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WO/1 Arthur James "Buzz" Benson DFM
RAAF 10 OTU Coastal Command
from:Inverell, AustraliaMy Father, Arthur Benson is now 88 years old, and living in Australia. He was part of the Empire Air Training Scheme and was sent to Dauphin, Canada, completing his training at St. Eval in England, as a pilot.
On 14 June 1943, he was attached to 19 Group of Coastal Command and equipped wtih a twin-engined Whitley aircraft (10 OTU), was sent to help Coastal Command hunting submarines out over the Bay of Biscay. The crew consisted of Fellow Australian Sergeant R.L. 'Bob" Rennick (second pilot), Pilot Officer Tom J.L. Lee (navigator) RAF, F/O Alan Kingsley (Rear Gunner) RCAF, Sergeant George T Graves (Wireless Operator) RAF. They had seven trips in all and on what was to be their last trip with Coastal Command, spotted two German submarines. After shadowing the U-boats for two hours the crew was given the instructions to attack. As they commenced their descent, they were fired upon and the Whitley was hit in the port fuel tank. But by now they were well committed, so they continued with their attack, and sank one submarine, U 564. This submarine had already sank 33 Allied ships. With the loss of the hydraulics and fuel, and with the damaged engine about to stop, it was obvious that they were going to struggle to return to base. My Father successfully ditched the Whitley and the crew managed to evacuate into the dinghy, even though the dinghy had been damaged when the Whitley was fired upon. They had lost the dinghy pack, containing food and water, but still had 12 one-pint tins of water. The crew had carried a homing-pigeon on these trips and had managed to bring the cage into the dinghy. They attached a message to the bird's leg and attempted to launch it in the direction of base. After several attempts to get the bird to leave the dinghy it finally disappeared in the right direction. Unfortunately the pigeon did not make it back to base. Dad and his crew spent the next two days and three nights drifting on the Bay of Biscay. On the evening of the third day they were rescued by the crew of a French fishing boat. Unfortunately, the crew could not help them get back to England by boat or put them in contact with the Resistence as they were expected by the Germans to be back in their port by a certain time or there would be serious consequences for themselves and their families. The fishing boat returned to Morgat, a small fishing village south of Brest, and Dad and his crew were captured by the Germans. They were sent to Paris by train and then sent to Frankfurt for interrogation. After eight days in solitary confinement, the crew were separated and Dad, George and Tom were sent to Stalag Luft 6 at Hyderkrug in East Prussia. Tom and Alan were sent to Stalag Luft III. Dad has many stories of this time as a POW. He talks of the efficient Escape Committee and the several attempts that were made whilst he was in Stalag Luft 6. He also talks of the boredom, the theatre, the sport played to keep fit. He tells his grandchildren that he "played rugby for Australia" as there were many matches between the English and Australian and other Empire countries during this time.
On June 6 1944 Dad and his fellow POWs were moved to a camp near Thorne in Poland and then after about three months they were move Stalag 357, Fallingbostel in the north of Germany.
This is one part of Dad's story in Stalag 357, in his own words - "The need for firewood became so urgent on one occasion when were not able to go out into the forest, that Trevor Scales (fellow Australian who eventually escaped with Dad) decided that we would knock off some posts from the inner surround holding up the strands of barbed wire. Ten wires were attached to each post and had to be knocked off by detaching the staples that held them on. For the purpose I had managed to find a length of steel rood about half a metre in length. At this time the snow had thawed somewhat and we were able to walk around the inner surround for exercise. As we walked around we would have to keep an eye on the guards in the towers and those patrolling the outer fence. First we would test a post by pushing it. If it was loose in the ground we would then hit the wires and break the staples away. A night just before lights out, when it was dark we would go out and wait our chance when the searchlights were off, leave our hiding place behind the huts, make a swift dash to a loose post and whip it out of the ground, and dart back behind the huts again. Then it was a matter of dodging the guards and making it back to our hut without being seen. It worked well for us for a long time, and eventually the absence of posts in the fence must have became obvious to the guards. All the time we were working closer to the guard boxes in the corners of the lager. On our last venture we had to hide behind a hut near the guard box, and as the searchlight went off made a dash for a post. It was tighter in the ground than we thought it would be and took a lot of pulling out. However, we succeeded and with the post on our shoulders made a dash to safety of the hut. I was in front and Scales was sliding about a bit in the frost and ice. Just as rounded the corner of the hut, the searchlight came on and we were caught in the beam. I did a smart turn to the left and Trevor skated out in a large circle, but still hung on to the post. We did some quick dodging about amongst the huts before we made it back to our own hut. We hurled the post through an open window and dived in after it. All was not lost but we gave away knocking off the posts after that."
On 12 April 1945 the Air Force prinsoners in Stalag Luft 357 were told to be ready to march out of camp in two hours time - destination unknown - but it was obvious that the Allies were advancing. The first two nights they camped in the forest 'scrounging' food from the locals. During the march towards Elbe River a spitfire had flown low overhead whilst attacking a target nearby. My father, Trevor Scales and a young American lad by the name of Lloyd (Dad cannot remember his last name) decided it was dangerous to be on the march as to be escaping and were in danger of being 'strafed' by the Allies. Each morning a ration truck would arrive and the guards would be distracted, so Dad, Trevor and Lloyd used this opportunity to make their escape by running into the thick forest. They had noticed the previous day they had passed a camp of foreign 'slave workers' and went there to ask for help. They were reluctant to help but finally a group of Russian gave Trevor, Dad and Lloyd coats and hats to disguise themselves as well as some food. Trevor spoke some German and was able to ascertain that by following the railway track that they would arrive at Saltau 50 Kms away. They were stopped five times by German soldiers over the next couple of days but Trevor managed to convince these soldiers that they were civilian "arbiters" being sent to Saltau to work. Finally Dad and Trevor's luck ran out and they were captured once again, very close to the town of Saltau, by a German soldier that did not believe they were Russian. They were taken to the town of Saltau and put into the basement of a military barracks. An attack on the town started soon afterwards. The following morning the British tanks arrived. In my father's Words "Suddenly it was all over. German soldiers came into the barracks and threw their firearms into a room. They were ready to surrender. It was strange really, for they were no longer enemies, and we got into conversation with them. They wanted to know what it was like being a POW, and what they should take with them into a prison camp. They were just as apprehensive as we had been when re-captured a few hours before. Just frightened young men." After receiving food from the British, Dad, Trevor and Lloyd were told to get a car and follow the White Star Line, which was a road cleared of debris and clearly marked by large white painted stars to an "aerodrome" from there they would fly to Brussels and then onto England. Dad had been a POW for one year and 10 months. My father's story has been written up in several books including - "War Gave Us Wings" - Col King "Search, Find and Kill" - Norman Franks Dad was awarded the DFM whilst he was a POW and later promoted to Warrant Officer. Footnote: ELMS is having its yearly reunion in York, England in April and my father will be traveling from Australia to be part of this event.
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