|Where does one start on memories some 54 years later? Arrived in Ceylon with
413 RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force) in early 1943 at Koggala on the south
tip of Ceylon, after a long trip as replacement crew and A/C. In 1942, the
Japs tried to invade Ceylon. Sqn/Ldr Len Burchill on his first ops trip out
of Koggala spotted the Jap fleet and sent the message that warned group that
an invasion was imminent. Unfortunately he was shot down by Zeros but was
picked up and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner in Japan. Churchill
referred him as the saviour of Ceylon. He survived to become an Air Commodore
with the RCAF and is still alive in Kingston Ontario Canada.
I spent a tour of ops in the Indian Ocean, Aden-Addu-Kelai-Male-Seychelles
and Diego Garcia most of it on anti-sub and search and rescue. Proud to be
the navigator on the longest photo recce during WWII, 28hours non-stop to
photo the Cocos Keeling atoll. The options we had if we did not find this
speck in the Indian Ocean were incredible. 1) To return to Ceylon. 2) To proceed
to Australia. 3) To go to Indonesia and ditch the a/c, then take to the jungle
(with occupation money and a 45) Fortunately we did not have to choose as
the operation was a success and we returned to Ceylon.
On completion of my tour I was sent to Addu as C/O of the base. To quote from
my log book," F/L J.P.Rankin was attached to No.28 Advanced Flying Boat
Base as Commanding Officer from Sept 28 1944 with an establishment of 125
men, 2 officers for the operation of Catalinas & Sunderlands. Group Captain
G. Francis C/O R.A.F. Station Koggala". We were responsible for re arming
and refuelling a/c. All our aviation gas had been shipped out of Singapore
prior to the invasion & fall of that base. All the gas was in 5-gallon
cans that were really old. They had to be bowsered out to the a/c and hand
fed to the wing top and emptied. All the gas had to be filtered through a
felt hat as the cans contained condensation. A Catalina capacity was 1460
gallons, a lot of work to handle 294 cans! We had contact with 222group by
radio and a radar beacon that could be turned on when requested by a/c. Crude
but appreciated coming back from an ops trip on a black night.
The Maldivian government at Male arrived at a wartime agreement with the R.A.F.
and R.C.A.F. for the hiring of natives who worked on the base. Money was something
that was unknown at that time to the natives, so each day I had to don my
hat and watch the payment of the natives of 1 pound of flour and 3 ounces
of sugar per diem for their daily efforts per person!!!
Actually the natives were friendly and happy and crime was nearly non-existent.
One of our airmen lost a wallet, so I called on the Sheriff on Hittadu and
he had the wallet and culprit in no time. The sheriff carried a leather belt
studded with copper rivets that was very effective on law violators! Adultery
was immediate banishment to an unoccupied island in the atoll for life. Some
food and water was all the rations to make it on their own. Pretty severe!!!
I can recall seeing in the lagoon a 3 masted schooner, a ship of the Maldivian
Navy complete with canons!!!!! Do not know what happened to it but the next
morning it was gone. Other mornings the lagoon would be occupied with a carrier
or a battleship, a cruiser or two and a bunch of destroyers. We had a 45-foot
high speed launch to travel to Gan and the R.A.F. Station. At that time the
Royal Navy had a Walrus a/c flown by a R.N. type known as "Wings".
He used to fly a Fairey Swordfish known as "string-bags". We got
to be good friends with "Wings" (he liked our beer and liquor) and
there was nothing he would not do for his Canadian friends. Need cards for
a game of bridge? Then call Wings. Fresh fish? Over comes the Walrus and he
would drop 2 grenades and we had fish for everybody for a week!!!
We had a fire on the island that threatened our petrol dump but we were able
to save the building and fuel. The island was really in the stone age, very
primitive but happy, I can still hear the natives returning from Gan in their
boats in the dark singing to keep the evil spirits away (as Abdullah, my man
of 14 told me) The officers mess was used by visiting air crew, we had reasonable
food (a lot of Brussels sprouts (a national British veggie) still can't stand
them today! We had liquor rations flown in, party time! Until we received
one shipment of bricks instead of Johnnie Walker
. This required an immediate
trip to our radio shack for an "immediate" signal to group regarding
the emergency. The booze was on the next a/c
.. These were a few of the
interesting things that happened on Hittadu during my short tour of duty at
No28 AFBB, nothing exciting but great sunsets and a wonderful ocean breeze
that swept over Addu Atoll. In later years the Maldivian government was smart
enough to see the atolls as tourism $$$s, Today it is a paradise with jet
service and luxurious accommodation (? Ed) There is not too much about Gan
but hope you find these memories of Addu Atoll during the War interesting.
A parting story about a trip of the Maldives from Kelai to Diego Garcia. On
board was Lt/General Wetherill of South Eastern Asia Command on an inspection
trip of all our bases. The general wanted to sit in the blister of the Catalina,
so I warned him not to open the blister. He did, and away went his flat hat,
scrambled eggs and all into the Indian Ocean. We landed in Diego Garcia to
check out the copra crop, necessary for rope during the war. Apart from a
plantation manager and a few natives we were the sole inhabitants of Diego.
We were the 2nd Catalina to ever land at Diego.
On our return to Koggala Ceylon, the General had us line up and presented
the crew with 5000 Woodbine cigarettes, whereupon our flight engineer from
Halifax piped up "Holy Mackerel, we give those to the natives and they
won't smoke the f*****g things!" With that the General spun on his heals
never to be seen again by the crew of AH 567, 413 RCAF Squadron!