Most of the stories written about the RAFs part in the war are about bombing raids -
our crew's story is more humane.
As our plane turned on to the final approach, we could see that what had appeared from the air to be a wall running the full length of the runway was actually thousands of burlap sacks stacked about six feet high. Their contents, we found out later, was rice - about a thousand tons of it!
There were five planes in our squadron, Liberator bombers. We'd expected for some time now to be flying them back to England. But here we were in Burma, ready to land on an airstrip cut out of the jungle at a place called Pegu, 40 miles north of Rangoon. The full story of the airdrop was told to us later that day.
The RAF's successful bombing of the railway bridges in Burma had isolated many villages. Now the villagers were starving, and it was up to us to feed them.
The sacks of rice weighed ninety pounds each and were double sacked. If the inner sack burst upon hitting the ground the looser outer sack would save the rice from spilling out For each flight, Japanese prisoners-of-war loaded eighty sacks into the plane. We would make up to three flights a day.
In a field just outside the villages that were to receive the rice, a target had been painted. We flew over the field at or about 100 feet. Once we were over the field, the copilot pressed the alarm bell button, which signaled the rest of the crew to push, shove, and kick the sacks through the bomb bay and rear hatch doors. When the alarm bell stopped, the pushing, shoving, and kicking stopped - usually!
The plane then circled the field and repeated the maneuver, continuing this procedure until all the sacks were gone. It sounded like a fairly simple task at first, but as most of the villages were in the hills, and the Liberator wasn't the most maneuverable of planes, we would soon find ourselves performing some exciting low-level flying!
In an operation such as this, flight crews would soon have many tall tales to tell. Ours was no exception. Some crews claimed to have been fired upon by the guerrillas still hiding in the hills. Others told of villagers running into the target fields to get the rice as the sacks were raining down. But our crew's experience was perhaps the most comical.
On this particular day, unbeknownst to us, the Commanding Officer and Adjutant, wanting to see firsthand the accuracy of our "drops", had taken off earlier in the morning in a light plane. They landed in the target field and taxied under a large tree at the side of the field out of sight. Now, we were an average crew who could usually fly right down the centre of the field, but for some reason, this morning, we were a bit off. Right down the side of the field we flew, rice sacks dropping and disappearing into the trees. Soon, two figures could be seen running madly into the centre of the field.
We survived the tongue-lashing this episode brought and completed the job within the month, without further incidents.
I never did find out if the whole operation was as successful as planned because shortly after returning to India, we were on our way back to England.....
Submitted by Gordon Bell, co-pilot in the "Askam Follies"