none from 467/463 squadrons. R5485. 

v The target, the northern outskirts of the town, consisting of a rectangle 4000 yards long and 500 yards wide and bombing 6000 yards ahead of British group troops. This rectangle was known to contain enemy defensive and HQ locations. The sight of 460 aircraft in one huge stream must have been terrifying for enemy troops. As we came in on our bombing run, a Lancaster above us opened up his bomb bay doors. Mark yelled out that he was dropping his load right on top of us. It was too late to take evasive action. One bomb of 1000lb dropped between our mainplane and tailplane and the others just missing us. It was too close a shave and we would have liked to find out who the stupid bastard was. 

We heard later that the raid had been an enormous success. When British troops entered the town shortly after, some of the German defenses were still stunned hours afterward. Surviving German troops north of the town were left without food, petrol or ammunition. Most of the gun emplacements were eliminated and extensive damage done to HQ installations. One regiment of the 16th German Air Force division was completely wiped out. 

18/19-7-1944, Revigny 

467 sq sent 8 a/c and 463 sq 8 a/c to join 5 Group attack on the railway junction at Revigny, while 972 bombers attacked targets at Wesseling, Sholven-Buer, Acquet, and Aulonoy. 

The Waddington force attacked Revigny accurately, but night fighters intercepted them and 24 Lancasters were lost from this force of 200 aircraft: 22%. 619 sq from Dunholme Lodge lost 5 aircraft from their force of 13. 

467 sq lost F/O T.E. Davis and crew: 2 KIA, 2 POW, 3 Evaded and F/O D. Beharrie and crew: 3 KIA, 3 POW, 1 Evaded. 

463 sq lost F/O Gifford and crew: 7 KIA; and F/O Worthington and crew: 6 KIA, 1 POW. 

Four crews were lost from Waddington from a force of 16, a 25% loss. R5485. 

On our return to base, we were told that we would be flying again that night. At the briefing we found that the target was oil storage tanks at Revigny about 200 k’s east of Paris, also we learned that 1 Group and 3 Group had unsuccessfully bombed on the previous two nights. This wasn’t good, as we were sure that the Germans would make preparations for the third time. They had, of course, by transferring more night fighters to their base at Dijon. 

Take off time was 22:56 hours and I had the horrible feeling that this time we would be lucky to get back. It had been said that a lot of aircrews could feel when their time was up. Shortly after takeoff, I panicked when I thought that I had forgotten my parachute. I hastily checked, but there it was. I clipped it on my chest straight away because of the feeling that I would need it was still there. This, except for Brest, was the first time I felt real fear. 

As we crossed the French coast near the invasion area, the action started straight away. German bombers above us dropped fighter flares that lit up the sky like daylight. The first Lancaster was shot down in flames and fighters were attacking others. The flares marked out our route ahead of us and there was no escaping them. The Germans obviously knew where we were headed. More aircraft were being attacked and set on fire. We logged 5 going down in much less than 5 minutes. So far nothing had happened to us. 

On the approach to the target some five miles short, aircraft were still being shot down all over the place. A Lancaster on our starboard and about 100 yards away was attacked and set on fire. For a few seconds, there was a sheet of flame from his engine and then darkness. His fire extinguishers had worked and the fire put out. We all gave a cheer. I sat back on the Glycol tank and started pushing out “Window” through the chute. That moment the 30mm cannon shells smashed into us from the rear to the front underneath. The noise was terrific and heartstopping. My front turret disappeared in a burst of fire and I could feel the jar of explosions in the bomb bay. I looked through the inspection panel to see that it was on fire. The port wing was also on fire. Tom pressed the fire extinguishers and feathered the port inner engine. No good, the flames were getting larger. 

We reported in turn to the pilot to say we were O.K., but no reply from Col, the rear gunner. Ned was told to check and found him slumped over his guns obviously dead from the shambles of his turret. I cannot describe my feelings at this time, but I know that I was very calm after the initial shock.  Tom called over the intercom that the fire was out of control and then it was “Emergency” “Emergency” “Jump” “Jump”. These were the last words I ever heard from him.  “Bomb Aimer going” I reported, as did the others. 

The front escape hatch was in the Bomb Aimers compartment and underneath him. It had a ring pull bowden cable that theoretically released the hatch when you pulled back on the ring. This did not happen now, the dammed thing caught crosswise and jammed. I pushed down on it as hard as I could, panic helping gives me extra strength. I’m sure I tore metal as I pushed it free. Straddling the hatch prepared to jump; I checked my parachute, helmet undone, and revolver secure. There was a momentary hesitation as I looked into the black hole, but the roar of the flames gave me an added incentive to jump. My hand on the ripcord I did a rolling dive into the darkness. I was floating free, quite a pleasant feeling really. I caught a fleeting glimpse of our aircraft and marveled that it was still flying. I counted to ten and pulled the ripcord. For a split second, nothing happened while I wondered if it was going to open. It opened with a loud crack and almost cut me in halves. My helmet was torn off almost taking my ears with it; my gun fell out of my blouse giving me a crack on the head. Swaying in the chute I tried to orientate myself, the noise was fantastic, bombs going off, cannon fire from the fighters and the place lit up like a Christmas tree. I could see by the light of the flames that I was falling straight towards what I thought was a river. I tried to steer away from it by pulling one side of the harness, but too much air spilled out of my chute and it started to oscillate badly. I gave that away and just waited to see what would happen. My only thoughts were that I would be in France any second and what were my Mother and Father going to think. 

As I was falling I seemed to be headed for a river between two mountains. Suddenly I could smell pine trees, the river disappeared and before I could prepare for it, I hit the ground. I had landed in the middle of a bitumen road in the middle of a forest. The road my river and the trees my mountains. At least they looked like it.  It was unbelievable, I was in France. The sky was now clear of aircraft except for a lone fighter firing at phantoms. It was now about 2.30 a.m. and totally dark. I lit a cigarette and sat down to think about what I was going to do. Which way was which? I didn’t have a clue and after about 5 cigarettes I hid my parachute underneath some bushes on the side of the road, untied my revolver and threw it away and, worst of all, buried my wallet containing 40 pounds. I started walking although the pain in my back from the rough landing was quite severe. After about 3 hours I came to a small village, it was still reasonably dark, but almost dawn. As I walked through the village I could see people peering through the curtains, but nobody came outside. 

It was getting light now and I was dammed hungry, but first things first. I ripped off my stripes and wings, tore the tops off my flying boots and tossed them all into the bush. I always carried my forage cap inside my blouse and decided to put it on. The blue uniform now looked quite German or Italian.  Still hungry I got out my escape kit and had a few malted milk tablets and sucked condensed milk from a small tube. I still did not know where I was headed and also didn’t care very much either. The sun was now shining and I thought it would be about 8 am. The countryside was very pretty and I could see vineyards in the distance and a very attractive large house. An old Frenchman came towards me riding a bike. A quick “Bonjour” each and he rode off. A little later a German truck approached loaded with troops.

My heart sank, there was no time to run or hide, as there was no cover either side. I waited for it to slow down and thought that my escape plans were going to be short-lived. To my complete surprise it didn’t slow down, but as it passed I got a cheery wave from the soldiers in the back of the truck. I waved back still hoping they thought the uniform was German. I had some trouble after as some of the French thought the same thing. I had been walking for about six hours and was getting very tired and thirsty. In one of the fields was a horse trough, so I had a few more milk tablets and quenched my thirst from a horse trough. So far I had only seen one house since leaving the village. I knew some large towns were in the area, but where the hell were they? As I walked I could see a bridge over the canal and it looked like a good place for a rest and a smoke. I had an ample supply of cigarettes as I always flew with six-packs in my blouse. As I reached the bridge there was a tiny village on the other side not visible from the road. In various lectures, we were told that we might get assistance from the local Gendarme. I decided that I would take this chance if I could find one. 

A few minutes later an oldish man approached the bridge and we exchanged “Bonjours”. He was about to pass when I put a hand on his shoulder and said I was RAF and where was the Gendarme. He said, “Why the Gendarme?” I just shrugged having reached the limit of my French. He grabbed my hand and pulled me under the bridge. He told me to stay there and went away. After 15 minutes or so he arrived back with about six local men. 

They tried to interrogate me in French, but it was pretty hopeless. Mostly it was in sign language as I tried to explain what had happened to me. I had schoolboy French, but an Aussie accent, which they couldn’t understand. I drew a map of Australian in the dirt to explain where I came from. Fortunately for me, they got the message and took me to a nearby cottage. 

The owners were very kind and gave me a decent breakfast. I was given a cutthroat razor and shown where I could shave. It was the first time I had ever used one and after a few nicks managed to get the hang of it. When I asked to use the toilet or “Le Pissoir” I was shown a hole in the floor in the main room and told to go ahead. As I was bursting, with the whole family looking on and the young girls showing particular interest, I had the most satisfying pee I’ve ever had. By now I was starting to fall asleep, as I had not been asleep for 48 hours. I was shown a bed and gratefully went to sleep. When I woke up the whole population of the village was there just standing and watching me. I felt like a Martian, they watched and commented on everything I did. The wine was produced and soon a little party was in progress. 

I was given to understand that later that afternoon after work finished in the vineyards, I would be taken away in the worker's truck. 

At about 5:15 pm the vehicle arrived. It was a cut-down motor car with a utility back and canvas cover. A huge gas producer was in a separate trailer behind it. The car would have once been a superb luxury vehicle. Quick introductions and we were on our way. These guys were taking an enormous risk and would have faced the death penalty if the Germans stopped us. However, we arrived safely at a medium-sized village Surmais-Les-Bains. Population approximately 1000 and very old. On arrival, I was bundled out of the truck and was told to pretend I was drunk, so I have half carried a short distance to Rue 6th September. They knocked on the door of No. 10 and were greeted by Jean Perard. He was told that I was RAF and that he would have to hide me. A hurried conference inside the home and, from what I could understand, I was the last person he wanted anything to do with.

As he was a member of the Resistance, he really had no option but to take me in. Resigned to this fact he greeted me warmly and introduced me to Hortense, his wife, his elderly mother-in-law and his daughter Micheline, 18 months old. For a time I was rather confused and feeling like the uninvited guest at a wedding. Things were rather cool between us after the initial shock. It was when I said, in French, that I was an Australian and my father had fought in France in 1915, that their attitude changed – “Australie” Australie” said Jean “Et vous parlez Francais”. They could not get over the fact that we had come so far to help them and that I could speak a little French. Grandmere, as they called Hortense’s mother, said she remembered the Australians. 

The story is now taken up by Joy, Bill’s wife: …………This is where Bill’s story ends abruptly. Small grand-children destroyed the remainder of the original document. 

According to what I remember his telling me on the rare occasions he spoke about it, Bill was sheltered by the Perard Family for two to three weeks. Because it then became too dangerous for them after that (German patrols to their village had increased – they were searching out enemy aircrew in Bill’s situation).  Bill was taken to an old farmhouse where he met up with members of his crew – Mark Edgerly and (Ned) Denis Kelly. I’m not sure how long they were hidden there, but I think it was one to two weeks. When it became too dangerous to remain at the farmhouse, they made a break across an open field to thick woods where they hid for two to three days. They had little or no food and when they heard shots being fired nearby, not knowing if they were the target, made another break. Eventually, they were picked up by an advancing American patrol en route to Paris. 

During this exercise, the Americans’ orders were to search deserted farmhouses for any remaining German soldiers. A joint decision was made that Bill was to do the search/s. He told me how terrified he was approaching these cottages and entering now knowing the consequences. 

Eventually, in early September, they arrived in Paris and were taken to the Hotel Meurice which the Americans had taken back from the Germans. Bill was in Paris for about two days before being flown to England. He was immediately interrogated by MI 5 and MI 6. Once satisfied by the veracity of his statement Bill eventually left the U.K. on the “Queen Elizabeth” bound for the US.

Arriving in the United States Bill and Artie Weaver checked in at the Waldorf Astoria, staying there approximately two weeks living the high life. As the money began to dwindle their accommodation became less salubrious, so they went from the Waldorf Astoria to the Hotel Knickerbocker, then down, down to 64th Street. During this time I think I remember Bill telling me he and Artie were also guests of wonderful American families on frequent occasions.  From New York, after about six to eight week they received orders to travel by train to San Francisco to board a ship for Australia. Bill had his 21st birthday on board ship on the trip home. He had left home for training in Paulson, Manitoba, Canada when he was 18. 

During the voyage from San Francisco Bill met Bill Evans (RAAF) with whom he remained friends all his life. 

The first Australian port of call, as far as I can remember, was Brisbane. Another firm friend Bill made en route was Stan Jolley (RAAF) who was the son of the Lord Mayor of Brisbane. When they disembarked, it seemed all the press was there to meet Stan so his and Bill’s photo appeared on the front page of the Brisbane newspapers. Stan and Bill remained friends for life. 

When the ship docked in Sydney Bill traveled by train home to Narrandera NSW, where his family was waiting to meet him, but at first, passed him on the platform not recognizing him - he was so thin and gaunt! 

After his tour of duty, Bill rose from Flt. Sergeant to Warrant Officer and was to be given the rank of office when peace was declared in August 1945. Bill applied to continue with the RAAF after peace was declared, but at that time this was disallowed, so he rejoined the Commonwealth Bank. 

Passages written in Bold were taken from a book titled “467/463 Squadron RAAF” by H.M. (Nobby) Blundell. The book was written to commemorate the 50th anniversary of V.E. Day (Victory in Europe). 

The serial numbers at the end of these paragraphs were the serial numbers of the Lancasters in which Bill flew.

© 2019 David McGowen

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