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 Billy Breed WX9229. Billy had been at Nacompaton Camp and he and Ridgwell were originallty with ‘B’ Coy and been with ‘D’ Force S Btn at Kanu II. Their first Camp was the dreadful Kanu II after which they separated to different work parties and camps. We are now telling tales out of school – Billy like everybody else had never flown in an airplane.
Scared or not every POW couldn’t wait to leave Thailand!
However Billy was flat out scared. He claimed he would not fly no matter what! As air transport was all that was on offer, Billy was somehow bundled aboard the flight to Singapore. There are no records of how his mates changed his mind!
Once in Singapore Dick heard along the grapevine the very ill would be airlifted home, for the remaining former POWs it would be ships taking them home. Pleased with this news, Dick managed to be included in the draft for air transport – he never did mention his rational reason to fly instead of ship home!
The ever positive and resourceful Ridgwell could not see why Reeves could not get himself onto this flight!
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 sat anxiously. He watched the Sergeant almost falling off his seat roaring with laughter. Billy walked back pale – faced and probably slightly ashamed at having to tell such a lie!
Bill said ‘the Sergeant thought it was a good story!’ The Sergeant in charge of ‘the list’ of men who with good reason, needed flying home from Singapore, must heard some amazing stories and yarns!! No doubt the Sergeant granted a seat to Billy because why not!!!
Bill didn’t have a wife. In fact he never married. 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 instead of the quick flight home they initially believed it would be.
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.
Third night was an unscheduled stopover again in New Guinea because their American 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 thank goodness) on a Dakota, 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 – changing trains at Sydney, Melbourne, probably Adelaide.
Perhaps the sea voyage would have been a faster option after all!
(This story told to Cheryl Mellor by Dick Ridgwell 17 October 2017)