Veteran Stories:
John Holland

Air Force

  • After returning home, John Holland was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service in Burma.

    John Holland
  • Airman display the unofficial emblem of 436 Squadron in Burma featuring an elephant on the crest.

    John Holland
  • John Holland's flight log showing the completion of his tour in Burma.

    John Holland
  • John Holland's area of operations during the war.

    John Holland
  • Dakota aircrew parachute much needed supplies to allied forces operating in the Burmese jungle.

    John Holland
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"But fortunately, it didn’t hit anybody; it blew up the generator for the wireless operator and it exploded but it was fortunately right behind my head but there was a firewall there."


They directed that we [436 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force] should go and change, converted to Transport Command. So we were directed to Leicester East [Royal] Air Force [station] in England for a conversion to DC-3s, to be prepared to go to India and Burma and support the [British] 14th Army in transport, with supplies and paratroops, etcetera. That was very interesting. We had some great tales to tell on that. We used to drop the supplies at night and both 435 and 436 Squadrons were two Canadian squadrons that were formed to take the place of three American C-46 squadrons that had been supporting the 14th Army.. And Chiang Kai-shek [China’s wartime leader and Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the Chinese theatre of operations], in early 1944, was being surrounded in Chongqing by the Japanese. And he called for the Americans to give him some air support. And so they pulled three squadrons of C-46s off the line, supporting the 14th Army.

That’s where they asked the Canadian government if we could supply two squadrons and that’s where we ended up. So we were up in Chaklala, which is the airport now at Islamabad in Pakistan. And it was necessary to get together from an adjutant point of view and a flying point of view to practice a lot of the things as a squadron, formation flying, paratroop dropping, supply dropping, glider towing and all in the routine that we would be doing when we got to the front.

At any rate, here we are now down in Akyab [now Sittwe, Myanmar] and one of the flights we had there was to Meiktila, one of the landing fields in the middle of Burma [which had been invaded by Japan in 1941]. And it was very upfront. As a matter of fact, the Japanese surrounded the airport at night and actually had some performances on the airport station and all the Allied forces had to collect into a close-knit group and be ready to fight if they were approached.

And in the morning, they pushed the [Japanese] back and we were able to land. But we were required to land from the north to the south, a north-south runway; they didn’t have two directions there, and there was a lake that approached on an angle from the north. So we were supposed to let down over the lake, make a 30-degree turn at the north end of the runway and land it. And when we took off, we took off the other way, flying north and once you’re airborne, turn left and climb up over this lake to avoid the ground fire.

Well, we’d done this many times but this particular time, we didn’t get turned fast enough and we got the machine gun fire right up the whole centre of the aircraft. But fortunately, it didn’t hit anybody; it blew up the generator for the wireless operator and it exploded but it was fortunately right behind my head but there was a firewall there. And we immediately went down low right over the lake and then lifted up and flew up as fast as we could. The only thing that was really damaged seriously was one of the 400-gallon gas tanks which was full and it was punctured but not with a flaming bullet, so it didn’t explode fortunately. And we got back safely.

And so that just showed you how close we were to enemy fire. We didn’t see any amount of Japanese fighter aircraft. Things were getting pretty tough in Japan and they had pulled back most of their air support to support their home islands.

There was one occasion early on in January [1945] when one of the dropping zones of the 435 Squadron was dropping at were attacked with the Japanese aircraft and three aircraft were shot down with some casualties. But that was early on, in January and we didn’t see much otherwise except a bit of ground fire. We were really lucky, most of us, we were flying by the seat of our pants for the most part and we could go on about, in different things. I remember going back one time when we were transporting 435 Squadron down in December of 1944, from the Pakistan area, up in Chaklala, Islamabad, on the return flight when we were empty, I said to the guys, you know, I’d like to see the Taj Mahal. And how about we go out by New Delhi and we’ll take a run in and take a look at the Taj Mahal because we might not have many more chances. So they were all for that.

So we went down and did a very low fly up the front of the Taj Mahal, somebody took a picture, it wasn’t me, out of the front of the aircraft. And then we went over to refuel at New Delhi [India] and I remember saying, when I called the flying control, I said, we’d like to come in, permission to land. And he said, what’s the reason for your trip? And I said, we just want to get something to eat. And that’s the sort of thing that we were able to do in those days and those places that you sure wouldn’t do in private commercial flying today.

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