This is a true story,
enjoy it and remember,
these are true words.
The airfield that disappeared
In early 1944, South East Asia Command (SEAC),
realising that the Wellington Bomber did not have the range to attack the South
of Burma or Siam started to train their crews to operate Liberators which had a
much longer range and was thus able to bomb supply dumps in Bangkok or Rangoon.
I was a navigator on a Wellington squadron
(215) and on the 28th July 1944 I (and the rest of the squadron) was sent to
1673 Heavy Conversion Unit which was stationed at KOLAR Gold Fields aerodrome in
Karnataka which is in South India some 70 miles from Bangalore.
Now, the Wellington has a 5 man crew but a
Liberator has 11 so a lot of new chaps joined the squadron and we were all
taught how to work this new (to us) aircraft. Obviously the pilots (captains &
co-pilots) had to be accustomed to 4 as opposed to 2 engines, completely
different sets of controls; the gunners had to learn how the American gun
turrets worked; the wireless operators had different wireless sets; the flight
engineers many many different things & also in common with the wireless
operators how to fire the free guns at the beam hatches. Navigators and Bomb
aimers didn't really need much in the way of training - for navigators stars and
maps are the same in any aircraft and a bomb sight is only a bomb sight
The new chaps on the squadron were relatively
inexperienced in one important aspect of non-flying life - poker - as opposed to
the old hands who had hours and hours of playing time. Personally I won quite a
lot of rupees from the less practised players.
On the 19th August when this laudable aim was
achieved we went of to Digri near Calcutta to commence operational flying,
leaving RAF station K.G.F behind.
Some 61 years later my late wife and I were
watching a television programme about 80 of the worlds finest sights one of
which was the Menakshi in South India - in fact we both thought it was the best
of the lot - we decided we would go there later in the year. So, via a
specialist tourist agency we arranged a tour through South India to commence
November 15th to include this temple.
Some 3 months beforehand a fellow member of
the West Sussex Aircrew Association - Doug Orchard - told me that he was going
to America where he had done his pilot training substantially subsidised by the
lottery scheme called "Heroes Return".
This led me to wonder if I too could take advantage of this
scheme and as KGF was in South India if I included it in my tour would I be
eligible, came the answer - "Yes I was" and I could receive a £2100 subsidy.,
which was more than half of my costs. Sadly, in October my wife died, but
"Heroes Return" allowed me to take one of my grandchildren - Kate - in her
place; so off we went.
I won't bother to mention other of the sights
that we saw but will jump., or rather fly to Bangalore which we did from Chennai
(or Madras as it used to be) At Bangalore we were collected by our driver Joseph
and taken to the Park Hotel for a three day stay. On the second day we were
joined by Premraj the local agent of Pioneer Travel for our visit to KGF.
There was no problem in finding the town of
Kolar but the gold fields there had been closed for some 5 years (so we were
told by one of Kolars inhabitants). All the land around belonged to Bharat Earth
Movers Ltd (Bharat means India) who are an earth shifting equipment
Premraj started asking people where the
aerodrome was - answers were "there's no aerodrome here" and "Do you mean the
BEML heliport?" After a few such negative answers I suspect that Joseph and
Premraj thought I was barmy but they did persist until a grey haired old man
claimed that it had been near where the cricket ground was (part of the
local university). He also told Joseph how to get there, so ff we went and found
it but there was nothing that could have been an aerodrome in sight, all the
buildings in view were 20 to 30 years old. Premraj persisted though (in Kannada,
the local language) until someone wondered if it could have been down a narrow
bumpy lane nearby, so we drove down it until we came to a little row of houses.
An inhabitant there pointed to a bushy area
in the distance and said perhaps it had been over there, so we got out of the
car and started walking. The land was very bumpy with a large hillock which
would have put paid to any runway, there were no buildings in sight. In the
distance Joseph spotted a man performing some agricultural task and went off to
speak to him.
He remembered as a small boy that his parents
had told him that used to be an aerodrome over there and that Indira Gandhi had
landed there on her return from university in England. So there it was - but no
sign of any runways or buildings of any sort, but up a hill in the far distance
was a Christian burial cross all on its own - which in the middle of nowhere in
a Hindu area was rather a positive sign
We walked back to the car and there were
three ladies with small children there, yes, their parents had spoken about this
land. The hillock we had seen was the spoil of the goldmines for the past 20 or
30 years. Apparently the BEML had bought all of this land (goodness knows only
why) and had completely razed all of the buildings etc (perhaps it was to show
how well their equipment worked). Over the years mine spoil had blown over
everything and monsoons had altered the contours. The trees and bushes had been
planted by BEML (again goodness knows why) and this what was once a large RAF
aerodrome - large enough to accommodate large 4 engined bombers - was now
completely indistinguishable from anywhere else in Karnataka, be we had
Shortly after our return home I told a friend
who was a whizz kid on the internet (or whatever modern device would deal with
such matters) about my inability to know any more and thus he contacted BEML
(the chairman thereof) but he got no reply.
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