- 405th Bomb Sqd, USAAF during the Second World War -
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405th Bomb Sqd, USAAF
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405th Bomb Sqd, USAAF
during the Second World War 1939-1945.
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W/O. Howard Jack Mason 405 SquadronJack 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
Clarence L. "Roy" Miller 405th Fighter Bomber GroupIs anyone out there who was part of 405th Fighter Bomber Group and knew Clarence L. Miller (Roy)?Karen Griswold
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