The following story was supplied by Jim Fail. It illustrates the treatment given downed airman by the Japanese during World War II.



On the night of 31 January 1945 Flight Sergeant Stanley James Woodbridge, a wireless operator with 159 Squadron, was personally selected by his Squadron Commander to fly with a crack crew on an important mission to pinpoint the location of certain Japanese radar installations in Bangkok, Mandalay and Rangoon.

The operation was successfully completed and the Liberator was turning for home at 3. 10 am when it suddenly developed engine trouble and the skipper gave the order to bail out. Incredibly, six of the eight crew members managed to parachute into the same area and reunite on the ground. The other two airmen, who were in the rear of the Liberator, were never seen again and are believed to have perished in the crash. The six survivors-two officers and four NCOs-started to trek; towards the coast in the hope of finding a boat, and putting out to sea where Air Sea Rescue' might be able to locate them as Flight Sergeant Woodbridge had managed to send a last minute SOS. The Bay of Bengal was combed repeatedly for four days.

Meanwhile the airmen came upon a small village and offered the headman a large sum if he would get them a small boat. He agreed and told them to hide. For two hours the six men waited, confident that they would soon be back with their friends in the squadron. But when the headman returned he brought with him a force of Japanese soldiers.

The six airmen were conveyed down the Irrawaddy River to the Bassein district where they were handed over to the Japanese 55th, Engineering Regiment. Lieutenant-Colonel Murayama, the regiment's Commanding Officer: instructed Lieutenant Okami, his civil defence officer, to question the six British airmen. The skipper was the first to be interrogated. He produced a document on which was written, in Japanese, an extract from the Geneva: Convention stating that prisoners of war need, only tell their captors their name, rank and serial number. Japan was ostensibly a signatory. of the convention, although it had been no respecter of the rights of those prisoners who were forced to build the Burma railway. When the skipper refused to reveal the name of his base he was severely beaten for half an hour. The second officer, the navigator, was then, questioned but was not beaten because the interrogator was only interested in learning the identity of the wireless-operator. All four, NCOs were beaten, but when the interrogator recognized that Woodbridge was the wireless operator, it was he who bore the brunt of the tortures.

Woodbridge was asked to reveal his codes and wavelengths, to give technical details of the equipment carried in the Liberator and tell what link he had with operators on the ground who were responsible for providing details of Japanese targets. Woodbridge steadfastly refused to reveal one scrap of information to his captors. After the first interrogations, the two officers were taken away in the middle of the night to Japanese headquarters in Rangoon for a more detailed interrogation. When the British overran Rangoon these two officers were found in gaol and released. But the fate of the four RAF airmen was seated. The beatings began again and continued for four hours. Fists, bamboo canes, and swords in their sheaths were used on the badly bruised Woodbridge. One of the soldiers, a ju-jitsu expert, threw the gallant airman around for some considerable time and at intervals another officer, Lieutenant Kanno, encouraged his soldiers to kick the defenceless airman where he lay. Eventually Kanno's patience was exhausted with the realization that no amount of torture would force the courageous airman to speak. Woodbridge was then told he was to meet the same fate as his colleagues, who had already been executed.

As Stanley Woodbridge reached the spot where his three fellow crew members had been executed he paid a silent tribute to them. They had been forced to dig their own grave, a trench about two and a half feet deep and long enough to take four, not three bodies. After digging the trench all three men were made to stand in line, then a Japanese officer, Lieutenant Matsui, invited his soldiers to kick and beat them. The airmen were then brought to the edge of the trench, blindfolded and forced to squat. Matsui ordered two prisoners to be beheaded and then Kanno ordered a corporal to behead the third airman. All the bodies were subjected to bayoneting. Woodbridge was beheaded by one of Kanno's fellow officers, Lieutenant Okami, and pushed into the grave. He died defiant.

In 1947 at the war crimes trial in Rangoon, Kanno, Okami, and a corporal were convicted and hanged. Lieutenant-Colonel Murayama was sentenced to death. It was established that. Lieutenant Matsui had been killed in action during the Japanese retreat from Burma.

On 28 September 1948 it was announced that Stanley James Woodbridge had been posthumously awarded the George Cross.