My Grandad didn’t like to talk about his experiences during the war but he did write them down. I thought I’d share his personal account of an unforgettable episode in the conflict with Japan during the Second World War.
We think this occurred in October 1944 in the Gulf of Martaban, Burma (Myanmar).
I reported to 354 Squadron and was crewed -up as a replacement gunner in a crew who were all Canadians. The rest of the crew had already completed about 100 hours of operations so I was always ready to fly as a spare-bod in order to finish my tour at the same time as the rest of the crew.
The squadron carried out two main types of operation. A-Flight conducted low-level bombing and machine-gunning attacks against coastal shipping. B-Flight were mainly engaged upon convoy escort and anti-submarine duties. My crew was in A-Flight but I flew as a spare on several operations with B-Flight crews. Our operations were usually of 10 to 16 hours duration, the longest I did was 22 hours to Singapore where our bomb-load was a single 2501b. bomb. This trip involved five aircraft whereas the usual number was one or two, four of the five were lost on the run-in. During an operation we gunners would change positions every two hours, rotating between rear turret, beam position, nose turret and mid-upper turret.
On operations, we wore a light jungle suit, battle dress top, head set and throat mike, Maewest, parachute harness and a baseball-cap. I don’t know why we wore baseball caps but everybody wore them, it must have been the Canadian influence, the jungle suit was a very light sidcot with a lot of pockets which contained our “survival” kit in case we were shot down.
- water purifying tablets
- a magnifying glass to use to make a fire
- fishing line( no rod )
- shark repellant dye
- a commando knife
- a machete
- a compass
- and we carried a .38 revolver.
Towards the end of our tour we were briefed to attack a target off Cox’s Bazaar on the Arekan Coast the japs were shipping petrol in lighters towed by small paddle steamers. We arrived at first light and shot them up from an altitude of about 50 ft. and they blew up. The steamer had a light machine-gun similar to a Lewis gun for defence but as we approached everyone dived overboard, I don’t blame them either.
The next day another crew was short of a gunner and asked me to stand- in, I was about 30 hours behind my crew so agreed to go with them. We went to the same place at the same time with the same result.
The following day my crew was detailed for operations and at briefing, sure enough, it was the same time same place. It was our 2nd Pilot’s wedding anniversary and he was apprehensive so asked if there was any chance of fighter cover. He was told in no uncertain terms that there would be no request for fighter cover for a single Liberator.
As we were approaching the target at about 50ft. we were attacked by three Zekes (Zeros), they came in line ahead and as we were so low they had to break away upwards which made them a relatively easy target. We shot down the first two then our skipper said “we are going-in” no formal Dinghy Dinghy business. I was in the mid-upper turret and was halfway down from it when we hit the water and I was pitched forward. Seven of us were in the water with the dinghy deployed when the last of the Zekes gunned us in the water killing the pilot and the 2nd. pilot, after three passes it flew off. The rest of us got into the dinghy and started paddling towards the shore which was about a mile away. Progress was very slow so I got into the water and started swimming pushing the dinghy, it wasn’t until I got back to camp that I was told that there were sharks in those waters.
We reached the shore, as we were pulling the dinghy up the beach we heard shouts in the bush (it was bush, not jungle) and ten men in Japanese garb carrying rifles with bayonets appeared. I think that they must have been Koreans as they were very big, over 6ft. tall we couldn’t understand them but they got their message across with their rifles and bayonets. They took us into the bush to a track where they had a lorry parked. We were put into the lorry with the help of rifle butts and they drove off.
We were driven for one and a half or two days non-stop except for when the guards needed a comfort stop, then we were allowed out for the same purpose. Finally, we arrived at a prison camp at Tavoy in South Burma.
The commander was a Major Ipsui and the second in command was Captain Shintu, after the war, I read in the paper that they had both been tried for war crimes, including shooting eight Australians in front of their own graves, and executed by hanging.
We were taken from the truck into the compound, it was just a compound with no gates, wire or watch towers just a bamboo screen. In the compound were two wooden stakes with two naked P.O.W’s. tied to them with barbed wire and left in the sun.
They took us into a basha on our own, it had no furniture at all and we were given nothing to eat or drink until the next day. We were then given a small mug of water and some revolting stew of some sort of meat I think. At intervals, a Jap came in and asked us where we came from and what squadron. Although it turned out that they knew we were from 354, where it was stationed and the name of our CO.
On the third day, we were sitting on the floor, our Flight Engineer (a rather large Anglo-Indian ) was sitting under the window which was just a hole in the wall which could be covered by a bamboo flap. The guard put his head in through the window and the F/E reached up and grasped him by the neck and pulled him in through the window! I don’t know if he was dead or merely stunned but he lay there very still. We were surprised that he had done such a foolish thing (in retrospect it was not so silly) but we went out through the window, pushed our way through the bamboo screen of the compound and ran as fast as we could until we reached some vegetation and on and on until we reached the jungle. We kept going until we could go no further then rested overnight before continuing.
We kept going running and walking for six or seven days and were nearing the end of our tether. We had very little to eat or drink and it was difficult to sleep in the jungle with the noise and the biting insects, we decided that we would have to ask the Burmese for help. Back on the squadron, we had been told that if we came to a river and followed it upstream it would lead us to a village. Coming to a river we went upstream until we came to a village, we were approached by an old Burmese man and our Anglo-Indian F/E was able to make him understand that we needed help.
The old man took us to a basha and indicated that we should go inside, he stayed outside. Inside we found a Jap officer (the Japs used to leave an officer in charge of occupied villages to keep order and check on crops etc.) He drew his revolver and started ushering us towards a cell at the rear of the basha. As we were going along the corridor somebody called out “shoot him”, I was at the back of the crew just in front of the Jap, I turned around and kicked him as hard as I could in the groin. The rest of the crew joined in hitting and kicking him beating him until he lay still then we ran out of the basha.
Outside there was no sign of the Burmese man, which was just as well as there is no knowing what we might have done to him, but there was a vehicle similar to a jeep with several cans of petrol in the back. We all piled into it, I got into the passenger seat, then came to the big anti-climax none of us could drive. My father had had a car before the war and I had a vague idea of what he did so I fiddled about for a while and got it moving. We travelled for a long time in bottom gear before I managed to operate the gear lever and changeup. We were able to travel for many miles as the track was not too bad and we had the cans of petrol. Eventually, we ran out of petrol and had to start walking again.
After a day or day and a half, we saw a military camp but we stayed hidden in the bush because we were not certain whether it belonged to friend or enemy. Some Indian soldiers appeared but we stayed hidden as there were more Indians fighting for the Japs than for us. Eventually, we saw an English officer and made our presence known.
We were such a motley looking crew with an unlikely story that we were kept in the cells while Calcutta and our base were contacted to establish our bona fides. This done we were taken by lorry to Calcutta and flown back to Cuttack. Back at base we spent one night in hospital, I had gone from 10 stone down to 7 stone most of which was put down to dehydration.
During debriefing, I made very clear my views about being sent to the same place at the same time three days in succession. An officer took exception to this and I was put on a charge- conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline etc. etc.
The next day I was taken before the CO. who congratulated me on my safe return and told me that I was being recommended for an award. He then tore a strip off the officer who had charged me. I said that I wasn’t concerned about any decoration but was still very upset that five of my friends had been killed because of a lack of forethought and commonsense. The CO. then dismissed the charge.