John T L Shores son, Mark recalls his journey of discover from the Welsh Mountains to the Baltic.
The date was Friday, 22nd September 2006. As our car headed north from Berlin on a warm morning, I sat in the front passenger seat, with my brother Rex in the rear and Kees, our Dutch driver, sitting on my left. The pine forests gave way to the plains of North Germany and as I watched the landscape pass, wondering at the wind farms which dotted the landscape, I had plenty of time to consider what in my life had brought me to make this journey to the small town of Barth near the Baltic (Ostsee) coast.
On 15th March 1950 a Royal Air Force (RAF) Lincoln aircraft, on a night training flight in thick fog over North Wales, crashed into a mountainside killing the crew of six; the pilot was my father, Squadron Leader John Shore. I was four years of age and because of a slightly nomadic childhood I did not know my father well and my recollections of him are few. My mother had died when I was a year old and I do not remember her at all. My dad was born in 1917 and, like many boys of his age in Europe and North America, he grew up fascinated by aeroplanes and wanting only to fly. The fighter aces of World War I, such as his uncle Reginald Brading, were their heroes, as were the long-distance flying pioneers. In Britain, Alan Cobham’s flying circus toured the country, giving air displays and joyrides and the excitement as intoxicating for schoolboys.My dad would have been thrilled when he was accepted by the RAF in 1936. His first flying lessons were at White Waltham airfield, not far from Windsor and not many miles from where I now live.
Wellington IC from No. 9 Squadron (courtesy Imperial War Museum)
Almost exactly nine years before the Lincoln crashed in North Wales, my father had been the pilot of another stricken RAF bomber, a Vickers Wellington of 9 Squadron returning from a raid over Germany. On the night of Thursday, 27th March 1941, the crew of six all parachuted to safety, but because the aircraft was fairly low by the time my dad jumped, he hurt his ankle badly on landing. Even so he was able to hobble quite a distance in the dark until he managed to get help; he was in the enemy-occupied Netherlands. He finished up in the care of a local Dutch farmer and his family in the village of Heesbeen, near Heusden on the River Maas. They fed him and called the local doctor, who warned him that his presence would be known to the authorities. When my dad went up to the bathroom he found that his hosts had left civilian clothes, money and papers for him, but with the handicap of his damaged ankle and knowing that there would be an alert out, he told his hosts that they should report his presence to the authorities and this they did.
In captivity and reunited with all but one of his crew – Sergeant Tomkins, the navigator – they were taken by train and bus, via a stop in Amsterdam, to Dulag Luft interrogation centre near Oberursel, north-west of Frankfurt am Main. By 15th April, John Shore was entrained again, bound for Berlin and beyond. He managed to escape through a toilet window and jump from the moving train but was spotted by the guards who started shooting and, let down by his ankle, he was recaptured. Two mornings later he and the other prisoners arrived in Barth in north-east Germany, not far from the Baltic coast, and were marched through the town to Stalag Luft I, the prison camp for RAF crew. He was now to be a prisoner of war (POW) in a permanent camp for the rest of the war – or so his captors hoped and believed.
Stalag Luft I Barth Prisoner of War Camp for RAF crew and Bertram Arthur "Jimmy" James. (both courtesy of the Shore family)
Left: "Jimmy" James sketch showing the site of the incinerator tunnel and, in the lower sketch, the path on which he was caught. (courtesy of the Shore family)
However, as he described in the report he wrote on his return to the United Kingdom, within six months he was walking through Barth again, this time on his own, in the opposite direction, at night and desperately trying not to be seen. The plan having been cleared with the Escape Committee, he had joined fellow prisoner “Jimmy” James, also from 9 Squadron, in digging a tunnel from under a brick rubbish tip – “the incinerator” – which was near the wire at the edge of the camp proper. On the other side of the wire was a football field and, whilst they were digging, Jimmy and my dad used the cover of football games to enter and exit the tunnel. The main work on the 25 feet long (7.6 metre) tunnel took four days – spread over three weeks – and by 15th October 1941 everything was ready. They then had to wait for an air-raid during the hours of darkness when the searchlights and camp lights would be doused; this finally happened on 19th October. My dad, seizing the opportunity, struggled through a hidden trap door in the floor of his hut. He was nearly seen by a guard but followed him, matching his own footsteps to the guard’s. Whispering to Jimmy James as he passed his hut, he reached “the incinerator”. Here he waited for some time, regularly banging the incinerator door to attract Jimmy James’ attention, before finally squeezing through the partially-flooded tunnel, crossing the football field and crawling under the wire at the far side into the woods, where again he waited. Unfortunately, and unknown to my dad, Jimmy had been captured whilst trying to reach the tunnel. Jimmy was aware that his capture and the following fuss would work to my dad’s advantage by diverting the guards’ attention away from what might be happening outside the wire. Eventually my dad “got wind-up” and, having squeezed lemon over his clothes and boots to put the dogs off his scent, he set off. Now he was alone in the hostile darkness rather than being with a friend; he had limited food, no papers or money and spoke only a little German. After many adventures, walking all the way and nearly always at night, he reached the port of Sassnitz. Eventually from there, in the early hours of the Saturday morning, he managed to jump on a train which was joining a night ferry for Sweden, arriving safely in Trelleborg hours later. He was in Stockholm by the Sunday morning. Amazingly, John Shore was back on British soil in Scotland before the end of the month, little more than a week after his escape from Stalag Luft I. My elder brother Rex was born the year after his father’s escape, in October 1942, and I arrived in 1945. After our mother’s death early in 1947, our father married again and our brother Ian was born in 1948.
As a boy I was fascinated by stories of POW escapes. A favourite was The Colditz Story, as well as the sequel The Latter Days at Colditz, by Pat Reid. The Great Escape by Paul Brickhill and The Wooden Horse by Eric Williams were just two more of the many true stories I loved to read. At primary school, an American friend and I drew a scale map of the main school buildings – and then added barbed wire, searchlights and guard posts to turn it into a POW camp! However, I do not recall that this fascination was anything to do with my dad’s escape – certainly not at a conscious level. I remember my grandmother, my father’s mother, being visited by an author who then wrote newspaper and magazine articles about John Shore’s escape but, as I grew up, the events of 1941 were something in the past upon which I did not dwell.
In about 1970, I was contacted by The RAF Escaping Society. A public house, off the Euston Road in London, was being reopened as The Escape and some of my dad’s artefacts were used for display. During my contact with the society, I met “Wings” Day at one of their functions. He was the very escape-minded Senior British Officer (SBO) at Barth when my dad escaped and he later took part in the famous “Great Escape” from Stalag Luft III in March 1944.
There followed a gap of nearly ten years when, in about 1978, I had a call out of the blue from Jimmy James, whom I did not know. We met at the RAF Club in Piccadilly in London and I was able to provide some information and photographs for a book Jimmy was writing about his wartime experiences. Then, once again, my father’s escape slipped into the background of my life as I earned a living to help support my wife and two young sons. In 1997, Jimmy James wrote and told me that a woman named Helga Radau would like me to get in contact with her; Helga was the town archivist in Barth and had a very strong interest in Stalag Luft I. We corresponded and I was able to provide Helga with a photograph of my father; over the years we have swapped books and articles.
From Helga came an invitation to visit Barth in April 2000 to take part in a conference that her local association had organized. In attendance were a number of ex-POWs – none British – and their families. Additionally there were inmates who had been incarcerated in Barth concentration camp, many local people, including the mayor, a representative from the British Embassy in Berlin, journalists and some historians. As a part of the weekend, there were ceremonies at the sites of the concentration camp and Stalag Luft I, so for the first time I was able to stand where my dad had stood and look across the fields to the view he had of the spire of St Marien church in Barth. I was privileged to lay a flower on the memorial in remembrance of the thousands of POWs who had spent so many days in the camp.
As my father had done nearly sixty years previously, on that first visit to Barth I arrived by train. I was met in the evening by Helga at Barth railway station and she took me to the hotel in town. The American and Canadian ex-Kriegies (from Kriegsgefangenen, prisoners of war) and their families were already there and their mantra was “Nobody ever escaped from Stalag Luft I.” “Oh yes, they did,” said Helga, “and this is the son of “Death” Shore who was one of them!” Apparently he earned this nickname because of his madcap escaping schemes. In fact, first Harry Burton and then my father were the only two prisoners to escape successfully from Stalag Luft I and were the first two RAF airmen in World War II to escape from a German prison camp and make it home.
On that day in 2006, as we neared the end of our journey on the autobahn and our driver Kees turned off onto minor roads to track our way across to Barth, I remembered my two trips up into the Welsh mountains. Both times we three brothers, Rex, Ian and I, had made the journey, but with different companions. On the first occasion, in early summer 1994, we walked and, climbing up a mountain slope, eventually came across the wreckage of our dad’s aircraft from nearly forty-five years previously. On the second trip, in July 2002, we travelled quickly and easily in the comparative comfort of an RAF Sea King helicopter. The crew dropped us near the crash site and flew off on a training exercise. We climbed the short distance to where the main wreckage remained and there laid a granite plaque to commemorate the crew.
As we now neared the outskirts of Barth, I delved into another area of memory not yet touched upon. When my dad was handed over to the German authorities in Holland in 1941, he left his ring and watch in the care of the Dutch family; they kindly sent food parcels to my dad in the prison camp. At the end of the war his uncle, Brigadier Brading, was involved in the process of returning the country to civilian rule. He visited the Van Everdingen family and collected the ring and watch; from then on my grandmother kept in touch with the family. She started a cycle of return visits in 1957 when she visited the Van Everdingens and over the next few years at least one of the Van Everdingen brothers came to England or the two elder Shore brothers went to Heesbeen. In 1959, Rex and I made our first visit, with our grandmother, and were taken to the spot by the River Maas where our dad landed by parachute and also to the field where the Wellington had crashed – there remained an indent in the ground. When I started work in 1963, both the visits and regular contact ended, but our driver this day, Kees, was the younger Van Everdingen son who was joining us for this journey into the past. Indeed Kees has a memory of yet another visit from our family – that of an aircraft piloted by my dad flying over their farmhouse after a 1946 reunion. In more recent times, Kees had visited Barth in 2000 and met Helga Radau. Kees and I had corresponded only twice over the years but fortunately the address I had for him turned out to be current. He not only proved to be a valuable chauffeur for Rex and me but his presence added another link to the past and we were all very pleased that he was able to join us.
So the three of us arrived at our hotel in Barth where we were to meet Ian and his party and to stay for the night. At one o’clock exactly, his scheduled time of arrival, Ian arrived outside the front of the hotel; he is the punctual one of the three brothers! The driver was Howard Tuck, military historian and documentary film-maker, the other passenger being Howard’s friend Neil Wright, a Second World War buff and collector of associated memorabilia. Some explanation is required. Ian, a Wing Commander in the RAF, had met Jimmy James earlier in the year and this meeting had fired Ian’s enthusiasm to find out more about his father’s escape. Ian had managed to book himself on an RAF “staff ride” – organized by Howard Tuck – which was to visit Berlin, Sachsenhausen, Stalag Luft III and Colditz. The “guest” on the tour was to be Jimmy James and Ian hoped to persuade him to stay on after the trip and come up to Barth. In the event, Jimmy was not able to make any part of the trip but the arrangements were already in place and we continued with them. Rex, over in England from his home in Nepal, and I flew to Berlin on the Thursday night and stayed near the airport. We had a reunion with Kees when he collected us the following morning and he then drove us north. Ian, Howard and Neil departed their hotel in Berlin and made their separate way to Barth. Now we all gathered for lunch, following which Helga Radau arrived.
The two most important items on our itinerary were a visit to the site of Stalag Luft I and, on the following day, an attempt to follow our dad’s route from Barth to Sassnitz. The sequence of our visits around Barth was to be determined by something I knew and which the rest of our party did not, namely that a reporter from the local newspaper wished to interview us. This meeting was scheduled for three o’clock at the site of Stalag Luft I, so not surprisingly this took precedence. My mental picture of newspaper reporters having been formed from my hobby of watching old movies, particularly the black-and-white variety, images of Clark Gable or Humphrey Bogart or, more up-to-date, Robert Redford or Clint Eastwood came to mind. Imagine my surprise when we were greeted on our arrival at Stalag Luft I by a young woman, Claudia Haiplick. Once the various photographs had been taken and Claudia had chatted to us and asked her questions, she willingly spent the rest of the afternoon following us as we battled through branches and undergrowth, apparently enjoying it as much as we did. The following week her report of our visit was published in Ostseezeitung.
Stalag Luft I opened, in July 1940, as the first prison camp for Air Force prisoners. It was closed in April 1942 when the prisoners were transferred to the much larger custom-built camp near Sagan, Lower Silesia – Stalag Luft III. It was from this camp that the Great Escape took place in March 1944. One of the participants who escaped and survived was Flight Lieutenant B.A. James – the same “Jimmy” James who dug the tunnel at Stalag Luft I with my dad; he had been one of the prisoners transferred from Barth to Sagan in 1942.
Fl/Lt. James Leslie Robert "Cookie" Long (John Shores second pilot) escaped from Stalag Luft III, but was recaptured and murdered (courtesy Aircrew Remembered archive)
Jimmy James spent his time in captivity searching for a way out and had a remarkable record of involvement in escape schemes, most of which involved tunnelling. Having been shot down in June 1940, despite his continuing efforts he was not freed until his liberation in Italy in early May 1945. As well as successfully getting away from Stalag Luft III in the Great Escape, he and four others, including “Wings” Day, tunnelled out of Sachenhausen concentration camp, to where they had been sent following their recapture. Jimmy’s wartime adventures are recounted in his wartime memoir, Moonless Night, which was published in 1983 and has become one of the classic escape stories. Another 9 Squadron escapee from Stalag III was James “Cookie” Long, my father’s second-pilot; sadly he was one of the fifty murdered by the Gestapo.
Barth reopened in October 1942 and housed RAF non-commissioned officers. After their transfer to another camp in November 1943, Stalag Luft I was enlarged and by 1945 had four compounds and housed 2,000 British and Dominion Air Force officers and 8,000 United States Army Air Force (USAAF) officers. Today much of the site is overgrown or has been reclaimed by trees, so that where once there were huts and a compound, there are now scrub and woodland, with few clues left that point to the existence of the camp. However there is a memorial, built largely as a result of the persistence of Helga Radau over many years, dedicated to the prisoners and today it stands as a reminder of that time.
Kees van Everdingen, Helga Radau, Howard Tuck, Mark Shore, Rex Shore, Neil Wright and Ian Shore at Stalag Luft I Barth. John "Death" Shore and "Jimmy" James pose near the site of the incinerator at Stalag Luft I Barth, October 1941 (courtesy the Shore family)
It was around this memorial that we now gathered, with Claudia taking notes and pictures. Neil Wright had brought World War II Army and RAF uniforms from his collection and he and I donned these and posed in a stance similar to that taken by Jimmy James and John Shore as they stood in front of “the incinerator” at the start of their tunnel, as shown in an old black-and-white photograph that has survived. A photograph of Neil and me, still in uniform, at the presumed site of the tunnel entrance, appeared in Claudia’s article, along with another of Ian, Rex, Helga and me at the memorial. Before setting off into the woods, Howard called Jimmy James on his mobile phone and we all spoke to him. It was sad that he was unable to be with us but it was, for me at least, an exciting moment to describe to him the view over the fields to Barth and the spire of St Marien church. He well remembered this view, the only real sight the prisoners had of the town. Speaking to him linked him with our visit despite his physical absence.
Mark Shore lays a commemorative flower at the memorial, Stalag Luft I Barth. The Shore brothers Ian, Rex and Mark with Helga Radau standing behind the memorial at Stalag Luft I Barth. In the background is the spire of St Marien church which Jimmy James remembers looking at many times while he was a POW (courtesy the Shore family)
From the memorial we set off into the undergrowth and woods to try to locate the site of the tunnel entrance. Howard eventually found a mound and some clinker and, guessing this may have been the site of “the incinerator”, Neil and I duly obliged, posing for photographs. Again, as we stood in the gloom of the wood, it was difficult to imagine that this had once been a prison compound. As we explored further afield, we found a concrete structure outside the bounds of the camp that may well have been a gun emplacement. Maybe it was connected to the nearby flak school, a landmark for the prisoners which my dad passed during his escape; some of the buildings still stand as a part of the local Gymnasium (secondary school).
When we had finished at Stalag Luft I, we made our way in the two cars back to Barth, this time going via Dammtor, the ancient brick gatehouse which my dad had reached in the early hours; he detoured when he spotted a lighted cigarette in the gateway. Ian was travelling in the front car with Howard and Neil and. following the escape account, was taking great care to track down as much as he was able of our dad’s escape route. Eventually Kees, Rex and I left them and later we met up at the museum which Helga and her colleagues have painstakingly created. The exhibits tell the story of the POW and concentration camps; one of the display boards includes photographs of Jimmy James and John “Death” Shore.
Picture from Barth museum. Howard Tuck and Ian Shore inspect an old platform at Barth railway station (courtesy of the Shore family)
We gathered that evening for a meal at the hotel restaurant and were joined by Helga and Bärbel Möller. Bärbel is an English teacher from the local school at the site of the previously-mentioned flak school. A few weeks later some of her pupils were kind enough to translate Claudia’s newspaper article into English for us. The next day, after breakfast and having said goodbye to Helga, we set off in our two cars. First we visited the railway station where prisoners arrived before being marched through the town to the camp. Some of the buildings date from before the war and the station appears much as it would have been then, with some original rails and the goods platform. From the station we headed south to the airfield, from where the prisoners were flown out at the war’s end. We decided that this was not the direction our father had taken and we went back through Barth, past the station, and headed east on the back road. He had walked along this exposed road towards Martensdorf, passing through the small villages, presumably leaving the road hurriedly if any vehicle approached – as he had had to do shortly after leaving the camp – and dreading the sound of a challenging voice. At about 03.00 he reached the railway at Martensdorf and from here he continued by road before hiding up at daybreak in woods short of Stralsund. He set off again at about 18.00 and most of the night was spent getting into, through and beyond Stralsund. He needed to cross the railway-road bridge and to do this he had to pass guards at either end; surprisingly he did this without encountering difficulties, greeting the sentries as he went. At the time of our journey in 2006, a large and impressive new bridge was under construction, but we were still able to cross by the old one. Beyond Stralsund he had tried to steal a bicycle but was nearly caught. He then hid up in a wood about 5 miles (8 kilometres) from Bergen (Bergen auf Rügen).
He set off again in the evening and after making wrong decisions in Bergen he headed south-east, his exact route being unclear. His account says he reached the summer seaside resort of Binz at night, though as we attempted to follow his route in 2006 we had some doubt about this – see my Afterthoughts. By morning he was on the road between Prora and Sassnitz, suffering from very painful feet caused by the ill-fitting new shoes with which he had set out and, before he finally managed to hide up again in a wood, he was spotted by a sailor. One can imagine that despite tiredness he would – with hunger, cold and the constant fear of discovery – have slept only fitfully. That evening he entered Sassnitz.
Now being in a town, and because he had to take greater risks than before, he was seen more frequently. In a tired state he hid in a tarpaulin-covered railway truck, probably prompted by the coded message that Harry Burton, after his successful escape, had sent back to the POWs at Barth; it said, “SASSNITZ FERRY AT 16.30. HIDE UNDER TARPAULIN”. John Shore spent that night sleeping in his truck, and the following morning remained hidden in it. In the afternoon he found it was being shunted back to Sassnitz station rather than down to the harbour and he had to jump out, losing most of his meagre food supply. When he tried to hide in another railway truck, so as to board the afternoon ferry, he had a similar experience and again had to jump off. He was now extremely hungry and scavenged through dustbins for food and quenched his thirst with elderberries; following this he was violently sick. He watched the 16.30 ferry leave. He then walked around Sassnitz ferry port – not the modern one – where, whilst trying to find a ship to board, he was stopped by an SS man. He did not have the required papers and only the timely appearance of a drunken Danish sailor and his own quick-thinking departure saved him from being uncovered as an escaped POW. During the night when hiding, exhausted and dispirited, he realized there might be a 04.30 ferry. His guess was correct and he managed to jump on board a railway truck which was being shunted onto the ferry. It sailed at about 03.30, taking him to Sweden and freedom.
On that Saturday September afternoon in 2006, as Kees drove Rex and me back from Sassnitz to Berlin, again I was able to reflect – this time on my dad’s escape route which we had just covered, by car, in half-a-day. We were able to see some of the places he had been – the roads he walked, the bridge he crossed, the woods where he may have slept, Sassnitz station where he found a drink of water, the overgrown bank above the port where he probably hid, the ferry port itself, the now-disused berth from which his ferry likely departed. In visiting and seeing some of these places we could visualize, at least to a degree, some of the experiences he had.
The knife believed to be fashioned by John "Death" Shore as a POW from an eating utensil and used during his escape (courtesy of the Shore family)
Having followed the whole route as best we could, my main thought was what a feat the escape had been. Jimmy James and John Shore had dug their tunnel using a knife. Our dad had exited his hut, crawled through the part-flooded tunnel and then hidden in the woods waiting for Jimmy James who, as we know, never joined him. Then he set off alone in the dark with his small food supply in a self-made haversack, with no money or papers, little knowledge of the language, wearing a home-made cap and hoping his converted uniform passed for civilian clothes. His new boots, from a parcel from home, were ill-fitting and his feet were very battered even before reaching Stralsund, where he changed into the gym shoes that he had had the foresight to carry with him. He had to travel by night and to hide if he was in danger of being seen – everybody was the enemy. He had to make fast time, even though he may not have been in peak condition having been a prisoner for six months. However, by dawn on his first day of freedom he was, as I have said, near Stralsund, so the distance he walked in seven or so hours was approximately 20 miles (32.5 kilometres); his total journey was approximately 56 miles (90 kilometres).
As we three brothers have separately and together touched upon and explored episodes in our father’s life – the story of his final flight in 1950 and the scenes of his escape from Germany – it is probable that we have each been changed to some degree by the experience. Often, however, our individual responses to our shared and separate visits into the past have displayed our different characters. As a simple example, when we were following the escape route, Ian was fascinated with the detail, trying to find this exact bit of road or that actual wood, whereas Rex and I in the following car were a bit bemused, tending to take in impressions. I think these different responses have complemented rather than clashed with one another. What follows is written very much from my own perspective.
Rex was the prime mover behind our first visit to the Welsh mountains and Ian was the instigator of the 2006 trip to Barth. On both occasions I was just a happy participant and maybe this was entirely fitting for a middle brother! Our first trip to Wales was the most emotional of the visits for me, as we started to find pieces of the aircraft in which my dad had died strewn down the hillside. The night before, when staying locally, I had not slept well, having recurring visions of a large aircraft flying into a dead-end valley. Now, as we started finding the wreckage, I stopped dead, a long-forgotten tale coming back to me. This true story was of “Fred the Pole”, working for a British company, who had wrecked a day’s stocktake when it was found he had added 10 or 100 or some such figure to each count he made. I felt the shock as I remembered this story because the ground-controller at Valley, who had been trying to guide the Lincoln to the airfield, was a Pole. He and the pilot, my father, seemed unable to agree what course the aircraft was flying. Had the Polish ground-controller added 100 to the course he was passing? We found that the aircraft had not, as the family had always thought, flown blind into a cliff. The impact happened almost at the top of the lowest ridge in the area, at an angle off the main valley along which the aircraft was flying; the pilot, in the darkness and the fog, had nearly managed to fly his way out. The discovery of the crash site and the laying of a plaque a few years later were both trips of interest and adventure. However, for me they primarily formed a satisfactory conclusion to part of a journey into my own past.
My two visits to Barth were probably not so much a conclusion as a revelation of the resource and courage displayed by escaping POWs, in particular by my dad. At the time of his escape he was 24 years of age; I doubt that at any time in my life I would have been able to achieve what he did. The sadness that I was not able to know him as I was growing up has, over the years, been partly lessened by gaining a greater knowledge of the man, his history and character, even though not all that I have learned has been to his credit. Prisoners of war, of whatever nationality, who managed to escape from the confinement of their camp and to stay at large for a day or more, even if they were then recaptured, were men who possessed a special independence. The final success or failure of an escape was not down to skill alone; nevertheless, the few who did escape successfully were a rare breed. Thirty-three men of all ranks from the British and Dominion Air Forces made successful escapes from German camps during World War II, twenty-four of them being RAF men. Of those thirty-three, fewer than fifteen actually escaped from permanent POW camps, as opposed to work camps or working parties. My father, John Shore, the man who walked from the small north-eastern German town of Barth via the port of Sassnitz to freedom in Sweden, was deservedly a member of that small band who made “home runs”.
Postscript. In recognition of his successful escape Flight Lieutenant J.T.L. Shore was awarded the Military Cross (MC).
Translations and descriptions: Dulag Luft (Durchgangslager der Luftwaffe): Transit Camp – Air Force. Stalag Luft (Luftwaffe-Stammlager): Luftwaffe main camp. Flak (Fliegerabwehrkanone): fire from anti-aircraft guns – literally air defence gun. Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei): Secret State Police. SS (Schutzstaffel): literally “protective shield”, originally Hitler’s personal bodyguard, became elite paramilitary organization.
The preceding story is a personal one and in no way attempts to be a complete account either of my father’s escape or of his subsequent experiences and career, but here is a brief summary of his post-Stalag Luft I life. After his escape he was “nervy” for a while and physically worn down. His feet were in such a bad way that he needed treatment in Sweden and this was continued on his return to the United Kingdom. He lectured RAF aircrew about his escape – indeed he advised on an RAF training film, the cast of which included John (later Sir John) Mills. Later my father “carried out tests of aircraft flying into balloon barrage wires.” He made three hundred-and-thirty impacts into balloon cables, work which required “a high degree of courage and considerable ability as a pilot” – the quotations are from the citation for the Air Force Cross (AFC) which he was awarded for this work. Near the end of 1946 his career in the RAF came to an end – a shock to him – and 1947 opened with the death of his wife. He remarried, took over a garage business in Somerset and had a third son. When the demand for RAF pilots increased he rejoined the service in 1949 and this eventually led to his death in the mountains of North Wales in 1950. (see Avro Lincoln RF511)
Not surprisingly – since nearly seventy years have passed since his escape, he was the only witness to most aspects of it and he died more than sixty years ago – there are many grey areas. How was the Wellington brought down? Which roads did he walk? Did he follow railway tracks at all? And so on. In my preceding account I have had to use my best guesses or avoid mention of some issues; the alternative has been to risk making my narrative more unwieldy than I would wish. There are in fact various accounts of his experience as a prisoner of war, one being his official report. Of the others it is difficult to say whether they were written entirely by him or edited to a lesser or greater degree by his mother. I have taken information from each of these accounts as I have needed it and when I have judged it to be reliable.
Bertram “Jimmy” James was an invaluable source of information, both through his book Moonless Night, to which I have already referred, and through the conversations and correspondence I had with him. He shared in some of the events described and he too experienced baling out of a stricken Wellington at night over enemy-occupied Holland, digging and escaping though a tunnel, and being at large in a hostile country. Jimmy, who told me that my dad had been his closest friend during their time together at Barth, died in January 2008, aged 92, and not only will this indomitable gentleman be greatly missed by so many who knew him but also another link with the past has gone.
As well as the help I received from Jimmy, I must record my thanks to a number of people who have assisted me in preparing this account. First my wife Linda who, having read through the developing script on a number of occasions, probably knows the story better than I do and made many helpful suggestions: my brother Ian and Kees van Everdingen both read the script, corrected it, checked facts and added new information:The late Roger Audis, IX Squadron historian, kindly provided leads and background colour, as well as collecting and collating the data on John Shore’s operations with 9 Squadron (Appendix 2): Squadron Leader Dicky James of IX Squadron gave me a number of pointers: Helga Radau, without whose work and enthusiasm it is probably true to say that we would never have made our visits to Barth; through her research and her contact with ex-POWs over the years she has built up an unrivalled knowledge of the history of Stalag Luft I: Paul Pouwels, in the Netherlands, provided two photographs of the tailplane of downed Wellington R1335 and one of Walter Fenske, one pilot credited with shooting down R1335: Wilhelm Göbel helped with information on the units of two Luftwaffe pilots: Oliver Clutton-Brock provided an up-to-date list of escaping airmen: Jason Warr highlighted the existence of the notes of John Shore’s debriefing after his return to Britain: Jack “Tiger” Lyon shared some memories of his time at Barth: Richard Jenkins, on whose superior computer pictorial skills I relied when scanning the illustrations and preparing my sketch map: my sons John and Rob provided invaluable assistance in the preparation of the pictorial pages: and, finally, Liz Croft kindly proofread the completed narrative section and corrected my imperfect grammar. I take full responsibility for all errors, whether grammatical or factual – as well, of course, for the opinions expressed. I apologize to those who deserve mention but whom I have not listed.
I had the pleasure of speaking to many other people, not the least of them being the brother of my dad’s second pilot. Norman Long, in Canada, provided a number of interesting anecdotes as he remembered my father, after his safe return, travelling down to Taunton by train to see “Cookie” Long’s family. Mark Seymour related that my dad was given his first job at Mark’s grandfather’s garage in his home town of Battle, Sussex. My dad, following his escape, travelled up from Scotland, by train, to London where David Seymour met him, by car, and drove him back to Battle.
Following then is a brief look at some of the uncertain areas of my dad’s story, mention of one or two events that did not make it into my account but which may be of interest, as well as other musings, all of which I have included in this section of “Afterthoughts”.
a. In my account I have most often used “9 Squadron” – rather than “Number 9 Squadron”, “IX Squadron”, “IX(B) Squadron” or any other variant – as Jimmy told me that he remembered that usage. However when referring to the squadron today I have written “IX Squadron”.
b. The navigator, Sergeant Herbert John “Tommy” Tomkins, spoke French and was not captured until 8th December 1941 in Nevers, on the River Loire in France; two French guides were captured with him. One of the camps in which Tomkins was held was Stalag Luft I.
c. In 2007, Kees van Everdingen received information that suggested that Wellington R1335 was shot down by German night fighter pilot Walter Fenske. When I questioned Jimmy James on the subject he replied, “That’s news to me!” This was not a possibility I had ever considered, so I look more fully at the circumstances around the loss of R1335 in Appendix 1. Incidentally, Walter Fenske, one pilot credited with bringing down the Wellington and an “ace” with more than ten victories, was killed in combat on 28th March 1944, almost exactly three years after the Wellington came down. He had lived in Barth, with his wife and two sons, and they continued to live there after his death.
d.In the illustrations below I show my dad’s letter of 15th July 1941 to his father; the letter includes the following text:
Letter courtesy of the Shore Family
“The person whose wireless you borrowed, wrote me the other day saying that he was looking for another job;I hope he has it by now.Glad Uncle Jessie is helping with the farming impliments [sic],wish I could be at home to help.Can’t understand why you moved the cows opposite, should have suggested it too dry. Glad you are fit Pops. I too am in great fettle, but of course miss ENGLAND and those in her.‘Wings’ Hyde asks to be remembered to those at hom” [sic]
The references to another job, a wireless, farming implements and the cows seem strange; was my dad using a private code to his father, with information to be passed on to “the authorities”? A few, carefully selected, POWs were trained in the use of a code, though there is no record that John Shore was one of them; Flight Lieutenant Knight, mentioned in Appendix 1 following, was one of the recognized coders.
e. In 2006, using old photographs, maps and measurements, and taking the still-existing fire pool as a reference point, we tracked through the woods near Barth searching for the site of the tunnel. As recounted, Howard eventually found a mound and some clinker. In fact the so-called “incinerator” had been a dump for rubbish which was not burned on site, but cinder was dumped in one half and the clinker may have been from this. In 2007 Ian, additionally using his Global Positioning System, was unable to be more precise so there remains uncertainty over the exact site. The brick-built ”incinerator” was divided into two halves, one for wet rubbish and one, as I have said, for cinder. John Shore and Jimmy James entered through covers in the roof and dug from the wet-rubbish side, putting the excavated soil into the other half. My dad and Jimmy both relate the story that one day a couple of German soldiers with a horse and cart came to empty “the incinerator” and a soldier shovelled the dirt, from the tunnel, into the cart. The man shovelling remarked on the earth to the Unteroffizier (Corporal), who ignored him, and Jimmy and my dad, having feared that the tunnel would be discovered, instead watched in amazement as the cart was driven off with the tunnel waste aboard. In all POW camps soil disposal from tunnels was always a major problem and was made much easier if the guards did it for you!
f. I state that John Shore only had limited German – his account shows that he at least spoke a little. Jimmy James thought that this was probably correct though it was likely that he had started to learn the language – as Jimmy remarked, “useful for escaping”.
g. Jimmy said he and John Shore had no particular escape plans that he remembered – that is beyond the immediate objective of getting out of the camp and then walking towards Sassnitz!
Maps of John "Death" Shores presumed escape route (courtesy of Mark Shore)
h. My sketch map shows John Shore’s presumed route, in red, and also depicts the railways he could, but seems for the main part not to, have followed. Also I show a copy of a 1:600,000 scale escape map on tissue paper; according to his debriefing, he carried a paper copy of a silk map. Therefore it is strange that he wrote that when he reached the bridge at Stralsund it was 35 miles (56 kilometres) to Sassnitz rather than the 6 miles (9.5 kilometres) he had thought – although in reality the distance was a little less at about 28 miles (45 kilometres). His map, even if not very detailed, was clearly scaled – unless it was another map he carried.
i. Whilst following the escape route in 2006 we had discussions as to whether John Shore would have gone straight through villages at night or tried to skirt around them. Harry Burton took his boots off going through cobbled village streets and Jimmy said that on his subsequent escapes he had no problems, so I assume my dad also had no difficulties.
j. As previously recounted, my dad left his watch, a Rolex Oyster, in the care of the Van Everdingen family; yet during his escape he always seemed to have been aware of the time. Probably he would have made a point of obtaining a watch from one of three sources: a parcel from home, a fellow prisoner or a friendly camp guard.
k. Because John Shore’s escape account was written as an official report, some parts are short on detail and unavoidably there are tantalizing questions. One is, “To what extent did he walk along or beside railway lines rather than along roads?” Jimmy James, during his escape from Sachsenhausen, made good use of railways, walking along them as well as jumping aboard trains. Harry Burton, on his escape from Barth to Sassnitz about five months previous to John Shore’s escape, followed the railway as far as Bergen and then followed the road to Sassnitz. However John Shore’s account suggests that he stuck to the roads, at least as far as Bergen. Indeed, after Stralsund he was “looking out for a bicycle all the time” and after the shared road-railway bridge from Stralsund onto Rügen Island he actually attempted, without success, to steal one. My reading of the account now is that he entered Bergen by road and, realizing that the railway would be the better option, followed it – to Binz rather than to Sassnitz, which was where he wanted to be. He wrote that he was travelling east; however his target, Sassnitz, was actually north-east of Bergen and Binz roughly east-south-east; his attempt to take the optimum route appears to have backfired. His debriefing mentions that he kept two compasses through searches; if he still had one, his detour towards Binz is yet more surprising. During our visit Ian and I agreed that our father was likely to have hit the coast in the dark at Prora, on the coast north of Binz, rather than at Binz. However, my understanding now is that he followed the railway from Bergen, finding the coast, as he said, at Binz. i.
Part of "Jimmy" James's debriefing report confirms John Shore date of escape (courtesy of the Shore family)
l. Ian noticed a “missing day” in our father’s account. Following the logic of the narrative, he arrived in Stockholm on Saturday, 25th October 1941, not on the Sunday. Having now looked again at various documents, I think I have found the answer to mystery. Alerted by Stalag Luft I, the Rostock police sent out a warning about an escaped prisoner of war. The report says the prisoner escaped on the night of 20th/21st October, not on the night of 19th/20th October – indeed Jimmy James, during his post-war debrief, gave the 21st as the date. In my account I have used my dad’s Sunday, 19th October date but have included a faded copy of the Rostock memo in the illustrations and I think this shows the more likely date.
m. John Shore, travelling east, crossed a major bridge in Stralsund, apparently without difficulty, and he was not arrested in Sassnitz harbour even when stopped by the SS; one might have expected him to have been held if they were searching for an escaped POW. The police warning I have mentioned was telegraphed to centres both east and west of Barth. However I wonder if the authorities, maybe thinking that five months earlier Harry Burton had escaped via Rostock, not Sassnitz as was actually the case, concentrated their main search west of Stalag Luft I.
Above: The ferry port, Sassnitz, journey's end for Rex, Mark and Ian Shore and in 1941 for John Shore who boarded the ferry here for his escape to Sweden
n. June, John Shore’s second wife and widow, provided the snippet about him scavenging for food in dustbins; this is not recorded elsewhere.
o. June also remembered that when my father’s application to remain in the RAF after the war was rejected, one of the officers on the interview panel had been in Stalag Luft I and had been criticized by my father after his escape. Having now seen the report on John Shore’s debriefing, I read that he described one officer on the Escape Committee as “irresponsible”; I wonder if he was the man and that the antipathy was mutual.
p. Jimmy James told me that he and my dad were in charge of soil disposal for a previous tunnel at Barth which broke in August 1941; this escape is fully covered by Jimmy in Moonless Night. Jimmy was not paired with my dad but neither of them got out since the escape was discovered as the third escaper exited. My father mentioned this during his debrief and said that it was intended that fifty-two officers should escape.
q. Jack Lyon was in Stalag Luft I at the time of John Shore’s escape. Later in 1944 he was in the queue for the Great Escape but did not exit the tunnel. He recalls an episode at Stalag Luft I that does not appear to have been recorded elsewhere. Franz von Werra, the subject of the book “The One Who Got Away”, and the 1957 film of the same name, was the only German prisoner to escape from captivity in Canada and return to Germany. Shot down over Kent during the Battle of Britain, Von Werra made three escape attempts in England before jumping from a train whilst in transit to a camp in Canada. He made it into the neutral USA, returning home, a hero, journeying via Mexico and South America. After service on the Eastern Front he returned to the West and, Jack remembers, visited Stalag Luft I, mixing with the prisoners; he was particularly interested in meeting an ex-Battle of Britain Squadron Leader. Von Werra was killed in a flying accident on 25th October 1941, the very day John Shore was leaving German soil for Sweden. Gerald Stapleton, the man who shot down Von Werra in the Battle of Britain, ended his war in Stalag Luft I.
r. Jimmy James’ work took him back to Germany to live for two periods after the war – indeed he met his future wife Madge there. From the 1990s onwards he made a number of visits, especially in connection with the establishment of a memorial to British and Commonwealth prisoners who died in Sachsenhausen concentration camp; as I have said, Jimmy and others were held and escaped from there following the Great Escape. However, he never returned to Barth or Stalag Luft I.
s. I mention my father’s AFC; he was a member of a team testing equipment to cut barrage balloon cables, the work ceasing in 1944 since German balloons were causing few problems. There were a number of cable cutting devices already in use, the best being produced by the Martin-Baker Aircraft Company, which later produced the famous Martin-Baker ejector seat.
t. I touch on the loan of artefacts for display in The Escape public house. When the pub closed I lost track of the items, the most important being the workman’s peaked cap my dad fashioned for himself out of a piece of Red Cross parcel wrapping material and black American cloth from an exercise book cover. However in 2008, following a leak in the water tank in our attic and the resulting disruption, my wife discovered the cap in a box in the attic; serendipity indeed!
John "Death" Shore's cap. (courtesy of the Shore family)
Below: Cookie Longs flying helmet which is held by IX Squadron (courtesy the Shore family)
u. Afterthoughts postscript 1. “Cookie” Long’s flying helmet was found, close by the wreck of Wellington R1335 near Heusden, by a local farmer. He gave it to a young Dutchman who later used parts of the helmet in the construction of a radio to listen to BBC broadcasts. Through his later hobby as a radio ham, and after a series of extraordinary chances, he was able, at Honington in April 1998, to present the restored helmet to Jimmy James who immediately handed it on to IX Squadron, who still retain it.
v. Afterthoughts postscript 2. Although IX Squadron’s Roll of Honour of gallantry awards, headed by Flight Sergeant George Thompson’s Victoria Cross (VC), listed two MCs – for “Jimmy” James and Dominic Bruce (Colditz) – there was no listing for John Shore. As a result of the good offices of Wing Commander Dave Waddington, Squadron Commander, and the late Roger Audis, IX Squadron historian, this oversight was rectified on 25th August 2008 at RAF Marham, IX Squadron’s base. I was a witness at a Squadron briefing when an unsuspecting Ian Shore, on his last “uniform” day in the RAF, was presented with a letter by Dave Waddington. This letter finished with the words, “As the present commanding officer, it is a great privilege to set the record straight and formally acknowledge the then Flight Lieutenant Shore’s award of the Military Cross as the first gained by IX Squadron. The Squadron’s historical records will be amended accordingly.”
Appendix 1: The Loss of Wellington R1335, Thursday, 27th March 1941
I had always thought that my father’s aircraft came down as a result of earlier damage from ground fire, so it came as a bit of a shock to find the “kill” credited to a German night fighter pilot – although different sources allot the claim to two different pilots. The first listed claimant is Oberleutnant (Flying Officer ) Walter Fenske, a Staffelkapitän of I./NJG 1, the second is Oberfeldwebel (Flight Sergeant) Gerhard Herzog, also of I./NJG 1; Fenske and Herzog were both probably flying Messerschmitt Bf 110-Cs.
Three RAF bombers came down over the Netherlands on the night of 27th/28th March 1941. They were Wellington R1335, Whitley Z6470 of 78 Squadron, credited to Herzog, and Manchester L7307 of 207 Squadron, credited either to Herzog or Fenske, all three aircraft crashing within a circle with an approximate radius of 20 miles (32 kilometres) around Eindhoven.
In addition to various secondary sources, especially the internet, and W.R. Chorley’s RAF Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War, for my further research the primary source of original records was the National Archives in Kew, London (see Appendix 3); I was to be amazed by some of the information Ian and I found. In addition to my father’s escape account, of which I have seen a number of slightly differing versions and one of which is now available on-line at the National Archives, there is a good deal of information relating to my father’s debriefing and the follow-up. I quote from various documents held at the National Archives and the first extract following is from the actual notes taken from that debriefing.
(Following, extract from WO208 3307 Date of interview: 30 Oct 41.
When I first reported to W/Cdr. DAY and S/Ldr. BUSHELL [in Dulag Luft] I said that I suspected my ‘plane had been sabotaged and they took me up to the bathroom and ran the tap while I told them my story. A code letter was sent, reporting engine trouble, by either S/Ldr. Stevenson or F/Lt. Knight .The message was as follows:-
TWO CREWS ARRIVED HERE SABOTAGE SUSPECTED) INFORM 9 PETROL COCKS TAMPERED WITH) SQUADRON.
This message was sent from STALAG LUFT during either April or May.
(Following, extract from AIR40/1546.39A)
SHORE is very worried about the reason for the loss of his aircraft and considers there is just a chance that it may have been due to sabotage. He was somewhat reluctant about giving the following details and whilst not in the least wishing to cast any reflection on his 2nd pilot, he nevertheless considers that if the latter had had more experience in Wellingtons they might have got home. (LONG had come from Whitleys).
When over the target, in order to try and distract his crew’s attention from the Flak, SHORE endeavoured to keep them busy one at a time. He asked the W/T operator to check up on the petrol. The latter gave the total figure and not the amount in each tank.
On the return flight, when one of the engines failed, he pulled “The ballast-cock up”, but this action did not have the desired effect.
He next instructed the navigator to switch on the emergency tank, but even after this there was no improvement in view of the fact that when over the target the W/T [operator] noticed, as he subsequently admitted, that there were some 270 gallons in the starboard tank, it is impossible that they could have been short.
He, therefore, only concludes that the main starboard petrol cock had been turned off.
The fact that no petrol was coming through also meant that the rear ballast cock was also in the wrong position. He admits that it may have been turned accidently when the parachute flares were being loaded but considers this chance to be very remote.
If at this juncture LONG had been piloting the aircraft, SHORE believes that he himself might well have been able to avert disaster by getting at the petrol controls in time – knowing exactly where they are situated. The same remarks apply if his regular 2nd Pilot had been with him, but unfortunately LONG was not sufficiently conversant with the aircraft to be able to attend to it.
His suspicions were further aroused when about two weeks later Sergeant TRUNDLE arrived at Dulag having had the same experience. Sergeant TRUNDLE’s aircraft had been serviced by the same ground crew.
A message in code was later sent from Stalag Luft by Squadron Leader Stephenson concerning the loss of these two aircraft.
(Following, extracts from AIR40/1546.39B) Herewith is a very interesting report made by a P/W F/Lt. Shore (9 Squadron – Honington)
Chief points of interest are as follows:-
iv) Loss of a/c possibly due to the fact that main starboard petrol cock had been turned off.
Note: I have spoken to A.I.1.k to whom this report was rendered. The statement was made with a certain amount of hesitation that reason for loss of a/c might be due to sabotage and suspicions were further aroused by statement of another P/W whose aircraft had been serviced by the same ground crew.
M.I.9. have no trace of message in code from S/Ldr. Stevenson.
3rd.November, 1941. Int.2.
I cannot help agreeing with F/Lt Shore when he says he thinks the failure was caused by a mistake in the operation of the petrol cocks. I think this is more likely than sabotage.
Signed: G/Capt C Eng.O.
Further to minute 2, it is a common mistake for pilots to pull up one of the petrol cocks by a mistake for the balance cock. This cuts off the petrol to that engine and it looks as though this is what happened in this case.
2. To prevent such accidents we have instructed all units to modify their aeroplanes by fitting a guard over the petrol cocks which prevents them being pulled up by a mistake and we have asked Air Ministry for a similar official modification.
14. November, 1941.
The previous extracts indicate that my father’s suspicions about sabotage were reinforced by the capture of Sergeant Trundle, the second pilot of the other 9 Squadron aircraft mentioned. My father would speak of it being Trundle’s aircraft, rather than that of pilot Sergeant Damman, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), because Richard Trundle had been the second pilot on seven of my father’s operational flights. However the facts surrounding Trundle’s aircraft, Wellington R1281, and my father linking its demise with his own aircraft’s, are not straightforward. Trundle’s aircraft did not come down two weeks after R1335 – see AIR40/ 1546.39A previously – but one month later; by this time my father was, according to his account, ensconced in Stalag Luft I. Trundle passed through Dulag Luft and reached Stalag Luft I in the middle of May 1941. It is not known what contact the two had, if any, as they were in separate compounds. Although there was communication between the Officers’ and NCOs’ compounds, it was limited. For example Sergeant Wareing, of 616 Squadron, was at Barth between September 1941 and April 1942, but recorded that he did not know of any attempted escapes during his stay. Trundle’s memory of the event in the 1970s was that the Wellington was damaged by flak. Other sources suggest that Trundle’s aircraft had been on a reciprocal course, that is flying in the wrong direction with the crew unaware of the fact, and they may well have been bemused in a situation that left them unexpectedly low on fuel. If my father heard only that Trundle’s aircraft had come down low on fuel and intact, which was unusual, and knew that both aircraft were serviced by the same ground crew at Honington, he may well, in his confusion over Wellington R1335’s fuel starvation, have seen sabotage as a possible explanation. Possibly he learned more in June 1941 when “Wings” Day and party arrived at Stalag Luft I following recapture after an escape from Dulag Luft.
From the foregoing speculation and information, there appear to be various possible scenarios, including the following:
That my father was trying to hide the fact that they had been shot down by a night fighter. I can think of no reason why he would have thought this to be necessary. Additionally, to follow that route would have been dangerous for him professionally, and he knew that at least four of his crew had survived and would know the truth. His subsequent successful war-time career does not suggest that the authorities doubted his veracity.
That the aircraft was sabotaged. Two 9 Squadron crew, killed in action on 4th September 1939, are believed to have been members of the British Union of Fascists (BUF). In the earlier stages of the war there was a fear of “fifth columnists”, that is German sympathizers secretly working for the enemy. Members of the BUF, which was outlawed in May 1940 with some members being interned, were not as such fifth columnists. However, the membership of two 9 Squadron crew raises the question – were there other members in the squadron who would have been likely to deliberately sabotage aircraft? In hindsight, maybe communists were more likely saboteurs. Dedicated communists would have given their allegiance to the Soviet Union rather than to Britain and, in March 1941, the Soviet Union was still Germany’s ally. Sabotage was the suspected cause for the loss of a few Allied bombers in World War II, but appears to have been unlikely in this case.
That the crew of Wellington R1335, flying alone in the night sky, did not know they had been attacked by a night fighter. Not seeing an attacker was one thing, not hearing an attack quite another and I discount this possibility.
That the Wellington, unbeknown to the crew – and this was my long-held thought – had been damaged by flak earlier in the mission. The recommendation for John Shore’s MC quoted “engine failure” as being the cause of the loss of the Wellington .
That the claim by Gerhard Herzog – or Walter Fenske – was mistaken. German night fighters had not got airborne radar in March 1941. Although the German ground radar system for controlling night fighters, which did not require searchlights, was better than the system the British had used during and immediately after the Battle of Britain, nevertheless it was, as one might expect, not perfect. My study, through secondary sources, of German claims against British bombers over Germany and the Netherlands in March 1941, shows more claims than actual losses. Incidentally, as a comparison, RAF claims from the confusing daylight dogfights during the Battle of Britain were far more exaggerated.
That Wellington R1335 was attacked after the crew had baled out; the Manchester, see previously, was reportedly attacked in this way. Perhaps both the Manchester and the Wellington suffered this fate, or maybe in fact the Manchester was shot down normally and it was the Wellington that was thus attacked. After all, this was a night on which there appears to have been some confusion and during which three aircraft, in reasonably close geographical proximately and at around the same time, were brought down.
Whatever, my final suggested scenario for R1335 is this. The pilot and second pilot were unable to restart the engines, which had stopped either as a result of incorrect balance cock settings or following earlier flak damage. The pilot ordered the crew to bale out, he being the last to do so. During or after this evacuation Herzog – or Fenske – attacked the still airborne but doomed aircraft, none of the crew of the Wellington being aware of this.
Following, in Appendix 2, is a summary, provided by the late Roger Audis, of John Shore’s operations with 9 Squadron. It is not an essential part of the story but does give additional background to the type and frequency of missions at this time of the war.The 9 Squadron records are missing for 16th January – 4th February 1941; John Shore joined the squadron during this period on Wednesday, 29th January 1941. (Note, all times are GMT+1)
Flight Lieutenant J.T.L. Shore’s operations, 9 Squadron, Honington, 1941
Tuesday 04 February, Wellington T2579. Crew: Sergeants Nelson, Headland, Parry, Griffiths, Bews. Le Havre. 10/10ths cloud over target, bombs brought back. 17.10 (up) - 21.40 (down).
Monday 10 February, Wellington T2579. Crew: Sgts Trundle, Tomkins, Bews, Kelsall, Griffiths. Hanover .Bombed target. 19.55 - 01.03.
Tuesday 11 February, Wellington T7871. Crew: Sgts Trundle, Tomkins, Bews, Kelsall, Griffiths. Focke Wulf factory, Bremen. On return, fog at base, landed elsewhere. 18.00 - ??.??.
Saturday 15 February, Wellington R1335. Crew: Sgts Trundle, Tomkins, Bews, Parkin, Griffiths. Sterkrade, Holten oil refinery. SL dazzle over primary and secondary targets. Bombed Hamburg. 18.45 - 23.38.
Sunday 23 February, Wellington R1287. Crew: Sgts Trundle, Tomkins, Green, Parkin, Griffiths. Boulogne docks & shipping. Bombs south of dock 4. 18.21 - 22.40.
Wednesday 26 February, Wellington R1335. Crew: Sgts Trundle, Tomkins, Bews, Parkin, Griffiths. Köln ‘A’. All bombs on target area. 18.48 - 23.45.
Saturday 01 March, Wellington R1335. Crew: Sgts Trundle, Tomkins, Bews, Parkin, Griffiths. Köln. Primary not attacked, port engine trouble. A/c reached Dutch islands, 8/10ths cloud, no target found after 1 hour search, bombs jettisoned. 21.45 - 01.28.
(There were three 9 Squadron operations between 01 and 14 March; Shore and crew did not take part. Pilot Officer J.R. Long was posted to 9 Sqn. from 19 OTU on 03 March 1941.)
Friday 14 March Wellington R1267. Crew: Pilot Officers Long & Moody, Sgts Tomkins, Bews, Parkin. Gelsenkirchen. Unable to find primary or secondary targets, bombed Duisberg docks instead. 19.18 - 23.26.
Thursday 27 March, Wellington R133
Tuesday 18 March, Wellington R1335. Crew: Sgts Trundle, Tomkins, Bews, Parkin, Balch. Bremen, bombs 200 yards north of target. 00.44 - 05.45.5. Remainder of crew: P/O J.L.R. Long (2nd pilot), Sgts H.J. Tomkins (navigator), R.D. Bews (wireless operator), N.D.R. Griffiths (rear gunner), R. Parkin (front gunner). Köln ‘A’. 19.43 -
R1335 led off 6 Wellingtons, the other 5 returned safely, one of them returning early with R/T failure, the other 4 landing between 0010 and 0045 hours on the 28th. Wellington R1335 was reported missing. Signal “NAP” was received from R1335 at 22.37, approximately 1 hour later than his ETA in the target area. Eleven minutes later, at 22.48, an “SOS” was received on the HULL frequency followed by operating signal “I am forced to land.” and the letters “G.N.” .
Information was received days later that all the crew (with the exception of Sergeant Tomkins, of whom no mention was made) were prisoners of war in Germany, uninjured .
Appendix 3: Some further reading
National Archives, Kew, Greater London
WO 208/3307 Escape/Evasion Reports: Code MI9/SPG: 1941-1942: No. 593. John Shore’s official escape account, available on-line.
AIR 40/1546 R.A.F. Prisoners of war, reports of escapes. 1941 July-1942 Jan. Includes review of and memos reviewing John Shore’s account.
WO 208/5582 MI 9/S/PG interrogation reports on repatriated British personnel (evaders and escapers). 1942 Apr 01-1944 Feb 28: No. 593.
Appendix C: Notes on John Shore’s debriefing. AIR 2/5684 PRISONERS OF WAR (Code B, 89): Escapers: recommendations for awards 1941-1946.Includes recommendation for Flight Lieutenant J.T.L. Shore’s Military Cross.
WO 344/160/2 (see also WO 208/3336) War Office: Directorate of Military Intelligence: Liberated Prisoner of War Interrogation Questionnaires: JAMES A – JAMESON: 1945-1946. Includes F/Lt. B.A. James debriefing, 1945.
WO 208/3305 Escape/Evasion Reports: Code MI9/SPG: 1941: No. 433. H. Burton’s official escape account.
AIR 2/5302 PRISONERS OF WAR (Code B, 89): F/Lt. H Burton; escapee from Stalag Luft, prisoner of war camp. Germany: report 1941.
WO 344 War Office: Directorate of Military Intelligence: Liberated Prisoner of War Interrogation Questionnaires. Sergeant H.J. Tomkins debriefing, 1945.
Stalag Luft I: AIR 40/1907 (see also WO 208/3282) Camp history: Stalag Luft I (Barth) July 1940-May 1945, prepared by Sqn Ldr C B Flockhart.
WO 224/62 War Office: International Red Cross and Protecting Powers (Geneva): Reports concerning Prisoner of War Camps in Europe and the Far East: Stalag Luft I. 1941 June-1945 April.
AIR 2/6366 PRISONERS OF WAR (Code B, 89): R.A.F. prison camps in Germany: reports 1941-1943. Includes 4-page July 1941 report on Stalag Luft I.
AIR 40/227 Photographs of Allied prisoner of war camps Holland and Germany: A – G 1941-1945. Includes aerial photographs of Stalag Luft I.
Balloon Cable cutting trials: AIR 29/768 Experimental Section, R.A.E. (Royal Aircraft Establishment) Farnborough later Experimental Flying Department, R.A.E. Farnborough. 1939 Sept. – 1948 May.
Operations Record Book, RAF Form 540.
General reading - published books
Moonless Night by BA James, Pen & Sword, 2001, ISBN 0 85052 828 3. (The first edition, William Kimber, 1983, ISBN 0-7183-0499-3, contains two photos of John Shore. There have been a number of paperback editions.)
Escape from Germany by Aidan Crawley, HMSO Books, 1985, ISBN 0 11 7725072. (There are a number of different editions of this book, including paperbacks. The original book, published by Collins in 1956, was very different to the 1985 version (reprinted 1987). Later editions, based on the 1985 one, have omitted some chapters, so the 1985/1987 HMSO edition remains the best version.)
Wings Day by Sydney Smith, Collins, 1968. Republished by Pan, 1970, ISBN 0 33 0024949.
Royal Air Force Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War: 1941 by WR Chorley, Midland Publishing, ISBN 0 904597 87 3.
The Bomber Command War Diaries. An operational reference book 1939-1945 by Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt, Midland Publishing, ISBN 1 85780 033 8.
The Other Battle. Luftwaffe Night Aces versus Bomber Command by Peter Hinchliffe, Airlife Publishing Limited, ISBN 1 85310 547 3. (The book covers the changing tactics and technology used by the Luftwaffe night fighters and RAF Bomber Command.)
One of the Few by Johnny Kent, (new paperback edition) History Books Ltd, ISBN 978 0 7524 4603 5.
(Chapter 3 of Johnny Kent’s World War II memoir relates his experience with the R.A.E., during the two years leading up to the outbreak of war, testing balloon cutting equipment. It is probably the best available description of the work, and the dangers involved, that John Shore was doing for one and a half years in 1942/1943.)
There are many informative web sites. Stalag Luft I pages tend to be American/post-1942. Information may be found on the balloon cable experiments; an “raf culmhead balloon” search will bring up links to the airfield at Culmhead and to Pawlett, the area where the test flying took place. A search for “jimmy james escape” will be productive. History and facts about IX Squadron – who celebrated their Centenary in December 2014 – can be easily tracked and finally there are at least three web sites with details or photographs of the crash of Avro Lincoln RF511 in March 1950.
1. For translations from Luftwaffe to RAF terms I have used the nearest equivalent.
2. Staffelkapitän, the officer in charge of a Staffel, was not a rank.
3. I./NJG 1: I Gruppe (1st wing), Nachtjagdgeschwader 1 (Group 1)
4. Wing Commander.
5. Squadron Leader.
6. Squadron Leader GD Stephenson – notice correct spelling – was SBO at Barth at this time. His Spitfire was shot down over France on 26 May 1940.
7. Flight Lieutenant.
8. Knight was on the Escape Committee at Barth.
9. Stalag Luft, the first Luftwaffe POW camp opened, gained the “I” when Stalag Luft II opened later in 1941.
10. Wireless Telegraphy (communication by Morse code).
11. This, and the following reference, to “ballast cock” should read “balance cock”.
12. Prisoner of war, or POW.
14. Air Intelligence Officer 1K.
15. The section of British Military Intelligence whose responsibilities included communication with POWs.
16. Group Captain.
17. Chief Engineering Officer.
18. AIR 20/9159: PRISONERS OF WAR: Reports of RAF escapers and evaders.
19. AIR 2/5684.
20. If fuel balance cocks were the problem, R1335 would not be the last Wellington lost because of this problem.
22.This was Bomber Command’s heaviest night so far in the war. 222 aircraft were involved in the raid on Hanover, with a further 43 raiding Rotterdam. 3 Group, of which 9 Squadron was a part at this time, provided 119 Wellingtons, the first time the Group had dispatched more than 100 aircraft.
24. Radio Telephony (speech communication with pilot).
25. Possibly “No Attack Primary”; another aircraft on the raid had to bomb the secondary target.
26. Estimated Time of Arrival.
27. Good Night.
28. My grandmother said that the first confirmation she had that her son was safe was on a “Lord Haw Haw” radio broadcast.
From the Welsh Mountains to the Baltic. Copyright Mark L Shore 2014
Page created by Aircrew Remembered on behalf of John Talbot Lovell Shores family and sons Rex, Mark and Ian Shore ©
Also read: Loss of Wellington IC R1335
. Parachute landing to AmsterdamEscape from Bath 1941
. Meeting Jimmy James, a friend of John Shore, after the war
. The loss of Avro Lincoln RF511
. John TL Shore MC AFC record of service with the RAF
. Acknowledgement from Mark and Ian Shore