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Archive Report: Allied Forces

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356 squadron badge
23.08.1945 No. 356 Squadron Liberator KL654 Fl/Lt. John S. Watts

Operation: Supply drops

Date: 23rd August 1945 (Thursday)

Unit: No. 356 Squadron

Type: Consolidated Liberator B VI

Serial: KL654

Code: R

Base: Brown's West Island, Cocos Islands

Location: Near Kuala Pilah, Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia

Pilot: Fl/Lt. John Selwyn Watts 158017 RAFVR Age 24. Killed

Pilot 2: F/O. Edward Donald Mason 166082 RAFVR Age 22. Killed

Fl/Eng: Fl/Sgt. Jack Blakey 1582692 RAFVR Age 30. Killed (1)

Nav: F/O. William Kenneth Dovey 166352 RAFVR Age 20. Killed

Air/Bmr: F/O. John Trevor Bromfield 166369 RAFVR Age 20. Killed

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Arthur Turner 1621393 RAFVR Age 21. Killed

Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Raymond Arthur Towel 1624252 RAFVR Age 21. Killed

Air/Gnr: Sgt. William Ross 2213814 RAFVR Age 20. Killed

REASON FOR LOSS:

This B-24 was lost while dropping special agents of Force 136 and supplies. Also, it was looking for PoW camps. All aboard died in the crash and were unaccounted for.

Wreckage discovered in 1996 when a group of local tribesmen brought two machine guns to the local police station from the crash site near Kuala Pilah, Negeri Sembilan.

The photos above show Consolidated Liberator B Mark VI, KL654 'R', of No. 356 Squadron RAF, about to be 'bombed-up' (also showing supply containers) on the newly established airstrip at Brown's West Island for the Squadron's first operational mission, and the first bombing operation to be flown from the Cocos Islands. One week later, KL654 and its crew went missing while on a special duties flight over Thailand. (courtesy IWM)

Daily Telegraph reported 21st August 2009: The National Ex-Services Association decided to undertake the task after the Ministry of Defence said it would not help repatriate the men.

Sunday marks the 64th anniversary of the crash that killed the crew of the 356 Squadron Liberator KL654 as it carried out a resupply sortie over Negeri Sembilan in central Malaya. Japan had announced its surrender only eight days earlier and part of the crew's mission was to search for prisoners of war still held in camps in the jungle.

The site of the crash was first discovered in the 1950s and reported to the authorities, but no action was taken. Another appeal was made in 1970, but there was again indifference among British authorities. In 2006, a team of Malaysian aviation archaeologists came across the aeroplane and a preliminary excavation the following year recovered two rings, a pocket knife, belt buckles, watch straps and bone fragments.

Right: Warrant Officer Paul Cross of the British High Commission, accompanied by members of the Malaysian armed forces, taking the remains of the crew of the B-24 Liberator aircraft that crashed in Kuala Pilah, Negri Sembilan, towards the end of World War 2. The remains will be buried at the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Cheras on 18th October 2012. (courtesy New Straits Times)

NESA made numerous appeals to the Ministry of Defence, politicians and even Prince Charles for a recovery team to visit the wreckage of the Liberator - but were turned down.

Further requests for the British government to act made no progress, so NESA appealed for funds and volunteers to visit the site. A 27-strong team, each footing a £2,000 bill to take part, has now been out to the site supported by the Malaysian Air Force on a 10-day expedition headed by former Apache helicopter pilot Ed Macy.

"These boys should have been brought home long ago," said Arthur Lane, founder of the National Ex-Services Association and one of the organisers of the expedition, which returned last week. "The government has known about this site for years but they say it's not worth the money to bring them back.

"Every government in power since the end of the war has had the same attitude; if they are more than 100 miles from England they don't want to know," said Mr Lane, 88, who spent more than three years in a Japanese PoW camp in Thailand.

"The United States has a team that brings back their dead, so do the Canadians, but the way the British government treats its soldiers is despicable," he told The Daily Telegraph from his home in Stockport.

DNA tests are being carried out at the moment, but the team believes it has found human remains as well as the equipment and personal kit.

The aircraft's pilot was Flight Lieutenant John Watts, 24, from Crofton in Yorkshire, with the rest of the crew also in their early 20s, other than Sgt. F/O Jack Blakey, from Boston, Lincs., who was reportedly regarded as the father of the group at 31. The forensic work to identify the remains and determine which items belonged to which members of the crew is expected to take two weeks, Mr Macy said. He hopes the research will also reveal why the aircraft crashed.

One of the personal items that has been recovered is a gold bracelet that belonged to F/O. John Bromfield, who was from Cheam and at 20 the youngest member of the crew. Mr Lane hopes to be able to return the bracelet to Blomfield's relatives when a funeral with full military honours is held.

"We want these men brought back to England and given a proper burial services with their relatives invited," he said. "It's the least the government could do."

NESA also hopes the British authorities will set up a specialist military recovery unit, similar to the U S Joint Prisoners of War, Missing in Action Command, which is based in Hawaii but combs the world for the remains of U.S. service personnel, identifying an average of six sets of remains a month.

(1) Fl/Sgt. Jack Blakey survived unhurt from a landing accident on Lancaster I ND995 CF-W on the 11th June 1944 whilst with 625 Squadron. Then on the 01st July 1944 on Lancaster III PB126 CF-T evaded capture after being shot down over France.

Kuala Lumpur (Cheras Road) Civil Cemetery (courtesy CWGC)

Burial details:

Up till 2012 the crew had been remembered on the Singapore Memorial. On the 18th October 2012 the crew will be buried at the Kuala Lumpur Cemetery. Details as shown.

Fl/Lt. John Selwyn Watts. Kuala Lumpur (Cheras Road) Civil Cemetery. Row 12. Grave 846. Son of William E. G. and Harriet Watts, husband of Marjorie Betty Watts.

F/O. Edward Donald Mason. Kuala Lumpur (Cheras Road) Civil Cemetery. Row 12. Grave 850. No further details as yet.

Fl/Sgt. Jack Blakey. Kuala Lumpur (Cheras Road) Civil Cemetery. Row 12. Grave 853. Son of Mr. and Mrs. F. Blakey, of Boston, Lincolnshire, England.

F/O. William Kenneth Dovey. Kuala Lumpur (Cheras Road) Civil Cemetery. Row 12. Grave 851. No further details as yet.

F/O. John Trevor Bromfield. Kuala Lumpur (Cheras Road) Civil Cemetery. Row 12. Grave 852. Son of Bertram and Nita Isabel Bromfield, of Cheam, Surrey, England.

Sgt. Arthur Turner. Kuala Lumpur (Cheras Road) Civil Cemetery. Row 12. Grave 847. No further details as yet.

Fl/Sgt. Raymond Arthur Towel. Kuala Lumpur (Cheras Road) Civil Cemetery. Row 12. Grave 848. Son of Albert and Charlotte Towell, husband of Peggy Towell, of Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, England.

Sgt. William Ross. Kuala Lumpur (Cheras Road) Civil Cemetery. Row 12. Grave 849. Son of Mary Elizabeth Ross, of Gateshead, Co. Durham, England.

With thanks to Geoff Mann for bringing this loss to our attention. Also for information supplied by the Commonwealth Graves Commission. Imperial War Museum for photographs. Also to 'Malaya History Group' for their tremendous work regarding the recovery.

KTY - Updated 09.02.2018

Acknowledgements: Sources used by us in compiling Archive Reports include: Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vols. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vols. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries', Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tom Kracker - Kracker Luftwaffe Archives, Michel Beckers, Major Fred Paradie (RCAF) and MWO François Dutil (RCAF) - Paradie Archive (on this site), Jean Schadskaje, Major Jack O'Connor USAF (Retd.), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Franek Grabowski, Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of CWGC, UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, New Zealand National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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