We waited for some time in Peking, trying to get permission from the USSR to enter Siberia by way of Mongolia if not through Manchukuo. Peking was a disturbed city, and uneasy with the Japanese infiltration to the east. There were shootings nearly every night, and armed guards were to be seen at nearly every establishment. I became friendly with the British Military Attache at the Embassy, Colonel Lovat-Fraser. One day I flew him out to the Ming tombs, scuttling across the country at hedge-hop height, and inspecting each tomb closely from a few feet above it. Another day we had a flight to the Great Wall, and flew along this a wingspan from it. I was thrilled to see this great work of earth and stone, but I could not understand how it could have been effective; it looked as if it would be easy for a regiment of bowmen with plenty of arrows to keep the guards on top of the wall under cover while some ladders were brought up to scale the wall.
Our flight to England did not make much progress. One suggested route after another was turned down, and finally we were refused entry via Paotao and the Gobi Desert. This was disappointing, but why worry? The whole flight was a lark, and we turned round to re-cross China and get back on to the ordinary air route to England.
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On the way south we had to visit Nanking to obtain some more permits for crossing China, and then we flew on to Hong Kong. Next, we landed at Hainan Island to refuel, and I got a weather report from the Jesuit priest who operated a meteorological station there. He spoke very fast French, and I misunderstood what he said about a typhoon. We flew on in fine weather until near the coast of Indo-China where the route was barred by a huge snow-white cloud. It looked innocent and I flew into it, but we were soon in trouble; it was a small typhoon. We were in strong gusty winds, which whizzed us up and down. Rain fell like solid water, and it became increasingly dark. I was soon sweating, thinking fearfully of Puss Moths which had had their wings pulled off, for the buffeting we were getting was terrifying. To ease the strain on the wings as much as possible I set the aeroplane to its maximum climbing angle, until it was almost hanging on the propeller. We climbed steadily, 8,000, 9,000, 10,000 feet. At last I surrendered, turned round and worked my way back over our tracks. When we got to the edge of the cloud and flew out into the clear, I turned round to look at Frank. He was huddled up in the rear seat of the cabin, with his raincoat over his head. During the buffeting, the sliding window at the side of the cabin had worked open a quarter of an inch, and the rain had shot in as through a hose-pipe, straight on to Frank. Later, when we landed at Hanoi and I studied the plot of the typhoon’s track, I found that we had turned at the very centre of it, and I recalled how the turbulence had seemed a shade easier as we were turning.
On leaving Hanoi, we crossed the mountains of Laos to reach Vientiane, on the Mekong River, at dusk. When we arrived at the dot on my War Office map which marked the position of the town, I looked everywhere, circled and searched in vain for any sign of it. This was a serious business, with night about to fall, and no suitable place to land. I studied the map, bamboozled, but could not detect what had gone wrong. Then I remembered that at breakfast that morning I had been looking at a French magazine with a map of Indo-China in it. I have always loved maps, and I asked permission to tear this out and keep it. I asked Frank to dig it out of my bag, and when he handed it to me I could see at once what had happened. The dot representing Vientiane on my map was at the wrong end of the name, and at that scale it represented a distance of 45 miles. So I headed west, pushed the throttle full open and raced across to the other end of the name. There we found the town all right and were able to land before dark.
From Vientiane we cut across the north of Siam to land at Moulmein, in Burma, and from there proceeded to Rangoon. Now we were on the regular Europe to Australia air route, and it seemed tame after our journeys in China and the East. I got some interest out of flying low along the coast of Burma, but we were nearly brought down by a boy on the beach who threw up a hunk of timber which passed between the main wing and tailplane.
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