Denys Golder was my grandfather. A true gentleman, successful businessman and a proper war hero. I learnt many lessons from him including humility, service and what he called "stickability" or the ability to knuckle down and get the job done against the odds. The lessons learned while working in his wood working shop or on the golf course or at family lunches have served me well.
Below is a story written in a now ceased magazine called "The Boys Own" magazine about an amazing escape Denys Golder had when he was fighting in Burma in World War 2.
Boys Own Adventure: A TRUE STORY
By Keith Welsh
As the numerically stronger Japanese forces advanced into Burma in March, 1942, many heroic deeds were performed by Allied airmen and British land forces, but one of the epics of that ill-fated campaign was that in which two - young Australians figured. Neither was a pilot, yet when the captain of their Blenheim bomber was killed by ground fire, they took over the controls and after some hair-raising experiences, flew back to base, some 200 miles.
The Japanese had struck at Pearl Harbor, in the Pacific Ocean, on the 7th December. 1941, and then began their southward drive on Malaya. It was a matter of four days only when the first attacks were made on Burma at Victoria Point and when Singapore fell, they sent heavy forces into Burma.
Back and still further back retreated General Sir Harold Alexander's men as the strong Japanese Army pursued them, while wave after wave of Japanese aircraft bombed towns, villages, and troops. Rangoon, the capital of Burma, was bombed day after day, and although battle was waged by British aircraft which caused heavy Japanese casualties, sheer numbers gave the Japanese such an advantage that on the 7th March the city fell. The British, however, had demolition parties at work, and when the Japanese marched in they found the huge Syrian Oil Refinery ablaze, the dense black smoke from the oil casting a heavy pall over the city. The docks had also been seriously damaged, but the loss of this port was indeed a severe blow for the Allies.
The Royal Air Force had now gone north to Magwe, some 220 miles away, based on the aerodrome there. The majority of the air crew at Magwe were Australians, but they were attached to the R.A F. As the Japanese continued to advance, the Australians became irritable and wanted to "mix it" with the enemy, but their operations were retarded because of the small numbers of aircraft available. 'The Blenheims had been rushed to Burma from the Middle East and there was a minimum of spare parts and only a skeleton ground crew to service the aircraft.
Our story concerns three young Australian Sergeants--Douglas (" Tich ") Smythe, of Cottesloe, Western Australia; Denys Golder, of Burwood, Melbourne; and James Alt, of Epping, Sydney. Smythe was the pilot, Golder the navigator, and Alt the wireless operator-air gunner, who comprised the entire crew of the Blenheim.
They had taken part in several bombing raids, and on the 23rd February, after bombing and strafing enemy troops on the Salween River, had flown the Air Officer commanding (Air Vice-Marshal Stevenson) from Mingaladon (the civil airport of Rangoon) to Magwe. So pleased was this officer with the crew's work that he ordered that they be retained for his exclusive use.
This arrangement did not suit Smythe at all. He wanted to fight the Japanese. So he went to Air Vice-Marshal Stevenson and told him the views of himself and his crew. The officer was impressed with the sincerity of the Australians and said that while he still wanted them for his crew, they could take part in operations on any day on which he did not require them.
Thereafter Smythe was on the heels of the Air Officer Commanding, asking him whether he required them. On the 11th March, Air Vice-Marshal Stevenson told them that he did not require them. They were instructed to make a low-level reconnaissance for enemy troops in the area around Nyaunglebin, Daik-U, Kaywe, and Myitko, and if any were observed, to strafe them.
Excitedly the three Australians said out, and on arrival saw quite a number of enemy troops who scattered in all directions as Smythe took the Blenheim down to within 50 feet, and Alt and Golder sent a hail of lead at them. After reaching the end of their mission, Smythe decided to return over the same area and see if any more Japanese were about and, if so, to give them another charge of fire.
He was flying low, only about 50 feet from the ground, and Golder was lying flat in the nose of the Blenheim, his eyes scanning the ground, and Alt was in the gun-turret, when a piercing yell was heard over the inter-communication unit, " I'm shot." With that the aircraft turned swiftly towards the ground, Smythe lurching seemingly unconscious over the controls.
With a violent jump forward, Golder threw the "stick" backwards, and the Blenheim, just a few feet from the tops of some trees, turned skywards. It was just in the nick of time. Another split
second would have been too late.
“Come quickly," Golder called to Alt "Tich is shot."
The passage from the gun-turret to the pilot's cabin in a Blenheim is unusually small. When one is wearing full flying kit, entrance from one compartment to the other is rendered even more difficult. Alt, however, literally forced himself through the opening, and while Golder took over
the controls, he attended to Smythe.
Now Golder was a navigator, and not a pilot, but emergencies called for special action, and Golder decided that pilot that aircraft he must. He believed that Smythe had been killed by a bullet from an enemy fighter aircraft, although it was subsequently ascertained that it was from enemy ground fire so, for 20 minutes, he flew north for about 50 miles hoping to get clear from any fighters. During this time, the 'plane had been flown without any attention being paid to navigation, soGolder decided to fly west until they struck the Irrawaddy River, and then follow that river until they reached base.
At this stage they were flying at 1000 feet and all was well until, suddenly looming
in front of them, were mountains 3000 feet high. Golder circled for half an hour endeavouring to gain height, but due to his experience as a pilot he nearly stalled the Blenheim on several occasions and had to put the nose of the aircraft down to keep the engines running, thereby losing much of the height he had previously gained.
Alt, in the meantime, had been examining Smythe and had arrived at the conclusion that Smythe was beyond all help. The wireless operator-air gunner then turned his hand to navigating. After further circling, they considered they had sufficient height to cross the mountains, and set forth. Frequently they just crossed some of the peaks with inches to spare, but eventually they successfully negotiated the mountains and reached the Irrawaddy River and then followed it northwards.
When they reached Prome, Alt took over the controls. Alt's experience as a pilot was even. Less than that of golder. When flying from Cairo to Burma, Smythe had shown Alt the workings of
the controls and watched him fly for an hour.That was his sum total experience as a pilot.
Golder then made out a report for his C.O. of the trip. He realised that he and Alt might be killed as the most hazardous part of the journey yet awaited them -- that of attempting to land the aircraft, or baling out, whichever he was ordered, and it was right that the C.O. should know all the circumstances.
He accordingly set out in the report the results of the strafing, how Smythe had been killed, and how they had brought the Blenheim back to base. He further intimated that they proposed to-release Smythe's body by parachute so that the Medical Officer would be able to determine whether or not Smythe had been killed by ground fire.
Golder then stated that they were prepared to attempt to land the aircraft, and
On reaching Magwe, Golder again took over the controls, and from a height of 1200 feetdropped the message. Actually this was too high for a message to be dropped accurately, but Golder, on account of his inexperience, was not prepared to go any lower. At that time there were a number of D.C. aircraft on the aerodrome waiting to fly out evacuees from Burma, but Golder was willing to attempt to land the Blenheim with its wheels up, thereby damaging the aircraft, rather than damage the more valuable D.C.'s.
Golder continued to circle the aerodrome, and noticed a number of R.A.F. Hurricane fighters in the air, but no response came to his message, so he wrote out another and dropped it. Sometime later, a red verey light was fired, and Alt and Golder understood it to mean to abandon the aircraft. Actually, it transpired that the second message drifted and was not picked up until the following day, and the red verey light was fired as a direction to wait until the Hurricanes landed.
The Blenheim circled for more height until 7000 feet was reached, when Alttied a rope onto the ripcord of the pilot's parachute, and Smythe was dropped through the front hatch and the rip-cord pulled. Smythe's body was later examined by the medical officer and he con-confirmed his colleague's view that Smythe was killed instantly, having been shot through the heart.
The pilot having been released, it now became necessary for Golder and Alt to abandon the aircraft. They decided to set the rudder controls to ensure that the Blenheim would fly well away from the aerodrome before crashing. Alt baled out first, Golder flying another circuit and
watching him go down. Then Golder jumped and pulled the rip-cord, but sustained a complete black-out. He continued to drift, however, but when Alt was only 500 feet from the ground, he noticed that the Blenheim, which had gone into a flat spin when abandoned, was making straight for him. Desperately Alt tugged at the strings of his parachute, and the aircraft - crashed 500 yards from him , about three miles from the aerodrome.
In the meantime, Golder had landed unconscious in the main street of a village, three miles from the aerodrome, and he awoke to find some Burmese giving him a drink of water. Half an hour later his C.O, arrived and took him to hospital, where he was found to be suffering from large bruises under the chin and a stiff neck, due to the sudden opening of the parachute.
Alt, however, landed safely and was later questioned and commended by the General Officer Commanding the British 14th Army in Burma, General (later Field Marshal) Sir Harold Alexander, who was recently appointed Governor-General of Canada.
So ended a Burma epic. It was a matter of general knowledge that these two sergeants were each recommended for a decoration, but when a general evacuation of Burma was made, all records were lost.
Their efforts in bringing back the aircraft and overcoming many difficulties stands out as one of the most colourful and gallant efforts of the whole Burma campaign. It called for skill and pluck, fortitude and endurance. They had further emblazoned Australia on the scroll of fame and their heroism will certainly find a place in history.