2016 Old Secundrians Dinner
Once again, a highly successful dinner was held at the Brookfield Hotel on 6th May. A splendid evening as always.
Speech by Father of the House, Leonard Russell, to the 2016 dinner attendees:
An Old Secundrian's WW2
On the 3 rd July, 1939, I became a Departmental Clerical Officer in The Admiralty, Portsmouth Dockyard.
This was a Reserved Occupation when war began, but the Royal Air Force was losing so many Aircraft over Germany that we were given permission to Volunteer for Aircrew Only.
This I did and when I was eventually interviewed and asked by a Royal Air Force Officer why I wanted to join the Service, all I needed to say was that I lived in Portsmouth.
In July, 1942, I joined the RAF at Lord's Cricket Ground. I qualified as A Pilot Officer in South Africa on Airspeed Oxford training aircraft, (built in Portsmouth !), did Operational Training in Palestine on Wellingtons and then proceeded to India where I joined my Squadron which was engaged in Converting from Wellingtons to B24 Liberators, a four engined long range bomber aircraft.
As an inexperienced pilot, I joined a crew as Second Pilot to an Australian 'Skipper'.
By coincidence, our Wireless Operator w as also a Portsmouth man. The only other surviving member of our crew of eleven is our Rear Gunner, who lives in Norwich and with whom I am in regular contact by 'phone and Email.
We made one Reconnaissance Flight way beyond the Japanese front line and one Combined Operation with the Royal Navy. As we approached our target on an island off the Burma coast we saw a naval ve ssel bombarding the shore. When we passed over the ship, the bombardment stopped and landing craft were launched. We bombed our target just behind the coastline and returned to our base in India.
We embarked on bombing and strafing raids against enemy positions.
Military units, barracks, supply dumps and airfields, Railway Marshalling Yards and bridges on the notorious Siam Burma Railway. One I remember vividly was a bridge, at Kanchanaburi, where we could see a Prisoner of War Camp quite near our target. We encountered some machine gun fire and one of our engines was hit and started to emit smoke, so we stopped that engine and came 'home' comfortably on the other three, as without our bomb load and a reduced fuel load, our aircraft was quite light.
In about 1960, my wife and I were camping in the Forest of Dean. We had a 'Government Surplus' tent, and another camper on the site came over and talked to me about army tents. He was a Dutch man and when we talked about where I had slept in army tents and I told him Burma, he told me he had been a POW on the Siam-Burma Railway. I then said we had bombed a target near a POW camp and we had been hit in one engine, he said, "I remember that ! The Guards cheered because they thought they had shot you down." When I told him of the Dutch officer I had met in Bangkok, he said, "He was my CO !"
When the Japanese were in full retreat, my Squadron changed to C47 Dakotas and I flew many supply trips to makeshift air strips near our advancing troops and on one occasion, brought out a platoon who had obviously been fighting in the jungle for some time. When we landed, in India, several of the men knelt down on the soil in sheer relief and thanksgiving. Another memorable evacuation was when a Squad of Indian soldiers came to the airstrip with a small field gun ; when I told the Havildar they couldn't take that on board, he said something to his men who swiftly dismantled the gun and each carried one part of the gun with him as they embarked. The third trip I remember was on VE Day , when having delivered some equipment to our troops, I was returning to our base when the Wireless Operator managed to tune into the BBC and we heard an announcer in London say, "The war is over !" Ours wasn't.
I had the misfortune to contract malaria during my service on Liberators, and though I was very ill, I had immediate medical treatment and cure, and I thought how any soldier in the jungle who had malaria would almost certainly have succumbed.
I did nothing Heroic or Spectacular.
In 1944, the battles of Imphal and Kohima were the turning point in the Burma Campaign. For the first time in South East Asia the Japanese lost the initiative to the Allies. The hand-to-hand battle and slaughter prevented them from rolling into the plains of India.
The Deputy Commissioner's Tennis Court in Kohima was the scene of intense and bloody fighting; it is now the site of the War Cemetery for the Allied War Dead and is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
The Epitaph carved on the Memorial of the 2nd British Division is "When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say, For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today"
Leonard Russell (May 2016)
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