Burma Star Association
Burma Star Association

Mike Downing's recollections of his war service

Name:  Michael Edward Downing

Date of Birth: July 27th 1923

Place of Birth: Point Grey B.C, now Vancouver

Enlisted at: Vancouver, B.C.

Date: 20th November 1942

Discharged at: Vancouver, B.C.

Date: 23rd February 1946

Basic Training at: #5 A.O.S Winnipeg

Advanced at: #'32 O.T 11, Patricia Bay, Vancouver Island

Served with: #436 Transport Squadron, S.E.A.C. (Burma)

 

Decorations Held: 1939 Star, Burma Star, Defense of Britain, Canadian Volunteer Service medal and clasp, Victory medal, Air Navigator's badge and Operational wing                                                                                                     

 

Interesting Experiences: Though I joined up in November 1942, I was not called up until March 1943. My initial training was in Edmonton for six weeks, then to Saskatoon for 6 weeks and Regina #2  I.T.S. for two months, where I graduated with the rank of L.A.C., put a prop. on my left sleeve and a white wedge in my cap. We were given a month's leave, then in September I was posted to #5 A.O.S. where I received my navigator’s badge and commission in February 1944

 

Got another month's leave and then was posted to #32 O.T.U. at Pat Bay where I trained on Ansons, Beechcraft and Dakotas. Graduated from Pat Bay in May 1944. Posted overseas after some leave and landed in Glasgow, Scotland on June 24th. 1944 and took a train to Gloucester.

 

I left England for Gibraltar on a Dakota and continued on to Cairo. Flew in a Sunderland flying boat from Cairo to Karachi where I got dysentery and lost 60 lbs. Now weighed only 125 lbs. of skin and bones. Eventually I was posted to T.S.T.U. Chaklala, India, serving from September, 1944 to January, 1945 for more training, dropping parachutists and towing gliders.

 

My squadron moved to Kangla, Assam in January, 1945, where we flew supplies to the BritishIndian 14th. Army until we moved to Akyab, Burma in March 1945. Our final move was to Kyaukpyu airstrip on Ramree Island where I completed my tour of 700 hours on August 4th.

 

Decided to take the boat back to England, so I flew to Calcutta, took a train to Bombay and left from there for England. Leaving England on January 10th. 1946, on the Queen Elizabeth, I landed in New York. We were not allowed off the ship. From there I took a train to Montreal, had a week off  and then went home by train.

 

I was always interested in flying. As a kid I made the usual paper and balsa wood planes and read all the pulp magazines about W.W.1 and the flying aces. In 1939 I joined the #1601 Air Cadet Squadron that met in the old Stanley Park armories at the entrance to the Park. The C.O. was Squadron Leader Nick Carter. We had Billy Bishop out to inspect us that year. When cadets were started at Kitsilano I became the W.0.2 for the squadron.

 

I arrived in Edmonton in 40 below zero weather and thought I was going to die because I had never before experienced the freezing of my nostril hair! They picked us up at the station in an open canvas truck. I remember Edmonton for all the shots we got, the VD pictures and the Aussies who cut down the flag pole because they were not allowed to fly the Australian flag.

 

Winnipeg was memorable for the freezing wind at Portage & Main and the bomb­ing runs where we flew past the target and let the wind blow the bombs back over the target.  Didn't get great marks as a bomber.           

 

Pat Bay is remembered as the place I first realized how big the world was as we flew 500 miles into the dark void of the Pacific Ocean.

 

We left for England shortly after "D" Day. I  took a train from Montreal to Halifax which we never saw due to the fog. Lots of people hanging over the sides, seasick, even though the ship was still tied up at the dock.

 

The thing most remembered about the boat ride was that the guys below the water line were locked in at night so that those above the water line could be saved.

 

Flew from England to India. Hit my first       heat wave at the  top of the Gulf of Arabia when we got out of the plane. It was like a wall of hot air.       

 

I got Yellow Jaundice In Rawalpindi and was sent to a mountain retreat at Muree to recuperate.          

 

Shortly after returning to the squadron we moved to Imphal Valley which is just north of Burma. They made us take all the jungle shots again and shut the squadron down for three days as everyone was sick. The big event there was the burning down of the officer’s bar tent. The flying debris set a number of other tents on fire. We saved ours by collapsing it.

 

We started right away flying supplies in to Burma. At first it was all parachute drops but later we landed and unloaded.

 

The big problems in Burma were the heat rashes and Portuguese Men of War jelly fish in the water. We flew every other day, right through the monsoons which dumped 630 inches of rain on us. Everything turned green and the tent became very damp as well as the bed.

 

When I finished the tour I decided to take the boat back to England. We slept on the deck until after Gibraltar and then everyone went back to their original beds and put on their blues. There was only one nurse to 5,000 men on the ship.

 

Came home on the same ship as Winston Churchill who was going to speak to the U.S. people.

 

After my discharge I attended University, something that would never have happened except for the Veteran’s benefits we received. I will always be grateful for the experience and the great guys I met during the war.

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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