Japan Trip Planning

In due course a sampan arrived, sculled by a small Japanese in a sailor suit, with a whistle cord and a round unpeaked cap with ribbons streaming from the back. He manoeuvred his flat-bottomed sampan with great skill, using a scull like Father Time’s scythe attached to a blade at the stern. When the Japanese came alongside I gave them my journey logbook, sealed camera, double-barrelled pistol and ammunition. ‘My seaplane has a hole in the bottom, you understand, and is sinking, sinking. I must get it ashore at once.’ There was another long discussion, and then the interpreter said, ‘They will inspect your baggage now.’

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‘They can inspect my baggage when my seaplane is on shore and not before,’ I said desperately. ‘I tell you my seaplane is sinking.’ After another long conference, they threw me a line from the launch, and towed the seaplane to a mooring above the pier. A worse situation could not be imagined; the current was so strong that the launch could barely make headway against it, and any mistake would mean my plane’s being swept right into the piles of the pier. When they reached the mooring the float upon which I was standing went under water. I jumped across to the other float, and shouted to the launch to tow the seaplane to the beach immediately. They could not, or would not, understand; I could not land until the quarantine officer had been on board. A fourth launch arrived, with another Englishman on board. He was McKay, the Shell representative. When I told him what was wrong he understood at once, and tried to explain to the Japanese. Ten of them talked together very rapidly. At last I burst out to the Shell man, ‘For God’s sake, throw me a line yourself, man, and tow me in. I tell you the seaplane is going to sink at any moment.’ He looked scared, ‘No, no. I couldn’t do that.’ However, he redoubled his efforts with the Japanese, and his soft, almost timid, manner with them, was successful; the launch towed me in close to the mud shore, a line was thrown and the seaplane secured in shallow water. McKay undertook to have the seaplane carried ashore on bamboo poles. He gave me complete confidence, and he put the operation in hand while I surrendered to the Japanese officials. First, I was shepherded through the crowd to the Customs House, to a long bare wooden table with wine glasses and a bottle of port on it. Standing round, they drank a toast to the foreign aviator. Then they got down to the real business of the meeting. Why had I not alighted at Karenko where I was supposed to? What route had I followed from Aparri? What was the horsepower of my engine? They surrounded me, hissing these questions and many others at the interpreter, not just two or three times each question, but dozens of times. One of the most repeated was, ‘At what hour had I left Aparri?’ I could seldom remember details about time immediately after a flight, and said, ‘Five or six hours ago.’ This really stirred them up.

They asked it twenty times, with a different selection of silly questions in between. It seemed incredibly stupid, because in the first place, had I spent the night photographing fortifications in south Formosa, the last thing I should do would be to lie about the time I left Aparri, which could easily be checked. Secondly, if there were anything worth spying on, surely there would have been a guard there capable of detecting the presence of an aeroplane.

Then they started on my route through the mountains. I became uneasy. Had they been leading up to this all the time? I said I had flown as straight as I could across the island as ordered, and I stuck to this right through. I had resented their having pushed me into the mountains so unnecessarily, and as the questioning went on for hour after hour, and seemed to be developing into a ‘third degree’ interrogation, I hardened up inside. In fact, the very minute of my leaving Aparri was marked on the chart and staring me in the eye, but by then I would not say it, and I stuck to my ‘five or six hours’. I felt that they were repeating this same question endlessly, to make me break down and confess that I had been spying. A sort of cold rage took me, childish, perhaps, but I had had a gruelling day, apart from the 500-mile flight. Next time they asked me what the horsepower of my motor was, after I had been repeating 100 h.p. until I was sick of it, I replied ‘20 h.p.’ for a change. Then I said 25, and every time they asked me I added 5 horsepower, curious to see how high I would get. Actually, the horsepower varied with the revolutions, minimum 20 and maximum 100. Presently I began pulling their legs and making poor jokes. In the end they handed me over to Ovens, who took me home; he told me I had done a very risky thing in making fun of the Japanese, but they had made me bloody minded.

McKay came up to tell me about the float. The drain plug had been fastened to a plate. Screws used to fix the plate to the hull had not drawn tight, and when the float was in the water, the water pressed the plate away from the hull and rushed in. As soon as the float came out of the water, the water inside pressed the plate against the hull and stopped the leak. The mystery was solved. I asked McKay if he could get it mended for me, and he said he could, but that he would have to use steel, as he had no duralumin. I asked him to go ahead, and said that I would have to leave tomorrow because of the typhoon. Ovens said he knew nothing of any typhoon and went off for a forecast. It said, ‘No low pressure in the neighbourhood of Formosa or Shanghai. Fine weather expected between them.’

‘That typhoon,’ I thought, ‘must be a myth. How could Father Selga have known about it in July without the Japanese knowing anything about it on 5 August?’ So I decided to stay at Tamsui another day.

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