Stanley James Woodbridge was born on 29 August 1921 in Chelsea, London, the son of James Henry and May Ashman Woodbridge, and the wife of Florence Edith Woodbridge, of Chingford, Essex.
At the time of his death, Flight Sergeant Woodbridge was a member of 159 Squadron, based at RAF Digri, Bengal, India.
On 31 January 1945, Flight Sergeant Woodbridge was a wireless operator in a Liberator bomber of No. 159 Squadron. Returning from a mission, the plane developed engine trouble and the crew were ordered to bail out. Six of the eight crew members managed to parachute into the same area and reunite on the ground.
The two airmen, who were in the rear of the Liberator, were never seen again and are believed to have perished in the crash. Flying Officer William James John Lowery and Flight Sergeant Leslie Adams are commemorated on the Singapore Memorial.
The six surviving members of the crew (two officers and four non-commissioned officers) were captured by the Japanese. All six were subjected to torture in an attempt to make them disclose information which would have been of use to the Japanese Intelligence Service. After the first interrogations, the two officers (the pilot and navigator) were taken away in the middle of the night to Japanese headquarters in Rangoon for a more detailed interrogation. When the British overran Rangoon these two officers were found in gaol and released.
After another interrogation session, three of the remaining non-commissioned officers were forced to dig a grave large enough for four people. After receiving further beatings, these three airmen were beheaded.
The Japanese thought that Flight Sergeant Woodbridge, being the aircraft’s wireless operator, was in a position to give them information about wireless equipment, codes and wavelengths. They therefore subjected him to a further period of most brutal torture. His final interrogation was arranged at the place of execution so that Woodbridge would have been in absolutely no doubt that if he refused to talk he would meet the same fate as his comrades. When all efforts to make him speak were fruitless Flight Sergeant Woodbridge was beheaded on 7 February 1945.
Flight Sergeant Woodbridge, aged 23 years’ old, is buried in Rangoon War Cemetery, Myanmar (Burma) in Collective Grave 3.F 6-9, together with his fellow executed crew members: Flight Sergeants Leslie Bellingham (2nd Pilot), Robert James Snelling (Flight Engineer) and John Derek Woodage (Wireless Operator/Gunner).
Three of the Japanese soldiers who tortured and then killed Flight Sergeant Stanley Woodbridge, and three of his fellow crew members, were executed by hanging as reported in The Times newspaper on Saturday 28 June 1947. The article is reproduced below:
THREE JAPANESE HANGED
RANGOON, June 27
Three Japanese were hanged in Rangoon gaol at dawn to-day for the murder of four RAF men whom they took prisoner in the Irrawaddy delta in 1945. The Japanese were found guilty of having chopped off the heads of their victims after torturing them. Among the airmen was Flight Sergeant Woodbridge, of Chingford, Essex, whose Father flew to Rangoon to give evidence at the trial of his son’s murderers. The three Japanese hanged were Lieutenant Okami Hiroshin, Lieutenant Kanno Yasutoka, and Katamaya Shrio, a NCO. A number of other Japanese who were tried with them were sentenced to terms of imprisonment.The Times newspaper, Saturday 28 June 1947.
The posthumous award of the George Cross to Flight Sergeant Woodbridge was published in the London Gazette on 24 September 1948:
Flight Sergeant Woodbndge was a wireless operator in the crew of a Liberator aircraft which crashed in the jungle in Burma whilst engaged in an operation against the Japanese on 3ist January, 1945. Together with five other members of the crew he was captured by the Japanese.
All six were subjected to torture at the hands of their captors in an endeavour to obtain information which would have been of use to the Japanese Intelligence Service. Eventually the four non-commissioned officers were separated and conveyed by motor transport to a forest, where they were put to death by beheading.
Three officers and three non-commissioned officers of the Imperial Japanese Army were subsequently brought to trial by a Military Court charged with the torture and murder of the four airmen, they were all found guilty: Three were hanged and three sentenced to terms of rigorous imprisonment.
At the trial it was revealed that the Japanese concentrated their efforts on Flight Sergeant Woodbridge, the wireless operator, in an endeavour to obtain technical information regarding wireless equipment, secret codes, wavelengths, etc. A Japanese technical officer was detailed to make the interrogation and the services of two interpreters were engaged, but, in spite of repeated torture, including kicking, beating with belts and with a sword, Flight Sergeant Woodbridge steadfastly refused to reveal any information whatever.
The final interrogation took place actually at the place of execution, when it was obvious to the unfortunate prisoner that he was to be put to death, even so he maintained his courageous attitude to the end, merely remarking that if the Japanese were going to kill him they should do it quickly. After all efforts to make him speak, including further torture, were found to be fruitless this gallant non-commissioned officer was beheaded on 7th February, 1945.
Flight Sergeant Woodbridge behaved throughout with supreme courage. His fortitude, loyalty ito his country and his complete disregard for his own safety, even unto death, constitute one of the highest examples of valour in the annals of the Royal Air Force.London Gazette, 24 September 1948.
The Times newspaper recorded that Mrs. Millard had been presented with Stanley Woodbridge’s George Cross. The article from the 3 November 1948 edition of The Times is reproduced below:
The King held an investiture at Buckingham Palace yesterday at which he presented more than 250 decorations. Before the investiture his Majesty received in private the next-of-kin of 12 of those who had laid down their lives, and to them he handed the decorations. Among them was Mrs. Millard, who received the George Cross conferred posthumously on her former husband, Flight Sergeant Stanley Woodbridge, who was tortured by the Japanese and beheaded after being captured when an aircraft crashed in Burma.The Times newspaper, 3 November 1948.