Veteran Stories:
Sydney Phillips

Air Force

  • Sydney Phillips in his Royal Air Force uniform.

    Sydney Phillips
  • "BURMA. 1942-11-10. LOW LEVEL ATTACKS BY RAF BLENHEIM SQUADRONS. AIRCRAFT FROM NO. 60 SQUADRON LEVELLING OUT FOR THE "RUN IN" TO MAKE A MAST-HEAD ATTACK ON A JAPANESE COASTER OFF AKYAB. A SPRINKLING OF RAAF MEN SERVED WITH THIS SQUADRON. (AIR MINISTRY). (PHOTOGRAPH REPRODUCED IN OFFICIAL HISTORY VOLUME: RAAF 1939-42, PAGE 466)." Sydney Phillips crashed in a Bristol Blenheim before being taken prisoner.

    Australian War Memorial. Collection Photograph, ID number 128141. http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/128141
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"The first indication I had of trouble was I was sitting high up in my turret, and I saw “spleek” of water coming from our plane. I did not know what caused it. I still don’t know, whether it was armaments against us, or whether the pilot misjudged the height he was at, and we came tumbling down."

Transcript

I don’t know how many trips it took, but it wasn’t many, when we were destined to drop some bombs on Palermo Harbour [Sicily], where navy ships were being re-outfitted for a trip to North Africa. We approached it at low level, with our estimated arrival being 1:10, and we had just swung south, for about where we were, to make the run into the port. The first indication I had of trouble was I was sitting high up in my turret, and I saw “spleek” of water coming from our plane. I did not know what caused it. I still don’t know, whether it was armaments against us, or whether the pilot misjudged the height he was at, and we came tumbling down.

First we weren’t very far up, as we came tumbling down. Apparently, the plane broke on impact, just behind where I was sitting in the turret. And, issuing a “spleet” of expletives to myself, I pressed down with my left hand, and pressed the dead man’s lever, which was a system to override the pressures up in the turret that allowed you to come out of the turret. The only way you could get out, was to duck out.

I came to the surface, as did one petrol can, and my pilot’s hat. I don’t know how long I was there, but the bombs of the others, going off onshore, brought me to an alert state to know where I was. I turned around slowly, spotted the gas tank, tried to climb on it and couldn’t, realized I’d been hurt. So I just attached myself to it and waited for a rescue. That was not long in coming, and out came a rowboat, with several people in it, one of whom, as he leaned over, said to me in English, “You’re alright now.” And he explained that, he was now an American, having lived – born in Palermo, he was living in Philadelphia and he’d come home for a visit, and the war broke out and he couldn’t leave. But his heart was not in the airplane.

He took me to his own house on the terminal, which is […] then, called a civilian doctor, who came in, laced up my wrists which had been hurt, fed me coffee with cognac in it. When he was through, opened the door to the military and said, “Okay, they’re yours.” They took me to a hospital, where I was there overnight, I think, and then on a weary train journey to Servigliano [Italy], a prison camp, which I understand to this day has been preserved as a monument to Italian enterprise, in some sort of a tourist set up.

I was there for 18 months, all the time working with several people to try and arrange for escapes, which after 18 months and one night, when there was uncertainty in the air, lots of noise from the main tower, and the realization suddenly that the guard at the south wall was gone from his pedestal above the door. At which time we gathered nine of us in a hurry, and got out, right through the main entrance of the camp, where we started to walk. By morning time, we realized that nine people could not possibly be expected to survive without detection, so we split up, and I was left with a Sergeant Bob Belleville, and the second one was a pilot in the RAF, Bob White, who was an Englishman, but trained in Canada, and expected by his girlfriend to turn up, which I was confident he would, because I thought he had what they used to call moral fiber. It took us three months at that point, to work our way south to where we knew the Allies had landed and were working their way north. And the first night I was across the [Allied lines], the Canadian artist by the name of [Charles] Comfort, who said, when he met me, he said – looking at my dirty clothes – I was wearing pants – two pair of pants – because one pair had a seat and one pair didn’t. [He said,] he won’t forget me in a hurry, will he because, “my name is Comfort, and this is the first night you’ve had [comfort] in quite some time.”

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