Heroes Return Blog – Stories from Second World War veterans’ trips


“I showed my daughter places I knew” by Big Lottery Fund

A Royal Airforce (RAF) veteran from Wythenshaw, Manchester, recently embarked upon a Lottery-funded journey to where he served in Singapore. Having enjoyed his emotional return, through the Big Lottery Fund’s Heroes Return programme, he now wants others like him to apply for funding.

Jim Colecliffe

Jim Colecliffe returned to Singapore (photo credit – Dominic Holden)

Jim Colecliffe, 87, joined the RAF in 1944 aged 18. Sent to Cardington for basic training he went on to Cosford where he completed a Flight Mechanic Engine Course.

He recalls: “I had been in the ATC a couple of years before I joined up. I was always very interested in planes. I had a model aircraft flying on wires in my house.”

Jim was sent to a squadron in Towyn, North Wales from where he received his posting to the Far East.

Boarding a converted troop ship, HMS Ranchi, Jim sailed for Bombay arriving in January 1945, and from there was transferred to Akyab Island in Burma where he served at rank of Aircraftman 1st class with 62 Squadron RAF a Dakota supply unit.

He said: “Once we knew we were being posted overseas we were sent to Morecambe to get kitted out with pith helmets and all the jungle gear. Once we got to Bombay we had four or five days travelling across India by train.

“It was terrible to see the poverty. People with badly maimed limbs even women and children. I couldn’t believe that people could live like that in this day and age.               

“We then flew to 62 Squadron base on Akyab Island just off the coast of Burma. Once we got there we had to deal with the monsoons, putting up tents and then digging trenches around them. We were what you might call slightly damp. I was only 18 and it was a different world to me all this.”

Carrying out four to five sorties a day to drop vital supplies to front line troops fighting the Japanese, Jim’s was assigned to keep Dakota ‘U’ for Uncle serviced and flying safely.

Jim recalls: “As soon as they landed I would check the cowlings and the engines and then climb into the cockpit, check over all the instruments and run the engines to make sure everything was working properly.

Jim Colecliffe

Jim pictured during his wartime service (credit – Dominic Holden)

“It was all quite an experience really. We tolerated the heat somehow, no shirts, just bush hats. We got a cooked breakfast every morning from the RAF cooks and then after that we lived on typical American K rations.

“These were the same as were supplied to all aircrew in case they got ditched. There were packets of biscuits, cigarettes, chocolate, even toilet paper, typical Yank stuff. It was a little bit sparse, but we didn’t starve.

“When I heard the bomb had been dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, I felt a bit upset that they’d had to do it. But then we hadn’t had it tough like others.

“We only had one fatality when a Canadian pilot got caught in a cumulonimbus weather cloud and his plane was destroyed.”

Following the Japanese surrender, 62 Squadron was disbanded and Jim was posted to Singapore for three months where he was assigned to looking after VIP aircraft used by generals and admirals.

He was later transferred to Indonesia where he serviced planes flying Japanese PoWs back home. Jim then received his last posting to Saigon at that time a staging post for aircraft between Singapore and Indonesia.

He remembers: “One night I was on guard duty when we had to look after two very high ranking Japanese officers stopping with us in our guard house. They were extremely polite. But I could never work out if they were being very polite because they had lost the war, or if it was just their nature.”

Jim, who recently celebrated his 87th birthday, recalls his Heroes Return 2 trip to Singapore in June last year where he was accompanied by his daughter Brenda.

“We went round the airfield at Changi where I was stationed. We also visited the Changi Museum and were shocked by the atrocity of some of the stories we read. One was about an Australian lady who had two sons aged 11 and 12 who were both seriously ill.

“In desperation she approached a Japanese guard for help but he smashed her face in with a rifle butt. There was also the story of a Malaysian woman who came to the fence of a PoW camp to pass food through to the prisoners. She was caught by a guard who smashed her with a rifle butt, but she still came back the next day.                  

“I think the chance to have a second trip with Heroes Return 2 is absolutely fantastic news. I couldn’t believe it. I am over the moon. I wouldn’t have been able to go back without the funding. It was a great experience for both me and my daughter Brenda, and for me to be able to show her the places I knew. The whole thing has made such a big impression on both of us. She has never stopped talking about it.”

Jim Colecliffe

Jim studies wartime photos with his daughter Brenda (photo credit – Dominic Holden)

For more information about Heroes Return, call the advice line on 0845 00 00 121 or visit www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/heroesreturn


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