Home Town: Hartney, Manitoba Conflict: World War II Branch:
[...] and they were very interesting because these Burmese people had no idea who we were. [...] most of us took every chance we had to go out and visit these people and try and introduce ourselves.
Ken Mitchell served with 436 Transport Squadron in Burma as ground crew.
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[Serving in India and Burma with the Royal Canadian Air Force.]
At that particular time, we were transferred over to England, at that time, 165 became known as 436 Transport Squadron. And then from there, end up from there we went down to India and Burma but that’s where we transferred from 165 to 436. Canadian [No.] 164 Squadron was based out in Halifax and they looked after the eastern part of Canada and they went overseas, they become 435 squadron. And both squadrons ended up down in India and Burma.
We were pretty well told that we’d be going to other places in probably Southeast Asia command but we didn’t know for sure just where but I think every person had no doubt at all that that’s where we were going and we wanted to go because we volunteered to go. And the flying itself, we had Japanese flying in there as well which was a darn nuisance. The food was dehydrated mutton and dehydrated everything. Health reasons, we had malaria, which I’ve had, and also dysentery, which I picked up. That was something normal for anybody going down to that area. They gave us […] pills to take the ease off malaria. You still got malaria but not to the great extent. And I think that was about the big disease. The timing down there was all work and flight crews went out with the aircraft on a sortie, they’d come back and they had work to be done on the aircraft. We all jumped in together and did the work, did the repair.
And we all had tents and tents in a monsoon, we’d go through two tents and cause so much rain and mildew and so on. So that was our conditions we lived in as far as living conditions. But the monsoons, when you get 40, 50 inches of rain a month, that’s a lot of water.
That was one of the big things there that, well, we couldn’t do anything about it, we had to do the sorties when we could and we were there to move things along and we always did the best we could as far as putting up with the weather and food and so on.
[…] We had a DC3 aircraft [the Douglas DC-3 transport aircraft, also known as the C-47 Skytrain, the military variant of the DC-3] and at that time, the maintenance was the regular DI checks at night after they were finished sorties, any repair work, any engine change, things like that, tire changes, any repair work, any kind of overhaul, things that were called for that particular aircraft at that particular time.
[Working on aircraft maintenance.]
Again, if it was raining, say we had an engine repair, we had a tent we could put over the engine and work under the tent, to keep dry. Outside that, all the work we’d do, we’d have to pretty well do it when it came. In the monsoons, most of the time, the aircraft were grounded on account of so much rain. No, the maintenance down there, I think they did very good. I look back now I think we did very good under the circumstances, we kept the aircraft flying, that’s for sure.
Whenever the aircraft was […] back on the ground, you had to be available to do the repair or do the checks on it. It didn’t matter if it was morning, noon or night. We didn’t get too many days off because there’d be certain days that we had nothing to do but stay in a wet tent. But we had no complete shift you’d say day or night, just whenever the aircraft was there, we had to do whatever had to be done at any time.
[On the Japanese.]
Well, the Japanese, they were always [present] most of the time. Of course, their idea was to prevent us from flying in [DZ, the Drop Zone] and dropping supplies. I take my hat off to the Japanese, they’re pretty daring. Of course again, they committed suicide. But no, they were a nuisance but I wouldn’t hand it to them. Actually, the army was a great help in there. The [Allied] army down there, they really went through a lot more than people realize they went through.
[With the 436 Transport Squadron.]
Well, the commission for 436 [Transport Squadron] was carrying over supplies and drawing what they called DZ zones and do a free drop or likewise, they would drop a different Indian soldiers on parachute in free drops over the DZ zones. The DZ zones were more or less as you realized, were […] amongst the jungle and different landing areas.
You had to go in very low, several times the ground crew would be asked to go in as, as jump masters on the aircraft. And the reason that we’d have to do it is a lot of these Indian soldiers, they’d freeze when they’d get to the door, so we’d have to push them out , so they could drop in the DZ zone. And likewise, our job, if you went out on one of those missions was shove the food out, is wrapped in hay or on parachute down to the DZ zone. That was more or less a volunteer what we did to help the crews out.
[On casualties, illness and the Burmese people.]
We had no known casualties other than sickness, which was the main thing there. Which was a good thing. But different squadrons I think had different casualties but we didn’t have a casualty as such. In Burma in particular, we’d go out to, we’d be [going] to some of those native’s huts, to see what kind of living conditions there were, and they were very interesting because these Burmese people had no idea who we were. And that as very interesting. Actually speaking I think, most of us took every chance we had to go out and visit these people and try and introduce ourselves.
Well, I think the main difference there was that, how can I put it, they didn’t realize how the rest of the world was living. You know, they didn’t realize things that we had that they didn’t have. So you talk about something, they wouldn’t realize, well, what is that. It was an education for them as well as for ourselves.
I think a lot of fault down there at that time, they didn’t know, probably they were under the British rule more or so but they didn’t realize, of course again, they never had an opportunity to realize. So I think [some of us] being down there, were given the opportunity to try and explain to them, you know, how the rest of the world lived.
It was a real shock. I remember one incident, we went out there, we were having a native wedding and they were all sitting around a circle in front of the grass huts, they would pass around a mug of goat milk. And the idea was that, it would come to you, you’re supposed to take a sip of this goat milk, as part of their ceremony. Of course, we held it to our lips but we didn’t sup it because on the count of dysentery. But again, to them, it never affected them. We were always warned, don’t drink or eat anything that you weren’t sure where it came from in the first place.
With dysentery, you had to watch what you ate. Mind you, the cooks down there, they did everything the best that they possibly could. The kitchens were all outside and everything was outside mostly, so we had to watch the food and the water. I think we tried to say, okay, the cook and people understood this and they did the best they could but we were all aware of dysentery in particular. Because dysentery you got down there was a bit different than we had up here, that’s for sure.