Flight Sergeant 427226
LIFE & TIMES OF NORMAN GEORGE SMITH
I was born on 8th March 1924 in Perth at Nurse Stockley’s house and was delivered by Nurse Stockley. I admit to being a one-eyed West Aussie through & through. I’ve never fancied living anywhere else, even after traveling around a fair bit here and overseas.
I can vaguely recall living on a road off the South West Highway in Armadale, heading down toward the railway station, the house belonged to Mrs Graffen. Mum & I were renting a room at Mrs Graffens while Dad had gone to work at Whittakers Mill which used to be about 4 miles up in the hills above North Dandalup. I was the only child then so I must have been around 3 yrs old.
We then moved to the middle house of three out in the bush on the railway line near Whittakers Mill. I don’t think anyone lived in the first house, but Clarry Thorpe lived in the third. Each house was about 50 yards apart from each other. As I recall there were no other women or kids out there. My pet was a crocodile – probably a goanna, that lived in a fallen tree. I gave him a drink of milk every night.
While we were out there, Mum had to go to Pinjarra to have Winnie. Old Mrs Fitz took Mum to the hospital, she was always drunk and she was drunk when she took us to the hospital. Roy & I had to go along with them because we were so young and there was no-one to look after us. Mrs Fitz couldn’t stay straight on the road and I’d have to yell out to her to get back onto the road properly.
My brother Roy & I had some great times together out there, my sister Winnie was too small to play with of course. There was a photo somewhere of me nursing her on the front steps of the house. One time I had her on the steps on my knee and a big snake went under the steps, which I was a bit worried about. I couldn’t move, I was worried I’d frighten the snake and it would get us. Another time, I was with Dad and we were walking along the train line and I stepped over a snake. I didn’t realise I’d stepped over it at first but then I saw it and I told Dad who came and killed it and put it on the side of the track. I wanted to take it home, to show Roy & Mum, but he said no, we couldn’t because it wouldn’t be dead until sunset!!
Mum used to do our washing in a “copper”, a big round copper tub set above a fire which you filled with water, and a tub, down by the creek. I was always helping mum with the chores, Roy didn’t seem to have to do as many as me.
To keep ourselves occupied, Roy & I would sometimes put an upside down box on a stick with a string tied to the stick and we’d hide in the house and wait for crows to come for the breadcrumbs we’d put under the box.
One time we got 2 crows so we tied their feet together, but they were back the next day and one had the bit of string still on it’s leg.
I remember the train used to come past us once a day on the way out to the landing to pick up logs and take them back again to the mill. We used to always wave to the driver and the engineer.
When I got closer to school age we moved into a small house on the edge of the mill town. We were there just a few months and then we had another move into a fairly big house next to a laneway. Between us and the Post Office was Mrs Shoesmiths boarding house which later became the store after the original store and the Administration Office burnt down. There were quite a few store accounts and mill records lost in that fire. Insurance???
Mrs Shoesmith’s husband had been killed at the mill, logs had rolled down over him while he was working on them. She had 2 daughters, Rosie & Pearl. Pearl was a bit younger than me and Rosie was a bit older, I had a crush on them both. Pearl slapped me on the face because I tried to get a cuddle from her.
Many years later, after I’d start the South Mandurah RSL club, I was talking to a man at the club and he mentioned he’d married a woman from Whittakers Mill. It was Pearl. I asked him to see if she remembered me. Well she did, and she said she’d give me another slap if she saw me!! Women have memories of elephants!!!
There’s a photo of Rosie & I sitting at a table in Whittakers school, we were considered the head boy and head girl.
The mill also burnt down while I was overseas in the War. It was a suspected insurance job as most of the good equipment had been replaced by second grade stuff shortly before the fire. It seemed to be the fate of many of the timber mills around the place.
I really enjoyed school and my life to no end! There were other kids to play with now and more things to watch around the mill. For holidays at Christmas time, we would either go down the hill to the beach at Mandurah, or when the train went through to Bunbury, we would sometimes take the train to Bunbury and have a great time at the beach in Bunbury.
If we went to Bunbury on the train, Dad and Uncle Percy knew the drivers and engineers as they all worked together, so Dad and Uncle Percy would share a few bottles of beer with the driver & engineer all the way to Bunbury – it was Christmas after all!!
I recall a time we were in Mandurah, there used to be a footbridge across the estuary from Mandurah Terrace over to the land where the Peninsula Hotel would be built, Dad, Uncle Percy and I were walking on the bridge when I heard Uncle Percy ask Dad if I knew how to swim yet. Dad said he reckoned I was alright in the water. Next thing I felt Uncle Percy give me a shove and into the water I went. I was splashing about trying my best to keep afloat calling out to them to help me out when to my embarrassment I realised I could touch the bottom if I put my feet down! Uncle Percy & Dad had a great old laugh, I wasn’t so amused, but it made me determined to learn how to swim so there wouldn’t be a repeat trick played on me. By the end of that holiday I was a pretty good swimmer.
I remember sneaking a cigarette when I was about 10, I used to take one of Dads each time he’d get me to roll him some for the next day.
Dad used to make his own beer, sometimes they’d go pop in the night, I used to sneak in and pinch one now and then and believed Dad thought the numbers were down because they’d popped. Years later I’d find out he knew all along what I was up to. Roy used to let me go and pinch the beer, but he sure used to help me drink it.
One day Roy & I were out getting firewood, we had axes with us. Roy was standing on the end of a log, I was on the ground, I went to cut the axe into the end of the log and I hit a shrub which deflected the axe and it got Roy on the back of the knee. I wrapped my hanky around the wound and I carried him back to the headmasters house which was the closest to where we were. The headmaster made me stand up in front of the class as if I was a hero, but I felt ashamed because it was me that had wounded Roy in the first place. I don’t know how Roy felt about it all, he’d said “good on you” to me for getting him back but we never spoke about it after that. It was just another thing in our life, we didn’t see it as anything out of the ordinary.
When I was about 11 or 12 I saved a young boy, my school chum, from drowning in the swimming hole at Whittakers. As a reward I was given a silver hairbrush & comb set and the parents of the boy I’d saved took me to stay with them for a weekend in “the big smoke”, Maylands.
We were swimming at Whittakers and you used to be able to swim out to the middle and sunbake on the rocks there. Well this particular day he was on his way back to the shore and he got into trouble. I heard it and jumped in to help him. He grabbed me round the neck and for a minute I thought we’d both go under. I managed to get him to the shore though. He must’ve told his parents because I hadn’t said anything to anyone about it.
I’d arrived at their house at night and when I heard machines as I woke the next morning, I went to the bottom of the garden to see what it was. I went up a little slope at the end of the garden and there before me were all the planes flying in & out of Maylands airfield, it was love at first sight. I felt so excited, it was a feeling I can’t describe and I knew what I wanted to do. One day I’d be up there in one of the planes. I didn’t want to be a train driver anymore, which was what I thought I wanted to do.
My first job, when I was about 13 or 14, was helping old man Edison (retired engineer) on his small farm out near the Halls place which was on the train line out to the bush. My wages were 5 shillings a week plus lunch 6 days a week. He was very generous, 5 shillings was a good pay then. I was a good worker and he soon gave me a pay rise of 2 and sixpence a week. The next thing I knew he had arranged with his son Ollie, who was now the head engineer at the mill, to take me on as an apprentice engineer & machinist. I didn’t get to finish the apprenticeship because we left about 2 years later to go to Perth. The pay at the mill while I was the apprentice was 10/- per week. I was RICH!!!! I was able to pay mum 6/6 and I had 3 & sixpence to spend. I spent it mainly on magazines about engineering and aircraft.
One of the magazines had an offer of a real working part of the controls of a Tiger Moth air plane in each edition, so I started to make my own Tiger Moth controls. Eventually I had it all together and was pleased as punch to have a real working Tiger Moth – apart from the body and motors that is. I knew how to fly one without ever having been in one. I would be able to put my knowledge to good use later on when Australia entered the Second World War, as our only planes in the Air Force at that time were Tiger Moths.
Just after my 16th birthday we moved to Perth and went to live in Victoria Park, our house was at the tram stop just at the end of the causeway bridge. When we lived here, we were right near the Chinese market gardens which were where McCallum Park is now. I can still remember the last trip the last Chinese market gardener made into Perth across the causeway. He waved to me and smiled, he said he was going back to China.
At this time I was working with Whittaker Bros in Subiaco with a German engineer. Hans Hagdorn. He’d jumped ship in Sydney, they caught him & put him back on the ship, he got as far as Melbourne and jumped ship again. They got him and put him back again. He got to Fremantle, jumped ship and before they picked him up again he’d got married. When the war broke out, he was put into a camp as all Germans were, but Whittakers got him out to go and work for them as they knew how good he was. He’d been working for the opposition. I was put with Hans and another engineer who would leave Whittakers and asked me to go with him, but I said I wanted to stay working with Hans.
I used to ride my push bike from Vic Park out to Subiaco to work in the mill. I used to hook onto the back of trams to get me up the hill past Barracks Arch, going home was all right, it was a pretty fast ride down the hill and onto the causeway bridge. I also had to ride all over Perth to pick up bits & pieces we needed in the Engineers shed at Whittakers. I knew ever lane and street in Perth and the shortest routes to get across town and back.
For fun in summer, my mates and I would try to make rafts out of old kerosene tins, they never worked and I reckon if you dredged up the river near where we used to live it’ll have a ton of old kerosene tins in the sand. We’d swim up the river to the Pagoda, lie around on the shore or go into the Pagoda and have a few dances while we were drying off, then swim back home in the afternoon. The Pagoda wasn’t licensed and anyone could go in and dance.
While living in Vic Park I’d become an Air Force cadet. But when the war came, I got a letter telling me to go and join the Army.
I passed all the Army checks and got to the end of the line of all us cadets, and the assessor had my reports. He said you can’t join the Army, you have to join the Air Force air crew, and I said well that’s what I bloody well wanted to in the first place! He sent me home. I waited at home until I got an invite from the RAAF. This was what I wanted but I had to wait for training as a pilot. I signed up in May 1942.
My initial training was at Pearce Air Force base in Bullsbrook, but it wasn’t very memorable. It was hours of marching under an abusive Sergeant – left, right, left right…….
Sleep at night would have been welcome but the pig trough we had for a bed didn’t ease the aches very well. The beds were three 6ft x 8ft slabs of wood forming a trough with a straw mattress & 2 Army blankets.
I was then posted to Geraldton on 16/6/1942. Geraldton was a lot better, we had beds and sheets and blankets. We also started to study aircraft & flying – not actually in the air but various lectures about how to fly. Our main job was to patrol all the various installations, aircraft, offices, hangars, workshops etc, mainly at night. It was rather scary at first until I realised all the “footsteps” I was hearing was only the canvas around the walls of the hangars flapping in the Geraldton wind. The canvas went from the roof all around the hangars and down to about 2ft to join the walls.
It’s quite amazing what a kafuffle a .303 shot makes on a RAAF station at 3am!! With no Japs around to blame for my shot I was in for quite a lecture from the adjutant.
I was only once more in trouble with “the higher ups” when the Service Police caught me with a WAAF in an air raid shelter having a bit of a cuddle. I managed to get out the back door OK but she got caught so yours truly went back to keep her company. I was confined to barracks for one week, she was confined for 2 weeks. I must have been led astray!!
The Army boys used to drive past our barracks for their showers and they’d see inside our huts and were jealous of our beds and sheets and other luxuries that they obviously didn’t get. I was glad I’d joined the Air Force!!
I was moved to Clontarf and finally began to learn to be a pilot. Clontarf was pretty good as most of us on Course 32 had all been through the initial training at other locations together. The PT instructor could blow up a tyre. He used to go to the Royal Show and demonstrate blowing up a car tyre.
When we first got to Clontarf we had to spend 2 weeks in tents because they still hadn’t cleaned the Clontarf units of the mess the students had made. When they’d left they’d made a huge mess, there was poo and other stuff all over the place. There weren’t any air planes there but we had lectures about flying.
I was sent to Cunderdin and got to start flying in the greatest and best trainer ever – the Tiger Moth DH82A. After going solo it was great fun to compete against each other in trying to flush a fox out of his bush retreat and run over him with our wheels. I never managed this myself but my instructor reckoned he got one. I never heard confirmation of that but I did see another pupil do it.
One of my mates there, on his first solo trip, made the most perfect of three point landings, textbook in fact – except he was still 50ft up in the air!! Needless to say the plane ended up a bit bent. He finished up flying Spitfires in England. The last time I saw him, he was a taxi driver in Perth in 1946. We had a great chuckle about his landing skills and time in Spitfires.
Bluey Truscott had the same trouble with landing planes, one time his whole squadron landed before him. He was killed when his dove into the sea, the last time I’d seen him was in Geraldton while we were training.
I was posted back to Geraldton and into a 2 engined Anson aircraft on 15/3/1943. Flying in Geraldton was fun, shooting up fishing boats, army vehicle wireless antennas, playing footy, army parades etc.
I got an emu once by chopping off his head with my port engine propeller but I got tail damage doing it.
I was now a pilot and after I was presented with my wings I was headed overseas. But first I went to Perth for a 5 day break. Dad took me to the pub and asked me did I want a smoke, I said yes please, he said “oh so you smoke now?” to which I said I did, he said “Liar! I know you used to sneak my rollies you made for me”. Then he asked if I wanted a beer, of course I said yes please. He said “oh so you drink now do you?”. Well I should have learnt from the first question, but I hadn’t. I said yes I do now. Again he said “Liar! I know you used to steal my home brews and tell me they’d blown up!!” “Don’t think I didn’t know all about it” I’d been busted, but if you think about it, it had taken many years before my game had been gazumped!!!
We went to Adelaide, then on to Melbourne & Sydney embarking on a yankee ship on 11/8/1943 headed for USA. It was damn hot on the ship, in a single cabin there’d be 3 or 4 of us. I remember there was hundreds of yanks in the pool on the ship, they were going home. Twice a day we had a meal, one was at about 11pm and the other about 11am. We could do nothing but lay around on the deck during the day, it was really crowded. The yanks slept in tiers, about 5 to a tier.
We landed in San Francisco and went across America and Canada by train to Camp Myles Standish. This train trip was a bit different to our train trip across the Nullabor which was pretty basic. This time we had a porter to make our beds each day with clean sheets & blankets. He was there to do whatever we wanted. There was magazines & cigarettes & 2 vans of things to keep us amused. Quite often the train would leave a station and there’d be a report somebody had missed the train.
Every stop we made there’d be crowd to welcome us and wanted to know all about us and to wish us luck. They’d give us a bottle of something, whatever they had.
Camp Myles Standish was just outside a place called Taunton, near Boston in Massachusetts, not far from New York. The camp processed over 1.5 million servicemen before their deployment overseas.
Some of the fellows got various ailments so we were able to visit Boston & New York quite a bit. This was because each time the ship would pull in to take us to the UK, somebody would have Scarlet Fever or some other thing and they’d keep us in the US until we weren’t contagious.
Some of the places wouldn’t charge us for being there because we were service men. There was Jack Dempsey’s night club, they made us sing a song, there was 4 of us, we had to get up and sing an Australian song because they hadn’t had much contact with Aussies. I think we sang Waltzing Matilda. At about 2am, we went to leave to go back to the hotel and as we’re going we asked for the bill. Jack Dempsey came and signed the bar tab, he wouldn’t let us pay for our drinks. He also paid for the taxi that took us back to the hotel which was the Hotel 14 on East 60th St.
The Americans were very hospitable.
Eventually we were put on board the Queen Mary as we were being sent to England. I’d filled my kit bag with things I thought might be useful for bribes or to entice the ladies in England if I should meet any. It was full of American cigarettes, chocolates, candies, silk stockings and other goodies. I gave all of them away – but got very little in return.
We landed in Scotland and went to Brighton by train. Here we were flying 2 engine Oxfords. At Bruntinthorpe it was 2 engine Wellingtons. At Swinderby it was 4 engine Sterling’s. At Syerston I finally got to fly the best of them all, Lancaster’s, they were beautiful. Most of the airbases here in England were a lot bigger than what I was used to in Australia, the planes were bigger over here.
We lived in Nissan huts, usually there were about 10 – 15 of us in each hut. There would be one bathroom per hut, they were pretty warm inside, though outside the weather could be really cold. I used to want to stay in bed but the boys used to find ways to get me up. I remember one time they picked me up in my blankets and took me outside and dropped me in the snow! Whenever they would play tricks on me to get me to get up I’d end up chasing them out of the hut. Either way you could say they were successful in getting me out of bed. The tucker was pretty good, I have to say I liked it – and I liked the girls that used to serve it too. There were a lot of girls on base with us, they had huts in a separate area to us. It was against the rules to fraternise with the girls, but most of the lads found ways to get to see them. And I’d even say that the girls could be very inventive in finding ways to get to see the boys too. There used to be a hut with just 2 beds in it, this was for those on night guard. That little hut was a very popular meeting place!! I was there with a lovely lass one time and we got caught, for some reason she was confined to barracks for 3 weeks and I only got confined for 2 weeks.
We would be on shifts while I was there, sometimes I’d be on 5pm to 5am or we’d do day shift. We would be required to have lessons on what it’s like to fly over Germany or be shot down and we needed to learn what to do to survive. My favourite times were always when I got to fly. A lot of the time was spent on guard duty or sitting around waiting for things to happen.
While in England we would get a few opportunities to have a look around. I went to London a few times, to the Lake District with the boys and we went to see the place where they had tested to “dambuster” bombs.
I remember London was full of night clubs, it was always a big night if we went to London. Quite often when people saw we had Australian uniforms on they would buy us drinks or pay for us to stay in a hotel, they were grateful we’d come over to help them fight the war. There was always so much to see and do in England, it was a very pretty place, set up for people to be entertained.
I flew a lot of decoy missions. This was where we’d have to fly to France and basically turn around & come back. They wanted us to do this so the Germans would fly after us, in the meantime, there’d be other squadrons fly in to Germany on other routes and drop the bombs, with less interference. We’d fly in from the south, they’d fly down from the north. Later when I would be dropping the bombs, there were decoys operating for me too.
On 7 Feb 1945 I was stationed at Waddington, outside Lincoln with the 463 squadron. Now we were ready to paste those Germans & win the war.
One time we bombed Dortmund it was a night trip, a “jerry” came home with us hiding in the stream and shot up aircraft that were on the ground and got the bomb dump. He’d also nearly got me and my crew. We’d gotten off the plane and climbed into the back of a truck with a canopy cover on the back to head back to barracks. Next thing there was the “jerry” coming at us straffing across the airfield. I threw myself on top of the lass that was driving the truck as we dived under the truck. The bullets went straight through the middle of the 2 parked trucks. It turned out she was dating a fellow who helped curate the Bullcreek Air museum, they ended up getting married. I know this because I was at the museum one time and got talking to the fellow at the museum about their Lancaster. While we related stories to each other I told him about throwing myself on top of this lass and he described her, I said yes that’s her. He then said he had been dating her at the time and they’d gotten married and now lived here in Perth. He asked me if I was sure I’d jumped on top of her to save her from the bullets!! I said “of course I did” Hahaha.
Soon after this happened I was transferred to another airfield and that’s when I finally got to start bombing Germany.
I recall one time we were on an active bombing mission and I said to the navigator that I thought we must be really close to the target or we were lost because we had been flying for so long. Over to my right you could see “ack-ack” in the sky about 3 or 4 miles away. I thought, gee I think we should be over there too. The navigator insisted we weren’t lost but we were. We’d overflown the mark by about an hour so I told the navigator we had to turn around and for him to set us a course for England. The navigation gear was broken so we had to use the stars – if we could see them – to try to find our way home. Eventually we got on what we thought was the right path home when I saw we had no fuel left. I told the boys they’d have to bale out but I was staying put, I didn’t want to get wet in the freezing cold English Channel. They all elected to stay with me too so the next thing we had to do was throw out any excess weight. We got over the coast of England and back in radio contact only to be told we couldn’t land at out airfield due to weather and we had to fly an extra 30 minutes to another airfield. Well we made it. We got there in one piece. When the engineer put the dip stick into the tank he pulled it out, looked at us, and said it was a miracle we’d gotten home, he said we had no fuel at all in the tank. I told him I bloody well knew that half way across the damn channel.
Another flight we were in place to drop our bombs and I said the bombardier to let them go, he didn’t come back to me for a bit and when I asked him if they’d got away OK he said “no skip, they’re stuck in the bay”. I hadn’t been flying active missions for long so I thought to myself, gee I’d better get these bombs dropped or command won’t be too happy. So I turned around and went back over the target after the engineer got the release working again and we dropped our bombs. I was in for a bit of a shock when I got back to base. The commander was really mad, he was fuming, he said I was a bloody idiot for turning around as I flew under my own boys dropping their bombs and the crew & I could have been bloody killed not to mention costing them a plane! Well I hadn’t thought about that but I could see his point. When I told my daughter Kath about this she remarked that my nickname of Mr Magoo was deserved even back in those days.
After the war pilots were asked to volunteer to fly back into Europe to pick up prisoners of war, I volunteered without hesitating. The crew & I thought about what we could do for these poor buggers and we came up with an idea. We painted “Smith’s Tours” above the door of the plane and wrote “comely waitresses inside” and a few other bits and bobs. We flew in to get the boys and sure enough it brought a smile to their sad faces. Some would ask where the girls were once on the plane or for a cold beer but mostly they were glad to have a bit of a laugh finally. When we touched down in England these boys would get off the plane and kiss the ground.
When the European war was done we were getting ready to go to the Pacific to fight the Japs when the Americans dropped that ruddy bomb and Japan surrendered. I was keen to continue to fight a war, we’d had a good time and we’d survived, I felt like I could go another round or two.
Anyway, it was time to go back home. While I’d been in England I’d become engaged a couple of times but these had fallen through, usually because the girls would go off with a Yankee or I’d find one I liked a bit better than the last. At the end of the war I had met Peg, she didn’t take off with a Yank and she seemed to like me, so we got married on 29 September 1945 in Nottingham. I was 21 and she was 19. The plan was that I would go home with the Air Force and Peg would come out by ship as a war bride a few months later. She set sail in December 1945 and arrived in Perth in February 1946. I didn’t think about it at the time but I now wonder what it must have been like for her to leave an English winter and arrive in the hottest month of an Australian summer.
Upon my return I was stationed at Pearce Air Force base in Bullsbrook north of Perth. Peg & I had been staying with my mum and dad in East Vic Park but we needed a place of our own as it was only a 2 bedroom house with a sleep out and the girls, my sisters Beatty, Lynne & Winnie were all still living at home. My brother Roy had been in the Air Force too and was at Pearce during the war.
Peg & I rented a house at 54 Marine Parade Mosman Park. Nobody liked living on the beach they said it was windy and sandy but we liked it. For Peg it was a very new experience as England didn’t have the white sandy beaches like we did. The house was like 2 houses in one. It was a big old fashioned typical Australian house with wide verandas that were partly enclosed. It had a curved bull nose tin roof and trellis on the veranda. The yard was huge.
My boss at Pearce said he wanted me to live on base at Pearce but I didn’t want to live up there because I thought he had designs on Peg. I didn’t trust him because he was married and he had a girlfriend, I wasn’t going to let him get near Peg.
While we were living here, Peg had become pregnant a couple of times but sadly she miscarried each time.
On way home, stopped in India, I got to see the Taj Mahal.