Burma Stars

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Composite photo by Graeme Goodlet and Pierre Lapprand

On August 14th, 2010, there was an invasion of Vintage Wings of Canada from veterans of the Burma theatre of operations during the Second World War. Three successive waves of dry land non-amphibious vehicles were launched from Ottawa - each timed to "hit the beach" in Gatineau one hour apart. These massive red and white troop carriers, disguised to resemble city busses, reached their "jumping off point" in perfect synchronicity with an airborne assault from behind the lines as a Canadian Warplane Heritage C-47 Dakota landed even more troops. Unlike Normandy, all the attackers were Canadians and all were seasoned combat veterans.

But Vintage Wings was not only ready for this well-choreographed invasion, it opened its doors, waved a Canadian flag and surrendered to the Combined Forces of Royal Canadian Air Force and some Army personnel. More than 50 combat-hardened troops, backed by an even larger number of second line "support" or "family" troops overran the hangar, took no prisoners, secured their place in history and shared a day of remembering old friends and old times.

All metaphors aside, Vintage Wings of Canada was very proud to be included on the itinerary of a gathering of veterans of 435 and 436 Squadrons of the Royal Canadian Air Force in the Burma theatre of operations from the Second World War. They were celebrating the 65th anniversary of their victory over the Japanese in the Second World War.

The Royal Canadian Air Force played a very important role in this mostly unsung theatre of war. Two transport squadrons, 435 and 436 (Canucks Unlimited) were deployed there in 1944 and '45 to help supply the British Army as it fought the Japanese back across India and Burma. The famous long distance resupply flights by the RCAF across the mountainous "Burma Hump" are legendary. On the ground, with the British Army were many Canadians including posthumous Victoria Cross recipient Major Charles Hoey.

In addition, Canadians served throughout South East Asia, South Asia and the Far East with the RAF and the British Army. The RCAF's 413 Squadron also flew Catalina flying boats from Ceylon.  The squadron gained fame for the actions of Squadron Leader Leonard Birchall, who detected a large Japanese task force approaching Ceylon. This allowed time for the defenders to prepare, and foiled the attack. For this he became known as the "Saviour of Ceylon" or as Winston Churchill spoke of him : "That Canadian who warned us of the impending attack". Squadron Leader Birchall and his crew were shot down minutes after warning the Allies and was mistreated by the Japanese who captured him. He was awarded the OBE for his outstanding leadership while held captive by the Japanese. During his time in the Japanese POW camps, Birchall repeatedly stood up to the Japanese and demanded fair treatment of the prisoners, in compliance with the Geneva Convention. In his first camp, he struck a Japanese soldier who was forcing a wounded Australian to work. This earned Birchall a severe beating and solitary confinement, but won him the respect of the other POWs. While in the camps, Birchall kept a set of diaries that detailed deaths and mistreatment by the guards. In 1944, Birchall encountered a situation in which sick men were being forced to work on the docks. He ordered all of the men to stop working until the sick were excused. Birchall was beaten and sent to a special discipline camp, where he again was beaten. He was liberated on 27 August 1945 by American troops. The squadron was disbanded in February 1945 and reconstituted years later. It still flies Search and Rescue missions to this day from Greenwood Nova Scotia.

Partly because these events were happening in a far off jungle, away from the immediate threat of Germans at the front door, partly because there was not much film and photo coverage and partly because relatively fewer were involved, the men and women who fought this deprivation-filled war against an unforgiving enemy have never fully received the same admiration and credit for their sacrifice as say those who fought the Battle of Britain of the Battle of Malta.

The day was sunny, our volunteers were ready and some of our aircraft were itching to get airborne in the skies over Gatineau. Photographers Pierre Lapprand, Graeme Goodlet and George "The Hammer" Mayer were on hand to provide assistance and to record the wonderful day had by all.

That evening, the “Burma Stars” were feted at a dinner in their honour hosted by the Minister of Veterans Affairs and they were all in attendance at a special ceremony held the next day at the National War Memorial. It was and continues to be a great honour for us at Vintage Wings to be able to pay homage to these great Canadians who played an importnat role in the social tectonics that constituted the Second World War. For them, our doors are always open wide.

Dave O'Malley

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One of three waves of Burma veterans and their families arrive by bus at the front door of Vintage Wings. To ensure that everyone had enough time to fully appreciate the collection, the large number of visitors was broken into three groups arriving at separate times (9 AM, 10AM and 11 AM). Note the words in the bus's destination board: "Lest We Forget". Photo by Pierre Lapprand

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The airborne assault begins, timed to coincide with the land-based waves. Certainly, every RCAF veteran in attendance that day would jump at the chance to arrive on their old warhorse.  Photographer Pierre Lapprand positions his camera to place as much vegetation between himself and the arriving CWH Dak to create a Burma-esque airfield look to his photograph. Of this photo, Burma veteran Glen Connoly wrote Among the great photographs of us Burma vets, on your web page, there is one taken by Pierre Lapprand. It showed the 'Dakota' behind a little growth of shrubbery. It reminded me of one supply delivery we made. It was to a Spitfire 'drome. You'll know that a 'Spit' does not need a long take-off run. As a result the big, tall, trees surrounding the 'drome were not very far from the beginning of the earthen take-off strip. To return to base we had to get out of that situation. Our pilot, an RAF chap, as I was attached to an RAF squadron and crew, positioned the 'Dak' so that a good bit of its rear end was in some short shrubbery off the take-off strip. He and the second pilot had the yokes pulled fully back. Both had their feet on the brake pedals. The second pilot was holding the throttles in full power position. You could hear our 'old girl' straining to get going. I, the Wop/Air, was standing behind the pilots, as I usually did during take-off and landing. The pilot said to second 'pilot ,"On three release brakes... 1 - 2 - 3". Away we went, up went the tail and we were quickly airborne. As soon as we got 'unstuck' the second pilot got the undercarriage retracting. We just cleared those trees. I think if the wheels had been fully down they might have clipped the tops of them. Just one of the many little incidents encountered by those delivering needed supplies to the troops in Burma.  Photo by Pierre Lapprand

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Burma veteran Harold Holland, his daughter Leslie and Vintage Wings volunteer Michael Virr pose in front of the Tiger Moth.  "Dutch" Holland flew Hurricanes Mk IIc's in 11 Squadron RAF. Holland states that he trusted the beefy fighter very much.  Only once, in November of 1944, did his Hurricane suffer a forced landing due to an overheating engine. The only place he could find to make a belly landing was the surface of a river in the Burmese jungle. Unfortunately Harold did not know how to swim. As luck would have it, a Spitfire came up alongside and guided his failing Hurricane him past a mountain and on to the surface of a swamp. When the aircraft was retrieved, mechanics told him a piston was practically welded to its cylinder! Photo by Pierre Lapprand

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Sean Martin, who was born probably 40 years after the Burma campaign, captures the attention of a group of Burma veterans as he tells them the story of our Fairey Swordfish.  Photo by Pierre Lapprand

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John Windish gets a few laughs out of the Burma veterans in his group. Photo by Graeme Goodlet

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Marc Turcotte tells another group about the Spitfire as the CWHM's Dakota taxies in from a landing in the distance. Photo by Pierre Lapprand

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Canadian Warplane Heritage pilot Brandon Zimmerman bends his ear to better hear Vintage Wings ground crew after the long and noisy flight from Hamilton. Photo by Pierre Lapprand

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You can't get more Canadian than Canucks Unlimited - the 436 Squadron DC-3 Dakota of the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton, Ontario. "Canucks Unlimited" was the slogan of 436 and emblazoned many of their Daks in South Asia. The CWHM sent the immaculately kept warbird up to Ottawa for the enjoyment of the Burma veterans.  Photo via Graeme Goodlet

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The height of the DC-3 cockpit above the ground is very evident in this shot looking over the Vintage wings Elementary Training aircraft - the Tiger Moth and the Fleet Finch. Photo by Graeme Goodlet

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ONUS PORTAMUS - We carry the load. 436 Squadron still shoulders a heavy load for the Canadian Air Force to this day, operating the CC-130 Hercules from their home at CFB Trenton. But it was born in Gujrat, India in 1944 after which it operated from Burma. Being born in India and given a heavy lift mission, it was a natural to choose the Indian Elephant for their mascot and symbol. It is certainly a tribute to the quality of the aircraft this squadron has flown that in nearly 66 years of continuous operation (only one stand down from '46 to '49) they have only flown 3 different types  - the DC-3 Dakota, The Fairchild Flying Box Car and finally the Herc. Photo by Graeme Goodlet

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A beautiful shot of the mighty DC-3 "Canucks Unlimited" - a thundering tribute to the men of the RCAF who fought a forgotten war a world away. Photo by George Mayer

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Michael Virr tells a gourp of veterans and family mambers about the work we are doing to get our Spitfire back in the air for Battle of Britain Day. Photo by Pierre Lapprand

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Canine meets Equine. A Burma veteran snaps a photo of the Vintage Wings Mustang, while his attendant pooch watches for the hangar cat.  Photo by George Mayer

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Sean Martin explains the historu of our de Havilland Beaver. Photo by George Mayer

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Peter Ashwood-Smith taxies up in the Vintage Wings Fleet Finch. No doubt some of the Burma veterans on hand had some experience in the type during the Second World War. The Vintage Wings of Canada flying operation is a very active one indeed with visitors often witnessing historic aircraft coming and going as training proceeds. Constant training by all our pilots is critical for the safe operation at air displays and memorial flypasts.  Photo by Graeme Goodlet

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Art Adams, nicknamed the "Brick Bomber", points to his target on the painting by Lance Russwurm in the lobby of Vintage Wings of Canada. He was a "kicker" on C-47/DC-3 Skytrain/Dakotas in the Burma campaign. A "kicker" was a loadmaster on a Dak who often delivered supplies to remote places by literally kicking them out of the cargo door . He was aboard one Dakota transporting 2,000 bricks to be used to build an oven for cooking food when the aircraft flew at low altitude over a Japanese floatplane aircraft pulled up on a beach. By pitching bricks at the enemy aircraft, Art Adams became the only person to have done a "kill" with bricks. This kill has officially been confirmed in a Japanese magazine 12 years ago. Photo by George Mayer

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Art Adams pops his head from the front office of the CWH Dakota while ground crew prepare the aircraft for a re-creation of his famous masonry attack on a Japanese warplane.. Photo by Pierre Lapprand

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Vintage Wings' Chief Operating Officer Rob Fleck (left) lends a hand to help AME Paul Tremblay remove the stairs to the Dakota. Photo by Pierre Lapprand

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A painting by Lance Russwurm depicting another "Canucks Unlimited"  Dak from 436 Squadron and the infamous Brick Bomber. A description of the painting from the Spitfire Emporium tells the story: (Burma, 1945) In April of that year, 436 Transport Squadron was ordered to move operations from Akyab Island in the Bay of Bengal, down the Burmese coast to Ramree Island. This move was necessary to maintain supplies to the  British 14th Army which was advancing on the Japanese. Ramree had been shelled and extensively damaged. S/L Dick Denison was instructed to fly a load of bricks to Ramree so the cooks could build ovens to serve the squadron's messing needs. A C-47 (KN210) piloted by Denison was transporting the bricks and couldn't gain altitude, due to being overloaded. Just as this became apparent, L.A.C. Art Adams spotted a Japanese seaplane beached on a small island. Someone shouted, "Let's get rid of some bricks!" The paradrop bell and lights came on, the signal to "Do the drop". During a few low passes, Adams pushed out as many bricks as he could. No sign of life was seen around the enemy aircraft and it is doubtful that any damage was done but, it was certainly the only bombing raid in World War 2 done with bricks. Denison later landed the Dak like a feather. It was overloaded by 2000 pounds!  Painting by Lance Russwurm

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Art Adams gets ready to chuck some masonry in a reenactment of some creative warfare waged more than 65 years ago and half a world away.  Photo by George Mayer

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A close up of Art about to show the Japanese who's boss. Adams was very cooperative and good natured to help us stage the photo op.  Photo by Pierre Lapprand

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One of three groups of Burma veterans, many with bush hats on, pose for an army of shooters. Among the 16 veterans is Art Adams on the right in front, while "Dutch" Holland is at the back far left.  Photo by Pierre Lapprand

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The first group of 16 is joined by their wives, relatives and the crew of the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum's Dakota. Photo by Pierre Lapprand

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A second group of 18 veterans pose for Lapprand. While some required walkers and wheel chairs, their bearing was strong and the pride was evident on their faces - it was a good day. Photo by Pierre Lapprand

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The second group  is joined by family and air force personnel. Photo by Pierre Lapprand

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The last group of 20 park their hardware together for their shot. Photo by Pierre Lapprand

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Group three is joined by their wives and relatives. It was a big and very honourable day at the Vinatge Wings hangar. Photo by Pierre Lapprand


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