Ted West, from the North Shore, and Bill Mitchell of Oamaru, at a ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the fall of Singapore at Kranji War Cemetery in Singapore, this week.
16 February 2012
Being in their nineties didn’t stop Bill Mitchell, of Oamaru, and Ted West, from the North Shore, attending a special ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the fall of Singapore in Singapore this week.
The two men, who served with the RNZAF in Singapore during the Second World War, were honoured to be able to attend the ceremony and to pay tribute to those who did not return to New Zealand.
The wreath laying ceremony at Kranji War Cemetery was also attended by the Chief of Air Force Air Vice-Marshal Peter Stockwell, and the New Zealand Defence Attache in Singapore, Group Captain Tim Walshe.
Bill Mitchell served as a fitter with the Short Singapore Flying Boat Unit in Singapore in 1942, overhauling the flying boats which had been given to New Zealand by the Royal Air Force.
He remembers running out of aircraft because the Japanese were bombing them on the ground.
“The Japanese first started bombing Seletar, where we were based - that shook them out of their beds. Then the Japanese went for Singapore, all the city lights were still on because they could not locate the individual to turn them off and so they bombed an illuminated city,” he said.
The RNZAF played a significant role in Singapore, with 488 Squadron taking an integral part in the defence of Singapore. Kiwi airmen also served in other RAF squadrons. 488 Squadron was literally thrown in the deep end, with little experience and unserviceable aircraft given to them by the RAF. Many of the deficiencies were overcome using Kiwi ingenuity with tools and parts scrounged or stolen.
During the conflict 35 New Zealand airmen lost their lives, along with 40 naval officers who died in operations either in Malayan waters or in Hong Kong, which had fallen to the Japanese on Christmas Day 1941. About 100 New Zealand servicemen and several hundred civilians became prisoners of war in the Pacific. Most POWs were in camps in Singapore, where they endured harsh treatment, and many suffered from malnutrition and disease. Those who were fortunate not to be killed or captured were eventually safely evacuated to Australia.
The fall of Singapore was the greatest military defeat for the British in 150 years. Over 80,000 British, Indian and Australian troops became prisoners of war, joining 50,000 taken by the Japanese in the Malayan Campaign. Four days later the first of the bombing raids on Darwin occurred, bringing the war very close to New Zealand.
April 2012 marks 75 years of service to New Zealand for the Air Force as an independent armed service. By the actions of its men and women throughout the Second World War, and in many conflicts and operations since, our Air Force has created a rich history, in which all New Zealanders can take pride.
While the Air Force becomes a modern 21st century Air Force with the introduction of new aircraft fleets, 75 years provides the milestone for New Zealand to celebrate the RNZAF’s proud heritage and culture and showcase the work our Air Force has done and the role our airmen and women play in this country and the region.
For further information please contact Ally Clelland, Defence Communications Group 021 569 130