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Burma Boys

A Burma Quintet: WE Dickinson, D Harris, S Spicer, S Woodhouse, AB Wythe DFM

Quite independently, in response to enquiries from Adrian Fryatt, four veterans of the Burma days offered their photos and brief commentary, kept safe in their small personal collections down the years by Bill Dickinson, Sam Spicer, Steve Woodhouse, and Alan “Alfie” Wythe.

Together, these images pointed to a particularly nice Squadron touch: the re-appearance of more-or-less formal group photographs, a custom last seen on the Squadron in 1941. It later turned out that Des Marsh-Collis, Les Ramsay and Robby Robertson also shared some of these pictures. Each of them has one or more of these wonderful shots:

    211 Squadron en masse, Chiringa ( Bill, Steve, Des, Les) and then
    211 Squadron parade (Bill)
    ‘A’ Flight (Steve, Alan)
    ‘B’ Flight (Alan)
    Armament Section (Alan, Sam, Robby)
    ‘B’ Flight Armourers (Sam)
    Motor Transport Section (Alan)

So we have an almost complete Squadron personnel pictorial record from the India—Burma theatre, a remarkable thing over 70 years later.

Subsequently Don Harris kindly offered a treasured, less formal trio from Chiringa, which takes its due place on this page, which has grown from the original foursome. In adding to the account, I’ve since drawn from Terry Seager’s 2003 letter on his joining the Squadron in June 1945 and from a more recent letter of Norman King’s of his 1944 arrival.

As an introduction to the account of the Burma Days, this now eclectic page seems to be the right place to show their place in the Squadron story. So while keeping the earlier Quintet reference, I retitled the page Burma Boys. Gentlemen, many thanks indeed.

Bill Dickinson
Bill was the first to respond, with these group photos of 211 Squadron in South East Asia Command, 1944. He had joined the Squadron as a Sergeant pilot, with Sgt A Chatterton as his navigator, in mid-1943 as it was re-forming with Beaufighters at Phaphamau in northern India.

Later Flight Sergeant then Warrant Officer, he remained with them to finish his tour of operations on 21/22 January 1945 with a three-hour night river patrol. In doing so, W/O Bill Dickinson and his navigator P/O Andy Chatterton had achieved a remarkable feat.

Of the original 24 crews of 1943 at the start of the Squadron’s Beaufighter operations, they were one of just six to complete a tour of operations. This one-in-four chance of survival is a daunting, if all too familiar, measure. Dickinson was the sole surviving NCO pilot of this group.

211 Sqn Chiringa cDec 1944 15 72
The Beaufighter lot (RAF official via Marsh-Collis collection)
211 Squadron en masse, Chiringa, India, December 1944. Chiringa is near Chittagong in what was then Bengal (the modern Bangladesh). By 1944, such group pictures had once more become popular at home and abroad, often showing a Squadron's entire personnel draped over one of their aircraft. A high resolution copy of this image is available on request. The date is suggested by the presence of Acting C/O S/Ldr RN
Dagnall as the central figure. A group shot apparently of ‘B’ Flight in Cpl Arthur Goodinson’s collection so exactly matches certain aircraft and other small details that suggests several group shots taken on the same day. Here, Arthur Goodinson is seated on the starboard wing (left of shot), fourth and hatted figure outboard of the engine.

    Chiringa parade Christmas 1944
    Chiringa, 18 December 1944 (RAF official via Dickinson collection)
    The Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia, Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten (later Earl Mountbatten of Burma) inspects 211 Squadron personnel. He visited the Squadron on 18 December, as recorded in the Squadron diary and noted by Cpl Arthur
    Goodinson. Behind the men on parade, it appears that another group are already being marched off. In the far background, a Beaufighter stands.

      An aside: the tallest person in this picture is the SAC and that's including the Aussies. Anyone who's had a peep inside a Blenheim (or who now towers over a Dad who once crewed in one) will understand that the RAF selected well.

      A further aside: In WWII, Mountbatten survived a number of close shaves in destroyers, including the famous loss of the destroyer HMS Kelly in the battle for Crete. From Midshipman in 1913 to First Sea Lord and finally Admiral of the Fleet in 1956, Mountbatten had a varied, active career. This, along with that certain dash which either brings luck or creates it, carried him to high and challenging office. His luck ran out in 1979, assassinated by a Provisional IRA bomb aboard his boat in Donegal Bay.

    Sergeant’s Mess: Sister Hannah Christmas 1944 (Dickinson collection)

    211 Squadron Christmas Dinner Chiringa 1944 (Dickinson collection)

When Graham Pitchfork began collecting material for a book on Beaufighter aircrew a good few years ago, Bill Dickinson was one of those to contribute. Patience and persistence were at long last rewarded in July 2019 with the publication of Beaufighter Boys by Grub Street. Bill’s chapter Memorable Sorties recounts three occasions when bravery, skill and luck all played their part in survival.

Although efforts to regain contact with Bill had been unsuccessful beforehand, having seen the book, a friend wrote to Graham Pitchfork to pass on the news that William E “Bill” Dickinson had died on 10 July 2019, just a few days before Beaufighter Boys was launched at Duxford.

Sam Spicer
Sam went to India in 1942 with 27 Squadron, remaining with them for about 18 months before being posted to 211 Squadron as an Armourer to ‘B’ Flight. These days Sam has a son living in Perth, Western Australia. On paying a long visit in the late 1990s, Sam was tempted to remain on this side of the world but returned to familiar Manchester, writing from there to Adrian Fryatt in 2001 with a brief yarn and these prints.

    Sam Spicer and others
    211 Squadron ‘B’ Flight Armourers (S Spicer)
     Sam on the far left, George (Tosh) Hagger two to Sam’s right with hand in pocket.

    Spicer and others with Japanese souvenirs
    Bangkok 1945 (S Spicer)
    “Sent to look after a whole bunch of Jap prisoners and their equipment”
    Quite a compliment to their steadiness, though they probably didn’t think anything about it. Here they all are with a selection of souvenirs, and looking scruffy enough to make a passing regular bristle. Sam, shirtless and in forage cap, seated on the L. Maybe the flag went to join the Greek flag over the bar. Anyway, safe at last.

Sam Spicer of Blackley in Manchester died peacefully on 2 January 2010 aged 87 years, loved by his family. A belated farewell to you, Sam.

S Woodhouse
Born in July 1920 to Stephen and Janet Woodhouse, he joined the RAF at age 18 and was living in Aberdeen when the war started. In 1943 and by now a Corporal Fitter II (Airframe), Steve was posted to 211 Squadron as it re-formed to equip with Beaufighters. Contacted by Adrian Fryatt, it turned out that Steve still recalled Adrian’s father, Armourer Jim

After the war, Steve returned to Scotland. A visit to his mother’s family in the Shetlands brought another turning point in life: he met Joan Moar. They married in November 1946, and made their life in the Shetlands, at Lerwick. He found employment for his fitting skills with Scottish Aviation there, where he continued to live in retirement.

Steve sent two photos of the Burma days, one of which was already in Bill Dickinson’s collection: the 211s draped over a Beaufighter. In the ‘A’ Flight un-named group, below, Steve remarked that there were two Java survivors. The favoured bush hat of the Burma theatre much in evidence.

Steve Woodhouse died in August 2001.

    A Flight Chiringa
    A’ Flight, Chiringa (S Woodhouse)
    Beaufighter boys

1319961 W/O Alan Bernard Wythe DFM 1921—2007
Alan (otherwise “Alfie”) joined 211 Squadron in 1944 as a Beaufighter pilot, remaining with them as the Squadron converted to the Mosquito and on to the final days at Don Muang in Thailand from November 1945. Through my good friend Adrian Fryatt, Alan kindly made available several photographs taken early in 1945 at Chiringa.

    B Flight W001
    211 Squadron ‘B’ Flight Chiringa 1945 (AB Wythe)
    The aircraft is W-William, one of several to carry that letter with the Squadron. The serial number is not visible in the shade of the tailplane, overlain by one of the three fingerprints on the face of the original print and in the slight clagging of the copy print.

    Armament Section Chiringa 1945
    211 Squadron Armament Section Chiringa 1945 (AB Wythe)
    Spicer is 2nd from the right, front row (he aslo had a print of this shot). Front row centre, hatless and hands clasped, is John Robertson. It was this photograph of his father that caught Jammy Robertson’s eye.

    211 Sqdn MT Section Chiringa
    211 Squadron MT (Mechanical Transport) Section Chiringa 1945 (AB Wythe)

Often operating in Bristol Beaufighter X M-Mike (NV526) with F/Sgt Tom Wilson as his Navigator/W, Alan Wythe was awarded the DFM for his efforts over Burma as a Flight Sergeant pilot. Promoted to Warrant Officer, Alan continued flying with the Squadron almost to the end in January 1946 at Don Muang.

Des Marsh-Collis and Yorky had had a hand in maintaining their aircraft and on Des’ pages there are beautiful photos of M-Mike (or M-Mother, if you will) and later of Alan and Tom with their Mosquito RF729, also M-Mike. Alan is also remembered in the accounts of the late Ron Kemp, the late Monty Walters and the late Tom Taylor, whose pages include other photos of him with various 211 Squadron aircrew.

From 21 January 1946, Alan was one of a small party sent on a nice “jolly”: to Kashmir for a five week Ski Course! Although his repatriation from the Squadron to the UK is not recorded, during his absence in Kashmir the order to disband 211 Squadron came on 22 February and by March 1946 had been given effect.

Born in the spring of 1921 in Kent, around April 1941 and aged 20, Alan had enlisted in the RAFVR in the usual way for war-time volunteers. Returning to the United Kingdom in 1946, he came in time to Hampshire, where in March 1954 he married Joan M Clark (no relation), their wedding registered in the New Forest District. For many years Alan lived near Southampton: he died peacefully on 27 March 2007 after a long illness, aged 85.

More Burma Boys

Don Harris
Don hails from Buckinghamshire, that ancient county of South East England. He joined 211 Squadron in 1944. In contacting me at Christmas 2002, he remarked a little wistfully that his photo was small. Well understood, it is wonderful that the boys were able to take and preserve so many shots under what were, after all, difficult conditions. Not to mention “forbidden”, though that rarely stopped them.

    Brookes, Harris, Mowles Chiringa Feb 45
    Chiringa, Bengal February 1945: Ken Brookes, Don, Ron Mowles (D Harris)
    A cheerfully informal shot of three fit, tanned young men, against the bright sunlit background of Chiringa’s atap and bamboo buildings. Captioned confidently in pencil long ago, and later refreshed in ink. By this date, the boys knew the tide had turned, though the liberation of Rangoon, for example, was still two months away. And home, had they known it, was still a year or more away.

Norman King
Born in Middlesex in July 1924, Norman Wilfred King 1812705 enlisted in the RAFVR at Euston, perhaps about mid 1942. After a period of training and service, he was posted to the Far East to join 211 Squadron groundcrew at Chiringa on 28 October 1944 as their Compass Adjuster. This skilled Group 1 trade was very necessary in the days of
navigation by map and dead reckoning, with only very basic radio aids available to the aircrews on Beaufighter long-range strike operations over Burma.

Norman King remained with the Squadron through the re-equipment from Beaufighters to Mosquitoes and until the final disbandment at Don Muang in 1946. While-ever they had serviceable aircraft, they needed their Compass wallah.

    King Norman compass adjuster pic
    Pilots, Navigators and Compass Adjuster, Chiringa 1944 (Norman King via Elizabethe Kaegi).
    Norman King standing left, rear. All in a relaxed state of tropical undress at a date late in 1944.

Post-war he returned to England and in time, marriage to Evelyn and family life in rural Suffolk, where the family lived for number of years. In 2003, I had a brief and kindly letter from Norman, thanking me for the CD-R disk of the then 211 Squadron website, which I had sent to 211 Squadron Survivors Association members for Christmas 2002. Since then, I had lost touch with him.

After Evelyn died in February 2009, Norman took up residence in a retirement village in a nearby market town. In 2011 he heard of Dennis Spencer’s Looking Backwards Over Burma through the Burma Star Association and got back in touch first with Dennis and then with Elizabeth Kaegi in Canada, who kindly forwarded his news, along with the cheerful photograph, above.

Norman was a nice chap who wrote friendly and interesting letters. He died in January 2016, for which news I’m indebted to Elizabeth and to Norman and Evelyn’s daughter Lizzie in England.

TJ (Terry) Seager
My Christmas 2002 contact with Association members drew forth a number of moving thank you letters, which at the time I filed in the Christmas folder for that year and put away. Like Les
Hill, Terry Seager’s kindly reply included some interesting details of his 211 Squadron service.

    My time with 211, as a Wireless Mech, was short. In June 1945 I was posted to the Squadron who were supposed to be at Chiringa, but after travelling from Madras to Calcutta I was told that they were then at Bangalore. I caught up with them there but within days we were on our way to Madras which had been the starting point for a 2500 mile journey!

    In late August we were packed up and on a LST [Landing Ship (Tank)] ready for Operation Bibber [sic: Zipper] to land at Port Swettenham [Near Kuala Lumpur, Malaya] on D-Day plus 8, but with the dropping of the atom bombs we were diverted to Rangoon and thence to Bankok [Operation Bibber] until being disbanded on 15 March 1946.

I’ve lost touch with Terry since, but I’m glad be able to quote from his 2003 letter, albeit so long afterwards.

Personal correspondence and photographs via Adrian Fryatt: Dickinson, Spicer, Woodhouse, Wythe
Personal correspondence, images:
Harris, Kaegi, King, Pitchfork, Seager, Spencer
Personal correspondence with 211 Squadron Survivors Assn 2001, 2002

Dear (ed) Oxford Companion To World War II (OUP 2001)
Kemp (ed) Oxford Companion To Ships and the Sea (OUP 1976)
G Pitchfork Beaufighter Boys (Grub Street 2019)
D Spencer Looking Backwards Over Burma (Woodfield 2009)


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Site created 15 Apr 2001, last updated 31 Mar 2024. Page created 2 Dec 2001, last updated 12 Sep 2021
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