Escape from Sumatra

      Keith Stoddart - Hello Don, I have now got my dads records - please see attached.
      If they arent legible, then I can determine that he was in 28 sqn in 1941, 27 sqn in 1941, at Kallang, pc Digh Road 21/3/42, and 258 sqn Columbo 1/5/42.
      Then 35 BGH (probably a hospital) from 17/7/42 on and off to 22/1`/43

      Can anybody comment?

      My dad, George Stoddart RAF 542214, now deceased, told me that he escaped from possibly an island near Summatra where he was a POW. He said that the camp was not a proper one but that the POWs were jus in a large compound where they fended for themselves (mainly on pineapples) he escaped with some 60 odd Naval men by stealing some sort of boat (possibly a coal barge) and sailing eventually to Columbo in Celon.I have recently obtained his records and have had them "Interpreted"
      Here they are:You can see from his form's Mustering details that, having joined on 14 Jul 37 as an Aircraft Hand/Mate, by New Years Eve 37 he'd got to Aircraftsman 2 though still a Mate. 12 months on and as an AC2, he'd now got his flight rigger's ticket. Another year and he's got a step up to AC1, followed by Leading Aircraftsman/Flight Rigger another 12 months on. Steady progress in peace and war, at Home and O'seas, by Dec 43 he's got his Fitter 2A ticket and a step to Corporal - 2 stripes, though I forget the T/Cpl significance for the moment.

      From the Central Flying School at Upavon, he was off to India in Feb 39, on 4 Mar 39 joining No. 28 (Army Cooperation) Squadron (to use the full formal description). 28 Sqdn moved to Kohat , in Northern India near Peshawar & the Khyber Pass on 3 March, but had detachments all over the place, eg at Drigh Road (Karachi), at Peshawar and many others. They were flying Hawker Audaxes then (on charge from Jun 36 to Dec 41).

      By 14 Feb 41 he'd moved to No. 27 Squadron, which was just in the process of reverting to operational status. Having acted as a Flying Training School for about a year from late 39, with a mixed bag of aged Wapitis and latterly Tiger Moths and Harts, Nov 40 saw them re-equipping with Blenheim IFs ( the Mark I with the 4 gun belly pack) and working up to operational readiness. Achieving that state on 10 Feb 41, they were almost immediately (13 Feb) posted to Kallang (Singapore), also spending time at Butterworth (near Penang in northern Malaya, May) and at Sungei Patani (north of Penang, Aug).

      Latterly they were operating from Butterworth and then Kalang in December 41, as the Japanese advanced rapidly down the Malay peninsula. In common with other RAF units, by 24 Jan they are shown as having withdrawn to P2, ie near Palembang, in Sumatra. They are then recorded as having disbanded on 18 Feb, which puts them at Kalidjati in Java, as the Japanese rapidly overran Singapore (fell 15 Feb) Sumatra (16 Feb), and Java (8 Mar). Bear in mind this was a most
      difficult period from which few records survive. Flying Units of the RAF/Lake shows them dispersed from P2 in Sumatra. Perhaps the more detailed background of the main books will tell you more.

      By some stroke of fortune your father was one of the lucky ones evacuated from Java, making it back to Drigh Road (Karachi) by 21 March. Of about 12,000 RAF personnel on Java in late Feb 42, about 7,000 were able to be evacuated, while 5102 fell captive. Tanjong Priok, the port of Batavia (Jakarta) was closed from about 27 Feb, while Tjilatjap continued to evacuate personnel by ship and by air (with some losses) until 3 March. From the dates, you father was one of those taken to India or Ceylon - others went to Fremantle in Western Australia and took rather longer to get back to Ceylon or India.

      In the aftermath of these defeats, there was period of rapid re-organisation and slow rebuilding of RAF units in India and Burma.
      Your father joined 258 Squadron just 2 months after they re-formed at Ratmalana, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), on 1 Mar 42. They too had taken a flogging in Malaya (en route Nov 41 per HMS Indomitable, arriving Jan 42 via Palembang) and then in Sumatra and Java, to disband at Tjilitjan, Java 18 Feb 42. Operating Hurricane Is, IIBs and IICs, on re-forming 258 spent time in Ceylon, mostly near Colombo (Ratmalana and Colombo Racecourse) later moving to Chittagong for the Burma campaign, and other posts near Burma like Cox's Bazaar.

      They took on Thunderbolts from late 44, but there's no endorsement for this in your Dads quals list - he'd been posted to GRAN (General Reconnaissance and Air Navigation) School, India on 25 Sep 43. The School was set up in 24 Oct 42 at Andheri by merging the previous (Jun 42) GRS and ANS - all part of the push to recover from the disasters of the previous 6 months. They flew Dominies and Ansons (your dad had an endorsement for the latter). As to the periods in Hospital, there are a number of them: some quite short, some a week or so, all during his service in India. They seem not to have held him back in any way re postings and trade courses.

      The sources for the Unit info summarised above are RAF Squadrons/Jefford and Source Book of the RAF/Delve. As well, the operations of 27, 28 and 258 Sqdns all get fair coverage in Forgotten Air Force, Bloody Shambles, Glory in Chaos (Ch 6 eg), and briefly in War Without Glory. 258's story in Sumatra and Java is told in Hurricane in Sumatra, the books already noted, and for Burma, see Forgotten Air Force.

      The full Author/Title/publisher details of these books can be found on the 211 site and I'd be extremely surprised if you could'nt get them all by interlibrary loan in the UK - see the Enquiries page for some hints.

      That's about it from me. I don't usually reply further to non-211 queries. All the best with it.

      Don Clark
      211 Squadron RAF site


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