- RAF Wellesbourne Mountford during the Second World War -
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RAF Wellesbourne Mountford
RAF Wellesbourne Mountford was situated in Warwickshire, 6 miles East of Stratford Upon Avon Opened in 1941 it was home to No.22 Operational Training Unit, Bomber Command throughout the Second World War. Over 9000 airmen passed through training at this airfield.
The airfield remained in RAF hands, closing in 1964. Today it is a private airfield and home to a museum
Squadrons stationed at RAF Wellesbourne Mountford
- No.22 Operational Training Unit
26th May 1941 Aircraft Lost
28th Jun 1943 Aircraft Lost
16th Jun 1944 Aircraft Lost
If you can provide any additional information, please add it here.
Those known to have served at
RAF Wellesbourne Mountford
during the Second World War 1939-1945.
- Armin DFC. Norman. Sqd/Ldr.
- Hall Don. F/O
- Jervis Ivan. W/O2
- Reynolds Herbert Lindsay. F/Lt.
- Sant Eric Norman. Cpl.
- Swallow Sidney Ernest. Sgt. (d.14th Dec 1942)
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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Cpl. Eric Norman Sant No 22 OTUEric Sant served at RAF Wellesbourne during 1941 as an armourer.
Sqd/Ldr. Norman "Red" Armin DFC Pilot 57,139 & 608 SquadronsMy dad joined the RAF in 1942. He had red hair and a quick temper hence the nickname 'Red'. He was not the stereo typical RAF officer and got into numerous scrapes off duty. On the day he signed up the guy behind the desk slung the signing up forms at him and they landed on the floor. Typically he got down on the floor signed the forms and left. He detested arrogance and bad manners. After a brief introduction to the Lewis machine gun at RAF Shoreham he saw his first action as an AC2 against German tip and run raiders coming in low level across the English Channel. The enemy bombers were so low they had to depress their guns to take aim. They also managed to shoot at each other across the airfield. They did manage to shoot one bomber down and it crash landed in the field next to the airfield. One airman streaked ahead of the rest and by the time they caught up he had bayoneted the emerging pilot who according to him had resisted arrest. The airman's brother had been killed at Dunkirk. The reality of war was never far away. He completed his flying training in Canada On Tiger Moths and Avro Ansons and passed out as Pilot Officer. On his return to England he joined 57 Squadron flying Vickers Wellingtons. The Wellington could take a tremendous amount of punishment with its geodetic construction and fabric covering. It was a very heavy aircraft to fly. The controls had no power assistance. One night on a raid they were coned after the master searchlight locked on to then. My dad put the aircraft into a dive to evade the searchlights and it took him and his navigator their full combined force with their feet on the instrument panel to pull the aircraft out of the dive. My dad completed his first tour of operations with 57 Squadron and then joined an OTU Operational Training Squadron at Wellesbourne for a 'rest' He always maintained that this was as dangerous as operational flying because the Wellingtons they used for training were clapped out. On one training flight he was called away and had to leave the student with the aircraft with the engines ticking over. The student failed to periodically open and shut the engines which meant there was a danger of them overheating. He frantically tried to signal from the other side of airfield to the student to open up the engines but to no avail. On getting back to the aircraft he raised merry hell with the student while opening and closing the throttles. On take off they had just retracted the undercarriage when one of the engines caught fire and had to be immediately shut down. Climbing a Wellington on one engine particularly a clapped out one was unheard of at the time. With much cursing the hapless student was given the task of putting out the fire then manually lowering the undercarriage with a lever because the dead engine powered the hydraulics. After what was later considered to be an outstanding piece of airmanship dad managed to land the aircraft in one piece. By then he was raging and in a typical temper got out of the cockpit walked along the wing and peed on the offending engine. Unknown to him a party of WAAF's had been on a visit to the control tower and had observed the entire event. Needless to say the Station CO after commending him for his airmanship gave him a right old earwigging. On return to operations my dad joined the famous 139 Jamaica Squadron flying Mosquitoes. He loved the Mossie, no crew to worry about apart from the Navigator and they were so fast very few fighters could catch them. More importantly it kept him alive. As he was nearing the end of his second tour of operations he was asked to transfer to the newly re-formed 608 Squadron which needed some experienced crews to help bed the Squadron in. Most of the raids in 1944 were against Berlin and on his last raid he flew with a heavy head cold, came down too fast on his return and damaged his eardrums. This was the end of his flying career as he was grounded. His navigator was re-crewed and was killed over Berlin a few weeks later. He ended the war in Rangoon running an operational admin unit for General Slim. He caught malaria and it had a marked effect on his health for many years after his return to civilian life.John Armin
F/Lt. Herbert Lindsay "Monk" Reynolds 37 SquadronLindsay Reynolds or Monk as he was known to his crew, enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force in November 1940. Following BCATP training as an Observer in western Canada he set sail for Britain in August 1931. He was assigned to No. 22 OTU at Wellesbourne. Later he was sent to the Middle East. Having sufficient flying time to his credit he and his crew left for Gibraltar from Overseas Air Dispatch Unit, Portreath on 23 March 1942 aboard Wellington aircraft DV517B.
On 31 March the crew were briefed for their six hour and fifty-two minute flight to Malta. Less than two hours after take they were in trouble. Fuel consumption was down. They knew they had to return to Gibraltar. Lindsay launched a ``sea marker`` to get a better reading on wind velocity and direction. On their descent into Gibraltar they flew over a merchant convoy of fifteen ships. Attempting to line up over the runway, they knew it was going to be rough landing. Just prior to crashing Lindsay braced himself with the insteps of both feet against the main spar of the aircraft. The plane crashed on landing and collided with two spitfires. Everything went up in flames, but the crew were able to escape the wreckage. The pilot, P/O Norman Knight was severely traumatized and was quickly removed from the rest of the crew. All the crew were badly shaken up. Lindsay had broken a bone in his foot but decided not to mention it to the medical officer for fear that he would be held back from operations. The crew returned to England aboard the Llanstephan Castle in search of another plane. They did no flying during April and May 1942. Lindsay was showing signs of PTSD, feeling anxious and struggling to concentrate. “After our accident the M.O. seemed to think it quite natural to be so affected but I do wish I could feel more at ease than I do. To rest is utterly impossible, and I dread the thought of flying again…I also find it so hard to study…sometimes I find myself reading and reading and not getting a thing out of it…” (Letter from Lindsay to his brother Arnold, 21 May 1942).
During the last week at Hartwell the crew was assigned another pilot, P/O Sgt. Mackenzie – a Canadian. On 6 June the crew flew to Gibraltar aboard Wellington DV652V. They left Gibraltar for Malta the next day, arriving on the same day as Canada’s Ace, “Daredevil” George Beurling. The crew landed at 21:35 local time. The plan was to refuel as quickly as possible. While refuelling took place the crew was briefed on the next leg of their journey to Egypt. They were informed that they would be transporting civilians – the wife and two children of an officer. Suddenly the briefing was interrupted by a bombing raid. It was imperative that the plane get airborne before it was hit and put out of action. Interrupting the briefing, and rushing to the plane with their precious cargo, they boarded and lined up for take off. The two Wellingtons ahead of them were hit as they attempted to get airborne. Now Lindsay’s crew had slightly less runway to work with and Sgt. Mackenzie, giving it all he had, managed to get airborne avoiding the enflamed wreckage at the end of the runway at Luqa airstrip. They had escaped the bombing, and quickly Lindsay navigated their course away from the enemy airplanes over the skies of Malta. Ninety minutes later they were recalled to Malta. At 01:45 on 10 June they landed at Luqa airfield for the second time in five hours. The fires of bombed and burned wreckage were all around the airfield illuminating the night sky, and the acrid smell of jet fuel and chemicals filled the air. It was a frightening sight. Their passenger, the mother of the two children, had not been informed that they were returning to Malta. She thought she had escaped the nightmare, only to find that she had returned to it. Upon learning of her whereabouts she burst into tears.
The crew spent two eventful days on Malta. During this time Lindsay did a shift as acting air traffic controller at Luqa. He experienced another “first.” Up until that point he had only attended military funerals, but on Malta, because he was “a religious man,” he was required to perform the burial service of a fellow airman killed in the bombing the night before since there was no available padre. At twenty-two years of age, with only the New Testament that he carried in his breast pocket, he dutifully performed his sacred duty. The next day the crew was walking over open ground on their way to Veletta. Just as they reached the middle of the field, out of nowhere came a German fighter pilot swooping down to fire on the airmen in the field. They were like ducks in a barrel. The German pilot came low enough to look into the faces of the airmen,andt to their great surprise and overwhelming relief, rather than firing on them he signalled with his finger and flew off. He could have gunned them down with the push of his thumb, but didn’t have the stomach for it.
The crew arrived at the RAF station at El-Daba, Egypt on 12 June 1942. While at El-Daba the crew was broken up and ordered to different squadrons. Lindsay was ordered to report to 37 Squadron RAF at Abu Sueir. He arrived at Abu Sueir on 30 June. Lindsay’s first night of operations was 8 July 1942. Wellington AD645H was airborne by 22:30 (local time), and Lindsay navigated the plane to the Target – Tobruk. The captain announced that the target was dead ahead and ordered him forward to prepare for the bomb run. He lay on the padded inside panel of the entry hatch to drop his bombs. He heard the pilot say he could see fires in the dock area and some bursting flak. Lindsay called out the approach bearings for the bomb run to the captain, who confirmed he had opened the bomb doors. He flipped his toggles on the bomb panel to arm the bomb. On the final approach he called out course corrections with “left, left…right, left…Hold it, steady, steady…bombs gone!” With that cry from Lindsay Pilot Officer Dudley threw the aircraft into a rather violent bank to port. The interior of the aircraft was suddenly lit up in the orange flash of exploding shells. Suddenly the sky lit up. They were caught in the search lights of the German ground forces. The crew heard the unmistakable sound of flak, too close for comfort. Their skilled and seasoned pilot suddenly took the most violent evasive action, putting the aircraft into a nose dive in an attempt to avoid the enemy search lights. He continued to dive while the crew hung on for dear life. The Wellington vibrated and shook, and all but broke apart as they descended at this accelerated pace. Pilot Officer Dudley then attempted to pull out of the dive. He pulled back on the control column or stick. Nothing happened. The gravitational force was too great. He tried again, and this time he put both feet on the instrument panel and pulled, using the full weight of his body. He was unable to muster enough strength on his own to overcome the gravitational force of the dive. Dudley shouted at the second pilot to help him. Together they put all their weight into it, and pulled back for all they were worth. As the men pulled with all their might, suddenly by shear brute force, the aircraft began to recover from the dive and they were on their way back to base. Later that month P/O J.R. Dudley was awarded the DFC for his courage and skill as a pilot. Lindsay always credited P/O Dudley for saving his life that day. On nights when he wasn’t flying he enjoyed sitting off by himself in the desert looking up into the night sky. This is when he felt closest to God, and would often take his Methodist hymn book with him to read.
He flew throughout July and August, with some time off to visit some of the holy spots of Palestine and some time at the beach. The break was important to the stressed aircrew. In September his crew crash landed in the desert. The crew slept during the heat of the day and walked at night until they were picked up by British forces. After verifying their identities they were returned to base at Abu Sueir.
On 1 October Lindsay was promoted to Warrant Officer. A tour of operations was considered to be 30 operational flights. Lindsay completed an official tour of operations in the month of September, but continued flying with the squadron. He was yet to receive any further orders. They continued to fly, attacking shipping and jetties at Tobruk. Lindsay’s final operation was on 12 October 1942. He ended his tour as he had begun it – bombing enemy shipping at Tobruk. He was finished. The Air Force said so. He had completed a tour of 32 operations, and had logged a total of 251 hours and 50 minutes of operational flying. He was ordered back to Britain. On 23 October, the opening day of the Battle of El Alamein he said good-bye to his crew and 37 Squadron, and travelled to 23 PTC. Yet unknown to him, on the same day he was promoted to Pilot Officer. He would have to wait until his return to Britain to be notified of his promotion.
Lindsay’s return trip to Britain took a total of 87 days. He arrived back in Canada the end of March 1943. Within three months of his arrival home he married his sweetheart, Jean Hull. They enjoyed 62 years of life together, until his death in 2005. Lindsay spent the remainder of the war as a flight instructor at No. 9 AOS at St. Jean, Quebec, and finished with the rank of Flight Lieutenant. By war’s end he had in his possession an Air Observer’s Badge and Operational Wings. Over the course of his service in the RCAF Lindsay had also earned four medals: Africa Star and Clasp; Defence Medal, General Service Medal, and Canadian Volunteer Service Medal. In Canada these medals were not automatically issued to deserving veterans. In the RCAF the onus was oddly on the veteran to make application for any medals he had earned. Lindsay would not apply for the medals that he had earned and was entitled to have, as he” saw no virtue in seeking reward for doing one’s duty”. He had simply done his duty, nothing more, and that was all.
In July 1945 he registered in the Engineering program at McGill University. Upon graduation he was employed by Shell Canada, and continued with them as a chemical engineer until his retirement in 1983. For a more detailed read on the life and service of Lindsay Reynolds see Duty With Honour: The Story of a Young Canadian With Bomber CommandElizabeth Reynolds
W/O2 Ivan Jervis 433 SquadronMy 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
Sgt. Sidney Ernest Swallow 22 OTU (d.14th Dec 1942)Sidney Swallow, a relative of my wife, was killed on 14th of December 1942 when his Wellington plane crashed just outside Wellesbourne Mountford airfield where he was under-going training with the No. 22 O.T.U. He was a wireless operator air gunner.Derek Butler
Available at discounted prices.
Duty With Honour: The Story of a Young Canadian With Bomber Command
Elizabeth ReynoldsLindsay Reynolds or Monk as he was known to his crew, enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force in November 1940. Following BCATP training as an Observer in western Canada he set sail for Britain in August 1931. He was assigned to No. 22 OTU at Wellesbourne. Later he was sent to the Middle East.More information on:
Duty With Honour: The Story of a Young Canadian With Bomber Command
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