The RAF Tourist in 1946

58 Years On

In Alan’s own words:

“In November 2002 my wife and I joined a Royal British Legion Pilgrimage to Sri Lanka. There were 11 pilgrims, a widow and her son and another widow to see the graves of each husband, Two Irish couples visiting the grave of the father of two of them, a  Canadian couple, he had been a fighter pilot who had shot down a Zero in a raid on Colombo in April 1942 and then he had been shot down himself, force landing his Hurricane on Galle Face Green. They wished to visit the memorial to five fellow pilots who were lost on that day. Finally there was my wife and myself who wished to visit the Air Force Station at Koggala where I had been stationed from February 1944 to April 1945. We were looked after by a leader, a doctor, a standard bearer and two representatives from the Royal British Legion.

After staying a few days at Kandy and Bandarawela we moved on to Koggala, the camp is now a Sri Lankan Air Force rest and recreation camp which it certainly was not in 1944. There was very little I recognized apart from the landing strip and the lake, no slipway, no hard standing, many more trees and foliage but the palm trees with there dangerous falling coconuts were not so much in evidence and I never saw a cobragoya which were the very large lizards.

The first item was a brief service at the 413 Canadian Squadron Memorial to the men lost while serving in Koggala. A very smart parade of Sri Lankan Air Force personnel turned out to support the service

We were invited to the Commanding Officer’s house to be welcomed by him (this never happened to me in 1944). My wife was presented with a bunch of flowers probably in recognition of the fact that I had been there before any of them had been born. Refreshments on the lawn followed and we were joined by the Staff and the CO’s wife and young daughter. We were accompanied by monkeys and chipmunks in the trees, massive butterflies on the flowers and kingfishers over the lake. Afterwards we were taken in a launch for a trip on the lake which was a bit eerie as instead of being littered with Sunderlands, Catalinas and support launches it had three men fishing on a rock and that was it. One thing which I thought was a trifle bizarre was a CND logo carved on a rise in a military camp and when I mentioned it I was told it was their “Peace Sign”.

After the Lake trip I was taken to see the Orderly Room to compare working conditions with way back. Now there is a permanent building, computers, electric typewriters, electric lights and attractive girls – then there was a fragile “basha” made out of palm leaves with Hurricane Lamps. I nearly joined up again.

We were then escorted off the camp with a burn-up down the landing strip. The Sri Lankan Air Force led by their Commanding Officer had laid themselves out to make it a memorable visit and we were most grateful for their efforts. For a few hours I was 22 again – but it did not last.

Before leaving Koggala we had a to visit the bathing pool between a reef and the beach, this was enlarged on one occasion by exploding a depth charge in it. The pool is still being used and now has a few more palm trees close by. From the Koggala Beach Hotel we went to the Mount Lavina Hotel and while there we visited Liveramentu Cemetery and I found the grave of Squadron Leader W. H. Munson of 230 Squadron who died at Koggala on 22nd July 1945. I laid a posy of poppies at the grave and took some photographs and if anyone knows of any relatives I would be only too pleased to let them have copies.

Altogether it was a wonderful trip with good companions, some sadness, entertainment and a lot of nostalgia, all helped by the very friendly Sri Lankan people.

The Royal British Legion Pilgrimages may be of interest about 40 are arranged each year to Europe, Middle East, South East Asia, and the Far East. Good Quality hotels are used and transport is organized to make things as easy as possible for pilgrims. On the Eastern trips a doctor and several staff look after you and if any are visiting graves or memorials every care is taken that they are found and support is given if it is found to be distressing.

Although the main object of the pilgrimages is to enable people to visit memorials other activities are organized to lighten the proceedings. In Sri Lanka we visited an Elephant Orphanage, Botanical Gardens, a Fire Walking Display, the Temple of the Tooth among others. On an earlier pilgrimage to Egypt there were visits to the Pyramids and Sphinx, the Cairo Museum and dinner on a Nile River Boat.

Altogether my wife and I found the two trips we made most enjoyable even with the sadness of seeing a cousin’s memorial.”

Alan Conrad and his wife Connie being welcomed to Sri Lanka in November 2002
Alan Conrad and his wife Connie being welcomed to Sri Lanka in November 2002
Enjoying the mountain views of Sri Lanka