|Paul Roberts, written in 2004 - released to the RDHS in January 2006 - publication agreed in November 2007
Air Crash - Paul Roberts
THE CRASH AT SINGAPORE: 26th March 1946
Frank Ayscough, our Captain, went home on demob. This left us without a Skipper. Other crew members were also going home to be demobbed. A crew was made up under Flight Lieutenant Rogers, nicknamed as are all those named Rogers - 'Bunny Rogers'.
Our crew was now made up of Dave Evans, our navigator, now a Flying Officer; Wilf our WOP, Darkie Taylor our 1st Pilot; like me Flight Sergeants; and a Scot, a Sergeant, who joined us as 2nd Pilot; being a 3rd Pilot previously. Another WOP who joined us when Tass went home. Ginger, the Flight Engineer, joined us when Jimmy went home. Ginger and our WOM were also Flight Sergeants. I cannot remember who our WOM was, except that he came from Bournemouth. We lived together, flew together and Messed together so that we only used our Christian names. Even to other crew members. When many years later I read the Squadron report their full names meant nothing to me. Sunderland crews were cohesive.
Our last flight with Frank was Local Flying on the 1st of February at 10.15 hours take off, for 1 hour 30 minute flight. Our first flight with Fl/Lt Rogers and Sqd/Ldr Redrup was on 27th of February for 2 hours 10 minutes. It was Local Flying and Landing or Circuits and Bumps as it was called. This familiarised Bunny with the Sunderland as trainee Captain. As with all first time flights with a new Captain learning to land and take off; beneath the bonhomie it was the usual nerve wracking affair.
Our next flight was on the 18th of March when at 11.00 hours we had a 40-minute meteorological and air test. Another name for 'circuits and bumps'. Then on the 19th at 06.40 hours we went out on an ASR (Air Sea Rescue). This lasted 2 hours 15 minutes. Then at 13.15 hours we had to go out again on the same mission that lasted 5 hours 15 minutes. On neither flight did we find any wreckage. I cannot even remember what we were searching for.
Several years ago an aircraft flying from Northern Ireland with VIPs aboard crashed into the Mull of Kintyre. (Ten years ago to be exact as I write this paragraph) The Pilot was blamed. Similarly train disasters these past years have been blamed on the drivers or signalmen. At the back of my mind there grew the belief that they always blame the workers, never the management. After all those years the engine problems of that Sunderland have gradually surfaced in my mind. As I write in the 'Introduction'. Sunderlands were the only aircraft that we ever flew in, though some had experienced the lesser 'Catalina'. We were instructed and we carried out those instructions. We could not argue with an instructor, nor could we transfer to another RAF aircraft. Especially we engineers, we knew no other instructions or methods. It came to me only as I reread the first few pages of this story; if you were crashing or forced landing cut of the petrol supply by closing the main fuel cock. This applied if the engines cut out. Petrol could run inside the wings and into the flight deck from broken fuel pipes. We were crashing so Ginger closed the main valve.
2. THE CRASH, CAUSE AND WHAT HAPPENED
Finally on the 25th of March at 23.00 hours (all times GMT) we flew out of Kia-Tak to Singapore. The night flight took 10 hours 10 minutes to Seletar. Seletar was on the northern shore of Singapore Island and east of the Causeway.
We were to fly back overnight to Kia-Tak with passengers. I think that it was about 2300 hours the motor boat came alongside with the two Captains and also the passengers. Or the Captains came first to inform us to get ready to receive the passengers and get ready for take off. Fl/Lt. Rogers came to me and said look after the passengers and check them on board. Why he chose me I do not know.
I cannot recall all the passengers. The RAF Police checked them on the landing stage; one passenger turned up drunk and the RAF Police Sergeant refused to let him go aboard. He called on the RAF Police Sergeant a couple of days later and thanked him for not letting him fly that night. He said that the shock of what could have happened to him had made him vow never to touch another drop of alcohol ever; and he had kept to his vow since the crash?
There was a Brigadier and several civilians. Also two Canadian interpreters. They were Japanese Canadians. In the USA people of Japanese origin were very severely restricted during the War. How they were treated in Canada I do not know. I believe they had been interned but were released and used as interpreters. Very few British could speak Japanese indeed any Asian language at all, so they were very useful and essential in the Far East War and the post war period.
As they came aboard I placed them in the Wardroom and then went to take the two remaining passengers (White, British) into the rear compartment. 'Bunny' called me over and whispered that the Canadians had to go to the rear. I was loading passengers as they entered the boat, not sorting them out, racially or otherwise. I whispered to the Canadians to follow me, as they were not allocated the Wardroom. I apologised to them but they smiled and told me not to worry, as they understood and it had happened before. It was not my fault. This act actually saved their lives, which would have been otherwise had they remained in the Wardroom. (Pardon me my smirk at holding early racial equality ideas and putting them into practice). It was quite a full load of humans on the boat. (At this point I now wonder what happened to their luggage; or did they have any?)With everyone settled I went up on the flight deck and stood alongside Ginger, who was on the panel for take off. With me stood Wilf. We stood between the cross frames in the Engineers part. Darky, Scotty, the 2nd pilot and the WOM stood in the Galley. Because of the crowd in the wardroom we on the flight deck had to wear our Mae Wests. Normally we did not wear them but lay them handy, even leaving them in the wardroom. The two Captains laid theirs across the back of their seats to give them unrestricted movement on the controls. Down below in the Galley they did not wear theirs; I do not know if the passengers had Mae Wests or not.
The engines were started and run up; two of those in the Galley went to slip the moorings. We taxied out to the flight path. This was lighted by floating lights, anchored to the channel bed. The lights operated from a battery. At Koggala and at Kia-Tak natives would go out at night in a boat and steal the batteries, but this did not seem to be a problem at Singapore.
I jumped the cross spar, stood on it and unscrewed the primer pump for the starboard engine. This was on the roof frame below the Astrodome. You could prime the engines and use a starter button. Nothing happened. (This only comes back to me as I write this; though I always remember my actions).
The Captains turned to port lifting the dead starboard wing. They opened the engines to full throttle by going through the gate. The deafening roar of the two engines on full throttle was so enormous it filled everything. Their roar was like an enormous black bag enveloping us. This manoeuvre should have held us up. I believe that the weight on full tanks and passengers proved too much dead weight. The manoeuvre failed. Had we been higher then we could have pushed out the pipes in the bomb bay and drained off the fuel and kept the boat light. One reason we did not have parachutes was that they were the first things to be thrown out to lighten the load. Apart from what good was it to come down by parachute out in mid-ocean?
Suddenly the dead wing of the aircraft dropped. I received an alarming sensation, one never experienced before or since. It seemed as if the bottom of my world disappeared, below me was a void. It was nothing like falling. The whole sensation was in my stomach, it was this feeling in my stomach that sent warnings to my brain. I have always believed that it must be the final sensation a person feels as he is hung. It was nothing like falling from a ladder. I rapidly screwed down the primer pumps as we were instructed otherwise fuel would come up and out of them. I jumped down to our engineer's side, flung myself flat on my back, braced my feet against the cross frame, bent my legs, placed my hands joined together behind my head which with my neck I lifted off the floor and waited. Wilf seeing me followed suit. Ginger did the same only bending over with his elbows on the panel.
A sea-going tug was entering the Straits towing a floating dock to the Naval Base, its lights rippling across the water. Both Captains saw the rippling water and hauled with all their strength on the controls. This caused the boat at the last moment to flatten out; the action saved all of us. There was a harsh grating noise. It crushed the lower deck. The Sunderland bounced up into the night sky some 200 feet and then came down.
I remember the grating noise, then came total quiet. I lay on the floor all was quiet and very peaceful - suddenly something twitched my nose; it was water. I was standing up on the flight deck with water up to my chin. In the gloomy roof light I looked at Ginger and Wilf, like me they expressed bewilderment
3. THE ESCAPE
On the two previous accidents. The first when we landed on a mooring buoy that had broken adrift in the gale and the second was when the float was knocked off when we hit the thirteen foot shipping buoy at the end of the fairway. Both on Cromarty Firth. I had noted how long it took for everyone to get out through the astro-dome onto the wings. I realise now that none ever had occasion to get out. We had only one practice at Alness on the Sunderland in a Hanger.
I used the astro-dome exit every time we flew. As the second engineer I had the task of climbing out onto the wings and checking the content of the ten petrol tanks using the long dip-stick. I was used to climbing up and out, none of the other crew members ever had occasion to climb up and get onto the wings.
When the float was knocked off on the second accident on Cromarty Firth I went out and straight up the port wing with the engines still running, the angle was less than 45 degrees with no handholds and sat on the wing tip. My weight (9 stone and a couple of pounds in those days) was enough to balance the boat until the others struggled to get out and climbed up to me on the wing tip. My action prevented the Sunderland turning turtle. I resolved then that if it ever occurred again I would go out through the 'oven door' onto the balcony in the bomb-bay, into the mid-upper turret and out that turret's escape hatch. This was filed away into the recesses of my mind that night sitting on that wing tip watching the others trying jump up and get out.
There was a dim light from the roof light. I turned to face the rear and the scene changed. It was a bright scene - I stood looking in at Mum, Dad and Stuart. Dad and Mum were sitting either side of the fireplace. Dad reading the newspaper and Mum knitting and reading a book. Stuart sat by the door reading a comic, his elbows resting on the table and his chin in his hands. I could see the pattern of the wallpaper. I was not outside the window or inside but part of it. I put my hands out to touch them but they kept on reading and did not see me.
As suddenly as it started the scene changed; it was dark and gloomy. I was back on the flight deck. My outstretched hand was under the water and on the handle of the oven door. I turned the handle pulled open the door, ducked and went out. Ginger followed and then Wilf. Wilf and I had been together nearly two years from when we first arrived at Alness through all the changes of Captains. It was to be the last thing we did together in this world.
As I came up though the oven door I looked up and was in some kind of tunnel. Above me I could see the sky. I grasped the sides of the tunnel; it was the frame of the boat and pulling with my hands commenced to climb to the top of the water. This I reached. As I emerged I saw in the light of flares the tail end of the Sunderland floating like a ghost. Only my head and shoulders were above the water.
Forty years later it came to me that I could not have climbed up to the top of the water. Yet I have a small scar on the palm of my left hand caused by being cut by the jagged metal as I climbed up. It was one of those flashes of the accident that occur suddenly for no reason.
The front part of the Sunderland was going down by the nose. As I came through the oven door she tilted, her nose going down and she started to sink. I did not climb up, the Sunderland was going down leaving me in the water; it appeared to me that I was moving up. The sides of the bomb bay must have been crushed inwards when the tail broke off giving the appearance of a tunnel to me. This is the only explanation that I can come too.When the Sunderland hit the water the two Captains were hurled like bullets head first though the front windscreen. This was some ¼ inch thick Perspex. Had they has their Mae Wests on they would have jammed in the window frame. I think that Bunny broke his shoulder or arm. Redrup had a piece gouged out of one cheek of his bum about the size of a half crown. Many were injured and killed but his was the most embarrassing injury of all. But it was very painful and caused him very great discomfort. In the tropics gangrene easily set into wounds.
Wilf was caught halfway out of the Oven door and went down with the boat. Likewise Dave the Navigator was half out of the Astrodome; he went down with the boat. The 2nd Pilot, Scottie, also went down with the boat. None of them could swim. We that could swim got out and survived, we had the instinct. Those who could not swim had no instinct and could not struggle to survive.
Ginger appeared about as far off as the other side of the road. Over on the right I heard Rogers call out to come over quickly, as there was petrol and the danger of fire and we must keep together. Ginger also called out. But I would not cross the wreckage; I also feared petrol going up. The petrol was pouring up from the sinking and damaged petrol tanks; we had ten of them, five in each wing. Some 2,000 gallons of high-octane petrol.
We carried smoke and flame floats. These had burst open on the crash and were the cause of the smoky and illuminated scene. They were about 18 inches long and some 7½ inches in circumference. A ring pull on the top opened them and the seawater mixing with the chemical inside caused a smoke or fire reaction. Out at sea one of those floats would be thrown overboard. Smoke in daylight, flame at night. The rear gunner would sight onto one and take a reading against the fore and aft line of the aircraft. The Navigator would then work out our drift and the direction and speed of the wind.
A sort of fine net curtain appeared; it was a strange illuminated white affair. I believe it was fumes from the petrol. Ginger was in the middle of it. Suddenly the whole was a curtain of fire. This spread rapidly. Ginger screamed. Rogers, Redrup. Darkie and the WOM, none of whom had their Mae Wests on dived under the flames as they spread in their direction. Not having their Mae Wests on saved them. His Mae West trapped Ginger. I back peddled in my Mae West away, then turned and swam away from Ginger who continued screaming - it was a terrible high pitched scream. He never stopped screaming as I swam away from him.
Suddenly I thought of my new watch that I had bought in Ceylon. I tried to see if it was still going and that the water had not stopped it. But the light from the fires was not bright enough. I tried to listen to its ticking but Ginger's screaming prevented me from hearing its ticking. He never stopped screaming as he burnt to death.
Some years later locally a mother killed her baby. Her defence was that it would not stop crying. All condemned her. Yet somewhere inside me I could reach out to the woman; I could vaguely understand her feelings. Her baby would not stop crying; Ginger would not stop screaming. Like me her situation left her paralysed, we both were helpless - the crying and the screaming took over. It smothered our helplessness. But now I realise that when Ginger shouted to me he was warning me to get away and of the petrol spreading round him. Being told in the Mess later that he had cut the main petrol feed causing the crash I took it that was what he was saying. He was not - I have believed the false lies about the cause until now!
I suddenly thought that if I swam with my left hand out of the water and pushed with my right arm I could keep my watch out of the water. The flames spread along the surface towards me. I then swam with one long stroke of my right arm and a quick stroke with my left arm. But the progress was slow and the fire spread rapidly towards me. At last I gave up and thought that perhaps it was a waterproof watch. I turned on my back kicking off my shoes and socks and swam backstroke. As a method it has always been my best swimming stroke.
We had been told that Barracudas were in the waters but there were no sharks. Barracudas would take a bite out of you. I decided that my kicking on backstroke would keep them off. I swam on; they were the lesser of the other evils at that moment.
There was silence; Ginger had stopped screaming. I carried on swimming away from the approaching burning petrol. When they recovered Ginger's body he was completely unharmed below the part which had been in the water. His shoulders were burnt and his head was cindered and unrecognisable.
I swam on, how far I have no idea. I believe now that I was swimming against the current or tide. This was why the fire spread to the others. At last I was sufficiently ahead of the fire to stop and take a breath. In front of me in the darkness was one of the Canadians. When the tail broke off they had been sleeping on the two rear bunks and had floated out of the Sunderland. They woke up very surprised.
"Help me", he gasped. I turned him on his back and grasping his collar pulled him along swimming half on my back and half stroking with my left hand the water. We made very slow progress. The Ring of Fire drew closer. I was telling this to another airman some years ago and he said that the Ring of Fire would only have been about a few inches high. I snapped back that the Ring of Fire seemed like the Great Wall of China to me with only my head above the water line.
At last I could go no further, I was exhausted and stopped. As I released my hold on the Canadian he drifted away on the tide or current. "Don't let me go, please", he cried out. I struggled to grasp him and he reached out to me, but the current took him away faster than I could reach him. He seemed to slowly disappear into the enveloping darkness. Crying out "Help me, don't let me go". He disappeared into the darkness; his hand outstretched to me was my last living memory of him. I could hear him call out, his cry getting less and less. "Help me", "Help me".
The fire grew closer. I turned away and swam on my back as fast as I could. How far I swam - a mile - a hundred yards I have no idea, I just kept on going.
At last I could go no further; I turned and faced the fire as it came up to me. I raised my arms above me head to fight it. We faced each other and I started to bring down my arms - the fire went dead. I was alone; no sound, total silence and darkness.
The sea was a dark navy blue. The sky a little lighter. I floated on my back supported by my Mae West. It was total bliss. Even now I remember that total silence and peace and the lovely dark blue covering. I still think of that as the most peaceful moment of my life. I did not think how I got there, or how I would get out and when. I just lay back and was at total peace with the world.
4. THE RESCUE
Suddenly the silence was broken. I heard a voice call out "There's one". A powerful light flashed across the water. I turned round the light blinding me and then behind it I could make out the prow of a lifeboat. It was white and I noted that it was clinker built. The scene is one shown many times these past years in films such as Titanic on the screen and TV. A few years ago one film had a similar scene and I found myself huddled and cringing in my arm chair. The angle of the shot in the film of the lifeboat was the exact angle of the scene in the Straits when the lifeboat came to pick me up. In my sub-conscious that scene is forever imprinted.
The sea-going Tug towing the floating dock to the naval base witnessing the crash heaved too and put out a lifeboat. This was coming towards me. They manoeuvred alongside me and one man leaned over to grab me. I put up my arms, but bobbing in the swell we missed each other. They brought the boat round again and the man again leaned over. We missed but by leaning further out he managed to grab me by my hair. I came out of the water wriggling like a fish hooked. Pulled up by my hair.
When half of me was over the side they grabbed my shorts and pulled me right in. Out of the corner of my eye I noted that I was just missing a rowlock. The man who grabbed me was held by his trousers top by another man himself. It flashed in my mind that he could fall out of his trousers. It is amazing the irrelevant and somewhat silly thoughts that flash through the mind in moments of crisis.
I was then dragged over the top, my belly and legs scraping the top of the boat. They dropped me in the bottom and continued looking for the others. Coming out of the water wriggling like a fish they knew that I was unhurt and sound in wind and limb.
I sat on my haunches in the bottom, panting. My scalp tingled and I patted my hair down. As I did so I thought that it was a good job it was not my Dad, as they could not have pulled him out by his hair. At that thought I burst out sobbing uncontrollably. When we lived in the old house in Hill Street and I was about three years old, it was before Stuart was born; Dad would sit me on his knee and jog me. I would pat his head. My Dad jogging me on his knee all those years before when I was very young was the memory that flooded over me. Like all Roberts he was very thin on top. Though in fact he had fair hair, which at that time I also had. He appeared bald. As suddenly as I started sobbing I stopped; I have never cried since.
It is believed that in moments of extreme crisis ones past flashes by; it is partly true. Not the whole of ones past, but a most important and memorable moment of that past. A moment, forgotten over the years, yet lies deep in the subconscious, waiting for an extreme crisis. Bouncing and playing with my Dad on his knee when about three years old was then the most important event in my life. It was when I emerged from being a baby into childhood; the conscious world of knowing that I had loving, caring parents. Sitting in that boat, having been hauled out of the sea and surviving the crash was my Second Coming.
I got up and sat on the seat of the boat. They came across another person. I heard one say, "Get the boat hook". This was produced and the next person was pulled out and laid in the boat. It was the Canadian. He seemed dead and it occurred to me to try artificial respiration. I had only seen this done on films. I turned him over and tried respiration. But it was to no avail. Perhaps he was already dead or perhaps I failed though lack of knowledge. In any event I feel that I failed him twice.
They continued the search and another person was picked up. He came and sat next to me - it was Darkie. (We called him Darkie because he was a swarthy Londoner and always needed to shave twice a day). I said, "Wilf never made it". He said neither did Scottie or Dave. We sat in silence holding hands. My wetness made me itch. I wriggled and my foot touched the dead Canadian. I jumped and cried out "Oh". As I did so it flashed in my mind that my feet were cold and his body was still warm. I gingerly touched him again with my foot, and could feel the warmth of his body on my cold feet. I put both my feet on him and in the flesh of the small of his back wriggled my toes in delight. The warmth of his dead body seeping into my cold feet. I nudged Darkie and said, "Put your feet on him. He is still warm". Darkie did and said, "You're right he is warm, this is alright". We sat comfortable and holding hands.
When later I wrote home about the crash on reading that my Dad said to my Mother "don't you ever worry about Paul in the future? He will always get through".
The boat continued the search for the others; bodies were recovered. We faced the stem and in front of us was the engine housing. I looked over the cover and a dark mass of bodies lay silent. I looked in the bows and Rogers, Redrup and another sat in a huddle. I remember how pathetic they looked.
I believe the Captain of the sea-going Tug was also the sailor in charge of the lifeboat. When all possible were picked up the lifeboat captain said to Rogers that he would call in about the crash and inform them that he had survivors. Rogers called me over to his part and said "You go with him Paul and assist him. I am unable too".
We came alongside the Tug, behind it in the darkness loomed the great hulk of the Floating dock. It looked weird. I followed the Captain up the side of the tug and to the wireless set on the Bridge. He called up someone or station. He told them the situation and they requested details. I had to tell them our flight was to Hong Kong and the Sunderland's number. They told him to proceed with us to Seleter where we would be received; they would inform Seleter of the situation.
As we turned to return to the lifeboat I took off my watch and said to the Captain, "I think it is still working, please take this for rescuing me". Why I did that I do not know to this day; yet it was a spontaneous reaction on my part. The Captain looked at me and said, "Alright, thanks".
Steadily the lifeboat sailed on up the Straights and reached Seleter base. RAF Police and ambulances were waiting.
5. AFTER THE RESCUE
Those in the bows were lifted out and they were laid on the ground. Rogers called me over and said "Paul assist with identifying them for me, I have to go into hospital now". The passengers were carefully lifted out. How I helped I cannot remember, but I seemed to recall names from the loading list.
There was a noise from the bottom of the boat - a sort of groan. The RAF Police Sergeant and me peered down and said to each other that there is one more down in the bottom. I recalled his name and said, "It is Major etc". I forget his actual surname after all these years. From the dark depths came one word from that lifeless form. "Brigadier". It was like hearing a voice from the grave. I suddenly corrected myself and said to the RAF Police Sergeant "Sorry, he is Brigadier etc."
It was said that nearly every bone in his body was broken. It took a long time lifting him out. We laid him down on the ground but he would not be moved into an ambulance. He kept mumbling something. The RAF Police Sergeant and I put our ears to his lips; with a puzzled expression we looked at each other and said, "He says hat".
I took a torch and peered into the bottom of the lifeboat. There lay a battered old army officer's hat. We handed it to him and carefully placed his hands on the hat. We dare not bend his fingers. Somehow he held the hat to his body and murmured something. He was lifted up and into the ambulance. I never saw him again or learnt if he survived.
Some years later I was telling this to my cousin Stan Rice. Stan served over four years with the 8th Army in Egypt and Italy. The name, he said, was familiar. They had an officer with them who was famous for going into battle wearing a very old officer's hat. Stan said that the name I gave was familiar to him. Stan said there could only be one officer like that.
All were now loaded into the ambulances and they drove away. The RAF Police got in their vehicle and drove off. Barefooted and bedraggled in just shorts and shirt I stood alone on the jetty like some Robinson Crusoe figure.
The road from the jetty curved up a slope and went into a forest. As it went to enter the forest the Police vehicle stopped. It turned round and came back down the slope where it stopped. The RAF Sergeant got out and went inside their hut. A light came on. I saw him on the phone. Then the light went out. The Sergeant got into the vehicle drove down and stopped by me.
Winding down his window and looking at me he said, "Of course there's you isn't there - Mmm". Even now I wonder whether I should have apologised for surviving. "Get in" he said "Well take you and get you sorted out".
We drove in the dark, where and for how long I do not know. Eventually we came to the entrance to the Services hospital. The Sergeant said, "Go in there, they will sort you out". I opened the car door, climbed out, shut the door and they immediately drove off without a ''Goodnight''.
I walked into the entrance and went to the desk. I said to the orderly whose head was bent over and he was writing that I was from the crash. Go and sit down there he said without looking up, someone will attend to you. After some time a RAF Nursing Matron came to me. Imperiously she said, "Follow me, we will look for a bed for you". I followed her. We went into the first Ward, but that was full, they had no spare bed. We went to a second ward; it was a similar story. I began to feel tears in my eyes.
Walking to the third ward Matron bent a little; putting an arm on my shoulder she said in a kindly but still firm voice "We shall find you a bed". Those few words dried my eyes; I knew I was in good hands. In the third ward the Sister in Charge said that she was also full; as we turned to leave she remembered that there was a spare camp bed. Sister and Matron went into a storeroom rummaged round and came out with a camp bed.
The Matron and Sister went back into the Ward and Sister pointed out a space between two beds where a camp bed could be fitted. She said that a bed would be available in a couple of days. Matron leaving the Ward turned and smiled at me and said in a kind voice "You will be alright now" and walked out of the Ward. I can recall nothing about the Matron, small or tall or anything about her, only her action. At my lowest point she was there.
The Sister put up the camp bed. I had only the clothes I stood in. She also was very sympathetic and found me pyjamas, soap and a towel. I had a quick swill; after all I was not really dirty, smelly perhaps! I changed into the pyjamas (British flannelette) and got into the camp bed. Sister took my shorts, pants and shirt away, holding them at arm length. Dawn was breaking; It had been my 'Longest Day'. I slept for some 26 hours in a solid sleep. At one stage the doctor was sent for to examine me as they feared that I had died in my sleep.
All this has gradually come back to me as I have sat for some years listening to the whinging about waiting time in the Health Service. It gradually came to me they have nothing to whinge about in this country; they should have had my experience.
A few days later two RAF officers visited me; they were conducting an initial enquiry. One officer was from our Squadron. I explained that which I give above. They asked me only one question "Were we carrying any meat, like a leg of pork". I said "No". They departed.
During my stay I visited the other surviving crew members. We chatted and the time passed pleasantly; nothing was ever raised about what happened or those we missed most. I did say to Darkie Taylor that I had been asked about carrying meat. He said that they had been asked that question. It was concluded that it was not a leg of meat but the thigh of Dave, our Navigator. It was all they recovered of him
When it came time to leave I went round and said "Goodbye", we all shook hands. All of them being older than me and injured were being sent back home. Flt/Lt. Rogers asked me to call back and he again shook my hand and thanked me for all the assistance that I had given and help to him as a disabled Captain. He told me that he had recommended me for a Medal. I never received a medal.
Several years ago I swam at the Rushden Baths in the early morning. I became friendly with another swimmer who had been a naval officer on ships in the Pacific. We exchanged reminiscences. I told him of my affair and that I had the print out of the Squadron report. He said that he knew one of the officers. I loaned him the report. He was a little embarrassed that his friend whilst interested in his report could see no reason for our meeting.
I realise as I write that the friend he knew was one of the enquiry officers compiling the report. They had me listed as missing but no name was given. I remain unlisted and unknown. My chance to be a very minor footnote to the history of RAF in WW2 was denied me. It must have come as a shock to him and I wonder if he became apprehensive about anything after all those years?
In the tropics a bruise often goes inwards to the bone it does not come outward. This turns infectious; gangrene can set in which was the worry of Sqd/Ldr Redrupp. Many of the beds in those wards were occupied by service men that had been kicked whilst playing football and had infectious wounds as a result. Football is a game I dislike; I have only seen one game since leaving school.
6. The Return to Hong Kong - The last flight in a Sunderland Flying Boat
With another RAF man about my age we looked round Singapore. I remember looking at the famous Raffles Hotel, yet I cannot think what I did during those days. Each day I returned to the hospital.
The return flight was very boring. I sat all the time in the Wardroom as the sole passenger. It was to be my last air flight in a Sunderland; the first was on the 13-7-44. Apart from a flight in a Tiger Moth at Sywell whilst in the ATC and then on Avro Ansons at Gunnery school at RAF Pembrey, South Wales in the spring of 1944; I flew on no other aircraft, then or since. I reflect now that I, like all the others, was selected for Sunderlands. We were trained for them and had that special ability required of flying them. In a way flying a Sunderland was the equivalent to sailing a ship, but in the air.
Though I asked for further flights on return to the Squadron and Wing Commander Ogle-Skan promised me further flights. Flying a Sunderland was drawing to a close with the ending of the war and the first year of peace.
I was greeted cautiously in the Mess on return. There was no conversation. It had been the biggest disaster, I believe, in the Squadron. A few weeks later we held a Mess night in our Sergeant's Mess; Ogle-Skan and the officers were invited.
Before they arrived I had a few drinks; it was 'shorts' at that time; beer was still one bottle per man per month. I went up to Ogle-Skan and told him what I thought of him and his bloody RAF for sending men up in aircraft unworthy of flight, of keeping aircraft not fit for flight. There was total silence in that crowded room! I put a dampener on the rest of the Mess evening!
Ogle-Skan, the old time RAF flyer, laughed and slapping me on the back said "have a drink on me and serve everyone else a drink barman". I drank a generous drink. I remember little else of the evening. No one spoke to me for several days. Gradually things returned to normal in the Mess.
One thing I learnt from that evening was to never drink too much in company; drink at home if you want to empty the bottle. On both of my parents' side, the Watts and the Roberts we tell people the truth about themselves; we do not need drink to help us?
I had written home that I was going down to Singapore and they received my letter. Dad and Mum together with their friends Herbert Abbot and his wife Lizzie ran the Friday evening Whist Drive for the Raunds Labour Party. Dad and Herbert were old friends from their youth. Both played cricket in Raunds Cricket Club and were keen card players. Mum and Lizzie would scheme a little margarine from the weekly ration and make little cakes to sell during the interval.
The local newspaper, the 'Evening Telegraph' was on the bar (soft drink only). Lizzie read the paper and commented that it said that a Sunderland had crashed at Singapore. They knew that I was going to Singapore. That so upset Mum that she had to go home.
A few days later they received the letter from the Air Ministry stating that I was 'Missing'. This had a dreadful effect on them. Then a couple of days later they received a letter from me that I wrote immediately I arrived back at Kia-Tak. I told nothing of the accident; so they assumed that the letter from the Air Ministry was an error, and wrote to me.
I then wrote back that it was true and telling them that I was the only survivor uninjured. All this then dashed their hopes about the error from the Ministry; every emotion was stretched almost to breaking point. I had to tell them because all through flying they knew of but had never met, Dave or Wilf or any of the others. It was like writing to them about the family; my Sunderland family.
I always drove in my cars at miles per gallon and at cruising revs. The RAF taught me well. I drove at work an old Bedford lorry. One afternoon as I was returning to Finedon and was in the long line of traffic coming from the Steel works at Corby on the 3pm shift change. It was before the A43 was modernized. Going up the hill from Stanion to Geddington the head gasket blew. The cab and lorry was filled with white steam.
I automatically steered the lorry onto the grass verge. With my left hand I put it into neutral and grabbed my bag with my flask in it. At the same time with my right hand I slipped the lorry brake on and opened the door - rolling out onto the grass verge; I then came upright standing. It was perfect ditching drill. The lorry rolled on for another dozen yards. After forty years the old instinct was still there. The traffic came to a crawl; they had never witnessed such an action before.
I am glad to take the opportunity to write all this down. Each part I remember at odd times - but never before have I put it all together. Neither before have I asked questions and tried to answer those questions. One thing has remained with me. When I wake up and get out of bed I always know that it is the 27th of March. It is easy to think 'If only'; such as why did I not grab hold of Wilf or hold on to the Canadian. And was the wall of fire so menacing? But it is no use saying 'If only I had...', I did not; I dealt with each passing second as it came along.
I commenced this on the 22nd of May 2004. It is now the 9th of July 2004. Some days I have written a page, others days a paragraph. Some days I could only re-read what I had written. Once started, page or paragraph, it flows out of me; now and again with rather moist eyes.
Paul Roberts - 1623639 - RAFVR