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Thread: Blenheim 11 Sqdn collision on 5th April 1943 over Burma - Matheson and Besley

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    Default Re: Blenheim 11 Sqdn collision on 5th April 1943 over Burma - Matheson and Besley

    Harvey Besley as told to Ted Wixted, 1991.
    “ During the course of the flight to the target some aircraft fell out of the formation with various problems. I was originally flying beside Bill Matheson, the leader of my Vic of three aircraft. Later I moved into the Vic ahead to fill the position of a Blenheim forced to drop out. It was tight flying, requiring full concentration, the individual machines in each Vic being only 6 feet apart at their closest points. I was on the starboard side of the leader of my Vic and my full attention was focussed on him. I was looking left. Only in the last split second did I catch sight, out of the corner of my eye, of an aircraft rising close underneath me to the right.”

    I had called on Harvey Besley at his home in Warwick, Queensland, and had asked him for information that would assist orientation. He drew me a rough map showing where the planes crashed, where Bill Matheson had come down, and where he himself had landed. Harvey astounded me by saying that his main concern coming down in the parachute had been to prevent himself landing in the lake. He made this comment in response to a question I had asked him about geographical features in the area. He further surprised me by saying that he had twice been taken to hospital at Meiktila for treatment of his injured arm. He found the visits frightening because Japanese soldiers injured in the bombing were patients there too.
    Last edited by Robinmargaret; 1st November 2020 at 12:26.

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    Default Re: Blenheim 11 Sqdn collision on 5th April 1943 over Burma - Matheson and Besley

    Notifications from the RAAF Casualty Section.
    Meanwhile in Australia, next of kin were being informed of the situation.
    *9 April 1943. Official telegram to all relatives. Missing
    *12 April 1943 Second telegram. To relatives of the three airmen in BlenheimZ9667. Missing believed killed.
    *16 April 1943 First letter. It provides some details of the occurrence.
    ..........”and I regret to state that all members of the crew are believed to have lost their lives.”
    *8 May 1943 Second letter. One parachutist escaped.
    ........”One parachute was seen to leave the aircraft with which your son’s machine collided and to open and drift downward. I greatly regret to say that none of the crew of your son’s aircraft were seen to escape by parachute.”
    *27 December 1943 Notification to relatives
    .........” consideration is now being given to the question whether an official presumption of your son’s death should be made.” ........
    Jan? April?1944
    .......” the Air Ministry of London, has advised that they are not proceeding with the action to presume for official purposes that your son has lost his life. Their reason for this decision is that the pilot of your son’s aircraft was mentioned in an enemy broadcast which was transmitted from Tokio. The broadcast stated that he was a prisoner of war in Malaya. As only one parachute was seen to open, it is considered that it must have left your son’s machine, and not the other aircraft as was thought at first.” ..........
    Now imagine if you will, how this must have affected Thelma Besley, Harvey’s wife.
    Harley Stumm, wrote to her, concerned for her. He had already spoken to Squadron 45 who had provided the air cover on the raid. Their opinions were consistent. One airman had escaped by parachute. There was no hope for the other five. Stumm added that some among the fighter escort had followed the planes as they went down. It must have been Matheson’s aircraft that was on top, despite the previous certainty that it was on the bottom.
    It was not until August 1945, that the next of kin finally had their answer.
    “Dear Madam, ........
    Warrant Officer Besley, who has recently been released from a Japanese prison camp, states that the two aircraft collided, locked together and burst into flames, spun down and fell to pieces. Warrant Officer Besley baled out at approximately 10,000 feet and saw the aircraft crash and explode. He also saw a parachute open at about 1,000 feet and disappear in a cloud of smoke almost immediately.
    After landing he was captured and taken to Meiktila. Squadron Leader Matheson was brought in later that same evening.
    Warrant Officer Besley was interrogated by the Japanese who told him that four bodies had been found in the wreckage and had been buried. This was confirmed by a Burmese who was questioned by the Japanese in front of Warrant Officer Besley.
    ......... if the Japanese information is correct your son and the other member of his crew, Flying Officer Appleton and the two other members of Warrant Officer Besley’s crew lost their lives in the crash.”
    ............
    Yours faithfully.
    M.C. Langslow
    SECRETARY.
    Last edited by Robinmargaret; 1st November 2020 at 13:17.

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    Default Re: Blenheim 11 Sqdn collision on 5th April 1943 over Burma - Matheson and Besley

    After the cessation of hostilities in Burma, a small British unit equipped with a Jeep, travelled the country locating the sites where aircraft crashes had taken place. Notification was sent to relatives of missing airmen on 3 July, 1946 that the wreckage of the aircraft had been found, together with the bodies of the four airmen and a stake inscribed with the words “Graves of four warriors of the British Air Force buried by troops 4 April 1943.” *
    The bodies were recovered and reburied in Meiltila War Cemetery. The War Graves Commission informed next-of-kin that the four graves were a “collective”, one of which was Plot 4, Row B, Grave 9.
    It was later decided to reduce and centralise War Cemetries in Burma. In 1953, the Australian airmen were re-interred in Taukkkyan War Cemetery, near Rangoon, Burma, in Plot XX1, RowG, Grave 1-4 Collective. The cemetery is near Mingaladon Aerodrome. There they remain to this day.
    * The correct date is 5 April, 1943.
    Last edited by Robinmargaret; 3rd November 2020 at 20:58.

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    Default Re: Blenheim 11 Sqdn collision on 5th April 1943 over Burma - Matheson and Besley

    To anyone who may have read this far, you might think this is the end of the story. Yet it is not the end, nor is the ending one you might expect. Before I start, I want to say that all of the work you have read is the research and work of Edward Patrick (Ted) Wixted. None of it is my work. Before he passed away, he was trying to find a place where this could be stored, to honour those brave airmen, both those who lost their lives and those who came home. I felt this is a great place to leave his work on what happened on 5 April, 1943.

    I had made an error about dad’s correspondence with Harley Stumm. It should have read 1943.

    Before I relate the rest of this story, I need to write of a few seemingly random facts. These are also written by Ted Wixted.

    ”Tommy and I seem to have borne a close likeness to our parent, Thomas Michael Wixted. The pilot of Tommy’s aircraft, Bill Matheson, said in 1945 when I first met him: “ You look like Tommy.” Forty -six years later, in 1991, when I first met Harvey Besley he said “You still do. I had to look at you twice.” At T.M. Wixted’s funeral in 1958, one of his brothers said, “ He (TMW) will never be in his grave while you’re alive.” Again at the funeral of my mother Margaret in 1976, I came up behind his surviving brother who turned around and said: “You gave me a shock. I thought it was Tom (TMW) standing there.” These incidents have a relevance to the rest of the story.”

    Ted Wixted was a child when Sir Charles Kingsford Smith was lost on what was to be his last flight. He believed a search would be conducted and could not believe that this did not happen. Ultimately, he felt ....”it fell to his lot to organise an expedition, ............. to search for the Lady Southern Cross, to find the fate of Kingsford Smith and Pethybridge.
    The expedition did take place in 1983. It had been preceded by visits to Burma in 1977 and 1979. In 1983, quite by chance I was there on the 5th April, the 40th anniversary, where I visited the graves at Taukkyan War Cemetery. I thought it appropriate to attempt to visit the original grave site in the paddy fields for the 50th anniversary. ............I knew it to be important to me to view that reality; measured philosophically this grave had the equivalent “weight” of 3 years of thoughts that had passed through the minds of people in Australia. Viewing it would, at long last, balance all the subconscious psychological elements.”
    Last edited by Robinmargaret; 4th November 2020 at 11:35.

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    Default Re: Blenheim 11 Sqdn collision on 5th April 1943 over Burma - Matheson and Besley

    Ted Wixted 1993
    ”A special permit from the Burmese Government would have to be obtained. The visit might prove abortive with no new information forthcoming. After 50 years it might prove impossible to locate or reach either the crash site or the grave site, or even to find any witnesses. Any witness who did come forward might be indebted to their imagination for the “facts “ they presented, and with no means available to check their stories. Even if successful, the visit would not alter by one hairsbreadth the result which became known in 1946. “

    ”I arrived at Mandalay airport, ........ and left with my friends about noon or a little after on Saturday 3 April. The Mandalay Meiktila road has been improved since I travelled on it in 1983, by the provision of some small new bridges. “ ............... Peripheral targets had been listed. These included Meiktila airfield, the hospital of the British period, and the former police station where Hervey Besley and Bill Matheson were incarcerated before transfer to Rangoon. Another target was the village of Tawma; the squadron’s official calculation in 1943 placed the probable crash site 4 miles south of Tawma and 8 miles east of Meiktila. Tawma would provide the starting point to gradually pin down the main target.”

    Investigations went like clockwork and were completed within 50 hours of the initial discussion at Singaing. Every strike hit a target. The old hospital, hidden behind the present hospital in Meiktila town, was located on the afternoon of
    3 April. The owner of a roadside stall, U Maung Maung, indicated it’s location......We then drove back through Meiktila and out on the Thazi road and found Tawma. “
    Last edited by Robinmargaret; 11th November 2020 at 02:12.

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    Jagan (11th November 2020)

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    Default Re: Blenheim 11 Sqdn collision on 5th April 1943 over Burma - Matheson and Besley

    To get to Pauktaw, we had to proceed .... “to Kantaung, and there find the bush track that led to Pauktaw from the main road. In searching for the location in question, information was sought from a roadside stall-holder at Yadanathiri. This man, U Ba Maung, said he himself had seen a parachutist descend in 1943 but knew no more about it; he had a friend in Pauktaw who knew the details. U Ba Maung offered to act as guide on 4 April.
    On 4 April, we returned to the hospital area in Meiktila to take photographs. U Maung Maung added to what he had already told us about the British hospital with information brought to him by a footballer who said there had once been aircraft wreckage at Pauktaw that he had seen. There was also mention of a possible location of the police station we were seeking.
    ....” after a discussion with U Maung Maung........and taking photos at the hospital, we drove along the south road to pick up U Ba Maung. We were equipped with a Jeep arranged by Vincent Bernard, as the bush road to Pauktaw was little more than a bullock cart track with deviations resulting from collapsed or churned up sections.
    PAUKTAW
    We passed the villages of Da Ha Tan, Kwet Nge, Pan Din, Ywarthit, Pan Gwin, In Ohn and Pu Mo Gyi...........At Pauktaw the friend he sought was not in. We were immediately surrounded by villagers. One older man, U Hla Aung, came forward as a witness of the events of fifty years ago, and soon there were three others. Two pieces of engine cowling were on the ground near the Headman’s office and these were photographed. After that we walked for about half an hour along the footpaths through paddy fields. The ground was baked hard; the comparatively pitiful crops did not include rice, the planting of which awaits the monsoon season. We saw sunflower, sessamum, small tomatoes, cotton, red chili, high-protein peas, and hay stacks (in other villages) from rice trash.
    A long line of Pauktaw villagers was strung out along the paths which, at intervals, turned at right angles to each other. At one point, a well built villager, U Kyaw Lun, aged 68, waited for me and pointed to some feature of the distant landscape. I knew he must be pointing at the grave site, and this was confirmed by my translator friend, but I could not see exactly where he was pointing. The lead party in the group suddenly stopped and it was evident that the 1943-1946 grave site had been reached. There was no doubt whatever by any of the villagers as to the site. Though otherwise simply a piece of Burmese paddy field and indistinguishable, it was unquestionably mapped indelibly on their minds. They said the British had left a marker but this had been removed in the intervening 47 years.
    Photographs were being taken. Because there was a difficulty in securing translation of all the information being offered, and because there was a concentration by individuals on the 1943 activities as they had personally experienced them, it was some time before it could be established that there were one or two singular features apparently in respect to one airman. The crash site itself was about a quarter of a mile from the grave. a sweep of the hand indicating a span of several hundred metres across the further paddy fields, from south to north, was the usual answer to a question about the crash.Wreckage and the airmen’s bodies seem to have been found at disparate
    points along the line thus indicated. Descriptions were consistent with what might be expected from what was basically a maelstrom. No wreckage now remained. There seemed to be some suggestion, hard to pin down, that one body had differed from the others. In what respects did not become clear. We concluded our exploratory enquires and I asked if there was a 16 year old present, that being my age in 1943. One embarrassed youth came forward and I took his photo with two of the older men beside the gravesite. We then returned to the village.
    During the course of discussions someone said that there had been preserved meat in tins on the aircraft, apparently emergency rations carried as a precaution for forced landings, and these had been recovered and used. It was the sort of comment that had a clear ring of genuineness about it.”
    Last edited by Robinmargaret; 16th November 2020 at 01:35.

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    Default Re: Blenheim 11 Sqdn collision on 5th April 1943 over Burma - Matheson and Besley

    Thanks Robinmargaret for your updates. will keep track of them.

    While clearing out some files today i ran into the a bunch of pages i have downloaded from NAA - including the MRES/Grave location team's reports as well as the de-brief reports of the POWs. Will upload them at some point just for reference.

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    Default Re: Blenheim 11 Sqdn collision on 5th April 1943 over Burma - Matheson and Besley

    Thank you Jagan very much. I appreciate that and I shall look forward to it. I Google Tommy and Bobby’s names about twice a year to find any new information about them. Through various links on this thread, I have indeed found some new documents I have not seen before. My siblings and I grew up in the 50s and 60s and always knew what had happened to Tommy and Bobby although I wondered why we knew more about Tommy than Bobby. I know why now, although I was in my teens when it all fell into place. It’s sites like this that are so helpful in uncovering another piece of the puzzle. Thank you. Robin

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    Default Re: Blenheim 11 Sqdn collision on 5th April 1943 over Burma - Matheson and Besley

    Uploaded the docs at http://www.rafcommands.com/galleries...heim-Collision

    At the time i started this thread, i had downloaded these from the personnel files from the NAA site https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/Sear...sicSearch.aspx




    1943-CircumstantialReport 1943-Z7648-Form763C-Front
    1943-Z7648-Form763C-Page2 1943-Z7648-Form763C-Page3
    1943-Z7648-Form765C-01 1943-Z7648-Form765C-02
    1943-Z7648-Form765C-03 1943-Z7648-Form765C-04
    1945-Andrew-BesleyUpdate 1945-Besley-Statement
    1945-GravePhoto 1945-Matheson-Statement01
    1945-Matheson-Statement02 1945-Matheson-Statement03

    1945-Matheson-Statement04

    1946-Grave-Location-Note 1946-MRES 2 Searcher Team
    1947-Andrew-GraveLetter

    Based on the approximate locations given in the MRES letter the general area on Google Maps
    .
    The village to the top left of the marker is PAUKTAW and the location is about half a mile south of that village.

    Ref: Wartime Burma Topo Sheet https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-234293735/view Burma 93D

    Do any photos or map notes etc survive from the 1993 Burma visit?
    Last edited by Jagan; 18th November 2020 at 14:11.

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    Default Re: Blenheim 11 Sqdn collision on 5th April 1943 over Burma - Matheson and Besley

    Jagan, thank you so much for all that information. I had seen some of it, but there were documents I had never seen. And I learned some stuff I did not know. I have spent some time pondering how next of kin must have felt when they received the information about the discovery of the plane and the burial spot of their sons. It seemed to be an almost accidental find. To not have the information at hand about the type of aircraft was one thing, but to be told that their sons were then listed as unknown would have been heartbreaking. It does feel as though their passing was incidental. I feel quite sad.
    There must be photographs of the 1993 trip as I have seen the photocopies. They are quite poor in quality but I can clearly see the engine cowling at the Headman’s office in one of them.
    There is also a clear drawing by Bill Matheson of where he thinks the plane went down, that he did for Ted in 1991.
    I am still actively looking for those photos. I feel that they passed through my hands about 6 months ago, and I am trying to remember where they might be.I suspect that they are in storage. I will let you know when I find
    them.
    I have found the photos from Alkborough, when my dad went there on the 50th Anniversary of the crash which killed Bobby. Just as an aside, my dad was about 12 days away from being posted to his squadron (56?) in the RAAF when Bobby was killed. The Department of Labour and National Service told dad that his mother had already lost two sons, so he was welcome to join the Army or the Navy, but would not be allowed to join the Air Force. My dad joined the Navy and ended up aboard the HMAS Burnie, a Bathurst class minesweeper. He was discharged from the Navy in March 1946 after they had finally cleared Hong Kong Harbour. The Burnie cleared 21 mines at the time as did her sister ship HMAS Fremantle, apparently the most mines destroyed by all the minesweepers, at that time.
    At any rate, there is still a little more to come about the airmen and the crash, from the 1993 trip.
    Thank you again. Cheers Robin
    Last edited by Robinmargaret; 21st November 2020 at 09:35.

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