War vet recalls terror air strikes
AN RAF man who was among the first servicemen to be attacked by Japanese soldiers when the far eastern country entered the Second World War has celebrated his 95th birthday.
Bert Stanway was serving as an RAF aircraft mechanic in Malaya when Japanese fighters and bombers attacked the air base on December 8, 1941 – the day after its devastating assault on the US naval base of Pearl Harbour.
It prompted a terrifying retreat across South East Asia in the face of prolonged Japanese attacks.
Luckily Bert, a member of the Burma Star Association, survived and now lives with his wife Doris, 94, at Genesis Care Home in Macclesfield.
Recalling that fateful day, great-grandfather Bert said: “It was the day after the attack on Pearl Harbour.
“I was walking across the airfield and asked my companion what was the silver aircraft in the sky. I was told not to worry, ‘they are ours’. The next minute we were running for our slit trenches as we were bombed.”
Bert’s squadron retreated into Singapore and back to Burma where he frantically worked on the few remaining US and RAF planes to try to stem the tide of Japanese before having to flee the air base.
He said: “It was a case of every man for himself. I walked out of Burma, crossing the Irrawaddy River in what was to become the longest retreat in British military history and found refuge at the British base at Imphal, which also came under Japanese attack.”
The squadron regrouped in Calcutta and fought back, and in early 1943 Bert was given leave home for two weeks. Dur- ing his break his parents – who had been against Bert’s plan to join the RAF in 1937 – received a letter from the War Office stating he was missing following the withdrawal from South East Asia and had to write back telling Bert’s superiors he was safe and well.
He also gave an interview to the Macclesfield Courier about his escape.
Bert was later stationed at RAF Wilmslow where he met Doris and they married in 1944.
He later joined the Allied advance through Europe and returned home in 1945 to meet his son Peter who was born while he was away.
Bert later worked at Avro’s at Woodford helping build the V Bombers and Scraggs Textile Machinery Manufacturers. He and Doris lived on Arlington Drive for almost 50 years.
Bert Stanway; Bert pictured with pals on a boat from Singapore in 1941; Top, Bert with his wife Doris