NO MORE MUTTON
In #53 of my collection of Eighty-one War Stories, I described how a B-29 bombing mission against a Japanese oil refinery at Palembang, Sumatra, was affected by the Free French battleship Richelieu. I was the Pilot of an aircrew that flew on that mission, and when we returned to the launch base on Ceylon, our B-29 required repairs that took nine days to complete.
Our B-29 was repaired in the transient aircraft area near a small flight of RAF Spitfires. The area was located next to a fence along the northern boundary of the China Bay RAF Station. Outside the base, directly across from a break in the fence, stood a thatch-roofed shack that soon proved to be our salvation from starvation (humor intended).
The food served in the RAF mess hall was a serious challenge to my crew because many of the meals were based on mutton. Each B-29 crew brought a supply of canned rations from India, and we consumed our rations by the third day at China Bay. After that, we had to eat in the RAF mess hall where the mutton odor was enough to destroy our appetites.
One morning, while working on our plane, our Maintenance Crew Chief M/Sgt. Britton Vick noticed RAF mechanics leave their Spitfires, step through the break in the fence, and go inside the shack. When they returned, he asked them what was in the shack. One of them said, "We went over to get a spot of breakfast!" M/Sgt. Vick said nothing, walked directly to the shack, stepped inside, and consumed a meal of eggs, fresh bread, real coffee, and fresh fruit. He hurried to tell our crew of the cafe that was the answer to our prayers for relief from the mutton diet.
The cafe was owned and operated by a former RAF Noncommissioned Officer who married a local lady, opened the cafe, and made China Bay his home. Our crew spent most of the morning in the cafe enjoying a very satisfying meal. The cafe's menu included an amazing assortment of curried dishes of fish and chicken. Mutton was not on the menu.
The owner subscribed to The London Times Newspaper and Punch Magazine, but the copies available in the cafe came by boat from London and were sadly outdated. Nevertheless, RAF soldiers would read them for hours at a time. Before long, our crew joined them while we waited for our plane to be repaired. I became a fan of David Low's English cartoons, and even enjoyed reading the want ads listed on the Times' front page. When I got home after the war, I found want ads on the front page of Mobile, Alabama's only newspaper.
* From Ira V. Matthews' Eighty-one War Stories. *