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Royal Canadian Air Force in Action in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in WW II
 
 
"My first impression of Ceylon occurred when the "York" crossed from the drab landscape of Western India to the verdant Island Pearl of the Indian Ocean. I fell in love with it right away."

"When the Tsunami hit Sri Lanka, I felt a stab in my heart that such a  beautiful place and it's delightful people should bear such a great tragedy." - William (Bill) Cody -

 
@ copyright 2005 Lanka Library
 

"My first impression of Ceylon occurred when the "York" crossed from the drab landscape of Western India to the verdant Island Pearl of the Indian Ocean. I fell in love with it right away."

Royal Canadian Navy sub lieutenant William (Bill) Cody was in Ottawa when he heard about the boxing day Indian ocean Tsunami disaster. "When the Tsunami hit Sri Lanka, I felt a stab in my heart that such a  beautiful place and it's delightful people should bear such a great tragedy" Bill wrote to me in his first e-mail.

 Avro York C1
Avro York C1

In 1941, Avro designer Roy Chadwick began to sketch out a long range transport aircraft based on the Lancaster. The result became the Avro Type 685 York, and the prototype flew on 5 July 1942.  Production began in 1943 and 258 aircraft were manufactured before construction ceased in November 1946. Yorks were used by the RAF and by a number of British and Commonwealth airlines and charter companies during the 1940s and 1950s. During the Berlin Airlift, Yorks flew 58124 of the 131800 sorties conducted by the RAF.

"During World War II in 1945 I was stationed in the Royal Navy Air base at Katukurunda attached to the Seafire 879 Squadron. We left  England via Malta, Cairo West, Shaiba (Basra?) and Karachi to arrive at the Race Track in Colombo on April 26, 1945.  The aircraft was an RAF Avro York Transport whose Captain was Squadron Leader David Hodgkinson. I add this bit of trivia because many years later I worked in Canada's Department of Transport and who should I encounter as another Civil Aviation Inspector but one David Hodgkinson; this was in 1965, 25 years later."

I don't remember too much about the living quarters at Katukurunda but the dispersal area where we had our Seafires is fresh in my mind. There was an office where log books and flight documents were kept, but mostly we the flight and ground crews sat around outside and did our "work". The weather conditions were hot and humid and at times soaking wet with heavy rain. Water and other liquid refreshments were practically non-existent at the dispersal so we used to ask the local boys to climb the trees to throw coconuts down to us, for the price of a few cigarettes. The cool coconut "juice" was a refreshing pleasure.

"At the time we were based at the Royal Navy's Air Base at Katukurunda with 879 Squadron of Seafire we were working-up a new group of replacement pilots who had recently arrived from the UK, and were preparing to join HMS Attacker, an Escort Carrier to recapture Burma and Malay. Prior to that event, we had to do a lot of training to integrate the new pilots and work up the Squadron to full operational condition. This would include formation flying, fighter tactics, bombing and gunnery and jungle survival.

"Did the Tsunami wave swamp the dried up lake near Hambantota?"

On one of those exercises, our flight of 4 Seafires encountered heavy clouds between the bombing range near Hambantota and Katukurunda and the leader decided to do a precautionary landing on the dried-up lake that had been used as a bombing range. Three of us landed OK despite dodging around bomb craters and other obstacles but unfortunately, the fourth pilot, one of my good friends, Sub Lieutenant Denis Armstrong died when he crash landed on a nearby beach. He  was buried near Colombo with full military honours.. This was circa July 1945."

The next segment of training involved deck landing re qualifications for all pilots. During this phase, we had several accidents on the flight deck during very rough sea conditions and we lost one pilot who crashed on top of 4 other aircrafts parked on the front of the flight deck; all five aircrafts went overboard.
The dead pilot was Lt. Foxon from South Africa. This concluded our operations from Katukurunda and the West Coast as of July 12, 1945.

On July 21st  we started more training at Trincomalee. We lost another pilot on August 4, 1945, one Sub Lieutenant William (Bill) Jones while doing more carrier deck landing qualifications on board HMS Hunter. Circa September 30th, we left Ceylon on our way towards Singapore. 

The plan was to sail towards the Malayan Peninsular to recapture it from the Japanese, but half way there at Car Nicobar (I believe), we heard that the Atomic Bomb had been dropped and the Japanese had surrendered. We continued on to Singapore to pick up Prisoners of War and then HMS ATTACKER and our Squadron returned to the UK disembarking at Belfast, Northern Ireland, where the Squadron disbanded and we all returned to our families." 

William has great memories about Sri Lanka and it's people "I loved your delightful Island Nation and its people"

"Several years ago when I was working in the Civil Aviation Branch of the Canadian Government, I had the pleasure of escorting a Mr. Perera from the Ceylon Civil Aviation Administration to explain to him our administration of Regulatory procedures. After his return to Ceylon, he sent me a miniature
Elephant carving which I cherish to this day.." Bill writes in his second mail.

Thank you Ceylon and your people for a most memorable few months of my life.

In reviewing some of my souvenirs, I came across a Blotting Paper that was given out to us visitors by a Mrs. Christy in Colombo with a map of Ceylon on the front showing the various sites and the Tea Plantations. I believe Mrs. Christy was involved with charitable work for servicemen.

Also, as the Seafire was noted for overheating during prolonged ground operations which would cause the Glycol coolant building up pressure and "Blowing" a seal which would prevent the aircraft from flying, I picked up a cutting from our Royal Canadian Legion Magazine dated June, 1990 reporting such a situation, as follows.

HUMOR
by Dave McIntosh

John Robertson of North Bend, B.C (British Columbia), recounts that in 1944 one jungle airstrip in Ceylon was so hot that naval aircraft overheated as they taxied to the runway for takeoff. So they were towed to the takeoff point.
Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten arrived one day for a squadron inspection
" What is your operational strength?" he asked.
"Twelve Seafires and one elephant, sir" said the C.O.
This was a new one to Mountbatten.
"How fast does an elephant go?" he asked
"About 3 knots,sir" said the C.O. and pointed to the runway. Sarah was just ambling up to the takeoff point with a Seafire on tow.

Mary Gair in Gravenhurst Ontario writes ."My uncle was in the Royal Canadian Air force during World War 2 and was killed in action. He was buried with 5 other Canadian airmen in Kandy Cemetery. I have been looking for pictures of the cemetery. Do you know where there are any online?"

Warrant Officer George Michael Frederick Stockwell, the uncle of  Mary Gair, was just 20 years old when he was killed in action with another 4 Canadian crew members on December 7, 1943 in Ceylon. He too was working for the RCAF

Mary has some photos of the war cemetery and of the headstone of her uncle's grave that were taken in 1966 by a Mr. F.C. Aitkens who worked for Civil Aviations (ICAO). He visited the Kandy War cemetery and wrote a lovely letter to Mary's  grandparents describing where their son is buried.

The picture of the 5 men - is the crew that were all killed and are buried in this cemetery. They are RCAF not RAF as the headstone reads. They are  from left to right George Stockwell (my uncle), E.C. "Red" Currie, Ed and Fergie in the back and "Digger " is sitting in the front. They all died December 7, 1943.

The picture of the 5 men - is the RCAF crew that were all killed and are buried
in the Kandy War  cemetery.  They are  from left to right  George Stockwell,  E.C. "Red" Currie,  Ed and Fergie in the back and "Digger " is sitting in the front. They all died December 7, 1943.

 

Comments:

I came across a photograph on www.lankalibrary.com/geo/RCAF.htm of five men who the accompanying text says all died on December 7, 1943.

The crew of the RAF 160 Sqdn B24 Liberator that crashed on takeoff on that date, killing all onboard were

RCAF Men:
Wilford Clay LOVE - Pilot.
Kenneth Frederick PERERA - Navigator.
George Michael Frederick STOCKWELL - Wireless Op, Air Gunner.
Roy William MACDONALD - Wireless Op, Air Gunner.
Archie Earl "Fergie" FERGUSON - Wireless Op, Air Gunner.
Ewen Cameron "Red" CURRIE - Wireless Op, Air Gunner.

RAFVR Men.
Dennis KIRK - Wireless Op, Air Gunner.
Douglas Gordon DAVIE - Pilot

The text includes an "Ed" and "Digger" which doesn't relate to LOVE, PERERA or MACDONALD, so I think only three of the crew are on the photograph.

I would very much like to contact any of your sources of this reference and photograph.

Ed Austin - Auckland - New Zealand.

 
 

WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka