My overseas service by Raymond Barrett



My overseas service by Raymond Barrett


Raymond spent his time in the R.A.F. overseas, this lengthy memoir covers the period July 1943 until August 1946. He served in the Middle and Far East and Italy. He was an Engine Mechanic/Fitter and this is his story. The memoir has maps of his travels and his reflections on the countries he visited, their history, geography and politics.





Typewritten pages, maps


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[underlined] MY OVERSEAS SERVICE [/underlined]
[underlined] PART 1. [/underlined] [inserted] – 5 [underlined] 2 [/underlined] [/inserted]
[underlined] R. BARRETT [/underlined]
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The Writer trusts that readers of this book will associate many of the instances described with their own experiences during war time service.
This book is dedicated to all service men and women of [underlined] ALL [/underlined] nationalities who left their homeland never to return, during the period of the Second World War.
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There is not one word of fiction in the following pages.
This book is just the simple story of one person who spent part of his life overseas and which is similar to how thousands of other airmen spent their lives in the very different countries during the war.
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[inserted] PART I – PAGE 1 – 25 – 94
- II PAGE 26 – 84 [/inserted]
[underlined] MY SERVICE OVERSEAS [/underlined]
How well I still remember that morning of Thursday the 15th of July 1943.
It was pouring with rain when I awoke that morning to do my last minute packing. After parading with my kit outside the billet, myself along with the other fellows in the same billet were marched to the Astoria Theatre where we joined hundreds of other airmen who had come from other billets in the town. After forming up in our respective drafts, each draft in turn were then marched out of the Theatre and along the sea front. Although we whistled cheerfully as we marched along, I expect everyone of those fellows were wondering what the future held in store for them. One could hardly feel happy knowing that you are spending your least few hours on English soil and carrying a heavy pack on your back, wearing webbing and ammunition pouches containing 50 rounds of rifle bullets and over one shoulder carrying a large kit-bag and a rifle on the other one.
By the time we reached Morecambe [deleted] from the [/deleted] [inserted] PROM [/inserted] Railway Station I was feeling utterly miserable, my back was aching and the kit I carried seemed to weigh twice as heavy as it did when I left the theatre, and as it had poured with rain continuously since I had set out, my great coat was soaking wet and rain drops kept dripping off my hat on to my nose, this was annoying me in itself. All I can say is how would you have felt under those conditions, luckily my other kit-bag had been sent on the day before, if I have had to carry that one as well I should have staggered on to the platform. At the entrance of the station I was met by Betty where, with tears in our eyes, we had to say a hurried goodbye.
As we marched on to the platform to board one of the long troop trains that were waiting for us, we were each given a bag of rations to eat during the rail journey. Each bag contained sandwiches, cake, fruit, mars bars etc.
I was very much relieved when at last I had got myself settled in a compartment along with my kit which took up twice as much room as myself. It was a good job there were only four of us to a compartment as we filled it as it was.
I had my last glimpse of Morecambe at approximately 9.30 a.m. I think I shall remember that view for a lifetime. I had my head out of the carriage window waving to Betty with tears streaming down my cheeks. I was very lucky having someone to see me off. Most of the other fellows contented themselves by poking their tongues out at the S.P.S. [inserted] (SPECIAL POLICE) [/inserted]
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Then came the view of the Amusement Park on my left hand side, with its Scenic Railway called “The Cyclone” towering above evrything [sic] else on which I had had many rides and a lot of fun during the previous week. The view to my right was of the Winter Garden Theatre.
When the station had become no more than a speck in the distance, I sat back in my seat to enjoy my last glimpses of the Lancashire countryside.
We stopped at Carlisle and were given a cup of tea in the station NAAFI Canteen, it went down very well with our rations. I managed to dash over to a bookstall situated on the other side of the station and bought some books and papers to read during the rest of the journey. The rest of the trip was quite uneventful. I spent it reading my books and watching the Scottish scenery and waving back to the many people who waved to us from railside houses as we passed by. A few of the fellows threw their last letter to be written in England out of the carriage window as we passed one of the many stations, hoping that someone would pick it up and post their letter for them.
Early afternoon we arrived at Gurrock, [sic] near Grenock [sic] in Scotland. On descending from the train on to the platform, we were lined up and a roll call was given to see if anyone was missing. We were then each given a Berthing Card (see opposite page) before we boarded a large steamer that was nearby. Carrying our kit once more so I stepped off British soil.
In peace-time the steamer did Pleasure Trips to Ireland and back, I wished it had been only a pleasure cruise that I was going on. As soon as we were all aboard off we steamed until we were in the centre of the Clyde, where we drew up alongisde [sic] and were transferred to a d the S.S. “Volendam” it was of approx. 17,000 tons. It was a Dutch boat and most of the crew were made up of Dutchmen. Early in the war the ship had been torpedoed. One torpedo landed on the bows but failed to explode but unfortunately, another one hit her that did go off, but the damage was repairable and here she was still doing a useful job. With the aid of my Berthing Card and after a long search I at last found the correct deck that I was to live on, the the [sic] correct mess followed by the correct table. My next move, as was everyone else’s was to stow away all of our kit into the racks that were above the table.
Two fellows from each table in the mess went down to the galley and fetched back the meal for their respective tables and then they split the lot into 14 portions or however many fellows that there were living at their particular table.
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Two different fellows fetched the meals each day and did the washing up and cleaning and sweeping etc. That was the only duty that I got caught for during the voyage. Some of the chaps got caught for many jobs.
By the time we had finished our first meal on board ship everyone began to think of sleep as we had all had a very tiring day. There were 100 fellows in our Mess and five tables. Some had to sleep in a hammock slung on hooks above the tables and others on matresses [sic] on tables and on the floor. I had a hammock and what a time I had putting the blankets in and climbing myself into that first night. After about four attempts I finally managed to get in and stay in. It was just like a comedy act. By the time everyone of the 100 were settled there was not much room to spare as the Mess was only approx. 30 ft. x 25 ft. But as I said before, I was feeling very tired and consequently I was soon fast asleep.
After breakfast, whilst the other chaps were cleaning up the Mess decks ready for the ship’s daily inspection carried out by the Captain and when the other fellows had to help out in the cookhouse bakery etc., I used to go up on to the top deck and hide myself away along with a book in some obscure corner.
Our first throughts [sic] when we awoke on the first morning were whether we had moved during the night. So after dressing and folding up my hammock and blankets I went up and took a stroll around the promenade deck before breakfast. It was a very pretty sight that met my eyes when I reached the open air, we were still anchored in the middle of the Clyde and on both sides the green hills of Scotland dotted with small woods and houses, sheep and other cattle rose up to meet the bright blue sky. To my left situated on the waters edge was the town of Gurrock, [sic] from where we had embarked. Three or four destroyers were tied up alongside the jetty. Anchored in front of us was the giant liner the “Aquitania” and astern were anchored the great and mighty battleship “Howe” and a large cruiser along with two aircraft carriers and six converted ones. All had aircraft on their top decks.
I spent my first day on board watching supplies being taken aboard from small ships that drew alongside. I also wrote a letter and read a book. During the afternoon we had a sing-song amongst the troops made up of R.A.F. and men from the Royal Artillery, the Argyle and Sutherland and the Black Watch Regiments. There was also an Ensa Concert Party on board and the full Royal Artillery Band which consisted of 60 players. The band gave a musical concert every afternoon on the top deck and every evening an impromptu concert was given either by members of the R.A.F. Army, Ensa or Officers. A talent competition and a Brains Trust was also held during the voyage and a dance band was formed from amongst the troops.
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During one of these concerts we suddenly noticed that we had begun to move. At that moment a great cheer went up from us all. The time then was 8.20 p.m. on Monday 19th of July. As the sun set it was making the hills look blueish and the water silvery [deleted] and [/deleted] we steamed out of the Clyde into the open sea and the coast of Britain gradually diminished in size and from sight in the growing darkness. By the morning we were steaming just off the coast of Northern Ireland and our convoy was made up of 1 Cruiser, 8 Destroyers and 25 Ships.
Everyday we had a lifeboat drill, we had to wear our lifebelts at all times and sleep with our clothes on. As soon as the alarm signal was given each day we immediately made our way to our various boat stations where we formed up ready to lower a life boat. As each day went by so everyone reached their action stations in shorter time. I had to climb from B deck up to A deck on a very thin iron ladder to get to my point.
It was very warm at night in the Mess deck. All the portholes had to be closed because of the black-out.
On a few of the evenings members of the ship’s crew gave boxing displays. The game of housey-housey was played quite a bit during the voyage.
In all we put the clock back 2 hours and then on 2 hours. At one time we must have gone half way to America. The ship zig-zagged continuously during the trip to fox any would-be submarines. We completely changed course on two occasions because an enemy U boat was following us and at three separate times depth charges were dropped by our escort destroyers, but whether or not they sunk any U boats I do not know, but we could see the destroyers circling around and great spurts of water shooting skywards. Also, once the cruiser opened fire at an unidentified aircraft, but it soon made off.
On the 23rd we changed into our new tropical khaki kits. Everything misfitted as usual. It felt very funny at first with our persil white knees showing, but I soon got used to it. When it was sunny during the day I used to sun bathe and go to sleep on the deck. It was whilst I was attending the evening service held on deck on the 23rd that the convoy split in two. We changed our course to Eastwards and the rest of the convoy continued steaming Southwards. We were left with the cruiser, 6 destroyers and 15 ships.
There was a NAAFI Canteen on the ship, but to be able to purchase anything from it meant queueing up for at least two hours.
Everyday the [inserted] SEA [/inserted] seemed to differ in the shade of green or blue when we reached the Med.
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On the 24th whilst walking around the deck I heard someone call out my name and when I turned round I found it was Arthur Holloway who worked at the same firm as I did before joining the forces.
That same evening at dusk we sighted the coast of North Africa. I could just make out its dim outline in the growing darkness. At 10 p.m someone shouted lights to the Starboard side of the ship. Everyone rushed to that side and eager faces looked across the waste of water towards the coast where a series of light-houses circled their bright beams of light on to the sea. We were passing at that moment just off the neutral town of Tangiers. It made a lovely sight with its twinkling lights, streets and neon lighting. Such a vast contrast after living in a black-out for the past 4 years.
As I stood by the rail I felt a thrill that I had been hoping for since I had embarked on the voyage. Thoughts flashed through my mind of new lands, adventure and I wondered what experiences lay ahead for me. Memories of my school days came flooding back, sitting at a small desk in shorts listening to geography lessons and there I was seeing places that in those school days had just been a name on my atlas.
On the following day we kept near to the coast zig-zagging all the way. The only thing worth mentioning for the day was the flying fish anything up to 3ft 6 in. long that kept jumping in the wake of our ship.
Next morning we were each issued with rations and when I went up on deck the first thing that caught my eyes was the first glimpse of Algiers. In front of us lay many ships of all types lying at anchor, then came the great dock installations built at the waters edge and behind the docks the town rose up built on the side of a hill which rose up hundreds of feet, or rather I think that is well over a 1000 ft. to the summit. From the sea the town looked very impressive with its mass of white buildings glistening beneath the scorching sun, above and behind the town up to the hill top was made up of green grass and scorched earth.
As the convoy formed into single file each ship followed the one in front through the submarine boon that protected the harbour. Most of the ships at anchor had a silver barrage balloon flying above them in case the harbour and ships were attacked by dive bombers. As we entered the outer harbour and ships were attacked by dive bombers. As we entered the outer harbour we could distinguish the traffic passing along the dock front. Beneath the sun it looked a very sleepy and lazy town and made you feel the same yourself. By 1.45 p.m. we finally managed to tie up in one of the many shipping berths. I remember that along the quayside by the ships were stacked thousands of big bombs. It was a little later when I staggered down the gang plank beneath the weight of my kit and set foot on African soil. I loaded my kit onto a waiting lorry and we then formed up in three’s and we then set off along the coast road.
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[underlined] THE MEDITERRANEAN. [/underlined]
The full understanding of North Africa and its place in the war will come [underlined] after [/underlined] the importance of the Mediterranean has been perceived.
Little more than a century ago it was in the grip of pirates who successfully flouted the European States, Christian slaves were at work on the coasts, and the Turks had power.
About 12,000 years ago, according to some authorities, it was not a sea at all, but a stretch of swampy land, with some small lakes and several peaks. The peaks remain as islands, and the main flood that then broke through the Strait of Gibraltar was halted only by the mountains that practically surround the sea.
The Mediterranean divides almost evenly at the shallow narrows between Tunis and Sicily.
European civilisation flowed from East to West. The Phoenicians from Tyre and Sidon explored the Mediterranean, hugging the coast, and discovered the Strait of Gibraltar (which secret they kept from their neighbours), passed through and voyaged to Cornwall and Liberia.
Tyre and Sidon gave way to Carthage, whose loosely held and shallow empire was confined to the coastline, save for deep penetration into Tunisia. The Greeks came along the northern coasts, and laid hold on Sicily, which still possesses some of the best relics of Greece, Rome, taking her turn, flowed back from West to East; The Republics, Genoa, Venice, Pisa, flourished and did great commerce.
For centuries the Mediterranean was the only commercial sea; other countries were largely uncivilised when the Mediterranean peoples were of advanced culture.
When men became blue water sailors, other territories were discovered and the Mediterranean diminished in importance. The Suez Canal restored that importance.
The Mediterranean is said to be tideless, but that is only figurative. In places the tide is normal and regular, at others practically non-existent. There is no change at Gibraltar worth mentioning, off Tunisia the tide is slight but regular. There is no tide in the Black Sea.
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Fed by the Atlantic, on which it draws for an inch a day over its whole area, the Meditteranean [sic] loses more by evaporation.
In places it is 1,200 feet deep, in others 12,000, while in the sea of Azof the masts of foundered ships show above the surface.
The Mediterranean is of prime strategic importance, and Malta is the key to the Eastern half. Had Axis forces been able to neutralise Malta, the Allied effort would have been gravely hindered. Possession of Malta would have facilitated the Axis effort to sweep along the coast, close the giant pincers, open the Russian flank, and expose India to grave peril.
Allied strategy prospered in the North African and Libyan campaigns, giving greater control of the southern coast, which, with the command of the Strait of Gibraltar, now exposes what the Prime Minister called the “underbelly” of the Axis. Southern Europe is brought into more economic range for attacking bombers. The menace to Allied convoys is reduced by the easier provision of fighter protection. What other headaches this occupation of North Africa will give to the dictators will be felt as the war develops.
The Allied nations struck for initiative, not for territorial extension. Compare the North and South coats [sic] of the Mediterranean and you will see that from Tangier to Derna (excluding Spanish Morocco) Allied forces control most of a coast as long as the coasts of Spain, France, Italy, Albania and Greece, which lie to the north. And, along the southern coats [sic] are good, well spaced ports.
[underlined] NORTH AFRICA [/underlined]
North Africa, so far as this section is concerned, is divided into Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Tripolitania. French Morocco (Spanish Morocco is a narrow strip on the Mediterranean coast covering some 13,000 square miles) is a Protectorate. Algeria is part of Metropolitan France. Each department is normally represented in the French Chambers by one senator and two deputies. Tunisia is a French Protectorate. Tripolitania with Cyrenaica, until the Axis forces wre [sic] driven back, was an Italian colony, under a Governor.
North Africa has figured largely in history for nearly 3,000 years; woth [sic] remembering when first contact is made with the present native population.
The strength of ancient Rome is probably better grasped by following the Roman road across North Africa than by wandering in Italy. At Timgad, Algeria, for example, there is a complete Roman town, whose plan is as perfect as the day it was finished. The streets run at right angles in the modern fashion of the New World, the forum remains, broken
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but suggestive, there are still the evidences of amusements, and little shops where the garrisons made their purchases.
Many of the place names in the country are corruptions of the ancient names. For example: Tunis was Tounes (and much earlier was called Libya). Carthage was first Kart Hadash and then Carthago. Tebessa was Theveste, and Teboursouk was Thurbursicum Bure.
The language is Arabic, but the spoken language varies widely. Written, it can be understood by all who can read, although the spoken language of Southern Morocco is unintelligible in Algeria or Tunisia. It is easy to pick up the few really essential words in each district and a few of the formal polite phrases will make good feeling. The Arabs are extremely sensitive to all acts of courtesy.
Just as the language differs, so does the land and outlook. North Africa, although one land mass, is not a unity. You will find variation in tribal customs, habits and force of character.
[underlined] PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS. [/underlined] Physically, North Africa is broadly divided into three zones: the Tell, or coastal plain (Sahel in Tunisia), the High Plateaux, which lie between the mountain ranges and the desert, and the Sahara.
From about Agadir, stretching diagonally across the country to the Algerian-Tunisian border, the Atlas ranges rise behind the coast. Subsidiary ranges, such as the Aures (between Constantine and Biskra) strike inland. The Atlas Mountains in Morocco are divided into the Middle Atlas, the Great Atlas, and the Anti Atlas. The Algerian range is known as the Little Atlas, behind which, on the desert side, rise the hills of the Saharan Atlas. Spanish Morocco is dominated by the Riff, a continuation of the Atlas.
[underlined] COMMUNICATIONS. [/underlined] Road and rail communications, up to the outbreak of war, had been progressively improved. A main line stretches from Rabat (Morocco) to Tunis, with branches and extensions serving the most important areas. In Morocco, from north to south there is a railway from Tangier to Marrakech, following the coast as far as Casablanca and then striking inland. There are branch lines from Quercif to Medelt; Sidi bel Abbes and Algiers to Djelfa. A line from Constantine runs to the Saharan outpost of Touggourt, and from Tunis standard or narrow gauge railways connect all the coast towns and much of the interior.
The railways were never very well services, [sic] and rolling stock could well be improved.
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Considerable attention was given to roads. It is possible to travel in fair comfort by the coastal road from Agadir to Gabes and beyond. The main roads are quite good; secondary roads are poor, particularly in the rainy season.
The heavy rains – and they are heavy – which occur between mid November and the end of February play havoc with roads and railways. The roads become almost impassable, parts of the permanent way are sometimes wrecked and bridges broken by floods.
Inland, travellers may see massive and well-tended bridges standing derelict. They are there to bridge the seasonal floods that sweep down from the mountains during the rains.
[underlined] ALGERIA. [/underlined] Algeria went through all the tides of ancient history, but its real story begins with Turkish rule in the 16th century when the Barbarossa brothers, pirates, helped to defeat the Spanish and claimed Algiers as the perquisite. Kheir ed Din then made it the base for corsairs, who plied their trade along the coast for centuries, defying expeditions from Europe and America, until temporary peace was enforced by Lord Exmouth’s mixed squadrons in 1816. France took drastic action in 1827, after the Dey of Algiers smacked the French Consul with his fan. That outburst of temper cost the Dey his power, a reparation of £2,000,000 and his country. Pacific action was interrupted by the Franco-Prussian war and final control only came about in 1900, since when improvement in conditions has been rapid.
French colonists have prospered in agriculture and trade; the native population are well understood and humanly treated, allowed much independence and freedom.
[underlined] THE PEOPLE. [/underlined] The population of Algeria is about 7,000,000 including 1,000,000 Europeans of French, Spanish, Maltese and Italian origin.
Native races are many and mixed. The majority of the Arabs are nomadic, living on the plains either in tents or earth huts. The Berbers are settled in the hills of Kabylia (on the coast about 50 miles from Algiers) where small houses, with sloping tiled roofs, are clustered together on the hill sides. They are a short, stocky people, fiercely independent and suspicious.
The M’zab, an area of burnt and arid desert about 125 miles south of Laghouat, is peopled by a race which may be Berberm driven south by persecution in the 11th century. A rocky, forbidding zone which nobody wanted, has been made fertile, with hundreds of thousands of palm trees, an irrigation system fed by wells, and seven cities relatively gay with flowering plants, shrubs, fruit trees and vegetables.
Moors and Jews, mostly traders, are seldom far from the towns. Negroes are scattered from the coast to the heart of the Sahara, and come mainly from the Sudan.
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[underlined] PRODUCTS. [/underlined] The fertile coastal regions produce large crops of cereals and es3/8arto [sic] grass. Market gardening is lucrative. In the south are vast plantations of date palms watered by artesian wells sunk by the French engineers. There is considerable olive cultivation. The same profusion of trees and flowers is to be found as in Morocco.
Before the Axis Commissions got to work, Algeria possessed vast herds of poor quality domestic cattle, sheep, goats and camels.
Mineral deposits include iron, copper, lead and manganese.
[underlined] PORTS AND CITIES. [/underlined] Algeria has several large and modern ports, in addition to a number of useful harbours. Oran is a purely commercial city, once a Spanish penal settlement. It has good harbourage and port facilities. Algiers, second only to Port Said as a Mediterranean coaling station, has ample accommodation and safe harbourage for large vessels; Bougie, well sheltered and modern, anchorage for vessels of any size. Phillippeville is one of the best harbours in Algeria and Bone (Bona) is smaller but modern.
[underlined] ALGIERS, [/underlined] is a city of about a quarter of a million people, beuutifully [sic] situated. It divides almost naturally into the native and the French quarters. The French town is cosmopolitan, there are several good hotels, cafes and restaurants (suffering now from Axis occupation).
The native town centres on the Kasbah. Should you be lost in the narrow streets, turn down hill, keep going down-hill towards the sea, and you will reach one of the main avenues of the French town.
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We set out in perfect order with an officer at the head of each party. Just[deleted] er [/deleted] after we had set out my blanket that was tied on top of my back pack became loose and kept dropping down. By the time we had marched approx. one mile down the road, the sweat was pouring from me with the heat from the sun which was then at its height. My back pack got heavier with every step that I took. The parties by then were all mixed up and everyone was having a rest when they felt like one.
At one place I stopped an African soldier who came out of a nearby building and gave me a drink of ice water. Never have I appreciated a drink so much as I did then. The thing that struck me most whilst resting at that spot was the natives dressed in rags walking along bare-footed on sharp stones and not feeling them. My feet at that moment were burning and aching like hell.
So on I went continuing on my journey passing the wrecked harbour buildings caused by an ammunition ship full of German mines blowing up or by our shelling of the city by warships before it fell. I then passed by a half sunken oil tanker which was still on fire. At that moment a loudspeaker van came along telling us to keep moving as we were blocking the road and that transport was waiting to pick us up two miles further along the road.
As soon as I heard that, I sat down for another rest and watched the hundreds of other airmen staggering along the road. Whilst sitting there more Arab children passed by in their rags and tatters, bare feet with their eyes and face covered with flies.
When I finally reached the picking up point, there were still about 2,000 chaps waiting, so I had one big long rest. After about an hour had passed my turn came and I clambered onto a lorry and along with others we were driven 17 miles round the bay to the Transit Camp where we would stay until we were posted to a unit.
On arrival there we were put into tents. As we walked around the camp to find our tents we kicked up so much dust that we nearly choked ourselves, also the flies were very annoying., they would keep settling on me and I would knock them away but they would just come back and settle on me once more. They were very quick and artful, it was quite a job to kill one. I often used to crawl under my mosquito net to get out of the way of them.
After tea on the first morning that I was in the camp I spent [inserted] A CONSIDERABLE TIME [/inserted] [deleted] finding [/deleted] [inserted] LOCATING [/inserted] [deleted] out [/deleted] my kit-bag from a great pile of thousands of them. We finally laid all the bags out in rows. It reminded me of a graveyard as everyone was slowly filing down the rows of kit-bags looking at the name on each in turn until they found their own and carried it away.
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The camp was situated by a small wood by the sea, so that it was nice and shady around the tents during the daytime. Beside the camp there was a nice sandy beach from where you could see the town of Algiers across the bay.
At night the town looked life fairy-land with all the twinkling lights on the hillside.
I often used to sunbathe on the beach and go for a dip in the deep [inserted] BLUE [/inserted] waters of the Med. At times the sand became so hot, that if you walked on it barefooted it burnt them.
I found sleeping under a mosquito net strange at first and I also found out that the sand was very hard to sleep on after being used to a nice soft bed. Sometimes, during the night insects came in bed with me, it was also very annoying if you happened to shut a mosquito in with you at night. Just as you got settled down he would start to dive bomb and zoom around in circles just above your ear, but everytime [sic] you struck out at him he would dodge your hand and you would be striking out at him until you fell asleep. In the morning when you could see him your first thoughts is to kill him and get your own back, and on squashing him you would find that he is full of your blood that he has taken out of you during the night.
It took me a little time to get used to the currency, which was all in francs, 200 to the £1. and nearly all the notes which were very bright and colourful were in denominations of 5: 10: 20: 50: 100: 500: & 1000’s. One day whilst riding on a tram I was given 20 coins for 2d change. Each coin was a centime and 100 centimes equals a franc.
In the undergrowth around the camp there were plenty of large coloured lizards and frogs that were about ten times the size of English ones. There were also many wild canaries living in the trees.
About a mile from the camp was the village of Fort-de-Laue (fort-of-water) which contained a few small shops and one out of every two was a wine bar. Wine was very cheap indeed, the chief drinks were Muscatelle, Veno and Cap-Bon, Vin Blanch and Vin Rouge, all of which were made from grapes. Fruit was also plentiful and cheap, melons, grapes, peaches, oranges and tangerines, lemons figs and dates etc.
There was also a small cinema in the village that used to show English films, but they were generally very ancient, ones that I had already seen years before.
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I remember one night when one of my friends and myself decided to raid a tangerine grove nearby the camp to pick some fruit to send back to England. We had to tread around very carefully as there was a native guard in the grove with a shot-gun. A short while after plunging into the grove I lost my friend in the dark, and when we reached each other a little later we both thought that the other was the guard, as a result we bolted from the grove. I came away with my shirt, pockets, hat etc., filled with tangerines. When I put them on the scales they weighed 10 lbs.
We had to wash all our own clothes. Oh’ how I hated doing it. [underlined] I always swore that when I married I would see to it that my wife would never had to do any washing [/underlined].
Each week we were issued free a bar of chocolate and 50 cigarettes. Cigarettes cost us 1/6d for 50 whereas in England the cost was 6/3d.
For the first two months that I was at the camp I never saw it rain at all.
I used to go to the village cinema on an average of once a week and sometimes a concert was given there either by Ensa artists or by airmen from our camp.
Some nights we used to sit in a clearing in amongst the trees around a fire and have a sing-song accompanied by fellows who owned musical instruments.
Another nearby village was called Maison Carrie, it was a bigger place than Fort-de-Laue. This village possessed two cinemas and quite a few shops and a Y.M.C.A. canteen and a kind of Arab Covent Garden market and Pettycoat Lane combined. Half of the twon [sic] [symbol] had been demolished through a munitions train which blew up on the outskirts.
I remember one night when there was an air raid on Algiers, the barrage put up by the shore batteries and from the ships in the harbour was terrific and we could hear the enemy planes begin their bombing glide just over the camp. What with the noise of the H.E. shells exploding, bombs going off and streaks of tracer and incendiary bullets in the sky it seemed more like Guy Fawkes night. It was very exciting when the searchlights caught a plane in their beams, every gun seemed to be concentrated on it, they made the ground tremble, but he somehow managed to get away from the beams before the gun-fire could shoot him down. Anyway I bet the pilot had a few anxious moments and I was glad that I was not where he was.
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Three planes were brought down during the raid in which not very much damage was done. The State Prison was partly demolished.
One Sunday I went to Maison Blanche Aerodrome nearby to work, helping to handle 200 tons of smoke bombs which were to be used to cover the invasion of Italy five days later.
There were hundreds of British and American aircraft on the field, Spitfires, Beaufighters, Lightning fighters and Douglas & Liberator Troop carriers.
On 3rd September the fourth Anniversary of the war and the day Italy was invaded and surrendered, I met my cousin in Algiers. He worked at General Eisenhower’s Allied Force Headquarters. He landed in Algiers by air the same [inserted] TIME [/inserted] as I arrived by boat.
On 13th September I was posted temporarily to 351 M.U. Hussan Dey, which was about 5 miles along the coast road from Algiers.
On arrival at the M.U. we had to erect our own marquee before we had anywhere to sleep. There was hundred of us in all that came from the transit camp.
Whilst at the M.U. we worked from 7.30 a.m. until 6.0 p.m. with an hour for dinner and one day off a week, either a Friday or Sunday. The camp was situated half on the beach and half on the other side of the main coast road. The place had been a French Calvary Camp at one time.
I spent my first day at work making a bed for myself. It was a good job too as the same night it poured with rain and we were flooded out in the tents. The water rushed in one end and out of the other into the next tent down the slope, floating everything that we kept on the floor, then to crown it all a part of the side of the marquee collapsed. It was very amusing – chaps waking up and saying “where am I” when they saw the stars above them and felt the rain coming into their mosquito nets and on jumping out of bed they landed in inches of water. Luckily, my side of the marquee was not the one that fell in. The chaps on the other side did not see the funny side at all.
We had a cinema on the camp which showed two different films each week. The admission was free to us.
During my work I came across quite a lot of equipment made at my old firm of P.B. Cow & Co. Ltd.
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On 18th of September I was lucky enough to draw a ticket to go to a concert that evening. I was taken by lorry to an open air theatre situated in an Army Petrol Dump Camp about 8 miles away. The theatre holding about 2,000 was nearly filled to its capacity when I arrived. The seats were set out in a half circle and in tiers around the stage. It was a very impressive scene and overhead the sky was cloudless and it was pitch dark except for the light given off by the stage footlights and by the twinkling stars above.
Among the artists, was the first visit of Gracie Fields overseas during the war. She was given a tremendous welcome and sang a great variety of songs. Trying to find our lorry amongst 200 or more all of which were very similar after the show had finished, reminded me very much of trying to find your coach after the Aldershot Tattoo.
I paid many visits to Algiers on my days off. As soon as you arrived in the [deleted] tram [/deleted] [inserted] town [/inserted] you would be surrounded by shoe-shine boys who would pester you until you paid one of them to clean your shoes. When I was there prices of goods were excessively high. If we saw something that was very very [sic] expensive, we used to go into the shop or stand at the stall if we had a few moments to spare and argue and argue about a quarter of an hour then the shopkeeper would finally agree to a reasonable price that we offered, we then said thank you we do not want it and walk away leaving the Arab or Frenchman standing there.
One day whilst I was in the town it started to rain and I can say it was not very nice as at that moment I was in the native quarter roaming around. In a few minutes the torrential rain swept down the narrow alley ways, [inserted] x [/inserted] [inserted] [underlined] ADD [/underlined DRIVING ALL WAY [indecipherable word] [/inserted] beggars etc., from the streets [deleted] came [/deleted] [inserted] AND [/inserted] into the nearest shelter they could find under old crumbling archways and derelict buildings. I soon made my way down the hill back into the main part of the town and into a picture house feeling like a half drowned rat. By the evening the pitiless rain which had been driving in from the sea since early that afternoon showed no signs of abating. If anything, the wind had increased in violence, causing terrific squalls and solid sheets of rain to sweep across the open spaces and spend themselves up against the shops and buildings. I certainly did not linger out in it more than was necessary.
Whilst I was in North Africa it was the time of the Ramadan. For one night the gates of Heaven are said to be open and the prayers of the Faithful are heard. It is the twenty seventh night of the Feast of Romadan, [sic] Laylat El Kadr, the night of power which comme[deleted] nced orated [/deleted] [inserted] morates [/inserted] the first Koran revelation to the Prophet.
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Ramadan, which means “the month of Intense heat” is the ninth month of the Arabic calendar. It is movable, following the phases of the moon. It derives its name from the first Islamic year when it happened to fall during the height of summer. The name remains, though in a 33 year cycle the Fast runs through all the seasons. Ramadan begins when the crescent of the new moon is first sighted. It begun on September 1st 1943.
Throughout September Moslems abstain from eating and drinking during daylight hours. Only after midnight are they permitted to eat two meals, knows as Aftara Shoor. During this solemn period the Mosques are crowded with rich and poor. The rich go by car and the peasant takes his family in a donkey cart.
On the thirtieth day the Fast ends and the Feast begins, the Feast of Fetre Bairam. Now the melancholia turns into a Bank Holiday spirit. It is a season of spring cleaning and buying new clothes and sending presents to friends. The poorest native Arab buy Gaudy-Galabicks, the long shirt-like garment worn by the natives. The richer Algerians or Egyptians buy new clothes in the fashionable stores in the large cities.
In Algiers at dawn and dusk a gun is fired from the Citadel each day during the Feast to tell the Moslems when they must stop and when they can begin to eat. The natives are very faithful to their religion. I have seen food offered to starving natives and they have refused to eat it, no matter how hard the person tried to tempt them. If you gave them anything eatable during the day, they would keep it until dusk came.
One day I decided to go on an organised tour of the city run by Cook’s Tour Agency. A party of twenty to thirty servicemen [inserted] x [/inserted] [inserted] [underlined] ADD [/underlined] FROM ALL COUNTRIES [/inserted] set out at 3.0 p.m. from the Agency. We first boarded a trolley-bus that took us to Government Square. A French interpreter came along with us. From the Square we walked to a nearby Mosque. We had been given special permission to venture inside as long as we took care not to walk or step onto the carpet with our shoes or boots on. If we had done so we would have been turned out as it would have been an insult to Mohamid [sic] in the eyes of the worshippers that were there at the time. From the Mosque we walked to a nearby Princesses Palace, which was built by a Turkish King for his daughter. From outside the building it looked more like a prison, but on passing into the small courtyard situated inside there was some wonderful workmanship and carvings to be seen. Nearby we passed one of the old Turkish King’s Palace, then used as the Native French Troop H.Q. and into the Roman Catholic Cathedral which was next door to the Palace. The Cathedral was built on the site of an old Arab Mosque that had fallen into ruin. Here again much marvellous workmanship was to be seen.
From the Cathedral, we walked back to Government Square and took our seats in the tram again and as soon as everyone was settled we set off.
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As we twisted and turned up and up the road which led to the top of the hill we left the European part of the town behind and found ourselves in the native quarter which was called the “Casbha”. We stopped outside the “Casbha Fortress” and got out and toured the Fortress which contained the city’s museum and there we had a commanding view of the whole of the bay of Algiers. Looking down, directly beneath us was the native quarter made up of ramshackle houses made of wood, bits of tin, sheeting, tin petrol cans and others made of brick and which were nearly falling down. Then there were the narrow alleys and passageways winding downwards and from the whole area rose a very bad odour. It is very unadvisable to walk anywhere in the “Casbha” unaccompanied. In fact it is best not to go without being amongst a huge crowd of friends. Many a man has ventured into that maze of alley-ways never to be seen alive again and some[deleted] how [/deleted] [inserted] [indecipherable word] [/inserted] just disappears in there. These conditions continue half-way down to the sea, where the European part of the town commences and the wide roads and big modern buildings continue down to the Dock area. The Dock can accommodate the largest of ocean going liners and battleships.
The port was first used years ago by Pirate Ships operating along the North African coast. The ships that were anchored in the harbour at the time, looked like toys from where we were standing in the Fortress. To our left the buildings run right around to that end of the bay and looking to our right we could clearly see Cape Materfue which formed the other wing of the bay. It was on this Cape where the big naval guns were housed that had to be silenced by our troops before the invasion of Algiers commenced.
Nearby to where we were standing were a row of guns pointing over the town that had been taken from a Turkish Pirate vessel many, many years ago.
On leaving the Fortress we walked through parts of the “Casbha’s” outskirts. We found it advisable to light a cigarette before starting on this little walk as it camouflaged the smells a tiny bit. In the native bazaars there is a market for everything. I even saw one fellow that had rusty bent nails for sale and also old bits of moth-eaten rags.
We walked passed the State Prison which was in the process of repair, after being damaged in a bombing raid.
We next visited an old Moorish house which was very similar in design and architecture to the Princesses House, but it was nowhere near so elaborate.
We than [sic] continued our walk through those twisting alleyways and down stone stairways and along the Street of Shoemarkets into the Arab main Shopping Street, which was situated just behind the big Opera House where our tour came to an end.
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In the town there were quite a number of cinemas that showed English speaking films and the American Red Cross had a cinema of their own to which we were allowed to enter free of charge. Canteens were in good supply, 2 NAAFI’S, 2 Y.M.C.A’s and 2 Salvation Army ones, where we were able to get tea and cakes. The only place that I know of where I could get a meal was the R.A.F. Malcolm Club, I often went there also for a game of draughts, table tennis, darts etc., before catching a lift home. Lifts received were all kind of vehicles, from jeeps to 60’ 0” trailers.
As a sequel to my tangerine picking trip, one evening a friend and myself set out to go lemon picking. It was pitch dark when we finally thumbed a lift on a lorry. The driver said he was going in the direction that we wanted so we climbed on board. When we finally stopped we found out that he had taken us up the wrong road and we were stranded out in the wilds. We decided to make the best of a bad job and started to walk along the road. After covering a distance of two miles we met a couple of soldiers walking in the opposite direction and on enquiring, we found out that we were walking away from our objective instead of towards it, so we had to turnabout and retrace our steps along the road and then we walked over hills and across fields until we finally same [sic] to a spot which we recognised. As it was too late to continue on our expedition we started to thumb a lift going back in the direction of the M.U. After a while two American Officers picked us up in their jeep and the driver told us that he was going past the M.U. After he had dropped off the officer that was with him. After driving for a full half hour we stopped to drop off the officer and where should the place be but exactly the same spot where the other driver left us stranded earlier in the evening.
One day I had to go out and work at a farm where the M.U. had dispersed some of their equipment. The farm was only a few miles from the foot of the Baby Atlas Mountains at a place named Reva. The farm comprised of hundred of acres of vineyards that stretched as far as the eye can see.
The equipment that we had to move was stored on top of wine vats in a large building. Each vat was full and held 5,000 gallons of wine and in all there was seven of them. Each was completely enclosed except for a kind of manhole at the top. Some of these were open and we could see the wine fermenting and bubbling away. Some of the vats had been sealed for more than 3 years.
Whilst on the farm I saw how true the old saying “as stubborn as a mule” was. I watched a mule being put into harness for the first time. His back legs came up in the air time and time again nearly kicking the cart harnessed to him into bits and when he calmed down it took the mules owner half-an-hour before he could get it to budge an inch.
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Another job I had was in charge of seven Italian prisoners and a lorry. We had to take six propellers each trip from the M.U. to a garage at El Bier situated in a town at the top of the of the hill above Algiers.
On November the 5th I was posted back to No. 1 Base Personnel Depot at Fort-de-Laue. It was back to an easy life comprising of sleeping, sunbathing, and swimming in the Med. Also reading books and playing cards every day. One disadvantage was having to sleep on the ground once more. Although it was late in the year we still had sunny weather for a week. By then my skin was beginning to turn from red to brown as a result of all my sunbathing. Then the rains came and often I would sit in my tent and watch a small pool of water gradually form itself into a small lake in the large clearing amongst the trees. For three days I worked at the 96th General Hospital in Maison Ca[deleted]wies[/deleted] [inserted] RRIE [/inserted]. I was very glad when the job came to an end.
To celebrate my 1st year’s Anniversary in the R.A.F. we discovered fleas in our tent and I spent the afternoon hunting them down.
The less said about Friday November the 12th the better. I went for a walk into the village with a few of my friends. On arrival there we were feeling very thirsty, so we went into one of the many wine-bars to buy some lemonade. As they never had any left in stock we decided on a Muscatelle & Cap Bon drink. It tasted quite good and first [inserted] DRINK [/inserted] was followed by a second and so on until we had each drunk 15 of them. By this time I felt very lightheaded and a bit merry and the other were well passed the merry state. What a job I had getting them back to camp. One of the fellows got up next morning for breakfast and as soon as he had drunk a cup of tea, he was staggering around again. He went straight back to bed and never rose again until the following day.
One night it rained exceptionally heavy and the edge of that small pool I spoke of a few moments ago reached our tent at about 3.0 a.m. in the night. Then a little later one of my friends on the other side of the tent fell out of [inserted] HIS [/inserted] bed and touched water under it, luckily just as the edge of the pool reached the foot of my bed it stopped raining and the flood water started to recede from the tent. My bed then was a large sheet of wood raised on four petrol tins. The chaps on the other side of the tent spent all the following day drying out their kits.
Every day we had to parade at 9.0 a.m. and 1.0 p.m. to see if our postings had come in. Fellows had gradually been posted day by day to units all over North Africa. I was one of the last remaining ten airmen to be posted out of the thousands that came overseas in the same convoy as myself.
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As I was on a day off on the 22nd of November I decided to spend it in Algiers, a pal out of the tent came along with me and we spent the morning looking around the shops and stalls, bazaars and stores. There was quite a number of civilian cars and traffic on the main roads, most of the cars were owned by Frenchmen. A common sight in the streets were mules covered and matted with dirt, being tormented by flies, dragging an old ramshackle waggon. Sometimes I would see two mules of very unequal size together in an old leather harness which was nearly falling to bits and tied up in places by bits of string or wire etc. Sometimes a mule would come along carrying such a big load that only the bottom of its legs and its nose are visible.
After we walked to the trolley bus stop where we boarded a tram that took us [inserted] FROM [/inserted] outside [deleted] a [/deleted] [inserted] THE [/inserted] big impressive Post Office building, along the main road that runs to the top of the hill. The trolley buses were very much like our old English type trams. They were always packed by people of all nationalities, young, middle aged and old Frenchmen or European or native dressed Arabs wearing the old fez hat and the native women wearing their yash-mak over their nose and mouth, then there were servicemen from many of the Allied nations. When it gets so that you cannot move an inch the bus moves off and the natives left behind jump and hang on the sides of the vehicle so as to get a free lift. Then at each stop one is jostled around by the people wanting to get out and it is worse still when the women are carrying big baskets as they generally do.
On reaching St. George’s Hotel way up the hill we descended from the bus ourselves and walked into hotel grounds passing the sentry at entrance. As we walked up the drive boarded by orange and lemon trees we passed by many high ranking officers of the Allied Army, Navy and Air Force. This was the Allied Expeditionary Force H.Q. On entering the hallway I was given a form to fill in stating who I was, where I had come from and what I wanted and after showing my identity card the form was signed and I was allowed to enter and roam around. I made my way to the Signal Section where I met my cousin and he showed me one of the radio units that was in direct communication with London. It was not much bigger than a normal set. We all then walked to the nearby English Library next to the English Church of St. George’s. We had tea at the library and talked over old times before it was time my cousin to go back to work. My friend and I then caught a trolley bus that took us back down to the Post Office.
We then went to the “Empire” which was the American Red Cross cinema where we saw a picture named “Happy Go Lucky” I had seen it once before but it took me a long while before I could remember where it was that I saw it. Then later I remembered it was in Cardiff while I was waiting for a train to take me home on my Embarkation leave, but I was hardly in the mood to appreciate the film then, but during the second time I saw it I do not think I had laughed so much since coming overseas. The film was in technicolour.
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When we came out of the cinema we walked to the R.A.F. Club for supper and a few games of draughts before thumbing a lift back to camp which was quite a job to get to where we lived. Anyway we did the journey eventually in three stages, and arrived back in camp in pitch dark well after eleven-o-clock. On reaching our tent the other two occupants informed us that, at last, my posting had come through during my absence. I went up to the Movement Office and received my Movement Order which was to 242 Squadron Gioia, Italy, and I was told that I was on the move at 6.30 a.m. on the following morning. My pal was posted too, but to another part of Italy.
The next step for us to take was to pack up all our kit, which we had to do by candlelight. I was at it until just after 1.0 a.m when I went to bed. I was up again at 5.30 a.m. and after doing my last minute packing I went to breakfast. Just then it started to rain and whilst I was waiting for our transport a thunderstorm developed and the rain then came down in torrents. By then we were all pretty wet, a little later 5 lorries, 3 of which were open ones turned up outside the Movement Office. We loaded the rations and our kits on the open lorries. You can guess how wet our kit-bags were.
All of us then crammed on the two remaining lorries. There was over thirty of us in the lorry I was in and the space was no more than 7’ x 12’. We very near had to take it in turns to move. Luckily it stopped raining and the sun came out just before noon. Some of the chaps then transferred to the open lorries, we were then able to ride a little more comfortably. By lunch-time we had travelled across the coastal strip leading up to the Baby Atlas Mountains and had begun the first stage of the journey over them.
I was very surprised with how much ploughed land that there was in the area around the foot of the mountains. In places the road we travelled on was flooded as a result of the trains, but nowhere was it deep enough for us to stop. It was a marvellous journey. The convoy of lorries going up and down all the time, twisting first one way and then the other just like a worm. We stopped for dinner on quite a flat stretch of cultivated ground, but not so far away we could see snow on the peaks of the mountains. We took some of our rations to an Arab house or rather it was a stone barn near the roadside where we obtained some wood which enabled us to start a fire on which to heat some water to make tea, to go with our tin of Bully Beef and hard biscuits. After the meal had been consumed we continued on our upward twisting journey. Sometimes there was a drop of hundreds of feet on one side of the road and on the other was solid rock stretching up to a height of hundreds of feet and the road would be only just wide enough for two lorries to pass.
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At times we would pass a gap in the sort of fence or wall when there was one, where something had gone off the road and crashed into the depths below, not a very reassuring sight.
For a long time that day, alongside the road ran a dried up bed of a river about a hundred yards in width but as we ascended higher into the mountains, it started turning into a small stream, which a little later in the year would be a mighty river as the rain water rushes down the mountainside. It was a lovely sight with the road and the stream winding side by side and with sheer rock of many beautiful colours rising up on either side of us and in places water was cascading from crevices into the stream a 100’ 0” or more below. In a few places the roadway had to be tunnelled through the solid rock.
Also during the journey, we passed by a few camels. I had only seen a couple up until then since I had arrived in Africa. The most remarkable thing was, that everytime we stopped for a few moments way out in the wilds there was not a soul in sight and yet within a few minutes hundreds of Arabs seemed to appear from nowhere out of the hills wanting to buy anything at all that you would like to sell them. Many Arabs stood by the roadside waving a stack of currency notes in their hands as we went by. In places we could look into the valley and see parts of the road that we had travelled along half-an-hour previously. Also at times we could see the tail end of our own convoy below us.
For a time we were driving along in the clouds that enveloped us like a mist and when we came in the clear again we could see smaller clouds floating in the valley below and the rocks 50’ 0” above us were covered in snow. It was hellishly cold travelling along this part of the road.
By evening we were in the first range of mountains after being up at a height of 6,000 ft. at times. We were then between the two ranges that separate the coast from the Sahara Desert.
Darkness had fallen when we stopped for the night at a few Nissen Huts built on the roadside about ten miles east of the twon [sic] of Setif. First we lit two petrol fires, one to make the tea in and the other to heat the meal which was a bit of a mixture. We opened a dozen tins containing an assortment of things and mixed them all in together, as by that time we had all acquired a terrific appetite [deleted] and [/deleted] it tasted fine. We then settled down to sleep, personally, I would not recommend a concrete floor to sleep on, especially up in the mountains with only two blankets with which to keep yourself warm in. Once when I awoke during the night wild dogs were howling away near to the hut and they did not make a very comforting noise.
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When I arose next morning, fires were already on the go and breakfast was nearly ready. Now that it was daylight I was able to see what my surrounding looked like. Except for the hut, a small Arab dwelling and the mountains in the background, nothing else was to be seen. It was very bleak and desolate in whichever direction I looked. There was also quite a lot of frost on the ground which made the atmosphere a bit nippy. I was very glad to wear my greatcoat. Once again the usual crowd of Arab natives were gathered around us wanting to buy anything and selling oranges, tangerines etc. Although I do not know how they managed to get hold of their goods being miles from anywhere. One chap was selling sheep-skins at 15/- each and another was selling knives. I nearly bought a skin with which to line my battledress tunic with but I changed my mind. A few children were there selling eggs, these did interest me as I had not had a real egg since leaving England, so I bought a couple to go with my bacon and biscuits. I then lit my own little petrol fire in a cigarette tin and proceeded to boil the eggs in my mess tin and after consuming same we got away to an early start to continue on our journey.
The building of the railway, road and bridges were built over the mountains, a feat of marvellous workmanship. In a few places the road became no more than a wide gravel pathway. During the course of the morning an aeroplane made our lorries a target, for practice, diving and straffing. We passed through many native villages and a few small towns. Once we felt so cold that we stopped and had a game of football with old tin cans by the roadside until we felt warm once more. Round about noon we reached the ancient town of Constantine where we stopped for lunch. The town was quite modern in parts, in others it was the usual dirty native hovels. As the place was built on a hillside it was very much like a miniature Algiers. The parts that stick out most in my mind was the large suspension bridge built over a 200’ 0” gorge and the flocks of sheep and goats wandering all over the rocky hillside. The spot where we stopped was just outside the town.
Our meals consisted of much the same things as the day before except that we had tinned fruit to follow our bully beef. Whilst waiting for the meal to be prepared we discovered a small stream the water of which was quite warm, in a few moments everyone was having a bath in it. I felt very much refreshed after I had been in. A little later our convoy became a worm once more only this time we were descending towards the direction of the coast. It was just on 3.0 p.m. that same afternoon when feeling very travel weary we drove into our destination town of Phillipville, after covering a distance of well over 300 miles since leaving Algiers. We travelled a further six miles along the coast to an Army Transit camp where we were to wait for a boat to take us to Italy.
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There was a hundred of us airmen altogether and we had one Flight Sergeant in charge of us. The camp was so packed when we arrived that for the first night we had to sleep 17 in a Bell tent plus kit. What a night it was. Once I had set myself in a position I had to stay in it, as there was no room whatsoever to move and around the centre pole was just one pile of feet. Things were better next day when an Army Regiment moved out leaving us plenty of tents to move into. As it was an Army run camp, us R.A.F. Fellows did not get troubled very much. During the whole 12 days that I was at the camp we only had to go on parade once and that was to draw pay. I mostly played cards or read a book and as we were right by the sea-shore I went into the sea quite a lot. Once I went in when I did not want to. I was walking along the sands by the waters edge with my thoughts miles away when all of a sudden a huge wave came along which I had not noticed and before I knew what was happening I was up to my knees in water. I looked like a fish out of water as I was floundering to get back onto dry land.
Quite often I did not get out of bed until nearly dinner time. I shall always remember the camp because of the very nice 1 lb. tins of steak and kidney puddings that we used to get for dinner every other day. I nearly always had second helpings when that meal was served, then feeling so full up I would have to go back to my tent and sleep. I always used to get a second tea and then keep it for supper time when I used to light a fire of twigs and then make toast to go with my cheese and jam etc. I used to enjoy those evenings sitting by the firelight beneath a clear starlight sky. There was a hill about 100’ o” [sic] in height just behind the camp and at night I used to like climbing to the top of it and look down on the whole of the camp and see about fifty or more flickering fires dotted all over the place and then behind the camp I would see that light of the moon casting its silver rays upon the sea and hear the soft lapping sound of the waves rolling up the beach.
One day about a hundred Americans came into the camp, they were survivors from a ship that had been torpedoed the day before between ORAN and Phillipville. Many of them had been in the water for hours and just had the clothes on that they left the ship in. A very great number of their comrades were not so fortunate and were still missing.
Altogether I went into the town about a half dozen times. There was nothing special to see there. The place is built on the side of a hill facing the bay, population is approx. 30,000 (including all natives). The town possesses Docks in which can berth six or seven good size ships.
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[underlined] PANTELLERIA ISLAND NEAR LAMPURDUSA. [/underlined]
[photograph of Pantelleria Island]
[underlined] ITALY’S [indecipherable word] – WHICH SURRENDERED AFTER IT HAD BEEN NEARLY SUNK BY BOMBS 1943. [/underlined]
[two symbols]
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On Sunday the 5th of December we were told to pack up our kit as we were moving off that afternoon. We sent our two kit-bags to the Docks on a lorry. The hundreds of soldiers that moved off that day had to march the 6 miles down to the Quayside. I felt very sorry for them as they had to carry a rifle and full pack with them. Our Flt/Sgt. told us we could hitch-hike down. So after thmbing [sic] for 1/2 an hour I managed to get a lift in an ambulance all the way.
After retrieving my kit-bags and forming up for roll call I found myself walking up a gang plank once more. At the top I was given a Berthing Card, what a job it was getting along the narrow passage ways carrying kit bags & rifle and pack. I was very glad when I found my mess deck. The boat which was of some 15,000 tons was a French one named the ‘Ville de Oran”. This time I had no trouble slinging and getting into a hammock.
Next morning we sailed at 8.30 a.m. so I said good-bye to North Africa as the coast line gradually receded into the distance and then from sight.
[inserted] [symbol] ADD [symbol] [/inserted]
I spent that evening standing at the bows of the vessel which continuously dipped and rose, just like nodding to the sky. It was breath-taking standing there on deck with the very strong wind almost reaching gale force blowing through my hair and in my face as we headed straight into it. As darkness fell the ship increased its speed to what must have been just on 30 knots. She seemed to skim the top of the water as she went along. As we ran into the storm the sea became a bit rough and the ship began to roll which made a good number of chaps sea-sick. Later when the storm cleared all became calm once more. I was up on deck when on our Starboard side we passed the Island of Lamperdusa which loomed out of the water, and was just a dark patch in the darkness which was slightly illuminated by the thousands of twinkling stars, which in the cloudless sky of the East shine much brighter than they do in England.
Next morning after rolling up my hammock I went for a stroll on deck to breathe in some lovely fresh morning air. On emerging into the daylight I discovered that on our Port-side, the South West coast of Sicily was to be seen, but it was only a thin line on the horizon. As time went on we could make out the cliffs, then the fields followed by the houses and roads, then finally moving objects such as cars etc. At 9.30 a.m. we slid through the entrance gap in the submarine boom and by wrecks of sunken vessels, some half submerged and some with only just their mast heads showing above the water. The sunken vessels included two hospital ships. As we steamed alongside the Quayside ropes were thrown out from the ships and we were secured to the shore and a few moments later the ship dropped anchor and we found ourselves looking upon the town of Syracuse. Around the harbour the houses looked like buildings of a 17th Century English fishing village.
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I shall remember for a long time the lovely tone of the peal of bells that rang out from the quaint little ancient church. As the sun set it was just like a picture painted by an expert artist. There was the harbour as I have described with its sunken ships and the village fishing vessels, the peasant houses surrounding the harbour area and the church rising up above it all, and in the background. In the distance we could see Mount Etna and other mountains looking mauve and purple in colour with their white snow tops and the sky was one mass of glorious colours of red, yellow, orange around the deep red fire ball of the setting sun.
We stayed in Syracuse until 4.30 p.m. when we weighed anchor, cast off from the quayside and made for the open sea. As soon as we left the harbour our faithful destroyer escort came up on each side.
On the following morning I was up early once again and I found that we were then sailing in the Bay of Taranto. With Taranto (the great Italian Naval Base) itself in sight. No wonder that we could not get at the Italian Fleet from the sea. It is virtually impossible for any enemy craft to get near to the Base from the sea.
First comes the Bay itself in the shape of a horse-shoe, with an anti-submarine net right across the bay centre. Then 8 miles further towards the coast came a second net, which forms the entrance to the outer harbour and to get into the Naval Base which is the inner harbour each ship has to travel through a canal approx. 150’ 0” wide by 300 yards long. At one point one of the town’s main road’s leads over the canal which is bridged by a movable bridge. Which when closed allows traffic to go over it and when open allows big ships to enter the inner harbour. This strip of water divides old Taranto from modern Taranto.
After sailing passed more sunken ships we docked in the outer bay at 9 a.m. after gliding by the statue of the Pope standing at the harbour entrance. Completing our journey from Africa to Italy in 36 hours sailing time. It was noon before we disembarked on the quayside and loaded most of our kit onto a lorry. Now that the battle front was less than a hundred miles to our North my thoughts were that I shall now be able to do a job of work in helping to win the war. I was hoping to go right through Italy as the Germans fell back and then perhaps across Germany and then Home (the only place that I looked forward to going). Anyway we formed up and started marching around the outer harbour. After passing two more ships we came to one with equipment being loaded on it belonging to [underlined] 242 Squadron 322 Wing [/underlined] (the Squadron that I was joining). We continued on our march and thousands of army chaps were also marching away from the Docks in parties. Each party had to be at least 100 yards apart in case an enemy aircraft appeared overhead and start to machine gun the columns.
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Our march took us through old Taranto and over the swing bridge into the newly built part of the town and then on another 300 yards to (or what used to be) a big Hotel overlooking the Naval Base. The R.A.F. were using it as a Transit Camp. We were put into rooms after we had gathered our kit that had been dropped outside the building. My room was situated seven floors up and I was feeling very exhausted when I had finished carrying all my equipment up all those stairs. All the rooms were fully furnished except for beds and there was a wash basin in each and also four bathrooms on each floor. What a vast difference it was from the other Transit Camps that I had stayed at, but my luck, as always, never lasted for long. Within an hour of being there I was told that my Squadron were leaving Italy on the following day. After getting settled in we had a meal (what a meal). The cookhouse was situated on the roof top. I shall always remember my meals in Italy, every meal consisted of cold Bully Beef and dog biscuits. It was hardly worth climbing the stairs for. From the roof we had a commanding view of the inner bay where a large proportion of the great Italian Navy that would never come out and fight lay at anchor. Now it had all surrendered to us, Modern Cruisers, Light Cruisers, Destroyers, and Submarines all anchored side by side stretching as far as the eye could see. Some of the Italians had been in the Navy for 3 years or more and had not yet been to sea. Also from the roof top I could see damage caused by our torpedo raids on the Harbour.
Early afternoon I watched units of the fleet steam pass the bridge into the outer bay, the crew of each vessel were lined up to attention on the deck all the time that they were going through the channel. On reaching a few miles out in the bay the ships would drop anchor and come back on the following day, when other units of the fleet would go out for the night following. This was as far as they ever went and the trip that I have described above was only done to keep the ships in a seaworthy condition. During the afternoon, transport arrived to take some of the airmen that were posted to Squadrons in Southern Italy to their units. I spent quite a good while of the afternoon saying goodbye to many of the fellows that had travelled all the way from Algiers with me.
Most of the civilian population in Italy were nearly starving at that time and they would pay any price for food. Some of the poorer people came around the hotel begging for something to eat. Most of the inhabitants were very well dressed and had plenty of money, but the Germans had taken away all the food that they could lay their hands on. , when they had retreated before our armies. Early evening I crossed the bridge once again with some of my friends and explored the narrow streets in which the tops of the houses on either side nearly touched one another, but we did not come across anything worth seeing so after coming to a dead end turning, we about turned and retraced our steps along the cobbled roadways. We sat down for a while on a seat on a little bit of green outside the old Town Fortress what had been taken over and being used by the British Admiralty.
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[inserted] [symbol] VERY MODERN BUILDINGS, [/inserted]
We then decided to have a look at the new part of the town which turned out to be much more interesting, with its [inserted] [symbol] [/inserted] green parks and the very large and up to date Town Hall. It was very enjoyable walking in the parks under the moonlit sky. Of course all but a few shops were closed for the night at that time. After a little more wandering we came across a NAAFI Canteen which we entered. In Italy the currency was in Lira 400 to the £1 and at the time we only had French francs on us, but after talking nicely to the Manageress she changed a little of our money for us to enable us to have a good feed of cakes and sandwiches. The canteen was very nicely furnished with easy chairs and all the time light classical music such as “Ava Maria” etc., was being played by an orchestra made up of Italian musicians. All were professional musicians and their playing received a good ovation after each [deleted] time [/deleted] by the audience. I enjoyed the concert very much indeed. As we came out of the door it was crowded with children asking for cakes as they were hungry. We then went back to bed at the hotel. Before I got to bed I had to put [inserted] TO BED [/inserted] one of my mates that was in the same boarding house as myself at Morecambe. He had wandered off somewhere during the evening and I am afraid that he had been visiting too many wine bars as he would persist on using his boots for a pillow. So you now know that the Italian drink called Veno does to you.
We were up early next morning and consumed the proverbial breakfast of Bully Beef and biscuits! Next I had to lug all my kit down that narrow stairway again. A little later a lorry arrived at the hotel from 242 Squadron to pick myself and the other three airmen that had been posted to 242 Sq. it conveyed us down to the docks and to the same jetty that we had disembarked from the day before. Out of the four of us two were Flt/Mechanics (Airframes) myself FM/Engine and the remaining chap was a parachute packer. The whole of 322 Wing (were moving) which consisted of 4 Squadrons 154, 232, 242 & 243 and No. 108 Repair & Salvage Unit and also Wing Headquarters Unit.
After wandering around a bit we found the [deleted] airm [/deleted] [inserted] AIRMEN [/inserted] of 242. You will find the History of Squadron up until then on the opposite page. After an hour of waiting, our turn came to go on board. So I found myself walking up a gang-plank for the third time after coming down one only the day previously. I do not know how I managed it, but I succeeded to get all my kit on board in one trip.
This time the boat was called “SS” Neauralia” and was a British one. It had been a troopship during the war of 1914-18 and had a displacement of approx. 18,000 tons. We sailed at 3.0 p.m. the same afternoon and I said goodbye to Italy after a very short and pleasant stay in the country of 26 hours.
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There were many guesses going around as to where we were going to but the only thing that was definite was that we were to be on the sea for five days. We slowly made our way through Sub-booms out into open sea where we met five other troopships and our escort of seven destroyers. We were issued with life-jackets and an Emergency Ration containing 1 lb slab of chocolate and we were told to carry all three things with us constantly. It was always a great temptation to eat the chocolate and at the end of the journey when the time came to hand back the ration quite a few of the fellows had conveniently lost it.
Later on all of a sudden a series of short blasts of the Klaxon horn sounded throughout the ship which was the action station signal and once again it was boat drill. On my first day with the Squadron I received mail, very much to my surprise, it had been sent on from Algiers whilst I was at Phillipville.
One day whilst sitting at my Mess table at a mealtime the fellow sitting next to me showed me some photos of his son. I happened to glance at the back of the envelope and saw a Slough address. It turned out that his home was in Twingners Lane, Slough, and that he used to work at Ken acres in Windsor Road. It just shows what a small world it is. My activities on board were very much as before, dodging fatiques, [sic] reading and sleeping, playing cards and housey-housey. By our amateur navigation (very much so) by the sun each day we could tell that we were heading South., South-East and then due East. On our fourth day at sea we sighted land on the Starboard side and we followed along its dim outline for most of the day. The same morning we had split away from the convoy and were proceeding on our own with an escort of two destroyers. At 4.0 p.m. we had a big scare, our escort was ahead of us when suddenly on our starboard side a conning tower appeared above the surface of the sea followed by the body of a submarine, but it was a British one, luckily for us.
Next day which was a very misty one, we entered the entrance to the Suez Canal and dropped anchor there by the town of Port Said. So it was back to Wog land as we called the natives – [underlined] Western Oriental Gentlemen. [/underlined] I had hoped that I had seen the last of them when I set foot on European soil a few days previously. When the mist cleared from over the canal area we could see familiar advertisements on the quay-side buildings, Johnny Walker, Variety Theatre and there was even a Woolworth’s to be seen. A little later “Z” boats drew alongside our ship and in turn we carried our kit down the gangway and transferred ourselves to the “Z” boat. Each boat held about 350 men with full kit. We chugged across to the East side of the canal and down a few waterways and finally came to a stop at an Army Transit Camp. The “Z” boat was built very similar to an invasion barge and as soon as the ramp was let down we stepped out on the sand once more. After carrying my kit about so much I felt like throwing it into the canal.
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The worst trouble with the camp was if you did not get in the queue early at mealtimes you had to wait for over 2 hours before you were served, as the whole Wing consisted of some 1,250 men they were all served at the one cookhouse. There was a very nice NAAFI on the camp which sold chocolate, tins of fruit, sweets, beer and suppers of eggs and chips, which were all a thing of the past to myself. We had plenty of money on us but were unable to spend a penny of it as it was all in the wrong currency. In Egypt they are Pesatos, 100 to the £1. The coins were of all shapes and sizes, some were square other had serrated edges and others had holes in the centre. Our mouths certainly watered as we watched the chaps stationed on the camp eating all those good things and as we were confined to camp that night, we were unable to take the ferry boat that ran every ten minutes from our side of the Suez over to the town side.
Next morning, we were all up at 4.30 a.m. and later on we boarded the old “Z” boat once more and were taken back along the waterway and passed the big liners and merchant ships to the Western side of the canal where we boarded large lorries and were driven through the town of Port Said and the bits I saw of it were the now familiar [deleted] site [/deleted] [inserted] SIGHT [/inserted] to me of a shamble of dwellings and smelly filthy alleyways. We travelled along by the sea shore and then parallel with the railway and the Suez Canal which was extra busy at the time, with ships going through [deleted] camping [/deleted] [inserted] [indecipherable word] [/inserted] supplies to reinforce our armies in the Far East. The road railway and canal in many places run in a dead straight line. We saw many Egyptian sailing boats and barges, they are still exactly the same design as they were hundreds of years ago. The same applies to their way of living in wooden or tin huts or tin shacks. The state that they live in really is appalling and has to be seen to be believed. Most of the kiddies were covered in sores which in turn were covered in flies.
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[underlined] EGYPT [/underlined]
Winter in Egypt is healthy. During peace time many people travelled there to reap the benefit of the climate. During the period of hostilities, only the fortunate will enjoy winter there, but it should be remembered that from November to February, Cairo itself is not so healthy for invalids. There are frequent changes of temperature, nights are cold, and call for heavier clothing. Chills often result in intestinal disturbance, particularly diarrhoea and sometimes an intermittent fever.
One popular handbook to Egypt makes a comment that should not be taken too literally, however encouraging it may seem. This is to the effect that Nile water has a slightly aperient effect on some people, who consequently find it necessary always to take a little brandy with it.
There are other, equally effective, antidotes.
At all times remember that flies are a plague. Once you have seen Arab children standing round with a dozen flies in the corners of their eyes – not an unusual sight – it will be understandable why eye trouble is one of the scourges of the country.
Mosquitoes are also plentiful. Both insects are disease carriers, and every precaution should be taken against them.
Flies disappear like magic as the sun goes down; but not so the mosquitoes.
Climate: The most pleasant period of the year in Egypt is between October and April, with the qualification already mentioned that conditions between November and February are not quite so good in Cairo itself.
Until the end of December, heavy dews fall in the Delta, Cairo, and the Nile Valley, and there are frequent heavy morning mists.
The Khamsin begins in April. This is a hot wind that lasts usually for stretches of about three days.
Money: The Egyptian pound (£E) is worth about £1.0.6d in English. It is divided into piastres and milliemes (100 piastres and 1,000 milliemes).
Tipping: - bakshish – is a habit. Give little, because the recipient will not be satisfied anyway, and when an argument starts the slightest increase can put an end to the protest.
Clothing: Light for summer. Tropical kit will be heavy enough. Medium is for the between seasons, and heavyish for the cold nights of winter. A light overcoat is necessary.
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It is an old traveller’s advice to keep the kidneys (called the “kitchen” in the traveller’s vernacular) warm and protected against chill. There is not much need for a topee except in summer and in the desert, but it is always advisable to keep the back of the neck protected.
For convenience, Egypt is divided into Upper and Lower districts. It has been so divided from the time of the Pharaohs. Lower Egypt stretches from the Mediterranean to Cairo. The rest is Upper Egypt.
Egypt is dependent on the Nile. The silt from the river in flood makes the fertile stretches, which vary from a few yards to 10 or more miles in width, and the regular inundation is the basis of all profitable crops. Irrigation has added to the fertile area. The natives use irrigation streams for water for washing, bathing and cooking. Often they use it as it comes. The European must not, for it is full of potential disease.
Water must always be purified. The normal practice is to filter the water first through porous jars, usually large called Iziers) boil it, and then pass it again through a really efficient candle filter. When this is not possible, the water should be first filtered through porous jars, boiled and chlorinated.
The European should never bathe in canal or river water. That the natives do so is immaterial; they catch certain diseases from the practice which would be far more harmful to service peronnel [sic] than they are to the native population who acquire a certain immunisation.
Dysentry is dangerous and should not be neglected. At the first sign of acute diarrhoea, see the M.O.
Make it normal practice to keep the bowels open, and avoid too much sun; heatstroke is not uncommon in the summer months, nor is it unknown in the winter.
In Egypt avoid alcohol until the sun goes down.
The People. You will find the Fellah, or farm labourer, a good, solid individual. He has his own code, that is to say he counts certain things as ‘perquisites.’ We might call their acquisition pilfering; but the outlook is not the same.
The fellah is a hard-working individual, tough and loyal to his master. He is especially loyal to the European master.
The town-bred Egyptian is of a different character. He has acquired a certain amount of Western culture; sometimes superficial; although there are very many who have assimilated real culture and learning. The town Arabs are a somewhat mixed crowd. Many are in the towns for the purpose of making a living by one means or another out of the visitors.
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The destruction of two ME.109’s a few days ago by an RAF Spitfire Wing brought the Wing’s total victories to 300 1/2 enemy aircraft destroyed in less than a year.
The Wing was formed for the North African invasion, and its ground parties were the first of the RAF Squadrons to land at Algiers. The C.O. of the Wing, Group-Captain Appleton. D.S.O., D.F.C., led the first formation of Spitfires to land at Maison Blanche aerodrome, Algiers, and put down when it was still in French hands, and had not been captured or surrendered to our ground forces.
The RAF Ground parties landed at 0300 hours on November 8th, 1942 and the Spitfires landed at 1100 hours. That same afternoon they flew defensive patrols. The Squadrons had an encouraging start in North Africa, for the next day, the 9th November, the Luftwaffe carried out a heavy dusk raid on Algiers. The Wing’s Spitfires and Hurricanes together with Naval ack-ack, brought down seventeen of the enemy. The German radio admitted the loss of twenty-seven, indicating that many of the probables and damaged never reached their bases.
Three days after landing, a detachment of the Wing moved eastwards to provide cover for the advancing First Army. Wing-Commander (now Group-Captain) P. H. Hugo, D.S.O. D.F.C, and two bars, Croix de Guerre and two Palms, of Victoria, South Africa, flew this detachment to Djidjelli, and this field was also still in the hands of the French – in fact, it was thirty hours later that First Army Units appeared.
The Motor Industries Squadron remained at Djidjelli, while the rest of the Wing moved forward to Bone on November, 13th, only five days after the initial landing. At Bone, a U.S.A.A.F. Spitfire Squadron was attached to the Wing, and remained there until 11th January, 1943.
Operations during November, December, and January, were carried out under extremely difficult conditions, yet the scale of effort was maintained. The air war over Bone was a battle to ensure the survival of the strung-out ground forces. Vital supplies and reinforcements had to get into the port. Outnumbered on every occasion, the Spitfires never let up in their defence of this key supply position.
On one occasion, as many as two hundred enemy aircraft raided the harbour, docks and airfield in a period of twenty-four hours. Despite the Luftwaffe’s large scale efforts to knock/ [inserted] out [/inserted] the Spitfires, the ground crews worked without sleep in mud and rain, and kept the aircraft fit for flying, and the pilots kept on knocking the enemy out of the sky. For instance, on January 2nd, the Wing claimed seven destroyed, five probables, and four damaged, without loss.
On November, 28th, the C.O. Group-Captain Appleton, was badly wounded in an air raid, and lost his foot. Wing Commander Hugo assumed command, and the post of Wing Commander Flying was taken up by Wing-Commander R. Berry, D.S.O., D.F.C., and Bar.
On March 15th, the Wing moved to Souk-el-Khemis, and Group-Captain Hugo handed over to Wing-Commander Berry, as he was transferred to an assignment with the U.S.A.A.F., and later to a RAF Fighter Group. After the fall of Tunis, the Wing moved to Protville, and then on May 31st, moved to Sousse for embarkation to Malta, the Squadron-Leader Flying being Gus Carlson, D.F.C, a New Zealander from Wairapapa, Wellington Province.
From Malta, the Wing took part in the brilliantly successful air cover to the invasion of Sicily, and the command was again taken over by Group-Captain Hugo, Wing-Commander Berry having returned to England. The Wing-Commander Flying was now Colin Gray, D.S.O., D.F.C, and Bar, the top-scoring pilot in North Africa. Before his tour was completed during the Sicilian campaign, Wing-Commander Gray had 28 1/2 victories to his credits. During the Sicilian campaign, the Wing had its greatest day. On July, 25th, the Spitfires intercepted a formation of German Ju. 52 transports, which were trying to fly in supplies to German forces. In the one sweep, 25 Ju’s, together with four escorting fighters, were destroyed. In the afternoon, another four Me.109’s were shot down, making thirty-three victories the total for the day. The transports were bringing in petrol and troops.
The Wing-Commander Flying who took over from Wing-Commander Gray in Sicily was a South African, Lieutenant-Colonel Wilmot, D.F.C., of Capetown, who had flown in East Africa and Abyssinia, and in the Western Desert.
After operating from Lentini during the final assault on Cetania and Messina, the Wing moved to the North coast of Sicily – to Milazzo. It was from here that one of the most difficult assignments in the Wing’s history began. With long-range tanks, the Spitfires covered the landing at Salerno in Italy, and as soon as the Servicing Commandoes and the advance Wing ground parties were ashore, the Spitfires landed on hastily prepared strips on the narrow bridgehead.
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Here they were refuelled and re-armed, and during this period the landing strips were under enemy shellfire. The whole wing operated under conditions which never have been paralleled before in warfare; Allied artillery was located between the airfield and the beach, and the guns were firing over the field at enemy strong-points in the hills. Similarly, enemy shells were ranging out the beaches over the Spitfires as they re-fuelled. It was lierally [sic] a case of operating in the middle of a battlefield. Group-Captain Hugo, in discussing the Wing’s 300 1/2 victories, said that the highest praise was due to the ground crews. He pointed out that while very few of the original pilots are still in the Mediterranean zone, the ground crews are the same men who landed in North Africa a year ago. “Day in and day out,” he said, “they have done their work in cold and heat, mud and dust, and have never lost their energy and enthusiasm. Without their efforts, the Wing’s success could never have been achieved.”
The Wing has been fortunate in its leadership. Group-Captain Hugo, who had been in command during the greater part of the Wing’s existence, has had a brilliant record. At the beginning of the war, he went to France, and began his career as a fighter pilot. After the evacuation, he was engaged in the hazardous task of shooting-up enemy flak ships. Then came the Battle of Britain, in which he fought with distinction, after which he led fighter sweeps over France. The Tunisian campaign was next recorded in his log book, followed by Sicily and now Italy. He has a total of 520 operational hours to his credit. Group-Captain Hugo has destroyed twenty-one enemy aircraft, and on many occasions, his un-selfish leadership has enabled less experienced pilots to secure victories that could have easily been secured by the Group-Captain.
Up to the 23rd October, 1943, the Wing’s record is:-
North Africa……………………..205 1/2 destroyed
Malta……………………………….34 destroyed
Sicily………………………………..55 destroyed
Italy………………………………… [underlined] 6 [/underlined] destroyed
[underlined] 300 1/2 [/underlined]
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Some will act as dragomans, other will peddle various ‘curiosities’ reputed to be of archeological [sic] value (but generally imitation) beads, walking sticks and various oddments. Others are the counterparts of our own city workers, working hard to make a living, doing the ordinary jobs of commercial life.
In Cairo itself, and in most places from Alexandria and Port Said through the valley of the Nile to the border of the Sudan and Abyssinia you will find members of what may be called the upper classes, who are as cultured and aware of the world as any people you may meet anywhere. It is unwise ever to judge immediately by appearances.
Many of the student class have been educated first in their own country and then in Great Britain or other European countries. That they have a nationalistic outlook is to be accepted. Some of the enthusiastic outbursts on the part of the students may be discounted; but they must be understood. The Egyptian yields to no one in patriotism. At the same time, most of them are aware that they do owe a debt to Great Britain. We have many friends, although we undoubtedly have a number of critics there. It is a part of our job to develop the friendship and accept, while tempering, the criticism.
The religion is chiefly Muhammedan, [sic] although there are many Copts. Muhammedanism [sic] in Egypt demands some study. It dates from the early years of the seventh century, and is a missionary, or proselytising religion, which arose in the first place as a protest against the corrupt forms of religion then current. The Muhammedan [sic] is a fighter, he derives inspiration from his faith and is a redoubtable adversary. He can also be an excellent co-worker and a good friend.
Formerly, the position of women left a lot to be desired. Much improvement has taken place in recent years, and although polygamy is permitted according to the tenets of Muhammedanism [sic] it is not so frequently practised.
The Copts, although their Churches has suffered a spiritual decline, are in the main quick and shrewd. In the early days they suffered considerably for the sake of their religion, and were steadily persecuted by the Muhammedans. [sic]
In common with the Muhammedans, [sic] they enforce seclusion on their women.
In the greater cities, French, English and Arabic are fairly generally spoken. Cairo is essentially cosmopolitan, and practically every language can be heard there at one time or another. The telephone operators, for example, are usually efficient in four or five languages.
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Along the coast are many pleasant resorts, mostly with a long history, stretching from Mersah Matruh – Cleopatra’s playground – to Port Said and beyond. Bathing is good, but there is a strong undertow, and none but really strong swimmers should venture beyond their depth. Certain approved beaches have been established.
Egypt offers many opportunies [sic] for sport, and there is much interest to be got from the remains of what was a great civilisation.
The beginnings of Egyptian history are indeterminate. Scientists differ, so that it is impossible to say, with certainty nearer than a thousand years, when civilisation reached the country. It probably came from the East, perhaps from India, although this is not certain. Roughly the period may be placed between 6,000 and 5,000 B.C.
The Dynasties, which grew from the consolidation of various districts under one energetic tribal chief, begin with Mena, the founder of the first Dynasty. Mena began at or about Abydos, and extended his domain to Memphis and Aswan; which means that he united Upper and Lower Egypt.
The pyramids date generally to the time of the Fourth Dynasty, Khufu (or Cheops), the most spectacular of which stand just outside Cairo, facing the desert.
A vast storehouse of antiquities remains, some have been excavated, and almost everywhere you may go in Egypt you will find the signs of archeologists [sic] who have been at work.
Many of their results – if they are still on view – will be found in the Museum at Cairo, including Tutankhamen’s treasure, one of the outstanding treasure discoveries of our time.
Merely as a point of interest, it is always worth while, when other duties do not prevent the relaxation, to scout around, for there are certainly many more discoveries to be made.
Any handbook on Egypt will provide interesting reading, and the knowledge so gained will be profitable.
After the Dynasties, which had varying fortunes – from rise to decay and rise again, Alexander the Great ruled over the country. He is reputed (and it is probably true) to have travelled to Siwa to consult the oracle, at the temple of Jupiter Ammon.
Alexander was followed by the Ptolemies, fifteen of them. Incidentally, there were six queens who bore the name Cleopatra. The Ptolemies were in power for the 300 years which ended the pre-Christian era.
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They were followed by the Romans, who had control until the beginning of the seventh century, when the Persians reigned for another short spell, to be replaced by the Romans and later by the Muhammedans [sic] who more or less dictated their own terms. The Turks were masters by the sixteenth century, when Egypt was governed by the Mamelikes.
Towards the end of the eighteenth century, Egypt was the battle ground of Turks, French and English. Napoleon took Alexandria, intending to cripple the mercantile expansion of Britain. Nelson knocked out the French Fleet in the Battle of the Nile, Great Britain made a treaty with Turkey, and Napoleon’s men were finally forced out of the country. The English withdrew at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
The next hundred years were marked by uprisings and intrigue. Muhammed Ali murdered the remaining Mamelukes, conquered Syria and destroyed the Turkish fleet. Russia and France intervened, and Turkey again was put into power, with a reversion (under tribute) of the governorship of Egypt to the descendants of Muhammed Ali. Ismail Pasha who succeeded was ineffectual, and 1879 was deposed after pressure had been put on Turkey. Tewfik succeeded, and, had he been surrounded by men who were willing to co-operate, a period of prosperity and quiet might have followed. Instead, the factions created further disturbance. English and French forces were gathered off Alexandria in support of Tewfik. The French, however, believing perhaps that a demonstration should be enough, took no further action and the British took on the job alone.
Action followed. Sir Garnet Wolseley defeated the dissident army at Tel el Kebir. British officials were put at the heads of departments. The Sudan, still in revolt, remained so until Abbas succeeded his father. Then a joint Anglo-Egyptian force reduced the Sudan. This force was led by Lord Kitchener, who completed the operation in September, 1898, but reports came of a French force under Major Marchand at Fashoda being attacked by natives. After successful operations, against the native troops, negotiations between France and Britain led to the withdrawal of Major Marchand.
Further disturbances led to the ‘occupation’ becoming a Protectorate.
Now, by recent changes, Egypt is self-governing, although certain protection rights are still retained by Great Britain.
THE SUEZ CANAL. This highway, connecting the eastern oceans with the Mediterranean, gives Egypt its chief strategic importance. The two ports (Suez and Port Said) commanding the Canal, serve as bases.
Before the canal was cut, the route along which it runs was in use by trading caravans, and was the highway of invasion along the Sinai Peninsula.
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The Canal is a key highway, undoubtedly one of the prizes that the Nazis would be glad to win. Its defence is of primary importance, and Von Rommel’s campaign was launched in the hope of breaking through after the Italians had failed. The armies under the Italian leader Marshall Graziani were first engaged, and in a two months’ campaign lost 133,000 men taken prisoner, in addition to the killed and wounded. One thousand three hundred guns and over 400 tanks were taken in the same period.
German stiffening introduced another phase of war.
Most of the action has taken place in the western desert, where life, under service conditions, is more strenuous than it is in the more leisurely times of peace.
To make the most of it, it is necessary to get some idea of the particular desert, and to have an idea of what desert means in general.
First of all, it must be rememberred [sic] that the Libyan Desert is as large as a continent, stretching over 1,200 miles from Cairo to the Tunisian border, and south for more than a thousand miles to the woodmen’s tracks that run into Abyssinia. Only a cluster of massifs, rocks that might reasonably be called mountains, separate the Libyan Desert from the Sahara.
The desert is not completely waterless. Rain, it is true, falls only occasionally, but in the depressions, sometimes near the surface, sometimes deep down, are water deposits. Small oases are gathered around shallow wells. Large oases, such as Siwa have a fairly constant and reasonably plentiful supply of water.
Desert is not all sand. There are long stretches of broken stone; others are pebble-strewn, pocked by eroded hills. The ground may be hard, or it may be carpeted with a thick layer of dust.
From the ‘high’ desert it is often possible to look down a steep cliff-like formation to the ‘low’ desert, with a panorama of sand dunes which slope gently on one side and fall away steeply on the other.
Transport in the desert is not essentially difficult from the mechanical point of view. It is far more difficult from the point of view of direction. It is easy to move, but easy to lose the way, and travel becomes a matter of navigation just as surely as is the case with sea-borne traffic. In fact, the desert is very much like the sea, save in the one particular that the desert is dry.
That dryness imposes sever restrictions. Water fit for human use is precious and rate. Most of it has to be transported, especially in a campaign. It must therefore be husbanded most carefully, and used sparingly.
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All suffer alike, and there is no sense whatever in pretending that discomfort, dirt and shortage must not be accepted.
The discomforts are increased by the changes, often great, in temperature; from hot days to cold nights, and the farther inland you may be, the greater will be the extremes.
Strong winds raise sand and dust storms, according to the nature of the particular bit of desert. The finely powdered sand gets into everything that is not hermetically sealed. Don’t walk barefooted. Wear the Arab desert boots, made of camel skin.
In the Western Desert (so called to distinguish it from the Sinai Desert), which runs from Egypt through Cyrenaica, there is a strip of country which may reach 5 miles in width that occasional rains turn into a ‘sea’ of mud, as happened during the later phases of the push against Rommel.
Although sand will generally defeat nearly every precaution taken against it, it is better to take those precautions.
Goggles should be worn when possible, as a protection against sun and sand. When drinking water is short-rationed, take a little at a time, and hold it in the mouth – this revives the tissues – before swallowing it. Water should never be gulped down in quantities. The thirstier you may be, the slower you should drink. Near wells there are scorpions. A few snakes can be found, usually harmless.
Avoid strong spirits, not necessarily because of any objection to the reasonable use of alcohol, but because spirits dry up the natural moisture of the body. The simple illustration of that truth is to be found in the almost feverish desire for quantities of water ‘the morning after the night before.’ Beer (if, and when you can get it) is not in the same category; but spirits and drinks with a high alcohol content are not worth the aftermath.
Use some of your precious water to wash your eyes, and if you can get a little boric lotion, so much the better. Keep flies out of your eyes, never stay longer than you must in the neighbourhood of any pollution, whether it be malarial bit of a lake or decaying matter. Where the flies are thickest is a danger spot.
Neglect no small abrasions, sores or cuts. A quick application of iodine or other first-aid dressing will often save serious trouble.
Avoid sudden chills as the sun goes down. This is a word worth repeating.
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When travelling on foot in the desert, take a compass if you can. If you have no compass, do as the natives do who are used to the desert – mark the course you have taken.
Marks, particularly the marks of vehicles, last for an incredibly long time in the sand. Explorers have found the tracks of forerunners who went along their route ten or more years earlier.
A very simple, but often useful, trick is to mark each turning. Just drag the toe of your boot deeply in the loose sand at the base of a rock, to show which way you turned; mark any right or left turn as you go, again by deep scuffling of the sand. It will often enable you to retrace your steps with accuracy, and prevent you being lost.
Don’t trust the desert at all until you know it. It is full of surprises, full of similarities. The sand dune that you may be tempted to take as a landmark is all very distinct and individual – until you have travelled on for a few miles and learned that it is only one of many, all bearing the same outline.
Practise self-control on all journeys. It is better to arrive with a slight thirst and water in the bottle than to have been thoughtlessly extravagant on the early stage of a journey that took longer than you expected. Begin to ration yourself when you think you have plenty to spare.
It is our custom to take clothes off when we are hot. The natives, quite as often, cover themselves even more completely. This is particularly noticeable among the Bedouin. There is a good reason for each of the practices. We perspire more than they do, and so keep our temperatures down. Follow the M.O’s advice. When water is short and perspiration retarded, many practised explorers and desert workers have learned to use wraps as protection against the sun.
One of the first essentials in hot dry countries is to eat and drink moderately; better little and often than large doses at longer intervals. Keep the bowels open, regard constipation with almost as much apprehension as you would diarrhoea. Never lie naked on a bed during the heat or you may experience ‘Gyppy tummy.’ Take a good dose of castor oil – and make it a [underline] good [/underlined] one. Gyppy tummy generally arises from chill on the stomach.
[underlined] Political Considerations. [/underlined] Only the very wise, the very old, and the very inquisitive can appreciate all the political undercurrents in Egypt. There are some wise counsellors, there are some place-seekers, there are many highly educated, fervently patriotic people, and there are packets of people who want to make trouble; why, there are not always sure. Demonstration is a characteristic. Just as the workers in remote places like to put on a ‘fantasia,’ so in some of the more thickly populated places there are those who treat demonstrations as a bit of fun.
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It is not always fun, however.
There is still a certain amount of ‘clearing house’ business going on in the cities. Not every man in Egypt is Egyptian. The cafes and the hotels are by no means innocent of people there to collect and disseminate information. It is a good rule to leave politics and the discussion of military subjects alone.
That does not mean that agreeable social contacts cannot be made, for the good Egyptian is an excellent host. He is lavish but ceremonious. Many may wish you the pleasure of a very large family…and mean it. Don’t laugh. It is the formula for saying ‘I wish you well, and that you may be blessed of Allah.’ It is, in fact, what they say to each other.
Treat all their formality and ceremony with respect, it has grown up with them, is part of their culture, and all take pleasure in it, even in the lengthy greetings and farewells.
Finally, watch the amusement question with care. The women of the country are mostly jealously guarded. Some, but not all, not so guarded may have lost standing.
When women do lose standing they can degenerate into extremely careless – to put it as gently as possible – representatives of the people. In many ports women are exploited for amusement, and somebody is reaping the profit, without reference to the amused who may not reap any profit at all.
In these matters straight disipline, [sic] good sense, and an appreciation of responsibility will serve well.
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PART 2. [/underlined]
[underlined] R. BARRETT [/underlined]
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We stopped once during the journey at a roadside Y.M.C.A. canteen, where we had tea and cream cakes (another thing of the past to us). At one point we saw two surrendered [inserted] ITALIAN [/inserted] battleships in the canal. The further we travelled the more it became real desert scenery, miles and miles of sand dunes dotted with scrubs and cactus and near water there would be seen palm trees.
We arrived at Kabrit R.A.F. Station in the afternoon after having travelled 60 miles by road. Here we were put into wooden huts with concrete floors and we had palliasses filled with straw on which to sleep. We were delighted when we found that the huts possessed electric lighting and that we were able to buy almost anything we needed at the camp’s NAAFI. We stuffed ourselves mostly with cream cakes and fruit drinks. The camp was situated at the Southern shore of the larger of the two Bitter Lakes that link up the busy Suez Canal.
We were 60 miles South of Port Said and 90 miles North East of Cario. [sic] I spent most of my six days stay at Kabrit playing football, reading etc., and twelve days before Christmas I went swimming in the Bitter Lake. One day I sat down and wrote four long letters and was I mad when I was told that they had all been rejected by the censor, after all the time I had wasted whilst writing them. On another day I obtained a pass to enable me to go out from camp until midnight the same day. A friend and myself set out early morning and started to take a short cut to the main road by walking about two miles across the sand and on reaching it we started to thumb a lift into Ismailia 30 miles away to our North. A jeep being driven by an Army Officer stopped in response to our signals and said that he could take us 12 miles up the road and as every little helps we went with him. I do not think that I have ever covered 12 miles so quickly on the ground as I did on that trip. We had no sooner got in the jeep than it was time to get out again, we must have averaged 75 m.p.h. The officer dropped us off by the two Italian battleships anchored in the lake. From here we were soon able to get another lift that took us a further two miles up the road. Then we had a wait of well over an hour before anything would stop. We were just going to abandon our trip and go back to camp when a lorry drew up and took us the rest of the way into town.
I was very disappointed with the town. As soon as I descended from the lorry I was besieged by a swarm of Arabs trying to sell me souveniers [sic] of some sort or wanting to change something. “Want to buy a wallet” “Shoe Shine” “Any Broken Watches” “Fountain Pen” these remarks rang in my ears from all sides. They followed us along the road and as fast as we got rid of one another fellow would come up to us. It was the worst place I have been to for being pestered. I think they thought that Lord Nuffield had arrived in town instead of A.C. Barrett. After having a meal in the Y.M.C.A. we took a stroll around the town and we thought it funny after wandering around for half-an-hour or so and not seeing a single European in that time and when we did finally meet up with another serviceman and asked him where the cinema was we also found out that we had been wandering around the worst native part of the town that was out of bounds and that we had not been in the town proper yet.
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There was not much even in the main part of the town to speak of. Native music blared out from their dark and dismal cafes and there were two main streets of old shops with their windows full of mostly souveniers [sic] for visitors to the town to buy. After a visit to what the town called a cinema we picked up a lorry once more that took us back to the battleships once again. As there was not any traffic along the road we decided to start walking along the road back to camp, hoping that a vehicle would come along and pick us up. As we had covered the distance so quickly in the jeep coming down we did not think it was very far back to camp. A few cars passed us from time to time but none of them would stop. One minute the Suez Canal lake edge would be alongside the edge of the road and a little while later there was nothing but sand on either side of us. There were rows of bright lights on the horizon as we walked along which illuminated a large prisoner-of-war camp. We were still plodding along when all was silent and still except for the sound of our own feet on the road when all of a sudden we caught sight of a black blob about 8’ 0” off the ground and bobbing up and down, growing bigger and bigger as it advanced towards us. I was just getting ready to run and was wondering what the hell it was, when a greeting in Arabic rang out at us and then an Arab dressed in a flowing cloak and riding on a camel. We could only see the black cloak and the camel did not show up or make a noise moving across the sand. We hailed the rider who pulled up and we made him understand that we wanted to know how far it was to the cross roads by saying Kilos and making crosses in the sand and he told us it was two kilos up the road by putting two fingers up at us. By then it was 10.30 p.m. and we dare not sit down or we would never get started again, but we promised ourselves a rest at the cross roads when we reached them. Anyway after covering another 4 kilometres we still had not reached them and by then we were feeling very tired and weary and in not too good a temper and our feet were very sore. It was 12.30 a.m. when we arrived in camp after well over 12 miles.
I shall not forget in a hurry either the day we left the station. We first went on parade at 5.30 p.m. with out [sic] kit and some of the chaps were taken by lorry out to a desolate spot miles from anywhere, in the desert and dropped beside a single line railway track and then the lorries came back to the camp to pick up more men. Everytime the lorries came back we paraded once more to see if it was our turn to go, but no such luck, we waited and waited. After the lorries had done three trips and had taken about 250 airmen away some bright officer decided that they were all to be brought back to camp for supper. We were then all dismissed and told that we would be called out when needed. I had just settled down in the hut and on the point of dropping off to sleep whilst lying on my paliasse, [sic] when someone shouts “on parade outside quickly” so out we went once more dragging our kit and then a roll call for the fourth time that evening and were then told to load our kit on the waiting lorries and it would be taken down to the track before us. Then it was back to the huts again and we were all asleep when called out for the fifth time. By then it was past 11.0 p.m. and getting cold and to put it in a polite way we were all very fed up but this was not the end of it all.
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When we arrived at this out of the way spot there were approx. 1,000 men’s kits spread over a wide area. Unfortunately, that night there was no moon and there we were roaming up and down the line following the Adjutant like lambs as he tried to locate the Squadrons kit with the aid of his troch and as we went along we all made a sheep bleating noise. What a chaos it was. We eventually found our pile of kit and sorted it out with the aid of matches, then we sat on the sand and waited by the railside. Dead silence descended over the area for a while. None of us knew what was happening and there was the W/O roving up and down muttering to himself “It is all very well keeping these moves secret but someone should know something”. I was just dozing off to sleep again when a train whistle in the distance pierced the silence. Of course, everyone jumped up but as sound travels such a long way it was a full 1/2 hour before the train pulled up alongside. We then had to drag our kit along to the 242 Squadron carriage and long after I had settled in, some of the chaps were wandering up and down the train trying to find a seat.
We moved off at 3.30 a.m. in the morning. This was my first experience of travelling on the Egyptian State Railways and I would have been glad if it had been my last. The carriages were very similar to our old trams and they had narrow wooden seats which were lovely and comfortable to sit on (like hell they were). All the small luggage racks and the whole of the gangways between the rows of seats were filled with kit. So we had to sleep sitting upright. That first night my head kept dropping and dropping until it was nearly in my lap and then I would wake up with a start.
When daylight arrived we were still travelling alongside the Suez. I saw two weird sights during the morning. You all know the old saying “camels being the ships of the desert” well here is another version. The Suez was about 1/4 of a mile from the carriage so we could not see it, as the water level is beneath the tip of the sand, we could only see 5000 tonne Merchant Ships which appeared to be gliding across the sand. The other sight which sticks in my mind was when we passed a Arab graveyard in the desert I saw a great big vulture with its wings outspread sitting on top of a stone cross of one of the graves and there were many more vultures circling overhead. At approx. 10.0 a.m. we crossed a bridge and on to the East side of the canal and started our trip across the Northern end of the Sennii Desert where there was nothing to be seen except sand and more sand and a few shrubs.
We stopped for dinner near to the Egyptian/Palestine Frontier. The following scene was the same at every station, we stopped for meals throughout the journey. As soon as the train pulled into the station, a thousand or more men clambered out carriage doors, windows and all started to run hell for leather across the railway tracks, with their eating utensils rattling in their hands towards one spot (where they were issuing out the food). If you happened to get caught up in the window or were late getting off the mark, you had an hour’s wait in a queue. The following procedure was usually adopted if you arrived there at the beginning, at anyrate it was by me. As soon as the queue dwindled down to nearly nothing, I would join on the end again ready for a second meal.
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[underlined] FACING 27 1.A [/underlined]
[four cartoon drawings]
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[underlined] MEN YOU MAY MEET. [/underlined] [inserted] [underlined] BY CAPTAIN. (W.E. JOHNS.) [/underlined] [/inserted]
Egypt is the hub around which are set the vital aerodromes of Iraq, Palestine, Transjordania. Aden and the Sudan. On one of these aerodromes a large proportion of cadets will one day find themselves, so now let us glance at the local inhabitants, the Arab, or Beduin. [sic] There is a vast number of them scattered over the millions of square miles that lie between Turkey and Arabia, between Persia and the Western Desert; and as they have been there a lot longer than we, they have certain fixed ideas which are well to know, for an understanding of the Bediun [sic] may not only save trouble, but may make life a lot easier. Of course, no European really understands the subtle working of the Arab mind, but it is possible from time to time to get a glimpse of it.
Probably more hooey has been written about the Arabs than any other race on earth. Incredible romances have been woven about the sheikhs of the desert. The first thing to do is to forget that. The next thing in trying to understand the Arab is to discard European standards of judgement. What is a sin in London may be a virtue in Baghdad.
First of all, the Arab is a realist. He has to be, for to him life is, and always has been, a grim business. Quite a number of Arabs live perpetually on the verge of starvation. There are some those who dwell in the desert – who hardly know what it is to drink to repletion. Against this state of affairs the Arab has no complaint. It has been with him so long that he is hardly able to comprehend any other mode of life. But he knows what he wants, and to him any means to that end are justified. He will lie with such barefaced yet engaging effrontery that against one’s better judgment one is often taken in. Perhaps the most shattering lies of all are those which he tells to please you. So charming, courteous and hospitable is the Arab that he simple cannot bear to tell you something that he knows will cause you disappointment or pain.
For example, if you say to an Arab postman “Are there any letters for me?” he will invariably answer “Yes” knowing perfectly well that there are none, because he hates to disappoint you. If he says there are many letters for you, you can reasonably expect one. As a guide, the average Arab is utterly unreliable for this same reason. Admittedly, he has no idea of time or distance. Rarely having anywhere in particular to go, with all his life to get there, this is not surprising. But if he sees you are thirsty he will shorten the distance to the nearest water rather than see you downcast by being told the bitter truth. Thus, if he says there is a water-hole one hour’s march away, you would be wise to reckon that it is at least six hours.
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The next important thing to remember is: an Arab will take any amount of punishment without a murmur. If he knows the punishment is deserved he will expect it, and bear no malice; in fact, hard though it is to believe, if he does not receive the punishment he knows is warranted he may feel insulted, and hate you for it. He does not regard this as leniency on your part, for leniency is something he does not understand. To him it is weakness, and once an Arab thinks you are weak he has no further use for you. No, he takes the view that you think so poorly of him that he is no worth punishing. This is “loss of face” and to lose face in the Orient is the most frightful thing that can happen to a man. For this reason never try to be funny at the expense of an Arab. Above all things, never hold one up to redicule. [sic] Hit him if you will, and he will get up smiling; but to make an Arab look foolish in front of his people is to make a deadly enemy. The next point is manual labour. The true Arab has a rooted objection to anything in the nature of work. Arabs who work for cultivators of the soil or fishermen, for example, are looked upon as the scum of the earth by the desert Arabs, who consider that the only honourable calling in life (apart from fighting) is the breeding of camels. They even regard breeders of goats and sheep as people far down the social scale. Work is a low and degrading business, for the Arab cannot conceive of anybody working unless compelled to do so by utter poverty. In the Middle East a white man who carries his own bag or digs his own garden at once loses face. He sinks at once to the very dregs, and is treated accordingly. No Arab could believe that a man goes for a walk, or digs in his garden, because he never likes that sort of thing.
Nevertheless, the Arab can be a very lovable character. I once had a batman who was a liar, a thief and a rogue; a more plausible rascal never lived, yet I couldn’t help liking him. Arabs affect you like that. We need not say much about religion. The Arab has his own religion; he takes it very seriously, and expects you to respect it. It would be in the worst possible taste not to respect it.
In my experience a white man has nothing to fear from any Arab wherever he may meet him. If you have a forced landing, or are stuck somewhere in a car, you will find his behaviour exemplary. He will be polite, and do his utmost to help you. This is the ancient law of the wilderness, where help and hospitality are offered automatically. In such circumstances an Arab will rarely steal anything. He might “borrow” something out of your tent because he knows it will not seriously inconvenience you; but he would not take anything if he found you in a bad way, stranded somewhere. Nor does a desert Arab expect a tip for his assistance. The town Arab is different.
As a worker the Arab is a failure, often a fool. It may take ten Arabs to lift a case that two white men could handle, because Arabs have no idea of team-work. Each man lifts when he feels like it. The white man who one day persuades ten Arabs to lift together will have performed a miracle.
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[underlined] THE MIDDLE EAST [/underlined]
Before proceeding to notes on the various countries which lie within the active zones of the Middle East, it should be realised that everything possible has been done for the welfare and comfort of personnel proceeding there.
In the established bases all medical protection has been provided. There are comforts that you will perhaps be surprised to see. For instance, billets, food, recreation, rest and amusement are all good.
At advanced bases, comfort is naturally less; but even there it is probably better than the old campaigner will expect.
The following detailed notes are intended as an introduction to countries with people whose ways and speech, whose outlook on the world at large, differ considerably from ours.
Palestine, because of its religious significance, has long been a battle ground. It has been a battle ground for much longer because of its geographical significance.
It makes contact with Syria, Trans-Jordan and Egypt, and consists of an irregular strip of country which rises gently by foothills from the sea to the hard core of higher ground (from Nablus to Beersheba) and slopes down again to the boundary, which runs almost due south through the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Akaba.
The Coastal Plain varies greatly in width, diminishing to a mile or two at Acre, nothing at Mount Carmel and steadily widening along the coast to Jaffa, through to Gaza to Egypt.
This coastal region has figured in history as one of the great military roads for the invaders, who swept down through Syria, by Mount Carmel and along the plain of Sharon to the south.
Palestine has also its desert region, stretching south of a line roughly drawn from Gaza to Beersheba and terminating at Rafa, near the Egyptian border, where the Sinai desert begins.
After Biblical times, Rome held power, disturbed by revolt until final subjugation in about 135 A.D. Rome governed Palestine for about 300 years. On the division of the Roman Empire, Palestine fell to the Byzantine rulers. Who were overthrown in the seventh century by the Arabs, on the upward surge of Muhammedan [sic] expansion.
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Until the middle of the eighth century it was ruled from Damascus.
The Crusades began towards the end of the eleventh century, with a religious backing to political and mercantile adventure, and had fluctuating fortune until the early part of the thirteenth century. Then Turkey took over. The Turks of that period were expansionists, and although there was schism, they contrived to get a very strong hold on much of the Mediterranean.
Thereafter the history of Palestine follows to some extent the history of Egypt, with Napoleon playing a considerable part at about the end of the eighteenth century.
The British mandate, following the brilliant campaign of 1917, saw the end of the Turkish period.
It also saw the revival of the ‘national home’ movement for the Jewish people who had clung to the idea since their dispossession by the Romans.
Lord Balfour pronounced himself in favour of the movement, and a considerable migration followed. The executive body (Palestine Zionist Executive) derives its funds from Jewish people throughout the world. Much has been done; but there is still a considerable body of antagonistic Arabs who do not look with favour on the transfer of their lands, either by sale or otherwise.
The friction that has persisted for the last twenty years on this ground has not disappeared. Population figures show a total of 1,435,285 of whom 900,250 are Muhammedans, [sic] 411,222 Jews and the 111,974 Christians. The prevailing language is Arabic, and many of the Jews in Palestine are of relatively recent migration.
The Arabs include a considerable percentage of nomads, who live in tents and move their flocks much as did the early peoples. Some are cave dwellers, and there is little association between tribes, many of which are merely small clusters of people, closely related.
This is not the place to enter into a discussion of the various religions, or the various shades of religion in the country; nor is it immediately necessary to discuss the complicated political situation. The best advice is to leave both alone, and by example of forbearance, with firm justice, to avoid adding to the fires that are certainly there, whether smouldering or in flame. Time may bring about a quiter [sic] period and skilled leadership reduce the difference to a good working basis.
As may be expected in a country of such contrasts, the flora and fauna are extremely varied. Tropical and subtropical flowers add colour to the landscape.
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The larger animals have disappeared or been reduced in number by the introduction of the sporting rifle, so that the remnants are now protected, and the shooting laws are moderately strict. They should be referred to on the spot.
Palestine is on the migration route of many birds familiar to us, and the bird population is constantly changing. Few birds are really resident, but nearly all the migratory birds will be seen there, on their journey south or north according to the season.
Many survivals will be observed in the agricultural life, such as sowing the seeds by hand, harvesting with the sickle and treading out the grain on the threshing floor. These practices persist in the small farms of almost all districts in this part of the Mediterranean.
But, although there are survivals from the past, it does not necessarily follow that no modern ideas have percolated.
Political stresses have made their inroads. The Arabs and the Jews have absorbed many ideas; not all well founded, but many leading to a certain violence of expression. Beware of them.
Other modern ideas have taken hold: there is an advance in fruit farming, prospecting for minerals (including oil), education and culture.
Tact will be strained sometimes. It is not the task of service personnel to decide on the various rights of majorities or minorities. It is, however, the task of personnel to push the war effort forward. That is the first job; interest, minor and major researches into the great history and archeological [sic] remains can only be secondary. But, in the leisure moments, when they come, there is a great deal to be seen and learned. Just as in the last war many people went to Palestine and Trans-Jordan and came back with a new and personal interpretation and understanding of age-old truths, so now it will happen again. Any man who is willing to keep an open mind and a kindly spirit will benefit from the mission on which he is sent.
[underlined] Climate. [/underlined] There is an extreme difference between maximum and minimum temperatures according to seasons. The differences in one day are equally marked. It may be freezing at night and roughly 75 degrees (Fahrenheit) by day in winter in certain parts.
According to the Bible a young man slew a lion on a snowy day. That is neither a miracle not necessarily unusual 9except [sic] that lions are now scarce). In the vicinity of Jerusalem there is snow often enough in winter. The city has been snowbound for days.
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Summer can be hot.
During the winter months such clothing as is worn in England at the same period is right; stout underwear and overcoats. In summer, semitropical (or even tropical kit) should be worn with a little extra clothing after the sun goes down.
The winter months are either rainy or snowy. Spring is slow, but from May to October there is constant fair weather.
Generally, the precautions to be taken are the same as for Egypt; beware of flies and mosquitoes, drink no defiled water. Take no chances with dogs. Approximately 12,000 animals were killed in one year in a campaign against rabies.
The Muhammedan [sic] Calendar will be a little perplexing, but does not enter into commercial affairs. It is a calendar dominated by the moon (as ours is by the sun) and is divided into twelve lunar months, so that the religious calendar moves on more swiftly.
The Financial calendar is according to the sun, as is the Hebrew calendar.
The dates are unlikely to worry any service personnel, but the differences may be noted as a matter of interest.
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[inserted] [10 Piastres Lebanese Note] [/inserted]
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During our first stop I changed my money into millions (1000 to the £1 sterling) at one of the money-change stalls on the station, of course, we lost a small percentage on the transaction which the fellow kept for changing it for us.
Early that afternoon we started travelling through Palestine. The country is very much the same as Egypt with regard to the living conditions. The most select town in the country is Tel-Aviv. Around the costal [sic] plain the ground was well irrigated and the sand disappears and the green trees, waving palms and fig trees and orchards of orange and lemon trees loaded with fruit and tangerine groves appear.
Whilst playing a game of cards in our laps in the candle-light the train pulled up with a jerk in Gaza railway station. Cards flew everywhere, mess-tins, knives, forks and spoons appeared from nowhere. Some of the chaps who were sleeping arose with a dozed half sleepy expression on their faces wondering what the trouble and row was about. Then they too would rummage through their kit for their eating utensils and in a few moments not a sole [sic] would be left in the carriage. Everyone was stampeding towards the platform in the dark. It was a wonder that none got hurt, what with the falling out of the windows and tripping over railway lines etc. We received such a small meal at this stop that I had to buy a pile of sandwiches to fill up the empty spaces in my tummy at the railway canteen.
It was 10.30 p.m. by the time we drew out of Gaza continuing on our trip. I soon started to try and find a space in which to sleep as I did not want to spend another night like the previous one. I chose the floor space between the seats which was just wide enough for me to lie on my side. It was a bit hard on my hip bone as the floor was not smooth as a series of wooden strips about 3” apart ran accross [sic] it and it was chilly lying there with just a greatcoat over me and if I had tried to find my bed roll I should have had to disturb at least a dozen other chaps. Also as they were only 4’ 0” long I could not bend myself at all and the extra two foot of me stuck out in the passage-way with my head and shoulders resting on my bumpy kit bag packed with tin hats etc., and to crown it all above me two other fellows were sleeping with their legs on one seat and their bodies on the other one. You can guess how I felt not being able to move, getting cramp etc. I had just dozed off when I was awoken by the train coming to a halt with a jolt and found myself half suffocated and gasping for breath through lack of air, after that every so often I had to ease myself up a little more into the open. Then every so often someone would climb over my head or step on my face when climbing over the kit to get to the lavatory. Eventually I did get fully off to sleep and the next thing I knew was of being awakened by everyone scrambling about in the dark and as the train was at a stand-still I immediately grabbed for my mess tin etc., only to be told that we were changing trains there.
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So, in a semi-stupor, by the aid of matches, I gathered all my kit together (God only know’s how I found [deleted] them [/deleted] [inserted] IT [/inserted] all) and began to evacuate same and myself through the carriage window. It was then pitch dark and 3 a.m. in the morning. My next step was to put my kit in one of the 10 tonne cattle trucks that were stationed on the next rail alongside our train. We did not wait to be told where to go, we just piled in the near [deleted] side [/deleted] [inserted] EST [/inserted] truck. There were about 20 of us in the one that I scrambled aboard. It was every man for himself and after grabbing myself a bed space, I went along to one of the station building’s where meals were being dished out and it was there that I found out we were at Haifa North. I spent the rest of the night in comparative comfort, except for a draught coming in from where the sliding door would not close properly. I could not even move [deleted] to [/deleted] [inserted] AND REALLY [/inserted] stretch my legs full length without kicking somebody on the head. The floor, which was made of wooden sleepers was smooth.
When I awoke next morning we were travelling along beside the deep blue water of the sea, with its golden sandy beach leading up from the waters edge to the railway track and to the other side of us were more fruit groves along with tiny native villages scattered about the green and rocky hills which reached up to a height of some 1,500’. We were also nearing the border line between Palestine and the Lebanese States and at 10.30 a.m. we pulled into Beruit [sic] which is their capital, which shortly before had been the scene of many riots. It was here that I had breakfast. I should have said breakfasts which is more accurate and I also bought some egg rolls from a stall nearby the station. I managed to have a hurried wash beneath a water pump before we moved off once more.
As the following part of our journey was to be mostly uphill our train was split into two halves. I think I enjoyed this stage of the trip most of all. As we drew out from Beruit, [sic] banana plantations were to be seen and hardly anything else. There were millions of plants each laden with thousands of bananas. At one point the train slowed down so out from the truck I jumped armed with a knife and made a dash to the nearest plants. I had only covered a little over half the distance to them when I heard a blast from the train’s whistle that told me that it was on the move again. As I had got so far [inserted] [symbol] [/inserted] I [inserted] [symbol] [/inserted] stopped at the plants long enough to enable me to slash off [inserted] CONTINUED MY DASH AWAY [/inserted] a few bananas with my knife before making my sprint back to the train. When I started the train was a good way from me travelling at a good speed and there was I running along the track with my hands full of bananas. I was just about on my last legs and gasping for breath when arms stretched out towards me and I was hauled into the truck landing on my face. All my trouble was in vain, as the bananas were not quite ripe and tasted like a cucumber. During the rest of the trip the train stopped at posts stationed at every few miles along the line. At each post the driver received information that the next station of the line was clear.
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We were still travelling by the sea around many beautiful bays that would make natural harbours, if ever needed, also passes cut in the rocks. Later on that day we were passing by rugged, rocky mountains situated a little inland which rose in parts to approx. 5,000 ft. and most of their peaks were covered in snow. Next we came to the Bay of Tripoli and at dusk we drew into Tripoli railway station where dinner was consumed at 6.0 p.m. in a nearby Army Camp. We had a stop here of over three hours, so during that time I ventured a little way away from the station, but I only came accross [sic] a few dingy fruit stalls lit up by little oil lamps. At one of them I bought a supply of oranges, tangerines and bananas, but I thought it unwise to venture any further in the dark.
The front half of the train had arrived at Tripoli two hours before us. As the time drew near for us to leave I started to look for my truck. At first I could not even find the train and when I did come accross [sic] it I could not find my truck in the darkness. The two halves of the train had now been joined together and all the truck positions had been altered. There were at least four trains in the station at the [deleted] town [/deleted] [inserted] TIME [/inserted] and they all looked alike in the dark, and the truck that we cam in on was empty.
After walking up and down the 40 odd trucks four times, looking in each of them, I at last discovered the one I was travelling in a little way out of the station. It had not been shunted on to the train.
As soon as we moved off at 8.30 p.m. I lay down on my blankets and the next thing I remember was waking up for tea in Hormes in Syria at 4.30 a.m.
When daylight arrived we were travelling in the wilds. Everywhere there was flat and stony, rocky, ground. The area’s around the few villages that comprised of a series of stone eskimo huts had been ploughed where it was not rocky by an ox pulling some queer implement held by a native which makes a single furrow as it goes along. It was a wonder that anything grew in such a desolate spot. There were many hawks to be seen with wing spans anything up to 5’ 0”.
As mid-day neared we could see more white topped mountains and at 12.30 p.m. we reached our destination which was Alleppo. [sic] In the station we could see waggons loaded with guns, tanks, supplies etc., bound for Turkey and trains leaving for Baghdad, the capital of Persia.
After detraining we were taken by lorry for a 30 mile ride in a slightly North Westerly direction along a road full of hair pin bends which led through very open rocky country.
As we left the town of Alleppo [sic] behind us the road led upward and we could look down and get a birds eye view of the town, which from there, looked very modern with its mass of white buildings.
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The population of the town is approximately 1/2 million and it is the gateway to Turkey, the border of which is 20 miles to the North. Alleppo [sic] is a very important town as it is the nearest one to Turkey and it was especially important during the war time as Turkey was neutral and next to her is Bulgaria which was enemy territory and the frontier between Turkey and Syria is only a marked line without any defences on either side whatsoever and is only patrolled by French Guards stationed at posts every few miles. Therefore, it was very easy for enemy spies to slip accross [sic] the border into Syria and so to any part of the Middle East. Naturally, it worked both ways as we sent Agents through neutral Turkey into Bulgaria so to anywhere in the Balkan countries.
At that time this was the only spot in the world where we had direct contact by land with each other. Alleppo, [sic] naturally, became a spy centre and whilst we were there at least 4 were shot to my knowledge. Anyway our 30 mile ride took us to a spot called Affisse North, I do not know where it got its name from as there was only the aerodrome there stuck in a very bleak spot. There was only room for 16 aircraft which were dispersed around the taxying track which ran right around the runways, which were made of concrete. As we drove past these bays I caught sight for the first time, the Squadron’s aircraft which were 12 Spitfire fighters Mk 4 & 5 armed each with 2.20 mm cannons and 4 machine guns, all of which were situated in the wings.
We were put into and lived in tents erected in little stone compounds about 3’ 6” high and on a concrete base as follows:
Tent on concrete floor [symbol]
Stone wall [symbol]
[drawing of stone compound]
Each tent and compound was situated near to an aircraft bay. So that we were able to just pop out of the tent and be at work. The drome had been built for 3 years and had not been occupied since, it was used against our troops by the French during the Syrian Campaign. So you can guess how damp our concrete floor was after being exposed to all weathers since that time. There was still French bombs scattered about the drome when we arrived there. We were the only Squadron at Affisse North. The other Spitfires of the Wing were stationed on other aerodromes around Alleppo [sic] and along the Turkish border. The only people on our aerodrome when we arrived were the advanced party that had been flown there by transport planes all the way from Italy and a small detachment of R.A.F. Regiment airmen who acted as aerodrome defence.
By the time we had settled down in our little pens it had become very dark and cold and we had no lights whatsoever and it was Christmas Eve. The R.A.F. Regiment possessed a small canteen to which I went to in the evening. I passed time by playing a few games of cards and we all sung carols to the accompaniment of an accordian [sic] played by one of the airmen.
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I had intended to go to the midnight carol service that was to be held that night, but by 8.30 p.m. I was feeling so cold and miserable that I walked the mile back to my tent and crawled into bed. I can safely say that this Christmas Eve was the worst night that I have ever spent in my life. I could not get to sleep or keep warm. The concrete floor was not at all comfortable and was very damp and the wind was howling across the open bleak rocky land and our pen only broke the wind slightly. I only had my ground sheet and one blanket beneath me and one on top. I was very glad when daylight dawned on Christmas morning after what seemed an endless night. All I found in my socks that Santa had left me were two lumps of solid ice (my feet).
Another thing that I did not like about the place was the distance between my tent and the cook-house. I had to walk at least six miles a day for meals, unless we were lucky enough to catch a lorry going up that way along the taxying track. Some of the fellows who lived in the tents near the disposal bays at the other end of the taxying track on the other side of the drome had at least 12 miles to go each day for meals. Most of them never ventured out in the cold morning wind and severe frost to go to breakfast.
On that first morning I first wrote a letter and then we paid [deleted] several [/deleted] [inserted] SOCIAL [/inserted] calls on some of the other chaps. At 12 noon a waggon came round the taxying track stopping in turn at each pen and picked up its inhabitants [inserted] [symbol] [/inserted] for dinner. [inserted] [symbol] AND TOOK US ALONG TO THE COOKHOUSE TENT [/inserted] We were waited on throughout the meal by the officers of the Squadron. It consisted of the following; Turkey, Pork, baked Potatoes, Stuffing, Apple Sauce etc., Christmas pudding and Custard. Oranges, Nuts and Bottles of Beer, with second helpings of anything if you wanted it. I managed to pick the remains of a complete turkey and two lots of pudding as extras. Everyone turned out in the afternoon to watch the football match between the Squadron team and the R.A.F. Regiment. Despite our lusty words of encouragement, our team lost the game. We all had the following day off as well and on the day after that I joined “B” Flight.
For the first few days I did not do much except watch the other fellows working on the engines and starting the aircraft etc. As soon as I got used to the way of things I was given my first aircraft. It’s letters were LE-Y LE., being the Squadron’s code markings. It was a Spitfire MK. 5.
The only flights done during those weeks were training trips. Each day a different Squadron did stand-by in case enemy aircraft appeared in the vicinity. Every fourth day from dawn to dusk we had to stand by our aircraft at the end of the run-way in readiness for a quick take-off. We took it in turns of about 3 hours each to do the duty and the pilots did the same. Luckily dusk arrived very early in the afternoon at that time of the year. We had plenty of time to ourselves as on most days we finished work between 4 and 4.30 p.m. and on some afternoons we never had to go in at all.
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The football team played quite a few games against the local service units and we used to hold inter-section games. For the help of my readers who are not familiar with the R.A.F. I have drawn out a little plan of how [deleted] a bus [/deleted] [inserted] OUR [/inserted] Squadron was split up.
[underlined] Squadron Commander [/underlined] Sqdn. Ldr. M.C.D. Bodington D.F.C. D.F.M
Sqdn Etchelon
Warrant Officer. – Discip Office. – Orderly Room. – Signals Sect. – Parachute Sect. – General Duties. – Stores. – Pay Accounts.
Inspection Flight. – Engr. Officer. – [underlined] As “B” Flight. [/underlined]
“A” Flight – As “B” Flight.
“B” Flight. – Flight Sgt. – N.C.O’s. – Fitters. – Riggers. – Instruments. – Wireless. – Electricians. Armourers (Tech. Trades)
Motor Transport Section.
Medical Officer.
The only entertainment that we ever had on the station was the mobile cinema that paid us a visit about once every ten days, which showed a film that we had generally seen years before. By then I was feeling much happier as we had been issued out with three extra blankets, a felt lined leather jerkin, a black mackintosh for when it rained and gum-boots to enable us to plough through the mud. It was quite cosy and homely in our tent after it was installed with electric lights and a Valor stove. One did not feel like venturing, far during those cold evenings if we did walk up to the canteen it was to listen to the wireless there. The waterproof equipment certainly came in handy during the times that it teemed with rain and left the ground a sea of red mud. The soil in the area was quite deep red in colour and it was not at all rocky.
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Ten miles away to the North East a range of snow topped mountains were to be seen along with the peaks of a second range situated behind the first. This second range of mountains were on Turkish soil, the rest of the surrounding country consisted of rocky hills.
I remember on one occasion during a terrific storm we all had to get out of bed during the night and hang on to the poles of the tent otherwise the wind would have lifted it up and away in the air. Another unpleasant thing that happened quite often was whilst patrolling on guard during the dead of the night, when all was silent except for the rustling of the tall weeds that covered the surrounding ground, all of a sudden and without warning a jackal would start howling, and a few moments later an answering howl would ensue from a nearby relation. As sound travels so far in the open, it appears that they are only a dozen or so yards away from you and in the dark the howl made your skin creep and would make you go cold all over. Usually jackals run away from you during the daytime. One night jackals cum wolves that must have been on the point of starvation attacked a nearby village and killed 4 natives. In my opinion, the natives lived in much better conditions in Syria than either Palestine or Egypt. I by far preferred the look of those stone or mud eskimo huts to the huts of bits of tin, tree branches and palm tree leaves etc. The majority of the Syrian huts were of mud which had been compressed into square bricks and left out in the sun to dry solid before being put together.
In other ways the kind of living conditions were the same as everywhere else in the Middle East, dressed in smelly rags etc. The currency in Syria was pesetas, 100 to the Syrian £1 which is worth 2/3d in England. It was very confusing at first as in Egypt we were used to the peseta equaling [sic] 2 1/2d and in Syria the peseta equaled [sic] just over a farthing. It seemed strang [sic] being able to draw £15. per week but in actual fact was worth only 33/9d. there are no coins at all as everything is paid for with notes. Our issue of cigarettes whilst in the country were the world famous “V’s” that tasted like camel manure. In our tent each week we would put them into a pool and traded the cigarettes for eggs with the local Arabs. Every morning we used to cook the eggs and fry bread in a mess tin on top of our valor stove. Our cooking fat consisted of margarine smuggled from the cookhouse table and to obtain the bread we used to ask for an extra slice at each meal time. I could be seen walking back to my tent with a suspicious bulge under my battle dress tunic. If it was very cold of if we arose too late and did not have time to walk to the cookhouse and back before worktime, we cooked more eggs for ourselves.
Once a week we could go on a day trip into Aleppo if we wanted to and quite often I took advantage of this opportunity. As I have said before about 60% of the town is comprised of modern buildings and the rest were of the usual native shambles of dirty dwelling houses of stone and narrow alleyways. Nearly every passageway is alike and it is easy to lose oneself as I did on one occasion and it took me well over an hour to get out of the maze and during that time I did not see another Englishman or even a European. At times I feared that someone would jump out of one of the many dark places at me with a knife in their hand.
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It would have been easy to have robbed me as it would not have any use to shout for help in that area. In the main few streets there was a very good shopping centre where there was much more to buy than there was in Algiers although the prices were just as high. I expect things will be changed now that the war is over. As I reached the cosmopolitan market in the square of Aleppo, I negotiated a difficult passage, forever being pestered by crowds of would be guides, shoe shine boys etc., and on through into the main road jostling along amongst the mixed crowd of Arabs, Jews, French civilians, British and Allied soldiers and airmen. In the back streets and alleyways native music ensued forth from tiny dirty half hidden shops, while dirty ragged hawkers and equally dirty foreign shopkeepers jabber away in broken English both eager and anxious that you should purchase all kinds of souvenirs for the people at home. Some of the goods had probably been exported from Britain, but for all this, it was very interesting viewing the genuine Eastern work.
The town possessed six cinemas where English speaking films were shown. It was very queer to see translations in French, Arabic and Greek on a small screen either side of the main one. I used to visit either the Y.M.C.A. or NAAFI for meals when I was in the town. I did not like the look of the native restaurants and I like to know what I am eating.
During one week whilst at Affisse I had five innoculations. [sic] My arm felt like a pricked sausage by the time the M.O. had finished with it. I will now give you a rough idea of the description of work I was doing.
Generally, the crews are made up as follows:
1) Pilots and one each of the following trades to each aircraft:
Fitter, rigger, armourer, electrician, wireless and one oxygen man to every four aircraft.
My first job on reaching the plane each morning was to take off the engine and cockpit covers and then fetch an electric trolley from one of the other disposal bays and plug it into my aircraft and then clear any stones away from under the propeller so that it will not get damaged, and see that there is nothing directly behind the aircraft, I would then climb into the cockpit:
a) Put on the brakes and see that:
b) Switches are off.
c) Undercarriage light reads down.
d) See that gun firing switch is in the off position.
e) Switch petrol on.
f) Flap in up position.
g) Open throttle lever open 1/4".
h) Prop lever is in increase revs position.
i) Close air intake shutter.
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[inserted] 36 (A) [/inserted]
[underlined] ALEPPO.
DECEMBER – 1943 [/underlined]
[head and shoulders photograph of R. Barrett]
[photograph of four airmen, one sitting on a mule]
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j) See that Boot and Oil pressure gauges read Nil.
k) Pull control stick right back and keep the rudder control level and then shout “All Clear” to the fellow out at the starter trolley under the wing and if no one is in the way and everything is O.K. he will reply “All Clear”. I would then prime the engine with petrol as required and switch on the magnets and then shout out “Contact” and press the starter buttons and the other fellow presses the button on the trolley.
When the engine starts the other fellow would take out the plug and I would run the engine at low revs for 1/2 a minute, then I would note the oil pressure and see that it is not too high and then open the throttle until the engine is running at 1200 r.p.m. and when the Coolant Temperature reached 600 Centigrade and the oil is 150C. I open throttle wider and run the engine at 1600 r.p.m. and check each magnetos [inserted] [symbol] [/inserted] [inserted] [underlined] ADD [/underlined] [symbol] IN TURN & TEST THE SUPERCHARGER, IF ALL WAS WELL, I THROTTLED BACK & PULLED THE SLOW RUNNING CUT OUT & WHEN THE SINGING STOPPED I SWITCHED OFF THE MAGNETOS. [/inserted] and the petrol and then I would undo the cowlings and check the engine itself all over to see if anything was wrong.
All of what I have written is called a “Daily Inspection” and it had to be signed for every day. I also had to sign after my plane had flown each time to say that the petrol, oil and coolant tanks were full.
When the D.I. had been signed for the aircraft was put service-able to fly the following 24 hours when my signature expired [deleted] and [/deleted] another inspection [inserted] WAS [/inserted] carried out.
When the pilot came along to take off I had to put his parachute and rubber dinghy into the aircraft and then strap the pilot into the parachute harness and then into the aircraft harness, then close the cockpit door and turn the oxygen supply on before plugging in and pressing the starter button on the starter trolley. Then on the engine starting I would pull the trolley away and jump onto the wing and direct the pilot whilst taxying from the dispersal point to the end of the runway where I would jump off the wing and take off the [deleted] petrol [/deleted] [inserted] PITOT [/inserted] head cover. If this was forgotten, the pilot would not be able to tell his correct speed in the air and would most probably crash on landing through coming in at the wrong speed.
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I remember one day when I was not going to the runway with the aircraft that I was seeing off, I let it go out of the bay with the pitot head cover on, then I suddenly remembered it. You ought to have seen me running after the plane. All that you would have seen would have been a cloud of dust. I do not think that I have ever run faster in my life. I reached the plane just as it was swinging out onto the runway to take off. After attracting the pilot’s attention I whisked off the cover. I then had to sit down for the next 1/2 hour to enable me to regain my breath. Luckily for me I had a decent pilot or I would have been up before the C.O. the next morning.
When the aircraft returned and was circling the drome before landing, I would go down the runway and meet my aircraft put on the pitot head cover and guide it back into it’s bay whilst sitting on the wing. After unstrapping the pilot the aircraft had to be refuelled.
Of course there were lots of other things I had to do when the engine went wrong during inspections etc., but I will not bore you with details of oil, petrol and coolant leaks, plug changes after every 10 hours flying etc.
After every 20 hours flying the aircraft went into the Inspection flight where it received a minor overhaul. Spare time was spent on polishing and cleaning the aircraft to make it glisten in the sun.
During the morning of the 26th January, one of the A flight Aircraft landed short of the runway and went up on it’s nose. Luckily the pilot was unhurt but the plane was a write-off. That same afternoon I was waiting to see my plane in and watched it make a perfect landing. Then all of a sudden it seemed to skid off the runway and then it’s tail came up in the air and hovered there for a few seconds before it turned right over on it’s back. Once again I did the flying hare trick down the runway hoping all the time that the aircraft would not catch fire, but before I had gone halfway the crash tender sped past me and by the time I reached the crash the tender crew were on the job of smashing the perspect [sic] hood to get the pilot out who was still strapped into the cockpit upside down. The nose of the plane I noticed had burrowed itself into the ground. After lifting up one wing and the tail together the pilot was able to crawl out and the first thing that he said “what a so and so position to be in.” Luckily he was extra small and received no injuries whatsoever. Of course, the plane was another write-off. So ended the life of my first Spitfire, and the next day I had to work on another one.
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On the 3rd of February I started on a four day course on Field Training, consisting of firing on the range with a Sten gun and rifle, learning firing orders, Field signals and formation, unarmed combat tactics, hand grenade throwing etc. It made a change from the usual routine and really [inserted] IT WAS [/inserted] a good scrounge.
This will give you some idea of what it is like sitting on the tail of a Spitfire when it is being run-up. After every [inserted] ENGINE [/inserted] repair or plug change the aircraft had to be run up to its fullest revs, which was 3000 r.p.m. and while this is being done at least 4 men are needed on the tail to stop it coming up into the air and the nose and propeller from touching the ground.
Anyway one day I was lying across the tail, resting on my chest and I had my spectacles buttoned up in my battledress pocket. As the throttle was opened it felt as if a giant hand was clutching my clothing and pulling and pulling. It took all my strength to hang on, all of a sudden I saw a flash and realised that the slip stream had got under me and had opened my breast pocket and the suction had pulled my specs out and swept them away. After a big search by us all after the engine had stopped someone found my specs unharmed at least 30 yards away from the aircraft tail.
During the third week in February I was due to go on six days leave to a lumber camp up in the mountains and live in a big log hut and go wild bore [sic] shooting and do what I liked for those six days or go on leave to Beruit [sic] for 6 days. I chose the lumber camp, but as it turned out I went to neither.
On the 13th February all of the aircraft left Affisi and flew to Palestine. I spent the rest of that day and the next packing my kit and packing and loading the Squadron’s equipment onto lorries. I expect everyone remembers that round about this time there were all sorts of conflicting reports and a lot of mystery concerning Turkey. Then it was suddenly announced by the Government that the Allies had stopped sending supplies to the country. Well, here is the story behind that announcement. Turkey was trying to play a two way game by getting supplies from both the Germans and the Allies. She said that if we sent her enough equipment she would come into the war on our side which would have helped Britain immensely at that time. We had sent her substantial supplies when she said that the equipment that we were sending her was not modern enough. I know from a good source that the Army never sent their latest weapons as they guessed the game that Turkey might be playing.
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Our Wing 322 or the Invasion Wing as it was known was one of the 5 fighters wings that operated on the Italian Front and it was specially withdrawn out of the battle and sent to Syria. It stands to reason that a famous wing engaged against the enemy on the only front that we had against Germany at the time is not withdrawn for nothing.
Every day we saw big guns and army units passing the drome moving up towards the border
.When Turkey saw that we were sending out our best fighter and army equipment with the personnel to look after it, she got cold feet and backed out of the bargain. She thought she was going to get all the latest war weapons for herself at our expense. When it was definite that she would not participate in the war, minor supplies were stopped and our H.Q. that went into Turkey in civilian clothes was recalled and our movement order came through.
Now to continue. After watching a final football match between our Squadron and the R.A.F. Regiment we loaded our kit onto waggons and left camp at 6.30 p.m. on our journey to Aleppo Station. On nearing our objective we found ourselves amongst a congestion of hundreds of vehicles. The sing-song we all held during the two hour hold up until it was our turn to unload must have awoken the whole neighbourhood. When we did finally unload the waggon it took us quite a while to sort our own kit out. As soon as I had gathered all my belongings together I staggered onto the platform dropping bits of kit every few yards until I had reached the cattle truck that I was to travel in. After having a sandwich and a cup of tea which was being served to everyone on the platform we settled down to try and sleep.
We pulled out at midnight. At the time I was lying near the door and was still awake and I could not stretch my legs without getting them entangled with somebody else’s. I had a lumpy big pack, but what with the hard floor, the draughts and being trampled on by chaps trying to reach the door during the night I more or less got used to it [inserted] ON THIS RETURN TRIP [/inserted] as it did not bother me [deleted] on our return trip. [/deleted] [inserted] DURING THIS JOURNEY TO SYRIA. [/inserted]
By 10 a.m. the following morning we had reached Hormes, where we had breakfast. I managed to break my fast twice. I also bought 13 bananas cheap on the platform to eat during that day which I spent reading a book, playing cards, sleeping and watching the scenery. One consolation on doing the trip a second time was that we passed the scenery during the day [inserted] [symbol] [/inserted] [deleted] and also during the nighttime. [sic] [/deleted] At 6.0 p.m. that evening we reached Tripoli where we could see all the oil plant installations and the ending of the pipe lines that ran all the way from Iraq. It was here that we had to change trains back to the Egyptian State Railways and their hard narrow wooden seated carriages. Whilst the other fellows were crammed in the doorways of the carriages I dashed from the cattle truck and through the
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window of a coach where I managed to grab a seat. After stowing my kit on the seat and under it, on the rack and in the gangway, I went back onto the platform for something to eat and then for a stroll along the dark road leading from the station. I walked about 200 yards and bought 2 1/2 lbs of oranges, 2 1/2 lbs of tangerines and 2 1/2 lbs of bananas, whilst walking that short distance I must have looked like a bag of fruit as I made my way back to the carriage as fruit stuck out from each of my pockets and everytime I picked up a tangerine that had fallen out of my battle-dress tunic, another one would slip through to the ground.
I once again made a valiant effort to sleep on those terrible seats but it was no good. I was awake at 1.0 a.m. when we drew into Beruit [sic] Station. The Squadron’s cooks who had gone on earlier in the first part of the train had tea ready waiting for us, so that started another rummage through the kit for our mugs and on putting them out of the window into the darkness they were immediately filled. I finally fell asleep that night on top of a pile of kit bags.
We had breakfast next morning at Haifa. Here I managed to be quick off the mark and I must have done the 100 yds sprint down the platform in 10 secs. I was sixth out of a thousand in the queue. I also managed to get a look in at a water tap and get a bit of a wash. We arrived at Gaza 3.30 p.m. where we had dinner and we crossed the Palestine/Egypt border at 5.30 p.m. with a sand storm beginning to blow up.
During out [sic] stops, if we felt hungry, we traded a packet of the famous “V” cigarettes for 10 oranges. By the end of the journey I think I must have looked like an orange. At 1.30 a.m. that night I did another fine sprint through the window for supper, the sandstorm was then at its height and I had to batter my way across to the barn where the meal was served. The sand would have cut my face if I had not put up my hand to protect it, as it was sweeping along with such force. Our supper consisted of a cup of tea and a little packet containing a sandwich, cake and a chocolate bar. After eating my packet I still felt so hungry, that I went out of the barn’s back door and back into the front one again and received another packet which I took back to the train. I expect you will think that I was very greedy but the fact remains that I was very hungry at the time. I also queued up in the sandstrom [sic] at an Arab stall which housed a money changer to change my last Syrian 2/6d into Egyptian pecetas. [sic].
By the time I arrived back inside the train everything was coated with sand and we were also breathing it. I distinctly remember that we moved for about 1/2 hour and then stopped for over an hour. It was impossible for me to get to sleep. All the carriage windows were shut tight, but still there was sand everywhere. It was beating on the windows and outside the wind howled for all it was worth. The next thing I remember was waking up in the morning and it was the reverse of the night before.
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Everything was deathly quiet and still as we travelled Southwards alongside the Suez Canel [sic] and for so far on either side were green fields of bamboo, and here and there was an Arab settlement or a water-well being worked by camels, mules, donkeys or an ox harnessed to a pole and by walking round and round in a circle they drew up the water from the ground which irrigated the surrounding land by running along in little channels dug in the ground. Often a big camel could be seen harnessed to a tiny mule and overhead on constant patrol were flights of storks which intermittently swooped down on unsuspecting insect victims, big hawks were doing the same, except that they swooped on and chose small birds as their prey.
At approx. 1.0 p.m. we drew into the suburbs of Cairo which consisted of the usual dirty, filthy habitations that must harbour all sorts of disease and their inhabitants were [underlined] all [/underlined] dressed in rags and looking as if they had last washed a year or so previously. As we reached the centre of the city the scene changed and became more like modern England. Masses of railway lines ran in all directions, new well designed buildings surrounded us and even the railway stations were more up to date than many English one’s. We stopped at one of these stations about 4 miles from the heart of the city and transferred our kit from the train onto lorries lined up and waiting on the platform. We were taken through the famous town of Heliopolis where Cleopatra’s needle, now standing on the Embankment in London originally came from [deleted] hundreds of years ago. [/deleted] But the Heliopolis of today is one mass of modern blocks of flats and impressive buildings, shops and cinemas etc., it is a film stars holiday resort these days.
A great attraction is the lovely race course situated on the edge of the town, also it’s swimming pool which is the biggest one in the Middle East. We passed the town’s large airport during our journey on the lorry to 22 P.T.C. (Personnel Transit Camp), Almaza which was a mile further along the road. Here we were housed in tents, needless to say they were erected on sand and when we arrived at the camp a minor sand storm was blowing but it soon abated. We spent the rest of that day making ourselves as comfortable as we could.
Next day (Feb. 18th) was a Red Letter day in our family history, as I knew that my brother Cyril was stationed somewhere in Cairo and I was very anxious to get out and try to find him. I finally succeeded by dinner-time in obtaining a pass that lasted until 1.15 a.m. on the following morning. I thumbed a lift from the camp gates on a lorry that was going into Heliopolis where I caught one of the fastest trams in the world. One could not call the wooden seats exactly comfortable to sit on, in each coach there is a separate compartment for women to travel in. Instead of using a bell as a starting signal, the conductor wearing their fez hat with a tassle attached blew a little horn which gave out a very peculiar sound. Tram fares were about the cheapest thing that there was in Cairo. The journey used to cost me 7/10ths of a peceta [sic] (1 3/4d) in return for the money I received a ticket covered in Arabic writing.
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For a time we travelled through the streets halting at regular stops until we reached the swimming pool, and the tram then went on to one of the railway tracks and gradually increased speed until we were travelling along as fast as a London Underground train, through the poor district and not stopping until we came to Cairo’s main station, the museum and then a little farther on we started to travel along the road once more, pass the famous Eastern night clubs and on into the centre of the city where the line comes to an end and where I descended from the tram.
Here is a brief description of one of the clubs at which I had a look at. It was named “Sweet Melody” the entrance of which was brilliantly lit with coloured electric light bulbs. I think I had to pay one and sixpence admission fee. On passing the pay desk I went along a corridor into the main hall which was approximately as big as a normal size cinema. The centre of the floor was used for dancing with any of the many hostesses that inhabited the hall and were seated with partners at tables set out around the edge of the floor. High up on a stage at the front of the hall an oriental band consisting of Arabs playing all sorts of queer looking musical instruments that certainly emitted peculiar sounds. The hall also contained two balconies that run in a half circle up above and were each divided into small cubicles with a small table at each. If you were a “sucker” (as the Americans would say) as soon as you stepped into the hall you would be grabbed by one of the girls that could not be truthfully called a beauty queen and taken to one of the cubicles or on to the floor to dance. At the end of the dance you would sit down at one of the tables and order a glass of beer for yourself and a glass of wine for the girl which incidentally would be coloured sweet water and both would cost you 6/6d. The girl has the drink and a commission on all that she makes you spend in the club. So as long as you like to throw your money away they will stay with you but immediately you stop they find some else [sic] who is silly enough to be taken in again. At 10.0 p.m. the caberet [sic] commenced and the artists comprised of girls clad in next to nothing doing the native [inserted] SEDUCTIVE [/inserted] dances to the tune of Arabic music. Well so much for night clubs. I will now get back to my story.
On descending the tram at its terminal I found that I might easily have been in the West End of London except for the native dress, Arabic writing and native boys pestering my life to have the privilege of giving me a shoe shine and the Arab wanting to act as my guide on a trip out to the Pyramids. Once I had shaken the latter two away I had time to look at my surroundings. I did not linger long as I only had one object in view that afternoon and that was to find my brother, so I immediately set about the task. At times during that afternoon I had to act something like a spy to acquire information. Just then I caught sight of two red capped army military policemen in the distance so I ran after them and I think that was the first and only time during my service that I ran [underlined] after [/underlined] the police, it was generally the other way round. When I caught up with them I asked if they would direct me to the Army Post Office as I thought that would be the best place to get information from. I followed their directions which led past the English Cathedral and
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on to a large building that faces the River Nile. I arrived at the back entrance and went in and showed the first person I saw [deleted] with [/deleted] [inserted] IN THE [/inserted] A.P.C, Cyril’s address and asked him if he “could tell me where it was to be located” to which he replied “we are not allowed to divulge the location of any unit during war time” I tried all sorts of arguments, but all he would say was that he was very sorry that he was unable to help me. I was not giving it up as easily as that so I nipped around quickly to the front entrance and went in but I received the same replies to my question as I did at the rear entrance. I came out of the building feeling very disappointed and not knowing where to try next. At that same moment an oldish Egyptian came out and said to me that he had heard my question and wondered if he could help me as he worked for the A.P.C. as a messenger so I showed him Cyril’s address. He then told me that he did not know exactly where it was but directed me to the area where he thought it might be, so I thanked him and set off once more feeling in better spirits. I managed to find the Polish Army H.Q. and many other H.Q’s, but not the British G.H.Q. After unsuccessfully exploring twenty or more roads, streets and avenues, I asked a British soldier coming along the road if he knew where G.H.Q. was and I was very pleased when he replied “I am just going there myself” so I fell into step with him until we reached a huge building surrounded with barbed wire entaglements. [sic]
I then went into the Enquiry Office and asked the receptionist where Weapons Technical Staff Department was to be found and the reply was “go down the road opposite the Enquiry Office and it is number 34 building left or right of that road, so off I went only to find the numbers jumped from 31 to 35. Both of these were Government Buildings and on enquiring at each none had ever heard of a No. 34 Building. I noticed quite a number of chaps coming along the road who served in the R.A.S.C. the same as Cyril, so I stopped at least twenty fellows and asked them if they knew where W.T.S. was getting a reply of “Sorry I do not” each time. I then trooped back to the Enquiry Office and told them that there was no number 34 in the road. The fellow checked up his file once more and said I should have [underlined] turned] [/underlined] left or right at the railway at the bottom of the road opposite. I then went back along the road and turned right at the railway line as directed. The corner building was No. 78 and the one next to it 77, so I went on in high spirits only to have my hopes dashed to the ground as No. 34 turned out to be a dirty tumbled down house in an Arab quarter. I then came to the conclusion that G.H.Q. were deliberately giving me wrong information, not wanting to disclose whereabouts similar to the A.P.O.
By then darkness was falling so feeling very dejected I retread my steps lost in thought and when I came out of my kind of trance I found myself to the left turn part of the road and outside another building No. 60 so I quickened by steps and finally breathlessly arrived at No. 34 and sure enough over the doorway hung a big board with Weapons Technical Staff painted on it. Up the entrance steps I went three at a time and saw in front of me a notice and read Staff/Sgt Major C.C. Barrett and an arrow.
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[two newspaper cartoons regarding the Cairo campaign]
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[underlined] CYRIL’S OFFICE CAIRO FEB 1944. [/underlined]
[photograph of R. Barrett’s brother Cyril sitting behind his desk]
[photograph of a Musky Bazaar in Cairo]
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I walked or rather ran in the direction that it pointed and found myself in my brother’s office and on that spot we held our first meeting for more than 3 years.
Cyril finished work straight away and after showing me the Department’s museum of captured enemy weapons we went out into the town and had a celebration dinner in a select restaurant. After talking over old times for an hour or so Cyril showed me around the main part of the town and we looked around the shops along Soliman Pasha the famous main street of Cairo.
The many roundabouts that I saw were called Midan’s in Egypt, and many beautiful cars and horse and carriages could be seen on the road every day. At 10.0 p.m. that evening Cyril saw me off at the tram terminal where I caught a tram back to Helleopolis, [sic] where if lucky, I would generally catch a taxi-cab to take me back to the camp gates. The more chaps that piled in the taxi, cheaper became the fare. So you can guess it was not always a comfortable ride but it was definitely better than having to walk 2 1/2 miles.
I only went to breakfast twice during my whole month’s stay at Almaza and on both occasions I was on guard the previous evening. We had a continuous guard over the Squadrons motor transport of 50 vehicles, most of which were loaded with equipment and one could not sleep very well in a cab with a steering wheel sticking in your back.
I used to arise at 8.45 a.m. and only then because we had to be on parade at 9.0 a.m. and a further reason for not going to breakfast was that the cookhouse was well over a mile away from our tent and it was hard going plodding through soft sand just for a bit of bacon and fried bread etc.
Situated midway between the cookhouse and our tent was the stone Y.M.C.A. building which was very comfy with its tea, recreation and writing rooms and at almost any time of the day one could obtain tea and cakes there. The Wing’s transport vehicles numbering at least 350 were lined up all around the building. There were lorries, trailers, jeeps, staff cars, cranes, motor cycles, power trailers, mobile cokkhouses [sci] etc.
On another day I met Cyril by arrangement outside Isavitches where we used to obtain lovely ice cream and rice puddings, which the shop was famous for. From there we caught a tram and had a sight-seeing tour around the town. We passed the King of Egypt’s Palace, and the lovely Opera House and visited the English Cathedral. Whilst we were there the choir made up of Service men and women were practising and their singing sounded very beautiful.
I also toured the famous and ancient Blue Mosque and the Kings Mosque which still shows the marks on its walls where cannon balls had hit when the building was stormed centuries ago. I also paid a visit with Cyril to the old Muskee [deleted] Bagmars [/deleted] [inserted] BAZAARS [/inserted] (the Petticoat Lane of the East) touring down narrow streets of
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[sketch drawing of street map]
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tiny shops and stalls. There were some good bargains to be had, if you have the knack of knocking down the shopkeepers price. They generally quoted a price three times the article’s real value to start off with. During this tour I saw many articles of fine workmanship. We also paid many visits to the Alemain Club, which was presented to the British Forces by the Egyptian people in remembrance of saving them from invasion by the Germans.
We saw many a good football match on the club’s football ground. The club is situated on an island in the centre of the Nile. Incidentally, it was on this island that Cyril used to live. Next door to the club was the large Cairo Gizra Horse Racing track. Nearby was the bridge where the King’s Boat House was to be seen moored to the bank of the Nile. This bridge (see page 448) connected the island with the mainland at Kasranil Barracks. There were also many other lovely house boats belonging to wealthy people to be seen along the banks of the Nile, a vast contrast to the ancient sailing boats and barges owned by the poor.
We also paid another visit to the zoo, which is another lovely spot in Cairo. It is built on the style of the London Zoo and is a bit larger and it is better set out also very much more modern. On yet another occasion I visited the Wax Works Museum, but this was nowhere near the standard of the ones to be seen in England. Of course, there were many other places we went to on various days which are hardly worth mentioning, such as roller skating rinks, painting exhibitions, cinemas etc. All of the cinemas in the city are modern and one or two are up to Leicester Sq., standard. Most of them possess a sliding roof so they can be converted into open air during the hot dry tropical summer nights. There were many service clubs in the city. I mostly used the Victory Club which was slightly select for meals, and then there was the Tipperary Club, Wesley House (Toc.H.) Y.M.C.A. and the Empire Services Club and I occasionally visited a private hotel or café.
Whilst in Cairo, Cyril and myself made a record together to commemorate our meetings and to send home to our family.
I decided one day that sand was not the best company in bed and I was tired of sleeping on it so I bought myself a folding bed. I arrived back at camp with it about 10.0 p.m. and woke everyone up in the tent when messing about in the dark putting it up. I had been in it for no more than 5 minutes when the deathly silence was broken by a terrible crack and I suddenly went a couple of inches downwards. After carrying out a search by the aid of matches I found that one of the legs of my bed had split in half. This was repaired or partly repaired by binding string around the crack. The whole operation was carried out amid giggles coming from the other chaps. I saw saw [sic] funny side of it later, but not at the time.
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My brother and I spent another afternoon out at the Pyramids. We caught a tram from the bottom of Soliman Pasha which conveyed us over a bridge across the Nile River and along the straight and wide road leading to Gazera where we descended and walked up the hill leading up to the Great Pyramid. To our right stood “Mena House Hotel” where the Great Cairo Conference was held between Mr. Churchill and Mr. Roosevelt. We walked from the Great Pyramid to the second one and then down the slope leading to the Sphinx. We also explored many other tombs that were underground. One could spend a full day exploring and still not see everything. There must be much left, still to be unearthed in the vicinity. Who know’s [sic] what buried treasure lies there, at the time of our visit excavations had ceased owing to the war.
On Monday the 20th of March we had to parade at 7.45 a.m. dressed in full marching order. It was the usual R.A.F. procedure (parading 2 hours before necessary). The Wing Transport had left the day previously and the convoy stretched for miles along the road leading to Alexandria. At 9.45 a.m. lorries rolled up and took us to the same railway station as we arrived at when coming to Cairo. The train drew out of the station at 10.30 a.m. and we stopped at Ismailia for a short while roundabout 5.0 p.m. By that time we were all feeling a little hungry after not having had anything to eat since early that morning, so we welcomed the cry of “eggs and boiled eggs” by Arabs coming along the platform. I had hoped that we would be going to Alexandria, as I should have liked to have seen the city before leaving Egypt, but alas, it was not to be. Everyone had just about fallen off to sleep when we pulled in to Port Said roundabout midnight. By the help of the harbour arc lights we transferred from the train onto the awaiting “Z” craft and were taken across the Suez and along various waterways until we reached the same Transit Camp that we stayed in before.
I was too tired to wander around to find a place in a tent but after getting something to eat I put my blankets down on the sand and went to sleep. It was then 2.0 a.m. in the morning and we were on the go again at 7.0 a.m. the following morning and after breakfast we boarded the “Z” craft again and were taken into the Suez and up to one of the many big ships lying at anchor. The one which we went aboard was called the “Circasia” a boat of some 10,000 tons. Whilst walking around the deck that evening I bumped into my friend who I had last seen in Algiers and who was in the same billet and room as myself when I was at Morecambe.
Everyone’s worst fear was of going to the Far East and the boat was anchored facing across the canal so we had no indication of which way we would be going. I shall never forget the look of anxiousness of everyone’s faces when we weighed anchor at 4.0 p.m. on the 23rd of March and looks of relief when the nose of the ship turned towards the Med.
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On reaching the open sea the convoy of 7 more big troopships and 6 escort destroyers formed up. I have no need to describe life aboard ship again as this trip was very much the same as my previous ones. The only thing of interest on the second day was when one of the ship’s barrage balloons broke loose. It gave the gunners a chance of target practice and with their fourth shot they scored a direct hit at a height of approximately 5,000 ft. The sea was very rough during the day following and the ship had a roll of 200 or more. I think at least 75% of the passengers were ill, I was not feeling so good myself. I know that I found a nice quiet spot on deck and laid there until darkness came.
Next day (Palm Sunday) was worse as we ran into a gale. Up on deck wind howled away and it was teaming with rain and the boat creaked as it rolled. I roused myself in the evening long enough to listen to Mr. Churchill’s speech. Next morning all was quiet when I went up on deck. At 7.30 a.m. and I found that we were in Augusta Bay (Sicily). I could see the top of Mount Etna rising above the morning’s misty haze. There were at least 50 merchant ships anchored in the bay around us. Later on when the sun broke through, Mount Etna stood out in its full glory towering up into the clouds. We stayed at anchor all that day. There were many rumours going around, the best one was that a fast trooper was coming in from Malta to take us to Algiers where we were going to be transferred to a boat going to England and that we would take part in the invasion of the Continent. Sure enough just before dark we could see smoke on the horizon which gradually grew into a big ship, By the time it arrived darkness had fallen and at 11.0 p.m. it was announced on the ship’s loudspeakers that we were going to change boats.
We were transferred from one to the other by an old Italian ferry boat and by the time I had got myself settled in a hammock it was 2.0 a.m. When daylight came I discovered I was back on the ss [sic] “Ville de Oran” for a second time. That afternoon came the usual boat drill and we sailed at 4.0 p.m. on the 28th of March. It was certainly an Allied Convoy. Englishmen on a French liner escorted by a Greek and [inserted] A [/inserted] Polish destroyer. Alas all next day instead of steaming South towards Algiers we steamed Northwards at a very fast speed. We passed through the Straits of Messina during the night-time and steamed Northwards off the Eastern coast of Sardinia, all next day and towards the evening we were sailing in enemy waters. That night we passed through the Straits separating Sardinia and Corsica and then continued to steam northwards off the Western coast of Corsica.
On going on deck the next morning a very beautiful scene met my eyes, we were going into Ajjeccio [sic] harbour in South Western Corsica. The quaint old town stood on the waterline surrounded by lovely green hills and above and behind the hills I could see the snow capped mountains that laid inland.
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[inserted] 48A [/inserted]
[underlined] 30-3-1944 [/underlined]
[photograph of the island taken from the sea]
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We disembarked at 1.0 p.m. onto the small quayside where many little trawlers were moored and from there we were driven Southward, for 8 miles along one series of hairpin bends on American lorries and dumped in the middle of an empty field. We were then told that we would be stopping there for a few days and that we would have to make the best use of a bad job until the Squadron waggons arrived with the tents in a couple of days.
The next two hours were spent collecting wood and branches from the surrounding area so that the cooks could get a fire and a meal started. Then we made our beds down out in the open, we propped our mosquito nets with four sticks, one at each corner. When we got under them and into bed we all prayed that it would not rain during the night. If it had, we would have all been drenched as there was no shelter whatsoever for miles around. I had just fallen asleep when I was awoken by the Squadron Warrant Officer who told me I was one of the unlucky ones who had to go back down to the docks and help unload rations off the ship. We had a hair-raising ride back, as we bunted a waggon that had broken down all the way around those hairpin bends into the town, which has hardly changed since the day [deleted] of [/deleted] [inserted] when [/inserted] Napoleon [deleted] who [/deleted] was born there. It was 1 a.m. when we arrived back at camp with the lorry load of tinned food.
Next morning (April Fool’s day) I had a bath and did some washing in a small stream that ran through a nearby field, at least, I did my washing until I dropped my soap and was not quick enough to catch it before the swift running current swept it away. That afternoon I went for a walk, it was one of the prettiest I have ever been on. What a contrast after the sand of Egypt and the wilderness of Syria. The scenery was beautiful, it was a treat just to see green fields once more dotted with daisies and buttercups. I walked along by streams whose banks grew violets, forget-me-nots and wild miniature daffodils etc., through vineyards dotted with Cherry trees with their glorious pink blossom in full bloom. I used to like to lie down on a nice grassy bank and close my eyes and listen to the singing of the birds and the tinkle of the tiny bells hung around the sheeps necks as they grazed in the grass under the watchful eyes of an old sheep dog. Four days later the ship carrying the Squadrons vehicles arrived at the island and from 12.0 p.m. until 3.0 a.m. I was up directing traffic along the road to the camp. What a job we had next morning sorting out the equipment, as all the different Squadrons tents etc., had all been mixed up. Anyway we had a tent to live in.
Up until 5th of April we amused ourselves as we liked for most of the time. Some of the very energetic fellows climbed a 2,000 ft. nearby mountain, others played cricket, cards, or went for long walks.
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Of an evening we used to light a big fire and hold an impromptu concert. I was on the advance party which set out in convoy early morning on April 5th. We travelled across Central Corsica and over the mountains. At one stop we made tea with the aid of boiled snow which we had to use as water. As I was travelling in the ration waggon I did not go hungry during the ride, cheese, herrings, sausages, tinned fruit, jam and biscuits disappeared at various times and all the fellows received was a tin of bully beef for dinner.
The scene during the journey that sticks out most in my memory was when we were travelling through a large pine forest high up in the mountains. The trees and ground were covered with snow and the sun was shining brightly over the whole scene, at that moment we were passing houses and cabins made from pine logs. What a wonderful painting it would have made.
As we approached the North Eastern coast we came to the first signs of warfare. This was the edge of the line which the Germans held whilst they withdrew the main part of their troops from the Island. Every type of bridge had been blown up and nearly every house had been turned into a fortress and stood in a shamble of ruins caused by shell-fire. Here and there would be over-turned and burnt out vehicles, cars, guns or armoured cars and a few small tanks and a few mounds of earth beside them with just a plain wooden cross sticking up. After taking a wrong road for about 10 miles we found out that we were going south once more on the other side of the Island. We about turned and eventually arrived at the small field which was to be our new camp at 6.0 p.m.
We did not take long to erect our tent and I was soon in the big stream that lay at the bottom a bank that sloped away from the field. The water was ice cold and came winding rushing down from the mountains above.
The village situated just up the road was name Foleli and consisted of half a dozen cottages and a couple [inserted] 2 [/inserted] of wine bars. The airfield, which had only just been made was called “Auto Airport”. The Squadrons aircraft all brand new Spitfires MK IX’s had already arrived when we arrived there. We were only at Auto Airport for 14 days until a new drome a bit further down the coast was finished. Beside’s [sic] our wing, American Thunderbolt aircraft operated from Auto. Regularly like clockwork twelve of them bombed up took off every hour. On Friday the 7th one came back with, [inserted] ONE OF [/inserted] the bombs still aboard, which dropped off and exploded a few seconds after the aircraft had touched down. At that moment I instinctively dropped to the ground and after the explosions a large hole appeared on the runway. The plane got away in time and was undamaged.
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I was bombed for a second time that week, when a few days after the first time the same thing happened. It was a bit too close for my liking that second time, as the aircraft I was standing by was damaged by shrapnel along with two other of our Spitfires. We only did one operation from “Auto” and that was to escort bombers on a raid over N. Italy and after the raid fires could be seen burning 15 miles from the target area. The only entertainment we had whilst at that camp was a film show every few days given by the Yanks in an old bombed Italian factory.
On the 19th April I saw my Spifire [sic] off along with 11 others from our Squadron on escorting 36 Boston bombers on a raid over N. Italy. On returning they all landed at our new drome (Poretta Airport). As soon as all the aircraft were airborne we packed up all our equipment and were moved by lorry to our new camp site at Cassermoza. Incidentally, when the C.O. landed he taxied into a steam roller. During the following few months I must have seen at least 50 Spitfires crash and yet not a single pilot was killed in any of them and only one caught fire, which goes to show how well the safety precautions are designed on the British aircraft. Many of the aircraft overturned through a burst tyre whilst either landing or taking off. Others landed with their wheels up or their engines failed during take-off and others taxied into each other and the rest were caused by various other reasons. The worse crash I saw was when one of our pilots burst a tyre when landing and the aircraft ran off the runway and overturned on its nose and then on its wing tip. The under-carriage was snapped off and both wings broke away from the body of the plane which broke its back. Yet out of the remains we extracted the pilot who had only received minor injuries.
Our camp site was approx. 2 1/2 miles away from the drome and although it was a bind going back and forth 3 or 4 and sometimes 5 times a day, it paid us to do it in the long run as you will see later on. The field next to our camp was full of grape vines, peach and cherry trees, so we had plenty of fruit to eat during our stay. Nearly always when travelling down to the drome we would pass broken down cars (or which were called cars once upon a time long, long ago). It was amazing the amount of goods and the number of people that travelled in each vehicle. Heads seemed to stick out from everywhere and there would be two or three others tinkering with the engines or messing about trying to mend a puncture.
Whilst at Poretta I was given my second Spitfire so I then had Q & R to look after. I was certainly busy when both went up together, which they nearly always did. The next two and half weeks were spent mostly on escorting Boston and Maurader bombers coming up from Sardinia on bombing raids on railway stations, viaducts, bridges, factories, supply dumps and other vital targets in Leghorn, Florence and others at Northern Italy. Very, very seldom was fighter opposition met, but flak (anti-aircraft fire) was pretty heavy. The lack of enemy fighters over the area was very surprising as we were operating in a line which was [inserted] [symbol] [/inserted] still at Cassino in Italy and our airfield was very near in a straight line level with Florence. It was a very nice sight when zero hour arrived for a raid. As soon as the bombers were sighted the fighters took off two at a time and circled round
[inserted] [underlined] ADD [/underlined] OVER 300 MILES BEHIND THE FRONT FIGHTING LINE WHICH WAS, [/INSERTED]
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and round gaining height all the time. By the time all of them were airborne the bombers were overhead steadily flying along on their course. The fighters would then take up their positions above, below and around them gradually disappearing from sight, then there would only remain the throb of the engines, followed by silence broken only by the song of the birds.
The method of American bombing was as follows:-
When approaching the target the bombers pack in as close to each other as possible and when No. 1 (the master bomber) give’s the word they all drop their bombs and so saturate the area, but if No. 1 misses – they all miss the target.
About that time nearly everyday was a glorious one. I used to work dressed only in my shorts, shoes and socks, except when I sat on the wing to guide the aircraft to and from the runway, as the propeller was apt to pick up little stones and throw them back and if they hit your bare-skin you certainly knew it.
As I have said before, two aircraft kept me busy with a daily inspection to do on each, refuel and refill with oil and coolant and rectify minor engine snags and see them out and back in again. Take for instance April the 28th, my diary reads Q up on escort at dawn, saw R & Q off on escort work later on in morning. Q and R up at 5.0 p.m. escorting Bombers and Photographic reconnaisance [sic] aircraft on a low bombing attack at 200 ft on a bridge north of Rome. For this last mission the petrol overload tanks on my aircraft had to be changed from 90 gall. to 30 gall. ones.
That same night I was on guard at the aerodrome and between 4 a.m. and 5.30 a.m. I had run-up 7 aircraft ready for dawn patrol. Every so often we had an occasional change by way of fighter sweeps reconnaisance [sic] and straffing missions but we got plenty of those missions after the 15th of May.
On the 2nd of May, after 2 1/2 hours of intensive questioning by the Engineering Officer, I was given my A.C.1. Next day [inserted] [indecipherable word] [/inserted] was one of the Red Letter days of my overseas tour. That evening, R & Q along with 4 other aircraft went up on a straffing mission [inserted] TO SOUTH OF FRANCE [/inserted] during which they ran into 10 Focker Wolfs 190’s. After many dog-fights over the Florence Area the Germans made for home, but not before the Wing Commander had shot one down. Our C.O. [deleted] after a head on burst of fire from his guns got one, making his total 13 1/2. His [/deleted] plane received a cannon shell which burst in one of his machine gun bays. That necessitated a wing change, but that was the only damage sustained to our aircraft.
[inserted] AUSTRALIAN NELSON MYERS [deleted] [four indecipherable words] [/deleted] LATER LOST RETURNING FROM STRAFFING TRIP F/SGT [indecipherable name] SOUTH OF FRANCE
BLONDIE MILLER (SOUTH AFRICAN) S HARDY A FW 190, AUSTRALIA [indecipherable words] ANOTHER [/inserted]
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[inserted] BEST OF ALL WAS [/inserted] [inserted] BLONDIE MILLER [/inserted]
When I saw R in and the pilot told me all about the scrap I learned that he had [deleted] also shot one down [/deleted] [inserted] [indecipherable word] FW 190 [/inserted] and two more of the enemy were also damaged. It then made me think it was worthwhile working all the hours that I had done on the engine.
On Wednesday the 10th, it was “A” Flt. that had the luck when they ran into two M.E. 109’s and shot them both down that afternoon. R & Q were up at the time, but they were sweeping another part of Italy and did not see anything.
The Yanks had another cinema near to me but I did not go to a show there very often, as the show was held in the open-air and did not start until it became dark and when we arrived back to camp it was nearly always midnight and often we found that there was an early call-[deleted] off [/deleted] [inserted] IN. [/inserted] for us at 3.30 or 4.0 a.m.
The nearest big town to us was Bastia, 12 miles to our North and once again it was the Yanks that made it worthwhile going there. Sometimes they had a show on in one of the towns two cinemas and there was the American Red Cross Restaurant where one could obtain coffee, cakes and ice cream. Apart from what I have mentioned there were no more than six shops open and they were either barbers shops or wine bars. But it must be remembered that for just on 5 years no ship had arrived at the island carrying civilian supplies and as a result there was a black market for anything in the town. It was a very dreary place with everything being closed down and empty shop windows everywhere. In the small harbour were a few sunken or scuttled ships.
On the shore was a wreck on an Italian sea-plane that had been shot down and had crashed into the harbour. The railway station area had been badly damaged by bombing attacks, no doubt it would be a much brighter town in peace-time. The Germans had used the cemetery as an ammunition storage dump, so it had to be bombed by the Allies. When I saw it, the place looked terrible with its overturned and uprooted tombstones.
To pass the time away we formed an inter-section league of cricket, football, and soft ball. We marked the pitches out between the aircraft bays and we played whilst our aircraft were up flying, until it was time for them to return. Nearby to my disposal bay was what used to be a big old farm house and was then empty. Often when my birds were up I would sit in one of the old low ceiling and stone floor rooms. It was lovely and cool and I was able to write my letters there when I did not get much time up at the camp. Just outside the farmhouse was an old fashioned pump and trough and over and on it grew big bunches of grapes. When I was on late flying we had only half an hour up at camp for dinner (no time for a dip in the stream) so after seeing the aircraft off on its last trip I used to fill up the stone trough with water, get stripped and then have a bath sitting in it, out in the open air getting a sun bath at the same time.
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The dust thrown up from the runway and taxing track was terrible and one got covered in dust and blinded in a fog of it everytime we saw an aircraft in or out, therefore, it was essential we had at least one bath every day.
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[inserted] 55 [/inserted]
[underlined] MY OVERSEAS SERVICE PART 3 [/underlined]
The only large flat piece of country in Corsica that I know of is just South of Bastia and runs for approx. 12 to 15 miles around the bay. At the time we were there it was virtually an aircraft carrier. The whole of the flat was covered with a network of airfields on which were housed every conceivable type of British and American aircraft. All farm-houses etc., in the area found themselves in the midst of an airfield.
On Friday night of the 11th May, the C.O. called us all together and gave us a lecture on a big hillside. He told us that for the few weeks following we would be very busy working from dawn to dusk. As at 5.0 a.m. the next morning the big Italian push was to commence. He explained to us that the bombing raids and bombers that we had escorted during the previous few weeks has disrupted the enemy’s rail and supply lines, causing him to draw from his large supply dumps that he had built up all over Italy. Our job was to cover the whole of Northern Italy, way behind the front lines and stop any further supplies from passing down southwards and so make him continue to draw on his dumps until he was forced to withdraw to enable him to shorten his supply lines.
We were also told the exact location of every British, American, Polish, Indian and other allied divisions and how many tanks and guns etc., they had against the estimated German strength in men and arms. It was estimated that we outnumbered the enemy 10 to 1 in guns. We were also told the objectives of each division and it was explained to us how the Indian division had to swing around Cassino hill and what our forces in the Anzio beach-head were to do if the Indian attack was successful, also what they would do if it was not.
The final objective was to reach a line around the Florence area and then just be content in holding same and keeping German troops in Italy who were badly needed on the Western and Russian fronts and also they would have to feed the population in Northern [deleted] Ireland [/deleted] [inserted] ITALY [/inserted] instead of us. As you all know, this is what happened, everything as it was planned except for our part in the push for the first few days.
The whole of the time that we were in Corsica we were under American Command. Next morning we were up long before dawn and as the first rays of light, R & Q and others were up on a dawn patrol and sweep, R came back with an oil cooler leak that made it u.s. (unserviceable for the rest of the day but Q did two more sweeps before darkness and did not see anything during the trips. That evening, just after I had got into bed a few big burtss [sic] of gunfire rang out and when I looked out of the tent it was like daylight outside. The whole sky was lit up by strings of flares that were slowly floating earthwards and the red, white and green balls of fire that rose up from the guns trying to shoot the flares from out of the sky. The heavy guns were concentrating on the bombers which we could hear quite clearly circling overhead and then a few moments later came the sound of bombs bursting. The raid lasted for just on half-an-hour. A further raid was carried out on the airfield next to ours at 4.0 a.m. Jerry certainly chose a good time for the raid (when we needed every available aircraft up flying).
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[inserted] 55 (A) [/inserted]
MAY 1944. [/underlined]
[photograph of a Spitfire with R. Barrett stood next to it]
[underlined] “Q” FOR QUEENIE.
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[inserted] 56 [/inserted]
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Next morning we were all up early and arrived at the ‘drome just as dawn was breaking. We were unable to move about at all until it was fully light because of the many unexploded bombs that were scattered around us. It was a pitiful sight that met my eyes when I toured our aircraft bays. Every aircraft that I came to was absolutley [sic] riddled with shrapnel which had pierced the oil, fuel and coolant tanks, the contents of which were spilled all over the ground. Some had their air bottles hit and on exploding they had blew away great chunks of the aircraft. Wings, bodies and tail units were riddled with holes. One aircraft I came to had burned itself out and a bomb must have landed directly on the tail of Q as the whole tail unit had been blown off. Both R and Q looked like nut-meg graters. Even my oil jug and my tool box that I kept at the side of the bay were full of holes and the boxes of cannon shells at 303 machine gun ammo lying near ready for re-arming the Spits’ guns had exploded.
When it was decided that not one of our flights aircraft were repairable we marked off all the unexploded bombs that we could find by ringing them with stones. There were three in my bay and there were many others along the taxing track which was covered with minute pieces of shrapnel. One bomb had gone off to approximately every 2 sq yards, everyone had to be very careful for a long time afterwards when walking through the long grass.
“A” Flight came off [deleted] better [/deleted] a little better than us, they had one aircraft left un-damaged which incidentally was the Squadron’s bogey, as it was always having trouble of some sort, they also had two others that were repairable.
Out of the 84 aircraft in our wing only 17 of them were able to take the air that day. I do not think the other wing fared any better than us. The American drome that received the 4.0 am. raid had many of their Thunderbolts destroyed and we learned later that 36 Mitchel bombers were also destroyed on another drome in Southern Corsica that same evening.
One of our Squadron’s petrol bowsers was also hit by shrapnel, luckily it was not the storage tank of the vehicle.
The only casualty on our Squadron was one of the guards and he was hit by shrapnel in the leg. You would not believe what the guard tent looked like after the raid unless you saw it. It if had one hole in it, it had ten thousand, even the mosquito nets and blankets of the guards were riddled. Luckily the flight was only a few yards away and we had dug a big trench nearby under a large fallen tree trunk. It most certainly saved their lives. The other Wing who had their camp site on the drome were not so lucky and the Australian Squadron suffered many [deleted] face [/deleted] [inserted] FATEL [sic] [/inserted] casualities. [sic] So you see it paid us to make these hundreds of trips between our camp site and the drome.
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[inserted] 56 A [/inserted]
[picture of the Italian coast line with Corsica and Sardinia]
[underlined] AREAS PATROLLED BY OUR SPITFIRES. [/underlined]
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[underlined] DESTRUCTION OF MONTI – CASSINO [/underlined]
[aerial photograph of the Abbey at Monti Cassino]
[underlined] MONESTARY [/underlined]
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[inserted] 57 [/inserted]
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On the whole the enemy could not achieve better results if he had walked around and had thrown the bombs into the bays. During the following few days the bomb disposal squad were busy letting unexploded bombs off every so often. Between the guard tent and our flight tent approx. 25 to 30 yards they dug out 17 unexploded 20 lb bombs. Most of the bombs used in the raid were fragmentation, they were a little larger than a hand grenade and they had a tail fin on them. They are dropped from the aircraft enclosed in a big container shaped like an ordinary big bomb which were about 5 ft long and held approx. 200 fragmentation bombs in each. One container that we picked up near to our stores tent was 14 ft long and must have held at least 500. A short while after the container leaves the aircraft it is electrically split in two with a result the small bombs are showered over a large area and explode on impact.
It was estimated that 50 planes took part in the raids and I think three were shot down. The aircraft were specially brought from Northern France to the South for the raid. One of our night fighters tagged onto the bombers and followed them back and discovered where they set out from and next day our bombers went out and gave them a hell of a pasting with fragmentation bombs just as they were about to fly back North. The rest of the following day the raid we spent working on, one of the repairable aircraft and made it serviceable after changing the propeller and riveting 50 odd patches onto it. For the following 3 days we worked from dawn until dusk salvaging another aircraft which was repairable. We had to take a wing off the aircraft (a hell of a job) and then take another wing off another Spitfire that was left with only one good wing and swap them over. Airalions, wing-tips had to be changed along with the prop and the radiators and oil cooler. It was really a job for Maintenance Unit and usually a Squadron was never allowed to touch such a big job. We also had to rivet on over a hundred patches of all shapes and sizes. When the job had been completed the aircraft looked as if it had a touch of the measles but it flew and that was all that mattered. Instrument men helped the riggers and the electricians helped the fitters in fact, everyone in all trades mucked in and did their bit to help someone else.
One morning the Group Captain landed and burst a tyre and as he thought a piece of shrapnel had caused the prang he had the whole personnel in the wing picking up shrapnel on the runway which was a mile and a quarter long and 200 yards wide during the afternoon. By this time replacements were arriving fast and on the 18th of May I was given a new Q and on its first day with me it carried out two sweeps. On May 20th our Flight Commander was shot down by flak in enemy terrority [sic] just North of Leghorn whilst on a 300 mile reconnaissance trip. We learned later that he had got out safely and had been taken prisoner of war. On Thursday the 25th whilst out on patrol the Squadron’s aircraft ran into some F.W. 190’s and an “A” Flight pilot managed to bag one and our Flight got three. Our new Flight Commander Flight Sergeant Skinner shot down one after a dog fight at the completion of which he found himself over an enemy airodrome [sic] and on going down lower to take a look at it he was able to destroy another German aircraft by straffing it as it took its run along the runway to take off.
Cont’d…../[page break]
[inserted] 57 A [/inserted]
[hand made poster for a Concert Party to be held on 8th June]
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[programme of events for the Concert Party]
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[inserted] 58 [/inserted]
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He then found that he had gone too far South during the chase and that he would not have enough petrol to get back, so he made for the Anjio beach ahead and just reached our lines as the petrol gave out and he managed to crash land in a field on friendly soil. He was back flying with the Squadron two days later. I saw the film of his combat which he managed to salvage from the plane’s camera gun, it was all very clear and interesting.
On the 28th we lost another aircraft through lack of fuel, only this time the pilot was not so lucky: he discovered he was short of petrol just after leaving the enemy coast line, he then panicked and turned back and crash landed in enemy terrority [sic] and was taken prisoner.
On Saturday the 3rd of June “A” Flight lost another good pilot when F/O Haggerty crashed into the sea in flames and three days later one of our “B” Flight pilots had to bale out when his engine over-heated and caught fire, but he got out and into his dinghy O.K. and was picked up by the Air Sea Rescue Service a few hours later and was back with us on the following day.
Saturday the 10th was a successful day when our aircraft straffed trucks, lorries and armoured vehicles badly needed by the Germans at the front, but once again they cut it fine and two of our aircraft had to make for our lines South and finally crash landed through lack of petrol and flying one of the Spitfires was Flt/Sgt Skinner who had previously done the same thing. One aircraft arrived back with not enough petrol left in its tank to enable the pilot to do the customary circuit before landing, he had to ask for an emergency landing and came straight in. When the pilot stepped out he only had 5 galls left. A new overload tank was immediately fitted when the engine was switched off and the tanks were filled and tested, oil was checked and the aircraft was up on another trip inside 1/2 hour.
The overload tanks were either 30, 45 or 90 galls and were fitted to the belly of the aircraft and they use the petrol from the overload tank first and then if the pilot ran into enemy or heavy gun-fire etc., they were able to drop the tank which enabled them to travel at extra speed and their main tanks were still full. It was hard work when the pilots dropped their tanks three times during one day as they often did.
On the 10th of June, we held our Squadron Concert, which was a 3 hour show and included 10 acts of sketches, tunes etc., it went off very well considering the little time we had to ourselves for rehersals. [sic] We built our own stage and rigged up curtains etc. I was in 3 of the sketches and in one of them along with 3 other chaps I did a sand-dance. I was dressed in satin brassiere and pretty flowered silk knickers, silk stockings held up with fancy coloured garters and on my head I wore a coloured turban and the lower part of my face was hidden by a yash-mak. The C.O. bought and brought all the clothes, make-up etc., in Cario [sic] and flew them into the Island for us. Two fellows painted some marvellous scenery on the backs of lorry covers. During the following weeks we staged the show at nearby units and at the local field hospital.
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[inserted] 59 [/inserted]
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During the whole of the time that I had with the new Q, my pilot was F/O Robertson and on my birthday I was very pleased when he received his second bar which made him Ft/Lt. he was vastly different from the other officer pilots. I liked him best out of the lot. The other Flt/Lt’s. P/O and F/O’s expected their crews to do all the cleaning but my pilot when he was not flying would often come and help me clean and polish up our aircraft and make it look spick and span. He also appreciated all the work that I did on the aircraft. I used to be proud of it when it took off and how it glistened and shone in the sun. I could pick it out from all the others a mile off when it was on the runway. The life of a Spitfire was 240 flying hours and during the whole of Q’s life I only knew my pilot once to fly in another aircraft and that was when Q was in on a inspection, he also would not let any other pilot fly in Q. Often he did two trips on the same day. In just over 100 days Q had finished it’s life of 240 operational hours and had done well over 125 trips, so you can see how busy I was. When any other aircraft went U/S at the last moment, it was always Q that took its place. During its whole life I think the worst trouble that I had with it was a couple of coolant leaks.
Flt/Lt Robertson had just finished his flying hours and he told me that he would finish flying when the old Q came to the end of its life and he did to [sic] except for one trip and that was when the Squadron flew its last trip before breaking up and on that occasion he paid me a tribute by flying in my new Q.
Now for more extracts from my diary. On June 11th lorries straffed during two of the trips carried out that day.
On June 12th Flt/Lt Robertson straffed lorries during his first trip of the day.
June the 13th (my 20th birthday) Q up on sweep. Bomber escort and straffing trips. On guard at night and warmed up aircraft ready for dawn patrol. That day we lost another aircraft (letter Z). It was last seen straffing a convoy of lorries near Florence. The pilot came back to us two months later, he had managed to escape capture and work his way down Southwards through the enemy’s lines and back into our own.
The following days were very much the same. Evenings spent attending concert rehersals, [sic] doing washing in stream or walks to the nearest village for a drink at the wine bar.
On Saturday the 17th of June I had Q away at 4.0 a.m. It was pitch dark when it became airborne to cover the landings during the invasion of Elba. Monte Christos Pianosa Islands. Elba was only 15 miles away from us and was the island Napoleom [sic] was exiled to. All three islands were in a parallel line along the coast of Corsica and they looked very picturesque when the sun set behind them.
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[inserted] 60 [/inserted]
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Our Wing carried out a constant patrol of the island of Elba during the following few days until the whole of the island had been propped up. During one of these patrols one of our “A” Flt pilots shot down 2 ME. 109’s in less than 40 secs and then in the excitement he fired another short burst at another aircraft that came into his sight during the following few seconds and he did not know until the aircraft peeled over to go to its doom and he saw the white star on its side that it was an American aircraft. The mistake was quite understandable as the Arncobra and the NE. 109 were very similar. The same pilot had previosuly [sic] shot down 3 enemy aircraft in one day during the siege of Malta. He had been shot down by an American aircraft when he was in North Africa but he managed to bale out. Later he was awarded the D.F.M. and a commission.
The invasion of Elba was postponed twice through leakage of information and in the subsequent fighting the French received heavier casualties than was expected, 90% of the invading troops were Frenchmen or men from the French colonies. I remember during the nights the ambulances driving past our camp carrying the wounded to a nearby field hospital after they had been brought back from Elba and landed at Bastia. The island had no real airfield but it possessed a small flat strip from which an occasional German aircraft carried out reconnaisance [sic] work over our airfields in Corsica. I was on guard one night a couple of evenings after the big raid when one of the aircraft came over to see what damage had been done. When the telephone rang and we were told that enemy aircraft were approaching (I was in bed at the time) I soon got dressed and ran to the slit trench under the big fallen tree trunk and put on my steel helmet. A few moments later we could hear the drome of an aircraft which began to circle our airfield. I thought that we were in for anothe [sic] big raid and the Jerry was after our replacements, then all of a sudden the aircraft dropped a magnisium [sic] flare and it became daylight for a couple of seconds. After about ten of these flashes the aircraft made off and I breathed a sigh of relief. I bet they got some good pictures of the pile of aircraft that they had destroyed during the raid
On the 20th of June Q went up on its own to do reconnaisance [sic] over Leghorn Harbour but it did not see anything of interest and there was no shipping in it so it was not worthwhile sending a bomber force over there. Although they did not know, I expect many of the people living on the harbour edge owe their lives to that aircraft of mine, as that trip saved them from a big bombing that had been planned. During the following days it was straffing sweeps and bomber escorts once again and my evenings were spent playing cricket or cards, reading a book or going to the cinema.
[underlined] June 24th – A Rest Leave in Corsia [sic] [/underlined]
After coming off guard on Saturday morning I packed the necessary kit that I would use during the week following and then I helped to load the rations onto the lorry that was to take us to the rest camp. There were six of us in all, one fellow from each flight or section of the Squadron.
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[photograph of shoreline with boat in front]
[symbol] RIVER GOING OUT INTO SEA [symbol]
[underlined] SITE OF REST CAMP [/underlined]
[photograph of road going through mountains]
[underlined] ROAD TO REST CAMP [/underlined]
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[photograph of Hotel du Pont in Porto]
[underlined] 1/2 MILE FROM REST CAMP [/underlined]
[photograph of the road lined with trees]
ROAD TO HOTEL [symbol]
[symbol] RIVER.
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[inserted] 61 [/inserted]
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Our instructions from the C.O. before setting off were that there were no restrictions whatsoever and that we could do just what we liked as long as we enjoyed ourselves and did not get shot or drowned.
We finally set off at 8.30 a.m. on our 4 hour journey across Corsica. There were very few main roads on the Island and what there were could no means be called good ones. All of them wound back and forth, up down and around the mountainside, except for the first part of our journey which was across flat country. After about 1/2 hour after setting off we passed the camp housing the Germans that the French troops had taken prisoner on Elba. They did not look very much like the supermen of the super-race that they thought they were. In fact, they looked a sorrowful crowd standing behind high barbed wire fences with machine guns trained upon them at every corner of the compound.
Most of the villages that we passed by or through were built high upon a hillside miles from anywhere and away from the malaria danger areas on the flat land at the foot of the hillsides. We stopped at a wine bar in one of the villages where we had a drink along with sandwiches that we had all brought with us, then we continued our ride and passed through a pine forest in which many lumber camps were situated. On the other side of the road at various times we could see trees that already had been cut and rolled down to the roadside where they had been piled up ready to be transported away to the saw mills. Then in places we could see the trees that were marked denoting to the lumber jacks that they were next to be felled and the trees unmarked were to be left alone. In some areas in the forest all the trees had been felled and only a mass of tree trunks sticking out from the ground remained to be seen. The lumber-jacks lived in log cabins that were built near to the road.
During the whole 4 hour journey we passed through no more than seven or eight villages and when we were approximately half-way to our destination the road became a stone track and at the time we were over 5,000 ft above sea-level and were feeling a little cold. A little higher up the mountain was snow and ice formations which we could see clearly when we were not driving through a cloud which seemed to envelope us like a fog each time we entered one. At times we were able to look downward into ravines and valleys and see the road that we had passed along 1/2 an hour previously. At the bottom of each ravine one would be certain of seeing a stream of some sort and sometimes a river rolling peacefully along and looking like a piece of silver ribbon a long way below us. These streams were formed by rain-water and water from the mountain springs which had found there [sic] way down to the base of the mountain. At various points I saw the water cascading from the rocks directly into a stream hundreds of feet below. The scenery was truly wonderful and no words of any person on this earth can fully describe its beauty. One grim reminder to make one drive carefully were the many wrecks that we saw of vehicles that had gone over the road edge into the depths below. On reaching our destination which was a village named Porto, we found that the bungalow at which we were to stay during our leave was situated on the waters edge on the opposite side of the river to the village.
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[underlined] ROAD TO NEXT VILLAGE [/underlined]
[scenic photograph of mountain road]
[underlined] CALACASS DE PIANA [/underlined]
[scenic photograph of mountain road]
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[photograph of mountain road]
[underlined] ROAD TO NEXT VILLAGE. [/underlined]
[photograph of local Corsicans with goats and mule]
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[inserted] 62 [/inserted]
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We left the lorry on the road and carried the rations and our kit down to the waters edge. By this time one of the fellows whose leave ended that day had arrived at our side of the river on a raft made of split tree trunks lashed together resting on four 50 gallon empty petrol drums. We loaded the raft until it was only a few inches above the water line and then one of the fellows took the raft back to the other side of the river where it was unloaded and then he brought back the raft and fetched us. The raft was guided by the fellows on it pulling on a wire that stretched from one side of the river to the other. We had to be very careful that the raft did not stray too far from the wire whilst on board.
On reaching the other side we carried our kit up to the bungalow a few yards away. Two of the rooms had been rented by our C.O. Four of us settled in one room and the other three in the next one to us. Number 7 in the party was the permanent cook who stayed at the bungalow until recalled back to the Squadron. In the rest of the building was a wine bar and a Corsican and his wife and their 8 year old daughter who lived there.
Here is a description of the scenery that I looked out upon as I sat at a small table with a glass of wine before me, surrounded by other tables and wicker chairs placed on the big veranda in front of the bungalow. Overhead was a trellis work of caculiptus [sic] leafy branches.
All would be silent and still except for the singing of the birds and the rustling of the leaves above, waving in a gentle breeze and the sound of the waves breaking on the seashore and the rippling of the nearby stream. Also a crow would occasionally break this peaceful quietness caused by one or more of the many cockerells [sic] that were around me or a dog would bark somewhere over in the village. In front of me as I sat there a small stream ran past to join the river on my right, behind the stream ran the pebbly beach for 30 yards where it joined the strip of golden sand that swept down for a further 20 yards where it joined the deep blue sea of the Meditteranian [sic] which, in turn, on the horizon met the light blue sky showing up the vast contrast in the two colours. The sky would be cloudless and empty except for the massive red and golden ball of the sun that radiated its heat over the whole scene helping to make it a glorious day.
To my rear stood a wood of Eauculiptus [sic] trees intermingled among them on the ground grew masses of ferns which were inhabited by brown and green lizards and a few snakes of which were approximately 4 ft long and around the many stagnant pools in the wood were millions of mosquitoes. A tamed wild boar was tied up to one of the trees with a piece of rope at the other end which was tied to one of the boar’s rear legs. It was being fattened up ready to be eaten by the French family. Every time I passed by it gave a grunt either as a greeting or a sign of recognition.
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[deleted] 63 [/deleted]
[inserted] 62A [/inserted]
[photograph of rock formation]
ON ROAD TO NEXT [underlined] VILLAGE. [/underlined]
[coloured photograph of rock formation]
[underlined] A FEW MILES FROM REST CAMP [/underlined]
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[inserted] 63 [/inserted]
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To my left was the continuation of the wood, river and beach until it reached the rocks which gradually sloped upwards forming themselves into the mountain-side that encircled the bay. The mountain-side was not barren at all but was covered with one mass of variety of green trees, shrubs, bramble, ferns and here and there were dots of various colours where wild flowers grew. On the other side of the mountain was a valley, then came the second range of mountains which rose above the first, their barren rugged rocks towered up into the sky. Lastly, on my right across a 60 ft wide river and at the top of which stood the quaint little village of Porto which comprised of a few stone-built cottages and houses. The most recent addition to the village at that time was the hotel which was quite a modern one. In front of the village facing the sea on a large rock formation stood what I presume was used as a Watch Tower in Napolion’s [sic] day. The brick built building was approximately 30 ft x 30 ft x 60 ft high. The only entrance was through a hole in one of the walls near to the top of the structure, so, in olden days they must have used a ladder of some kind to get inside it. I was unable to explore the interior myself as there was no means of getting up to that hole and it was impossible to climb up the wall without risking breaking my neck, and as I had no wish to die I never attempted to get in. The walls were over 6 ft in thickness but they were all badly cracked caused by the heat and their age. It looked as though the whole tower would come crumbling to the ground if a very strong gale blew up. To the rear of the village rose more pink and yellow rock formations mostly covered with green shrubs and which also formed themselves into a mountain-side.
At the moment that I am thinking of as I sat at that little table sipping my wine the stillness was broken by the woman who owned the bungalow starting up her gramaphone [sic] which would persist in sticking and therefore was continually playing the same few notes over and over again.
I will now describe the main events of my weeks leave, some of which I found quite amusing and I hope that you do to.
On the Saturday that I arrived in the afternoon the village dance was held on our large vernada [sic] in front of our rooms. People attended from all the neighbouring villages. The music was supplied by an old boy with one leg who played an ancient italian accordian. [sic] the only thing wrong was that he only knew two tunes, so after he had played them over and over again about five times straight off we were all fed up with hearing them and we knew them note after note. As far as I could see the Corsican way of dancing consisted of not much more than shuffling around. All the children enjoyed themselves immensely, to go to a dance was quite an occasion and a day off from school and a day’s outing for them. Some of the older girls invaded our bedrooms to see what they could cadge off of us and their parents would buy anything that we had to sell. Of course, we had all been forewarned and brought things along with us. The only food the villagers saw was what they grew themselves, therefore, we had no difficulty in trading our rations of Bully Beef and other things that we did not like, for eggs.
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[symbol] [underlined] WE WALKED ALONG TOP [/underlined] AFTER LEAVING WINE BAR LATE AT NIGHT.
[photograph of Hotel du Pont and bridge]
[photograph of Hotel du Pont]
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[photograph of Hotel du Pont taken from under the bridge]
[photograph of road and road sign]
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[inserted] 64 [/inserted]
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Bully-beef was a luxury to them and eggs were the same to us. When the dance had ended and the families had set out to walk to their various villages we went across the river on our raft and walked through the village and along the road bordered by huge trees until we reached the hotel where we stayed drinking wine until 11.30 p.m. Lovely big plums and cherries were offered free with our drinks. Whilst we were in the hotel we made friends with some American airmen who were staying at a rest-camp run by their Squadron. Those fellows were the best set of Yanks that I ever met, we got on fine together. Our friendship started by myself offering to buy them a drink and then they returned the compliment after which we joined the two parties together. We had a jolly evening and a sing-song and agreed to meet again on the following evening. When we arrived back to the riverside it was pitch dark and we took a quarter of an hour scrmabling [sic] and stumbling over rocks in finding our mooring stage. Admitted, we were all quite merry at the time. With seven of us aboard, the raft was nearly below water. I should not have been surprised if it had sunk at any moment during the crossing. We eventually arrived at the other-side just as it struck midnight quite safely. I jumped ashore first and after a big splash I found myself knee deep in water. The tide had come in during the evening and so the mooring post was then out in the river. I thought as soon as we grounded on the raft that we had reached dry land but I found out my error to my cost, so as I was already wet I carried the rest of the chaps on my back from the raft to the dry land.
Sunday morning we were awakened by a nanny-goat hawing outside our window, someone threw a boot at it and it was quiet for a time but it soon started up again and caused us all to get up early. The fellow who threw the boot was sorry he did it when a little later he found out that the goat had chewed a lump out of his boot whilst it had been quiet. Of course, it was late to what time we were used to getting up. After breakfast we made a landing stage with big rocks to make sure we would not land in the water again at night. We had just completed the job and I was standing on the raft when suddenly I started to lose my balance, after about a minute of waving my arms about like a windmill trying to right myself when I finally fell backwards into the river which created a good laugh among the other fellows.
Besides the raft we possessed a small boat or rather I called it a floating coffin as it was shaped and it was the same size as one.
That afternoon another dance was held with the same two tunes for music. I went for a walk along the beach to get out of the way of those master-pieces of music.
In the evening as the raft and boat were at the wrong side of the river we had to go another way round to get to the hotel. Our route took us through the wood and before we could get onto a small road leading one way to the hotel bridge and the other to the village of Piana, we had to climb up a 150 ft cliff of sheer rock. If we had been ordered to do that climb we would have moaned like anything but as it was we tackled it in good spirits.
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[inserted] 65 [/inserted]
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When we reached the top we had walked along the road for a little way we found a path leading up the cliff that we could have come up. That evening there was seventeen of us in the party. We came back to the river the village way and when we arrived at the waters edge there was no raft and no boat, so we had to steal or rather borrow one of the villager’s boats and take ourselves across in it and then one of the fellows undresses and rowed the boat back in the nude and then he swam back to the bungalow side. The water must have been icy cold as it was then well past midnight.
On Monday morning we were again woken up earlier than we wanted to. This time it was by the woman of the house jabbering away about a petit boat, we eventually discovered that she was trying to tell us that the small boat and the raft had drifted away during the night. We found the raft 150 yards away down stream in a waterway leading off from the river but the small boat was nowhere to be seen. It had drifted down the river and out into the open sea in the Bay of Porto.
After salvaging the raft and returning it to the mooring post, we had breakfast which the cook had just finished preparing for us, then we all went up to the old Watch Tower high above the sea. From here, whilst I was looking at the wonderful view of the whole bay I caught sight of our boat which had been washed ashore two miles or more around the bay, so that meant more salvage work for some of the boys that afternoon. I contented myself sitting in a chair reading a book when the stillness of the afternoon was suddenly broken by a series of piercing sqeals, [sic] snorts and grunts issuing forth from somewhere at the rear of the bungalow. On rushing found we found that six wild boars had ventured out from the wood and were attacking the one tied up. We drove them off by throwing stones, the dog went after them until one turned round and bit him in the back.
As it was the Yanks last day at the Rest Camp we held a farewell party in the hotel that evening. We put all the tables together in a line and sat around them, everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves. In the middle of our sing-song we held quite a good cabaret. In our party we had a singer and a tap dancer and a professional comedian. The Yanks had two good singers and there were nineteen of us in the party that evening. Later an old man came in, if it had been a hundred years previously, he was just as you would have expected a Corsican bandit to look like. We made him join in the fun, you should have seen him with the huge cigar which one of the Yanks had presented to him, even the old French landlord did his bit of entertaining, he gave us imitations of Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo, he had us holding our sides with laughter. The landlady used to like us to hold our parties as we had a jolly good time. All the previous parties held there the people started fighting etc. She used to look after us very well keeping us suppled with fruit to eat etc.
After saying goodbye to each other we made for the bungalow and arrived this time without anything eventful happening.
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[symbol] [underlined] VILLAGE. BUNGALOW ON OTHER SIDE OF THE HIL [sic] [/underlined]
[photograph of village of Porto]
[underlined] GOLFE DE PORTO [/underlined]
[photograph of Hotel du Pont de Porto in the valley of the mountains and woods]
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[inserted] 66 [/inserted]
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On Tuesday morning I was woken up at 6.0 a nanny-goat coming into the bedroom, I shoo’d him out but not before he had left traces of his visit on the floor. During the morning I managed my first few strokes of swimming with the aid of a Mae West life-saving waist-coat. After that I took my rifle onto the beach and did a bit of target shooting at bottles at a range of 150 yards but every time that I fired, the report sounded like a land mine going off as it echoed and re-echoed throughout the mountains. It was so loud that I finally gave it up because I was frightening nearby cattle. I then tried my hand at fishing but I did not meet with any success and when one of the old boys from the village came along and caught a 10” fish within 5 minutes I gave it up. In the evning [sic] we all decided to go for a nice walk which finally amounted to stopping and having a rest and a drink at every wine bar that we came to.
Wednesday morning we were all up early as we were going for a hike around the mountain-side, I had the job of cutting the sandwiches, by the time we had finished them they looked like doorsteps. Two other Yanks whom we had made friends with and who were spending their last days leave at Porto, came along with us. We walked round and round, up and up, passing by a mixture of rocky ground and green shubbery [sic] and in places it was cultivating grape vineyards, orchards of pears, apples, peaches and plums so we did not go short of fruit during our walk.
At noon, after passing roadside family shrines, we entered a village called “Ota” I think we must have been some of the first Englishmen to pay a visit to the village since the war had begun as nearly all the inhabitants turned out to have a look at us and we were followed all the time by a flock of children, and when the Yanks started to give them lumps of milk chocolate and handfuls of boiled sweets etc., the flock grew to a multitude. We stopped at the village wine bar whilst we ate our sandwiches and refreshed ourselves at the village fountain spring before retracing our steps back to Porto. It was a little easier going back as it was a downhill all the way. We were all so tired on arrival at the bungalow that we all went to sleep, after we had partaken a meal. In the evening we held another farewell party at the hotel. Just outside the hotel was a spring from which emmitted [sic] lovely cool drinking water (see photo). During the famous songs of the R.A.F. were sung by us and in return the Yanks sang their Air Force songs and all sorts of wine was flowing – Cap Corsa, O’de Ve, Muscat, Veno, Cognac etc., They all went down with cheese and biscuits that we had brought along with us.
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[photograph of a village in the hillside]
[underlined] VILLAGE THAT WE WALKED UP TO [/underlined]
[photograph of mountains]
[underlined] CALANQUES DE PIANA [/underlined]
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[photograph of man on donkey beside a spring]
[underlined] SPRING OUTSIDE HOTEL [/underlined]
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[inserted] 67 [/inserted]
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One amusing incident was as follows: To summarise the landlady to order another round of drinks we used to clap our hands together, but during that evening we clapped after someone had sung a song, therefore, our glasses were filled up again and someone had to fork up 200 francs. We found it amusing after a few rounds and we were clapping approx. every five or six minutes and the party lasted for over 3 1/2 hours. When the party finally ended the Yanks had said a farewell speech, it was 1.30 a.m. We parted after doing a ring-a-ring-a-roses whilst singing Auld Lang Syne in the middle of the village. We did a lot in strengthening Anglo/U.S relations during the week even if it was not physically. I do not think that such a good time has ever been had at a party representing two countries. Everyone seemed to have one leg shorter than the other during the walk home, except for one and we had to carry him half the way. It took six of us to lift him as he was a tubbish fellow. I had a good laugh when we were getting the chaps across the river on the raft, what a time it was and when we arrived at the bungalow, one of the fellows went to lean against the door which was not closed and he went clean through the opening. We kept finding different bits out of his watch on the veranda all the next day, we also found one of the fellows wallet floating in the river next morning and someone’s handkerchief on the other side of the river but everyone enjoyed themselves and it was the first leave since coming overseas for all of us.
I spent a quiet day on Thursday going for a walk in the woods and a swim in the river during the morning and wrote letters and read a book during the rest of that day. The only event of interest was when the small boat capsized and sank, three of the fellows were in it at the time, two dived overboard but the captain went down with his ship, luckily the water was not too deep where it went down. In the evening we tried our luck in fishing again only in the dark this time, four of us went out, split in two parties, we went up-stream and the others down-stream. I did not have any success and after 1/2 an hour the other fellow knocked my bait of wet bread and flour off of the rock and into the river so we had to pack up. The other party did not fare any better, once we heard a lot of shouting and splashing coming from down-stream but we learned later that one of the fellows in the other party had over-balanced when throwing out his line and followed it into the river. Once they did get a bite but the fish had bitten the line into two so they lost their hook and had to give fishing up as a bad job. Some of the younger villagers when they wanted fish threw a hand grenade into the river, the force of the explosion stunned all the fish and they came floating to the surface.
Next day we arose at 9.0 a.m. and I began to tackle a big pile of washing (after I had had breakfast) and if there was one thing I hated doing it was washing clothes – but as soon as I had commenced the 8 year old girl from the bungalow came out and gave me a hand or rather she did most of it for me. She managed to get the clothes far whiter than I could just by rubbing it together. At that time we were without bread to eat as half of what we had brought along with us had gone mouldy and we had to throw it all away on the Wednesday. Also, someone had accidentally mixed the sugar with the salt.
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[inserted] 68 [/inserted]
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That afternoon I think the villagers must have thought an invasion had started when we built ourselves a 75 yard range and five of us firec [sic] over 300 rounds of rifle and sten gun ammunition in less than 1/2 an hour. My rifle was red hot after firing 60 rounds. When we all did a bit of rapid firing together the noise was terrific. Our net bag for the afternoon was a dozen tin cans with big holes blasted in them. By this time none of us had any cash left and as we wanted to hold a farewell party for ourselves, we took all the rations that we had left and what we did not want along with us to the hotel that evening and traded with them for wine.
Next morning we did not get up until 10 a.m. as we were unable to have a meal as we had no milk, sugar or bread left, so we set to and cleaned up the rooms and packed our kit and then we sat down to wait for the following week’s rest leave party from the Squadron to arrive. When they did we gratefully helped them to carry their rations across the river and then we helped ourselves to a couple of their loaves of bread and made some tea for them and ourselves with their milk and sugar.
We started our homeward journey at 3.30 p.m. and the villagers gave us a royal send off. We stopped in one village for a sandwich and cup of coffee. One village that we passed through must have been expecting a very important visitor as every inhabitant were lining the roadsides and were dressed in their Sunday best and all the children held a big bunch of wild flowers in their hands. The village bell was ringing for all it was worth and Free French flags flew from every house and cottage. If we had been travelling the other way, I bet we would have got bunches of flowers thrown at us, but alas, as the old saying goes “all good things must come to an end” as did my week’s rest leave, when our lorry rolled into camp at 8.15 p.m. [underlined] that same evening. [/underlined]
It was back to the old routine next day (2nd July) when I saw Q off after fitting a bigger overload tank to it. It went on a bomber escort trip to near the French Italian border. The target for the bombers were fuel dumps which received many hits with bombs. When the aircraft left the target it was burning well and smoked reached to a height of 5,000 ft. Five days later a similar raid was carried out on ammunition, bomb and fuel dumps near Turin when 36 fighters from our wing escorted 108 Mitchells. Smoke from the fires started reaching a height of 11,000 ft. Next day our Spitfires did an extremely long trip to a spot near to Venice. The trip was a 3 hour one, we had to fit a 90 gallon overload tank which gave each aircraft a total load of petrol of 175 gallons and the consumption rate was just under a gallon a minute, so you can see almost every gallon of fuel that it could carry for the trip. That night the pilots were due to start practicing night flying but just after I had warmed up the first aircraft ready for take-off, the flight was cancelled so I did not lose a night’s sleep after all. It was lovely running up during the night when all was pitch black except for the illuminous dials and instruments in the cockpit and the lovely blue flames coming from the exhaust stacks.
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[inserted] 69 [/inserted]
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On Tuesday (11th July) I was up early and helped to take down our tent and load it onto a lorry along with our kits. We then climbed on top of both and then we set out in convoy for a 70 mile ride, once more along narrow twisting roads and up steep climbs and down declines through many quaint and picturesque villages and countryside. We arrived on the N.W. side of the island at noon and proceeded a couple of miles inland to a village named Callenzana. Much to our delight we found out that our new camp site was right outside the village, sitauted [sic] in a few fields dotted with nice shady trees. The village itself was at the base of a mountain that rose up into the sky behind it and the streets which were no more than alley-ways except for the main one which was comparable with an English lane. Chickens, goats etc., roamed freely along the alley-ways. The village was bulit [sic] on a big slope and rose up in layers. All the houses were built of stone and were very old and quaint. Our arrival was greeted by a village turn-out and smiles from pretty girls and the waving hands of children.
After erecting our tent we went to our new strip about 3 miles away and we arrived there just in time to see our Squadron aircraft arrive and land at their new base. We immediately re-fuelled and did a Daily Inspection on each of the 21 aircraft that landed. It must have been very hard for the pilots coming from a wide runway 1 1/4 miles long to a very narrow one only 700 yards long. Our strip was the smallest of the three in the area. One of the Squadrons on our strip had to taxi their aircraft across the main road on their way to and from the runway.
The road to the drome from the camp was one of the worst in Europe, we nearly got shook to pieces every time we did the ride as it was so rough and uneven.
Next morning at our new camp we had 12 aircraft flying on a bomber escort trip to a sopt [sic] 80 miles North of Spazia. That same evening we explored the village and discovered many wine bars, fruit and barbers shops. To climb from the bottom of the village to the top was quite a breath-taking task, but the scene that met one’s eyes on reaching the end of those cobblestoned streets made it well worthwhile. Two of my pals and I made friends with one of the families in the village, an old woman and her grand-daughter and we were always at their house for an evening when we had no-where else to go. Of course, the language question was a little difficult but between us all we managed to keep the conversation going all the time. The girl named Andre was 16 years old and was a cripple. The woman in peace-time used to import many things from France to sell in the village. She bought quite a number of things for us to resell. Of course, when war broke out her business was no more, as no goods whatsoever came into the island during the whole 6 years of war. The prices that we could get for second-hand clothing etc., was terrific but so was anything one wanted to buy, our service pay did not go very far. It was a good job we received money from other sources.
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[inserted] 70 [/inserted]
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We had many crashes on the strip through aircraft running off of the narrow run-way after getting a burst tyre when landing on the very stony ground and through over-shooting because of its shortness. One good thing for us was that all the aircraft were parked in bays very near to each other, so we did not have to walk 1/4 of a mile or more each time we went out to our aircraft from the flight tent.
I soon found on exploring the camp’s surroundings on my first day off a nice little pool about 50 ft in diameter and it was reached after a little climb and walk about half a mile from camp. The stream which ran into the pool came directly down from the mountain high above. Once the pool reached a certain level the water ran out at a certain point forming itself into a stream once more continuing its journey down the mountain-side. The water was as clear as a crystal, was lovely and ice cold, I think that I used to enjoy my bathe there after finishing work each night more than anything else at that time. I used to get so oily and even if it was 10.0 clock at night when I finished work I would get my torch and go for a daily climb and dip in the pool. It was lovely there on a moonlight night when all was quiet except for the sound of splashing water as it rushed over the rocks. I used to love to go there on my day off and have a bathe and then do some washing whilst standing in the pool on one of the big smooth rocks that encircled me. Then I used to sun-bathe in the nude for a while and read a book at the same time. After an hour or so of this I would get dressed and do a bit of climbing and work my way back to camp in time for dinner.
Things went on as usual but flying eased off a little, every so often of an afternoon half the flight managed to get a trip down to the sandy beach at Calvi, a few miles away for a dip in the sea.
After we had been at our camp for a few days the Germans began to get interested in us as at dusk two or three evenings running a reconnaisance [sic] aircraft approached the Island, but the warning was given in time on each occasion and it was driven away. As we were the only Squadron on the Wing with high altitude Spitfires it fell to us to have two aircraft in immediate readiness. That amounted to having two aircraft being ready to take off at a moments notice. The aircraft was parked near the end of the run-way with a starter battery plugged in and the pilot sitting strapped into the cockpit. Throughout the day different pilots, aircraft and crews took two hour shifts at being on readiness. The signal to take off used to be a yellow vary pistol cartridge which was fired from the control tower as soon as they received the word from the radio location unit that enemy aircraft were approaching. On top of this job through having the high altitude, Spits we had to maintain a constant patrol of two aircraft over a convoy that was forming off Cape Corse (The Northern tip of Corsica). Whilst we were on these jobs the personnel on the other Squadrons had one long holiday.
We took every piece of armour plating and the four machine guns out of the aircraft that we used for readiness, leaving them with an armourment [sic] of just two 20 mm cannons. This was to be able to make them be able to climb at a much faster rate.
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[underlined] AUGUST 1944 [/underlined]
[photograph of men on the beach]
[symbol] ME.
[underlined] SOME OF OUR PATROL ON THE BEACH AT CALVI [/underlined]
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[inserted] 71 [/inserted]
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We took every piece of armour plating and the four machine guns out of the aircraft that we used for readiness, leaving them with an armourment [sic] of just two 20 mm cannons. This was to be able to make them be able to climb at a much faster rate.
With regard to the patrols, two aircraft would take off before dawn 40 minutes later two more would take off and when they met up with the other two they took over and the first two came back to base and so it went on throughout the day and if they went U/S we had to work hard and get them serviceable in time for when they were due to take off on their next trip.
You can guess what Tuesday the 22nd of July was like Q alone did four trips and after each I had to refill it with petrol, oil etc., and do my daily inspection between one of them. That day our Squadron did twenty operations. At 6.0 p.m. I went on readiness with Q. Dusk was gradually turning into darkness when the stillness of the evening was broken by the sound of a report from a pistol and a yellow ball of flame went soaring up into the sky in an arc over the runway and burnt itself out on the other side. I never had time to see it land, the pilot was busy priming the engine whilst I ran round and took off the pitot-head cover and then I pressed the battery button. Luckily the engine fired and picked up first time. Before the propeller had turned a dozen times I had the starter plug out of the engine and had given the thumbs up sign to the pilot, within half a minute the pilot had taxied out and was opening his throttle to take off but unluckily by the time the two aircraft had reached the altitude the enemy had turned tail and made for [deleted] its [/deleted] [inserted] THEIR [/inserted] base. It must have heard our aircraft were coming up after him over his wireless. Whilst on readiness we never had let the engines get below a certain temperature otherwise the pilot would have to wait until the engine had warmed up before he could take off.
Another thing that happened, if we let the starter batteries go flat then the engine would not start and we would have to run to another dispersal sometimes 200 yds away and drag another very heavy battery trolley to our aircraft and plug it in. By that time all the other Squadron’s aircraft perhaps had taken off and another Squadron’s aircraft would be landing so that your pilot would have to wait all the longer before getting off. This only happened to me once and that was enough. By the time I had fetched another battery I was sweating and snorting like a pig.
We lost one aircraft during this patrol work. What happened is still a mystrey. [sic] The loss was put down to the pilot switching on his oxygen supply for 10,000 ft and not altering it when he climbed to a height of 15,000 ft as a result he must have blacked out and crashed into the sea.
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On the 30th of July I saw Q off when the bombers appeared overhead from Southern bases in Sardinia and escorted them over Southern France where they dropped leaflets.
On the 1st of August work was started on new dispersals far away from the runway and up in the hills, we did not want a repeat performance of the Poretta raid. I was up at 3.45 a.m. that morning and I was driven along with two of our pilots to another aerodrome and saw them off in two of our Squadron’s aircraft that had landed there U/S a few days previously.
Later on in the day I saw Q off on its last trip from our drome and by the time we had finished dispersing our aircraft that night it was 10.45 p.m. and although I was feeling very tired I went to my pool for my nightly bath as soon as I got back to camp.
Next day we put our concert on at an American camp and it went off without a hitch and was a big success. On the following day Q went off to North-Africa for a major inspection. I was very sorry indeed to see my old faithful go. She was still as good as when I first received her when new. I certainly think she did her bit in th- [sic] war and was worth every penny that she cost to make. It was a pity that she never shot any enemy aircraft down but then many Spitfires have crashed on their first trip. My Q was the first aircraft to finish its full life and whilst I was on the Squadron, all the rest were lost before they had flown 240 hrs.
On the 6th of August I fetched my new aircraft from the inspection flight after it had received an Acceptance check and saw it off on its test flight. My new pilot was Flt/Sgt Connor who was a Scotsman. The aircraft was a brand new one but it had a very rough finish on it and no matter how hard I tried I could not get it to glisten like the old Q. Its maiden trip was helping to escort 200 bombers on a raid on Milan, it came back with an oil leak from one of its engine pumps and I spent the rest of the day taking off the propeller, mending the leak and replacing the propeller once more.
The next day “A” Flt who were the advanced party on our [deleted] recent [/deleted] [inserted] NEXT MOVE [/inserted] move off to the staging assembly point near Calvi and the following day was one of the most hectic days of my life. Now that “A” Flt had leftm [sic] six of us Flight Mechanics remained to look after the Squadron’s 21 aircraft. The flight was split into two parties, and we went to meals at different times so ensurring [sic] that someone was always on the drome to look after the aircraft. This applied the same to the other trades.
I was up at 3.45 a.m. that morning as I was on the early party, so three of us F.M’s saw the first two aircraft off at dawn patrol and also the next two 40 minutes later. During the 40 minutes interval we directed other aircraft down from the dispersal bays in the hills. After the second two had taken off I just had enough time to walk from one end of the runway back to the flight tent (mid-way up the run-way) when it was time for the first patrol to land and that meant walking to the far end to guide them back to their dispersal points.
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By the time I had refuelled and checked the oil and coolants, airframe etc., two more aircraft had to be seen out – then it meant walking to the other end of the runway and see the 2nd patrol in and so it went on. I was certainly glad when the second party arrived at 8.0 a.m. to take over and relieve us for breakfast. After which we immediately went back to the drome and things went smoothly until a strong wind came up and put our runway U/S for landing. To keep up the patrols it was decided that the aircraft would take off from our drome and land on a near by [inserted] ONE [/inserted] which possessed a much wider runway. By that time the late party were due to go up to camp for early dinner so that meant splitting half the flt in half. Two F.M’s stayed to see the patrols off and went to the other drome along with one each of the other trades and we took with us a few tools, oil cans, oil, coolant, spare wheels etc. When we arrived one patrol had already landed there and I had to check and refuel them immediately. As the hours went by we gradually received more and more of our aircraft landing on the new drome. I was just about feeling fed up when Q landed with another oil leak which took me half an hour to rectify. At 4.0 p.m. the wind dropped and our strip was serviceable, therefore, we had to reverse the procedure and let the aircraft take off from St Catherines and land on our own strip. By dusk we had gathered all of our flock together at base. Was I glad when I saw the last patrol of the day land, dispersed and checked. I never want to spend another day like that, I was so tired that as soon as I got back from my [deleted] pad [/deleted] [inserted] POOL [/inserted] and my head had touched my pillow I was fast asleep.
On the 12th of August we sent ten of our aircraft to Straff a Radar Station at Nice. First of all they dropped their overload tank on reaching the target so interfering with the enemy’s wireless for range finding etc. also to create panic by making the Germans think that they were dropping bombs. 45 gallon tanks were shaped very similar to a 1000 lb bomb and being full of petrol and air some would explode and burst into flames on hitting the ground after being dropped from a great height. On return from the raid we had to fit the aircraft with new 45 gallon tanks then fill and test them – this took us until 11.0 p.m. that night. At midnight the order came through to change them again and replace with 90 gallon overload tanks. As a result we were draining the 45’s long before dawn on the following morning. At 10.0 a.m. twelve aircraft from each Squadron of the wing took off to Straff the Radar Station near Marseilles. Q was to be last to go in and over the target out of all the aircraft taking part in the raid. My pilot took a dim view of his position for straffing as by the time he went on all the guns would be trained on him. Our Intelligence must have been very good as all the pilots were informed of the exact location in the surrounding hills of every one of the twelve anti aircraft gun sites that defended the area. Once again tanks were dropped during the raid but they did not create much confusion in the enemy camp as the gunners shot down four aircraft taking part in the raid. Our Squadron lost two of the four, both were shot down into the sea by ack-ack fire. The pilot of one [inserted] MR STRUTT [/inserted] was last seen [inserted] [symbol] [/inserted] [inserted] [symbol] IN HIS DINGHY [/inserted] floating towards the Spanish coast but the pilot of the other aircraft never got out of it.
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When I met Q on its return I found that it had been hit by flak and a piece of the leading edge of the wing had been shot away. I saw the film of the raid and of others which were very clear indeed. The raid earned a mention on the B.B.C’s 9-o-clock news that evening.
As soon as we had refitted new tanks the aircraft took off to raid the same target once again, of course, Q was not amongst them as the riggers were working all out to get her serviceable as soon as possible.
I do not know whether one of the pilots was telling the truth or not but when he landed he claimed to have flown beneath the radar masts.
Next day there was no flying so after fitting new overload tanks I helped my pilot to polish up our aircraft.
The following day Tuesday the 15th of August I was up at 3.30 a.m. Soon afterwards the sky was filled with red and green lights and the roar of engines as wave after wave of bombers passed overhead travelling in a North Westerly direction.
The night before the wing Intelligence Officer gave us a lecture and told us that at 4.0 a.m. the following morning British Commandos would land from the sea on two small islands just off the coast of Southern France opposite St Raphael and then at 6.0 a.m. 150 Transport aircraft towing gliders would drop 3,000 airborne troops by parachute and cast off the gliders carrying a further 1,000 troops and supplies over two large hills situated either side of the main road running down the Rhone Valley to the coast at a point approximately 12 miles inland and 6 miles North of Freyus. The object of these troops was to fight their way to the main road and hold it along with the hills on either side and to stop enemy reinforcements coming South to help their brothers along the coast to stop enemy troops in the coastal area from retreating Northwards up the Rhone Valley. Also if all these tasks were successfully accomplished, units were to advance along the main road and try to link up with the main landing party. We were also told that on the dot of 8.0 a.m. the first wave of assault boats would hit the coast of Southern France at points between St Raphael and Cannes to the East and their job was to create a bridge-head and drive inland and link up with the airborne troops. Then he went on to say that our aircraft patrols had been covering and protecting the enemy from seeing the 2,000 ships that had been massed off the coast of Northern Corsica ready for the invasion. Also the R.A.F. were the only British ground forces taking part in the bridge-head invasion. The rest of the invading troops were made up with two Divisions of the Free French Army and General Patch’s 7th American Army. It was also estimated from Intelligence reports that the Germans had no more than 25 aircraft in the whole of the South of France. Ten were fighters and 15 bombers.
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As dawn broke we could see the grey silhouettes of the hundreds of bombers. Two continuous streams passed overhead, one travelling towards France and the other which was made up of bombers returning to their bases after having dropped their bombs on the invasion area. Long before 8.0 a.m. Q was up in the air on its way to patrol over the troops as they went ashore, but on its return the pilot had nothing to report. He told me the troops seemed to be landing without much opposition and not a single aircraft appeared over the beach-head to try and interfere with the landing operations.
You can only guess what a hectic time we had for the next seven days keeping the aircraft up on constant patrols over the front line. It was up at 3.0 a.m. in the morning and down to the drome where we had to direct the aircraft from their dispersal bays in the hills and along a narrow rough track onto the main drome in the dark. Then at night we had the job of dispersing them again after a busy day, but it was worthwhile working so hard and such long hours as each day we saw from the I.O. (Intelligence Officer’s) maps that the bridge-head was growing larger and larger. I thought of all the fellows in it who were working harder than myself and were being killed every minute.
As soon as the beach-head troops had linked up with the airborne forces the bulldozers were hard at work making a landing strip for us. This was completed within a few days and our advance party had arrived there.
On the 23rd of August after packing my kit, I fitted, filled and tested a 45 gallon overload tank to Q and saw it off on its journey to France where it was to land on our new strip and operate from it for future patrols. As soon as Q became airborne and had formed up in the air with the rest of the Squadron’s aircraft, we all started to pack up the flight equipment and load it on to a waggon. The drome looked very deserted as we left to go up to the camp for the last time to take down our tents and pick up our kits. The villagers turned out and waved to us as the Squadron’s convoy of waggons rumbed [sic] through the cobbled High Street. So we said goodbye to [deleted] the [/deleted] [inserted] CALENZANA [/inserted] and were driven to the transit staging area nr Calvi. I spent the following day resting, reading and swimming in the sea and we also changed our money from Algerian francs into specifically printed invasion bank notes. We were told “to be ready at a moments notice that evening and not to stray far away as the moments notice would come through as soon as a boat arrived in Calvi harbour for us”.
Dusk arrived and still no word so I found a flat piece of ground and put my ground sheet and blankets down on it, then I spent the next half hour erecting my mosquito net successfully after which I undressed and got in between the blankets to keep the ants company. I had just about got settled comfortably in a dip in the ground when we were told to get on our respective lorries and be ready to move off. There was certainly some bad language around as the boys crawled out from under their nets as
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they started to gather their kit together once more and to pack their bed roll, then everyone was staggering around trying to find the lorry that they were to travel in. All this was finally accomplished by approximagely 11.0 p.m. when the waggons that had been dispersed all over the camp area formed up in convoy order, [inserted] [symbol] [/inserted] [inserted] [symbol] AND WAS MOVED OFF. WE HAD TRAVELLED [/inserted] no farther than a 1/4 of a mile we halted once more. All the other Squadrons transport was lined up in convoy order nearby to 242 Squadron. The information then came through that we would be the 3rd one to embark and that our boat had not yet arrived in the harbour, but we were told that we were not to make our beds down again as we might be ordered to move to the dock area at any moment. There were 14 of us in our covered waggon along with all of our kits, so we did not have a very comfortable seat, what with the rifles, tin hats etc., sticking in one’s back and we had no room at all in which to move about. Everytime I dozed off to sleep sitting there I woke up a few minutes later with cramp in my legs. At 1.0 a.m. I got out of the waggon and climbed on top of it and tried to go to sleep on the tarpaulin covering but the hoop bars were not very comfortable to my back, I stuck it until 2.30 a.m. when it began to get cold and I begun to shiver. There were still no signs of having to move off so we all got our bed rolls out once more and laid them down around the lorry. I was woken up at 7.0 a.m. and told that the cooks were making some tea, so I made up my bed for the second time that night before having a mug of tea and a big hunk of bread and jam, both of which were very welcome as we were all feeling famished.
We finally moved off at 8.0 a.m. and we all arrived at the docks safely except for the C.O’s house which was a hut built on a big trailer. The driver of the truck that was towing the trailer during the journey drove under a low branch of a big tree that overhung the roadway and which was [deleted] on [/deleted] [inserted] LOWER THAN THE [/inserted] top of the hut with the result that the hut was swept to the ground and the lorry was left just towing the bare trailer. The boys certainly had a good laugh about it when we heard the news, we all saw the funny side of it except for the C.O.
At the dockside lay four L.C.T. (landing craft, tanks) and they just about filled the place to its capacity. Our lorry backed up the [deleted] road [/deleted] [inserted] RAMP [/inserted] (the front of the ship that is lowered down) so that it would face the correct way for disembarking quickly. Vehicles such as water and petrol bowsers and power trailers etc., had to be towed on board and then turned around inside the ship and there was just enough room [inserted] TO DO THIS [/inserted] with no more than a foot to spare. After turning them we had to attach each back to the lorry that was going to tow it off. During these turning operations we broke many of the ship’s overhead lights, many of our lorries were taken up on lifts and parked on the top deck. Each vehicle had to be lashed down with a chain from each wheel to the deck. This was to stop them pitching around and perhaps go over the ship’s side.
We sailed at noon and as the coast line and mountains receded into the distance I took my last glimpse of Corsica. The ship’s escort consisted of of [sic] a single corvette which sailed along in front of us during the whole of the trip.
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[inserted] ISSUED TO US BEFORE LANDING ON FRENCH [underlined] SOIL [/underlined] [/inserted]
War and Navy Departments
Washington, D.C.
Reproduced by Morale Services Section
[inserted] [underlined] AS WE WERE UNDER UNITED STATES COMMAND [/underlined] [/inserted]
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[blank page]
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I. Why You’re Going to France . . . . . 1
II. The United States Soldier In France . . . 2
1. Meet the People . . . . . . . 2
2. Security and Health . . . . . . 2
3. You are a Guest of France . . . . 7
4. Mademoiselle . . . . . . . 8
III. A Few Pages Of French History . . . . 9
1. Occupation . . . . . . . . 9
2. Resistance . . . . . . . . 11
3. Necessary Surgery . . . . . . 11
4. A Quick Look Back . . . . . . 12
5. Churchgoers . . . . . . . 13
6. The Machinery . . . . . . . 14
IV. Observation Post . . . . . . . 15
1. The Provinces . . . . . . . 15
2. The Cafés . . . . . . . . 16
3. The Farms . . . . . . . . 17
4. The Regions . . . . . . . . 19
5. Work . . . . . . . . . 21
6. The Tourist . . . . . . . . 22
V. In Parting . . . . . . . . . 26
VI. Important Signs . . . . . . . . 27
[inserted] [underlined] AS WE WERE UNDER UNITED STATES COMMAND. [/underlined] [/inserted]
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At 7.0 p.m. we could see the coast of France in the distance and the destroyers which were patrolling the coastal waters and to our left I could see a big convoy which was making its way in the same direction as ourselves. At 8.30 p.m. the bottom of our ship scraped against the earth of France. The ramp was immediately lowered and a smoke screen was set up to cover our landing. We piled aboard our lorry and the vehicles were driven down the ramp one by one and then along the beach for 300 yards where they waited until the last lorry had disembarked and had formed up in line.
We landed on one of the original invasion beaches, at a spot 13 miles West of Toulon. To the left of our landing point lay a burnt out L.S.T which had been hit and had grounded itself on the beach in the first assault wave. We drove up from the beach and through a small wood that still showed the sign of the bitter fighting that had taken place. It was so deserted, quiet and desolate as we reached the main coastal road (what was left of it). At this point we turned westwards and drove along by the coast. To our right by the roadside ran the main coastal railway. The track was one mass of huge holes and the twisted rails stood uprooted high into the air at many points. Eevery [sic] so often built on the hillside over-looking the sea, we passed by big concrete gun positions and defence posts. Many of them were well camouflaged and those that were still in the process of being built showed up white against the background of green grass and the reddish brown soil. A great number of these posts had been hit by bombs as was every house that we passed by in this coastal sector, from the small dwelling houses up to the huge lovely Riviera mansions of the idle rich. All these coastal buildings had been commandeered by German troops as a defence measure since they had invaded the country.
The bombing that I have described was a tribute to the accuracy of the bombers that we had escorted on bombing raids. In a way it was a terrible sight to see such wanton destruction, but then war is war and the Germans occupied all of the targets.
It was just getting dark when we reached the town of St Raphael where the harbour was full of [inserted] [symbol] [/inserted] [deleted] ships [/deleted] [inserted] WARSHIPS, TROOP CARRIERS, MERCHANT SHIPS ETC [/inserted] etc. Each was flying a silver barrage balloon. The dock area was one mass of activity. The decks of the ships that were being unloaded were illuminated by big arc lamps and the dockside was ablaze with lights. At various points along the shore amphibious ducks were coming up from the sea onto the coastak [sic] road, their bases were glistening in the lights and dripping with water. They had all been loaded up from the big ships out in the bay and after joining us on the road they continued their journey up to the front line carrying supplies and food for the troops in the forward area. Also, in the procession were many large tanks along with lorries and jeeps, field guns and ambulances etc.
The town of St Raphael had suffered very badly from bombing and shelling but the dock area which once consisted of warehouses, works and repair shops, factories and railway systems etc., had been raised to the ground. We continued our journey along the same route that the invading troops had taken to link
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up with the airborne men. The next town we passed through was the main communication centre of Frejus, where the coastal road linked up with the main inland roads. One of these roads led to the well known town of Grasse, where most of France’s perfumery supplies are produced. We took the main road North which eventually reached the Rhone valley. Frejus also showed many scars left as a result of warfare, but the next small village named Ruget had had only a few bombs dropped upon. [inserted] IT. [/inserted] After passing through this village, the road was lined on either side and the nearby fields were dotted with tiny one man slit trenches, which the paratroopers had dug for themselves, with their little shovel which each man carried along with his equipment when he was dropped by parachute. It was fully dark when a little later we turned off from the main road so we could not see much.
After travelling up this branch road for approx. half-a-mile we came to a village named Roquebrune-sur-Argens and after covering another mile we reached our new camp site after a further short ride along a very bumpy and narrow lane which had been made up by a bulldozer into he surrounding countryside to where our camp was situated on the side of a small hill or a large slope (I did not know which to call it).
The first thing I did on arriving was to locate the cook-house and scrounged something to eat and drink. Next I unrolled my bed and slept beneath a waggon for the night. We pitched our tents first thing the next morning before going down to the new strip to take over our own aircraft once more. After giving [inserted] Q [/inserted] a check-over she went up on patrol work along the coast and over the troops driving towards “Marseilles”. Our new strip was situated on what had once been a huge vineyard. The bulldozers had to tear up tens of thousands of grape vines when making the runway and taxiing tracks and dispersal bays. So whilst waiting for Q to come back from a trip, I used to sit at the end of the runway and I could just reach out and pick large bunches of either lovely juicy green or black grapes. Whilst at the drome I must have averaged eating at least 7 lbs of them each day. I often used to think of you at home where at that time grapes cost £1. per pound to buy.
As a tribute to the American engineers, I would like to mention the fact that within a few days of us arriving they had built a pipe-line all the way from the coast to our strip and our petrol supply was pumped directly to us from the dock. For the first few days our petrol was flown in to us by Dakota transport aircraft. As soon as one had taken off another fully loaded one landed. In fact they arrived in a continuous stream throughout the day.
On the second day the Squadron only flew on one mission and that was an offensive patrol over Lyon. As a result we finished work early. After dinner, I had a bath in the river that ran alongside the strip. I often used to go in for a dip whilst Q was up flying. After my bath I continued my walk across the grape vineyards and on to the village of Ruget.
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[coloured photograph of village]
ROAD TO CAMP. [symbol] [underlined] ROQUEBRUNE-SUR-ARGENS. [/underlined]
[aerial photograph of Roquebrune-sur-Argens]
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[underlined] ROQUEBRUNE – VUE DU ROCHER [/underlined]
[photograph of hills through a bridge]
[symbol] [underlined] ONE OF FIRST OBJECTIVES OF THE AIRBORN DROP [/underlined]
[photograph of a bridge across the river]
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All the fields that I passed through were dotted with slit trenches dug amongst the grape vines. Remains of rations and containers which had been dropped to the airborne troops littered the surrounding area. In the centre of this scene stood what had been a big wine manufacturing factory. It then lay shattered, caused by shell-fire from our troops when they were capturing the building so as to be able to hold the place as a strong point, as it held a commanding view of the area for miles in each direction. On reaching Ruget I hitch-hiked to Frejus and toured the town before making my way back to camp.
I remember one night our aircraft were late coming back from patrol and had to land in the pitch dark except for a chance light at the beginning of the runway. I was at the other end waiting for Q. After three approaches [deleted] that [/deleted] the first aircraft touched down and went [inserted] PAST [/inserted] [deleted] passed [/deleted] me at quite a speed. With the aid of a torch we went after it and found it amongst some grape vines with its wheels up against the petrol pipeline which had brought the aircraft to a final stop and most probably saved it from a lot of damage. We turned it around and pushed it a few yards until it was back on the runway so that the pilot was able to taxie [sic] back to his dispersal. The next two aircraft, after many approaches, touched down one after the other and both started to run off the side of the runway but at the last moment managed to correct themselves. By this time the other two that were still waiting to come in were getting short of petrol. The next one touched down and at the last moment the pilot must have thought that he would not be able to pull up in time as he opened up his throttle and took off once more so as to be able to make [inserted] ANOTHER [/inserted] [deleted] the [/deleted] attempt at landing. The moment that his engines leaped to life as he opened up, the aircraft was heading straight for us fellows at the end of the runway. I did not know which way to run for the best and I thought my last moment had come as I threw myself flat on the ground as the plane passed over no more than 10 ft above me. Was I scared.
On the last day of August when I arose at 3.30 a.m. I found that I had missed the lorry so I had to walk down to the drome. Later on that morning our Flight Commander came up and asked me if I would like a trip out, to which I quickly replied that I most certainly would, so I clambered aboard the lorry and our journey took us back onto the main road where we turned northwards and travelled along the lovely super wide concrete road which runs through the Rhone Valley and it was banked at every bend. Alongside of us ran the railway track which was in a sorry looking mess and the telephone wires were either cut between each post or the pole itself had been cut down.
After travelling for approximately five miles along this road we came to a village name St Lucia or something like that, I cannot recall the exact name.
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[photograph of street with buildings and men playing boules]
[photograph with church in background]
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[underlined] ROQUESBRUNE VUE GENERAL [/underlined]
[photograph of village]
[underlined] ROQUEBRUNE VUE DE L’EGLISE. [/underlined]
[photograph of a church]
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[inserted] 80 [/inserted]
Anyway we turned off the main road and onto a country one and after travelling along for a few minutes an awe-inspiring sight met our eyes. It was a scene that throughout my lifetime I shall always be able to recall in detail and picture before me.
Over the whole area which was then still and quiet lay hundreds of gliders. The small American type with their white star markings on. A few had their stars missing and only a round hole in the fabric remained. These had been cut out be the gliders occupants to keep as souvenirs of their landing. Then there were the bit British type gliders intermingled with the American ones. Some of the gliders had made perfect landings and were intact, others had landed in fields that were studded with anti landing posts sticking up all over them and consequently many had wings or wheels ripped off. Others had overturned and some had caught fire and burnt out. Only their framework remained. I remember seeing where one big British glider had crashed straight onto a clump of tall thick trees. As we drove amongst the gliders, shells, boxes of ammunition etc were scattered everywhere and occasionally a plain rough home made wooden cross marked the spot where someone had given his life in the struggle against Germany. Luckily I am glad to be able to say that I only saw a few in the whole area.
The spot that we were making for was a huge farm house which the German Army had taken over and had turned into a mechanical workshop. Many of the gliders had landed within a few yards of the building. On the whole the place was disappointing as we did not obtain as much useful equipment as we had hoped to. In the Germans Commanding Officer’s rooms we found a big picture of Hitler which we conveniently destroyed along with hundreds of propaganda leaflets. The troops had slept in the attic and their beds were just as they had left them. I think that the building was the very first spot in the South of France to be liberated as it was captured according to an inscription on one of the walls at 4am on D Day by British Paratroops. Around the outside of the building lay German stores of clothing etc. I picked up one or two useful little brushes. Permanent barracks were in the process of being built for the troops and the parts that had been completed looked quite nice. Also nearby to the building was a nice new wooden look out tower. I bet the lookout man had plenty to look at the morning that the gliders landed in his garden. We were very sorry when on discovering the wine cellar we found it empty. The paratroopers had been there before us. After thoroughly touring the farm house etc we loaded our loot on the lorry and continued our journey until we came upon another farm house which had its grounds surrounded with rings and rings of barbed wire. We were very careful as we walked through the entrance gap. The enemy here had left in even a greater hurry as they left their greatcoats, cups, plates, knives and forks etc beside their beds.
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[inserted] 81 [/inserted]
We visited two more camps that belonged to the enemy and picked up a few more odds and ends before we drove back to our own camp, as it was time for us to eat.
That same night I was awoken by a commotion at 3 am and on getting out of bed to investigate its cause, I discovered that the order had just come through for the advance party to move to a new strip and that they had to pack, their tents were to be taken down and they were to be ready to move at 8 am on the following morning. After hearing that, I crawled back into my bed.
Next day the Squadron had flown five trips by 10 am when another Squadron took over from us and left us all with the rest of the day to ourselves. We were told that a few of us could go for a trip to Cannes if we wanted to after dinner. I was one of the lucky ones as my name was drawn from the hat.
So after a quick wash I dressed myself in my best clothes and then drew rations from the cookhouse before boarding the lorry. (We were on american [sic] rations at that time). So we set out for the millionaires playground. It was a lovely ride through the beautiful Riveria [sic] countryside and the sun shone for us throughout our journey. The only thing that spoilt it was when every so often we were reminded of the war when we passed by bombed barracks, buildings and one or two factories. For a few hundred yards inland all along the coastal area near the town had been mined and still was. Then came barbed wire defences etc so the Germans must have expected an invasion in the south at one time. What with the concrete pill boxes and gun emplacements etc but when the invasion came from the North in Normandy the enemy drew most of his troops from the South to meet the threat in Normany [sic] and they were consequently taken by surprise when a second invasion came in the South. As we neared the town which had only been captured a few days before we were stopped by American Military Police near to a small bridge that had been blown up and told that the town was out of bounds to all troops. Our spirits dropped at the thought of having to turn about and go back after getting so far.
Then one of the chaps suddenly piped up before anyone could say anything and told the police that we had to pick up our CO who we knew was staying in the town at the Victoria Hotel. So the police then phoned the hotel to check if our CO really was there. When it had been confirmed we were allowed to pass the barrier. Later on we learned that our second vehicle was stopped at the same spot and they told the police that they were in a hurry and had to catch up a convoy in Nice and at that moment one of the police remembered the markings on the lorry was the same as on ours. [inserted] [symbol] [/inserted] [inserted] [deleted] [symbol] HE [/deleted] [inserted] ONE [/inserted] ASKED THEM IF ONE OF OUR LORRIES HAD ALREADY GONE THROUGH [/inserted] So the boys said yes we have got to catch them up, so that was how the second lorry got through the barrier.
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[underlined] 81A [/underlined]
[two photographs of the harbour at Cannes]
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[photograph of Cannes taken from the hillside]
[photograph of Cannes beach]
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[two photographs of Cannes beach]
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Once we arrived in the town we dispersed like ants and no one could have rounded us up together again if they had wanted to. The police kept stopping our chaps and told them to get out of town. Everyone just said alright and walked around the next corner and carried on with their tour of the town. When I was stopped, each time I told them that I was staying at the “Victoria Hotel” and they were satisfied with my statement. By evening they gave up trying to get us RAF chaps out of the town as a bad job.
In the shops one could buy almost anything and many things were obtainable there that had not been seen in England for years. Food was very scarse [sic] as it was in the whole of Southern France. As in this area they did not produce much food even in peace time as the land mostly comprised of grape vineyards and what little cattle that it had possessed had been taken away by the Germans in the early days of their occupation.
There were quite a number of English people living in the town that had not received any news of their relations in Britain for nearly four years. It was from an English managed shop that I bought the fountain pen that I have written most of this book with. The proprietors were an eldish couple and they told me that they had lived on vegetables alone for months and really felt hungry at times. So we decided to give them some of the rations that we had brought along with us. They wanted to pay us a terrific price for what we gave them which of course we refrained from accepting. We were also told that no bombs had been dropped on the town itself and that the place was garrisoned by SS men.
Very high prices were paid for goods on the black market. I was offered 15/- for a packet of 20 English cigarettes by a French civilian, but the high prices worked both ways. As myself and two friends were in the centre of the town when we came across an ice cream parlour and I decided to treat my pals to an ice cream each. Imagine my face when I asked the waitress how much the bill for the three came to and was told 6/-. I think that they thought that I was a visiting millionaire. In one shop I bought a supply of scent and powder as both were unobtainable in England at that time.
I expected the town of Cannes to be outstanding and possess a large wide beach but it was contrary to my expectations in both cases. The place was not better than a large select English seaside resort and the beach was very long but also very narrow. There was one thing that stood out and that was how some of the women mostly young ravishing blondes etc walked about with hardly anything on. The average English woman would [deleted] be [/deleted] [inserted] HAVE BEEN [/inserted] quite shocked at the sight.
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At approximately 8 pm we had mustered all the boys together and we set off on our long journey back to camp after spending a very enjoyable day. Luckily we were travelling in a covered waggon as it teemed with rain during most of our ride.
On the 5th September I saw Q on its journey to our new [deleted] drive [/deleted] [inserted] DROME [/inserted] to the north, after which we once again packed all the kit and equipment and loaded it on waggons. That same evening we held a flight party in the nearest village and boy oh boy what a party. I spent that night sleeping beneath one of the squadron’s lorries as we had already packed up our tents. I arose with a very heavy head on the following morning. At 8.30 am we moved off in convoy but by the time the end of the journey was reached one could hardly call it a convoy as the Squadron’s vehicles were strewn all over the Southern part of the Rhone Valley. One lorry had a crash and many others had either major or minor breakdowns. I travelled in a Big Diesel Bus that had been captured by the paratroop [sic] and in turn thay [sic] had presented it to the squadron. The bus had been made a few years before in Holland. The town that we were making for was named “Montelimar”. At the time our operational map showed that the town had only just been captured and that the Germans were still on the North, East and West sides of the town. No one knew the correct road that we had to take and I am convinced that it would have been easily possible for us to have driven into the enemy’s lines without knowing it. This actually happened to a few RAF fellows of another unit a few days later. We received a royal welcome at every village that we passed through during our journey northwards. Men, women, girls and children all had a wave of the hand and a welcome smile for us as we went by. Every so often along the road someone would be standing beside it with bottles of wine, melons etc signalling for us to stop and partake of the same. If we had done so we would have been blind drunk before we had gone far. At one village we stopped at after losing the rest of the convoy, as soon as the inhabitants found out that we were British and not American, hundreds of people gathered around our bus offering us wine etc and they even wanted us to stay in the village and have a meal with what little rations that they could scrape together. All along our route up the beautiful valley signs of war met our eyes. Many villages built on high ground overlooking the surrounding area in which the enemy had made into strong points where they made a strong attempt to stem the 7th Armies rapid advance, had by mass bombing been virtually wiped off of the map. Even the ground surrounding these villages was a mass of holes made by 500 lb bombs. Along the roadside stood overturned, burnt out vehicles, knocked out field guns, abandoned equipment etc and now and then I saw knocked out American and German tanks that stood silently out in nearby fields and on the railway lines stood burnt out cattle waggons and passenger coaches, engines, rolling stock which had been strafed and bombed. All factories, railway stations and other important targets lay in a mass of ruins.
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We lost the convoy once during the morning but picked it up again at the spot where it had stopped by the roadside whilst the boys had a meal. So when we drew in behind the line of vechicles [sic] we got a chance to stretch our legs. All went well until the early afternoon when we broke down and the rest of the squadron went on and left us. Luckily we stopped just outside of a big orchard and we were able to pick apples, peaches and bunches of the biggest grapes that I have ever seen to our hearts content. It was discovered a little later that the radiator cooling fan had come off and that we could not do anything without some tools. We questioned a French man that came along as to where nearby we would be able to get some. He told us to try at an American garage that was situated about 3 kilometres further up the road. So myself and two other fellows volunteered to walk there only to find on arrival that the unit had moved a few days previously, so we went on into the tiny village that stood beside a huge iron railway bridge that once spanned the wide river Rhone. Most of it there lay a mass of twisted girders which had collapsed into the water below as a result of being blown up by the Germans. Unfortunately the village did not possess anything resembling a garage. So we set off back towards our bus. A few minutes later a civilian car picked us up and took us most of the way. On arrival back at the bus we held a conference and decided to refill the radiator with cold water which we obtained from a well in a nearby cottage. We also filled a couple of empty petrol cans with water which we had in the bus and then we decided to carry on without the cooling fan until the water had boiled away and then stop and fill it up again. Our next stop came when we had to cross the road bridge spanning the river. Once upon a time it had been a large impressive looking suspension bridge but it now suspended no longer as the enemy had cut the holding cables causing the bridge to collapse in the centre. So we had to travel down and up a very steep shaped [symbol] The brakes on our bus were very poor and would hardly hold at all. All of us fellows quickly got out and then cleared the rest of the bridge of traffic until our old bus had come tearing down the slope and up the other side where we joined it once again.
Our route took us through the ancient town of Orange. I remember at its entrance stood a centuries old triumphal archway. We had to stop nearby to it to fill up the old radiator as clouds of steam accompanied by a loud hissing noise came from it. We also refilled our petrol cans with water from the towns water pump.
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Later on when it was dark and we were nearly all dozing off to sleep we were violently aroused. I found myself high up in the air. The reason for this was because the bus had gone over the edge of the built up track leading to our new airfield. It then stood at an acute angle and was in danger of overturning. Us chaps on the higher side sat fast whilst those on the lower side got out. Then we baled out as quickly as it was humanly possible and between us we somehow managed to get the bus righted and back on the track once more. Then we continued the last quarter of a mile of our journey into camp. At that time it was teeming with rain which continued throughout the night. After a scrappy meal which the cooks had ready for us, or rather it was nearly cold as the rest of the party had arrived long before us. We had been given up as lost for the night so we had to eat what had been left over. After consuming my share I picked my way through the mud back to the bus and spent the rest of that night inside it. I tried to sleep in a cramped up position like a sardine in a tin with a blanket over me. When lightness came I ventured out and found German camouflaged lorries, cars, waggons, vans and mobile cookhouses all around me. They gave me a shock for a moment but I found out later that they had all been picked up by the advance party from around the surrounding area and that they were all in working order.
My first step after breakfast was to find the waggon in which I had loaded my kit. When I finally located it I found it empty and nearby lay all of my kit soaked through as a result of being left out in the rain all night. Some kind person must have unloaded it the night before and left it lying in the mud. Many of the other chaps belongings were the same.
When it at last stopped raining, I rounded up the other fellows and we erected our own tent. After erecting our beds and storing our kit we all went out to explore the town which was quite fair size and possessed a large shopping centre in which there was plenty of goods on sale. The town’s only claim to fame was that in peace time it manufactured and was famed for its special French nougat. It also possessed a very nice park where often I would sit beside the lake of an evening listening to the song of the birds, or viewing the many types of trees and flowers that were planted there or watching the fishes in the lake swimming around the large ornamental water fountains which played the water high into the air. All around the park stood big wire cages where before the war lived many types of birds and animals. There were also some lovely walks near to the town that I used to take. My favourite one was to climb to the top of a big hill just outside the town on which stood an old castle. From this point no matter in what direction I looked I obtained a wonderful view of the Rhone Valley and its surrounding hills. Also I would look down on the peaceful green trees and fields in which horses, sheep and other cattle grazed and on the farmhouses hayricks, colourful gardens and the winding narrow lanes and the wide twisting river. Then I would often gaze on the town which looked quite old from where I stood and on to the airfield with its many machines that spelt death to the enemy parked upon it.
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In a corner of one of the fields behind the castle a trench had been dug about 100 yds long and 10 yds of it had been filled in and above this part stood a few plain wooden crosses. I would not mind betting that the two Germans that gave themselves up to our advance party finally found their way to that spot. We could do nothing with them so they were handed over to the FFI. The Montelimar population were not very friendly towards the Germans as it was one of the centres of the Free French Underground Movement who had supplies dropped to them at night on many occasions by British Aircraft. They had blown up trains and bridges that were of vital use to the enemy. One group of the resistance movement tried to capture the airdrome that we were on before the American advanced units had reached the town. The Germans with superior numbers repulsed the attack and captured 8 of the Free French whom they lined up in front of one of the hangers and shot them. They were buried where they fell. When we arrived the French were digging up the bodies to give them a decent burial.
The central square of the town was littered with knocked out vehicles and when we were talking to a family one evening they told us that on the very corner that we were standing four Germans had been shot dead by American infantry men whilst they were trying to make good their escape through the maze of narrow streets around them. On the railway track near our camp at that time stood a huge 18” naval gun on wheels and also hundreds of burnt out cattle trucks. Just outside the town was another scene that I cannot fully describe although I can picture it quite clearly. It had to be seen to be believed. It was where a convoy of hundreds of enemy vehicles of every description driven by Germans who were making their retreat in every conveyance that they could lay their hands on were trapped at both their front and rear by cross fire from American tanks. Whilst at the same time they were dive bombed and strafed from above by squadrons of American Thunderbolt aircraft.
Only a few of the vehicles escaped total descruction. [sic] To clear the road bulldozers had to be brought into use that pushed what was left of the convoy to either side of the road. Tin hats, burnt out ammunition, springs, nuts, bolts and other bits and pieces lay in heaps beside the machine gun riddled and burnt out buses, motor cycles, vans and lorries. Many houses on both sides of the road had been caught in this little portion of war and lay shattered after being hit by bombs. At a later date I saw an American newsreel in which I saw this scene once again. When we first arrived German prisoners were still burning dead horses that lay nearby and when we passed by I had to hold my nose to stop myself from being sick. I had never before and hope never will again smell anything so bad as those dead horses did.
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Most of the time that we were stationed at Montelimar airfield our spitfires were grounded in the mud and every available lorry on the squadron had to be put on fetching loads of petrol from the coast and taking it up to the front line. (A journey of over 200 miles in each direction). The advance was going so fast that the tanks and armoured vehicles etc had to slow down through lack of petrol. Many aircraft at one time were grounded as ours were, so that the personnel could get every lorry on fetching MT, petrol from the docks. Aircraft petrol was brought in by 4 engined aircraft landing loaded with drums of petrol and with full tanks. They were then unloaded and their tanks were drained just leaving enough in them to enable the aricraft [sic] to fly back to their bases.
During one of my walks at different points I saw something that I could not distinquish [sic] and the longer I looked, it looked all the more like the countryside. So I walked up to one of these points to satisfy my curiosity and even when I was only 20 yds away I still could not make out what was before me. Imagine my surprise when I found they were cunningly camouflaged aircraft dispersal bays. It was some of the most perfect camouflage possible. The Germans certainly did not want their aircraft to be hit during the many raids that the airfield had received. These bays were at least 1 1/2 miles away from the runway and a camouflaged concrete strip ran from the bays and across roads and onto the airfield near the end of the runway. The aircraft must have been towed to and from the runway along these strips as if they had taxied the engines would have overheated long before they had got halfway. But for all their craftiness and trouble the bays that I went to had been strafed at least once and if any aircraft had been in them they most certainly would have been hit.
On 12th September the Wing held a liberation dance in the town’s largest hall. I was lucky enough to draw a ticket that enabled me to attend. It was the first dance to be held in the town since the Germans occupied it and it was a huge success. The bar was stocked with crates of champagne.
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Near to the airfield another big suspension bridge that spanned the river Rhone had been blown up and the people from the villages on the other side of the river apart from getting across in a couple of small boats that were nearby had to make a detour of at least 50 miles if they wanted to get to Montelimar. We managed to climb a quarter of the way across on top of the wreckage of the bridge but the water current was too swift for us to attempt going further.
Many of our afternoons were spent by playing inter section football matches. Of course sometime during each day I had to stroll over to Q and give her a run up and check over. During the last few days of our stay in the town a funfair arrived and we spent quite a bit of time as well as money in it of an evening.
One day we were all called out on parade and our Flight Commander told us that we would soon be leaving the 7th Army and also France and that the Squadron and Wing were going to be disbanded. This was very bad news for us all. To know that all us fellows that had lived, worked and been friends together for so long would soon be split up and separated. Also our hopes of getting leave to England which came into being a month later were dashed to the ground. I have often wondered how my servicer overseas would have gone if more German aircraft had come up and challenged our spitfires for the mastery of the air. We would have stayed in France and gone into Germany and then Austria with the 7th Army and then perhaps home. But alas it was not to be for me. On Wednesday 20th September “A” Flt moved off on their journey South. That same evening all the occupants of our tent went to one of the wine bars in the town and celebrated the end of our part in what was called “The Champagne Campaign” so appropriately we drank nothing else than champagne.
We spent the following morning getting the aircraft out of the mud and onto the end of the runway where we lined them all up ready for take off that afternoon to another strip. It was a very impressive sight too that afternoon when one aircraft after the other belonging to our Wing took off until 85 were in the air forming themselves up into formations, the roar of engines was terrific. Then each squadron in turn did a mock shoot up of the airfield. Some of the spitfires came down so low that they made us duck down to the ground as they passed overhead.
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Next day we moved off to our new strip near Sulon and our 150 mile journey took us back through Orange and through the ancient town of Avignon where we saw hundreds of German prisoners marching through the streets on their way to help clear up the town’s bomb damage that had been heavy. The best bit of bombing I have seen was in one town that we passed through. The barracks occupied by the Germans was in the centre of it and they had been gutted by fire and shattered by bombs and yet the civilian houses all around the barracks were not even touched.
It was just outside Avignon where we had to take one of our many road diversions caused by bombing. This one took us across a very long railway bridge, as the road bridge had been blown up. After getting over this we had to go across a few fields before we could get back onto the main road. All the fields around the bridge were one mass of bomb holes and a huge lorry and trailer travelling in front of our convoy slipped off the rough track into one of the water filled holes so blocking our way to the main road as it was impossible because of more bomb holes to get around it and the track itself was very narrow in [deleted] stead [/deleted] [inserted] DEED. [/inserted] The lorry by the way was loaded with tons of glassware most of which got smashed as the lorry slid down at the one side. Traffic was coming on behind us so that we could not turn around. We had to go back to the road junction and stop anymore traffic coming down. What a job it was arguing with the French civilian drivers and trying to make them understand why we would not let them proceed. I can picture quite easily how they blocked the road and stopped our military traffic in the grim days of June 1940. Next we had to get the lorries behind us in the diversion to back out one by one until at last we came to our convoy and then the lorry that I was travelling on. After taking another diversion we finally reached the main road. This hold up caused us a full 2 hour delay and it was 7 pm before we reached Sulon and we just had enough time to erect our tent before dark. The exploring spirit in us came out that night and we could not resist going out to look at our surroundings. So we walked along the road running passed the [deleted] cap [/deleted] [inserted] CAMP [/inserted] site until we came to a very nice and comfortable wine and beer bar. Beer by the way was 4d a bottle. It was in here that I discovered that they sold delicious blackcurrant brandy which was my favourite drink from then on, second to champagne of course.
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Next morning we made a football pitch in a nearby field. Near also to this field was a few farmhouses which had been bombed by a liberator bomber, so we were told. Civilians lived in all but one of the houses and the Germans had taken over that one. I have aften [sic] wondered if it was just luck that the pilot chose those houses as his target or if it was once again a good piece of intelligence work. Our airfield was a new one and had been built in a matter of days by American Engineers and was called La Valone Airfield. That evening I paid a visit to the nearby village of “Istres”. The lorry on which I hitch-hiked back to camp was loaded with 500 lb bombs and there was I sitting on one which bounced and rolled at every bump in the road.
Nearly every lorry that passed along that road was loaded with big bombs etc bringing them up from the docks to a huge ammunition dump at Mirimas nearby. It was a huge peacetime dump with a railway system running through it. The big storage sheds made to look like houses were set well apart from each other. The war chiefs must have meant to use this place long before it was captured as the main line and the district round and the station had been devastated. Most evening my friends and myself went either into Istres or Mirimas for our nightly bottle of champagne and on our return we would raid the cookhouse for something to eat.
On the 26th September I drew rations and along with two of my friends (one was the other fellow from Slough) we went on one of the squadrons lorries into Marseilles for the day. Our journey took us through the town of Aix and also through some very pretty countryside and then we travelled around a huge lake which continued until we reached the outskirts of the city. My first glimpse of which was looking down on the huge bay and the harbour which was full of ships loaded with supplies for the troops. To my left lying in a picturesque valley was a very long viaduct showing up white in the morning sunlight. The further that we descended this hill overlooking the area, the more cityfied it became. The dock area which we passed by was mostly in ruins.
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Next we went around the most impressive looking Triumphal Arch and then along the road for another few hundred yards where we found ourselves in the centre of the city. One of the docks came right up to the bottom of the main street and at that time 4 LCTs were unloading big American tanks. We watched a few as they rolled out onto the dockside and immediately started off along the road beginning their long journey up to the front. We saw a big crowd of soldiers on the dockside and we went over to talk to them and found out that they were on the last stage of their journey to England. Most of them had been taken prisoner at Tobruk in 1940 four years previously and had been taken to a prison camp in Italy. When Italy gave in they managed to escape into neutral Switzerland. After chatting with these fellows we walked up the main street until we came to the American Red Cross Club which was the only place that troops could obtain anything to eat as all the city’s restaurants were out of bounds. All that one could obtain in the club was a cup of coffee, a sandwich and two cakes. We decided to stay at the club and eat some of the rations that we had brought along with us. There we sat eating American rations whilst the Yanks watched us with hungry eyes. After leaving the club we passed by the cathedral nearby and went up the Rue-De-Longchamp until we came to a huge impressive monument named La Palais-Longchamp. We climbed up one of the side sweeping stairways at the top of which we found ourselves in a neat and tidy park situated behind the monument. At the end of this small park we came to the zoo. Most of the cages in it were empty as there was not enough food around to feed the animals, most of which had gradually died off since the war began. There were quite a number of birds left though such as hawks etc. Then there was the giraffe which stretched its long neck over the wire fence to take a piece of biscuit out of my hand. He looked so hungry that I was scared stiff that he might decide to take my hand instead. Anyway I was ready with my other hand to punch him on the nose if he did try. Next came the little brown bear which when I approached its cage sat up and waved its paws at me and he had such a sorrowful look in his eyes which seemed to say please have you anything for me to eat as I feel so hungry. He managed to obtain most of my biscuits. then there was the pelican that was very good at catching bits of biscuit from a long distance away from us. I felt very sorry for the elephant who eagerly picked up bits of biscuit no bigger than a sixpenny piece with his trunk and tossed them into his mouth. It was like putting an eggcup full of water into a swimming pool. Then there was the mangy camel and the scraggy hyena and a few other animals. The most unconcerned occupants of the zoo were a couple of tortoise.
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We next decided to tour the shopping centre which was just like touring Oxford Street in London with its big departmental stores, ice cream shops and large modern cinemas etc. It was pleasnt [sic] for me to see trams and traffic once again after such a long time away from them. Everything in the shops was very expensive, but they were better stocked than what the London shops were during wartime.
In the evening just before it was time for our lorry to leave, we popped into one of the many nigh [sic] clubs and we soon popped out again after we found out that the dirnks [sic] cost 4/- and 6/- each.
[inserted] 27th [/inserted]
Next day we had to go to the airfield as our Squadron was flying its last trip. As I said before Mr Robertson paid the tribute to me of flying once again and choosing Q as his machine. The aircraft were flying to Sardinia where they were going into the pool. I saw Q to the end of the runway for the last time and as a few minutes later it dived and roared overhead saying goodbye to me I honestly admit that there were tears in my eyes.
My second pilot then W/O Connon received his commission and was posted to another spitfire wing in Italy. A year later I learned with much regret that he had been killed whilst flying. One grows very hard hearted and used to death during wartime. One minute you are speaking to a fellow and then a few moments later you learn that he has been killed and perhaps have had to stand by and watch him being burned to death not being able to do anything to help him.
On October 1st leave was being dished out, so one of my friends and myself put a pass in for to allow us to stay in Marseilles for a few days. The only condition before it was granted was that we had to put down the address. [inserted] [symbol] [/inserted] [inserted] [symbol] THAT WE WOULD BE STAYING AT. SO TO GET OUR PASSES SIGNED WE INVENTED AN ADDRESS. [/inserted] Later on that morning saw us tramping out of camp loaded with rations drawn from the cookhouse. Then we stood by the roadside and started to thumb a lift. The first one halfway to the city by a roundabout route that we did not know. Dinner time saw us tramping along a tiny deserted coastal road. A quarter of an hour later a vehicle same [sic] trundling along and picked us up and took us along the road a further half mile where we had to start hiking once more. After we had covered a further mile and half we were getting fed up and had nearly decided to turn back when a waggon came along and pulled up beside us to enable us to climb aboard. He had only taken us a little distance further along the road when we discovered ourselves on the main road that we knew.
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A little later on we got held up in a traffic jam and we asked the driver of a jeep in front of us if he was going into Marseille and he told us to pile in, we could go to Toulon with him if we wanted to but we decided against it. We finished the last part of our journey at an average speed of just on 50 miles an hour. Our first job on arrival in the city was to find somewhere to stay. We tried a dozen or more hotels only to be told that they were full up. At 2.30 pm we decided to go to the bull fight that was advertised and trust to luck in getting somewhere to sleep. We found out the direction to take for the stadium and clambered on to a tram as instructed which took us to the city outskirts by way of park lined boulevards. Our ride was not a long one but it took us passed La Fountaine Cantini.
On arrival at the arena we paid our 40 francs (4/-) at the cubby hole cut in the boarding in return for our ticket and passed through a small entrance in the boarding surrounding the arena and up a dozen steps and so into the stadium. Around the circular area of sand was a wooden barrier with four openings in it. Three of them just wide enough for a man to pass through and the fourth wide enough for the bull to pass into the arena. A few feet out from this first barrier was a second one, only this one had only one opening in it. A wide one opposite the biggest one in the first barrier. Radiating out from these circular boardings rose tier after tier of seats for the spectators. The whole arena was in the open air and it was not such a big place. When we arrived the band was playing the tune that heralds the entrance of the bull. We took our seats as the gate where the openings in both barriers are together opened and into the arena trotted a bull that possessed a nasty looking pair of long horns. Then amid a fanfare of trumpets the matadors and picadors marched into the arena dressed in their [inserted] WONDERFUL [/inserted] traditional Spanish costumes with their swords and pics. The matadors also carried a red velvet cape gaily embroidered on the reverse side.
After bowing to the audience, the picadors went between the two barriers whilst the three matadors took it in turns to play with the bull. It looked very easy the way that they held out their cape and just side stepped every time the bull charged but I would not like to try it at any time. On a few occasions the cape got caught on the bulls horns and torn from the matadors hands and it was then funny seeing the bull chase him either over the barrier or between one of the small openings in the barrier. When this happened the other two matadors waved their capes so as to draw the bull’s attention away from the other fellow whilst he retrieved his cape.
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When the bull began to grow a bit tired and docile and would not charge, the matadors went behind the barrier and the picadors took their place in the area. then the first one stood with his hands stretched out at an angle above his head. In his right hand he held what is called a pic. It is about 18” long and at one end of the stick is a steel pointed fish hook and at the other are attached coloured streamers. When the bull charged he side stepped and at the same time like lightening stuck the point of the pic under the skin of the bull at its left shoulder blade and then got out of the arena as quickly as possible. The bull then ran around trying to shake off the pic whilst the streamers waved in the breeze but the movement of the bull only hurts him all the more as the pic, because of its fish hook type end woudl [sic] not drop out. When it calmed down once more this performance was again repeated by the second picador followed by the third. The bull then had three pics stuck in him all near to each other and amid another fanfare of trumpets one of the matadors entered the arena once more holding a sheathed sword with his cape draped over it.
I must point out here the fact that in peace time he has a proper sword and kills the bull but during wartime the bulls could not be replaced, so at the end of the sword was attached something like a small pic in rosette form.
As the matador advanced he unsheathed his sword and as the infuriated bull charged at him he side stepped and struck out at the vital spot between the pics with the point of the sword leaving the rosette showing the spot where the sword would have entered the bulls body if it had been peace time.
If the matador missed the bull on his first attempt to pin the rosette on it at the vital spot you should hear the crowd boo and shout. They even threw their hats, programmes and even oranges at him. For if he misses, it is a great loss of prestige to him and he is reduced nearly to tears whilst things are being thrown at him.
But when he scored first time the band struck up with the traditional bull killing tune and everyone clapped and cheered whilst the matador looking very happy with a broad smile on his face bowed to the audience.
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I also saw all I [inserted] HAVE [/inserted] described with the picadors and matadors being on horseback and the horses did not even receive a scratch. Then there were clowns who did all sorts of very clever and funny things with a bull.
I think that the sport is very cruel especially in peace time. Bull fighting is still illegal in France and on the day after the fight the promoters are brought up in court and fined but they take enough gate money to pay all of their expenses and the fine and still make a profit, so that everyone is happy and satisfied.
There were six fights on the programme that we went to see but after watching four of them we started to hunt for accommodation once more and after approximately ten attempts we struck lucky in obtaining a room in a small private hotel in a select side road very near to La Fountaine Cantini monument.
The landlady was very nice and homely and cooked us a meal from our rations and told us that we could come in at what time we wanted to so we set out once more with our tummies full feeling very much better.
As we walked along the boulivards [sic] the city looked very impressive with all its coloured lights illuminating up the monuments, fountains, parks, shops and bars etc.
We decided to pay a visit to one of the large modern cinemas and much to our surprise and enjoyment the picture showing was English talking with the French translation printed along the bottom of the screen.

At the end of the show we walked slowly back towards the hotel and just before we reached it we came across a bar in which a dance was in progress. So in we went. In this bar we met a Frenchman who had been in the Foreign Legion for over six years and who could speak the most perfect English. It was a treat to listen to his voice. He had studied for five years at an English University, so we had quite a good chat. It was 2 am in the morning when we finally got to bed.
We had a lie in next morning and when we came downstairs the landlady had a meal prepared for us. After breakfast we went out for a walk which happened to take us passed the Red Cross Club where standing outside we caught sight of one of our Squadron lorries. We both wondered what it was doing in the city so early and went over to investigate.
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[page break]
[inserted] 96 [/inserted]
On entering the club we found the driver and discovered that he had been sent out to fetch us back to camp the previous afternoon as the Squadron had received an order to move again on the following day. The driver had searched nearly all the roads in the city during the night trying to find the address that we had said we would be staying at and after visiting the Police Station and Information Office and being told at both places that they did not know of any such Rue (road) he drove to the club for a cup of coffee before going back to camp and reporting us as missing. So we stayed and had a cup of coffee with him and then drove to the hotel where we picked up our belongings before setting off on our ride back to camp where on arrival we found that the move had been cancelled for a day. We left our packing until the next day when we moved off to the staging area via Aix which was situated at a point 12 miles North of Marseille where we erected our tent once more. By this time I was quite an expert at it.
Next evening I again visited Marseille to go to another cinema show On the following day at 6 pm we had to be ready to move off.
I escaped having to take down the tent and load it as I was travelling on the lorry which had to proceed straight to the dock and be loaded with a weeks rations for the Squadron. Actually we got German prisoners to do the loading and heavy work whilst we had supper in the ration warehouse before picking up the rest of the convoy in a main square in the centre of the city. At 8 pm we tagged on to the end of a long stream of waggons, lorries etc which stretched nearly all the way round the block. We were then told that if we wanted to we could wander off as long as we were back at our vehicles by 10 pm. I went for a little walk during that time and along with half a dozen fellows we went into one of the many night clubs but not one of us bought a drink. We just stood and watched a girl do a speciality dance. At 10.30 pm we backed into the United States landing craft tanks No. 120. By the time that we had chained down the lorries and turned about all of the trailer vehicles and found somewhere to sleep it was 2 am but before goint [sic] to bed I went up on deck and stood at the front of the boat and looked up the main street and down upon the lighted city with its night life just beginning.
Next day at 3 pm we anchored out in the bay until 1 pm the following day when we weighed anchor and set sail. There were 9 LCTs in the convoy which were escorted by two corvettes. We travelled eastwards for approximately 50 miles hugging the coastline before turning south. That night we ran into a terrific storm and as it was impossible to go up on deck I had to stay below [deleted] ehre [/deleted] [inserted] WHERE [/inserted] it was close and stuffy. It took me all my time to stop myself from being sea sick which I managed somehow.
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[page break]
[underlined] 96 B [/underlined]
[photograph of tank landing craft]
[page break]
[inserted] 97 [/inserted]
The LCT was rolling so much it threw one chap out of his bunk and everytime it rolled from one side to the other, doors of cupboards opened and closed and their one time contents lay on the floor, first sliding one way and then the other. Up above us we could hear the creaking and clanking of chains that held the lorries to the deck. I expected to hear a big splash caused by one going overboard at any second.
Next morning found us still steaming southwards just off the coast of Western Corsica when we saw much familiar coastline. Late afternoon we slid through the Straits of Bonnifaccio which separates Corsica and Sardinia and at nightfall we were travelling northwards once more off the coast of Eastern Corsica.
Early next morning we arrived in Leghorn Bay (Italy). Actually we were some of the first boats to enter the harbour. The front lines in Italy was then near the famour [sic] town of Pisa, 15 miles to our North.
The squadrons that were not breaking up disembarked that afternoon and continued their journey by road to the airfield from where they were going to operate against the enemy in Italy once more.
We lay anchored in the bay all night with the ships silver balloon flying high above us.
We sailed next day at 8 am and went southwards once more alongside the coast of Italy and passed by the Island of Montichisto, Elba, Pianosa and many other, both large and very small, all of which looked picturesque in the sunlight. At times we steamed so close to the coast of the mainland that we were able to distinguish quite clearly almost every detail on the shore in the bays and of the towns and villages etc situated by the sea. At tea time that day we left the coast and run into another hellish storm that lasted all night.
I spent these past few days sleeping, reading and playing cards etc.
On the morning of October 11th we were joined by another convoy of 8 LCTs and one Corvette. We steamed passed many more islands early that day, one of which was the island of Capri in the Bay of Naples and just before noon we dropped anchor in the next small bay north of the town. Late afternoon we steamed up to the dockside [inserted] [symbol] [/inserted] [inserted] AND AT 7 PM WE DROVE OUT [deleted] [indecipherable words] [/deleted] [/inserted] of the LCT and on up along the road to the top of the hill overlooking the town of Naples where our lorry and the others were stopped and we were told that we would be staying there for the night. Looking down below us we could see thousands of twinkling lights of the town and harbour. It was like being in heaven and looking down upon fairy land.
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[page break]
[photograph of Naples]
[postcard giving details of the Vesuvius Railway and Funicular]
[page break]
[inserted] 98 [/inserted]
I made my bed down on the pavement beside the road and I was soon in it and fast asleep. Surprisingly I slept very well that night. I expect it was because it was my first night on firm land for a long while. When I awoke the cooks were preparing and cooking our breakfast beside the road. After the meal we piled on to our waggons and drove down hill and descended on the town of Naples from the North side and so along the sea shore we went passing by small parks etc until we reached the old naval fort where we turned into the Via Garibaldi Road which is situated in the town centre. On reaching the end of Garibaldi Road we found ourselves in the large Garibaldi Road we found ourselves in the large Garibaldi Square where the central station is or rather was and continuing on our way we made our exit from the town at its Southern end where we turned into Mossolinis [sic] famous Autostrada which runs from Naples to the ancient ruins at Pompei. The highway took us right around the Bay of Naples and midway along it to our left reared the well known as Mount Vesuvius and the few villages that lie at the foot on its sloping approaches and out in the bay on our right we could clearly see the Isle of Capri.
I had expected the Autostrada to be a wide and most impressive modern highway after reading so much about it. Instead it is no better than a good British road. It is banked on either side and many overhead foot road bridges span the road. Even these bridges are not even uniformal and are built at all angles. Our journey took us by the ruins of Pompei and into the new town. It was there at the entrance to the ancient ruins of the Roman Coliseum that we found out that we had taken a wrong turning. So we and the whole long convoy had to about turn and go back along the road half a mile where we came to a roundabout and turned on to our correct road and travelled along it a few miles until we reached a town name Gragnano where we proceeded to its small railway station and yard which we used during the following few weeks as our vehicle park.
There was such a congestion of traffic as the Wing moved into the cobbled main street that we stayed at the station for a tinned dinner before proceeding to our new living quarters which were situated a little further up the hillside. Our new billet turned out to be a one time macaroni factory, but from the outside it looked like an ordinary large house with its archway entrance and verandah [sic] at each of the upper room windows. I managed to get in a front room along with the other fellows who use to live in the same tent as myself. It was quite a change not having to erect a tent after a move and to have a roof over our heads once again.
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[page break]
[inserted] 99 [/inserted]
All the room possessed [inserted] WAS A [/inserted] concrete floor which we had to sweep before moving in as they had laid in disuse for months and so they were covered with thick dust. Our room had a big windmill cum fan affair in the centre of it. Many of the other rooms also possessed one. I think that they were used for drying macaroni. After hitting my head on one of its blades a few times when it rotated in the breeze, we tied it up in a fixed position.
Of course we had no flying work to do as the Squadron had ceased to possess any aircraft. I spent a lot of my time when the weather was fine sitting out on our little balcony overlooking the narrow cobbles street leading down to the centre of town. To the left of our billet were two more houses and then the district prison and to our right were more houses. The town itself was situated snugly in the hills on the south side of the Bay of Naples and it was quite a small place possessing a few shops and wine bars.
For the first few mornings of our stay in the town we had to go down to the railway yard and sort out all the squadrons equipment and load it on lorries to be taken away to base stores.
On Saturday October 15th there was nothing to do so I decided to try and find my brother who had a little previously moved from Egypt to Italy. All I knew was that he was stationed at an ancient and historical town near Naples. As the only place I knew of that fitted this description was Pompei I decided to go there that same afternoon.
After searching practically every road and lane looking at every building in the new town for Weapons Technical Staff HQ in vain, I decided to pay a visit to the Provist [sic] Marshall where they informed me that there was no such department bearing that name in the town. After that I felt a little bit downhearted and miserable as it had been raining during most of the afternoon and I was very near wet through so I decided to have a cup of hot tea and a couple of cakes at the YMCA canteen which stood opposite the cathedral after which I set out to get a lift back to Gragnano and next day I wrote to Cyril and told him of my unsuccessful search.
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[page break]
[inserted] 100 [/inserted]
I was quite at home in my new surroundings listening to the village clock chiming and sitting out in the sunshine reading a book either on the balcony or in the little roof garden with its very nice view. I used to enjoy the walk through the cobbled streets and the village square where all the towns people used to meet and gossip and to the newspaper shop where I went each morning to buy the English troops daily Italian newspaper “The Union Jack”.
I also used to enjoy the half an hours walk down the hills into the next town which was called Castlemar which was situated beside the sea in the Bay of Naples. Whilst in the town I used to either visit the naafi canteen where quite a nice Italian orchestra used to play in the restaurant. They used to get some very good singers there too, or sit by the sea after having a nice hot bath at the Military baths or go for a look around the many shops.
My evenings were spent mostly at the house next door to our billet where I used to visit along with three of my friends. I got to know the people living there by seeing them on the next balcony to me so often. The family consisted the mother father and two daughters and a son. They could not do enough for us all the time we were in the town. The mother used to do all of our washing, pressing and darning and would not take a penny from us for doing it. In fact she was just like a second mother to us boys. We were always welcome and they were always very welcome and they were always very disappointed at not seeing us on the evening that we did not pay them a visit.
Occasionally we went to the tiny cinema that showed English films twice a week or sit in a wine bar listening to the orchestra which nearly every one of them possessed. Also of an afternoon I went out with the Squadron football team when they played matches in the surrounding districts.
On Monday 16th October I went on one of our lorries that was going into Naples for the day. We arrived in the town after the 20 mile ride around the bay along the Autostrada and we drove past the impressive looking post office in which perhaps you will remember the Germans planted a big time bomb before they retreated from the town which killed a hundred people that were in it, when it went off a few days later. Then we came to the main road of the Oxford Street of the town the Via Romma. On reaching the end of it, we arrived outside the Kings Palace, opposite which we parked our lorry.
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[page break]
[inserted] 101 [/inserted]
I then passed through the large gate and walked along the gravel pathway, on either side of which was a well set out small garden and then on under the arch canopiedentrance up a few steps and into the palace which had been taken over by Naafi. On either side of me rose a grand marble staircase up to the first floor [inserted] [symbol] [/inserted] [inserted] [symbol] IN FRONT OF ME WERE MORE VERY WIDE MARBLE STEPS. [/inserted] that led down to the reception hall in which every part of its structure was of marble walls, floors, etc. It was also a massive hall.
I climbed the righthand stairway and on arrival at the top proceeded along the corridor with its grand windows overlooking an enclosed court of green lawn. This corridor ran in a square, at the two front corners were the stairways. On the inside were the windows and on the other the rooms etc led off.
As I was feeling hungry I proceeded to the lounge where the snack bar and ice cream counter was situated. The spacious rooms were furnished with big easy chairs and settees. It was a lovely day so I took my sandwiches, cream cakes and tea out on the little terrace where I sat at a little table. Hidden from view in the shrubbery and flower beds an orchestra played soft music. It was on this same spot that long ago Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton used to walk and talk and perhaps make love.
You have all heard of the old saying of see Naples and [deleted] live, [/deleted] [inserted] DIE [/inserted] well I think the view from this same terrace was best possible one that could be obtained. It takes in the whole bay and Mt Versuvius [sic] and Pompei in the distance.
After I had leisurely diminished the big pile of cakes to an empty plate I proceeded to the small but magnificent ballroom and seated myself in one of the many easy armchairs and sat back and listened to a light classical concert that was in progress and was being given by an orchestra of 12 players that were seated on the stage. The two girls singing with the orchestra were both operatics.
Two concerts were given in the Ballroom each day. The evening one was by another orchestra which was not quite so classical.
After the concert I went down to the ground floor where the barbers etc were situated and I had a hot shower bath. Then feeling very much refreshed I went up to the second floor where there were billiard & table tennis tables, dart boards also news and reading rooms, music, art and other games rooms. I had a game of billiards before exploring the Via Roma and the other parts of the town. There was plenty of things to buy in the shops but everything was so expensive as was everywhere else.
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[page break]
[inserted] 102 [/inserted]
At 4 pm I went back to the Palace and into the very large restaurant where I sat at a little table which was covered with a spotless white cloth. The table was situated by a huge window overlooking the large square below where we had parked our lorry. I was waited upon throughout the meal by one of the many pretty Italian waitresses. Once more another orchestra played well known light classical music whilst I ate. The big dining rooms were just the same as when the King inhabited them with the huge gilt edged mirrors reaching from the top of the large ornamental fire places up the ceilings which were completely painted by famous artists with large scenes. The lighting was provided from marvellous crystal chandeliers and the walls were decorated with gilt ornamental work and gilt framed paintings.
After the meal I went into the wine room which was also furnished with easy chairs, waitresses etc. I then paid a visit to what was the King’s private cinema and again sat in a very comfortable plush seat and saw one of the latest films.
I think that I could have quite easily lived in the Palace without having to venture outside. After taking a little walk along the seashore on the completion of the cinema show to view the bay by night and which made me feel quite romantic standing there and seeing the whole bay bathed in moonlight and the dark shape of Mt Veservius [sic] in the background, I went back to where we had parked the waggon and then it was back to the billet after spending a most enjoyable day.
On the following Wednesday I was detailed for guard at the station looking after the equipment. I remember that night very well. The Corporal I/C and another fellow that was on guard had gone to the pictures and a third member of the guard had gone out to meet his girlfriend, so I was left to patrol on my own and whilst doing so I discovered a stock of cartridges of all sorts of mixed colours and a very pistol and I held quite a firework display to the delight of the children around the station until I was informed that the Squadron Warrant Officer was heading in my direction.
There was some second hand clothing that was not worth sending back to main stores lying around and which we were told to get rid of during the night and so when daylight arrived all of the guard were financially better off. I had just got back to the billet that morning when a despatch rider roared up to the entrance with a signal that had just come through from HQ which turned out to concern me. It had come from the Colonel I/C of Cyril’s Department and requested that the Squadron released me for the day and that I was to be at the main entrance to the ruins of Pompei at 10 am that morning to meet Cyril. By the time that I had washed, dressed made out a pass and got it signed and stamped and had hitch hiked to the town it was nearly 12 noon. I arrived in time to see Cyril in the distance walking away from my direction so I had to run and catch up with him before he caught sight of me. So there was the sequel to our last meeting whilst in the service when I met Cyril in Cairo earlier in the same year.
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[page break]
[underlined] 102A [/underlined]
[underlined] COPY OF ACTUAL SIGNAL [/underlined]
To: 242 Squadron,
82, Via Pasquale Nastro
The following message receive yesterday evening from Command Welfare Branch, MARF by telephone:-
“It is requested that 1863228 A.C.1 Barrett from 242 Squadron be allowed to proceed to Pompei to-day (19.10.44) and to wait outside the main entrance to the ruins from 10.00 hrs until 14.00 hrs. It is expected that his brother will arrive there to see him. This message was passed to Command Welfare Branch by Colonel Stetham, who is Commanding Officer of A.C.1’s Barrett’s brother’s Unit, and it is understood that these men have not seen each other for a number of years.”
[page break]
[underlined] R.A.F. [/underlined]
1863228. A.C.1. BARRETT. R.
The above mentioned airman has permission to be absent from his quarters from 09.00 hrs 21.10.44. until 22.00 hrs 21.10.44 and to proceed on pass to Naples.
Signed. [signature] I/C Flt.
“ [signature] W/O.
[photograph of R. Barrett and his brother Cyril]
[underlined] R.A.F. [/underlined]
1863228. A.C.1. BARRETT. R.
The above mentioned airman has permission to be absent from his quarters from 09.00 hrs on 25.10.44 until 22.00 hrs 25.10.44 and to proceed on pass to Naples.
[Royal Air Force date stamp]
Signed ………………….. I/C Flt.
[signature] W/O I/C.
[page break]
[inserted] 104 [/inserted]
During the following few days all our old friends were posted in two’s and three’s to units all over Italy and Scicily. [sic] Everyone got a royal send off by those fellows that were left, although we all regretted the partings very much. On the last day of the month we had a terrific thunderstorm that lasted nearly all day and as we looked down into the cobbled street which had no drainage system whatsoever, it had turned into a river formed by the water coming down from the hills and roads above. It went swirling down past our billet and onto where three roads all met by a narrow bridge near the town square. The bridge helped to restrict the water and at this point it was at least 2 1/2 ft deep for a long time. The water went on over the bridge and right through the main street of the town and out the other end and down towards Castlelamar.
When the storm had subsided we decided to go to a show that was being held that evening in the little cinema. On arrival at the main road a most unusual sight met our eyes. The whole road was covered a foot or more in depth with mud and stone deposits left behind by the rushing water. Workmen were still digging up this mess that covered solid the cobbled road and taking it away on lorries five days later and they had then nowhere near completely cleared it all. Everywhere around us people were [deleted] taking [/deleted] [inserted] BALEING [/inserted] water out of their houses and at many points where the rooms were below the road level the furniture etc was just floating about. When we arrived at the cinema after picking our way through the mess we found that its approaches and the cinema itself was flooded out. I should think that if they got many storms like that one, the town would soon be buried like Pompei was.
The cinema was made in working order with the help of the RAF lads two day later when John Massey the celebrated BBc [sic] violinist gave a recital for us.
On the evening of November 4th we held a farewell party and the following morning I went to the next door family to say goodbye to them. I do not know why but I think the mother like me most of all and there were tears in her eyes as we parted.
I then loaded my kit on the waggon and it was my turn along with a few more fellows to get a royal send off as we started on our journey to our new units.
The lorry took us into Naples and on to one of the platforms of the Garibaldi station where a train was waiting. A coach was reserved for us into which I transferred my kit to one of its compartments.
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[inserted] 105 [/inserted]
As it was then only 4 pm and the train was not due to leave until 5.05 pm we went into the YMCA canteen situated on the station and as 5 pm drew near we made our way back to the train. In the civilian compartments and coaches the people were packed like sardines in a tin, some were even sitting on the buffers between the coaches. At 5.05 prompt we steamed out of the station and past the ruins of the big stadium, wrecked trains and coaches and nearby buildings.
The four of us in my compartment played cards by candlelight until we stopped at a station for a hot meal at 7 pm and which consisted of a mess tin full of stew and a warm cup of tea. At every station we pulled up at more civilians crammed themselves on to the train, how they managed it still remains a mystery to me.
It began to get chilly as we commenced to travel over the mountain range and I needed more than my greatcoat to keep me warm. I could not go to sleep in the sitting position but I kept dozing off and waking up feeling all the more colder. At 2.30 am the fellows on the train who had been posted to the Foggia area had to change trains. So there was panic for a little whilst chaps found out if they had to get off or not and if they had there were their kits to unload through the windows.
There were more sleepy goodbyes to many more of our old friends before the train continued on its way once more. The three other fellows that were travelling along with me descended at the stop so I then had the compartment to myself and laid down along the seat and fell off to sleep and the next thing I knew was the guard on the train waking me up and saying that we would be in Barri in another quarter of an hour. So I roused myself and took notice of my surroudnings [sic] once more. [inserted] [symbol] [/inserted] [inserted] [symbol] IT WAS STILL VERY COLD AND MISTY MORNING. [/inserted] It was just beginning to get light when I first looked out of the carriage window. We had then reached the Eastern side of Italy and I could just dimly make out the Adriatic as we travelled southwards.
On arrival at Barri station we reported to the Railway Transport Officer and he phoned through to our new squadron and asked them to send transport down to pick us up. How I remember waiting 3 1/2 hours outside the station and watching the early workmen trains pull in and all the men and women pouring out of them and climbing aboard waiting military lorries which took them off to work and I wonder how many times I walked around the large monument situated just in front of the station trying to get some warmth into my body and the stiffness of travelling out of my legs.
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[inserted] 106 [/inserted]
When a van finally pulled up before us it was past 10 am and when we told the driver that we had been waiting so long and had had nothing to eat, he drove us to the RAF Club where we were able to obtain a meal. We then proceeded along the coastal road northwards for 4 miles when we reached the 8th Army Rest Camp. Here we turned off into a lane which took us up to the airfield. On arrival at our new Squadron we reported at the Orderly Room and were given a chit to be signed by difference [sic] sections and then we were put once more into a tent as the Squadron billets were full.
We made it take us the rest of that day and all of the following one to get our chits fully signed. But the next day after that the 8th November we had to start work again.
267 Squadron I found out were a transport squadron and possessed and flew American Dakota aircraft (DCs to most people). The emblem on all of the aircraft, lorries etc was the flying horse. I am sure without doubt even if you do not remember it that sometime or other you have seen some of the squadrons aircraft either on the films or in a picture in the newspaper.
The squadron was formed in Cario [sic] before El Alermain [sic] and during the big push in in [sic] the desert, it flew in and supplied the 8th Army with petrol for tanks, precious supplies of water, food, guns, ammunition, jeeps and all other essential things that kept the army going. They also took many Ensa parties up to the front so that the boys in the forward areas could see a show and on many return trips they brought back casualties saving them from the long and uncomfortable ride back to base through hundreds of miles of desert. The squadron even moved complete personnel of fighter squadrons and landed them behind German lines. More than once they took the Germans and Italians completely by surprise when our fighters appeared from nowhere hundreds of miles behind their lines.
The squadron aircraft also evacutated [sic] wounded from Malta during its siege and from Sicily during the fighting on the island and also did glider towing and parachute dropping work over the Island and again did all of the above in the Invasion of Italy.
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[page break]
[inserted] 107 [/inserted]
One of the Squadron aircraft was the first allied plane to land at Rome airfield. At Barri half of our aircraft were on routine flights, such as trips to Cairo, Naples, Rome, Florence, Foggia, Ancona, Marseilles etc every day flying essential personages and wounded etc. The other half of our aircraft belonged to the Balkan Air Force. Every night our aircraft went out over Yugoslavia and dropped supplies to Marshal Tito’s resistance army by parachute. Often they landed on strips held by the partians [sic] and took in arms ammunition clothing and even mules to them and brought out men and women that had been injured in their guerrilla warfare.
Sometimes where there were no strips they landed in fields with German troops only a few miles away, if that. We also brought Marshal Tito himslef [sic] back to Italy on many occasions for conferences with the allied commanders. Our aircraft also landed on the Dodeconese Island of Kos and evacuated many of our troops from there when the Germans retook it.
Another special mission given to the squadron was disclosed on the wireless months after it had taken place. It was when one of our aircraft flew over enemy occupied territory for most of its trips to and from [deleted] Warsaw [/deleted] [inserted] WARSAW [/inserted] where it landed in a field held by resistance men and brought back to Italy the leaders of the Polish underground movement. Whilst the aircraft landed and took off again 27 members of the underground resistance helping to hold the field were killed by surrounding German troops. For this mission all of the aircrafts crew were awarded the Polish VC.
Of course during the following months I went into Barri many many times either of an evening or on my days off, but I will describe the town and everything else in just one visit. The town is quite modern and is one of the biggest in Southern Italy. Its harbour is I think the biggest on the Adriatic Coast. The government buildings, wireless station etc along the sea front are most impressive. The same goes for the promenade and the small well laid out gardens along the front.
There were many shops, and a few service clubs but the only place that we could obtain a good meal was in the RAF club. At the others they only sold tea and cakes. The YMCA club was situated in the pre war boat club, the Naafi in a big one time departmental store. At all of their clubs there were games and reading rooms etc and an orchestra in attendance.
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[page break]
[inserted] 108 [/inserted]
The Grand Opera House was taken over as a forces garrison theatre. I saw many good films and enjoyed a few stage shows in that building, but most of all I enjoyed the opera season when I saw and thoroughly enjoyed the colourful operas and hearing the famous Italian singers appearing in them. The operas I saw there included “The Barber of Seville”, “Lucia-Di-Lammermoor”, “Aida”, “Cavaliera Rusticanna” and others. I think I enjoyed “Aida” most of all.
There was also another cinema in the town which showed English films but that one was run by the Americans. Very conveniently for us the Yanks used to run a bus service between the drome and the town. We were allowed to travel on it and one bus left the control tower every hour.
During my first few days on the squadron I did not feel at all happy in my new surroundings, hardly knowing anyone except the chaps that came along with me etc and it was very cold at night sitting in the tent of an evening shivering as we had no heating whatsoever. But all that changed a few days later when there was room for us to move into the billets.
The station had been an airport before the war so it was well organized. The concrete built billets in which we moved had had the centre portion of the block taken right out of it during one our raids on the drome when it was held by the enemy. We were told by Italians living nearby that many Germans had been killed when the block was hit. The billet block was modern with a big winding staircase leading up to the two floors at one end of it. Along the front of the building on each floor an open verhanda [sic] from which the rooms led off and the roof of the building was flat. WE also had a very nice brick built dining hall which had large windows on either side of it. Attached to the dining hall were the hot shower baths which were very handy as on finishing work covered with grease and grime we could just pop in and have a nice hot shower. Next to the showers was our canteen in which a wine bar was installed and a library with a large selection of books.
I used to spend almost every Friday evening in the canteen when housy-housy was played. Troops used to come from miles around in vehicles to play. The last house was generally worth just on £20 but for all the time I played I never won that last house.
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In our room there was ten of us, one side of the room was rounded in whcih [sic] were a large set of windows many of which were boarded up after being blown out in the raid. The room was situated on the first floor at the far end. That accounts for the odd shape of our room as the billet block was rounded at each end. The other end being the spiral staircase. The floor of our room was covered with red tiles and the walls were tiled in white up to a height of 4 ft and above that the walls were covered mostly with pin-up girls cut out from various magazines. We were well off for lighting as we had two electricians living in the room and our home made petrol and oil stove gave out a terrific heat. In the centre of our room we had a large table surrounded by home made stools on which we could either sit and write out letters home or play cards etc.
The hangers and work shops were less than 50 yds from the billet block as we did not have far to go in getting to work and on the whole we were as comfortable as it was possible to be in our new home.
Just across the road from us was an American camp cinema where we could go whenever we wanted to see a film of an evening. I often used to go there and then after the show came back to our nice warm and cosy billet and fry spam or eggs bought from our canteen and toast bread and hot a cup of tea which I used to bring up from the dining hall at tea time, on our oil stove. I enjoyed these suppers more than I did any of my day time meals.
When there was not much work on we had plenty of time off and when on standby we could just pop back to the billet until the gang was called out to do a job on an aircraft. I worked in maintenance flight and we had to carry out inspections of various kinds on the engines everytime the aircraft had completed a period of 50 hours flying. There were six engine gangs and six of us in each gang, so it worked out the less flying that the squadron did, the less inspections came in and the more time we got off.
I did quite a lot of flying whilst [deleted] on [/deleted] [inserted] AT [/inserted] Barri and nearly all the time I spent in the air was on air tests after I had worked on aircraft helping change the engines, propellors, starters or generators etc. My trips took me over most of the surrounding country within a 100 mile radius and out over the Adriatic Sea.
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One good thing with a DC was that it could fly quite well on just one of its engines but it did not give one a nice feeling when looking out of the aircraft’s window on one side and seeing that the engine had stopped and that you are gliding down towards the earth on the remaining engine.
On Saturday November 18th, I was lying on my bed during the dinner hour when all of a sudden bombs started to burst nearby. Within a couple of seconds I was up on my feet and out on the veranda. From there I could see the American Liberator Bomber which had just returned shot up from a raid over enemy territory and which had crash landed on the runway with its full bomb load aboard as it could not release them in the sea. Within a few seconds the aircraft was a mass of flames and smoke from burning petrol and oil rose high into the air and then the petrol tanks started to explode and machine gun bullets were flying all over the place. Despite the gallant efforts of the crash tender crew three of the aircraft’s crew were trapped in the machine and burned to death.
On the 20th day of the month after our gang had finished a double engine change I went up on a test flight with it. We started our run from the North end of the runway and within half a minute after taking off we were passing over the town of Barri and over the harbour where I could see the mast heads of many of the 18 ships sticking out above the water that had been sunk during a German air raid the previous year. Bombs from the enemy aircraft hit an ammunication [sic] ship that was at anchor and within a few minutes it blew up and either sunk or caught the other 17 ships around it on fire. Just after we left Barri another ship loaded with bombs blew up whilst at the dockside. In the explosion 400 civilians that were working nearby were killed and over 1,700 were injured along with many military casualities. [sic]
After flying over the harbour we followed the coast line until we reached the town of Brindisi where we turned around in a half circle over the sea and headed north climbing all the time. As it was a clear day we could see far in land. The villages looked like little clusters of white toy buildings with the seemingly dead straight road linking one with the other, either side of which were the tiny square fields of olive groves.
We flew on until were just South of Foggia where the mountainous country commenced and the flat plains came to an end before we turned once more and headed back towards our base. On this trip we took some of the sailors and soldiers from the 8th Army Rest Camp, who used to visit the airport in chance of getting a flight. For some of them that we had up with us it was their first trip in an aircraft and you should have seen the expression on their faces when the pilot put the aircraft into a steep dive whilst over the sea, I think that most of them thought that we were going to crash.
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We flew homewards along the coast at a height of only 200 ft and we could see clearly the little bays, harbours and the contents of the main streets of the coastal villages as we passed by there. At one time whilst I was in the cockpit the altimeter read a height of 20 ft above sea level and as I looked out of one of the side windows I could see the people in the little fishing boats waving to us and we seemed to be skimming the water almost level with them.
I used to like an air test most of all when only one pilot took the aircraft up as I was then able to go up as second pilot and sometimes take over the controls myself for a while. The people in the Barri area were the most fascist minded than any other section of the country. That explained why the people in the town of Barri were not very friendly and did not have much to do with the troops. The further north that I travelled in Italy the more friendly were the people. But as the family at Gragnano explained to me that they did not like Mosso [sic] their dictator or the facists. It was a case of sticking up for the regime or having to starve through having their ration cards taken away. So they had no alternative but to submit to their rule. The father had fought alongside the British and had been wounded in the 1914 to 18 war. But the people in and around Barri and in many other towns were ardent supporters of the regime.
On the 26th of November I was on a day off and when asked if I would like to go out for the day with the football team I readily accepted the invitation. Four of us went along from our room, two of the fellows were playing in the team. As the Squadron’s first, [deleted] the unbeaten [/deleted] and 2nd team had played matches on the previous afternoon none of the players could get the time off to come along with us. So we boarded the football bus at 10 am with a 3rd XI scratch team. But no one worried as they were going to play what they thought was a small Polish army unit team in some little village called Altimura.
It was a beautiful day and our 50 mile journey took us through some of the best countryside that there is in Southern Italy and along some very good roads. It was worth going along for the ride alone.
It was 12.30 pm by the time we reached Altimura and waiting on the outskirts for us to direct us to their HQ was a Polish Warrant Officer. The HQ was a big impressive looking building in the centre of the town and was a modern one. The town was situated on a hill and looking down from the HQ one looked upon the old part of the town with its quaint old houses built up in layers and the narrow winding cobbled streets. I must give the town its due, it was the most cleanest and tidiest town that I saw in Southern Italy
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As we walked up the steps and passed into the HQ we were given a smashing salute by the sentry guarding the main doorway. We were then taken down a long corridor to the Warrant Officers Mess where we were waited upon throughout our four course dinner.
After dinner the team decided to go straight to the football pitch, but as us half a dozen supporters had a couple of hours to spare before the commencement of the game we decided to take a look around the town. Imagine the horror when we saw bills everywhere announcing the game and our team as the RAF Barri against the Polish Corps and that the entrance fee to see the game was 40 Lira – 2/- (10p) for civilians and 20 Lira for military personnel. As we walked through the streets everyone seemed interested in us and looked as if they had never seen the RAF blue uniform before. We got tired of being stared or smiled at from all the balconies fo [sic] the houses etc, so we entered a small wine bar that we came upon. During the whole of our stay in the town we only saw two other members of the British services. The Poles were very polite and those that came into the bar whilst we were there gave a salute to us before they entered.
About half an hour later we noticed crowds of civilians and Polish soldiers passing the doorway and we wondered what was on as we knew that it was Poland’s National Day. So we asked the barman where they were all going. What a shock we got when they told us that they were all going to see our team play. As we did not know the way to the ground we joined in with the crowd and followed the people in front of us. After walking for about five minutes we received a further shock when instead of a small town football field we arrived outside a big built modern stadium. People were queuing outside the box office. We decided that we had better join the end of it and thought how the boys would laugh when we told them that we had to pay to see them play. At that moment the Polish soldiers on the gate called us over and told us to go straight in. We went through the large gateway and found ourselves on a huge square balcony that looked upon the football ground. We went down one of the wide concrete staircases that led down from each side of the balcony and onto the ground below. The atmosphere was like that of a cup final instead of the small friendly village match that we had expected.
The lovely green grass pitch was already lined 3 & 4 deep all the way round it with spectators and still crowds were entering the stadium. We were taken to the dressing rooms that were situated under the concrete stairways. There we found our team looking very glum and getting ready for the game. On asking them why they looked so dejected we were informed that the Polish team had a couple of internationals playing. So after trying to cheer our scratch team up a little we went out and took our places at the touchline in readiness to watch the slaughter.
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It was six supporters against the other side’s 2,000 or more. The whole town must have turned out to see the game along with the complete Polish Corps.
When our team came onto the field in ones and twos and started kicking [inserted] IN [/inserted] people were still coming into the ground and both staircases and the flat part at the top overlooking the ground was also lined with spectators. The Polish team then came out of their dressing room altogether and in single file and run along to the corner of the field and then along the touch line up the halfway line where they did a right turn in turn and lined themselves up along the centre line near the spot where they came to a halt. Our captain then called our players up to the centre line where they formed up facing a member of the opposing team and each man shook hands with his opposite number and when the greetings were over the Polish captain presented the captain of our team with a bouquet of flowers which incidently [sic] I had to hold in arms throughout the game much I suspect to the amusement of the many girls that stood nearby.
I think that the less said about the game the better. Needless to say as was expected our team was beaten by 6 goals to 1 but I must say our team put up a gallant fight. Naturally the Poles were delighted with their win on their National Day.
I have often wondered what would have been the result of the game if we had taken our 1st XI along with us who were champions of the Barri area.
After the players had had a shower bath in the dressing room & had changed back into their clothes we drove back to the HQ once again and were given another salute as we went through the doorways on our way to the W/O’s mess for tea, after which it was free wine all round. Toasts and speeches were made by members of both teams through an interpreter. Then it developed into a sing song. One amusing incident I remember was when the fellow sitting on my right asked me to pass the lemon squash so I handed him the bottle that was on my left which had a lemon squash label on it. He poured himself out a glass full and took one big gulp and a couple of seconds later the poor fellow was spluttering and gasping and turning all colours. I thought for a minute that he was going to choke to death. It turned out that the contents of the bottle was “Vodka”, the famous Russian drink. It was the real stuff. I tasted a drop and I swear that it was four times as strong as raw whisky. One sip and your head nearly lifted from your shoulders.
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We dare not drink the wine too fast as as soon as we took a sip from our glass a Pole would come along and top it up once more. By nine o’clock the party was quite a merry one and we had drunk the mess dry. After everyone had been given a flower buttonhole from the bouquet and told to be back at the truck by 10 pm the party split up in ones, two, threes, etc and dispersed around the town. I went along with three of our pilots and a few Poles to their NAAFI out in the town where we had a further sing song.
At 10 pm quite a number of the chaps were missing and so some of the chaps who had recently seen them went to look for them and whilst they were away the chaps that they were looking for turned up so then the searchers were missing. It was nearly 11 pm when we finally rounded up our merry band and set off on our journey homewards, it was 1.30 am when we reached Barri and the end of an enjoyable day.
On the following Wednesday we held a squadron airmans dance in our dining hall which had been cleared for the occasion and decorated with flags penants of the United Nations and coloured lights. The squadron band supplied the music and partners were recruited, local military hospitals and A.T.S. Units, civilian girl friends etc.
As usual the bar and chicken sandwich counter worked overtime with a result a good time was had by all.
On the morning of December 2nd I worked on the G.C.S’s General Officer Commanding Mediterraean [sic] General Sir Maitland Wilson’s aircraft and in the afternoon I went to Barri Stadium to watch the International football match between the British Services XI which contained many English Internationals including Stan Cullis the England Captain. Bryan Jones of Wales, Spud Murphy and also one of our squadron players McGlen was in the Services XI that were playing against the Polish Army. The Services XI won after a thrilling match by 3 goals to 1 with our McGlen scoring two of the goals.
Round about this time there were a few mice that used to roam our billet after the lights went out. this started a trap making craze in the room. All sorts of weird and wonderful cages and traps were produced by the fellows. The most successful one was made the old fashioned well known way and which was made from bits of bent wire and an elastic band on the back of a domino pegging board. For four nights running just after we had put the lights out, snap would go the trap and sure enough on investigation each time we found a mouse in it.
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There was only one thing wrong with our billet and that was on a cold night when the wind was blowing the wrong way, we could not light the fire. If we did the wind blowing down the chimney blew the oily smoke into the room and choked us out, or it would blow the fire out. Many a chap had his eybrows [sic] singed off or received a burnt hand when going to light the stove after it had blown out. As all the time it is out petrol and oil runs into the stove until the supply tap is turned off. With a result as soon as a person struck a match near the stove the fumes ignited and a small explosion occurred which did one good thing and that was clear all the soot from the chimney. It was not until after Christmas that we designed a stove successfully that stood up to winds coming from [deleted] long [/deleted] [inserted] ANY [/inserted] direction and that was of a rather crude design. The chimney system ran for over 30 ft and when the wind blew the wrong way someone had to climb up on the roof and turn the top section round so that it would point in a different direction. This was not a very nice job on a freezing cold night
Besides going to Barri on my days off I often used to visit the surrounding town of San spirito, Palazi, Tallitzi, Bittonto, Jovinetya and others, but none of these places are worth describing.
Just before Christmas we were all very busy. As perhaps you will remember the trouble in Greece started. The ELAS to whom we had supplied with arms to fight the Germans had turned on their own countrymen and were trying to sieze [sic] control of the country by force and put their own Government in power.
Now many people attacked Mr Churchill’s policy and said why fight the people that liberated their own country but the truth is that they wanted power to turn it into their own advantage and they did not care how or by what means they managed it. They even fought and killed in most horrible ways their fellow citizens and even attacked and killed British subjects and soldiers. So everyone that did not support Mr Churchill’s policy should be ashamed of themselves. The ELA were no more than a huge band of thugs even if they did fight the Germans and help free their country.
At one time they laid siege the harbour area of Athens so that no supplies could be unloaded in the port area. Well that was where our squadron came in as every single article needed by our troops had to be flown into them. On most days we had every aircraft that we possessed up in the air carrying supplies from Italy into Athens and we worked all night on the aircraft that became due for inspection so that it was ready to fly the next day if it was humanly possible.
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The RAF H.Q just outside Athens was captured and I have met some of the chaps who were taken prisoner and all I can say is that I would like all the prople [sic[ at home who stuck up for the ELAS to hear what these chaps thought of them.
One thing that I would like to mention on the Greek situation and this is: One day I was sitting in the cockpit of one our aircraft that was in for inspection and that had just come in from operations over Greece and I happened to put my hand in one of the pilots map pocket and found an open envelope that must have been given to the pilot to deliver and he must have put it in the pocket and forgotten all about it when he landed. Inside the envelope was a document giving the exact number of men, officers, vehicles and how they were all split up into units that were in Greece and alongside this was a proposed number of men, officers, vehicles that should be sent out to reinforce each of those units that the British had there in the country. Then it gave the dates of sailing for the ships from Barri on which the troops could be sent and the dates of the ships arrival in Athens. So you can see how easily military documents are left around and what a huge value that once could have been to the ELAS. They would have know [sic] how many troops that we had in the country and how many vehicles each unit possessed and on what date it would have paid them to attack the dock area etc and what units were big and which were small and could be captured easily. No wonder the Germans learnt a lot of our plans during the war.
Now we came to Christmas Eve. I was working on an aircraft all day, but the fellows in our room that were on day off went into town and bought the wine for a billet party that evening. We had friends in from the other billets and what a party it was. At one time during the evening the squadron band marched into the room and played Christmas carols for us, behind the band in procession came chaps in fancy dress and one fellow was wheeled in on a barrow that they had managed to get up the stairway and another fellow was carrying a large Christmas tree that was later hoisted to the top of the station flag pole. A couple of other fellows staggered in dressed ready for a football match and saying that they were playing the poles at midnight.
[underlined] Note [/underlined] On Christmas Eve afternoon we had arranged a return game with our 1st XI against the Polish Corps. The match I had longed to see but owing to the Greek trouble arising everyone was working that afternoon and could not get off so the game had to be cancelled.
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What a mess the billet was in when the party came to an end. It looked as if a bomb had exploded in the centre of it. The catering officer woke me up on Christmas morning and brought myself and the others a cup of tea to us in bed and later on one of the fellows brought up my breakfast of eggs and bacon from the cookhouse so I did not have to get out of bed for it.
When I did get up the sun was shining and half a dozen of us decided to go for a little walk to get an appetite for our Christmas dinner. But before we went out we cleared up the room and removed the traces of our previous night’s party. Then we walked along the peaceful rocky valley situated behind the airfield. The valley was dotted with little stone eskimo shaped huts in which the cattle could shelter in the rain and a little stream ran along the bottom of it. We ended up at the far end of the run-way where the railway track from Barri ran nearby to our billet and onto the next village. At that moment a train had stopped as an aircraft was taking off at the end of the runway where the train crossed it. So we jumped on the train and rode on it until it had to slow down whilst travelling up a steep gradient just outside our billet where we jumped off.
We had a wonderful dinner and the officers true to tradition waited on us throughout the meal which consisted of roast turkey chicken, roast pork, green peas, roast potatoes, cauliflour [sic] and brown gravy followed by plum pudding and rich custard. I managed to make three helpings of pudding disappear. The King’s health was drunk with whisky and along with the meal we each had four bottles of beer and were given 50 cigarettes and a comforts parcel containing a handkerchief, toothbrush & paste and other useful articles. There were also plenty of oranges, nuts & raisins to be had if anyone wanted them.
After the meal and a rest we took another little walk and when I got back I found some of the chaps from the old squadron waiting for me much to my pleasure. We had a talk about old times whilst we had tea together, not that I felt like eating much after the big dinner I had, but I did manage a couple of mince pies, a sausage roll and a helping of jelly.
That evening it was an open night in the Sergeants Mess Bar and as I was invited there I went along with the other members or [sic] our working gang to attend a grand party. Some of the fellows on the squadron were not so fortunate as myself as they had to work throughout the holiday looking after and seeing off the aircraft that went to Greece each day. It certainly was no holiday for our troops there. On the morning of Boxing Day went up flying and had the afternoon off during which I made out and put in a pass for a weeks leave early in the New Year.
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On the 27th I was working away on a hundred hour period inspection when I happened to look up and saw one of our aircraft that had just taken off and had retracted its under carriage suddenly lose height touch the ground and slide along to a stop on its belly. In an instant the aircraft was a mass of flames and about 100 yds of the runway was also alight where petrol from the tanks had spread when the aircraft touched down and whilst it was sliding along. Everyone run [sic] towards the plane but luckily the crew had already jumped to safety. They certainly must have been quick off the mark. We soon retreated once more when one of the crew breathlessly informed us that the plane was loaded with mortar bombs and [deleted] our [/deleted] ammunition. Within a few minutes came the first brilliant flash followed by a terrific explosion. These flashes and bangs continued for well over an hour and by that time the aircraft had been blown to pieces which were scattered over a very wide area. We picked up large lumps of shrapnel over 500 yds away. Many other nearby aircraft belonging to the Yanks were damaged by bits of flying shrapnel. Later on that morning everyone on the squadron had to help clear the runway of bits of exploded bombs and of the plane. Only the tail unit remained and that was full of holes and the fabric work had burnt out. On the ground nearby lay burnt out riddled engines. We had only just left the runway when another explosion occurred and at periods throughout the afternoon the stillness was shattered with a bang and a flash. At one time an American aircraft arrived overhead and radioed for permission to land. He was told by the control tower to go onto Brindisi and land there. But the pilot of this aircraft was very persistent and said that he wanted to land at Barri. By then the fellow in the control tower must have been fed up as he replied OK you can land, runway is covered with shrapnel and exploding bombs. The aircraft immediately headed in a southern direction and disappeared from sight.
That same evening I saw the squadron pantomime “Wanfrella and the Golden Gum Boots” and it was a first rate production and full of laughs. During the following weeks operations continued to Greece, Yugoslavia, Bucharest and Budapest along with our routine runs once more.
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On the afternoon of the last day in the year I went into Barri with some of the chaps from our billet. We took along a 5 gallon German water container with us and had it filled up with £1.5s worth of wine ready for our New Years Eve party which started at 7 pm and went on half way through the night. Whilst the party was in full swing the C.O, Adj, SWO & the two flight commanders walked in and stayed for well over an hour and needless to say drank a large portion of the contents of our water can. By the time they left everyone was in merry mood and some of the chaps were telling the officers what they really thought of them. It was during the party that it started snowing for the first time that year in the Barri district. I remember how we all ran out on the veranda to see the drome covered with a blanket of white.
As it neared 12 o’clock we all adjourned to the Sergeants Mess where upon arrival, our glasses were immediately filled to the brim with whisky with whcih [sic] to drink the New Year in with and as the chimes of Big Ben struck midnight over the radio we all linked arms and sang Auld Lang Syne. I spent the following half hour devouring chicken sandwiches that I discovered in the Mess and then taking a chap to bed who could not stand the pace and wondering what 1946 held in store for me. (If I had only known) I spent Friday the 5th January collecting my leave pass and getting a pass to enable my friend and I to travel on our routine aircraft run to Naples on the following day. I then collected rations from the cookhouse and packed the minimum kit that I should need for the following week.
Next morning I received an early call at 5.30 am and after getting up and calling Les (the fellow who went on leave with me to Marseilles when I was with the old Squadron), we proceeded to make our way through the mud of the airfield until we reached the flight office where we found out the [deleted] number [/deleted] [inserted] INITIAL [/inserted] of the aircraft that had been put on the Naples run. It then begun to rain hard and the visibility became bad which made it doubtful if the aircraft would take off at all that day. When the captain of the crew arrived we showed him our flying pass and when he asked us if we had our names on the aircraft’s manifesto we looked at him with a blank expression on our faces. We had never even heard of the word. Evidently it was a list of the people or what cargo and the weight of every item that the aircraft was carrying on its trip. So when we told him that our names were not on the list he informed us that if he was due to carry a full load he would be unable to take us.
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A little later he decided that he would take the aircraft up as the weather seemed to be clearing up a bit and to avoid the mountains he also decided to travel around the coast line all the way to Naples and to send back by radio a weather report for the aircraft taking off after him. At that moment the manifest arrived along with the passengers and sacks of mail etc. Unfortunately the weight of all of it was full safety flying load, so the pilot would not take us along with him. We thought this was a good start for our leave. [deleted] We thought this was a good start for our leave. [/deleted] Our thoughts whilst trudging across the mud towards the main road as the aircraft took off over our heads were very black.
At the control tower we caught the station bus that was going into Barri just as it moved off. On reaching the main Barri Foggia coastal road we stopped the bus and descended onto the road. Here we started to thumb all vehicles travelling Northwards. After approximately 10 mins a lorry stopped and picked us up. This lift took us along our route for a further 10 miles to where the lorry came to the end of its journey. So it was back to thumbing a lift once more in the centre of the village called “Molfetta”. Here luck seemed to be against us again as we waited in the same spot for well over an hour without anyone stopping for us. We were fed up with the whole expedition and were thinking of going back to camp and spending our leave in camp when a jeep pulled up and the driver told us to hop in. So off we started once again. This time we travelled along a bit faster and averaged over 40 miles per hour. The driver was a very nice fellow, he was a Colonel in the American Army and told us that his unit was spread all over Southern Italy erecting communication systems on airfields etc, so that he was always travelling around visiting them.
Throughout this stage of our journey it rained heavily. The Colonel told us that he had to stop at a town 45 miles ahead and meet someone and have dinner there. He also said that he would drop us off in this town and we would be able to thumb another lift from there and if we were not successful in getting one he would pick up up [sic] again when he continued his journey a little later on. Well nothing stopped for us so the Colonel picked us up again a little over [deleted] half [/deleted] an hour later.
At one stop we had to make a detour for miles along a muddy track across fields etc as the floods had washed away the temporary bridge that spanned the main road. It was noon before the Colonel reached his destination and we found ourselves very much mud splattered in a very desolate spot. The whole surrounding area was flat and bare except for the snow capped mountains in the distant background and the outline of the town of Foggia miles away. At this spot luck was with us, alomost [sic] immediately on the horizon a truck appeared and drew to a stop when it reached us. Our luck did not last long though as after travelling a further two miles across fields and along muddy tracks we arrived back on the main road. Here we were held up for another 1/2 an hour because of a traffic jam caused by a lorry skiding [sic] and ending up in the roadside ditch.
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[underlined] MY OVERSEAS SERVICE PART 5 [/underlined] R. Barrett Esq.
It was 1 p.m. when we arrived in the town of Foggia or rather what was left of it, as most of the industrial center [sic] had been bombed to the ground. We trudged through the town’s muddy streets already feeling travel weary but, we decided that if we were to get to Naples that night we would not be able to stop in Foggia for dinner and a rest but would have to push on. On arriving at the beginning of the Naples Foggia road, we had another long wait. In fact we were lucky not to have been stranded for the rest of our leave in the town, as the road to Naples up until that day had been closed because of the very deep [deleted] mould [/deleted] [inserted] SNOW [/inserted] drifts in the mountains. Our next lift was in a 15 cwt R.A.F. van and we were delighted when we found out he was going all the way to Naples. So we settled ourselves down on the hard wooden wheel cover seats and proceeded too open some of our tinned rations. The further we travelled along the road inland that took us up into the mountains of central Italy the colder it became. This same road also twisted and turned all the way over the mountains. We felt very miserable as we sat there looking out of the back of the van at the pouring rain.
On nearing the peak of our accent the rain first turned in to sleet which the wind blew in back of the van and on to us both. My ears felt like lumps of ice even though I had my big coat collar turned up covering them. Then in turn the sleet turned into snow and almost became a blizzard at times as the wind blew so hard and then on those occasions we looked like snow men. We stopped in one snow bound village high up in the mountains to enable us to get out of the van for a few minutes to stretch our legs and try and get some warmth into our bodies. This same village looked so picturesque covered in its blanket of white that we very nearly decided to stop there for a couple of days [deleted] for care [/deleted] [inserted] OF OUR LEAVE. [/inserted]
During our stop of a few minutes I sold a few packets of cigarettes and tablets of soap which I had brought along with me and in return for these articles I received over three pounds which helped to pay some of my expenses incurred during the week. It was impossible to live in Italy on just our service pay as inflation in the country was very high with a result that the cost of living was terriffic. [sic] In fact it was the same in every country that I went to that had suffered enemy occupation and where the people were semmistarved [sic]. Money was a farce, cigarettes soap etc was worth much more to us than money. So the only way that we could buy things was to sell the Italians etc the goods that we could obtain in our canteen easily and very cheaply and that were scarce to them, at a high price. By doing this we were able to pay the enormous sum that the Italians etc [deleted] booked [/deleted] [inserted] ASKED [/inserted] for everything that they sold. I hope that my discription [sic] of our trading is clear to you. Of course it was all very unofficial and illegal but it was a case of looking after one self or going short of things as no one [inserted] ELSE [/inserted] would do it for you.
In the service it was every man for himself in most things and you can be sure L.A.C. Barrett was not slow off the mark at any time and did not let any chances of bettering myself go by easily. In other words I was never a mug, when it came to dealing bargaining and buying etc.
Now to continue with my story. As we decended [sic] the other side of the mountain range the snow turned into sleet and then into teaming rain once more. We stopped on one occasion during our decent [sic] and that was to pick up a couple of Canadian soldiers who were hitch hiking their way to Naples. I was certainly glad that the driver of our van stopped for them as they brought aboard a bottle of whisky which they shared with us both. The raw spirit certainly raised our spirit a little bit and also put a bit of warmth into our frozen bodies. Darkness had fallen when we arrived in the outskirts of Naples after having travelled over 200 miles by road that day. Here the vans journey came to an end so we had to get another lift. I stood in a doorway with our kit so as to keep it dry whilst Les stood out in the road and rain thumbing. After a few minutes and after many pairs of yellow headlights had swept past us in the dark, a lorry driven by an Italian stopped and we both piled in the cab beside the driver and put the kit on our knees. Really there was
cont ………..
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not enough room for all of us in the cab as we were jammed tight. I was on the outside and I could not shut the door. So every time that we did a right turn, I had to hang on like grim death to stop myself from being thrown out of the vehicle onto the glistening road which reflected the hundred lights ahead of us all the way but I preferred that discomfort to riding on the back of an open lorry and getting drenched to the skin. The driver dropped us off in Garribaldi Square and although I knew where we were I was lost for a minute or two in the darkness and did not know which of the many roads to take that lead off from the square but, after getting our bearings we set off down the road via Garribaldi and caught a tram that took us to the big tunnel that is situated just below the Kings Palace. Here we got off and walked along the coast road in the rain until we reached the R.A.F. Malcolm Club where we booked a bed and after having a wash we each consumed two big suppers and we still felt hungry.
Although we also felt very much refreshed we were ready for bed and I fell asleep the moment that my head touched the pillow. We did not get up very early on the following morning but after having breakfast in the club we took a little walk along the sea front. That afternoon we hitch hiked along the Autostrada and on the Castel-la-mar where Les visited some friends that lived there and I walked on up the hill to Gragnano where I called on the family that were so good to us when I was billeted next door to them. I picked Les up later that evening and we caught the last train back to Naples from Castle la-mar. It was a very nice rattling around the bay in the moonlight as there were no lights in the Italian trains at that time. On arrival at the club we booked the same bed once more for that night and the following one. Next morning we were up early and decided to take advantage of our day pass for Rome. When we set out from Naples it was raining once again. We also decided to travel along Route 6, we rode on four different types of vehicles before we had covered the 130 mile journey which was another very cold one. Our route took us through Anzio the scene of the famous Italian bridgehead 20 miles south of Rome. The Italians certainly [inserted] PAID [/inserted] for their folly in entering the war against us by teaming up with the Germans. Around this area, town and villages were completely raised to the ground and all that remained for us to see was heaps of rubble. It was the same in the spots which consisted of no mans land during the time of the Casino hold up. Even the last town south of untouched Rome had been badly damaged by bombs and shell fire.
It was late afternoon when we drove past the twisted girders that was all that remained of the hangers of Rome Airport and which stood beneath the shadows of the ruins of the old Roman viaduct that in the days of ancient Rome carried the city’s water supply down from the mountains. Of course very few of the one time thousands of archways remain. We then drove on along the main Colossiem [sic] road and into the centre of the city where we alighted from the lorry and found ourselves surrounded by many large and beautiful buildings. At that time we had no idea of where we were going to stay that night. Officially the city had been declared an open one so all troops were supposed to leave before the 11 o’clock curfew. But this problem was solved for us when within five minutes of our arrival whilst walking down one of the main roads we were approached by an Italian who asked us if we were looking for somewhere to sleep and that if we were he knew of a place. So after deciding that we had nothing to lose if we gave the place a look over, [inserted] SO [/inserted] we told the fellow to take us to it. We followed him to a house in a nearly [sic] turning and were shown into a nicely furnished [deleted] road [/deleted] [inserted] ROOM [/inserted] which was offered to us at a reasonable price. As it looked homely we immediately said that we would take it. Our next step was to find somewhere to eat, we were directed to the big Y.M.C.A. building where we obtained tea and cakes.
This lovely building contained every facility for a chap on leave. Whilst we were eating the Italian orchestra that was playing in the restaurant were broadcasting over the Rome Radio, before we left the building we booked up for to go on one of the many Y.M.C.A.’s tours of Rome on the following morning. We chose the Vatican tour the others included visits to the Appien Way, etc but the bookings for that tour was already completed or we would have gone on both.
After 10 p.m. we had to keep our eyes on the look out for Military Police. On a couple of occasions we had to run and dodge quickly around a corner to avoid running into them.
cont ……
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Next morning we were outside the Y.M. at 9.30 am where a little later we climbed on to waiting lorries and were driven through the city over the river Tiber and past the beautiful building of the Palace of Justice. At this point we could see the castle of St. Angelo in the distance. A little further along from there we came to the main entrance gate way into the Vatican City, the whole of which is completely surrounded by a high banked wall. The hallway in which we found ourselves on passing through the gate way was built completely with green marble. It was in this hall that the well known Swiss Guards in their ceremonial dress stood on sentry duty. We then travelled up a sloping spiral wide stairway all built with the same type of marble. On arriving at the top of the slope we arrived at the Vatican City’s modern Post Office. We all stopped in this spot for a few minutes whilst all those in the party that wished to send a picture postcard home did so. At the time that Post office was the only one in the world from which the mail when posted was not censored. After buying our entrance ticket we proceeded on the tour and saw many priceless and ancient gifts that had been presented to the various Popes by various nations at various times. Then we passed through the map room which contained many maps hundreds of years old. Then there were the rooms that had been completely painted by such famous painters as Michelangelo and Raffaello. [sic] These paintings were really marvellous and breath taking just to look at them and the hundreds of colours that made up the paintings. The same with the other rooms no words of mine can describe fully their splendour and magnificence. All I can say is that they are worth travelling hundreds of miles to see. Nowhere else in the world can there be such a great and valuable collection of Arts and treasures.
We also saw the main hall where each new Pope is chosen and elected and during the course of the tour I saw every scene that is shown in my postcard pictures of the Vatican City. On arrival back at the main entrance we walked around the outside of the permiiter [sic] wall of the city until we came to the court yard of the famous St. Peters. It was outside that same perimeter wall that up until Italy surrendered German and Italian troops patrolled in the hope of re-capturing escaped Allied prisoners.
As immediately anyone touched the wall of the Holy City the could not be retaken prisoner and so they were consequently inturned [sic] in the Vatican until our troops captured the City of Rome.
On arrival in the circular forecourt we walked around the collonade [sic] on the right side of court and up the right hand stairway before entering the Cathedral. At the top of those hundred or more steps we were shown into a large long room which was situated just off the main building and it was in this room that the Pope gave his daily audiences. When we went in many service personnel from many of the United Nations lined the roped corridor leading up to the Popes Throne. A few minutes later about fifty Swiss Guards marched in and stood at close intervals along the two red silken ropes. Then as the notes of noon boomed from a clock overhead all became silent when the doors at the end of the room opened and the Pope appeared being bourne on his chair along the roped passageway until he reached his Throne. The Pope spoke first in very good English and then in French followed by Italian. He then gave us all his Blessing and also blessed any article that anyone took up to Him before being bourn [sic] from the room. I had a seat upon a raised platform so I was able to see the whole scene quite clearly.
My one big regret was that we did not have time enough to go around St Peters itself but, that is a tour in itself. As it was 12.30 p.m. when we decended [sic] into the beautiful forecourt once more and we were felling half starved through not having anything to eat since the previous evening it was a case of necessity for us to get a meal before doing anything else that day. So we paid a visit to one of the R.A.F. clubs where we filled in a big hollow. By rights we should have left the city by that time as our passes for Rome had expired but as our S.W.O. had very conveniently stamped our written passes at both the top and the bottom of the paper and all of our writing was at the top it left the bottom half blank. So we cut the paper in half and on the bottom half Les wrote out a fresh pass
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for the following day and I forged the S.W.O’s signature. This last paragraph of mine may be a bit complicated to understand but if you look on the opposite page you will see what I mean.
That same afternoon we toured some of the ruins of ancient Rome including the “Amptheatre” [sic] where at one time Christians were thrown to the lions. We also saw Mousolinni’s [sic] big house and the balcony from which he used to shout and rave. At the time the building was being used to house an Italian Art Exhibition but we did not have time to pay it a visit. In the evening we saw a bit of the modern Rome when we toured many of the main streets all of which were well lit the same as all the well stocked shop windows. Then we went in one of the theatres and saw a variety revue, in which an Italian Film star sang. Most of the show was in Italian but bits of it was English. Anyway we could understand most of the [deleted] words [/deleted] [inserted] TURNS, [/inserted] until it came to a comic cross talk all and that was completely beyond us. We just had to sit there with straight faces whilst all the people around us roared with laughter. I bet we looked as funny as the comics.
From what we saw of the chorus, we could tell that the city of Rome did not possess a Lord Chamberlain. Next morning it was raining when we set out on our long journey back to Naples. For a long time, we stood on the pavement thumbing a lift beneath the shadow of the hundred upon hundreds of years old ruins of the Amptheatre, [sic] until an American van which was going all the way into Naples stopped to pick us up. We made very good time whilst travelling along the treacherous icebound roads. It snowed for most of the time during our trip and I could not keep warm at all. Although I had a blanket over my knees, I still could not feel my feet. The snow kept driving in sheets in through the back of the van. I do not know how the driver managed to see the road ahead. All the time as it was almost indistinguishable. We passed through the town of Santa Maria where I knew that Cyril was stationed but as the weather was so bad we decided to push on to Naples, as we might not have been able to get another lift later on that night. I intended to pay him a surprise visit the very next day. But as things turned out, I am forever sorry that I did not stop. Anyway when we arrived in Caserta we stopped for a short while and on getting out of the van I had to run and stamp up and down the road with tears in my eyes to try and get some circulation in my frozen feet.
I felt much better after the Americans had taken us both into their Red Cross Club as guests and had fed us up with doughnuts and hot coffee. It was nearly 2 p.m. when we said cheerio to them in the familiar Garribaldi Square of Naples.
After taking our time over a meal in the Kings Palace we went back to the R.A.F. Malcolm club to book our beds for that night. As soon as we gave our names to the reception desk on arriving at the Club, we were informed that a Sargent [sic] from the R.A.F. Special Investigation Branch had been asking for us continuously on the telephone and calling at the Club every so often to see if we were there for the past three days and that they had left a message saying that I was to call him up as soon as we came into the Club again. I immediately went to the phone and dialled the number given to me. On being put through to the Police Headquarters, I asked to speak to the Sargent, [sic] and was informed that he had not come in yet. I telephone on two further occasions during the following hour and a half only to receive the same reply. Finally, I asked them to ring me back as soon as he came in. I informed the desk that if a call came through for me they could locate me in the dining hall After sitting there for a restless and boring hour, I went upstairs to where [deleted] the [/deleted] [inserted] A [/inserted] dance was in progress in one of the big rooms, but I did not take much notice of the dancing or the music as in the back of mind visions had arisen of spending the night behind bars or under close arrest.
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In the dance we met two other chaps who were also on leave from our Squadron. They also told us that the police were looking for us but they could not get the information from the Sargent [sic] as to what he wanted us for. At the end of the dance, I was informed by the girl receptionist that the Sergent [sic] was waiting for me down in the dining hall. So down I went to find out the worst. He was quite a nice chap not at all like so many of the S.P’s. It turned out that [inserted] DURING [/inserted] the night of the day that we left for Rome thieves were caught stealing and on being chased they dropped an automatic agroscope and on the label attached to it was marked 267 Squadron and that Les and I were the only two fellows that had booked a bed in the club that night and who came from 267. But as we failed to sleep there and had not turned up during the two following days because there was no 267 lorry around after the theft, they thought that perhaps we had gone off in the lorry and had stolen. [inserted] IT. [/inserted]
However, matters were cleared up when I explained that we had both been up to Rome and had convinced him that we had no lorry, with us. I put forward the theory that perhaps the Squadrons weekly stores waggon van to Naples had called in athe [sic] and had started on its return trip to Barri not stopping in Naples for the night and that the Gyro must have been stolen off of the truck.
After finally telling the Sergent [sic] where [deleted] our visit was stationed [/deleted] [inserted] WE WERE STAYING [/inserted] he seemed satisfied. Anyway we heard no more about the incident. Next day it poured with rain incessantly so we were unable to get out to Santa Maria again to pay Cyril a visit. In the morning we went to a film show in the cinema of the Palace and then we had dinner there. Then we reposed in a nice easy chair and listened to an orchestral concert in the Ballroom before paying an afternoon visit to the Opera. The Grand San Carlo Opera House is situated next to the Palace. In peace time only the notibilities [sic] of the country were allowed to enter and witness the Operas etc performed there. Standing beneath the stone pillered [sic] canopy covering the pavement by the main entrance to the Opera House watching the cars, etc, drive up in the rain, the building did not look at all impressive. Its interior was just the reverse it was truly beautiful. The ceiling was painted with complete scenes of 101 colours. There are no balconies in the building the three sides of the theatre looking upon the stage is one mass of private boxes. Les and I had one of these boxes to ourselves and we felt like millionaires sitting there in a plush comfy seats and with all the gilt fittings around etc.
During our walk back to the club at the completion of the performance the rain turned into snow and on arrival at the club we looked more like a couple of snowmen than anything else. Next morning we set out to get back to Barri. We received first set back when we found out that the one and only road to Foggia across the mountains was blocked with snow drifts and it was not expected to be open to traffic until at least three days later. We than proceeded to the Garribaldi Railway Station and it was there that we received our second set back. The Railway Transport Officer informed us that the troops section of the train to Barri that night was completely booked up to its capacity.
On being told that there was not the slightest chance of getting on it when it left, we decided that as the weather was or looked too bad for flying, that Les should hitch hike up to the airport and get our passes signed there to say that we could not get back by air. [deleted] Here [/deleted] [inserted] THEN [/inserted] we would be in the clear if we arrived back at camp overdue. Whilst he went to the drome I sat on a seat on the square just outside the station and kept my eye on our kit. Les returned an hour later and informed me that if I had gone up to the drome with him we would have been on our way to Barri at that moment. It turned out that just as he arrived at the drome he ran into one of [deleted] the [/deleted] [inserted] OUR [/inserted] Squadron Pilots who was just about to take off for Barri in one of the Squadron aircraft. As I was back in Naples Les had to come back instead of just jumping into the aircraft. By that time it was definite that we would not get back to camp that night so we dumped our kit in the Palace and went to see a film show and then another show given by an R.A.F. Concert Party before going back to the club and spending an other night there.
cont …..
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[inserted] 125A. [/inserted]
[copy of the Army Welfare Newsletter]
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[map detailing the Welfare Facilities in Naples]
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Next morning we held another conference we were due back at Camp by midnight that same day so we had to work out some plan of action. We knew that travelling by road was impossible and that if we caught that days train from Naples we would not get back to camp until at the earliest, dinner time on the following day. So we decided to try the Airport together and hoped that one of our aircraft would land there and take off for home that same day. As we walked down the “Via Roma” it started to rain once again and after hitch hiking half of the way to Pamiglianno Airport a teriffic [sic] thunderstorm broke and the rain came down in torrents and just rushed down the streets and flooded them. As we stood in there in the doorway which we ran to for shelter from the rain our hopes diminished as it certainly was not flying weather. As soon as the rain eased a little we were out in the [inserted] ROADWAY [/inserted] thumbing another lift, this one took us along our route for another mile and a half. Then down came the rain once more and by the time we had reached shelter under an archway of a stone roadside farmhouse a little way up the road our clothes were soaked through. It was whilst we were standing beneath that archway that I discovered that our flying permits were dated for the previous day. But after a careful bit of forgery this little spot of trouble was eliminated.
As soon as it eased once more we pushed on and it was only drizzling with rain when we arrived at the airfields control tower,, [sic] where the loudspeakers were announcing the times and numbers etc of aircraft taking off for Algiers, Florence Marseiles [sic] etc.
As we made our through the passengers [inserted] ROOM [/inserted] where a bunch of people were waiting to be carried to many different corners of the globe we ran into another of our pilots and feeling as miserable as we did at the time we could have kissed him when he said that he had just come in from Cairo and was about to start for Barri as soon as the weather broke a bit and he had got [inserted] A [/inserted] further weather report from the control tower. The pilot then got our names and weight etc put on the manifest and we climbed on board the crew waggon and were driven out to the aircraft where they were still unloading crates of eggs.
We picked our way from the waggon and across the mud. I then took the locks off of the controls and the locking pins from the undercarriage before climbing aboard and closing the door of the aircraft. A few moments later, first one and then the other of the engins [sic] came to life and we taxied down to the runway, where after an engine check the pilot opened up the throttles and the engines roared still louder and the aircraft leaped forward gathering speed until up came the tail and in a few moments we found ourselves airborne and circling over Naples bidding the city goodbye.
As we looked out of one of the small side windows, we could see Mount Vesuvius to our right rearing up above the clouds. We had the aircraft to ourselves except for the crew and a few crates of eggs which were for our breakfasts during the following [deleted] four [/deleted] mornings. I did not like it at all when we circled round and round in between the mountains gaining height all the time so that we would be able to fly over the highest range. For quite a time we were flying blind through the clouds and mist and were unable to see anything outside the aircraft whatsoever. Then a little later on we occasionally caught a glimpse of the area beneath us. The mountainous countryside was covered with one complete blanket of snow and it all looked very desolate and bleak as well as peaceful.
I should have hated to have had to crash land on any of those valleys or into one of those mountains. Only a couple of weeks previously two M.P’s touring Italy disappeared whilst flying on that same route. I breathed a sigh of relief immediately we caught sight of the Adriatic coastline and were flying in perfectly clear weather once again. A few minutes later we were circling over familiar ground and we touched down on our home runway.
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Forty five minutes after taking off. An hour previously we were worrying about being 18 hours overdue and there we were sitting in our cookhouse having dinner with 12 hours to go before our leave pass expired. I spent the following hour reading the mail that I found waiting for me on my bed when I walked into our room.
That same afternoon I saw our football team (the champions of the Southern Italy area) get beaten for the first time. So ended my weeks leave after travelling over 750 miles by bus tram, train, lorry, vans, car, air and even by horse and cart. On the following day it was [inserted] BACK [/inserted] to the usual routine once more. It was around about this time that a South African Dakota coming back from Yougoslavia [sic] one foggy night could not find our airfield although we could hear it circling overhead. Finally the sound of the engines receeded [sic] and the aircraft ran out of petrol and crashed into a field near the town of Altimura and all of the crew and all but one of the 24 passengers were killed. I could tell you a rather grisly story about this same incident but I will not as I do not want to make you feel sick. If you really want to hear about it just ask me to tell it to you.
On the 23rd of Jan it snowed so hard that after dinner all the ground crew on our Squadron had to help sweep the snow off the wings, and the tail units of the aircraft before they were able to take off on their mission of carrying Yugoslavians [inserted] TROOPS [/inserted] back to their own country to fight the [deleted] troops [/deleted] Germans, only this time they were well trained and equipped.
The 29th Jan was a very black day for us all. We were delivered a big bombshell when we were told that the Squadron had been posted to India and for the next few days everyone walked around looking very glum. That same evening the Corporal in charge of our gang held a farewell party to which I was invited. On the following day he started on his long journey back to England and his home in Reading, after completing 4 years overseas service.
During the following days the Squadron was in a turmoil. Those aircraft that only had a few hours flying to do before becoming due for Inspection were inspected. We were leaving all the fellows behind who had less than 3 months overseas service to do. Every day, lists kept coming in posting these chaps to different units all over Italy. In 3 days, three lists came in posting one chap to three different places, so you can see what a big muddle it all was. We spent the following Wednesday sorting out the technical equipment that we were going to take along with us [deleted] rough [/deleted] [inserted] WEIGH [/inserted]ing it. Then I had to pack my kit and hand one kit bag into stores as we were only allowed to take 100 lbs of kit each along with us on the aircraft. This weight also included our bed roll and small pack Then we had to weigh ourselves so that it could all go down on the manifest of the aircraft that we were to travel in. Also in the afternoon we had to change our money into Egyptian currency, after which we all had to go up to sick quarters and have a Yellow Fever and a Thyphus [sic] Booster Inoculation. Sick quarters also wanted to give me two others, in the same area but I finally convinced them that I did not feel like having them straight after the first two.
Next day, we spent marking and weighing more equipment and loading it on to different aircraft and I also helped to dismantle a crane that we were taking along with us. Incidentally during this operation two of us got hit on the heads when a section of the crane fell away. I was lucky only to receive a small bump on the head. That evening a big party was held in our canteen as there was large stocks of wine still left that had to be drunk or thrown away and you would not [deleted] ask [/deleted] [inserted] CATCH [/inserted] any 267 Squadron personnel [deleted] to [/deleted] throwing drink away. I went to bed early that night as I was thinking of the morrow so I missed most of the farewell party.
Next morning, the 2nd Feb we all received an early call at 4.20 am after getting the sleep out of our eyes we did our last minute packing before going down to breakfast. Then we bade farewell to the chaps in the room that we were leaving behind before carting all of the bags etc that made up our 100 lb of kit down the staircase at the bottom of which we loaded it all on to a waiting lorry. Then we loaded ourselves on and were driven down [deleted] on [/deleted] to the airfield. As we passed by the tail of each aircraft that were parked in a long line, we made out the number of it
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by the aid of a torchlight and shouted it out. If anyone on board was flying with that aircraft we stopped and dropped him and his kit off the lorry. On reaching Dakota FD920 “R” for Raymond I was dropped off and struggled with my kit ankle deep in the mud all the way to the aircrafts doorway. I was the first to arrive so I opened the door and placed the steps in position and climbed aboard and felt my way up the steps in the darkness until I bumped into the cockpit door. Then after a couple of unrepeatable words I opened the door and went into the cockpit and switched on all the lights inside the aircraft. Within a few more minutes more lorries went by in the darkness and more chaps came staggering across in the mud to 920. I helped them on with their kit and shouted out to the different lorries that it was 920. This went on until there were 15 of us along with three puppies in a basket. We spent the next half hour storing the kit and roping it down and fixing the [deleted] basket [/deleted] [inserted] BUCKET [/inserted] seats and making ourselves comfortable. We than [sic] ran up the engines to see what they were like as as [sic] they proved satisfactorily to us it put our minds at rest as our lives might have depended on them. Many of the chaps on board looked a bit bleary eyed which was a result of the party the night before and of having little sleep. A little later the crew arrived and after adjusting and fastening our safety belts we were all set and ready to begin our long trip to the Far East. We watched the first three fully loaded aircraft take off. They just managed to get airborne as they reached the end of the runway. Everyone looked at each other and then at the piles and piles of kit, but no one said a word although we all knew what every single person was thinking of whilst taxing [sic] to the runway when our turn to take off came.
After checking the engines the pilot swung the aircraft out into the centre of the runway and a few moments later the engines roared to life and we begun to gather speed and after what seemed an eternity up came the tail and on passing over the road at the end of the runway, we all breathed a sigh of relief and the atmosphere instead of remaining tense returned to normal once again and chaps began to talk once more as we carried on serenely banking to the left until we headed in a Southerly direction. It was then 7-10 a.m. Some of the fellows started to read books and four of them made up a card school to pass the time away whilst we were in the air. I contented myself by looking out of the side windows for the next hour seeing as much scenery of Southern Italy from the air as was possible. We flew over Taranto Harbour and on across the heel of Italy and said goodbye to Italy and its coastline at 8.15 a.m. and headed across the open sea. By that time we were all wearing Mae West Life Saving Jackets in case we had to land on the sea. As the only scenery below was acres of blank water, I started to read a book that I had bought along with me. It was 11.30 a.m. when we first sighted the coast line of Lybia and we crossed in a few minutes later at a point just west of Tobruk and we could see the town and harbour to the left of us. Apart from that there was nothing but sand, sand and more sand as far as the eye could see which from the height that we were flying must have been just on 50 miles or more [deleted] of [/deleted] it was a perfectly clear day and the sun was beating down upon the sand.
The only shade in this vast area of some 2500 sq miles of desert was made by the clouds as there were only a few small clouds about. Only a few small dark patched dulled the scorching sand beneath us. From the air we could clearly define the thousands of slit trenches and gun emplacements etc that at one time had been a part of Tobruk defence system whilst it had been besieged by the German and Italian armies.
First there was the outer ring of positions and then the inner defence ring. A little further out in the desert we could make out the positions held by the Germans throughout the battle for the Town. God knows how our troops stopped from going mad whilst living for months in that desolate and unchanging area.
cont …….
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[inserted] 129 [/inserted]
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After flying inland for a few minutes we began to circle and lose height and we touched down on the sand runway of the El Adem airfield situated in the desert S.W of Tobruk at 11.50 a.m. After taxeing [sic] up alongside the two of the Squadrons aircraft which had landed before us the engines were switched off and we all stepped out on to the sand into the heat. Almost immediately crews of the staging post stationed on the airfield began to refuel our plane. Whilst the [inserted] PETROL [/inserted] bowsers were driving into position another [deleted] petrol [/deleted] vehicle drew up alongside of us which was the station bus.
After taking our seats we were driven to the control tower and waited whilst our pilot booked in and then on the very modern airways transit canteen. Here we were able to refresh ourselves by having a wash before entering a large well laid out carpeted dining hall. On seating ourselves at one of the tables, a four course meal was brought in to us in stages by Italian prisoner waiters. Then after having a couple of cups of tea we retired to the lounge for a short rest and a smoke before being taken back to the control tower so that our pilot could book out and then back to our aircraft.
As we climbed aboard the first of our aircraft was starting to taxi out and another three aircraft had arrived after us. As soon as we had taken out the control locks and undercarriage pins we closed the door and then the engines roared to life once more and off we went down to the commencement of the runway and then we soared up into the air like a bird and headed east on the next lap of our trip. Of course for the next three hours most of the scenery was nothing but blank sand. As we looked down we could see the shadow of our own aircraft winging its way across the sand thousands of feet below us. Then at intervals we could look out and see other of our aircraft [deleted] coming [/deleted] [inserted] CARRYING [/inserted] our friends, flying along to the side of us at the same height.
Once we flew into thick white clouds and then we climbed above them and when we looked below us it looked just like a big bed of white down and almost made me feel that I could step out of the aircraft on to it and walk on air. Whilst flying among light clouds, they looked like puffs of cotton wool floating past us. As I said before, their shadow created all sorts of patterns on the sand below. During the trip two of the puppies had to be fed with tinned milk by the aid of an improvised dummy. The other pup could lap it up for himself. It was just upon 5 p.m. when we looked upon the green belt surrounding Cairo. We had to circle for quite a while over the desert near by watching other aircraft land and take off and looking down upon the runways, hangers a dozen or more tented sites inter connected by Tarmac roads running from the Tarmac taxi track which in turn joined the system of runways. All this tarmac showed up vividly against the rest of the ground, which was completely compiled of golden sand. At least it looked golden from the air. We also circled a couple of times [deleted] of [/deleted] the Cairo and Alexandria road. Then it was our turn to land. First the undercarriage and then the flaps were lowered and as our speed slowed, we glided down and landed on the airport at Cairo (West).
From that moment, it was one big rush until darkness decended [sic] being driven to the South African living site, finding vacant space in a tent then being driven to the cookhouse for a meal and then back to the camp site once more. That same evening a few of my friends and myself walked to the canteen and spent a few hours drinking as much beer as we wanted eating many egg sandwiches and playing housey housey.
Next morning, I had to help with Minor Inspection on one of the aircraft that had become due for inspection which had to be completed before the aircraft was allowed to fly again. Other chaps had to carry out daily inspections on the other five aircraft. Then there was the re-fuelling party etc.
cont ……
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[inserted] 130 [/inserted]
- 10 –
After dinner I had a quick wash and then I hitch hiked the 12 miles into Cairo along the main Alex/Cairo road. I spent the rest of the day touring all the old haunts that I used to frequent when I was at Cairo previously. But I seemed to be a bit lonely that afternoon as I was not able to just pop round and call on Cyril as I had done so many times before. I had my two meals in the Victory Club and enjoyed once again the poached eggs and baked beans on toast, ice cream, salads, etc. The worse part of the day came when it was time for me to start back for camp and nothing would stop for me. After an hour of thumbing, I went to the airways bus station in the city and the attendant told me that I could travel on their bus that went up to the airport at 3 a.m. As that was not a bright outlook I tried hitch hiking once more only this seemed time I stood by the big bridge that [deleted] opens [/deleted] [inserted] SPANS [/inserted] the Nile river.
Almost immediately the driver of a Generals car pulled up for me. I sat back in the lovely comfortable car that just purred along and in no time we had arrived at the Mena House Hotel which was where I had to get out as the driver had to pick up the General as soon as he left me. I had another long wait in that spot beneath the shadow of the Great Pyramid before an Officer stopped and took me to the entrance of the airport. As the time was getting on, I decided that it would be quicker for me to cut across the sand to get to my tent. I knew that the camp was situated near a hanger with red danger light on top of it, a warning for low flying aircraft. I picked out one of the many red lights and set out towards it. But when I neared the hanger after walking for over twenty minutes, I discovered that it was the wrong one and there I was wandering around in the sand having completely lost my bearings.
I eventually found myself in the centre of the main of runways and then landed up in an Officer’s camp where they were able to put me on my correct course. So I set off once again across the sand and after I had arrived at our camp, and I had found my tent and had climbed between my blankets it was past 3 a.m. Was I thankful at being able to rest my feet and in no time I was sound asleep.
Next morning, we were driven to our aircraft which we ran up before being taken back to our tents once more. That same afternoon a party of us went into Cairo again only this time, it was on a lorry that we had borrowed from the S.A.A.F. On arrival in the city it was arranged that the driver should pick us up at 10.30 p.m. outside Groppies (the select Lyons of the East). I spent the afternoon touring the murky bazars in the Old Cairo and eating more good food. In the evening I went to one of the city’s most modern cinemas and saw a film show.
At 10.15 p.m. I made my way along the main road named Solomon [deleted] Pacha [/deleted] [inserted] PASHA [/inserted] towards Groppies. and on arrival there I found many of the other Squadron chaps but no lorry. 11.15 p.m arrived and still there was no sign of our lorry. By that time we were tired of walking up and down outside Lady Tedders Club and [inserted] SOME OF [/inserted] the fellows were getting a bit worried [deleted] some [/deleted] [inserted] AS HALF [/inserted] of them were due to take off at 1.30 a.m. less than 3 hours later. So, after a few more minutes of useless waiting we had to commandeer the airways bus to take us back to camp where we had supper in the dining hall before going to bed or rather only the chaps not taking off had the pleasure of going to bed. It turned out that our lorry had been waiting in the road on the opposite side of Groppies and had left at 10.30 p.m. with no more than a couple of chaps on board.
After breakfast next day we were taken out to R for Raymond once more and we stowed all of our kit and ourselves inside once more. This time we only had the two younger pups with us as we were unable to find the third one. It was hellish hot inside the fusalage [sic] whilst waiting to take off and the sweat poured from us whilst our soaked through clothes clung to us.
cont …….
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[inserted] 131 [/inserted]
- 11 –
We retracted our undercarriage at 8.10 a.m. and conditions soon changed, we were able to breath in nice clean fresh air once more and as we again, gained height it became cold once more and we had to put on our battle dress blouses as we passed over the Pyramids and the wide silver ribbon of the Nile, before we came to the end of the green belt and headed in a North Easterly direction across the Arabian Desert. After covering approximately 225 miles in a direct line we found ourselves over the Mediterranean coastline some where in Palestine and then we followed it for a little while before changing our course and heading inland once more travelling in another direct line which took us over the dead sea near Jerusalem on until we neared the border of South Eastern Syria. At that point we changed course once more and flew South Eastwards in another direct line. as 95% of this trip was over desert I did not spend much time looking out the windows behind me upon sand. I read a book for a short time and then fell off to sleep until someone in the aircraft shouted that he had caught sight of an airfield and sure enough we began to lose height and the wireless operator came in from the cockpit compartment and told us to take our seats and fasten our safety belts. It was 2.25 p.m. when we touched down and after a few small bumps finally ran along smoothly on the runway of Shieba Airport in Iraq. This was one of the hottest spots in the world at certain times of the year and we certainly felt the heat as soon as the aircraft came to a stop. The first thing we did was to book in at a small office where we were given a ticket that enabled us to obtain a free meal, at the airports transit canteen. Most of us were so hungry that we changed some of our money into fills, (Iraq currency) and bought a second meal for ourselves. Next we were taken by lorry to the domestic camp where we were directed to a brick built bungalow billet which was one of many built on the sand at that spot. After collecting blankets and having another meal in the cookhouse this time I had a wash and went straight to bed as we had to be up at 1. a.m.
Some of the chaps went to the camp cinema as there was a very good film on that evening. They certainly did not get much sleep as, no sooner had they got into bed, than it was time for them to get up. When we were called I got up with much reluctance as the bed on which I slept was the most comfortable one I had had since coming overseas.
It was dark and quite chilly when we were driven across the sand to our aircraft. As soon as we became airborne at 3.20 a.m. in the middle of the night, we untied our blanket rolls and put their contents on the floor turned out the aircraft lights and went to sleep. The next thing I knew was that we had landed and were taxying in the darkness towards a dispersal point. I never even felt the jolt as the wheels touched the ground.
After arousing myself I found out that it was 5.30 a.m. in the morning and that we were in Barrein Island in the Persian Gulf, just off the coast of Iran. We were driven straight to the cookhouse for breakfast and then back to our aircraft once more. During this intervening time it had become light and we discovered that we had caught up with the Squadron aircraft that had taken off 8 hours before us at Cairo West. We also retrieved our third puppy which had been lost and which had been brought along in one of the advanced aircraft.
I should think that one could easily have gone around the bend as we say, if they stayed on that Island for too long, what with the heat and flat outlook and apart from the airfield and a native village there was nothing else on that tropical desert island which almost becomes completely flooded over on certain occasions.
At 6.55 a.m. we were away again flying over the pale blue water of the Gulf and then on across Persia itself and its sereen [sic] desert countryside. As we looked down, thousands of feet below us we could clearly see the stone native villages mostly built beside a river which partly irrigated the nearby sandy soil so that a strip either side of the river became fertilized and and [sic] beyond these strips the earth became sand once again. We could also see [underlined] Manajantuque [/underlined] [inserted] [symbol] [/inserted] [inserted] [symbol] MANY ANTIRUS [/inserted] hand made sailing craft on the waterways between the villages. Then a few hours later we arrived over the coastline of India and for a time we flew alongside it over the Indian ocean.
cont …….
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Burma is situated in Southeast Asia and is bordered on the north and northeast by China, on the east and southeast by Laos and Thailand, on the south by the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal and on the west by Bangladesh and India. The country covers an area of 678,580 square kilometres in the shape of a diamond, 920 kilometres from east to west and 2080 kilometres from north to south. It is a land of hills and valleys and is rimmed on the north, east and west by mountain ranges forming a giant horseshoe. Enclosed within this mountain barrier are the flatlands of Irrawaddy, Chindwin and Sittang River valleys where most of the country’s agricultural land population is concentrated.
As the greater part of the country lies within the tropics, Burma has a tropical climate with three seasons: the rainy, the hot and the cold.
The rainy season is from mid-May to mid-October and the cold season from October to February when the temperature in the south may fall within the neighbourhood of 60oF (16oC). The hot season precedes the rains.
The people of Burma are of Mongoloid stock and are descended from three main branches: the Tibeto-Burman, the Mon-Khmer and the Thai-Chinese. The principal races are the Burmese, Shan, Kachin, Karen, Chin, Kayah, Mon and Rakhine. The population is 36.39 millions with an annual growth rate of 2 per cent.
Buddhism is the predominant religion and over 80 per cent of the population is Buddhist. Other religions are Christianity, Islam and Hinduism.
Born of a land of plenty which is blessed with a favourable climate and inhabited by a happy and creative people, Burma’s culture on the whole is indigenous. It has preserved the traditions of close family ties, respect for elders, reverence for Buddhism and simple native dress. Buddhism and the natural wealth of the land have contributed much to the nature of Burmese culture.
This country’s charm springs from the ability of her people to be themselves, to enjoy to the fullest their traditional culture.
Festivals form the centre of Burmese social life and each month of the Burmese calendar has its own particular festive occasion. Thingyan or the water festival which falls around 13th April ushers in the Burmese New Year.
Kason of Buddha’s Day (in May) is a three-fold anniversary of the Buddha: the Day of his Birth, the Day of his Enlightenment and the Day of his Demise.
Full Moon Day of Waso (in July) commemorates Buddha’s first sermon and the beginning of Buddhist Lent.
Thadingyut or the Festival of lights marks the end of the Buddhist Lent (in October) when all the places are brilliantly illuminated.
Tazaungdaing also the Light Festival is held on the Full Moon Day of Tazaungmon (in November).
The Festival of the Phaung-Daw-Oo Pagoda in the Inle Lake is both pageantry and spectacular.
Taung Pyone Festival of Nats (Spirits) held near Mandalay in August is a joyous and light-hearted merry-making.
Rangoon, the capital city, is the only gateway into Burma. Entry by overland route is not allowed. Tourists are advised to travel only to the main tourist centres of Pagan, Mandalay, Taunggyi and their vicinities as specified below and shown on the map.
Rangoon Area – Rangoon City proper and – Htaukkyant – Pegu – Syriam/Kyauktan (by steamer) – Twante (by steamer)
Pagan Area – Nyaung-Oo and Pagan proper as well as – Kyaukpadaung – Popa – Meiktila – Thazi
Mandalay Area – Mandalay City proper and – Sagaing – Amarupura – Ava – Mingung (by steamer) – Maymyo (Up to Pwekauk Waterfalls)
Taunggyi Area – Taunggyi City proper and – Nyaung Shwe – Inle Lake (Up to Phaungdaw Oo Pagoda) – Shwe Nyaung – Kalaw – Pindaya – Khaung-daing (Inle spa)
As there are some restricted areas in the country, it is advisable to consult the Information Counters of Tourist Burma before making arrangements to visit places outside the main tourist centres. Unless escorted by authorised Tour Guides, tourists who are found in places other than the areas stated above may be turned back to the nearest Tourist Centre by the local authorities concerned.
Tourists are also not allowed to travel overland by Coach and Taxis unless arrangements are made through Tourist Burma.
Tourists may travel to the main tourist centres either by plane or overland by train or car.
(i) Domestic Flights: The best way is to fly from Rangoon to the tourist centres of Pagan, Mandalay, and Taunggyi. BAC operates scheduled flights to the tourist centres and passengers are provided with free transfers between airports and hotels.
(ii) Rail Service: There are three regular Express Trains running daily between Rangoon and Mandalay which takes about 12 hours. For visitors to Pagan and Taunggyi there is a bus service at Thazi junction. Service Coupons for bus services are available at the Tourist Burma Counter at Thazi Station. Travelling time from Thazi to Pagan is about 4 hours and from Thazi to Taunggyi about 5 1/2 hours.
(iii) Bus Service: There are also regular bus services between Pagan and Mandalay; Pagan and Taunggyi; and Taunggyi and Mandalay. Service Coupons are available at all Tourist Burma Counters.
(iv) Registered Taxis: Registered taxis for tourists in the Rangoon area are available at Rangoon Airport, Hotels, YMCA and Tourist Burma Counters. Service Coupons are available at all Tourist Burma and Hotel Reception Counters. This includes all transfers from and to airports, as well as transportation arrangements between tourist centres.
(v) Steamer Service: There is a regular Steamer Service from Mandalay down the Irrawaddy River to Pagan/Nyaung-Oo. It is a 12-hour journey leaving Mandalay at 0530 hours and arriving at Nyaung-Oo/Pagan at 1700 hours the same day. This journey is not advisable during the dry season from March to May when the river gets shallow.
There are Hotels run by the Hotel and Tourist Corporation at all tourist centres. Tourists may stay either at these hotels or at Registered Guest Houses for which Service Coupons are available at Tourist Burma Counters.
Apart from the guides employed by Tourist Burma, tourists may also arrange for the services of Registered Tour Guides. They are available, on request, at Tourist Burma and Hotel Reception Counters.
The ideal period to visit Burma is from October through March when the weather is dry and cool. However, there is a likelihood of inconvenience and frustration in getting confirmed seats on flights and hotel rooms if you have made no pre-arrangements. We therefore advise you to make advance bookings for package tours either through your regular Travel Agent or directly to us.
Export of antiques and archaeologically valuable items are prohitbited. [sic] As there is a customs restriction on export of souvenirs of a doubtful nature as well as in quantity, tourists are advised to purchase them only at the Diplomatic Stores and at the Souvenir Shops in each hotel. The vouchers obtained for such purchases on presentation to the Customs authorities at the Rangoon Airport will ensure that the articles will accompany you on your departure from Burma.
Only gems, jewelleries and silverware purchased at the Diplomatic Stores and Souvenir Shops at the Hotels are allowed to be taken out.
Tourist Burma, under the Hotel and Tourist Corporation, is the Sole Tour Operator responsible for all travel and tour arrangements. It handles both Package Tours and FITs through its head office in Rangoon as well as its branch offices in Pagan, Mandalay and Taunggyi. There are also Tourise Information Counters at the airports and railway stations at the main tourist centres.
Please contact any Tourist Burma Counter for any other information you may require. We want to be of assistance to you in order that your visit to our country will be a happy and memorable occasion.
CABLE: ENVOY [Tourist Burma crest] PHONE COUNTRY CODE (095) AREA CODE (01) 78376/75328/80321 [Tourist Burma address stamp]
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X [symbol] 137 (B) SITES OF MY HOME AT AKYAB
[brackets] 171 A 172 B C 173 [/brackets] ALL GENERAL DIFFERENT VIEWS OF TOWN
176 A. ME AGED 21
[symbol] 175 (B) MY PUPPY.
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[symbol] 177 (C) FESTIVAL OF WATER.
[brackets] 178 A 179 179 A [/brackets] JAPANESE OCCUPATION RUPEE NOTES
[symbol] 194 (A) CHRISTMAS 1945 MENUS.
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[map of Rangoon and surrounding area]
[map of Mingaladon base]
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[inserted] 131A.
[underlined] MY PAY BOOK SOUTH EAST ASIA AIR FORCES. [/underlined]
[copy of front page of paybook belonging to Raymond Barrett]
[underlined] NOTE. Seven shillings K DNY 35P [/underlined]
To - - 3 PENCE (i.e. APPROX 2P)
[underlined] FINALLY PAY [indecipherable word] AT END OF HOSTILITIES [/underlined] [deleted] [indecipherable word] [/deleted] [underlined] ONE [/underlined] SHILLING
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[inserted] 131A. [/inserted]
[underlined] MY PAYBOOK SOUTH EAST ASIA AIR FORCES [/underlined]
[copy of inside pages of Raymond Barrett’s paybook]
[duplicate notes from previous page]
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[inserted] 131 A [/inserted]
[underlined] MY PAYBOOK SOUTH EAST ASIA AIRFORCES [/underlined]
[copy of pages from Raymond Barrett’s paybook detailing his daily rates of pay and any deductions]
[duplicate notes from previous page]
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[copy of page from Raymond Barrett’s paybook detailing dates of cash payments received]
[duplicate of notes from previous pages]
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[copy of page from Raymond Barrett’s paybook]
[duplicate notes from previous pages]
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[duplicate page]
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[inserted] 131A [/inserted]
[copy of inside pages from Raymond Barrett’s paybook]
[duplicate notes from previous pages]
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[aerial photograph showing the Flying-Boat Base at Karachi]
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[inserted] 132 [/inserted]
- 12 –
and then we headed eastwards and inland once again over country completely made up of sand hills. During this part of the trip, it became a bit bumpy as we kept dropping into air pockets. A little later we found ourselves circling over Muripur airport just outside Karachi and it was 2.40 p.m. when we touched down upon one of the wide concrete runways.
As soon as our pilot switched off the engines Indians natives entered the aircraft arrived with sprey [sic] guns and fumigated the place out with disinfectant. We decended [sic] half choking from the plane and were driven off to the customs office which we all went through in turn. First we had to give in our name which was ticked off against the manifest, then all photographs that we carried in our pockets were [deleted] covered. [inserted] CONSIDERED. [/inserted] Then our paybooks were checked to see if we had all received a Yellow Fever injection and then we were shown out through the rear of the building to where a lorry was waiting, loaded with all the kit from our aircraft. As soon as the first chap was through the customs he came around to the front of the building once more and took the two pups in the basket around to the back again and hid them beneath the kit on the lorry so that the customs could not take them away from us after bringing them along with us so far. The third pup went through smuggled beneath one of the chaps battle dress jackets. I often have wondered what would have happened if it had popped its head out just as the Officer asked Freddie if he had anything to declare and what the expression on the fellows face would have looked like. As soon as the last chap on our manifest came through we were counted into the lorry once again and were driven off to the nearest transit camp. Here we chose an E.P.I. tent (one between four fellows) and put our kit on the beds and went off to the cookhouse for something to eat. After the meal we hunted for and found the accounts section where we changed all of our money left over in various currencies of the different countries that we had landed in, into Indian Rupies. [sic] Next I hired one of the many natives that were hanging around offering their services and told him to make up my bed, erect my mosquito net and clean my shoes whilst I had a well needed shave and a lovely refreshing cold shower bath.
Six of us on getting dressed decided to pay the town a visit which was six miles away. On arrival at the main road by the entrance to the camp we found a number of taxies waiting. After finding out that the fare for the journey was quite reasonable we chose one and went speeding on our way passing by many camel trains and buffelo [sic] drawn carts all loaded to capicity. [sic] The outskirts of Karachi were very dirty, much the same as the suburbs of Cairo and even the centre of the town was not so very modern. Although my impression may be wrong, as darkness decended [sic] just after we arrived. During the evening we toured three of the main streets exploring the well stocked shops and roadside stalls etc. If we had the money [deleted] we [/deleted] [inserted] ONE [/inserted] would be bound to spend nearly all of it on [inserted] A [indecipherable word] [/inserted] the hundreds of lovely presents that were on sale. As we had very little cash between us we could not buy anything., and so we just had to be content with admiring the articles that we saw.
Before we had been in town very long the shops began to close so after we had eaten an egg and chips supper in the services canteen, we caught a taxi back to Muripur Airfield. Before getting into bed I discovered that I had just gone out to town in time as two of the fellows travelling on our aircraft got trapped into guarding and sleeping in the plane all night.
After breakfast next morning, we were taken out to the aircraft once more and ran [inserted] IT [/inserted] up and checked the engines before the aircrew turned up. A little later we were told that our take-off had been delayed for an hour. We passed this extra time away playing with the pups and throwing stones at the big hawks that kept hovering and gliding overhead and perching on nearby telephone poles and wires.
cont ……..
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[inserted] [underlined] 1. [/underlined] [/inserted]
[picture of a tusked elephant]
When you land in India, you will find almost everything – customs, character, dress, language and colour different. The very philosophy is different.
If your stay is to be both profitable and enjoyable, you will be very wise to spend some time in reading up on the country. There are certainly helpful books aboard the ship.
Practically the whole of the Peninsula is in the Empire. A few places remain in the hands of the Portuguese and the French. The peninsula is roughly 1,600,000 square miles in area, and the population about 340,000,000. Area and population correspond fairly closely to that of Europe, omitting Russia.
There is an even greater variety of climate and country. There are torrid, waterless deserts, such as that of Sind; flat moist tracts in Bengal, rolling wheatfields in the Punjab and United Provinces. The lower slopes of the mountain ranges are temperate and densely wooded, the peaks are in the eternal snows.
The constitution of India is intricate. The Indian States take up about one-third of the peninsula and a quarter of the population.
These states vary in size. Hyderabad and Kashmir are roughly
[inserted] [underlined] PLEASE READ PAGES 1 – 8 [/underlined] [/inserted]
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[inserted] [underlined] 2. [/underlined] [/inserted]
equal in size to Great Britain. There are others which cover only a few square miles, but, whether big or little, internal affairs are their own, right being reserved to exercise such control over legislation as may be necessitated by Imperial interests.
The rulers of the States make their own laws and have their own officers, judges and troops, and may levy taxes.
The rulers are loyal to the Empire, and have given repeated demonstrations of their loyalty. Their personal generosity in the provision of means for prosecuting the war has been lavish.
Study of the map of India will make it evident that her coast line demands protection. The Royal Navy must still undertake the major part of this protection, but the ports are strongly defended from the land.
The chief avenues of approach by sea are by way of the Suez Canal or the Straits of Malacca.
Recent events in the progress of the war have brought these names into great prominence. The significance of the Canal and the Straits is now more fully appreciated; although there is an entrance to the Indian Ocean by way of the Straits of Ormuz from the Persian Gulf – the only other practical route from Britain to India is round the Cape.
From the land, access might be had through Siam and Burma, from China through Tiber, from Russia through Afghanistan, or by way of Persia (Iran).
The longest, and naturally the strongest, land frontier is the mountainous region stretching from Afghanistan to Burma, known as the Himalayas.
Roads across the main Himalayan range are little more than tracks, with passes at heights of between 12,000 and 19,000 feet, and for roughly 200 miles there is a desolate stretch which offers little support for the population.
The North-West Frontier runs roughly from Afghanistan down to Karachi. Not so strong naturally as the Himalayas, ‘The Frontier’ has been the gateway for the hordes of more than thirty invaders. The hills are not comparable in size to the Himalayas, nor do they
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[inserted] [/underlined] 3. [/underlined] [/inserted]
run consistently, but are crossed by valleys, through which most of the invasions took place. Famous names are there, places whose fame has been hardly won: the Khyber and the Kurrum, leading to Kabul; the Tochi and the Gomal, leading to the Kabul-Kandahar road. The Khyber, best known, is the main trade route from Afghanistan to India.
The Bolan-Khojak route is the main gateway from Kandahar.
The history of India is long and fascinating. Great rulers have arisen, great causes have been won and lost; but it is impossible event to hint at an outline of that history in this booklet.
Alexander the Great invaded India in 327 B.C. and succeeded in reaching the sea by way of the Punjab and Sind. When he had withdrawn, the foundations of a great Empire were laid by Chandragupta Maurya, extended by his son and his famous grandson, Asoka, who made Buddhism a world religion. After Asoka died, the Empire crumbled, and Northern India was subjected to a number of invasions during the next 400 years.
Muhammedanism reached India in the eighth century A.D. during the wars of conquest, and Muhammedan rule lasted for some hundreds of years.
Vasco da Gama introduced Portuguese influence at the beginning of the sixteenth century; but the Portuguese failed to hold their position against Dutch and English opposition.
The English East India Company (1600 A.D.), was commercial in conception and intention; but from trade acquired political and military power, successfully defeating French competition. British rule can be said to have commenced with Clive’s arrival in 1765 as the Governor of Bengal.
That influence in India has not been retained without cost.
The price in blood has been high; the price in development has been great.
The Mutiny broke in 1857, and only after hard fighting was it suppressed, to be followed by an Act of Parliament which took all rights of administration from the East India Company, and vested them in the crown.
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[inserted] [underlined] 4. [/underlined] [/inserted]
Since then projects for the ‘Better Government of India’ (as the Act was called) have been many. It is to be anticipated that others will follow; but, until you have grasped all the implications in the political life of India it is unlikely that chance discussion will be very profitable.
There are eleven autonomous provinces and a Central Government in British India. The administrative control of the Central Government is vested in the Governor-General in Council.
The Government is responsible to the Secretary of State and to Parliament. In the legislative sphere, however, the central authority is the Indian legislature, which consists of two Chambers: the Legislative Assembly and the Council of State.
There are eleven major provinces and six Chief Commissioners’ Provinces. Some of the provinces have legislatures consisting of two chambers, others have a single chamber.
Chief Commissioners’ Provinces are under the administration of the Chief Commissioners, directly responsible to the Central Government. Provinces are divided into Divisions and subdivided into Districts.
As you know, there is a strong political movement which seeks a reorientation of the administration of the affairs of India. Signs of it will be evident; but you would be ill advised to take sides, or even to discuss the potentialities. The whole subject is receiving, and has for long received, the most careful and genuine consideration, and what, if any, changes are to be made will be determined by those fully competent to deal with the situation.
However, as to personal contact with the people of India, a great deal can be done by a considerate approach. It must be realised that they are in practically every respect different people.
Their social system is unlike ours. Caste and religious observance will present some pitfalls, which courtesy will largely overcome.
Religious observances should be treated with the greatest respect. For example, as the bull and the cow are sacred to all Hindus and Sikhs, the sight of their dressed flesh is offensive. To offer beef to them is a major affront.
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In many cases your kindness in offering certain things to the people of India may result in a polite refusal. This should not be taken as an offence; it is most frequently obedience to some tenet of their religion.
In the fighting forces you will find a strict observance of religion.
With the Brahmans, the highest caste of the Hindu, the observance is so strict that should the shadow, even, of a man not of his own caste fall across his food, that food must be thrown away.
Obviously, there is not space enough in this introduction to deal with all the details of religion, caste and distinction; but there will be ample advice on the spot, and the maintenance of good relations is one of the first essentials of efficient service.
There is a very large number of Muhammedans in India. There are approaching 100,000,000 of the faith, as precise and emphatic as any, an important body in the country that must be considered. In the section on Egypt and the Middle East will be found notes of guidance.
In the caste system, the priestly caste takes first place, the second is the soldier’s. He rightly considers himself to be worthy of respect.
Mutual respect – and the Indian will give respect where it is merited, particularly the fighting man – will add to the value of both British and Indian effort.
Indians are reserved, almost shy. At the same time they are persistent in the acquisition of knowledge. Knowing that they have an ancient and precise civilisation, yet aware of Western influence, the better educated realise that the growing change is not yet fundamental. Modification is accepted. You will find that a characteristic of the higher ranks of the Indians in military service. They are at once good guides to conduct and buffers against repercussions of unintended errors.
India is part of the Empire, and as such is playing a growing part in the war. The development of hostilities, subsequent to Japan’s participation on behalf of the Axis, has brought the sphere of active operations nearer to the Indian shores. There is therefore a greater threat. India herself, however, has a large army, and the Indian
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soldiers will most certainly give an excellent account of themselves,
The country has been generous in material gifts, in addition to which Indian troops have fought hard in many war zones. They have done brilliant work in the Middle East. They are active in the Far East also. Young men of good family have entered the R.A.F. both as pilots and to render service on the ground. Their contribution is an earnest of good-will.
It should be understood from the beginning, with real kindness and sympathy, that Indian personnel are quick to feel any lack of courtesy or good manners, either in their own people or in us.
They are proud of their culture and ceremonial politeness is a cherished institution. Stress is laid on the fine points of etiquette. Sensitive in the extreme, they react instantly to the attitude and behaviour of other people. They feel about their country as we feel about ours, their history is long, and dignity is almost a passion with them.
Offence, when it does come, generally arises from a faulty appreciation of this characteristic.
Much that is strange to us in their habits and customs is founded in long-standing ritual and strict ceremonial. It would be a pity were these cherished habits the cause of offence because we did not understand, or trouble to think. It is imperative that all service personnel dealing with a sensitive, loyal people should remember that the Indian Empire is great not only in size, but in importance.
If the opportunity comes to indulge in sport, such as shooting and fishing, try to get the advice of an older and more experienced sportsman. There are many things to learn. The ‘forbidden’ list for shooting is long. Respect taboos. Respect property, do not trample crops or cause other damage.
When on any shooting expedition be careful to follow out the regulations of the permit to the letter. There are many compulsory requirements, both service and civil.
The climate varies, as is to be expected in a country of such an area and differing altitudes; but the seasons roughly divide into three: the ‘cold weather,’ the ‘hot weather’ and the ‘rains’ or monsoons.
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The temperature begins to rise quickly in April. May is hot, and although greater heat may seem impossible, the temperature continues to rise. This is the time when those who can get away to the hills do so.
The monsoon breaks the heat, spreading over the country from about the middle of June, and has ceased by the middle of September. The damp period is followed by another spell of hot weather, but not so hot as the weather of May and June. Such variations in climate in a country with many diseases unknown in Great Britain, impose much greater burdens on the individual in the care of health and hygiene. The M.O. will probably give you advice. Follow it closely. It is because of the care and knowledge of the medical officers that the service mortality rate in India is so low, less than one in a thousand over the home rate.
The incidence of disease, however, should be considered. There are roughly 48 cases of malaria per 1,000 men per annum. Malaria can be prevented. The medical officers will tell you how. Follow the rules laid down, and keep on following them.
Be careful of all minor cuts and abrasions. Germs abound. Report these abrasions and cuts and have them treated. Treat boils with the greatest respect.
As regards venereal diseases, by all means talk to the Medical Officer, but remember that the best safeguard is a strict moral code. Intestinal disorders (such as diarrhoea, dysentery, enteric, etc.) are common. They are best avoided by scrupulous cleanliness. Don’t dodge inoculation, it is not clever; on the contrary, it is thoroughly foolish. Smallpox is a scourge in the country. Be vaccinated.
Hydrophobia is widespread. A dog-bit must on no account be ignored, whether by a domestic or by a pariah dog. Remember that it is almost as dangerous to be licked by an animal suffering from rabies as to be bitten. Wash all wounds thoroughly and go to the hospital for treatment.
Sunstroke and heat-stroke present dangers. The best preventives are: stay indoors during the heat of the day, and even on the shortest journeys wear a helmet. Avoid alcohol until after sundown, and keep the bowels open.
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Inoculation reduces the danger from typhoid, cholera and dysentery, but maintain a close watch on what you drink and eat.
Indian officers are well educated, and usually good sportsmen. They are eager to learn, and have acquisitive minds. They are persistent. Because of that persistence, they may tend to take up a little more time than can always conveniently be given. Such time, however, will be well spent. It will be an asset on the balance sheet of Empire. Any Indian who receives courtesy and consideration is likely to become a staunch ally to the individual and an advocate of our cause in his own circles.
Regarding servants, some points should be noted. The servant tries to give a pleasing, rather than an accurate answer. There is an ingrained habit of giving and taking bribes. A servant caught in some misdemeanour is almost certain to work on the sentiment of the accuser. Knowing that it is a serious offence for service personnel to offer violence to a native, he will try to rouse his accuser to anger in the hope that blows will follow.
It is an error to become familiar with servants, and a far greater error to allow them to become familiar in their manner with you. There is no need, however, to go to the other extreme and resort to bullying. Quiet dignity and scrupulous fairness will always win.
Be careful of firearms and ammunition, not only in their use, but in watchful safe custody. There are thieves around, and any firearm or ammunition is handsome plunder. Watch all your possessions.
Health is your greatest possession, and should be watched most closely. Be sure that whatever you drink is reliable. The fact that mineral waters or other drinks are bottled is not a guarantee of purity or suitability; many cases of enteric have been caused by them.
Contamination is easy, and everyone, especially newcomers, should be careful to avoid contact with sources of infection. In quarters it is easier to avoid contagion then when travelling ‘on your own.’ On leave, when journeys are being taken, it is essential to exercise the greatest care. The most general cause of illness is impure water, and no spring can be judged on sight. Water should always be boiled. So should milk.
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We were frightened that one might swoop down and carry one of the pups away as I have seen a hawk in the Middle East dive down on a chicken and carry it away in its beak. At 9.30 a.m. the aircrew arrived with a small luncheon hamper for each of us to eat during the next stage of our trip. It was 9.50 a.m. when we raced down the runway and took off and for the next six hours we flew in almost a direct line Eastwards across India. Soon after take off the semmi [sic] desert land soon changed into green paddy fields and dotted all over the place were lakes surrounded by nice green trees which formed themselves into tiny woods and in almost every one of these woods was situated [deleted] alternative fillage [/deleted] [inserted] A NATIVE VILLAGE [/inserted] and from the air we could pick out the rough track running across the paddy fields from one village to the next. It is very hard for me to be able to give you a good description of the scenery during this trip but, I can still picture almost every moment of it very clearly in the back of my mind.
As soon as we began to feel a bit peckish we issued out the cardboard hampers which contained sandwitches, [sic] cheese, cakes, sweets, and a banana and an orange. At 3.15 p.m. by our time I caught sight of an airstrip in the distance, the two runways formed themselves into a cross with circles at the four ends i.e. [inserted] [symbol] [/inserted] as we circled around above them I could see the first of our aircraft to land parked in front of the control tower and the second one had just touched down and was taxing [sic] down the run way on its way to join the first. Then our turn came and the earth gradually seemed to come up to meet us and then a little later we found ourselves being directed alongside the other two aircraft in the parking area. The first thing that struck us was the teriffic [sic] heat and within a few moments of stepping out of the aircraft and down on to the grass we were sweating like pigs yet a few moments previously when we were high up in the sky, we all felt quite cold.
The airfield was a new one and was still being constructed when we arrived and within five minutes of us landing almost every native man woman and children that was helping to build the drome had gathered around us in their hundreds and stared open mouthed at our aircraft which were the first ones that had landed on their field at Bilaspur in the Central Provinces.
During the later days natives used to come from villages for miles around just to be able to get a nearby glimpse at the big flying bird. The first thing that we did after that six hours [inserted] OF [/inserted] flying was to put our watches forward to the correct time in the central Provinces, as the further that we travelled east the more time we lost. Incidentally on landing at Bilaspur we had completed 27 1/4 hours in the air since leaving Italy and had covered some 4,100 miles.
As we were being driven to the Domestic site a mile and a half away two more of our aircraft appeared overhead and began to circle in readiness for landing. The domestic site turned out to be quite a big village of oblong [deleted] back [/deleted] [inserted] BRICK [/inserted] bungalows with thatched roofs that formed canopy porchways at the front of the buildings. I should imagine that in post war years that Bilaspur will be a big military airfield as camp buildings etc were being built to a plan over a very large area.
Fourteen other chaps also chose the same building as myself for their home. One of the first things that we did on entering was to take off our battle dress and change into light Khaki clothing as it was so hot. It seemed funny that only a week previously, we were freezing in Italy and there we were a week later walking around wearing hardly any clothing and getting our skin burnt by the sun in a temperature of well over 100f.
cont ……..
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The puppies seemed to adjust themselves to the climate after a while. In one of the buildings, a chap had a pet monkey that he had brought with him all the way from Cairo. Everyone that travelled in the same aircraft as the monkey complained of bites and made uncomplimentary remarks about it. It appeared that during level flight, the monkey was quite happy, and calm but, as soon as the aircraft lost height the pressure in his ears caused him to go a little mad and he began to bite people.
During the next few days we were busy working on the aircraft as most of them had become due for some kind of inspection during our last trip. We had quite a trying time what with the heat and as we had no ladders to work with and only the few tools that we had brought along with us all the way from Italy. To enable us to be able to work on the tops of the engines we rigged up platforms with what empty barrels and bits of wood that we could find.
I spent half of my time off either resting on my bed or beneath the cool shower bath. Most evening we spent in the small canteen which was run by the Indians for their Government we used to be able to obtain some good suppers there [deleted] at intervals [/deleted] between the crack of dawn until late night, [inserted] [symbol] [/inserted] [inserted] [symbol] AT INTERVALS BETWEEN [/inserted] the char and wad and fruit wallers would be around our billets so if we wanted it we could have tea in bed and even breakfast if we liked to buy it, as we often did as a couple of egg sandwitches [sic] etc saved us from getting up so early and having to walk to and from the cookhouse.
At mealtimes hundreds of big hawks used hover over the cookhouse and if we walked out of the building with any food on our plates, and did not keep our hands over it, all the time, the hawks would swoop down and take it off the plate before you could stop them.
As there was no electric lighting installed in our living buildings our only illumination that we had at night time was from the dozens of little coloured candles which we all used to buy from the canteen. We had to sleep beneath Mosquito nets as during the night all sorts of insects used to drop down from the thatched roof.
The reason given to us for our stay at Bilaspur was that we were there to get aclimatised. [sic] One day we were each issued out with wide brimmed bush hats, large flowing monsoon capes, light mosquito boots and heavy rubber mosquito boots also we were issued out with sheets which were considered quite a luxury in the R.A.F. The station was built in a very picturesque setting indeed, besides the station buildings there were also two native villagers [sic] made up of bamboo and mud huts in the area. Both were situated beside a large lake and anytime during the day when we walked by the lake we would see the native women either doing their dhobi (washing) at the water edge or bathing themselves in the lake while nearby children swam and the men would also be scrubbing their water buffalo in the same water. Then there would be teams of oxen drawing ancient type carts on which we attached 50 gallon tin barrels. At the lake side natives filled the barrels with water taken from the lake by buckets and as each team of oxen had their load completed they would be driven away by their driver and amble up the road at their own steady pace until they reached the airdrome buildings or billets etc that were still in the process of being built. There the native builders would use the water to mix with their cement. It generally took two oxen to draw one cart loaded with one 50 gallon barrel. The carts used to have massive thick wooden wheels attached to them and the whole affair used to creak as it went along.
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The Lakes were overshadowed by tall green trees that were inhabited with many glorious coloured birds as well as crows. On one part of the airfield, natives were levelling a large area of ground so as to make a parking ground that would accommodate a hundred or more large aircraft. The men just used to level the ground with spades that are vastly different to the British type the bases were right angles to the handles, so they were used like a pick. Then they used to put the excess soil into little wicker baskets and then the women and girls dressed in their coloured saries [sic] had to do all the work of carrying the full baskets on their heads to a point over a hundred yards away.
Out in the Far East, the women are no more than slaves to their husbands and are treated as such. They have to do everything that they are told without a word of complaint and yet, the men can hardly do anything wrong in the eyes of their fellow countrymen. Often one would see the native wife sitting crossed legged in the back of those crude carts whilst the husband sat at the front directing the oxen.
Now to back to the lakes, there was also a third one which was a small one and on its own away from the other two. At the end of it stood an ancient Indian Temple with marble steps leading down to the waters edge. As I stood looking upon that scene, for the first time, I felt that I was in another world and that the scene was a page or a picture from a story book.
On February 17th we were given a lecture by our C.O. who told us that the authorities had found out that we had done operations in the Mediterranean area and decided that we did not need acclimatising (little did they know the weather in Italy) and that we could start operations straight away in the Far Eastern theatre of war. Then he went on to say that our next move was to Imphal in the State of Manipur. I do not expect many civilians will remember the great siege of Imphal when the Japs cut off all of the escape routes of the main bulk of our armies in the Far East, and held them in a state of siege for a long while in the Imphal valley. The Japs were situated in the hills overlooking the valley and held the only road out of the valley.
At one time the Japs advanced within 3000 yards of the state capital town of Imphal and they also nearly captured the airfield that we were going to. All the reinforcements, food etc for our besieged armies had to be flown into them or dropped to them. The Imphal battle in my opinion was the greatest of the war. If those troops of ours had given in, the Japs would have had possession of the Eastern Gateway [inserted] IN [/inserted] to India and there would have been very few troops left to stop the Japs decending [sic] from Imphal down into the plains of central India. But our turning point of the Far Eastern War, broke through the ring held by the Japs and drove them back over the southern mountain range of the valley into Burma and kept them on the run southwards over the Chindwin river. These events were overshadowed by the war in Europe and the people in England were more interested in what was happening nearer their homes. So now that both wars were over, I hope that you will spare the time to read how hard these men of England fought in the Far East and the conditions that they had to live in and the hard task that they achieved at the time when 99% of Englands war material was being kept in Europe.
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[inserted] 135A [/inserted]
[inserted] [underlined] 3. [/underlined] [/inserted]
[newspaper clipping regarding the Burma Offensive including two photographs and a map]
[inserted] [underlined] PLEASE READ PAGES 1 – 5 [/underlined] [/inserted]
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[inserted] 135A [/inserted]
[inserted] [underlined] 1. [/underlined] [/inserted]
[newspaper clipping of the Burma Offensive including four photographs and a map]
[inserted] [underlined] PLEASE READ PAGES 1 – 5 [/underlined] [/inserted]
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[inserted] [underlined] 4. [/underlined] [/inserted]
[newspaper cutting regarding the Burma offensive including a map of the Advance on Mandalay]
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[inserted] 136 [/inserted]
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So now is the time to read the two South East Asia Command Souvenier [sic] papers if they are attached as they will explain the whole of the war in South East Asia.
On Thursday 22nd February, we took off from Bilaspur on our journey to Imphal. We were so fully loaded that we only became airborne as we reached the last few yards of the runway. During our trip we flew across the state of Bengal but, as we flew along at such a great height, I was unable to distinguish any signs of animal life below.
As we approached the Imphal Valley, we were flying at a height of 10,000 feet, so as to enable the aircraft to pass over the 6,000 ft mountain range that formed the last natural barrier into Eastern India. The Rocky peaks looked treacherous as we passed over them and they only seemed to be a few feet beneath the aircraft and everytime that we fell into an air pocket my heart came up into my mouth. I am sure that we would have been lost forever if we had crashed in any of these jungle covered valleys or in any of the mountain sides.
Then suddenly 8,000 feet below our aircraft was the 20 mile wide flat valley in the centre of which was situated the two and a half mile long runway 2,000 feet above sea level. We had to do many circuits before we came down to a height of a few hundred feet and the runway grew larger all the time. Then we were able to see clearly the wrecks of burnt out and crashed air craft beside the runway. This did not cheer us up any and it was 1.30 p.m. when we finally touched down.
Here is a description of the scene that met my eyes when I stepped out of the aircraft. My surroundings were semmi [sic] tropical and the area was completely flat except for one fair size hill. [deleted] For [/deleted] miles approximately to my right reared the 6,000 ft mountains that we had just flown over and which the Japs planned to cross and invade India and ten miles approximately to my [deleted] right [/deleted] [inserted] LEFT [/inserted] reared another range of mountain that the Japs had stormed across like rats after their advance across the Chindwin River.
We were driven by lorry to our billets which were a mile and a half from the strip. Our homes this time were in what was called a “Basha”. It was a long hut and each housed about twenty fellows. The main skelington [sic] structure of each “Basha” was built from small tree trunks. The walls, window flaps, and doors were made of plaited cane, on bamboo frames and the roof was of thatch. We were each supplied with two long and two short bamboo poles and a piece of sacking and were told that we had to make our beds out of the material supplied. I made a frame up that was to my satisfaction after two hours of experimenting, sawing, sweating and cursing. The first few times that I made it up, it collapsed as soon as I lifted the contraption. After success at last I had to go out and search for some tin cans [inserted] ON WHICH [/inserted] to stand the frame. That search proved to be a long one before I found one old battered rusty round tin and one square one. I put one at each corner of the foot of the frame and I evened up the tins different sizes with the aid of a couple of bricks or rather a couple of broken bricks. Then came the problem of how to support the other two corners from the floor. I overcame this by turning the two ends of the long poles to the main structure of the “Basha” wall. My efforts on the whole were successful, but on a few occasions either the tins caved in during the night or the two short poles came out of position causing my bed to collapse and me to find myself in a tangle of bed clothes on the floor. Of course it caused much amusement among the other chaps. But I had the laugh when their turn came and their own beds gave way.
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Our only real amusement at Imphals [sic] was the open air cinema possessed by [inserted] THE [/inserted] nearby Canadian D.C. Squadron. Illumination in our “Basha” was provided by paraffin burning hurricane lamps. One of the greatest dangers that we had to guard against was fire. A complete [deleted] book [/deleted] [inserted] BASHA [/inserted] only took 3-4 minutes to burn to the ground.
I remember one night whilst I was sitting up in a tree watching a film show, a fire broke out. First came the red glow and then leapt the flames, the glare of which lit up the trees around us and made their shadows dance across the ground. It made us watchers [deleted] on [/deleted] smile when the projectioned [sic] stop the film show for a moment and stood up and said “Will the person whose “Basha” is on fire please leave immediately” when a full minute later one chap sitting on a box beneath the tree that I was up in suddenly realised that he lived in the “Basha” [deleted] was [/deleted] burning and went rushing off to try and save his belongings. But it was hopeless to try and save anything from the blazing inferno as a “Basha” goes up quicker than a hayrick. As the bamboo caught alight, it cracked like rifle fire and it seemed that if the Basha was full of small arms ammunition.
On the following evening, our Squadron Sargents [sic] celebrated the opening of their new Mess on which they had [inserted] SPENT [/inserted] pounds and pounds brightening it up and making it look homely. It looked a bit too bright for all the Sargents [sic] when at 10. p.m. their “Basha” went up in flames. All that remained of it half an hour later was smouldering and charred remains. Then a few days later, another “Basha” caught alight in the Canadian camp and as there was a strong wind blowing at the time, it carried bits of burning straw on to the roof tops of other surrounding “Bashas” and in no time six of them were blazing and being ravished by fire along with a number of tents and two sets of field lavatories. Many more “Bashas” would have gone up in smoke if the chaps living in the other remaining huts had not climbed onto the roofs and promptly extinguished the burning straws as they settled on their roofs. Chaps everywhere were dragging kit bags, bedding etc, out into the nearby paddy fields. Some of the chaps who were at work at this time lost every item of kit every article that they possessed as a result of this fire caused perhaps by someone carelessly throwing away a lighted cigarette end, approximately 150 chaps found themselves temporarily homeless.
At nightime [sic] the red glare of fires could be [deleted] sun [/deleted] [inserted] SEEN [/inserted] dotted all over the mountain sides to either side of us denoting where many of the “Naga” native tribe villages were situated. One evening a few of us decided to have a look at the town so we hitch hiked the six miles into Imphal the capital town in the State of Manipur. We asked the driver of the vehicle that picked us up to stop and drop us off in the centre of the town. After a quarter of an hours driving we passed over a little brick bridge and a few moments later our conveyance stopped and the driver said “this is it”. We got out and looked around us seeing only a few wooden houses and huts. So I turned to the driver and asked him where the town was and he replied “You are in it”. This remark gave us quite a shock as we had been told that Imphal was a very nice place and being the state capital we expected to see something more than was around us.
The few wooden buildings consisted of the Police Station the Indian Government House, two very small ramshackle cinemas, an Officer’s shop, and a services club and a few other houses and shops. Of course surrounding this centre of the town, where the native population live in tin huts, “Basha” buildings etc, and from the air these huts etc, at a quick glance seemed to cover an area of several square miles.
The road between our camp and the town was made of long strips of bitumen coated hemp cloth. In 1941 there were very few even small roads in Northern Burmah [sic] or in this valley.
cont ………
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[inserted] 137A [/inserted]
[three maps of Burma]
THESE MAPS TELL THE STORY of the task in Burma. Above: From the limits of our withdrawal Wingate’s thrust of 1943 is probing Jap-held ground.
IN 1944 THE JAP [underlined] invaded India. [/underlined] Wingate’s airborne expedition and Stilwell’s push down the Ledo Road are also shown; our plans began to unfold.
[inserted] [symbol] OUR SUPPY [sic] ROUTES. [/inserted]
BY JANUARY of this year we were flooding back. The build-up was going ahead. We were ashore at Akyab; across the river above Mandalay
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[inserted] 137B. [/inserted]
“Oh, where are you going to, all you Dakotas,
With Lord Louis airlifts, above the green trees?”
“We are going to fetch you your biscuits and bully,
Your sardines and curry, rice, atta and cheese.”
“And where will you fetch it from, all you Dakotas,
I’ll ‘likh’ you a ‘chhitti’ while you are away”
“We fetch it from Chitters, Comilla and Dum-Dum –
Address us at Akyab, Rangoon or Magwe.”
“But if anything happened to all you Dakotas.
And suppose you were ‘pranged’ in the jungle afar?”
“then you’d have no soyas or slingers for khana.’
And you’d have no wads to eat with your ‘char’”
“Then I’ll pray for the fine weather for all you Dakotas.
For no monsoon rain. and head winds so high.”
“Oh monsoon and winds don’t bother Dakotas,
We’ve less hours on the ground than we have in the sky.”
“Then I’ll build a new airstrip for all you Dakotas,
With plenty of ‘homers’ to bring in your crew.”
“Oh, the air and the ground’s full of R/T already,
With Air from Sigs types bawling: ‘Speak up – you’re through.’”
“For the ‘rot’ you eat, and the hard tack you nibble,
The fags that you puff, and replacement of men,
They are brought to you hourly by all us Dakotas
And if anyone hinders our coming – Amen!”
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[inserted] [underlined] 137B [/underlined] [/inserted]
[underlined] BURMA MARCH 1944 [/underlined]
[map detailing Japanese attacks]
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[inserted] 138 [/inserted]
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The armies had to make their own roads as they advanced. The nearest railway to Imphal was on the other side of that 6000 ft high mountain range which is the Assam Bengal line. The Burmah [sic] railway system only ran Northwards as far as Mandalay, so that between Mandulay [sic] and Imphal was nothing but jungle, swamps, mountains and rivers.
Occasionally, of an evening we went into the town for a meal at the club then on to one of the cinemas as there was simply no where else to go. Half way to the town by the roadside was situated a small native bazaar and most of the things that the natives had displayed for sale on their stalls were hardly worth looking at. But it was pleasant walking between the lines of hundreds of lighted candles and lamps and through the open air vegetable markets etc, which consisted of native women sitting cross legged on the ground behind their little round wicker baskets containing their [inserted] WARES [/inserted] ranging from anything between potatoes like [deleted] wares [/deleted] marbles and dried up bananas and pineapples.
Now at that time the front line in South East Asia theatre of operations against the enemy was along the Irriwaddi river well north of Mandalay in Burmah [sic] where the Japs were on the defensive. As I said before, up until a couple of years previously there was not even a road in that part of the country and what rough tracks that they were they were washed away during the Monsoon seasons. As a result of this and as we did not hold any port in the country supplies would not get to the fighting man either by sea, road, or rail. That was where 267 and other aircraft Squadrons came in. Every day starting on the 1st of March, we supplied 15 aircraft, each carried out three sorties each day carrying 3 tons of supplies on each of the missions. Sometimes the aircraft landed on strips just behind the front line and which were still under shell fire and from Jap guns. Most of the strips were no more than clearings in the jungle. No aircraft were left on them at night as often Jap night patrols, would infiltrate back to the strips and do what sabotage that they could.
Fighter Squadrons patrolled over the front and straffed [sic] the Jap troops and well as as [sic] looking after our unarmed cargo carrying aircraft as they neared the front with their precious loads. Often our aircraft when circling to land had to fly over ground occupied by the enemy. Other of our aircraft dropped their 3 ton loads by parrachute [sic] to the forward patrols in areas where there were no landing strips. As well as food we flew in Jeeps, ammunition, light mobile guns etc. Often after our aircraft off, they would be diverted by wireless to a different destination because either the Japs had just retaken the strip that they were supposed to land at or because our troops had captured an enemy strip nearer to the front line or because news had just came through that the Japs had cut off and surrounded some of our troops in a certain area and to enable them to hold out until they were relieved they had to have supplies of arms and food dropped to them and if we had anything to do with it we saw that they got what they asked for as soon as possible.
It was a case of marvelous [sic] co-operation and liaison between the Army and the R.A.F. The army brought the supplies by lorry to the airfield & Indians and West African troops loaded the supplies into the aircraft as soon as they landed from their previous flight. So the scene at base from dawn until late night was as follows. The 15 aircraft were loaded during the night and just before dawn one after one of our aircraft would take off along with many aircraft from other Squadrons. The drome was never silent throughout the day time there was always the roar of engines to be heard either overhead or on the ground. The chaps working on the flights had to get up and see the aircraft off. They used to wake us up every morning as just after each one became airborne they passed over the camp. When we went down to work, we would see lined up in front of our disporsal, [sic] a strip which was a small runway leading off at a rightangle from the main one, a long string of lorries each loaded with 3 ton of supplies.
cont …..
[page break]
[inserted] 139 [/inserted]
- 19 –
Then a little later whilst we were working the aircraft that were due for inspection engine changes, etc, one by one the aircraft would appear like a spot in the air and fly towards the strip and begin to circle in readiness for landing. On reaching their destination the aircraft landed and were unloaded and took off as quickly as possible so that Jap fighters could have little chance of catching and straffing [sic] them whilst they were on the ground. On returning to Base all the Squadrons aircraft were mixed up and first one of one Squadron would land and then one from another and so on. As soon as one of our aircraft taxied into our dispersal and the pilot switched off his engines our fellows would jump up on the wings and the petrol bowser would draw up so that the chaps could refuel the aircraft. Another gang would rectify an [sic] minor snag and if anything serious was wrong that aircraft would be grounded another servicable [sic] one laid on for flying. Whilst all that was going on the crew would be having a cup of tea also as soon as the pilot shut off his engines the first lorry in that long line would draw away and drive up and back up to the doorway of the aircraft. [underlined] Note [/underlined] Whilst on operations we took the doors off the aircraft so that the supplies could be pushed out of the plane quite easily.
As soon as the troops had loaded each aircraft, and tied and roped the supplies down the fellows [deleted] of [/deleted] [inserted] IN [/inserted] the loading party reported to the crew and they in turn reported to the opps [sic] tent where they were told the destination for their load. Then off they went again and so it went on throughout the day until the 15th aircraft had returned from its third trip and the crews would be driven back to camp in the dark knowing that they had to go through the same proceedure [sic] two days later.
As soon as we could give the army the number of 15 servicable [sic] aircraft after flying for that day had finished they began to load up during the night ready for the next set of crews next morning. So that every day our Squadron lifted on an average of 135 tons. Our part of the job was to see that the engines of 15 aircraft were servicable [sic] every day. At that time we had just on thirty aircraft and at the rate they flew, every one of the thirty had to receive some type of inspection. On top of that, there were snags to work on and also engine changes. [inserted] ETC. [inserted]
[inserted] OTHER THAN AIRCREW [/inserted] Two men had to fly in each of the aircraft that went on supply dropping. As they neared their objective, they lined the supplies in the doorway. The aircraft would then circle and lose height over the dropping area and then fly across it at a height of approx. 50 feet. Whilst flying across, the pilot switched on the light that came on by the doorway. The moment that the light came on, the two chaps had to start pushing the supplies out as quickly as they possibly could and then as soon as the light went out they had to stop. So it went on and the pilot kept flying over the dropping area until he had an empty aircraft once again then he headed back for base and another load. Immediately he left the area the next aircraft would begin to discharge his cargo by parachute. So it was as that as much as possible went out whilst the red light was on. It was certainly hard work during those few secondds [sic] and a breath-taking job.
Officially, we were not allowed anytime off. But one out of our gang used to stay away from work every day so we got a day off each week. From what I have told you, you can see that the whole of our Burmah [sic] Army depended on the supplies brought in through the roof of the jungle. They even relied on us to take in their monthly beer ration. Without the Dakotas the army would not have been able to carry on but I can say quite truthfully that we never let them down on a single occasion. The Canadian and American Dakotas Squadrons each supplied different sectors of the front. It was whilst I was at Imphal that I received the most thrilling and fearful experience of my life. Many people have wondered what it must feel like when you think you are going to be killed. Well I have gone through that fearful experience so I know what it is like. It happened one day when I went up in an air test in an aircraft in which we had just carried out an engine change along with the CPL I/C of our gang and the Sargeant [sic] [deleted] s half [/deleted] [inserted] I/C [/inserted] of the ground crew. The crew of the aircraft were all Canadian fellows. We took off and cruised peacefully up and down the valley for just [inserted] ON [/inserted] an hour.
cont ….
[page break]
[inserted] 139A [/inserted]
[photograph of Burmese soldiers]
[page break]
[inserted] 140 [/inserted]
- 20 –
All three of us were sitting in the back of the aircraft looking out of the space where the doors had been taken off so that the supplies could be pushed out easily when suddenly without warning the aircraft (as we learned later) turned into an 85o bank and then went into a very steep dive. I could feel the pressure of the force of gravity pressing me down into the floor as we gathered speed. It was a good job that neither of us were standing by the doorway at that moment or we might have been flung out into space. As a D.C. 3 was never meant or built to do such steep banks and certainly not power dives,, we were momentarily thrown off our balance and we thought either a wing had dropped off or that the aircraft had gone out of control. The Corporal looked at me with such a scared expression on his white face which I shall never forget at the same time he threw himself flat on the floor of the aircraft with his hands braced behind his head ready for the crash. I must have looked just as bad as I certainly felt like it. We all knew what each other was thinking and that was that we were going to crash but no one uttered a word. I started to crawl along the floor towards the rear end of the aircraft as I knew that would be the safest spot to be in when a D.C. crashed. All I could see when I looked out of any of the windows was sky on both sides. The Sargeant [sic] stayed where he was not knowing what to do. Of course all this happened in a matter of a few seconds, but during those seconds, the whole of my previous life seemed to flash past in my mind. Then suddenly the pressure in my body relaxed as we pulled out of the dive and we all breathed a sigh of relief when we were once again flying along on even keel.
A few seconds later, the crews cabin door opened and the navigator grinning face appeared and we asked him what the hell had happened, to which he replied that the Pilot wanted to give us a thrill. At that moment we felt like murdering him but we all had a good laugh about it, when we were on terrafimma [sic] one more, but it certainly was not funny at the time. It was too much of a thrill for my liking.
By mid March we were dropping supplies over the outskirts of Mandalay whilst the Japs still held most of the shattered town. One day whilst we were in Imphal we were given a lecture by an Intelligence Officer and he told us that the 14th Army planned to take Rangoon before the Monsoon season commenced. Our most forward troops were then still well over 300 miles away from the city and still had miles and miles of dense [deleted] smoke [/deleted] [inserted] SNAKE [/inserted] infested jungle and swamps (some of the worlds worse country) to fight their way through inch by inch before reaching any clear and flat country whatsoever and on top of all this the Japs were fanatical fighters. The word surrender was unknown to them they either fought to death or committed suicide by hirri-kerri. [sic] More Japs were killed in the South east Asia area then [sic] on any other fighting front in the world. During the Burmah [sic] fighting, over 120,000 Japs were killed but prisoners only totalled a few hundred.
Once the port of Rangoon had been captured it meant that our troops fighting south of the city towards Siam could be supplied by road and would not have to rely solely on the transport aircraft for every single article that they required. The Supreme Allied Command South East Asia Command later told us that during the great advance on the port the D.C. Squadron carried twice the tonnage that they had planned for us to lift and that he had to risk tiring out the air and ground crews in making them work in all conditions night and day so the that troops would get their supplies to enable them to capture the golden prize of Rangoon. Another point why the city’s capture was so important to us was that as soon as it had been taken bigger tanks and guns more troops and supplies etc could pour into the port to enable us to built up a bigger and better fighting army during the monsoon period in readiness for a big advance into the Southern countries of Siam, French Indo China and the Malay States and it was impossible to build this force on such a big scale by air supply only.
[page break]
[inserted] 140A[/inserted]
[newspaper clipping regarding the final phase of the war in the Far East.]
[page break]
[newspaper clipping showing photograph of a Dakota]
[close up photograph of a Dakota fuselage]
[photograph of airmen taking a wounded man from a Dakota]
[page break]
[inserted] 141 [/inserted]
- 21 –
On Friday the 22nd March I was told to pack my kit as I was to fly next day along with some of the Squadrons Technical Stores and take charge of it on landing at our new camp. I loaded my kit on three different aircraft before I decided finally which aircraft was to be loaded with the stores. As I was due to take off at dawn, I decided to sleep in the aircraft throughout the night. I arrived on the airfield at 6.30 p.m. just as it was getting dark. I have never known an evening to drag so, I spent most of the time up until 10 p.m. watching the Indians load the other aircraft with supplies that were take them or drop them in the forward area next morning.
At 10 p.m. I returned to my own aircraft the front of which was loaded up with 5 gallon tins of dope and on either side of the fuselage were tied spare wheels, rudders, airlocks and lots of the stores leaving me only a tiny corridor at the rear of the aircraft near the open doorway in which to put down my blankets. After undressing, I got between them and tried to sleep but every time I began to doze, a big mosquito started to circle above my head and kept zooming near my ear as I lay on my side. This of course kept me awake and every now and then, I would sleepily but viciously strike out at them. I do not think I even caught a single one and I bet that they laughed at me as they dodged away each time. I put up with them for a couple of hours but by that time they had nearly driven me mad and I felt exhausted through lack of sleep. I could stand their buzzing no longer so I got up and unpacked my kit in the dark until I found my supply of anti mosquito cream and covered myself with it. I then got my head down once more and to my delight I found that the mosquitos would not venture near me. I laughed at them before I fell off to sleep. So all went well for a little while and then it had to start raining. The raindrops hitting the metal body work of the aircraft magnified the sound of the storm a hundred fold and so keep me awake. Then to crown it all, a teriffic [sic] wind came up and drove the sheets of rain through the doorway onto my blankets. I got up and drew my blankets as far up the aircraft as it was possible in that narrow corridor between the stores. After a while, I fell off to sleep again after getting used to the sound of the falling rain only to wake later to find that my feet and kit were wet through and the rain was still driving in for all it was worth. I felt so fed up that I resigned myself to my fate as I could not move anywhere else and when I woke up next I found that it was dawn and the aircraft loaded with supplies were taking off but there was still no sign of the crew for my aircraft.
8. a.m. arrived and the other chaps on the Squadron began to turn up for work. It was 10. a.m. before I found out from the Operations tent that we were waiting for our new C.O. Wing Commander Hillary D.F.C. & D.F.M. to turn up as he was taking the aircraft up for his first trip with our Squadron. At 11.30 a.m. the navigator, wireless operator and his second pilot turned up followed a little later by the C.O. and it was 11.45 a.m. before we left the ground and the Imphal Valley behind us and began to wing our way over some of the dense mountainous jungle of Burmah [sic] between the Chindwin and Irriwaddi rivers. I was then able to see for myself the type of country that the 14th Army had to put up with and exist in. I admired their guts in [deleted] what [/deleted] [inserted] THE TASK [/inserted] they were carrying out. I must confess that I felt so tired as a result of my previous wakeful night that I slept throughout most of the trip. I knew it was jolly cold and bumpy as we flew over the mist covered mountains. On reaching our objective I found myself fully awake as we lost height in preparation for landing. I felt it get warmer as we circled around. I looked beneath us upon Akyab Island just off the coast of Southern Burmah, [sic] actually during the wet season it was an island and in the dry one the place was a part of the main land.
cont…. …
[page break]
[inserted] 141A [/inserted]
[newspaper clippings with aerial photograph of the Port of Akyab]
[newspaper clipping of the capture of the Port of Akyab]
[newspaper clipping with photograph of landing craft at Akyab]
[page break]
[photograph of hangar]
[underlined] OUR HANGER AT AKYAB [/underlined]
[photograph of man on beach]
[underlined] AKYAB BEACH [/underlined]
[photograph of cocount trees on beach]
[underlined] COCONUT GROVE AKYAB [/underlined]
[photograph of palm trees and road]
WHICH [indecipherable word] USED TO RUN ACROSS.
[page break]
[inserted] 142 [/inserted]
- 22 –
It was 2 p.m. when we touched down and taxied off the runway. As soon as the pilot switched off the engines, a lorry drew up to the doorway of the aircraft and whilst the stores were being loaded onto it. I checked the aircraft over for the crew so that it would be ready for their return trip to Imphal that same afternoon. I then clambered aboard the lorry along with crew and we were taken along a very bumpy road to the next [inserted] DOOR [/inserted] runway which was to ours as soon as the natives had completed flattening out the paddy fields and the small bumps that separated each of them. On arrival at this flat piece of dry hard ground stretching for approximately 1 1/2 miles by a quarter of a mile width. In one little spot in this wilderness, I caught sight of half a dozen tents in the far distance. On drawing to a stop alongside them I jumped from the lorry and took off my kit. It was here that I joined the Squadrons advance party which was made up of four officers and sixteen men. The first thing that I did was to find the temporary rigged up cookhouse and get some thing to eat as I had had nothing since 4 p.m. the previous afternoon, and I was feeling famished. I then proceeded to search around the small motor transport section for a couple of 50 gall barrels on which to erect my bed on. Up until then the advance party had only received 6 small tents from Imphal but you could not move for tent poles they had sent hundreds of them down. I bought at least 50 along with me. As a result of this tent shortage, I had to sleep out in the open air. Next morning I was awoken by dew drops dripping through my mosquito net and on to my nose. For the next few days we lived like Lords as we had tons of rations and because the Officers had to work, eat and live among us.
After breakfast on the first day, we split up into parties. Some worked on digging trenches and latrines, others on digging 20 ft deep water wells so that we could get hold of water to wash ourselves with. I spent the morning getting the stores in some semblance of order. In the afternoon a party of us volunteered to fetch the cooks some firewood. So armed with picks, axes and choppers, we set out in a lorry and our excursion took us into what was left of the town of Akyab which consisted of just a few oriental houses and a few small gold topped pagodas. We procured our load of fire wood from the remains of the hundreds of bombed buildings. IN peace time before the Japs arrived, Akyab was quite thickly populated and was the holiday resort of Burmah. [sic] But at the time, we were there, most of the population had still not ventured from out of the hills into which they had fled from the Japs. Akyab island was retaken by our forces invading it from the sea on their second attempt when they met with little Jap opposition but on their first attempt they received heavy casualties and had to withdraw. Whilst we were at Akyab there were still hundreds of Japs in the surrounding country. Our troops never bothered with them so long as they did not cause trouble, they just left them out in the jungle to starve if they did not want to give theirselves [sic] up.
Most of the roads on the island, or rather it is an insult to call them roads except those in the town were hardly more than cart tracks full of pot holes. Everytime I went anywhere on a waggon, I risked my neck as any moment the vehicle was liable to turn over and that is not exaggerating. I used to dread travelling and on top of that it was most uncomfortable, as being so tall I could not stand up straight in a covered lorry and everytime we hit a bumpy part of the road or a hole, I used to hit my head on the iron cross bars.
As the roads were full of bumps and holes you can guess how I felt after a long journey. Then during the dry season, the sandy dust from the ground used to fill the covered vehicles as we went along and nearly suffocated the passengers at times. The best piece of road on the island was a double track line of paving stones which ran for about a mile across the paddy fields halfway between the town and our air strip. Alongside this track were quite a few wreckages of Japanese aircraft. On my second night at Akyab we were each issued out with a months beer ration which one of our officers had managed to wangle for the sixteen of us. A party was just getting nicely under way beneath the light from many hurricane lamps and we were in the middle of a sing song when we heard the sound of a motor cycle racing across the wide area of flat open ground.
[page break]
[inserted] 142A [/inserted]
[photograph of boats on the sea heading towards the harbour at Akyab]
[aerial photograph of the Port of Akyab]
[photograph of Wing Commander J.B.G. Bradly being greeted by the natives of Akyab]
[page break]
[inserted] 143 [/inserted]
which was to be our run-way. A few moments later a despatch rider came dashing up to us and informed us that an alert was on. We extinguished the lamps and sat drinking our [deleted] best [/deleted] beer, out in the moonlight straining our ears at the same time. About 15 minutes later we used the trenches that the chaps had been digging that morning when we heard Jap aircraft circling quite low above the Island. One came very near to our strip and we were relieved when we heard it hhead [sic] away in another direction away from the drome. I am sure that if it had flown overhead, we would have been able to have seen it quite clearly as it was quite light.
Everything around us was bathed in a misty silvery moonlight. The moonlight and the sunset were two of the very few beautiful things in Burmah, [sic] both at times were quite a breathtaking spectical. [sic] A few moments later we heard the sound of bombs exploding in the dock area. Almost immediately the guns on the sea shore and those of the ships anchored out in the harbour opened up and we saw quite a firework display during the next 45 minutes. Then suddenly all became quiet once more and one could have heard a pin drop during the next few minutes.
Then a little later we ventured from our holes like rabbits and resumed our party once more.
On the following day we learned that, on the previous nights raid the Japs had hit the hospital camp and the ration store for the island killing two persons. Most of the bombs fell amongst trees and bushy ground or in the harbour causing very little damage. That morning we spent unloading more stores from our aircraft as they landed in the other strip and saw them off once more. Also that same morning, our own strip was christened when an american [sic] lightening aircraft landed on it whilst the natives were still working levelling out bumps at one end of it. The Pilots excuse for landing was that he had just come back from taking reconissance [sic] photographs over Bancock [sic] and as he could not get down on the nextdoor [sic] strip and as he was also short of petrol, he landed on ours. His excuse was a very bad one as when I looked in the petrol tanks, I found that there was plenty of fuel left in them. However, I said nothing and after topping up his tanks I watched him make a bumpy take off and then circle and land on the serviceble [sic] strip.
As none of our aircraft was expected to arrive during the afternoon of that day, we decided to go swimming. Our journey to the beach was one of the most hair raising rides that I have ever been on. It took us across rough fields, up down and over slopes, hills banks and dips. As we neared the North end of the Island, the sea, the ground became more and more sandy until our lorry got bogged in it up to its axles. We walked the rest of the way to the seashore and after undressing most of us went into the water in the nude and had a good time. On coming out we sat for a while in the sun on the same sandy beach that only a short while before had been stormed by our troops in the invasion of the island. Twice more we became bogged in the sand during our return journey back to the strip. We all had to get off and push as the wheels spun round trying to get a grip they sent up clouds of dust that smothered us. We arrived back at camp far more dirtier than we were when we set out.
Sometimes on my day off I used to go in the sea by the town and although the beach there was quite nice, the place was spoilt by the sea having a very strong under current which used to carry everyone hundreds of yards away from the spot where they started swimming and there was a great risk of being dashed against the nearby rocks. For all that, I would not go on that hectic journey to the north of the again. [sic]
[page break]
[inserted] 144 [/inserted]
- 24 –
Near to our strip was a native village made up completely of Basha’s also nearby were many pools in which we often saw Water Buffalos bathing. Then there was a river in which some of the chaps used to swim.
For the following few days we were all kept busy erecting the tents that began to arrive at our aircraft so that all would be ready for the rest of the Squadron personnel when they arrived. On most evenings we had a jeep to take us to a film show at the American camp on the other strip and to bring us back again when the show was over. All these good times ended on the 28th of the month when our strip was finally completed and put servicable [sic] and the main party of the Squadron chaps began to arrive. It was then back to the old rations, queueing for meals and an [underlined] old [/underlined] lorry to take us to the cinema etc. On the 29th my other three pals and the pup arrived and we all shared and lived in the same tent. Our only illumination was from a couple of hurricane lamps, when we could get the necessary paraffin for them. We built a little table in the centre of the tent on which we played cards of an evening when there was nothing else to do. We used to play bridge so much that I began to dream that I was playing it in my sleep, so I had to give the game up for a while. I used to get some wonderful hands in my sleep and rotten ones when I was playing.
About twice a week on average, I paid a visit to the nearby [inserted] OPEN AIR [/inserted] cinema but when I went it usually rained or the projector broke down or the sound or lighting failed. By that time the area had become quite a colony of hundreds of tents of all sizes a bit different to when I first arrived there. Our one blessing was that we could just go out of the tent and walk a few yards and we were at work. Our meals were not so good when the clouds of dust kicked up by the slip stream of aircraft taking off or running up blew into our dining hall which was three large marqueus [sic] joined together and on to our food. As I said before our domestic site was situated right beside the runway, as it was, there was a continuous haze over the area all day long caused by the dust and at times we used to breathe in dust and air. A pipeline ran to the strip from the sea and alongside the run way and all night and day and every day in fact every minute of the 24 hours sea water was pumped through this line and then through hoses attached to it at intervals along the strip. Indian soldiers used to work in shifts continuously on holding the hoses and directing the spray from them over the whole of the runway. But for this a certain amount of dust and a good amount too used to be kicked up. The heat used to get teriffic [sic] during the day. This spraying had to be done to keep the drome servicable [sic] and if it had been stopped for 24 hours after one aircraft had taken off it would have taken the following 1/4 hour for the dust to clear enough for the next pilot so [sic] see clearly enought [sic] to take off.
As time was vital and aircraft were going off and landing every minute of the day. So long as I was able to get my bath each evening after finishing work I did not mind the dust covering me or how greasy or oily I got during the day. The four of us in our tent dug our own well just outside the tent. As a result of this we had our own supply of water. If the chaps used the other wells too much they used to dry up so we never had the worry of going short ourselves. My bath consisted of a 50 gall drum cut in half.
[page break]
[inserted] 144A [/inserted]
[map of Burma showing the 14th Army’s progress in the taking of Rangoon]
[page break]
[photograph showing Japanese soldiers in the water being bombed by aircraft]
[page break]
[inserted] 146 [/inserted]
[underlined] MY OVERSEAS SERVICE PART 6 [/underlined] R. BARRETT
As at this time we possessed well over 30 aircraft and were doing so much flying and were also short of ground crew, the aircraft came in for inspection very much quicker. As we could not afford to let the work pile up in anyway and for weeks we were working in temperatures of well over 100o each day. Often we had to all through the night as well to enable one more aircraft to carry a further 9 ton of supplies to the Army during the following day.
On many occasions I [deleted] have [/deleted] worked continuously for 36 hours only stopping for meals. After finishing I found it almost impossible to sleep during the day as it was so hot. I just used to lie on my bed and perspire.
During the first few weeks at the strip our troops had captured Mandalay and had advanced southwards to capture [deleted] Meihteila [/deleted] [inserted] [deleted] MTITKTTWA [/deleted] MEIKTILA. [/inserted] and it was there that the 14th Army began to build up a big base ready for their 250 mile advance down to Rangoon. Consequently 95 out of every 100 aircraft that took off from our strip each day were on the [underlined] Meitkeila [/underlined] trip. This job went on for so long [inserted] WE THOUGHT [/inserted] that the attack would never begin, and if it did we thought that the capture of Rangoon before the Monsoons hit Burma would be nothing short of a miracle.
It was around about this time that the [inserted] OTHER AIRMAN FROM [/inserted] Slough [deleted] chap [/deleted] on the Squadron met his [deleted] other [/deleted] Father who was an officer in the R.A.F. He was stationed only a few miles from us and on one occasion told his son that a big attack was due to commence against the Japs at any moment. A few days later, a large map of Burma appeared in our dining Marquee with the front line marked on it. That same night a Squadron impromtue [sic] concert and sing song was held in the camp in the open air. During this concert our Intelligence Officer told us that the long awaited push had started and so that we would know what was going on he said that he would bring the front line up to date each day on our map and also state how many sorties that our Squadron had carried out and the weight of supplies flown to the front by the Squadron aircraft.
They proved to be quite a success but then anything was a success that passed an evening away quickly. Incidentally, those concerts that I spoke of turned out to be a weekly affair. The airmen sargents [sic] and Officers gave one an alternate Wednesday nights. We had a marquee on the camp which acted as our recreation room and it contained of all things a weight lifting outfit. Anyone that had energy to spare during those days was a [deleted] morel [/deleted] [inserted] MARVEL [/inserted] but there were some crazy chaps who used to enjoy lifting 150 or more lbs of weights on a bar above their heads half a dozen or more times.
The nights seemed to drag so that often I would go to bed as there was nothing else to do, and because I was fed up. When I used to have to work late, no matter what time I finished, I always had my bath. Even it was 3 a.m. you could see me throwing my bucket into the well and on drawing it pour it into my home made bath. It was lovely and refreshing to sit in the cool water and in the nude beneath the brilliant moonlight before getting between my white sheets. I would feel so utterly exhausted and dog tired after such a long day I would fall off to sleep immediately.
During the daytime it was so warm that I never used to wear anything more than a pair of shorts (for modesty) and plimsoles (to save my feet from getting burned on the hot soil) and a hat (to save myself from getting sunstroke). Even these three items were too much for my liking.
[page break]
[inserted] 147 [/inserted]
- 2 –
The Squadron’s consumption of lemon squash and lime juice cordial was teriffic [sic] in those days. At one time it was so hot during the afternoons that the regular working hours were changed to 6 a.m. – 1.30 p.m. from 4-p.m. until 6.30 p.m. but we still had to work nearly every afternoon so as to finish an aircraft off. This change of hours was only another way of getting more work out of us.
I never used to go to the w.c. during the day because if I had I would have blistered my bottom every day. Our toilets were dug out in the fields and the seats of these merely consisted of sunken 50 gall petrol tins with a square hole cut in the top of them. The tin used to get red hot after the sun had been up for a couple of hours.
Now to go back to the big attack which gradually gained momentom [sic] day by day. From the very first day that it opened up and as soon as our troops began to advance southwards our Squadrons job was to drop supplies to the forward fighting units which began to push down the Mandalay-Rangoon road and railway. These, units consisted mostly of the British 2nd Division. If you look at the map of the campaign, you will see the route that the 2nd Division took.
The Japs were taken by complete surprise, at times our aircraft on arrival at dawn over a clearing where our forwards troops were reported to be the night before, found nothing there. They had to follow the road or railway track south until they found our troops beneath them and were given the arranged dropping signal.
You people at home received delayed news in case our troops received any setbacks etc. When the news on the wireless gave out that our advanced units were 180 miles from Rangoon, the army were actually only 75 miles from the city, and when the wireless said 100 miles, it was really 30 and so it differed day by day both figures getting smaller and smaller.
Life began to get very monotonous for us chaps. It was just work, sweat and very little sleep for everyone during those weeks. But I still bet we were far better off than those chaps down in the front line and we all used to think they rely completely on us so the job we were doing was well worth while and that in a way their advance was partly ours.
One of the 14th Army jobs was to capture the home of the deadliest snake and that was King cobras mountain. Actually our troops encircled it and left the Japs who wanted to stay inside the circle to be bitten to death. I was told that they feared the snakes far more than they did our advancing forces.
During the month of April each day one of the gang took an unofficial day off once more as that was the only way that we could get time in which to wash our clothes etc. During some of my days off, I had a busy time keeping out of sight and dodging the Sargent [sic] in charge of our section.
On a few occasions the Squadrons football team managed to get a couple of hours off in which to play a match but it generally turned out that I had to work at the time that the matches were being played. One match did fall on one of my unofficial days off so I was able to go and watch it, but as usual, something happened when I went out somewhere. This time the lorry on which I was travelling conked out just as we were going across the end of the runway and whilst we got off to start pushing it an aircraft came in to land and passed over us.
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[inserted] 147 [/inserted]
[underlined] Britain’s Day of Rejoicing – 7th May 1945 VE-Day [/underlined]
That day was most memorable as far as my own recollections are concerned. It found me at the age of 20 years a veteran campaigner serving my country as a flight mechanic in the RAF with 267 Dakota Squadron, after previously serving in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. At the time we were operating against the Japanese from Akyab Island off the coast of Mid West Burma.
My wartime diaries for the two days that span the 7th May in England read as follows:
At 6 pm a few hours before victory in Europe was announced over the wireless a huge red V appeared in the sky over Akyab and took 2 hours to gradually fade away. On VE-Day as you called it, I was up at 6.30 am and went straight out of my tent to work. I worked until 6 pm at night and stopped [inserted] ONLY [/inserted] for a meal. At 6.30 pm our time just before noon your time, I was in the middle of having a bath in my tin-barrel when Mr. Churchill made an official announcement that the war in Europe was at an end. As I stood by the tent with just a towel wrapped around my soapy body listening to the announcement, my mind wandered back to that Sunday morning at 11 am nearly 6 years previously when at 15 years of age, I listened to Mr. Chamberlayne [sic] declare war on Germany and little did I then think that I would be in Burma when that war finished. After completion of my bath, I had to go back to work on the aircraft that our gang was working on, so that we could complete by morning. This meant that an extra aircraft would be ready for carrying supplies to the Front Line next day.
When I arrived at the aircraft I found the electricians rigging up an electric lighting system for us. After they had done this, they could not get the motor to start. 10 pm arrived, they were still working on the motor and had it in pieces. The members of our gang sat waiting in either the aircraft in the dark, or sat like me against one of the wheels. I think they all felt the same as I did, hellish tired.
My thoughts during that time were for those Spitfire Pilots who with my previous Squadron I had sheppered [sic] for take off at the end of various runways in Europe and waited in vain for them to return. There was no celebrations for them.
My head kept dropping on my chest. I was not comfortable enough to fall asleep and even if I had been the mosquitoes that kept buzzing around my ears would have kept me awake.
At 10.30 pm I strolled over to the cookhouse tent and drank a mug of tea and took one back for the rest of the gang. By that time the electricians gave up their lighting system as a bad job and told us we would not have any electric light that night.
So we started to work with the aid of torch lights and we each took it in turn to sit for a while in the cockpit and shine the lamp upon one of the engines. The light of the lamp which was a miniture [sic] search light attracted hundreds of flies and insects as if by a magnet. You cannot imagine how we felt with these insects flying around our heads continuously and also a sickly sound as they tried to smash themselves to death against us and the lamps. Although it was night, the atmosphere was very close and made us perspire excessively, and on top of this in the distance on the wireless we heard the bells of Englands Cathedrals and descriptions of the victory celebrations and the scenes in Picadilly, outside Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament etc.
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Also descriptions of scenes in many other big towns in England.
Yet us chaps could not even get hold of a drink of water that night as ever the water bowser was empty. The only bright time for us was whem [sic] some of the chaps kept firing coloured cartridges up into the air.
Midnight arrived and I was feeling so fed up, miserable and sleepy, nearly driven to death by flies and insects, that I packed my hand in and went to bed. At 4.45 am on the following morning or rather the same morning I was called out of bed and told that our job had to be finished that morning, which was also a national holiday for everybody in England. Although I was lucky enough to get the afternoon off, I was called out again late in the afternoon and worked all that evening on a generator change.
That night to round off the victory celebrations that I did not get, I had to go and fall into an old Japanese slit trench in the dark and sprained my knee cap. When my friend helped me out and back to my tent, I was trying to laugh and cry at the same time. A perfect ending to my rejoicing? At least I still had the hope of seeing dear old England once again at some future unknown date.
[underlined] EXLAC Barrett 1863228 [/underlined]
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[inserted] 147A [/inserted]
[photograph of Burmese police recruits training with firearms]
[photograph of Burmese natives driving carts drawn by bullocks]
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[inserted] 148 [/inserted]
If we had not all run and fallen flat on our faces, the wheels of the aircraft would have touched some of us. As it was, I watched it miss the top of the truck by inches; for a few moments my heart was in my mouth. During the latter part of April, the 14th Army captured a number of airfields in the Toungoo area, so our aircraft was able to land their supplies once again. It was also around about this time when one of the divisions captured the oil fields in Central Burma also cutting off a large number of Japs at the same time.
Very soon after that, the town of Pegu fell to advanced units racing southwards. The Japs tried to make a stand in this area and the town was almost completely destroyed during the fighting but they did not stem the advance for long. A few days later the 2nd division broke through the enemies lines and headed south once more on the last lap of their long and hard trek towards the objective that they had toiled for two years to reach.
Pegu was the last big town in Burma North of Rangoon. It was May 2nd when advanced elements entered the outskirts of the city. That night many aircraft took off from the next door strip loaded up with airborn troops which they dropped over the Rangoon area just before dawn. The same morning came the sea borne invasion of the port. These forces just pipped the 14th Army in reaching the city’s centre.
On the same day some of our aircraft were the first to drop supplies to our troops in the Rangoon area. The first aircraft of ours over the city dropped supplies and the flags of the big four allied Nations inside the state prison where the Japs held and left many of their prisoners of war. The flags stood for the symbol of their liberation then close at hand.
The army beat the monsoons by a matter of just a few days. I often wonder how many of the people at home fully realised how much the capture of Rangoon meant to us out in the Jungle. I am afraid that this great achievement was overshadowed in the papers by Victory Day in Europe that came a few days later.
I also wonder how many thought of us in our unhappy surroundings whilst they were merry making and enjoying the two days national holiday. It was no holiday for us, our job still had to go on, the capture of Rangoon by no means ended our task against the Japs.
[inserted] 8-5-45 [/inserted]
At 6 pm a few hours before victory in Europe was announced over the wireless, a huge Red V appeared in the sky over Akyab took two hours to gradually fade away.
In fact it was around about that time that I spent some of my most miserable days of my overseas tour. On V.E day as you called it I was up at 6.30 am and went straight out of my tent to work. I worked until 6 pm at night when I stopped for a meal. At 6.40 pm our time and 1 pm your time, I was in the middle of having a bath in my tin barrel when Mr Churchill made the official announcement that the war in Europe was at an end. As I stood by the tent with just a towel wrapped around my soapy body listening to the announcement my mind wandered back to that Sunday morning at 11 am nearly 6 years previously when at 15 years of age I stood in the bar downstairs and listened to Mr Chamberlain declare war on Germany. Little did I then think that I would be out in Burma when that war finished.
After the completion of my bath, I had to go back to work on the aircraft that our gang was carrying out an inspection on so that we could complete it by morning so that an extra aircraft would be ready for carrying supplies to the front next day. When I arrived at the aircraft I found the electricians rigging up an electric lighting system for us. After they had done this they could not get the motor to start. 10 pm arrived and they were still working on the motor and had it in bits. The members of our gang either sat in the aircraft in the dark or sat like me against one of the wheels. I think that all the other chaps felt the same as I did, hellish tired.
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[inserted] 147B [/inserted]
[inserted] AKYAB BURMA MY [underlined] V.E. NIGHT [/underlined] 8-5-1945 [/inserted]
My head kept dropping on my chest, I was not comfortable enough to fall asleep and even if I had been, the mosquitos that kept buzzing around my ears would have kept me partly awake.
At 1.30 pm I stolled [sic] over to the cookhouse tent and drank a mug of tea and took one back to the rest of the gang. By that time the electricians gave up their lighting system as a bad job and told us that we would not have any electric light that night.
So we started to work with the aid of torch light and we each took it in turns to sit for a while in the cockpit and shine the aldis lamp upon one of the engines. The light of the lamp which was a minature [sic] search light attracted hundreds of flying insects as if by a magnet. You can imagine how we felt with these insects swarming around our heads continuously and hearing that sickly sound as they tried to smash themselves to death against us and the lamps. Although it was night, the atmosphere was very close and made us perspire profusely, and on top of this in the distance we could hear on the wireless the bells of England’s Cathedrals and the description of the Victory Celebrations and the scenes in Piccadilly, outside Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament. Also descriptions of the scenes in many other big towns in England. A little way from us a party was being held in the Sargeants [sic] and Officers Mess. Yet us chaps could not even get hold of a drink of water that night, as the water bowser was empty and the canteen was also out of cordial. The only bright time of the evening was when some of the chaps kept firing coloured cartridges up into the air.
Midnight arrived and I was feeling so fed up, miserable after 17 1/2 hour working day and nearly driven to death by flying insects that I packed my hand in and went to bed. At 4.45 am on the following morning or rather the same morning, I was called out of bed and told that our job had to be finished that morning, which was also a National holiday for everyone in England. I was lucky enough to get the afternoon off and I spent it laying on my bed. I was called out again later in the afternoon and worked all that evening on a generator change. On the following day to round off the Victory celebrations that [underlined] we did not get [/underlined] I had to go and fall into an old Japanese slit trench in the dark and sprain my knee cap. I had just returned to camp from seeing a boxing show in the American camp. It was pitch dark and pouring with rain when I got off the wagon and began to make my way towards my tent. I stepped over one of the ridges that separate each paddy field and my left foot landed on thin air and I pitched into the trench. My left leg just touched the bottom of the trench and so took most of the weight off my right leg which stayed up above the ground and twisted itself. If the trench had been a few inches deeper I would have most probably broken my leg.
When my friend helped me out and back to my tent, I was trying to laugh and cry at the same time. As a result of my sprain, our M.O put me on 7 days light duty after he had strapped my knee in sticking plaster and said that I had better have an office job during that time or do no work at all. So for the following week I worked in the Engineering Officers tent. It certainly made a change being able to sit down all day and to keep clean for once instead of getting covered from head to foot in grime and dust every day. The worst part came when it was time for the plaster to be taken off and all the hairs on my leg were pulled out by the roots at the same time.
On Sunday 13th May the all weather metal airfield a few miles away from us was completed and ready to house all of the aircraft that were to be kept on the island during the Monsoon season. If we had stayed on our Maunubyn field a few more days our aircraft would not have been able to take off again until months later.
During the proceeding [sic] two weeks, before we made our departure from our old paddy field strip, winds began to blow up throughout the day and created dust storms similar to as if a thousand aircraft were running up at the same time on the strip. At the first sign of the winds we had to tie full 50 gallon barrels of water to the tail and main planes of each aircraft and turn their nose into the wind, so that they would not be in danger of being lifted up and turned over.
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Then we would retire to our tents and hang on to the poles and tied all the flaps down etc. When the wind hit us the whole tent was in danger of being lifted up and swept away and in the bargain dust entered and filled the tent so that we were almost unable to breathe.
Then a few days before we left, we began to receive heavy showers of rain during the day and nightime. [sic] Only after a few of these heavy showers the strip became one big mass of mud and parts of it water logged.
We were all up early in the morning of the 13th and pulled our tent down and for a while sat on our kit out in the open air among the lines of packed tents and listened to a wireless that one of the nearby tents possessed. It was on that wireless that I heard the war news whenever I possibly could as that was our only touch with what was hapenning [sic] in the outside world.
After an hour of sitting around one of the fellows drove up on a tractor which had a trailor [sic] attached to the rear of it. We loaded our kit and tent on to this trailor [sic] and it was driven out to the runway where an aircraft was waiting to take us to our new drome. The aircraft was also stationed nearby our technical tents and so [inserted] TO [/inserted] make up a full load we loaded our tool boxes etc on board.
We had travelled so far by air since leaving Italy that the puppy knew that he was going on another flight as soon as we loaded our kit he climbed up the steps and went on board himself. The other two dogs ended their lives on the Island as they caught different skin deseases [sic] and so had to be shot. But Chicco seemed to stand up to the heat very well and often he would go to work with us and sit under the main plane until it was time for dinner or to finish for the day. At first we had a job to keep him out of the oil but later on he used to visit the different gangs working on the different aircraft. As soon as one gang finished making a fuss of him, he went on to the next. He was a lovely little dog and very understanding and was known by everyone on the Squadron. Every night he went on guard and spent his time trotting around with them on patrol and he went to sleep on one of the beds in our tent when the guard finished. It was very amusing to watch him play with the giant frogs or with one of the monkeys. The monkey colony on the Squadron had by this time risen to half a dozen. One of the babys had a very large head and a very small body which made it look a horrible little thing.
Any way it was about dinner time when we taxied to the end of the run-way. On arrival there one of the chaps in the aircraft discovered that he had left his shirt behind which contained his money wallet so he jumped out and told us he would hitch hike over to the new drome.
The dog sat in the doorway as we took off and within a minute of becoming air borne we found ourselves circling over the new drome which was situated near to the sea. The drome possessed two long metal section built run-ways with a taxying strip running parallel with the outside of each. Even the aircraft dispersal areas were covered with metal sections. Whoever thought of this way for building new airdromes had brains. First the bulldozers levelled the ground then the ground was covered with strips of bitumen covered hemp and in turn that was covered with holed metal sheets approx 18” x 8’. Each sheet fitted in to its next door neighbour so making a complete surface.
As soon as an aircraft touched down on this surface it gave out a teriffic [sic] rattling and clanking sound which continued until the aircraft came to a stand still. This sound seemed to be ten times as loud when aircraft came in after dark and when all was silent.
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When we made a half circle over the sea and landed, we never thought we were going to stop taxeing. [sic] We went down the length of the run way and then the length of the taxeing [sic] strip which together was well over a distance of 2 1/2 miles. before we reached the Squadron dispersal point.
On stepping out from our aircraft we found the fellow waiting nearby who we had left at the end of our old strip. He had travelled by road and had still beaten us to our new drome which was called Akyab (main).
A few minutes later a lorry drew up to the aircraft and after being loaded took us and our kit along one of the worst roads in the world to our new domestic site which was situated in a coconut tree grove approx 2 1/2 miles from our dispersal which was at one end of the runway the domestic site was just past the other end.
Our first job was to find a space between the coconut trees in the small camp area on which to pitch our tent. After finding a suitable spot we staked our claim and left one chap behind to look after the kit and to see that no one else tried to erect their tent on that same spot. The rest of us went back to the airfield and loaded up a lorry with empty 5 gall cans and returned to the site with them. Next we laid out the cans in a square a little bit larger than our tent and then after covering the whole lot with earth & four blankets we erected our tent on top of the whole lot. After putting our kit inside, still sweating we dug a large trench all the way around the tent so that we would not get flooded out when the monsoon arrived in full force. Next day air operations were resumed as normal and we seemed to work more hours than ever but perhaps it was all the better as when we first arrived at Akyab main we had no entertainment whatsoever. So we did not know what to do with ourselves of an evening and many a time we [deleted] have [/deleted] sat on our beds just looking at each other.
As soon as the war ended no one was allowed to stay on the island for more than 8 months as if they did they were liable to go mad. I quite believe it is possible too. We were there only for 6 months and some of us were not far from being around the bend as we say in the service.
As time went on entertainment improved, the night of the month looked forward to the most by all the chaps was when the beer ration came in. On that night we either stayed in our own tent and invited our friends from other tents in to a party and sing song or we paid a visit to someone else’s tent. That was about the only time we enjoyed ourselves and were happy whilst on the island. One of the fellows who we used to invite to the parties was a cook this proved very useful as he used to bring along eggs and tins of bacon from the cookhouse with him. Then at about midnight one could see us frying our supper and sitting out in the air around the petrol fire over which was someone’s mess tin containing the eats. We each took it in turn to raid the cookhouse for bread for the sandwitches. [sic]
Occasionally, I went to the Naval Station situated on the sea shore near to what was left of the town to see a picture in the camp cinema there but I never used to like that terrible bumpy and tiring journey there and back to go often. I only went when I was feeling fed up and miserable. There was absolutely no where to go in the evening except for a walk in the jungle or to the [inserted] TOC ‘H’ [/inserted] canteen 3 miles away and it was not worth the walk there and back just to obtain a cake and a cup of tea which a few minutes after one had drink, you could see stream out of your body in the form of sweat and the reward for our trip would be one soaking sweaty wet shirt and similar slacks.
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The more that I saw of the island the more I was convinced that no white man was ever meant to live there. Whenever I see posters or read about romantic tropical islands, I think of how romantic Akyab was. During the whole of those six months I saw no more native women than half a dozen and only a few white women. The only thing that was nice there was the sun set and that was glorious and breathtaking spectical. [sic] The tall brown trunks and the big green waving branches and leaves of the coconut trees gently being swayed by a trade wind, stood out very clearly against the red mauve purple yellow and orange sky.
Bananas and wild pinapples [sic] grew on the Island also wild Orchids and many other colourful tropical flowers grew in abundance during the wet season. When we wanted coconut milk to drink, we used to get the natives to climb up the trees pick and throw coconuts down to us. They used to ascent [sic] those tall trees like lightening and decend [sic] still faster if on reaching the top they found that the tree was infested with ants and on reaching the ground once again they would be covered with them. We could not leave anything eatable around the tents as if we did within a few minutes, it would be swarming with ants. I remember that at one time they got into a big tin of sweets that had been sent out all the way from England to me. Was I wild when I opened the lid and found thousands of ants eating my nice sweets.
One night they even came to bed with me and I spent hours finding and killing them in the dark, they nearly drove me mad that night. The worst part that I could only locate them after they had bitten me. On the following morning when I arose I found the ants climbing up one of the drums that formed the legs of my bed and walking along the Bamboo framework and down another tin to the floor again and the trail then led out of the tent up a tree trunk along our clothes line to the next tree and down to the ground once more. After putting paraffin on my bed and on the floor of the tent it stopped their capers for a while. But it was impossible to cope with them fully as they were everywhere in millions. They used to nest in the seams of our tents and on one occasion I found that some had hibernated inside [deleted] of [/deleted] [inserted] ONE [/inserted] the bamboo poles that formed one side of my bed and they were gradually chewing the bamboo into saw dust.
Often when we were stripped and having a bath a big horse fly would come along and bite us on the bottom and when they bit they certainly made you yell with pain. Its stinger feels as big as a match stick when he digs it in. A bite from one of them is far worse than having an inoculation and it also leaves a bigger bump.
During our dinner hour each day we used to lie on our beds being pestered by the flies. As soon as I knocked one off two more would settle they were so crafty that the flies alone nearly drove us mad. It was the same at work it was too hot to be under our mosquito nets during the daytime. It always became dark round about 7. p.m. and at that time the flies would go to bed and the mosquitos would venture out and into our tents along with moths, flying beetles which used to get tangled up in our hair and all sorts of weird and wonderful insects which either used to fly round [inserted] & AROUND [/inserted] the hurricane lamps or sleep on the ceiling of the tent. When late evening came and we were all in bed the fire flies would come in and light up the tent with the green illumination that they radiate and then just as we were dozing off to sleep either a pack of Hyenas or Jackalls [sic] would start howling nearby and one after another, another pack in the surrounding district would take up the cry. It was a terrible sound that used to send shivers down our spines. Also of a nightime [sic] after it had been raining an army of thousands of bull frogs would start croaking in the surrounding jungle. It was marvelous [sic] how every few minutes they would start up and then stop croaking all at the same time. When they were croaking in full force it sounded like a team of horses galloping along a cobbled street. In fact that was the scene that one pictured up in ones mind when one heard them.
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Then occasionally if all was silent, all of a sudden a frog on one side would open up with a croak at least as loud as the moo of a cow and he would be answered by another frog on the other side of the tent. Then they would carry out a conversation with each other by alternate croaks. These bull frogs were no bigger than your thumb and make enough noise for a thing a hundred times their size. Also a very large variety of snakes were killed on the camp whilst we were there. One 6 ft viper was found coiled up inside an old empty fruit tin. The snake used to come up out of the jungle at night and across the road and into our camp. Often whilst walking along the road at night I would hear a snake scoot across in front of me and disappear into the grass, we certainly used to tread very carefully when walking through grass. So you can see some of the things that we had to put up with and the reason why we all felt fed up with life. I think the only thing that kept us alive was thought of the day when we would be going home and what we had to go home to. It did not pay to be melancoly [sic] and we certainly had to keep a grip on ourselves.
Here is one amusing incident that happened one night although it was not very funny for the fellow that it happened to. He woke up during the night and felt something moving about in his bed and on putting his hand down between the blankets he felt the smooth skin of a snake. He leapt out from beneath his mosquito [inserted] NET [/inserted] and out of his bed with a yell that woke everyone else up in the tent and told them that there was a snake somewhere in the tent. Then one of the other occupants of the tent rushed out and cut his foot on a piece of glass. He thought that the snake had bitten him in the dark, so he went and woke up the sick quarters’ staff and got them out of bed. He was in a panic until they convinced him that he had only stepped on a piece of glass.
Anyway they all took their blankets into the dining hall which was a large long Basha and slept (or rather tried to) the rest of the night on the tables. In spite of an extensive search on the following morning which consisted of moving their whole kit no snake was found in the tent.
I think that all of these things played on some of the chaps minds, as one night just after we had blew the lights out one of the chaps in my tent swore that someone had touched him in the dark and on investigating we could find nothing on his net or anything near him. Then during another night one of the chaps had a nightmare in which he was being strangled and he was just able to gasp out in a whisper ”Ken, Ken” [inserted] AND KEN [/inserted] who was half asleep thought for a while that it was a spirit calling out to him.
We appreciated very much the few girls that took part in the very few ensa shows that came out to us braving and putting up with the wartime conditions in the Far East. We thought more of them than the big artists who [deleted] stuck [/deleted] [inserted] STAYED [/inserted] in the West End earning or rather getting big money and who refused to go out East for a short while to entertain the troops. One who did come out and who I saw whilst in Akyab was the opera and B.B.C. singer Tessa Deane who sang almost continuously to us for two hours all types of songs from opera to swing. For that performance she would have received a very large amount of money [deleted] from the B.B.C. [/deleted]
As I said before, we saw very few women on the island, most had either fled into the hills or had been taken away by the Japanese.
Some days it go [sic] so hot that the dog used to dig a hold [sic] then put his nose in it and cool it on the earth at the bottom of the hole which had not been exposed to the sun.
One night whilst listening to the wireless it seemed funny when the news announcer gave out that you were having the hottest day of the year in England 88o in the sun. At that time it was dark at Akyab and the temperature was then 98o.
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Another wild dog that roamed the camp made friends with one of the monkeys and they became devoted to each other. It was very amusing to watch them play together and playfully bite each other. They were both very artful and got up to some funny antics that used to make us all laugh.
At one time we had two other pets in our tent besides the dog. There were one large and one small lizard. Both used to come to the tent every evening and much to our approval would feed themselves upon the mosquitos and other insects. They used to advance bit by bit on either side of their intended victim. Then they used to move and strike like lightening. It was very interesting to sit on our beds and watch them.
Now for the monsoons which were late arriving that year in Akyab. They should have broke during late May but at that time we only got those heavy showers every so often. Then when the Monsoons did finally arrive in mid June they made up for lost time. Just before they arrived I needed a 15 ft rope (long) attached to my bucket when I drew my washing water from the well and a few weeks later the water level was only a few feet below the ground. So that will give you some idea of how much rain we had. Although it is very hard to realise what monsoon rain is like unless you have witnessed it, often during one day we had as much rain as we get in England during two months of the rainy season.
During the hot season we saw too much sunshine for our liking and during the monsoon season we saw far too much rain and longed for the dry weather once more. One advantage is that it became a bit cooler when it poured with rain although not [deleted] merely [/deleted] [inserted] NEARLY [/inserted] cold [inserted] HOWEVER [/inserted] by any means. As soon as each monsoon finished during the daytime the sun would break down and scorch down and the humidity would become very bad. So that we breathed in 50% of water and 50% of air.
One moment the sun would be shining and the sky would be cloudless then suddenly a dirty black cloud would appear on the horizon and be drawn across the sky like a blanket. Then came the wind followed by the shortly afterwards sweeping rain. Sometimes the monsoon would last for half an hour and the sun would beat down and the sky would become clear once more. Perhaps we would get anything up to a dozen or more monsoons during a day. Then again sometimes the monsoon lasted continuously for a day or days and it really did pour down all the time and never drizzled like it does in England. At times it rained so hard that the visibility decreased to less than 20 yards. We could see the monsoons coming as they got nearer so the visibility got less and the darker it became. One minute we would see far past the other end of the run-way and the next we could not see the aircraft parked next to the other one that we were working.
Often to get an aircraft servicable [sic] we had to work out in the pouring rain and go to and from the domestic site of an open lorry in it all, getting soaked through. If we changed our clothes at dinner time the fresh set became just as wet long before the day was out. We had nowhere to dry our clothes and just had to hang them up in the tent and so it went on until we had no more fresh clothes to put on and we had to be content with damp ones. It was the same with washing our clothes, it was still impossible to get them even nearly dry. At one time we had so much sunshine for our liking but nothing in my mind is worse than being soaked through and having to work out in the rain which you know will not stop for hours.
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Around about this time we had to do an engine change as quick as we possibly could on an aircraft. We worked in shifts of two chaps each shift doing 12 hours and the shifts carried on continuously throughout the night and day through the heavy rains. It was just my luck to be on the shift that had to work all night and the other chap working along with me as the Corporal of the gang. By the time that we had ridden up to domestic site at 10.30 and queued up in the rain for a hot supper and then driven back to the drome once more, we were already fed up and longing for dawn to arrive. In spite of all this we finished that engine change in record time we were allowed a maximum of 48 hours and we had the aircraft ready for airtest 42 hours after we had started work on in. We had to take the old engine and strip it down. Get the new engine out of its crate and then build it up and instal [sic] it into the [inserted] AIR [/inserted] frame and put the propellor on and do another hundred and one jobs before we ran it up. Then we had to rectify all the snags before we were able to cowl the engine up.
Whilst working on inspections every time it started to rain or we saw a monsoon coming across the drome we had to cover up the engine and work as best we could under the cover until it stopped raining once again. Then we had to take the cover off. One got a bit fed up with this if we had to do this a dozen times a day or night.
Often when working all night in our sleeplessness we knock our battery [inserted] 15 [/inserted] volt lighting bulbs off the engine on to the metal strip and smash them one by one until sometimes none were left and as it was pitch dark we would hate to pack up for the night. But by 3 a.m. it began to get a bit lonely working there when all was silent except for the sound of the sheets of rain beating on or being swept in sheets onto the metal body and wings of the aircraft.
Then just before dawn one after another engine would roar into life and then one by one the aircraft would taxi out in a continuous line to the end of the run-way and then take off. All that we would see in the dark was the long line of red and green wing tip lights. The ground crew had begun to arrive by that time and another day had commenced. As the rest of the gang climbed from the lorry to take over from us, we sleepily climbed on to it to be driven up to camp and glorious bed. Even on the nights that we did not have to work we were woken up each morning as the aircraft took off for their first trip of the day and roared over our tents at the end of the run-way. At this time we were thoroughly fed up with life which was hardly more than just work and existing. All we had to look forward to was to going home (if lucky) sometime in the future.
Whatever the weather [deleted] was [/deleted] those 15 aircraft and some times many more [inserted] DID [/inserted] three of four supply carrying trips each day. This was the time that the aircrew did really earn their pay as they flew in weather that pilots in England would be horrified at even the thought of having to take off in [deleted] it. [/deleted] No words of mine can praise those aircrews enough for what they went through during those days when they flew continually from dawn up until dusk and for most of the time as visibility was so bad they could not see where they were flying and had to rely entirely on their instruments. Although these crews could have refused to fly when they could not even see far enough down the run-way for a safe take off, they never would or did let the Army down.
Also in this weather, the pilots had a hell of a job in finding the run-way and sometimes even the airfield when they returned to the Island. It was pitiful to watch or rather hear the aircraft circle round and round trying to find the end of the run-way and making attempt after attempt to land. If possible the crews flew over or around the monsoons but sometimes they were so big and so high that it was impossible to do either of these things so they just had to chance to luck and fly through the thick of it. Even the red direction beacons on the drome for guiding in the aircraft were useless. Besides these beacons one fellow used to stand on the end of the run-way and if an aircraft was on somewhere near on the correct approach he fired [inserted] [symbol] [/inserted] very white pistol cartridges up into the air and if the aircraft was well out in its approach he would fire up a red and it would then go round again and make another attempt.
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Every so often during its circuit we would get a glimpse of the plane when it flew through a small clear patch in the mist and rain. One morning one of our aircraft came down a bit too low when the pilot was trying to find out where he was and its wing tip touched the sea in Akyab harbour near the end of the run-way. The force of the impact overturned the aircraft and it sank before any of the crew had a chance to get out.
This was the only aircraft that our Squadron lost during the Monsoons but other Squadrons were not [inserted] SO [/inserted] lucky and lost quite a number that flew into mountain sides etc.
Whilst on an operation one of our aircraft was flying along on a height of 10,000 ft and flew into a big black cloud. Suddenly all the instruments went hay-wire and the aircraft was turned over on its back and it looped and rolled and did everything that a Dakota was not built to do before the pilot who had to fight with the controls got it under control once more. At the end of it all the aircraft had dropped from 10,000 feet [inserted] TO 1,000 ft [/inserted] and we had to overhaul it when it returned to Base.
On another occasion, another of our aircraft turned over three times in one of these blackish brown clouds. The pilot managed to fight and beat nature by righting the aircraft each time. At the time it was loaded with 20 – 50 galls barrels of petrol or in other words 1,000 galls plus another 700 which was in his petrol tanks. So if the aircraft had crashed it most certainly would have burst into flames and the crew would not have stood a chance of getting out of it alive. Also the army would have had to go short of the petrol. For this feat the pilot who kept the aircraft under control was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal. He certainly earned it. I saw him just after he had loaded and he looked a nervous wreck.
Us ground crew were certainly pleased when new aircraft with new engines arrived from England to replace some of our old worn out ones that had been flying continuously since we left Italy. As the engines were old, they were getting worn out and what with oil leaks etc, they caused us no end of trouble that kept us busy all the while. So it was a treat to be able to work on brand new engines once again which did not have many minor things keep going wrong with them.
Our gang carried out an acceptance check on one of these aircraft that had only two weeks previously been in dear old England. On completion of our engine check, I decided to go up in the airtest with the plane. I stood just behind the pilots’ shoulder and watched the engine instruments as we tore down the run way and just after we had left the ground there was a blinding flash and a noise like an explosion. For a moment I thought that the plane was breaking up until I realised that the emergency escape hatch just above my head had blown off. It could not have been fastened properly and the suction of air caused by us taking off must have drawn it off. It certainly frightened me for a moment when the light came streaming in and the cockpit from above me, and the explosion noise was caused by the air being drawn out of the aircraft also.
It was lucky that we had a daredevil pilot with us who was unmoved by the incident or we might have gone out of control and crashed. For the next few moments after it had happened I spent looking out of the astrodome situated on the roof of the aircraft to see that the hatch in its flight had not hit our rudder or tail unit.
I shall always remember the lovely 21st Birthday that I spent at Akyab when it rained almost continually and I worked from 7.15 a.m. up until 1 a.m. on the following morning.
On many occasions whilst we were at Akyab the Island stock of areo engine oil ran out completely and before we would finish an inspection and put an aircraft serviceable we had to send an aircraft either down to Ramree Island or back into India to fetch 500 or 750 galls.
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[inserted] 154A [/inserted]
[newspaper clipping with photograph of burning oil dumps in Rangoon]
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[newspaper clipping and photograph describing the 14th Army’s assault on Rangoon with photograph of a British motor launch sailing into Rangoon harbour]
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[inserted] 154B [/inserted]
[newspaper clipping describing Rangoon]
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[newspaper clipping and photograph of the fall of Rangoon]
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[inserted] 154C [/inserted]
[aerial photograph of Rangoon prison with writing on the roofs]
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[photograph of the landings of May 1st 1945 in Rangoon]
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[inserted] 154D [/inserted]
[photograph showing dropping of airborne supplies from RAF Dakotas to the troops on the ground]
[photograph of crowds lining the waterfront at Rangoon]
[photograph of the damage at Rangoon Central Railway Station with soldier in the forefront]
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Many of the chaps or rather the majority of chaps on our Squadron suffered from all sorts of tropical deceases such as dysentery, malaria, jungle sores, heat and sweat rash, tienya which is another form of rash which comes out in the most awkward places. Then there was foot rot which was very unpleasant. I have suffered from the latter two complaints and also from a slight touch of dysentery on two occasions. A slight touch left me for a few days feeling very weak and helpless so I pity those chaps who get an accute [sic] attack. They must feel three parts dead and want to die. It is certainly far from funny when I had to run as fast as I possibly could every ten minutes or so.
At one time half the camp had a slight touch all around about the same time and on running to the lav in the middle of the night I found all the seats occupied and a waiting queue formed also, on quite a few occasions. It was just too bad if you could not wait. I think that most of the cases were caused by the dust and the millions [inserted] OF FLIES [/inserted] that used to settle on our food and other places.
I must say that the yellow quinnine [sic] (mepercreme) tablet that we used to swallow each day certainly saved hundreds of chaps from getting malaria. Actually very few on our Squadron went down with that decease. [sic] At one time 90% of the troops in Burma caught it with a result of all these cases, the fighting force was considerably depleted and they were a liability to the army instead of an asset. At one time during the war malaria casualties outnumbered the fighting ones. So who-ever invented those little yellow perils as we used to call them did a great deal in winning the war in the Far East.
Although Rangoon had fallen there were still a great number of Japs still fighting around the Toungoo area who were cut off from their main Southern forces. Also another Japanese force were attacking across the Sittang river which had swollen in the monsoons, to try and link up with the trapped force and hold a corridor through which they could escape across the Sittang and over the Shan Hills back into Siam. Perhaps you will remember this great battle of the Sittang bend. If you do you will know that this second force was also trapped by our troops. For the Japs it became either a matter of starvation, fighting a battle to death in the flooded paddy field and jungle or risking death by our guns cross shelling whilst trying to escape across the river.
And during this Jap escape bid which covered some weeks we were flying, supplies to our troops in the Toungo area, evacuating wounded and other hospital cases etc, also flying fit men who had just come out of hospital, back to their units at the front. Our troops beside the Japs had to do most of their fighting, knee deep in water and being soaked to the [deleted] sun [/deleted] [inserted] SKIN [/inserted] all day and every day through being out in the monsoon rains. In this battle of the Sittang band over 11,000 Japs were killed, excluding those that starved in the Jungle or committed Harri karri or who were drowned whilst attempting to cross that swollen river on small rafts in the middle of the night. Our casualties during this battle numbered 75 men.
Another job that our Squadron did was to fly full loads of rolls of bitumen covered hemp matting down to Rangoon where it was used for building a new run-way. The dog in our tent used to love to go out in the rain and get himself covered with mud but somehow he managed to lick himself clean everytime as he would turn up later (when he had dried himself out) with his coat of natural colour of snow white with brown patches. I only wish that I had a photograph to show you of myself taken in my monsoon clothing. I must have looked a sinster [sic] character something like Guy Fawkes when wearing my wide brimmed bush hat pulled down almost over my eye and with my long flowing wide cape and my mosquito gum boots. Beneath all this I just used to wear my shorts and evenr [sic] when it was pouring with rain it never became cold.
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During the night of 23rd May, we had the biggest storm of the lot. I think that every one of us did not mind admitting that we were scared whilst it was on. I know that I do not. I would much rather go through an air raid than another storm like that one. The thunder claps were much louder than the sound of a bomb exploding close by. Each and every one made the ground tremble. The flashes of lighting lit up the whole sky and the interior of our tent as if it was daytime.
In fact it was so bright that I had to hide my eyes beneath my blankets as I lay there in bed. Whilst the storm was right overhead, we could hear the lightening crack and the sizzling sound as it hit the nearby coconut trees that were around out [sic] tent and as it ran along wires etc.
Quite often I was awoken during the night by rain drops dripping through on to me as I lay there in bed. It [deleted] ran [/deleted] [inserted] RAINED [/inserted] so hard that it soaked through the canvas of the tent and on to my mosquito net. Often on these occasions I have stepped into a large puddle that had formed beside my bed when I have got out to put my ground sheet over my mosquito net so that all the rain would drip down beside me instead of on me. At times I got up feeling as if I had wet it during the night. Everything in our tent had become damp and had acquired that mildew smell by this time and some of my clothing packed inside my kit bag had even started to go mouldy.
Whilst we were at Akyab main, our khaki battle dress was taken from us and we were issued out with a much lighter material battle dress which was jungle green in colour. We also had to change our white towels and underclothes for green ones. As I said before, as time went on the entertainment conditions became very much better. Also a large number of fellows had been posted to the Squadron which made our work a lot more easier. Eventually working after 6 p.m. became almost extinct and we began to get regular days off, but by this time all the worst was over, although as the old saying goes with regards to this, better late than never. Most of the chaps had come straight out from England and I looked quite like a native when my sun browned body was working beside their lily white ones.
Then the natives built a long big Basha which we used as a Recreation hut. From various funds we got a togal [sic] of near on £300 to spend on making the place look something like home. We furnished it out with little card tables, coloured wooden and canvas chairs and we put coloured cloth of various patterns over the windows and walls. Our C.O. sent an aircraft specially to Calcutta to fetch the things that I have mentioned among many others.
We covered the floor of the “Basha” with strips of the Bitumen sheeting which was used for so many things such as road and run-way surfaces tent flooring etc. Then we put up white supply dropping parrachutes [sic] to act as a ceiling and to stop the sawdust coming down on our heads as the ants ate into the bamboo poles that supported the roof.
At one end of the canteen stood a soft drink bar and at the other end were two dart board pitches also the Squadron library. The Basha was always well stocked with English daily papers and magazines (at least 3 months old) which the fellow used to receive from home. Then there were many games including draughts, cards, chess, monopoly and the horse racing game Totepolly. The canteen also possessed a gramaphone [sic] and a hundred different records of the latest tunes of the time. Of the two wirelesses one was a battery set for use in the daytime when the electric power plant was not running and the other was a press button electric set that we used of an evening. As English time was 6 1/2 hours behind us the best programmes usually came on the air just as it was time for us to go to bed.
I used to spend most of my spare time in this canteen. I passed by many many [sic] evenings and days off writing up this Autobiography. Generally, I was writing at least four months behind the times so I had to recall and relieve in my memory each day once again.
We also had our other canteen from which we could purchase, biscuits, cigarettes, soap, razor blades, hair cream, combs and many many [sic] other of the necessities of life in the jungle. Nearly every night for supper in our tent we bought Post Tosties (cornflakes)
[inserted] 157 [/inserted]
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and tinned rich cream milk. At one time we got in a stock of tinned Christmas Pudding, in the tent, with milk they made a change from Cornflakes. At one time a party of us had a craze for playing Toteopolly for a few rupies [sic] a game. We played during the dinner hour, before and after tea, in fact so much until we began to dream about the game. Then we turned to bridge once more and everyone began to play that game.
Next came the nap craze followed by brag. The few of us seemed to set the fashion for the rest of the Squadron. Finally, I got really fed up with games of any sort and went back to writing my book.
Whilst writing, I also enjoyed listening to the very nice music that often came over the wireless during my afternoons off. Mostly it would be music from the operas and that would bring back memories of my evenings at the Opera in Italy and make me feel very sentimental and wish that I could get out of that [inserted] PRESENT [/inserted] uncivilised part of the world. One amusing incident happened one night when around about midnight two of the chaps in my tent started arguing about the words of one of the songs on a record that had been playing in the canteen that evening. After a while they still could not agree and had got to the stage of betting each other 7/6p that they were right. As I was trying to get to sleep, I soon got fed up with the argument and finally as I would not commit myself by entering into it, I got out of bed along with the others and we all trooped over to the canteen, and there we were in the still of the night searching by torchlight for the certain record. On finding it I played it on the gramaphone [sic] and acted as referee unti [sic] the argument was settled then we all retired to bed in peace.
After building the canteen “Basha” the natives set up a laundry on the camp, which helped us a lot as they heated the clothes and ironed them out. So we were able to put dry clothes on our bodies every so often once again. The worst part was that we did not get our laundry back until ten days after we handed it as it took days for the natives to get it dry. They were in the same position as us for not being able to put clothes out in the open. The amount of laundry handed in each day by members of Squadron overwhelmed the capicity [sic] of the Basha which housed the laundry.
A native barber also set up a business on the camp. Anyway he called himself a barber, but as there was no one else to cut my hair and at one time my hair had grown so long that it looked like a girls, with my thick curly waves which formed into a roll on my forehead. I was forced to go and get it cut by him and when he had finished with it my hair was in a worse state than before and I had to get one of the chaps in our tent to repair it a little. After that we had an attempt at cutting each others hair, and during these occasions we certainly had some laughs at the different ways that the chaps carried out the job.
Towards the latter part of our stay in Akyab, we had our own [deleted] camers [/deleted] [inserted] CINEMA. [/inserted] I should say at the time, it was the best theatre for at least a hundreds [inserted] OF [/inserted] miles around. The building was a long half round corrugated tin Nisson hut and we got the natives to shift the tons and tons of earch [sic] which was needed to make the 5 ft sloping floor. Most of the fellows on their day off gave some help with the building of the theatre. The stage when it was finished was first rate and as good in fact was better than most of the small English theatres possess. The Squadron carpenters built most of it and the electricians installed an elaborate lighting system. To use all the available space possible for seats the projection box was sunk into the ground so that the chaps sitting directly behind it could see the screen quite clearly. The seats consisted of small round 5 gallon oil drums, so when we went to watch a film we always took along a blanket with us so as to make our seats a bit softer.
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The whole interior of the building was painted in two colours and designs we painted along the side walls. We managed to get a welfare fund to supply us with money with which to buy the [deleted] goods [/deleted] [inserted] THINGS [/inserted] and yards of coloured material needed for stage curtains of various types.
Parachutes were put up once more to create a ceiling effect and to keep the sound down, which incidentally was almost perfect.
At Ensa concerts 600 fellows managed to seat themselves in the building. The two film projectors and sound equipment etc was brand new and had to come out straight from America. Whilst waiting for a film show to commence music was provided by a gramaphone [sic] connected up with loud speakers. So you can see it was a first rate cinema. There was just one fault with it and that was that it contained no air cooling system whatsoever. If fellows began to smoke during a performance it got hellish hot and sweaty. We would have installed electric fans if we had stayed on the island a little longer.
Around about the time of the General Election we started to hold political meetings in our recreation room so as to pass a few evenings away, but as they got a bit heated we dropped them after the first two.
Every Monday evening a whist drive [deleted] was [/deleted] [inserted] WHICH [/inserted] proved quite popular was held and another two evenings of each week the game of Housy Housy was [deleted] playing [/deleted] [inserted] HELD [/inserted] in our dining hall “Basha”.
I remember during one night in July I was woken up about 3 a.m. when one of the fellows came back to the tent and told me to get up. On getting out of my nice warm bed he pulled out a big bottle of gin from his pocket and insisted that we drank it before we got into bed again.
On Bank Holiday Monday the 6th August our new C.O. W/Cdr Chalmers held a Squadron parade in our cinema and gave us a talk during which he told us that before long we would all be moving down to Rangoon and that within the following six weeks our forces would invade and re-capture Singapore Island. Then he went on to say that immediately the island fortress had surrendered we would by flying to the island over 1,370 miles of enemy held territory. Then on reaching there safely [inserted] ? [/inserted] we were going to operate aircraft from the Island up to Saigon in French Indo China to Hong Kong island just off the mainland of China.
As you all know, it turned out that Singapore island did not have to be taken by force after all and so much to our relief there was no need for us to have to fly unarmed all those miles over Jap held land and sea. I remember also that on that same evening I listened to the wireless to the holiday peace time sports that were being held in England. Cricket at Lords, running records being broke at the White City. Horse Racing etc. It all seemed so much like the peace time England that I remembered, but I could not help thinking of the chaps out at the front in the swamp still being killed at that moment and of those wounded that were being brought back in our aircraft. [deleted] It [/deleted] [inserted] THERE [/inserted] was not much in the peace that [underlined] they [/underlined] could celebrate about.
It was also about this time that the two Atom bombs were dropped upon Japan and we listened for hours to the news bulletins to hear how the Japs would react to them. We soon began to get tired of hearing about messages going from Japan to Spain, Spain to America, America to Britain, Britain to Russia and vica-versa [sic] after a few days of it.
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In my opinion I think that in one way were quite justified in using this terrible weapon against the Japs as the result of those two bombs definitely shortened the war in the Far East. Also through not having to invade by force Japan itself, Singapore and many others occupied countries tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of British and American lives were saved.
It was whilst at Akyab that I was awarded my medal ribbons of the 1939/45 Operational Star, Burma Star. Italian Star and the French and German Star. I could have also claimed the defence medal but I did not bother about it.
Early in August a third of the Squadron [deleted] of the Squadron [/deleted] went on detachment to Karachi two thousand miles away. They took twelve of our oldest aircraft with them and from Karachi [deleted] and from Karachi [/deleted] they operated an airline service to all parts of India.
Two of the fellows in my tent went on this detachment and had a damm [sic] good time. The remaining two of us in the tent were unlucky and had to stay with the Base aircraft.
The Squadron advance party to Rangoon flew down during the first week in August and on Tuesday the 14th August the second party left Akyab by air but on arrival at the airfield near Rangoon they found that no arrangements had been made for their arrival. There was no transport to convey them and their kit up to the new domestic site. No rations were to be had any where and on top of this they were surrounded by a sea of mud and it was also raining. After hanging around the aircraft for hours they began to get fed up and feel hungry as there was still no signs of them being able to get up to the domestic site the pilots decided to fly back to Akyab. So the fellows on this second party unloaded the equipment that they had taken down with them and left it in the mud near to where they were, for the advance party to look after. Soon after they had taken off on the return trip they ran into one of the worst monsoons that we [deleted] over [/deleted] [inserted] HAD IN [/inserted] Burma during the whole season,. Many of the aircraft were forced to land and stop for the night on Ramree island and on other strips all over Southern Burma.
I was on the drome when the solitary aircraft that got back to Akyab that night arrived overhead just as it was getting dark. Sometime during the same afternoon both of our run-ways were put unservicable [sic] to land upon or take off from because they had become water-logged but, as it was late and visibility almost nil and because he was running short of petrol there was nothing left for the pilot to do except to try and land on one of our run-ways. It was with luck on his sixth attempt to come in that he found that he was in line with approaching the run-way. As soon as the aircraft touched down half way along the strip the water covering parts of the metal run-way swept up in waves over the wings of the aircraft as it went along. The height at the leading edge of the wings on a D.C. is over 10 ft. The water helped to pull the aircraft up before it had reached the other end of the strip. Most of the chaps on board the aircraft on stepping out told us that they had been airsick and that they never wanted to fly again.
Although the pilot never told them they knew that it was touch and go to find our drome and land safely before the petrol supply ran out. They all looked miserable and hungry when I saw them and I bet that they were more so after the bumpy drive with their kit back to coconut grove in the pouring rain. I was certainly glad that I was not on that second party. In a way those chaps were lucky as on the following evening we had to stand there helpless and listen to another aircraft circle round and round. Every so often we caught a glimpse of his wing-tip lights through the wind and rain. Sometimes [deleted] were [/deleted] [inserted] HE [/inserted] circled nowhere near the run-way and at others he made a correct approach to land over the run-way and yet he did not know it.
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It made us feel as if we wanted to shout at him every time that he was over the strip although it was useless. It must have been terrible being up there and not being able to see anything. After an hour and a half the sound of the engines grew fainter as the aircraft went further away from us. Then suddenly all was still except for the sound of the rain hitting the canvas of the tents and the trees. Next morning we learned that he had finally run out of petrol and had crashed in the sea and that the aircraft was an American Commando.The Deputy Prime Ministers (Mr. Edens) son was a member of the crew of a D.C. belonging to a fellow Squadron which was lost in a monsoon and never seen again whilst carrying supplies to Sittang bend.
It rained solidly throughout the three consecutive days after that [inserted] TIME [/inserted] Rangoon aircraft returned with some of the second advance party. Even more of the run-ways became covered with water and we were unable to stop the rain penetrating into our tent. Each morning as soon as we got up, we had to bale out the puddles at our bedsides with tins and light the two hurricane lamps to try and dry the place out a bit. We just used to venture to the workhouse “Basha” beneath a monsoon cape and back to the tent again, where we stayed and tried to read a book or make conversation between the two of us.
The official rain fall figures for the three days was as follows:-
19, 21, and 23 inches. In other words 5 ft 3 inches of rain. It came down so hard at times that the trench around our tent was unable to cope with the water and it just overflowed and went into the tent lower down the line. The roads became flooded so no one even ventured to try and get down to the strip, the two football pitches that were situated beside the road to the strip were well under water for nearly two months. The latter of these three days Mr. Atlee made the great announcement over the wireless that Japan had surrendered unconditionally and the war was over.
[inserted] V.J.D [symbol] [/inserted] Once again, whilst you at home were celebrating, us chaps were stuck in our tents [inserted] [symbol] [/inserted] spending some of the most miserable times possible. On V.J. morning I stayed in bed until I could stand it no longer and we both got up and got rid of our nights quota of water that covered the floor. In the afternoon I played cards with Freddie (the other chap left with me in our tent) but we soon got bored with doing this and stopped playing and just sat in our beds and looked at one another until it was time to eat once more. In the evening it was worse than ever. We were unable to go into our lovely canteen and pass the time away there because all that remained of it was an absolutely empty “Basha”. All the contents of it had been packed up and taken down to Rangoon with the second party. So we did not have any games etc with which to play with and as the dining hall lighting set had also gone down to Rangoon along with both of the wireless sets. We never even had a radio by which to hear the Victory news and celebration descriptions at home on. To get the news we had to go to one of the nearby Squadron Camps and hear it on one of their radios. We did not know what to do with ourselves that night, we could not even get a bridge four up as most of our bridge playing friends had gone off with the Squadron detachment to Karachi.
Around about 7 p.m. we were joined in our tent by another fellow who had been left living in a tent on his own as his three friends had also gone off to India. Besides joining us for company he came in also because his tent was just about collapsing on top of him. Some of the chaps in the other tent must have thought we were mad when the three of us after getting tired of talking to each other set out from our tent out into the rain and in single file each with a lighted hurricane lamp in our right hand we wandered around the camp in and out the coconut trees and in one end of a tent and straight out the other end again whilst trying to find a fourth member to make up a card school. Needless to say we were unsuccessful.
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During the next few days it was also a hellish job passing the time away. I was fed up with the sight of cards and reading and writing.
On two of the evenings we played Housey Housey in the dining hall by the light of the hurricane lamp. During both of these evenings we were each issued out with a ration of Naval Rum. On one occasion I managed to get two [deleted] by [/deleted] [inserted] BIG [/inserted] helpings. I think that the reason for giving it out was to keep our spirits up a bit. Anyway it certainly [underlined] was [/underlined] a strong spirit as I could feel it warm up my inside as I drank it. On the first evening I was lucky enough to [inserted] WIN [/inserted] the last house which was worth over 100 Rupies [sic] ([deleted] 10/- [/deleted] [inserted] £7-10-0 [/inserted]). I was very glad when Wednesday the 23rd August arrived and we had to go down to the strip and load all of the equipment belonging to the Technical sections on to the aircraft. These loaded aircraft took off for Rangoon along with the second party once more, early on the following morning where upon arrival they were unloaded by the advance party before taking off once more on their return trip to Akyab.
We were going to pack up most of our stuff that day as most probably we would be going on the following day but when the first aircraft arrived back at base at 1 p.m someone decided that they were to do a second trip to Rangoon that same day and that our party which included my complete working gang. We were then told to get our kit and ourselves down to the drome and on to our allocated aircraft by 2-15 p.m. as that was the time scheduled for our take-off.
To do all this called for a bit of feverish packing and the taking down of the complicated bamboo bed etc. I did not feel like rushing as I had a hell of a nasty cold coming on which I must have caught through our damp tent.
At about 1.30 p.m. another big monsoon arrived and as I carted my kit, bed, washing bowls and lamps etc out to the waiting lorry I sweated like a pig and got wet from the rain at the same time. Then before we let the lorry move off, we had to hunt around the camp until we located and captured the dog.
And so happily we said goodbye to our stinking mouldy tent. We were leaving it just in time too, as it would have just about collapsed after a few more monsoon winds. Also one by one the ropes holding it up had already started to snap through rotness.
When our aircraft revved up at the end of the run-way prior to take-off we were still in the midst of the monsoon and could not see any further than half way down the strip. None of us were looking forward to the air trip. We all had horrible thoughts and visions about turning over etc, but on becoming airborne I do not think anyone was sorry to take their last look at the Island. In that moment I felt as if I had been lifted out of a dead country back into civilisation once more. As I caught a glimpse of the island through the mist, [deleted] in [/deleted] the area below me looked like just one mass of big lakes connected to each other by wide streams with bits of land between them.
The highest part of the whole island was no more than six foot above sea level and these parts were around the airfield, our camp and the town. The small strip of land between our camp site and the sea was just a mass of jungle swamp. At night as we lay in our bed, we could hear the waves breaking on the sandy beach.
If ever a tidal wave hit or hits the island in the future, the whole of it will be covered with water. Now to get back to my story. It was 2.30 p.m. when we left the ground beneath us. On board our aircraft were 15 fellows, the crew of 4 and the dog and all of our kit. Soon after take off we were able to climb above the monsoon which turned out to be a low one. Then after a while when I looked out of a window sometimes I would see absolutely nothing but mist and cloud.
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[inserted] 162 [/inserted]
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At others I could see the country side below quite clearly.
For a long time the scene below as we flew along just off the coast of Burma was very [deleted] much [/deleted] similar to Akyab. It was a flooded area comprising of hundreds of both small and large islands of all shapes and sizes. Each separated by either swollen streams rivers, the sea or by just plain rain water flood. Then as we fly a bit further southwards and slightly inland, the scene changed to one of [deleted] the [/deleted] dense jungle covered hills and valleys which from the air seemed [deleted] irrepressible [/deleted] [inserted] IMPASSABLE. [/inserted] Then finally came the plains or rather hundreds of square miles of flat paddy fields.
It was at this point that we first caught sight of the Irriwaddiye River on which I could clearly see the many native sailing boats and from the air the occupants of these small craft looked just like mere dots. The river had been greatly swollen by the monsoon rains and many of the native villages built on its banks had been caught in the floods. I could just see the roofs of the huts made of either bamboo or corrugated iron sheeting, sticking out of the water along with a couple of the tops of pagodas etc. Then we flew over and followed southwards a big pipe line until we reached the single track railway that runs between Manderlay [sic] and Rangoon. It was down the same track that the 14th Army had fought, so I had a chance to see for myself the countryside that they had to fight to live in. It looked grim from up above so it must have looked and been like hell on the ground itself.
At times during the trip we had to climb up to a height of over 10,000 feet to get over a storm. During these moments I was sorry for the dog as he found it hard to breathe. He just lay on the floor of the aircraft panting away for all he was worth and looking very ill indeed. I also felt sorry for myself as with my cold, I found it quite a job to breathe and many times I came very near to gasping. At that height it was quite chilly, and at the time I wished that I had worn more than just my shirt and slacks on the trip. I thought that our journey was going to be a nasty one as a result of the weather. It was at first when we were in the monsoon. The aircraft swayed from side to side and up and down at the same time. There four movements gave me a very nasty sensation in my tummy. I was just beginning to feel a little air sick when we arrived above the monsoon and in the clear sky once more. After that we only [deleted] had [/deleted] hit a few big air pockets when we climbed to get above the other storms and cloud formations etc.
As we were nearing the end of our journey much to our surprise the sun came out and we found ourselves flying in an almost clearless sky. I could then see the paddy fields and flat land stretching for a distance of very near fifty miles where it disappeared into a ground mist. Then next we caught sight of the Sittang river as well as the Irriwaddi both winding their way towards the point where each joined the Rangoon river at Elephant Point. The Sittang river was very similar to the Irriwaddi with regards to being swollen and the little sailing boats, flooded villages on its banks, etc and from both rivers ran hundreds of small tributories [sic] into the surrounding country side.
Two hours after leaving Akyab we found ourselves circling the airdrome of [deleted] Minealdon [/deleted] [inserted] MINGALADON [/inserted] situated between the two rivers 10 miles north of Rangoon alongside the Pegu/Rangoon road.
As we lost height the dog as well as the rest of us felt the air pressure in our ears dimminish [sic] and the moment our wheels touched the run-way he knew that we were on the ground once more as he immediately livened up and jumped around on the seats trying to kiss everyone
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[inserted] 163 [/inserted]
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We then taxied back down the run-way to our dispersal passing by Squadrons of Spitfire. Mosquito, Dakota, Lysander aircraft also two large bombed hangers.
Our new aircraft dispersal area was a part of the old original Rangoon airfield run-way which had been made unservicable [sic] through bombing raids. It was one mass of filled in bomb craters which were liable to sink after a few heavy rainstorms.
When we stepped out from our aircraft the sun was shining brightly and within a few moments a lorry arrived on to which we loaded our kits and ourselves. We were then driven from the airfield out onto the main Pegu road where we turned into a northerly direction and travelled along one of the best roads that I had seen since leaving Italy. After riding along it a thousand or more times my first impression of it changed and I thought it was a deadly one and I used to dread riding to Rangoon and back along it. The road on an average claimed one death per week and six accidents per day. It was full of bends and, as very little traffic went along the road before the war it was not very widely built. So that it was very dangerous to overtake a vehicle unless the road ahead was absolutely clear.
For a little way on either side of this road, every so often just after leaving the airfield stood cunningly concealed grass banked blast wall bays in which the Japs used to hide their aircraft when they were not flying. During the ride we passed by many English type brick built barrack blocks and houses. Most of the blocks had been taken over by an R.A.F. hospital unit and the houses by other small units of both R.A.F. and the army. Also quite a number of these buildings had been hit during the bombing raids. Anyway it was a treat for us just to be able to look once more at English type buildings. Next to the hospital buildings on our left we passed by the modern C of E church and then on our right just near the open air swimming pool was the very much older building of the R.C. Church. Wild colourful flowers grew in many places alongside the road and after travelling for two miles we turned off the main Rangoon road into the estate of peace time barrack blocks and other various smaller buildings. The area was well set out with roads running between the buildings.
We drove up to one of these blocks occupied by the advance party and there we unloaded the waggon and carried our kit into the buildings. On finding a room that was to our liking we began to make ourselves comfortable in our new home. It took me a full two hours in which to rig up my bed once more and find some bricks on which to erect it.
We were all very pleased to be living in a building instead of an old leaky tent. The other Squadrons that moved down from Akyab were not so lucky and had to stick to their canvas homes.
During that first night that I spent in this new camp, I thought that I was going to kick the bucket as we used to say in the R.A.F. My cold had become very much worse and I could not get any sleep as both my nostrils were blocked up and I found it impossible to breathe through my nose. Also I had developed a very sore throat which hurt me every time that I breathed through my mouth and as a result of all this I just had to lay in bed gasping, coughing, sneezing, and blowing my nose all night. I went sick on the following morning and the sick quarters personnel soon had me feeling very much better after they had painted my throat and put various ointments and drops up my nostrils.
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[inserted] 163A [/inserted]
[deleted] [indecipherable word] [/deleted]
[photograph of cookhouse and dining hall] [symbol] COOKHOUSE AND DINING HALL [symbol] OUR BILLET BLOCK.
[photograph of a pagoda] [symbol] PAGODA ON HILL TO LEFT OF CAMP.
[photograph of burning building at night] [underlined] THE NIGHT THE CINEMA BURNT DOWN [/underlined]
[photograph of billet block] [underlined] REAR OF OUR BILLET BLOCK [/underlined]
[photograph of interior of cinema] GARRISON CINEMA. NOTE SAND BAG SEATS.
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[inserted] 164 [/inserted]
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The view from the window of our billet was as follows or rather perhaps I had better give you a full description of our surroundings. As it was if I stood just outside our building. Immediately in front of the building was the road which ran out to join the main road 250 yards away. After more barrack blocks just beyond the road came a large piece of flat land which sloped upwards and the whole of this sloap [sic] was covered with hundreds of parked vehicles of all types that had been put there by the army. I think that most of these cars, lorries ambulances water bowsers, jeeps, vans, water ducks etc needed repairs of some sort. Then on the top of this slope which formed itself into a hill was a small wood and on the peak of this hill was a large gold topped Pagoda.
One thing that I liked about the camp was that there were no signs of palm or coconut trees etc, in the area. Most of the trees in the wood and in the camp were evergreens of various kinds and many of the trees lining the roads in the camp in Spring (April/May) burst into one mass of brilliant red, pink, mauve or yellow blossom. To the right of our billet were more buildings and also about 50 yards away stood the large Garrison Theatre where three different films were shown each week to the troops stationed in the area. It was certainly a change for us just to be able to walk a few yards to see a film show and to watch all the other troops arriving after a lorry journey instead of having a long ride to and from the cinema ourselves. The only thing wrong with the canvas walled building was the sand bag seats which became a bit hard on the bottom after sitting on them for a couple of hours.
Then to the rear of our building was another large hill on the top of which was a large water tower. This hillside was also covered with parked vehicles of every description. Finally to the left of our building and just below us was situated a football pitch which was very nice except that it had very little grass covering it. At least one match was played at the pitch everyday so that watching the games provided a large amount of entertainment for us on our afternoons off. I must have spent at least 150 hours of my life watching football being played on that pitch.
Beyond the football ground were the officers lines of tents which was their living quarters and beyond their tents was a large anti tank ditch then a strip of flat swampy land then a small hill dotted with bushes and various shrubs. On the other side of the hill was a small stream then more bushy land and small woods which contained small native villages. The land was similar to this as far as the eye could see except that on the horizon a few tall trees stood [inserted] [symbol] [/inserted] [inserted] [symbol] OUT [missing words] THESE TREES MUST HAVE BEEN AT LEAST [/inserted] 15 miles away and near to where the Irriwaddi river was situated then I expect the land was the similar, flat and shrubby for the next hundred miles or so.
The camp was a perfect defence point and I think that it was around this area that the Japs fought their last battle and made their last stand before retreating to Rangoon. The reason I have for thinking this is because all these buildings that made up the station of Mingaladon were the last before Rangoon and the first before Pegu 60 miles or more to the North. In between Pegu and our station and Rangoon was just more of this wild country similar to that I have already described.
Inside our camp amongst the buildings were many gun pits and dozens of zig zag slit trenches, then as I have said before beyond the football pitch ran in a half semi circle the large anti tank trench. Then on the hill beyond the flat swampy stretch which none could have crossed during the daytime if the area was under fire were the remains of two tanks which were full of shrapenal [sic] holes. Around the tanks were dozens more slit trenches and defence positions all well set out and dotted all over this area were the remains of fins of small bombs and mortars. Also traces were to be seen where the tanks crossed the small stream.
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[inserted] 164B [/inserted]
[photograph of two men photographing Spitfires flying through the air]
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[inserted] 164A [/inserted]
[photograph of two airmen at Mingaladon laying out markings on the airfield with a Mosquito in the background]
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[inserted] 164D [/inserted]
[newspaper cutting regarding peace envoy in Rangoon]
[two photographs of servicemen waiting at Mingaladon airfield for the Japanese envoy]
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[photograph of the Japanese surrender envoy arriving at Mingaladon airfield]
[photograph of Japanese and British servicemen arriving at Mingaladon airfield]
[underlined] LEAFLETS DROPPED BY SPITFIRES OF No. 8 R.I.A.F. SQUADRON [/underlined]
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[inserted] 164C [/inserted]
[newspaper cutting from the Rangoon Liberator describing the Japanese arriving in Rangoon to sign surrender notice]
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[inserted] 165 [/inserted]
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All around the airfield it was the same flat bushy jungle and land on three sides and flat open swampy land stretching as far as the eye could see on the fourth. IN the immediate vicinity of the airfield were dozens more concealed gun positions and defence trench systems which one did not realise were there until almost on top of them.
I almost forgot to tell you that we also had a swimming pool on the camp but for some reason or other it always remained empty and was never used.
When we arrived at our new billet the electricians with the advance party had already installed three electric light bulbs in our room and had connected them up with the motor. In the room which was oblong and contained a door on three sides and two windows in the other, there were 15 of us. Whoever had occupied it before us had been a very good artist as the walls were covered with life size coloured drawings of film stars, Boxers, Dancing girls etc, Another good thing was that we did not even have to go out of the building for meals, although the monsoon season was just about finished. Our dining room was the similar room to ours at the other end of the Billet block. Then at the rear of each billet block were shower baths. We were living in luxury compared with conditions at Akyab. Often on waking up in the morning and hearing the wireless going in the dining hall, I had thought that I was at home in England.
[inserted] [symbol] [/inserted] [underlined] Sunday the 26th August [/underlined] was quite a historical day. Just after I had arrived at [inserted] [symbol] [/inserted] the drome for work that day, a cluster of specks appeared in the sky on the horizon and a few moments later we could distinguish quite clearly two twin engine transport aircraft surrounded by the escort of a dozen Spitfires and following up at the rear was a Lysander aircraft in which a film unit man was flying and taking photographs from.
I was at the end of the runway when the two transport aircraft made their last circuit in preparation for landing. Down came the undercarriage of each as it made its approach. The first one in made a very bad landing and the second a perfect one. After watching them taxy off the run-way I clambered on the bonnet of a nearby jeep which took [inserted] ME [/inserted] down to the point where the aircraft were finally parked.
All the time the Spitfires were roaring overhead flying in formation. The whole of the camoflauged [sic] wings and body of both aircraft had been painted over in white and instead of the usual red circle Jap markings they had big green crosses on both bodies and wings which were for recognition purposes when the Escort of Spitfires met them whilst on their flight from Saigon in Indo China. Both aircraft were of a similar design to our D.C’s but were a little smaller in size. I had a good look at the engines a little later on when the cowings were taken off and I did not think much of them. I most certainly would not like to have to trust my life on Jap engine maintenance.
As soon as the engines stopped the doors of the aircraft were opened and the steps put out and then a moment later from each stepped one of the Japanese Surrender Envoys who had arrived to sign the peace terms which would finally end the war for us in South East Asia. Both envoys were dressed in chocolate coloured uniforms with a yellow cord coming over their right shoulder to the breast pocket. Both were [sic] about five rows of medal ribbons and a large sword. They were both also about 4’ 10” in height and one wore specticals. [sic] On stepping to the ground they were immediately surrounded by armed Army & R.A.F. police and an interpreter and marched quickly away to a nearby tent where they were searched for poison etc. The crews of the aircraft who were dressed in white & were all wearing swords were lined up and marched into another tent where they were also searched. A couple of minutes later the two Enveys [sic] emerged from the tent and walked over to where the General Commanding our forces in Burma stood waiting along with many other high ranking Allied Officers of the three services.
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[inserted] 165A [/inserted]
[underlined] ARIAL VIEWS AREA NORTH OF RANGOON [/underlined]
[five aerial photographs over Rangoon]
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After speaking a few words to each other via the interpreter they all walked over to where a long line of staff car waggons stood waiting. The two envoys entered the first vehicle accompanied by two armed guards and our officers entered the following vehicles. The procession then moved off headed by a jeep full of Military Police and two motor cyclists who swept clear the road ahead during their trip to the Government House in Rangoon where the peace treaty was to be signed.
After watching this scene I made my way back to the aircraft where official cameramen were taking pictures of all the different parts of them R.A.F. chaps were checking over the engines and body etc looking for time bombs expolsives [sic] etc. The envoys took off from our airfield on the morning of August 28th after a stay in Rangoon of two days. They were again escorted by Spitfires until they had crossed the border separating Burma and Indo China.
Whilst on my way back from a visit into Rangoon a couple of days later I saw another white Jap aircraft escorted by Spitfires circling to land on our airfield. Then on the following morning another one turned up and more surrendered at a later date.
The very next day after the Japs had signed the surrender paper our aircraft were loaded up with medical supplies, food etc, which they flew into Siam and dropped over the prisoner of war camps [missing word] that country. After carrying out the dropping work the aircraft flew to Bankock [sic] airfield where they landed. The place was still held by the Japs but our aircrews were able to walk about freely whilst 23 Allied prisoners of war were loaded on each aircraft before it took off once more to bring them back to friendly territory and on the first stage of their journey home.
As soon as each aircraft came to a stop on our dispersal, ambulances that were waiting drew up to the doorway so that the freed prisoners could be unloaded as quickly as possible. Every one of them were driven to the nearby hospital where after a few days of rest and care most of the fit men were taken to the docks at Rangoon where ships bound for England were waiting for them. But those who were in a bad way had to stay in the hospital and nursed back to health before they were pronounced fit enough to travel home by sea.
I talked to quite a number of fellows a few seconds after they had stepped out on friendly soil. They were so happy to be back amongst their own countrymen after so long that I do not think that most of them fully realized what was happening. A few hours before they had been in a Jap prison camp then an hour later they were flying in an aircraft which was of an entirely new design to the old aircraft they had last seen and as they were lifted out of all their horrors they looked down upon the Bankok [sic] railway which they had been forced to build as a main supply line into Burma for the Japs under terrible conditions. It was estimated that one prisoner died for every two sleepers that were laid down whilst making the miles and miles of track. The hundreds of Indian prisoners looked as if they had been treated the worst, most of them were just a bag of bones.
Some of the English prisoners were looking very bad and all of them were half naked when they stepped out of the aircraft. Most of them that we spoke to had horrible stories to tell about how they lived and were treated and about their friends who were not so lucky and could not stand the conditions and died or who were killed.
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[inserted] 166A [/inserted]
[underlined] MINGALADON [/underlined]
[two photographs of the cinema at Mingaladon burning]
[underlined] NIGHT OUR CAMP CINEMA WENT UP IN FLAMES [/underlined]
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[inserted] 167 [/inserted]
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When the people at home saw them on arrival in England they perhaps looked a bit pale and then in their new clothing, so that many people could not credit the stories they told.
I only wish that those doubtful people could have been in my shoes to see and hear the chaps as they landed. If they had been I think that everyone of them would agree with me that the Atom bombs being dropped on Japan was justified.
One chap that I spoke to had been a prisoner for 3 1/2 years and had been captured in the fall of Singapore. He said that they never stood an earthly chance against the Invading Japs, but during the short time that our troops put up a fight they inflicted casualties on the Japs in a ratio of 5 every one of ours although they were hopelessly outnumbered. The only aircraft on the island were absolutely out of date and the pilots took off knowing that once a Jap got on his tail, he would be shot down and never return to base. Also he told me that not a single ship attempted to take them off the island they just had to fight until the island surrendered to the Japs. He said that he had not been treated too badly as he was under Siamese guards, but it was a different story for those in Japs camps. 95% of his food during these 3 1/2 years had been rice.
Most of the prisoners would have liked to have been able to have got back into the jungle and have another go at the Japs only with the equipment available in 1945 behind them. They said the result would be far different than the last time. When they saw the fighters and the other different aircraft that were on our airfield they marvelled at them and said again that they only wished that they had them supporting them in 1942.
All of the prisoners were eager for news and to know what had happened in the outside world during the time that they had spent in captivity. The aircrew on our Squadron bought up our canteens supply of cigarettes etc and collected all the newspapers magazines from around the billets to take to the chaps that had to wait behind with the Japs for a few more days before it was their turn to be flown out.
One of our aircraft on a certain morning had to carry out a special mission. Before the aircraft could land in a field somewhere in Siam, messages had to be dropped to ask the Japs if the ground was hard enough for them to make a safe landing. The Japs then put out the white sheet which was the O.K. signal and as soon as the aircraft came to a stop and the engines were switched off the prisoners in the camp rushed out and fell down on their knees and kissed parts of the aircraft which spelt liberation for them. Other flung their arms around the necks of the aircrew when they stepped out into the ground. Many were so happy that they cried like children.
The aircrew overloaded the aircraft for the return trip. They piled in 30 men besides themselves but before they were able to take off the prisoners that had to be left behind made our aircrew promise that they would come back again on the following day to fetch more of them. From what I have told you, you ought to be able to guess how those fellows must have felt. We did not mind it all when at this period we went on half rations so that they could have as much to eat as they wanted.
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[inserted] 168 [/inserted]
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It was a bit noisy at night in the billet, as immediately the lights went out and all became quiet the frogs in the nearby swamp would start up again like a team of galloping horses on a cobbled road. Then the lizzards [sic] would start chirping and squeaking at each other. Dozens of them used to inhabit the ceilings and chase one another over the walls, but for all this they used to catch and eat many of the baby elephant mosquitos that sucked so much blood from us of an evening. Often we would get three or four bats in the room at the same time, sweeping over our heads and circling around missing everything by a matter of inches. Then occasionally in the dark we would hear a sound like a bomber zooming around and the smack of it kept hitting the wall. On investigation it would turn out to be a great big black giant ugly flying beetle at least 3” long. After killing one and looking at it more closely one could see that its body was infested with small white lice and that it had claws like a crab.
When the hot season arrived and the swamps dried up the sound of the frogs ceased which was a small consolation but to counteract that, on waking up in the middle of the night I would often hear a chap talk in his sleep and another chap on the other side of the room asleep also would answer him quite clearly. Another fellow used to grate his teeth when asleep. Then a rat would be heard in amongst someones kit. On the whole it was like a menagery [sic] in our room at night.
During the day in the warm season all kinds of birds would enter and fly around the room or sit somewhere and either chirp or sing. For all those noises we had some really good times in our new home. Cards were played nearly every evening in our room and at one time most of the occupants were real gamblers. During a shoot card school one evening one chap stood to win £120. on one card and another chap to loose £60 on it. Needless to say, I seldom took part in these proceedings. On that occasion we all looked on with bated breath whilst the card was being turned over. Three fellows in the school that evening lost £25. and others finished up with losses and gains of similar amounts.
One of the many jokes we used to have amongst ourselves was when one evening it was the 10th anniversary of the marriage of the fellow who slept next to me at one time. We took the laces from his boots and shoes and hid them, we put paper in between the batteries of his torch so that it would not light and we hid his plates under his pillow. We then covered his sheets and mosquito net with some beautifully smelling powder that someone dug out from his kit bag. I should think that he had a nice dream that night.
Often when there was a [deleted] deceant [/deleted] [inserted] [indecipherable word] [/inserted] scare on, someone when the lights were out would creep out of bed and the room and poke a stick through the shuttered windows on to the net of the nearest bed until the fellow in it woke up suddenly scared stiff and wondering what was touching his net. On many occasions fellows came back from Rangoon late at night and on getting into bed found their sheets sewn up or after being in bed a while their bed would collapse quite suddenly or be drawn out in the middle of the room where no one was near.
One evening someone started spraying water from his water bottle at someone else and it ended up by them pouring buckets of water over each others mosquito net and bed. The best part of it was that I started the fun off by playing around with a jar of cold cream in the dark and a few minutes later I crept into bed and [inserted] DID [/inserted] not even get a spot of water on myself or my bed.
Soon after we arrived at Rangoon, our working hours were changed to 8 am until 5 pm with an hour and a half for dinner. Even then most of us used to roll in around about 8.30 and disappear suddenly round about 4.30 p.m. so that we could get up at camp in time for the afternoons football match. What a difference it was to the hours that we were working a few months previously.
[page break]
[inserted] 168A [/inserted]
[newspaper cutting with a story about Burmese Dacoits]
[page break]
[newspaper cutting continuing the story of the Burmese Dacoits with drawing of gang of robbers attacking a serviceman]
[page break]
[newspaper cutting continuing the story of the Burmese Dacoits]
[page break]
[newspaper cutting continuing the story of the Burmese Dacoits with drawing of gang of robbers attacking a man with a gun]
[page break]
[photograph of two Burmese soldiers with a suspected gangster as their prisoner]
DACOITS, OR BANDITS, RESPONSIBLE FOR MURDER RAIDS ON ISOLATED VILLAGES, ARE NOW BEING ROUNDED UP IN LiBERATED BURMA. This prisoner, charged as a suspected gangster, will be brought to trial for armed robbery and murder
[page break]
[inserted] 169 [/inserted]
- 26 –
As soon as all the prisoners were cleared from Siam and Indo China our aircraft went on air-line service work of carrying important persons between Rangoon which was our base at Bankok [sic] in Siam, Saigon in French Indo China, Hong Kong, in China, Penang and Kula Lumpar [sic] in Malaya, Singapore & Calcutta in India and also on various other routes all over the Far East.
One day whilst walking to my billet just as it was dark, on return from a visit to Rangoon suddenly tracer and incendary [sic] bullets started to fly overhead in all directions and volley after volley of rifle fire cracked out. At the same time a match was in progress on the football field and the players had to fall flat on the ground and then crawl off the pitch on their tummys and hide behind a nearby bank to avoid being shot. Bullets were flying over the football pitch and were landing in amongst the officers tents. Then an army fellow came running into our room and told us that his tent and three others situated on the top of the hill nearby with the water tower and vehicle park on it were being attacked. He was so certain that it was [deleted] a [/deleted] Jap rifles firing at him that we thought that it was Dacoits (Burmese Bandits) being led by Japs who were fighting on and ignoring the surrender agreement, as were a number of Jap units in Central Burma. It was quite a frequent occurrence for these bandits to carry out raids on camps etc and steal what ever they could get their hands on. Once they attacked the station ration store and quite a number of bandits were killed whilst raiding nearby villages to our camp at different intervals.
Within ten minutes from the commencement of the firing, our armoury in the same building as myself was doing a roaring trade. Our room was full of fellows loading rifles and sten guns ready to carry out a siege of the billet or go out and attack. It was dark by this time and the Army went out on an armed reconissance [sic] and they found out that two Indian units consisting of some 400 men were carrying out a private war of their own.
It appeared that it was an Indian (religious festival day) and one unit was of a different religion to the other and the war started through a couple of members of one unit shooting two cows and as the cow is a sacret [sic] animal to the other unit, they became annoyed and annoyance grew into hate and they opened fire on the other unit to get revenge for the cows.
That evening one Indian gave himself up in our officers mess and at that time he had only nine bullets left out of the forty that he should have carried. The last that we heard of the affair was that during the battle nine men had been killed and that 150 others had deserted with their arms and ammunition into the surrounding area.
All the cows around the camp were allowed to roam freely whenever they pleased, unconcerned about the crows and other birds that rested or had a ride on their heads and backs.
I was on day off on September 10th but at 9. a.m. I was woken up and told that our gang had to go into work to do a special job, which was to fit overload fuel tanks inside the fusalage [sic] of the aircraft.
What a job it was too, nothing would fit properly or go right for us. We had to finish the job that same day as next morning, the Group Captain was taking the aircraft to Penang just off the coast of Malaya and from there he was going on to Singapore as soon as the Japs on the Island surrendered, as most probably he would not be able to refuel anywhere on the trip he would have to fly the 2,500 miles there and back to Rangoon on just the petrol that he left Rangoon with.
[page break]
[inserted] 169A [/inserted]
[five photographs of Dakotas at Mingaladon airfield near Rangoon]
[page break]
[photograph of aircraft]
[photograph of Raymond Barrett seated next to a Dakota]
[page break]
[inserted] 169B [/inserted]
[underlined] MINGALADON [/underlined]
[photograph of Raymond Barrett at work on Dakota aircraft]
MYSELF WORKING ON DAKOTA’S OF [underlined] 267 SQUADRON [/underlined]
[page break]
[inserted] 170 [/inserted]
- 27 –
So that is why we had to put the extra tanks in.
After sawing chissling, [sic] drilling and hammering bits out of the aircraft and fitting masses of pipelines and the frames to hold the tanks, we finally completed the job at 10 p.m. that evening. Air Ministry would had had a fit if they had seen all the things that we did to make everything fit. After filling the tanks we tested the workings of them by running up the engines. After everything had been completed, we had to load the G.C’s jeep into the aircraft before going back to the billet.
Now for a short description of Rangoon itself during my whole [deleted] story [/deleted] [inserted] STAY [/inserted] at Mingaladon. I must have visited the town about a hundred or more times. Not because there was much to see or do there but because there was absolutely nowhere else to go to.
Generally I used to set out just after dinner and start thumbing a lift on the main road just by our billets. The 12 mile ride into town was quite pleasant on the first few occasions or on a nice cool sunny day on others it was rather boring especially if travelling on an open lorry when it started to rain. At many points alongside the road just past the airfield were big holes made by 250 lb bombs that had been dropped during our air raids on a very large Jap ammunition dump that was situated amongst trees for a mile and a half beside the road. This dump had been left in tact by the Japs when they had fled before the 14th armies advance. Then a few miles further along the road after passing by a small native village of Bashas came the edge of the Royal Victoria Lake where one would see natives bathing and also many sailing boats gliding along across the water on the other side of this end of the lake on a hillside that swept down to the waters edge were one or two large impressive houses belonging to rich Europeans. The scene just there I think was one of the nicest in the Rangoon area as it reminded me of a bit of England similar to the Thames at Runnymeade. After this scene came [deleted] a [/deleted] large British type houses on either side of the road at intervals between small native villages. One large set of buildings which used to be the Rangoon University were then taken over and used as the 12th Army H.Q. then came the first round about before Rangoon from which two main roads led off into the city.
These roads must have been quite good before the war but they had not been repaired in the past six years and were not built to take all the wartime traffic that had used them consequently it was a bit bumpy travelling over the spots that were well worn.
Then between the first and second roundabout one passed by what remained of the Rangoon Engineering College which the Japs at one time used as their H.Q. I must say that the R.A.F. when they bombed it certainly made a good job of it. The area was one mass of twisted iron girders and heaps of bricks, in fact it looked as if an atom bomb had been dropped there as every building except one had been raised to the ground and of the remaining one only a single centre room was left standing.
From this second roundabout two more main roads ran off into Rangoon. The one to the left which ran past the big Pagoda was the best set out with its little islands on which were planted flowers and small trees, which separated the traffic coming from and going into the city. But to use this road, one got shook to pieces as it was full of big holes. The second road which was the main Prome one was just a clear highway which except for the native stalls and village at the third roundabout was boarded by big modern houses every one of which was detached and had a large garden all the way until one came to where the Main Rangoon prison was situated. It was in this prison with its huge 20 ft high surrounding walls that the Japs kept our prisoners taken by them in Burma.
[page break]
[inserted] 170A [/inserted]
[photograph of men and women issuing biscuits to Burmese children]
“BISCUIT MORNING” IS A POPULAR WEEKLY GATHERING FOR THE REFUGEE BURMESE CHILDREN: These free delicacies, dispensed by the Civil Affairs Authorities, are greatly enjoyed after three years of Japanese occupation on a starvation ration of rice – and rice alone. Over 1,200 homeless refugees, mainly Anglo-Indian and Anglo-Burmese families, are being housed in the C.A.S. camp at Maymyo, run by the Civil Affairs officer for the district.
[photograph of Rangoon Market Place]
IN A RANGOON MARKET-PLACE: The fruit spread out on the pavement includes exotic Oriental varieties, such as the mango and the luscious custard apple
[photograph of three Burmese girls]
THE BURMESE GIRLS NOW ENJOY GOOD PAY: These three have just received their wages. They are employed as cooks at one of the feeding centres established by Civil Affairs.
[page break]
[photograph of Burmese shopkeeper with row of ducks hung up on display]
TO-DAY IN RANGOON, THE BURMESE SHOPS SELL MANY OF THE DELICACIES WHICH WERE FORMERLY REQUISITIONED BY THE JAPS. Roast ducks, for instance, are cheap and plentiful. Here is a whole row of them displayed in a shop window and ready for hungry customers
[page break]
[inserted] 170B [/inserted]
[underlined] CHINESE PROCESSION [/underlined]
[two photographs of a procession]
[underlined] CHINATOWN RANGOON [/underlined]
[two photographs of the Chinatown district in Rangoon]
[page break]
[inserted] 171 [/inserted]
- 28 –
Then after passing by many more large buildings that had been taken over for hospital use, came Rangoon Cathedral which was used by the Japs during their occupation as a brewery. Just past the Cathedral was the remains of the large Scot Market which had been heavily bombed but in spite of this quite a number of stalls were in operation. Then another two hundred yards further along Montgomery Road one turned into the Sule Pagoda Road at a point near the Rangoon railway station and the railway bridge. Very little remained of the station except the railway lines and the skeleton of a couple of sheds.
At the end of road one arrived at the large gold topped Sule Pagoda which marks the centre of the city. Even this Pagoda had been slightly damaged by bombs. I think that the best way to describe the town is to say that it is split up into four sections. Firstly centred around Dalhousie Park which is situated in front of the Sule Pagoda is the European section which contains many first class buildings, but I am sorry to say that many of these were also destroyed or partly so by bombing as they were situated so very near [deleted] from [/deleted] [inserted] TO [/inserted] the dockside.
I should think that this part of the town stood out most from the air and I expect most of these impressive buildings were inhabited by the Japanese during their occupation so it was natural that they were bombed. Whilst I was there most of the remaining undamaged large buildings were being used by our own military, naval R.A.F. H.Q’s etc.
There were quite a large number of English churches in various parts of the town also English run convents and schools. At least they were in operation before the war and I expect that, by now they will be again.
Most of the buildings in this European section of the city were used for business only before the war as they had their houses and living bungalows situated beside one of the main roads a few miles out from the city. The nicest building in the city, in my opinion was the one time civic hall, a part of which was taken over by the Y.M.C.A. for forces canteen and rest room etc, but even this lovely building had been partly destroyed and large cracks appeared in many of the walls. The front balcony overlooks Dalhousie Park.
The Toc H people and also the Salvation army had set up other forces canteens in the city. We were only able to obtain tea and cakes in them and when we first arrived it was impossible to get a meal anywhere. But as time went on and things got back to normal, Chinese and Burmese Restaurants opened up in which we could buy fancy cream cakes, tea, coffee, fried eggs, chicken, ice cream, and iced drinks etc etc.
It was the same with the city itself, when we first arrived in the area the place was dead and the streets were littered with filth, rubble and bomb damage and horrible smells etc, but as the months went by the city became more and more clean and tidy.
Rangoons theatre and cinema land was all bunched together beside the railway station so you can guess what a mess it was in. Only one cinema remained in tact [inserted] & [/inserted] for some months, it was run by the army as a forces cinema until it was taken over by civilians once again. The rest of the theatres were either destroyed by fire [inserted] OR BOMBS [/inserted] to the ground.
Beside the European quarter is the Indian section of the city. Here you get the same horrible smells as one wanders through the streets in which most of the houses that have not been bombed are falling down with decay. Then there is the Burmese part of the city of which a large part is built of Basha. The remaining part is similar to the Indian quarter.
[page break]
[inserted] 171A [/inserted]
[underlined] Y.M.C.A. CLUB [/underlined]
[photograph of Y.M.C.A. Club in Rangoon]
[underlined] CIVIC HALL [/underlined]
[photograph of Civic Hall in Rangoon]
[photograph of street in Rangoon] [symbol] CORNER OF DALHOUSIE PARK
RANGOONS ONE REMAINING [underlined] CINEMA [/underlined]
[photograph of the cinema in Rangoon]
[page break]
Y.M.C.A. & CIVIC HALL [symbol]
[symbol] CHINATOWN
[photograph of pagoda and trees in Rangoon]
[underlined] SULE PAGODA RANGOON [/underlined]
[page break]
[inserted] 172 [/inserted]
- 29 –
Then lastly comes Chinatown situated East of the Sule Pagoda. This part of the city is, as you can guess mostly inhabited by Chinese. The roads and narrow streets like in most oriental towns were full of litter and garbage and horrible smells especially in the large vegetable [inserted] & [/inserted] poultry market. You should have seen the skinny chickens that they used to sell there.
Most of the houses in this sector were no more than tumble down shacks. Most of the girls used to wear sweet smelling colourful flowers in their jet black hair which made them look quite pretty. On the opposite side of the Rangoon river in Chinatown were more natives villages and although a ferry ran regularly from side to side, I never did get to the south bank to explore that area.
The section of Chinatown built alongside the docks was also devestated [sic] in places. There are quite a number of impressive looking Chinese and Indian Temples in the vicinity. The carvings and exterior decorations were of all sorts of colours so were the hanging lanterns. I used to like to wander around the bazzaars, [sic] but the stalls contained very little that any European would want to buy. They were piled high with lots of odds and ends that really amounted to nothing in particular.
I ded see some pretty blue patterned silk on a stall once but the price of it was 25 Rupies [sic] or £1.17.6. a yard and I could not bargain with the Chinese stall proprietor to lower his price by even one penny. Four months or more later when ships began to bring things from India the shops in the European quarter began to be well stocked with more sensible things at more sensible prices.
In Chinatown and the Indian and Burmese quarters it was nothing to see goats, geese, chickens etc running around the streets and I have even seen goats enter into some of the houses and the natives living in them have made no attempt to drive them out into the streets again.
Most of the natives both men and women wash and bathe themselves out in the streets beside broken water mains, taps etc.
The streets of the city are usually inhabited with hundreds of rickshaws and their owners. One hot afternoon, I paid one fellow 7/6p to give me a ride around the city. I bet he was tired of pulling my weight around and was glad when two hours later I told him to put me down so that I could walk on my own legs again.
In and around the town were all sorts of ancient vehicles, buses etc. It was marvelous [sic] how they went along without falling to pieces. As most of the vehicles were at least 15 years old and had been battered about something terrible. Also twice as many people rode on and in them than they were ever built to carry. I am sure that some of them were tied together with bits of wire because of the teriffic [sic] rattling sound that they made as they went along.
It was comical to stand near the main bus terminal beside the vegetable markets and see all the buses with their passengers start off for Pegu, Prome, Insien etc. Of an early morning we would see these vehicles passing by the camp every few minutes on their way to Rangoon. Some would be loaded with passengers which were packed together inside with extra sitting on the roof on top of luggage etc or standing on a board attached to the rear of the bus. Then there were the vehicles loaded to capacity with vegetables and fruit bound for the market in Rangoon, these used to [deleted] have [/deleted] [inserted] [indecipherable word] [/inserted] some most horrible smells in their wake and it was terrible if you happened to be travelling just behind one of these vehicles.
[page break]
[inserted] 172A [/inserted]
[underlined] THE N.A.A.F.I. BOAT CLUB. NEAR RANGOON [/underlined]
[photograph of Victoria Lake]
[underlined] VICTORIA LAKE [/underlined]
[three photographs of the Boat Club near Rangoon]
[page break]
[inserted] 172D [/inserted]
[photograph of Chinatown bazaar in Rangoon]
[photograph of a funeral procession]
[photograph of men working on a street in Rangoon]
[underlined] VIEWS OF RANGOON [/underlined]
[page break]
[photograph of man with rickshaw]
[symbol] RANGOON FIRE [underlined] STATION [/underlined] [photograph of Rangoon Fire Station]
[photograph of man behind a table with goods on display]
[photograph of women carrying a baby on her back and some children in the background]
[underlined] GENERAL VIEWS OF RANGOON [/underlined]
[page break]
[inserted] 172C [/inserted]
[photograph of beggar sitting on the street]
[photograph of alleyway]
[photograph of girl walking, carrying umbrella] [symbol] BURMESE GIRL SEPT 1945.
[photograph of two Burmese girls under an umbrella]
[underlined] RANGOON GENERAL VIEWS [/underlined]
[page break]
[photograph of four Burmese children in the street]
[photograph of a group of Burmese women]
[photograph of Rangoon docks]
[underlined] RANGOON DOCKS [/underlined]
[page break]
[inserted] 173 [/inserted]
- 30 -
On more than one occasion I have seen one going along with hot water spurting out in a steady stream from a leak in the radiator and a native would be sitting on one of the mudguards with a jug in one hand and a bucket of water beside him filling up the radiator as they went along.
The bus owners used to employ someone for 1/- a day to sit or stand at the rear of the vehicles and act as a conductor and everytime a vehicle started to pass by, he used to blow a blast on a whistle and as soon as the road behind the bus was clear once more the conductor informed the driver by blowing two blasts on his whistle.
I must say that the Burmese are good mechanics as when their vehicle has broken down on the road, I have seen them very nearly pull the engine to pieces and put it together again and drive off after two or three hours.
When many of the vehicles stop whilst climbing a hill, the conductor usually has to jump off quickly and find a stone or brick and put it behind one of the wheels to act as a chock and so stop the bus from running backwards down the hill. Then there were dozens of bullock drawn carts to be seen on the roads with their native drivers.
The NAAFI ran the best canteen in the area. They took over the peace time boat club which was situated beside one section of the Victoria Lake. Here, one could sit on the large Verandah [sic] in an easy chair and munch sandwitches [sic] whilst listening to nice soft music and looking out upon the lake at the sailing boats and swimmers. Every Sunday night during the summer a dance was held on this Verandah. [sic] I only went to one of these dances but it was pretty to watch the couples dancing, in the open air beneath the many coloured lights the reflection of which twinkled in the water.
Rangoon city also possessed a large well planned out Zoo but at the end of the war very few animals were left in it. I took a walk through it one morning whilst on my way to the boat club for a snack and I only saw a few different types of birds.
The war certainly did a lot of harm to the city and I came to the conclusion that, although many of the modern parts remain undamaged that if it were possible the best thing that could be done was to evacuate all the people and then drop a couple of Atom Bombs onto the city and then let the population start from scratch and build a new Rangoon worthy of its place in the 21st century.
But in spite of all the smells, smashed and sunken paving stones and the hundreds of big water filled holes in the roads and the unrepaired filled in bomb holes which had turned into a muddy area, I used to like to walk down Chinatown of a nightime. [sic] The thousands of lighted candles, parrafin [sic] and pressure lamps on the stalls and roadside cafes seemed to fasinate [sic] me in some ways. As one walked along through the thronged main street bustling against the Chinese & Burmese, Indians and other mixtures of races, you would see the Chinese eating all sorts of concoctions with chop sticks whilst sitting at the pavement tables or in the dingy shady restaurants. from which issued forth Chinese oriental music. Then as night wore on you would have to avoid stepping on to the natives that were sleeping on bits of sacking or matting beside their stalls or in front of their shops. Then at the end of the main road would be the Sula Pagoda with its gold top and entrance doorways lit up with rings of white, yellow green and blue electric light bulbs. Chinatown was the only part of Rangoon which seemed to have any life in it after darkness decended [sic] upon the city.
Towards the end of the year the W.V.S. opened up an Eastern Counties club in a big building beside the Rangoon river
[page break]
[photograph of indoor swimming pool]
SWIMMING POOL IN W.V.S. [underlined] EASTERN COUNTIES CLUB [/underlined]
[page break]
[inserted] 173A [/inserted]
[inserted] [underlined] 1. [/underlined] [/inserted]
[newspaper cutting and photograph of the harbour in Rangoon]
[inserted] CONTINUED ON NEXT PAGE. [/inserted]
[page break]
[inserted] [underlined] 2. [/underlined] [/inserted]
[newspaper cutting and photograph continuing the story of Rangoon]
[page break]
[inserted] 174 [/inserted]
- 30 –
where we were able to have tea and cakes and a rest or play tennis and other games. Then there was also a swimming pool in the building.
A little way out of the city, was also the service open air swimming pool which I went to on one or two occasions. I used to enjoy being in the cool water and then coming out and drying myself out whilst lying beneath the hot sun on one of the grassy banks surrounding the pool. just before going into the canteen a few yards away for tea and sandwitches. [sic] This canteen was run by the W.A.S. (B). (Womens Auxilary Service Burma.
In my opinion there is only one spot that is really worth paying a special visit to in the area and that is to the huge Shewedagon Pagoda which is one of the largest in the world and stands about two miles from the centre of the city. The height of the Pagods [sic] from the ground to its tip is about 360 ft which is higher than St. Pauls Cathedral. The whole of the dome is painted over with pure gold liquid and the full beauty richnes [sic] and magnificence of everything in an [sic] around it are indescribable.
Set at 90o apart are the four caved [sic] canopy entrance stairways of 109 steps each, leading up in stages to the area surrounding the dome. To walk around the square formed by the North East, South and West Gates it would take me at least two hours. All around the base of the hill on which the Pagoda is built runs a small dried up moat near the South gate is a very picturesque small lake. Perhaps if I draw a small diagram of the Pagoda area it will help you to understand more fully what I am talking about.
When I visited the great Pagoda for the first time I approached it by way of Pagoda road which runs from Chinatown straight up past the Cathedral and on to the main entrance which is South Gate. One hundred and fifty yards from the entrance gateway on either side of the road is a Chinthie which are sybolic [sic] as the guardians of the temple.
These Chinthies at the approach to the Shewedagon Pagoda are carved from stone and look something like squating [sic] animals something like a lion cum bull dog, anyway you can see from the photograph what they look like exactly.
No one is allowed to proceed further than the first half dozen steps without taking off their footwear. So on arrival at the South Gate, I sat on one of the many little stools offered to me by Burmese women and children who wanted to look after my shoes for a few annas after I had taken them off until after I had completed my tour of the Pogoda. [sic]
Each side of the stairway were bazaar stalls. Most of the stalls were selling flowers of various colours and varietys. [sic] Almost everyone that I saw going up to pray before the Budha, [sic] held in their hand a small bunch of flowers of some sort which they intended to place in a vase near one of the many idols. Many of the stalls were also selling hundreds of different picture [inserted] BOOKS [/inserted] printed in Japan. I looked through some dated 1942 in which parts were translated into English print along with the languages of the Far East. Every one of the books that I picked up were full of properganda [sic] showing pictures of Japans might in the air and on the sea and land and other pictures glorifying Imperial Militarison. [sic] One picture showed the sinking of our cruiser the “Dorsetshire” and another the sinking of one of our aircraft carriers in 1942. In one book it showed and told of how they had planned to capture the whole of India and Australia. I felt like setting fire to the whole lot. On reaching the one hundreth [sic] and ninth step with my feet feeling cold on the stone I was met by a Burmese guide who offered to show me around the Pogoda. [sic] Facing each of the four stairways was a canopied shrine attached to the gold dome, each of which contained the figure of a squatting Budha [sic] situated behind iron bars. Each figure stood about 4 ft high and was studded with diamonds. Rubies, saphires [sic] and other precious stones. Each shrine was also decorated with vast array of various coloured flowers placed there by the people. At the time, I was before these shrines there were many people kneeling and praying on the mat in front of the Budhas [sic] and others were lighting small thin Christmas tree candles and placing them before the effigy. The pillars supporting each canopy were covered with various coloured semi precious glass and the whole of the floor around the gold dome and in the shrines were paved with patterned marble that came from Italy.
[page break]
[inserted] 174A [/inserted]
[underlined] ONE OF THE GUARDIAN CHINTHIES [/underlined] (BURMESE LION).
[photograph of Chinthe outside of the Pagoda]
[underlined] ENTRANCE GATEWAY [/underlined]
[photograph of one of the entrance gateways to the Pagoda]
[photograph of men sitting inside the Pagoda]
[photograph inside the Pagoda] [symbol] NOTE CARRYING OUR SHOES
[underlined] STEPS OF WESTERN GATEWAY [/underlined]
[photograph of one of the entrance gateways to the Pagoda]
[underlined] ENTRANCE GATEWAY [/underlined]
[page break]
[photograph of Pagoda]
[diagram detailing the grounds of the Pagoda]
[page break]
[inserted] 174B [/inserted]
[underlined] SHRINES INSIDE THE PAGODA [/underlined]
[six photographs of interior and exterior of Pagoda]
[page break]
[two photographs of Buddahs]
[page break]
[inserted] 175 [/inserted]
- 31 –
The guide also showed me around the museum which contained various beautiful objects such as bullock carts, shrines etc made of solid gold or silver and studded with gems. All of these precious things were also kept behind bars.
I was also shown around many other temples around the dome containing marble sitting and reclining Buddhas. In one of the temples stood the largest bell in the Far East which weighed 85 tons only it was cracked. I think in fact that this bell is the largest in the world but I am not quite sure.
The Priests were dressed in a yellow/orange cloth and had all their hair shaved off. These were the only people who were allowed to enter the main temple beneath the pinacale [sic] of gold in which was situated the huge Budha [sic] of solid gold studded with hundreds of diamonds, thousands of Rubies and sapphires and other precious stones. The guide also told me that the Pagoda was over 1,700 years old but as I said before it is impossible for me to describe the full beauty of it all.
During September and October the fellow who slept in the next bed to me started a hobby of collecting butterflys [sic] to take home for his little son. Many afternoons and Sunday mornings, he used to get me to go with him. We made big nets from Bamboo canes wire and mosquito netting and we would wander for miles out in the wilds behind the billets chasing butterflies and searching for them amongst the bushes. At times we wandered across small swamps and streams through elephant grass and jungle and across paddy fields. The butterflies seemed to come out only when it was very sunny so it made us sweat all the more if we had to chase one a long way beneath the boiling sun. We used to get very excited on catching sight of a butterfly of a type which we had not already caught and would watch it flutting [sic] around first one way and then the other for minutes until it finally came to a rest on a leaf of a bush. Then we would gradually creep on it with our nets ready for action and perhaps it would fly away again before we reached it or would miss it with the first swoop of our net and off it would go again and we would have to watch it again until it had got over its fright and decided to settle once more, that is if we did not lose sight of it altogether. Then we would have to creep up on it once more. Sometimes we were very lucky and caught the butterfly that we were after in our net with the first swish, but other times we might chase our intended victim for hours and still not catch it and would perhaps end up catching a different one altogether. If we caught half a dozen different specimens after a whole day out in the wilds we thought ourselves lucky.
After we lost a rare butterfly whilst getting it out form our net into a small cigarette tin and on one occasion we go the tins in our pockets mixed up so on opening one that we thought was empty to put a freshly caught specimen in, one that we had spent hours just flew out and were we annoyed.
The other fellow used to work in the same gang as myself and often we would be working away on an engine and suddenly he would excitedly shout out “There goes a lovely one” and off he would go with his bush hat in his hand and come back smiling a couple of hours later and show me a little cigarette tin containing his catch, after he had chased it for miles across the bushy country surrounding the airfield. On getting back to our billet he used to pack cigarette smoke into the tin and then keep the lid on until the butterfly was gassed. He lost more than one by thinking that it was dead and a few minutes after taking it out of the tin it would revive and start to fly around the room and perhaps settle on the ceiling, then you would see him standing on boxes etc trying to recapture it with his net. Or if it flew out of the window off out he would go again.
[page break]
[inserted] 175A [/inserted]
[photograph of man in shorts]
[underlined] THE BUTTERFLY CATCHER. [/underlined]
[photograph of airmen who occupied the same billet as Raymond Barrett]
[inserted] [symbol] ME [/inserted]
[underlined] OCTOBER OCCUPANTS OF BILLET NO. 7. [/underlined]
[page break]
[underlined] MY PUPPY [/underlined] [symbol] [underlined] NEXT ROOM’S PUPPY [symbol]
[photograph of two dogs]
[underlined] MINGALADON [/underlined]
[photograph of Raymond Barratt holding his dog]
[underlined] MY PUPPY AND MYSELF [/underlined]
[page break]
[inserted] 176 [/inserted]
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After the butterflies were killed he used to mount them on cardboard and cover the card with cellphane [sic] paper to preserve them. The dead butterflies seemed to attract the live ones as during those two months when it was sunny [deleted] he [/deleted] [inserted] WE [/inserted] used to get many different types fluttering around the billet block. The other fellow even used to sit on the doorstep during many of his dinner hours with net in hand waiting for them to come round.
People who used to see him go out on a hunt with his big net thought that he was mad but we used to have some good times and many laughs during these excurtions. [sic] For butterfly catching one certainly has to have a lot of patience. When we went home in November he took fifty or more different specimens with him. Some of them contained many glorious colours and the prize of his collection was a swalowtail [sic] with a nine inch wing [deleted] and [/deleted] span.
It was well worth spending all that time in catching them as in a letter that one of the fellows received in the billet the other day from him he says that he sold his collection for £45.00.
I remember one Saturday afternoon another fellow and myself decided to go to the races in Rangoon just to see them. We did not intend to back any horses as we had been told all about them by someone who had been to the races a few weeks before. He told us that in once race there were half a dozen horses, five of which looked in good condition and were the favourites in the betting list, the remaining one was as thin as a rake and looked as if it would fall down dead at any moment. Consequently, it was running at a good price and needless to say it came romping home first in front of all the other horses.
Anyway on arrival at Rangoon we were told on asking someone the way to the race track, that it was way out of town and that we should have come into the city by the Boat Club road. At that moment an old Indian came along pulling a ricksaw [sic] so we gave him a shout and on coming over we climbed in. The old boy was not much more than a bag of bones and when he picked up the shafts to begin to pull us along the weight of us both nearly tipped him up in the shafts. Anyway we made him follow the directions given to us as to where the racecourse was situated but after he had pulled us along for a couple of miles over the bumpy road I began to feel sorry for him as he began to run down the sloapes [sic] and drag us up inclines which seemed to take all the little energy and strength that he did possess and I felt that at any moment we were in danger of tipping him up and landing up on our backs. I told him to pull into the roadside where we got out and paid him off much to our pleasure and his.
We than [sic] thought the race course could only be just around the corner so we started to use our legs once more but after we had walked a mile and a half we began to sweat and feel [deleted] stinking [/deleted] [inserted] STICKY [/inserted] and tired in the afternoon heat and there was still no sign of the course. We had asked a Burmese who happened to be passing by at the time how much further we had to walk and he replied “a mile up the road” we continued our plodding for another mile and a quarter and arrived at the lakes but there was still no sign of course and as it was then nearly time for the last race but one, we walked back into the city and had a chicken dinner, iced drinks and ice cream before coming back to camp and having hot tea and going to the camp cinema to see the film “Laura”. I never did get to the race course.
On an average all the time I was at Mingaladon, I spent at least two evenings a week writing this book then I went to the cinema twice a week. Another evening I passed away by writing letters etc, and I went to the cinema on a few Sundays afternoons to listen to the classical concerts on records given there.
As I said before our biggest entertainment was football and we never had a bad football team all the time that we were in the Far East. It remained unbeaten after the 21st game on our ground at Mingaladon and in all they were only beaten eight times in over fifty games against some of the best teams in Burma.
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[inserted] 177 [/inserted]
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Whenever they played at least 100 supporters from the Squadron went with them. I have watched them play many thrilling games and one of the best was in the second round of the Burma Cup. We were without the services of our professional centre half and the one and only goal of the match came within two minutes from the end of the game. They played their successful first round game on the big Rangoon Stadium ground. this ground was situated on the other side of the railway station to theatre land so that the stands etc were badly damaged during the raids on the railway station and goods yards.
Towards the end of the year our hitch hiking troubles were partly solved when the army opened up a bus service running from the railway station along the Prome Road to Insien (the next village to Mingaladon). So we were able to get a lift to within three and a half miles of our camp quite easily.
[underlined] PART 7 OF THIS BOOK CONTINUES [/underlined]….
[page break]
[inserted] 177A [/inserted]
[photograph of a Pagoda]
[underlined] NGADAFRYS PAGODA EAST RANGOON [/underlined]
[page break]
[inserted] 177B [/inserted]
[five aerial photographs taken from a Dakota]
[underlined] APPROACH TO MINGALADON RUNWAY [/underlined]
[page break]
[newspaper cutting regarding its first water festival since before the war]
[page break]
[inserted] 177C [/inserted]
[inserted] OUR SQUADRON [underlined] 267 [/underlined] [/inserted]
[newspaper cutting regarding operations of Dakotas]
[page break]
[inserted] 178 [/inserted]
[underlined] MY OVERSEAS SERVICE PART 7 BY MR. R. BARRETT [/underlined]
By the end of October I began to get fed up with working on engines every day and longed for a change so I volunteered to go on a trip to Singapore and act as Air Steward throughout the journey.
On November 7th I was told to report to the Operations tent where on arrival I was told that I was flying on the following day and also what I had to do to earn my passage and the number of the aircraft that I was to fly in.
After dinner and a bath that evening I packed a few things together and put in an early call for 3.30 a.m. in the morning before going to bed. The next thing that I knew was that I was being shaken by the early call airman who was asking me to sign the book to say that he really had called me. Very sleepily I lifted one side of the net and popped by head and arm out and with the aid of his torch, I complied with his request. A few moments later I roused myself and got out of bed and lit a candle and then dressed myself. Next I took down and folded up my mosquito net and blankets and blew out the candle and with my bed roll and small pack containing washing and [deleted] heavy [/deleted] [inserted] SHAVING [/inserted] materials etc, I crept out of the room as quietly as I could so as not to wake any other chaps in the room. But I only accomplished this task after knocking over a chair and bumping into the table.
On emerging out into the darkness I made my way to the road very carefully avoiding falling in to the monsoon ditches alongside it. Then as I neared the Sargeants [sic] Mess Block, I could see the glimmer of red, flickering and lighting up the darkness from the cooks fires at the rear of the Sgts Dining Hall.
I dumped my bed roll outside of the block and made my way to the dining hall which was in darkness. But within a couple of minutes one of the Indian cooks came in and placed a lighted hurricane lamp on the table in front of me and after a further minute or two, the rest of the N.C.O. crew on my aircraft put in an appearance along with the Sargeants [sic] of the other crews going to Singapore Saigon, Bankok [sic] and on other trips that morning.
The native bearers then brought in the plates of porridge and egg and sausage and cups of tea for our breakfast. At 4.15 a.m. a lorry drew up and began to toot its horn, so I hurredly [sic] finished my cup of tea and went outside to put my bed roll upon the waggon. After everyone was on, we drive off towards the airdrome. The cold morning air rushing through the waggon made me feel quite cold as we passed the native buses that had stopped by the roadside for the night, one or two loaded carts drawn by water buffalos and one woman native trying to hitch hike a lift. I got quite a [deleted] nice [/deleted] [inserted] AN [indecipherable word] [/inserted] feeling as we speeded along with the [deleted] lorry [/deleted] [inserted] LONG [/inserted] shadows of the trees falling across the road in front of our bright headlamps. Even the airfield looked different at that time in the morning. All I could see in the darkness was the darker stilouttes [sic] of all the D.C’s around me.
It took me quite a long time to find the aircraft which I was going to fly in, and whilst the aircrew went over to the ops tent for briefing, and to find out the wind speeds and cloud formations heights on our route etc, I climbed in the aircraft and switched on the fusalage [sic] lights and green and red wing tip (navigation lights) this lit the darkness up outside with a greeny red haze. I then erected the canvas seats and placed a neatly folded blanket with a flying [inserted] HORSE [/inserted] stamped on each seat and then placed all the safety belts out in line ready to receive all the passengers. By the time I had completed these things, the crew had arrived back and
[page break]
[inserted] 178A [/inserted]
[underlined] JAPANESE OCCUPATION CURRENCY [/underlined]
[Five Rupee note]
[One Rupee note]
[page break]
[Half Rupee note]
[Quarter Rupee note]
[page break]
[inserted] 179 [/inserted]
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climbed aboard and the chocks had been taken away also the pilot started the engines. The first pilot and captain of the aircraft was an officer Flt/Lt Ward. the second pilot was a Warrant Officer the Navigator a Flt/srgt [sic] and the Wireless Operator a Sgt.
After warming up the engines we taxied down to the Staging Post situated on a dispersal on the other side of the run-way to pick up our passengers. On arrival at the staging post, the pilot stopped the engines and we all decended [sic] out in to the open once again. Almost immediately the manifest for the journey was brought up to us and I discovered that we had 12 passengers and mail. I then went over to the transit restaurant at the Staging Post and obtained 17 luncheon packages and had another breakfast myself while I was there.
On return to the aircraft I found the passengers gathered around and their [inserted] KIT [/inserted] already loaded along with the mail and as the Staging Post Office called out the names from the manifest they boarded the aircraft and took their seats. When the last passenger had climbed up the steps the officer turned to me and said “they are all yours” so after I had told someone to take out the undercarriage pins and control locks and hand them to me I closed and fastened the doors.
I then had to tell the passengers that under no circumstances were they allowed to smoke in the aircraft or enter the crews cabin and that they must fasten their safety belts for both take off and landing. Then after telling them that first we were going up to Pegu, 15 mins flying time away to see if there were any more passengers [inserted] TO PICK UP [/inserted] and then [deleted] pick up [/deleted] our next stop which would be for dinner would be at Butterworth airfield in Malaya just on the mainland opposite the island of Pennang four hours flying time away. I went up to the pilot and told him that we were all set. He then started the engines once again and began the taxi towards the end of the run-way. it had become full light by this time.
Whilst the pilot was testing his engines and carrying out a control check prior to take off I went round checking the locking of the passengers safety belts and helping those who did not know how to fasten them.
A minute later we swung into the run-way and off we went. Our passengers were mostly Dutch Officers and Officials on their way to Java in the Netherlands East Indies [deleted] and [/deleted] to try to bring an end to the war in that Country and of important British civilians who were key men going to the island to help it return to its peace time running. Many of them had evacuated to India just before Singapore was invaded by the Japs and to them it was as if they were going home.
As our Mingaladon run-way was not so very long and had a ravine at each end of it, and a dip in the middle four engine aircraft full of passengers were not allowed to land on it. So Liberators and other [inserted] LARGE [/inserted] aircraft bringing people from India and England etc, had to land at Pegu rougly [sic] 60 miles by road north of Mingaladon and then be brought
[page break]
[inserted] 179A [/inserted]
[One cent note]
[Five cent note]
[page break]
[underlined] ENGLISH CURRENCY IN MALTA [/underlined]
[One cent note]
[page break]
[inserted] 180 [/inserted]
- 3 –
down to M in D.C’s. So that is why we had to call in at P. For the first 10 mins after take off we followed the narrow banked up single track railway line which [deleted] runs [/deleted] [inserted] ran [/inserted] across paddy fields and near to small woods in which native basha villages were situated. Then almost [deleted] to the second [/deleted] five minutes later we were circling and losing height and going in to land.
As soon as the engines were silenced a petrol bowser drew up and the mechanics stationed on the strip began to refuel our aircraft and whilst our captain went over to the control tower, I had a chance to look around this spot where our aircraft had at one time brought in supplies from Akyab.
Although the sun was shining brightly, and it was hot the place seemed so silent and forlorn. There was absolutely nothing to be seen around us except a few four engine aircraft the control tower sticking up on the other side of the wide dead flat one and a half mile metal runway and jungle on all sides. On the return of our captain we found that the trip up to Peru had been unnecessary and that there was no more passengers for Singapore. So we took off once again as soon as it was possible and headed southwards. Whilst flying along at 9,000 ft it became a bit cold and everyone was glad of their blankets. The Country of Southern Burma was very similar to that around our camp and before long we found ourselves flying over the sea and over hundreds of small islands of all shapes and sizes. Some were just barren rocks sticking up out of the water and other were covered in dense jungle. From what I could see hardly any were inhabited but I bet with a small boat it would take one a whole lifetime to explore just a section of them.
As we flew along, I could just make out the mainland in the distance haze. When I got tired of looking at the different islands, I chatted with some of the passengers before settling down to read a book that I had brought along with me. After being two hours in the air, I handed out the luncheon packages and for the following 3/4 of an hour everyone concentrated on eating. Before digging into my book once again, I went up front with the crew and gave them their rations and had a look at the navigators map to see precisely where we were.
Then during the proceeding two hours I had an occasional look out one of the windows to look at the scenes below or at the engines and the propellor [sic] going round or at the vapour trail coming from the wing tips but to keep turning my head to look out of the window made my neck ache. So oblivious to the continual roar of the engines I consentrated [sic] wholly on my book.
The next thing I knew was the wireless operator opening the cabin and telling me that we were nearing out [sic] stop so I had to get up to check the safety belts once again. Then I went up front to see the whole scene in front of us. I could see the marked passage and swept through the minefields approaching Penang Island which loomed up out of the water except for the section nearest to the mainland which was flat and just above water level and it was on this part of the island that the town of Georgetown was built. I could see the buildings etc quite clearly as we neared the town and the small fishing boats native sailing boats etc floating around the harbour and in that cleared shiping [sic] lane also the ferry boat which plied between the island and the mainland. As we came nearer and nearer to Georgetown we gradually lost height and just before reaching it at a height of a few hundred feet we did a steep left bank and turned towards the mainland three miles away and as we straightened up once again cont…..
[page break]
[inserted] 180A [/inserted]
[underlined] GEORGETOWN PENNANG [/underlined]
[three photographs of buildings in Georgetown]
[page break]
[photograph of crowd of natives]
[page break]
[inserted] 181 [/inserted]
- 4 –
I could see the run-way of Butterworth airfield situated nearly at the waters edge right in front of us.
We immediately received permission from the control tower to land on asking for it over the radio, so we went straight in without making a circuit a few moments later we were safely on the ground once more. A short while before this time our aircraft used to land on Penang island itself but as the strip was a bit short and an Air Marshal nearly overran it on landing his aircraft the new order about landing on the main land came out.
On stepping down from the aircraft a lorry converted into a bus was already waiting to take our passengers off to the transit canteen for dinner. I climbed aboard the 15 cwt van which drew up for the crew a little later. By this time the Staging Post personnel were already refuelling and checking over [inserted] OUR [/inserted] aircraft. No minor snags happened to the engines during our trip from Pegu so we had no excuse to stay at Pennang and have a tour of the island.
On the way to the transit canteen the pilor [sic] stopped the van in front of the control tower so that he could book in and whilst we were stopped there we watched our Squadron’s No 1 aircraft to Singapore that day take off. It had left Rangoon an hour before us and had come straight to Butterworth. On arrival at the transit canteen after a short ride along a bumpy track on either side of which were aircraft bomb blasts boys and a wreck of a Jap bomber, we were waited upon by Chinese waiters throughout our four course dinner.
Then after a cup of tea and a cigarette, we were told that the bus was waiting outsid [sic] to take us and the passengers back to our aircraft. After counting everyone and finding that no one was missing we moved off. The pilot again stopped at the control tower only to book out this time.
After everyone was aboard again and the captain had checked over the form 700 to see how much petrol and oil had been put in our tanks I had the locks and pins taken out once more and then our engines roared into life again after their brief rest and out we taxied to the run-way and after receiving permission to take off, off we went. A moment after our wheels had left the ground, we found ourselves over the sea once more heading towards the Island of Pennang but we almost immediately did a left bank and headed south once more following and flying over the coast line of Malaya.
After seeing that the passengers were comfortable, I read more of my book but after the next two hours the journey began to get a bit boring and my ears began to get tired of hearing the continuous road [sic] of the engines. So I went up front with the crew and watched the navigator plot out our course on his big map every 15 mins or so. Then looking out over the pilot windows, I could see the country of Malaya stretching 50 miles or more in front and to the left below us. Then on our right was the sea.
I remember one big swollen river twisting and turning and gradually getting wider as it neared the sea that we passed over as our navigator was able to check our position by it. Hundreds of little tributaries ran out from either side of the river into the surrounding country. They looked just like the roots of a big tree.
[page break]
[inserted] 181A [/inserted]
[photograph of aircraft]
[photograph of a billet]
[page break]
[underlined] SINGAPORE [/underlined]
[two photographs of the control tower at Kallang Airport]
[underlined] KALLANG AIRPORT – CONTROL TOWER. [/underlined]
[page break]
[inserted] 182 [/inserted]
- 5 –
Then as we got further south, we could see the rows and rows of trees all in alignment which stretched for miles and miles and made up the hundreds of rubber plantations. It was mid afternoon when we passed over Mallaca on the South West coast of Malaya. The native and European houses and shops were strung out along the coastline beside the beach and the sea.Then the scene below continued to be miles and miles of rubber trees and every so often a plantation settlement. Around about three thirty p.m. we started to fly over the swamps which a few years before the Japs had started to swarm over in the commencement of their invasion of Singapore island when our commanders expected them to come in from the sea. The south of the Island facing the sea was bristling with huge guns and pill boxes and defence systems which were supposed to be impregnable whilst the rear of the island facing the mainland had none of these things to defend it. It was in these same swamps that thousands of British troops went into and laid mines. In front of the advancing Japs whilst they were under enemy shellfire and it was also in these swamps that our forces made their last ditch stand knowing that they had no chance of being taken off the island. For them it was either death or surrender and they held out until they were ordered to give in as they were hopelessly outnumbered and it was just slaughter to carry on.
As we neared the island and it grew larger before us we were able to distinguish with the aid of the navigators large map the four airdromes, the large naval base to our left, the town to the south side of the island, and the harbour full of shipping of every description in front of the town also various other installations such as oil storage tanks etc.
After deciding which was Seleta airport we flew towards it [deleted] lowering [/deleted] [inserted] LOSING [/inserted] height all the time. The run-way was situated just across the waterway which separates the swamps from the island and this wide strip of water is also used as a sea plane base. We circled the airfield once and made our approach to the runway and just before touching down we passed over a dozen or more Sunderland flying boats anchored on the water.
On coming to a stop, a bus was waiting ready to take away the passengers and their luggage and whilst this was being done, I gathered the blankets together and put them in the crews cabin. Then a jeep drew up and took our kit away, and the crew and myself picked our way over the muddy ground to the control tower beneath which I found my bed roll etc waiting for me in the jeep. By this time, our passengers had disappeared some had been driven off in a Dutch van that was waiting for them and the civilians went off in a bus that was going into the town. Whilst the captain was making arrangements with the Staging Post to get our aircraft refuelled and inspected for that day the rest of us sat drinking cups of tea in a nearby tent which was run by the W.V.S. About half an hour after we landed the No 1 aircraft of our Squadron to Singapore that day the one we watched take off from Butterworth) arrived The reason why he landed after us was because the aircraft had landed at Kuala Lumpar [sic] in Malaya on its way down to drop off passengers. Five minutes after landing another of our Squadrons aircraft landed. This one had gone u/s somewhere a few days previously and the crew told us that they had the time of their lives during their short holiday. I only wished we had gone U/S at Penang.
[page break]
[inserted] 183 [/inserted]
- 6 –
It was just beginning to get dark when the three complete crews climbed on to the lorry/bus which was to take us to the air crew transit mess.
On leaving the airfield our drive first took us through nice green countryside and then a little later it began to get a little more tropical as we passed by paddy fields and palm and coconut trees, native bashas and villages. After travelling for [deleted] suppose [/deleted] [inserted] APPROX [/inserted] ten miles [deleted] or so [/deleted] we turned into a main road and passed by many trams loaded to capasity. [sic] We seemed to emerge from the darkness out into an area which was full of life. The pavements were thronged with people of a dozen or more races and the shops and stalls on either side of us were lit brightly by electricity, oil lamps or candles. Then a little later we left the shops and stalls behind us and turned off into another road on either side of which stood large residential houses and blocks of flats. Each building stood in its own grounds and was lit be electricity. This scene was nearest one I had seen to old England at night, since coming overseas. A little later we turned into the driveway of one of these houses and drove up to the building. We than [sic] climbed up an outside stairway and found ourselves in a large room off which ran many other smaller rooms.
The large room lit by electricity was full of stretchers and camp beds with mosquito nets above them belonging to other air crews staying there for the night. Also in the large room were easy chairs and a few tables as I entered someone was playing a record on a gramaphone. [sic]
I found a spare stretcher in one of the small rooms and as it was a nice night, our second pilot and myself decided to sleep out in the verandah. [sic] After a quick wash to freshen ourselves up a bit, we walked down the driveway lined with palm trees to the road and walked to the left for 250 yards until we arrived at the driveway of the transit mess house on our right hand side. At the entrance doorway, we had to book in and as it was an aircrew mess I had to sign myself as Sgt Barrett. As all the seats around the tables were occupied when we went in I had to wait for a couple of minutes before I went into the dining room. When I did go in and had taken a seat, I found myself amongst Wing Commanders Group Captains and other high ranking officers. Perhaps that accounted for the wizard meal I had for dinner. Later we retired to the lounge which contained a licenced bar and nice easy comfortable chairs, I sank into one of these and the rest of our crew did the same and over a few glasses of beer etc, we had a long chat about various things and rested at the same time. We decided that it was too late to go out anywhere and we were all feeling a little tired after all those hours in the air that day.
Around 9 p.m. someone came up to us and told us that we had put our kit in the wrong building as our Squadron had a house of its own a little further down the road. It was near on 11 p.m. when we walked back along the road and as we were tired and did not need any early call on the following morning, we decided not to move our kit that night. So after rigging up my net over my stretcher between the bannister and verandah [sic] rails I got into bed.
The crew who had arrived in Singapore the day before us were taking our aircraft back to Rangoon on the following day and we had to take the aircraft back which arrived in from Rangoon on the following day.
[page break]
[inserted] 184 [/inserted]
- 7 –
I remember waking up in the middle of the night and finding that a tropical storm was in full swing. It was thundering and lightening and raining. The trees were swishing and swaying in the wind, but as the wind was not driving the rain in on to my bed which was exposed to the open, I did not mind so I went off to sleep again.
The next thing that I knew was when I heard the second pilot ask someone who was decending [sic] the stairs what the time was. To which the reply came back that it was five past seven. We both immediately decided that it was far too early to get up and as breakfast finished at 8.30 a.m. it was quite early enough to climb out at 8.15 a.m.
I was just dozing off again about half an hour later when our Captain came up and asked us if we were going to breakfast as it was 8.30 a.m. I knew that an hour and a half had not passed since, we had asked the time but it turned out that it was 8.30 a.m. Singapore time and the fellow who we had asked had forgotten to put his watch on an hour when he arrived on the island. On hearing this we jumped out quickly and walked up the road to the transit mess and although we were late, we managed to obtain a big breakfast. There was no ration of sugar or milk for our tea and porridge etc. It stopped drizzling with rain around about this time. We took our time walking back to the sleeping quarters and in daylight the place looked more than ever like a bit of dear old England with the big houses standing back from the modern roadway and the large lawns and flower beds in front of the building [deleted] to [/deleted] [inserted] AND [/inserted] some even possessed tennis courts in the gardens. Even the hedgerows alongside the pavement were in bloom along with flowers planted beside the low garden walls.
After having a wash and shave etc, we folded up our sheets, blankets and mosquito nets and walked over with them to the 267 Squadron transit [inserted] HOUSE [/inserted] a couple of hundred yards further down the road and near to a large block of flats occupied by Chinese etc.
After setting out my bed once again in a small room, I sat out in the back verandah [sic] and finished off my book. The scene from that spot was quite a nice one, and as I sat there I breathed in and smelled the lovely sea air. Just below where I sat was a small lawn at the end of which stood some of the cunningly concealed defence points, underground gun pits etc. These faced directly out towards the sea where it was expected that the Japs would try and invade the island from. As it turned out these points were never brought into use against the Japs. Although if we had had to invade the island to retake it, I expect they would have been used against our invading forces.
A couple of miles around the bay to my right, I could just make out the sea edge of the town. The bay was full of transport and troop ships and beyond them, because it was a very clear day, I could see dozens of small islands just off the main island of Samatra [sic] and just to my right was a small ship that had broken loose from its moorings and had run aground. Sitting there in the sun was just like being at the seaside for the day. I certainly enjoyed that morning.
At noon we strolled down to the mess for an early dinner and after a cup of tea we started out towards the town after we had found out which roads to take.
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[underlined] GENERAL VIEWS OF SINGAPORE [/underlined]
[three photographs of Singapore]
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[three photographs of Singapore]
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We had to walk the two miles to the main road where the tram lines ran and after a short wait a tram came along and stopped in front of us. It was already crowded but somehow we managed to squeeze on it and off it went stopping every so often to let people get off and others get on. After about four stops I found myself sitting down on a seat with Chinese girls on either side of me. When the conductor came along, I bought my ticket which I think cost me five cents. The currency by the way was in cents and dollars. I got a bit mixed up with the prices of things at first but after turning them into rupies [sic] or pounds shillings and pence a few times I soon became used to the 100 cents = 1 dollar and 1 dollar 2/4d. We soon found ourselves travelling through the suburbs of the town which seemed to be made up mostly of Chinese shops, stalls, factories etc, and the pavements also seemed to be thronged mostly with Chinese men, women and children, especially children, of course there were many Malayan people with them as well.
Then as we neared the centre of the town, the shops became more and more modern until we decended [sic] from the tram just past the Cathedral. The second pilot then went off to try and find a relation of his that was somewhere on the island and the navigator and myself made arrangement to pick him up later on that afternoon. I then spent the following two hours looking around and touring the shopping centre. It seemed funny to me to see [deleted] the plate [/deleted] [inserted] A MAIN [/inserted] High Street once again after so long. I had got used to looking up and seeing Rue de -? Via -? And other foreign street names. I only wish I had taken more money with me on that trip as there were so many nice things to buy in the shops. In fact, any English women would have gone mad if they had seen all the unrationed goods and silk, satin and dress material that was not couponed, that I did that afternoon. In the windows of the fruit shops were unlimited supplies of bananas and large pineapples which were priced at just over 1/- (one shilling) each, at that time were fetching £5.00 in the English fruit shops.
Most of the assistants in the big shops were very charming nice complexioned Chinese girls, all of which spoke English and wore coloured flowers in their jet black hair. In one shop window was a large array of photographs of Jap prisoners and any of the population if they recognised any of the Japs as the ones connected with any of the Singapore war crimes were asked to go inside the building and give evidence against the criminals.
After getting tired of walking around the shops and looking at lovely things that I did not have the money to buy, we walked to the large building that had been taken over by the N.A.A.F.I as the forces canteen and sat in easy chairs drinking cups of tea and eating cakes until our 2nd pilot turned up and joined us once again. We all then began to walk towards the eastern outskirts of the town stopping once to enter a modern ice cream parlour for an iced milk shake. ON arrival at the tram stop we watched at least four trams pass by packed full to their limit. After that, we started to thumb a lift and it was not long before a van stopped to pick us up along with some Dutch women who had been evacuated from Java and some European children who were going home from school. The van dropped us off at the point where we caught the tram into town so we still had two miles to walk back to our house. Darkness had fallen before we reached it and on arrival I had a wash and then walked up to the mess for late dinner after which I retired to the lounge once more and had a few drinks. Then after arranging for someone to give us an early call.
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[underlined] GENERAL VIEWS OF SINGAPORE [/underlined]
[four photographs of Singapore]
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and for someone to make up some sandwiches for us to take with us in the morning I walked slowly up the road which was bathed in a soft mellow light from th [sic] round silvery moon that was shining above me. It was a perfect tropical evening and I looked up at the millions of twinkling stars with their background of black velvet it made me come over [deleted] all [/deleted] [inserted] VERY [/inserted] sentimental indeed. The very air seemed to be breath-taking and it was certainly a perfect setting for a romantic evening.
On reaching our house it was not long before I was beneath my mosquito net. But before I got into bed I stood out on the verandah [sic] for a few moments looking at the lights of the town further around the bay and looking at the lights of the ships anchored out in the moonlit bay. It certainly was a beautiful night.
I had no sooner seemed to have fallen asleep when I felt someone shaking me and saying that it was 3.15 a.m. and time to get up. After a quick wash which got the sleepers out of my eyes I felt much fresher and on venturing outside the building I found that the moon had disappeared and that it was drizzling with rain. It was pitch dark and the air was very cold and depressing and as I walked up the road towards the mess for breakfast with the rest of the crew and every so often we heard the rumble of thunder in the distance and saw flashes of lightening on the horizon which lighted up our surroundings and made the palm trees stand out above anything else. At the time I thought it was not going to be very nice weather for flying in that day. All was deathly quiet except for the sound of our own footfalls on the road. We had just sat down to breakfast when the second pilot of our crew discovered that his wallet was missing, then a few moments later the other crew of our Squadron who were flying back to Rangoon that day and who slept in the next room to us came in for breakfast and we discovered that two of them had lost their wallets and anothers briefcase was missing. On hearing this I immediately felt for my wallet not that there was much in it but for all that I breathed a sigh of relief when I found that it was still in my shirt pocket which was very lucky as I left my shirt beside the bed all night and yet the second pilot who was sleeping on a stretcher beside mine left his shirt beside his bed and had the wallet taken out of it some time during the night between 12 and 3 a.m. Perhaps it was because his bed was next to the window overlooking the verandah [sic] but the burglar must have been light footed as none of the building heard any strange noises during those hours.
After a quick breakfast I went to the rear of the mess and collected the sandwitches [sic] that I had ordered the night before from the native cook. We all then hurried back to the house and began to search it and we found the brief case in one of the down stairs rooms with its contents of navigations maps and charts and of course plotting instruments etc scattered all over the floor but there was no sign of the three wallets. He certainly must have been a light fingered devil who had crept into our rooms that night. As we were due to take off at a certain time and as the thief had left no trace whatsoever all we could do was to inform the R.A.F. police what had happened and let them look into it, not that the chaps who had lost their wallets expected them to be recovered. As it was, we held the lorry up which was waiting to drive us into the airfield. Eventually after the fellows had given all the particulars to the S.P’s we got under way and it was certainly a cold and dismal drive at that time in the morning. When we came through the outskirts of the town on the evening that we landed on the island the streets seemed to be full of life and lights, as we drove through them that morning all was dark and silent and dismal. It seemed as if the whole of Singapore was sleeping and there was not even a single
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light in the native villages that we passed through and the cold morning air rushing through the lorry made me feel cold but, for all that I nearly fell asleep during the journey.
When at last we came to a stop I found that we were in front of a large modern control tower building but not at Seletar airport. It was at Kalang the main airport on the island. The captains and navigators went into the building for briefing and for informations about weather conditions along our route etc, and when they came out [deleted] they [/deleted] [inserted] WE [/inserted] were driven off once more in the dark until 10 minutes or so later we reached Seletar airfield just as it was beginning to become light.
We had to hang around for half an hour or so until our manifest was finally made up and closed. We than [sic] knew that we were carrying nine passengers and bags and bags of mail to Penang and Rangoon. We walked over to the airdcraft which was a much older one than the one which we flew down in and beside it we found our passengers waiting. Most of them were soldiers and airmen posted to Rangoon or who were catching a boat from Rangoon home to England. As soon as we had checked them with manifest and the coolies had loaded on the mail, we were away as quickly as it was possible and once more a flying horse aircraft was in the air.
Our passengers seeing that they were service personnel did not need much looking after or pampering so before long I had put my blankets down on the floor along with others and a little later I was fast asleep. As we climbed higher it began to get rather cold and I had to get up once and pull one of my blankets from under me and put it over me instead. I then slept until the navigator woke me to say that we were nearing Penang so I had to get up and wake everyone else and see that they fastened their safety belts securely once more. Then on looking out of the window I saw a familiar scene reversed this time the island was on our left and I just managed to get a glimpse of Georgetown before we banked to the right towards the mainland and the clearing on which Butterworth strip had been built.
Everything had happened during our stop was very similar to when we called in on the airfield two days previously, such as being driven to the transit canteen for dinner and booking in and out at the control tower etc.
We stopped there no longer than an hour and a quarter. Before taking to the air, I checked the bags of mail destined for Penang with the manifest as they were unloaded. Soon after take-off, I went up front with the crew and we were soon at a height of ten thousand feet and through the front window I had a wonderful view of area in front of us. At first on leaving Penang Behind us I discovered from the navigator that we were on a course which would take us diagonally across to the East coast of the Peninsular at a point near to a town in Eastern Siam. The pilot put George (the automatic pilot) in by setting and locking the controls in correct position on that course, so that the aircraft flew itself and the pilots were able to sit back and read a book or admire the scenery. Every so often the pilot altered the altitude control as we lost height through falling various numbers of feet in the air pockets. The navigator was by far the busiest man in the crew, he was forever looking at his maps and plotting our course so that we could tell exactly where we were all the time and then [inserted] [indecipherable word] [/inserted] the different log charts to make up giving the readings of engine instruments our flying heights, our speed and how long we took to fly between his plotting points and how much petrol we used etc. I borrowed one of his spare large detailed maps of Malaya and Siam and from that I did a little map reading of my own. I found it very
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interesting picking out rivers villages hills etc marked on my map 10,000 feet below us. Then almost immediately after we caught sight of the sea, I made out in the distance haze the town that was our course check. I forgot what the name of it is now but it does not really matter does it?. It only goes to show that by finding the town so easily the navigator had done a good job of work.
Just before we reached this town the captain took George out and then he had to look after all of his controls with his hands and the rudder with his feet. He then followed the navigators instructions and with the aid of his compass, we changed course and turned until we were heading in direct line with Rangoon. Next he put “George” in once again and let the aircraft have its own way until we caught sight of the big cloud formations far ahead of us. At first it was touch and go if we would touch them at all. Some of us guessed that we would and others that we would just miss them. Well a little later they loomed bigger and bigger before our aircraft as we reached them it was clear that on our course, we would run into the end of them so our captain took [deleted] our [/deleted] [inserted] over [/inserted] control of the aircraft from “George” and we began to climb until we were above the first formation which looked like mountains of cotton wool beneath us. Then to miss the following few formations which were higher still instead of climbing to get over them or diving to get under them we had a bit of fun banking and weaving in and out of them. It was a lovely sensation watching these puffs of white cloud coming straight at us then at what seemed the last moment we just dodged and slipped around them.
Then suddenly there were no more clouds in front of us and we were flying beneath a cloudless blue sky and could see the land beneath us perfectly clearly once again. The pilot then re-set our course for Rangoon by compass and re-adjusted our height to 10,000 feet and put “George” in once again.
It was around about that time that I got out my packet of sandwitches [sic] and handed them round to the crew. Then a litle [sic] later in the distant horizon we caught sight of the sea once again only it was the west coast of the peninsular this time. By that time the pilots were taking it in turns to fall asleep and for a while I took over the wireless operators seat and listened with the earphones over my ears to a programme of music coming over the air from a wireless station somewhere in China. Doing this made me forget the roar of the engines for a little while. After half an hour of listening to the wireless, I went back to map reading once again and picked out from the map of dozens of small islands that we were flying over off the west coast of Siam. After getting tired of this I retired to the rear of the aircraft and re-joined the passengers and once again I lay on the floor between my blankets and went to sleep until we were nearing Rangoon. Then after getting everyone to fasten their safety belts for the last time, I found on looking out of one of the windows that beneath us were familiar flat miles and miles of paddy fields and native villages built in small woods typical of Southern Burma. Then a few moments later I caught sight of our airdrome and after one circuit we received permission to land and went in gradually losing height until we touched down on the metal runway and after swinging off to the right at the end of it we taxied to the staging post on our Mingaladon airfirld [sic] where we discharged our passengers and bags of mail before restarting our engines and taxying off to our Squadron dispersal where were guided to a parking point by our own ground crew. So
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ended my 1750 mile flying trip which proved to be a very interesting one for me. I know that the description of it that I have written is nothing like the actual scenes etc, But I have done my best to give you a fair idea of it all.
One of our Squadrons lorries drew up alongside our aircraft a few minutes after we had come to a standstill and after our captain had booked in, it took us all up to our domestic site and on arrival at my billet it seemed as it I had been away from it for weeks. On the following morning much to my regret I was back working at my old job.
On Wednesday 14th November we held a teriffic [sic] party in our billet for four of the followers who were in my gang at work and who also lived the same room as I, who were going home after being overseas for 3 years 8 months. Two of them were the [deleted] followers [/deleted] [inserted] fellows [/inserted] who had lived in the same tent etc as myself since we had left Italy so it meant that my best friends were leaving me. They took the little dog along with them when they left next day to to [sic] fly to Calcutta but I learned later that they had to leave it behind in Bombay as Freddie was stopped by the authorities from taking it up the gangway as he was about to board the ship for England. That dog had certainly travelled since we had brought him with us from Italy.
But the Squadron was not long without a pet as on Thursday the 22nd of November I adopted a little puppy which was about six weeks old. At first it was just a bag of bones but before long everyone had taken a liking for it and began to bring things back from the cookhouse for her and she soon began to fatten up.
Two days later I saw a first class show in our cinema. The programme included Leslie Henson, Helen Hill, Kenway and Young and other well known variety stars. On Saturday the 1st December our Squadron football team got beaten for the first time after playing 22 games which was quite an achievement.
Next day I went down with a touch of dysentry which left me as weak as a kitten for the next four days. I could not eat anything and I had to swallow six big white chalky tablets every three hours throughout the daytime. I spent most of my time during these four days crawling back and for the between my bed and the w.c.
However I was back at work again on the 7th December and on the same day as the Squadron was lacking entertainment, six of us got together in the cookhouse that evening and formed a committee to arrange a Squadron Dance. Two days later on the Sunday which was my day off I went into Rangoon and had a long chat with the manager of the Y.M.C.A. building (Civic Hall). I found out that he was willing to hire out the ballroom to me for an evening early in the New Year. I then went to a restaurant which was in bounds to troops and asked the manageress if she would supply me with a quotation for 400 dainty fancy cream cakes, 144 bread rolls and 4 long jam rolls. She told me that he did not usually take orders like that as she was short of flour etc for their own supplies in the café. However after a while she said she would supply my requirements if I supplied her with the jam to go in the rolls. Next I had to chase around all the printing works and shops that I could find in the town and get them to give me a quotation for 150 dance tickets and 150 invitation cards. All asked a teriffic [sic] price for the order so I made a note of their prices to give to the committee at our next meeting. On Tuesday afternoon the 11th December I watched that thrilling game that I told you about when our football team got knocked out.
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in the second round of the Burma cup by an odd goal. We held the next dance on the evening of the 20th when I gave our little gathering all the information that I had obtained. They all seemed enthusiastic about the Dance but did very little towards offering to help me arrange things. We decided to hold the dance and chose a date the 11th January [inserted] & [/inserted] to charge all the fellows 5 Rupies [sic] for a ticket. Then with regards to the printing we decided to take the cheapest and best offer. I worked it out and found that if we sold 150 tickets and let the women come free it would be just a nice number of people to be at a dance and it would allow me expenses of up to roughly £56.00.
Next day it was getting near to Christmas, we decided to brighten our room up a bit so a few of us spent the evening cutting toilet paper into penants of all shapes and colouring them by dipping them in either green, red, or blue ink and watered down [deleted] anti [/deleted] [inserted] YELLOW [/inserted] malaria tablets. Our finished efforts were quite good and someone got hold of some cotton wool from the M.I. room and made it into little balls so as to resemble snow. Some one else drew coloured Christmas cards and stuck them on the walls around the room.
On the 22nd December I saw our C.O and told all about our arrangements for the Dance and said if we had to pay for the transport to take all the fellows down into town and back again the same night and to pick up the women etc we would only be able to run the dance at a large loss, but if we did not have to pay for transport, I was prepared to run it and not make a loss. It was the C.O’s suggestion in the first place that we should hold a Squadron Dance and no one did anything about it until the few of us got together to see if it were possible to run one. He then said go ahead with your arrangements and do not worry about the transport. “I will see to that” and then he went on to say “come and see me every other morning and let me know how things are going and if I can help you in any way, I shall do so” That was fair enough for me so I went down to the big city and before booking the Civic Hall I tried to first hire the ballroom of the boat club and then the one in the W.V.S. Eastern Counties Club but I was unsuccessful at both places. So as the Civic Hall was open for booking on the 11th January I booked it. Then I went to the printers and gave them a rush order saying that I wanted the tickets on the following morning. Then at the caterers I gave my order for the 11th and paid a deposit along with 4 tins of jam which I had managed to [deleted] to [/deleted] [inserted] TALK [/inserted] the Sargeant [sic] Cook in charge of our ration store into giveing [sic] me. Then I went back to camp and started ringing up all the unit bands in the Rangoon area that I had been told about. A number of them were booked up for the night to play at officers messes etc, and I finally reduced the possibles [sic] down to two. a 12 piece army Welfare Band or a R.A.F five piece one. The committee decided on the latter one so I booked that. After that I had another chat with the Sargeant Cook and in the end he promised me the loan of tea containers [underlined] cake trays [/underlined] for the night along with tables from the dining hall and forms to put in the lorries picking up the women. On top of that he also promised me to supply us with sandwitches [sic] and hot tea as long as we found some chaps to help the cooks out making it all.
Then I went to the canteen and asked them to get in an extra supply of 50 bottles of lime juice and lemon squash cordial for the dance week and I gave them a written order for it. Next I had to find and talk to the Officer in charge of our Squadron Passenger Welfare Section and from him I received a promise unofficially of 500 drinking cartons.
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Very few people realize the hell of a lot of hard work and worry that there is entailed in running a Dance especially with the Far East and when you have got to transport all the dancers 12 miles to the dance hall and 12 miles back. Most of the fellows when they heard that it was going to cost them 5 Rupies [sic] for a ticket seemed to think that we were out to make a fortune of the dance. That was all the thanks that we got for our trouble in arranging entertainment for them. Up until that time, we paid out all the deposits etc from our own pocket. However we told them if thats what they thought, they need not come as we could sell the tickets elsewhere. We certainly were not going down on our hands and knees and pray for them to come after devoting most of our evenings and days off to arranging the dance.
Then I had to think of 4 reliable chaps who would act as doormen and who I could trust not to accept 5 Rupies [sic] and let anyone in. This proved quite a problem for me as most of the chaps who I thought of wanted to dance.
That same evening one of my friends offered to make out three big coloured posters for me to go in the Airmens, Sgts and Officers Messes advertising the dance. That solved another of my problems.
The next day which was the 24th December, we all had to work as usual even though it was the day before Christmas, but immediately after dinner that evening, we were all away over to the canteen to buy our monthly beer ration. On arriving back in our room, we settled down to a little sing song and party and this went on until someone suggested going over and paying a visit to the nearest native village. Our bearer who lived in that village had told us earlier in the day that as it was also the time of one of Burmese Festivals they were holding an open air concert that evening and that the festivities would go on for three days after. Thinking that I might see something interesting to write about, I agreed to go along. So half a dozen of us set out from camp with [inserted] A [/inserted] half empty bottle of beer in one hand and a full one in every pocket. We crossed the main road and made our way carefully over the paddy fields and a stream on the other side until we reached a single span bridge beneath which ran the large concrete water pipe line which came from the large lakes north of our camp and went on to Rangoon. We stopped for a few moments by this bridge and listened to the jumble of native music keeping time with the thump of what sounded very much like a tom tom drum. The music issued forth from the wood which was full of flickering lights 200 yards in front of us on the other side of the small bridge. Before we proceeded I stood beside the water pipe and you can guess how large it was when I tell you that the top of it was well above the level of my head.
On arrival on the edge of the woods, and the first native stalls which led up into the two rows towards large stage in front of which swatted rows and rows of Burmese men women and children and at the sides of the stage were bullock carts etc on which people were swatting and sitting whilst watching what was going on, we were met by the village school teacher who introduced himself to us in fairly good English and asked us to follow him. He took us down the gangway between the two lines [inserted] OF STALLS [/inserted] and through the crowd [deleted] of stalls [/deleted] until we reached his school which was a large Basha building situated just in front and to the right of the stage. There he spoke in Burmese to some of the people nearby and they disappeared and returned a few moments later with a couple of forms which they put down for us to sit on.
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From there we could see the bamboo made stage cum-platform quite clearly and almost at our feet were the end of the rows of swatting Burmese people and near to our right were the bullock carts. On the stage the so called band which consisted of all sorts of weird and wonderful instruments kept up a continuous noise of clash, banging and wailing which was supposed to be native music. I could not make head nor tail of it, the noise in my ears did not even seem to resemble a melody in the slightest way. It just seemed to be a few notes repeated over and over again and after a few minutes the noise began to get on my nerves although I must say all the Burmese seemed to be enjoying it all, and when the band did finally stop for a breather, the people clapped and clapped. On completion of the applause the air seemed so silent until the people in the crowd started talking to each other in their native tongue.
We certainly must have looked a bit undignified sitting there drinking out of a bottle, so that perhaps accounts for the reason why a little later the school teacher brought out little clay cups and offered us one each to put our beer in before drinking it. Although I have a funny feeling that the real reason was because he wanted us to offer him a cup full. We did so out of courtesy and within a short while he had a bigger taste for beer than we did.
During this brief pause in which the band ceased to play I had the chance to have a good look at some of those weird instruments. One looked like a kind of bamboo xtyaphone [sic] and another a trumpet cum-horn-cum bugle which gave out a tinny noise like all three instruments put together. The only instrument that looked like one was the drum which was a big [inserted] LONG [/inserted] barrell [sic] with the ends covered with skin, and when playing it the Burmese beat the skin with the back of his hands. A few moments later, a male Burmese comedian climbed upon the stage and said many things that kept the children in front laughing all the while. We could not understand a word of what he uttered so we just had to sit there and look as if we did. As soon as he finished his act the band started up with its row once more. Then a native girl of about 14 years of age and dressed in colourful native costume came on and did what I think was one of the Burmese national dances. Some of the actions were extremely difficult but, she carried them out quite gracefully. In a way it reminded me of Russian type dancing. The girl also used her hands a lot to put expression into the dance.
During this turn the schoolmaster introduced us to the headman of the village so we had to offer him a drink of beer which he gratefully accepted. As our stocks of liquid refreshments were getting low we told the schoolmaster that we would soon have to be getting back to camp. to this he replied that we must stay and hear the next turn as it was specially for us. So we sat down again whilst he got up on the stage and said something or other to the audience in Burmese. Then a number of boys and girls from his school who were sitting in the front rows of the audience got up beside him and then a little fellow of about 8 stepped forward and said in quite good English that they were going to sing a song for us. He then stepped back in line with the others and they began to sing “You are my Sunshine” in English. The one or two who sang out of tune at different points were glared at by the others. On the whole, they sang very well indeed. There were about ten children in all on the stage and their ages ranged from about 5 to 10. All the little girls wore coloured flowers in their jet black hair which was pinned up in various styles mostly by a carved ivory comb. Some had their hair cut short in a fringe all around their head, but most of them when they let their hair down to
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[inserted] [deleted] VILLAG [/deleted] [/inserted]
[photograph of schoolmaster and his wife and son]
[photograph of children with bullock]
[photograph of children in field]
[underlined] OUTSKIRTS OF THE VILLAGE [/underlined]
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comb it out, it came below their wastes. [sic] Another custom that a lot of women and girls used to carry out was for them to cover their faces with thick powder or a thin white paste so as to hide their beauty until they were married. This custom also applied to the Chinese.
For an encore the children sang “My Bonny lies over the Ocean” for us also in English. They then jumped scrambled off the stage and took their places in the audience again. The schoolmaster then took us into the school “Basha” building to the rear of where we were sitting and showed us the classroom which was lit by hurricane lamps and introduced us to his wife along with his baby son. He told us that it was impossible to obtain slates etc, in the country but that some of the chaps in our Squadron who had visited his school one day had clubbed together and had got the aircrew to bring back from India slates, crayons [inserted] CHALK [/inserted] etc, for the children. We then took our leave of the village and, as we picked our way over the marshy fields we could still hear the band going at full blast in the distance.
On arrival back at our billet, the fellows all wanted to know where we had disappeared to, and after relating to them all that we had seen in the village those had stayed in the room wanted me to take them to see it all. I put them off by saying that I was too tired to walk over the fields again. So the billet party resumed with full gusto once more but, during the hour following the recommencement the fellows kept on [deleted] with [/deleted] [inserted] TO [/inserted] me so much with asking to be taken over to the village that in the end I was badgered in to submitting to their wishes.
So a little later [inserted] on [/inserted] loaded with fresh bottles I found myself crossing these fields for a third time that evening. The band was still going full out when we arrived at the edge of the wood. Before proceeding up to the stage, we inspected the two lines of stalls and I stopped for a few minutes in front of a Burmese woman who was sitting behind a fire of wood sheltered between two bricks on which rested a kind of frying pan. I watched her flatten out tiny balls of looked like white rubber and drop them into the pan one at a time. Almost as soon as the heat got to the disc it began to expand and then the women picked up two objects something like carpet beaters and flapped the disc from one side to the other back and forth continuously over the fire. They gradually grew until it had reached the size of a large pancake and both sides had browned in places. Then it was placed on top of a large pile of others that had been cooked earlier in the evening. The woman offered us one but we did not like to try it. At that moment the schoolmaster came up to us at the stall and I explained to him that my friends wanted to come and see the festivities. I then asked him what the pancakes were and he told me that they were eaten by Burmese instead of bread and were a kind of corn flake. He then bought one from the women for 2 annas and gave it to us to inspect before proceeding to eat it, after we had declined a portion of it. I was surprised when I took hold of the crisp wafer and found out that it was as light as a feather. The schoolmaster then took my friends to visit his school and got his children up on stage again to sing for them. Then before going back to camp we visited the native restraunt [sic] Basha situated at the end of the line of people selling their goods and next to two little Burmese girls selling from large baskets, cigars and bundles of small white candles.
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On entering the restaurant, we found a great array of foodstuffs in front of us. The native proprietor insisted that we bought some thing to eat and as the only things that we recognised and thought safe to eat in all that queer assortment of eatables were eggs we bought some of those after finding out that they were hard boiled and sat and ate them along with all the beer that remained in our possession.
After entering the billet, we had just settled down once more when a Warrant Officer came into the room and asked us to hand him all our glasses and tell him what we wanted to drink which we did and off he went out into the night once more. Of course we were then unable to drink so we sat talking for twenty minutes or so before deciding to go and look for our glasses. On arrival in the Sargeants [sic] Mess I found the W/O in the middle of a large crush in front of the bar, he had not forgotten us after all. Then a little later, he passed our filled glasses back to me over the heads of those behind him. All those drinks must have cost him a little fortune and the best part of it was that none of us even knew the fellow.
I was in the Sargeants [sic] Mess until the bar closed, and I was invited along with all the others to the Officers Mess. So we all trooped in small groups over the football pitch and into the marquee in which the officers bar was situated. Where incidentally drinks of every description were free that night. It was well after midnight when I made my way across the football pitch again only towards my billet block this time. On the way, I called in at our cookhouse and found the Sargeant [sic] cook was well under the weather. Two of the other cooks soaked in sweat and standing in front of a fire giving out teriffic [sic] heat and surrounded by dozens of cooked and uncooked chickens and rolls of ham. I felt very sorry for them as it certainly was no holiday for those cooks. There they were in that heat getting the fellows’ dinner ready for the following day and we who were to eat that dinner and benefit from their efforts were out enjoying ourselves. I offered to lend them a hand but it was gratefully declined so after wishing them a Merry Christmas I went back to my room and so to bed.
I got up for breakfast on Christmas morning and along with the others in my room we all went down to the cookhouse together. Later on during the morning of this third Christmas Day of mine overseas and the fourth one away from home I watched a team picked from the English footballers on our Squadron play against a team picked from the Scotsmen. Everyone in the Squadron that morning turned out to watch the great international match and the cheering for both sides was teriffic [sic] during the game. Some of the Scots supporters turned out waving home made yellow flags with a red dragon painted on them. One fellow wore a home made kilt and hat and all that goes with the outfit and carried his flag on top of a 10 ft pole which he stuck behind the Scottish goal for luck during the game which ended up by Scotland winning by two goals to nil much to the delight of all their supporters. I must say that the result was expected as in Scotlands team they had the two Squadron professional footballers. After the game we came back to the billet and sat on our beds talking until it was time for dinner. I will not write much about the meal as from the Menu you can read about all that we had to eat etc. By way of a surprise during the meal the schoolteacher had brought from the village his little girls and boys dressed in their best colourful native clothes to sing for all the fellows. As was the usual custom the Officers waited on us throughout the meal but we would have got our food much quicker if we had gone up to the servery for it ourselves.
By the way, my dog ate the half chicken that I had brought for him back to the billet from the dining hall with me. I think she wished that Christmas came every day
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[inserted] 194A [/inserted]
[photograph of tables set for Christmas dinner]
[Christmas day menu front cover with picture of Flying Horse. Burma 1945]
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She was not the only one either.
I nearly forgot to say that, earlier that morning when there was a heavy damp mist covering the camp it looked like Christmas time, but the sun soon came up and dried it all away. As the temperature that afternoon was well over 100o most of the fellows wanted to rest on their beds after dinner, but a few of them myself included decided to go on one of the Squadron’s lorries which was going into Rangoon to a dance which was being held in the W.V.S. Eastern Counties Club near the docks.
As usual about 250 fellows were in the ballroom and a dozen women so that the only thing I enjoyed was the piece of iced Christmas cake and mince pies etc, that was given to me during the interval. Long before the dance was due to end we were hitch hiking back to camp which we reached just in time for late tea and more mince pies. As it was a bit dead in our room earlier in the evening, a friend and myself went over to the [deleted] Squadron’s [/deleted] [inserted] SARGEANTS [/inserted] Mess where it was an open night and in there we got talking to two officers who had come up from their mess because it was dead there also. They complained that instead of enjoying themselves they were all in bed. Our conversation ended up by them inviting us to their mess to brighten it up a bit. For a while we sat drinking and talking on the edge of the football pitch beneath a starry sky. Then we had a good old supper of bread and cheese along with mince pies and many other things. A little later just as the lights went out my friend disappeared but I did not miss him for a while and as he told me a little earlier on that he was not feeling well I thought that he had gone back to his billet to bed so I did not worry. Next morning I was told that two officers bought him home at 2 a.m. after finding him lying out in the football pitch. As the night went on we sat talking about different things in the dark and were joined by more officers who also joined in the conversation and it was after 2 a.m. when the party broke and made off to bed.
On arrival back at my room I was thunderstuck. [sic] I had left it because things were too quiet and at 2.15 in the morning I found the place an uproar and in disorder. It certainly had brightened up since I left it. In fact too much for my liking and it was a long time before everyone got to bed and silence reigned supreme once again.
On the 26th December (Boxing Day) I took things easy and slept during most of the morning in the afternoon and in the evening I went to a cinema show.
Two days later I saw the C.O. about getting prizes and decorations and told him that it was impossible to obtain either anywhere in Rangoon. Then I suggested that I could get them most probably if I could have a few days in Calcutta. To this he replied that we had an aircraft going to Calcutta a couple of days later so if I put in a leave pass he would sign. He then told the Squadron Leader i/c flying to put my name down on the manifest. So I quickly got hold of a form (295) leave pass from the S.W.O’s office and made it out and then I went to pay accounts and changed my money into Indian currency.
Next day I watched an Irish football team from our Squadron play a Welsh team. At half time, Ireland were winning by 3 goals to nil but after the interval they seemed to go to pieces and amid the roars and shouts of the Welsh supporters Wales finished up winning the game by 7 goals to 3.
Next day being a Sunday, it was my day off so I spent it by taking out the invitation cards cont…
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for the Squadron dance to all the hospitals and units where European women worked. My travels that day took me to every part and section in the Rangoon area. After a lot of hard work and trying times when trying to get lifts to the different places I covered 15 units and houses etc where girls lived. It was quite a diplomatic job talking nicely to everyone and trying to get them to promise to come along on the night and telling them what a nice dance it would be and all its attractions etc. then I had to invite the C.O’s of the other R.A.F. units and Squadrons on our airfield and also the Group Captain. On top of that I had to sell tickets to the fellows and give invitations to those who were bringing their own partners to the dance. Yes it certainly was hard work seeing to everything.
That same day I found out that the aircraft in which I was to travel to India in, was an old Mark 1 Dakota which had finished its flying hours and was going to [inserted] A [/inserted] maintenance Unit to be scrapped. The fitters and riggers had been working on it for weeks trying to get the aircraft servicable [sic] and fit for the air. On three consequetive [sic] days our trip was postponed because something or other went U/S on the aircraft In fact I began to wonder if I ever would get to India and back before our dance came off.
On Monday 31st December (New Years Eve) everyone was issued out with a large helping of rum which seemed to warm ones blood and light you up. Everytime [inserted] ONE [/inserted] took a sip of it. That night also the Sgts and Officers Messes were open to all ranks and it was in the Sergeants Mess later on the in the evening that I met an Officer who was on my old Squadron in Syria, Corsica and France etc. When I had last seen him, he was a Flight Sergeant Spitfire Pilot on “A” Flt of 242 Squadron. Since then he had been back to England received his commission and had been turned into a transport aircraft pilot and had come overseas again. We had quite a good chat about old times and people in the old Squadron before parting that night.
When the C.O. announced that it was midnight, I was in the Officers Mess and we all joined hands and sang “Auld Lang Syne”. Whilst we were singing I thought back over the whole of 1945 and of a year ago to that minute when I was singing the same song whilst linkind [sic] hands in the Sgts Mess at Barri in Italy whilst it was freezing cold and snowing. Yes I had certainly came a long way during that year. Little on New Years Eve 1944 did I think that on the following New Years Eve I should be sweltering in the Burma heat and as I stood in the Officers Mess singing in the year 1946 I also wondered where I would be to sing in 1947 and what would happen to me during 1946.
On the evening of January 1st, I was informed that the Old Mark 1 aircraft was at last servicable [sic] and would be taking off on the following morning. So after packing the things that I would need during my short trip in my small pack, I walked down to the Guard room and put in an early call for myself and then I went to bed early. Another fellow in my room and a Corporal were going with the same aircraft to the M.U to try and get hold of some engine spare parts etc to replentish [sic] our technical stores on the Squadron.
It was ten to five when I looked at my watch after signing for my early call and after tying one of my blankets into a small bundle I went down to the Mess for an early breakfast.
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Then I came back to the billet and joined the other two fellows and picked up my small pack etc. We all then walked over to the Sgts Mess block to where the lorry was waiting to take us down to the drome.
On arrival at the aircraft I found that it looked worse inside that [sic] it did outside and it most certainly looked as if it was time that it finished flying in the air. What made its [deleted] worst [/deleted] appearance [inserted] WORSE [/inserted] was the Mark 1 Dakota’s narrow propellor [sic] blades. We climbed into the cockpit cabin and ran up the engines before the crew turned up to see for ourselves what they were like.
Then a few moments later along with the crew came another 15 aircrew and officers from our Squadron who were going to India for leave etc. As there were no seats or safety belts in the fusalage [sic] we all had to sit on the floor and the area looked so crowded that as we taxied towards the end of the run-way, I began to doubt whether or not the engines had enough power in them to enable the aircraft to leave the ground
During take-off we all sat [deleted] and sook [/deleted] as near as we were able to the crews cabin door so as to take all the weight off of the aircrafts tail, so enabling it to rise up much more quickly.
Not one of the passengers or the crew relished looking forward to the trip in that old aircraft and I think everyone breathed a sigh of relief when we left the ground and steadily gained height. [inserted] AT 7 A.M. [/inserted] During the first part of our trip it was very cloudy so we were unable to see much of the scenery below us and we hugged the coast line all the way as I think the captain thought it a bit too chancy to cut straight across the sea to our destination in case anything went wrong. We had no Mae Wests or Dingys [sic] on board so we were glad of the [deleted] Les [/deleted] decision. If we had gone over the sea and something had happened we would have been in a sorry plight. After a short while in the air it began to get very cold indeed and most of the passengers sat shivering and looking at each other. Luckily I had slipped a couple of newspapers into my side pack the night before, so for a while, I was able to sit shivering and read a paper instead of staring at other people. About 2 hours after take-off 10,000 ft beneath me, through the clouds I caught familar [sic] glimpses of the still flooded areas of Akyab island and of the mainland nearby. Soon afterwards I had to unpack my blanket and wrap it around me as I was unable to stop shivering even after moving up and down the aircraft a few times. Approximately an hour after passing over Akyab the weather began to clear and soon we were flying in perfect conditions. The sun was shining and visibility was exceptionally good for dozens of miles around us. I caught glimpses of the coast town of Chittagong which is the first place of any importance in India. After crossing the Burma and India border at the point where it meets the [inserted] BAY OF [/inserted] Bengal. [deleted] Bay. [/deleted] We continued to hug the coast until we passed over the river Ganges near to where its eastern tributary joins the sea. Then we flew on a straight South Westerly overland course towards Calcutta. By this time we had lost a little height and it began to get a bit warmer in the aircraft and I could see the shadow of our aircraft beneath and to the side of us skipping along the barren ground of some of the plains of Eastern India.
Twenty minutes after changing course we passed over a large tributary of the River Brahmaputra approximately 25 miles north of where it joins the Bay of Bengal. Then a little later we passed over the large Western tributary of the Brahmaputra approx a hundred miles north from where it joined the sea.
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From each of the tributories [sic] ran hundreds of much smaller ones trailing off like a spider’s trail. So the whole area beneath us often looked to [inserted] BE [/inserted] made up of both large and small waterways twisting and winding across the plain towards the sea.
Then lastly just before reaching Calcutta we passed over the Western Main tributary of the river Ganges at a point approximately 75 miles inland. Then almost immediately after that we found ourselves circling the airfield of Dum Dum and its surrounding installations etc, in preparation for landing.
At the far end of the runway our aircraft was met by a vehicle with a board attached to the rear of it which read “follow me” Our pilot did as instructed and was led [deleted] by [/deleted] [inserted] TO [/inserted] a distant concrete dispersal area.
On stepping down from the aircraft the vehicle driver told us that he would take the crew to the control tower so that they could book in and that he would send down a passenger vehicle to pick the rest of us up. As my two pals were travelling as crew they had to go along and leave me.
The rest of us waited around for a quarter of an hour after which there was still no signs of any conveyance coming to pick the rest of us up. So in ones and twos everyone began to walk slowly toward the control tower. On our way there we passed the large hanger in which silver Commando and Dakota aircraft belonging to the Chinese Airways were being serviced. The interiors of them were painted in buff and chocolate colour and on the wings and fusalage [sic] were the queer Chinese matchstick marking painted in black. On arrival at the modern control tower around which many more buildings were in the process of being erected, we were directed to the passenger arrival and departure office. We reached this building by making our way through the dozens of Indians who were engaged upon the construction work mixing concrete and laying bricks, etc.
At the office we were informed that we would have to wait at least two hours for an airfield bus to take us into the town, so three other passengers and myself walked to the next building which was the airfield restaurant.
[missing word] the dining room was full we sat down in wicker chairs around one of the small tables in the restaurant annexe. An Indian bearer with a spotless white turban on his head brought to us a tray on which was a pot of tea, four cups and saucers and two containers of milk and sugar. A few minutes later there were vacant seats in the dining room, so we went in and took possession of a table near the door and almost immediately another bearer with a number tag on his white tunic appeared and waited patiently for us to give him our orders. I thoroughly enjoyed my four course lunch, it was the best I had eaten for months. A hundred times more than [deleted] the [/deleted] [inserted] OUR [/inserted] R.A.F. food. Being there on leave, on my own gave me a feeling of freedom from the R.A.F. for a while and for a few days I was my own master and I was free to do whatever I felt like doing in a big city. Believe it or not I even got a kick out of pulling my first chain in almost two years.
Whilst having my lunch I discovered that we had gained an hour on our arrival in India so I had to put my watch back.
On making my way back to the passenger office, I found my two pals and the crew who were also waiting for a lift into town.
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[inserted] 198A [/inserted]
[inserted] [underlined] 1. [/underlined] [/inserted]
[newspaper cutting about Calcutta]
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[inserted] [underlined] 3. [/underlined] [/inserted]
[continuation of the newspaper cutting about Calcutta]
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We stood there talking for 20 minutes or so and were contemplating hiring a taxi when from around the corner of one of the buildings swung an almost full shabby small blue bus.
There was only room for six left, so it was first there who got a place in the bus. I was one of the lucky ones as I did not have any bulky objects such as suitcases or large travelling bags with me. So consequently I was off to a quick start and after a scramble I found myself in the bus. Even though I was fourth aboard, I had to sit on my blanket roll which I placed in the gangway between to two rows of seats.
The country and houses in the area around the airfield were very [deleted] Anglesises [sic] [/deleted] (English) but as we passed over the bridge spanning dozens of railway lines the scene changed and we found ourselves travelling through the suburbs and slums of Calcutta. This is one of the worst areas in the world as regards living conditions. In fact with so many people thronging those streets I began to wonder where they all could possibly live. After travelling a further few miles we reached the more modern and clean Calcutta and a few moments later after having travelled for about 11 to 12 miles, the bus stopped outside the Continental Hotel in Chowringhee. (The main road or High Street of Calcutta) and we decended [sic] on to the pavement. As this hotel was for Officers only I walked along with some of the N.C.O. crew, until we reached Sudder Street two blocks further on. We turned into Sudder Street and on just before reaching the end of the street we came to the Astoria Hotel on the left hand side. Facing the end of the street was the Calcutta Fire station but that did not interest us so we went into the hotel and I booked a room for myself for the next four days whilst the crew booked for one night only.
After being shown to my room, I had a wash before proceeding to the dining hall where I had a second 3 course lunch that day. Next I sat down for a while out in the sunshine and along with some other people staying at the hotel watched an Indian magician carry out quite a number of amazing tricks. Just as his performance ended, my other two friends turned up along with the rest of the air crew who could not get on our bus and who we left behind at the airfield. At 5 p.m. the three of us decided to explore a part of the town before dinner which was at 7 p.m. Within a few minutes of leaving the hotel we found ourselves walking around the acres of small stalls and shops which were situated beneath the covered in New Market. Without exaggeration, one could buy almost any conceivable article in that market without points or coupons etc. Honestly there were so many nice things on show that if I had had a £1000 in my pocket I could have easily have spent every penny of it during my tour of the stalls. When I saw the [deleted] toy [/deleted] shops gaily lighted up and stacked full of toys and dolls of every description, I could not help being sad through thinking how happy any English child would have been just to be able to set their eyes on such an [deleted] army [/deleted] [inserted] ARRAY [/inserted] of toys. Instead of which at that time they only had empty toy shop windows to look into. Whilst looking at silk and satin clothing and material etc, I got separated from my two friends and before I knew where I was I discovered that the time was a quarter to seven, so I made my way back to the hotel. To me it seemed as if I had only left it a few minutes before. I had been so interested in those hundreds of lighted stalls that time had flown by.
Just as I was sitting down to dinner at my table I was joined by my two friends and for the next 1/2 hour we were busy making soup, fish, chickens and accessories, jelly and custard, fruit and coffee etc disappear.
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It certainly was a refreshing change to see a nice white tablecloth and serviettes once again and sets of cutlery all set out and it was also a change not to have to queue up for our food outside our cookhouse and get it slapped into our plates.
The dining room itself looked quite gay as the Christmas decorations and baloons [sic] and coloured lanterns etc, had not then been taken down.
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[inserted] 200A [/inserted]
[photograph of a street in Calcutta]
SECOND CITY OF THE EMPIRE is not as quiet as this now. But there has been a security ban on photographs from wartime Calcutta.
[underlined] MODERN SECTOR [/underlined]
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[inserted] 200B [/inserted]
[five photographs of streets and buildings of Calcutta]
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[five photographs of buildings and monuments of Calcutta]
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[inserted] 200C [/inserted]
[photograph of a war memorial in Calcutta]
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I duly said farewell to the aircrew next morning and wished them well on the next stage of their flight in india [sic] to where would be the graveyard our old Dakota.
They said “do not worry, we will see you in three days time with a nice new machine”.
When I first booked in to the hotel, I was informed that it was possible that I would not be able to leave the hotel during my visit. The reason was that during the fighting in Burma and the defence of the border of North East India there was in being an Indian National Army that joined forces with the Japanese thinking that they were going to win the war.
At this time the trials of a number of the leaders captured was being held in Calcutta and the verdicts were due at any minute and it was felt that when announced the sentences could result in serious riots occurring in the city.
However the sentences given out next day were only of a mild nature and the threat therefore did not materialise.
During those 3 days I wondered [sic] far and wide and was fascinated by the the [sic] Chowringhee bazaar where I managed to purchase lovely decorations for the Rangoon Town Hall for the occasion of the squadrons dance.
They took the form of huge bells of different colours. I purchase hundreds of paper flowers that would be enclosed in the bells when they were erected over the dance floor area.
I remember well that [inserted] in [/inserted] one place I saw a crowd of people on the pavement looking at something in their mist [sic] and on getting nearer I found an Indian squatting cross legged and in front of him was a wicker basket. In his mouth was a tin flute. As I joined the throng he started to play Indian music and low and behold up rose very slowly a python.
Whilst I was fascinated needless to say I did not try to get any nearer. [inserted] [symbol] [/inserted] [inserted] [symbol] PROVING THAT THE MONGOOSE COULD STRIK [sic] FASTER THAN A SNAKE THIS FOLLOWED. BUT THIS COLLECTIVE PLATE [indecipherable word] PASSED AROUND FOR THE SPECTATORS TO PLACE A FEW [deleted] [indecipherable word] [/deleted] ANNAS UPON IT. I HOPE HE GOT ENOUGH [symbol] [/inserted] to go and purchase a replacement snake. Of course he did not use the python against the mongoose.
During my explorations another experience occurred that will live in my mind forever and that is that during one of my walks I suddenly came upon the racecourse. As I walked [deleted] down [/deleted] [inserted] ALONG [/inserted] by the track and the virgin white painted rails glistening in the sunlight, I could have easily been at Ascot on lovely summers day.
Yet on turning my back and having walked a few hundred yards I came into an area where inhabitants lived in virtually mud huts and who were undernourished and extensively impoverished. Malformed bodies lay around on earthen pavements.
It was almost as if I had stepped back 2000 years in just a few minutes.
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During my last visit to the Chowringhee bazaar I think I must have had a flush of madness or lost control of my senses, I found myself surcoming [sic] to the salesmanship of someone selling parrots.
I ended carrying back to the hotel with a cage in my hand in which was a green parrot with a red beak.
During the last day of my wanderings I stopped in the heat of the day for a nice cold drink in one of the many bars situated in the area I found myself in. Sitting at the next table was a Squadron Leader in the Royal Air Force. Of course we obviously entered into a conversation with each other and it transpired that he was in the middle of a leave a [sic] knew the city quite well.
He was most interested to learn of all my travels and experiences and related many of his own. After a short while it was as if we had known each other for years.
We [deleted] immediately [/deleted] [inserted] MUTALLY [sic] [/inserted] agreed to meet later in the day when he would call at my hotel.
I had just finished my evening meal when he turned up and off we went and our journey on foot, took us for a number of miles and various points of interest were brought to my attention. On a couple of occasions we stopped for a drink or two, as we neared my return to my hotel informed me that he would like to take me to a very nice club that he had found and where he had spent a number of evenings.
He held a [deleted] ritual [/deleted] [inserted] RICKSHAW [/inserted] and gave instructions and off we went. After a short journey [deleted] he [/deleted] [inserted] IT [/inserted] came to a halt and after he had paid off the attendant started off towards [deleted] the sun [/deleted] [inserted] SOME [/inserted] steps leading into what appeared to be a most impressive building. My attention and eyes were immediately drawn towards a notice that said OFFICERS ONLY and at the door stood a steward who was obviously posted there to check on those entering the establishment.
I came to a halt, [deleted] he [/deleted] [inserted] AND [/inserted] said no way can I go in there. I was told yes you can, my reply of course was oh no I cannot.
The next few minutes I think I was the only airman to be promoted directly from leading aircraftsman to squadron leader even if it was not official.
I was handed and was met with an insistence that I attached a pair of epaulettes of the rank of squadron leader on the loops attached to the shoulders of my khaki shirt.
I think that the few drinks that we had had melted my resistance and I eventually complied and in we went without any difficulty. In fact we were met with a most efficient salute which along with my colleague I had to acknowledge.
Two things very soon became apparent as my new found friend was concerned and that was that he had piles of money and was something of a gambler.
On my 1/3d or 1/6d a day pay as a leading aircraftsman I was somewhat restricted with regards my spending. However although I tried very hard that evening I was not allowed to pay for a round of drinks. Although we ordered the drinks alternatively he insisted that the cost was debited to his account.
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[inserted] 203 [/inserted]
My friend also insisted that we played on a dozen or more fruit machines situated in one area of the impressive club. Again he insisted on filling up my pockets with coins for the machines, he would not even accept the money on the occasions when I managed to win.
As the evening wore on and it was time to leave and go back to the hotel we were both more than a little merry. On arrival I found that the aircrew had safely arrived and we were due to return to Dum Dum Airport mid morning next day for our journey back to Rangoon.
We both [deleted] paid [/deleted] [inserted] BADE [/inserted] each other farewell with best wishes for the future but not before I demoted myself from squadron leader back to the aircraftsman.
I do not think I have ever come across such a generous person in my life and there was simply no reason why he should have be so kind to me and what was more [deleted] amazing [/deleted] [inserted] ANNOYING [/inserted] was the fact that we did not even exchange addresses in England. I very much regretted this failure on the following morning.
Alas it was goodbye to Calcutta. The aircrew had arranged transport back to the airfield from the hotel and low and behold on arrival at Dum Dum a lovely new aircraft awaited us. However when I climbed aboard with my belongings the decorations etc, it was lucky that those large bells were folded down into a flat section making just a rather large parcel. The reason was that the aircraft was packed full with [deleted] India [/deleted] [inserted] ENGINEERING [/inserted] stores etc for Mingladon. [sic] I ended up having to sit on a packing case.
You can guess also the comments I received as I loaded on the parrot and cage which occupied the top of the next packing case to my own.
This time I had more confidence during our trip down the runway before take off. ON our return journey, the pilot also had the same feeling as we took the direct route across the ocean between India and Burma.
However due to the turbulence he had to travel at a very high altitude on occasions and with no oxygen available the air became somewhat thin and affected our breathing on occasions.
Other than this the flight was rather uneventful and we duly found ourselves making a smooth landing at Mingladon [sic] and taxi-ing to 267 Squadron’s dispersal point.
After thanking the aircrew for their help and assistance we obtained transport back to our campsite.
The remarks of the aircrew were nothing to those that I experienced when I carried the parrot into our billet room. I do not know whether I had been sold a sick bird or it was the high altitude of the day before was the reason [deleted] for feeling [/deleted] [inserted] HOWEVER I WAS [/inserted] very upset when later that day I found the poor parrot dead at the bottom of his cage.
[page break]
[inserted] 203A [/inserted]
[invitation card to 267 Squadron dance]
[underlined] INVITATION TICKET TO OUR DANCE] [/underlined]
[page break]
JANUARY 11th 1946. [/underlined]
[blank] – [blank] – Rs – As
To Hire of hall. ………………………..…… 25. – 0.
To Cleaning Hall …………………………… 10. – 0.
To Hire of Band ………………………..… 150. – 0.
To Printing of Tickets (300) …………… 55. – 0.
Spot Prizes (8) …………………………….… 58. – 0.
Streamers, Balloons, Decorations,
Bearer’s Tips’s Etc. ………………………..103. – 0.
Limes Juice (40) Bottles. ………………... 85. – 0.
Fancy Cakes, Buns, Swiss Rolls Etc .. 166. – 0.
Drinks for Band, Doorman and
Other Helpers. ……………………………… 28. – 0.
Tips to 3 Doormen and 4 Refreshment
And Decoration Helpers. ………………. [underlined] 70. – 0. [/underlined]
[blank] [blank] [underlined] 750. – 0. [/underlined]
Sale of 150, Tickets at 5Rs 750
Rs [underlined] 750 [/underlined]
Signed. [four signatures]
[page break]
[inserted] 20 [/inserted] 4
The next few days besides my work on various aircrafts I was busy making the final arrangements for the Squadron Dance on 11 January.
On that day however all the parts of the jigsaw fitted in perfectly. The rest of the small committee helped to decorate the city hall and hoist up the large colourful bells with their contents. I had to arrange transport to travel hundreds of miles to the hospital units etc in the area to collect and finally return female partners for our airmen.
In spite of much criticism from many of our colleagues, everyone who attended seemed to enjoy themselves and the ladies were most impressed when the time came for me to pull the strings and hundreds of paper flowers emerged from the bells overhead. This was certainly in extreme contrast to spartan life that they must have lived over the previous months or years since they left England. I even received the congratulations and thanks of my commanding officer.
Life over the next few months took a routine pattern. During my many visits to China Town, many merchants loved to set out displays of rubies which were mined in the PEGU area north of Rangoon.
Not knowing much about the gems although many of them looked beautiful I always had the doubt in my mind that they could have been fakes. So I always declined to make a purchase.
I have often thought that if I had been an expert on rubies I could have ended up making a large sum of money.
One date that sticks out in my memory was from the 14th to 16th April when the Thingyan Water Festival was held. It is a religious festival and it was considered lucky to have water thrown over ones self.
On one of these days we filled up 40 gallon [deleted] oak [/deleted] [inserted] OPEN [/inserted] topped barrels of water onto the open topped lorry that was taking us into town. On the trip we took delight in throwing water from smaller containers over anyone we passed by the roadside or over occupants of the open vehicles that passed us in the opposite direction.
It was of course not all one way and the habitants threw back water over us as we passed them. Everyone acted in a good natured way, but at the end of our journey we were all wet through except our driver. However the hot sun of [inserted] THE [/inserted] day soon dried us out.
Another incident which sticks out in my mind was when our pilots were being regraded in readiness to return to civilian flying. In turn they were taken up on a flight accompanied by our commanding officer. On take off they had to reach an airspeed on the runway and then on becoming airborne throw a switch feather one engine [deleted] and [/deleted] [inserted] UNTIL [/inserted] told to restart same.
[page break]
[inserted] 20 [/inserted] 5
On one such trip the pilot on being told to restart the feathered engine touched the wrong switch and stopped the second.
The aircraft immediately lost height rapidly and belly flopped on the ground. Luckily both CO and pilot was unhurst, [sic] however the Dakota came to a rest in the centre of a native village with both wing tips and nose situated very near to a basher hut.
If one had tried to lower it into that position it would have been rather difficult. The final twist to the story is that a flying horse [deleted] which [/deleted] was the village’s lucky mascot and when they saw the one on either side of the aircraft they thought it was a lucky omen.
We never did learn as to what grading the pilot licence the CO issued to the [deleted] person [/deleted] [inserted] PILOT [/inserted] concerned.
[inserted] [indecipherable word] [/inserted] When one left England one was given a repatriation number. As the months went by my own number got nearer and nearer.
Mid June arrived and one of my colleagues came rushing into our billet and said he had just come from the orderly room when he discovered that the next list had arrived and both our names were included, the result was that we almost danced with joy.
It was an exciting time during the next few days. My last day arrived before proceeding to the transit camp in Rangoon so I decided to make my last visit to Mingladon [sic] Airfield. As I linked up with my working gang they were about to finish work for the day. Before leaving the aircraft that they were working on they, as we always had to, put the covers over the engines as the cowlings had been removed.
I duly remarked to them that the last thing I would do to help before leaving was to cover up the engines and went up the platform steps placed under one of the engines and as I reached up to throw the cover over the engine my foot slipped and knocked the front of my leg on one of the steps.
Although it was a rather painful experience, I did not worry too much at the time, However that evening I gradually deteriorated and as the night wore on I was perspiring profusely, feeling sick and dizzy and going hot and cold.
I though [sic] that I had caught malaria and next morning I could hardly walk on my leg and limped out of the billet and up onto the lorry that took us daily to the airfields. I told the lorry to stop as it passed the RAF hospital on its journey and limped into sick quarters and reported sick. A little later I was seen by the Medical Officer and next thing I knew was being admitted into hospital. As a result of a blood infection, for the next few days I had 100,000 units of pencillin [sic] injected into my bottom every day at 4 hourly intervals.
[page break]
[inserted] 206 [/inserted]
On each of these 4 hours night and day the [inserted] nurse [/inserted] came along, lifted my mosquito net and punctured by [sic] rear end.
To my concern and consternation and grief I regret the few of my colleagues of the squadron who were due to go home to England with me came in to wish me good-bye. When I was finally discharged I returned to my billet and found empty spaces in the room.
I then reported to the squadron’s orderly room and demanded to know whether having missed my ship out of Rangoon my name could be put down for the very next one.
Much to my consternation I was informed the Squadron was due to be disbanded and that the aircraft and personnel had been posted to various parts of India. Also that I was, with a number of others and one aircraft had been posted to Bombay.
I became right agitated and in no uncertain terms stated that I should really be on my way home and it was somewhat rediculous [sic] that I had to go all the way to Bombay and immediately leave the squadron that I had been posted to.
I was informed that the next troopship to leave Rangoon was to be the last one and that all places had been allocated. I was told there was nothing I could do, but after more insistence on my part I received confirmation that the orderly sergeant would place my situation before our squadron movement officer.
I returned to my billet duly dejected. Next morning I was told to report to the orderly officer and I was informed that they had managed to arrange for me to travel on the last boat leaving Rangoon direct to England. I was told to pack my kit and proceed next day to 27 PTC Rangoon Transit Camp.
I was there for the next 9 days, finally on 29 July after a trip down Rangoon River in a landing craft in pouring monsoon rain, I found myself walking up a gangplank of a troopship with my kit bag loaded over my shoulder and said hello to SS Carthage 5000 tons.
However there was a difference this time insomuch it was the first time that I knew which country the journey would end, Dear Old Blighty.
We sailed at 4.00 pm after lifeboat drill and I watched the receding coatline [sic] of the Ranoon [sic] area and so it was goodbye to Burma with 1400 Army and 1000 RAF personnel on board.
Life aboard was very much the same as described previously although not quite such a rigid programme.
July 30th. Food very good. Run into a storm during evening, I noted the boat rock a bit. 290 miles covered to noon.
July 31st. When sailing across the Indian Ocean the weather became very rough indeed. So much so during the afternoon I was sea sick for the very first time in my life. I along with the majority on board felt really dreadful and did not care if the ship had sunk.
By early evening I was feeling my usual bright self once more and went and drew the evening meal for the 14 who sat at our mess table to eat. On that occasion only 4 of us turned up to partake of same. 397 miles covered to noon, it was so warm I slept on deck.
[page break]
[inserted] 207 [/inserted]
August 1. We arrived off the coast of East Ceylon early afternoon and reduced speed by half, 359 miles covered.
August 2. We sailed into Columbo harbour and dropped anchor (lost it) at 8 pm. Weather was fine and we were 8o North of the Equator. 214 miles covered. The harbour was full of ships of different sizes and shapes. Total miles covered since leaving Burma 1,260. The ship sailed at 4.20 pm from the coconut tree lined bay that surrounded us.
Next day we ran into a few storms but it was the first night for months when we observed a sky full of stars. Another 305 miles covered up until noon.
We passed an island 450 miles out and were told that it was the last land we should see during the next 5 days.
August 4. Another 400 miles to noon. I was appointed mess orderly for the day and we watched an ENSA concert in the evening.
August 5. 357 miles. I played bridge at evening.
August 6. 361 miles. Later that day we started [inserted] to [/inserted] run into another gale.
August 7. Everything was tied down and stowed away ready for another big storm that hit us at 4 am whilst I was asleep. However it did not slow us up as we had covered 374 miles that day up until 12 noon.
August 8. Passed the Rock of Aden at 6 am and entered the Red Sea later when the sea became calmed once more. 392 miles covered to noon. The Straights were 13 miles wide and we were then 100 miles distant from Abysinia.
August 9. We passed by [inserted] a [/inserted] volcanic island and it was hellish hot and like a furnace below decks where I was on duty. During the day when I was able to get up on the deck and get fresh air for short while, I found the dolphins were swimming and jumping out of the water near to us. That evening we had a similar show up on the open deck.
August 10. My last day on duty. We passed a large coral reef and later an island named after the first man to fly [underlined] Niosus [/underlined] [inserted] ? [/inserted] in the old Greek legend when the sun melted his wings. [inserted] 10C [/inserted]
August 9th. We sailed passed the Brother Islands at dusk.
August 11th. Passed Mt Sini early morning which was 26 miles inland, it was the site where God gave Moses the 10 Commandments. The ship docked outside Port Suez at Noon and a Dutch boat was anchored nearby.
A large amount of [deleted] pardoning [/deleted] [inserted] BARGAINING [/inserted] took place with the local natives that came out to us in small boats in respect of purchases of leather goods etc.
We also watched 48 RAF colleagues disembark who had been posted to units in the Middle East. I noted that it was a glorious sunset that evening.
[page break]
[inserted] 208 [/inserted]
August 12th. We sailed once more at 3 am in the morning and when I arose later, went up on deck, we were sailing in the greater of the bitter lakes. Just off Kabrit which I knew very well and mentioned earlier in my story.
There was an Italian battleship still anchored in the lake after 2 3/4 years, however we noted that it had steam up so it must have been about to move for the first time after such a long period at anchor.
As we neared the end of the Suez Canal passing by Ismailia and onto Port Said, I saw scenery that I had seen twice before on my way to Syria and on my way back going to Corsica.
We were told that the cost of our troopship passing through the Suez Canal was £3,000 and this was some 44 years ago.
It was then out into the Mediterranean (yet another trip for me).
August 12th found us sailing along the Egyptian coast with no land in [deleted] site [/deleted] [inserted] SIGHT [/inserted] 330 miles covered to noon.
August 13th. No land for 200 miles in either direction. The ship passed between Malta and Scicily [sic] late at night. We did very well that day with yet another 420 miles covered to noon.
August 14th. Passed the Island of Panterllieria early morning [deleted] the [/deleted] Bone at 10 am and bone at 3 pm followed by Phillipville 9 pm. These 3 sites are of course in North Africa.
Of course the other major difference with this sailing from all the others was that there was no blackout to contend with and this applied to the islands and coastline that we passed during the hours of darkness. To us it was like passing fairyland once more.
August 15th found us off Algiers at 7 am, it was very misty at the time, later that day we were at the point approximately 50 miles north of Oran. We watched another beautiful sunset with the fiery ball of th [sic] sun falling behind a mountain range of South East Spain. During that day instructions were received by the Captain to proceed to Tilbury instead of docking at Southampton.
August 16th. We passed near to the Rock of Gibraltar at 6 am, the ship was in the Straights when I arose and went up on deck. We sailed by Cape Cadiz and Cape Trafalgar in the morning and near to Portugal at Cape St Vincent during the afternoon and off Lisbon just before midnight.
August 17th. The early risers saw the town of Oporto (home of port wine) on the starboard side. It was also at that time very cold and the sea was rough. At teatime having passed off Cape Finisterre we entered the Bay of Biscay.
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[inserted] 209 [/inserted]
August 18th. We drew arms from the ship’s armoury. There was no rush for ice drinks due to the temperature drop for the first time for almost 3 weeks. Out of the Bay of Biscay at 2 pm and later off an island near the Brest Penisular, [sic] finally that day off Cherbourg at 8 pm.
August 19th. We sited [sic] the White Cliffs of Dover and the Harbour on the Portside. When I went up on deck, a great cheer went up from us all who observed this [deleted] site [/deleted] [inserted] SIGHT [/inserted] that we had waited years to see once again. Even though it was rather misty and to us very cold after being used to the tropical heat for such a long period of time.
Later we changed from Khaki to the heavier Royal Air Force blue uniform and we watched as we passed the Channel forts in the Thames estuary. We had a glimpse of Southend Pier at 12.30 pm and finally docked at Tilbury docks later that afternoon having sailed 7,407 sea miles.
In due course I went feeling very light footed down the gangplank and at long last stepped foot again on dear old English soil after a period of 3 years and 35 days.
This is where my story comes to an end. [inserted] I [/inserted] Thank God for watching over me during all my travels and think of those who had not been so fortunate and who [deleted] I [/deleted] [inserted] ARE [/inserted] buried in graves all around the World.
“THERE [inserted] BUT [/inserted] FOR THE GRACE OF GOD [deleted] GO [/deleted] [inserted] LAY [/inserted] I”
[page break]
Although my trip to Siam, French Indo China and Hong Kong was cancelled at the last moment I thought you might like to see a few photographs of the first two named countries so I have included a few on the following pages.
[page break]
[underlined] SAIGON [/underlined] (FRENCH INDO CHINA).
[three photographs of buildings and streets in Saigon]
[page break]
[inserted] 200D [/inserted]
[underlined] GENERAL VIEWS OF SAIGON [/underlined]
[four photographs of views of Saigon]
[page break]
[underlined] GENERAL VIEWS OF SAIGON [/underlined]
[four photographs of areas in Saigon]
[inserted] 200f [/inserted]
[underlined] BANCOCK – SIAM [/underlined]
[photograph taken from aircraft]
[underlined] AIRFIELD [/underlined]
[photograph of bazaar]
[underlined] BAZAAR. [/underlined]
[page break]
[inserted] 200 [symbol] [/inserted]
[photograph of Japanese prisoners of war working on the railroad]



Raymond Barrett, “My overseas service by Raymond Barrett,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed November 30, 2023,

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