Gould, Arthur John “Nat”

Arthur, or Nat (or Natski after he served for a time in Russia) as some of his mates called him, was born on the 5th May 1920 in Roma, Queensland, and he enlisted on the 29th April 1940 in Brisbane.

Nat has had a most extraordinary career and has flown 34 types of aircraft; single engine, twin engine, helicopters, propeller and jet. The majority of hours in flying order were Hurricanes, Spitfires Mark VCs and Mark VIII, Seafires Mark IIIs and XVs, Seafurys and Fireflys, all single engine top line fighters.

He collected mushrooms, scrimped and saved to learn to fly at Archerfield Queensland, and at 17 years of age he was granted an “A” licence. When war was declared, he joined the RAAF and was accepted into No.1 Course Empire Air Training Scheme. He graduated Sergeant, and sailed for England in December 1940. On arrival, he was posted to 17 Squadron RAF flying Hurricanes in Scotland.

Nat’s first sight of a Spitfire was in January 1941 when he had just arrived in the UK. He watched an RAF Squadron scramble from an airfield just north of London to intercept an incoming wave of German Bombers. However, it was to be some time before he actually flew a Spitfire.

Events then took a strange turn and his introduction to naval aviation was imminent. Nat was transferred to the newly formed 134 Squadron RAF (Hurricanes) and with 81 Squadron RAF, prepared to go to Russia. They boarded “Argus”, the first true aircraft carrier, which was commissioned in 1918 (see photo below) and rather crude when compared with later carriers. After a few frigid, wet days, they were close to and ready to fly to Russia. The pre-flight was as follows: “Keep heading 180 degrees and after ½ hour, you will hit Russia. You can’t miss a big country. Then turn right and soon you will see a big river. Follow that and there is Murmansk. 

Gould A.J. Nat  Pic 2With no wind and a slow boat, the planned take off was more than worrying. However, they eventually took to the air, but being inside the Arctic Circle, compasses were useless, Russian maps illegible and there was no land in sight. They lined up Argus and an escorting destroyer, thus heading 180 degrees for Russia.  

The purpose of their trip to Russia was to show the Russians how to fly a fighter and be trained in fighter tactics and maintain the Hurricanes. He was met with anti aircraft fire from his erstwhile allies and was lucky to evade it before he landed, somewhat resentful of his hot reception.

They stayed in Russia for five months and fought with the Russians and escorted their bombers. Then it was back to England for Xmas and up to Northern Ireland flying Spitfire Vs. The squadron was being equipped with Spitfires and Nat remembers being delighted with the aircraft’s beautiful handling and response compared to the more robust characteristics of the Hurricane.

The Squadron, whilst in Northern Ireland, was on rest and also there to carry out protection of the vital convoys bringing much needed help to the UK. Here, they had Mark IIs and VAs.

As the Japanese were now threatening Australia’s part of the world, he was anxious to return home to help out. After a lot of time transiting Canada and the USA, Nat arrived in Melbourne on the 19th May 1942.

In June 1942, Nat joined 75 Squadron (Kittyhawks) RAAF in Kingaroy, Queensland. The Squadron had been hurridly formed in the previous March to help defend Port Moresby. It had more than a torrid time there, losing 22 out of its original compliment of 25 aircraft, and it had just returned in May, when Nat joined. When it had reformed, the Squadron moved to a forward position, Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea and carried out patrols, and intercepting Japanese aircraft on many occasions.

Life in continual wet, humid conditions was hell with Malaria, Dengue fever, insects and medical problems. Flying conditions were not the best. A strip of steel matting laid on water-logged ground became covered in mud. A veritable skating rink amongst cloud covered high hills. Nat said that things were pretty dicey at this stage of the War. Squadron leader Peter Turnbull was shot down and killed soon after take off by Japanese ground fire. There were two airstrips, one not being used, and the Japs got as far as the second one. Nat was conducting strafing operations over the thick jungle canopy whilst guided by flares being sent up by the forward units of the Army. It was pretty brisk and sorties would last about 10 minutes. Later he was to learn that the Squadron had provided excellent support to the army and the attrition rate on the enemy was very high. It was here that the Army finally clobbered them and the Jap’s started their long retreat.

Whilst in this area of operation, Nat tells an interesting tale about one of his exploits. The Japanese fleet was sighted on the 25th August as it was coming to invade Papua New Guinea. 75 and 76 Squadrons, carrying 500 lb (230 kilograms) bombs, attacked with some success, however the Japanese landed and for days the Kittyhawks flew day in and day out at tree top level giving support to the Australian troops.

Nat’s CO briefed them on what to expect, and made it very clear that they were to concentrate on the troop ships, which were supposed to be a more important target than the Jap cruisers and destroyers that accompanied the troops. The aim was to stop the enemy from landing.

On one occasion, Nat’s aircraft was in heavy cloud and through a gap in the whiteout, he spied a vague shape that appeared to be a Jap troop convoy. He and his fellow pilots peeled off and attacked. Nat thought that the anti aircraft fire was bloody heavy and the eight inch guns were being used to shock us out of the air by concussion. He pressed on and dive bombed what he though was a troop ship. His main idea was to get in and get out as quickly as possible, hopefully all in one piece. On returning to base the CO met Nat with much excitement and congratulated him on his bravery in attacking and sinking a Flak ship, but was misheard by records and Nat was erroneously credited as having sunk a Flag Ship.

By late August 1942, it appeared the enemy could take over, and 75 and 76 Squadrons evacuated to Port Moresby. From there, they continued their attacks until the Japanese re-embarked. Victory had been achieved, with the help of outstanding air support. 75 Squadron was withdrawn and Nat was transferred to Mildura.

At Mildura, Nat joined Keith Gamble’s Spitfire Conversion Flight at No. 2 OTU. There, he had his first Spitfire flight before training the newly “winged” Wirraway pilots in their conversions to their new aircraft, as well as teaching them fighter tactics and battle formations. 

In October 1943, after doing his time at Mildura, Nat was fortunate enough to wangle a posting to 457 Squadron at Livingstone, Darwin where he spent many happy hours in the Spitfire Mark VC. Shortly after his arrival, he was posted to Drysdale, now Kalumburu, Western Australia, and the closest Australian strip to Timor. On the 5th November, Nat and other members of “A” Flight intercepted a Japanese Dinah reconnaissance plane and badly damaged it. The photo is of some of the 457 Squadron men at Sattler, near Darwin. Nat is in the front row, third from left.

By March 1944, the war was fast moving northwards, so he saw very little action. At one stage, the Squadron accompanied by Squadron 452 flew to Perth as rumour had circulated that a large Japanese task force was in the area. When this did not eventuate, the Squadrons returned back to Darwin later the same month in a more than dangerous flight. Nat’s last operation was “Potshot” from the 10th to the 25th May, 1944. This was protecting an Allied task force which was refuelling and rearming in Exmouth Gulf. (Web Master: Operation Potshot was the establishment of an advanced aerodrome (now Learmonth) and submarine base at the southern end of Exmouth Gulf. Here, RAAF and AMF units combined with USN forces to construct, man and defend a base, the aim of which was to increase the number of submarine patrols sailing from the west.)

Nat left 457 Squadron on the 19 th August 1944 and returned to Mildura, where he eventually became unhappy. Although he was flying a lot, he wanted to get back into the front line operations. Nat laughed and said, “It was more dangerous there from trainee pilots than in the front line”. Funnily enough, through a strange set of events Nat was indeed granted that wish.

On the 17th June 1945, he shaved off his moustache, swapped his Flight Lieutenant’s uniform for a Lieutenant Royal Australian Navy Volunteer Reserve uniform, and was posted on loan to the Royal Navy. In no time he was flying off aircraft carriers. 457 Squadron 1944

His RAAF logbook shows he notched up 350 hours in Spitfires (Mark II, Va, Vb, Vc and VIII) and a rather strange two seat version of a Spitfire where he did circuits and landings from both the front and rear seats to judge the aircraft’s suitability for training. His Navy Log Books record a further 213 hours in the naval version of the Spitfire, called the Seafire.

At the end of the War, Nat with four other pilots was offered a short service commission in the Royal Navy. He moved to England and spent three years with them. In September 1948, Nat transferred to the Royal Australian Navy Fleet Air Arm and stayed there for 17 years until 1965. During this time, he was fortunate enough to command 816 Firefly Squadron and 805 Sea Fury Squadron. This command was located at Naval Air Station, Nowra and in HMAS Sydney including a tour during the Korean War.

The number of specialist courses he attended and passed in England, USA and Australia would fill pages. He became a fully qualified flying and instrument instructor, he completed many naval sea courses and he is qualified to wear Paratrooper Wings. (He completed over 20 jumps). The grand total of the Spitfire family is some 565 wonderful hours. A lot of take off and landings, said Nat. He retired from the RAN as a Commander on the 4th May 1965.

In 2006, Nat travelled with some of the Spitfire Association members to the Temora Aviation Museum and had the opportunity once again, some 50 years or more later, of sitting in a Spitfire Mark V111 cockpit. One wonders how Nat felt when he eased into the seat and grasped the joy stick one last time. His face usually expressive was set and showed no emotion, but we suspect that he was once again reliving some stirring adventures and his adrenaline gave a little spurt once again.

Nat Gould and Steve McGregor
Updated by Vince Conant
The Spitfire Association