In early December 1956, the English wife of Dr Eric Richard Blay, the only doctor on the Island, lay dangerously ill, haemorraging after giving birth to her third child. Sadly her baby was stillborn.
Mr MacLaren Reid, the District Officer sent an SOS to the Chief Secretary’s Office in Singapore; an extra doctor with transfusion and blood supplies was needed.
In response an R.A.F. Valetta of No. 48 squadron left its base in Changi. On board was a doctor, F/O John Charles Malcolm Wilkinson of the R.A.F. jungle rescue team, who had volunteered for the job.
There was a stop over in Jakarta to refuel and then on to Christmas Island. As a consequence of poor weather and driving rain, as they neared their destination the Valetta flew an extra 45 minutes in search of the Island and in the process, using up valuable fuel.
Flares were lit to show the doctor parachutist his landing place. Two thirds of the Island was covered by rain and there was a high wind. Amazingly Dr Wilkinson “made a successful descent into a dropping area only 200 yards wide, bounded on one side by volcanic rock, and the other by thick trees.” 1 This was close to the Blay’s home, possibly in the Rocky Point area. He landed safely along with parachute packs of transfusion apparatus and a supply of blood plasma. Shortly after, he supervised the transfusion that saved Mrs Blay’s life.
With the mercy dash successfully completed, the five returning crew faced more drama. Jakarta refused to refuel the aircraft. At 120km from Jakarta the airport control told the pilot to go direct to Singapore. The pilot only received permission to land after stating this was out of the question as he had insufficient fuel.
Upon their eventual return to Singapore a cable from Dr Blay was waiting for airmen.
“Please extend my heartfelt and sincere thanks to the air crew and all concerned in bringing medical aid to my wife. I shall always remember our indebtedness to you all. My wife is now out of immediate danger”.
It wasn’t until his return to Singapore a couple of weeks later that Doctor Wilkinson revealed that if it had not been for a “white lie” the mercy mission may not have proceeded. On the way out to Christmas Island the plane had to stop at Jakarta to refuel but the authorities refused to provide the petrol. “It was only when they were told that the patient was an ‘American’ that they agreed to let us refuel” said Dr Wilkinson. 2
On the other side of the world, in the UK, the anxious parents of Mrs Blay waited for news.
Daughter’s life saved on Christmas Island
A COVENTRY works policeman is anxiously awaiting details of reports that his daughter’s life had been saved by an R.A.F. doctor who parachuted on to remote Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean, after a 613-mile “mercy” flight from Singapore.
He is Mr. Fred Allatt, employed at the Little Heath, Coventry, factory of Courtaulds, Ltd. His daughter Mrs. Edna Blay, wife of Dr. Eric Richard Blay, formerly of Coventry, who is medical officer to the British Phosphate Commission on Christmas Island. Mr. and Mrs. Allatt, of 2, Benthall Road. Coventry, last saw their daughter and son-in-law when Dr Blay left his Birmingham practice in 1954 to take up his present appointment.
They knew that Dr. and Mrs. Blay were expecting their third child at Christmas. But they did not know that the child had been born dead and that their daughter’s life had been saved only after a long and arduous flight by Flying Officer John Wilkinson, an R.A.F. doctor stationed at Changi, Singapore.
Flying Officer Wilkinson was taken out in a Valetta aircraft when an SOS was received at Singapore. The plane flew through driving rain to reach the island and the doctor was dropped by parachute.
Blood plasma was dropped to him and althought the child was lost, Mrs. Blay’s life was saved.
All day yesterday, Mr. and Mrs. Allatt were making inquiries. So was Mr. Blay’s brother, Mr. Graham Blay, a Coventry chemist.
“Worried to death”
The British Phosphate Commission’s London office was among the sources from which they sought news, but nothing concrete was learned.
“We have both been worried to death ever since we read about this.” Mr. Allatt, told “The Coventry Evening Telegraph” to-day.
Dr. Eric Blay, aged 36, formerly lived at 52, Stoke Green, Coventry. He was born in the city and was educated at Bablake School. His wife, aged 30, is a former Coventry chemist.
They have a son aged seven and a daughter five. Dr. Blay’s contract will keep him in Christmas Island for a further 18 months, it is understood.
Coventry Evening Telegraph, 6th December 1956
Dr Wilkinson showed great courage to parachute out of a plane in extreme weather, in the dark, aiming for a specific spot on a small speck of rock in the Indian Ocean. It is hardly surprising that a few months later it was announced in London that he be awarded the Air Force Cross. This was presented to him by the Queen. His citation read:
“With complete disregard of the risk of serious injury to himself, his only thought was to reach the location where he could help save a life”. 1
1 The Guardian newspaper, 27th February 1957
2 The Straits Times newspaper, 19 December 1956