This is a true story, enjoy it and remember, these are true words. 

The airfield that disappeared  

By David Golding

 

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 manufacturer.

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 found it!

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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