Friday, 22 October 2010

Introduction - Part 6.

Sending a telegraph home was possible, there was a wooden hut on the roadside near the camp, inside was an operator of a morse set, you filled in a telegraph form, he would transmit the morse message, paid and that was it. Life carried on just as it had when I first arrived until mid November, a vapour trail was seen once a day, not one of our aircraft.  A few days later three Brewster Buffalo fighters arrived, they did not stay long before they flew away, if they had come to intercept what was flying over there was not much chance of that with another out of date aircraft. General Wavell who was in charge of Far East forces flew in one day in his Dakota aircraft, there was talk that if war broke out we would move into Thailand, but reports came that Japan was doing that already, we were only 24kms from the border with Thailand, Siam as it then was. The guessing and thinking ended on December the 8th, we were being attacked by Japanese forces. Our aircraft took off at 1am to attack Japanese forces in Thailand, they returned around 11am, at that time Bill and I looked up at aircraft noise, there was this large formation of 27 bombers flying our way, no sirens, must be ours, then the sirens went. It was a brilliant sunny day, looking up we could see the bombs glinting in the sun as they were released. Bill and I ran for the nearest hut with a blast wall round it and laid flat. Two Indian workers followed us, they were stuffing their clothing in their mouths and whimpering, as this wasn’t their war, then shrapnel tore into the shed above the blast wall, watching the amount of bombs from one aircraft we knew they were anti-personnel and large enough explosive ones to do the damage they required.

Only three of our aircraft were not destroyed, they flew off to Butterworth airfield. Our living accommodation was untouched as they were away from the hangars and runway. The fuel storage tanks were alight, widespread damage to stores, cookhouse and dining hall, there was no future for this station with no aircraft and no defenses.

Spies must be around the aircraft to arrive just after our aircraft had returned. Bill and I went to the dining hall, broken plates everywhere, the cook in charge said tinned food from now on, we cleaned a few tables but not a lot of diners turned up, most took their food back to the huts.

All native staff were gone, none returned the following day. The airmen were trying to sort out and salvage at their work places what they cold. We did get a visit from a single Japanese aircraft, no bombs dropped.

The East Surrey soldiers were having a fierce battle with the Japanese at Jitra. On the third day around 11am we were told to get our it and return to transport pick up area, Indian troops were taking up defensive positions to stop the Japanese, the camp was flat everywhere with no defences or trenches they had an impossible job, no aircraft, no guns, only rifles. Our transport arrived and we had to stand to take away as many as possible, no kit, if the airfield was in our troops hands, the vehicles would return to collect it, we were off to Butterworth.

The same conditions as before were at Butterworth, told to dig ourselves a trench outside our small 2 bed cabin near the beach where in better times you could spend 7 days leave here, sandy beaches, coconut palms, good food, nothing to do, music was played all day, what a change now.

The fighting was not going well for our troops, any resistance the Japanese took boats and landed behind the fighting, no British aircraft to help them was key to the Japanese success, there was no way to stop the Japanese advance. Two days later we set off again from Butterworth to an Army camp in the Cameroon Highlands, it had sparse buildings made of cement, outside taps, very basic, to us it looked more suitable for keeping domestic animals, pigs, goats etc, it rained regularly around 3pm, no wonder vegetables grew well in hot, humid, wet climate.

60 or so Gurkhas were also living here. Five days so called rest and we were off again, must say it was a relief to get away from the never ending sweaty humidity, we were told our destination was the RAF station, Ipoh. On arrival we were told to make ourselves comfortable as possible somewhere, there was not a lot of comfort there, it was a fighter station in complete ruins, about 20 of us had come here to help the existing men load spares and ammunition into the trucks to be taken to Ipoh station to be loaded into a train. Bill and I were taken to a shed, nearby another two at another shed, we were near the east end of the runway. It was not long before three Japanese fighters came low level strafing any target they wished, the perimeter fence was down in places so this way out was used before, between us we filled the truck and as it was off to unload, it was time to eat.

Made enquiries about food, it was self service, go to the ruined cook house and find something in a tin, the cooks were dead, someone doing the cooking tried to do a meal in the evening. Lunch was corned beef tinned butter, emergency biscuits, the same recipe as Nelson’s days, rock hard. Bill and I went back to where we were working, not far away was a small wooden bungalow standing on wooden piles, the accommodation was damaged and useless, underneath it was dry and fairly clean so we decided to live there while we were at Ipoh.

The loading continued for about five days during which we were paid constant visits by the fighters, we put as much distance between our loaded truck and us when they came.

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