Armourers assemble 500-pound (228kg) medium capacity bombs for loading into Consolidated Liberator B Mark VI, KL654, of 356 Squadron for the squadron’s first operational mission, and the first bombing operation flown from Brown’s West Island in the Cocos Islands, on 27 July 1945 – Picture: Crown Copyright/MOD 1945
Liberator KL654, with its crew of eight from 356 Squadron, left the Cocos Islands on 23 August 1945 to drop supplies into central Malaysia. No message, or signal, was received from the aircraft after take-off and it failed to return from its mission.
Reports at the time spoke of an unidentified aircraft being heard over the target area.
As the aircraft’s route took it over the sea and Sumatran jungle and poor weather conditions were reported, with low cloud over the hills and localised thunderstorms, the aircraft was believed to have crashed in the sea or jungle.
46 years later in 1991 the wreckage was discovered by the indigenous Orang Asli people in the jungle of Kuala Pilah. Following subsequent numerous expeditions to the crash site by military and non-military teams, a privately-funded expedition in 2009 unearthed the remains of the fallen servicemen which have now finally been laid to rest.Reverend (Wing Commander) Jonathan Beach, the RAF chaplain who conducted the graveside service, said:
“This is an important occasion for the families of the crew of KL654 and also for all of us as we reflect and honour the ultimate sacrifice made by these men for their country.
“I am pleased that so many family members of the fallen were able to make the trip to Malaysia to witness their burial and say their final goodbyes.”
As the families who had made the 13,000-mile (20,900km) round trip looked on, members of the Queen’s Colour Squadron bore the single coffin carrying the remains of the crew to their final resting place on a hillside overlooking the city of Kuala Lumpur.
Pilot – Flight Lieutenant John Selwyn Watts
Co-pilot – Flying Officer Edward Donald Mason
Navigator – Flying Officer William Kenneth Dovey
Air Bomber – Flying Officer John Trevor Bromfield
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner – Flight Sergeant Arthur Turner
Flight Engineer – Flight Sergeant Jack Blakey
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner – Flight Sergeant Raymond Arthur Towell
Air Gunner – Flight Sergeant William Ross
For many of the family members the day was about closure and bringing to an end the uncertainty of knowing how their loved ones died.
Lynn Thornhill, daughter of co-pilot Flying Officer Mason, said:
“My mother never really wanted to talk to me about my father, so I grew up not knowing much about him. Finding out how he died and finally being able to lay him to rest has provided some form of closure for me and my family.”
Captain Ken Taylor Royal Navy, the Defence Adviser at the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur, said:
“This is indeed a very moving and emotional occasion, not just for the families of the servicemen who lost their lives for their country, but I suspect for British people everywhere, including those living here in Malaysia.
“These fallen servicemen will now receive the military honours they deserve and their families will have the closure they seek. We are thankful to those who have made this possible, both from the UK and Malaysia.”