Henry and Cyril Talalla – Remembered as Heroes for their exploits in World War 2
Posted on April 28th, 2012

Sumanananda Premseri

Dear Venerables and Friends,
In Malaysia, today marks the end of the month long Sinhala Avuruddha celebrations with the last event being the Sinhala Avuruddha Show at the Buddhist Maha Vihara Brickfields. The month long Avuruddha programs were organized by the Sasana Abhiwurdhi Wardhana Society, the Siri Jayanthi Association, the Malaysian Sinhalese Association and the Sri Lanka High Commission in Malaysia, the Sri Lankan Expatriates Grouping and the Sri Lanka Workers Welfare Association.

As we close this chapter and move towards celebrating Wesak, I thought it would be lovely on a post script to reflect on the contributions of the Talallas, who have cast in stone their mark on the history of Malaysia. No Sinhalese family in Malaysia has had such an immense contribution to their adopted country Malaysia than the Talalla family. You should read the article below to see why two roads in Malaysia are named Jalan Talalla and why even a road in France is named Route Henry Talalla. It is a father and sons journey that makes a country proud. The father made headlines in 1932 by flying solo from Alor Star, Malaya to Croydon, England in an epic 28-day flight and instantly became a national hero. Hewage Benjamin Talalla was also on the Kuala Lumpur Sanitary Board which later became our City Hall (DBKL). Two of his sons, Henry Talalla and Cyril Talalla became among the first Asians to fly for the British in World War II and took part in the D-Day Operations at Normandy……

Till today the Talalla family name shines brightly…..Malaysia’s former Ambassador to the US was Datuk Albert Talalla, there is also former High Court judge named Richard Talalla. When you read this article below extracted from the Victoria Institution school website, you begin to learn about these GREAT footprints in the sands of time.

mettena cittena

  2 Road Names in Malaysia and 1 Road Name in France is named Jalan Talalla, Route Henry Talalla

Their father had been a Sinhalese who arrived in Malaya from Ceylon with just about the shirt on his back and a few cents in his pocket. A shining example of the Malayan rags-to-riches story, Hewage (pronounced He-wa-ge) Benjamin Talalla rose to become a successful and respected businessman in early twentieth century Kuala Lumpur. With early Kuala Lumpur pioneers like Yap Tai Chi and Loke Chow Thye, he sat on the Kuala Lumpur Sanitary Board which provided public services like water, light, town cleansing and roads. The Board was the colonial precursor of the K.L. Town Hall, the Municipality and, of course, much later, City Hall. He built up a sanitary hardware business and his company, Fletcher Trading Company Ltd. of Old Market Square, was instrumental in introducing modern sanitation to Kuala Lumpur.

Hewage was a founder member, too, of the first Rotary Club. He had his fingers on the pulse of the town, rubbing shoulders with the leading lights of Kuala Lumpur and the colonial administration. He was a guest, for instance, along with no less than the British Resident at the old High Street V.I. when poet Rabindranath Tagore visited the school in 1929 to give a talk and some readings of his works. Hewage even learned to fly, an exotic skill in an era when the mere appearance of a plane in the Malayan skies was enough to attract great attention. As if that was not enough, in a headline-making flight in 1932, he flew solo from Alor Star to Croydon, England. His epic 28-day flight was the modern equivalent of going to the moon. On his return Hewage was lionized and invited as a speaker to many functions. Two roads, one in Klang and the other parallel to Birch Road (now Jalan Maharajalela), are named in his honour. (The KL road is misspelled Jalan Ta’ala in some current maps.)

Hewage married Lily Olga Fernando and had seven children, six boys and a girl. The daughter did not survive infancy; the sons were educated at either the V.I. or, as second choice, the St Johns Institution. So when Henry Conrad Benjamin Talalla and Cyril Lionel Francis Talalla – the two oldest sons – came along, their father’s choice of school was obvious.

As a child Henry had been nicknamed Sonny, the first part of the moniker “Sonny Jim”. Cyril, a year younger, thus became Jimmy in turn. Henry went to the V.I. from 1933 to 1937 and Cyril from 1934 to 1938. Both were active as cadets and as sportsmen, with Henry representing Shaw House in cricket while Cyril played hockey for Hepponstall House and the school as well. Both brothers were House Prefects, one category lower than school prefects. They were the only pupils to drive to school then, in a two-tone blue-black Morris 10, with license plate SL9189. However, this privilege ended suddenly when Henry managed to overturn the car one day! After a stern lecture, Talalla senior replaced the Morris with a second hand Austin 7 which the two boys drove around like a sports car.

It was quite natural for Henry and Cyril, who looked upon their father with an element of awe, to evince an interest in flying. Their cousin, Hector Talalla, ten years older than Henry and also a Victorian, had been the first in their generation to join the Kuala Lumpur Flying Club. Henry and Cyril followed suit and were soon buzzing over Kuala Lumpur in Tiger Moth biplanes. By the time they left the V.I. each had obtained his pilot “A” license.

Henry proceeded to London after his School Certificate to study for his London matriculation with a view to proceeding to St Bartholomew’s to study medicine. However he wasn’t very successful. On returning home, he and Jimmy, who had just finished at the V.I., joined their father’s company where, on their father’s orders, the Fletcher staff were told to treat them exactly as anyone else. The boys were each paid 15 dollars a month. They were there less a year when fate beckoned in September 1939. Britain had declared war against Germany.

Like in all families in those days, Talalla senior was very much the patriarch and, when the call for pilots went out to countries in the British Empire, he simply told Henry and Cyril that he would like them to join the Royal Air Force. The lads took it as a direction from their father and simply complied. In 1940 the two brothers trained in Singapore under the Malayan Volunteer Air Force. The Malay Mail reported proudly in January 1941 that Cyril was first Asian to pass the rigid RAF entrance tests and to enrol as a cadet at the government flying school. It neglected

to mention that he was the only non-European selected from almost two dozen applicants. Cyril sailed off with the third Malayan squad to Perth from Singapore, and from there went overland to Sydney and thence circuitously on to Canada. After advanced training at Macleod, Alberta, Cyril was sent to Britain in October as a Sergeant Pilot.

The diminutive Henry had failed to measure up in the physical and had to spend another six months back in Malaya building up his weight and strength before he was finally accepted. When that finally came, Henry made a farewell flight over Kuala Lumpur. On a challenge from his brother Andrew the future RAF pilot performed some daredevil acrobatics, diving low over the compound of their neighbouring doctor (Dr Narunha) and earning a severe reprimand from his father later. The following day he turned up late for his departure from the old K.L. airport in Sungei Besi Road because he had been busy saying farewells all round. As he took the last seat, just over the rear wheel of the early model DC-3, it was the last time the Talalla family would see him again.

Henry flew to Singapore first, and from there, like Cyril before him, took a round-about route to the Empire Flying School in Alberta, Canada. On completing his course he received his commission as a sergeant pilot and was retained as a staff pilot at an air navigation school. After a stint with the Hurricane Operational Training Unit, Henry left for England in early summer of 1943. After further training, he was posted on 18th November to 182 Squadron, Second Tactical Air Force at Merston, where he was one of the early pilots selected to fly the newly developed fighter-bomber, the Typhoon. These tank-killers, with their broad white bands on wings and fuselage, were assigned to the most dangerous missions. They were the first RAF fighters capable of exceeding 400 m.p.h. Carrying on each underwing eight 30 kg. rockets and and four 20 mm cannon, they could perform low altitude ground attacks. Based in Dorset, they flew across the English Channel hedge-hopping and strafing German panzers.

Cyril had by that time also been trained on Hurricanes and had been a staff pilot at the Hurricane Operational Training Unit until May 1942 when he was posted to No. 118 Squadron, which was equipped with Supermarine Spitfires. Cyril’s first kill was reported in a British newspaper (the lack of a Malayan identity is painfully obvious):

A Sinhalese pilot, the first to fly with his fighter command scored his opening victory a few days ago. He is pilot officer Talalla. His section of the Spitfires was over the Dutch coast when two Focker Wulf 190s were sighted 100 feet above the water. Talalla saw that one had damaged a colleague’s wing, so he dived down behind the Focker Wulf. “My fire burst sent pieces flying off it”, he said. “There was an explosion in the cockpit and the enemy dived into the sea with an orange flash.” A second Focker Wulf was damaged.

Cyril saw active service in Spitfires over England, the English Channel, the North Sea and German-occupied Europe, making fighter sweeps and providing escort for 1,000-bomber raids. In June 1943, Cyril was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for having “…participated in a large number of sorties and led his section with great skill and keenness. He has destroyed one enemy aircraft.” His tour of operations completed, Cyril was sent on rest for six months as a flying instructor to the Spitfire Unit.

The two lads’ bravery and valour were hardly known to their family back in Malaya, who were having their own troubles. For, by late 1941, war had come to Malaya and there was a three-and-a-half-year blackout of news about their sons. In the chaos and destruction wrought by the Japanese invasion and occupation, Hewage took the initiative in reestablishing a system for collecting garbage and sewage for Kuala Lumpur. Then he, his wife and remaining sons were arrested on 15th October 1943 following the Double Tenth sabotage in Singapore Harbour when a number of Japanese ships were blown up in an operation directed from Perth. Talalla Senior and his wife were tortured on trumped-up charges of espionage.

On D-Day, 6th June, 1944, both Henry and Cyril played an integral part in providing fighter support for Allied bomber, ground and naval forces in the invasion of Nazi-occupied France. By the end of June, the Normandy beach head in France was wide and secure enough for Henry’s squadron to use a forward base near the French town of Coulomb.

On 18th July, the Allies launched Operation Goodwood against the Germans. Following intensive aerial bombardment, the Americans attacked on the western front forcing the Germans to withdraw to the west of St-LĮՠի. Supporting these operations, the 2nd British Army and the 1st Canadian Army on the eastern front

line attacked in the direction of Falaise, south of Caen. By this time, the Germans were shifting their Panzer Divisions towards the British forward line, and a week later, there were three times more German tanks facing the British than in the American sector. They had also over one hundred of the formidable 8.8 cm anti-aircraft guns putting up a barrage of steel in a desperate bid to halt the deadly aerial attacks by 1,600 Allied four-engined bombers and 600 two-engined bombers and fighter-bombers. This desperate German defence in the first fifty days after D-Day had already cost the British 6,000 killed. Soon it would claim an ex-Victorian as well.

At 11:45 a.m. on 25th July, Henry’s Typhoon was one of four planes attacking German panzers at Fontenay-le-Marmion, six miles south of Caen. Henry was then flying third in line, and usually it was the fourth plane that took the brunt of enemy fire when German guns finally homed in on the attackers. This time it turned out that intense anti-aircraft fire had found Henry while the pilot flying behind him

was spared. His Typhoon was observed heading northeast and was not seen by his comrades again. Henry went down over farmland ten miles southeast of Caen between the towns of Airan and Moult, in farmer Louis BrƒÆ’†’©e’s field which was under grass at that time. At that time all French civilians had been evacuated by the Germans from the area and were not allowed to return to their homes until 15th August. BrƒÆ’†’©e returned to find the wreckage of the Typhoon on his property and a fresh grave beside it. His assumption was that the pilot had been buried by the German SS, for when he returned to his farm the SS were the only people still around. In truth Henry had been discovered and buried on the spot by members of the French Maquis, the Resistance movement.

Cyril had by 1944 been serving with No 122 Squadron as Flight Commander, flying a different kind of plane, the American P-51 Mustang. When he heard the news about his brother, he obtained permission to fly over the area to search for Henry’s Typhoon. But it was a near impossible task scouring a mangled, smoking landscape strewn with the detritus of war. With a heavy heart he had to call off the search for his brother. Soon after the air-borne operations at Arnheim, Cyril’s squadron was recalled to England to provide fighter escort for the heavy bombers in their pulverisation of the Third Reich. By Christmas Eve 1944, Cyril had completed his 250th and last sortie over enemy territory. He stood down from operational duties and spent the rest of the war as a flying instructor. With two enemy aircraft destroyed, one shared destroyed and one damaged, he was now an acknowledged ace credited officially with “3.83 victories”. He gained a bar for his DFC in March 1945, and was invested by King George VI at Buckingham Palace. The citation for the bar read: “This Officer has participated in a very large number of varied sorties. He has displayed the greatest keenness to engage the enemy and has invariably pressed home his attacks with determination. Among his successes is the destruction of four enemy aircraft.“

It was only when the Japanese forces in Malaya surrendered in September 1945, that the devastating news of Henry’s loss finally reached the surviving Talallas, though the RAF at that time had no inkling of where he or his plane was. This was not good enough for a grieving Hewage who immediately travelled to London to demand some action by the British Government. He was put in touch with the French authorities who were very cooperative and appreciative of anyone who had come to the aid of France against the Germans. Talalla Senior tracked down Louis BrƒÆ’†’©e with the help of two local policemen in Argences and succeeded in locating Henry’s Typhoon in the spot where it had come down. Hewage removed the part of the fuselage with the serial number on it and shipped it back to Malaya. Henry’s remains were exhumed a year or two later and reburied at the Banneville-la-Campagne British Cemetery. A marble and concrete marker was erected in Louis BrƒÆ’†’©e’s farm in a small copse of trees beside a field of corn. In recent years it was moved closer to the original crash site by the side of the field so that it is visible from the road.

Cyril returned to Malaya in October 1945 a flight lieutenant. He had been away for nearly five years. In the Malaya of 1945 it was extraordinary for an Asian, not to mention an Air Force veteran, to be wandering around Kuala Lumpur in the uniform of a flight lieutenant of the RAF. On one occasion he was stopped by a suspicious military policeman in Kuala Lumpur who demanded to see his papers. Not in the mood for any officious nonsense and veiled racism, Cyril glared at the MP and said to him coldly that he would produce his ID if the policeman would produce his. The MP, who had been rather overbearing throughout, with hands on hip and feet astride, reluctantly commenced the exchange. Mutual identity was established with the MP pronouncing Cyril’s papers in order. As there was still no overall change in the policeman’s attitude, Cyril decided to put the him in his place once and for all. He ordered the MP to stand to attention when he was speaking to an officer. And he did!

In 1949, the V.I. paid tribute to its war dead. A war memorial with the names of fallen masters and pupils of both world wars, including Henry’s, was unveiled in the school library on 17th March by Mr Anthony Eden (who was later to become Prime Minister of Britain). Mr and Mrs H. B. Talalla and other parents planted yellow flame trees in front of the school in memory of their loved ones. These trees are still flourishing in the V.I. grounds today.

On his return to civilian life, Cyril formally changed his name by deed poll to Jimmy and joined the Department of Civil Aviation as an air traffic controller, and later worked in his father’s firm. At the end of 1953, he was made the Commandant of the Federation of Malaya Air Training Corps which was comprised of cadets from his alma mater and other schools. Jimmy next joined the Federation Air Services (which was the fore-runner of the Royal Malaysian Air Force) and flew Beavers, ferrying personages like Tunku Abdul Rahman (Malaysia’s first Prime Minister) and cabinet ministers Leong Yew Koh and Sardon Haji Zubir around the country. The Tunku got to know Jimmy personally and would always ask to be flown by him. Jimmy then flew for Malayan Airways and later became its Kuala Lumpur Manager. He resigned from the position in 1963, retired to Llangerdeine in Wales and opened a pub, where he was a popular figure. He passed away on 18th August 1973.

In 1994, on the fiftieth anniversary of D-Day, members of the Talalla family and Henry’s former Typhoon comrades converged from all over the world and met with the BrƒÆ’†’©e family at Airan to pay homage to the fallen airman. Fifty years on, the sacrifice of Henry was still not forgotten by the grateful people of the two French towns between which he fell. The local church at Airan was packed with locals attending a special service in honour of Henry. Similar services were held in almost every Normandy village in memory of their own adopted “heroes”. The Talalla family paid their respects at Henry’s grave where the epitaph – selected by his mother a half century ago – read: “Father in Thy gracious keeping, Leave We now Thy servant Sleeping.

There is a Typhoon Memorial at Noyers Bocage which commemmorates the 151 Typhoon pilots, including Henry, who lost their lives in the Normandy campaign. (In all, 660 Typhoon pilots and approximate 12 ground crew lost their lives in the Second World War.) On September 29, 1996, the mayors of Airan and Moult unveiled a sign officially naming the route between the two villages, Route Henry Talalla. His memory was now forever stamped in this little corner of France.

Today the two families Рthe BrĮՠթes and the Talallas Рvigorously maintain the very special relationship started by Louis and Hewage. For half a century, they have corresponded and exchanged cordialities, and even after the passing of their respective patriarchs, their descendants continue to reach out to each other. The third generation of BrĮՠթes and Talallas now carry the torch. A lasting bond, across time and across nations, now links two disparate families united in common homage to the brave young man from the Victoria Institution who had come to help liberate France.

To you
from failing hands
we throw
The torch
Be yours
to hold it high
If ye break faith
with us who die
We shall not sleep.

  Inscribed on the V.I. War memorial


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.



Copyright © 2021 LankaWeb.com. All Rights Reserved. Powered by Wordpress