Today marks the 100th birthday of WW2 veteran Len Parry. A Skiptonian for the past 70 years and is proud of his adopted town where he and his wife raised their family.

Reporter Viv Mason chats to him.

A WORLD War Two veteran who escaped from the Japanese is celebrating his 100th birthday today.

Len Parry, who still lives at his Skipton home, will be celebrating the occasion with his three children: Nigel, Rosamund and Nicholas ‘probably in a pub garden somewhere if the weather’s nice’.

Len was born in Burnley and left school at the age of 14 to work as an apprentice gas fitter in the town’s gas works.

When he volunteered for active duty in 1940 he was originally assigned to the Royal Engineers, but when he went to the Blackburn recruiting offices his friend was enlisted into the Royal Navy while Len was sent home.

Not to be outdone, he went with a work colleague to an RAF recruitment office and was accepted for training as RAF ground crew, repairing aircraft flight instruments. He was initially to specialise on the Short Singapore Mk1A flying boats automatic pilot.

Once kitted out he was sent to Cranwell College, in Lincolnshire, to start his technical training.

After six months’ training he was posted to 58S Squadron RAF, Linton-on-Ouse.

After two months there he was posted to Seletar, in Singapore, which he reached by sailing on the Empress of Australia troopship from Liverpool.

“We travelled at the vulnerable speed of seven knots until we were transferred to the luxury liner Aquitania which completed the journey from Bombay to Singapore at the more respectable (and somewhat safer) speed of 22 knots. The whole journey took 11 weeks, punctuated by a whole three days shore leave in Cape Town,” he explained.

On arrival in Singapore, Len joined 205 Maritime Squadron RAF where they were equipped with the Short Singapore Mk3 flying boat. The convoy from Liverpool was the first detachment of ‘conscripts’ to the Far East.

In April 1941 the squadron converted to the consolidated PBV Catalina, provided by the USA. The Catalina carried a crew of eight to 10 with enough space on board to carry a spare crew in flight.

“The aircraft had a range of 3,000 miles and could remain in the air without refuelling for 23 hours, with additional fuel tanks they could do a ‘double sunrise’; being capable of staying in the air for an amazing 32 hours.” he said.

In early December 1941, Len recalls the squadron sent two aircraft to patrol the South China Sea to look for a Japanese convoy heading south from Formosa, now Taiwan.

“The first aircraft returned safely but the second aircraft was shot down by fighters without getting within sight of the ships. The day of the air attack on Pearl Harbour was the day that Singapore Island came under attack.

“Raids continued daily at 10.00 and 15.00 hours until February 1942 and were always carried out by an arrow head formation of 27 aircraft - 27 being a lucky number for the Japanese,” Len explained.

In early February1942 205 Squadron was withdrawn to Java but Len’s ground crew was left with one aircrew to try and repair a damaged Catalina.

“On February 13 the crew was hard at work when they heard a commotion outside the hanger and then a group of Japanese marines charged in. All the crew was captured. They were searched and then left under the guard of two soldiers.

“On February 15 Singapore surrendered and the Japanese forces got very drunk. “We thought that this would be our only chance to escape.”

Len said after the air raids started they had prepared two Chinese sailing junks as a means of escape if the island was captured. They had hidden them in the mangrove swamps.

The two guards were very drunk and were overpowered by the group who made their escape. After two days in the junks they were picked up by a Dutch East Indies patrol boat and taken to Ousthaven in Sumatra.

“All the RAF personnel were then flown south (by Catalinas, no less) to Batavia, now Jakarta, in Java.

Len’s ground crew served with the Dutch Air Force for three weeks before all the 205 personnel travelled by train to the west side of Java and then by sea to Colombo, the capital of the now named, Sri Lanka.

Len had lost two of his friends and eventually over 200 personnel from 205 Squadron would lose their lives before the end of the war.

On returning to 205, Len and his comrades had some leave. He then went with an aircraft detachment to Koggla, in the south of the island to carry out maritime operations in the Indian Ocean.

After five weeks his crew was posted to the Hindustan Aircraft Corporation, at Bangalore, India, to help establish a base overhaul facility for the Catalinas. The base was managed by Americans with an Indian workforce.

During his time there he was nearly killed whilst air testing one Catalina which burst into flames following a fuel leak. The pilot of the craft, which was carrying 2,000 gallons of fuel, managed to ‘land’ on a lake. By landing, it meant one of the floats had ‘dug’ into the water causing the Catalina to do a ground loop. The starboard engine was ripped off and the aircraft sank. However, apart from the pilot gashing his face and Len sustaining a damaged kneecap, the crew got out to tell the tale.

After being posted as ‘missing’, letters finally got home to Burnley and family knew he was alive.

He was later posted to Cuttack, near Calcutta with 354 Squadron. In early 1945 he was sent to Mineria, in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, where his squadron patrolled and carried out mining operations up the west coast of Malaysia.

In May 1945 he was posted home to England and was able to celebrate VE Day with his family.

He was finally demobbed in June 1946 and returned to being a gas fitter.

He married Muriel, a girl he was ‘stepping out with’ from Skipton and settled in the town in 1950 where they raised their three children.

He ran the town’s Radio Relay systen.

The couple enjoyed a number of overseas holidays, including to the Far East.

On the recent 75th anniversary of VJ Day, Len said the occasions always bring memories of his comrades.

He says he has enjoyed many happy RAF occasions. In 1996 he attended the RAFA annual conference in Blackpool where he was presented with the Presidential Certificate from Air Marshall Sir John Kemball.

He was a life member of the Skipton RAF Association branch, in Shortbank Road, Skipton, before it closed earlier this year and became a community hub.

He also went back to visit RAF Cranwell in 2017 and has been part of the Remembrance Day parades and Armed Forces Day events in Skipton where in 2015 he was handed the Armed Forces flag. When asked what his next project is going to be he says it is ‘to reach 101’.