I was at Salbani from 1944 to 1945 initially as a second pilot and finished our tour (300 hours/30 trips) as the ‘skipper’. We were a normal sized Liberator crew of eleven consisting of four Australians (RAAF) and seven British ‘types’ (RAF).
We were accommodated in three separate huts with the erstwhile paddy fields. Suspect we were too busy and pre-occupied with the desire to survive to become involved in any problems which would generate arguments.
I was a W/O for the duration of the tour, interviewed on the squadron for a commission which I obtained on returning to Australia.
We bombed key Japanese held positions in Burma and Thailand - first operational flight 23rd December 1944 – last operational flight 29th July 1945. We encountered ack-ack eleven times, enemy fighters four times. We raided Rangoon five times and Bangkok four times. We completed our tour without any major mishaps. We were ‘holed’ a few times.
A few days after we left the squadron the new aircraft, which we had tested, was loaded with rice and took off to deliver the rice to POWs at Changi. It crashed on take-off due to a flap malfunction. My second pilot (F/S Stan Holland) and the remaining members of the made up crew were killed or died later from the injuries they received – (KN781/L, which crashed on the 14th September 1945, captain F/O E.F. Adams, second pilot F/S S.R. Holland).
Our food was fairly routine – we survived without the need to raise complaints. Our medical needs were well cared for – I only caught dengue fever. We attended the regular ‘picture shows’ which afforded us a break from time to time.
We Australians formed a soccer team to compete in the squadron competition and played quite well – the RAF fellows reluctantly agreed. We also played cricket which was relaxing and of value for our physical health levels.
Our leave time was taken at Calcutta – the Anzac Club an RAAF establishment. We also went to the foot hills in the Himalayas and Colombo. Our overall attitudes/behaviour was exemplary – none of us was the recipient of disciplinary action.
We as a crew were proud to be active members of 355 Squadron, RAF.
Sgt McArthur, who later became my skipper, was involved in a crash on the 2nd August 1944 during an air/sea firing practice (see OR). As an Air Bomber I joined the McArthur crew in December 1944 and completed a tour by 22nd May 1945.
On arriving at Salbani I had been attached to F/S Collins’ crew. The last date I flew with F/S Collins crew was on the 2nd September 1944, this was a practice bombing flight. I had been hoping to join the Collins crew on operations but on the third request the CO postponed the occasion, till all bomb aimers were ready to join and fly with their crews. The Collins crew were killed in EW114/S on the 16th September 1944 (see OR). Just before EW114/S took off I lent one of the crew my flying helmet because theirs had been misplaced. That was the last I saw on my first crew.
The last time I flew with W/O McArthur was on the 6th September 1945 as DDT operator at Jessore.
Being duty W/O on the day the redundancy board visited Salbani I missed being posted to the Cocos Islands with the crew and instead ended up at Delhi HQ at the CO’s disposal.
Later on I joined 52 Squadron Transport Command and finally 298 Squadron (Defence of India Squadron) who operated Halifaxes. For a while we were based at Meiklila flying up to Myitkyina to refuel our aircraft before carrying out the rice dropping to the Katchins dropping zone. Our final resting place was Karachi from where I was repatriated in December 1946.
Crew: F/S J.E. McArthur – Captain, Sgt L.J. Lyons - second pilot, F/O Peter Key - navigator, Sgt F.A. Galea - A/B, F/S Marks - F/Eng, Sgt P. Murray - W/Air, F/S J.E Charles - gunner, F/S H.V. Cranks - gunner, F/S Lawson - gunner, F/S E.G. Thresher - gunner and F/S D. Walker - gunner.
The skipper, a Scot, was a flamboyant character boasting a moustache. My contact with him was usually the run-up directions to bomb release. Sgt Lyons the co-pilot was a confident back-up. F/O Key, the navigator, impressed me as a Canadian gentleman. We got on swell together, both being Canadians in the aircraft nose, he had the appearance of a tailored teenager, he looked really young. F/S Marks, flight engineer, was always on the button in emergencies. During the operational flight to Mergui undertaken on the 10th May (1945), during the return and whilst over the Bay (Bengal) we lost both port engines due to fuel starvation, the fault was quickly rectified.
Sgt E.G. Threasher was the only crew member who shared my billet. A sturdy lad from the Isle of Dogs in the east end of London, a true cockney. He loved to listen to records of Caruso. His gramophone was springless and we took turns to keep things moving by propelling the turntable by hand – at a constant speed to enhance the sound effects.
I missed the occasion, at mid tour, for a stay in Calcutta with the crew, so socialising was limited.