Veteran Stories:
Walt Lemessurier

Air Force

  • Walt Lemessurier, 22, in London, England, while on leave from Burma.

    Walt Lemessurier
  • Walt Lemessurier's RAF Service and Release Book.

    Walt Lemessurier
  • Walt Lemessurier's RAF Service and Release Book.

    Walt Lemessurier
  • WAG (Wireless Air Gunner) Wings to be worn on the RAF uniform.

    Walt Lemessurier
  • Warrant Officer 1st Class (WO1) Pin, worn on the uniform, the identified Walt Lemessurier's rank.

    Walt Lemessurier
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"I was the only Newfoundlander at the Japanese surrender."

Transcript

I always wanted to fly and I didn’t know how I was ever going to get to fly. But when I was in school, the war broke out and that gave me the chance to do what I wanted to do. And adventure, I suppose. Some people say "King and country", but I think for Newfoundlanders, I think it was adventure. We were doing the army support, like if [British Field Marshal] General [William] Slim wanted say, would say take the big thing, they wanted something big. We towed out the gliders and brought these guys out to where they wanted them, and we released the glider; and the glider came down. He had his tractor, small tractor or guns, or whatever you wanted, and we dropped them paratroopers, dropped them in there like that. We looked after fellows that were behind the Jap lines; and we had to go in and go in, and look after them with different things. And that’s the way we spent the war. There was three of us. I was the wireless air gunner. If we got lost or anything like that, I could bring the aircraft home quite simply by contacting base, pressing my key, they’d pick up the signal and they’d come back and say, steer 120 to breeze and take it right back home ̶ if anything happened to the navigator. In our squadron, because it was air army support, we had certain guns, certain aircraft with guns on them, which was for the different trips and that. Some of our trips were easy, and some were mad. Especially in the, when you’re flying in the monsoon weather, that is very, very, very, very bad. We lost a lot of aircraft that went through weather. Six months after the war, we were actually going to see Squadron Leader Bristow, who was our commanding officer; and he surprised us by saying that we were chosen for the, with this request: And we said, what’s that? He said that we’d like for you to sign on for an extra six months of peace time flying. So we talked about it, and we said, what are our duties? They said, to go from India to China and pick up all the Allied big shots and take them to Rangoon for the signing of the Japanese surrender. And anything else? He said, yes; he said, we want you to go around picking up prisoners of war and taking them back from anywhere in Southeast Asia, back to India. That’s the reason why I was the only Newfoundlander at the Japanese surrender. Nobody else. I wasn’t at the surrender. I was, I’m not sure, but I think I was in the Shwedagon Pagoda. But obviously, I was the only Newfoundlander in Rangoon, [where they] signed the Japanese surrender. After the war, we were taking back 22 prisoners of war who had been in Japanese concentration camps for four to five years, and had two old ladies out in the back, sitting down. We were coming across from, we landed in Rangoon, and on the way back to take them to hospital in India; and we landed at Rangoon and got some gas, and we took off and went up. When we got over into India, our starboard motor cut out at 10,000, 12,000 feet. There was too many people aboard to, we couldn’t hold up and we were going down to so many hundred feet a minute; and when we got down about 3,000 feet, everything had to go overboard, except the people. We had to throw all, what’s on board overboard. Everything we had, everything they had had to go; and then the doors had to be dropped off and then the [ceiling] astrodome had to be dropped off, in case there was any survivors, they needed a place to get out. The women were going everywhere. When we were going down and that, they were scared to death. So we sent an SOS; and there was some fighter aircraft around us at the time. They picked us up and they came along, and flew along with us and we were going down; and they were going down, but they were waving. It was an airlock [space between the two aircrafts’ doors with equalized pressure to permit emergency exits or the passage of supplies]. After we started changing over tanks, different tanks on the aircraft, it just happened that we flicked it over at the right time; and we cleared the airlock and she went off with a bang. And we went off, the poor old ladies were crying up in the back. They were frightened to death because it right by their backs was the starboard motor; and that’s the one that blew. But things like that happened, but lots of things happened.
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