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Having being slightly wounded in early March 1945, by a peice of shrapnel I was sent back from the front to the camp at back to Buithidaung. I had only been back at Buithidaung for less than two weeks, all the time expecting to be called back forward, because my wrist was now healed, when I was told that I had been allocated a local leave in India and was given several venues to choose from. I chose Simla, because it was in the mountains and had a cool climate and prepared to go the following day. Most of my gear I left behind in the stores and only took the bare essentials in a backpack, together with several hundred rupees of back pay in my back pocket.
The next morning I was driven to an airfield that had recently been laid in a clearing for the supply Dakota aircraft to operate from. There was a Dakota going to a place off the coast called Ramree Island, which had a permanent airfield that the Japanese had built while they were there. During this short flight, one of the two engines cut out, but the pilot was totally unfazed and landed perfectly. There was a small camp of wooden huts, also built by the Japs, right at the back of the beach and I spent the rest of that day and the next lazing about the beach, swimming in the sea, diving of several sunken landing craft, sunk during the Allied assault on the island. After tea on the second day, I and two more lads were told that a ferryboat was to pick us up later and we got our gear ready and impatiently waited for it's arrival. If we had known what the night would bring, we wouldn't have been so impatient. It was dark before the ferryboat finally came into the bay and we were ferried out in a small boat and boarded. The boat was crowded but as it was quite warm, we decided to sleep on the deck and luckily as it turned out, used life jackets for pillows. One of the lads with me, a Scottish lance corporal, was delegated to do watch in the wheelhouse and I never saw him again.
Eventually, we went to sleep and it was sometime during the night, probably about 2 am, when we were suddenly awoken by an almighty crashing, tearing sound, and looking up I was aware of a sheer black mass towering above and thought we had run aground, but then saw the shape moving away and realised it was the bow of a large ship. Immediately the deck under us began tilting downwards and panic ensued, with every man for himself. I climbed up the sloping deck until I reached the opposite rail, which was now a very long way above the water, but without any more thought I jumped, hanging on to the life jacket that I had the sense to pick up. Once in the water, which was quite warm, I managed to remove my jacket and mosquito boots and struggle into the life jacket. Two other lads, I later learned, had been sleeping on top of a life raft and managed to knock out the retaining clips before they jumped, and this was floating in the water about fifty yards away. I started swimming towards the raft and must have been halfway there when I heard somewhere behind me a voice shouting "Help, help. I can't swim". Without thinking I went back and found him splashing about in a panic. I swam round behind him, warning him not to grab me, then swam with him to the raft and helped him up on to it. There were two other men on the top of the raft, presumably also non-swimmers, while the rest of us clung on to the rope loops, which were all around the edges of the large square raft. There was very little conversation among us, probably because of the sudden shock.
We had been in the water for what seemed like a very long time, it was still dark with only stars for visibility, when somebody at the other side of the raft from me said in a very loud voice "Aren't there supposed to be sharks in the Bay of Bengal". This caused an immediate panic, with everybody making a noise and thrashing the water with their legs for several minutes. Eventually, things quietened down and the general opinion was that if there were any sharks, they hadn't bothered us when we were quiet, so maybe we should stay that way, and that was what happened, and silence once more descended. In all, we must have been in the water over four hours, and the sky began to lighten as dawn approached, when several small boats appeared and approached us using large flashlights to pick their way among all the other wreckage around. I immediately let go of the raft and swam to the nearest boat, where I was helped on board into the small cabin and given a very large rough towel to drape around me, also a large mug of very hot tea, laced with some kind of spirits. When there were four survivors on board, as many as the small craft could comfortably take, we were taken to the large ship that had sunk us. As we were assisted up the gangway, we were met by an officer, who took down our name, rank and number, also our unit, and then we were given an assortment of odd clothing to wear after we had showered and dried. A hot meal followed, and then a bunk allocated, but I found sleep impossible. After a while, the ship's engines started and we began to move. I attempted to go exploring, but was instructed to stay where I was.
After a very short while, probably about two hours, the ship docked in Calcutta harbour and we were assembled on deck - a very motley crew - and very quickly taken off the ship. At no time did I manage to see the ship's name and nobody ever told me. On the quayside were several Land Rovers driven by military policemen, and the survivors were separated into their various units and whisked away. I was the only member of R.E.M.E and had the vehicle to myself. I was taken to the R.E.M.E HQ in Chowringee, Calcutta, where I had a session with the military policemen in the presence of an officer. He asked me to describe the series of events as I saw them, which I did, but they were obviously sketchy. He particularly wanted to know whether the ferry had it's navigation lights on and whether it had sounded any warning to the other ship, but I didn't know the answer to any of this.
When I returned to the HQ after having my kit and pay replaced, they told me that a sergeant from the Engineers, who was also a survivor, had been looking for "a Geordie" who had helped him, but I never saw him. I would very much like to find this Sergeant after all this time.
I would like to discover the names of the two ships involved in this collision and to contact any survivors or crew from the ship which rescued us. Ernest Wilson
I am looking for any family members of AGRS C-47 43-48308 that was transporting 38 POW remains from Rangoon Burma to Calcutta, India. We are very close to recovering the aircraft, the individuals I am looking for are as follows:
- Gabbart,Robert 1stLt 0-769790
- Power, Melvin L. 1stLt 0-933431
- Ryan, Eugene F. PFC 17134187
- Dutton, Donald C. 1stLt 0-1118713 (MY UNCLE)
- Campbell, James T. Lt.Cmdr. (USNR) 205425
- Chan, Henry 1stLt 0-877552
- Corley, Roy W. Capt. 0-1587766
- Cox, Glenn F. Jr. SSgt 36961684
- Davis, Wallace J. T/5 33551295
- Derbyshire, Henry E. 1stLt 0-1116766
- Hines, Warren R. T/4 42083730
Identified war remains:
- Albinson, Norman E. Sgt. 13176804
- Aubuchon, Urvan A. T.Sgt 37183004
- Bodell, Edward R. T.Sgt 11031740
- Briggs, Everett E. Jr. 2ndLt 0-669189
- Brown, J. Sgt No Serial Number stated
- Cummings, Harold B. Sgt. 6970825
- Gambale, Gene F/O T-121948
- Gonsalves, Elias E. Sgt. 6570123
- Grey, James M. 1stLt 0-665192
- Hopes, Thomas E. S.Sgt 35305336
- Jordan, Francis B. S.Sgt 19064268
- Kavanagh, Robert L. 1stLt 0-435791
- Kelley, John C. 1stLt 0-726034
- Malok, Albert L. S.Sgt 6942456
- Murphy, G.R. (AVG) No rank or serial number
- Pittard, Charles A. T.Sgt 39251123
- Plummer, Everett C. Lt.Col. 0-300865
- Rodriquez, Frank (NMI) S.Sgt 6578491
- Sheets, Jack R. S.Sgt 13067183
- Westberg, Wayne R. Capt 0-732792
- Yackie, Juluis F. Cpl 17072536
Following identified by others but not verified:
- Almand, Paul E. 1stLt 0-494774
- Angell, Robert F. 1stLt 0-407635
- Baker, Burdette H. 2ndLt 0-1698884
- Boldman, Amel Jr. 1stLt 0-416094
- Drummey, Robert D. 1stLt 0-815670
- Gilhousen, William R. Capt 0-667062
- Goodrich, Burdett C. 1stLt 0-750504
- Hogan, Thomas P. Jr. 2ndLt 0-673571
- Liston, Charles B. 1stLt 0-529445
- Ortmeyer, Armin J. Jr. Capt 0-659326
- Rich, Joseph C. 2ndLt 0-739054
- Plus 5 unidentified unknowns - Americans
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