At war’s end Dick was amongst POWs from Nakom Nayok Camp transported by truck to Bangkok. From here he was flown to Singapore. Another 2/4th machine gunner waiting at Bangkok was Bushy Simmonds WX7576. We are now telling tales out of school – Bushy like everybody else had never flown in an airplane.
Scared or not every POW couldn’t wait to leave Thailand!
However Bushy was flat out scared. He claimed he would not fly no matter what! As air transport was all that was on offer, Bushy was somehow bundled aboard the flight to Singapore. There are no records of how his mates changed his mind!
Somewhere between Singapore and Bangkok Dick met up with Bill Reeves WX7621 who was last in Petchaburi POW Camp. Both Reeves and Ridgwell had been selected with ‘F’ Force S Battalion to work on the Railway. Their first Camp was the dreadful Kanu II after which they separated to different work parties and camps.
Once in Singapore Dick heard along the grapevine the very ill would be airlifted home, for the remainder it would be ships. He was much pleased with this news and managed to be included in the draft!
Bill Reeves according to Ridgwell ‘was no good at lying’ and probably ‘couldn’t lie to save himself.’ Between the two men they cooked up what they thought was a ‘good story’ and off went Bill to the Sergeant in charge of the aircraft repatriation list.
Bill’s story went something along these lines “I am a farmer. Left my farm with a farm labourer while I was away! Look its like this – I need to get back quick cos’ I’ve heard this bloke (the farm labourer) is about to pinch my farm and my wife.”
Ridgwell was anxious because he saw the Sergeant almost falling off his seat roaring with laughter. Billy walked back pale –faced at having to tell such a lie!
The Sergeant thought it was a good story!
Bill didn’t have a wife. I don’t know that he was a farmer.
Both Ridgwell and Reeves were on the next flight out of Singapore on what turned out to be a five- day flying trip.
First stop was Manila overnight – where the Americans tried so hard to overfeed the POWs, in particular with ice-cream! Second night was New Guinea. 3rd night was an unscheduled stopover again in New Guinea because their pilot misjudged the plane width. The incurring collision at the hanger removed a good deal of one wing.
Day Four – Ridgwell, Reeves and POWs were again airborne (not same plane nor pilot) now headed to Townsville, Queensland.
Alighting from the aircraft and after stepping onto Australian soil for the first time in 3 ½ years – Dick fell to his knees and kissed his homeland soil. Grateful to be safe and home again.
We are not sure what Bill Reeves did, not doubt he was phoning his wife asking if she was at the farm waiting for him!
The two men trained from Townsville to Perth. It must have been at least another 4-5 days travelling. Perhaps the sea voyage would have been a faster option after all!
(This story told to Cheryl Mellor by Dick Ridgwell 17 October 2017)