Aircraftman Jepson of the AVGHardly a month goes by without bringing me an email about a "Flying Tiger" who supposedly served with the American Volunteer Group in Burma or China. Almost always the claim is bogus, but I've learned to keep an open mind. Last year, such an inquiry led me to Sergeant Charland of the 2nd AVG—a bomber group formed in the fall of 1941 and hurriedly reclaimed by the U.S. Army after the attack on Pearl Harbor, but not before one or two boatloads of ground crew had sailed for Asia.
More recently I heard about Aircraftman-2 Wilfred Jepson, a Royal Air Force enlisted man (the equivalent of a private) who was "borrowed" by Chennault's squadrons in Burma. He not only served with the AVG to its disbandment but continued to work for the U.S. Army's China Air Task Force in the summer of 1942. Jepson was a radio mechanic assigned to RAF 135 Squadron at Mingaladon airport north of Rangoon when he joined Bob Neale's 1st Squadron, the Adam & Eves. He worked for Joseph Lussier, and apparently he lived with the Americans, too, for one evening he went back with his old barrack and found it deserted.
As Wilf tells the story, he threw in his lot with the Americans because the RAF had abandoned Mingaladon. Actually, this wasn't quite the case: the 135 Squadron ground crews had indeed sailed for their new post on Akyab Island, but the Hurricanes were still hiding out at Mingaladon and the outlying dispersal fields. In any event, Wilf went back to the barrack one evening to find it deserted except for his own kit bag, which someone had left for him on his bed.
AVG chaplain Paul Frillmann was scheduled to take a convoy north toward the end of February, and Wilf climbed aboard, probably in the company of another RAF radio mechanic, Leading Aircraftman Gerald Jones, who'd been attached to the AVG since January.
The assignments must have been blessed by the RAF, because when they reached the RAF rear base at Magwe, they kept on going into China, where Jepson and Jones worked for the AVG until it was officially disbanded on July 4, 1942. Wilf was even invited to Madame Chiang's farewell party, and his invitation (at left) is the first I've ever seen for that affair.
The AVG was replaced by the China Air Task Force (U.S. 10th Air Force), and the two British radio mechanics kept on at their same jobs with the CATF. At the end of August, they evidently moved to RAFCHIN, the British detachment at Chengdu made up of RAF waifs and strays caught in China by the fall of Burma. Rather than go to the expense of shipping them back to India, the British simply sent in a commanding officer and assigned them to help train the Chinese Air Force. Wilf headed up a radio station and finally made it back to India in August 1943.
Joe Lussier--now a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army--marked Jepson's departure with a commendation: "It is with a great feeling of loss that we find Jepson is about to leave the organization. Through him in his dealings and work in both the American Volunteer Group and the United States Army, the strong ties that bind the English and American people as one have been considerably strengthened and the deep respect we have for the technical ability, self sacrifice and attention to duty of the English military man has been wonderfully illustrated through AC-2 Jepson."