Repairs to a Japan flag
A brief history of the flag and recent restoration by Red Dragon Flagmakers
Dad and the Japanese Prayer Flag
Written by Mr Leslie Towner
My late father George Kenneth Towner (Ken), joined the RAF voluntary reserve in May 1940 at the age of 19. After basic training and some home front work he was promoted to Corporal and posted to India in May 1942, travelling in convoy, via Durban and Cape Town, arriving in Bombay in August 1942.
Working throughout India and operating from scratch Ken built airstrips with various squadrons on recovery, maintenance, transport and rearming and he was finally posted to work with 79 Squadron in November 1943.
The Squadron badge is a Salamander Salient and their motto "Nothing Can Stand Against Us" as the salamander is always ready to face danger.
Initially serving with Hurricanes, the squadron soon converted to P47 Thunderbolts and used them throughout the rest of the war.
From that time until April 1944 the squadron was moving between grass strip and earth covered airfields in India flying sorties against the Japanese. During this time Ken caught yellow fever and had a period of recuperation until April 1944, when the squadron moved to Dimapur near the Burmese border in Nagaland. Ken always liked the Naga hill people and their dogs because they were fierce, thinking of them as allies as they hated the Japanese who occupied their country.
In later years, Ken would relate stories to me about both the Japanese and Gurka soldiers. He told how a Japanese soldier was used to privation and could live on a tin full of rice for a day scooping it out with their hands.
He also told a story of how the Japanese soldiers feared the Gurkas as they used to take their head with their Kukri which they always carried and made individually by each soldier, often from old railway lines and testing their sharpness by removing a goats head with one cut.
From April 1944, 79 Squadron took part in the decisive battles in North East India at Kohima and Imphal supporting the 14th Army. These two decisive battles took place between March and June 1944 and led to the decisive defeat of the Japanese army in India and acted as a springboard for them to push the Japanese out of Burma.
With the Japanese army in retreat 79 Squadron moved into Burma and took part in the engagements around Meiktila between January and March 1945 which finally destroyed the Japanese army in Burma.
Located at a forward airstrip at Toungoo with 36 Thunderbolts Ken and 14 other airmen volunteered to service and rearm the planes with 500lb bombs in support of the 14th army while they were under Japanese attack.
This is where Ken won the BEM for defending the airfield against Japanese incursions who were intent on damaging the Thunderbolts. Despite repeated attempts they failed and were all killed before they could carry out their mission. Ken told me that some were suicide attempts with explosives including grenades.
I believe that the picture we share was taken with Ken and his colleagues in a small group exhibiting the Japanese Prayer flag that they took from one of the soldiers they had killed. If you look you can see one of Ken’s colleagues holding what looks like a Japanese helmet. The condition of it looks almost new so the soldier wearing it probably didn’t see much action before he died.
With the help of Red Dragon Flagmakers as part of the process of repairing and restoring the flag for posterity it was discovered that the brown marks on the flag are ironised blood spots (I'd always thought them to be rust) so both the flag and helmet must have come from the same unsuccessful Japanese Soldier.
My thanks must go to the Red Dragon Flagmakers team and to Nia in particular for all her help and support in finding out so much information about this family treasure, one which had lain in a box undisturbed for over 60 years, interpreting some of the messages of good luck and unfulfilled victory,
Nia, Production Lead at Red Dragon Flagmakers lovingly cleaned and returned the flag back to me on a special backing cloth of acid free organic linen, traditionally painstakenly hand sewn in the Japanese style of Sashiko. This has enabled me to have the flag framed and ensure it lasts for many years to come.
I hope the results speak for themselves as a slice of history from a small battle during a second world war campaign in the Far East that was often called "The Forgotten War".
A picture of the framed flag will be uploaded soon.