When we got it back, you could actually see wrinkles on the back of the plane and the wings were pushed up and the whole plane was written off even though we managed to get it back.
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Well, starting with the declaration of war, I was at home when I heard it, and by that time we’d got conscription. So on my 20th birthday, that was November 1940, on my 20th birthday I registered for service, and months and months went by and I didn’t hear anything, so I went to inquire and they told me, “Well, you can’t join up because you’re in a reserved occupation as an engineering draughtsman.” And so I said, “Well nothing?” And he said, “Well, yes, only submarines and air crew.” So I turned down the submarines and that’s how I became air crew. And it also just explains why I was in the Royal Air Force [RAF] Volunteer Reserve, not just in the Royal Air Force. And then they didn’t call me up until April 1942.
To join up, all I had to do was walk across Regent’s Park and I joined up in the Lord’s Cricket Ground, which is just on the other side of Regent’s Park from where I was living in London. From there, they sent me to an elementary flying training school in Scotland and there they decided that I should be an air bomber. And then, from there, we went to Liverpool [England] and waited and had a troop ship on the HMS [actually RMS] Strathmore and was sent down to South Africa for training. In South Africa, I came top of the air schools and I was asked to stay on as an instructor. I opted not to do that, I opted to get commissioned straight away. And after a couple of weeks in a transit camp in Durban [South Africa], waiting for whatever disposition, all the rest of my course was sent overland right away up Africa to do their further training in the Middle East, but I waited another two weeks, and I was brought all the way home by ship through the Mediterranean, etc. And then they decided that we should be in Transport Command to tow gliders and so forth.
Now, at Arnhem [Netherlands], all our glider pilots were army pilots, but we lost all those, so we had the job of training up a lot of newly qualified pilots. They were given the option, either become glider pilots or you can go straight out to Burma [now known as Myanmar] with equivalent rank in the army. Or you can go down the coal mines. So the first lot were quite willing to become glider pilots. The last lot just thought it was better getting down in a coal mine.
Anyway, after that, as I say, during that time, I was sent to the parachutist training school in Ringway [in Greater Manchester], to become a sort of jumpmaster of paratroops. And that’s what I did. Throughout my career, although I was as an air bomber, I didn’t drop a bomb in anger anywhere. I only dropped two practice bombs. One was on a hotel in East London [also known as Buffalo City], South Africa and the other one was in someone’s backyard in Bristol [England]. And they were the only two bombs that landed as far as I could see on people. But they didn’t do any damage apparently.
Anyway, then we went out to Burma and although by the time I got there, early in, very early in 1945, the Japanese had been substantially defeated in the Battle of Imphal [March 8-July 3, 1944 in India] when they tried to get into India, but there were still a lot of them, just trying to get back the way they came in and down, down, coming south in Burma to go across into Siam [now Thailand], because they all came across that way in the first place. And I did 68 of these trips in Burma, not dropping paratroops, but dropping supplies and so forth.
Although the Japanese had been defeated in Imphal and they had no aircraft left to bother us, there were still a lot of them trying to get back, creating a lot of problems for our army. So we were dropping these troops, but our main problem was we, we did have about two of our planes shot down by a small arms fire, but our biggest problem was that we were flying right through the monsoon period. In the early days of the war in Burma I understand, they stopped fighting during the monsoon and all had a holiday or something. But we had to fly all the way through the monsoons and even right up to July, the month before the war finished. We lost three planes on our squadron, presumably due to the weather because they just never came back. So the monsoon was our biggest problem.
My pilot and I, we had also been flying along one day, not being out because of the war, just in our dropping spree, and I said to Bish, my pilot, “Cumulo-nim [cumulonimbus cloud] ahead.” It was accumulating and it was clouding. And he said, “We’ll just have a look.” And the next thing we knew, our plane was totally out of control, all the dials were flying around this way and then that way, and we just got thrown out of it completing a complete turn, a complete roll, and we got some wounded in the back, they were thrown all over the place. And when we eventually got this plane back, and I had to take it over, when we got it back, you could actually see wrinkles on the back of the plane and the wings were pushed up and the whole plane was written off even though we managed to get it back.
[Douglas DC-3] Dakotas, yes, yes, what a marvelously reliable plane, because they were limited and flying in particularly the bad weather out there, is that we had all the oxygen equipment had been taken out so we couldn’t climb up above it. And so we did most of our flying about six feet, just to get above short 6,000 feet. I mean Burma’s just two rivers and two mountain ranges, so you had to get over one mountain range and onto a river valley and then over another mountain range to another river valley. And then you went north or south, depending on where you were trying to drop your stuff.
Although the Japanese had been defeated substantially, there were still a lot of them left because there was no way of getting out. And so they were trying to make their way south. They’d taken over the whole of Burma in 1942. Within one year, they’d taken the whole of Burma. And then they waited through a monsoon before they invaded India. And that was their undoing because Admiral [of the Fleet Louis] Mountbatten had become supreme commander and by giving him several months to get everything in place they suffered a severe defeat. But as I say, they were still trying to get back and they were still making themselves a nuisance.
But our main, as far as us flyers, our main worry was flying through the monsoons, which hadn’t been done before, apparently, so I’m told. And we were losing planes fairly regularly. The nice thing about the Air Force is you didn’t see your dead. You knew that seven planes went out and only five came back and that’s all you knew. So what happened to them, we never knew. As I say, we lost three planes in July and the next month, the war was over. But there we are. And then we lost more planes just bringing out prisoners of war, when the war had finished.