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Archive Report: Allied Forces

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.
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No. 1 Squadron RAAF Crest
08.12.1941 No. 1 Squadron RAAF Hudson I A16-19 US-B Fl/Lt. John Christopher Ramshaw

Operation: Anti invasion shipping

Date: 8 December 1941 (Monday)

Unit: No. 1 Squadron RAAF Motto: "Videmus agamus" (We seek and we strike)

Type: Lockheed Hudson

Serial: A16-19

Code: US-B

Base: Kota Bharu, Malaya

Location: In the South China Sea off Kota Bharu, Malayasia

Pilot: Fl/Lt. John Christopher (Johnny) Ramshaw Aus/552 RAAF Age 27 - Killed

2nd Pilot: F/O. Donald Alexander (Don) Dowie Aus/649 RAAF Age 24 - PoW No. 4840 or 4323 Camp: Singapore Fortress

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Garet Sidney (Gary) White Aus/407309 RAAF Age 21 - Killed

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Jeffrey Cyril Coldrey Aus/3382 RAAF Age 28 - Killed

We appeal to anyone with further information and/or photographs to please contact the HELPDESK


Took off from Kota Bharu at 04:00 hours on 8 December 1941 to bomb Japanese landing parties in the same area. Failed to return believed to have been shot down by anti-aircraft fire from a cruiser.

The Japanese Empire commenced the Pacific War with the invasion of Kota Bharu in Kelantan, Malaya on Monday 8 December 1941 at 00:25 nearly an hour before the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii at 07:48 on Sunday 7 December Hawaii time, or 01:18 on 8 December Malayan time.

One hour after Japanese bombers struck at Hawaii Prime Minister John Curtin of Australia declared that "from one hour ago, Australia has been at war with the Japanese Empire."

The Japanese Invasion of Malaya was the first major battle of the Pacific War, and was fought between ground forces of the British Indian Army and the Empire of Japan.

Kota Bharu, capital of Kelantan State on Malaysia's north east coast, was, in 1941, the RAF and RAAF base of operations in Northern Malaya. There was an airstrip at Kota Bharu and two more at Gong Kedah and Machang.

On 7 December 1941, Royal Air Force Command in Malaya had an operational strength of 164 first-line aircraft with 88 others in reserve. Included in RAF Command were four RAAF squadrons. In Malaya, No 1 Squadron equipped with Lockheed Hudsons was at Kota Bharu on the north-eastern coast, No 8 Squadron also with Hudsons was at Kuantan further south, and No 21 Squadron with Brewster Buffalo fighters was at Sungei Patani, in north-west Malaya whilst No 453 Squadron, also with Buffaloes, was at Singapore.

No 1 Squadron RAAF was the first squadron ordered into the air to mount sorties against the Japanese invasion fleet and thereby the first of any RAAF Squadron to go into action in the war in the Pacific. It was followed at first light by aircraft of No. 8 Squadron.

In the 17 sorties flown that day by No. 1 squadron, they lost two Hudsons shot down and three badly damaged. The other aircraft shot down was A16-94 with the loss of all the crew. Having no known graves the crew are commemorated on the Singapore Memorial and were:

Fl/Lt. John Graham Leighton Jones Aus/570 RAAF Age 22 (Pilot) Singapore Memorial Column 411

F/O. Ronald Hewitt Siggins Aus/407007 RAAF Age 24 (2nd Pilot) Singapore Memorial Column 411

Sgt. David Ward Walters Aus/407307 RAAF Age 21 (W/Op/Air/Gnr) Singapore Memorial Column 412

Sgt Graham John Hedges Aus/404294 RAAF Age 20 (W/Op/Air/Gnr) Singapore Memorial Column 412

The following account of the events leading up to the incident, its aftermath and the fate of the crew members of A16-19 has been compiled using information supplied by the sole survivor of the two crews, Fl/Lt. Donald Alexander Dowie.

In August 1941 No 1 Squadron was sent from Sembawang, Singapore to Kota Bharu to replace No. 8 Squadron that was relocating to Kauntan. Three months or so later on 6 December the crew captained by Fl/Lt. John Christopher Ramshaw was on patrol when a Japanese convoy made up of troop transports and warships was sighted heading north towards Thailand. Don Dowie said:

"Using broken cloud cover we shadowed them as they moved north. Suddenly they altered course and headed back south. The squadron kept an eye on it throughout that day and the following day 7 December as it steamed closer to Kota Bharu. Our C.O. Wing Commander R.H.S. Davis, told us to get a good night's sleep, as he expected that we were going to be busy from then on. I went to bed about 10 pm."

Near midnight on the 7th the crews were wakened and briefed to attack the Japanese fleet that was now off the coast and when they took off each aircraft armed with four 250 lb bombs at about 1 a.m. - war in the Pacific was yet to be declared.

Each aircraft was loaded with four 250 lb bombs and Don Dowie recalled that his aircraft A16-19 skippered by Fl/Lt. John Christopher Ramshaw and A16-94 skippered by Fl/Lt. John Leighton Jones were the first into action and bombed the convoy.

It had all happened so quickly but only after landing did he realised just how quickly - he was still smoking the same cigarette that he had lit just before take-off!

Photograph: Courtesy Life magazine

Then at 04:00 hours and reloaded with bombs the aircraft took-off again with Fl/Lt Ramshaw and his crew leading the attack. They picked out what they thought was a cruiser and attacked dropping their bombs at mast head height: then crashed.

Don's last conscious memory before they crashed into the sea was of the aircraft beginning to hunt and yaw badly, after that nothing.

He regained consciousness in the water being kept afloat by his Mae West. He later recalled "Johnny Ramshaw was alive after the crash. I spoke to him and he answered. Said he was badly burned and had sustained a broken arm and leg. I was unable to swim over to him so we kept in touch by shouting at intervals. Eventually after some time I got no response to my shouts. As there were plenty of Nip landing barges operating at that time I could only hope that he had been picked up by one of them. I did not see or hear anything of Coldrey or White. The last I saw of the machine was one wheel and oleo strut which floated close by. I think by the appearance of it the machine must have blown up either in the air or on striking the water".

Don Dowie and John Ramshaw had been thrown through the perspex roof when the aircraft crashed and in the process Don had suffered a fracture to his spine that was to go untreated for over two years.

"At the time I thought I was going to join my fathers and even attempted to accelerate the process by trying to undo my Mae West. Fortunately I was unable to do so, for after I had thawed out somewhat and had finally decided that I was not going to give up the ghost for a while, fate stepped in and presented me with a small prau. [An Indonesian boat without a deck, propelled by sail or paddles]. At this time I think I was floating somewhere opposite the mouth of the Kelantan River because the current was very strong. At all events this prau was floated out on the current and helped by a land breeze, actually overtook me and would have passed within about ten feet from me. I had thawed out sufficiently to waggle my legs and I could use one arm. Working out a clever interception I was able to reach it and eventually managed to climb aboard without upsetting it. There were no paddles so I just had to sit there and await events.

While in the boat I was seen by the crew of a Vildebeeste [a Vickers bi-plane light bomber] the observer being Fl/Sgt. Wilson-North, RAF who I met at Changi about 12 months later. I think I was seen also by the crew of a Hudson but I am not sure of this.

After about two days I was picked up by a Japanese armed patrol boat which finally dumped me at Singora [southern Thailand]. I spent about 18 days in the Singora Jail and then in the company of 3 RAF chaps who had crashed in a Blenheim, and a civilian tin miner by the name of King, we were herded into a filthy tramp steamer and taken to Saigon".

In Singora he was kept in solitary confinement and received only small quantities of rice and water and in Saigon he was held with 11 other Allied PoWs in a 10' x 10' cell. Toilet facilities were often denied the prisoners.

After 3 months in Saigon they were finally removed from the jail and transhipped to Singapore.

Blindfolded he was taken by truck to Changi where he was unceremoniously pushed off the back of the truck. Tentatively removing his blindfold he was confronted by a British Officer of the Leicesters called Morrison who invited him to join their Mess.

In May 1943 Don Dowie became part of "H" Force, a party numbering 3270 men and made up of over 2400 British, Australian, Dutch and American PoWs with Malay volunteers and Indians making up the rest. Under the command of British Lt. Col. H.R. Humphries and Australian Lt. Col. Oakes, "H" Force was sent by train to the southern end of the Burma-Thailand railway to work in the Konyu/Hintok. Included in "H" Force was an Officers Party made up of 260 Officers of whom 69 were Australians, were made to work as labourers: Don Dowie was one of the 260.

After arriving at Ban Pong the members of "H" force then had to walk to various work sites along a twenty-kilometre stretch of the railway between Tonchan and Hintok. Given the heat and the fact they were carrying too much equipment, men arrived at their destination in the last stage of exhaustion, staggering and swaying like drunks. The Australians under Lt Colonel Oakes went to Konyu Camp 2 and worked on the Hellfire Pass Cutting, also the Three Tier Bridge, which took a deadly toll of the men. Living conditions were atrocious the only protection from the wet were 24 canvas tent flys (canvas sheets)

In August 1943 when the work at Konyu/Hintok was complete the Japanese demanded that one of the Australian Medical Officers, Major Kevin Fagan should select the 100 fittest of the Australian survivors to force-march 100 miles north to Konkoita in Thailand to help "F" Force with a cutting that was behind schedule.

In an interview after the war Major Fagan said that having to select these men was "the worst experience he had" and after they left he wept for them.

He also told of an incident that occurred later on the day of their departure when a pompous Japanese Medical Officer came. Major Fagan told him that unless they changed their treatment of the prisoners they would all die. The Japanese officer, a good English speaker, replied "That would be a very good thing; it would save the Japanese army much rice".

Don Dowie was one of the 100 sent north and miraculously one of those who survived. On completion of the railway in October 1943 he and the other survivors of "H" force were sent back to Singapore

The death rate in "H" Force was 27.4% or 885, of these 179 were Australians.

Major Fagan carried out many successful operations on prisoners in the most trying of conditions with home made equipment fashioned from whatever could be found, and few medicines or drugs. On his return Don Dowie had to have an operation performed on his back and it was Major Fagan who carried out the procedure at the Sime Road Camp, Singapore. On his return to Australia Don was reported as saying "I want to praise the Army Medical men. Working practically without medical supplies, they did wonders". His sentiments were echoed time and time again by the returning PoWs. One was quoted as saying that if the men marched 100 miles the Medical Officers marched at least 200 miles back and forth administering treatment to the sick and lame.

Don was to endure another 18 months a prisoner in Singapore before his release during which time he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant on 23 May 1944 with effect from 4 May 1942.

As the first RAAF member (some sources say the first Australian serviceman) to be taken prisoner by the Japanese, Flight Lieutenant Donald Alexander Dowie was afforded the privilege of being on the first evacuation aircraft out of Singapore for Darwin where he arrived on 16 September 1945

Above: The report of Don Dowie's homecoming published in The News (Adelaide) 20 September 1945

In 1976, a Pratt and Whitney Twin Wasp R-1839 SC3-G twin row radial engine was recovered from the sea off Kota Bharu by fisherman Abdul Rahman Bin Win Harum. The Lockheed Aircraft Corporation USA positively identified a data plate on the engine as belonging to Lockheed Hudson A16-19.

The following year, the second engine was recovered. Both engines were transported by the Royal Malaysian Air Force to RMAF Butterworth from where they were flown to Australia in an RAAF Hercules Transport. After anti-corrosion treatment at the RAAF Museum at Point Cook, Victoria the engines were acquired by the Australian War Memorial and placed on display. The starboard engine complete with bent propellers is on display as part of the Air Power in the Pacific 1941-1953 display in the Aircraft Hall, the port engine is displayed in the Second World War Hall.

This highly significant relic is a reminder that the first shots of the Pacific war were not fired at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, but in, over and around the north eastern coastline of Malaya. (Australian War Memorial)


(1) Fl/Lt. John Christopher (Johnny) Ramshaw was born 18 October 1914 at Bangalore, India the son of Ernest Christopher Ramshaw and Florence Mary Ramshaw, of Belgrave Heights, Victoria, Australia. John Ramshaw enlisted on 4 September 1939 at Point Cook and trained as a pilot. Initially posted to No 2 (General Reconnaissance) Squadron he was later posted to No. 1 Squadron RAAF.

He is commemorated on the Australian War Memorial at Canberra, Panel No. 97 and on the Roll of Honour at Bishop Cotton Boys School, Bangalore, India.

(2) Fl/Lt. Donald Alexander Dowie was born 24 September 1917 at Adelaide and after leaving school worked at Holden's. He joined the RAAF in 1938 and trained as an aircraft metal rigger with the rank of AC1 and was dux of his course. He re-enlisted at Point Cook on 8 January 1940 as an Air Cadet and trained as a pilot. After receiving his wings he was sent to Malaya with No.1 Squadron in 1941. Before being posted overseas he was married at Stow Church on 28 September 1940 to Margaret Elleanor (Peg) Burden. They were to live at Beulah Road, Norwood, a suburb of Adelaide.

After the war Don Dowie studied medicine at Adelaide Medical School under the Australian repatriation scheme. He graduated in 1954 and in 1956 was the Medical Officer of the 20 man Antarctic Expedition. Don had had an interest in Antarctica from being a boy and he was clearly in his element as part of this expedition. In addition to his duties as the doctor at Mawson Station he also acted as the expedition dentist as well as vet for the huskies and was not averse to tackling other jobs even skinning seals killed for meat.

In recognition of his work with the 1956 Antarctic Expedition, Mount Dowie, a ridge-like mountain about 4 miles west of Mount Hollingshead in the Aramis Range, Prince Charles Mountains was named for him.

On his return from Antarctica he specialised in Physical Medicine including rehabilitation and prosthetics. Before he retired in 1976 he was the Director of Medical Services for the Department of Social Services for South Australia.

Donald Dowie died on 17 May 2016 aged 98. His Funeral Service took place on Tuesday, 24 May 2016 at 1pm entirely in the Chapel of Berry's Funeral Home, 204 Magill Road, Norwood, Adelaide.In lieu of flowers donations in memory of Donald were requested for the Animal Welfare League of SA Inc., PO Box 1525, Port Adelaide, SA 5015, Australia.

(3) Sgt. Garet Sidney (Gary) White was born in 1920 the younger son of Mrs. M. R. White, of Cricklewood, Aldgate, South Australia. He joined the RAAF in August 1940 and left for overseas duties in May 1941. His brother was a pilot in the RAAF.

He is commemorated on the Australian War Memorial at Canberra, Panel No. 97

(4) Sgt. Jeffrey Cyril Coldrey was born c 1913 the son of Frederic Henry and Ethel May Coldrey, of East Brighton, Victoria, Australia.

He is commemorated on the Australian War Memorial at Canberra, Panel No. 97


Fl/Lt. John Christopher (Johnny) Ramshaw - Having no known grave he is commemorated on the Singapore memorial Panel No. 411

Sgt. Garet Sidney (Gary) White - Having no known grave he is commemorated on the Singapore memorial Panel No. 412

Sgt. Jeffrey Cyril Coldrey - Having no known grave he is commemorated on the Singapore memorial Panel No. 412

Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for all the relatives and friends of the members of this crew - June 2016

With thanks to the following principal sources:

1. Information in documents and letters courtesy of National Archives of Australia files NAA: A705, 163/177/182 and NAA: A705, 166/10/344

2. Newspaper Reports and other publications courtesy of Trove, National Library of Australia.

3. Photographs and other information courtesy of the Australian War Memorial

and also to the sources quoted below

RW 04.06.2016

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