On reporting to the Adjutant I found that I was to be made responsible for the transport of a considerable amount of extra equipment to raise the standard of the new airstrip to that of an airbase and was taken on a tour of inspection of the entire depot. During this time he was pointing out the various items and I asked for more time to make sure that I could organise the shipping. "Oh. Don't worry about that; you will be here for a couple of weeks yet!" Just to maintain some sort of order airmen were placed on the station strength with all the parades, bullshit and general discipline.
Nothing is more true that the old saying that the Devil finds work for idle hands and my mind immediately went to the possibility of making life as happy as possible for the lads of the squadron. The stores area which covered several acres had everything; an Aladdin's cave but how to get anything out? There was a veritable mountain of four gallon petrol tins of rations. Nothing like that wonderful invention 'The Jerrycan'. There were very few of those that had been plundered from the German stores after the retreat in North Africa. Ours were made of fairly flimsy tinplate but they had some unusual advantages, one of which was that the same container could be used for emergency rations. Nothing as slick as the American 'K' rations but they contained four gallons of food, cigarettes etc: Rather difficult to smuggle one out of the compound though!
I made sure that the guards found that the sight of me wandering around with my clipboard too familiar to question. One item that interested me was a veritable lighthouse mounted on a chassis with it's own generator in a fair sized cabin. This beacon was an item for a full sized airport and quite unfamiliar to us on the jungle airstrips.
This contraption was parked close to the packs of food packed tins. There was plenty of time to think. I discovered that the engineers who had assembled the airport beacon had gone on to Kjaukpyu and they had left the skids that had carried the generator etc. alongside. The manifest that contained the items to be shipped was on my clipboard together with the serial numbers of the machinery, vehicles, including the generators. Since there was so much to gather I had no difficulty in convincing the powers that be that I could save them considerable time by assembling all of the equipment to go to Ramree Island in one corner of the compound where it would remain under guard until shipment. This offer was accepted with great alacrity, especially when I offered airmen from my own staff to do the collecting. All that I needed from them would be staff to check the vehicles etc. into the designated corner.
One of my boyhood heroes was the escapologist Harry Houdini and I had made a study of his methods and this played the major part in my plans.All closed items were sealed and the beacon generator cabin was padlocked a huge clasp at the top and bottom of the door with a large lead seal on each. I gathered my most reliable airmen and quite baldly told them of my plans. They listened with growing excitement and I had a little team of boys planning to raid an apple orchard. Two or three days before we were due to embark I led them through the guards hoping that they did not appear too eager. After all, they would not be able to take anything out!
We made a dummy run the day before to see what tools we should require to remove the hinge bolts.As soon as we were inside I made sure that there was much driving around delivering vehicles and equipment. Meanwhile I took a low loader that was to go with us alongside the beacon, we placed the skids on it. Fortunately there were a couple of aircraft fitters in our little band. We removed the hinge bolts and the door swung free on the padlock hasps as sweet as a nut. The generator was unbolted and with much grunting and sweating, bolted onto the skids that it had come from. A human chain filled the cabin in a few minutes with the four gallon ration tins plus two complete radios for our Hurricanes and the door swung back. There was a heart stopping moment when we could not align the hinge bolts but all was well. A lick of camouflage paint (there was enough on the site to paint a battleship) and all was well. We left the low loader and beacon until near the end and I personally checked the serial numbers, seals etc: with the guards. That done, I thanked the guards for their help and said Goodbye. There was nothing more for us to do. All remained under guard until embarkation and we had only to drive our own vehicles aboard.
We had a little drink together that evening. and drank to the loading going without a hitch as it was now out of our hands. Later, as promised, I had a drink with the adjutant. I must admit to a fleeting feeling of guilt when he invited the C.O. over to thank me for my help!
With all seals intact and checked, we embarked for an uneventful sea cruise to Kjaukpyu.
Chrish; true to his word, had bagged a very decent basha for the two of us and F/O David, a friend of ours, a charming fellow and a very good pilot. The flying strip was larger than we had been accustomed to and our bashas were located in an old Kazoo (Cashew) grove, all very luxurious but we had a problem. There was nowhere to hide our ill-gotten gains. Those shining tins would stand out like a sore thumb. After much discussion with the original team we came up with a very simple answer. There were enough slit trenches everywhere. We just dug out the sandy soil a little deeper, put the tins in the bottom and covered them with soil. I handed over the beacon. It was towed away and all was 'normal'.
Somewhere in a novel by Aldous Huxley there is a comment on a perfect bay, "Round as a fish's eye". It was the perfect description. A mile or so across, symmetrical, with a broad pure silver sand beach. There were several rocks off shore with the pure white of the spray in sharp contrast with the deep blue of the surrounding sea. Beautiful as it was there were disadvantages. I had just come back from sick bay where one of our lads was recovering from an encounter with a jellyfish. He was in shallow water and a wave just threw the animal across his legs and back. He was in very poor shape. It looked as though he had been 'embraced by an octopus' with a large ulcer marking the place where each sucker had touched. There is much talk of sharks and alligators having gathered to eat the bodies of Japanese casualties. One glorious sight was a huge ray hurling itself into the air and falling back into the water with a huge splash.
So many just stripped off an dived into the warm water and why not. We did, however, discover why loincloths are almost universal. It was amusing to see a naked man try to run for the first time. He starts off in fine style but then discovers that his penis flaps from thigh to thigh, resulting in his having to hold the thing as he runs with a stupid grin on his face. How Australia aboriginals manage I have no idea. I only report our own experience. The matter has not caused me any loss of sleep, merely puzzlement. Just poor design which made man think, which gave him a big brain, which---------------------. I give up.
The cashews are quite fascinating. Imagine a small pepper fruit attached to the tree upside down. At the broad end where one would expect to see the stalk, hangs the cashew nut. The fruit itself is useless with a thin skin, starting green and ripening to red. Both the fruit and nut when fresh can bring a blister to the skin. I have no idea who told us how to make the nut edible but we had a good assembly line running. In the Western Desert the 'Desert Rats' had invented the 'Desert stove'. A four gallon petrol can is two thirds filled with sand into which is poured petrol. This burns with a steady flame over which one can prepare food. In our case we used it to burn off the volatile oils from the nut that cause the trouble.
As we were sitting around eating the nuts, Ranjan Dutt barged in having been away on a course. He took a fruit from the pile, removed the nut and started to eat it.
Ranji was the most impulsive of men and we all grabbed to opportunity to teach him a lesson. "Ranji!' 'What have you done?" "It's a deadly poison?". "Is your mouth beginning to burn?" We knew damned well that it would be. He spat out the nut and looked at us imploringly. "Keep him walking!". Taking an arm each we started to walk him up and down. He was genuinely suffering by then, his lips and tongue were swelling and he was quite terrified as we told him our own version of his prognosis. He would almost certainly die. What on earth made him do such a damned silly thing? Had he any last words? Who was his committee of adjustment? We took turns to keep him walking. Was he feeling sleepy? Were his legs feeling numb? He imagined everything that we said to be true. We got the M.O. after having let him into the 'joke'.
After a few moments he took my arm and said "We had better not let this go on. He may well go into shock." Thus we were forced to tell Ranji how it was that we were able to enjoy the cashews. He did not even have the energy left to blame us. Neither did he smile. We had taken that one a bit far!
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Edward Sparkes ©1998-2002