Interview with Timothy Sindall


Interview with Timothy Sindall


Timothy Sindall is the son of James Herbert Sindall DSO, whose career as a pilot in the Royal Air Force started in the mid-1930s. Following the discovery of all of James logbooks, personal letters and newspaper cutting, Timothy has put together a biographical account of his father’s career. The logbooks have provided a detailed account of aircraft and sorties flown. Letters to family give detailed accounts of various incidents, including one where he was forced to crash in Norfolk and another where he faced a court martial. A letter from a former prisoner of war who worked on the Burma railway describes how morale amongst prisoners raised when operations against the Japanese reached them. His first logbooks commence with him being a civilian and then joining the Royal Air Force qualifying as a pilot in 1936. At the outbreak of the war, he was posted to the Central Flying School to train new recruits. In 1941, he was posted onto Wellingtons at 115 Squadron at RAF Marham and then in 1942 he was sent to Air Headquarter in India. Much of 1943 was lost when James contacted malaria. 1944 saw a return to operations, when he was posted onto B-24s of 215 Squadron. Bombing operations throughout South East Asia were then carried out. Post war, James served in the Air Ministry.




Temporal Coverage




01:41:46 audio recording


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CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today is the 1st of August 2017 and I’m in East Horsley, in Surrey with Tim Sindall to talk about his father, James [unclear] Sindall, DSO. And we are going through all the details that Tim has amassed on his father’s life.
TS: Whilst my father James Heaven Sindall was alive, he in common with many others of his time very rarely spoke about his wartime experiences and yet I knew sufficient to respect him greatly for all he had achieved and was awed as to his unquestioned bravery in operations. After Madge, my mother, died at an all too early age, he withdrew into himself and sought solace in adventures at Salcombe for fishing, France, caravanning and Spain, a house he had built for him in an olive groove. He was careful as to those he accepted as friends for he was a handsome man and his neighbours never tired of trying to fix him up with solo female companions. But this was not what he wanted. He always welcomed my family to his house in [unclear] and he loved having us there for holidays, but he refused to install a telephone, so communications of other types relied upon the personal services. Only towards the very end of his life did I discover some tin trunks hidden under the stairs of the house where his sister lived and I didn’t have time to ferret around their contents until the end of the year 2010 when I came across his pilot’s flying logbooks, letters and other documents. These contained such a wealth of information that I simply knew that I had to commit time and energy in compiling his biography, not just for my own satisfaction but also for that of my family who had already begun to ask questions and to encourage my endeavours.
CB: Go.
TS: Chapter one in the biography is entitled flying begins between the years 1933 and ’36. James Heaven Sindall was born at home on the 12th of November 1909 at 41 Clock House Road, Beckenham urban district in the county of Kent to Annie Agnes Sindall and, formerly Heaven and Owen Sindall whose occupation was given as accounts clerk. The birth was registered on the 24th of December 1909 in the district of Bromley. James attended Worcester college Westcliff between 1922 and 1924 and then Eaton High School Southend from 1924 until 1927. One of his sports was boxing and we have a medal that he was awarded for his prowess in the sport. His civilian occupation after leaving school was as a clerk and include working for first, the Anglo International Bank EC between 1929 and 1933, then Novel Libraries Limited in 1934, and thirdly, the Bank of British West Africa between 1934 and ’35, all these appointments I believe to have been in London. But whilst he was working as a clerk, he joined the territorial army, the London regiment, the 14th, the London Scottish, as a private on the 20th of March 1929 and was promoted to Lance Corporal on the 16th of June 1932. He attended training camps annually between 1930 and 1933 but relinquished his appointment in January 1934 and was discharged on the 8th of July that year, quote, having been appointed to a commission in the RAFO and quote, RAFO means Reserve of RAF Officers. Whilst with the territorial army, James’s army number was 6666088. His military history sheet showed that his service was at home i.e. not abroad and that it counted as British, i.e. not India, and that its length was five years, 111 days. Now we move on to 1933, to a paragraph entitled flying training in Essex. The first flying records contained in a civilian pilot’s logbook begin just before the 9th of July 1933, the date of his second flight and show two dual training flights at Gravesend airport, each of twenty minutes. Subsequently, James undertook six further dual training flights, each lasting between fifteen and thirty minutes from Southend Airport in Gypsy Moth Golf Echo Bravo Tango Golf. An entry made on the 26th of June records landed plane ok, obviously with some pride. The last flight made in this phase of training took place in July at whilst still [unclear] includes the comment, take-off and landing solo, which to me seems to imply that captain [unclear] his instructor allowed James to manage the flight. We now move on to 1934, flying training sponsored by the Royal Air Force. The same flying logbook shows that James was at this time living with his parents and sister at Outspan, Nelson Road, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, a semidetached house that remained the family home until after he died in May 1991. Issue 34072 of the London Gazette, dated the 24th of July 1934, shows James being granted a commission in the Royal Air Force reserve as pilot officer on probation, class 1AA little 2 with effect from the 9th of July 1934. This was the same date when he was authorised to wear the RAFO flying badge. His personal number in the Royal Air Force was 37365. It would appear that James recommenced flying training on Tiger Moths at Hatfield in July ’34 being deemed ready for solo on the 4th of August but actually doing so in Golf Alpha Charlie Delta Echo on the 14th for five minutes. The exercise he performed were 6, 7 and 14 meaning taking off into wind, landing in judging distances and solo, in other words, probably just one, thrilling circuit. This allowed him to enter into the remark column first solo. He flew a solo again on the next couple of days but mostly however after that his instructor Cox took him through turn, spinning, glides and aerobatics, as well as the all-important take offs and landings. The ammunition of course on DH82 aeroplanes run by the De Havilland aircraft company Limited took 56 days to complete. His assessments for airmanship, air pilot, forced landings, cross country flights, and instrument flights were average. The chief instructor commented on the 12th of September, he has definitely improved throughout the course, his flying has been consistent, aerobatics require more practice, he is very keen and should make a sound pilot. 1935, We have Consolidation and the start of service flying training. The pilot’s logbook records that James flew Avro Cadet, Golf Alpha Charlie Tango Bravo three times from Rochford on the 17th of March, James flew with Glava again on the 8th of April from Rochford, diverted to Gravesend owing to rain. Flying training resumed on the 15th of March, when James was back at Hatfield, once again flying Tiger Moths solo. They were doing advanced forced landings, reconnaissance, instrument practice, spinning, loops, aerobatics, cross country and general flying. On the 27th of April, the logbook shows that James flying solo, quote, landed Luton to find direction and quote, five minutes later he was off again, flying under very low cloud back to Hatfield. The course ended on the 1st of May 1935 when ten hours total had been flown. This time his performance was assessed as average on all counts, adding, he is very keen, he displays ability, and with more experience should make a very sound and reliable pilot. Now, between the 8th of June and the 24th of September 1935, it would appear that James undertook several private flights in Avro Cadets flying Moth airplanes, three notable entries in the remarks column of the pilot’s logbook included, flying his first passenger on the 2nd of July a Ms Keithley who is possibly associated with a film crew and she joined him on seven other occasions in dispersed with film job, going to location, line take off etcetera for Wells film Things to Come. The second item was flying Madge her first flight. That was F O Madge Birchall who became my mother. This a twenty-minute flight made on the 6th of July must have been a wonderful moment, for three years later James and Madge were married and the third point was flying O Sindall, that’s Owen, James’s father to London and back on the 9th of July, almost certainly the first time he had ever flown. By the end of September, James has amassed forty hours and forty minutes dual time and forty two hours and forty-five minutes solo and the London Gazette dated the 10th of September ’35 shows James being confirmed in the rank of pilot officer on probation in the RAF reserve and then, in 1935, on the 22nd of October, the London Gazette shows James relinquishing his commission in the RAFO on appointment to a short service commission with the RAF to take effect from the 7th of October. His first posting was to the RAF depot at Uxbridge and then to number 6 Flying Training School at Netheravon. The first page of James’s logbook here shows that James’s RAF flying training proper began at number 6 Flying Training School Netheravon and entry at Reading records I certify that I understand the petrol system and that I know the action in the event of fire in the air, also the use of breaks on the Hawker Hart. His first instructional flight in a Tudor includes spinning and the second slow rolls and loops. His third flight was the CFO eyes test which could have been to ascertain or confirm that James had the potential to benefit from further instruction.
CB: Right.
TS: James was clearly very impressed with the Hart and wrote to his mother on the 2nd of November 1935, have been flying Harts, look, something like this, enclosed a picture of a Hart, not a good one, I intended to draw it but I could not do it justice so here’s a picture of a Demon, same makers and practically the same, the only difference being that the exhaust comes out under the lower wing as I have [unclear].
CB: Just doing that again.
TS: James was clearly very impressed with the Hart and wrote to his mother on the 2nd of November 1935, have been flying Harts, look, something like this, I intended to draw it but I could not do it justice so here’s the picture of a Demon, same makers and practically the same, the only difference being that the exhaust comes out under the lower wing as I have [unclear] and I fly it from the front office and not from the back. After crawling around at 70mph in the Moths at home, you can imagine the thrill of cruising at 130 and at full throttle speed of 160 to 170mph. Coming out of a spin, a Hart is pointing vertically downward and everything screams, wires, struts and me until she comes out. I have not had the time to look at the speed indicator, but it must register something horrid. The sticks tooks up getting used to, not like the usual straight at moving in all directions from the floor, sideways and forwards but hinged just above the lease for sideways movement and both together for fore and after. The top is a ring, a spade grip and the two little leavers are thumb leavers to push to operate the forward guns which fire through the propeller. It is great to hurtle around the sky so fast. As a preface to this letter, James had written, no doubt to calm his mother’s fears, always remember that with machines there is more safety the faster one goes. James’s flying training, which included aerobatics, instrument and lower flying, cross country and flair path exercises on Tutors, Harts and Audax aircraft continued until February 1936. He recorded that on New Year’s Day 1936, whilst flying solo in Audax K4393, he carried out a forced landing at Portham being flown back as passenger to Netheravon in a Tutor nineteen minutes later. He also recorded that on the course of a solo flight made in a Hart, he carried out loops, spins and stall turns, notwithstanding that spinning had not been part of the planned exercise. On completion of his RAF training, James’s proficiency as a pilot on type and his instrument flying assessment were both recorded as average with a note, that disregards the standard entry any special [unclear] in flying which must be watched, must look after his engine. No other outstanding faults. These entries were dated the 16th of February 1936 and he was then qualified for certificate B under King’s regulations at air staff instructions. On the 6th of March James was posted to number 64 Fighter Squadron stationed in the Middle East. Chapter 2, fighter aeroplane to the Middle East and testing parachutes 1936 to 1939. First of all, a fighter squadron in Egypt. On the 6th of March 1936, James was posted to number 64 Fighter Squadron that was stationed in the Middle East. The RAF history records that number 64 had reformed in Heliopolis on the 1st of March although for political reasons it had been announced as having reformed at Henlow so as not to disclose its true location. The squadron was commanded by squadron leader Patrick John [unclear] having been established by authority. Now the RAF Form 540 which is the operations record book states that the original intention had been to form the squadron under peacetime conditions as part of the RAF expansion scheme. It was to form in Egypt to relieve congestion at home and by taking advantage of the good flying weather in this country to become fully trained as quickly as possible. Its Demons, fitted with derated Rolls Royce Kestrel V engines had already been set out to Egypt where they formed D flights in number 6 Bomber and 208 Army Cooperation squadrons and these were transferred during March to number 64 Squadron. The next entry in James’s flying logbook shows that he’d been transferred to number 208 Army Cooperation Squadron being based at Heliopolis. The unit was seemed to have being carried up type and role version at area familiarisation training. On the 19th of March, he was given a 35-minute checkout in an Audax after which he was sent off solo for general flying, navigation, formation and landing practices. A separate entry dated the 6th of April 1936 reads authorised to wear the flying badge with effect from the 20th of February 1936. He signed this as pilot officer and it was countersigned by a flight lieutenant, O C A flight 64 Squadron. On the following page of the logbook the heading number 64 fighter squadron Egypt appears. The first flight which was also from Heliopolis was made solo with balance to assimilate the way to a passenger in a Hawk Demon K4516 that lasted for thirty minutes. Two days later James flew again for landing practice, this time with aircraftsmen turrets on board. On the 9th of April, the squadron moved to Ismailia, James being a passenger in a Victoria 6. It had been the original intention to move to Mersa Matruh east but, due to severe engine troubles, which all squadrons operating in the western desert had been experiencing, it was decided to keep number 64 Squadron at a less dusty aerodrome, a turret should be required for the actual operations. The squadron consisted of three flying flights of four aeroplanes with no reserves. Its strength was thirteen officers and 153 other ranks. With the Abyssinian crisis still on, the squadrons duties were to carry out attacks on enemy airfields and act as cover for bombers being refuelled at advanced landing grounds. However, until required to commence these operations, the squadron carried out on normal training whilst being kept at 72 hours readiness to move to Sidi Barrani whence operational sorties would be flown. On the 15th, James was airborne again for a local familiarisation flight and this was followed by practice force landing, aerobatics, formation and air to ground firing with the front guns. On the 27th of April, he flew to and landed at Suez at Little Bitter Lake airfields. On the 28th and 29th he recorded battle climbs, five thousand feet in four minutes, ten thousand in seven and sixteen thousand feet in eleven and then he recorded on another flight, five thousand feet in five minutes, ten thousand in ten and sixteen thousand in fifteen. On the 19th of May, James was regraded from acting pilot officer on probation to pilot officer on probation. May was spent practicing more air to ground firing by the front guns and those fired by an air gunner, formation flying, aerobatics, air to air firing and on the 16th he undertook a twenty minute test flight in a Vickers Valentia with sergeant Higgins. In June 1936 this training continued with visits to Mersa Matruh, Sidi Barrani, Solum and Amira. He flew to [unclear] on the 6th of June to enable the engine of the Valentia to be changed of, I think it must be a Hart which had forced landed there. Also on the 18th he flew in a Gordon 2617 for two hours on a target train mission to facilitate air to air gunnery. In July a number of flights were made to test engine air filters fitted to Demons and James carried out some flair path landings and the times to height that I recorded just now were probably associated with these air filter engine performance trials. Number 64 Fighter Squadron returned to the UK in August 1936 to form part of the fighter defences of London. James’s logbook showed no flying during the months of August and September. By the time he’d left Egypt, he had amassed sixty-five hours and thirty-five minutes solo flying on Demons. On the 22nd of October, James flew in English skies once again, in Bristol Bulldog 1961 Martlesham Heath checking up on landmarks. His next flight on the 10th of November included formatting with a flying boat over Felixstowe. Thereafter, his flights included formation landings, circuits and bumps, cloud flying, testing RT, that’s the radio telephone and aerobatics. On the 3rd of December he flew Demon K4509 over [unclear] and Bexley on a tactical exercise radar on London fog and smoke and this is the first time he’s recorded undertaking flying, probably in association with Bentley Priory, beginning to trial the air defence of Great Britain, the radar chain. On the 8th of December 1936, James was confirmed in the rank of pilot officer with effect from the 7th of October 1936.
CB: Now back in Egypt. No, ok.
TS: We’re not, we’re back in the UK. We’ve come back to the UK.
CB: OK, that’s fine. Keep going.
TS: 1936, the parachute test flight. January 1937 saw James involved in testing camera guidance and in rearming and refuelling exercises, followed by quick getaways and battle climbs. There were more raids on London exercises. On the 27th of January 1937, James flew for the last time with his squadron, his logbook recording his proficiency as a pilot on Demons as average. James moved to the home aircraft depot at Henlow where he flew again on the 9th of February in a Tiger Moth on a refresher test. He then began a series of flights as a second pilot on the tail of the Vickers Victoria a Virginia aircraft drop testing parachutes, eight on each flight attached to dummies. He also made eight solo flights in a Hawker Hind, on one of which he, quote, landed to retrieve map near Bournemouth, and quote, after having encountered bad visibility, mist and rain. In March he carried out sundry flying tasks in a Tiger Moth, Prefect and Hind. These tasks included map reading tests for sergeant pilots, air sickness tests for aircraftsmen, photography and high-speed parachute dropping. Typical entries read, from ten thousand foot, 265mph, twelve thousand feet, 295mph, pull out four to six hundred feet, engine can’t take it at two thousand eight hundred revs in the dive, cutting out, boost minus two. On the 17th and 22nd James records, general flying over flooded areas and on the 23rd, search for Green Tiger Moth Duchess of Bedford, lost since previous evening. A note at the foot of this page records, struts and portion of aircrew recovered from the Wash confirms from the Duchess of Bedford’s machine. In April, James flew to Sealand, recording to [unclear] a new aircraft, with regard to an Audax that he’d got, with a hundred and fifty LSI airspeed indicator, with two thousand two hundred and fifty revs cruising, then he returned to Henlow in the, the Blackburn after which he recorded flying Blackburn hard labour all the time. After flying Moth 1889 on air experience for parachute pull off, he made two more flights in the Fairey to Cardington and back. At the end of the month, James signed off the months flying totals for the first time as officer commanding parachute test flight home aircraft depot Henlow. May began with a short flight in a Fairey 3F, followed that afternoon by an entry in red ink, live parachute pull off from port wing, from Virginia K2329 and this excitement was repeated on the 28th. Later in life, my father elaborated on the technique used to test parachutes. The Virginia would take off with one parachuter standing on the outer part of the lower wing on each side, facing [unclear] and grasping the strap with both arms and legs. On approaching the top [unclear], in response to a signal given by one of the crew, both parachuters would turn to face forward and await a further signal whereupon each would then deploy the parachute, if the parachute deployed as expected, the increase force would pull the parachutist away from the strut and he would ascend to a normal landing. If the parachute didn’t open, then the parachuters would turn around again to face [unclear] and remain there until the aircraft had landed. It was important I was told that when facing forward the parachuter should not intertwine his fingers when deploying his parachute, otherwise the snatch force created when it opened would dislocate his digits. Empire Air Day, held on the 29th, was the highlight of the month. Before this, James was closely involved in rehearsals. He flew a second pilot in a Virginia that was used over Long Church as a target for attacks by three Gladiators. On the following day, which is 21st, he flew photographers from the local rag, before collecting fireworks for the Empire Air Day from Northolt. There were further rehearsals after that and on the 29th he flew Fury in a display handicap race, coming close forth, followed by a flight in which the Virginia took on the role of enemy aircraft, shot down by 54 Squadron. August flying began with Queen Bee Moth K, ferrying this aircraft to Sealand for shipment. Now, the Queen Bee was a modification of the highly successful and reliable DH-82A Tiger Moth. The main differences being that the Queen Bee had an entirely wooden fuselage and a fuel tank five gallons larger than the Tiger Moth. Queen Bees were first produced in 1935, in response to an Air Ministry request for inexpensive, expendable radio-controlled target drone for anti-aircraft gunnery practice. The front cockpit was fitted with conventional controls for a test or ferry pilot, while the rear carried the radio control receiver and pneumatically operated servers for the flying controls. Queen Bees were said to have been the first, full sized aircraft originally designed to fly unmanned and under radio control. September 1935 involved miscellaneous air tests. On the 10th, James flew to Netheravon in Fairey 2F for live and dummy drops in the making of MGM’s film Shadow of the wind. He [unclear] often doing flight with flight sergeant Smith and a gentleman called De Grue on board, James records live drop, use reserve parachute, just made it, later that day the latter named person was on board for another live drop, as was Naomi Karen Maxwell, both went off, quote, ok, with dummy unopened, unquote. On the following day, dummy drops took place through clouds but had limited success with one dummy landing a mile and a half off and another, quote, drifted fifty miles, unquote. Dummy drops were made from a Hind for the bystander magazine on the 17th, followed by a landing at Bassingbourn due to a thunderstorm. On the 18th, James was once again helping MGM make their film with Ms Maxwell and De Grue, both making live free drops. December 1937 offered very little in the way of flying due to a very bad visibility, rain and cloud. On the 3rd, James recalled his height as fifty feet, whilst very low flying. On the 8th, the remarks include damn cold, ice and snow on the ground, followed by b…. cold. On the 11th, the entry reads, fall after frost, low cloud, circuits and bumps, and on the 13th, hit three peewits taking off. On the 24th, conditions had hardly improved, thickish mist and [unclear] almost like flying in an iceberg. The last entries in this logbook relate to the 17th and 18th of the month, the remarks are regarding a flight from, Henlow to Sealand flowing Queen Bee over the top of clouds, came out in the middle of Wales. Then on the 18th, refuelled, land in Penrhos, hit post, damaged port [unclear], returned to Henlow by a train. We do note also that in 1937 the landing was made near Bournemouth to retrieve the map and near Aberystwyth due to a petrol shortage. All in all, the records by now showed an adventurous flying career in the RAF. James was promoted to flying officer on the 30th of December 1937. 1938, James was broadening his experience. He continued to fly from the home aircraft depot at Uxbridge as officer commanding the parachute test flight, flying the Prefect, Fairey, Queen Bee, Moth, Tutor, Magister, Hind and Virginia. In March, he carried out a number of high-speed runs in the Hind, recording variously 240, 250, 280 and finally 290mph. On the 26th of March, he took this aeroplane up to twenty-four thousand feet, recording times and boost pressures against altitudes as he did so. The maximum altitude he reached in forty minutes and forty seconds. April ‘38 seems to have required a mixture of flying that included passenger transfer flights, balloon chasing, cloud flying, circuits and bumps. On return to Henlow from Bircham Newton where they had gone for lunch, he or his pupil hit port errond on post. On the 6th of May, he flew a press representative to take photographs of pull offs presumably from a Virginia. Not much flying took place in September but on the 30th an entry reads playing silly Bees around cloud. Another flight in the Virginia shows flying around in November ’38 but then it went to add forced landing in fog on the 9th and fog turned back. Total flying in December was only one hour but there was a reason for this, for he married Ethel Madge Birchall, who preferred to be called Madge, on the 3rd of December 1938 in the parish church at Saint Andrews in South Shoebury in the county of Essex. James, a bachelor, was twenty-nine years old and his occupation was given as RAF officer residing at Henlow camp Bedfordshire. Madge, a spinster, was twenty-eight at the time of her marriage and had no work or profession recorded on the certificate. Owen Sindall retired was recorded as James father and Jasper Beasley Birchall, captain Royal Artillery retired as that of Madge, who had been residing with her parents at Newland, nurse Road, Shoebury, in the county of Essex. James left the parachute test flight on posting to Central Flying School at RAF Upavon at the end of March 1939. Chapter three, training new pilots and flying in the Battle of Britain 1939-1941. 1939, Central Flying School and of flying instructor posting. James arrived at Central Flying School at RAF Upavon in April 1939. The primary purpose of CFS was to train pilots to fly competently. These next couple of months were then spent flying Ansons, Hart, Tutor, Harvard, Fury and Oxford airplanes. He was also cleared to instruct on the link trainer. James began his postings as qualified flying instructor in July 1939, he took his first students for revision exercise on the 24th and in his logbooks he records all their names. The Second World War began on the 1st of September 1939. James flew the Anson once that month and had a refresher flight in an Oxford instructing new students and performed several solo, navigation and forced landing tests, as well as aircraft and weather tests. In a letter to his mother, James wrote on the 15th that they had overcooked some marrow jam and it was so thick that they could almost have used the toffee to stop up the mole and rabbit holes. The only war news they were getting came from the papers [unclear] that it was generally expected that air raids would commence fairly soon so it was necessary to, quote, keep the old respirator, anti-gas handy and quote, on the 19th of December 1939, the London Gazette shows James being promoted from flying officer to flight lieutenant with the effect from the 13th of December of the, of 1939. Flying training continued from Raf Hullavington at number 9 Flying Training Service School and March of that year 1940 saw the tempo increase with up to five sorties a day, often involving three or more aeroplanes. In a letter to his mother dated the 5th of March James wrote, I taxied onto another machine night flying the other night, broke my prop and his tail, managed to hush it up. James was clearly not the only one enjoying exciting flying for on the 16th he wrote, things go on here as usual, we are just at the end of our night flying program, one of the pubs by himself landed outside the aerodrome, it’s a four inch thick tree, he did say he brushed something, came through three hedges, hopped over the road and landed on his back on the aerodrome, as his usual he had not a scratch or a bruise. It was at night and although I saw it, I only saw his wingtip lights going up and down and over. Another pub took two soldiers up without permission in an Anson, which is a twin engine five seater, and crashed, smashed the aeroplane to bits and the three of them had a few cuts and a few bruises, it’s amazing, isn’t it? Beginning of June 1940 saw the commencement of number 20 course. In a letter to his mother, Annie Sindall dated the 4th of June, James implores her to persuade the family to leave number 46 Nelson Road, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex and get away to South Africa or if not, to Wales or Cornwall, to avoid the Nazi way of bombing, not a dozen machines as in the last war, but hundreds and coming in waves at about two hours interval. I’m making it sound awful, I know, but I’m not exaggerating, will you please do something now? It’s not even safe here. We have a station defence working day and night. As I said before, don’t worry about me. I may go anywhere and at any time. To stay in Leigh waiting to see where I go is madness. July saw the end of number 20 course and beginning of 22. Within that month an entry on the third, towards the end of the day reads dawn patrol, written in red ink. With the Battle of Britain about to begin, it would seem that preparations would be made to defend the defences. James wrote to his sister Dorothea who joined the WAAF and who’d been posted to Lincoln, James was expecting to be on lookout duty that night, which would have meant sitting on top of a water tower accessed by going up an open iron ladder which gives me the creeps coming down. An enemy aircraft had shot down a pupil early in the day, not one of his, and had machine gunned him as he drifted down, spoiled him too. They say that we caught the Hun later.
TS: Participation and the Battle of Britain, which officially now ran between the 10th of July and the 31st of October 1940. On special interest, James flew a Hurricane II, apparently for the first time, on the 12th of September for station defence. On the 16th he again flew a Hurricane for station defence but with the additional words after Junkers 88, the whole entry in the logbook being underlined in red ink, his method of indicating an operational sortie. He flew a, probably the same Hurricane again for air tests later in the month. At CF 5 number 5 Flying Training School signed the monthly totals confirming that all these flights had been authorised. James wrote to his parents as follows, Dear mother and dad, I nearly got a Junkers 88 long range bomber yesterday. We have a Hurricane we keep ready for station defence and three of us were allowed to fly it, very occasionally, as we waste petrol. Anyway, the Junkers came over the camp at about five thousand feet and as I was doing nothing at the time, I grabbed my bike and peddled off to the Hurricane with my brolly over my shoulder, leaped in and started up and off. I chased away the way he had gone with my electric sights on and my guns ready. Of course, I didn’t catch him. He had had too good a start. I flew around at twelve thousand for a bit in case there was another and then saw another Hurricane going past towards Swindon. I followed him in case he knew of something but there wasn’t anything there. So I came back, maybe I get one someday. The Hurricane is grand, cruising at 200 and climbing at 160, I dive quite gently and got 360. No effort at all. Cheers. Love, Jim. 1941, James flew in the first three and a half months in the year but in April he flew a Hart to Benson and on to Hullavington before proceeding to number 12 Operational Training Unit at RAF Benson to learn to fly and operate Wellington bombers.
TS: Looking back at the details that were in this particular letter, it does seem a little odd that performance information should have been written without perhaps being intercepted by a censor. Maybe James’s enthusiasm for writing this up got the better of him as indeed we shall learn later on when he was in India as it resulted on his being court-martialed following interception of information of by a censor.
CB: Brilliant. So, we are restarting now when we are at the OTU, 12 OTU Benson.
TS: Chapter 4, bomber operations over France and Germany 1941 to 1942. The London Gazette dated 11th of March 1941 shows James being promoted from flying lieutenant to squadron leader temporary. In April he arrived at number 12 Operational Training Unit RAF Benson opson to learn to fly and operate Wellington bombers. After two dual sorties, James went solo on the 25th of April, with wing commander Daddy for company. Both pilots swapping seats as they built up experience on what was termed local flying practice. The next page in James’s pilot’s flying logbook displays at the top line number 115 bomber squadron at Marham and in red ink operational. The first operational bombing sortie for all such sorties was numbered by my father in sequence and recorded in red ink was flown on the night of the 10th and 11th June. Operational sorties flown with the squadron in June, July and August were in Wellingtons, all believed to be in the Mark I C. The first flight made on the 10th and 11th of June with Bailey as the captain and James as co-pilot was to Brest to attack the Prinz Eugen, a five-hour flight all at night. On the 12th and 13th my father was in command and, I beg your pardon, it was Bailey still and my father as co-pilot, they attacked Ham, the marshalling yards. The following night, the 13th and 14th, my father flew his first operational flight of a Wellington in command. They attacked the Prinz Eugen again at Brest. On the 15th and 16th it was Cologne. They attacked the railway yards and they shot down one Messerschmitt 110. On the 17th-18th it was Dusseldorf, the railway junction. On the 20th and 21st Kiel, various battle motes. On the 26th and 27th Cologne, turned back by storm. And on the 29th and 30th Bremen, town blitz. In July 1941, operational sorties continued, on the 1st North Sea sweep for dinghy, on the 4th and 5th Brest and my father wrote in his logbook, bombed Lorient. On the 6th and 7th Munster, with the remark Coventrated. On the 7th-8th Munster, ditto. On the 9th and the 10th Osnabruck, short of fuel, crew bailed out. On the 13th and 14th Bremen, snow, ice, hail, sleet, rain. On the 15th and 16th Duisburg, returned early, aircraft not climbing. And on the 24th, Brest, daylight sweep on Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen and one Messerschmitt 109 F shot down. A letter relating to the bailout on the night of the 9th and the 10th of July which is, which I’ve referenced, which is the day after I was born, still exists, my father sent it to my mother and it reads as follows. Royal Air Force Marham, King’s Lynn, Norfolk, 12.7.41, the time is 05.30 and I have just come back from Abbington where I went with Doc Bailey to see one of my crew in hospital where he is with a broken leg. I had just read your letter which you asked me if I had a good party that night. We did, we went to Osnabruck and came back to find everywhere covered with cloud, cloud at ground level. We arrived back at the aerodrome at 3.30 in the morning, but were told to go to Abbington where it was clearer and we could get down. At 4.50 we were very short of petrol, so I tried at first the distress calls, but there was such a row going on in the air, everybody calling for help, that I could get no result so eventually I sent out SOS. We got an answer from Hull, they listen in for SOSs, who said go to Abbington, they then telephoned Abbington which took twenty minutes or so to say let these people in at once. Well, we contacted Abbington as soon as Hull told us to go there but as they did not know by then that we were in an SOS they just decided to let us take our turn with the other machines. At about 4.30 the engines cut and I pushed the crew out. I decide to stay on for a moment or two to let all the petrol burn up so that she would not burn when she crashed. Then a funny thing happened, it picked up again, and spluttered and banged and I was able to fly for another hour. It was due to the change in altitude weight with the crew gone. I flew north to get nearer the dawn and to put it down in a field if possible but came over cloud again so flew south to keep over open country. I could just see light coloured fields and nothing else. At 5.40 I saw an aerodrome flash SOS on the under recognition light and landed. As I was holding off the engines cut for good, there were thirty-six other machines there from other squadrons. My crew all landed safely, one in a group captains garden, except one who broke his leg. I saved the country twenty thousand pounds of an aeroplane, but I bet they don’t get me a commission of even 5 percent. I can’t write all this out again so will you forward it to mother when you write? On the 24th of July, the target was Brest, operational form 540 states, bombing from fifteen thousand two hundred feet, dropped one stick north east to south west over target, first bomb fell in water about ten yards from warship laying alongside the mole, burst from other bombs seem to burst around other ships about half a mile south west of Mull. Aircraft hit by flak in rear turret hydraulics, one Messerschmitt 109 F was successfully engaged and shot down in the sea. Two other aircraft of number 115 Squadron that took part in this raid were captained by sergeant Prior and by flight lieutenant Pooley. The first landed at St Eval and the second in Exeter. Now, I do vaguely remember my father telling me once that on the way back from Brest, on one of his sorties there, he had slowed down to formate alongside another British bomber that had suffered badly from enemy action and was barely able to stay in the air flying slowly. As that aircraft was so vulnerable to fighters, James felt that his presence along the side, might help to ward off any attacks. In the event, both aircraft made it home to the UK, following which the pilot of the stricken airplane was told that he would be in line to receive a medal, an Air Force Cross or Distinguished Flying Cross possibly. As I remember it being told, that pilot said that he would accept such an award if offered only if some similar recognition could be given to James who, by risking his own aeroplane and crew, had ensured the safe return home of both aircraft. Apparently, such an assurance was given. Sadly, there seems to be no record as to who the other pilot was and whether or not his resilience resulted in an award. What is without doubt is that no special recognition was given to James for his effort on that particular flight. It is possible, given that James flew St Eval on the 23rd of June to collect the crew of [unclear], that the protection he had provided to a stricken aircraft might have taken place on that the 24th. August operational sorties on the 8th and 9th Hamburg, ten tenth of cloud, no joy. 12th, Mönchengladbach flak over 14, 15 Hanover searchlights, 18-19 Duisburg. 27, 28 Mannheim, crashed near [unclear], crew bailed out with my parachute. According to the squadron form 540 the record for the night of the 27th -28th of August states, Squadron leader Sindall bombing from eighteen thousand feet, dropped all his bombs south to north, just south of the aiming point, burst was seen followed by a large explosion, aircraft had to be abandoned, all crew bailed out, well that’s what they said, and made successful descend, aircraft crashed and was burn out near [unclear], now at the back of my father’s logbook under accidents, he recalls a few more details, crew bailed out, no parachute left, crashed in a field burnt and in a letter to his sister Dodo written on the 29th of August, James gave a very detailed account of what occurred that night. Royal Air Force Marham, King’s Lynn, Norfolk, 29.8.41. Dear Do, you like exciting stories so here is one. We went to Mannheim last night with a 50mph wind behind us, cracked the target good and proper and set course for home. The wind against us put us off course a bit and we stouaged over Dunkirk where we got coned and I think it was there that a bit of flak holed one of my reserve tanks. We got to Marham and as we started to come in, so Jerry dropped a stick along the flair path. Control told us to go to Honington. Off we went putting on the one reserve tank and not both as I thought there are no gages for the reserves. Honington was dead and we could get no reply to repeated calls or there we were over the aerodrome, we saw what appeared to be a flair path some distance away so wandered off there but it went out. Then the engines cut dead at fifteen hundred feet I shouted to abandon ship and the boys went out in quick time. I stretched out for my para and found someone had taken mine. I flashed a torch to look for another but there wasn’t one. I swore hard and sat back and prayed like mad. Switches off, top escape hatch open, helmet off, landing light on and went straight ahead at 80mph. At first, I saw nothing but rain, then a field and another at five hundred feet, then a village over that, then trees, then more fields, very close now, then crash, crash, crash. I went for a six up at the front, feet in the air and an almighty wallop on the head, laying there wherever [unclear] had stopped moving I felt my head and to my horror in all the blood fair rushing out it was, a bit of my head came away in me hand. Holding my head steady so that my brains wouldn’t fall out I plogged my hankie over the hole and tried to get the right side up. I did then up and out of the top hatch to trip and fall face down in turnips and mud. Got up, I walked over to an incendiary bomb which was still burning, some of ours had stuck up and lit a cigarette advert for players. I thought alright but really honestly thought I was done. I sat by the bombs, it was warm in the rain, when, bang! The blasted thing blew up, it was one of the explosive ones, I only had one boot on, so I hopped along the field holding the hankie with one hand and smoking with the other. I sang and shouted as I went, proper daft I was, until I found a nettle or something with my bare foot, I only shouted then. At a safe distance I sat on a bank and waited for someone to put in an appearance. Then poor old J for Johnny started to burn, and I sat on the other side of the bank in case a high explosive bomb had hung up too. Various aircraft circled round and when it was quiet, I shouted for the Home Guard, fire watch, girl guides, WAAFs and anyone else I could think of. After I while I was still alive so up to the standard of the second field towards a church, they have graves there, which I could see by the light of Johnny. There was a ditch, then a road, no house at all. So I started walking until I came to a cottage, still see, [unclear] this time, my words, as I opened the gate, the upper window opened and a female said, what do you want? I said, there’s been a terrible disaster, and a shocking occurrence up the road. What’s that fire? My aeroplane. Oh, your aeroplane? I’m a parachutist now. Have you a telephone or where is there a doctor as I have a hole in my head? The doc is round the corner. Window down with a bang. He was and then I went to [unclear] hospital for stitches and bandage and here I am back at Marham once more wangling sick leave. The bit of my head must have been a bit of Johnny which I had broken off. So there you are, life is never dull, I’m due for six days about the middle of September so they may make it twelve days. Cheers, Jimmy. September ’41, operational sorties, just one, went to Karlsruhe, natives friendly. The operational sortie to Karlsruhe would appear to be the last operational flight James made within Bomber Command. In October, he flew Wellington again on a marker test and twice in formation, on formation flights, he also managed to carry out an air test in a Hurricane. There was no flying for the month of December. In January 1942, James made one flight, an engine test in Wellington 1645, this lasted thirty minutes and he just two crew members on board. In February he flew twelve times in five days on Whitleys in the beam approach training flight, accruing some eighteen hours, of which fifteen and three quarter were logged as instrumental cloud flying. He then flew as part in command three times in a couple of Wellingtons on local sorties and then he flew a Hudson from Port [unclear] to Kemble and a Wellington from Kemble to Lyneham, his grand total of flying hours now stood at one thousand, five hundred and twenty. He had no flying in April, May, June, July or August because he was on route to headquarters, New Delhi, India and James was not to set foot in Europe again for three years.
CB: What we know from all our experiences of all our fathers really is that they didn’t talk about what they did in the war but occasionally there were snippets that would come out perhaps in social situation so did you ever get any feeling for your father’s approach to things later?
TS: Not a great deal, my father became very reserved after the time when he left the RAF. His life had changed as my mother had died and I was now away joining the RAF myself and when I saw him on holidays for many years after that he never really talked to me about anything and certainly didn’t talk about the war. I think, in common with many people, who’d lived through it, they wanted to put that past behind them and get on with their lives.
CB: An interesting aspect of this perhaps is that you were in the RAF for many years, you had exchanged posting to the Royal Australian Air Force and when you came back and visited your father in Spain, what was his reaction to your urge to tell him what you’ve done? He didn’t want to know. Right, so moving on now to his next posting.
TS: Chapter 5, Air headquarters India 1942 to 1944. He was posted on May the 21st to from [unclear] 44 Group to West Kirby for posting to air headquarters India. On authority of Air Ministry postagram for duties in connection with a selection of sites for aerodromes, on May the 26th he travelled to Newport on to board the P&O steamer Cathay that had recently been converted into a troop ship in the USA. James left the UK on the 27th of May 1942, stayed through Freetown and Cape Town and arrived at Bombay on the 23rd of July. When he reported to headquarters New Delhi and he learned that the people that had asked the Air Ministry in London for a surveyor, not a general duties i.e. pilot bloke, can you please delete it? Anyway, a place was found for him on the training staff, will I ever get away from training, he said. And then the next three days was spent reading files to find out how Air headquarters functioned. In September, James arrived at Lahore, headquarter to 227 Group and then started visiting various squadrons, first 31 Squadron at the aerodrome. Later he left Lahore for Delhi and by 30 he was back in the office there. On the 26th of September, James was promoted to acting wing commander on the strength of the training staff. October the 1st went to [unclear] by road, into tribal territory up and down the pass, quite exciting, everybody had a gun except me. In January 1943, he reports on the first, not feeling too well, on the 4th he was felt really ill in the office, and this was the beginning of a long period when my father was affected by malaria. Not only malaria was rampant, but so was too was prickly heat and by February my father had contracted jondiss that resulted in three weeks sick leave. James applied for a couple of weeks leave having had none for two years. He remained in his quarters throughout April and in May went to Chakrata on sick leave. In August he started leave travelling by train to Rawalpindi where he hired with a friend a houseboat. Back in office in September, today we’ve been at war for four years, another two should finish it off, I hope. September the 18th very hot, could not sleep, on the 19th not feeling well, really ill, reported to the medical officer, malaria, into the British military hospital straight away, bad afternoon and night. In October, James learned he’d be posted to HQ 227 Group as wing commander training who’s assessed for being fit for duty. On arrival there, he felt familiar signs of malaria returning and was packed off at the hospital. As a result of that, he was downgraded and ranked to squadron leader war substantive. On the 23rd of October 1943, a colleague told James that a ladder to dad, James’s father, had been stopped, all males vetted before leaving the unit. On the next stage, James was yet experiencing familiar symptoms of malaria and had to take leave. In December, he arrived back in Bombay and waited for a posting. On the 11th, he heard that a date had been set for a court martial that would consider an alleged offence associated with the contents of a stopped letter that he’d been told about in October. On the 17th of December, James wrote, we saw an enormous comet fairly sizzle across the sky, never seen such a long tail. And on the 21st of December, the general court martial held at headquarters 227 Group Bombay was held. James was being charged with conduct prejudicial to good conduct and air force discipline etcetera. In that honour about the 13th of October I posted in Bombay a letter containing references to movements of Halifaxes and Lancaster aircraft in this country. The prosecution called the duty pilot at Delhi airport to say that one Lancaster had arrived on the 9th of October, no Halifaxes. As James had no defending officer, the deputy judge had a break whilst he instructed me how to conduct my case. He told me to say that the prosecution had not proven their case and therefore I had no charge to answer. I did so. Another break whilst the court considered it and I went again, not guilty, hurray! And my beautiful fireproof defence was never needed. So that was that. I came back to Karrian and had a quite evening doing the round of rat traps. I can remember my father mentioning this episode as I recall he had whilst delirious with malaria and the associated medicines written to the effect that hordes and hordes of Halifaxes and Lancasters had been flying overhead which was quite clearly a delusion. December the 22nd, I’m off to Bhopal to be present of a court, president of a court of enquiry into a crash at Bhopal or near there. What a wizard service this is, prisoner one day and president the next. It means I shall have Christmas at Bhopal. Should be good. December the 31st, the last day of ’43, and now I can see I’m due having next year, seems very comforting. James records that on the 2nd of January he decided to build a sundial outside the mess, using hard wood and an old celluloid computer, spending most of the afternoon marking in the times, North, South, East and home. There was to be small garden around it. On the 4th of January he decided the sundial required some to finish it off, a verse or something, so during the evening, he produced this, remember that the group responsible for his being there was 227 and they don’t pay much attention to our once. This is what he wrote. To those who have to or who care, put on their letters Callyan, little stranger passing by, pause a while let’s slip aside, for we who knew Bombay was heaven were posted here by 227. For company we lack it not, rats, snakes and mozzies are our lot, the sun beats down, no fancy given, we’re even there with 227. Time marches on in Solam state but awful thought if from the gate of India with [unclear] a ship sails home with 227. Of course, I’m prejudiced, said James in his diary, but I think it bloody good, I wish the OC of 227 could see it. He has no sense of humour. James later referred to this as the headstone of rank and sent a type copy to the editor of the journal of air forces, accompanied by a rather long sundial serenade. This was actually published in the journal, pages two and four of the Indian edition, volume two number two dated the 10th of March 1944, the only change being made that numbers 227 were changed to 527, so as to confuse the Japanese. On the 18th of January, James wrote, my posting came in with a mail, Poona for a fresh air flying a Wimpy and then onto ops, just what I wanted two years ago. Still it’s gonna be wizard, have to keep it quiet from Madge though. Wrote to Jasper telling him only. Three days later, James arrived at Poona and started his Wellington Mark X conversion refresher course, doing navigation, intelligence and lib trainer sessions. A red-letter day if ever there was one, I flew, actually flew myself in a Wimpy, first time for a year and ten months, not too bad landings either. On the following day, he took over the sea flight, when the CO went down with malaria, and found himself having to organise flights, air tests and training exercises with the navy. Chapter 6, number 215 Bomber Squadron, Jessore 1944. February 1944, operational sorties, in a Wellington he flew to Pru a six-hour night flight. James made four sorties in February. On the 2nd he wrote, I put up my 39-43 star ribbon as all Euro rifles ex-U have, ex-UK have. Note, this was subsequently to become the 1939-1945 star. On the 17th, James set off for Jessore at number 215 Squadron where he was to become Bee flight commander was met at the station by the squadron in Jeeps and a fifteen hundred weight truck on the platform, never had such a welcome anywhere, the party continued until 3.30. The next two days were spent meeting people and finding his way around and he flew in Wellingtons doing circuits and bumps. Then, on the 22nd, he flew his first operation in [unclear] bombing the [unclear] dumps with squadron joe’s captain. No opposition at all, took off in daylight and got back 11:00, flares dozens of them all over the place, [unclear] fires. After returning from a flight to Lahore to collect spares flying through an intertropic front, lots of extra flying, very wet on the 25th, he flew twice on the 26th, once to an overload test, and once doing circuits and bumps. The dairy records, quiet day and party in the evening. I was eventually debaged after putting up a stiff resistance, had a finger in my right eye, bruises and a bash on my nose. The following day the diary reads thus, due for ops this evening but the medical officer has put me on service [unclear] for two days on account of my eye. Had three accidents today, one, joe’s undercarriage collapsed and slid off the runway, two, starboard engine of A flak machine cut on take-off and it crashed and burned out a mile away, four dead out of five. I pulled out two bodies, the fifth crew member died on the 28th. Three, night flying aircraft with no flaps, went off the end of the runway, one hurt, what a day. March 1944, an operational sortie was flown to Anissakar aerodrome. The other squadron that was with them, number 99 of Liberators bomb went off to bomb Rangoon. On the Sunday night the 5th James took off in one of the Wellingtons to attack the town of [unclear] on the Irrawaddy but returned after twenty minutes when the port engine oil pressure dropped to below the minimum acceptable 70psi, makes you think by which I surmise he had in mind the recent loss of the Wellington due to engine failure just a few days earlier, just might have been repeated. After this, James had three weeks leave to stay in a bungalow as the guest of a maharajah with the aim of hunting tigers. On March the 13th he bound a boar on a first drive with one shot through the head, followed on a second drive by a dough and a stag [unclear]. James’s name was not drawn out to go on the tiger shoot, only two officers were allowed but one was shot by an American. April 1944 operational sorties on the 3rd and 4th all in Wellingtons he flew to Yaju, violent explosions, on the 5th and 6th to Akyab, four thousand pounder, dirty, 8th and 9th Mandalay four thousand pounder, on the 17th a seven hour journey air sea rescue Sandoway, found out ultimately that was unsuccessful although some of the air craft searching reported that they had found a dinghy in lights they were lost and the crew were never returned. On the 23rd and 24th they attacked Maymyo barracks missed it diverted to Fenny and on the 28th Kallowar daylight. On the 21st of May the entire squadron with the exception of two crews was detached to 3 Dakota squadrons to assist in supply dropping on [unclear] in the Arakan and Burma. I went with eight crews to a station north and operated over the [unclear] near to Kina Morgan area. The Dakota is a very nice aeroplane, I like it, did twenty trips, some in foul weather. Returned to Jessore on the 15th of June, having been away just over three weeks. Stayed at base long enough to collect clean clothes, we’d been in the jungle and off to Kolar near Bangalore for conversion onto the Liberator VI. Now, my father’s logbook entry show that before being attached to 117 Transport Squadron, he flew one operational sortie to Kalimo in Wellington [coughs] on the first of May. And the second [unclear] to drop a four thousand pounder at the Infa area on the 9th. Conversion onto the Dakota began on the 23rd with circuits and bumps, followed by loaded landings and flights with soldiers on board. The first operational sortie was [unclear] lake and the 29th of May with a payload of five thousand five hundred pounds. The average trip times were between four hours twenty minutes and just over five hours. And in this length of time he flew some 17 operational sorties to Indigoy lake so a total of seventeen operational sorties to various destinations, all in the space of fourteen days, all in the Dakotas, either air landing or air dropping, three fifths of the Dakota time count towards tour time. The RAF operational record for 117 Squadron states that one aircraft was lost in June 1944, the crew being part of a detachment from 215 Squadron who’d been helping us for a time. The machine was last seen approaching [unclear] when it was flying normally and there is no evidence to show why it did not return. The loss of this crew is much regrated as the 215 boys had been popular in the time they had been with us. The detachment later returned to their parent unit as did the C-48s manned by American crews. Each of these had done much to help the squadron 117 during a particularly arduous period. The last entry for June 1944 shows a flight back to Jessore at the end of the attachment in Dakota Whiskey with 29 crew. On the 10th of July James flew the Wellington to Kolar to join 1673 Heavy Bomber Conversion Unit to learn to fly and operate Liberators and the RAF 540 for July reads squadron leader acting wing commander J Sindall general duties pilot posted from 215 Squadron, squadron leader flight commander post to 215 Squadron wing commander post with effect from the 10th of the 7th ’44. Chapter 7 number 219 Heavy Bomber Squadron Digri 1944. On the 28th of July my father flew a Liberator under instruction from squadron leader Sharp, a familiarisation sortie with circuits and bumps and on the 31st after another circuits and bumps session he flew solo with his crew. In August James completed his conversion onto Liberators, that’s the B-24 Mark VI and his dairy showed that he returned to Jessore on the 21st of August and having been given command of the squadron with effect from the 10th of July. I settled down or tried to run things and dealing with a number of bloody-minded gunners. Six flights were made in September all in Liberators, two for fighter affiliation and others associated with communications, including the squadron move on the 15h to Digri with an expectation that they would join wing headquarters at Dhubalia later on. After the move, James and his squadron personnel set about settling in, finding that the mess was a bit of a mess, ha-ha, but not so bad as he had left behind in Jessore. There was on my father’s squadron a Canadian by the name of flying officer later flight lieutenant Frazer who wrote and published a book which detailed much of what took place on the bomber squadron at this time and in which he mentions my father by name. I will be quoting one or two little pieces from his book. Flying officer Fraser describes his first meeting with James thus 16th of September 1944. I must have met him before but now I see how [unclear] sitting with three others at the table right in front of me. Two I’ve met but not the one with three blue stripes on his shoulder tabs. Of course, that’s the CO, Wing Commander Sindall, I only saw him from a distance at Jessore but whilst I’m trying to give him the white silver, the wing co gives me a flip with his finger a-ha, I’m being summoned, I slide off the stool and say, yes sir, managing a quick nod to [unclear] at the same time, at least I don’t have to salute, you don’t unless you’re wearing a hat, which is lucky, I don’t know how I managed to holding a glass of beer in one hand and a cork bottle in the other. You’re Fraser, I believe, the CO says, not sounding that excited at the thought, you’ve met our [unclear], this is squadron leader Beaton, and flight lieutenant Williams, their nods are almost imperceptible, what’s all this about? Welcome to the squadron, from the wingco, still sitting he extends his hand. To shake I have to get rid of the damn bottle and the only empty place is under Sindall’s outstretched arm. When I put the cork there, he pulls his hand right back. He extends it again but cautiously reaching around the bottle, lightly concerned about knocking over my beer which is thoughtful maybe why his handshake is so limp. Standing before him, I’m been given a thorough examination by cool eyes in a solemn face. It gives me a chance to look him over too. He’s an older type of young guy into his thirties but not far into, dark hair, small moustache, good features with a firm chin, a sort of military look. He might even be a handsome fellow if he hadn’t tried smiling. In this climate, Fraser, at this temperature, do you really think alcohol makes sense at the Landshar when you don’t know what cause you may be, yet be asked to perform today? I glance at the table, all their glasses are filled with lemon limes, well sir, I didn’t expect a large bottle, well, [unclear] come very polished at all, so I just finished with, I guess not, sir. Then I say, you’ll be right, he said, but welcome to the squadron. October the 5th, one of the other squadrons, 159, did a low level daylight on the Bangkok railway, lost one aircraft unheard of, one ditched out the Cheduba island, we sent out aircraft daily and at night, we found it twice [unclear] lost it again. Today I’ve only got three aircraft [unclear], two are off at four, one should go out at eleven then we can do no more. [unclear] October the 13th, one aircraft at 0400, another one at seven, they will be the last, I’ve no more aircraft. October the 14th, it’s amazing how the ground crew do things, I was able to put two aircraft in the air. October the 15th, no joy with the air sea rescue, it’s been called off, poor devils. I recall my father saying that with so many crew members wearing shoulder flashes because on his squadron there were members from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, eight Canadians, fifteen Australians, half a dozen each from New Zealand and South Africa, one from the States, one from Brazil and one from Fiji. There was also one Indian equipment officer and several [unclear] followers. But with so many crew members wearing shoulder flashes displaying their country of origin, my father had some made up with England that the British could wear. November ’44, operational sorties. On the 2nd to [unclear], weather good, two thousand two hundred miles, it was a twelve-and-a-half-hour flight, all at night, twelve thousand feet, fifteen hundred pounds of bombs. On the 26th, [unclear], a marshalling yard, leading a formation of twelve aircraft. And then Fraser wrote, on the 3rd of November, action at last, not for me, the squadron, just four crews, but 215’s first ever bombing trip in Liberators. I didn’t hear it until this morning, sitting in the shade behind the flight shed, we saw them circle the field for landing, strange there’d been no take offs that we knew about, within minutes three more, Roy Williams who runs Bee flight when O’Connor’s away came out of the office with a field glasses, Liberators? Four of them? Whizzo! The crews were on a mission last night. Mission? What mission, we clammered? We didn’t hear about any op. Aircraft V, that’s O’Connor, Roy says mostly to himself, glasses pointed at the runway a quarter a mile away, good landing, Percy! Now B, that’ll be [unclear], here comes Jimmy Ross, very nice Jim, where’s the fourth? Alright there he is, that’s the wingco, whoops! Hold it straight, James! Ok, you’re down. Even without glasses, we could see that wing commander Sindall put another dent in our runway. A good pilot in other respects, he is famous here for terrible landings. Not that if you bumped or anything to be ashamed of, maybe we are even a bit proud of the CO who can make jokes about his bounces. Everyone’s excited and full of questions, where did they go? What was the target? But the answer is, really, did the CO and two flight commanders go on the same mission? Well, they did, William shrugs, maybe because it was an unusual target, shipyards at Vin, well, was there, Burma? No, further east, French Indochina. Before Fraser flew on his first operational flight, the wing commander started the meeting with a little speech, I guess it was intended as a pep talk but it didn’t come over like that because Sindall is more of a low key type, wouldn’t go for razmataz stuff, mostly he just wished us good luck, for those going on your first operational flight, just remember you are well trained crews flying an excellent aircraft that is exceptionally well armed. If you remain alert, keep your wits about you, you should have no problems whatsoever. The sortie went well and the crew enjoyed their operation. In the days before the raid at [unclear] on the 26th, James carried out bombing practice on the ranges and practiced formation flying with pilots of 99 Squadron. This culminated in his leading of the twelve [unclear] formation. Some bombs fell west of the [unclear] outside the target area but many bursts were observed on the tracks and station buildings causing a heavy and secondary explosion with much black smoke. The weather was good and no opposition was encountered. In December on the 10th, James flew with his crew to [unclear] Bangkok railway, trail-busting eight hundred feet and also [unclear] railway station, five hundred feet, heavy anti-aircraft opposition, rear gunner killed, two thousand five hundred miles on a fourteen hour mission. The squadron form operation says that it was sergeant Day that in Liberator Lima who was killed by shrapnel from a small calibre shell fired from the ground, I can recall my father telling me that after they had landed he carried out the task of removing his rear gunner’s remains from the turret not wishing to delegate this to anyone else. We should of course remember that Kanchanaburi is that featured in the Bridge over the River Kwai and there was a letter received from a KJ Porter from New Zealand who was a prisoner of the Japanese at this time, naturally we were all scared when bombs began to fall and some bloke’s nerves were in a bad state already but I personally and some of our mates welcomed the sight of those big birds floating over seemingly all powerful and indestructible as this was the first, real sign to us that the Allies were now on the offensive and the end was in sight. Perhaps just as well we never knew you were flying down from India but imagined you were using captured bases around Rangoon or thereabouts a few hundred miles away. When I lay on my back in a shallow monsoon rain outside our hut by the Kwai bridge, it gave [unclear] commentary on the raids, the adrenaline surged, and I thought, now these bastards are getting some of their rain back. The great thing was that you appeared just when morale was at an all-time low and gave us a much-needed boost, so I feel we are indebted to you. Number 215 Squadron moved from Digri to Dhubalia on the 27th of December 1944. Chapter 8, number 215 Heavy Bomber Squadron Dhubalia 1945. James flew only once in January 1945, he went to [unclear], little opposition, earthquake, number 28 Korak railway yards, these were both in February, no opposition, in March on the 11th, two Rangoon dams, leading formation, dam accurate, flat [unclear] but also damn accurate and on the 19th to Nanyen railway yards, two thousand four hundred miles, that was another fourteen and a half hour flight, on the 24th they went to [unclear] again, Uk dumps, very hazy, just made it, flat fool proof, this time they dropped seven thousand five hundred pounds, on the 29th Rangoon, Japanese army headquarters with a seventh brigade, good [unclear], large lumping [unclear] but accurate, eight thousand five hundred pounds. There was a letter that he received from the AMC, Air Marshall Keith Park, who’d only recently been appointed Allied Air Commander in Chief, written to all officers commanding squadrons and upgrading them for not maintaining the efficiency of wellbeing of service personnel regarding messy and he said, that it seems to me that some units pay less attention to the wellbeing of their men than we did to our horses when I was a junior officer, it was a matter of pride in those days that we got the very best rations and fodder for our men and horses and a little bit extra yes for luck. I’ve got the letter still and in it my father’s written in blue crayon with an end, with an arrow pointing to the word horses, with [unclear], when I was at Poona, so I don’t think he took it too seriously. April 1945 operational sortie to Kaykoy, Bangkok area, individual aircraft in a gavel, first time this was attempted in South East Asia, weather good, bombing good on railway yards, two thousand four hundred miles and dropped six thousand pounds and that was another thirteen and a half hour flight. On the 10th of April the airfield was struck by an unexpected hurricane, the aircraft were mainly alright although most had shifted into wind and on the 13th Wing Commander Sindall announced to air and ground crews the intention to divert to Dakota transport aircraft under combat cargo task force, training to begin immediately so suddenly everyone was changing from operating the Liberators which they were quite happy with to becoming a transport squadron. Everyone was a little stunned. But still there was a visit from Air Commodore Melash CBE RC Air Officer commanding 231 Group and he spoke very well of his regret at the squadron’s departure and his appreciation of the excellent work they had done, wishing every success for the future because Sindall also was leaving to go home and then it was not long before the time came to go back and wing commander Buchanan arrived to assume command of the squadron on the 28th of the month and then Sindall entered in his final logbook the following in May, 2nd of June in the Liberator self to [unclear] one hour. On the 4th in the Liberator Karachi with sixteen passengers, eight hours fifty, on the 5th with the crew Shaima Cairo fourteen hours ten, and on the 6th Cairo Malta Lyneham. I can remember visibly my father looking out of the lounge window one day when I saw someone I did not recognize open the little gate that connected the pathway from the front door to the pavement and calling out mummy, mummy, there’s a strange man in the garden and then recall well as my mother rushed to the door and they fell into each other’s arms. Issue 37119 of The London Gazette dated the 8th of June 1945 shows James being mentioned in dispatches and the London Gazette promulgated on the 20th of July 1945 that James had been awarded the Distinguished Service Order. The citation reads, this officer has served in both the European and the Far Eastern theatres of war, during his first tour of duty he attacked many of the most heavily defended targets in Germany. Now on his second tour of operational duty, he has taken part in many sorties against targets in Burma and on numerous supply dropping operations. Many of these missions have involved flying over difficult terrain in adverse weather. Wing Commander Sindall has at all times displayed outstanding organising ability and great devotion to duty. He has lead his squadron on many low level daylight attacks against the enemy’s lines of communications and rolling stop and has always pressed on these attacks with skill, courage and determination. By alongside the [unclear] of the DSO at the end of the war my father now wore in order a 39-45 star, the aircrew Europe star, the Burma star with rosette depict his entitlement to the Pacific star, the defence medal, the war medal 1939-45 with oak leaves to depict his being mentioned in dispatches, later on, much later on I, his son, was able to add the Bomber Command clasp to his 1939-45 star, and a photograph of my father after he returned from Southeast Asia, shows him wearing a wound stripe, a vertical bar above the right rank on the left seam of his number one dress. That’s the only record I have of his wearing band. He then served on the staff of the Air Ministry in Whitehall from the 15th of July 1945 until the 23rd of June 1947 in the post of bomb ops, bomb operations 1. War against Japan ended on the 14th of August 1945.
CB: It was really good, thank you very much.
TS: I cut back on a lot of.
CB: Now of course, while you were away, you with your mother were staying in England, what were your, you were very young at the time, but what were your recollections of the happenings of the time?
TS: I have only one very clear image in mind, bearing in mind I was about three years old, and that was because we were living alongside Southend-on-Sea, we were in the firing line for many of the doodlebugs that came over and also there were many comings and goings of aircraft. I have one clear image and that was from within the iron cage that my mother and I slept in every night on rugs underneath the kitchen table. My mother going to the French windows, pulling back the curtains and looking out and beyond her silhouette I saw lots of lights which were most probably anti-aircraft gunfire and searchlights and maybe some explosions, that was my only memory of activities in the war. But we were not alone, we were accompanied all this time by Remus, a cocker spaniel, he’d entered our family about two years or so before the start of the war and he lived for a good length after it but Remus was the first early warning system we had of the approaching enemy bombers. I don’t know the reason why but I put it down to the fact that the engines that powered the German bombers made a different sound to those of our aircraft and then Remus associated that sound with the discomforting bangs and explosions and flashes in the sky and therefore used that as the early warning for us. One other remembrance I have and I suspect it was on V, Victory in Europe day, when my mother and I went down to the seafront [unclear] and there were a line of American army trucks and they were all in a very high and happy mood and one thing we were able to do was to make a voice recording on a little, tiny disc and I think I sang a song or recited a poem but that no longer exists unfortunately but that just reminds me of the euphoria that existed at this moment as people were so pleased that in Europe the war had ended.
CB: Brilliant. Thank you very much.



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Timothy Sindall,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 18, 2024,

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