Australian Biography

Ray Whitrod - full interview transcript

Tape of 12

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You obviously had a very eventful and busy war. What sort of a war did Mavis have?

Well, Robin, I must say I ... I didn't until recently fully understand how ... how difficult life had been for her during the war. She's a lass who never complains, but now that she's elderly and a bit more fragile, she's told me a bit more about the problems she had while I was away. She had to bring up two small children. Ian ... When I left to go overseas, Ian was three months old and Andrew was about eighteen months old and she had to bring them up on, on a fairly low salary, severence salary and there was rations and no transport and ... and she felt lonely, so she really had a fairly difficult time. I think one of her worst experiences, Robin, was that when I was stationed at Port Pirie, it was a new air gunnery school. It was one of the last schools you went through as part of your training course, and so it was being built while we were there and conditions were fairly primitive and the airmen trainees' courses hadn't been finished and so you were given permission to live out in the town if you could, and since I would be going overseas fairly soon, I ... I would have liked to have had my family with me. So I managed to get some board for Mavis and the two children, in Port Pirie, and I was able to join every night and sleep with them that night and then go back to work at the airforce in the morning, but Mavis had great difficulty in getting there. She had no transport. She came up by train with a three month old baby and an eighteen month old baby and two heavy suitcases, and it was all right when she left Adelaide because her sisters put her on the train and so forth, and she was able to get a taxi when she got to Port Pirie, but when we left ... We left Port Pirie, at the end of my course, and we went to Mount Gambier and she had to return back to our home in South Plympton. She had to leave the boarding house on her own with two small children, two suitcases and she got to the Port Pirie Railway Station to join the train which had come from Western Australia, [and it] was already full and there was no reservations. It was wartime. And she had to stand in the queue for half an hour 'til she could get to the ticket box to get tickets and then scramble aboard the train with two heavy suitcases and two small children. Got on the train. Had to stand up in the corridor for quite some time before an airmen, who was coming from Western Australia, stood up and gave her his seat. I thought, you know, it was very hard for a young wife with two small children, nursing one, keeping an eye on two suitcases in the corridor and keeping an eighteen month old wanderer happy for the hour and a half train journey, but she never told me about it until perhaps two months ago. But there were other things. We ... we were short of food and so on. She used to write to me every week. I consistently got letters from her. I would write back, quite ... not so often but sometimes the letters were lost at sea. But just an aside. My father kept working at Tandy's which was a confectionary store and they sort of adopted me as their war representative and so every month Tandy's would pack a little box of chocolate, bar chocolate, and send it off to me, for the whole of the war, every month. I never got one. Never reached me and ... and when I was on leave once I went to ... I was friendly with some mates at Scotland Yard, and I complained to them about this theft of postal articles and they said, 'Where are they sent to?' And I said, 'Tandy's send them to me care of Australia House'. And this man said to me, 'Chocolates fetch a high price on the black market in London', so somebody at Australia House had a nice war at my expense. And it was about that time we got, if I talk in this train about the Australian Comforts Fund.

Robin, we'd been on Socotra this horrible place for some time. It was dry, desolate; there were no comforts and food was out of a well, it was brackish, and I wrote to the Australian Comforts Fund headquarters in Cairo, and I was a senior Australian, and there were twelve ... twelve Australians on the squadron at that time. And I wrote to them and said, 'Look I've been in the, in overseas now, I think, two and a half years. I've never received one item from the Australian Comforts Fund. I'm now with a new squadron. They were twelve of us. None of them have ever received a ... a package from the Australian Comforts Fund. What's wrong?' So I got a reply back through ... through the usual channels saying, 'It's near Christmas, we'll send you a Christmas hamper'. So I told the boys and we were ... we were pleased with that of course. And then about a week before Christmas a large tea chest arrived addressed to Flight Lieutenant Whitrod, Kormacsa, Aden, from the Australian Comforts Fund and so we ... we looked at this and we thought will we open it now, and they said, 'No, no, let's wait till Christmas Day'. And so they gathered in my room. Bob Rates [?] in my room on Christmas Day and we opened this tea chest and there were ... there were comforts for twelve in this: twelve pairs of black woollen socks, which we never wore, twelve black pullovers, some packets of chewing gum, some nice little letters from the people who knitted the cardigans and woollens, [saying], 'We hope this will keep you warm', and we were in Kormacsa in Arabia and it was terribly hot. We got a few teethbrushes out of it and nothing else. It's the total amount I received from the Australian Comforts Fund during the whole of the war: one box of cardigans, of pullovers and black socks in Aden. Now what those fellows were doing on the Australian Comforts Fund I'll never know but I ... I finished the war with a few hatreds and one was the liaison officer at Cairo for the Australian Comforts Fund. He happened to have been a South Australian footballer, but I've ... I've never met him. But if I ever meet him there'll be a row.

Now you said that with all the flying and the problems of the flying and so on you ended the war, towards the end you got, as you put it, a bit jittery. When you came home, what effect did that have on your behaviour? We now know about post-traumatic stress disorder. Do you think you might have been suffering from that and other people? And how did it effect you?

It's an area I don't ... I'm not very proud of, Robin. I got home and ... and I stood outside the front gate and wondered what it was going to be like going inside and ... but I went in and ... and the first twenty-four hours it was euphoric. I was home and, and Mavis made much of me and my parents were there and we had some ... They cooked me some apple sponge which I liked and ... and ... but it soon wore off, Robin, I don't know why. I ... I felt I was not at ease. I hadn't been with ... in women's company for three or four years, and not with small children. I felt I had to account for every minute of my time and be very careful with what I was doing and I'd give an order to the two children, like I did to my bearer, and of course they weren't used to me and who was this strange man? So it wasn't a father-son relationship at all. My parents were very kind and understanding but I ... I used to get actually bored, bored stiff, and think, when will I be flying next? And I was home, and I used to go into the city and walk down Rundle Street and look for somebody in airforce uniform. If I did, I'd invite them into the pub, and stay there drinking beer, and we would talk war stories and ... and cry on each other's shoulder - not actually cry, but sympathise with each other and I think that sort of mood lasted quite some time. I know it affected my parents because they suggested that Mavis and I go off on a second honeymoon and they would look after the children. And so we went up to a little place in the Adelaide hills that we'd liked before the war, at Sterling, and I booked Mavis and I. I could only last I think twelve hours and my hands would shake and I'd be very cross with everybody, very irritable. Couldn't eat my food. And luckily my best man, Max Dawson, had just come from the ... from New Guinea. He'd been in the army in the ... in one of the hospital services in the army. He came back and I rang him up and said, 'Max, come and join us', and he didn't want to of course [laughs], because he ... he was rejoining his wife and I said, 'Max, I'm desperate'. So Max come up to Sterling, and stayed with us for the rest of the week and we went for long walks and talked and I talked to a man. I needed a man's response. I didn't want a woman's response and at the end of a week I was sort of half way back to normal and then I went back for a short time to East Sale as an instructor and ... and really felt very depressed and ... and I over ate and never slept and wasn't very good company at all. And it wasn't really until we ... we had our third child, Ruth, who was born after the war, that I sort of managed to shake off that business and I went back to the detective office and they were good. The inspector gave me a youngish plain clothes man to work with and said, 'Ray, work on your own with Ted', because I couldn't work with anybody else, and Ted was very good. He was ... he'd wanted to join the airforce but he'd been too young and he knew his way around wartime Adelaide, which I didn't know, and they changed a great deal in the four years that I'd been away. A lot of American servicemen in, and a lot of new regulations in: rationing, petrol rationing, clothes rationing, a lot of new crimes, federal crimes, but Ted was very good. He sort of jollied me along and with Ruth's ... Ruth's arrival and I sort of took to her. I somehow got out of that ... that mood and I understand what you're talking about with post-traumatic stress because I've been doing some study on that myself for my research.

And you recognise the symptoms?

I now do. Then I didn't. I thought I was being normal, but it must have been sheer hell for Mavis. But she was very kind: never complained, never grizzled, never, never said, 'Can we go out somewhere?' She would cook a hot meal, and I would come home late drunk, not completely drunk, but pretty merry, and wouldn't want any food and go to sleep. It must have been dreadful for her. She'd been waiting four years to return to normal life and for at least for the fortnight's leave I had, it must have been unbearable.

Why do you think the arrival of Ruth made such a difference?

I don't know, Robin. I've never thought about that, but ... and maybe, maybe it might have other things, but she got sick fairly early and I ... I used to stay up and sing lullabies, and somehow I related more to her than the boys. The boys were sort of my father's children in a way and we've become good mates since then, but there's a different ... slightly different relationship between my daughter and me. I suppose there always is between father-daughter rather than father-sons. I mean I've got three wonderful kids. But see, Andrew was going to primary school when I got back and I'd missed all that.

The ... how ... You were then with the South Australian detectives again for a period and, and got yourself back into that situation and ... and even made a bit of a mark for yourself.

Yes, yes, and Mavis and I had done some study. We started to do Italian together at university. We ... I thought I might need some extra help to get me a promotion and ... and Italians were coming out and I thought if I could speak Italian it would add a little thing to my CV and so Mavis and I went to Italian classes but she was much better than me. She'd done Latin 1 and ... and French 1 at the university, which I'd never done any languages at all, so ... so she coached me along.

How did you like her being better than you?

Oh it, it didn't ... it was no problem.

You didn't do a law. You didn't think of enrolling in a law degree?

I did later on but not then. It had ... Law ... well, it did in a way because I was offered a rehab scholarship, Robin. All servicemen were offered a rehab course, and I thought about doing law but it was a five year course and ... and I really needed a firm to go to when you left and they ... the firms were eally ... the law firms rarely sponsored law students in a way, and so ... But later on I did ... I did switch my rehab to do ... to do some law subjects part-time and had to get special permission from the university to do that and I'd done two years law part-time and passed reasonably well: second class honours I suppose is reasonable. It's not brilliant but it's ... it's not bad for a middle-aged family man working full-time otherwise. I got no time off from police work and I used to have to go along at night-time to the university library, but I did a couple of years of law at the university part-time before I was offered a job with the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. That started up in 1949 and that was a couple of years after I'd come back from the war.

How did that happen? How did you get offered that job when ASIO was set up?

I don't really know, Robin. It's interesting. I've had a number of jobs in my life and none of which have been of my own initiation. My first job of course was with the police force and that came about because a telegram from my prospective in-laws saying, 'Apply as a cadet', which I did and then I'd stayed. I was in the police force and I got a phone call at home. I was sufficiently senior then in the detective office to have a phone put in by the office in case they needed me after hours and the phone rang and a strange voice said, 'My name's Bernard Tuck. I want to speak to Ray Whitrod', and I said, 'I'm speaking'. He said, 'I don't suppose you know what I want to talk to you about'. And I said, 'Yes, I do'. And he said, 'What do you ... do I ... what do you think I want to talk to you about?' I said, 'You'll be looking for some good field investigators', and I said, 'I'm one of the best'. And he said, 'How did you know that I'd be looking for field investigators?' I said, 'Well, Mr. Tuck, you were very prominent lawyer in Adelaide. You suddenly disappeared. You ... you closed down your law firm. Nobody knows where you've gone to'. I said, 'It coincides with the creation of the security service'. I said, 'Blind Freddy ... blind Freddy would have worked out where you were', and I said, 'If you're ringing me I've only got one qualification, I'm a good investigator'. He said, 'Well nobody else has worked that out'. So they offered me a job as their first senior field investigator and that's ... and I joined them. I had to go then to Sydney, which was the headquarters, and we had to leave our house and family and Mavis sold the house and packed the furniture and I got a house in Sydney - a very poor house I bought without much notice. It was full of fleas and near the airport. It was noisy. But we lived in Sydney for about a year or so and I was in charge of a team of investigators and most of them were like me: ex-servicemen, ex-police cadets and I was their sort of supervisor and they were a first class group because we were keen and enthusiastic, and at that time Russia looked like being our next enemy. And we'd beaten the Germans and put them back and we were scared that we might lose to the Russians and so it was a very sort of patriotic little team that I ... There were about eight or ten, that I ... that I was in charge of. But we worked very long hours, Robin. I worked six and seven days a week, ten hours a day and ... and Ruth and my wife had ... was in a new suburb, a new town, no friends, had to get the kids to a new school, and she really had another very bad year and I ... and I was a very busy but a very happy investigator, although we weren't very successful, but we were doing our best.

Now tell me why ASIO had been set up in the first place.

Well, there's some conjecture still about that, but to the best of my knowledge it was set up because there was strong suspicions, and I think valid suspicions, that there was a little Russian network operating in Australia during the war, and it was either still in existence or it was lying there ready to be used if ... if there was material in Australia that the Russians wanted. And about this time Australia and Britain and America were interested in atomic weapons and in ballistic missiles and the Australian Government had offered the Woomera rocket range, and this was clearly an espionage target. And so the British MI5 came out and looked at the Australian old security service that was here and said, 'That's not good enough, we need something much better', and so they set up the new Austrian Security Intelligence Organisation from scratch. They used some of the old records from the Commonwealth Investigation Service, which had been the ... the security service and they ... and then the poached the best investigators from the state police force and we set up the force that way.

Who was in charge of setting it up?

Oh well, that's another coincidence. The ... the first director general was Judge Reid from Adelaide and he'd heard a number of my cases that I'd been giving evidence in at the Supreme Court and I think perhaps he was the one who'd sort of pointed the finger at me as a likely recruit, and so he'd got leave from the Supreme Court in Adelaide to go to Sydney to set up ASIO.

What was your actual task? Where did you fit in to the picture?

Well, for the first twelve months I was ... my little team ... we were called B2 which was counter espionage. Our job was to try and track down the ... the members of that espionage network that had developed in Australia during the war and the ... the routes had supplied certain clues as to the identities of the twelve or so members, and we had to put together a ... a little patchwork of clues to match those identities and to try and get, I suppose, eventually confessions from those members so that we could, I suppose, prosecute or nullify the Russian network.

And how did you go actually go about it? I mean you hadn't had any training in this kind of security work. Did you have any guidance about what to do?

Yes, we did in a general way, Robin. We had a liaison officer with us from MI5 in ... in London and he sort of set out the ... the targets and the ... and the general rules of inquiry and so forth, but ours ... we did a lot of shadowing of ... of members of the Communist Party and ... and of their Central Committee. We found out who they were associating with and we kept our eye on a number of suspect members in the Australian Government service, who we suspected might have some Russian sympathies. And one of ... one of our methods was this shadowing and it was something we learnt on the spot. We weren't very good at it. I did a lot of this myself. We had a car. It was my family car as a matter of fact, we bought with ASIO funds. They'd loaned me the money, interest-free and I'd brought a car, a civilian car, and I would drive out mainly at night time, after five o'clock, with a fairly attractive lady in the front seat. She was also a member of ASIO. She had been an Australian WRAN during the war: Moya. Moya was a very good friend of mine and ... and we would go out and ... and keep watch on various houses and offices and so forth, and we made ... we thought we were less obvious if there were a couple in the front seat of the car, rather than two burly men with felt hats on. And so Moya and I spent long hours together, one, two and three and four o'clock in the morning, and I'd go home and ... and Mavis would say, 'Where have you been?' And I'd say, 'I've been out with Moya', and she never, never was ever jealous about that. Moya was very good. We were very good mates and we never sort of developed any ... any relationship of that sort, but we were very good friends and we've remained so ever since.

Did you have any doubts while you were working at ASIO about the validity of what it was doing? Did you ever have any doubts about the validity of ASIO's objectives? Did you ever wonder what you were doing?

No, no, we were ... we ... My little team, which I spent a lot of time with of course, we were ... we'd been in the service. We'd ... we'd been members of an armed service fighting the Germans and we'd done that to the best of our ability. Now here was a new enemy coming on the scene, you know. We were ... we were quite ... I don't think that doubt ever came to our mind that maybe, maybe the Russians were friends. But of course they weren't friends and they were in fact seeking out information from us. There'd been some exposures in Canada. There was a big one, the Gesanko [?], I think from memory, [and] one in Ottawa, where there'd been a Russian spy work exposed and we weren't too far removed from the Fuchs [?] episode where they'd got hold of the atomic recipe and so forth. So it never ... it never occurred to any of our people that ... that we were not doing something which was in the national good.

You were a team. Did everybody, who worked at ASIO at the time, pull their weight properly?

Well, yes I think we did in a way. We ... Our outdoor investigation team, as I told you, was a top notch team and I suppose it's hard to compare that with some who were doing sort of fairly dull indoor jobs and so I don't know what the ... how the indoor team worked. In a sense I think they grew to become bureaucrats in the normal public service way, and perhaps some of them weren't as imbued with the ... with the idealism of my team. One or two I was worried about. I thought they were fakes, and eventually one was exposed as such and ... and when Spry came along. He got rid of him.

Did you have the assistance of any kind of modern technology to help you with your surveillance? I mean, did you have methods of bugging or ... or phones, or in some way bugging apartments, or anything like that? Did you have the assistance?

No, no. This was very early and our methods were very unsophisticated and I think towards the end, Spry got permission to tap a couple of telephones, but I'm not too sure about that. I think there was approval by the Federal Government to do that. But our main target that we'd worked out in Sydney was the Tass representative. He was a journalist for the Russian newspaper and that required him to go to lots of places legitimately in the purposes of his job and he was allowed a great deal of freedom - more freedom than a member of the Russian Embassy ever had, and so we very ... we very ... we kept a lot of close watch on ... on Nossov. In fact our main effort was in regards to Nossov, and we paid him a lot of attention. But at one stage we ... I know we tried to bug his place without, I'm not sure, that ever I got official permission to do this. I thought what the DG doesn't know, won't worry him, and we put in a very, a very crude bug, Robin, which was the size of a football and this was, I mean, obvious to anybody and I'm sure that Nossov, who'd been trained by ... by the Russians would have picked up that we were ... we were watching him very closely.

It turned out later that Nossov in fact had been spying, didn't it, with documents that have come only relatively recently to life, that you actually right about him?

Yes, yes, we were right and course there was the ... the Petrov Commission which came about after ... just after I left ASIO. I got another position, and Petrov brought with him a number of documents which ... which gave data and information, which more clearly pinpointed who those people had been in a wartime net, but I'd moved on by then to take charge of the Commonwealth Investigation Service.

When you put the bug the size of a football into Nossov's apartment, how did you get it in there?

Well, I'd ... Nossov was living in a block of flats in Kings Cross and we'd ... I'd manage to secure the rental of the flat above, and we'd got one of our team to live in the flat with his wife, and he lived in the flat above and ... and we'd bored down through the ... through the floorboards into the ceiling. And this was a very stupid job we'd done and some of the flakes of the plaster fell down onto Nossov's carpet one day when he was out, and I had to rush downstairs and talk to the caretaker and persuade the caretaker to let me go into Nossov's flat and clean up the ... the mess on the floor. But it was very stupid, very amateurish and ... and I was very regretful about what I'd done.

You had been recruited under the leadership of Justice Reid. He was succeeded by Colonel Spry. How did you get on with Colonel Spry?

Well, Colonel Spry had come from the army and he was a different type of personality to Reid. Reid was the ... a judge of the Supreme Court and thought and acted like a judge: deliberately and with due caution and with due consideration. Spry had been a permanent army officer and he expected things to be done much more rapidly and with ... and perhaps more ... What's the word I wanted? More efficiently perhaps. I got on very well with Spry and it was through him actually that I went across to the Investigation Service. Robin, the Commonwealth Investigation Service had been a long time body in the Commonwealth public service and its job had been to carry out investigations on behalf of government departments, and also to oversee a uniform guard group called the Peace Officer Guard. And they'd been up 'til '49, they'd been the ... the liaison with MI5 in London and with the FBI in America and they ... and they'd kept watch on a number of what were they thought were seditious organisations so they had lots of old files. But they were very poorly staffed and ... and really weren't very skilled in this area at all, and that's why MI5 had asked the Australian Government to set up a brand new body. But there was a lot of information that were in the old CIS files, and there were a few good men in the CIS that ASIO picked the eyes out of, and so CIS was there as a part of the permanent public service. ASIO was an outside, new, foreign, exotic body and there was some friction between the two. And Spry ... The director of the Commonwealth Investigation Service was a very nice old chap called Lloyd and he was about to retire, and Spry thought it would be a good idea if he got one of his men in charge of that ... that body and so he asked me to ... to apply and the Commonwealth Public Service Board looked at my credentials and ... and appointed me as director of the Commonwealth Investigation Service.

And did the liaison with Spry work out well then? Did you have a lot to do with him?

No, it didn't, Robin, and I never, never knew why. Spry never made contact with me afterwards. I never got invited back to any of his social functions. I never got invited back to any of his annual conferences to which he used to invite the State police. Never invited me at all, and I was never made welcome at the police headquarters in [Melbourne].

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