When I was a boy I would often try to get my father to tell me about his wartime experiences as a Navigator/WO in the RAF and sometimes I would be rewarded for my efforts with a tale or two. I found his stories enthralling although, at that young age, I was always more interested to hear about crash landings and strafing attacks than of feats of navigation across the featureless jungles of Burma. Dad and his pilot, Geoff, survived 200 hours of operational flying in Beaufighters during 1944 and were both subsequently awarded the DFC.
Dad is 89 years old now and has just had his memoirs Looking Backwards Over Burma published. He has made use of Squadron records from the PRO and his own original logbook to present his recollections in a fascinating and well-written account. The story traces his time spent on an OTU (Operational Training Unit) in Britain through his experiences navigating a Beaufighter 7,000 miles from England to India and the following nine months on 211 Squadron in Burma.
On leave in India 1944
The Beaufighter was a two-man aircraft made famous for its work as a night-fighter but deployed to Burma in a Strike role by SEAC (South East Asia Command). The aircraft were usually despatched singly on ground-attack missions flying at treetop-level deep into Japanese held territory where they attacked targets of opportunity with rockets and cannon fire. It was unusual for the aircraft to return from such a mission without having come under enemy fire at some point in the journey. The return leg of the flight involved the tired crews nursing their aircraft, low on fuel, back to base across the Chin Hills sometimes in the thick of the monsoon.
A detail from Dad's original navigation map
During his time on operations 211 Squadron lost 36 aircrew from 18 aircraft that failed to return to base. Dad and Geoff crash-landed on three occasions, once in England and twice on operations but each time they both walked away unscathed. When his tour expired, Dad was posted to other duties for six months as was the normal practice. He was just about to return to operational flying when the atomic bomb was dropped and the war ended.
Looking Backwards Over Burma by Dennis Spencer is available from Woodfield Publishing price £9.95. An extract from the book can be read on Don Clark’s superb 211 Squadron site.