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News Archive > General > Australian author flies across the world to meet with Newquay Veteran

Australian author flies across the world to meet with Newquay Veteran

By Beth Perry 6th February 2019

Australian author flies across the world to meet with Newquay Veteran
Mervyn Thomas (centre) with son Lester (left) and Tony Vine (right) during the latter’s visit to Cornwall.

A UNIQUE introduction took place last week when an Australian author flew across the world to meet with a 95-year-old Newquay RAF veteran.

Tony Vine flew more than 9,000 miles and battled with unexpected snow to arrive in Newquay last Thursday in order to meet with RAF veteran Mervyn Thomas and his family.

Mervyn is one of the last living recipients of the Burma Star, which was awarded for his role with the 355 Squadron RAD, a long-range bomber squadron who flew Liberator aircraft and disrupted the advancement of the Japanese by bombing bridges and railways.

Mervyn is also one of the last people alive who remembers Tony’s father, Ron, as a young man having flown a number of missions with him during the war. Tony explained: “I’m a bit of a student of military history and I also served for 39 years in our Navy. My dad died in 1977 and about four or five years ago I started going through his bits and pieces because I started to write a biography on him.

“I found one of the few photographs he had from India, which was a photo of a group of really handsome young men standing in front of a B24 Bomber in India, but typical of my dad there was nothing written on it. I knew which one was him but no more information.”
Tony then put the photograph on a website dedicated to the 355 and 366 Squadrons with an appeal for any information on who the other people in the photograph were.

Late last year Mervyn’s son Lester, who had also recently taken an interest in his dad’s time in Burma, was also looking for more information and ended up on the same website.

After seeing the photograph he recognised it as one from his dad’s collection. He tracked down Tony on Facebook and sent him a message.

Tony said: “Out of the blue in November I got a Facebook message from Lester asking if it was me who posted the photograph, and if I was, then ‘my dad is standing next to your dad’.

I said to my wife I hope he’s still around the next time we go to the UK because I would really like to meet him because there is no one left on this Earth that I can think of other than Mervyn who actually knew my dad as a 20-year-old.

“My wife Cathie told me to just go, so I booked the flights and sent Lester the message to say I was on my way. Since I’ve arrived I have spent the days picking Mervyn’s brains and filling in a few gaps, but also learning about my dad.”

Mervyn has been able to tell Tony who the other people in the photograph are, having held his own copy of the photograph but with handwritten names on the back. This has helped Tony not only with the biography but it has allowed him to find out what happened to the other members of the squadron  after the war.

Tony said: “Having the names of the whole crew is just gold. Because the crew changed almost constantly, having the names has allowed us to pinpoint pretty much when it was taken and I believe it was taken sometime between January 11-13, 1945, because of who was joining the crew and because of who was leaving.”

Lester added: “Going through dad’s collection together we have found an even better photograph of them together that Tony had never seen.”

The 355 Squadron was made up of eight men from Britain, Canada and Australia and they completed their 30 flights within 12 months. They battled against dangerous weather conditions to drop their bombs onto tactical targets, and even dropped bombs on the infamous Bridge on the River Kwai.

The fighting in Burma is often referred to as the Forgotten War because when people around Europe were celebrating VE Day, the fighting continued in Asia.

Mervyn has a number of photographs from his time in India, with one even showing Tony’s father’s last mission.

Mervyn said: “I was able to show Tony photos of the bombing raids, including one taken in February 21, 1945, which was his father’s last mission. As a Squadron we were really known for taking out bridges and stopping the Japanese pulling back.”

They also reunited the pilot’s two log books which were last side by side in 1945 and this time had the men’s two sons sitting next to each other.

Lester said: “The pilots had to submit their logbooks to ensure the mission entries were correct  but looking at the two books side by side again after all of these years it was obvious that they cheated because they are word for word the same – they clearly wanted to make sure their stories checked out!”

Tony was only able to stay in Cornwall for a few days but has returned to Australia with more information and photos for his father’s biography.

Tony said: “I would love to have met Mervyn when mum and dad were still alive but it was far harder back then without the internet. Dad would loved to have known where Mervyn was.”

Mervyn said: “It’s been wonderful meeting Tony and getting to talk about my time spent with his father, filling in some gaps and learning more information.”

For more on Tony’s books click here

By Beth Perry 6th February 2019

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