A Railway on Sumatra Constructed by Prisoners of the Japanese During WWII (1943 - 1945)
Ron Reid (left) and his good mate Brian Baber, two young RNZAF pilots (Bria Baber Collection)
Ron Reid - RNZAF Pilot
An interview with Ron Reid
In 2010 Dave Homewood interviewed the now late WWII Royal New Zealand Air Force pilot Ron Reid, at his home in Tauranga. Ron was originally from Wellington, and he and his best mate Brian Baber joined the RNZAF together in 1940 as Air Gunners.
Upon completing their training in New Zealand, Brian and Ron were both sent to Singapore. On arrival they were posted to Kluang in Malaya where they completed a conversion course on advanced trainers in preparation to join a fighter squadron.
Brian was ultimately posted to join No. 243 Squadron RAF, flying the Brewster Buffalo fighters. However, on his arrival at another Buffalo squadron – No. 488 Squadron RNZAF – Ron was told they had too many pilots and he wasn’t needed.
So Ron was instead posted to No. 36 Squadron RAF at Seletar, where he began flying the Vickers Vildebeest, a large single engined biplane bomber and torpedo aircraft.
A No. 36 Squadron RAF Vickers Vildebeest as flown by Ron Reid (Don Mackenzie collection)
When the Japanese Empire entered the war and began to attack Singapore and Malaya, the Vildebeests of No. 36 and 100 Squadrons both worked very hard by night bombing the approaching Japanese Army up the peninsula. But then the enemy decided to make another blow by landing a further force at Endau, in Malaya, cutting off some of the Allied Army. When the invasion fleet was spotted, every available RAF aircraft was put into the air to attack them. Vildebeests, Buffaloes, Lockheed Hudsons and Fairey Albacores were sent to attack the Japanese ships. It was not a success.
Just before the fall of Singapore the surviving members of No. 36 Squadron escaped in the last two surviving Albacores and flew across to Java. They continued operations against the Japanese as they began to land in Java, and during this time Ron and his crew attacked a Japanese cruiser, with little effect.
Soon all was lost and Ron and many others were captured. Following quite some time in various prison camps in Java, he was shipped to Sumatra and put to work on a project to build a 220 km railway line through the jungle between the towns of Pekanbaru and Muaro. He did this till the war finally ended. He had the key role as front spiker in the railway gang.
Ron Reid in 2010
For the original version of this article, and more information on Ron along with many other RNZAF Pilots visit: