Arthur Stewart King Scarf VC
There is not much written about Arthur Stewart King Scarf, to me he seems to be a quiet hero. This page is in tribute to him.
The London Gazette wrote a supplement about his action in June 1946 and is featured below in full, followed by a short summary from Peter Elphick’s book Singapore - “The Pregnable Fortress” and then later still a piece by Sallie Hammond, the goddaughter of Scarf’s wife, Sallie Gunn.
The London Gazette
Of FRIDAY, the 21st of JUNE, 1946
Published by Authority
Registered as a newspaper
FRIDAY, 21 JUNE, 1946
Air Ministry, 21st June, 1946.
The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the posthumous award of the VICTORIA CROSS to the undermentioned Officer in recognition of most conspicuous bravery: —
Squadron Leader Arthur Stewart King Scarf (37693), Royal Air Force, No. 62 Squadron.
On 9th December, 1941, all available aircraft from the Royal Air Force Station, Butterworth, Malaya, were ordered to make a daylight attack on the advanced operational base of the Japanese Air Force at Singora, Thailand. From this (base, the enemy fighter squadrons were supporting the landing operations.
The aircraft detailed for the sortie were on the point of taking off when the enemy made a combined dive-bombing and low level machine-gun attack on the airfield. All our aircraft were destroyed or damaged with the exception of the Blenheim piloted by Squadron Leader Scarf. This aircraft had become airborne a few seconds before the attack started.
Squadron Leader Scarf circled the airfield and witnessed the disaster. It would have been reasonable had he abandoned the projected operation which was intended to be a formation sortie. He decided, however, to press on to Singora in his single aircraft. Although he knew that this individual action could not inflict much material damage on the enemy, he, nevertheless, appreciated the moral effect which it would have on the remainder of the squadron, who were helplessly watching their aircraft burning on the ground.
Squadron Leader Scarf completed his attack successfully. The opposition over the target was severe and included attacks by a considerable number of enemy fighters. In the course of these encounters, Squadron Leader Scarf was mortally wounded. " The enemy continued to engage him in a running fight, which lasted until he had regained the Malayan border. Squadron Leader Scarf fought a brilliant evasive action in a valiant attempt to return to his base. Although he displayed the utmost gallantry and determination, he was, owing to his wounds, unable to accomplish this. He made a successful forced-landing at Alor Star without causing any injury to his crew. He was received into hospital as soon as possible, but died shortly after admission.
Squadron Leader Scarf displayed supreme heroism in the face of tremendous odds and his splendid example of self-sacrifice will long be remembered.
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London Daily Mail - June 22 1946.
Comment by one of the masters of Kings College School, Wimbledon, where Arthur Scarf had been a pupil (1922-1931):-
"A pleasant boy, maybe not frightfully bracing, but a fine ordinary chap. He never reached the Rugger 15, but played a steady unsensational game in the second team and he was mad about aeroplanes".
Dairy Entry - by Basil Walker-Taylor
Basil Walker-Taylor kept a diary of his time until the fall of Singapore when he was interned in Changi for the duration.
8th December 1941
A large bomber crashed in the rice fields about a mile away. We heard later it was an RAF Blenheim piloted by Pongo Scarf. He had been bombing Singgora and received wounds in the chest from machine gun bullets. He was so weak by the time he got back to Alor Star that he couldn't steer his plane properly, and it crashed. He was alive when taken out of the plane but died later in hospital.
Pat [Basil's wife] wanted to stay in Alor Star, so we put it to the British Adviser, JD Hall. He agreed there was no urgent danger, so Pat could stay on. She and Mrs Mather would be the only two women remaining, apart from some of the Hospital sisters. He invited Pat and I to stay at the Residency, and we went around at about 7pm that evening...
10th December 1941
...we eventually got to Kulim about midday. There, I saw Graham, who was in charge of things generally. He arranged for Pat to stay with the Public works Department (PWD) people, and asked if I would take Mrs Scarf back with me to Alor Star. After her husband's death she had evacuated to Kulim with the rest of the Air force wives, but had then decided she would carry on with her job nursing at the Alor Star hospital......I picked up Mrs Scarf and we got to Sungei Patani about 3pm.
Information supplied by Paddy Walker-Taylor
The Pregnable Fortress by Peter Elphick
In his book Singapore - “The Pregnable Fortress” Peter Elphick writes on page 225 about Arthur Scarf VC.
On 9th December Alor Star airfield, the most northerly one on the west coast, was also abandoned, the seven surviving Blenheims of 62 Squadron flying to Butterworth fifty miles to the south. (On that date the freshwater pipeline feeding Alor Star aerodrome was blown up by saboteurs. These might have been members of Captain Heenan’s spy organisation, for a contemporary record stated that he ‘controlled all subversive elements in the northern area from the Prai River to Penang and the Thailand border’.)
From Butterworth that afternoon one of the 62 Squadron Blenheim pilots now stationed there made the flight that won him what was chronologically the first of the four VCs awarded in the campaign. (It was not promulgated until 1946.) The Blenheims of 62 Squadron and 34 Squadron were about to take off for a raid on Singora when they were attacked by Japanese planes. Only one of the Blenheim planes piloted by Squadron-Leader A.S.K. ‘Pongo’ Scarf, managed to get into the air. He and his navigator, Flight-Sergeant (later Squadron-Leader) G. ‘Paddy’ Calder, DFC, DFM, pressed home a lone sortie against Singora in the teeth of heavy flak and attacks by enemy fighters. The plane was badly damaged and Scarf was mortally wounded. He managed to get his plane back behind British lines to crash-land it at the now-evacuated Alor Star airfield. Scarf, aged twenty-eight, died in hospital the following day.
From that event sprang one of the Singapore myths.
The story went that Scarf’s wife Elizabeth, known as ‘Sally’, was a nurse at Alor Star hospital and that he died in her arms after she had volunteered two pints of blood for a transfusion. It made a romantic, if very sad tale.
From this Peter Elphick goes on to cast doubts on what happened at Alor Star Hospital.
It is not known who invented the story but it appeared in several books. Sally Scarf (later Gunn) did nothing to discredit the story, and why should she have? - it made such a tellable tale. Sally was indeed a nurse at Alor Star, but she, along with all the other ‘military’ wives in the north had been sent south the day before her husband’s death. It was especially necessary to get her away from the front line as she was well into a pregnancy (which in itself is evidence that part of the story is false, for a doctor would not would not have taken blood from a pregnant woman).
Two unmarried nursing sisters at the General Hal were left behind. One of these was miss Phyllis Briggs (later Mrs P.M. Thom). Let her diary tell the true story.
“Suddenly an ambulance arrived, it was Pongo Scarf, a young RAF officer we all knew well. His plane had crash-landed in a field nearby. Pongo was badly wounded. He was given a blood transfusion but his condition was hopeless. His wife Sally was one of our nursing sisters, but during the previous day she had left Alor Star with the rest of the Service wives, so poor Pongo died without seeing her again. I was determined that he would be properly buried. We managed to get a coffin from the jail. Another sister came along with me in my Morris 8 and we followed the ambulance bearing the coffin to the local cemetery where a grave had been dug. On our way we met two army padres driving towards us. I stopped the car and asked them if they would come with us to say a prayer, so later when I saw Sally I could tell her that we had done all we could.”
The true story of Pongo Scarf’s death and the burial is in a way even more touching than the myth. Unfortunately Phyllis Briggs never did see Sally again.
Peter Elphick’s Notes:
16:- One of the earliest writers to mention the story was N. Shorrick, Lion In The Sky, federal Publications, Singapore, 1968.
The Diary of Miss P.M. Briggs. 82/24/1. is in the Imperial War Museum, London.
Correspondence between Mrs P.M. Thom and the author, 1993. This author had the pleasure recently of putting Pongo’s sister, Mrs Kit Hair in touch with Mrs Thom and for the first time Mrs Hair heard the true story. She writes, ‘I never accepted Sally’s account of giving blood and that they hadn’t time to bury him. How I wish Mother could have known.’
One last point about the Pongo Scarf affair. The surviving member’s of 62 Squadron have always been convinced that two VCs and not just one should have been awarded for the sortie made by that solitary Blenheim. Paddy Calder assisted Pongo to fly the plane back although he was not a pilot. What has not been recorded before is that Calder also helped in crash-landing the plane. Members of 62 Squadron always suspected this, but Paddy Calder is a very modest and unassuming man, and one who had no wish to detract in the slightest way from the honour of the award made to his comrade. The author met Paddy at the Squadron reunion at Stratford-upon-Avon in April 1993, and for the first time and in the presence of several witnesses, Paddy agreed that Pongo would not have been able to land the plane without his help. This is recorded here as a tribute to two very brave men.
Sallie Hammond - Goddaughter of Sallie Gunn
Sallie has written to me with proof that Sallie Gunn was present and did give blood to her dying husband.
I am Sallie Gunn's goddaughter-named after her. My mother Sister Pat Boxall was present with Sallie in Alor Star when Arthur Scarf was received at the emergency department of the hospital. He was mortally wounded and my mother set up the intravenous therapy whilst Sallie gave a blood transfusion for her husband. My mother was a nursing sister with Queen Alexandra's Imperial Nursing Corps.
My mother and Sallie had to leave Alor Star soon after because of the Japanese invasion. I have letters documenting the evidence. My father was Squadron Leader Charles Harley Boxall - he was the Acting Station Commander and Pongo Scarf was in 62 Squadron with him at Alor Star.. Peter Elphick mentions a Paddy Calder accompanying Squadron Leader Scarf, yet according to the names on my father's flight list, there is no name of Calder. Perhaps, as said, as he was not a pilot, his name does not appear to be on this list. My father's own heroic rescue from a deserted island in the Malay Archiapelego, accompanied by his navigator and radio officer-Martin and Podger is recorded in Frank (Taffy) Griffith's book "Angel Visits- from Biplane to Jet",(1986) page 13. I have news clippings of Sallie Gunn and Arthur Scarf. She remained my mother's best friend until her death in April 1985. My mother died 1990 and my father died 1994.
Herewith the information as promised. Sallie Scarf died in April 1985. In her own words, written to my mother as an affidavit:
"On the 9th December, 1941, during the afternoon, I was off duty when Pat Boxall, another Nursing Sister at Alor Star Hospital came over to tell me an English casualty was being brought in.
I was very shocked when I found the patient was my late husband Pongo(Sq./Ldr.A.S.k.Scarf, V.C.) who had by some miracle managed to land his plane in a paddy field nearby to the aerodrome and hospital, his two sergeants being unscathed.
Dr Peach who brought him in had administered some medication and Pongo was cheerfully saying"Don't worry", but he was severely wounded in his left arm and back. He was quietly settled in a twin bedded ward and a saline drip was put up. As soon as the doctor saw him he ordered at least two pints of blood. As I was found compatible, two pints were taken.
Pat Boxall went with him to the theatre (Operating Room). Pongo was still cheerful and said "Don't worry, keep smiling, chin up!" Pat returned soon afterwards to tell me he just slipped away whilst under anaesthesia. I couldn't believe it and went along to the theatre to verify the tragic news. The next day Pat's husband,Squadron Leader Harley Boxall, and Group Captain N. Irving arrived and took us to join the other wives and children for evacuation. I must thank Phyllis Briggs (who remained behind) for burying my late husband."
Another letter to my mother 28th October 1984:
"Think I told you that some years ago I sent the V.C. to Kit's son John. Kit and Pongo got on very well.----- I seemed miles away back in the shambles of Malaya and Singapore whilst receiving the Award at Buckingham Palace, but always remember the King saying "Your late husband did a wonderful act, for which this country will be eternally grateful".
Hope this information will be worthwhile and useful for your website. Our war heroes need to be remembered.
Sallie Hammond (nee Boxall)
Although there is some controversy to the happenings when Pongo was admitted into Alor Star Hospital, there is no doubt he was a very brave and courageous man and will be remembered as such, a Far Eastern Hero.
Photo supplied by Scott Middlebrook
Pongo Scarf now lies buried in the military cemetery at Taiping
Arthur Stewart King Scarf
No. 62 Squadron
Royal Air Force
May he rest in peace