Stories & Anecdotes
Stories from Bob Norman - 459
(1) The blankets
Whilst in Sarafaud Hospital, Palestine receiving treatment for a burst eardrum, Bob Norman chatted with a chap with leg wounds. Bob discovered he'd been in charge of transport and had a lot to do with evacuating wounded of both sides from the firing line to hospital.
"We had a lot of trouble with the Arabs," he said.
"What Stealing?" Bob asked.
"Yes blankets. They would hop on to the back of the trucks and pull the blankets off the wounded. We lost hundreds of blankets that way until we planted a guard on each truck. Each guard carried a few hand grenades, and if a 'wog' took a blanket he got a 'pineapple' to go with it. That put a sudden stop to the blanket stealing".
(2) The German goods
"Eastern Command decided to give the ground crews of 459 a rest as they had been fighting backwards and forwards along the North African coast for nearly 3 years, and although they had individual leave they needed a break in the "green belt" ----- a few months in the lush fields of Palestine would work wonders for them. We packed up and within the hour we were on our way to Ramat David.
The North African desert is absolutely amazing. One can spend months out there and not see a soul other than one's own people, but decide to move and within minutes the place is swarming with desert nomads. They seemed to pop up out of the ground. It would have been alright if they had waited until we had packed up all we wanted and then helped themselves. But they couldn't bear to wait and started carrying away items we intended to take with us. -----"
That being said, Bob went on to describe a funny story of Bill East (459) and Jack Simmonds (459 - RAF) with some 'left-behind German' goods...
"Bill and Jack found a perfectly good German BMW motor-bike in the desert which they rode about the compound. Joe Aitken (459)and Arnold Jones, another new pilot, found a German desert car in which they used to drive to the Mediterranean for swims. They couldn't use any of our fuel, but that didn't matter; there were plenty of dumps of Italian fuel. Joe and Arnold knew they couldn't take the desert car to Ramat David, so they left it in the bundu for the next mob to use.
But Bill and Jack were determined to take the BMW with us, they tried the aircraft door but it wouldn't go through, so they asked me could they use the bomb bay. I said yes, provided they could sling it on the bomb racks and clear of the bomb doors. "I'll give you ten minutes," I said. I knew the Chief didn't want his record of "up and away within the hour" spoiled.
They were still trying to sling the motorbike up when time ran out. The other aircraft were starting their motors so I had to order them away while I closed the bomb doors before starting up. They were like little boys losing a toy. I'm sure I saw tears in their eyes as we taxied away leaving the bike behind."
Story from Kev O'Brien - 454
One day while I was sitting in the turret happily shooting down M E 109's, F W 190's, J U 88's (in my imagination).... Harold 'Blue' Munce - (454) was watching bombs dropping on target through the bottom hatch when something flew past his head and disappeared below. He called me on the intercom -- "Hey Kev your parachute has just fallen out!". "No Blue, that was your chute". "No Kev I've still got mine" And so the conversation continued till -- "You be nice to me Kev, you know you need me to jerk the quick release catch for you to get out of the turret!" "OK Blue, it was my chute!" From up the front -- "You two shut-up back there, we're here on serious business!".
Of course I knew that if the worst happened Blue would hand me the chute -- "Here Kev, you take it, I'll stay with the aircraft". "No Blue I cant let you sacrifice your life for me!" "Yes Kev, you're a better bloke than I am - the world can ill afford to lose you!" He was right of course. "OK Blue, I'll see you get a posthumous VC for this!". From up the front again "will you two shut-up!! If you're going to go on like this whenever we go out, I'll leave you at home next trip!". In response to that terrible threat all we could do was make rude signs with our fingers towards the front, who would like to miss a chance to get shot down? As it happened , of course, nothing bad happened till we got home when the parachute section refused to believe that we could let a chute fall out. "You buggers have pinched the thing and are going to flog it to the tailor in the village!". Sometimes the truth just cant be believable!
Here is an incident remembered by Blue Munce - 454 and told by Kev O'Brien
We were taking off from Benghazi one time in order to escort a convoy when a freak gust of violent wind blew us off the runway. We were heading for some buildings too fast to stop, so in a panic Ron retra ted the wheels and we did a ground loop - slid on the belly of the aircraft in a circle till eventually stopping in a cloud of dust! Blue looked out the window and announced that we hadn't caught fire. I had seen too many of the aircraft that the pilots were converting to from Avro Ansons that did burn on crashing and didn't feel too confident about our situation. There were three versions about what happened next.
1. That Blue wore the tread-marks of my flying boots up his back for the next few weeks - absolutely untrue!
2. That I courteously said "after you Blue" and waited for him to leave first - nearly true!
3. Blue's account. That I yelled "get out!" and threw him out the top hatch (our usual way out through the bottom hatch was deep in the sand of the desert). Probably nearly true! Blue was lost in admiration of my strength under terror and referred to me thereafter as "Mighty Mouse!"
459's Version of Events [compliments of the Sep Owen collection]
The following story from Ross Singleton-
CANADA 459 Squadron
I was on 459 Squadron near Tobruk in 1942-43. When we went on leave we flew a Hudson or Ventura to Cairo for maintenance, on our return we flew one that had been repaired back to our squadron.
On one such leave George Lalor, who was a W.A.G in my crew teamed up with me, we met an old friend of mine, Bob Woods, who had graduated with me as an Observer in Canada. Bob was flying in an RAF Transport Squadron stationed near Cairo. After celebrating in Cairo, he invited us back to his Squadron. We continued our celebrations in the Sergeants mess. The Squadron had a mascot monkey "Sgt. Shufti Sheifti", who was very highly strung from too much flying. He was grounded in the Mess and had become an alcoholic. Each night he went to sleep in a sad state up in the ropes at the top of the tent that housed the Mess. He drank only water during the day, but at night he would come down to the bar where people would buy him drinks. He would also steal food from people's plates. He did this to me and I became upset, particularly when I thought of the sanitation in respect to monkeys and I threatened to strangle him. This offended one of the RAF Sergeants and he and I had a fairly strong argument. Someone called the Military Police and I was arrested and put in jail. The jail, of course, was a tent. The guard was an Irish L.A.C. with a gun. My friends bought me a bottle of Cyprus Brandy which I shared with the guard. We eventually went to sleep. In the morning we woke up to bright sunlight. While we slept like two innocent babes, Arabs cut the ropes on the tent, loaded it onto a camel and disappeared into the desert. The poor guard still had his gun and his prisoner, I don’t know how he explained the loss of the tent. When we returned to our Squadron, my C.O., when he stopped laughing, dismissed the charges against me!
The following story from Kev O'Brien - 454 Squadron
Also, in Africa, the German soldier was Jerry. We were very close to the front in Italy and often had Kiwis from the 8th Army visiting us and they called him Ted. This was an abbreviation of Tedesci (that may or may not how you spell it) which was what the Italians called him. Also they called anyone associated with the 8th Army Englisi - English, Scots, Aussies, Kiwis, Canadians, just about every nationality under the sun (except German). Get to the point Kev.
Right away ------
The Italian told this tale - "Tedesci bomb - Englisi run
Englisi bomb - Tedesci run
Americano bomb - everyone run".
Of course over on the west coast where the American army were pushing north Englisi and Americano would have been interchanged in the story.
The following stories provided by Norm Gilham
Pilot - 454 Squadron
For a fantastic story of the wartime effort of the girls at home go to Norm Gilham's page
 WIN SOME -- LOSE SOME
Shortly after this another side to our service lives began, when the war in Europe ended. The rumors said we were going to Burma; or going home. Neither of these came about for several months, and in the meantime the commanding officer asked us to do everything possible to keep all the aircrew and ground staff occupied with organized activities, otherwise we would lose some of them when the time came to leave. This story relates to that.
When the war ended our Commanding Officer asked us to keep everyone together to be ready to head for home, or to further action in the Pacific. We fitted up trucks with bench seats, and had them doing tours of different parts of Italy, taking about twenty men at a time. Quite a number of us were running our own “Little Airline” flying VIPS and supplies etc to and from Rome, Florence and Taranto etc. We flew a spare aircraft to the different cities, where they spent a few days, and swapped over with the next crew and flew their plane back to base. In this way we were able to see a lot of Italy's cities, including a couple of stopovers in Venice.
Another activity was a horse riding school. Unfortunately it didn’t last long. One of my crew, Tom Tutin, had a lot to do with horses before the war, so one night we went up into Austria and managed to get two Russian horses into our truck and then headed back to base. They created great fun around the camp until we had a dinner party attended by a few New Zealanders. We were far too trusting; in the morning our horses had gone! We headed over to the Kiwi camp, but too late! They had already sold them to an Italian. Easy come, easy go was never so true! At least the Kiwis had something to show for it, a good profit, we did not!
[2 -- Norm Gilham - 454] A Slight Embarrassment
It was quite a dark night on the Adriatic coast of Italy in early April 1945. One 454 Squadrons aircraft was heading south to base after a successful mission near the Austrian border. Apart from the engines there was the usual eerie silence of an intruder over enemy territory at night, and then:
"Pilot to Navigator"
"Navigator here, go ahead Norm"
"What do you make of that glow over the water at nine o'clock, Ross?"
"Navigator to Pilot. Looks like a fire, could be a ship."
"Pilot to Wireless."
"Wireless here, skipper."
"Break radio silence Geoff. Request base permission to investigate what appears to be a burning ship."
Silence once more except for the engines, and then:
"Wireless to Pilot, permission granted."
I then turned out over the Adriatic Sea.
"Turret to Pilot."
"Go ahead, Tom."
"I get a good view from up here, Norm. Certainly looks like a fire and getting much bigger."
All watching in silence as we go further out towards that glow.
"Turret to Pilot".
"Go ahead, Tom."
"I hate to say this Norm, it's the moon coming up!"
"Pilot to Navigator, I'm afraid he's right Ross. Have you got a course for base?"
"Navigator to Pilot. It is the moon Norm. Course to base 210 degrees."
"Pilot to Navigator, thanks Ross. Turning onto 210 degrees now."
We returned to base safely, and we were commended for our initiative, but other crews did not let us forget our "burning ship" for quite some time. The bonus of course was a little humour at a very serious time in our lives.
Another thing I should mention is that most people have the impression that the Air Force operated from established airfields and buildings. In war time of course, that is not he case. You simply make airfields as you go along, and live in tents. 454 Squadron was considered to have the best equipped mess under canvas; due to our scrounging in towns as they were taken from Germans.
The following speech was given by R Jay Christensen
459 Squadron [Canadian] at RCAF Reunion in Ottawa on 15th May,2006.
His Aussie friends in wartime called him "Young Canada" in 1944.
THE ILL-FATED DERNA MISSION
by Royal Jay Christensen
While stationed with 454 RAAF Baltimore Squadron in Benghasi, Libya, one of our aircraft was severely damaged on 27/2/44, on its return from Melos in the Aegean Sea by two German ME109's. In the running battle, the Baltimore was riddled with 26 cannon strikes but managed to crash land at the landing ground at Derna, Libya. F/O Ray Crouch was the British RAF pilot and was awarded the DFC for his airmanship. We were notified at Berka 3 of the crash, and a crew of Aussie ground crew were dispatched to Derna to pick up the air crew and also usable parts from the demolished aircraft. Our crew included an Australian Motor Transport driver, an Aussie Aero-engine Mechanic, an Aussie fitter, and a British RAF armourer, and a Canadian radar mechanic. This multi-national group boarded the truck transport and headed for Derna, some 200 miles to the east. We reached the Derna landing ground and found the uninjured air crew billeted at 278 AMES on the airfield.
We were immediately busy salvaging equipment from the crashed Baltimore when an urgent radio message was received at the AMES office. It stated that one of our aircraft had just crashed about 10 miles east of Derna and that the crew were injured and required immediate first aid assistance. We could see the black smoke rising to our east; and since we had the only truck, we were dispatched to the crash scene. There were no real roads, so it was necessary to follow old tank tracks to stay safely away from possible land mines. A deep ravine prevented us from reaching the crash site, so we left one member of our crew to guard the truck and the remaining four men with only first-aid kits walked the remaining distance.
As we came over the last hill, a shocking panorama stopped us in our tracks, and we dove behind some boulders. A huge Swastika on the burning tail of a German Junkers 88 was not what we expected! An open parachute was on the hillside, and an individual was walking on the far side of the smoking debris. Our rifles were being carefully protected back at the truck, and we only had our first-aid kits and equipment in our hands. The individual turned out to be a British Army soldier who had just reached the wreck and was afraid we were German. Two of the German aircrew were dead in the burning aircraft, the third member was killed when his parachute hit the nearby hill. We later learned the Junkers '88 was on a routine reconnaissance flight and was shot down by a British RAF Spitfire aircraft.
The vital moral lesson we quickly learned was NEVER PUT YOUR COMPLETE TRUST IN RADIO COMMUNICATIONS.
Kev O'Brien - 454
The comments about desert lilies
from 'Lilies of the Desert - author unknown' ---- see Poems page
brought back to me not-so-fond memories. They were not cutting-edge technology by any means, being petrol drums sunk into the ground with a second one on top. Over time seepage and inaccurate usage resulted in the surrounding area becoming wet and dust sticking to it, which built up to form a cone-shaped mound. One of these structures was not far from our tent, and I thought an extract from a poem rather inappropriate:
Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathomed caves of ocean-bear
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.
When we went to Italy the heavy clay soil and mud ruled out lilies for a start, but when we reached Cesanatico, like any plant, they found abundant moisture and the well-drained sand much to their liking. When winter came, and all the camp was clad in pristine blanket of snow, they reached their ultimate glory steaming away in the crisp morning air like mini volcanoes, almost, they were beautiful.
We spent a lot of time in beautiful Italy, the Dolomite Mountains, north of the Po Valley, the Apennines. The harbour of Naples, Pompeii where a guide, totally misunderstood what would have been of interest to young blokes in their early twenties, took us to the ruins of a house of ill-fame. Inside, the customer was faced with a row of cubicles, above each door was a fresco depicting the preferred position favoured by the practitioner, even then, specialization was practiced.
Tom Smith's Two Anecdotes
Tom belonged to 454 RAAF Baltimore Squadron
Gambut Egypt 28th July 1943. During 454 Squadron maritime search and strike days somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea, an American Marauder I think it was, landed to refuel. As it took off again over the campsite, the bomb-bay doors opened and out flew this stream, that turned out to be canteen supplies. It consisted of thousands of packets of cigarettes, Mars Bars, bars of chocolate, M & M's and packets of Lux toilet soap. Needless to say, by the time he came in again most of the items had vanished into the tents. He pulled the wrong lever of course. It should have been the under-carriage lever! To say the least the package was enjoyed by many of the lads!
Cesenatico, Italy Friday 13th April, 1943. The aircraft G after a ground loop. Pilot Griffiths and the crew OK. Griffiths is the white overalls. The same F/O Duffy and W/O Evans went missing.
This article was sent to me by Mr. John Culbert, ex 454, then transferred to 451.
John is Secretary of 451 and is on our Association's mailing list.
Here is a very funny story read on:
WE ARE THE SURVIVORS
"We were born before television, before penicillin, contact lenses, videos, Frisbees and the Pill. We were before Radar, credit cards, split atoms, laser beams and ball point pens, before dishwashers, tumble dryers, electric blankets, air conditioners, drip dry clothes, and before man walked on the moon.
We got married first, then lived together (how quaint could you be???). We thought fast food was what you ate in Lent, a Big Mac was an oversized raincoat, & crumpet we had for tea.
We existed before house-husbands, computer dating, and when "meaningful relationships" meant getting along with cousins, sheltered accommodation meant where you waited for the bus. We were before day care centres, group homes and disposable nappies. We never heard of FM radio, tape decks, electric typewriters, artificial hearts and processors, yoghurt, or young men wearing earrings.
For us time sharing meant togetherness, a chip was a piece of wood or a fried potato. Hardware meant nuts & bolts and software was not a word. Before 1940 made in Japan meant junk, the term "making out" meant how well you had done in your exams, "stud" was something you fastened to your collar and "going all the way" meant staying on the bus to the bus depot. Pizzas, McDonalds and Instant Coffee were unheard of in our day, cigarette smoking was fashionable, "grass" was grown and "coke " was kept in the coal house, a "joint" was a piece of meat you ate on Sundays and "pot" was something you cooked it in.
"Rock Music" was a fond mothers lullaby, "Eldorado" was a ice-cream, a "gay" person was the life and soul of the party and nothing more, aids" just meant a beauty treatment or helping someone in trouble.
We who were born before 1940 must be hardy bunch when you think of the way in which the world has changed and the adjustments we had to make. No wonder we are confused and there is a generation gap today. By the Grace of God we have survived, HALLELUJAH!!!"
"THE MUD HUT"
"Voices from Victoria"
"The Mud Hut" L-R; 459 Squadron Members - Dave Barnard, Hec (Bionic Man Ford,
Pete Staughton, Roy Fagg & Lawrie Molls
"Voices from Victoria" - The Mud Hut Story - 459 Squadron - Words from a song from the film "The Sound of Music" read something like "the hills are alive to the sound of music". Whilst not music, the hills of Hall's Gap in the Grampians Victoria, resound to a babble of Oz talk and fractured Arabic when a group of young ex-459ers gather for a regular reunion at Lawrie Moll's "Mud Hut". Regulars also include, Barney Campbell (see sick report), Bill Roehricht, "Sam" Talbot, and George Treeby. Recent visitors from NSW have been Bob McDonald and Bill Leatham.
Penned by John McKenzie in a past Association Bulletin.