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15 October 2014
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Fred's Journey Part 1: The Magic Indian Ocean crossing

by Brighton CSV Media Clubhouse

Contributed by 
Brighton CSV Media Clubhouse
People in story: 
Fred Neale, Joe Walker
Location of story: 
R.A.F Halton followed by Indian Ocean crossing to Singpore
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
27 September 2004

Fred Neale and Joe Walker in Singapore, mid 1940

John R. Watson has transcribed the following memories, from the taped memories of Fred S. Neale. Fred has given his permission for his stories to be added to the W.W.2 People’s War website and he understands the terms and conditions of the site.

(Prior to the war, Fred had trained as a Silver Smith and his Birmingham firm specialised in Hollow Ware. i.e. Tea sets, condiment sets, and candle sets. From here the words are Fred’s)

I used to listen to my uncle who was in the King’s Dragoon Guards in the 1st World War. His stories of the Middle East were magic! I knew the war was coming and I asked my Dad whether I could go, as I was still under 18 years. My father had lost an arm in the 1st. World War, but he said to me. “Yes, you can go.”

I was trained on Engines at R.A.F. Halton, from Januaray 1939. I was posted to various stations in 5 Group Bomber Command in Great Britain, but put in for an overseas posting in 1940.

First of all I was shipped up to Gurock in Scotland where the convoy was formed up. I was still a kid! Off we went, first put in, was to Freetown in South Africa to escape the U-Boats, then to Cape Town for a couple weeks. Three ships formed up - I was in the first, The Cape Town Castle, then second was The Athlone Castle that was full of troops and then the last The Empress of Japan. We first went to Bombay and the down to Colombo (which is Sri Lanka now). The very fact of crossing the Indian Ocean - that was magic! That vast ocean, the rough parts, the water tornadoes that caused huge waterspouts - marching like columns — were all around! We left the waves behind; we had the Birmingham, a cruiser as an escort. Then the Empress of Japan broke down, there we were, three ships in a triangle. It was dead calm - it was weird! We could hear the people on the other vessels. To keep us occupied the officer in charge of transport said we could go swimming, right in the middle of the Indian Ocean! We went down ropes; it was miles down - it was magic! You wouldn’t think there was a war on. Later, we had competitions like cutting down our long shorts down to be the best native, and boat races.

We arrived at Singapore and then on to a transit camp. It was pretty primitive - latrines were buckets outside. Eventually, we were taken during the day to an airfield, in Seletar, a big grass airdrome. I was posted to 36 Squadron, and a mate of mine at the time was Joe Walker, he was posted to 100 squadron. Further down the field was a squadron of Catalina’s (No.205 Squadron), an American built seaplane, which also could land on land. They were big with two large engines mounted up on their high wings.

Read part 2 of Fred's story "Escape then Capture by the Japs"

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