Diary 2

This is a more detailed account of Bill Belton’s journey in 1941/1942 to Singapore, Sumatra, Java, Burma, and his return to convalesce in India. This was written in, probably, the 1980’s and the names of foreign places are not always spelled correctly, any corrections are encouraged and will be added to the text.

1035785 LAC Bill Belton, Bwlchgwyn, Nr Wrexham.   
1941 February 3rd   Joined up at Padgate
1941 February 10th Left for RAF Melksham. Square bashing and armourer bomb course
1941 June 9th   Posted to RAF Penrhos, North Wales
1941 July 9th Left Penrhos
1941 July 18th   Arrive at West Kirby
1941 July 28th   On board the good ship Sterling Castle, 11.00 am LiverpoolShip left Liverpool at 3.00 pm. 12,000 tons, 18 knots per hour. Very sunny day and went to a harbour in Scotland. We were able to buy beer in our own mugs, with hops floating on top. Someone was playing a piano accordion and everyone was singing. A very good night along the coast to Scotland.
1941 July 29th   Formed a convoy of about 40 ships including cruisers, destroyers and aircraft as part of our defence and sailed round the west coast of Ireland and far out into the Atlantic to avoid German subs and aircraft. After three weeks at sea, having crossed the equator – for which I have a certificate – we arrived at Freetown on the west coast of Africa, for fuel, water and other supplies.
1941 August 18th   Arrived at Freetown, remember the black divers in the harbour.
1941 August 21st Left Freetown for open sea again. Two days out, I went to ship’s hospital with malaria.
1941 August 24th   Arrived in Cape Town. I leave hospital, fit again. Remember the South African white people in their big cars waiting to take small groups of us out for the day. Our group was taken sightseeing the city then home for dinner. Then, after that, they took us up Table Mountain, very flat and has a lovely view of the city and the harbour, all lit up, no blackout.
1941 August 28th   Left Cape Town, still not knowing where we are going. The convoy was now down to two ships, the Sterling Castle and the cruiser.
1941 September 8th   The next land we saw was the coast of India and the city of Bombay. English food very good and very cheap. Your taxi there is a rickshaw. Indian women do all the heavy work while the men look on. Ideal place to live. Very hot during the day, but very damp at night. Stayed two days.
1941 September 16th   As we enter the harbour there is a big archway ahead and the reading says “Welcome to Ceylon”. Can’t remember a lot about that place. Stayed two days and back to sea.
1941 September 28th   Arrived at Singapore. But we all have had a good time on the ship and I don’t think we have ever been in danger. From Ceylon to Singapore our escort, the cruiser, used to come alongside and the band used to play every afternoon. Nine weeks on the ship and carrying our life jackets everywhere we went has come to an end. Goodbye Sterling Castle.
1941 October 2nd   Arrived at Alor Star RAF station. 62 Squadron. Blenheims. After spending two days at a transit camp in Singapore and 400 miles by train to this camp on the border of Thailand and the west coast of Malaya. Went into the town only once. Went to the island on Penang one weekend, a very nice place. Do remember putting the land mines on the runway every night, with 10ft poles towering in the air in case the japs tried to land, and going to the army camp to see the pictures.
1941 December 9th   62 Squadron take off loaded with bombs to bomb the jap landing on the coast at Kote Baru. Soon after we got bombed, everything on fire, aircraft, petrol dumps and the whole can. We leave that night for RAF Butterworth.
1941 December 11th   Arrive at Butterworth. I’m told to dig a trench with other lads
1941 December 11th   Arrived at RAF Taiping in open lorries. Rained all day and no food. We were able to get one mug full of tea and a rope made bed full of big, black bugs. Slept on the floor. Stayed there for seven days.
1941 December 16th   Arrived at RAF Iphol. Camp empty.
1941 December 17th   Arrived to Kuala Lumpur and the first good meal since days.
1941 December 18th   Arrive in Singapore. Back at the transit camp where we first landed and had good meal, the first since days; next was a wash and clean up.
1941 December 19th   Clothing parade. By this time we had only got what we stood up in and a side pack with a few personal things in it. We had already lost both kit bags, one in Alor Star and the other in Butterworth.
1941 December 21st   Worked in Seletar aerodrome, moving stores
1941 December 23rd   Moved to Tanger aerodrome, taking over 60 Squadron short nose Blenheims. We had lost all of our aircraft in Alor Star and Butterworth.
1941 December 25th   Very good Christmas dinner. Japs bombing and machine gunning us. Our aircraft getting less every day. Only two arrive from England. Mostly Hudsons.
1942 January 23rd   Lost all our aircraft in a jap raid. About 12 am twelve new aircraft arrived from England, crews having spent Christmas in England. About 1.00 japs arrived, all 12 were damaged or burnt out, leaving only two aircraft which could be repaired by next morning.
1942 January 24th   The two aircraft leave with full crew of four plus one fitter, one rigger, one sparks and one armourer – which was Bill Belton, and on the other aircraft was one fitter, one rigger, one sparks, one armourer who was Doug Heathcote. We land at Palenbang in Sumatra, a Dutch Island. We start bombing again. More aircraft arrive.
1942 February 14th   Jap parachutists land at Palenbang number 1, which is the next aerodrome. We have no defence at all. I unload our aircraft of bombs and defused all other bombs around and buried all the parts in the jungle. My kit bag is in a building about a mile away where we slept, no time to fetch it so, once again, four of us non-crew lads have only the clothes we stand up in. We fly to an aerodrome called Chilliliton near Batavia in Java. We left by lorry for food and a night out. We were staying in some place in Batavia till 6.00 am when the lorry was taking us four lads back to the aircraft. At 3.00 am we were in a club called The Ping Cabaret. By now nobody knew the name of the place we wanted to go to catch the lorry! All I knew was it had an archway set back about 10ft from the side of the street. By this time all English speaking Dutchmen were involved. One Dutchman said ‘we’ll get a taxi and I’ll come with you four lads’. In the end we found it not very far away.
1942 February 15th   Singapore fell. Our aircraft took off again and we landed at Bandeong, 3000ft above sea level. It was too cloudy yesterday to land there.
1942 February 17th   Left Bandeong by train for Buitenzorg.
1942 February 26th   Left Buitenzorg. Arrived at Chillijap for the good ship Kota Kede [Kota Gede] – that’s a book of its own. 8,000 tons, 2,000 airmen on board, 4 toilets. 9 hard biscuits and three half-mugs of tea a day, if lucky. Two days out and everyone is ill. Tablets in small cardboard boxes are placed in every deck with instructions on how many to take and when. No fresh water for drinking or anything else except making tea. Two airmen died.
1942 March 8th   Arrive in Columbo after ten days at sea. Bill Belton and Doug Heathcote both birthdays.
1942 March 9th   Transferred to troop ship Dunera. Worked in the bakery with Keith and Doug. Very good food now and sleeping in hammocks. Plenty cups of tea.
1942 March 17th   Called at Bombay for two days
1942 March 21st   Arrive at Karrachi. Taken to a camp at the edge of the Sind desert, lived in tents and we got kitted out once again. I, with other armourers, when to Drigh Road aerodrome and loaded a Flying Fortress with about twenty 10lb bombs. Two days later, it was in the English newspaper that Flying Fortress had bombed Burma – I think it was the first letter from home since December 6th.
1942 April 23rd   Left Karrachi by troop train (living on the train) for a five day and night journey across India to a place called Chakulia near Calcutta
1942 April 28th   Arrived at Chakulia RAF, found it was no good for an aerodrome.
1942 May 7th   Left Chakulia for Charbartia, near Cuttach, with the advance party. Just one big open space. Hundreds of Indians are making a new runway. Lorries arrive with tents and food. On the second day a lorry (RAF) runs off the track, driver killed. I am one of the bearers. We take his body to Cuttach church, which is about 25 miles away. Very hot, well over 100 degrees. Soon 62 Squadron arrive and the runway is in use and I am back with the armourers, loading and unloading bombs. Very heavy work and poor food.
1942 September 17th   Left Charbatia near Cuttach for hill station and a cure for prickly heat.
1942 September 18th   Arrived in Calcutta. Two days leave
1942 September 20th   Left Calcutta for Dera Dun at the foot of the Himalayas
1942 September 23rd   Arrived at Dera Dun for a 62 mile ride up the mountain by Indian bus and driver
1942 September 25th   Arrive at Chakrata. After a few hours dive in an Indian bus and Indian driver, very narrow roads, sharp corners, Mountains on one side and sheer drop the other side. If the brakes failed I would not be writing this! We have a return journey, 62 miles, in fourteen days time. Remember there is no MOT and drivers don’t have a test – look at any TV programme about India and you will see what I mean. Chakrata is a very nice village , an Indian bazaar, one English church and one small hospital – which I spent 8 months there with rheumatic fever. We had snow for about a month at Christmas time while the lads were sunbathing on the planes at Chaklala near Rawalpindi
1943 June 2nd   Left to join 62 Squadron at Chaklala near Rawalpindi. After a 62 mile ride down the Himalayan mountains to Dera Dun there was no room on the train, so I stayed the night there.
1943 June 3rd   Left Dera Dun for Lahore.
1943 June 4th   Left Lahore for Chaklala
1943 June 5th Arrived at Chaklala, meet some of the old lads. Can’t remember a lot about that place.
1943 June 7th   I am taken to Rawalpindi hospital with swollen knee and shoulder. Doctor tells the sister to get me from there as soon as possible. (note to Doug Heathcote) “Did you manage to come and see me and take a photo?” Very short stay and the end of me with 62 Squadron
1943 June 9th   On a train to Pershawa, North West Frontier. Doctor says I am not to do any work or any duty or even ride a cycle for the next two months at least. I never worked again.
1944 April 18th   Left Peshawar for England
1944 April 21st   Arrived in Bombay
1944 April 19th   Boarded the good ship Otranto. Through the Red Sea canal and The Med. Arrived in Liverpool June 1st.
1944 June 3rd   Went into Innsworth Hospital, Gloucester for a medical check before going home on leave.