For Anzac Day 2012 I thought I would tell part of my father-in-law – Emanuel Stephen Weir’s journey of service to becoming a pilot originally for the RAAF and then to serve in the RAF in Europe in WW2.
We have two records of part of my – a very short outline I asked him to write but we did not find until after his death and a diary of his journey on the ship ‘Mt Vernon’ over to Canada for further training in the Airforce. He was part of the ‘Empire Training Scheme’.
He loved taking photos so we have a good collection of his photos some of which I have included.
His story in his words begins:
‘End of 1940 – Medical. Army call-up.
30th Battalion – Milson’s Point Sydney.
Not called up. Manpower decision – I was in a protected occupation. Manufactured: Khaki Pullovers, Putter tapes, Machine Gun webbing – Hattersley Loom from UK, RAAF pullovers
Manpower Officer – John West (Ex Crosba Knitting Mills) advised me that I could possibly enlist in Airforce as Aircrew. With a school mate – from the Rural bank – we enlisted. He was accepted within 6 months, I spent the next 15 months as a reservist. Supplied with a lapel badge & identity card. Attended:
1) Saturday monrning – morse code – Civilian women group in Sussex St – Mainly instructing Navy Reserves.
2) Two late afternoons a week in Gas Company Showroom – Castlereagh St between Martin Place & Hunter Street.’
I know ‘Manning’ as we called him was not happy that it took him so long to get into the Airforce because he was involved in a ‘protected occupation’. He was an extremely bright man and it is no surprise he was chosen for pilot training in the Airforce. He was interested in how things worked and could explain to us in great detail how all the various planes he was involved with in the war all worked. He was a fierce Ice Hockey player who had a quiet manner that belied his strength of character.
In 1943 he was:
“Eventually called up & did initial training (ITS) at Bradfield Park – 3 months, then 8EFTS at Nerrandera (3 months) on Tiger Moths. 2 ED – Embarkation Depot Bradfield Park”
He loved flying Tiger Moths and for his birthday one year we sent him on a flight which brought back many memories. Whilst very ill and in hospital on the Gold Coast not long before he died he was quite excited one day as the local joy flight Tiger Moth was flying nearby his hospital room.
There is an excellent book that gives some insights into the training of pilots and crew for Bomber Command. It a terrific book that is not only factual but is a great read – I highly recommend it.
CHASED BY THE SUN – THE AUSTRALIANS IN BOMBER COMMAND IN WWII
BY HANK NELSON
Allen & Unwin
ELEMENTARY FLYING SCHOOLS
By January 1942 some 30 new aircrew training schools had been opened…Elementary Flying School[s]…Some of the schools, such as Narrandera, were developed on prewar town airstrips [and used Tiger Moths as the initial training planes]…p26-27 …Narandera [was established on land that baked in the summer sun]…Flying conditions were often ideal in the still early morning air, but later in the day thermal currents and massive drifts of cumulous clouds and threatening thunderstorms could bounce a plane around the sky…The turbulent air was a tough test of aircrew’s capacity to keep the mess food in their stomachs, especially for navigators, radio operators and gunners…At Elementary Flying School those selected to be pilots were issued with their log – the record that would run fro the duration or end suddenly, the last entry written in another hand and closing with the word ‘Missing’. On the inside cover the trainee read, ‘This book is an official document and is the property of his Majesty’s Government’. But the brief formal entries, often just one line to a flight, became for many airmen – or their families – their most personal record of war. At Elementary Flying School the trainees climbed into a Tiger Moth, sat behind the instructor and listened to his shouted advice that came down the primitive speaking tube. For many it was their first flight. That first flight and their first solo some ten flying hours later were remembered with a clarity reserved for few other firsts in their lives…p28-29
'Off to the Airforce" 1943
After he passed away in 2006 we found a tiny book with even tinier writing – it was his diary from his trip on hte “Mt Vernon’ embarking Sydney on 11th August, 1943 and arriving in Penhold Canada on Monday 30th August 1943.
“After 2 weeks leave sailed for Canada on American – Mount Vernon – a converted liner.”
DIARY OF EMANUEL S WEIR – TRIP ON THE ‘MT VERNON’
EMBARKING SYDNEY 11th August, 1943
ARRIVING PENHOLD CANADA Monday 30th August 1943 FOR AIRFORCE TRAINING IN THE EMPIRE TRAINING SCHEME
“Wednesday 11th August 1943
Embarked on Mt Vernon at ‘Loo [Woolloomooloo, Sydney]. Raining & a miserable day. Picked a 6 berth cabin but later tossed out. Selected for galley duties for next week. Spent night on boat in harbour.
Thursday 12th August 1943
Very warm in bunks, rows & rows & in tiers of 5. Galley duties agreeable, little work, 24 hours on and 24 off. Plenty of good food. 10.30 left dock, a few people on Domain to wave. Passed thro’ Heads 1.30. Boat rocking & rolling in heavy swell, quite a few sick. I feel quite well. After tea, a couple of hours in galley, feeling a little squeamish. Two old campaigners, Jack Wheatley, Alf Seamer, took me on deck for a couple of hours and then went to the pictures. “Amelia Rutman??, Loretta Young. Off to bed 8.00pm E.S.E.
Friday 13th August 1943
First night at sea, slept very well. Ship still rolling in heavy sea. American food varied and rather rich after RAAF camps. Fresh fruit, oranges & pears. Fish for lunch. Still cloudy Cu & bb with high C. Midday am reading magazines, having finished duties for day. 12.30 Finished lunch, am finding it hard to stomach Yankee meals. Still mix everything together. After tea sat on Promenade deck till 9.00pm. Very rough sea & a gale blowing from S. Travelling almost E.
Saturday 14th August
What a night, one continual roll & the worst pitching effect yet. After breakfast slept till 11.00am then commenced duties again. Have a terrific headache, no lunch except chocolates. I wonder what a good meal Aussie cooked, looks or tastes like. Even one of Narrandera meals would be welcome. But steak & eggs – what a thought. Sea calming down & clouds clearing a little, Ns. After tea & duties Jack, Alf & myself talked in the Aft deck until 9.00pm. Very hot in the bunks, not sufficient air. North of N.Z about 4.30. Turning E.
Sunday 15th Aug.
Too hot to be very comfortable last night. Too lazy to have breakfast but on duty at 7.30 so helped myself to eats in galley. Lovely day, few clouds Cu. Much warmer on deck moving E. 10.00am finished duties just had cold salt water shower (wash & shave in fresh water). Lunch in a few minutes. Changed my place of abode. Now in a three bunk berth with Allan & Alf. Sunbaked all afternoon. Warm night slept on deck.
Sunday 15th Aug (crossing Date Line)
Slept rather well, although deck a little hard. Guards woke us up at 5.00am to enable them to wash deck, crawled back into my bunk. Still going E.N.E few clouds. Am regaining my colour little by little. Shorts & shirt & sandals now my dress. Very homesick to-night also Mc [Allan McCartney]. So decided to run around deck, almost died, no energy. A beautiful full moon, calm sea & music and no women. Lay on deck & thought of Sydney. Sleeping in bunk to-night.
Monday 16th Aug
Breakfast of spoilt sausages, crispies, sweet toast & syrup. Finished duties about 9.00am. Shower & then sunbaked ‘till 11.00. Reading all Yank magazines. Lunch, another shower & more sunbaking, what a life! Dodged a march around the deck. Boat drill every day afternoon always we carry a lifebelt. I usually have about 6 a day. Leave them everywhere. Fried Devon & potatoes plus usual rubbish 1 slice pineapple. A “penguin slice” for some meals. Real Aussie ice-cream. Off to the canteen to buy a carton of Yank ice-cream 10c. Not much good. Don’t like the ship’s Coca-Cola. Ice cream now 5c. After tea lay on deck & listened to radio for 2 hours and then walked decks & watched moon & sea. Very cloudy, looks like a storm coming in from N. Still going E.N.E.
Tuesday 17th Aug. 1943
What a night. I feel like a ton of bricks, very tired. Baked beans for breakfast, porridge, slice of hot cake & an apple. Cs clouds – no sun today. Will finish my sewing – maybe. Went on parade to-day, couldn’t sit in open, raining all morning. Cleared up after lunch, still cloudy. Almost finished my sewing – ran out of cotton. Sunbaked on deck for an hour or two. After tea, cooled off on aft promenade. Clear night – no clouds, have decided to sleep on open deck. Two ships passed us in opposite direction, going home.
Wednesday 18th Aug. 1943
Wonderful sleep, crew manning guns about 5.00am woke me. Much warmer nearing equator. Was sunbaking to-day when a sudden tropical downpour caught us, lasted about 5 min & then cleared. Have to be wary while tropics. Sunbaked – no – roasted all afternoon, & then cooled off under shower. After tea selected bedding sites for night. A Yank aired his views etc. Told us his successes in Sydney even down to their names & phone no. a regular Romeo. Pointed out our faults & gave us quite a few hints – the sap. We have a baby on board about 3 weeks old. Also quite a few “Aussie” girls going home to States. I hope they are the only type the Yanks are marrying – I know two – live in Rozelle – “nice” types. I suppose they had to marry someone. Still heading E.N.E.
Thursday 19th Aug. 1943
Tried to sleep on open deck but a sudden storm chased us into the Prom deck. Almost N now, saw beautiful sunrise this morning. Never seen waters so blue & smooth. Crossing equator tomorrow & spent 3 solid hours sunbaking. Am quite brown now but want more. Found a cool spot this afternoon – lovely breeze – & read magazines. Often feel quite hungry, but Cooks are a wake-up & watch us too closely. Yanks pestering me to buy my watch or swap. John has same trouble. A shortage of fresh water, now cut off during the days. Duty – finish about 6.30 to-night. Poor devils in queue for mess. We being “duties” have priority & just walk thro’. Tea is ready now – Iced tea & terrible concoction is very popular or plentiful with Americans.
Friday 20th Aug. 1943
Finished duties now. Average about 4 parades daily now – usually lose myself. Sat in sun & watched flying fish all morning. Have attained in 7 day a suntan equal to Bondi’s best. Fish for lunch, rather dry – cold storage. Crossed Equator at 13.25, men were marching around deck, we were reading in a lifeboat. Still sunbaking, although sun is rather hot. Moving a little E of N. Haven’t written any letters yet, deadline next Mon 23rd. Just have to write to Val. Beds on the Prom, have to be booked before 4.30 or else sleep below. Sleeping on deck is almost necessary for a good nights rest.
Saturday 21st Aug. 1943
Baked beans for breakfast, never have any beverages at meals now. Drink water only discovered an iced water fountain but it has been disconnected now – wouldn’t it . Still hungry, a miserable lunch roast beef & potato & the usual uneatable salads, no sweets. Officers mad with the service parades damn near all day. A route march this morning – shot thro’ after a lap or two. Wrote a letter to Ron Cohen & am writing to Val now. Still moving E of N. All I’m wearing now, a pair of shorts. A damned rotten tea, stew & some rotten beetroot cubes, onion. A swell piece of cake though. Must be losing weight thro’ perspiration. A tropical storm is in the offing. Lights usually out by this 7.00pm.
Sunday 22nd Aug. 1943
Breakfast, rice & milk, a type of mince meat & boiled egg (I had two). Sunbaked instead of attending church. Must be a day for rejoicing, free ice-cream & cool drinks. Lunch – roast turkey, apple pie & ice-cream. New duties announced, the Sarges must have had enough. Woe is us LAC’s. A hell of a temperature, a real tropic day & the radio is playing “A White Xmas”. Quite a few clouds around but sea is as level as possible & as blue —. After two pages to Val decided to tear it up & scribble a “V-mail” reputedly much faster. Slept on deck again, moving approx N.E.
Monday 23rd July 1943
A very still day. A mass of Cs. No sun at all just sat out of the wind & read. Meals same as usual, not enough of any thing suitable, plenty of trash. Community sing last night conducted by Padre. After he left some wise guys sang a parody on the “Marines Hymn” – needless to say everyone joined in & today we were severely lectured – poor marines. Sat on Promenade deck & listened to wireless then a ship’s concert was broadcast of speakers. Slept indoors.
Tuesday 24th Aug 1943
Had a haircut this morning, first for six weeks. The boys said either a haircut or a violin. A LAC, presumably an amateur did the job. On a box, no towel, no mod. Cons, or the fantail. Every time the ship rocked out went a dash of hair. Weather much cooler, expect to land Thursday. I can’t fully realise I’m going farther away from home. 7.30pm just passed a ship about the same size going in the opposite direction, boys trying to hitchhike. Went to see “Captains of the Clouds”.
Manning on ship 'The Aquitania' on his way home to Australia
Wednesday 25th Aug. ’43
Another cloudy day, parades all morning, so Alf & I slept in peace. John doubled for us. He had to wash the walls of mess today. Quite a lot of thieving going on. Must mind my bankroll. Saw a school of whales today. Arriving in ‘Frisco to-morrow morning, have to pack my case.
Thursday 26th Aug ’43
One hell of a fog. Just passed an island – Goat Is. 28m from ‘Frisco. Following a row of buoys, passed two tankers, going out & one in. Fog still low, a small fleet of mine-sweepers & another craft. Can just make out land. Land now clear, can see “Golden gate”. Beautiful, rugged harbour approaches. Tops of “Gate” Bridge obscured by fog. Anti-sub nets all around harbour. Passing Alcatraz – What a harbour. A small a/c carrier just going out. Docked at last. No.33. Pushed around everywhere, off ship & now to stand on wharf. No leave in ‘Frisco. Stood on wharf & then marched to ferry. By ferry to Berekely & then on to train. Waited on station for about 5 hrs. Robbed for my first money transaction, too busy talking to count change. Boarded train, one person to each two seats & a sleeper. “Old” carriage. Oh yes! Had dinner in diner. Roast turkey & Veg. Soup, & ice-cream. Off to bed , left ‘Frisco 9.15pm.
Friday 27th Aug ’43
Awoke about 6.00am. A very good night, soft bed & pillow, have lower berth with windows. Just passed a freight train, two engines in lead, one in centre, two at back & what a length everything is done in a big way. Breakfast, “fried” eggs, “chips” porridge & coffee. Snow capped Mt Shasta (14,181ft) & beautiful tree clad mountains everywhere. Often pass small villages and mountain streams & lakes too numerous & picturesque for words. My dream towns lie about this line. Eugene “saw the prettiest girl ever”, reminded me of Val. Have to cheer up now. Almost impossible to be blue in such beautiful country. Passing tho’ many picturesque towns – right down the main street of Salem. Reached Portland after passing along Hillamatte?? River. No leave. All lined up walking up & down platform, a concerted effort by the boys & the officers couldn’t stop us, so spent an hour in the R.R.R. Off again this time for Vancouver.
Manning - Train trip to Penfold - Airforce 'Empire Training Scheme' - Canada 1943
Saturday 28th Aug. ’43
No blackout here, even on the coast. Leaving ‘Couver by 10..00am train, no leave again. At the rate of travel may miss train, I hope so. Just crossed border about 9.30am. Stopped at White Rock, a small Canadian fishing town, girls out windows, half-dressed, very enthusiastic in their welcome. Children all along line asking for Aust. Souvenirs, gave them money & stamps, match boxes just to hear them speak. ‘Couver at last, just asked some children where the Indians are “Mad Aust” they called us. Missed our train – 6 hours leave. Lunched in town, hot shower & swim at YMCA. Toured the town buying everything, one the girls nice – still prefer Aussies though. Back on the train – poor D.I’s can’t control the boys. Travelling C.P.R cars much cleaner. Passing thr’ Rockies – in the dark. Stopped at a small town, talking to 3 very nice Canucks & a lovely brunette leaning out of window in my pyjamas. Fancy having to leave such company.
Sunday 29th Aug ’43
Right in the middle of the Rockies – tremendous mountains – unsurpassed in beauty. Mountain still snow capped – permanent. Mountain waterfalls & streams everywhere. This type of country all day – very disappointed in the scarcity of wild life, saw one moose, one deer and a few birds 7 ducks little else. Stopped at Banff, a beautiful tourist resort & saw a Mountie, red-coat. Next big town Calgary where we change for Penhold. Three hours leave at Calgary. Looked town over, still quite light here at 9.00pm. Ice skating just opened again, indoor, now off the Penhold.
Monday 30th Aug ’43
Had be side tracked during the night & our two cars one parallel near Penhold. What a desolate town, a couple of houses. Arrived at the camp about 13,000 miles from Australia to fly Oxfords – wouldn’t it. A beautiful spot, all building made of shingles, red rooves & green walls. Double decker beds. Alf sleeping above me. Matresses, sheets & pillows. Commenced study immediately after a pep talk or two. Wet canteen & dry canteen, can buy everything.”
“Then to Frisco by rail (sleeping cars) up west coast to Vancouver. Across ‘Rockies’ by CPR to Calgary – changed train – 2 carriages with 60 beds. Woke early next morning at Penhold to hear & see Oxfords. (Airfield near township of Red Deer, Alberta, Canada)”
“Marvellous accommodation – H shaped building. Centrally heated – sheet & pillows on double deck beds – meals A1 Hotel choice.“
Of course been a keen ice hockey player Canada brought the advantage of a strong ice hockey tradition that Manning was able to particpate in:
“Arrived early September – 1st light snow. 1st leave to Calgary for a 48hrs by bus (Bought a pair of CCM skates – top of the brand – prolite(?) – matched, last of stack).
Outdoor rink at camp – indoor rink at Red Deer. Invitation game at Red Deer. Christmas at Banff.
Months leave – Toronto, Detroit, New York – 2 weeks. Back to Montreal – with local family to St Sauver(?) for skating & skiing.”
“5 months training and graduated on Oxfords as Bomber Type.”
CHASED BY THE SUN – THE AUSTRALIANS IN BOMBER COMMAND IN WWII
BY HANK NELSON
Allen & Unwin
Airmen were always joining and leaving groups, initial training schools, the schools that gave them their specialist training, and the schools that prepared them for operations. It was against these cohorts that men measured their progress – and their luck. Those who travelled for long periods in small groups formed another cohort…For 74 days, as they crossed the Pacific and Atlantic, they went ashore together, played cards, entertained and bored each other and formed another cohort. From the seafront hotels at Brighton they dispersed again, into the schools that prepared them for operations, and then most went into Bomber Command, but not with more than three or four in any one squadron. Now when they looked down names in the visitor’s book at Codgers Inn, or lists of casualties, promotions and decorations they had many groups to measure themselves against…p49
On the train to Malton navigation school in Ontario they saw:
The land of the birch bark canoe, deerskin moccasins, crystal clear streams, quick flowing rapids, high fir trees, beaver and squirrels, French trappers and Indian braves, the blazing stars above the mountains, and the beauty of the Northern Lights.
Canada was hard work, high quality instruction, confirmation of romantic preconceptions of the landscape, and generous hospitality…Over 40 years later [airmen say the days in Canada] were’ amongst the happiest in [their lives]’…p41
Aircrew went east or west around the globe. They went ashore in Fiji, New Zealand, Hawaii, Iceland, and in many points in the Americas and Africa. They left Australia after Initial Training School or with their wings, they travelled in comfort and squalor. Most had no experience of operations before going to Bomber Command and only a few had been in many air battles. They left Australia when war was still far away and when much transport was still run by civilians and they also left Australia when war was close and pervasive. They went according to plan and suffered diversion, delay, accident and administrative stuff-ups. There were many ways to get to the air war over Europe. In their letters and diaries aircrew wrote much about their travels to war. The sea voyages gave them time to write and the censor allowed them to say more abut their travels than about the details of training or later operations…The journeys, protracted and boring but with flashes of the extraordinary – Hollywood, Niagara Falls, the Empire State Building, Table Mountain and Lagos – helped the clerks, farmers and the Rawleigh’s rep change how they saw themselves. The journeys were always full of intense anticipation and many airmen would spend as much time travelling and waiting as they did on operations…p53
After completing his training in Canada Manning embarked for the UK:
UK – TRAINING & RAF
“Embarked for UK – solo 7/8 days Nieun Amstrd (?), Greenck (Glasgow) to Brighton by train (Back to earth with a thud).
Brighton – accommodation in private hotel. Mess in large beachfront hotel about 10 min walk. Brighton has a very good ice rink.
2 week leave – Oxted Private family. Conducted trip to London – daytrips.
To a holding station – flying tiger moths north of Salsbury Plains. 1 month mixed – Australian, English, New Zealand – taking navigators on map reading exercise – Clyffe Pypard – Salisbury – Taunton – Briston – Brecon – Wales. Used Tiger to spend 48 leave in Liverpool (RAF Navigator House).
5 Group H/Q – Moreton Hall – Lincolnshire (met Guy Gibson) – movements officer – 3 months Kidlington – outside Oxford – neighbour of Blenheim Palace – flying Oxfords 20 AFU. To Moreton-in-Marsh – 21 OTU ‘Wimpeys’ (Wellingtons)
Manning always spoke highly of his crew and they of him. One of his closest friends ‘Snow’ spoke to my husband about his father and how much they appreciated his calm and unflappable manner whilst flying.
Had own car with w/op – Ford 10 – very cramped with 5 bods – other 2 anti-social. Cigarette ration (600 per month) handy for all types of bribery – mainly petrol, 100 octane & the Ford virtually flew.”
Manning lost many close friends in his time and one he always spoke fondly of was Alan McCartney who was killed in action.
CHASED BY THE SUN – THE AUSTRALIANS IN BOMBER COMMAND IN WWII
BY HANK NELSON
Allen & Unwin
THOSE ‘LOST’ IN TRAINING AND OPERATIONS
In World War II, average of 2.3 per cent of aircraft were lost on each Bomber Command operation. That figure includes aircraft making flights to collect meteorological information or dropping leaflets and does not include aircraft that crashed in the United Kingdom when leaving or returning. A more accurate rate of loss on what were normally thought of as bombing operations is close to 3 per cent. For aircrew, that could seem to allow a reasonable chance of survival. Before major battle most men at the start line – and the officers who did the planning and the medical staff waiting to receive the casualties – would have thought that a 97 per cent chance of surviving was acceptable odds. With a loss rate of 3 per cent Bomber Command could replace aircraft and men, and morale and efficiency could be maintained – it was a sustainable rate. But an airman with 30 operations to fly to complete a tour could make a simple calculation: 30 times three was 90. A 90 per cent chance of death was close enough, as they said at the time, to dead certainty…p183
In the last six months of the war the average loss on raids had fallen to around 1 per cent – more at night, less in daylight operations. Yet even with this loss rate the chances of surviving 30 operations was still just 74 per cent. With one-quarter of the force becoming casualties, Australian aircrew in Bomber Command were, even at these bets of times, still in greater danger of being killed in combat than men serving in any Australian army battalions in 1944 and 1945…p187
All civilians who go into the services and combat have disrupted lives. But the men who went to war in Bomber Command were likely to have their lives transformed as well as disrupted. The many courses and selection tests, the journeys and the experiences in the air and on the ground in Europe were likely to lead to changed careers and identities…p278
FINAL SUMMING UP
Australians may have forgotten those who served in Bomber Command, but surviving aircrew cam back with memories that were dense and varied – from the exhilaration and horror of flying, to weeks of boredom in reception centres, nights at the Strand Palace, and seeing the flesh at the Windmill. Speaking at a squadron reunion in Melbourne in 1998, Peter Isaacson asked his audience:
“Can you see the briefing room with the map on the wall, the strands of coloured wool stretching across England, across the Channel or North Sea, across Europe to a place on the map deep in enemy territory…
Do you recall the murmur of the debriefing, the savoury smell and taste of cigarettes, the sight of anguish on the faces of the men as they read the names on the operation board which did not have landed time against their names?”
They all could…p280
When visiting the Australian War Memorial not long before he died Manning went to the newly installed Lancaster Bomber exhibit – ‘G for George’ he was so impressed with the display and the sense of ‘realism’ it brought. It was missing he said one thing though … the smell … of the fuel & the plane … it was the one of the strongest memories he carried with him.
Manning greatest regret was not being kept on in the Airforce after the war – in his notes in bold capitals underlined he wrote “AIRFORCE DID NOT WANT“. One of his greatest joys had been flying aircraft. He came back settled back into Australia married Judy and became an accountant. He was a father to 3 children (one died just after birth) and a Grandfather of 4. My three sons loved their ‘Da’ as they called him and especially loved their time spent with him when he moved up to be close by us for the last few years of his life. Here are our three boys with both their much loved Grandfathers – their other Grandfather ‘Pa’ is a lot younger than Manning but served as part of the National Service (Nasho’s) in the 1950’s..
They talked much and they laughed often together.
All my three sons are very proud of what their Grandfather did in serving his country and will never forget him.This photo is of my youngest son Anzac Day 2007 after the local March and discussing the medals with his Grandmother Judy (Manning’s widow). She then was retelling the story of how they met the day he returned from war on the beach at Bondi.
They will pass his story down the generations I am sure.