I go to Bassein and back in a Lysander. F/Sgt Falconer and his men drive off to Magwe, after I have gone down to docks the night before and stole what rations they want. Yesterday we are all packed up to go, and Mann is sent on a recce to find out if the Japs have crossed the Sittang or not. If they have we are to go off at once and evacuate the joint. Mann has a squirt at a Jap “Army 97” and sees it enter a fog bank at about 100′ with smoke coming out of its wings. But not confirmed. I am trying to fuel up the Lysanders and though I find some 230 (JDW: octane, fuel) I can’t get a bowser and eventually put 100 octane fuel in. Then I am sent on a recce. (JDW: in a Hurricane 11b) I go at 500′ over river and find no troops crossing, a look over our lines and then I make for the railway station across the bridge at about 1000′. Suddenly, bang! by my right elbow and the cockpit fills with hot smoke. I recognise it as Glycol, my goggles mist over, but I head for our lines and try to climb, undoing my straps for a “bale out”. At about 2000′ the engine gets hoarse, oil pressure drops to 50 lb and the glycol stops pouring up. I look over side, funk jumping, then see a small river with a stretch of sand by it. I lower the wheels, forget to do up my straps again, throttle back and make for it. I switch off and notice smoke coming from engine, so she is about seizing up. I just can’t make the sandbank, “pull the nose up to lengthen the glide” and suddenly the light disappears and I am under water. I have failed to reach sand, and stalled into two and a half feet of water short of it. Only damage, one of my precious lenses broken in my goggles.
I wade ashore, met some locals to whom I chat, when Pete Jennings and some soldiers arrive. They burn the aircraft, we walk back to 17 Indian Division HQ and find they have shot me down and were still firing when I was trying to land!
Beer, lunch and I get back in Pete’s car to Pegu, and get a lift to Mingaladon aerodrome from there. Situation chaotic at the front. Most of the division on wrong side of the river, the bridge blown and HQ not knowing who is where. They fire at all aircraft, having been shot up by Blenheims, Hurricanes and P40s. Tea with some 12 ton American tanks. Met Kinnarid on 17 Division staff.
JDW: This episode became part of family legend – my father would often tell me how he was shot down and had to crash land in a ‘crocodile pond’. Technically I suppose he was right – sort of – but no sign of crocodiles here dad!
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