- Contributed by
- Brighton CSV Media Clubhouse
- People in story:
- Fred Neale, Ron Read
- Location of story:
- Seletar in the Malay Straits, Sumatra, then Batavia, Java
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 27 September 2004
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In Seletar, I went back to my engines trade, looking after these old biplanes, the torpedoes bomber, called the vildebeest. They were already out dated. Anyway, I did routine work on them, such as running up the engines. We had the coolies to do the manual work. It was very hot, and I use to play tricks on coolies, they were Tamils. For example, I would start the engines full throttle while they were behind the plane holding the tail, their turbans would go flying off, along with their loin clothes! I use to go flying a lot, once with an Australian pilot, as mad as they come. He buzzed one of the Junks, the native trading ships, and we were up in front of commanding officer when we got back!
On the 8th December 1941, at the same time as Pearl Harbour was attacked, the Japs landed up North, so the squadrons went up country. We in Seletar had been bombed.
(Note: In January 1942, the two squadrons bombed Johore, a small town that had Japanese troop concentrations, for five consecutive nights. Also between the 23rd-26th January 1942, joint British squadrons air attacked Endea, a port where a main force of Jap ships and land forces had established a landing, with bombs. However, the Jap’s aircraft were far superior, our squadrons loss’s were heavy on its aircraft and gallant aircrews, these loss’s continuing past January 1942).
The Australians were coming down the peninsular, and being skirmished by the Japs. We were again heavily bombed, and so it was decided that we leave the peninsular.
(Note: In 27th January 1942, the order from General Wavell’s Headquarters in Java was, "All remaining aircraft to Palembang in Sumatra.")
There were flames all over - I only had my flying trousers and a beret, everything else had rotted. There was a submarine but with the bombing I did not fancy it, too claustrophobic. We found a wood burning river steamer instead, which we used. Our boat shipped out and thanks to the dark coming on quickly, we escaped the Malay Straits and headed to Sumatra. I got an infection from a jagged tin of pineapples, and when we pulled into a Dutch fort, in Sumatra, where I got some white powder put on it and it was gone in a couple of days.
(Note: on Monday 16th February, 1942 the fall of Singapore was announced over radio in Batavia Java.)
The Japs started to land where we were in Sumatra. We could do nothing - we had no weapons. My aircraft to look after was an Albacore. The two torpedoes we had kept from the peninsular we buried in a river. The pilot a real decent man said he’d fly to Java and as we still had our toolboxes we would meet him there. We crossed over to the other island Java, and at Batavia, met our own, Ron Read and our crowd. There were two Albacores and I think three Wildebeest. We did two or three ops, using Dutch 200kg bombs that we fixed as anti personal bombs, but that did not stop the Japs!
The flight sergeant got us to put tree trunks to stop the Japs landing on our field. The trunks were full of biting ants, which bit us and bit us. Next the Japs rushed our field - shouting and waving swords. We got a truck and left up to the hills. The Dutch we met were in evening dress and would not let us in for food but as soon as we told then the Japs were coming they scattered — gone! We had to go down to find food. We did manage to burn all the aircraft and I got rid of my rifle and Lewes gun. The Japs captured us and it was pretty rough, I was beaten with my bayonet to unconsciousness. I regained consciousness in the back of a lorry. Between March and May 1942, the Japs caught many of the Royal Air Forces, as we did not know we had been overrun. We were all put to work repairing the airfield with any tools we could find.
In 1942, with Christmas approaching, we were shipped out to Japan. Others just in front of me before we left by ship were sent up to what would be known as the notorious Burma Railway. It was winter in Japan and I arrived with a bit of a shirt and beret. There were caves and we were told to dig them out further and with the spoil make a land out on the sea. That was to be our camp!
(Here Fred had a rest from his story. After three and a half years as a prisoner of War in Japan, he was posted as missing believed dead after the fall of Singapore. He was away from England for over five years in total)
Read the next part of Fred's story in Part 3: After the Atom bomb
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