Sketch by Jack Chalker

Free at Last

Free at Last - Journey Home


Standing on the platform

Waiting for that train to come in,

Faces at the windows gaunt and grim,

The sadness in their eyes

Memories of lost mates is where their agony lies,

Unable to support themselves

Their weakness for all to see

What price to pay! Freedom be.


When we eventually departed Kanasai, the train  passed where the bomb dropped and if anyone saw what it was like they would know one wouldn’t stand a chance

The train took us to Yokahama and then we flew to Okinawa, a camp some of us called ‘Freedom City’ because one could get anything we wanted except beer which was strictly rationed. During this time some of the Japs were still active so at about two o'clock one morning it was decided to move us out and we packed into an old Liberator and took off for Manila. It was not like a normal Passenger plane and we sat on a kind of scaffold board in the bomb bay the doors of which did not close properly and one could see the ground. Nobody complained of course as we were on our way home and we would have settled for a witches broom. The thing flew on and during the flight one of the crew came down to see how we were, at the same time I couldn't help but notice most of the rivets were loose and jumping about. I mentioned this and he told me not to worry, in his American English “Bud, the old girl is worn out, but she will make it as long as the engines keep going, she will cough a bit now and again, but it hasn't let us down yet.”

There were several planes in this flight and it was a terrible shock to see one of them go down into the sea, (B-24 crash on Taiwan 10 Sept, B24J "Ginny"). I don't know why or what happened but because of the 12 inch gap underneath us with the air rushing in, we were able to see it hit the water. Every one was very upset, after all the suffering and starting the journey home, only to be caught up in such a disaster.

Plane Crashed Carrying POWS

Flight 66 of 117 Squadron RAF Dakota left Rangoon Mingladoon on the 8th September 1945 for Saigon to evacuate British Prisoners of War in the area who had been prisoners under the Japanese for three and a half years, all were suffering from starvation and tropical diseases.

On arrival the plane, loaded with 24 POW’s and the RAF crew of four, took off on the return flight, landing at Bangkok to refuel.

It is then reported that about 1pm on that day villagers to the village of Nuaunggangle about 13 mile north west of Moulmein in Burma and about 150 miles south east of the final destination of Rangoon heard an aircraft out at sea, followed by an explosion. The same evening at high tide they found various articles washed ashore and the next day at low tide saw the wreckage scattered over a sandbank. Several bodies which were unidentified were recovered but no trace of survivors were found.

The following is a list of crew and exprisoners who were known to be on the aircraft and died. All their names are recorded on the Singapore Memorial in Kranji War Cemetery Singapore.

Crew: Wing Cdr Samson AJDFC (30); Sq Ltd Grotrian RPD (36); Flt/Lt Bridge R (39); Flt/Lt Cuthbert JF DFC (37); all of 117 Squadron RAF.

POWs: Cpl Ablitt HR (33) RAMC; L.Sgt Arthur EA (34) 51 Fld RA; Gnr Bruce JB (38) k; Gnr Cotterill H (44) RA; Gnr Crawford JJ (29) RA; Bdr Daws F (33) RA; L/Sgt De Roux MF (40) RNF; Pte Edwards H (26) RAMC; L/Sgt Edwards EJ (29) Gordons; Sgt Hawthorn RH (37) RA; Gnr Hendy RH (37) RA; Pte Marskell GE (23) Suffolks; Gnr Payne JD (39) RA; L/Bdr Randell WJ (39) RA; Pte Ferrow J (25) 6 Norfolks; Pte Gadd RGV (23) E Surreys; Pte Jeeps L (24) 2 Cambs; L/Bdr Murfin R (28) RA; Gnr Pears JP (29) RA; Dvr Price M (33) RASC; Sgm Roy LFN (29) R Sigs; Pte Skeldon A (29) Argylls; Sgt Thomas V (29) RA; L/Cpl Warren FJ (31) RASC. 


 The newspaper cutting above is not the plane that crashed flying from Japan but one from Saigon, which had just taken off from Bangkok.

The Boneshaker I was flying in never quite made the proper runway and after a lot of dust coming up from the gap in the bomb bay, we came safely to a halt a few miles out. We were all in USA uniforms because when we came to the first freedom point we were de-loused and sworn in.

They put us in a kind of open hospital for about eight days, during which time they again fitted us out in Australian gear complete with pay book so we kind of had a choice.

One day we were told to visit a table where three officers were present and we were then offered a country to go to. There was South Africa, Canada or England. England being my home was of course the place I wanted and thinking that was that and we would be soon flying home, but it was again not so simple. We were told we were not to fly and would be going home by ship as soon as one came. This is how I came to be on the Empress Of Austria.

Back in Blighty, my parents received a notification letter of my release from a Jap pow camp,  hand written on spare paper. Quite an informal letter for one being away three and a half years.

It seemed such a slow journey and we pulled in at Colombo where a visit from Edwina Mountbatton would take place. On the day she came aboard, she was talking to a group on the after deck, being so hot, I went up on deck with only a loin cloth on, this I’d kept as a souvenir and was the ideal thing in that climate. She immediately turned to me and told me I couldn’t go about like that, especially at home. I took the hint and said I was sorry, but I've got used to the thing during the last few years and feel lost without it, she had a laugh. I found her very pleasant and down to earth, she explained the powers that be, had thought about us and tried many times to find a way to set us free, but without success. It was a lively humorous gathering full of jokes like “What kept you so long”, it was all taken in good spirit.

When we arrived at Liverpool around the 27th October 1945, the weather was rough and we laid out until it eased.

The ship had alot of civilians and it was announced that they would be first off. This made the pow’s mad. This was the first time we had seen the new army berets. We thought them stupid things, the old forage caps were a blessing in winter when you could unbutton them, pull them down over your ears and neck, likewise in the tropics they would keep the mosquitoes off. As a result of our delay we threw those berets over the side.  Needless to say we were the first off the ship.

We were then put on a train to London, arriving at Euston Station. Well what a sight, there were people every where, even on the girders in the roof! They shouted out to us, asking for information about various men, were they were alive or had we seen them. Some were holding up photos of the men they were looking for. We were surrounded by Military Police who tried to squeeze us through the crowd to get into army trucks to take us to the next station and home. I went to Liverpool Street Station and was put in a compartment with a man and his son who was an ex-pow. During the journey home the man didn’t stop talking. He told his son what a terrible time he'd had at home. Shoes and suits were rationed, “Look at this one I'm wearing, hardly any collar and the food has been cut down only a small piece of meat and cheese each week, and now they are going to ration the bread, what is it all coming to” We hadn’t seen bread for nearly 4 years, strange world!

I like many others kept my USA uniform and was wearing it right up to the time I arrived at my front door.

We all had that same feeling, to put it in the past and forget it, but on returning home I was told in a London Hospital, it was best to talk, to help clear the mind. We also still think that people will never know or understand our situation.

Welcome home but our thoughts would always be of the mates left behind in the Cemeteries. A  grim reminder of the cost of war.


Next Chapter

Courage to Endure



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