Groundcrew with a Fairey Battle I aircraft in a hangar at No.1 Bombing and Gunnery School, Royal Canadian Air Force, Jarvis, Ontario, July 1941. Leonard Baxter was among the aircrew trained at the No. 1 Bombing and Gunnery School.
Credit: Nicholas Morant / National Film Board / Library and Archives Canada / PA-185048.
"So the chances of survival were very good in a Wellington. I proved that by walking out, or swimming out, of two."
I did all my operations as a wireless operator. My first operations were actually with the [British] 8th Army being chased out of Burma by the Japanese when they invaded. They were getting short of supplies and what we were doing was running in supplies for them. It was the first thing we did. The squadron was [RAF No.] 214 Squadron and they called them the Federated Malaya State, that was the official name of the squadron.
There was the [Vickers] Wellington [long-range medium bomber], and then we went to our first real flying post and the operational training unit at [RAF] Lichfield we went to. We were introduced to the Wellington and the Wellington was a very fine aircraft. If you had to crash, it was a good one to crash in because it was made of, the frame was geodetic [intersecting curved basket-weave] construction and it absorbed much of the shock when you came down. So the chances of survival were very good in a Wellington. I proved that by walking out, or swimming out, of two.
The first one was on April the 4th in 1943. We crashed in the middle of the jungle. We got lost and our radio was not working ̶ I couldn’t get a signal through, or anything. And so we crashed in the jungle. We voted on it in democratic form; [laughs] and everybody voted to stay with the aircraft and take our chances on a forced landing or jump, one or the other. So everybody really voted for staying with the aircraft, which we did. And we came down between three great banyan trees. They made like a triangle and we fitted right into the middle of that triangle. And we got burned; our navigator had third degree burns. I didn’t have any burns, but I got out and ran along the top of the aircraft, onto the wing, and jumped into the jungle. And we had sort of cleared the jungle for a pathway through the brush and it looked like a bulldozer had gone through there.
But, anyway, I jumped down. I lost my shoe and my sock in the debris: all the radio equipment and everything else all came out and dropped off the walls as we crashed. When I pulled my foot free, I pulled off my sock and my boot. And I didn’t even notice it, everyone was just saying, get out of there, because the fire was going and then flashed through; and we knew it was not very long before it’s going to blow up.
So I ran along the wing and jumped in the jungle; and as I ran through the bush, I stood on a thorn and it went about half an inch into my heel, on my bare foot. And as we had landed quite close to an American [aero]drome [airfield] being built; it wasn’t in operation, but we didn’t know it was there. But they saw the flash and the fire when we hit. They were all over there inside of maybe 20 minutes, or something like that. And they took us back to their camp, etc.; I had the thorn pulled out of my foot because it started to throb. They got a pair of pliers and just pulled it out. It was about a half an inch in the bottom of my foot.
About three months later, we were on a bombing mission to Akyab in Burma. We could just see the outline of the coast as we were coming up to it. We were down low because we were going in on a low level bombing mission and we had to be down low because the bombs would just roll off, they wouldn’t go detonate. So what happened was that we lost the engine, you lose 1,000 feet almost before you can recover. So we were 500 feet too short. So we were right into the drink.
And we could see the shoreline. So we were concerned about becoming prisoner. But the wind was a south-north breeze and it took us away from Burma and towards the direction we wanted to go to get back home. So we just let it take us up there. So we went all the way up into the Delta of the Ganges. And there was a lot of little islands there; and we landed on one of the little islands. One’s called Haldi.
Well, it was monsoon time, so we had rough water every day almost. The thing is that in the monsoon time, it was a good feature for us because it gave us drinking water. We didn’t have any drinking water in the dinghy, except one little domestic hot water bottle that you put on your feet. That’s the only water we had. And we had five people in the dinghy and so that amount of water didn’t last very long. Seven days, we were in the dinghy. Almost to the exact hour, I think it’s, we calculated 168 hours.