Veteran Stories:
Thomas Skelton

Air Force

  • Thomas Skelton's RAF Signeler wings circa 1942

  • Thomas Skelton upon his enlistment in the Royal Air Force, 1940

  • On board the SS Narkunda on the way to Singapore in October 1940.

  • Upon flying over the Equator on the Qantas 'Cameronian flying-boat' December 27, 1941, Thomas Skelton received this document for "joining the band of progressive travelers who cross the line by air"

Enlarge Image
Listen to this story

"I'd never been in a parachute before, but all of a sudden I felt an awful big tug"


I enlisted in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve on the 12th of December, 1939, and went all through the war - six and a half years. I spent time flying against the Japanese in Burma, and we did several trips in there until about the 2nd of May in 1944 or '45. We were on our way to do a bombing raid on a Japanese supply depot, and we'd just crossed over the British main front line about a matter of maybe twenty minutes. There were nine of us: three in front, three behind, and three behind. And we were in the last one on the port side. All of a sudden, there was a massive black ball of smoke surrounding us. We'd been hit from the ground, and the pilot said to me, he says: "Tom..." (laughing) - mind you, we were flying over the jungle, all you could see down there was trees... like a carpet of trees - so he said to me: "Tom, bail out." So he had turned around a bit and was heading back, and I thought I'd wait a couple of minutes. At least I won't have to walk that far. He then told me to bail out, so I bailed out of the plane. I'd never been in a parachute before, but all of a sudden I felt an awful big tug. And there I was, swinging there in this parachute. And coming down was the most wonderful feeling I've ever had - coming down in that parachute. It was so interesting that I took my flying gloves off, I took a pen out of my pocket, and wrote down the time I bailed out of that plane on my sleeve. Then I was heading down to the jungle, wondering where the heck I was going down amongst those trees. And then I noticed... I saw a vacant spot not to far away, and there was a massive big tree in the middle of it. Now this tree had been dead for God knows how many years, and it had been battered by monsoon rains, and the sun, and everything else. All it was was a thirty foot mass of potential spears. I guided the chute over, and I eventually came down the side of that tree. I got caught in the tree, and I released myself from the parachute, pulled the parachute down just in case the Japanese saw me coming down and knew where to find me. And then I started looking for a way out of there, and it was a big problem because there were big hills all over the place. And then eventually, I heard somebody in English, so I took my revolver out and fired it a couple of times in the air. And they said: "Stay where you are. We'll find you." And then I waited and fired another two shots. And then a British soldier and a Gurkha soldier came and picked me up, and we started on our way back to the front line. When I got there, I was interviewed by an officer, and a Gurkha officer invited me to his tent. And he gave me a drink, and he said: "I had a dream that I was going to get a message from the sky." And he said: "Do you have it for me?" (laughing) And I said: "Well, I don't think so. I think... no." And then he said: "I really thought you were the man coming with it." So I said: "Look. Give me your name and address, and if I think of it, I'll write and tell you." Well, he's still waiting for it
Follow us