Veteran Stories:
John Cairns

Air Force

  • A letter of appreciation that John Cairns received from the British Air Ministry in 1946.

    John Cairns
  • John Cairns wrote this humorous article for the RAF newspaper "The Oasis" while stationed in Burma in 1944.

    John Cairns
  • A Montreal newspaper article announcing John Cairns graduating class in 1942.

    John Cairns
  • 62 Squadron sets up camp in Akyab, Burma, as the British Army advances on retreating Japanese troops in 1945.

    John Cairns
  • John Cairns' record of service, 1956.

    John Cairns
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"Everybody was just sitting tensely waiting for more planes to come back from the supply drops and six of them didn’t come back."

Transcript

Then they asked for volunteers for the Far East and myself, and quite a number of Canadians who were on our squadron, RCAF [Royal Canadian Air Force] attached to the RAF, [Royal Air Force] volunteered. So, we sailed out. We were nearly sunk by a submarine on our way out to South Africa, then up to India, about four months in India and then we were transferred to the Burma [now Myanmar] front. And I was transferred then to Comilla, [in eastern Bangladesh] which was a British RAF Squadron [No.] 62 Transport Command, and their role in radar was very important. Their role was to provide support, supplies, equipment to massive guerrilla groups working behind the Japanese lines in Burma. The Japanese controlled the main cities, but not the rural areas, and there were large British, American and Chinese guerrilla forces. And by large, I mean they could be 1000 or 2000 people in a group. And they were entirely supplied by air through radar codes and radar signals they sent up. And everything was dropped to them by parachute. So, I was very, very involved in that area. Technically, I was in ground crew. In practice, I actually flew on a quite a number of those flights out into various centres in rural Burma.

The first place was [No.] 62 Squadron in Comilla, which is down sort of in the far eastern corner of India very close to the border of Burma, and it was just a whole series of tents. And everything was in a tent. The airfield itself, I don’t think it was even paved. It was just a great, big, flat field where the planes could land and take off. But it wasn’t highly sophisticated. Then, as the Japanese were driven slowly back into, well they never broke really into India though they almost did on one major occasion, but as they, Japanese were driven back, we moved further south to a place called Agartala, [Tripura, India] and then Cox’s Bazar, [Bangladesh]. That was right on the very, very edge and then we were up in Imphal, [Manipur, India] where the Japanese almost broke through. They were up in the hills and they were trapped by the monsoon and their supplies ran out. And there were dead Japanese corpses all up in the hills and the mountains around Imphal. It was quite an extraordinary time.

One of our greatest pleasures was listening to Tokyo Rose. She was the Japanese-American who did all the propaganda broadcasting for the Japanese government: war. And we would all sit there and listen. Each big tent had one radio supplied to it and we would all switch on to Tokyo Rose and listen and laugh like mad at her grotesque picture of all the wonderful things the Japanese were doing. It was really absurd.

I have quite a few memories as we went down to Akyab, [now Sittwe] and that is on the Burma coast; it’s quite away down towards Rangoon [now Yangoon]. And we built everything by hand, put up all the tents and all that ourselves. And all around there, there were old burned-out Japanese tanks, planes, Japanese defence areas, et cetera. That was very, very interesting. I’ve always remembered that.

And well, there were a lot of those types of memories, you know, where we went. I remember when I was in Imphal, after the monsoon had come, the Japanese were, their troops were just marooned and they died because they couldn’t get their supplies through the monsoon and the roads had collapsed and everything. Several times I and a couple of my friends would hike up through the mountains, a couple of thousand feet, and there would be Japanese corpses and old guns and weapons lying on the ground, just rusting away. Quite extraordinary.

In Burma, we had some of these terrible monsoon rains and sometimes almost cyclones. I have never forgotten the day we were working with this group of twelve planes went out to drop supplies to these guerrilla groups and only six of them came back. The other [six] weren’t shot down by the Japanese, they were just caught in torrential downpours and hurricanes and crashed and everybody died. You just couldn’t believe it. Everybody was just sitting tensely waiting for more planes to come back from the supply drops and six of them didn’t come back.

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