THE OLD AND THE BOLD:
A.J.“Nat” Gould, aviator
(This article was first published in NOCN 83, 1 December 2010.)
As a teenager in Queensland during the 1930s, Arthur ‘Nat’ Gould picked mushrooms in nearby fields and sold them. His earnings paid for flying lessons at Archerfield, Brisbane, and he got his ‘A’ licence at the age of 17.
When World War II began he joined the RAAF. He completed the first pilots’ course under the Empire Air Training Scheme, and graduated as Sergeant. He sailed for Britain and on arrival was posted to RAF 17 Squadron, flying Hurricanes in Scotland.
Events now took a strange turn; his introduction to naval aviation was imminent. He was transferred to a new Hurricane squadron, 134, and together with 81 Squadron they embarked in a very old aircraft carrier, HMS Argus, and headed north for three days. They were ordered to take off from the Argus and head for Russia.
Magnetic compasses didn’t work that far north and there was no land in sight. With doubtful navigation, no wind and a slow ship, the take off was worrying. An escorting destroyer obligingly showed them the direction to go. Their briefing had been “Keep heading south and after 30 minutes you will see Russia. You can’t miss it. Turn right. When you come to a big river, follow it; you will come to Murmansk.” Fortunately, it worked; though Nat was greeted with AA fire. A ‘friendly’ welcome indeed!
They were in Russia to help train the locals in both tactics and aircraft maintenance. They stayed there five months, fighting alongside the Russians and escorting their bombers. “Nat” became “Natski”.
Back in Britain in time for Christmas, the squadron re-equipped with Spitfire Mk Vs, and was based in Northern Ireland. Part of the squadron’s role was convoy protection.
But the Japanese had now entered the war and Australia was soon under threat. Transiting via Canada and USA, Nat arrived in Melbourne in May 1942. His new RAAF squadron, No. 75 (Kittyhawks) had had a torrid time in Port Moresby. The squadron was brought back to Australia to reform and was based at Kingaroy, Q. Nat, by now a Pilot Officer, joined them there.
The squadron moved back to New Guinea, and occupied a forward position at Milne Bay. The Japanese forces were about to land from the sea, and the Kittyhawks aimed to prevent that. Nat dive-bombed through heavy AA fire and sank a ship.
Despite the staunch defence of the area, the Japanese landing succeeded; the squadrons found themselves very close to the front line. Ground support sorties would last about 10 minutes, strafing through the jungle canopy to enemy positions marked by flares sent up by army forward observers. Enemy ground fire was a hazard, and they had enemy aircraft to deal with as well. Quite apart from hazards posed by the enemy, living and working conditions were horrendous too.The constant heat, rain and humidity created ideal conditions for malaria, dengue fever, tropical ulcers and insects of all kinds to flourish. The muddy ground was constantly waterlogged. It was hellish.
History records that the Kittyhawks were a major factor in the allied success in the Milne Bay land battles, which saw the Japanese land forces decisively beaten for the first time in WW II. It would be the beginning of the long Japanese retreat.
Then 75 Squadron was withdrawn, and Nat was transferred to Mildura for operational training of new pilots. In October 1943 he moved to 457 Squadron (Spitfires) at Darwin, but was soon moved to Drysdale in the Kimberley. It was the closest RAAF base to Timor, and once Nat was involved in the interception of a Japanese ‘Dinah’ reconnaissance aircraft.
By this time the impact of the war on Australia was winding down; operations had moved far to the north. In mid-1944, Nat was back in a training role at Mildura. He longed to be in the front line, which he reckoned was safer than being stuck with unpredictable trainee pilots.
Nat Gould and mates just before transfer to RANVR
L to R: Bob Davies; G.F. Spencer-Brown; A.J. ‘Nat’ Gould
In June 1945 Nat shaved off his moustache, swapped his Flight Lieutenant’s uniform for the darker-hued one of a Lieutenant RANVR, and began loan service with the Royal Navy. In the final stages of WW II, Nat saw service in the big RN carriers HMS Indomitable, Indefatigable and Implacable, flying Seafires – the naval variant of the Spitfire.
A Firefly, and a group of aviators, on board HMS Implacable in 1946. Nat Gould,
newly commissioned into the Royal Navy, is front right.
He and other transferees were initially based at Schofields for type conversion and deck-landing training. His squadron, 801, with 36 Seafires, was briefly embarked in HMS Indomitable, then for longer periods in both HMS Implacable and HMS Indefatigable in the north-western Pacific. Each ship had over 80 aircraft embarked, and when the ships operated together they put up a formidable strike force. In August 1945, Nat’s ship was north of Truk and heading north for the expected invasion of Japan when word came that the atom bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima. At war’s end, Nat was offered a short-service commission in the RN and moved to England for three years.
Nat transferred back to the RAN to join the newly-established Fleet Air Arm In September 1948, . He and W.G. ‘Jimmy’ Bowles were the first Australians to be appointed to squadron command in the RAN; initially Nat led 816 Squadron (Fireflies) and Jimmy had 805 (Sea Furies). Later Nat took over 805, and saw more operational service in the Korean War, with his squadron embarked in HMAS Sydney. But it was brief; the Korean armistice was imminent. Nat had a total of 17 years service in the RAN, and retired as a Commander in 1965.
Schofields NSW: the first air force-to-navy pilot conversion course, 1945. Nat Gould second
from right and Bob Davies second from left, both in back row; Spencer Brown left, front row.
Nat Gould’s service flying career achievements included qualifying as a flying and instrument instructor. Having completed over 20 jumps, he is also a fully-qualified paratrooper, and is entitled to wear those distinctive wings. These days, he and his wife live quietly and comfortably in Killara. At 90, he’s entitled to slow down a bit. But he still retains the self-confident air of a man who could, if he had to, wrestle a crocodile and placate an angry grizzly bear.
(Thanks to The Spitfire Association for the use of material on its website, and to Nat Gould for further background and the loan of photographs.)