Ever wondered who pioneered the aviation industry in North Borneo? It was Dr Johann Val Stokes.
Dr. Johann “Val” Stokes started his aviation career as an aviator for the United Kingdom during the First World War. He joined the renowned No. 60 Squadron.
After the First World War, Stokes became a doctor and travelled to North Borneo and based himself at Kinabatangan river near Sandakan. He was known as “The Flying Doctor” who provided medical services and other charity work around the region.
Stokes is seen in the photo above holding a pipe in his mouth, with Martin Osa standing on the left (Martin who? See here) who helped him assembled his Aeronca C-3 seaplane.
In 1937, he flew his small aircraft from Sandakan to Brunei, with a quick stop at Jesselton to refuel. The journey took him only about 3 hours, which was considered fast during the days when only steamships were the only option to travel between towns in North Borneo.
Travelling from Sandakan to Brunei by sea used to take at least four days.
His sister A. F. Stokes, also a doctor who used to work at Royal Free Hospital in London, joined him in Sandakan in 1939.
Unfortunately, Dr. Stokes’ life ended early. After spending years in concentration camps during the Japanese occupation, he was beheaded two weeks before the Japanese surrendered in 1945.
To give you some ideas of how his seaplane looked like, watch the YouTube video below:
His experience inspired the aviation industry in North Borneo – which is still the fastest and most practical way to travel between major towns.
Image via Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum