Audio memoir


Audio memoir


An audio account of an anti-aircraft gunner's service in Burma. Describes a B-24 crash landing near a small landing strip in Burma and discusses Spitfires burried in Burma.



Temporal Coverage




00:15:22 audio recording


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Recording this in November 2001. On this field is retired Lieutenant RA who, through volunteering, which is a stupid thing to do, was serving in the heavy ack ack in the last war, the ’39 to ’46 war, and again through volunteering, finished up in Burma, and on June the 15th 1945, after ambling down Burma, was on the ack ack defence of Mingaladon airport at Rangoon. In the afternoon, bit late afternoon really, there was a plane approaching from the south east, and the south east wasn’t friendly territory, so we stuck to the guns, having looked at the thing we couldn’t identify it, it didn’t conform really to any shape in detail that we knew. However we didn’t fire, we let it keep coming, it was fairly low, and then we assumed it was a Liberator bomber, but one tail fin and rudder was missing, and er, that made it look rather lopsided. As it approached it started to do an anti-clockwise circuit of the airstrip, and when it was sort of quarter of the way round we switched the R/T set, which was a number twenty two, over to the same frequency, we had the right crystals in, fortunately, to the control tower and there was this voice coming out saying: “Liberator, Liberator, this is not a bomber strip. You cannot land here, it is fighters only. Can you hear me?” [Pause] To which there was silence. No reply from the Liberator. And he continued anti-clockwise and the voice in the control tower continued that this is a bomber strip, you cannot land here. Well he must have been a wingless wonder because it was very obvious, now he got lower still, that as well as the tail fin and rudder missing, there appeared to be holes through the fuselage, and I’m certain I saw daylight through the end of one wing, near the end, looked as though either a shell had gone through, or a lump of shrapnel. And he started on his second circuit, coming lower, and we thought by golly, if he can get lined up he’ll make it on this strip. It was very obvious that all he wanted was a flat bit of terra firma to put the thing down on and walk away, because it was a flying wreck. How he kept that thing flying, I do not know. In fact I’d say if you put him behind the wheel of a double decker bus, he’d fly that. But there we are. Anyway, halfway round on the second circuit, the engines cut and down he went into the paddy field. Well it was late monsoon, but the paddy fields were full of water, I think that helped a bit, in some way. Four or five of us piled into the jeep, with an amazing array of tools: one hatchet, one hacksaw, and a hammer. In order to get the crew out, if it was needed. Anyway, when we got there the RAF boys were there as well, from the airfield, and we set to doing what we could. It turned out that one of the crew was dead. They also told us that there was a bomb or two still hung up, but, we thought if the crash hadn’t set ‘em off, our bit of hammering and tearing wouldn’t set ‘em off either! But it was after dark before the last one was out. [Pause] [Clicking] Talking amongst ourselves afterwards we said well, the survivors, they’ll die in bed, because otherwise they’d have died on that day. It was an amazing thing to see and of course it gave me great confidence in flying later on. [Pause] I feel now that I must record why [emphasis] I’m making this tape. It happened that some weeks ago I read in the ‘Yorkshire Post’ an article by a chap called David Cundall who was looking for six Spitfires that were buried near the airport of Mingaladon in 1945. Well, I happened to remember that I’d seen several Japanese ammunition dumps which were underground, buried around Mingaladon airport, and I thought I’d better drop him a line and tell him this because if he went in with a JCB, he may find more than he bargained for. I sent it off to the ‘Yorkshire Post’ office in Hull, and a day later David Cundall rang me, thanked me for the contribution and did I know anything about the Spitfires? Which I said well, 28 Squadron was our PR Squadron, and they took their Spitfires, which they only got when they got to Rangoon after the European war had finished, before that they were on clapped out Hurricanes. And er, they took them down to Penang, and I actually flew down to Penang in the Dakota taking the spares, and that was the last I heard of them. I came back to Rangoon, and then with, being in the Indian Army at that time, which again was just fortuitous I suppose, but we went off back to India to reform as Mediums. However, that’s all part of that, but [emphasis] a few weeks later David Cundall rang me again and said he'd traced the pilot of the Liberator, Peter Miles, and would he mind, would I mind if he gave him my name and telephone number? I said not at all, which he did. And then Peter and I met, and we had a good old chin wag, long time ago now. Anyway a few days ago, I got another telephone call: Titch Cook, who turned out to be the front gunner and the one who got rid of some of the bombs by unshackling ‘em off a little narrow walkway in the bomb bay, with the bomb doors open of course, and nothing but the sea underneath; not a nice thing to do. So I’m making this tape to send it to Titch, with all my blessings and good luck and long life. Best of luck Titch. Cheers.
A few months ago, reading the ‘Yorkshire Post’ there was an article about a chap called David Cundall who was after information regarding a report that there were half a dozen Spitfires, in their boxes, buried around Mingaladon airport in Burma. Having read it, a note of alarm came into my mind really, because when I was at Mingaladon I saw several underground ammunition dumps that the Japanese had put there and I thought if David goes digging with a JCB and the explosives haven’t been removed, the armaments haven’t been removed, from the stores, he might get more than he bargained for. So I put this in a letter, and sent it off care of ‘Yorkshire Post’, Hull office. And the following day, David rang me, and in the course of the conversation I mentioned about a Liberator coming in with a tail fin missing and crashing into the paddy fields just away from the airstrip, and the fact that we had to go and er, get the crew out. Sometime later David Cundall rang me and said he had managed to trace the pilot of the Liberator, which rather amazed me, and he said would you mind if I passed on your name and telephone number. I said not at all, so that he did, and sure enough a day or two later I get a telephone call from the pilot, Peter Miles, and he told me that on that day they had taken off from an airfield north of Calcutta to bomb some Japanese tankers that were off an island the other side of the Gulf of Siam. And they’d set off early morning, reached the target just after midday and ran into heavy ack ack fire in both medium, light and heavy guns. They were going in on a low level attack and so it was pretty inevitable that they got shot up, and then he went into more detail, not a lot, I’d have liked to have known more really. He finished up flying anticlockwise, finished up, he’d lost his navigator, and in the end I think, flying on the seat of his pants, holding his finger up for the wind and looking where the sun was, he eventually got back to Burma and then sighted the Rangoon river. So he flew up the Rangoon river and er, approached Mingaladon and that’s where I saw him. An amazing story. His age at that time: twenty one. And flying for fourteen hours, twenty three minutes before they pranged. I don’t know what the passengers in an airliner today would think if the pilot said he was only twenty one and had been flying for fourteen hours! Makes you think a bit. After the rescue operation of course we all had a chit chat afterwards, and we decided that survivors, well they’ll die in bed that’s for sure, otherwise we’d have been dead that day. I think that’s about the end of the story, except to wish him a long life, and happiness.



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