IN a condemned aeroplane, riddled with bullets, and with one tank out of commission, Sgt. Wireless-Gunner Reg Blundstone, with six other members of the R.A.A.F., made an amazing escape from Java, and landed at Port Hedland (W.A.) 10 hours after taking off from Andir aerodrome at Bandoeng. He is on leave in Hobart.
Sgt. Blundstone, after taking part in the fighting in Singapore and escaping to the Dutch East Indies in a small Dutch boat, fought in Java in the hectic few weeks when the Allied forces were at grips with the Japanese. He was stationed at aerodromes which were bombed and strafed with machine-guns, took part in bombing raids against Japanese convoys, encountered Japanese tanks and motor-cycles after they made their landings, and with the Japanese only a little more than two miles from Bandoeng, made his escape to Australia.
As far as is known he, and his six companions, were the last of the R.A.A.F. who got out of Java. The other five were Flying-Officer J. Lower (S.A.), Flying-Officer P. Hersey (S.A.), Flying-Officer B. E. Hughes (V.), Sgt Rogers, and Cpl. Fitter Hans.
"We were in a tough spot in Bandoeng," said Sgt. Blundstone yesterday. "The Japanese were only a few miles away. From daylight to dark the Japanese were bombing the Allied lines and sending over hundreds of aeroplanes. We received permission from our officer to make a dash for Australia if we could get an aeroplane. We first thought we might get a passage by steamer leaving a port some miles away, but the harbour was being bombed and Japanese warships were outside, preventing the escape of boats.
"After receiving permission to make a dash for Australia we drove to the aerodrome in a borrowed car. The Dutch were then blowing up aero-planes at the aerodrome to save them from falling into the hands of the Japanese. We searched round, and found a bomber. The engine looked all right, but the rear port tank was full of bullet holes, and was out of commission.
"We reckoned it would take about 650 gallons of petrol to get us to Australia, and obtained 65 four-gallon tins from a nearby dump. With a piece or rubber tubing the fitter decided he could feed the engines by syphoning the petrol. The aerodrome was blacked out, and it was a pretty hard job tor him to fit the plane up.
"About 2.30 a.m. we took off. Flight Officer Lower took the controls, and after four attempts the aeroplane skimmed the tree tops and took off. The old 'crate' had to be steered over shell craters and debris left by the Japanese bombers."
Sgt. Blundstone said that after a while the machine climbed to 15,000 ft. They were a little worried about syphoning the petrol into the engines, but it worked well. The pilot was not sure of his bearings, as he had no chart, but only a paper map of the sort given to civil air line travellers. However, they landed at Port Hedland at 12.30 p.m. the same day with petrol sufficient for about 15 minutes' flying.
"From Port Hedland we flew the aeroplane to Carnarvon, and then to Geraldton," said Sgt. Blundstone. "At Carnarvon the captain of the Home Guard told us there was a report that Japanese warships were in the vicinity. We took off to make a survey, but found they were two small supply ships coming into port.
"From Geraldton we took off for Pearce, where we had to stay for a day, as the machine was not regarded as serviceable. From Pearce we flew to South Australia, and then to Laverton. At Pearce we were joined by Flying Officer Darrel Sproule, of Hobart, who went as far as South Australia with us."
Sgt. Blundstone attended a meeting of the Apex Club, of which he is a member, last night, and related his experiences.