Burma Star Association
Burma Star Association

Bill Corcoran's Memories

Joined the RCAF in Oct./41 at London Ontario. After manning pool at Toronto he was sent to the University of Toronto for an accelerated course in Physics and Electrical theory. On completion of this course he went to #5 RAF Signals station at Clinton Ont. There he completed courses on Airborne and Ground Radar equipment. 

 

Posted overseas in Oct. /42 he was assigned to a CHL (Chain Home Low ) radar station at Fort Bembridge, Isle of Wight. This was a very active and interesting period with considerable enemy aircraft activity on an on-going basis. In July / 43 he was posted to the far East and his initial posting was to Dimapur in upper Assam. A few dull weeks at that station convinced him to volunteer for an Early Light Warning unit being formed for close support work with the 14th. army. 

 

The first assignment took the unit to Tamu, just inside the border of Burma, where they spent Christmas ‘43. During the next several months there were numerous operations, nearly all in support of 4 Corps. of the Army. Some operations lasted only a few days, none more than a very few weeks. When not actively engaged, the unit returned to 181 Wing HQ. at Imphal. There, they sat out most of the siege until being flown out to Sylhet to take part in a Chindit operation that was aborted due to problems with the glider transport. 

 

On one assignment, the unit lost all its equipment when it was attacked at Moreh by Japanese mortar and small arms fire. There were no personal casualties. 

 

The same unit worked with 4 Corps. when the main attack against the Japanese was launched across the Chindwin and down the central plain of  Burma. 

 

Bill was in Rangoon when the war ended and was on his way back to the UK by Sept,/45. He arrived back in Canada in November. 

 

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It Happened To Me. 

 

As we talked and planned just how we would spend our promised leave when the job was finished, the fields of Assam, the Cachar Valley, the Lushai Hills, the Imphal Valley and the Chin Hills raced past beneath us. Without warning the small cabin lights in the glider died out, and we knew we were now over enemy territory. I checked the time. The luminous dial of my watch showed 01.00 hrs. We had been airborne for one hour and fifteen minutes. 

 

Our only illumination now was from the clear new moon which hung in the cloudless sky ahead of us. But with the planned failure of the cabin lights our spirits seemed to sink once more. Conversation seemed to die as each of us squirmed restlessly to find a comfortable position for a few minutes' sleep. Our flight was not quite half finished and a short sleep now might help to fit us for the many sleepless hours which lay ahead. 

 

I slept, for how long I am not even now sure, but suddenly someone was shaking me, and even as consciousness returned there was something strange and foreboding. Slowly, as reason returned I realized that the steady drone of our tow plane was missing. The only sound was the faint swishing of air over the surface of our glider. Inside everyone sat rigid with fear, whispering only to the person beside him. Outside I could see the pale moonlight falling on the thick carpeted roof of the jungle, but nowhere was there an open space of land. That meant we had NOT reached our destination. We were free from our tow, circling and settling towards the jungle below. That meant we were in deep trouble. 

 

From up front the co-pilot suddenly appeared and explained what the position was. For some unaccountable reason the release gear had allowed our tow line to drop off, which meant we must make a crash landing in the tree tops. He warned us to fasten our safety belts, hold on to each other, brace ourselves when he shouted, and in the meantime pray. So saying, he disappeared up front while we proceeded to carry out his instructions explicitly. 

 

We were spiraling down, losing height rapidly, but suddenly the spiraling stopped and we were in a long, flat glide. That could mean only one thing. The pilot had picked his spot and we were going in. The co-pilot screamed "NOW". Grabbing the men on both sides of me I closed my eyes and held my breath. 

 

Suddenly the glider's nose shot upward. For a moment we seemed to hang in midair, and then the whole thing settled down beneath us. There was no loud crash, just dozens of pistol-shot like reports as small limbs broke beneath our weight. The glider seemed to shudder and stagger, pause a moment and then settle a little further until finally it came to rest, nose slightly down but surprisingly level and intact. 

 

A shout from up front ordered us to remain still, and then the pilot came back, moving very cautiously, and checking to see if we were still all in one piece. When he found we were he seemed more than ever justifiably proud of an excellent piece of piloting a powerless aircraft. 

 

The next thing was to get us from our unnatural perch atop the trees on to the jungle floor. With a long knife the pilot chopped a large opening in the side of the fuselage and, looking down, we saw that we rested some forty to fifty feet up, balanced on the tops of two large trees. Deciding to see if he could climb down, the pilot, with the aid of a small flashlight, disappeared through the opening. In about five minutes his head reappeared and he told us to begin following him down, one at a time. Because of my position in the glider I was first out, and in a few minutes I found myself safely back on the ground. Within an hour we were all huddled around the base of a tree somewhere in Burma. With the exception of small cuts and bruises and strained nerves, none the worse for our experience, and ready to find our way out. 

 

When we were all down we decided that we must get some sleep before morning. Working a system so that three men were awake all the time, the rest of us strung jungle hammocks (salvaged from the glider) and prepared to get our sleep while we could.. 

 

As I climbed into my hammock and prepared to sleep, I remembered a joke I had heard many times at home. It concerned a girl parachutist who, having landed in a farmer's tree, climbed down to find him standing there laughing at her. To her indignant query as to why he was laughing, the old farmer replied "Lady, yer the first person I ever saw climb down a tree that didn't first climb up it". 

 

Well, I sympathized with the lady. I could see nothing very funny in the story until now. You see, it happened to me!

When you go home

tell them of us and say,

For your tomorrow,

we gave our today

Lt Gen Slim at Fort Dufferin, Mandalay, in March 1945 Lt Gen Slim at Fort Dufferin, Mandalay, in March 1945
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