A small number of Danes working in the plantation industry in Malaysia in the 1930s volunteers in 1940-41 for the Malayan Volunteer Air Force – a small force that support the allied forces in South-East Asia during the 1941-42 campaign.
United Plantations is a Danish firm founded in Malaysia in 1906. One of the company's plantations is located at Ula Berman then a remote spot about 60 km North of Kuala Lumpur. If the young Danes working at Ula Bernam wanted to live the colonial life of Kuala Lumpur or Singapore they have to take up flying.
The first to do so is Leif Kaare Pay, who in the early 1930s motorcycles from Ulu Bernam to the Kuala Lumpur Flying Club on weekends to take flying lessons there. Having graduated he buys a Tiger Moth in 1932. He inspires others to take up flying, and in the mid-1930s the Ipoh Flying Club is created. A number of the employees at United Plantations obtain flying licence before 1939 and volunteers for the Malayan Volunteer Air Force as the Japanese thread to Malaysia becomes apparent.
Malayan Volunteer Air Force
The Malayan Volunteer Air Force (MVAF) is formed at Kallang in August 1940 with personnel from local civilian flying clubs – the Royal Singapore, the Kuala Lumpur, the Penang, the Perak, and from Wearnes Air Services. MVAF training commences in September 1940 and the air force runs an Elementary Flying Training School financed by the Malayan Government as part of the Empire Air Training Scheme. The unit is commanded by Major R. L. Nunn, D.S.O. at the outbreak of war.
In the beginning of December 1941 MVAF is comprised of five separate flights: 'A' and 'B' Flight in Singapore, 'C' Flight at Kuala Lumpur, 'D' Flight at Ipoh and 'E' Flight at Penang. During the intense fighting the air force is regrouped into 'A' Flight at Kallang and 1 Detached Flight at Kahang and 2 Detachment Flight at Pakan Baroe.
The air force operated a very varied inventory of aircraft including a number of Moth Majors, Tiger Moths and Dragon Rapide. In the course of the fighting in South-East Asia MVAF pilots carry out a large number of operations in support of the allied troops including reconnaissance flights, search missions, sea patrols and bombing sorties.
The contribution of the MVAF is recognised in report of Air Vice-Marshal P. C. Maltby on the air operations during the campaign from December 1941 to March 1942 in the London Gazette (Issue 38126, 1948).
My information suggests that at least six Danes volunteer for the Malayan Volunteer Air Force during those hectic months.
Poul Bent Heilmann is born in Denmark. He arrives at Jendarata to work for United Plantations in 1925. From 1930 he is the general manager of Ulu Bernam. During the late 1930s he too takes up flying at the Ipoh Flying Club and he volunteers for the Malayan Volunteers Air Force during 1941. At this point I have no further information on the service. Following a dramatic escape from Malaysia, he arrives in Fremantle per ship in March 1942. He returns to Malaysia as general manager of United Plantations in 1946.
Leif Kaare Pay is born in 1906. He travels to Malaysia in the late 1920s and works for United Plantations. As mentioned above he is trained as pilot at the Kuala Lumpur Flying Club and buys a Tiger Moth in 1932. He uses the aircraft for to fly to Singapore. He joins the Malayan Volunteers Air Force during 1941. At this point I have no further information on the service. Following the Japanese attack he manages to get via Australia to United States and Canada, where he joins the RAF Transport Command.
Henner Friser Frederiksen is born in 1913. Finishing school in 1929 he joins the Danish East Asiatic Company Ltd. and at the outbreak of war he is managing director of the office in Kuala Lumpur. He is mobilised as part of the Malayan Volunteer Air Force (MVAF) in December 1940. As the Japanese forces advances the unit operates from different air stations. He is part of No 2 Detachment Flight. When the area is overrun by the Japanese, he manages to escape to Columbo, Ceylon. Via India and South Africa he eventually travels to Argentina to rejoin the East Asiatic Company office here.
The last pilots I have even less information about at this point apart from the fact that they are engaged by United Plantations in Malaysia and as P B Heilmann and L K Pay are trained as pilots in the local flying clubs. The men are Asger Laursen, Torkild Lunøe and H. C. Madsen.
They all volunteer for the Malayan Volunteer Air Force during 1941, and are taken prisoner of war following the Japanese attack. Asger Laursen becomes PoW at Java, and returns to Jendarata in October 1945. T. Lunøe and H. C. Madsen as PoW are sent to the notorious Burma-Siam Railway also known as the "Death Railway." As far as the information I have been able to gather they both survived, but I have no further information.
I would like to extent my gratitude to Dennis Burke and Martin Gleeson for close cooperation in gathering information on L K Pay and other MVAF pilots.
(Martin, 2003; Shores et al., 1992 and 2000; London Gazette; Dennis Burke; Finn Buch; Martin Gleeson)