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RAF Topcliffe in the Second World War 1939-1945 - The Wartime Memories Project -

The Wartime Memories Project

- RAF Topcliffe during the Second World War -


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World War 2 Two II WW2 WWII

RAF Topcliffe



   RAF Topcliffe was a satellite airfield of RAF Linton-on-Ouse. Topcliffe closed for rebuilding in September 1941 reopening in mid 1942 as a heavy bomber station. After the war Topcliffe was an RAF Transport base and later became part of the RAF Air Navigation School. Today the base technical site is used by the army, with the runways still under RAF control, used by nearby stations for training purposes.

Squadrons stationed at RAF Topcliffe.

  • 102 Squadron
  • 419 Squadron. 18 Aug 42 to 30 Sept 42


 

4th Jul 1941 102 Squadron Whitley lost

30th Jul 1941 Aircraft Lost

15th Aug 1941 102 Squadron Whitley lost

21st Aug 1941 Aircraft Lost

30th Aug 1941 102 Squadron Whitley lost

11th Sep 1941 Aircraft Lost


If you can provide any additional information, please add it here.



Those known to have served at

RAF Topcliffe

during the Second World War 1939-1945.

  • Adamson P. H.. Sgt.
  • Adamson R. H.. Sgt.
  • Albrecht V. M.. P/O
  • Alderton E.. Sgt.
  • Almond G. S.. Sgt.
  • Anderson C. T.R.. Sgt.
  • Anderson E. G.M.. P/O
  • Anderson F.W.. Sgt.
  • Archibald William Bruce.
  • Atkinson W. V.. Sgt.
  • Barker. R. A.. LAC (d.dod)
  • Barr C. R.. Sgt.
  • Bell-Towers W.. P/O
  • Bennett N. J.. P/O
  • Berndsson N. D.. Sgt.
  • Bintley S. B.. Wing Commander
  • Bird Peter Drury. Sgt.
  • Boddy David. Sgt. (d.3rd June 1942)
  • Boisvert. Wilfred L. Sous Lieut.
  • Booth P.. Sgt.
  • Borsberry Eric J.. Sgt.
  • Bowden Ken.
  • Bowden L. M..
  • Bowes M. R.. Sgt.
  • Boyle T. C.. Sgt.
  • Bozer D. M.. Sgt.
  • Bradbury R. F.. Sgt.
  • Bradley R. F.. Sgt.
  • Brain L. A.. P/O
  • Braybrook F. A.. Sgt.
  • Braybrook F. A.. Sgt.
  • Brett P. G.. Sgt.
  • Brooks J. C.. Sgt.
  • Brown R.. Sgt.
  • Brown. George William. Sgt
  • Buchannan A. B.. Sgt.
  • Bush D. J.. Sgt.
  • Cameron A. H.. Sgt.
  • Carr Clifford. Sgt.
  • Carr L. W.. Sgt.
  • Carreau P.. Sgt.
  • Carruthers K. E.. Sgt.
  • Carter N. C.. Sgt.
  • Ceyler R.. Sgt.
  • Chambler R. E.. Sgt.
  • Champion P. A.. Sgt.
  • Cheshire Leonard. Grp.Capt.
  • Clack K.. Sgt.
  • Cleaver Reginald.
  • Clemett John Alfred. Sgt. (d.15th Dec 1940)
  • Cole G. W.. P/O
  • Cooke Ed M.. Sgt.
  • Cooke Ed.
  • Cottam. Cleveland. Sgt (d.9th Oct 1940)
  • Cotton Basil Arthur.
  • Craig R. K.. Sgt
  • Cramp D.. Sgt
  • Crosby L. H.. P/O
  • Croucher J. R.. P/O
  • Davidson G. R.. Sgt
  • Davies G. C.. F/Lt.
  • Davis Richard.
  • Deavin A. H..
  • Delaney David Bernard. P/O
  • DeMattos E. R.. Sgt
  • Demille W. H.. Sgt
  • Denton I. P.B.. F/Lt.
  • Denvin A, H.. Sgt
  • Dobson A. O.. P/O
  • Drearey D. K.. Sgt
  • Duguid D. C.. Sgt
  • Duncan . Sgt
  • Dunkley F. J..
  • Dunlop John Patrick. Tech.Sgt.
  • Dykes G. Sgt (d.9th Oct 1940)
  • Eyre T. C.. Sgt
  • Fackley S.. Sgt
  • Fisher R.. Sgt
  • Fraser J A. Sgt
  • Gaskell P.. P/O
  • Gayler Ronald. Sgt
  • Gibson .
  • Giff. George E. W/O.
  • Gilbert. D H. Sgt
  • Gillies W. A.. Sgt
  • Glover J.. Sgt
  • Golding F.. Sgt.
  • Golding W.. Sgt
  • Gowing R. P.. Sgt.
  • Grieve D. C.. Sgt.
  • Griffin J. W.. Sgt
  • Griffiths J.. Sgt.
  • Griffiths M. R.. P/O
  • Groom J. A.. Sgt.
  • Hadingham. David Arthur Charles. Midshipman
  • Halsey A. L.. Sgt.
  • Hamilton S J B. P/O
  • Hamiton S. B.J.. P/O
  • Hammond. Albert E. Sgt (d.9th Oct 1940 )
  • Hampson D. E.J.. Sgt.
  • Hardes A R W. Sgt
  • Hartle E. A.. Sgt.
  • Hartley J. M.. P/O
  • Harwood-Smith K.. Sgt.
  • Harwood-Smith Kenneth. Sgt. (d.8th Nov 1941)
  • Hawkes A. W.. Sgt.
  • Hay I. G.. Sgt.
  • Haycock N. W.. Sgt.
  • Higson C.. Sgt.
  • Hivon. Guy H. Sgt
  • Holden G. F.. Sgt.
  • Holland Ron.
  • Howes C. V.. W/Cdr.
  • Humphrey M.. Sgt.
  • Jackson S. H.. Sgt.
  • Jaggers Alec F.. Sgt.
  • Jennings P. J.. Sgt.
  • Jervis Ivan. W/O2
  • Johnson Harold.
  • Jones G. M.. Sgt.
  • Jones J. R.. Sgt.
  • Kibble Donald K.. Sgt.
  • Kimball. Richard G. Sgt
  • King A. E.. Sgt.
  • Kirkwood J. V.. Sgt.
  • Kuebler F. G.. Sgt.
  • Lakin Ron.
  • Land G.. Sgt.
  • Lavallee. Joseph Pierre. P/O
  • Laylor J. O.. Sqd Ldr.
  • Leftley E. M.. Sgt.
  • Lewis K. G.. Sgt.
  • Lindeman G. M.. Sgt.
  • Lindsay L. E.D.. F/Sgt.
  • Lord D. R.. Sgt.
  • MacDonnell. Angus J. Sgt (d.15th Jan 1945)
  • MacMorland William Goodhall. Sgt. (d.9th Oct 1940)
  • Malkin H.. Sgt.
  • Marks DSO & bar, DFC & bar.. James Hardy.
  • Marlow K. P.. Sgt.
  • Martle E. A.. Sgt.
  • Mason Howard Jack. W/O.
  • Masters A. R.. Sgt.
  • Matthews R. C.. Sgt.
  • McCrea. James A. F/O
  • McDonald G. W.. Sgt.
  • McGregor. Duncan P. F/O (d.15th Jan 1945)
  • McHendry D. C.J.. Sgt.
  • McIlquham A. G.. Sgt.
  • McIlquham Thomas. F/Sgt.
  • McKendry D C J. Sgt (d.15th Jan 1945)
  • McLaren A. M.. Sgt.
  • McRae Donald.
  • Meagher D. K.. Sgt.
  • Miller Charles. Sgt.
  • Miller. Hubert H. P/O
  • Modeland S. T.. Sgt.
  • Moon A. E.M.. Sgt.
  • Mooney. Frank W.. F/O
  • Moore H. E.. Sgt.
  • Morgan S. E.H.. Sgt.
  • Morphett H. L.. Sgt.
  • Mourton D.. P/O
  • Murray G. A.G.. Sgt.
  • Mylrea F. H.. Sgt.
  • Neveu C. S.. Sgt.
  • Neville Fred. LAC.
  • Newell H. J.W.. Sgt.
  • Newnes H J W. Sgt (d.15th Jan 1945)
  • Nicholas A.. Sgt.
  • Nicholl W.. Sgt.
  • Nisbet T. B.. Sgt.
  • Nixon J. C.. P/O
  • OSullivan Michael R. Sgt
  • Pearson Ray Sidney. Tech Sgt.
  • Penn F. W.. Sgt.
  • Perriam R. C.. Sgt.
  • Perry John Ralph Marwood. Sgt.
  • Perry John Ralph Marwood. Sgt.
  • Philip R. T.. Sgt.
  • Phillips. John Alwyn . (d.15th Jan 1945)
  • Phillips. Walter. F/O
  • Pike E. P.. Sgt.
  • Potts F.. Sgt.
  • Powell G. K.. Sgt.
  • Rainer P. S.. Sgt.
  • Ralston I.. P/O
  • Ralston J. W.. Sgt.
  • Reid J.. Sgt.
  • Reinelt R C. P/O
  • Renolds L. B.. P/O
  • Richards L. W.. P/O
  • Riley D. N.. Sgt.
  • Robson Albert R. Sgt
  • Robson W.. Sgt.
  • Rocks J. G.S.. Sgt.
  • Roe J. R.. Sgt.
  • Rogers T.. Sgt.
  • Ross H N. F/L (d.15th Jan 1945)
  • Ross H. N.. F/Lt.
  • Rowes M. R.. Sgt.
  • Roy B. B.P.. P/O
  • Sampson D. N.. P/O
  • Savy. Joseph A. Sgt
  • Scott N. W.J.. Sgt.
  • Shove N. L.. P/O
  • Sills D..
  • Smiddy P.. P/O.
  • Smith D.. Sgt.
  • Smith E. W.. Sgt.
  • Smith E. R.. Sgt.
  • Smith J. I.. Sgt.
  • Smith J. R.. Sgt.
  • Smith N. R.. Sgt.
  • Spires L. G.. Sgt.
  • Spirit J.. Sgt.
  • Stanton P. H.. Sgt.
  • Starbuck L.. Sgt.
  • Stavenow. Leonard C. Sgt (d.15th Jan 1945)
  • Stein I.. Sgt.
  • Stein K.. Sgt.
  • Stell J. W.. Sgt.
  • Stock L. A.. Sgt.
  • Streeves J. A.. Sgt.
  • Sumpton J. E.. Sgt.
  • Swain W.. Sgt.
  • Tackley S.. Sgt.
  • Taylor P. A.. Sgt.
  • Teasdale-Smith J. B.T.. Sgt.
  • Thompson G. E.. Sgt.
  • Thomson R. K.. Sgt.
  • Thomson S.. Sgt.
  • Thomson S.. Sgt.
  • Thorley T. H.. Sgt.
  • Thorpe. G. Sgt (d.15th Jan 1945)
  • Trehearn Philip L.N.. Sgt.
  • Vermiglio T. A.. Sgt.
  • Waddicor A. E.. Sgt.
  • Walker S. G.. Sqd Ldr.
  • Walton. Geoffrey. F/Sgt
  • Wardman. Joseph Reginald. Sgt (d.15th Jan 1945)
  • Watchorn R. C.. Sgt.
  • Weightman W.. Sgt.
  • Welch W. J.J.. P/O.
  • Welch W. J.J.. P/O.
  • Whipple S. R.. P/O.
  • Whisken . P/O.
  • White J. D.. Sgt.
  • Wickham H. W.. Sgt.
  • Williams D H. Sgt (d.15th Dec 1940)
  • Williams D. R.F.. Sgt.
  • Williams H. M.. P/O.
  • Williams L.. Sgt.
  • Williams N. G.. Sgt.
  • Williams R.. Sgt.
  • Williams R.. Sgt.
  • Williams. Cyril W.. Sgt (d.9th Oct 1940)
  • Williamson D. G.. Sgt.
  • Wilson . Sgt.
  • Wilson J. H.M.. Sgt.
  • Wilson W. J.. Sgt.
  • Withyman K. P.. Sgt.
  • Wood J. R.. Sgt.
  • Wood T. H.. Sgt.
  • Wragg G.. Sgt.
  • Wrigley F.. Sgt.

The names on this list have been submitted by relatives, friends, neighbours and others who wish to remember them, if you have any names to add or any recollections or photos of those listed, please Add a Name to this List

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Reginald Cleaver flight eng. 419 Sqd.

When the war began in 1939, I was an apprentice toolmaker at Armstrong Siddeley Motors in Coventry. My name is Reg Cleaver and I was 17 years old. I joined the Air Raid Precautions system and became an ambulance driver attached to No 3 First Aid Post in Livingstone Rd. The building had been the swimming baths. One pool was still open for swimming the other pool had been boarded over and became a reception centre for people injured in the air raids. After work at ASM, I spent most of my time waiting for the call to pick up the next load of dead and injured people from where the bombs had landed. This became very difficult at times as whole buildings were spread all over the roads, enormous bomb craters blocked roads with destroyed buses and trams everywhere. We could be driving along with whole rows of burning buildings each side. The ambulances had canvas sides and at times got badly scorched.

In November 1940, a large bomb exploded in the swimming pool next door destroying the whole building and drenching all of us and the seriously injured people in what had been our First Aid Post. Outside, several of our ambulances had been badly damaged. My own vehicle had been flattened by a huge steel roof truss that had landed on it.

Next morning being very concerned what may have happened to my home and parents, I arrived home: 159 Churchill Ave, Foleshill. My mother kept a small general store opposite to the Riley Motor Works. Fortunately, my parents escaped injury being in the air raid shelter. The house roof had gone and the shop destroyed. A very sad sight - all the stock and provisions, etc all over the pavement and road and mother very shocked.

This became a turning point in my life. A burning hatred of Germans and a determination to hit back. As an apprentice we were considered to be in a reserved occupation and could not be called up into the Forces. The only way into the R.A.F. was to volunteer for air crew. I joined the R.A.F. in early 1941 as a pilot. Strange as it may seem the R.A.F. told me they didn’t need pilots. As I had been an apprentice engineer, I should train as a flight mechanic and engine fitter and transfer to a pilots’ course which I did. The rest of 1941, I was on a Spitfire squadron servicing Merlin engines, etc. I was still awaiting a pilots’ course but was overtaken by events. In 1942, four engine bombers began to arrive in the R.A.F. These needed flight engineers in the crew desperately. Notices on squadron notice boards appeared, asking for skilled ground engineers to volunteer for flight engineer aircrew. After a very short course of a week or two at St Athan in Wales and four or five weeks at English Electric Speke crawling all over Halifax bombers learning all the systems etc. I then found myself as a Sergeant Flight engineer with a crew flying Halifax on an Operational Training Unit, 1659 Heavy Conversion Unit at Topcliffe Yorkshire, becoming second pilot.

From there I was posted to the Royal Canadian Air Force, 419 Squadron at Middleton St George, Durham. From there with an all Canadian crew, I flew a number of bombing operations against German cities during this time, we had some desperate times. On the night of 24-25th June 1943, during an attack on Wuppertal in the Ruhr Valley, nemesis caught up with us. We were attacked by 3 Focke Wulf 190 night fighters and shot down in flames and the aircraft falling to pieces around us in a dive. With the aircraft still in flames, the pilot recovered some control near the ground and we crashed through some trees. This removed the wings and fuel tanks and the fire. The fuselage hit the ground and miraculously we fell out.

This part of my life is a long story which I cannot include now. The rest of the war until April 1945, I suffered as a prisoner of war in various prison and concentration camps.

After liberation and hospital treatment I was flown back to England. After such an upheaval in my life I found it very difficult to settle down to a more normal type of life. In 1948, I found my soulmate and married Betty. I went back to Armstrong Siddeley Motors and helped found the rocket research department in a very interesting and rewarding job. We are still married after 57 years. I consider myself extremely lucky to survive the war as 50% of the Bomber Command aircrew were killed. I think people today would find it difficult to understand what a strange life we aircrew led in those days. In the afternoon we could be at a dance or cinema with girlfriends. That night we could be over Germany with everyone trying to kill us. If we got back the same cycle could be repeated weeks on end. It now seems very unreal.

Reg Cleaver



Tech Sgt. Ray Sidney Pearson 192 Squadron

My brother and I were in Coventry during the Blitz in 1940 and 1941. Ray joined the RAF in 1941 and after training in Terrill Texas and Ontario Canada qualified as Air Bomber. He actually passed as a pilot but developed a phobia about flying the aircraft so did extra training to be an air bomber. He arrived to 424 Squadron at Topcliffe and took part in approximate 19 raids including 'gardening- laying mines' until Mar 5th 1943 when he reported sick with a painful lump in the groin. He had an operation for a hernia and was off flying until April 21st. When he returned from leave he found that 424 Squadron had left for North Africa and No 1659 Heavy Conversion Unit had arrived At Topcliffe.

Ray then did a mad thing, he volunteered for the secret 192 Squadron at Feltwell (see Espionage in the Ether by W and J Rees). These guys did all sort of things with RADAR and Wireless some of which involved arriving over the target before the bomber streams and hanging about after the raid had finished. Rays career at flying finished after the raid on Hamburg 27th July 1943 when the German defences were baffled by the anti Radar action with 'Window' and misdirection of their fighters by wireless and Hamburg was destroyed. It was Ray's last raid of his tour and he refused to fly any more. He was transferred to the Royal Signals. After the war he went to reunions and one of his comrades told me 'They should have given him a medal, not thrown him out. He brought the plane back three times'. And this was inspite of his phobia about flying the aircraft! A condition not unknown in commercial flying.

Derek Pearson



Sgt. John Ralph Marwood Perry 431 Squadron

In 1944 I was stationed at Croft assigned to 431 Squadron. We came from the Heavy Conversion Unit at Topcliff. I was an RAF engineer placed with the Canadian crew led by Flying Officer George Edward Kircher. Our crew consisted of:
  • Pilot Flying Officer George Edward Kircher, 26 years old
  • Navigator Flight Lieutenant Burch, 28 years old
  • Bomb Aimer Flight Sergeant Kenneth West, 26 years old
  • Wireless Operator Warrant Officer Jack Dempsey, 30 years old
  • Mid Upper Gunner Sergeant Wilfred Sheane, 23 years old
  • Tail Gunner Sergeant Thomas Murison, 26 years old
  • Flight Engineer (Crew Chief) Sergeant John Ralph Marwood Perry, 21 years old
Memorable Operations.

On a daylight raid to Norway to a submarine pen, we left Croft in a Halifax about noon and headed north over Scotland. Near the north of Scotland we crossed the path of a Fokker Wolf 200, 4-engine German bomber. I waved to the tail gunner who ignored me. We led the attack into the Fiord and bombed a flack ship in the harbour with a direct hit down the funnel. The tail gunner confirmed this and our pilot was awarded the Air Force Cross. During the attack we had a direct hit to the fuselage of our Halifax. We flew back at wave top level to conserve fuel. The return height was miscalculated and 17 planes were lost over Scotland as they crashed into the mountains. George Kircher was an experienced bush pilot and saved us with some clever manoeuvers when he saw the mountains.

We left Croft in a Lancaster for Chemnitz, Germany on a night bombing raid. Our track took us over Berlin at about 26,000 feet and we experienced severe icing on the aircraft. There were fighters even at that height so I manned the front gun turret. We released our bombs over the city and headed home. Over the English Channel we crossed the path of a squadron of Flying Fortresses headed for France. We dived to avoid them and I heard a noise from the bomb bay. I discovered a bomb that had been frozen in place and released itself once the ice had melted. I quickly opened the bomb bay and dropped it into the English Channel. We landed at Croft after the longest trip we ever made in a Lancaster of more than 9 hours.

We journeyed to the Kiel Canal on a daylight raid to bomb submarines and submarine factories in the city of Kiel. When we took off the undercarriage and wheels would not retract until we manipulated the manual lever. The fuel situation became dire on our return and we were forced to land at Scarborough on the coast. We had 4 red fuel lights signifying the total lack of fuel on board and landed with no time to spare.

I would like to thank the farmer and his wife who lived on the farm at the airfield who kindly gave George Kircher and myself breakfast one morning.

John Ralph Marwood Perry



Sgt. Kenneth Harwood-Smith 102 Squadron (d.8th Nov 1941)

One of the men in the picture included in the story written by Sgt Ed M Cooke W/Op Air-Gunner of 102 Squadron, showing 6 airmen outside "A"Flight crew room, is my cousin Kenneth Harwood-Smith who died at the young age of 23. He is standing and is on the right hand side. I have the exact same picture!

Unfortunately, I do not have any stories that I can share other than Kenneth had a younger brother Norman Harwood-Smith who was also killed.Norman was with 82 Squadron, service number 42470. He was a Pilot Officer with the RAF. Norman died August 10, 1940 at the age of 20. Both boys are commemorated at the Runnymede Memorial, Kenneth on panel 44 and Norman on panel 8. They were the sons of Henry Harwood-Smith and Florence Alice Harwood-Smith, their only children.

Thank you for producing such a wonderful website. There is so much that can be learned from the brave men and women who have shared their memories.

Kim Caicco



Sgt. John Ralph Marwood Perry 431 Squadron

My name is Jack Perry, I am 88 years old and living in Australia. In 1944 I was stationed at Croft assigned to 431 Squadron. We came from the Heavy Conversion Unit at Topcliffe. I was an RAAF engineer placed with the Canadian crew led by Flying Officer George Edward Kircher. Our crew consisted of:
  • Pilot Flying Officer George Edward Kircher, 26 years old
  • Navigator Flight Lieutenant Burch, 28 years old
  • Bomb Aimer Flight Sergeant Kenneth West, 26 years old
  • Wireless Operator Warrant Officer Jack Dempsey, 30 years old
  • Mid Upper Gunner Sergeant Wilfred Sheane, 23 years old
  • Tail Gunner Sergeant Thomas Murison, 26 years old
  • Flight Engineer (Crew Chief) Sergeant John Ralph Marwood Perry, 21 years old
Memorable Operations.

On a daylight raid to Norway to a submarine pen, we left Croft in a Halifax about noon and headed north over Scotland. Near the north of Scotland we crossed the path of a Fokker Wolf 200, 4-engine German bomber. I waved to the tail gunner who ignored me. We led the attack into the Fiord and bombed a flack ship in the harbour with a direct hit down the funnel. The tail gunner confirmed this and our pilot was awarded the Air Force Cross. During the attack we had a direct hit to the fuselage of our Halifax. We flew back at wave top level to conserve fuel. The return height was miscalculated and 17 planes were lost over Scotland as they crashed into the mountains. George Kircher was an experienced bush pilot and saved us with some clever manoeuvers when he saw the mountains.

We left Croft in a Lancaster for Chemnitz, Germany on a night bombing raid. Our track took us over Berlin at about 26,000 feet and we experienced severe icing on the aircraft. There were fighters even at that height so I manned the front gun turret. We released our bombs over the city and headed home. Over the English Channel we crossed the path of a squadron of Flying Fortresses headed for France. We dived to avoid them and I heard a noise from the bomb bay. I discovered a bomb that had been frozen in place and released itself once the ice had melted. I quickly opened the bomb bay and dropped it into the English Channel. We landed at Croft after the longest trip we ever made in a Lancaster of more than 9 hours.

We journeyed to the Kiel Canal on a daylight raid to bomb submarines and submarine factories in the city of Kiel. When we took off the undercarriage and wheels would not retract until we manipulated the manual lever. The fuel situation became dire on our return and we were forced to land at Scarborough on the coast. We had 4 red fuel lights signifying the total lack of fuel on board and landed with no time to spare.

This is a letter that George Kircher sent to my mother.

Dear Mrs Perry, Possibly you’re wondering who I am and why I am writing. I am George, Skipper or whoever Jack calls his pilot. I am one of the seven men in his crew. We did all our trips or operations together. We are all well and here to talk about it for several important reasons. First we were a very good crew for we got along well together. We had faith and confidence in each other. Jack was one of the fellows who made it a good crew. It must have been difficult as he was the only member that was not Canadian. There is really no difference but to him we must seem a strange lot with ways of our own to say and do things.

Regardless our crew cooperated and worked together perfectly and that is one of the reasons our tour was successful. Sgt Jack Perry was the youngest member in our crew and he was our Engineer. He had a very important job which he knew how to do and knew that job very well. Through skies of flack and Jerry fighters he remained calm and collected, doing his job or his duties as they should be. A mistake could have meant the end for us all but they were not made.

Jack has proved himself a man with the right to live and enjoy the future. You can be very proud of your son for he has done a great job. I had hoped to get up to meet you some time and may before I leave. Having been so close to home was nice for Jack in ways but if you were told of all he was doing and going through it must of been hard for you. He was one of seven men who were all for one and one for all each minute of each day or each operation in our mind as possibly our last.

I could go on for hours or pages but I am not a speaker or a writer. From these few lines I hope some of our feelings are conveyed to you. Some time when Jack is home I would appreciate it if you give him this. He will understand it but more importantly I want him to know his crew think he is tops and want to thank him and show they will never forget him and that they appreciated him in that crew.

Sincerely, Skipper & Crew, George Kircher

Dianne May



Sgt. John Alfred Clemett 102 Squadron (d.15th Dec 1940)

My cousin John Clemett was the Navigator on Whitley P5012 from Topcliffe. They were shot down by a night-fighter (Fw Hans Rasper of NJG1) at 2323 into the North Sea off Egmond (Noord Holland), Holland. He has no known grave.

Elizabeth Salmon



W/O2 Ivan Jervis 433 Squadron

My Wife's deceased Uncle Ivan Jervis served with 433 Squadron these are some published memoirs of his that recall his days as a young airman and his time as a POW.

It seems ironical that I trained for so long as a Wireless Air Gunner, learned to send and receive Morse code at a speed of 18 words per minute, spent three months at Bombing and Gunnery School at Mossbank, Saskatchewan then ended my wartime career without transmitting a real message, never receiving a message that did not say “return to base” and never firing a shot in self-defence.

I began my aircrew career in the late summer of 1942 when I started training as a WAG at no. 4 Wireless School in Guelph, Ontario. Since I could copy Morse from previous training I found the slow speed very boring and unsuccessfully tried to get my classes changed. I found I could doze off during the class and if the instructor stopped sending to chastise me I would wake up. It was hard for him to know if I had been sleeping or not. Then one day, when he thought I was sleeping, he kept right on pounding Morse and sent, “Corporal, go out and get a glass of water and pour it down Jervis’ neck”, and he kept right on sending. I was dozing and I awoke with cold water trickling down my neck and off my chin and the laughter of 30 students ringing in my ears. I never got sleepy taking Morse again.

One time in later years, I was in the station band in Clinton and was being inspected by a visiting officer. On seeing my WAG wing he asked me where I had taken my training. I, of course, said Guelph and he told me that he had been a Commanding Officer there. He asked me if I remembered him and I replied that I didn’t but perhaps we were there at different times. I thought this answer was easier than trying to explain that I was only five foot four and that there were thousands of airmen on the CO’s parades. I was always so far at the back that could only hear one voice shouting “parade, atten-shun” “parade, stand at ease”, then another voice would start the same thing. I never did find out who was at the front of the parade.

The wireless school flying section was at Birch, a small air station a few miles from Guelph. We trained in Tiger Moths. I would like to describe these aircraft to some of our newer members of the RAF. They were small machines with one wing mounted above the other, separated by a lot of baling wire. The whole thing was built of wood and glue, covered with fabric and powered by a small engine. The top of the fuselage had two cockpits similar to the seating position of a kayak. The back cockpit was heaped so high with radio equipment that you had to stand up on the seat to see who was in the front cockpit. When seated, you were so close to the radio that you felt as though you were standing in a corner for being a bad boy. The landing speed of the aircraft was about 40mph. I remember one windy January day when three or four airmen had to rush out on the runway and hold down the Tiger Moth when it got in close to the ground. The pilots were very helpful in keeping our interests up. After a few screeches from the radio, and shaky Morse from the airsick operator, the pilot might do some low flying. You weren’t one of the boys unless you had been scared half to death with some aerobatics. I heard the more co-operative pilots would land in a cow pasture on nice sunny days. The operator could then do his radio work in peace and while the pilot had a sleep in the shade of the aircraft.

In February 1943 I arrived in Mossbank, Sask. Here I was to undergo gunnery training. I remember going for as walk down a back road, and from the top of a little knoll I found I could see for miles in every direction. In all those miles I could see only one tree. Coming from Ontario I thought that this was the most lonesome country on earth. We had classes on the Browning machine gun and the principle of turret operation. The last two weeks were firing exercises in Bolingbroke aircraft. The area of bullet coverage from a fixed firing position was called a pattern. I think the pattern from the old guns we were using was about equal to that of a sawn-off shotgun. The trainees had to load their own gun belts and it was a shame the way the work from the night before could disappear in a couple of burrrps.

The air to air exercises were far more interesting, totalling 11 hours flying time. My last air exercise was on 6 April 1943, 200 rounds, and I never fired a machine gun again.

I was posted to 31 Operational Training Unit in Debert, Nova Scotia, arriving in May 1943. It seems by my logbook that I wasn’t a WAG anymore; I was by then a WOAG (Wireless Operator Air Gunner). The aircraft at Debert were Hudsons. This aircraft had a very tall, skinny undercarriage and there were enough landing accidents to keep us all on edge on take-off or landing. Since we were training for Coastal Command, our last few trips were made over water. On one trip we were called back to base. As we approached the coast from the Gulf of St Lawrence, we noted that there was a fog rolling in. by the time we got back to Debert, we couldn’t see the runway lights or beacon and the pilot decided that we would lower altitude and start a square search. I noticed it was a couple of minutes off five to four and realised that the Debert LF beacon would only be on for another five minutes.

Tuning in on the beacon I took a DF bearing on it and suggested a course to the pilot. This was the first time he had been asked to depend on the radio, and to be truthful, he didn’t radiate much confidence. Two minutes after turning on course we spotted the runway lights and in a few minutes were on the ground. Fifteen minutes later the entire east coast was blanketed by cloud and I felt pretty good at this, my first usefulness.

Our crew went overseas on the Queen Mary carrying a record number of troops. Our stateroom had so many bunks in it that we had to take turns in standing up. We were so low in the ship that the outside wall sloped in at the bottom by about 30 degrees. We sailed out of Halifax in full daylight without escort or convoy. It was said we could outrun any submarine and we hoped they knew what they were talking about.

On the fifth day we picked up aircraft escort in the form of two lumbering Cansos and late in the day two Spitfires made a low pass over the ship tipping their wings as they passed. At about seven in the evening, we could see land and the ship’s whistle start to blow. The Captain appeared on the bridge in full Scottish dress, blowing the pipes as if he were trying to burst the bag. We slipped by the submarine next into the mouth of the Clyde.

On arrival in England our crew for Coastal Command was broken up. The pilot, navigator and other WOAG were posted to a different type of aircraft in the Middle East. I was transferred to 22 OTU Wellesbourne-Mountford for Bomber Command.

I started at 22 OTU in about November 1943, and was to remain there until June 1944. The training was normally much shorter, but three times our crew was broken up and three times the remainder of the crew would have to backtrack on the course to start with a new pilot. The operational crew that emerged consisted of F/O Ray Mountford pilot, F/O Bob Madill navigator, F/O Hank Langlands bombardier and WO Ernie Munroe mid-upper gunner. As NCOs there were John Christie tail gunner and myself as wireless operator. We were joined later on our conversion to Halifax aircraft at Topcliffe by Sgt Johnny Bell (RAF) engineer.

On the night of 5 June 1944 we were flying a night cross-country exercise out of Wellesbourne. The weather was wonderful with the moon playing hide-and-seek among a few clouds with the dark landscape slipping by beneath us, when I received a coded message on the half hour broadcast to “return to base2. The pilot said that I must have made a mistake and that he could not see any reason for this. Had I copied it right? Since I copied it three times and decoded it twice, I insisted I had. We did a wide circle and started back to base. About 20 minutes later, the mid-upper gunner reported two aircraft were crossing our path just above us and quite close. In another minute a number of aircraft were crossing our path and our pilot climbed to a higher altitude. The rest of the way home all the crew were engaged in looking out for aircraft, and when we landed and shut off the engines we could hear a steady roar overhead. All night long we heard this never-ending roar and in the morning when I slipped out to the billet, I witnessed a steady stream of Dakota aircraft, each towing two gliders in its wake. At about noon, the BBC announced that the Allied Forces had landed in France, and I had witnessed a little bit of D Day.

It was August of the same year before we finished OTU, converted to Halifax bombers at Topcliffe and arrived at 433 Squadron Skipton-on-Swale. Our first flight was on circuits and landings with W/C Lewington, our Commanding Officer. Much to our surprise, our first assignment was another practice cross-country exercise.

From then on we became an asset instead of a liability and all the training was put to the use for which it was intended, dropping real bombs where they were supposed to be dropped.

We finished 20 operational trips with 433 Squadron. Our first trip was to Auchel, a flying bomb site. This was on 25 August 1944. We started off easy with two or three trips to the French and Dutch coasts. On 12 September we had our first trip to the Ruhr Valley with a daylight raid on Dortmund, encountering our first heavy fire. We got our first small scars on the aircraft.

We had our second operation the same day and started off for Wilhelmshaven. It was my job to listen out on the Group broadcast that came out on the hour and half hour from 9FG. I will never forget those call letters. They were sent in MGW, and I heard that one operator keyed three powerful transmitters simultaneously. The transmitters were situated in the north, centre and south of England. This MCW note was spreads across half an inch of radio dial and the Morse was sent at about the same speed as marching 140 paces to the minute. With this slow rhythm sending and such power and spread, the Germans were never able to effectively jam the signal. As soon as we approached Germany, we would pick up the warbling note of jamming, but 9FG pounded through like a great lumbering bulldozer.

It was on this trip that I picked up our first message – it decoded to read “return to base”. As before, I worried about whether or not I had copied it correctly because to return to base without a reason would be a shameful thing to do. It might be hinted that we had “chickened out”. I looked out the small window and saw first one and then a second accompanying aircraft peel off and start back. I passed the word along with the confidence of a Fuller Brush salesman and we returned to base. It turned out that out fighter escort had been fogged in at the south of England and the entire raid was called off.

On those trips, the wireless operator had other jobs to do besides listening for the Group broadcast. There was a small radar screen in the wireless operator’s position with short radar coverage under the aircraft to detect a fighter attack from below. Another job was to dispense “window”, a code name for packages of tinfoil strips used to help jam the radar. These packages were to be dispensed at so many per minute once we had entered the anti-aircraft area. The engineer was to assist if he wasn’t otherwise occupied. They always gave us lots of window and I remember Johnny and me, in the heat and tension of the bombing run, pouring out these packages just as fast as we could tear off the strings. It was something to do, like chewing gum or biting fingernails. I bet the German fighters often had to turn on their windshield wipers.

We had our first bad luck on the sixteenth trip. We were to fly with eight other aircraft at sea level height until we sighted the coast of Norway, climb immediately to 12,000 feet and drop mines in Oslo harbour. Each aircraft flew independently but on the same time schedule. The predicted winds changed and when we sighted the coast we were two minutes too early. If we flew a dog leg to lose time we would approach on the wrong heading so we decided to navigate a circle. This is very difficult to perform and instead of losing two minutes we lost three. In the meantime, the other eight aircraft arrived two minutes ahead of schedule and individually decided to go in early. We arrive just after the anti-aircraft guns had obtained a nice new supply of shells. We lined up for the bombing run to the sound of the first explosion of flak. As soon as we heard “bombs away”, the pilot took the aircraft in a steep turn to the west. Just as he started his bank to the left, flak began bursting on our right with the regularity of Big Ben striking twelve. Each burst was accompanied by a “splat”. I reached out to touch my parachute that was normally stored beside me – and it wasn't there! I froze rigid for a moment, and then the wheels of my memory turned faster and faster and I remembered I had thrown it on the floor of the aircraft near the tail where we entered. It was the one and only time in my life that I experience a cold sweat. This was definitely radar predicted flak and our travelling in a circle was the only thing that saved us from being badly hit. By the time I remembered my chute we were out of anti-aircraft range and I timidly called the pilot on the intercom and asked permission to go to the tail to retrieve it. If I hadn’t already been frightened, the pilot’s profanity would have terrified me. I just got back to my seat when the intercom belched “fighter starboard go” and we started evasive action. Both gunners were firing at the same time, later claiming they “got him”. Six such attacks were recorded in my log book. As soon as the navigator announced “coast” we descended into the cloud cover so fast we might have been mistaken for a dive bomber. We landed in Kinloss in the north of Scotland; in the morning we counted 19 small holes in the aircraft.

On the next trip, which was a daylight raid on Cologne, we ran into some more bad luck. Just as we were doing the bombing run, the mid-upper gunner screamed “Ray, you’d better move over – there’s a clot with his bomb bay doors open”. Then, Kapow! I was off the intercom at the time and I heard the noise and saw the wind blowing the curtains in the navigator’s compartment. A hand reached through the curtain, giving me something long and slim. I took this item curiously and switched back to the intercom just as a voice shouted “throw it out, you damn fool, it’s an incendiary”. I lowered the bomb slowly and careful down the flare chute. The incendiary had rent a big hole in the skin of the aircraft near the nose and the gunners were reporting damage in three or four other places. The leading edge of the tail on both sides of the fuselage and the trailing edge of the wings were damaged by other hits. The mid-upper gunner informed us that the “cookie” (2,000lb bomb) had dropped between the wing and the tail, a few feet from the fuselage. When the pilot started to turn on the new course he found that his ailerons were frozen. It was pretty sickening to see all the others turning off in a different direction, but we soon found that we could do a flat turn and were able to re-join the bomber stream. As we flew over France, we developed engine trouble and had to feather one of the props. Just to make the cheese more binding, the engineer was getting some queer meter readings on another of the engines.

That night, for the first time, I reeled out the trailing aerial and moved my dials onto 500 Kcs, the distress frequency. Since we were worried about our landing gear we decided to land at Woodbridge, an emergency aerodrome in the south of England. This famous emergency airport had three parallel runways; the lighting directed which one to use. No radio warning was necessary. As soon as we touched down we saw an ambulance on one side and a crash truck on the other, racing down the runway beside us. As we slowed to taxi speed a little van with “follow me” displayed in a lighted sign swung in front of us and veered immediately off the side of the runway. That strip was ready for another aircraft. They explained that they had equipment that could clear a runway of any type of wreck in ten or fifteen minutes. We were required to check in at the hospital as a matter of form and there we met an orderly with a supply of Navy Rum on “C” class stores. A double ration of rum on frayed nerves and an empty stomach and I “floated” to the mess hall for bacon and eggs. We had to leave the aircraft at Woodbridge for major repairs and return to Skipton-on-Swale by train. I stopped worrying about the trailing antenna I had neglected to reel in; that neglect would have cost me a fine.

After two more trips, to Dusseldorf and Oberhausen respectively, we prepared for our 21st operation with the usual routine of going to briefing, bacon and eggs, and getting our flying clothing from our lockers. We were dumped off from the truck at the dispersal area and I checked my parachute in proper position while the pilot did a visual DI (Daily Inspection). When our turn came for the runway, the pilot checked clearance with the control tower. We lined up on the runway while the aircraft ahead gained speed. Just as his wheels left the blacktop we opened the throttles. With a roar and a rattle the runway slipped underneath us faster and faster. As the roar changed to a cruising throb, the runway lights below disappeared into the evening mist. We did not know it then, but it was our last look at Skipton-on-Swale.

The target was Bochum in the Ruhr Valley. We had taken off from Skipton-cn- Swale in the north of England about I83O hours on 4 Nov 44 with the pink of the sunset still showing in the west. Now we were approaching the Dutch Coast with the stars glittering above us and little seg¬ments of cloud floating by down below* To the left of us I could see the dark forms of two other Halifax bombers and the blue red glow of the starboard exhaust of the nearest aircraft. It seemed quiet enough inside, because all noise is dulled with the continuous, monotonous roar of the en¬gines. No one had anything to say. The bombardier came on the intercom to announce, "Coast, Bob," and Bob stood up, the better to see his navigation chart under his piddly little light that gave less illum¬ination than a match. As wireless opertator, I had just finished listening to five minutes of 9FG 9FG 9FG vvv wv vw, and already I could hear the screeching warble of the Germans trying to jam the frequency.

Below us was Europe in darkness, with the odd, unexplained light visible here and there and the silvery line of rivers wandering aimlessly in the black¬ness. Ahead we started to see the long white fingers of searchlights; the gunners started to rotate their turrets back and forth, back and forth. I started to keep a closer watch on the little radar scope, watching for aircraft coming up from ' beneath us. 1 picked up a couple of spots on the screen but realized from their stationary positions that they were other Halifax bombers. The bombardier crawled into the nose of the aircraft along side the bomb sight; the engineer, after check¬ing all guages, leisurely started to pile some bundles of tinsel strip next to the flare chute.

Up ahead we could see more search-lights, their beams sweeping back and forth, forming expanding and diminishing triangles, or suddenly swinging together to form a huge pyramid. The first of the flak, like tiny flashbulbs in the distance, reminded me of fireflies on a hot summer evening. Just as Hank shouted, "Bombs away," we were picked out by a search light that made the aircraft brighter than day, forcing us to squint our eyes against the brightness. The aircraft start¬ed to turn and twist in evasive action as two other searchlights swung in our general direction. John and I looked at each other, our faces white with the light; we threw out so much tinsel it should have hidden us like a cloud. Ray started the nose down and we went into a dive, twisting to the right and to the left. Suddenly, it was dark again and we were blinking away colour¬ed spots as our eyes grew accustomed to the blackness.

Now we were out of the target area with all the excitement falling behind. Ahead lay utter darkness except for some little flashes showing on the ground that could have been artillery firing across the Rhine. Without warning we heard, "Fighter star¬board go," punctuated with the stutter of the gunners firing and ending with a boom. The next voice on the intercom was that of Johnny, the engineer. In a quiet, controlled voice like a BBC announcer reading the news, "Ray, the starboard outer engine is on fire." I looked up from my position to see Pay feathering the propellor and pressing the fire control switch. We felt the sway of the aircraft as the pilot corrected the course. In a few seconds the quiet voice came on again. "Starboard inner on fire." There was another pause while the pilot repeated the feather and fire control procedure and the aircraft did a more difficult swing and. correction, Johnny announced that the fire was now in the wings of the aircraft - it had broken out for the second time in the starboard outer engine, Ray came on the intercom with the command, "let's get the hell out of' here," and to the gunners, "Do you hear that, Ernie and Chris?" The voices answered back and someone whispered, "Good luck." I whipped off my helmet and moved forward to the escape hatch, snap¬ping on my parachute as I went. In our bailing out drill I was responsible for lifting up the hatch, turning it sideways and dropping it out of the hole, I now lifted it up, turned it sideways and shot it down - and it jammed, I guess I wasn’t thinking at my best because I jammed it twice, then Bob took hold of it and turned to pass it to Hank. I used that spare three seconds to swing out my legs. As Eob turned forward I gave him a signal and rolled out. For an instant I thought my legs were being soaked in gasoline, but realized in a moment that the slip stream had torn off my flying boots. It was the blast of cold air at 15 ,000 feet that had made my feet so cold. About five seconds after I left the aircraft I thought about the count down before pulling the ripcord, but by then I didn’t know what number to start at. In turning over I could see that the burning aircraft was a safe distance away and proceeded to open my para-chute, I was completely surprised to feel the jerk and to see the big white canopy spread out above me. I have been asked what it felt like to jump. With my aircraft on fire and the thought that I was soaked in gasoline I experienced only relief that I was safely separated from the burning machine. I caught my breath and look around but could not see a thing.

Cloud cover obscured the stars while the ground looked distant and black, I could not hear anything except the distant drone of departing aircraft. The sight of parachutes would have assured me that some of the others had got out, but I looked for them in vain, I was suspended in space without the nearness of earth or sky and suffered from an acute loneliness. My whistle was fastened to my collar and I took this out and let out a blast in the hope that another of the crew would reply.

In the void, I didn't even get a trace of an echo, I tried to relax a little and wait; I had no sense of motion because I could not fix my eyes on anything tangible. But I knew it wouldn’t be long before the earth came to meet me, I started to see lighter areas and different shades of dark¬ness below, then a treetop shot up to meet me. Fortunately, I passed between two trees and landed in a bed of leaves with my knees taking the shock off my stocking feet. My chute floated down beside me; I crouched still where I landed, trying to collect my thoughts. After a pause, I began to move forward and carefully looked at my wrist watch. The time was exactly ten minutes past eight, I reached for a cigarette, knowing I should not light one, but going ahead anyway, covering myself with my parachute and making a closed cup of my hands while I smoked. Now, I began to think again, I remembered the artillery gunfire and hoped I was in France - but the forest could give me no clues, I had just carefully buried the cigarette butt when I heard a siren giving the long blast of the "all clear," I knew then that I was in German held territory and quickly burled my parachute in a pile of leaves, I started to walk down a wagon trail, but half an hour later I nearly walked into a large, partly camouflaged hole. I thought it was some sort of a tank trap and developed a fear that the path was mined. Retracing my steps, I headed back into the forest, I realized that I could not make any headway until I knew my location but could not read my escape map in the dark. Besides, I was just scaring myself walking around in this aimless manner, I found a nice dry hollow, surrounded by bushes, and . I flopped myself down in the leaves. Be¬cause it was early November I began to feel cool; I scraped a heap of leaves on top of me, like playing in the sand on a beach, I felt warm and tired, started to relax and get sleepy. A gentle wind whispered in the trees and I slept.

When I awoke it was broad daylight with the sun well up in the sky. It was again eight o'clock 'and I felt rested and warm. The trees and sunshine reminded me of my father’s farm (at Holmesville, Ont.) - and I was alive. Getting out of "bed," I combed my hair with my fingers. Since I lacked a few things for washing and cleaning my teeth, I decided to go ahead and have breakfast. Instead of bacon and eggs, I decided to settle for a vitamin pill and a half inch square of chocolate, just passing up the coffee altogether. Anyway, it made my morning cigarette taste better. After breakfast I checked my map, read my compass, shot the sun, looked for bark on the north side of the trees but still didn't know where I was. I found I was on the edge of the forest with rolling farmland in front of me. The country was criss-crossed with a few roads, a railroad and the odd village here and there. In the distance I saw another patch of forest. I studied the countryside so that it would stay in my memory, planning to move as soon as it got dark.

Later in the morning I became bored from the inactivity. Suddenly, I could hear little chugging noises, the sound of machinery back in the forest. Slowly and curiously I begun to Investi¬gate. I ended up crawling on my stomach to the edge of a huge quarry where there were little donkey engines chugging back and forth. There was a factory at the far end of the quarry. I only stayed for a brief moment since I figured it might be common sense for them to have a guard going around the rim of the pit. With this thought in mind I made my way back to my original position. Just after noon I heard an aircraft winding up as if in a dive. There was the sound of anti-aircraft guns and then the "whoomp" of a bomb, I threw myself flat on the ground, covered.my head with my arms and opened ny mouth wide. Three or four blasts shook the ground and leaves fluttered down from the trees. Then, the racket stopped as suddenly as it had started, I got to my feet and decided right then that my cute little nest wasn't so cute after all; probably it would be best to leave right away. The peaceful forest wasn't peaceful anymore I started walking through the fields watching the American formations overhead and the feeble little puffs of flak bursting from the country areas of Germany. I noticed a group of boys coming up a country wagon track and I decided to make like a rabbit in a hedge by the side of the road. I concealed myself from the boys, but Just as they passed, I heard a noise behind me. I looked around to see a kindly old gentleman with a waxed moustache about ten feet away, staring right at me.

I politely nodded my head to him and he nodded to me. As gracefully as possible I proceeded down the road. This kindly old gentleman must have nearly broken his cane getting to the telephone. I had just finished two carrots from a garden and was waiting by a railroad bridge to pick a good time to cross the main highway, when a truck came along and dropped a soldier off near my position. I walked back along the track and noticed that when I walked faster, he walked faster too. ; I veered off into a potato patch and tried to look as if I would like nothing better than to find a potato bug. However, he approached me, pointed at my feet and asked, "Where are your shoes?" (I don't know a word of German but I know that is what he asked), His hand was near his gun; he did not draw it, but I knew the game was up. I opened my sweater, showed him my uniform and told him I was a Canadian, - He indicated with a wave of his hand that I was to raise my 20 hands and be frisked. I gave him my hunting knife, he touched me on the shoulder and ordered, "Come." All my elation disappeared - and I was on the other side of the mental cycle, filled with despair, I offered him a smoke but he said, "Nein Dankeshoen," took one of his own and lit the one that was held in my shaky fingers. We walked to¬gether down the highway and into a village. All of. the villagers must have heard the news because about fif¬teen kids followed us down the street. Arriving at a building that was used by the military, the, corporal had to shoo the children away from the door; The Officer Commanding appeared in his bathrobe and tried to question me in German. I didn't understand him, and wouldn't have let on if I had. After a short consultation they offered me a cup of coffee and put all my possessions in a bag. They indicated that I was to witness the closing of the bag that would be in the guard's care. Then out we went, through a group of curiosity seekers and into a European Ford car. We then drove three or four miles, to another town.

We arrived at what seemed to be a civic building or town hall where I was taken inside to the switchboard and "booked." I was then escorted downstairs to a row of cells. While a guard stood by, the jailkeeper opened a cell door and I was motioned in. The door shut. There were two double bunks in the cell with a man sleeping in one and a youth of slight build sitting on the edge of the other. After looking at me for a second or two, the youth jumped up and we shook hands. It is impossible to describe the conversation that followed since it was done mostly in sign language. Using fingers around the throat, the young man indicated that he was going to be hanged. Mostly by sign language, he said that he was Jewish and had been working in the fields when an American aircraft crashed.

He was caught trying to help the airmen escape into a nearby forest. At first, I took this with a pinch of salt but then began to realize that he wasn't planted for information because we did not speak a common language. Besides, he didn't ask me any questions other than my nationality (he took me for an Englander) and if I had been shot down. Later in the evening, the air raid siron sounded and the hallway outside the cells filled with civilians and soldiers. The lad indicated that I be quiet while he listened at the door. He then told me that he was to be shot, not hanged. By this time, the other fellow In the cell started to wake up. Through sign language again, I was given to understand that he was only imprisoned, for two weeks. He was a Russian, a great lunk of a kid about 15 or 16 years old. His offence, evolved from his starting to grow a handle bar moustache. When the work foreman told him to shave it off, he had told the foreman to go to hell, he'd grow a moustache if he damn well pleased. That night I heard the Jewish boy praying, and apparently going through certain rites in the darkness, I closed my eyes, knowing he would want privacy.

I was awakened by the sound of marching coming down the hall; I noticed it was already light and the other two prisoners were both out of bed. The marching halt¬ed at the door and a German officer entered in full parade dress with side arms. He spoke in German to the boy. The boy turned and shook hands with me, then with the Russian, then turned to walk out. The officer put his hand on the boy's shoulder, almost in a fatherly way. They stepped out, the door closed and I heard the sound of marching feet receding in the distance, I felt shock, fully believing for the first time that all this must be true, I felt a great sorrow within me. The Russian opened a bundle of bread and cheese and had breakfast.

Later that day I was transported to Cologne airport, near the same city where the bomb load had hit our aircraft. There, I was signed in by the Orderly Corporal in the same manner one would be placed under arrest by our own air force, I was shown into a cell and there, to my great joy, was Johnny Christie. I found out that John Bell was in a separate cell; he had been giving the Germans a hard time. That night there was another air raid and an anti-aircraft gun opened fire just outside of our building. The first bang scared the heck out of us.

The next morning we assembled for some more transportation and the three of us had a chance to swap stories. In bailing out, when Chris turned his tail turret to exit, he opened the doors and rolled out backwards. His foot caught in the turret and he was left hanging in the slip-stream. It took every effort on his part to pull himself back Into the turret and release his foot. On the second attempt he cleared the aircraft In good order but nearly parachuted Into the huge chimney of a lime kiln. He could see the fire burning at the bottom of the pit and it was only the severe updraft from the chimney that floated him to one side . He landed inside the kiln enclosure but had time to scale the fence before the all clear siren was sounded. He got picked up riding the back of a truck on the way to Holland, at least he got caught comfortably.

But poor Johnny Bell. The rest of the crew used to kid him unmercifully, partly because he was from England but mostly because he could take it and dish it back out with a grin. Being prisoners didn't change this, and when we heard that he had been picked up by a group of children we really gave him a hard time. Actually, when he had been approached by the group, it must have been funny, because he started to chase them away. But the biggest boy, about twelve years old, pulled out a Luger as big as himself and it suddenly became a matter of business and logic. John had to come like the rest of us.

In the days to follow, Johnny’s self discipline and morale was an inspiration. Any of us can probably look back to some incident or time of stress and find reason for self recrimination for the little things we did, or did not do. It was years later that I heard the English expression, "it is the thing to do." I think now that the training contained in that expression would have helped us in our youth. With Johnny, "the thing to do" started with keeping his collar starched under all conditions, using soap for starch. He treated the Germans as if the prisoner of war situation would be reversed the very next morning. One time this nearly backfired. On our way to the Prisoner of War Interrogation Camp we had to take air raid shelter in a railroad station. Our two guards were joined by an officer and two more guards with a group of American air¬men. In preparation to move out, the officer told Johnny to carry the German corporal’s shoulder pack, Johnny promptly refused, stating that he was a sergeant and shouldn’t be called upon to carry a corpor¬al’s burden. This refusal got the German officer all excited and he started waving a Luger around, German civilians were watching and they began to look awfully sullen and started to crowd in on us. Then suddenly, our guards had their backs to us and their gun butts at the ready for the civilians. Discretion being the better part of valour, Johnny took the bag and we left. To get us through the blackout to another railroad station the officer started us running. The guards were on both sides of us and the officer brought up the rear, firing his pistol in the air.

Also enroute to the interrogation camp, we stopped along the Rhine River at a little railroad station near a tunnel. While stopped, four Thunderbolt aircraft scooped down the valley with a sudden roar and zoomed up over a cliff. Passengers jumped off the train and ran up a ravine. As we ran for the protection of the station the guards got into an argument with five or six men. We found out later that the men wanted to put us back on the train that they thought was going to be strafed. I'll never know why the aircraft passed us up, but they did. The engineer gave a toot on the whistle and everyone ran and clambered aboard the train while it was already starting for the tunnel. We stopped in the tunnel for nearly half an hour before proceeding.

Many stories have been told of Prisoner of War camps. We went to the Interrogation Depot, did our seven days solitary, had our interviews, threats and promises and, at the end, a group was released to a common room. We were reunited with Ray and Ernie, our pilot and mid-upper gunner. We found out for the first time that our entire crew had escaped the burning aircraft, Ray had cut his hand as he had had a difficult time pushing away from the Halifax which was in a spin. His chute opened just a second or two before he hit the ground. Hank had sprained his ankle in landing and had spent a little time in the hospital. We didn’t know what happened to Bob but someone had seen him leave the aircraft OK. It was only a short trip to Vetzlar where we got re-clothed through the Red Cross. I was issued a pair of RAF boots that I wore for many years. In a day or two we departed by an old rail¬way coach coupled onto the end of a freight train. Six days later wa arrived at our permanent camp, Stalag Luft 7. Just before we left the transit camp we saw Bob arriving; our crew was now complete, very few downed airmen could make that statement.

Now started three months of humdrum prison life. We all thought the end of the war was just around the corner; since we were all NCOs in the camp, there were no work parties and very little incentive or opportunity to escape. The prisoners played bridge, talked or made a big deal out of visiting each other. We tried to piece together the bits of war news we picked up on a crude crystal radio set that was dismantled to inch bits after each use. I heard later that - the largest article of the set was the earphone that was carried under an air¬man’s wide belt.

It was the end of November when I arrived at Stalag Luft 7, near Bankau. Bankau is near Bresleau in Eastern Germany. Two or three days after my arrival was my twenty-first birthday. The boys in my room chipped in with a spoonful of this and that, made a bread pudding and presented me with a cardboard key, stating it was the key to the prison camp. I felt very touched over this, since I was so new that they hardly knew me.

Life in this camp was very monotonous and we were there for approximately three months. Our food rations consisted of one Red Cross parcel every two weeks, distributed through the International Red Cross. The Germans supplied us with a loaf of bread and some potatoes between six; we received some butter and sugar about three times a week. Once a week we received a bit of German cheese and ten tablespoons of treacle. The prisoners divided themselves into groups of three or four to share rations. There were sixteen men to a room and twelve rooms to a hut. On the camp there were eight such huts, two ablutions, one cook house and hospital and one hut for orderly room, school classes, Padre’s room and the library.

A warning wire was strung around the inside of the main fence and prisoners were not allowed beyond this. Another rule of the camp was that during an air raid or after lights out, it was not permissible to leave the hut. Most of our time at Stalag Luft 7 was spent in dividing food and preparing it. We participated in light exercise such as walking around the camp, playing bridge, reading library books or just plain talking. Most of us avoided heavy exercise because it increased our appetite. We felt the end of the war was very near since the troops had been sweeping across France and up to the Rhine with the Russians advancing in the east. There was not as much talk of speculation about escaping as there might have been earlier in the war. The idea of course was why risk the perils of escape when it was probably only going to be a few weeks and we would all be free. If we did escape, we probably would not be back in time to do the cause of the Allies any good. There was one tunnel started in camp while I was there but I did not hear about it until the camp was broken up. They were borrowing cross braces out of the celling of the hut to support the tunnel and the Germans happened to notice that some of the braces were missing.

As I mentioned before, prisoners were not allowed to go outside their huts during an air raid. One day during a raid the all clear was heard from the nearby village but the camp all clear signal had not sounded. One of the boys left his hut, started casually across the parade square and was shot and died on the square. The Padre was there in a few minutes; the man was removed and was pronounced dead before they got him to the hospital. The prisoners were very riled up about this, as the man had not actually tried to escape. Technically he had violated a rule but he was shot just because he had heard the wrong siren. About thirty minutes later, although the all clear had been sounded, no one would come out of the huts. The German commandant called a parade as he wished to speak to us, but our senior man translating telling us that the guard who shot the prisoner had received a telegram saying all his family had been killed in an air raid. The telegram had been delivered to the guard and no-one knew anything about it. The guard was undoubtedly suffering from shock; had the message been passed through his superior he would have been taken off duty. The Commandant said that the guard would be disciplined and transferred. No-one ever saw him in the camp or in the guard towers again.

On January 17th, we were given one hour’s notice that we would be moving, breaking up camp and moving west. All remaining food was divided and some of the boys ransacked the stores. After getting around, it was not until 4pm that we were told that we were to stay the night on the camp. Also, during the afternoon, we noticed refugees moving on the road. It was January 19th at 5am that we started out on the march. There was a fifty mile an hour wind blowing and the temperature was twenty degrees below zero. After walking for ten hours we made our first stop and slept in a barn. The following morning, starting at 6 o’clock, we walked for a further 6 hours then stopped at a factory where the German cook house boys made coffee. After a six hour rest we resumed marching at 8pm. This time we walked all night until 11am. This routine went on for 21 days. Most of the time we stopped at state run farms. At one of the stops, we had been there for a few hours when two SS troopers drove into the barnyard and went in to see the German commandant. One of the boys happened to walk up to the car and noticed a big fat goose in the back. He told his buddy and, in a few seconds, the goose was gone. About 45 minutes later, the troopers came out, got in their car and happened to notice that the goose had disappeared. They called the Commandant, began to make quite a fuss and announce they were going to shoot two or three people if they did not get the goose back. Being told this, the two culprits stepped forward and confessed "Sir, we took the goose". The German thundered "well, where is it?" bring it back!" Our men replied "we can’t bring it back. It was all cut up and has been eaten." For a moment the troopers didn’t know what to do, in German, which was later translated, one laughed "serve us right for leaving food around a group of hungry men". They got in their car and drove off.

Most of this march was a hardship and very sad. It had some comical moments, though – like some fellows trying to catch pigeons or searching for eggs. A live steer would have been stew in thirty minutes. I was always looking for wheat. I tried oats but that is not digestible. When I had a chance I always slept in a stable, with thick straw strewn out over the manure. This sounds bad but it was warm. Some of the boys had had their toes amputated as a result of frost bites they suffered in a hayloft. I also found my pack very heavy and wanted to make a sled. I found an old piece of ladder but had nothing to cut it off with. I decided I would burn off the piece I wanted so I made a little fire, put the ladder over it and burned off a section. In doing so I shaped the ends. This sleigh lasted me more than 17 days and certainly took an awful weight off my back.

On February 4th, we walked into Golburg. At 0830 hours we were put into freight cars, fifty five to sixty five men in each car. We were in the box cars for five days and arrived at Luckwalde on February 8th. At 6am we were still locked in the cars on a siding when we heard a bugle blowing and realised it was the British reveille. We could not believe our ears. It turned out that the camp where we were going had imprisoned a contingent of Irish Guards and it was the Guard’s reveille that we had heard. We were released from the box cars later in the morning. After getting doused with flea powder, we went straight to the camp. We had a cup of thick barley soup and then our first wash and shave for many days the new camp was Stalag 34 and consisted of numerous compounds with a different nationality in each compound. There was also officers’ compounds where the officers were evacuated from Saigon were imprisoned. This camp- was much different from our little Stalag in East Germany and there were work parties going out each day. Some of the compounds received Red Cross parcels but the Russian compound did not. Cigarettes were the medium of exchange and everything was priced in them. There was a market in camp where a person could trade many different articles. There was even a crap table and a roulette wheel. Cigarettes were handled in boxes, so many cigarettes to a box. Each compound was divided by a barbed wire entanglement and a person had to have a pass to go from one compound to another. Passes were given to prisoners who were on some sort of official duty or a work party. The Germans did not force the prisoners to stay indoors during the air raids; night after night we could hear the drone of aircraft in the distance and see little pink flashes on the horizon, indicating that Berlin was being bombed. One night after we were there for a while, we heard the wail of sirens and the sound of aircraft much closer. Suddenly, an Ack-Ack gun started shooting shells very close by. This surprised us immensely as we had never heard this gun before. We could see target indicators being dropped, followed by vivid red flashes. The flashes grew in intensity on the horizon until the area was covered with smoke. At this time, the ground began to shake like a minor earthquake; we could hear a steady rumble like a thunder storm in the distance. Later, we heard that the attack had taken place on the city of Potsdam, only thirty miles from our prison camp. It had been a seven hundred aircraft raid; the first time that the Allies had bombed Potsdam, the headquarters of the International Red Cross.

After this raid we heard rumours of Allied advances and we began to wonder about our freedom. About this time, one of our internal officials came around to collect a tax of two cigarettes from each prisoner. It turned out this tax was collected to pay for a radio that was smuggles in and wired to a record player that had been cleared on camp some time previously. From that time on we got regular new despatches.

About noon on April 21st, the German Commander called in our senior officers and announced that the German army were evacuating the camp. He would formally turn over the prison camp to the Senior Allied Officer to maintain discipline and control until the Russian Army took over. By 1400 hours, all the Germans had departed. By 1600 hours the prisoners were breaking out national flags, going from compound to compound and beginning to run wild. A police force was formed on the spot, issued with hastily made armbands and each policeman was given the leg of a chair for a club.

By 1800 hours the camp was acting pretty wild, when a large German staff car pulled up at the gate and a high ranking German SS officer stepped out. He was flanked by two body guards and accompanied by a squad of SS men in another vehicle. He ordered the Senior Allied Officer to the gate at once, stated that the PoW camp was neutral and that he intended to search the camp and shoot five men for every gun he found inside. He also stated that his men were retreating, and that they were nervous and bitter and would likely open fire on any excessive noise during the night.

A PoW camp has the fastest word-of-mouth communication in existence. Within minutes, numerous guns were thrown into the camp water reservoir including the machine guns the boys had taken out of the tower. Everyone was talking close to a whisper. During the night there was dead silence except for distant battle sounds. Suddenly, a machine gun opened up close by. I was sleeping on the floor at the time but the burst of machine gun fire snapped me awake like an elastic band. Instantly following, there was a roar similar to falling bricks and growing in intensity. I thought that the machine gun was knocking bricks out of the wall. I felt a little sheepish later, when I found that the big noise was the men jumping out of the top bunks with their boots on and landing on the cobblestone floor. All was quiet again until 0700 hours when a parade of Russian tanks and trucks entered the camp, led by a Russian general with drawn sword. Of course, everyone cheered like mad. The parade proceeded to the Russian compound where they held a party, with lots of Vodka, and set up a recruiting desk for the Russian Army. We were all warned not to get excited and join up. When the parade returned, everyone looked as if they were feeling their drinks. Just as I was crawling through the barbed wire fence of the compound, a tank driver declined to take the fence down. He swung off the road sand came straight down the fence line, with poles falling back like dominoes in a row. I jumped back so fast that I ripped my pants from the crotch to the bottom of my leg.

This tank clown also knocked down a hydro pole that put the electricity off for twenty four hours. A little later, the Russian prisoners came out of their compound, some of them armed and drunk. Reports filtered back to the camp that there were some quick executions in the town of Luckenwalde. We were detained by the Russians, although the American forces were only about thirty miles away. Western prisoners were usually shipped back to a Black Sea port where prisoner exchanges were made fifty dollars a head for expenses. I think this was a Yalta agreement.

Four days later, six of us departed through a hole in the fence and joined a Russian horse and wagon convoy going west. Since the wagon train turned north I decided to go west alone and the next day I saw my first American patrol jeep. I was directed to a PoW collection point where, on May 8th, I was shipped by aircraft to England. After an overnight stay near Oxford, the Canadians were sent back to Bournemouth for repatriation where I had started this European tour in 1943. Due to the aircrew protection programme, I found that I was a WO1 on arriving in England and received my commission on arrival in Canada about twenty one days later. I was release form the RCAF in October 1945 – leaving me with some back pay and a variety of experiences to look back on.

Jeff Eppler



W/O. Howard Jack Mason 405 Squadron

Howard Jack Mason top left

Howard Jack Mason front Row 8th from left

Sketch of camp by Micky Dee

Jack Mason was my half brother and was 28 years old when I was born in 1946, which explains why, to me, he was like a second father. He trained as a pilot in Dallas Texas on Stearman biplanes, converting to Wellington and Halifax Bombers in the UK. He joined 405 Squadron in 1943 shortly after a detachment from the squadron moved from Topcliffe to Beaulieu. Initially he was with RAF Coastal Command but was transferred to Bomber Command. He was shot down by a German fighter on the night of 11th/12th of March 1943 following a raid on Stuttgart. Jack was the last member of the crew to bale out and said that he remembered looking down the fuselage through the tail gunner’s turret to see the fighter approaching. Jack hurriedly bailed out to find, rather painfully when his chute opened, that he had not done the straps up tightly enough. He managed to evade capture for 10 days and then called at a French farm house and was given food by the farmer. However, while Jack was eating, the farmer sent his son to the German fighter field to fetch the Germans. Jack later heard that the farmer, who gave him away, had been shot by the French Resistance. When Jack was captured, the German senior officer asked if he would like to meet the pilot who shot him down. Jack said he would and in fact they shook hands. Later, in Stalag Luft III, he was given the news that the fighter pilot himself had been shot down and killed. Jack said he felt really saddened by the news.

Before the war, Jack had been a panel beater, trained by my father. He must have been very good at it since he worked for Rolls Royce for a while before helping to build flying boats at the Shorts factory in Rochester. This experience was put to good use in Stalag Luft III where he made pots and pans from the Red Cross tins, which he tied round his belt and sold round the camp. He made several escape attempts and was one of the tunnel diggers. In the Great Escape, he designed and helped build the tunnel entrance in the shower room. This tunnel was later used to store escaper materials since it was decided to put all the effort into one tunnel. He also escaped from a tunnel which exited under one of the guard huts, but he got his trousers caught in the barbed wire and was approached by a sentry. Jack smiled at the man which may be the reason why he was not shot. The sentry was sent to the Russian front for not shooting him. On another occasion, he and two friends tried to get over the wire using a home-made ladder. A guard approached whereupon Jack picked up the ladder, talking all the time to the guard, and walked back to the huts. Once again he was not shot. Finally, as the Allies were advancing, Jack and two other POWs buried themselves under one of the huts, covering themselves with de-lousing powder so the guard dogs wouldn’t smell them. They stayed there for three days and emerged to find the camp empty. The Germans had marched the POWs further into Germany. Many men died on the march from that camp. Jack was in no fit state to march and his escape undoubtedly saved his life.

Jack brought back a note book which was issued to POWs by the YMCA. His daughter Terry still has that book together with Jack’s flying log book and photos. I am grateful to her for allowing me to photograph these documents. The note book makes very sobering reading, showing a bit more of what life was really like in the camp. It was clearly a far cry from the jollity shown in the Great Escape film. If the film had shown more of the reality then no doubt, it would not have been so popular. Jack said that he used to walk his friend round and round the camp to prevent him breaking down completely. I also remember that Jack had nightmares for several years afterwards.

After the war, Jack became a dental surgeon. This must have required an immense effort and determination considering his background as a panel beater. From panel beating however, he had developed a very strong hand which I recall gripped your jaw like a vice. When he was about 40, Jack started showing signs of renal failure and was likely to be discharged from hospital since it was thought there was nothing more that could be done. However, my other brother, Don, was at medical school and heard of a new treatment called dialysis. This gave him an extra three years but eventually he died aged 58. Of course we all still think of him but I consider myself so very fortunate to have had a “second father”.

The first two photos were possibly taken during training. The rest are from Jack’s note book, issued by the YMCA to POWs. The sketch by “Micky Dee” is quite moving when you consider that was what he was looking at when he drew it. Dixie Deans was highly regarded in the POW camp and became quite well known. The “Grace” poem is in Jack's handwriting, I don’t know whether or not he wrote it.

Peter Mason



Sgt. Ed M. Cooke 102 Squadron

I was really interested in the story of Sgt."Maxie" C. Miller as a couple of us have been looking for him for years and thought the article may have had a lead to his location. I have a number of photos with the names as I remember them, bear in mind that early in the war the taking of pictures was much frowned upon, but have quite alot from the following years.
102 Squadron

Standing:- Sgt.J Fraser; Sgt.A.Jagger; not known; Sgt. E Borsberry; not known. Sitting:- Sgt.C.Miller; Sgt.G.Davidson

102 Squadron

Outside "A"Flight crewroom, Standing:- Ed Cooke; not known Sitting:- not known ; Sgt.W Swain; not known; Sgt. D Cramp

102 Squadron

Outside "A"Flight crewroom. S/Ldr J G Walker (My skipper);P.O Bennett:F.O.Williams;Sgt Ed Cooke; Sgt.W Swain

102 Squadron102 Squadron

Outside "A"Flight crewroom. Junior Braybrook shooting a line.

Skellfield House

Aircrew were not allowed to live on Station so were billeted at Skellfield House a private girls schools pre-war, located through the village of Topcliffe on the Ripon road, sans girls. Taken from the swimming pool looking at the west side.

102 Squadron

Don Sills and Eric Borsberry on the east side of Skellfield House.

102 Squadron

In the garden on east side of Skellfield House, Sgt Alec Jagggers and Sgt Duncan

102 Squadron

Skellfield House 1941, Sgt Alec Jagggers and Sgt Ed Cooke

I joined 102 Squadron at Topcliffe in May 1941,the Seargants Mess was really crowded as 77 Squadron was also there,as regards losses, this will give you a little idea:- June 6 aircraft lost complete with crews 1 aircraft lost on return July 6 aircraft lost complete with crews 1 aircaft lost on return, I was in that one and we just made the coast of Norfolk,So this will give you some idea of the losses and from what I have read 102 Squadron suffered some of the highest losses at that time.

The latter part of July replacements came in,the first from the Commonwealth Air Training Plan and mostly Canadians, Fl Sgt Thomas McIlquham "Mac" came in with another input in August and actually on Aug 18th, from some records I have. His first trip was to Cologne on the 24th and the next one to Essen on the 31st. and that is the extant of the records I have,and this was all on Whitley Vs.

"Mac" was in "A" Flight the same as I and of course got to know him although he was a little different from most of the boys, being a little dour, probably because I think that he was a little older than most of us, one thing was a must, everyone left him alone when he returned to billets after visiting the local pubs, but other than that we all got along just fine.

November and we moved to Dalton while they put runways in at Topcliffe, also I went on leave and came back to find that my crew had gone, I flew with the Flight Commander S/Ldr.Walker so F/Lt.Griffiths was elevated to S/Ldr.and took over the flight. Meanwhile with the advent of the new year we began conversion to the Halifax11s and S/Ldr.Griffith formed a new crew,

I was the W/OP, Mac was our tail gunner, Ed.Brain was navigator, Ted Waddicor was Flight Engineer,cant remember who was upper gunner. Think I only did six trips with Mac, did two or three nurseries and then was posted to Kinloss and instructing there.

This is the last I saw of Mac, but heard about him when attending the first re-union of 102 Squadron Association in Nottingham in 1983. A fellow who new Mac and stopped in to visit him after the war told me that Mac and a son went ice fishing, drove on the lake, the ice gave way and they were drowned, so that is all that I can tell you about Mac, although I did hear from boys who were on the Squadron later that he was taken off Ops,because he was taking a big flashlight with him trying to lure in fighters,think this must have been true as I have heard it from more than one source.

aircrew at Dalton

3rd.from left S/Ldr/Griffith,pilot: 4th.Sgt.A.E.Waddicor, flight engineer:5th from left Fl Sgt Thomas McIlquham "Mac" I was the W/Op.on the crew. This photo taken during the time at RAF Dalton.

Ed Cooke



Basil Arthur Cotton 102 Squadron

Joining the RAF

I volunteered late in 1939, aged 23. I had been in the Training Corps at school and passed some tests. I volunteered for the RAF but didn’t tell mum and dad – and the RAF didn’t want me at this stage, for some reason. Prior to then I had been working for Road Transport & General Insurance in Oxford, I started as a clerk and became a junior inspector in 1935. I was called up in 1940 & went to Uxbridge, where I had a physical checkover & various tests to make sure I was fit, then went before a board made up of a Group Captain, a couple of Squadron Leaders etc.. On entering the room Group Captain Sugden said ‘Hello Cotton, scored any 100s lately?’ and I realised I had played cricket against his team (Holton) in the last summer. He asked me a couple of questions, including one about calculus, and at the end said ‘We can make you an observer’ but I said ‘No, I want to be trained as a pilot’. He said ‘Oh, very well’. I was the only one out of the group of 32 that were sent to be trained and I reckon it was because of that cricket match.

My RAF training started at Babbacombe (a fortnight) followed by square bashing at Torquay for 8 – 10 weeks, to get us really fit. This was followed by Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS) at Desford, Leicestershire learning to fly Tiger Moths, but because I was above average as a flyer I skipped the next stage of training & moved on to the Operational Training Unit at Abingdon, Oxfordshire, the big training centre for bomber command. Then I joined 102 Squadron at Topcliffe near Thirsk, Yorkshire, famous for Group Captain Leonard Cheshire. I went on a couple of raids, followed by a ten-day blind flying course – the Lorenz Beam Course back at Abingdon. The RAF hierarchy consisted of group captain, squadron leaders then sergeants. I was a sergeant pilot; my gunner was a flight lieutenant. My pal Bird in 102 Squadron had a second pilot who was a squadron leader – rank wasn’t so important as what you actually did. During training I flew Tiger Moths, Ansons, Armstrong Whitworth Whitley and Whitley Vs.

They tried to pick flying crews based on experience, but it was difficult. One night’s raids saw 9 craft leave and only two return – a loss of 35 – 40 men, so they were bound to be replaced by inexperienced men.

Shot Down – Time in Hospitals

I was flying a Whitley when I was shot down. On July 4th, at 2am, I made a parachute descent at Eindhoven, Holland. There were 5 of us on our plane : Dickie Davis (rear gunner), Ken Bowden (a good actor), Ron Lakin and myself who all survived (the other three weren’t injured) and Gibson who died. I subsequently met Ken Bowden at Heydekrug, he was in the bed next to Roy Dotrice.

I was found by a dog, shot in both legs, in an irrigation ditch. A German orderly helped cut me out of my flying suit, he was very gentle and kindly. He wouldn’t let me walk but got an ambulance, which was driven across the field to pick me up. I was put on to a stretcher and was taken to Krefeld to a hospital run by nuns. My legs were in a mess, I was shot in the right thigh, my head was hit too, my left foot had been stuck…. The nuns at the hospital treated people very badly. They used to put food by my bed but I wasn’t strong enough to eat it. When they came back and found the uneaten food they swore at me. My left leg went gangrenous. They took me to a hospital (Res Laz) in Dusseldorf Gerresheim, which was run by the French and had about 1000 French patients, I was the only Brit. This was in 1941 on July 8th, when France was under German rule and French workers were taken into Germany to work. They were used to handling minor injuries, hernias etc. A doctor there called Galving came to look at me. I was on a stretcher and when he saw my left leg he recoiled. I stayed in this hospital for about 8 months.

I’d already learnt German and French at school – at Dusseldorf I got a big compliment from a Frenchman. He said ‘You speak very good English for a Frenchman’. I had done 7 years of French at school and was better at it than German. I learned the correct version but you pick up the patois from French men. Of course I picked up a lot, I was stuck in a hospital with only French people. My greatest friend was a Frenchman whom I met at Dusseldorf, he gave me some of his ration and a lighter. I saw him a couple of times after the war, once in Lille, another time in Leicester in 1957 when Muriel was expecting Fran. We used to have very good concerts at Dusseldorf, Paul Boissier ran an excellent orchestra and he arranged a jazz gala on 26th September 1941; I was the only English man there. I had two operations on my legs at Dusseldorf, both by Galving.

On March 2nd 1942 I was moved to Dulag Luft at Hohemark (which means ‘High Point’), near Oberursel, Frankfurt where RAF prisoners were taken for distribution to POW camps. This was up in the mountains, on the Rhine, a beautiful setting, lots of snow. Around this time I spent time in solitary confinement. They took my clothes away and interrogated me for information and turned the heat up. I was warned ‘ No one will know you are here’, but I told him I’d already been here for 12 months and had received parcels, which took the wind out of his sails. Another German, Lieutenant Erihart, came in to see me, he spoke perfect English and said he’d been to Queens College Oxford, but I wouldn’t tell him anything. I heard after the war he got four years for ill-treatment of POWs. This happened over two days, by then they knew I was no good to them.

I was next taken on April 2nd 1942 to Stadtroda hospital, where I was in bed next to an Army man, Taffie (he was Welsh) – he looked after me for weeks, used to sort out food for us both as I couldn’t do anything. The hospital was in a nice village. The hospital was under German control but with British doctors, the patients were English plus some from Crete and New Zealand. They did two operations on my left leg, which straightened it and put it in plaster, after which I could walk, more or less. The surgeons there were Leslie Lauste and butcher Martin (I met Martin at Wimbledon years later, he was very tall). The senior sergeant made the patients clean the hospital.

On August 21st 1942 I was moved to the hospital at Egendorf, near Stadtroda, in the central part of Germany. The countryside reminds me now of Wiltshire, it was beautiful. The hospital was previously used as a college for the Hitler Youth; it was on a hill and like being in a holiday camp. It was more like a convalescent home than a hospital; they didn’t do any operations there. My left leg was affected by the move. I made sure that I got a bed near the kitchens, so I could watch the girls at work there and hear the radio playing every night. The summer of ’43 had beautiful weather & I had a girlfriend in the kitchen, Anna Maria Blankenfuland, she was very blond and had a sister Lottie – there were about 5 girls working there in all. We got Red Cross parcels and took them to the kitchen & they’d heat them up for us. The parcels had tinned meat, prunes, little things of cheese, dried egg, tins of fish. We received German rations too, but they weren’t anything special.

They didn’t mind people who were wounded going outside the hospital and I used to go to Blankenhein village. There were Russians, Poles, Belgians & French in Egendorf, it was run by mainly English doctors plus a couple of French doctors. In winter they would ask for say 6 men to get the coal & I always volunteered because I could talk to them. Known there as Schwartze ie black because I had black hair. We used to travel by oxen cart and sled. The doctors there were doing a fiddle to get the coal. I was kitted out in striped Polish trousers and a blouson. We found out after the war that we were very near one of the concentration camps. I remember one day the sky was blue, but then a great black cloud came across. We thought it was just a rain cloud, or perhaps from a bombing but now I wonder if it was from that camp.

We had a good band at Egendorf, we used to put on shows for the English & French, I used to be the compere. I played a bit of table tennis there. I bought myself an accordion and with a Yugoslavian who played the trumpet and another chap on drums we set up a band called the Cosmopolitans. I met George Friedlander, a German Jew, at Egendorf, he had joined the British Army and was a POW. I was friendly with Walter Kretchmer, the guard commander, German. HE had lost an eye and finger and had been shot in the thigh, he was part of Rommels army that had marched across France. He was a sensible man, not vicious in the slightest. His brother was a famous submarine commander, who ended up as a POW in Canada.

Whilst at Egendorf Cooper, the doctor there, sent me to Obermassfeld on May 22 1943 for a couple of weeks. Here the Geneva Commission, who checked injured POWs in case any were eligible to be repatriated, saw me. One chap who lost an arm was lucky, he was sent home. Tiger Fulton was another doctor at Egendorf, he was an international bridge player and later an umpire at Wimbledon. I am not sure how these English doctors ended up in the German hospitals, perhaps they were captured during Dunkirk?

>Shortly after returning to Egendorf I was sent back to Stadtroda on June 13th 1943, where I stayed for about 5 weeks and started to learn chess, taught by a Russian, before being put on a train to Mohlsdorf on August 21st. I was there about a week and contracted jaundice, so was sent back to Obermassfeld hospital on August 30th where I spent 4 weeks in bed, not at all well. At Stadtroda the cooking was based on a liquid fat which may have caused the jaundice. When I was mobile again they sent me to Mühlhausen Army Camp on November 9th. This was not very nice but I wasn’t there for long, setting off for Heydekrug later that month.

POW Camps

Heydekrug (East Prussia), was my first actual POW camp and I arrived here on November 29th 1943, nearly 2 ½ years after being shot down. The journey from Mühlhausen to Heydekrug, on the Lithuanian border with Poland, took four days travelling on a cattle truck on a train with a bucket as a toilet. We had to sleep standing up as there was nowhere to sit down. I remember moving by train, it was crowded I was sitting down. Further up the train were German Airforce Staff – they were complaining about the ‘terror fliers’. Ie anyone who bombed Germany. The traveller with me was also injured. I said ‘Can’t you speak more quietly?’ in German and he disappeared. We offered our seats to two ladies but they refused. On the second day we travelled through Poznan in central Poland. We would get to a station in central Poland; it would be built like a castle, a wonderful edifice, but with nothing around it. A few old women, dressed in black, would get off and you could see these black figures heading towards the horizon where presumably the town was. We stopped at a little station in Poland because we needed the toilet – which was a trench with two poles over it, one to sit on, one to hang on to. A train came past with lots of girls on and we waved! We also stopped at Konigsberg for a couple of nights.

On the third day of travelling we went through East Prussia via Deutsch Eylau, a junction for trains, then to Torun, We changed here and I met an Englishman from Stalag 22A. We waited on the platform for transport. A train came but it was full. A marine captain got off the train and asked what we were waiting for, when he found out he got 15 people to get off the train so that we wounded could travel. We spent a night in Instaberg in East Prussia and from there travelled in two stretches to Tilsit. At one point on this journey we stopped in a siding and the guards got everyone off the train. It was bitterly cold. A German railway man came to us and said ‘I get heat’ . He brought coals etc and warmed the place up.

When we arrived in Heydekrug we walked to the camp, Stalag Luft 6, I was using crutches. This was an RAF camp - the RAF POW were segregated from Army POW and put in different camps. They thought the RAF POW were dangerous and we didn’t have to work, nor did senior officers in the Army. Heydekrug was a nice camp, particularly in the summer. I met up there with the remainder of my crew, Dickie Davis, Ken Bowden & Ron Lakin were all there. I was in the same hut as Dixie Deans, who spoke perfect German, it was hut D8 or D9. Peter Thomas was also in this hut, he became an MP after the war, Dixie Deans got the MBE. The Gestapo regularly searched the huts, they would search the beds and chuck everything into the centre of the room.

I got a poisoned foot at Heydekrug. There was a medical section there staffed by the British, but they were young and probably had limited knowledge. Some of POW life was a hell of a good experience; I met Serbs, Croats, Poles etc (the Serbs and Croats hated each other). The Poles were a cracking good lot, tough, honest, straightforward. Most could speak a bit of German some could speak a bit of English. We had a secret radio and could pick up the British stations. We received parcels from the Red Cross – the Canadian parcels were the best, I don’t know how I got them, someone must have given them my name. Eric Williams gave the impression in his book that all POWs were trying to escape, but it wasn’t like that, we were more like a small village. We arranged lectures in every conceivable subject, some people got degrees as POWs! I used to give lessons in practical German, using phonetics and also lessons in sums. We did try to grow vegetables here but it didn’t work. I did a fair amount of sunbathing. It was at Heydekrug that I was given my ‘War Time Log’ book through the Red Cross, in which I kept many notes about POW life.

The end of the war

We stayed at Heydekrug until the Russians came near, then 3000 of us (the camp had 9000 in total) were moved back in horse trucks to Torun, mid July 1944, using the same route as that we came by. Everything was disorganised at Torun when we arrived on July 19th. We spent about three weeks here then on August 8th moved on again, travelling by train via Bromberg & Stettin North Germany to Fallingbostel, which was an overcrowded camp, 20 miles north of Hanover. This was our last POW camp, it was rough, there was no food because of the British bombing everything, the Germans were really scared. There were 72 people in one hut, there were no sheets, just mangers and we weren’t in a good state as we hadn’t had Red Cross parcels for some time. I have a poem written by Dickie Beck at Fallingbostel dated September 7th 1944.

One memory from Fallingbostel, as the war was drawing to a close and we knew the Germans were beaten: one day the Germans came to our hut shouting ‘Appel!’ ie parade, they had guns. So we all went to the central parade ground in the middle of the camp and found we were surrounded by Germans with machine guns, all pointing at us POWs. (At this point we knew that 50 RAF POWs had been shot at this camp). The German Colonel (accompanied by various minions and an interpreter) announced at some length that because Great Britain had ill-treated their German POWs, our beds were going to be taken away. He paused during this spiel and a POW shouted in a raucous voice ‘F*** off!’ and we Brits all walked back to our huts, leaving the German guards standing there, pointing their guns at each other.

Xmas 1944 was an excellent day, food started to arrive from the Red Cross and a cigarette parcel arrived in January 1945. However the weather turned very cold. I had stomach problems and spent time in the camp hospital, was better after three weeks. February passed very quickly, in March there were no parcels, very little food, the Germans’ rations had dwindled too.

On April 6th 1945 the camp was ordered to move, but I stayed put. The people chased out from Fallingbostel may have ended up on the Long March. The camp was bombed around April 12 by Mosquitos. The Germans left, the Russians had chased them out. On the 16th April a jeep from the 7th Army Division with a young man from the 11th Hussars turned up. Everyone gathered around the jeep, I knew it was all over and didn’t go up to the jeep but went for a walk around the camp. The officer asked what we wanted and we said ‘tea, cigarettes & bread’ and this was all brought to us that night. Over the next two days it was decided how to transport everyone from the camp home, we stood in the square and an army man read out the list – those in the longest went first. It was all very organised, they brought lorries. I left Fallingbostel on April 20th was taken to Skipholtz in Belgium and from there was flown to near Aylesbury, arriving on April 22, 1387 days after leaving England.

Return to England

The RAF stations in England were all geared up for receiving POWs; I was one of the earlier arrivals. We were escorted to hangars where there was tea, food and cigarettes. One or two of the older men were very overcome at being treated like human beings. From there I was sent to Cosford near Wolverhampton, where I was cleaned up and kitted out. I spent two months there getting attention to my left leg before going home. My girlfriend from before the war, Honor, traced me to Cosford, she was thrilled to find me. She was the same age as me, a good tennis player who joined the WAF at the start of the war, having been a teacher previously. She used to see my mother regularly and got on well with her until we became engaged. Honor lived in Southport but was posted to Kettering. Her mother was a bit of a snob, she lived at Lytham St Annes. Honor wrote to me at the POW camps, as did other girls – a couple from Torquay also wrote. Honor was the only person from my pre war life that I spoke to whilst at Cosford. I was engaged to Honor but explained to her that I couldn’t see it through.

After two months at Cosford I was given a telegram to send home ‘Arrived xx(time), home in a day or two’. They gave us railway times and at Wolverhampton I thought I ought to ring home but didn’t have the guts. I had just my kitbag. I travelled by train to Oxford and from there caught a bus home. Someone on the bus recognised me. I just walked into the house, brother Tony wasn’t home.

From speaking to my father in law, Basil Arthur Cotton, aged 87, about his war time experiences.




Richard Davis 102 Squadron

Dickie Davis served as a Rear Gunner




F/Sgt. L. E.D. Lindsay 102 Squadron

I am researching the male line of my family and I am interested in getting any information on my late cousin Ted Lindsay: Fl.Sergeant (W.Op) L.E.D. (Ted) Lindsay of 102 Squadron Topcliffe. He was reported missing after a bombing raid on the factory area of Hanover on the 14th August 1941. I have the details of his last flight as recorded on this site and also details from Commonwealth War Graves Commission of his gravesite. As Ted was 13 years older than me I have little memory of him and there are no surviving family members I can ask regarding where and when he enlisted. Does any one he served with perhaps remember him (a long shot I know)I would greatly appreciate any information either specific to him or in general to his unit that anyone may have.

Finally to the organisers of this site I extend my thanks for such information as has been available to me, best wishes for the future and to your continued success.

Jack Lindsay



P/O D. Mourton 102 Squadron

D. Mourton served as a wireless operator with 102 Squadron.




Donald McRae

My father-in-law, Donald McRae, flew with the RCAF from Topcliffe starting in late May or early June 1942. According to a letter his family received from RAF Topcliffe (Wing Commander S.B. Bintley), the Halifax in which he was flying on the night of 16-17 June 1942 was shot down during a raid on Essen.

My father-in-law was taken prisoner and after interrogation at Auswertestelle West ("Dulag Luft") was transferred to Stalag Luft III in Sagan (now Zagan, Poland), the site of the "Great Escape" (in the preparations for which he was involved). He was transferred to camps south of Berlin (Jueterbog and then Luckenwalde), where he was liberated and walked out to meet the Americans west of the Elbe.

Mark Webber



LAC. Fred Neville

I was stationed at Topcliffe from 1942 through the End of WW2 Having Volunteered for the Pacific, I was one of those who came home early on the First Troop ship 'The Ile D France' My buddies & my self drank a lot of "Bitters" in the Village of Topcliffe & over at Thirsk in The Black Bull.

Any one remember LAC Fred Neville ???

Fred Neville



Sgt. William Goodhall MacMorland 77 Sqd. (d.9th Oct 1940)

I am researching those who fell from our village in Essex one of whom flew from Topcliffe. Sergeant William Goodall MacMorland was 23 when he died and was in the RAF Volunteer Reserve 77 Squadron and was a Flight Sergeant Observer. He died 9th October 1940.

Can you supply me with any details of 77 Squadron even the circumstances of his death.You can see my research on http://www.stock.org.uk/history/ww2/macmorland.htm

John Westwood



F/Sgt. Thomas McIlquham 102 Sqd.

I am looking for information on Flight Sergeant Thomas McIlquham who flew with the 102 Squadron Bomber Command during 1941 and 1942. He was nicknamed Lucky by his chums. Ralph Barkers book The Thousand plan talks about one of his missions. He was Rear Turret Gunner on a Halifax Bomber. I know that he came from Carlton PLace Ontario Canada. I think he had a tough going after the war.

Jeff McIlquham



Ed Cooke 102 Sqd.

3rd.from left S/Ldr/Griffith,pilot:   4th.Sgt.A.E.Waddicor, flight engineer:5th from left  Fl Sgt Thomas McIlquham

Squadron picture of 102 taken October 1941,
not too many of these boys survived the war.

I joined 102 Squadron at Topcliffe in May 1941,the Seargants Mess was really crowded as 77 Squadron was also there,as regards losses, this will give you a little idea:- June 6 aircraft lost complete with crews 1 aircraft lost on return July 6 aircraft lost complete with crews 1 aircaft lost on return, I was in that one and we just made the coast of Norfolk,So this will give you some idea of the losses and from what I have read 102 Squadron suffered some of the highest losses at that time.

The latter part of July replacements came in,the first from the Commonwealth Air Training Plan and mostly Canadians, Fl Sgt Thomas McIlquham "Mac" came in with another input in August and actually on Aug 18th, from some records I have. His first trip was to Cologne on the 24th and the next one to Essen on the 31st. and that is the extant of the records I have,and this was all on Whitley V's.

"Mac" was in "A" Flight the same as I and of course got to know him although he was a little different from most of the boys, being a little dour, probably because I think that he was a little older than most of us, one thing was a must, everyone left him alone when he returned to billets after visiting the local pubs, but other than that we all got along just fine.

November and we moved to Dalton while they put runways in at Topcliffe, also I went on leave and came back to find that my crew had gone, I flew with the Flight Commander S/Ldr.Walker so F/Lt.Griffiths was elevated to S/Ldr.and took over the flight. Meanwhile with the advent of the new year we began conversion to the Halifax11's and S/Ldr.Griffith formed a new crew,

I was the W/OP, Mac was our tail gunner, Ed.Brain was navigator, Ted Waddicor was Flight Engineer,can't remember who was upper gunner. Think I only did six trips with Mac, did two or three nurseries and then was posted to Kinloss and instructing there.

This is the last I saw of Mac, but heard about him when attending the first re-union of 102 Squadron Association in Nottingham in 1983. A fellow who new Mac and stopped in to visit him after the war told me that Mac and a son went ice fishing, drove on the lake, the ice gave way and they were drowned, so that is all that I can tell you about Mac, although I did hear from boys who were on the Squadron later that he was taken off Ops,because he was taking a big flashlight with him trying to lure in fighters,think this must have been true as I have heard it from more than one source.

Ed Cooke



Sgt G Dykes 429 Sqd. (d.9th Oct 1940)

Sgt Dykes trained as an Air Gunner with 1659 HCU and was posted to 429 Sqd. He flew with Geordie Wade.




Sgt A R W Hardes 1659 HCU

Sgt Hardes trained as a Navigator with 1659 HCU and was posted to 429 Sqd. He flew with Geordie Wade.




Sgt. David Boddy 102 Squadron (d.3rd June 1942)

Sgt David Boddy Airforce no.1378930 was my uncle. He served in 102 squadron as a rear gunner and was based at RAF Topcliffe during 1942. He lost his life on 3rd June 1942 whilst returning from an operation in Germany, his plane crashing into the North Sea.

I would appreciate any information about my uncle’s service in the RAF including what type of bomber he flew in – Halifax or Whitley.

Norman Ferguson



Tech.Sgt. John Patrick Dunlop Heavy Conversion Unit

My father, John Patrick Dunlop was a technical sargeant, RCAF airfield controller at Topcliffe. He was attached to the Heavy Conversion Unit.

J.P.William Dunlop



Ron "Dutch" Holland 434 Squadron

I crewed up at 1659 HCU Topcliffe as a RAF flight engineer of an all-Canadian crew. I then went on to do a tour with 434 Sqdn RCAF at Croft with 6 Group.

Ron Holland







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