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8th May 1944 44 Squadron Lancaster lost
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Those known to have been held in or employed at
during the Second World War 1939-1945.
- Brown Frederick. Sgt.
- Marquet Raymond Thomas. W/O.
- Marquet Raymond Thomas. W/O.
- McConnell Robert James. F/Lt.
- McCracken Lloyd Christie. FO.
- McRae Donald.
- Radke David August.
- Saunders Harry. Sgt.
- Simmonds Norman William. WO This page is new, as yet no names have been submitted.
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W/O. Raymond Thomas "Ray" Marquet 75 SquadronMy father Thomas Marquet was shot down on his 13th operation over Benghazi. He and his crew bailed out over the Western Desert. All survived. They were taken in by the local Arab tribesman and looked after for a while. Unfortunately, greed took over and the Arabs "sold" the information that they had an aircrew with them to the Germans. The next thing they knew a Nazi tank squadron arrived to pick them up and all were incarcerated for the duration of the war. First in Dulag Luft, where my father was kept longer than was usual as he had excellent piano playing skills which the Germans enjoyed. Then he was moved to Stalg Luft 4 for the rest of the war.Julia Dunseath
FO. Lloyd Christie "Little Mac" McCracken 426 SquadronI enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force June 10, 1940 and was discharged July 30, 1945. I entered as Aircraftsman Second Class and left as a Flying Officer. I was taken on Active Force June 11, 1940 and arrived overseas on November 5, 1942.
The following tale is a personal memory of my days in the Royal Canadian Air Force. It was a time of new experiences, sometimes very exciting and at other times very boring. I have been able to refresh my memory with my log book, the logs and charts of our operational trips and my letters home. I was able, in 1992 to attend a reunion in Trenton, Ontario, which helped renew memories and create a desire to record my history fifty years later. In addition I have consulted the 426 Squadron History written by Captain Ray Jacobson. I have provided commentary from authorities whenever I thought they might help clarify certain terms and concepts. I take great pride in having been a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Signing Up I cannot now remember exactly how I felt on that day, September 10, when we learned that Canada was at war. However, I can recall everyone rushing around talking of food shortages. I had taken a Motor Mechanics course in Fredericton and was employed by Herb Swan, in Harvey Station from September 1 to October 8, 1939. They were building a road and a lot of heavy trucks needed their motors overhauled, so I worked until the end of the rush period. I was then employed by Harry McCracken, who, living in Welsford at the time, managed the Service Station in Fredericton Junction, at which I became an attendant from October 10 to October 31. It then closed for the winter. During this winter period I became a cookee for Harry Brawn in back of Tracy, near the beginning of Meransey Brook. I was beginning to notice that fellows in uniforms received more attention from girls than the average guy. This made the Air Force look quite appealing, so on the 16th of April, 1940, at the age of seventeen, I completed forms on my personal history, education, parents, and work experiences for W.G. Cook, Flying Officer.
On June 10th, 1940, I boarded the train for Moncton, New Brunswick Canada; really my first time away from home on my own. After arriving,I remember asking at the post office where you go to enlist. The building was handy and there were other fellows signing up as well. I was told I needed a letter of recommendation and the only person I knew in Moncton was Doug Ball. He was working at the airport, so I called a taxi and went and looked him up. He seemed very busy, gave me his address and asked me to drop by his home later and pick up the letter. I did that and was quite pleased at what he had done for me. More forms were filled out including a Medical Form indicating I had a scar on my leg (from sharpening a knife as a young fellow. That knife was so sharp you could split a hair off a donkey.) It also mentioned a fractured nose( when I was about ten, I was playing ball and was batting. I hit the ball, then the ball hit my nose. It bled and bled but I didn’t go to a doctor). The medical form also records my height to be 5 ft. 6 1/2 in., and weighing 126 pounds. I made out a will, leaving everything to my mother. The next day we were off to Ottawa. Mother had thought I would be home before leaving. However, she didn’t hear from me until two weeks later when she received my letter. She didn’t know what had happened to me and I think she was quite sore at me for not writing earlier.
We traveled to Ottawa by train. We were young and green but we did know that we were supposed to salute officers. We got off the train and saw the Parliament Buildings. On going into a hotel, we noticed a man standing in a uniform with a hat, so we saluted, thinking this fellow was an officer. He never responded, except to give us a funny look - this was our introduction to a doorman.
Initial Training School. We then took a bus to Rocliffe Air Station to report for I.T.S. (Initial Training School). On the first morning names were called out to report to various messes. Upon arrival you were put to work. Some reported to Officer’s Quarters and became cleaners. Others reported to various buildings to wash and wax floors. I worked in the kitchen slicing bacon, setting tables, washing dishes - I enjoyed the dishwasher, and peeling potatoes. They had large bins that would hold 100 lbs. of potatoes. It went around and around, and as it did it took off the skins. I thought that was pretty slick! The purpose of this was to experience service life while waiting for space at Initial Training School, (I.T.S.). While here, we also learned how to march, went on parade, and attended church. This period lasted for two or three months.
My R.C.A.F. number was R64681, which I have remembered all my life, even after I became an officer and was issued a new number J96264. Barrack life was quite different from what we were used to. However, we did have a lot of fun horsing around. After my first visit to a wet canteen I was feeling pretty good and I swung at a guy to scare him and hit the wall above his head. My fist went through the wall and I quickly covered the hole with an Air Force crest I had bought. It had been pinned on the wall so I just moved it over the hole. I didn’t want anyone to find out, and perhaps get in trouble.
We received all of our inoculations here. We lined up in the fields and stood so long waiting our turn that some guys fainted just from the thought of all those needles. Here we were supposed to sign up and go anywhere we were called. It was quite a treat to get out of the Junction.
One day a sergeant in the kitchen took some of us through Ottawa in a car with a rumble seat and the top down. We crossed the bridge to Hull. In the evenings we had a ten o’clock curfew. Another fellow and I went to the theater where there were a lot of older people and we had a great time. We laughed so hard and hated to leave. We were really enjoying ourselves. We left at ten and were late getting in but no one paid any attention to our arrival. It was a great time here and I especially enjoyed the marching.
#1 Wireless School - Montreal. Next I was transferred to # 1 Wireless School on Queen Mary Road outside the center of Montreal. I traveled by train and became an AC1 (Air Craftsman 1st Class) on the 11th of September, 1940. The only work we did here was guard duty. I was given a rifle and was told to stand in a box. This was a picnic. We were waiting to get on course. One civilian came along and just for fun,I said "Halt!" The civilian frowned, looked at me and said "What’s your problem?" He went on in and complained to a sergeant. I was called in and told to go easy on civilians. If we stayed out too late we ended up picking dandelions. But that was all right too. We were given a stick with a V shape on the end that picked them. Well, we’d go along, picking away and then when no one was looking, we would visit with our female neighbours near the back fence. They were maids keeping children. Yes, we had a great time there.
We ate well while at #1 Wireless Training School. On the ends of the tables were big jugs of milk, of which we were always running out, and the kitchen help had to keep running in and refilling the jugs. After a while he just brought out two five gallon jugs, placed one on each end of the table, and told us to help ourselves. One fellow thought he recognized my last name. He asked me if I was related to Crowley McCracken from Ontario. I didn’t really know but I guessed I must have been. Crowley had the contract to feed all of us in the #1 Wireless School. We were just placed here as a holding unit.
#3 Training Command - Montreal. I was next transferred to #3 Training Command, St. James Street in Montreal. Here we took a course in Shorthand and it didn’t take long to realize that some of us weren’t too good at that. I worked in the offices for the central registry where my job was to open and sort the mail for the officers in the electrical and plumbing building. They were large buildings with three or four floors of offices. Once I got in trouble for opening mail marked "Confidential".
Here I rented a room on Lagouchitere Street, along with another fellow, Gordon Gilbert whom I found in the #3 Training Command. Opposite us, men were beginning to dig the foundation for Montreal’s underground railway station. For breakfast we would have cornflakes and milk, and for lunch and supper we would go to a restaurant. You could get a good feed of liver and onions for 70 cents and they sure did a good job. This place did a big business to truck drivers as well. I ate here a lot. Another favorite spot was Mother Martins. This tavern was handy and was operated by an older lady who was interested in all of us young fellows and how we were doing. I was approached and asked to run the canteen. I had to take money from here to a bank in Westmount. I was pleased they trusted me with this. I sold sweatshirts with the Air Force crest on them. We purchased them for 35 cents and sold them for $1.50. I sold watches and charged $10.00 less than other stores and still made a great profit.
Sometimes we were asked to be Special Police in the evenings; not often, just the odd night when the boys were rowdy. We wore a band on our arm, with S. P. on it, for Special Police, and occasionally would take it off and go to the movies. It was a great life! While at the canteen I was on a Softball team, and occasionally enjoyed hockey games, which were free to aircrew. I bought a bike for my youngest sister Ethel, and put it together, then took it apart and put it in a crate to send it down on the train. Usually they are sent assembled. Father and my brother Larrie had an awful time getting it home and putting it together. The country was so busy making war materials, a bike was hard to get.
I was acting out and cut my finger on a bottle and was taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital and received stitches. From here I went back to #3 Training Command doing clerical work. While living at home, my sister, Helen, had Scarlet Fever and we had all been quarantined. Therefore, I believed I had had it too. In Montreal I was hospitalized and they were uncertain as to what I had. I was very sick yet told to help myself to the fluids in the refrigerator. When I did get up to get some there wouldn’t be any there. I went days without fluid - they tried to starve me. The doctor came, saw me, and sent me by Air Force Ambulance to Montreal General. In the ambulance a boil had broken in my mouth - it tasted awful! I arrived and a doctor checked me over and I got settled in. They still wondered what I had and thought it might be Scarlet Fever. I was then taken to Alexandra Hospital, and placed in a glass cubicle. It was the only way they could quarantine me. I lay awake at night and slept all day. I couldn’t eat and was there over a week. When I broke out in a rash the doctor was almost certain that it was scarlet fever. I was put in a ward for a while, and then moved upstairs. Helen was working at a TB Hospital in St. Agathe and she would occasionally phone and come to visit. The doctor reported that on October 31, I developed strawberry tongue and was now positive that it was scarlet fever. After November 1st, I made a rapid recovery and continued to do well until my discharge, November 20. My personal address was 4450 Sherbrooke St. W. Montreal, August 2, 1941.
I also had tonsillitis and was admitted to the hospital at the Wireless Training School for three days. They were removed at the Royal Victoria Hospital and I was there a further four days, then on to St. Anne’s Military Hospital for six days. I soon became bored here and upon receiving a letter from mother, learned that my brothers Charlie and Harvey enlisted in the army and had been transferred overseas. Probably they were in Halifax waiting to go. It was a short time later I decided to remuster in the air crew and go overseas.
It was decided June 24th, 1942, that I was "good material for an air gunner, a good marksman, keen to fly, wanted to be an air gunner, some boxing, fighter type, with plenty of ambition". These comments were recorded by Flight Officer J.O. Laffoley. I had been a clerk 1 so I spoke to my officer, Laffoley and he looked into it. I had trouble passing the medical exam due to breathing problems. After treating the problem they then made arrangements for the next gunnery course which began in Mount Jolie, Quebec.
I planned to go home for Christmas, had $400 saved, but at the last moment wasn’t allowed to leave, so bought gifts at Morgans, a big department store of four or five stories. I remember buying a 5 pound box of the best chocolates they had. I can’t remember anything else I bought but I did have a good time buying and shipping the presents home.
Number 9 Bombing and Gunnery School - Mont Jolie My next transfer was to Number 9 Bombing and Gunnery School in Mount Jolie on the 19th of July, 1942. I was now a Leading Aircraftsman with an increase in pay. At the beginning of this course we were entitled to wear a white flash on the front of our forage cap signifying that we were air crew under training. This was an eight week course beginning on July 27, and ending on September 10th. At the end we were to receive our wings and promotion to rank of sergeant. Life was looking up.
During the gunnery course we did a lot of skeet shooting which consisted of shooting clay pigeons out of the air from different angles. I became pretty good at this. In the report on skeet shooting my officers remarks report "average". Once, while home on leave, I was able to show off a little while hunting with my brother. I shot three Gorbies(Grey Jays) on the wing, one after another.
We had plenty of flying experience as well. We flew in the old Fairey Battle planes which were used in World War I. These had a single engine and we would drop smoke bombs on the St. Lawrence River, circle around, and then shoot at them. One fellow dived too low and a wing went under water. It then pulled him down into the water but he was able to get out of the plane and swim to shore. My most memorable and nerve racking flight during training was when our pilot put down the landing gear and only one wheel came down. The Commanding Officer (C.O.) in the tower told the pilot to put our other wheel up and come in on the plane’s belly. We were told to prepare for a crash landing. We did this and it caused us to stop faster but never did much damage.
I was given a 30 day leave so went home and worked on the farm with my brothers Larrie and Arthur and told stories. I remember telling them "if I ever get hit, I hope it’s not in the stomach". I wanted a quick ending. I returned to Mount Jolie and at the end of the course received my wings and a promotion to the rank of sergeant. My flying log tells me I had accumulated 16 hours flying time and my marks were 81%. I was awarded an Air Gunner Badge, 1942. I had my sergeant stripes and wings sewn on and removed the white flash from my hat. We knew that approximately the top third of the class would be commissioned and I learned that I had a chance for a commission but I would need $50. This posed an immediate problem as I didn’t have the funds. I wrote home asking my brother Larrie if he could loan me the cash. He was unable to help out so I ended up turning down the commission. I was given about one month leave and went home to visit my family before leaving Canada for overseas.
We were kept seven days in a holding unit for people waiting for the ship to England. This was really a sorry place. Our beds were loose straw with a blanket. The person who slept there before me had the crabs, (body lice) and I found out they were contagious. We had to stay right there the entire time. Our ocean liner, the Queen Mary, one of the most luxurious ships ever built, was more than 1,000 feet long and would cross the Atlantic Ocean in just over five days. The rooms were jam packed with men. We were crowded in double or triple tiered steel beds closely packed with duffel bags. I shared a cabin, meant to accommodate two, with five other men. I was on the ship writing letters home about a week before it left shore. We went to the mess hall for our meals and were served on white linen. It was beautiful. We fed like kings on the Queen Mary. I remember enjoying salmon with a twist of lemon. The weather was good and the ship was so large that no one experienced sea sickness. We spent most of our time eating, sleeping and visiting a few guys we knew. There wasn’t enough room to play card games. Before leaving, men were taking bathroom fixtures and the like. It was all so fancy and very sad to see them do this. Some of us had bought silk stockings in Canada, for we had heard they were very rare in England. We thought we might give them to some of the girls over there. However, someone on the boat had taken my silk stockings and a new pair of air force gloves.
England. On November 1, 1942, we docked in Greenwich, Scotland. We stayed on the boat until we got a train. It took quite a while to get the boat unloaded, as there were quite a few train loads of us. The next day I boarded a train, the "Flying Scotsman", to Bournemouth. They fed us biscuits that were as hard as bullets. The trip to Bournemouth took about a day. In Bournemouth we were billeted in a large room in a Hall. Upon arrival, November 5, 1942, it was necessary to check with the medical officer. Bournemouth was a lovely resort town and the weather was beautiful! The whole town was a holding unit for Canadian Airmen. There was a big dining room near the beaches which served as a mess hall for NCOs,(Non Commissioned Officers). There were acres and acres of lawns and flowers, as well as water fountains, peacocks, big trees, little paths and bridges to walk on. The beach, which was seven miles long had the finest sand you ever saw. The Germans had machine gunned a group of swimmers there earlier in the war. We had little to do but enjoy ourselves while we awaited posting. The city offered plenty of entertainment; pubs, cinemas, and a music hall. From here I was posted to Instructional Training (ITU) in Wellsbourne, Warwickshire.
Instructional Training Unit - Wellsbourne. The countryside was beautiful as I took the train to Wellsbourne. I was impressed with the beauty of the brooks, bridges and the vines growing around and over so much. Upon arrival, another class ahead of us were in the midst of a course, so we had a fair amount of leisure time on our hands. Meanwhile, we walked around, enjoyed the country side and the girls. I was given seven days leave from the 11th of December to the 17th. and had been invited to spend Christmas with friends but chose instead to stay on the base. Between the 29th of January and the 10th of February, 1943, I enjoyed another 13 days leave. Quite often the airmen would visit London or take bicycle rides through Stratford-on-Avon. Once my course began it did not involve flying, but rather was instructional training held in classrooms. From here I was transferred to Operational Training (OTU) in Leamington.
Operational Training Unit - Leamington. We came from Canada, just young fellows - 18 and 19 years old flying bombers and fighters. The young English boys couldn’t get over that! In England you had to be 21 to get a driver’s licence. They couldn’t even drive a car. They were allowed to wear a uniform, but not fly a plane. I think they later lowered the age. Upon arrival October 13, 1942, we were assigned to Quonset huts. The hut had a coal stove in each end and lots of beds. The first morning we all reported to a large briefing room to be addressed by the Commanding Officer (C. O.). Among us were pilots, navigators, bomb aimers, wireless operators and gunners. The C.O. advised us we would spend most of the first week in ground school and would have some free time. The big question now was who do you crew up with, and how do you go about crewing up? Usually the pilot chose the navigator and from there on they would choose their crew.
Eventually, our crew consisted of Stanley Gaunt, a pilot from Rhode Island, U.S.A.; McCormick, a navigator from Alaska; Bomb Aimer, Lloyd Fadden from Seattle, Washington; and our wireless operator, Green from England. Some were given nicknames. McCormick, being married, seemed much older than the rest of us. He was a very quiet guy and kept to himself. We called him "Big Mac" and I was known as "Little Mac". Stanley was just called Stan. He was a really nice guy and I thought the world of him. Fadden was called "Whitie" because he had naturally white hair. He was a character, always getting into fights and trouble. He would get nasty and sassy with too many drinks. In ground school the crew would start learning about the Wellington aircraft (Wimpies) that we would be using for training. Near the end of our tour we were in a hurry to become operational. We did cross-countries, some low flying, air flying, and a height test. We did some ground and flying training, then a load test, night flying and were then ready for operations.
Our first bombing raid was at an altitude new to us, twenty thousand feet. This meant we would be using oxygen for the first time. Some people have said they found this mask somewhat unpleasant. I was just glad I had it! We did a lot of flying and shooting from the air. Some of the fellows shot at some sheep and got in trouble for that. Before finishing our flying we had one hair raising experience. We had been flying around, quite low at this point. The pilot was busy looking for girls and didn’t see a three inch thick cable until he was right in front of it. He quickly decided to go under it and in so doing went so low the wind from the plane blew the grass right over. We thought that was pretty close and tried to pay closer attention after that.
My boots were beginning to give me a problem so I took the bus to the store to see what could be done about a new pair. The Englishman at the desk looked at them and concluded they were still in pretty good shape, and therefore decided he wouldn’t give me a new pair. I responded with "I’ll get them!" So of I went to the office sergeant and asked him if I could see the C.O. He told me I couldn’t see the C.O. and asked me what my trouble was. I explained my situation and he immediately picked up the phone and called the clerk at the store and told him to give me the boots. I suppose the clerk never figured I’d go to anyone and was just taking the opportunity to show his authority. Well I was pleased as I was handed the boots right away.
During one of our test flights the arrival back in England was not so good. Once one wheel came down and one didn’t. We landed and just spun around in circles, bent the propeller all up and broke off one wing. Imagine being in the tail end of a plane spinning round and round. You really felt it back there. Fire trucks, ambulances, staff and the C.O. all came out to the runway. We were alright but pretty shook up - it happened so fast.
I had entered O.T.U. on the 13th of October, 1942 and left on the 10th of February, 1943. My total day time flying hours were 11, and the total night time flying hours were 20. The remarks of my C.O. are as follows: Keen, average gunner. The deficiency in flying times is due to the fact that the previous air gunner was taken off training and Sgt. McCracken subsisted in the crew. The assessment placed me as an air gunner 5. 426 Squadron - Bomber Command, Dishforth.
On February 1st, 1943, I was posted to 426 Squadron, Canada’s’ Bomber Squadron, Group 6. We were given a special meal of ham and eggs before we left for each bombing raid and upon arrival home another great meal. I could only just get my goon suit on over the top of my flight clothes. What a job to get into the turret, especially with the parachute pack clipped to the upper left-hand side. My first operational of night time bombing occurred March 3, 1943. I had to ride in the top turret and observe the action. The sky was really lit up! This was definitely the most frightening time for me. I couldn’t get over how the pilot could fly the plane right in the midst of it all. You could see all the fire and fighting two hours before you reached it and yet you’d swear you were right over it all along. You couldn’t turn back until you had dropped your bombs. And all that time you just sat and watched what you were flying into.
On one occasion we were over our target and the air was heavy with flak. We saw a great big Halifax bomber coming right at us. I gave a yell. The pilot dipped the plane down and he went right over our head. That was close. On another sortie, Navigator McCormick wasn’t getting oxygen and became confused. We found ourselves flying around, apparently lost for a bit. We saw some fire below so let our bombs go. As a bomb is dropped a camera on the plane takes a picture, thereby telling us if we hit our target, or how close we came. We eventually learned we had shot at a burning haystack. The Germans must have seen us flying around so set fire to one of their haystacks. Records of the 426 Squadron report a plane being heavily shot up. Our aircraft was the one with over a hundred flak holes. The flak hit the back of my flying jacket, leaving in it a hole about a foot long. It just missed my backbone and severed my intercom with the pilot. This was a close call. If the flak had hit an inch closer, it would have cut my backbone. It virtually nailed my flight suit to the steel door behind me, as my back had been right up against it, later forcing them to cut the steel door to free my jacket. With the intercom out, the crew was worried about me. I could hear them but they couldn’t hear me. I could hear Fadden say, "Little Mac must have got it". Then, speaking to me, they said, "If you can hear me, press your button". There was a button I could push that would cause a light to come on in the cockpit. I did this and the button lit up. Fadden came down to check on me and then reported back to the others. We made an emergency landing in southern England, off the White Cliffs of Dover. We came in for a crash landing with our hydraulics shot up and no brakes. There were large banks of sand across the runway to help us stop. The plane was sent to the factory for major repairs. I have no idea how I came out of there unscathed.
Once we landed, a girl was asked to drive us to Dishforth, which took all day. She was a great girl for when we stopped to visit a pub along the way she loaned us some money. When I arrived in Dishforth I was told my brother Charlie had been to see me, and that he was in the area awaiting my arrival. He had been told I was out on a bombing raid and that I hadn’t returned. They did tell him I had landed in southern England. It was good to see him again.
After bombing Bochum one night and on our trip back our gas was reading empty and when we called in to land we were told to go to another airport. Trying to find a place to land when you are running very low on fuel can be your biggest problem. Quite often a lot of planes would be returning at the same time and all would be very low on fuel. This night the pilot said he couldn’t go anywhere, he had been reading empty so long. They turned all the lights on and we had a safe landing. This was quite nerve racking, low on fuel and trying to find a place to land.
Our squadron returned to the Battle of the Ruhr to attack Dortmund May 23. This was my last sortie - I never returned. An interesting event - before this last bombing raid I had a funny (peculiar) feeling that something was going to go wrong. I cleaned out my locker and gave special chocolates to one of the girls just down from us. It was as though I knew I would not return. As I was leaving the mess hall I told the pilot "I’ll see you in Dulag Luft."
A friend, Bailey and myself signed our money over to another fellow who wasn’t flying that night, as was the custom before each air raid. Neither of us returned. Bailey’s plane was coned in search lights. The pilot took a fast nose dive to escape the lights and then tried to pull up quickly to evade the enemy. Something must have gone wrong, for the pilot gave the order to bail out. When Bailey jumped he was too close to the ground and his parachute never had a chance to open. I have a picture of him. He is located in the first row of my photo in Operational Training Unit. He was engaged so I visited southern England to speak to his fiancee regarding his death. A difficult time but I was glad to do this for them.
At the Dortmund raid, our crew, skippered by Sgt. Stanley Gaunt, had a very difficult trip. Our plane was coned by search lights and we received repeated hits by anti-aircraft guns, taking out our hydraulics, intercom and starting a fire. Whitey Fadden and I received the order to bale out. Before the rest of the crew jumped, the fire went out and Gaunt decided to try to fly the plane home. He made it and received the Distinguished Flying Medal for his heroics.
My next scheduled operation was to be in a Lancaster. However, I never made it back. The last I remember was a big gust of wind hitting me as I turned the turret around crossways, leaned backwards and fell out. My intercom cord was hooked around something and snapped in two giving me quite a jerk and knocking me unconscious. Luckily, my hand was on the rip cord and the jerk snapped my hand down opening the chute. I wasn’t conscious to bend my knees and break my fall, so all my weight came down on one leg. It was twisted pretty badly.
Prisoner of War. It was early morning and still dark when I came to, looked up, and saw open sky and stars above me. I thought I was in PMQs back in England and that we must have been bombed and our roof blown off. I fell asleep and awoke the second time, now daylight, with my parachute spread all around me and discovered I had landed in the end of a turnip patch, close to the farm buildings. Hitting the ground with terrific force, I lost a boot. I couldn’t walk so I crawled on my hands and knees and tried to bury my parachute in a pond. This was impossible so I left it, crawled up to the barn and sat in the sun until someone came around. Finally a young fellow came from the house to feed the cattle. I called twice and when he saw me he went back into the house. The father came out and took me in, sat me at the table and gave me some bread. He couldn’t have been friendlier. I offered them my escape kit but they refused. They could get in trouble if the Germans found they had received anything from us. They asked me where my parachute was, then the old fellow took off on a bicycle and was gone for about two hours. He arrived back later with a guard. The German guard looked at me and in English said, "For you, the war is over." This seemed to be the only English the German guards could say, for each of the prisoners got the same greeting. This later became a joke among the POWs in prison camp. We progressed from interrogation to a holding unit and then to a Stalag or prison. I was taken just outside Dusseldorf to a farm house which had an office. I was held here for a couple of days in a building made of concrete building blocks. Inside was a bunk, a window and a guard. An older guard and a girl from the office came and stood in my doorway smiling. I must have appeared pretty down for I believe they were trying to get me to smile. Finally I did and they returned to the office. From here I was taken to an office in Dusseldorf with seven or eight Special Service men. These fellows had grown up in the States and could pass without any trouble as American or Canadian airmen. They spoke better English than most of us. They looked like they were ready to slap me in the head but I just sat there giving my name, rank and number. I was afraid but stubborn. I remember being given three small potatoes that had been boiled with the skins on. The guard took the largest potato. I was taken to a hospital because of my bad leg and spent about a month in a room in the basement. They didn’t want me on a regular floor with the rest of their patients. They found I had strained ligaments. Being the only prisoner there, a few of the nurses and staff came down and looked at me as though I were a pet monkey. Someone took my wrist watch and I kept complaining and finally, after a week or so, they brought it back to me. From here I was placed on a street car carrying civilians and, accompanied by a guard, traveled up the Rhine River from Dusseldorf to Dulag Luft in Frankfurt. Scenery was beautiful. I remember grapes growing on a nearly thirty foot high bank. Half way there we stopped at a station and a woman brought me a bowl of rice - no milk or sugar, just a large bowl of rice. I had not been doing much and therefore wasn’t hungry. I tried to thank her and ate as much as I could. Then we moved on up country to Frankfurt. Here we had huts, little shacks they put up fast, with just one man in each. This was an interrogation center - solitary confinement. They didn’t ask me questions, instead they told me who my CO was, the bomb aimer, what boat I came over on, the number of people on that boat and when I came over. They even knew how many bombing raids my CO had been on. They were just verifying what they already knew. I was amazed. We had quite a talk there. They could tell by the look on my face everything they said was true. They didn’t give me a hard time here like they did in Dusseldorf. Fadden, who had bailed out the same time as me eventually found himself in a town and seeing a bicycle leaning against a store, proceeded to take it. A guard came out of the store and Whitey pulled a knife on him and ended up on the firing line. They gave him quite a hard time. After being questioned, on my way back to my room, I saw Whitey making a face at me from his room, with his thumbs in his ears, waving his hands - the foolish fellow. I was glad to see him and we kind of hung out together. We were put in barracks with a group of others and waited there until they had enough prisoners for a train load. After three weeks we were moved on. We unloaded at Stalag Luft VI, in Heydekrug, East Prussia. As far as I knew I would be here until the end of the war. As it turned out I was in this camp one and a half years. There were many of us crowding into the camp and looking for beds. We were the first fellows to settle in and the only person I knew here was Whitey Fadden. Later they brought up Americans and built an extension on the east side of our camp and kept them separate. Every four - six weeks another train load would arrive. They added another extension on the south side for British and Canadian airmen. Mother sent word that a fellow from St. John by the name of Fox was a POW and believed to be in the same camp. I called across the fence to see if they knew of a Fox. They said "Sure, Zeke Fox". Since Germany generally kept within the bounds of the Geneva Convention we were able to have a reasonable lifestyle. We always felt hungry. I suppose after months went by your stomach shrunk up a bit. When Red Cross parcels were coming in, morale was good. We would get up in the morning, go out and wash in cold water. Each hut was given large pitchers of ersatz coffee made from acorns and whatever else. For lunch we were given what was called turnip stew, which was more like soup and no stronger than their coffee. This was turnip and water and maybe a little salt. There were no chunks of turnip and you only received a tin full. We were given a tin cup for our coffee, lunch and anything else. We got turnips every day - even the turnip peelings were fought over by the prisoners. One day, walking by one of the huts, I noticed a smell coming from there that would knock you down! Some prisoners had traded cigarettes with a German guard for a dog telling him they wanted it for a pet. Sure enough, they were cooking the dog and having him for their supper. The smell was awful! You would also see fellows sprinkle crumbs of bread on the ground and set a trap for a bird with a tin can and a string attached. They would lie there for hours, perfectly still, waiting for a bird to land for the crumbs, then pull the string and trap maybe a sparrow. I imagine they got some, otherwise they wouldn’t lie there so long. Who knows? From the Red Cross we also received cans of powdered milk about the size of a tobacco can. This was labeled Klim Tin (milk spelled backwards). Those multi purpose cans were just the greatest! Prisoners made cups from them, heated water for tea, or made porridge in them. You could also heat water and give yourself a good wash in a Klim Tin. They were even used to make blowers. We were able to heat our food on blowers. They were little stoves we made consisting of a fan, with a little shaft leading into a fire box and you’d put little chips of wood in it and get a fire going. We mostly enjoyed coffee and porridge heated on the blowers. Every day after dinner the fellows would wash their dishes out and throw the dirty water over a board with a warning sign posted on it demanding they not go beyond that point. I watched as one fellow threw his water over the board and the guard fired at him and hit him in the arm. Another time, a German guard high up in a tower received word his family had been bombed. He just let his machine gun fire all around our feet. Tore the ground right up in front of us. It was just a burst. We stopped for a second but didn’t want to stand there too long - he might open up again, so we just kept walking and stuck together. During the spring hundreds of tadpoles could be found in a small stream running along one side of the camp. Summer in the prison camp had several disadvantages such as dust and unpleasant smells. Flies were extremely annoying and dangerous, outbreaks of dysentry frequently being caused by these pests. Wasps were also really bad. Attracted by numerous Red Cross jam tins, they arrived by the thousands. During the long winter evenings, the lights were too dim to read by. We only had two little windows in each end of the 60 foot buildings with three tier bunks on each side. The only place I did any reading was at the library which was closed in the evening. One day a fellow arose early and with his towel thrown over his shoulder, headed to the washroom. It must have been before 7:00 for we weren’t allowed out of our huts before then. The guard shot him in the stomach and just left him there to die. We watched this and were totally unable to do anything. None of us could leave our hut or we’d get it too. He suffered there for an hour. It was just awful. It was fantastic what the Red Cross parcels brought to us. If it hadn’t been for them I wouldn’t be here today. When they would arrive, we’d take it off to a corner and nibble on the food like a mouse. After awhile we pooled things like jars of jam. We would only open one at a time and share it. This didn’t last long for we found some guys would always take more than their share. In a prison camp on rations, behaviour like that doesn’t go over very well. Cheese would also arrive in these parcels. Some had been on ships a long time in the heat and by the time we received them, the cheese would have huge worms. These Red Cross parcels were intended to supplement the rations provided by the enemy. One parcel was to last each man one week. But they rarely arrived that often. There was one case of theft I remember. A fellow had been guilty of raiding the lockers of seventy-five or eighty guys while others were on parade. One fellow got angry and searched all the bunks and their kits as well. He found the culprit, marched the guy out to the washroom, tore up some of the boards, and threw him in the waste. He pushed him down under again and again, head and all, until he was good and soaked. When he finally was allowed up out of that awful mess, was he mad. Swearing and cursing and shaking that mess off him and onto people close to him! That was the only case of thieving I ever heard of. We would get mail every four or six months. We had a little type of post card/letter. It opened up so you actually had two post cards and you could write in there. We were always happy when a mail day came, unless you were one of the fellows receiving `dear john’ letters. All letters were censored by the British government to stop people from sending information to Germany; and then the German government would censor to prevent you from getting information they thought might be useful to you. Sometimes a letter would come with just the `ands’ and the `the’s’ left. The rest blotted out. Cigarettes were like money. You could swap or barter anything. The Red Cross supplied 50 cigarettes a week. Some Canadians received cigarettes from home. We made up trading stores. If you had cigarettes you could buy anything. There was more smoking going on there than eating, that’s for sure. I never smoked while a POW and at bedtime it would get pretty smokey in your hut with nearly everyone smoking (100 - 150 men). In the morning and evening, for about an hour or more, we would walk around the rows and rows of huts just inside the warning line. The Red Cross supplied us with a library and you had to wait your turn for books. I had received word from home that father had bought a farm for me (the Davis place for which I paid upon my return) and it had a few apple trees. I sent for a book from the Red Cross on pruning apple trees. It took six to eight months to arrive but I finally received it and made many notes. I still have the notes on farming I made in the prison camp. We received seeds as well. Most men didn’t want theirs. I tried growing a little garden no bigger than a kitchen table. I had lettuce and radish planted and a sunflower seed in each corner. Not much came of it. Some fellow would tear them out each night, though I did get to enjoy some of it. We had a billet for entertaining or holding meetings in. About once a month we would find a notice on the bulletin board for the opportunity to go and enjoy some records a fellow would play for us. Those records really sounded like home and made you lonesome. I was only there four or five times. Only one evening I remember well. In the warm weather I became quite creative and turned an old blue shirt into a pair of shorts. I had a great tan that summer. Sure was cool and nice. Aunt Jessie sent me a blanket from home. It was white with pink stripes across the ends of it, and was far superior to the regular ones we were given. One day I hung my blanket on the fence to let the wind blow it out. I forgot it and asked the guard for permission to go and get it. He told me I’d be fine. You couldn’t really be sure of the guard in the tower so I decided to leave it there and get it the next day. Some fellows tried making a rink by flooding from the washroom, but the ground was slanted and the water went down hill. It didn’t quite work. We were able to play cards a lot, also rugby and baseball. Some of the boys were digging tunnels and would put sand under their shirts and pants and would gradually drop the sand out of their clothes while running around the bases playing ball. In March, 1944, 76 men made a great but brief escape from Stalag Luft III at Sagan in occupied Poland. Three escaped, the others were rounded up and 50 were shot, including six Canadians. We were made aware of this and upon hearing of the shooting, everyone booed the German officer who informed us. The tunnel in our camp didn’t get out in the woods far enough. They kept a stove over the entrance to the tunnel but the Germans found it. They took some of the boards from our beds and our mattresses as well, so we couldn’t build tunnels with the boards. We were left with only three boards to lie on. One under our head, another under our rears and one under our feet. A friend and I decided to sleep together and share our boards. Many fellows did that. The German authorities used to parade us twice a day on a head count, in the morning and then again around 4:30 in the afternoon. We were lined up in six rows and were all counted. The Germans would find that they would be eight men short. As we were standing in rows, some fellows would step back and ahead from different lines causing the guards to come up short each time. They would count and count. Sometimes we’d be standing there till dark getting a great kick out of this. The guards would get quite worked up One day, as a guard came to get us out for parade, a prisoner lying in bed said he was too sick to be counted. The guard poked him with his gun, swore and told him to get out there. The prisoner grabbed the guard’s gun. I got right out of there. I don’t think they bothered with him. I think he’d let them shoot him before he’d get up. The Germans were beginning to hear how their men who were held as prisoners in Canada were pleased with how they were being treated. This made the Germans happy and so they decided to give Canadian POWs preferential treatment for treating their people so well. One morning they came to take us out for a walk outside the camp but our camp leader said "They’re doing this to cause hard feelings between us in the camp". So we decided not to accept the offer. I did get out with a couple of prisoners and two guards for a walk in the country. I can’t remember how that came to be. One Christmas the boys got hold of some women’s clothing and they put on a great show for the men. They played some records, wore wigs, silk stockings and painted themselves up with rouge. They had a great time and the show was enjoyed by all. Another Christmas I tried to make a cake. Some of the boys and I saved up some big thick white crackers and crushed them up with water or something to make a dough. I decorated it on top with jam. It was quite a good size.
Death March. (Although this was not the historic "Death March", we prisoners commonly referred to it as the Death March.) One day in January, 1945, without explanation we were put on a boxcar headed south. We had tied up some of our belongings before moving on. I had to leave the blanket Aunt Jessie sent me, but I did take a thinner one. The train was really long and we were crammed in like sardines. If you had to go to the bathroom, there was a pail in the corner of the boxcar with sand in it. No one used it much. It was degrading. Everyone was in a sort of stupor - just sat there and stared. It took a long time to get anywhere. We were put in a vacant prison camp, Stalag XX A in Thorne, Poland. We all had showers and the stink was something awful. We knew the Jews had been killed there and had been buried in a trench with dirt bulldozed over them. After awhile you got used to that smell. You sure knew it was death. The guards were mostly older men. One German told me "We don’t want this war". I knew they would be shot if they didn’t do their job. We marched to Fallingbostel, Stalag XI B.
I had over 1,000 cigarettes on me during the march, and I traded them with a fellow for a pair of pyjamas. He came back later and told me they were too damp to smoke. We had been sleeping on the ground and it was pretty hard to keep things dry. I told him I’d trade them back, but he decided he’d keep them instead. We stayed here about two weeks. We marched on to Germany, from seven in the morning until seven at night. We found that in parts of Germany they would harvest their crops and pile and cover them with straw and dirt. So when we’d stop for a rest, somebody would investigate, and then some would help themselves to this food. We would get potatoes and onions that way. If caught, the Germans would open machine guns on you. A lot of fellows became sick along the way. We had nothing to eat. At one farm we found a big bin with crushed oats in it for the pigs. Some fellows had a screen and sifted the hulls out. I didn’t have a screen so I cooked up the oats and ate them hulls and all. That nearly ruined my stomach. I suffered a lot from that. I was so sick that I wished I’d die. I had ulcers for a long time after I was home. I did receive bottles of medicine from the DVA Hospital in St. John for quite awhile, at no charge. My friend went to a house and asked to borrow a needle and thread. They gave him something to eat. Meanwhile, I was out behind a shed and found onions they had thrown out. They had been frozen and were starting to spoil. I cut the spoiled parts out, cooked them up and ate them. There was an army doctor in prison with us. Everyone went to him telling their problems. All he had were little white pills which he gave to everyone. They never really helped. I was sick for two or three days. We usually slept out in the fields or by the side of the road. Occasionally we would stop by a barn overnight. Some fellows may have slept in the barn. I only slept in a barn twice. Our physical condition was worsening. Some started breaking out in boils. Sometimes the guards would poke you with a rifle butt to push you on. Some were bayonetted in the rear for not moving fast enough.
We ended up in Fallingbostel, Stalag XI B. This camp had tents so we slept on the ground. Here, some fellows drew scenes from prison camp. They were making a book of sketches on life as a POW. A paper was posted and if anyone wanted a copy of the book they were to sign up and it would be mailed to you later. I am happy to have a copy, entitled ‘Handle with Care’. Near the end we were in groups of about 500 men. Whenever we saw any of our planes flying above, we’d jump and wave at them. One day we prisoners were sitting on one side of the road and the guards were on the other having their lunch. Ahead we saw men running. I looked up and saw an American fighter, a Mustang maybe, flying low coming right at us. We knew they were going to open fire, so I ran for about eight feet through bushes, dropped right down on my belly and buried my face in the dirt. Seven planes came at us, one at a time, circled and came back again, thinking, of course, that we were German troops. They fired, I got up again and ran further into the field watching for the next group. I hit the dirt again, my face ploughed into the sod. They were dropping torpedoes and firing machine guns. I got up and ran again, and so on. Someone’s foot was blown off at the ankle and it landed right in front of me. No blood, just blown right off. There were thirty men killed and well over 100 injured. Some of the men gathered up the dead and laid them in a barn. In walking through the barn I saw they had laid the bodies in two rows. The wounded were transported to a hospital. After that, anytime we saw a plane we’d head for the woods. Some fellows took food off the dead bodies but I couldn’t bring myself to do that. We stopped at a house, knocked on the door and asked the woman for some bread. She couldn’t understand us so the man of the house came and asked her to give us some food. The next day we marched ahead to a barn. Names of the men who had been shot were posted on the outside of the barn. If we knew any of these people, we were asked to put our names down by the deceased. I recognized a couple of people so I wrote my name by theirs. Zeke Fox, we called him, was one of the fellows and my name was sent to his family. I was later contacted by his uncle for some information or details. Along the way we arrived in a small town and it was said that Red Cross parcels were being stored in a vacant building here. Because of fuel shortages they couldn’t transport these parcels. The German guards found the building and we were issued a box a piece. We left a lot there for we were down in number to about 300 now. One of the POW leaders on the death march had a little radio and would sneak the news to the men about once a week. We knew the end was near. Some fellows just took off on their own for Brussels or other places. The American and English troops were coming our way so many left on their own to meet up with them and be flown back to England. German guards were leaving as well. During the last month one or two would drop out at a time. Finally, only one German officer was left with us. Our group was now down to about 30 men. Once, while on a country road, we caught some chickens, gathered poles, and right there made a fire and cooked them. The next day an Englishman appeared on a motor bike. The German officer wanted to get rid of his hand gun so I asked him for it.
The Englishman told us there was a plane ahead that would take us to Brussels. This was where we were liberated. I tried to get a halter on a horse. The Polish fellow tending the horse for the Germans tried to warn me not to take it - the horse wasn’t safe. I couldn’t understand the language so kept on. The horse kicked me in the stomach with both hind feet. Down I went with the wind knocked out of me. There was another fellow nearby trying to hot wire an old car with a folded down top and big seats. Eight of us jumped in and away we went until we found the airport. We met Allies coming on APCs (Armoured Personnel Carriers) and asked them for gas. They threw us some white bread. We took big bites, it was just like cake. The German bread we had been given all along was so dark, nearly black. They flew us to Brussels. We spent the night in Brussels and the Red Cross looked after us. We showered, deloused and had supper. In the evening we walked along the streets. The Allies had taken over. I can’t quite explain how I felt, except that my stomach was bad. There was so much happening all at once. I was able to take home some needle nose pliers which I had taken from an old truck, and some German money I got from going through some German officers clothes hanging up in some empty buildings. I still carried with me my note book on farming, my Prisoner of War book and the little German hand gun.
We arrived in England, were taken to London and my stomach was really bad. There was lots of room here. We showered and deloused again, were given fresh clothes, and went down to a lovely dining hall. There were lots of young girls waiting tables and plenty of rich food, ham, eggs - everything. With my stomach so bad I ate very little while others just wolfed it down. We were here only one night and were sent on to Bournemouth the next day to be rehabilitated.
Going Home. Our stay in Bournemouth lasted about a month. What a switch after being in the prison camp for two years to the month! We were put on special diets to build us up and about every two feet on the tables were large bowls of vitamins. I began eating light and could gradually eat more. I gained thirty pounds in one month. When I arrived I weighed about 98 pounds. Here we just laid on the beach, watched girls and walked in the parks and walkways. It was just beautiful. In the evenings we visited the pubs. After two weeks we were given money and were told to go by train to South Hampton and buy a uniform, trench coat, club bag and cap. All of these I still have today. A French boat, the Louis Pasteur, came in to transport us back to Canada. It just had hammocks hanging everywhere to sleep on. Whitey took one look at the boat and said he wasn’t going on that thing! I took advantage of the opportunity and when we landed in Halifax were instructed to go on to Montreal. We traveled by train through Bathurst and the lower Gaspe. The countryside here was quite a let-down after all the beautiful scenery I had seen. We stayed in Montreal a couple of days with doctors checking us, listening to our concerns and caring for our wounds. We went through commissions. I went from a Chief Warrant Officer Badge to a Flying Officers Badge. I sent a wire home to tell the folks I was on my way. The wire simply read "Coming Home". I neglected to say what time and which train I would be on. Father walked to meet the train morning, noon and evening. I arrived the next morning at 9:00 all excited and worked up. Father met me and I thrust my hand out to shake his. I had forgotten his hands were crippled from the burns he had received while working for the Hydro Co. wiring an airport in Pennfield. We walked home and after all my travels I really didn’t think the Jct. looked like much. If it hadn’t been for mother and father I’d have been off again. I enjoyed a month home with pay - then back to Montreal to get discharged.Greg McCracken
David August RadkeDavid Radke was held in Stalag 8b.
Update: Wireless Operator / Air Gunner - Sgt David August Radke RAAF (405139), of Hendra, Brisbane, Australia was born on 3rd April 1920 in Beenleigh, Queensland and enlisted in Brisbane. On 2nd/3rd July 1942 he was flying on Ops to Bremen in a Wellington Z1381. The aircraft was damaged by flak near the Dutch/German border and suffered serious damage to the port side. The aircraft was partially abandoned before it crashed. F/Sgt Johnston (27), Sgt Downing (20) and Sgt Taylor (27) were killed, while Sgt Wyllie, Sgt Radke and Sgt Reed were taken prisoner of war. The survivors were firstly taken to Dulag Luft near Frankfurt (Maine) and after interrogation moved to Stalag VIIIb at Uber Silesia on 4th August 1942.
Sgt. Harry Saunders DFM. 44 SquadronSgt Harry Saunders served with the Royal Air Force 44th Squadron. His Lancaster was shot down in December 1942 after a bombing raid over Munich, targeting the Nazi headquarters. Only three of the crew survived. Sgt Suanders was captured by a policeman. He and another crew member Sgt. Jimmy Goulette were taken to a Luftwaffe POW camp at Mannheim and later transferred to Dalagluft in Frankfurt.
In January 1943 they were among 743 POWs transferred to the Stalag 8b POW camp near Lamsdorf.
Sgt. Frederick Brown 83 SquadronSargent Frederick Brown typed this account for my wife's Father after WW2. Freddy was the best man at their wedding on 19th December 1942. Regrettably we have lost touch with the family. This account is part of a photographic and verbal record of Freddys life in WW2 and you will note that this account starts with his return from Rhodesia and ends with his incarceration as a POW. It is clear this account was written with an intent that the story should be told to a wider audience and of course has details of other mens lives. I hope therefore that it will interest your organisation and perhaps other families.
May 1942. It was a dull early morning when the Stratheden docked at Gourock. We early risers watched the goings on on the quay and, as General Fercival disembarked with all his luggage, we noted with interest a box covered with sacking which looked very much like an orange box. This led to a concerted attack by us of lesser rank on the deck cargo of South African oranges. Nothing was saod about our strange shape greatcoats later. The customs men had asked each of us to provide a list of dutiable imports we had to be shown as we got ready to disembark. The chap in front of me in the queue said he had some cigarettes. "How many?" he was asked "I don't know", he replied and the whole of his kit was opened up and laid out on deck! On my list I had declared 120 cigarettes which seemed to satisfy the customs man and he passed me through much to my relief as tucked in my kit bag, stuffed out with socks and things, were 1000 fags and a pound tin of tobacco! Eventually our lot were taken to Glasgow and told to report to the North British Hotel for the evening meal later on.
We took the overnight train south, crossed London and arrived in time for breakfast in the Union Jack Club at Waterloo. Dad was working there at the time and was most surprised to see me especially when I unloaded my pockets full of oranges on him. Later that day we reached the aircrew despatch centre at Bournemouth. It was not until after a spot of disembarkation leave that we heard about the arrangements for new aircrew categories in. preparation for the forthcoming 4 engine bombers and we were asked to volunteer to become bomb aimers (the official description was "Air Bombers" which seemed a stupid title). I think most of the intake put their names down but it made no difference as everyone was roped in for the job.
It was early in June when our postings came through. Eight of us went to N. Luffenham where we met presumably eight of each of the other aircrew trades. They were a varied crowd; N.C.O.fs and Junior Officers, British and Canadian and at least one American, a Jewish Pilot, a Wing Commander, in fact all sorts, all mixed together. The aircraft here were Wellington 3Lc's, bigger than anything we had met so far and while the pilots continued their conversion on to them the rest of us attended various lectures, sometimes with the navigators, sometimes with the gunners, sometimes everyone together. We all ate together in the mess, jostled at the bar, found the local pubs and after a couple of days had got to know people. Then came the day when we were herded into an empty hangar and told to get "crewed up”. A W/OP, Geroge Hinsworth introduced himself to me and asked if I would like to join his crew and that is how we got together. We were:- Pilot Sgt. Charlie Murray RCAF from Saskachewaa. W/OP George Hinsworth R.A.F. from Blackburn, Nav. Jack Holt R.A.F. from Manchester, Rear gunner Sgt. Ken Davis R.C.A.F. from Toronto and me, Sgt. Fred Brown R.A.F. from London. A good friendly crew. About 10 minutes after I had met George, a P/0 Navigator Ginger Laverac asked me to join the Wing Commander’s crew! I wonder where that would have led me?
I think we all got to like the "Wimpy”. My chied moan was that when occupying the front turret a door was closed behind you by another member of the crew. With a few gymnastic contortions one could open this door from inside the turret. But what if the aircraft was in trouble? Fortunately, we did not have to find out. Because of this minor inconvenience on cross countries etc. I usually sat in the little dickey seat next to the pilot so I had a good front seat.
On one flight, while I was sitting next to Charlie, the navigator gave a change of course to 220. From my angle of sight across the cockpit it looked yo me that Charlie had set 200° on compass but I felt unsure about it so I kept quiet, but after spending an uncomfortable time trying to make Southampton Water fit a map of the Bristol Channel and then getting a close look at the Southampton balloon barrage, I had to say something!. Charlie was pleased too.
When we had done half the course we moved to Woolfox Lodge, a satellite station of North Luffenham, where we lived amongst the trees and swam in the pond. Later on in the course we began to do "Bullseyes". These were night cross countries around Britain, under operational conditions.
24th Aug. 1942. The Wellingtons we were flying were all getting a bit old. One night we had to do a bullseye in "0". We had to fly up to Flamhorough Head in Yorkshire, thence to St. Bee's Head in Cumberland, out into the Irish Sea and down past the Isle of Man. We were getting near the area of N. Wales when Charlie decided he wanted to use the Elsan and,having more faith in my brief experience on Tiger Moths than I had, he got me to take over the controls! Charlie told me to sit on his lap. We were both wearing observer type parachute harnesses and there was not much room between him and the control columa but I managed to squeeze in and "snap", one of my harness clips hooked on to a brale rod and I was fixed on to the control column, in the dark! We sorted that out and Charlie made record time for a visit to the rear of the fuselage which was a good thing as hy now I was about 90° off course, heading for the mountains and thoroughly unnerved by the whole affair. We carried on in a southerly direction across Cardigan Bay to Fishguard where we had to do an infra red bombing e^rcise on a sugar beet factory. Infra red light, of course, is invicible but on the bombing run I could definitely see a red light where the factory should have been. So, grasping this unexpected bonus, that is what I aimed for, When the photographs were printed later on they showed a quarter or a mile error and the crew said I had probably got a direct hit on the local brothel!
Carrying on across S. Wales, Charlie saw that the engine oil pressure was dropping so he told George to pump some more oil in. Pressure returned to normal but soon dropped again and by the time we were over the Bristol Channel George was spending more time pumping than listening to his wireless. Obviously something was amiss so Charlie decided to land as soon as he could. We saw the lights of Chivenor in N. Somerset ahead so we came in to land. It was only on the final approach that we saw a row of red lights across the flarepath. It was a dummy aerodrome! We climbed away heading east now and Charlie calling for "Darky". There was no reply and soon Charlie was getting pretty frantic calling "Hello Darky". "Where are you, you little black bastard?" After what seemed like qges we saw a flarepath. It looked rather small so I tightened my seat belt as Charlie, without more ado, came in to land. It was a brilliant landing but we ran out of runway and came to a stop at the edge of the field. When we tried to get out we found a barbed wire fence under the exit hatch.
We had landed at New Zealand Farm a satellite of Upavon being used for night landings on "Oxfords". And what a dump it was! We spent the night there with one blanket on the bed and no sugar in the morning porridge.- When we saw 0 next morning the whole of the starboard side of the fuselage was covered with oil. The engineering officer said an oil return pipe had broken and we only had about 5 minutes oil supply left. We returned to base by road. We later heard that none of the instructors was willing to fly 0 out again from that landing ground. Maybe it is still there!
We did our first operation while we were still at O.T.U. It was to Dusseldorf on the night of 10th September 1942. For it we took off with 4 x 500 lb H.E.'s and it was a quite uneventful trip; no sign of fighters and the flak more interesting than menacing. One thing I remember was being so keyed up over the target. When I released the bombs, instead of a crisp "Bombs gone", I said in a rather squeaky soprano voice "The Bombs are going"! One chap on the course was Harry Beebe, a Canadian, nephew of the famous deep-sea diver. He always wanted to shake hands when he met you and as he had a grip like a vice you had to count your fingers afterwards.
At the end of the course our crew got a posting to 207 sqd. Bottesford but when we got there by road transport they had never heard of us and didn't want anyone! Eventually that was sorted out and after a few hours wrangling we were taken to Swinderby for conversion to heavy bombers. We were joined by two further members of the crew. Denis Chapman was a Flight Engineer and came from Salford and Jimmie Little as mid-upper gunner from London. Here we met the dreaded Manchester but only for the first few circuits and bumps and acclimatization. Menchesters had been withdrawn from service owing; to engine problems and I think our crew (just three of us!) did the last night flight on them. Then we progressed on to Lancasters. Everyone liked Lancs. Bags of room to move around and well able to fly on. two engines on one side.
We had one little upset. Jimmy the "schoolboy" gunner wasn't getting on too well with Ken, the "professional" gunner so Charlie had a word with the powers that be and Ray Prichard joined us and took over the mid-upper turret.
At the end of the conversion course November 1942 we were posted to 50 sqn. at Skellingthorpe just outside Lincoln, nice camp with a very rustic H.Q. and billets across the fields. Soon after we got there, 2nd December, Charlie had to do an op. to Bomb Wuffertal, I believe, as second pilot. I was detailed to replace another B/A on the same trip. We got as far as the south coast when the pilot said the oxygen supply was U/S so we had to return to base. That was called a "boomerang". Before each night flight or operation we used to do a Night Flying Test.(NFT). I was detailed to do one with another crew and so I turned up at the crew room complete with parachute harness etc. to be met with snide remarks about daylight ops. "Where's your tin hat etc.!" They didn't bother with such cissy things parachutes when they flew round the aerodrome. That crew were some of the "Dam Busters" later on.
Our first operation on Lancs, was to Turin on December 9th, a long uneventful trip. It was about now that I received an invite from Ted and Ethel to be best man at their forthcoming wedding so I had to go and see the C.O. W/Comm. Russell to get a weekend pass. As there was not a lot going on in the way of operations, we had to do a bullseye.
15th December 1942. I forget where it was to, but we did it O.K. When we got back to base the weather wasn't too good. As we came in to land a local searchlight swept across the field and blinded us so Charlie had to open up the engines and go round again. The second attempt to land was no good at all so we went round again. This time we made a good approach but just before touch down a line squall hit us and everything was blacked out and we wiped off the undercard and did a belly landing on the runway. When the sounds of metal bending and scraping and breaking finally subsided we all filed out of the escape hatch over the pilot's seat. When I got out and stood on the wet wing I slipped and toboganned down until I found myself sitting in a puddle on the runway.
Charlie seemed to be the only one hurt. He banged his forehead and as we sorted ourselves out the firecrew arrived followed by the ambulance and the C.O. in his little car. "Anyone hurt?" was his first question. It was only then that we realized that Ken was missing! He was in fact trapped in the rear turret. Through the wet perspex all he could see was the red glow from the tail lights of the rescue vehicles and he thought the plane was on fire, so he was panicking pretty well. The C.O. Wing Co. Russell took charge and, turning to the nearest crew member asked "Where is the axe"? Unfortunately he asked George, the wireless operator who thought he said "Where are the accs." and showed him where the aircraft batteries were located. They sorted that out and the C.O. now armed with the hatchet raced down the inside of the fuselage and got his foot stuck in the Elsan! We were sent back to conversion unit next morning and blamed George for putting the "old man” into a bad temper.
Getting posted back to Swinderby suddenly like that might have caused problems with my leave pass so when we reached the private road into the camp I left the crew to cover up for me and hitched a lift along the Fosse Way to Newark. I had a fright when an S.P. came on to the platform while I was waiting for the train to Kings Cross but although he came near he ignored me and sorted out someone else.
19th December 1942 It was a happy weekend. Ted and Ethel were well and truly spliced and as a present they gave me a shaving wallet which turned out to be very useful later on. I got back to Swinderby on the Sunday night to find that nobody had missed me but the crew had had an eventful few days doing circuits and bumps. One night they saw another aircraft blow up in mid-air and o.n anotiter night, when about to take off, another Lane, had come in to land and almost landed'on top of them! Charlie was lined up at the end of the runway when Ken saw the other aircraft coming in and shouted a warning. With full throttle Charlie swung off the runway in an effort to get clear and the starboard wheel of the other aircraft hit our tail while the port wheel smashed into the mid upper turret, fortunately unoccupied, as Ray was in my usual place in the front turret. There was a court of inquiry about the incident to which I was called but Charlie explained that I had not been there and I heard nothing more about it. We stayed at Swinderby over Christmas and returned to Shellingthorpe in the New Year and we did our next operation, a mining trip, down to the Gironde estuary in the Bay of Biscay on l4th January 1943- The weather was not too good this month. I seem to remember the whole squadron clearing snow off the runway at one time so our next op. was not until 2nd February to Cologne.
We had other duties as well as ops. Gunners were having trouble with gears freezing up at high altitude so we, and no doubt other crews, had to get some facts and figures and one dau we were sent to try out our guns at a quiet spot near the North Sea. Jack didn't come as he had no guns so I had to do any necessary navigation which was straight out on a course and back on the reciprocal, we hoped! I also had a cold! We flew out to the appointed area and had climbed to about 20.000 ft. Then we had to record the temperature and fire all the guns. Then again at 21,000 ft. and so on. Surprisingly my guns were the last to pack up at 29,000 ft. I don't recall the temperature. The job done Charlie said "O.K. let's go home" and, turning on to the reciprocal, dived down to sea level, and as we weren't pressurized it was just like having an electric drill in each ear and when we crossed the East Coast at 0. I wasn't at all happy. Charlie continued flying fairly low across Norfolk. Then Ken spoke over the intercom "We have just passed a big house. I bet some crusty old general lives there. Let's shoot him up!” So Charlie, who couldn't resist the challenge, did a 180° turn and flew low over it, not too low, but enough to rattle the windows, then another 180° and over again. By now Dennis the flight engineer was taking an interest. He said "I think that’s Sandringham! Charlie asked "What’s Sandringham?” "Oh that’s where the King lives!" Charlie headed for the clouds and that is where we stayed until we saw Lincoln Cathedral, shining in the sun, poking above the clouds.
After getting a few more operations under our belt we got our own aircraft. It was VN-P or P, Peter over the radio. We discussed an insignia on the nose. I suggested a picture of Dumbo, Walt Disney's flying elephant, a vision prompted by the look of Charlie’s flying boots. In the end we just had the bombs for operations painted on including a couple of ice cream cornets for the Italian ones. February was a busy month in which we did eight operations. The last one was a fairly easy one to St. Nazaire and unusually it was followed by another the following night. It was Charlie's 13th and proved to be to Berlin
1st Mar 1943 We went out over the North Sea, across Denmark, over part of the Baltic, crossing the coast of N. Germany,near some markers dropped by Pathfinders. Everything seemed very quiet which is an odd feeling since we were sitting between four roaring Merlin engines! Ahead of us was a weak looking searchlight waving around aimlessly so Charlie steered carefully around it. Then Wham! we were picked up by a master searchlight and in no time we were "coned", and everyone joined in the act. Wherever you looked there were these big eyes glaring at you. Charlie said "Jesus Christ 'they played me for a sucker". While Charlie was throwing the aircraft around to get out of the cone of searchlights, shrapnel from Heavy flak was hitting us. Someone, I think it was Dennis, opened the bomb doors and pulled the wrong jetison switch. I was a bit annoyed by this at the time but I suppose getting rid of the bomb load was a good idea at the time. It is not very safe sitting above a thin-skinned 4OOO lb. H.E. while you are being shot at. Unfortunately, the incendiaries went down "safe" but you can't do that with a "cookie" which exploded on impact and at the same time we got a lovely unplottable picture of a long straight railway line. We did eventually get out of the cone, by which time we had lost a lot of height and we had no more bombs aboard so after a quick conference over the intercom It was decided not to go on to Berlin but to cut across country and join the stream of early arrivals on their way home. This seemed a good idea until we wandered over what we thought to be Hanover and attracted a lot of light flak so Charlie came down very low and we flew out of Germany at about zero ft. "That will wake up a few" said someone- I got what I thought was a good pinpoint on the coast of the old Zuider Zee now rechristened Ijssel, Heer but it didn’t seem quite right when we tried to back plot the navigation chart later. Anyway we got home again and, I suppose that was the main thing.
Damage to the aircraft was confined to the skin of the fuselage but it had to go into the hangar for repairs which didn’t take long. Unfortumately when it was ready to go back into service someone tried to tow it with a tractor across the line of the tall wheel and twisted the spar in the tail plane so poor old P-Peter had to go back into the hangar for a major overhaul. We went to Essen two days later. That one was supposed to be the beginning of the Battle of the Ruhr. The following night wa went to Kiel which was Charlie’s 15th. So when a call came from Group H.Q. for a crew who had done about 15 ops. to volunteer for Pathfinders we were first in line. The incentives were promotion to the next rank for everyone and to do 45 trips total and finish. We spent a long time discussing the idea. I didn't want to go as it seemed we were all happy at 50 sqn. but finally we agreed to go.
Harry Richardson flew us down to 83 sqn. at Wyton in his Lancaster which resembled a furniture van with the fuselage filled with 2 crews, all our kitbags and other gear and a bicycle. Wyton was a big pre-war station with two squadrons, a mosquito PFF squadron and us in 83 sqn. ‘We were a little disappointed with the aircraft which seemed to be older than the ones we had on 50 sqn. One of the Mosquito pilots, a Canadian named "Fritz" Chrysler had been at the same school as Charlie but he wouldn't tell us anything about the secret equipment they had (Oboe). We found we had to do six or eight ops. as backers-up before qualifying for the pathfinders wings and only then would we be carrying marker bombs in our bomb bay.
The first trip we had to do was to Pilsen in Czechoslavia where the Skoda works were situated and as the local population were thought to be anti-German the bombing had to be accurate and we were told to bomb from the fairly low altitude of 12000! However when we got there the area was covered in low cloud and, in fact, Charlie came down to 12000 ft. before we saw the markers, the target indicators on which to drop our bombs. Leaving the target area and after checking that the bombbay was empty I was rather surprised to see we were passing over a north of Pilsen where there shouldn't have been one! When we eventually got home there was not a lot we could tell them at de-briefing. The following day was Sunday and the papers were full of enthusiastic reports on the raid, about how we had bombed from a low level and what we had seen! The C.0. sent for Charlie and told him to tell me to pull my finger out when the reconnaisance and photographs became available they showed that the raid had concentrated on a lunatic asylum about 10 miles south of Pilsen!
Our next trip wao to Steltin where we bombed on 3 engines, the engine that had been hit being the one which affected the bomb sight! Our crew had two observers. That meant that two of us had done a navigation course. The way we worked things was that Jack would navigate until we were on the last leg into the target and then I would take over visually. My 17th trip was to Essen and things went quite to plan. Jack gave Charlie the course for the last leg into the target area of Essen and I was looking ahead for the T.I.s (Target Indicators) dropped by the Pathfinders. Charlie was not a pilot who liked hanging about once we had dropped bombs so he asked Jack over the intercom for the next course to set on the compass for a quick get away from the target. There was no answer. After trying again without success Charlie said to Dennis "See what's the matter with Jack". Looking through the black-out curtain, Dennis saw Jack with his elbows on the navigation table and his head in his hands. "The lazy bastard is asleep" he reported and swung a punch at him and Jack just slumped on to the table. Panic "Something's wrong with Jack" Charlie who was always cool and collected said "O.K. Get George to help you with Jack. Fred give me a course out of target, drop your bombs and come up and navigate". The only maps I had with me in the nose of the aircraft were a target map of little use to me now and a quarter inch topographical of the area. I took a quick look by torchlight and off the top of my head said "Steer zero-one-zero". By now we were in the thick of it but I managed to aim the bomb load at one of the T I.s. checked through the spyhole that the bomb bay was now empty and started to gather my bits and pieces to put into my shopping bag to take up with me. Then over the intercom came Jack's voice "Can you see the target Fred?" Somehow his oxygen tube had become disconnected after which he could remember nothing until it was reconnected. We were probably at 18/19000 ft. at the time. When we went over the navigation plot later the course west of target should have been 005° so I was 5°out. The crew didn't let me forget it I but I think Charlie was pleased that everything was kept under control.
Then came Dortmund, Dusseldorf, Essen again and Bocheim and finally Cologne.
16th/17th June 1943. Cologne was hard to find that night, but we were not. It was two nights after full moon and we were leaving enormous vapour trails behind, and soon after leaving the target area we were attacked by a Me. 110. Some say there were two of them. From the start it had been a rotten trip. The Halifaxes had been withdrawn leaving 140 Lancs. Of these l4 were lost, 10%, which was a lot. After dropping our bombs - a cookie and twelve (4000 lbs. H.E. and 12 cans of incendiaries), I checked that the bomb bay was empty and everything switched off and returned to the gun turret just as Jack H. was telling Charlie the next course.
Then we heard Jack Mackay, the rear gunner, call "Fighter" and heard also the sound of cannon shell hits in the rear of the aircraft. Charlie said "They've got the controls! No, wait a minute". Then came the second attack with even louder explosions in the rear. Mac. called out "If you don't turn I've had it". But the controls had gone and we couldn't turn. Ray, the mid-upper gunner reported Jack's turret had been hit. Charlie exclaimed "Never mind Jack, watch the fighter. Then came the final order "Bale out".
Dropping down from the front turret I whipped off my helmet in 'gas mask fashion', complete with oxygen mask and intercom leads. I planned to do this not realizing that I would then be out of touch with the rest of the crew. I turned back the cushions over the escape hatch revealing the release ring. I lifted this, pulling up the hatch on the end of the Bowden cable. When I tried to push it through the hole it turned and caught the sides so I had to lift it away again. Straight through the hole it went this time with me in hot pursuit. Immediately before leaving the aircraft I felt a hand touch my back. This worried me for a long time as it made me think I had made a mistake about going. Later, Dennis, the flight engineer, told me that when I jerked back over the escape hatch he thought that I had been hit and he tried to grab me. Leaving the aircraft was like diving between two car headlights, in fact, two streams of tracer bullets coming from the fighter as it made its third attack.
Then the air hit me like a wall. I think I must have passed out momentarily for the next thing I knew was that I had the rip cord handle in my hand. How I do not know. Then I thought "this is no use to me now" and tossed it aside. Then I thought "the parachute isn't going to open and I'd better do something about it", giving me time to wonder if I should have jumped in the first place and to wonder why someone had thumped me on the back just as I was leaving the plane. Anyway, I couldn't go back now! It took a long while to get down, a slow, slow descent, enlivened now and again by wild, pendulum swings during which I lost the chocolate from my pocket and the ops supper from my stomach. When the ground came in sight it took me by surprise as it rushed up and thumped me in the rear and doing two ligaments not a lot of good at the same time.
I was in a cornfield and for some reason I, a non-smoker, wanted a cigarette. I was deaf having removed my helmet in the plane, but thought I heard a distant dog bark. Then I thought I saw a shadowy figure going by so I ducked down out of sight. It was probably Dennis Chapman who was whistling Rule Britannia, There'll always be an England etc. trying to contact me. The parachute had been the most beautiful sight on earth as it ballooned on landing, but now it had collapsed and I had to draw it in. It is not easy to bury a parachute unless you have got a handy shovel so I cut off two cords and a big square of silk. Nobody else was going to use it. Then after taking a look at the stars I started walking S.E. pushing the remains of the silk under a large bush as I went by. I had parted company with my flying boots and also the plimsolls I wore inside soon after I left the plane and walking in my socks wasn't very comfortable so I stopped and bound them up Roman sandal fashion with the silk and silk cord but the going was a bit slippery with the dew (or was it rain?) and my temporary footwear soon finished round my ankles. I was still wearing my harness so I took it off and cut 2 foot size pieces from the back and tried them out as sandals with the same result as before. Sometime during the night I saw a poster on a tree. The only word I could understand was in large type and said "Verboten". Then I had a bright idea. I took the collar off my Sidcot suit, cut it in half and tied oh a pair of fur lined slippers. Nice to wear but not a bit of good for walking. Turning them inside out was no good either so I finally concluded it was socks or nothing. Luckily I was wearing 2 pairs.
It was about now that I came to a road with tramlines. To me, trams meant Aldgate, Commercial St., the big City, so I moved cross country to the left and went miles out of my way. How could I know there are cross country trams in that part of the world? As dawn broke I decided to hide in a cornfield. I had by now decided on a plan that I would try to get home via Spain. First, to get well away from the aircraft, I would walk S.E. for two nights, then S. for two nights, then S.W. for two and carry on across Belgium and France to Spain. I spent the day hidden in a field of corn or maybe oats or something. All I am sure about was that it got very hot during the day. Somewhere I could hear running water. The only way for me to see out of the field was by jumping. There was nothing to stand on. I thought I could see clear blue water when I jumped. I crawled to the edge of the field and looked out. There was no water, all I saw was the back of an old man driving a goat somewhere.
After dark I left the field and soon came to a river. It was shallow and stoney so I paddled across. The water tasted metallic as from a factory but I filled the water bottle in the escape kit but did not add the purifying tablets yet. The far bank of the river was muddy and churned up as if the cows had come to drink. Perhaps that was why the water had a strange taste. Anyway it was all I had. I left the river bank and began to climb a sloping field but my feet were muddy, the grass was damp and halfway up I slipped and fell flat on my face and, since the water bottle was shaped like a flimsy toilet bag, it just collapsed and that was the end of the water. I could have sat down and cried! Honestly! I decided not to retrace my steps but continued to the top. During the night I found myself walking along a path, tree*-lined and somehow it seemed like a churchyard. Beside the path was a small water trough. Pushing the floating leaves away I filled ray water bottle. Holy Water? As dawn was breaking I found another cornfield to hide. I spent the day cutting off my chevrons and wing from ray uniform and generally investigating the contents of my escape kit. I couldn’t sleep. In fact I didn’t sleep at all while I was loose. Foreign Bank Notes - I don’t know the value. Chocolate Horlicks tablets, Silk map of W. Europe, book matches, Water bag Purifying tablets, Energy tablets, Tube condensed milk and a mystery tube.
Walking at night I found the moon was my best guide so long as I had a check with the Pole Star every couple of hours or so. I walked along a road in an area which, in the dark, reminded me of flat, near the river, Dagenham. It was probably the north of Aachen. I was travelling too far eastward and decided to take the next right fork or right turn. I saw a turning ahead. On the corner plot where I was due to turn was a caravan or I suppose it could have been some sort of German pre-fab. As I got there the back door opened and I saw a woman silhouetted against the bright light inside. She seemed to shake out a tablecloth, suppertime crumbs for the birds, and shut the door quickly. She certainly heard nothing as I was still in my being on my own, I worried. Perhaps it would be best to zig zag a bit, so I looked out for a left turn. No left turns appeared but the road got longer and longer and the buildings got bigger and bigger. I was heading into town. I was still thinking about turning back when I saw a T junction ahead. Now I could turn left. I was only a few yards from the corner when a light appeared directly opposite followed by the sound of hobnailed boots coming down some steps. That woman must have let some one know about me. The best thing to do seemed to be to carry on as intended and not to do anything to look suspicious. The owners of the hobnailed boots seemed to be 4 soldiers? Who must have come out of a canteen or something and they lined up at the kerbside and had a leak.
Having turned left I didn’t dare to look back. I walked uninterrupted down this road pausing momentarily when 1 heard a distant motorcycle and at last I reached an open square which I left via the opposite corner. The path seemed to run parallel to some sort of open water conduit some way below. I tied my water bottle to one of the silk cords and lowered it down, hoping that these people didn't have open sewers. The water I caught seemed to taste O.K. but then I suppose anything would the way I felt just then. I spent one day in the Siegfried Line. I think it was anyway. It was like a cut-out corner from a hill. Across the front of this spot was a light fence so small that I could ignore the gate and just step over. The left-hand wall was concrete to about 7 or 8 feet high and let into this wall was an iron barred and locked door, something like the cell doors in a wild-west jail. The bars were too close to allow one to look down the passage that ran behind. The facing wall was also concrete at right angles to the first one. It had a square steel plate covering an opening in the middle and which reminded me of a king-size camera bellows. Beneath this cover was a long ledge which dould be used for a seat. The right-hand wall was more or less non-existent being mainly cut away earth, the only other feature being an electrical danger sign in German and high up. This place seemed to be useless as a hiding place and there was no escape route out should anyone see me there out it was in a hollow and I stayed there uninterrupted all day.
I opened the unmarked tube in the escape kit. It contained condensed milk so I ate the lot. I took off my Sidcot suit and did up the main zip fastener, then, using silk thread from the parachute cord and the marlin spike on ray knife for a needle, I sewed across the zip at the waist. Then X unpicked the seam around the waist to leave me a sort of lumber jacket. From the discarded legs I unpicked the map pockets. These I sewed up on to my feet to give me a pair of ballet shoes. In front of the iron door was a drainage sump covered by a metal mat. I dislodged this. Maybe the next person would break his ankle. I also pee-ed through the bars of the door to improve the atmosphere inside. When I left and got going again after dark my feet, now more sensibly shod, seemed more comfortable but not a lot, I was still going across country with lots of barbed-wire fences to straddle so my battle-dress trousers became badly moth-eaten.
At one point I was about to cross a field when I saw a sentry box - a strange place to see one but I had to go that way. It was not until I crept close up that I realized it was in fact a stook of corn! I came to a lonely house and thought I would see what I could steal. The front was gravel so I went round the side of the house. There was a door there so I tried it. It was unlocked and I was really scared stiff as I gradually pushed it open half expecting a dog or something to jump at me. When the gap was wide enough I squeezed in and pushed the door to. It seemed a long time as I stood in the dark waiting and listening for I don't know what. I felt I had to do something so I struck a light from my book of matches. I was standing in the toilet! I didn't panic but made a very hasty exit which was silly as I ignored the newspaper in there and also the adjacent door which could have been a coal hole, toolshed or something. I found myself walking through a forest along a well trodden path. The trees were straight and tall and the moonlight filtering through the tree tops made one think it was the aisle in a cathedral. At the side of the path I sat on what seemed to be a moss covered milestone. I couldn't see any inscription as I dared not strike a match. At one time I felt so thirsty that I moistened my lips with water from a rut in the road. As I walked along a small country road I had the feeling I was walking through a hamlet even though I could see no houses. Ahead to the left I could see "flak" and thought I could hear voices. Past that spot I climbed a slight hill and at the top the road turned right and stopped. At least the tarmac did, the road continuing on as a card track. By the side of the road where the tarmac finished was a cottage and in the front garden I could see a bicycle.- What should I do? Pinch the bike, retrace my steps through the hamlet, or cycle along the rough farm track leading to goodness knows where, but at least in the right direction. It was a bad decision but I carried on walking.
At one time the track was along the side of a small river so I stopped and had a shave - by memory in the dark! I was disturbed by the sound of rattling chains and a white apparition the other side of the stream. It was a pair of horses tethered near the bank. Some time later I went into a vegetable plot. Raw, unripe potatoes taste awful! I also passed by a garden hedge with a lady's top coat laying across it to dry.- That might have been useful but I left it. Another farmhouse laid back from the road. I felt very exposed as I walked down the drive in the moonlight. Going round the side I found a door down a few steps and went in. It was a room stocked full of empty bottles and in the middle what I thought might be a wine press. I took a bottle - at least it would stand up on its own in the middle of a field - and left the way I came.
Another sleepless day in a cornfield - more walking. I had not realised it but it was very near the longest day of the year which meant, of course, the shortest night. That was why I was surprised by the dawn each morning and when it came this morning I looked for somewhere to hide. The only place was a small copse ahead, and in I went. It was a horrible place, all wet underfoot and branches dripping down my neck as I went by. I looked out the other side for somewhere better. There was nothing and then I noticed what was like an Anderson shelter made of earth about 25 yards away. I thought that this might be a better place for the time being so I hurried across and went in. The entrance just sloped down but it was very much like an air raid shelter without the corrugated iron hut covered with grass. Inside was quite dry. The roof too low to stand up but there was room to move about and spread your arms. "The cowman homeward plods his weary way”. This was another hiding place with no escape route but beggars can't be choosers and I stayed there all day. The weather was fine but I couldn’t move out. During the afternoon I heard a noise and looking out I saw a cow go past, then another and another. I realised it was a herd going back to the farm for milking. Driving them home was an old man and I watched this pastoral scene as they made their way to the right of the copse. As I watched them go a small boy appeared following his grandfather, skipping along and kicking the buttercups like all boys about 6 years old and as I stared out inevitably he stopped and looked back. With a look of horror and disbelief, eyes like organ stops when he saw me, he turned and ran after his grandfather.
As they passed out of sight to the right hand side of the copse I left the shelter and looked for somewhere else to hide. There was nowhere except back to the copse which was now quite dry after a fine day. So back there I went and crawled under a nice big bush in a position which allowed me to see my previous hiding place. It was not a moment too soon because the small boy returned now with his "big brother", a lad of about 12 years strutting along in a Hitler Jugend uniform. They went straight to the shelter which was now empty of course. This started an argument between the two, the bigger boy thinking his time was being wasted, but the youngest must have finally convinced him that he really had seen a stranger because they started to look around and came to the same conclusion as I had done that the only place to go was the copse. The older boy strode purposefully towards the copse, the younger one hung back a bit looking uneasy. About 2 yards from the edge of the copse the big boy had second thoughts and stopped. Then they both bent down and tried to look through the bushes. They tried to see any signs of me from 2 or 3 other spots and finally they gave up the hunt and left.
When they had gone I left the copse and crawled into a nearby ditch out of sight for the time being. I came to what I thought was a likely looking road but soon realized it was the drive through some gloomy looking trees up to a large country house. The front was gravel so I skirted round this until I reached a farm track at the right-hand side of the house past some cart sheds, cow sheds etc. This must have been one of the fortified farms I read about later, built in a square behind the big house. When I turned the far corner I was by an entrance to the inner quadrangle and a wide wooden staircase led up to a hayloft above the empty cow stalls that had been at the corner. The hayloft was quite empty, the only thing of note being a water tank (about 2,000 gals) in the corner and I found a place to lie down behind it. Nearby were a pair of double doors giving access to any loads from the perimeter track by means of a pulley and yardarm above them. Peering through the ill fitting doors during the morning I saw an elderly lady picking gooseberries and collecting vegetables from what appeared to be a kitchen garden on the other side of the track. Also during the morning a young woman came up to the hayloft with a young infant and a small puppy. There was a crude swing hanging from the rafters and she amused the toddler on this for a little while. I kept out of sight but I was a little worried in case the puppy should notice me but luckily he didn’t go far away. After they had gone and during the afternoon I felt a bit more venturesome and wandered round the hayloft finding a dusty old jacket in one corner. It was a bit tight but I was able to put it on over my home made lumber jacket. Looking through a gap in the staircase door I saw a German soldier crossing the grass in the middle of the quadrangle so I retired to my corner just in case he might come up but I had no further interruptions and time dragged on.
After dark I left the hayloft and went straight across to the kitchen garden and spent a little time picking and eating gooseberries, spiky and a bit insanitary when I think about the bird droppings that must have gone down as well. Then I recrossed the farm track and went into the empty cow stalls to look around. In a corner I found a tap over a floor level sink but did not use it to fill my water bottle in case it made too much noise. Also, nearby, was a pair of clogs which seemed to fit me and which I carried with me when I left, carefully retracing my steps via the farm track and the drive to the road. Here I tried out my new clogs but just couldn't get along with them so, in disgust, I hurled one as far as I could over the field to one side of the road and the other one the other way. Then I set off in my home made ballet shoes, south-westward I think. Some time during the night I came across a counter weighted scaffold pole barrier such as one might see at a frontier post. This one, however, was chained and padlocked in a vertical position. I looked in vain for signs of a sentry box, the concrete base of a customs post; there was nothing. There was not even a river, hedge or barbed wire fence in line with this place. Anyway, to cheer myself up I decided I must now be in Belgium and carried on walking.
A day of mistakes: After a few more miles once again I was overtaken by the dawn and I climbed a five-bar. gate into a field. It was a big square field with a big tree growing near the opposite side. I made my way around the side and noticed that the hedge around the field was very thick and strong. There was something about this field which made me feel uneasy but I was attracted to the big tree. When I reached it, it proved to be quite unclimbable so I sat down beneath it and had a think. What sort of a field was this? Where they bring the old bull? Horses and new born lambs? I was worried. Being so unsettled I decided to move on although it was getting quite light by now. I gathered up my odds and ends and made my way back to the gate. I looked over the gate the way I had first come, then the other way and I was surprised to see a milk churn standing on the edge of the road by the corner of the field I had not yet reached so I went to investigate. It was full of milk. Luckily I still had the wine bottle with me so I dipped it in and got a half litre of milk for my days ration. I hadn’t been seen so I hurried back to my old field and sat beneath the big tree to sample my unexpected breakfast. I must have got the cream off the top and it was smashing so I had another mouthful, then another and another. That bottle of milk didn't last very long so I decided to get some more and, once again gathering my bits and pieces, I returned to the gate. Carefully I looked back along the road. It was getting quite light now but it was all clear. I looked the other way and to my utter amazement the churn had gone and I had heard nothing. Feeling very disappointed at being done out of another breakfast drink I decided that now at least I could move to another hiding place so I climbed over the gate and came face to face with a woman! I hadn’t a clue where she had come from. She was a well dressed matronly woman and more surprised than frightened and she shooed me away towards the other side of the road without Saying anything. As she didn't seem unfriendly or hostile I followed her directions and as the hedge was rather thinner on that side of the road I forced my way through it and made my way through it and made my way to the corner of the field which would be opposite "milk churn" corner. I think it was a mistake not to try to see where the lady went. I dropped my trousers and tried to move my bowels which was another thing worrying me but without any success. Then I went down that side of the field - I can’t remember what it was. I think it must have been banked up; anyway I settled halfway down amusing myself curving a bit of stick. During the morning I was surprised to see two young girls coming down the path across the field. When they saw me they looked frightened and ran back. Again I did the wrong thing. Instead of watching where they went and finding another hiding place I went down to the stream and had a wash and shave to make my appearance more acceptable. Then I returned to my resting place. Shortly after the girls came back looking more confident and friendly as they approached me. Unfortunately we had no common language so I drew a line across the inside cover of my book of matches, writing "Belgium" on one side and "Deutchland" on the other and gave them an enquiring look, "Where were we?". The older girl shook her head, drew another line across and in between she wrote "Noyas Belgium" which sounded to me like the German for New Belgium and could have been part of Belgium taken over by the Jerries in 1940. I then showed them my escape map and they seemed to say that Liege was about 20 miles (Km?) over there. Then I pointed out my ill-shod feet and said "shoes". They, for their part, pointed across the fields from where we could hear sounds such as from a school playground and said "school" so I wasn't very sure if we were understanding each other. Anyway, rather stupidly, after they left I decided to wait around to see if they might return with some help.
(Where could a couple of young girls get me a pair of shoes?). A little while later I noticed for the first time some woman working in the adjacent field which may have been a coincidence. However, I still waited around. It was early afternoon when I looked around and was surprised to see a German soldier, a feltwebel, had jumped the stream and was running towards me with a pistol at the ready. I put my hands up and said "Kamerad" which seemed to be the best thing to do at the time. He looked a tough old sweat. When I looked down the barrel it was about as big as a field gun. Still pointing his gun at me he quickly frisked me and finding I was unarmed he indicated that I should pick up my odds and ends. Without thinking I picked up my wine bottle and had it kicked out of my hand very smartly. Then, still with the gun at my back, we went down the field, over the stream and up the other side to the road where there was quite a crowd of people waiting. I tried to impress the locals but it wasn't easy with flat feet: I thought I saw one of the young girls watching me out of a window.
Walking westward I believe my captor was able to give me directions in French which way to go. Then he asked me if I was American? Australian? and finding I was English any further conversation came to an end. Eventually we reached an open level crossing the other side of which was a policeman standing by a small garage-like building. We all went inside and I was searched again. This time they found my packet of escape money which seemed to excite them. Then we carried on to the local police station where the feltwebel was given a receipt for me. I think it entitled him to an extra day's leave.
Another search turned up my little bit of toilet paper (p.999) I wonder if it finished up in Gestapo H.Q. Once again I had no common tongue but was able to ask for water and the toilet. After a long time and many phone calls a tall policeman took me further into town called Hergonaath. He spoke 4 languages but not mine. We went into a low ceilinged cafe where my escort was greeted by the waitress like an old friend and a mug of beer and some black bread and margarine was produced for me. The beer tasted like washing up water and I only ate some of the bread. I hadn't learned yet to put the left overs into my pocket for later. It was getting late in. the evening when we made our next move which seemed to be just across the road to what must have been the village "lock-up". We entered through a heavy door which seemed to lead in straight from the pavement. Inside seemed to me just like an empty shop mainly because across the back was a sloping wooden bench meant for a bed and which somehow looked like the marble slab in a wet-fish shop. The bedding consisted of two old greatcoats from God knows what army. The other thing in the cell was a crudely made throne for use as a toilet. The policeman left and in the gloom I made myself a pillow with my bits and pieces, crawled under the greatcoats and slept like a log.
I awoke quite early so I was up and ready when the policeman came back followed by the lady from the cafe with, I think, more black bread and marge and a drink. After they left I had time to look around the cell. The walls must have been white washed donkey's years ago and were covered with writing by previous occupants. One, written in French said that the writer had walked some 700 kms. and had been caught on the frontier. During the morning a much be-ribboned German officer turned up. I think he was a major or something. He just looked at me and as I had nothing better to do I just stared back. Then, having said not a word, he cleared off. Later that morning the policeman returned together with a young shortish unter-offizier who toted a pistol "as big as himself", who was to be my next escort. He and I took the crosscountry "tram-train" which went to Aachen where we went into the canteen in the railway station full of disinterested German troops. I think we had some soup and then took a train to Cologne (Koln). It was evening when we arrived. I was allowed to use the toilet before we left. Outside, with the great cathedral in view we waited for a No.22 tram. When it arrived as it quickly filled up my escort had a word with the conductor and I was given a seat against the window with the unter offizier sitting beside me. I was feeling fairly exhausted by now and as the tram got going I closed my eyes and let the world pass by.
After a little while I became aware of some sort of a row developing and I had a look with a cautious one eye and I saw that a 3-way argument was going on. A civilian was claiming a seat, my seat in the well-filled tram. My escort was saying that he was responsible for me and refused to let me out where I might escape and the conductor was saying that anyway I was a soldier and soldiers were entitled to a seat. Finally they compromised and the civilian got my seat while I had to stand in the gangway just in front of my escort. I felt so tired and anyway I was never a good traveller on trams so I dumped my bundle on the floor - it is surprising what you collect - and sat on it in the gangway. Inevitably someone to the front of the tram had to get off and I was in the way so I had to get up again. As the tram was rocking and swaying along I lost my balance and took a wild grab for something which turned out to be the bell cord which must have given the driver quite a surprise. When we got going again everyone seemed to be a lot more cheerful. Perhaps they thought they had nothing to fear from enemies such as I who was obviously a B.F. Then my escort had a chat with the conductor. A little while later at apparently nowhere in particular, my escort and I got off. As the tram went on its way my escort started looking for somewhere and as we walked up and down the main road and side roads it was obvious he was lost. At one place I was so knackered that I just stood at the corner in the dark and let him get on with it! At last he got a clue and he strode purposefully down a side road with me in tow. We arrived at what seemed to be a large double bay frontal house. He knocked on the door and we waited as nothing much happened. Then after a little while and some scraping noises much to ray surprise the small window on my left was flung open and a head appeared. There followed a completely unintelligible conversation and again to my surprise I was told to climb through the open window. My guard followed and we stood together in the dark. The window was shut, the blankout replaced and the light switched on again to reveal, a bare military office and the occupant, another tough looking German feltwebel. There followed another session of double-dutch after which the feltwebel left the office for a few minutes and returned carrying a blanket. We spread this out on the floor for me to lay down on, then my escort laid down beside me and the feldwebel laid down the other side and believe it or not I slept.
I don't know for how long but we were awoken by the sound of shouting and hobnailed boots rushing about. There was an air raid warning. The feltwebel went out again but soon returned to join us on the floor. It must have been a false alarm as we weren't disturbed again until morning. On awakening I was allowed a visit to the toilet. On the way there and back I realised that this place was an arbeiztlager (work camp) and the residents were French. I had no opportunity to try and talk to them but as I passed by one gave me a small bar of chocolate and another gave me a packet of cigarettes, Caporal bleux. Then back to the office where I got my breakfast which was like a bowl of tea with biscuits floating in it. Some time later we were taken by pick-up truck to what I think was Luftwaffe Kohn. As we waited at the main entrance a German "erk” stood on the steps eating what looked like a mustard pickle sandwich and that really turned me off. Actually I think it must have been erzartz honey . After spending a short time encaged in a cell I was taken before, I think, the C.O. He certainly had an impressive desk! He just stared at me so I returned the compliment. Finally he tired of this, bent down to the side and picked up a pair of flying boots which he tossed across the desk to me. I thought at first they were Charlies but on closer inspection I think they must have belonged to a Yank. Anyway they fitted O.K. and apart from gash in one toecap they were in fair condition. Later I was taken for a meal (salad) in the airman’s mess and afterwards with 3 or 4 other RAF joined a train for Frankfort. One of the chaps said he was gasping for a smoke so I produced my packet of blue caps and achieved instant popularity.
I cannot recall how or when we arrived at Dulag Luft, the interrogation centre, only that we were stripped and put into solitary confinement which in my case didn't last very long as I was soon joined by an American Puerto Rican airman. When I got my clothes back I was surprised to find that my compass buttons had been found and removed. My jackknife also disappeared. Some time later I was taken to the main interrogation block in solitary again in a small cell containing a bunk bed, small table and stool, blocked off window and a handle near the door to call the guard. Food when it came was like a watery potato soup and most unusual coffee, black and unsweetened.
An elderly German officer came into the cell. His first words were "Sergeant Brown, we have been looking for you".Jack Ansell
Donald McRaeMy 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
W/O. Raymond Thomas Marquet 75 SquadronMy father, Ray Marquet, joined the RNZAF in 1940 aged 21. He was trained as an observer (gun aimer) at Jervis 1 Bomber school in Ontario Canada passing as a navigator on Ansons and later Wellington bombers.
He flew 13 operations before being shot down over Benghazi on 3rd of April 1942. He and all the crew bailed out safely with only the rear gunner Joe Galland spraining his ankle on impact with the Western Desert. They were taken in by the local tribesmen who initially looked after them, but after a few days alerted the local German troops of their whereabouts (an entire Wellington bomber crew would have been a good prize.)
They were taken to Germany and housed at Dulag Luft where my dad (who was a jazz pianist in his spare time before the war) entertained the troops. He was actually kept there longer than was normal as he was judged to be good for morale.
He was later sent to Stalag Luft 4B where he stayed for 3 1/2 years until the war ended. He never really talked about this time, but when he was demobbed and sent home to NZ he weighed 6 stone (he was a strapping 6 footer before the war).Julie Dunseath
WO Norman William SimmondsMy dad WO Simmonds was a bomb aimer/navigator. He joined the RAF on 27th October 1941. He was shot down on 6th September 1943 and was a POW in Stalag VIIA from 16th Septmber 1943; Dulag-Luft from 20th September 1943; Stalag Luft from 10th October 1943; Stalag 357 (Thorne) from July 1044; Stalag 357 August 1944. He died in a car accident in 1973.Dave Simmonds
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