B24 Liberator Bombers #99 Squadron over Burma, 1945
The Burma Bomber’s Reunion, Niagara Falls, Ontario
Sept. 29, 2003
The following article appeared in the London Free Press
following the Burma Bombers Association’s first reunion in August 1983.
FORGOTTEN WARRIORS REMEMBER
Jock McBride of Winnipeg, a 19-year-old only son, is a forgotten man – a Canadian youth killed in an American Liberator bomber on the last days of the British campaign against the Japanese, over, and in, the faraway jungles of Burma.
But on the weekend, Jock’s death on August 7/45 wasn’t forgotten by his crew-mates who were Canadian air crew, attached to the RAF, who met at the inaugural meeting of the Burma Bomber Association in London Ontario. A group of warriors who themselves are forgotten in the history books.
“Canadians accounted for about 75 percent of the RAF aircrew in Burma”, said a former bomber pilot Harry Bray of Vancouver. And he recalled the sad death of McBride after more than 300 hours of casualty free missions – on the last day the Japanese ‘fired at us in anger’.
“You can search Burma Command records and the fact I never mentioned that Canadians played such a healthy part in the Burma Campaign”, said Bray. Of the 1300 airmen in six squadrons, close to 1000 were Canadians assigned to the RAF. There were also some Canadian ground crew.
Bray said that the three day inaugural reunion, which he said evolved because of the drive of Les Barns of London, hopefully will be an annual event drawing former Burma Bombers from across North America and Britain. “A lot of us, after the war and said we didn’t want to have anything more to do with it…. We didn’t want to join the Legion – we wanted to be through with it. But you get to an age that all of a sudden mates start dropping off and you miss them, so you feel a need to get together.”
It was difficult to pin Bray and other crewmembers – Lloyd Fife of Ottawa; Earl McMillan of Winnipeg; Len McDonald of Kamloops – down to an interview because they kept wanting to include numerous other members of other crews attending the reunion. But when they did settle into talk about their part in the Second World War, they concentrated on that last day of hostilities when McBride as killed and how they weren’t sure they themselves would make it.
“Jock was killed over a place called Benkulen, Sumatra. We were after a Jap airstrip. They had some twin engine bombers - they thought they could mount a bombing raid on the Cocos Islands.” Bray said. The airstrip was 500 kilometres away from the Burma Bomber home base on the Cocos Islands. “We went in low level which we shouldn’t have. We had one of these new wonders from England, A Group Captain who thought he was still doing low level raids over the Netherlands. He put us in at 50 feet instead of up where we should have been – high level bombing.”
The lumbering Liberator was so slow we couldn’t locate the Japanese airstrip in the dense jungle, so Bray had to noisily criss-cross the area until it was found. “They heard us and had everything oiled up! They could have hit us with a sling-shot … all of a sudden they started putting fighters out. Being at tree to level we got heavily hammered. That was when Jock bought it.” Said Gunner Fife, “He never knew what hit him. I was at the nose gun in front of him … I had to crawl across the Navigator’s table to get to the nose gun … when we got hit I could hear Harry talking to the rest of the crew, I heard Harry say, ‘I guess Fife is gone too!”
----The Japanese fighter caught the Liberator from the rear and underneath. Harry was sprayed in the back with Liberator armour plate splinters and the entire instrument panel was destroyed by machine-gun fire – that was when they feared that they would not make it back across the Pacific to the Cocos Islands. Peter Hunting received the DFC for bringing the crew back to base. “When you are 900 miles from base, your Navigator dead, and your instruments shot away, you tend to worry,” said Fife. “Peter navigated us back home and Harry flew us … I’d say we were more than tense – we were scared!”
L Squadron Base – Cocos Is. in Indian Ocean
But hit the needle in the haystack they did even though one of the four engines caught fire – but luckily righted itself – and there was a fire stirring in the wireless room. But Hunting finally picked up a radio beam from Cocos base and that saved their skin.
The crew were never fired upon again, but they ran a number of missions dropping medical supplies and food to Allied Prisoners of War trapped in Japanese camps in Sumatra, Java, and North Singapore.
Those present lamented the absence of their Flight Engineer Alex McDougall who was killed last year (1980) in a tractor accident at Port Dalhousie, but his widow. Joyce, was invited and did attend.
The forgotten Burma Bombers don’t forget a detail of their unheralded part in the war and they don’t forget their own – dead or alive.
Letter (in part) from member Tom Cousins (wag) Kamloops, B.C.
Thank you for the Short Bursts. I never get tired of reading about days gone by. These stories about Bella Bella are excusable when you think about that station and its isolation.
My log book reminds me that I flew into Bella Bella the morning of 3/5/42 in Shark 520 with Pilot F/L Morris. We had picked up Shark #520 at the Repair Depot, Jerico Beach after it had been repaired. This was shortly after the wings had folded back on a Shark at (#6 BR Sqdrn.) Alliford Bay killing three.
He told me to put on my chest pack and we circled above English Bay, up, up, up. He then descended nose down and said, “if these wings are going to fold, they are going to do that today. Fortunately the tests were completed OK and the next morning we left for Bella Bella the next morning at 9:15. I remember going up to the Sgt.’s mess, having lunch and visiting with you. At 13:50 we left Bella Bella for home (7BR Squadron) Prince Rupert. ……..
Blackburn Shark 518 at Alliford Bay, 1940
[In the above letter Tom refers to the Shark 517 that had the wings fold back during a dive. Chris Weicht in his book Jerico Beach and the West Coast Flying Boat Stations gives a WAG’s eye witness report of this crash.]
The Shark was designed with dive-bombing capabilities, therefore this practice was a standard part of operational training. A 6 BR Sqdrn. WAG flew as crew in #517 while different Pilots practiced dive-bombing a small island, and he recorded the events that took the lives of his fellow airmen.
“Each Pilot had his own characteristics. F/L Ready had the gentlest dive and F/O Halpenny, a former bush pilot, the roughest. In one of F/O Halpenny’s dives he threw the plane into a 45 degree dive nearly throwing me out. I had to jam my feet into storage holes and grab the sides of the plane. As the dive settled down I relaxed and was nearly thrown out a second time as Halpenny threw the plane into a vertical dive so as not to overshoot the target. Then the pull out began. I was sitting on a little seat and was pressed down so hard it felt as though my stomach was flowing out onto my lap. Little did I know how close to death I was until the next day.
The next day I was putting on my parachute harness to go up with F/O Halpenny again. As I was getting ready my Signals Officer tapped me on the shoulder and said he was going up instead, and Richardson was going along for the ride. I took off my harness and went about my business.
Suddenly someone yelled out and I looked towards the bay. There was a great flame where the plane plunged in and I saw part of the plane still in the air. It looked like an aileron rolling and spiralling down.”
As Shark 517 had started to pull out of a full power vertical dive, the horrified observers saw the upper wing twist and break up, and the aircraft crash into the sea. The three Sqdrn members on board were the first airmen to lose their lives in a crash of an RCAF Shark.
Sharks #519 and #521 were immediately flown to No. 3 Repair Depot Vancouver where an inspection of the upper wing revealed rib buckling and main spar movement. The remainder of Alliford Bay’s Sharks were ferried to Vancouver for modification, leaving #6 BR Squadron with one aircraft on strength – a single Norseman Utility aircraft.
The decision to attach two-foot strengthening sections to the upper wing spars at the points where the interplane struts were joined to them, was time consuming. The wing had to be stripped, which meant a great deal of stitching, doping, and fabric work. Despite #3 RD personnel working three shifts and unusual amount of overtime, it was months before all Sharks were completed. The strengthened sections prevented any recurrence of the upper wing weakness, but never again were RCAF Sharks used as dive-bombers.
Tommy Taylor; Pat Miller (deceased); Tommy Cousins; John Moyles.
Winnipeg Reunion 1992 Shark men All!
Readers who want to read more about this event
might be interested in perusing
MY RECOLLECTION OF THE CRASH OF SHARK 517
by W. T. Graham
My next door neighbour, Bill Graham, and I
created this Web page for the Air Museum site awhile back.
Taken from the NEWS section of the Legion Magazine, November/December, 2001. #10 B&G at Mount Pleasant, PEI is where I took my Gunnery Training.
Although hard to imagine today amid the pastoral settings of this rural farming community around Summerside, PEI, Prince County was a main strategic zone for the Atlantic region during the war years, supporting four air installations of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.
One of these was #10 Bombing & Gunnery School at Mount Pleasant which, at the peak of it's wartime service, boasted paved runways; barracks that in 1944 housed about 1800 personnel; a firing range; a bus service; and a newspaper.
The other installations were at the now-closed Canadian Forces Base in Summerside, the emergency landing strip at Wellington and the radar base at Tignish.
All are gone now, and mostly forgotten. The former CFB Summerside has been closed and turned over to private industry. Nothing remains at Mount Pleasant, not even the huge concrete abutments filled with tons of sands required to absorb spent rounds that had been used on the firing range. A small abandoned hangar is the only building on the site, used in the past by a local flying club.
Personal memories of the Mount Pleasant airbase were not enough for some RCAF vets. Something needed to be done to honour and remember the 98 young airmen who died while stationed on PEI during the war, including the 22 who died while stationed at Mount Pleasant. Most of these deaths were the result of aircraft crashes, and a few were caused by ground accidents.
With the support of the City of Summerside, the RCAF Association, The Legion Branches in Summerside and Ellerslie, the PEI Government and the Canada Millennium Partnership Program, a monument was erected in Summerside's Memorial Square alongside the cenotaph.
The east side of the monument bears the names of the 44 who died while stationed Charlottetown. A picture of an Anson aircraft tops the list. On the west side, center, are the 22 who died while at Mount Pleasant, with a picture of a Bolingbroke on the top face. To the left are the 15 who died while at one of the units in Summerside, and a picture of a Harvard aircraft at the top, while the right side bears 17 names of those killed while serving in another Summerside units. There is a picture of an Anson on the top face.
Only three of the 98 airmen honoured on the monument are from PEI with 54 from other parts of Canada; 37 from the United Kingdom; two from the United States; one from Australia; and one from Ireland. Twenty five of the names listed on the monument have no known graves.
The official dedication and unveiling was Sept. 9th, 2000, complete with marching bands, the observance of two minutes' silence and an air force flypast of jet trainers. The message from Herb Gray, deputy Prime Minister and the minister responsible for the federal government's millennium initiative: 'The government is proud to be a supporter of the Memorial Monument in memory of 98 airmen who died while stationed on PEI, with a partial contribution of $4,760 through the Canada Millennium Partnership Program.'
Whatever the monument cost, the price was low compared to the government's initial outlay for the Mount Pleasant base alone. The site selected for the base was a well-elevated plateau overlooking the Northumberland Strait, chosen so that pilots could see the runways from a long distance. The government forked over $23,400 to purchase 12 farms in the area, then sank a further $3,329,362 to develop the airfield complete with runways, barracks and other buildings and services. Opened in June 1943 as a spare landing strip for those stationed in Summerside, the base served as #10 Bombing and Gunnery School and closed in June 1945.
Today the wind races unobstructed across farmers fields that were once airfield runways. A diversion road, constructed to facilitate the development of the airbase, still remains in use and is a reminder, along with the echoes of the past, of a once-thriving military community.
WE WILL REMEMBER THEM!
As a side note: It is interesting that our member #0254, Otto Sulek of Campbellford, ON who trained at #10 BGS and served in the UK as an Airgunner with #429 Squadron, and his wife Ollie are making the trip to Summerside on September 6th, 2003 to view this monument. Would you like to share the memories your visit may bring to light, Otto?
Northern Alberta Branch
The Greenwood family entertained the members at a chicken barbecue on the acreage of Gilbert Greenwood just west of Edmonton on Saturday August 9. It was a beautiful day and the event was attended by 49 members and wives/or guests. There was plenty to do during the afternoon, lawn bowling, horseshoes etc. or you could relax in the shade of a large tent with a cool drink. We all gathered at tables set up in one of the large out buildings for a feast of barbecued chicken and all the trimmings, hot and cold, washed down with wine and beer. A good time was had by all, indeed some of the members brought their RVs and stayed for the night.
The Barbecue was the idea of Ed Greenwood, a WAG with 86 Squadron RAF, and was held for a number of years at his farm on the Pembina River near Evansburg. After he passed away in 1994 his family decided to carry on the barbecues in his memory, they have always been a great success. The photographs show a general view of some of the members and wives relaxing in the tent and one of a group watching the chickens cook over what must be the biggest WOK in existence.
Svend Jensen (centre) is usually taking the picture – this time he got took!
Now that’s a WOK!
Northern Saskatchewan Branch
Smokie Robson reports that 20 members turned out to the August luncheon. Keep up the good attendance chaps.
Ted Hackett and Jack Davis
I received the following from my friend Jack Davis, a WAG with 429 Squadron RCAF and a former prisoner of war at Stalag IVB.
This memorial was unveiled at RAF Museum, Hendon, on May 14, 2003. The image chosen represents one airman on the death march of the winter of 1944-45. The programme states that this image encapsulates the spirit of the PoW to survive against the odds. As the Russians advanced from the east, the Germans forced the Allied PoWs out of the prison camps on foot, by train, ship and truck in sub-zero temperatures of a northern European winter with inadequate clothing, little food and water. Some PoWs walked for more than 500 miles and were on the road for many months. Hundreds died of exhaustion, starvation and disease. The memorial is dedicated to the memory of Prisoners of War of the Royal Air Force, Commonwealth and Allied Air Forces. The memorial was unveiled by HRH The Prince Philip.
Jack was under the impression that a mate of his from the camp was dead and he made an attempt to locate his relatives by putting a notice in the local paper. Imagine his surprise when he got a phone call from the "deceased", they met and had a great old reunion.
Death March 1944/45
NOW HEAR THIS!
Here is an opportunity for you chaps to dig through your memorabilia and help Karen Shopsowitz put together her documentary film, CANADA’S WAR.
Dear Mr. And Mrs. Moyles,
I'm a documentary film-maker and I'm writing to tell you about a project on which I'm currently working, and which I'm hoping you could let others know about through your "Short Bursts" publication.
"Canada's War: The Lost Colour Archives" looks at WWII from a Canadian perspective, using only colour film footage. In total, the project will entail three x one hour documentaries, which will be screened nationally on the CBC, in June, 2004, to coincide with the 60th anniversary of D-Day. The series is being produced by YAP Lost Archives Productions Inc./Yap Films Inc., a Toronto documentary production company.
Much of the footage we'll be using has been stored in archives across the country and around the world, largely unseen by the general public. We're also looking for films sitting in people's basements and attics -- reels of 16mm or 8mm colour film, shot from 1935 to 1949, which is why I'm approaching various associations and organizations.
We are, of course, eager to see footage shot overseas, but also here in Canada. Any footage from the war years might well be of interest to this project -- it could be shots of training exercises, footage of parades, sporting events during the war years between various military teams, the Royal Visit of 1939, holiday celebrations, street scenes and daily life, etc.... film that reflects this period of history, as long as it’s shot in colour!
We're also interested in letters, diaries, and other materials. Each of the films will use some of this material, as well as speeches from the period, to structure the narration. It's an interesting project in that we're not shooting any new material specifically for these three documentaries, but we are producing a DVD, in which interviews, photos, and other elements could be included.
It would be great if we could let your readership know about our project. I’d also love to talk to you about this in more detail; please feel free to call me on our toll-free number, at 1-866-927-3456, ext. 227 or e-mail me at email@example.com and kindly let me know a good time to call you.
Canada's War: The Lost Colour Archives
Email from W. J. Joyce in the UK
I've just by chance come across the June 2002 edition of short bursts (online). I was amazed to see an article about HK 788. I have been doing research on and off for the last 18 years regarding HK 788.
I still go to Botley cemetery to visit the crew & put a small bunch of flowers on the graves when the times right.
Crew of Lancaster HK 788 WS-E
Back Row - Sgt C.V. Higgins, WO2 H.A. Fisher, F/S W. Thomas, F/S K.C. Mousley
Front Row - F/S C.Mel. McMillian, F/O A.E. Jeffs, F/S G.J. Symonds
The reason I started looking into the crash in the 1st place was the fact that Gordon Symonds lived up the same road as me in Wantage. (Westhill) I lived at 13 he lived at 36. I'm to young to have known Gordon, but as a child I can just recall his mother & father.
Anyway it is always said that Gordon's father saw HK 788 fly over where he was working that night (Wantage flour mill on shift) & heard the explosion when they crashed. very sad. of course Wantage is only a short distance from Lyford where HK 788 crashed.
If I can cut a long story short for the moment, I notice you mention a report on the crash of HK788 is available. Well this I would truly like a copy of if it's anyway possible. I've tried all the channels here that I know of and they (RAF) will not issue me with a copy of the crash report they have well, apart from the very brief ones that are held at the museum at Hendon. Anyway if there's anyway you could let me have a copy I'd be most grateful.
Also I'm in contact with Clarence Higgins brother, he always told me he'd like to know anything I could find out, and of course I've always kept him informed.
Hope you can help
W J Joyce ~ 33 Mallard Way ~ Grove ~ nr Wantage ~ Oxfordshire ~ OX12 0QQ ~ England
P.S. I've moved from Westhill now (not far away mind) where Gordon lived, but my parents are still there.
(Ed. I do not have anymore information on crash of HK 788. If anyone has a copy of this report or further information not covered in June 2002 [see archives] newsletter, please contact Mr. Joyce.)
Thanks to the Northern Alberta Group for their report and to the other contributors.
At your monthly meetings don’t forget our benefactors who make this Web Page possible, the CATP Museum, Brandon, and our Web Master Bill Hillman (addresses on this page)
Most of us have been retired for 15 to 20 years and it is a proven fact that, if inflation runs at 4% for 15 years, one will require 80% more income at the end of 15 years to have the same buying power you had 15 years previous. That is the reason I have been working internet multi level marketing programs for the past 4 years.
I have come across a program that doesn’t cost anything, does not require any advertising, just word of mouth. This program was created as a direct/network marketing, home based business platform available at no financial risk to everyday Americans and Canadians. As it has just started I feel it has great potential. They are death on mass advertising to the point where they will not allow their Web Site URL to be given out unless requested. So if you are interested, contact me and I will send you the information.
|Just wanted to share with you my P/O Prune walking stick.
Prune stands on top with a supercilious grin on his face (although Prune was seldom displayed with a mouth).
The shaft holds some of his famous comments, e.g. “A good landing is one you can walk away from,” “Dinghy drill, that’s just for blokes who can’t swim,” “It's not low flying unless you wrap a clothes line around the undercarriage.”
Also the M.H.D.O.I.F. Medal.
If you don’t know this medal you are not a TEE EMM Prune fan.
Until October, keep well.
John and Doreene Moyles
Ste. 233 - 1060 Dorothy St.,
Regina, Sask. S4X 3C5 CANADA
Ph. (306) 949-6112
Southern Ontario Chapter
Royal Canadian Legion
Wilson Branch 527
948 Sheppard Avenue West
We meet the first Wednesday of each month at the Legion hall 1:00 pm.
No meetings July, August, September.
Ken Hill ~ President ~ 905.789.1912
Bill Cockburn ~ Secretary ~ 416.492.1024
Location - Royal Canadian Legion Br.#4 St. James Legion.
Date - Third Thursday of each month.
Time - Luncheon meeting (provide your own lunch).
Contact Member - Charlie Yule Ph. (204) 254-6264.
Location - Lynx Wing Ave. C North, Saskatoon.
Date - Third Monday of the month.
Time - Luncheon meetings.
Contact Member - C.A. "Smokey" Robson Ph. (306) 374-0547.
Northern Alberta Branch
Location - Norwood Branch 178, 11150 – 82 Street, Edmonton, AB
Date - The first Thursday of each month.
Time - 12:00 hours.
Contact Members - E. H. "Ted" Hackett (780)962-2904
or Sven Jensen (780)465-7344.
Location - Royal Canadian Legion #264
Date: Second Monday of each month.
Time - 11:30 hours.
Contact Member: Dave Biggs Ph: (403)236-7895
or Doug Penny Ph: (403)242-7048.
October meeting time moved to third Monday.
Also there are no meetings in July and August, however, a Barbecue is usually held at Larry Robinson's ranch in Okatoks during that time.
British Columbia Branch
Meeting time and local: 2nd Tuesday of each month at 11:30
send current information regarding
regular meeting places, dates, and Contact Members, to
John and Doreene Moyles,
Members are requested to send their experiences, articles, anecdotes, pictures, etc., to John Moyles and I will forward them to our Web Master in Brandon. Articles and Last Post items will be deleted from the page each month after the designated Member in each region has had an opportunity to copy the material for their Members. Notices of deceased Members are to be sent to Charlie Yule who is still our 'Keeper of the Rolls'. This is your SHORT BURSTS with no printing or mailing costs, and no deadlines! The Brandon Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum has agreed to host our AG page. However, as it costs the Museum $35.00 per month to maintain the Web Page, it is suggested that each Ex-AG group contribute periodic donations to the Museum to help off-set this expense, and to enhance the work they are doing. We thank our Web Master, Bill Hillman, for his volunteer time and expertise.
Donations can be made directly to:
Box 3, Grp. 520, RR5,
Brandon, MB R7A 5Y5
Phone: (204) 727-2444
Read Them All The Way Back To March 2001
BACK TO THE CATP MUSEUM CONTENTS PAGE
Visit Our WWII Nostalgia Online e-Zine
and Past Issues Archive at:
As You Were: Contents
Volunteer Webmaster: William G. Hillman
41 Kensington Crescent
Brandon, MB R7A 6M4
BILL & SUE-ON HILLMAN ECLECTIC STUDIO
© 2008 Bill Hillman and Ex-Air Gunners Association