On the night of Thursday August 23, 1945 RAF Liberator bomber KL654 of 356 Squadron Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve rolled down the runway on the flat coral atoll of the Cocos Islands and the pilot, 24 year old Flight Lieutenant John Watts, set course for the Malay Peninsula to the north.
They were one of five aircraft on a classified flight that would remain shrouded in mystery and for the eight man crew of KL654 would provide them with no proper resting place for nearly 70 years – eight young men who would die in a world that on that night in August was nominally at peace.
Following the dropping of Atomic bombs on Japan in August the war in the Far East had officially been over for two weeks but crew of the modern American built long range bomber had a “Special Duties” mission a supply drop mission that included two agents of Force 136 part of the shadowy Special Operations Executive (SOE), one of whom was Tuan Pena, who later was knighted and became Malaya’s first Inspector-General of Police from 1963 to 1967.
The surrender of the Japanese had changed the role of undercover agents in the Asian countries. They were now tasked with accepting the surrender of remote Japanese units and keeping public order until civil government could be restored. Force 136 agents would also assist recently liberated Allied PoWs and civilian internees.
Pilot and navigator on KL 654 set course for Toborjoeng then on to Kuala Selangor, dropped the ‘supplies’ on the target area of Post Langkap a valley in the jungle of Kuala Pilah, Negri Sembilian. The successful delivery of agents and stores was reported but after that there was radio silence. On the bomber John Watts moved the control column back to clear the ridge line of a mountain called Gunung Telapak Burok – and then the world of KL 654 exploded.
It appears that the big starboard tail-plane of the bomber struck a tall tree on the ridge that stood proud of the jungle canopy there was a catastrophic loss of control at low altitude and the plane spun several times ripping the wings from the fuselage plunged into the deep valley and burst into flames.
The RAF reported that the aircraft was “lost at sea” and the crews’ names listed on the Singapore Memorial in Kranji CWGC War Cemetery.
The wreck site was discovered in 1996 when tribesmen brought two machine guns from the site to local police station KL654’s crash site near Kuala Pilah, Negeri Sembilan is only thirty miles from the course that she should have flown on her way back. Successive visits by teams from the Royal Malaysian Air Force and a historical group found a crashed aircraft in the mountains and reported it as KL654. However the MoD and the UK government contested the location of the crash site. Despite the Malaysians bringing back photographic and tangible evidence, the MoD continued to deny it was KL654. Eventually the evidence was overwhelming and they conceded that it was the missing Liberator.
The UK Defence Attaché and a senior NCO assisted by the Malaysians visited the site. They found personal items of the crew including an identity disc and a bone fragment. A consultant anthropologist said the bone was not animal and was consistent with the only other option – human. The MoD and Government refused to accept it as human and stated that the bones should have decayed by now, or would have been eaten by the wild animals.
Due to hard work by British volunteers and their Malaysian colleagues and a passion to honour the bomber crew that has led to their formal burial at 0730 hours on Thursday 18 October 2012 After 67 years the men of KL654 have been put to rest in Row 12, at Cheras Road Cemetery, Kuala Lumpur.
Dato’ Ahmad Tejuddin, Patron of the Northern Ireland Branch NMBVA represented the Association at the ceremony, laying a wreath on our behalf.
• Pilot Fl/Lt. John Selwyn Watts (Aged 24)
• Co-Pilot F/O. Edward Donald Mason
• Navigator Fl/Sgt. Jack Blakey
• Flight Engineer F/O. William Kenneth Dovey (31)
• Bombardier F/O. John Trevor Bromfield
• Radio Operator Sgt. Arthur Turner
• Nose-Gunner Fl/Sgt. Raymond Arthur Towel (21)
• Tail-Gunner Sgt. William Ross
The Burial Of The Victims Of RAF KL654 R On The 18 October 2012 In Cheras.
The Burial Ceremony of the remains of the victims of KL 654 R was held at the Commonwealth War Graves at Cheras, Kuala Lumpur.
Representatives from the Next of Kins of the victims and a Ceremonial Guard who carried out the task of the Burial flew in from the United Kingdom for the final journey of the victims on this damp and solemn morning.
The British High Commission to Malaysia Mr Simon Featherstone and Lady was present. Representatives from the Malaysian Armed Forces, The Army Museum, The Malayan Historical Group, The National Malaya and Borneo Veterans Association of United Kingdom (represented by Dato’ Ahmad Tejuddin Abdul Majeed- Patron of NMBVA for Northern Ireland Branch and member of NMBVA of Mid Ulster Branch),NESA of UK, Defence Adviser Captain Ken Taylor RN of British High Commission In Kuala Lumpur and Staff were among those present in this morning’s occasion.
It should be mentioned that Mr Clayton Ford (of Great Oaks Police Station, Essex) a member of the Expedition was present this morning).
The Press were present in full force both with local and International representatives and reporters. Army chaplain Reverend Jonathan Beach conducted the commemorative service, and bugle from Gurkha battalion Brunei played the Last Post.
The British High Commissioner laid later wreaths, Representative from the MoD UK, the Defence Adviser and next of kins. Dato Ahmad Tejuddin (NMBVA) laid a wreath from the NMBVA Northern Ireland and Mid Ulster Branches.
When the Ceremony ended the next of kins individually laid crosses and wreaths at each of the victims’ graves and paid their last homage before leaving the graves and adjourning to the Residence of the British High Commission for refreshment and closing ceremony.
The Ceremony at the Residence were parting speeches and words from the representatives of the victims, the High Commission, the handing over of certificates, the handing over of a bracelet of one of the victims to his next of kin and a group photograph of all that flew in from the United Kingdom for this occasion.
It was an occasion not to be forgotten for had it not been for the perseverance of all parties involved this episode of the RAF 654R been missing might not have been closed.
Finally all the victims are at their Final Resting Place and would be remembered by all.
REST IN PEACE TO THE CREW OF RAF 654R.