INTO BURMA WITH THE R.A.F. – (Des Graham’s Rescue Mission)

Transcribed from Chalky’s type written account by Brian Canfer (BJC)  c1997

INTO BURMA WITH THE R.A.F.

SUMMARY OF THE DUTIES OF A (SPECIAL) SQUADRON BASED IN INDIA

357 SQUADRON RAF DUMDUM

Written by Tom ‘Chalky’ White CGM, RAF

14th March 1944

Four crews needed for tonight’s operation. Information on the weight of containers, and the order of dispatch given to the “Dispatchers” by Major T. . Crews detailed for the ‘Sortie’ spend the remainder of the day after their briefing resting, or seeing a cinema show downtown. Having partaken of substantial dinner the “Dispatchers” gather their flying equipment on board the vehicle stacked with the containers, for transit to the airfield. Arriving there singing the last of a selection of songs, ranging from “Cwm Rhondda” to “Here’s to the next man to die”. They commence the loading of their respective aircraft, assisted by the ground-crews. The aircrews arrive during this period, and after bantering the ground-crews as the serviceability the aircraft, check instruments, guns, wireless etc. There is a brief interval before the first aircraft is due to take off, so standing around in groups, the crews smoke a cigarette, and chat about anything from this particular operation to Post-War ideals? The first machine piloted by Flying Officer Palmer taxies out from its position dispersal, and by the aid of its landing navigation lights, moves upfield into position on the main runway. A final revving of engines, and then the throttles being eased forward etc. the aircraft races down the tarmac, bouncing once, twice, almost three times before becoming airborne and roaring away into the night. The remainder follow at prearranged intervals, and we leave the aircrews settling down to their assorted tasks, outward bound on yet another operation.

15.3.44.

Ground-crews still with sleep prominent in their eyes, gather at the dispersal point to await the arrival of the returning aircraft.  They follow each aircraft as it appears from the clouds and circles the airfield, debating whether ‘their’ machine successfully completed its particular operation? One aircraft is overdue (flown by flying officer and crew) so after hanging around for a few minutes, the remainder of the aircrews pile aboard a waggon and are driven off to breakfast, and interrogation by the intelligence officer.  That being dispensed with, they dump their flying gear, and after a quick shower – bath tumble into bed. Around noon, being refreshed by the morning sleep; the whereabouts of the missing aircraft is discussed by the other crews who took part in the same sortie. Various rumours are circulating during the day. Two more crews were detailed for tonight’s operation.

16.3.44.

They return on schedule having successfully completed their assignment. During the morning news is brought by Flt. K that the missing aircraft crashed over its target. The Agent who wirelessed the information added that four of the crew were killed and two were still down there seriously injured. He requested the immediate services of a doctor. Communications with A.H.Q. Delhi were established for permission to send down the R.A.F. Medical Officer attached to the Squadron. This man arrived in India only a short time ago and volunteered on the spot when notified of the search for a suitable doctor. One of the “Dispatchers”, a flight-Sergeant, received permission to accompany him. Arrangements were made for them to leave that night at 23. 50 hrs. In the meantime, the M.O. was busily dashing around various RAF sick quarters gathering an assorted array of medical equipment and medicines, which would be packed in containers and dropped by parachute with the men. The Flight Sergeant and the MO met for the first time that evening at 21:00 hrs to chat about parachute jumping, and to be equipped with hiking-boots, bush-hats, revolvers etc.  It was decided to drop two containers with them, containing medical supplies and a few items of personal clothing and if more were needed, they were to get the Agent to wireless for same. Last-minute instructions having been issued to the M.O. the party shook hands with the remainder of the chaps and taken with their containers to the airfield.  Arriving there, the Flight Sergeant bundle the containers into the aircraft and then commenced to demonstrate to the M.O. the correct method of leaving the aircraft by parachute. After committing a few minor faults, M.O. was pronounced fit to make his first descent. The pilot F/Lt. King then carried out the final check of his aircraft and when the remainder of his crew had clambered aboard the aircraft taxied up the runway and was soon seen roaring away into the night. After flying through dense cloud for the first hour, the lights of Chittagong airfield were seen below by the navigator, Pilot Officer Floyd. This being their first objective, the first pilot circled the aerodrome, then landed by the aid of its flare-path shortly afterwards. Whilst the duty ground-crew refuelled and checked the aircraft, the crew and the passengers trudged over to the control tower (complete with flasks of tea and sandwiches) to enjoy a snack and a rest, before continuing their journey. The control officer happened to be an old friend of M.O. so while they chatted away, the navigator searched the Met files for the information on the type of weather to be encountered over the target. The pilot had received instructions to leave Chittagong at a definite time so as to be able to drop his passengers and containers at dawn. During a period awaiting, one or two heads started to nod and sag, but before anyone could seriously enjoy ‘forty-winks’, the order was given to return to the aircraft. The party moved in that direction (the navigator of all people losing his way) and with the curious inquiring glances of the ground-crew following their every movement, clambered aboard and were soon taxying out onto the runway. Revving up and swinging into position all in one movement, they were soon racing down the flare-path, the lights flashing past the peep-holes of perspex, and winging their way into the night. The estimated time of arrival being given as 05:00 hrs. The passengers, after checking the equipment, settled themselves as comfortably as possible amongst the paraphernalia in the back of the aircraft, to try to sleep for a few hours. Up front the pilot, who is doing his ** operational trip in four nights, switches over to the automatic pilot, ‘George’, and resting his chin on his hands, listens to any alterations of course which might come from the navigator. The first wireless operator is busily tapping out his course the benefit of Group H. Qtrs while the second wireless operator seated alongside the pilot checks the fuel in the bomb-bay tank and awaiting orders to occupy the rear gun-turret.

17.3.44.

With the first streaks of dawn over the hills, the passengers arrange the containers and fit their parachute, in preparation for the descent. The Flt Sgt makes a final check of everything which is to be dropped, just as the target complete with ground-signals appears dead ahead. The pilot decided to make a dummy-run over the target to check wind drift, and then the order is given to open the hatch, through which the men and containers will be dispatched. The rope holding the first container into position is severed, and the M.O. steadies it ready for dispatch. The aircraft comes into its dropping run, the ground appearing to rush past, as the passengers gazed downwards towards the hatch. A quick glance behind, shows the two wireless operators (who will push out the second container after the Flt Sgt) gazing intently at the passengers as they await the signal to leave the aircraft! The red light flashes on and a shout of action stations is bellowed into the ear of the M.O. by the F./Sgt. The green light replaces the red, and with the F/Sgt. shouting ‘Go’ the M.O. pushes out the first container and follows it himself, with the F/Sgt and the second container following close behind. The parachutes burst open just below the aircraft and the two men breathe in the cold mountain air of a valley somewhere in Burma. The M.O is sitting quite comfortably in his parachute harness, and appears to be enjoying the novelty of making a parachute descent. They drift off the area slightly and make a rather fast, but safe landing on a slope leading to the D.Z.   The M.O. narrowly misses a tree before touching down – hitting his head slightly when going into a rugby form of roll on a mound of earth. The F/Sgt releases himself from his parachute-harness and races across to assist the M.O., his efforts are unneeded as the M.O. quite unperturbed by the fact of having made his first parachute descent ever, extracts himself and comes over to join the F.Sgt. Suddenly a group of blue-cottoned individuals appear over the hill-top and trot up to the R.A.F. party. This is rather a sticky moment because the parachutists are not quite sure who they really are! The nearest of the group arrives with hand outstretched obviously wishing to work on the new arrivals. The remainder gathered up the parachutes and containers. After subdued mutterings in English between the M.O. and the F.Sgt. they decided to accept the greetings of their newly discovered friends. It was then found that these little chaps didn’t speak English, Urdu, Gurkhali or any other Indian language, so after resorting to signs, and crude sketches on the ground, they eventually managed to ascertain that the boys are a contingent the local guerrilla force! The aircraft ‘beats-up’ the DZ as this palaver is taking place and the R.A.F. party waive their handkerchiefs and scarves to assure the pilot that everything is okay; dipping its wings in reply, the aircraft then commences its long flight back to base, flying at zero feet to avoid possible contact with enemies fighters. After further sign-talk between the R.A.F. and the Guerrillas, they discover that the boys have been sent across by Major Leach (the British agent in these parts) to assist the parachutists, and escort them (by means of mountain ponies) to the scene of the crash, which is four miles away along with tortuous mountain foot-path. Just before they set off they are introduced to the Guerrilla commander Yang Yan Sang and once astride their ponies the M.O. and the F.Sgt. have quite a laugh on their recent experiences. They journey on, passing through a sprawling village, where swine and children run about everywhere. The villagers themselves gaze with awe at the RAF party and immediately give them the description in their language, which translated means – ‘The men from the iron bird’ and so eventually they arrive at the peasant hut, directly opposite the crashed aircraft, where the injured are being treated by Major Leach and party. Going up the slope towards the hut, the first man they encounter is Captain Cole who the F.Sgt. had dispatched for special duty in that area only two nights previous. After cordial hand-shakes and surprised exclamations from this officer, the doctor was formally introduced – Captain Cole explained only one man now remained alive he was F/O Walter aka Wally Prosser RCAF the navigator. The other survivor, Flight Lieutenant Ponsford RAF had died seven hours after the crash occurred. This statement upset the F.Sgt. a trifle, who until then, had cherished the hope of rescuing his friend of F.Sgt. Wilkinson RAF, the dispatcher of the aircraft. Lt Parsons of the U.S. Army was the next person to greet the newcomers and he remarked that Major Leach was sleeping at that time, after spending hours alongside Prosser’s bedside, trying to relieve the pain. The MO and Lt Parsons then entered the hut stooping low to avoid hitting their heads against the rather low roof of the hut, the F.Sgt. had a sip of tea (local brew) before feeling fit enough to follow. Inside the hut, the air befouled by the stench of cattle-dung, they found Prosser lying on a crude bed of bamboo and straw, with blankets and parachutes covering his body. The F.Sgt. who knew Prosser well (having been on operations with him only the week previous) could hardly recognise the badly bruised man on the bed as being same person. He was lying there still dressed in his escape suit, unconscious, and babbling away in delirium. His injuries amounted to a fractured skull, a deep laceration of the forehead, dislocated and fractured right ankle, several minor burns and bruises on hands and face. The head wound had been treated by local witchdoctor before the arrival of Major Leach and party, and was in a filthy mess having been packed with herbs of some kind. Major Leach made his appearance as the MO was making his examination of the patient and after the usual introductions had taken place, explained how they found Prosser and what treatment had been administered. In the meantime the story of the crash appeared to be as such —  The Agent’s interpreter was on the DZ when the aircraft arrived and commenced dropping supplies. After making its first run over the target and discharging four containers it appeared to be back-firing badly from one engine, the natives below saw showers of sparks flying from the engine as the aircraft swung east from the DZ and jettisoned its remaining containers.  Then it was seen heading up the valley of Nan Pa O obviously trying to gain height and head for home – or something. Anyway the cul-de-sac which is the Nan Pa O Valley, was just a little too steep at the top end and the aircraft was seen to crash about 30 yards from the top of the ridge, among some trees growing thereabouts. The interpreter immediately headed in that direction and sent one of the guerillas to inform Major Leach of the accident. When this man reached the scene of the crash, he found the area absolutely overrun with villagers, who were pilfering anything before they could remove the bodies of the crew; his preventative methods were to no avail, their numbers being far too many. Having ascertained if anybody remained alive, he attempted to protect the bodies of the only two survivors until Major Leach could make his twenty miles of mountain track travel, and take command of the situation. Eventually he arrived at about 05.00 hrs and got Prosser removed to the nearby peasant hut, the other man Flight Lieutenant Ponsford having died of his injuries. They buried the victims that morning in a glade just about the scene of the accident. Then having sent off a signal to base for a doctor to be dropped in, they tried to ease Prosser’s suffering as best they could with the inadequate medical equipment they had at their disposal. While all this was being related, the doctor had commenced his skilful work on Prosser. Firstly, the head-wound was probed with a pair of sterilised forceps to remove the filth put there by the local witch-doctor, then it was packed very neatly with crushed M&B [1] tablets and protected by a band of Elasto-plast. Next, having been supplied with the necessary hot water and splints (of bamboo) the doctor using plaster-bandages soaked in hot water, made a plaster cast for Prosser’s right leg, from the toes to the knees. The patient needed strong handling during this period, being inclined to toss and turn in delirium. Then having had Prosser’s bed remade, and the hut cleared of all filth, the doctor cut off all of Prosser’s dirty clothing, and fitted him with an odd pair of pyjamas brought for the occasion. Prosser then received some warm chicken-essence by spoon from the doctor. Before turning into a couple of hours rest on the floor alongside Prosser’s bed, the doctor made some rough plywood hospital charts to record the feeding and treatment of the patient. Major Leach volunteered to keep watch over the patient, and after tidying the place a little, and cutting clean clothes from parachute silk, the F.Sgt. made room for himself on the floor and went to sleep also.  Awaking just before noon and having been informed of Prosser had been sleeping soundly all the time, the RAF party decided to brighten themselves up a little by having a wash and shave, before sampling the first meal in Burma. This was rather a funny affair because it was prepared by an old grizzled guerrilla cook and his cronies, and served in little bowls – Chinese fashion with bamboo chop-sticks, replacing the proverbial knives and forks of an English table setting. The meal itself was very substantial, consisting of bacon, fried egg, curried chicken, beans and a pot of boiled rice, with a crisp wafer affair replacing bread. The RAF boys got their legs pulled continually by the remainder of the company during the meal, being unable to manipulate chop-sticks correctly. Anyway, they manage eventually to satisfy their hunger, and slake their thirst with a bowl of the local grown tea. There being nothing further on the agenda, the doctor formulated some messages to be radioed back to Calcutta informing them of the position as regards Prosser. The remainder of the camp settle down to its assorted duties, and so the night gradually stole in, and preparations were made for sleeping accommodation, with Lt. Parsons volunteering to do the night-watch over the patient. The only light available in this area was ordinary wadding, rolled into wick-form placed in a saucer containing pig-fat, which wasn’t very illuminating!

18.3.44.

            With a shake from Lt. Parsons at 7 o’clock, and a bowl of hot coffee, to awaken the mind to the realities of the day the RAF party rolled up their blankets, and attended to the needs of Prosser, who had enjoyed a decent night’s rest.  That being completed, they tidied up a little, by removing used bandages, swabs etc.  After a wash and shave they sat down to breakfast (cooked in the same way as the previous meal) this time improvising in the use of their chop-sticks.  During the course of the meal, it was decided that a bamboo-fence should be placed around the graves of the victims to keep away inquisitive villagers or possible wild animals.  Afterwards the RAF party went over to the crash to try to ascertain id possible the cause of the accident.  Over there they met Captain C… and Mr R..(his interpreter) who, together with a bunch of coolies, armed with the most crude weapons imaginable, were busy dismantling the wreck.  The doctor made several notes on the readings of the various instruments on the instrument-panel and decided to salvage as many instruments as possible.   On their return to the hut, Major Leach tried to supply them with the information at hand regarding the nearest Japanese Force in the area, and of their correct whereabouts on the map.  He said they were about four hours marching time away, north, south and west of the hut.  Guerrilla outposts would warn the party should the Japanese attempt to enter the area at any time.  After talking away for a few hours on a variety of subjects, the company broke-up for the night, and all but the duty orderly for Prosser went to bed.

19.3.44.

            The Bulletin given for Prosser wasn’t very encouraging this morning, apparently he had weakened considerably overnight.  His condition failed to improve during the day, despite valiant efforts on the part of the doctor.  It was a very subdued company that went to bed that night.

20.3.44.

                        News was brought early on in the morning that Captain Hankins of the U.S. Army was heading this way, having made a five day journey by mule, from his advanced H. Qtrs. in China.  He arrived shortly after 9 o’clock in the morning and after being introduced to the company, was taken in to see Prosser.  He and the RAF doctor discussed his case and derived a nasal feeding tube from some rubber tubing found at the crash.  They then concocted a special feed for the patient from some medical foods the USA doctor had brought along.  Prosser appeared to improve slightly towards evening.

21.3.44.

The F.Sgt. not being required as a medical-assistant now that there were two doctors present, volunteered to carry code messages for the special agents to their transmitting-station about four miles away.  This was a daily duty, and apart from meeting and exchanging gossip with Signalmen K and H., an added novelty was the invitation to dinner at the Guerrilla Headquarters where Commander Yen Wong Sen and his aide-de-camp Major Wong presided over the meal, which consisted of a splendid array of Chinese dishes with a notorious brand of rice-wine (99% alcohol, and nicknamed ‘Dive – Bell Juice; by the American signaler) as refreshment.  The idea of the company being to get the visitors drunk if possible. The visitors received a tip from the Burmese signaler Kong what was brewing (he understood the language spoken by the guerrillas) so they very cunningly avoided drinking more than a small quantity of wine. After the meal the commander and the visitors went a short walk to one of the nearby villages, where the Commander introduced them to the local gun-smith and his armoury. This native genius was manufacturing an exact replica of the British .303 Lee-Enfield from rifle parts supplied by?. The stock of the rifle was made and fashioned from a tree growing in at area. These hand-made weapons were to be used by the Guerrillas against the Japanese, if they dare to invade this territory. Arriving back at the transmitting station and remaining just long enough to gather the latest news bulletin over the wireless, the F.Sgt. mounted his pony kindly lent by Y. W. S. and rode along the mountain trail, back to the peasants hut. Major “Chota” Broadbent [2] a close friend of Prosser’s happened to be at the hut when the F./Sgt. pulled in. Apparently he was doing a job about 20 miles away, and having been granted permission to see Prosser had come up that day. The F./Sgt. also knew Major Broadbent very well, because at one time they were both on the same staff. After yarning together about old times and drinking a cup of coffee, they turned in for the night.

22.3.44

Prosser’s condition is very grave this morning.  The doctors have very little hope of his survival-his breathing is irregular and weak.  A deadly stillness has fallen over the camp, even the guerrilla troops on guard seems to sense that all is not well with the sick man. The bulletin remains the same throughout the day.

23 .3.44.

Major Leach suggested that the FS should try his hand that deer-hunting, saying that there was very little he could do about the camp; so taking the cook and other guerrillas as ‘beaters’, the little party set out on the expedition armed with .303 rifles and an American Winchester.  They trekked over hill and bush for roughly 2 hours without citing a single animal. On the return journey they cited to wood-pigeons, one of which the FS killed from 20 yards range! The cock and the boys claimed the body, and it supplemented their diet of rice and vegetables that evening. Prosser’s condition still unchanged.

24.3.44.

The RAF doctor thought to try his hand at stalking a cock-pheasant, which seem to have its home in a nearby copse.  He expended three rounds of ammunition (which only scared the bird into flight) and return to breakfast and the criticisms of the company. Prosser still in a very weak condition.

25.3.44

It being market-day in the village, the FS and the interpreter went over to buy food, and possibly fruit for Prosser.  There was a surprising array of goods for sale (considering the village was nestled away in the hills of Burma). some of the women looked very petite in their short vividly coloured skirts.  they all turned and stared as the FS dressed in airforce blue complete with bush hat, strolled nonchalantly through the bazar. During their travels they met the Commander who asked the FS to go with him to a nearby field and watch recruits for the guerrillas being taught how to fire a rifle. The instruction was given exactly the same as on any British unit at home. Having gathered their goods from the market and bidding ‘good-bye’ to the commander (through the interpreter) the FS rode back to the hut to give his opinion of market-gathering in Burma. Prosser showed no improvement that day.

26.3.44.

Prosser’s condition became critical as the day progressed.  Major Broadbent returned to his camp chased by some bees which had been disturbed from their hives inside the hut.

27.3.44.

The patient received a very crude, but effective enema this morning.  a kettle of lukewarm soapy water was procured then a piece of rubber-tubing, and with the entire company and assisting in one way or another, the operation was declared a success.

28.3.44.

A guerrilla messenger arrived this morning with the news that a pocket of Japanese troops, supported by Burmese puppet troops, were attempting to enter this area. They have called a meeting of all the village-headman further down the valley and are trying to persuade them to build roads into this state.  Under the supervision of the RAF MO, a special litter was made for Prosser from a camp bed belonging to Major Leach, to this four bamboo poles were strapped, and if things became too warm in this area, Prosser was to be evacuated to a safer spot carried by 12 sturdy guerrilla boys, in relays of four. Two containers were packed with medical supplies, personal kit, foodstuffs, salvage etc. and were placed alongside the mules (provided by the guerrilla commander) ready for immediate departure. Prosser improved slightly overnight.

29.3.44.

The Guerrilla Commander and his Aide-to-Camp paid a visit this morning. He attempted to pin-point the position of the enemy forces on the map provided, but his naming of districts was entirely different to those shown on the map. Prosser continued to improve.

30.3.44. and 31.3.44.

The Japanese forces have remained at the mouth of the valley for the last two days, during which they have been sent crude, but yet cunningly formed posters to the guerrilla commander asking him to join forces with the Imperial Japanese Army. The request was ignored.

1.4.44.

Well apparently the Japanese have got annoyed over the commander’s refusal, and are now heading up the valley. The major advised the M.O. to begin the evacuation of the patient before all the roads were severed by the enemy.  It was raining very badly when the party comprising of the RAF and the American made tracks for their first objective, with Prosser and his litter-bearers ahead of them. Both mules and men continually slipped and slithered on the narrow mountain track, making the journey very heavy and slow as a result.  They arrived at their destination (a village) at 18.00 hours, and after taking over the head-man’s hut, and attending to the needs of Prosser, attempted to dry some of their sodden garments over smoky wood fire. The RAF MO attended to Prosser’s needs throughout the night.

2.4.44.

Leaving the village at 09.00 HRS. they covered three-parts of their journey for the day, before resting at a way-side village for an hour. The guerillas brought some food for their evening meal, while the MO fed Prosser with some specially prepared liquid-food. A very noticeable feature about the appearance of the people of this village, was the number of oversize goitres one saw with them. The doctor said it was explained by the lack of salt in their food. Carrying on from there, they arrived at a sheriff’s compound at 18:00 hours and struck camp there for the night.  The American M.0. attended to Prosser during the night. A great deal of coughing and spitting was heard coming from the adjoining room during the night-the doctor suspected an opium addict was enjoying ‘the pipe of dreams’.

3.4.44.

Leaving shortly after 07:15 hours in the morning, the party covered 30 miles that day before arriving at a village school-room which was to be their resting place for that night. The villagers here asked fantastic prices for such things as eggs and, that the MO decided to feed from the tin rations carried as emergency rations. The FS was responsible for attending to the needs of Prosser during the night.  Again laughter and coughing could be heard coming from one of the rooms in the school.  This time it sounded as though women as well as men were partaking of the  pipe. The party had to evacuate their billet 06:30 hours the following morning, to allow the local village children to commence their day’s lesson.

4.4.44.

The next objective was the H. Qrs. of Colonel Wong who attended to the medical needs of the Chinese army in that area.  He was supposed to be a great friend of the American doctor, and was to supply coolies and mules to replace those belonging to the guerrillas, who were returning to their province (it seems that if they went any further into China they would be commandeered by the Chinese to serve in their army).  They arrived at his headquarters just before sundown, and after impressing on him the need for a quick exchange of men and mules, they paid the guerrilla troop off and allowed them to beetle away back to the mountainside heading for their province.  The Colonel did not seem unduly interested in the condition of the patient, being quite content to sip tea while the party waited to be supplied with quarters.  He provided a very scrumptious meal later in the evening, but didn’t forget to charge a fancy price in the bargain.  The end of the next day’s marching should bring them to the advanced American outpost, to which the American M.O. was attached, so he volunteered to attend to Prosser that night.

5.4.44

            Colonel Wong had the brilliant idea that eight coolies would be sufficient to carry Prosser on the next stage of the journey.  It was to prove absolutely idiotic! Not only did it slow up the progress of the party, but they had to climb the highest mountain they had yet encountered.  The poor coolies panted and shuffled their way up a narrow mountain-track, resting occasionally, and being urged on to greater efforts by the R.A.F. MO.  It was a very bedraggled party that eventually arrived at the American outpost.  They received very admirable attention from the few officers and men garrisoned there and decided to have a days rest before going on any further.  Prosser regained consciousness just before they got to the outpost.

6.4.44.

An advanced landing strip which could have been built at that area (to fly Prosser back to India) had not been constructed – permission being denied by the Chinese authorities.  This meant that an extra five days trek had to take place before they could reach the nearest jeep-track.  The American C.O. explained that with permission they could have built the airfield in two days.  The Americans provided men and mules for the next two days journey, and gave the R.A.F. party as much information as possible on halting places and the nature of the country over which they would travel.  The F.Sgt. attended to the patient’s requirements during the night.

7.4.44

            After a little trouble due to the late arrival of the coolies the R.A.F. party set of for their next objective, saying good-bye to the American M.O. and others.  The coolies were by no means very energetic, and after much persuasion by the R.A.F. M.O. and his .45 colt, they eventually arrived at a sheriff’s building, where they halted for that day.  The coolies demanded two days pay in advance, and the doctor not wishing to upset them, decided to pay them.  Making themselves as comfortable as possible in this dingy hovel, they ate a frugal meal of rice and some tinned rations.  The doctor did ‘duty orderly’ that night.

8.4.44

            Morning brought the news that all the coolies had deserted! – luckily the muleteers and the baggage had not!  The sheriff was roped-in, and ordered very strongly by the M.O. to produce more coolies… This he attempted to do after much palaver, but it seemed that all the men of the village were hiding, rather than carry the litter for hours over the hills.  He brought four very deplorable looking objects along at 11.00 hrs. and promised to send four more after the party had left.  The F.Sgt. went ahead in charge of the mules and the doctor came behind with Prosser.  After some very stiff uphill climbing and occasionally wading through rivers, the F.Sgt. met Lt. Watson of the U.S. Army (attached Chinese Army) at whose quarters the party were staying that night.  Having unloaded the mules and filled a haversack with emergency foods, the F.Sgt. and the Lt. retraced their steps down the trail, in the hopes of encountering the doctor and his party.  They walked for an hour without making contact, and with night-fall creeping in decided to return to Lt. Watson’s quarters, thinking the doctor had made a detour to another village.  About 01.30 the following morning the F.Sgt. was awakened by the doctor shouting “Chalky, Chalky” (the F.Sgt. nickname) at the top of his voice.  Apparently no further coolies had been provided by the sheriff, and after struggling along with four coolies all day (occasionally feeding them with rum to spur them to greater efforts) he has swung off the track and made for another village, hoping to get more coolies.  There the local head-man made him very welcome, even inviting him to participate in a pigeon-shoot, not seeming to worry about the fact that the doctor wanted coolies to carry a sick man.  Again the doctor used some persuasive methods, and eventually he was supplied with sufficient coolies to carry Prosser to Lt. Watson’s quarters.

9.4.44

            The Chinese army were approached to provide a fatigue-party to carry Prosser.  This they did after the usual slow reaction to receiving a request.  This stage of the journey was fairly easy, and the party arrived at another American outpost towards evening.  There they were made comfortable and invited to rest for a couple of days, but the doctor decided that the sooner the patient could be got back to India the better for everybody concerned, so the invitation was not accepted.

10.4.44

            Leaving Lt Col Line’s place at 08.00 hours, with fresh mules and Chinese soldiers, the party headed for a deserted village about twenty miles distant, which was to be their stopping place that day.  They over-shot their objective at 17.00 hours and retracing their steps on the suggestion of the doctor, they discovered their objective slightly off the track, hidden by some trees.  The soldiers kindled a fire and Prosser was soon provided with a hot meal from one of the tinned rations.  Prosser was gaining strength so quickly, it was decided to discontinue providing a ‘night orderly’.

11.4.44

                        Setting out at 08.00 hours on the last days marching, the party headed for SHUNNING the headquarters of the American ‘Y’ Force.  This was the toughest day’s trek, not only was it very mountainous, but one minute they would be stripped to the waist perspiring, the next freezing in a hailstorm on the top of a mountain!  Eventually they saw ahead of them the wide thickly populated valley of SHUNNING and were soon surrounded by Americans, who had been expecting them all day.  There was much shaking of hands and introductions, then Prosser was given the complete attention of two Chinese orderlies, who were to provide him with whatever he cared to ask for.  The R.A.F. men were provided with new clothes, and of all thing-a shower bath!  They were invited to spend the evening with the officers, drinking rice-wine and munching biscuits.

12.4.44

                        The doctor decided to give Prosser a day’s rest before going by weapons-carrier (converted to carry a stretcher) to YUNSHIEN an American-Chinese hospital.  They spent the day buying a few hand-made Chinese bracelets etc. to take back to India as souvenirs.

13.4.44

                        The journey in the weapons-carrier was very comfortable and after driving two hours, they arrived at their stop for the day.  Here the American doctors wanted to patch-up Prosser, but the doctor said his objective was India, with its skilled surgeons and modern equipment.

14.4.44

                        Starting very early in the morning, they were driven for ten hours before arriving at another American-Chinese hospital.  The entire party slept in an empty ward that night.

15.4.44

                        Pushing on from there at 12.00 hrs. they arrived at YUNNANNI Airport.  They were informed that no aircraft were available until the following afternoon.  In the meantime, they had Prosser removed to a very well equipped and staffed Airport Hospital.  They then obtained rooms for themselves in the Airport Hostel.

16.4.44

                        They emplaned in a C.46 “Commando” to fly back to India, but after an hours flying in bad weather (with Prosser vomiting badly) they landed back at KUMMING.  They were taken to an American Base Hospital for the night where they were well provided for.  The F.Sgt. and the doctor even saw the film “Madam Curie” in the main Dining-hall that night.

17.4.44

                        Having been awakened by a “Female” member of the Hospital staff, and enjoyed a hearty breakfast, they accompanied Prosser (in an Ambulance) to the airfield, and once again emplaned in the “Commando”.  After flying at 20,000ft. over the “Hump” in almost perfect weather, (with Prosser using oxygen from take-off), they flew along the Ledo Road into Assam.  There they contacted a British A.T.O. and booked an immediate passage, by Dakota to Calcutta.  Skirting the plains of Imphal in their passage, with the doctor trying to keep Prosser cool by using his hands as a means of ventilation from the side windows, they eventually arrived at Calcutta. Prosser was placed into a waiting ambulance (with all the salvage the party had brought back) and driven around to the British General Hospital, Calcutta.  After discussing Prosser’s case with the duty Medical Officer and seeing him (complete with Jungle beard) to his ward, the Doctor and the F.Sgt. went to report the success of their Mission to the Syndicate People at Calcutta.

They were surprised to see them!!!

Finish.

Notes.


  1. The author of this article, FS Thomas E aka ‘Chalky’ White, was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal for his part in the rescue of Fg Off Prosser.  He survived the war and his type written account, on 9 sheets of foolscap was sent to the RAF Mountain Rescue Association by his wife after his death.
  1. The doctor, Sqn Ldr Desmond Graham MBE RAF was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for leading the rescue attempt, he would later assist in the repatriation of British and Allied POWs from Singapore before succumbing to mental illness which resulted in him being hospitalised for the rest of his life, he died in 1980.
  1. Lt Prosser went back to Canada, spending some time in hospital. He died of cancer in 1990.

[1] Believed to be Sulfapyridine aka M&B 693, an antibacterial medication see Sulfapyridine – Wikipedia

[2] Enlisted as a Private in the Highland Light Infantry on 20th October 1939, granted an Emergency Commission in the Rajputama Rifles 28th May 1942, Acting Major 1 November 1943. Placed on the Class A Reserve 15 April 1946, awarded MBE 13 June 1946, joined the RAF as Fg Off in the RAF Regiment 23 Feb 1948 rose to be a Squadron Leader in 1959, retired 14 September 1973 and died in 1983 aged 65. Details provided by PMC RAF Innsworth in letter to Brian Canfer 10 Nov 1998.

Burma DSO/CGM Incident Mar/Apr 1944 Route Into China

Details taken from the Official records held in the PRO Kew viz
RAF F 540 Kew Ref Air 27/1760 4 pages of typed report dated 19 April 1944 plus 4 handwritten pages from the 357 Sqn F 540

Details from page 1 Crash site was 2 1/2 miles n of So-S and 1/2 miles west of Nam PO Ko village, on the top of a ridge below the main crest at the SW and closed end of NAM PO KO valey at a height of c 4,600 feet Had been flying on 270 and had turned left onto 220 to avoid main ridge of 6,000 feet. Dirn on impact 225 Mag.

Route from Page 3 of Graham’s report
1st April     Departed E, tracks bad marched for 3 hours arriving at PAHNTANG

2nd April    8 hours march to MA-UNG-SANG, travelling generally NE. Crossed Burma China border

3rd April    Nine hours mule ride to MENG PENG, no villages en route but 2 steep passes crossed

4th April    4 hours to ER TAI PU, Chinese Army Post, then on to MENG BAWN, after a further 5 hours, crossed a pass at c 6,000 ft

5th April    1 high pass crossed then descended to fertile valley of TETANG, American post, contacted a Col Albin, this was captain Hockman base

6th April Rest day 7th April Fresh coolies, 6 hours to CHENG KAUNG BA.

7th April Fresh coolies, 6 hours to CHENG KAUNG BA.



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