The battle of the supply ships

Name: John Reid
Date: 1942-1945
Unit: 113 Squadron RAAF, POW
Location: Burma

On 9 September 1942, Sgt John Reid flew his Blenheim bomber in an attack on enemy shipping anchored at Akya Island off the Burmese coast.

During the attack his aircraft was hit in its port engine and lost power. He continued to target the larger of the two ships and eventually his observer, Peter Wilson, released their bombs, which struck the ship as Sgt Reid pulled his aircraft over the ship's mast.

Japanese fighters appeared and as he climbed towards cloud cover, Sgt Reid realised he was falling behind the other bombers and was "a straggler".

When the Japanese fighters attacked, Sgt Reid took evasive action.

"I put the aircraft into a stall turn cum wing-over reducing power on both engines as I did so, then applying full power as I pulled her out just above the water," John Reid wrote later.

"The fighters seemed to have left us and I was just starting to breathe again when out of the corner of my eye, I saw a great glow in the port engine, streaming backwards, so I hit the fire extinguisher button, with no effect. Wing rivets were popping and plates flying off backwards. It seemed the whole caboodle would go sky high.

"I decided to ditch the aircraft and we skimmed lower and lower and went slower and slower until we reached the point of stall just as the tail wheel hit the water and we ditched about four miles west of the island."

Despite being severely wounded, Reid's tail gunner, Sgt Len White, launched the dinghy and they drifted away from the sinking aircraft, heading for shore. The plan was to head to Cox's Bazaar which was at that time "patrol territory", hoping they'd meet an Allied patrol before a Japanese one.

"In the event, we covered 17 miles in 22 hours before Arakanese villagers alerted the Japs to our progress up the Mayu," Reid wrote.

"When we arrived in Akyab after our capture, the larger sunken ship was clearly visible - a lovely sight - from where we were held in the same building as the survivors from the sunken ship."

Reid spent the next two years and eight months as a POW, longing for the day the war would end. He was unable to send any word to his parents and fretted about his inability to contact them. He spent a great deal of time thinking, and composed poems, a skill he had inherited from his father Jack.

On 30 April 1945, he wrote to his parents as the fall of Rangoon was taking place.

"You can perhaps imagine my feelings as I write these lines - the first since 1942 - with the exception of one 12-word postcard sent through the Japanese authorities on the twenty-first of February 1945 (My 24th birthday). Whether or not I have been notified as a prisoner I do not know, and I hope the cable I intend sending as soon as I get back to civilization will not come as too much of a shock to you."

Reid reported that the Japanese troops had left Rangoon City just after midnight the night before.

His main reason for writing was to tell his parents how much they meant to him.

"I thought I appreciated my parents before, but looking back during the long days and weeks and months and years of my captivity I came to realise how thoughtless and heartless was my conduct towards you.

"In the years to come I hope to be able to make up to some extent for times past, and I am determined that you shall never experience thoughtlessness from me again."

He continued his letter over the next few days as the Allied troops came closer, with aircraft regularly flying over head.

"There are still Japanese troops in Rangoon City. Today they are blowing up harbour installations, AA guns and ammunition dumps. The pall of smoke covers most of the sky," he wrote on 1 May.

The following day he was more cheerful.

"Great things today!!! This morning terrific bomber and fighter raids on river and river entrance. Burmese say naval landing."

And later in the day:

"All's well! Whoopee! Thunderbolts have read signs painted on roof "Japs gone" and "British here" on Chinese block. "Extract digit" on 7 block. Are now beating us up! Everyone cheering like mad and waving anything white. A Mosquito just roared over the roof then. Boy oh boy!! Am I happy?"

And the following day, 3 May:

"They're here!! Relieved!! Rangoon falls!! Oosh!! What price Brisbane? Two Press Photographers just walked in. Navy boys pouring in now and accompanied by Gurkhas. Good old Navy!! Good old Gurkhas!!"


The following documents on punishment and methods of saluting were issued to POWs by the Japanese.

NOTICE

PRISONERS OF WAR HAVE ALREADY BEEN NOTIFIED THAT THEY ARE SUBJECT TO THE NIPPON PRISONER OF WAR PUNISHMENT LAWS. NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN THAT THEY ARE ALSO SUBJECT TO THE NIPPON PENAL CODE OR ANY OTHER LAWS APPLYING TO NIPPONES NATIONALS ON THIS DATE, AND THE OFFENCES WILL BE INTERPRETED AS IF THEY WERE COMMITTED IN NIPPON.

ARTICLE 4 OF THE NIPPON MILITARY PUNISHMENT LAW STATES THAT:- WHEN OFFENCES AGAINST THE PENAL OR OTHER LAWS ARE COMMITTED IN NIPPONESE OCCUPIED AREAS BY NIPPONESE MILITARY OFFICERS OR OTHER RANKS, THESE OFFENCES WILL BE INTERPRETED AS IF THE OFFENCES WERE COMMITTED IN NIPPON.
BESIDES NIPPONESE MILITARY PERSONNEL THIS ALSO APPLIES TO NIPPONESE SUBJECTS AND PERSONS OF OTHER NATIONALITIES EMPLOYED BY THE NIPPON ARMED FORCES AND TO PRISONERS OF WAR.

ARTICLE 5 EXTENDS ARTICLE 4 TO COVER ALL CIVILIAN PERSONNEL EMPLOYED BY THE NIPPON ARMED FORCES AND TO THEIR PRISONERS OF WAR WHEN THE ABOVE MENTIONED ARMED FORCES ARE PRESENT IN ANY FOREIGN COUNTRY.

MARCH 20, 1945

The Rules of Salutation

The Rules re Salutation are divided as follows.
(1) Salutation indoors.
(2) Salutation outdoors.
(3) Salutation on the move.

(1) Salutation indoors. Headdress will not be worn when saluting indoors.
(a) When a single person salutes indoors he will stand at attention and bow.
(b) When there are more than one person in the room and a nipponese appears, the first person to see him will shout "Keirei" and all occupants of the room will stand up and bow for the person being saluted.
(c) Should the person being saluted come into the room when there are more than one present, the Senior (room master) will shout "Kietuke" and bow, the remainder will stand at attention.

(2) Salutation outdoors, Salutation outdoors will be carried out as follows.
(a) When a Nipponese appears and there is only one person present he will stand up and if wearing headdress will give a normal military salute, if he is not wearing headdress he will bow.
(b) When there are more than one person present, the first one to see the Nipponese will shout "Keirei" and will face the person being saluted and all will salute as in (1) above.
(c) Should the senior officer of the compound or an officer i/c an organized working party be present as in (b) above he will give the command "Kiotuke" and salute as in (1) above and the remainder will stand at attention.

(3) Salutation on the move.
(a) When a single person meets a Nipponese if wearing headdress he will give a normal military salute ensuring that he turns his head and eyes in whatever direction he is saluting, if he is not wearing headdress he will bow on the move.
(b) In the case of a party of men the senior will shout "Keirei" all will lift their knees up when the party is just about to pass the person being saluted the senior will shout "Kashira Hidari" (Eyes left) or "Kashira Migi" (eyes right). All will turn their head and eyes in the direction required, the Senior only will salute. The above command will be followed by "Naore" (Eyes front) and "Moche Yame" (Normal marching) when the salute has been acknowledged.
(c) At all times on the move when a single prisoner of war meets The Commandant he will Halt, face him and salute in the manner laid down.

Note:
When Saluting remain at the Salute untill it is acknowledged by the person being saluted taking his hand down from his cap.

The following poem was written by John Reid on 9 April 1944 in Rangoon Central Gaol, Burma:

"Semper Illos Memoramus"

As I sit here, remembering -
Every familiar line of each dear face,
I ask my Maker, day after weary day,
"How long, dear Lord, how long have we to stay
In exile thus, bound to this dreary place?"
And then, in answer to my heartfelt plea,
I feel a deep'ning happiness in me
That calms the soul and rests the troubled mind.
What matters it how long our sojourn lasts
In Eastern lands by Eastern princes ruled,
If, knowing God, we find our hearts are schooled
In love for Him? And, while our glance is cast
Yearning in retrospect towards those we love,
Our thoughts are turned towards mightier things above,
Then patiently we'll wait the dawning day -
As we sit here, remembering.


Last updated: 3 June 2019

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2019), The battle of the supply ships, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 21 January 2021, http://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/stories-service/australians-war-stories/battle-supply-ships
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