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- Reich Douglas Gordon. Flt.Lt.
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Flt.Lt. Douglas Gordon Reich Photographic 2 Operational SquadronDouglas Reich was a 17-year-old lad from Worsley, Manchester when war was declared. After volunteering for the RAF at 18, he was sailing on the Liberty Ship “The George F Eliott” in March 1942 when it was diverted to New York to avoid U. Boat attacks, so he took the train to Montreal. He was posted to No 5 Elementary Flying Training School at Windsor Mills, Flying Fleet Finch Mk. 2. After 5 hours and 20 minutes duel instruction, he took his first solo flight and finished the course with 65 hours flying time. He was then posted to No 13 Service Flying Training School at St Huberts, 100 miles from Montreal, to fly Harvards. After 2 weeks, his instructor was badly injured and his pupil killed, so he got a new instructor F/O Thompson. Towards the end of the course, Reich belly landed the plane after the engine caught fire, but finished the course and was awarded his commission. He returned from Canada in December 1942 with 220 hours flying time and then went to Tern Hill, Shropshire, England on refresher courses flying Miles Master and Kestrels.
In 1943 he went to an operational training unit at Hawarden, North Wales, to fly Mustang Mk I, - single seater fighter planes - and in May, was posted to No 2 Operational Squadron, an Army co-op squadron, at Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire, to fly low-level photography reconnaissance missions. He photographed the French coast before D-Day, VI rocket sites and Pegasus bridge in Normandy to see if it could carry Allied tanks. On June 15th 1944, at 08.00hrs he was briefed to lead a section to attack the ferry boats that were taking German troops across the River Seine. The ferry was allowing them to get to the beachhead much quicker than by road.
He took off from Gatwick Aerodrome about 8.40am to attack the ferry boats transporting troops across the River Seine. At a place called Caudebec, he saw a ferry on the bank and blasted it with his four 20mm cannons. He pulled up, turned and fired on another ferry on the opposite bank then turned back over the river. Doing well over 300mph and flying very low, he crashed in to the Seine at Caudebec.
He floated in the river for 5 hours before being picked up unconscious by a French fishing boat crew who handed him over to the Germans. Regaining consciousness in a French cottage hospital about 10 hours later, he awoke as a Prisoner of War. It was a miracle he survived with only bruising, concussion and a broken ankle, although he had also burst all the blood vessels in his eyes! This is due to the fact that he had given his ‘Mae West’ inflatable lifejacket a few lungfuls of air before take-off. He had done this in case a crash ever burned his hands and he couldn’t hold and blow into his mouthpiece while in water. But the crash’s cause remains a mystery. Says Doug: “The only thing I can think of is that I’d been flying too low, put a wing tip in the water and cartwheeled in.” He spent weeks in hospitals and was interrogated in Frankfurt where his Scottish name had sparked confusion. “When I was being interrogated in Frankfurt beforehand, the interrogator looked at my name, blue eyes and fair hair and thought I was German. I said ‘I am not! All my relatives come from the Glamis area of Scotland.’ Reich was probably misspelt in the 1700s.”
He was sent to Stalag Luft I in July 1944 on Germany’s Baltic coast at a small town named Barth, near to Stettin where he spent the last 11 months of the war. Its sister camp, Stalag Luft III, inspired the Great Escape film, although no one escaped from Doug’s camp while he was there.
Conditions in the camp were tough but inmates got Red Cross parcels from Britain and the US to stave off starvation. Under captivity, however, he did develop acute appendicitis. A fellow POW and doctor removed the organ by torchlight during an air raid.
Doug survived and prisoners learnt about the end of the war by listening to a secret hidden radio in the camp hospital. In May, 1945, Stalag Luft I was liberated by the Russians. The mood, of course, brightened with unexpected perks. He said: “A day or so later, a Russian Colonel visited our camp and decided we needed some fresh meat. So he sent a very drunk soldier who drove a herd of cows through our gate. It was very funny.”
On May 13, 1945, a fleet of American Flying Fortresses evacuated all RAF personnel. Doug returned to England left the RAF in 1946 and got a job as a newspaper photo engraver in Manchester. He married Sheila in 1948 and had a son and a daughter and currently (2009) have three grandchildren and a great grandchild.Elizabeth Whyman
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