World War 11 Memories of Addu Atoll
by John Rankin (Click to email him)

Where does one start on memories some 54 years later? Arrived in Ceylon with 413 RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force) in early 1943 at Koggala on the south tip of Ceylon, after a long trip as replacement crew and A/C. In 1942, the Japs tried to invade Ceylon. Sqn/Ldr Len Burchill on his first ops trip out of Koggala spotted the Jap fleet and sent the message that warned group that an invasion was imminent. Unfortunately he was shot down by Zeros but was picked up and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner in Japan. Churchill referred him as the saviour of Ceylon. He survived to become an Air Commodore with the RCAF and is still alive in Kingston Ontario Canada.
I spent a tour of ops in the Indian Ocean, Aden-Addu-Kelai-Male-Seychelles and Diego Garcia most of it on anti-sub and search and rescue. Proud to be the navigator on the longest photo recce during WWII, 28hours non-stop to photo the Cocos Keeling atoll. The options we had if we did not find this speck in the Indian Ocean were incredible. 1) To return to Ceylon. 2) To proceed to Australia. 3) To go to Indonesia and ditch the a/c, then take to the jungle (with occupation money and a 45) Fortunately we did not have to choose as the operation was a success and we returned to Ceylon.
On completion of my tour I was sent to Addu as C/O of the base. To quote from my log book," F/L J.P.Rankin was attached to No.28 Advanced Flying Boat Base as Commanding Officer from Sept 28 1944 with an establishment of 125 men, 2 officers for the operation of Catalinas & Sunderlands. Group Captain G. Francis C/O R.A.F. Station Koggala". We were responsible for re arming and refuelling a/c. All our aviation gas had been shipped out of Singapore prior to the invasion & fall of that base. All the gas was in 5-gallon cans that were really old. They had to be bowsered out to the a/c and hand fed to the wing top and emptied. All the gas had to be filtered through a felt hat as the cans contained condensation. A Catalina capacity was 1460 gallons, a lot of work to handle 294 cans! We had contact with 222group by radio and a radar beacon that could be turned on when requested by a/c. Crude but appreciated coming back from an ops trip on a black night.
The Maldivian government at Male arrived at a wartime agreement with the R.A.F. and R.C.A.F. for the hiring of natives who worked on the base. Money was something that was unknown at that time to the natives, so each day I had to don my hat and watch the payment of the natives of 1 pound of flour and 3 ounces of sugar per diem for their daily efforts per person!!!
Actually the natives were friendly and happy and crime was nearly non-existent. One of our airmen lost a wallet, so I called on the Sheriff on Hittadu and he had the wallet and culprit in no time. The sheriff carried a leather belt studded with copper rivets that was very effective on law violators! Adultery was immediate banishment to an unoccupied island in the atoll for life. Some food and water was all the rations to make it on their own. Pretty severe!!!
I can recall seeing in the lagoon a 3 masted schooner, a ship of the Maldivian Navy complete with canons!!!!! Do not know what happened to it but the next morning it was gone. Other mornings the lagoon would be occupied with a carrier or a battleship, a cruiser or two and a bunch of destroyers. We had a 45-foot high speed launch to travel to Gan and the R.A.F. Station. At that time the Royal Navy had a Walrus a/c flown by a R.N. type known as "Wings". He used to fly a Fairey Swordfish known as "string-bags". We got to be good friends with "Wings" (he liked our beer and liquor) and there was nothing he would not do for his Canadian friends. Need cards for a game of bridge? Then call Wings. Fresh fish? Over comes the Walrus and he would drop 2 grenades and we had fish for everybody for a week!!!
We had a fire on the island that threatened our petrol dump but we were able to save the building and fuel. The island was really in the stone age, very primitive but happy, I can still hear the natives returning from Gan in their boats in the dark singing to keep the evil spirits away (as Abdullah, my man of 14 told me) The officers mess was used by visiting air crew, we had reasonable food (a lot of Brussels sprouts (a national British veggie) still can't stand them today! We had liquor rations flown in, party time! Until we received one shipment of bricks instead of Johnnie Walker…. This required an immediate trip to our radio shack for an "immediate" signal to group regarding the emergency. The booze was on the next a/c….. These were a few of the interesting things that happened on Hittadu during my short tour of duty at No28 AFBB, nothing exciting but great sunsets and a wonderful ocean breeze that swept over Addu Atoll. In later years the Maldivian government was smart enough to see the atolls as tourism $$$s, Today it is a paradise with jet service and luxurious accommodation (? Ed) There is not too much about Gan but hope you find these memories of Addu Atoll during the War interesting.

A parting story about a trip of the Maldives from Kelai to Diego Garcia. On board was Lt/General Wetherill of South Eastern Asia Command on an inspection trip of all our bases. The general wanted to sit in the blister of the Catalina, so I warned him not to open the blister. He did, and away went his flat hat, scrambled eggs and all into the Indian Ocean. We landed in Diego Garcia to check out the copra crop, necessary for rope during the war. Apart from a plantation manager and a few natives we were the sole inhabitants of Diego. We were the 2nd Catalina to ever land at Diego.
On our return to Koggala Ceylon, the General had us line up and presented the crew with 5000 Woodbine cigarettes, whereupon our flight engineer from Halifax piped up "Holy Mackerel, we give those to the natives and they won't smoke the f*****g things!" With that the General spun on his heals never to be seen again by the crew of AH 567, 413 RCAF Squadron!
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