A Veteran’s Story:

Ex­cerpts from aboard the H.M.S. Victorious,

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - PETE MECCA COLUM­NIST Pete Mecca is Viet­nam veteran, colum­nist and free­lance writer. Con­tact Pete at avet­er­ansstory@gmail.com. Visit his web­site at avet­er­ansstory.us.

While din­ing re­cently at Out­back Steak­house in Cony­ers, my wife and I were hav­ing our usual pleas­ant chitchat with Shan­non Smith, a long-time Out­back em­ployee and fam­ily friend, when he con­veyed his ad­mi­ra­tion of “A Veteran’s Story.” Shan­non said he loved the ar­ti­cles, es­pe­cially the sto­ries of our ag­ing warriors of World War II, and asked if I’d con­sider writ­ing a story about his grand­fa­ther, a Bri­tish fighter pi­lot. You bet’cha.

Prime Min­is­ter Win­ston Churchill said it best when he hon­ored the Bri­tish fighter pi­lots who de­feated the Ger­man Luft­waffe dur­ing the des­per­ate yet fa­mous ae­rial strug­gle known as the Bat­tle of Bri­tain, “Never in the field of hu­man con­flict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

Jim Page was only 15 when Bri­tain de­clared war on Ger­many, yet he was des­tined to be­come one of “the few” later in the con­flict. At 15, he joined the Civil­ian Home Guard un­til old enough to en­ter the Royal Navy pi­lot train­ing pro­gram at age 18. Trained in Amer­ica, he earned his wings and com­mis­sion at Pen­sacola, Fla., then com­pleted ad­vanced fighter train­ing at Ope­lika, Ala., (spelled Opa-locka by the Bri­tish press). In Septem­ber 1943, Page joined 1837 squadron be­ing formed in Brunswick, Maine, an F4U Cor­sair fighter unit.

Trained and ready, Page and his squadron were as­signed to the East­ern Fleet in the South­east Asia Com­mand. Their float­ing home would be the Bri­tish air­craft car­rier H.M.S. Victorious based in Cey­lon (now Sri Lanka). Op­er­at­ing pri­mar­ily in the In­dian Ocean, Lt. Page and his squadron flew air su­pe­ri­or­ity and air-to-ground com­bat mis­sions. They at­tacked oil re­finer­ies, radar sta­tions, ship­ping, air­fields, har­bors and pro­vided air cover for the fleet. Page also served as the ‘spot­ter’ for the French bat­tle­ship Riche­lieu.

I’ve been priv­i­leged to have ac­cess to one of the few writ­ten ac­counts that Page penned of his com­bat mis­sions dur­ing World War II. The fol­low­ing ex­cerpts are his, as it was lived, fought, and some­times, as friends died.


Fre­quently, we made raids against Ja­panese-oc­cu­pied ter­ri­tory from our car­rier, H.M.S. Victorious. How­ever, we did not spend all of our time on board the carri of the Cey­lonese jun­gle at Min­nerya where we acted as

Later, on an­other mis­sion flown from the car­rier to strike en­emy air­fields, Page penned the fol­low­ing:

Our at­tacks were co­or­di­nated with the U.S. Navy and Marines and our at­tacks were made sev­eral days ahead of planned land­ings on Ja­panese held is­lands in

We the pi­lots, were all good friends. We had trained had many good times to­gether. What was more, we lived to­gether and saw each other daily. On this oc­ca­sion, we were go­ing to pay a visit to the once Bri­tish Ni­co­bar Is­lands.

equip­ment, Mae Wests, and jun­gle suits to be sure ev­ery­thing was in work­ing or­der; we had to be up at 3:30 a.m. We were awak­ened at that un­earthly hour and climbed out of bed ir­ri­ta­ble and heady as one does in that fear­fully hot and damp cli­mate. My dress con­sisted of pants and vest, boots and anti-leech stock­ings and the jun­gle suit which, with all the gad­gets neatly stowed in the numer­ous pock­ets, weighed a ton. I then strapped my re­volver round my waist and went to break­fast.

Once on the flight deck, Page con­tin­ued his story:

I climbed into the cock­pit and strapped my­self in. The me­chan­ics wished me “good hunt­ing and good luck,” then jumped down to at­tend to the chocks at the wheels. I pressed the “tit,” would she start? She was a good plane and with a short turn of the prop, she jumped to life and purred like a kit­ten.

who was a short way across the deck from me. He caught my eye, smiled, and gave me a ‘thumbs up.’He was a good lad and had al­ways been a great pal of mine. Lit­tle did I think that within an hour, he would be in an­other world.

Now air­borne, Page con­tin­ues:

There were 15 of us alto- gether who would take part there were only three in­stead of the usual four. We climbed to 800 feet and we were all in for­ma­tion, headed for the higher in case the Japs would pick us up on their radar.

Soon the coast loomed up ahead of us. The wing-leader rocked his wings and we all dropped down to sea level, at the same time chang­ing our for­ma­tion to line-abreast. A voice came through the ear­phones clear and loud, “Pull up, pick your tar­get and let them have it!” We all pulled up and picked our tar­gets.

The largest of the two air me. I no­ticed two pieces of ma­chin­ery sit­ting at the end of the run­way. Down I went and let them have a good burst from my six 50 cal­iber ma­chine guns. I could see my bul­lets burst­ing into the di­rec­tions. As I pulled up, I saw a truck driv­ing down the run­way. I dropped to a cou­ple of feet off the ground and pumped lead straight ahead of me into the truck.

The Jap de­fenses had come to life. Tracer bul­lets over my plane.

As I pulled over the truck, tar­get, three steam­rollers at the end of the run­way. I put my sight on them and pulled the trig­ger. Again bits started

I pulled up to a thou­sand feet over the sea where all the planes ren­dezvoused, ex­cept one. It had gone down in and this time, our tar­get was

Page and his squadron strafed the air­field as the anti-air­craft fire be­came more con­cen­trated and ex­tremely ac­cu­rate. They strafed a gun po­si­tion, a jetty and sev­eral land­ing craft. As they pulled up, Page no­ticed a ‘red glow’ in his flight leader’s cock­pit.

I called him up on the ra­dio but re­ceived no an­swer. Michie called him up but close to him as I could but could see noth­ing but a red glow. Sud­denly, the plane nosed over and headed to earth which was only 500 feet be­low. As the plane stuck earth it ex­ploded and a sheet wing. Michie and I headed out to sea side by side. It was time we re­turned to pre­pare good­bye to our squadron leader and headed for the car­rier.

Back on the car­rier, Page and the squadron’s sur­vivors ate, washed up and were de­briefed as other Cor­sairs launched for more raids. In the coming days, Bri­tish fly­boys would hit tar­gets near Car Ni­co­bar and Nan­cowry, shoot down Jap planes and lose some of their own. When the war ended, Page was as­signed as POW Li­ai­son Of­fi­cer to care for Bri­tish POWs re­turn­ing home through Aus­tralia.

Writ­ten by Jim Page in May 1995: “The men who gave their lives so that we may en­joy the peace also ex­pect us to pre­serve it. Let their deaths not be in vain.”

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