Douglas, or Scottie as he was known to his mates, was born in Armidale, New South Wales, on the 11th May 1922. (Web Master: The Nominal Roll from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs states that Scottie was born in malvern, Victoria.) His family later moved to Sydney and then to Sri Lanka (Ceylon) and on their return to Australia in 1927, they moved to Melbourne. Scottie’s schooling was at South Yarra School, followed by University High School. He had wanted to continue on to do a civil Engineering Degree at University, but he felt that by 1938, it was time to earn money and contribute to the family, which had become a solo parent family. So, Doug joined Vacuum Oil, later known to the world as Mobil Oil.
In May 1940, he was having lunch with three friends when they all decided they would enlist. Doug thought he would like to be a navigator on a plane. Doug and one of his friends were called up, but Vacuum Oil would not release Doug at the time as he was in a protected role. His friend took Doug’s place in the Air Force, in the 8th Training Course, and was later killed in France. Scottie was embroiled in a long argument with his mother for the next six months until she finally gave permission for him to enter the Air Force. He had spent the six months prior to this on a correspondence course, preparing to go into the Air Force. He was finally released from Vacuum Oil and joined the 9th Training Scheme RAAF on the 7th December 1940.
On call up, he went by truck to Somers, which had once been a Scout Camp on the shores of the Western Port Bay. It was known as No.1 Initial Training School. He was designated as a Pilot (if he passed) from the very beginning. Despite several attempts to be re-classified as an observer (navigator) he was kept in the fighter pilot stream. The discipline was strict but fair. He spent eight weeks at the camp with leave nearly every weekend. From Somers, he was posted to No1. Elementary Flying School at Essendon, much to his annoyance. Essendon was then the airport for Melbourne and was the busiest airport in Australia. He was upset because he had chosen to join the Air Force so that he could see the world, and yet others had been sent to Rhodesian and Canadian Flying Schools.
At Essendon he learnt basic flying in a wooden fabric bi-plane, the famous Tiger Moth. It had two sets of wings, a body, no brakes, a tail skid instead of wheels and rudimentary instrumentation. The instructors were from various flying schools and many had been World War 1 pilots. Learning at Essendon was made more exciting because they shared airspace with all the commercial aircraft and they were all under the control of the Control Tower. When those flying Tiger Moths, which had no radios, were in the way of another aircraft, a Verey light (a flare gun) was shot across their bows. Besides learning to fly, they did courses in navigation and Morse code, both of which were regarded as completely useless for fighter pilots. They used to navigate following land marks such as train lines, and they couldn’t use Morse code while flying.
After graduation from EFTS in 1941 as a LAC (Leading Aircraftsman), Scottie was posted to No2. Service Flying Training School to join the Advanced Training Squadron at Forrest Hill near Wagga Wagga in NSW. He learnt to fly more modern aircraft with all the mod cons, including radio (of sorts), instruments, guns and flaps. The guns fired through the propeller. The aircraft was the Wirraway, an updated version of the Harvard. The Wirraway was the primary defence plane at this stage of the war in Australia. They were taught, as a second stage, the elements of flying in formation and elementary combat. At the end of four months, they graduated as either Pilot Officer or Sergeant Pilot. Scottie was very young (and he claims, immature) and he became a Sergeant Pilot.
Forrest Hill was a very well run station and the town of Wagga Wagga was very Air Force friendly. The downside to flying there was the prevalence of river fogs which led to a number of casualties. On completion of the course, the whole of his intake were posted to other establishments, either to the fighter squadrons in Australia or Papua New Guinea, or further overseas. The four youngest members of the group (including Scottie) were retained in Australia and posted to training duties at No.1 BAGS (Bombing and Gunnery School) at Evans Head, NSW. This was right near the beach. Here he flew the outdated Fairey Battle, towing a drogue, which became the target of trainee gunners from a companion aircraft. Although they sometimes hit the drogue, they also occasionally seemed to delight in aiming for the tow (Scottie!)
He was not amused when his mentor, a former WW1 pilot, told him that the Fairey Battle was safe and an old gentleman’s aircraft. At 19, Scottie did not consider himself in that category. (In fact the Fairey Battle was obsolete before it ever flew in combat). During the Battle of France in May 1940, they were hopelessly outclassed by the Luftwaffe fighters. Ten squadrons had been sent to France and it was utter carnage. They were withdrawn from front line service and those that had survived were used as stable platforms for testing engines, or in the training of air gunners or bomb aimers. Australia acquired 366 for use in air crew training. At Evans Head, Scottie was rostered 20 days on followed by 10 days leave. After four months, he was posted to Air Force headquarters to join No.1 OTU (Operational Training Unit) with no idea what the Unit did or where it was. He reported to Air Force headquarters in St Kilda Road, Melbourne, on the fateful 8th December 1941. That was the day Pearl Harbour was bombed, and the RAAF in Australia changed from a school feeding the Empire to a dual role as its school and active service force, equipped with outmoded assets. At the OTU, he was to fly a Fairey Battle as the target for shooters in Wirraways. Due to a gross shortage of Staff Pilots, he found himself in the back seat of a dual control machine teaching eager young graduates the life saving science of combat flying. The irony was that he had never been in action and had never been instructed what to do if he was. He was with this unit for 18 months and also flew Kittyhawks, Boomerangs and Spitfires.
In mid 1943, he was selected for 79 Squadron and was destined to enter the war proper in Spitfire VC EE850, with the markings UPY. Within a week of joining the Squadron, following some two and a half years service, he received his commission. With just under 1,000 hours in single engine aircraft, but under three in Spitfires, he had far more flying experience than most, but none in combat, although he had been instructing in fighter tactics for some 18 months. In the next 16 months of service, neither UPY nor Doug were scratched.
“Keep Australia on your left and you can’t go wrong. It’s a piece of cake” was the advice from the briefing officer on one of the trips north to Port Moresby. It got better, “When you run out of Australia, you will be in the Torres Strait.” Other bits of useful advice included, “Look out for aircraft wrecks. If you are on course you should never be out of sight of at least one.” Somehow on the 26th June, “C” Flight landed on the Marsden (matting) strip on Goodenough Island, 30km from the mainland of Papua New Guinea. They were there to protect Australia on a find and destroy mission to locate Japanese aircraft. Though there were incidents and casualties for the Squadron, principally during landings caused by poor visibility when other aircraft were taxiing, during Scottie’s time at Goodenough, he never fired a shot in anger. Part of the reason for this safe record was that, despite having one of the fastest aircraft in the war, by the time the Spitfire was in the air and in pursuit of the enemy, the enemy planes were be long gone due to radar shadow and poor communications.
Two qualified engineers were allocated exclusively to each Spitfire and they were assisted by mechanics and aircraft hands. These were the people who kept the aircraft going. They worked long hours in appalling conditions, slept in hot crowded tents, were fed with barely adequate and often unsuitable rations, and had little recreation or amenities. Scottie mentions that he never experienced one case of shoddy or dangerous workmanship. He believed that these men never got their due recognition.
The radio call sign was “Pussy” and flights were “Pussy Red” and “Pussy Blue.” Aircraft on immediate readiness, irrespective of their origination flight, took the call sign “Pussy Purple.” As much of their early work was based on rapid interception, “Pussy Purple” was the call sign they answered to most. Scottie’s business acumen was already starting to show when he took marketing to a new level with permission to paint Vacuum Oil’s logo on the side of his Spitfire. Unfortunately it was done when he was on leave. They used the wrong template and it was made to a size that was destined to get him into trouble with the top brass. See photo.
After eight weeks on Goodenough, the Squadron left for Kiriwina in the Trobriand Islands, where he was until March 1944. From here he went to Los Negros. By this stage, he was one of the few pilots who had not had a major prang, or been forced to bail out. Their main duties now consisted of providing fighter escort cover for bombing raids.
Scottie was credited with 42 operational sorties with only one aborted through aircraft problems. He had slaughtered a forest of cocoanut palms and presumably scared a few Japanese, but never sighted an enemy plane. The final comment on his log book from his CO was: “Above average pilot – average f pilot.”
When the War in the Pacific did come to an end, Scottie, accompanied by a handful of fellow officers, had the salutary experience of accepting the surrender of a very large number of heavily armed Japanese, all based on an island not far from their own base. Doug was discharged on the 20th March 1946.
He returned to Australia and studied accountancy and was admitted to the Commonwealth Institute of Accountants in 1948. He became a Management Consultantand later an international director of W.D. Scott & Co, a well known management consulting company, which later merged with the multinational giant Deloitte. Although the name is the same, he was no relative of the founder of the WD Scott & Co. With Scotts, he was based first in Australia, and later went to New Zealand to establish their branches there, London where he ran their UK and European operations, and also spent time in both Indonesia and the Philippines running assorted projects. Most of his time from 1961 was spent in New Zealand where his three daughters and their families lived.
Recently one of Doug’s grand daughters attended an air show in the UK. There was a demonstration of a lovingly restored Spitfire, which was one that Doug had flown on a few occasions during the war. The irony was that it was restored over a 25 year period at an aerodrome, which was only a 20 minute drive from Doug’s home in Auckland. He didn’t know about its whereabouts until after it had left New Zealand.
Doug died at Auckland on the 4th November 2008 aged 86 years.
Ann Agmen-Smith (nee Scott)
The Spitfire Association