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SS Stratheden in the Second World War 1939-1945 - The Wartime Memories Project -

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SS Stratheden

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Those known to have sailed in

SS Stratheden

during the Second World War 1939-1945.

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Sgt. Frederick Brown 83 Squadron

Sargent 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

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