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Archive Report: Allied Forces

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.


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30/31.07.1943 No. 78 Squadron Halifax II JD329 EY-G Sgt. Ronald Shelton

Operation: Remscheid

Date: 30/31st July 1943

Unit: No. 78 Squadron

Type: Halifax II

Serial: JD329

Code: EY-G

Base: RAF Breighton, Yorkshire

Location: Uedesheim

Pilot: Sgt. Ronald Shelton 1484074 RAFVR Age ? Killed

Fl/Eng: Sgt. David Williams 149466 RAFVR Age 22. Killed

Nav: Sgt. Angus Herbert Marshall 1575371 RAFVR Age 20. Killed

Air/Bmr: F/O. G.I. Whitehouse RAFVR PoW No: 2032 Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. John Francis Harper 1083168 RAFVR Age 30. Killed

Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Keith Arnold Skidmore AUS/421759 RAAF PoW No: 222446 Stalag Muhlberg-Elbe

Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Gerald Alan Rourke AUS/415683 RAAF Age 33. Killed

REASON FOR LOSS:

Took off at 22.08 hrs from Breighton in Yorkshire to bomb for the first time in the war the town of Remscheid. A total of 273 aircraft made up the force with 95 Halifax's, 87 Stirlings. 82 Lancaster's and 9 Mosquitoes we on the raid.

     

The town was almost completely destroyed with 871 tons of bombs dropped. 107 Industrial buildings were destroyed together with 3,115 houses killing 1,120 people and injuring a further 6,700. it is said that 83% of the town was devastated and lost 3 months production and never regained previous levels.

Left: Sgt. Ronald Shelton

The allies lost a total of 17 aircraft with 74 aircrew being killed, 30 being made P.O.W's and another 1 escaping capture. 78 Squadron lost two aircraft on this raid JD329 EY-G and 

JD375 EY-F flown by Sgt. Derrick Hadwin who was killed along with his 6 other crew members. (See other article on this date)

Halifax JD329 EY-G was picked up by searchlights between Cologne and Dusseldorf. The aircraft was then hit by flak which is understood to have killed the navigator Sgt. Marshall then they were attacked by night fighters and fierce fires developed.

F/O. Whitehouse and Fl/Sgt. Skidmore managed to jump from the stricken aircraft which exploded in the air.



The story of Sgt. Skidmore is fully told at the end of this page of remembrance to this crew. We are indebted to Mark Skidmore for this work.


Burial details:

Sgt. Ronald Shelton. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery 6.E.8. Son of Arthur and Bertha Ellen Shelton, of Brooklands, Sale, Cheshire, England.

Sgt. David Williams. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery 6.E.7. Son of William John and Margaret Mary Williams, of Abercwmboi, Aberdare, Glamorgan, Wales.

Sgt. Angus Herbert Marshall. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery 6.E.6. Son of Herbert and Annie Atkins Marshall, of Beeston, Nottinghamshire, England.

Sgt. John Francis Harper. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery 6.E.9. Son of William and Fanny Harper; husband of Margaret Harper, of Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, England.

Fl/Sgt. Gerald Alan Rourke. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery 6.E.5. Son of James Frederick and Mary Louisa Rourke, husband of Edith Jean Rourke, of Kalgoorlie, Western Australia.

Researched with the assistance of Mark Skidmore, the son of Fl/Sgt. Keith Arnold Skidmore. With thanks to the following, Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vol's. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vol's. 1 and  2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries', Commonwealth War Graves Commission.


The story as told by Fl/Sgt. Skidmore (courtesy Mark Skidmore)


The emphasis shifted to night bombing for major raids.

Keith Skidmore was shot down on the last attack of the Battle of the Ruhr. The target was Remscheid on the night of 30/31 July 1943. This was the true end of the Battle of the Ruhr, although it is shown in most accounts to end on 24 July.

My duty, as a mid-upper gunner, was to vacate my turret at p a certain distance from the target and disperse tinfoil (window) out of the flare chute in the fuselage. This I did.

On reaching the target we dropped our bombs and, to my relief, we were on our way home. Suddenly we were coned in a barrage of searchlights. The immediate conversation went something like:

Gunner to Pilot: 'Ron! What will I do?'

Pilot to Gunner: 'Stay where you are!'

Right: Fl/Sgt. Gerald Alan Rourke

A few seconds or minutes later a blue searchlight (radar controlled, I believe) got our plane. All of a sudden! Flash! Bang! The mid-upper turret was a shambles. The rear hatch door was twisted and warped, the intercom gone and my oxygen mask failed.

The next thing I knew a fighter attacked. I think I was shaking so much that the bullets couldn't hit me! I think the fighter made three attacks - it could have been two. The bullets ripped right along the fuselage. I did see one of the crew hit. By this time the front of the plane was all alight.

What could I do? I put my parachute on but there was no way I could get out. I couldn't open the entrance hatch, the flames and heat were unbearable. All of a sudden I saw the rear gunner (Bluey Rourke) get out of his turret to get his parachute. He spoke to me but without intercom I only sensed he was baling out.

'Gee! I'll follow him!' He got into his turret and turned it to the beam. I waited a short while, then tried the manual lever to wind the turret back. It didn't work. The turret was 'jammed. Bluey's legs may have been caught or trapped while trying to bale out. I'll never know. He was killed.

The most amazing thing happened to me when I realised there was no way out. I became quite calm, no longer scared. My Mum and a bloke I believed to be Jesus Christ came into the plane. Each took one of my hands and they walked me down to the centre of the plane and told me to lie down, which I did. Then I passed out.

Left: Fl/Sgt. Keith Arnold Skidmore

I have no idea what happened after that. The next thing I knew I was falling through the sky. 'Good Heavens! I'm out! 'Then I suddenly realised I couldn't see. 'God - I'm blind! 'I rubbed my eyes and I could see. The heat had scorched my face and my eyelids had stuck together. What a relief

I felt my chest for my parachute. It wasn't there. 'I'm gone again!' But, as I looked upward, I saw the parachute bag above my head. I reached up and pulled the ripcord. The parachute opened.

The pilot of a heavy bomber sat on his parachute which was permanently attached to his body. All other crew members wore a harness to which a separate parachute pack could be clipped in an emergency. The packs were stowed adjacent to the crew members' work stations. The turrets were too cramped to accommodate the packs so the gunners had to get out of their turrets to get their packs and clip them on before baling out.

The rear gunner could re-enter his turret, leaving the doors open behind him ' turn it to one side and fall out backwards. In the later stages of the war the rear gunner was equipped with a pilot-type parachute so he did not have to leave the turret to get his chute.

The mid-upper gunner had to leave through any escape exit he could reach -generally the rear door but this was inoperable in this case. In general the whole crew, except the rear gunner, tried to leave through the front hatch. In this way the pilot knew when the last man had gone and could himself leave.

Prisoners Of War (European Theatre)

Inputting together this section of the story, I have opted to tell, as far as possible, the continuous chronological story of some air Force prisoners of war.

My starting point is always just before, or simultaneous with, the actual landing.

Right: Sgt. David Williams

Most of the airmen who became prisoners of war came from Bomber Command. This is not surprising, given the number engaged in bombing and the fact that, by and large, they operated over land, whereas those with Coastal Command were over the sea.

The chances of a crew getting safely out of a stricken aircraft were not particularly good for those of either command, but were probably rather less for the Coastal boys as they were generally at lower altitude. Having got out, the chances of being picked up from the sea, particularly in the northern winter, were not good.

Approximately 20.000 members of the RAAF flew with Bomber Command. Of these, some 4000 became casualties and 1150 became prisoners of war. The stories, which follow all, relate to members of bomber crews who were able to escape from stricken aircraft.

Keith Skidmore was a mid-upper gunner who was shot down in an attack on Rhemshied on 30/31 July 1943. Here we pursue the story after he landed on German soil:

My first thought was, 'Where am I?' I didn't have a clue. Fortunately, I had landed in a field. Fifty metres to the right and I would have landed in a wood of tall trees. You were told to bury your parachute and get out of the area should you have to bale out. This was easier said than done. It was impossible with bare hands. I rolled the parachute up and tried to conceal it. Eventually, I hid it under the trunk of a fallen tree in the woods.

Gee! Was I tired! I lay down in the woods and went to sleep.

On awakening, I got a hell of a shock. I was covered with field mice - hundreds of them I reckon. I jumped up and down for about twenty minutes before I got rid of them. If only I'd known I was going to fall in a river in about ten minutes, I could have waited and drowned them an in a couple of seconds.

Left: Sgt. Angus Herbert Marshall

What was I going to do? I opened my escape kit and checked it out. Boy! Was I hungry and thirsty? As I wandered through the wood I saw a river and, as I got closer, the trees thinned out. I could see a bridge about 500 metres away. I decided to crawl to the river's edge. To my surprise, the river had a concrete embankment. The water was about a half metre below. I bent over to get a drink and fell in. Gee, I wished I had eaten the biscuits in my escape kit first. I lost it.

I took quite a while to get out of the river and my leg stung quite a bit as I crawled back into the woods. I found out, about a year later, I had a couple of splinters from the aircraft in my leg.

I had to make a plan of how I was going to escape. I decided I'd pretend to be a kid. I weighed only nine stone odd and was of small stature.

I discarded my battledress jacket, cut my flying boots off at the heels and made shorts out of my battledress pants. Gee, did I make a mistake! The grip of the flying boots is on the calf of the leg. I couldn't keep the damn things on. I had to shuffle about. I tore the tail off my shirt, made a couple of strips and wound them round the boots. That didn't work too well.

Eventually, I found a roadway and, as I looked along it, two boys came along on bicycles. If I could get a bicycle it would overcome my shoe problem because both feet would be on the pedals. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Where I was appeared to be a farming area, but I could not see any farmhouses or people, so I just shuffled on. Approximately two hours later I found a road sign with the letters KOLN on it. I sneaked into a wood at the side of the road to examine my escape map. No luck - no such town anywhere. Months later I learnt that Koln was the German spelling for Cologne, my map had Cologne on it.

As I was shuffling out of the woods I found an old scooter near a stone fence. I carried it to the roadway, got on it, and, with the first push, my shoe came off and so did the rubber tyre on the front wheel. I discarded the scooter as it made too much noise without the tyre and I didn't want to draw any attention to myself.

I was quite frustrated and very hungry as I shuffled on. Then, out of the blue, I saw what appeared to be a grocery shop - way out in the country, all by itself. I cased the shop for a while and then decided I'd go inside and get something to eat. We were issued with Belgian money in the escape kit.

When I got inside, I realised that the shop was also a restaurant. On the counter there appeared to be takeaway food - cakes and pies.

A woman came to the counter and I pointed to what I wanted. I made out I couldn't speak as I was burnt around the face and my lips were pretty swollen. I gave her the money and she went to the till. She came back with her husband, who had a revolver. He flashed it at me and I put my hands up. I must have needed ration tickets. I'd never thought of that.

He made me empty my pockets. In the meantime, his wife had left the room. When she came back she had her daughter with her. The daughter was a nurse, had done her initial training in a London hospital, and spoke very good English.

She examined my face and told me not to worry my burns were not really serious. She excused herself, left, and then came back with a tube of Tanafax. After all this, I knew I was not in Belgium or France. It was Germany. Then the owner of the store took me to the local village (Liedeshelm), which was a fair distance away.

On arrival, I was handed over to the mayor. We couldn't understand one another, but he gave me a very good meal. I was put into the local gaol for a couple of days until the Luftwaffe guard came for me.

Then we went off to Frankfurt. We changed trains a few times prior to getting to Frankfurt and Stalag Luft 3. It was on one of those changes that I had the most amazing coincidence I've ever experienced in my life. The guard put me in the stationmaster's office while he went away to get something to eat.

A couple of minutes later a woman came up and put her head against the barred window. 'You're an Australian?' she said. How she knew I'd never know. She must have known the guard or the stationmaster. She told me she had been in Australia for many years her husband was an engineer with Dorman Long when they built the Harbour Bridge. My cousin's husband was an English architect with the same Dorman Long on the same project. I told her so and she asked me his name, Walter Goodsmith. She said she had met him.

Right: Sgt. John Francis Harper

When I saw Walter, after the war, I told him about my experience and he asked me her name. I never thought of asking her name. He told me there were many German engineers on the bridge project, so, without her name he could not identify her. He said they must have met at social evenings.

Seventy-eight of us went by train from Frankfurt, across Germany to the little village of Muhlberg. When we got to the camp we were located in our own compound. There were many other compounds, and each housed a different nationality. We were the first British prisoners to arrive in this camp.

The food was shocking. They used to give us a lump of black bread and ersatz cheese. We didn't get it every day. It would often have to last a couple of days. At night we got a skilly. It was supposed to be a stew. It wasn't very thick and occasionally you got some meat. On one occasion I got an eye. We didn't know whether it was an ox or horse.

We did get some kind of tea.

When the Red Cross parcels eventually came our food was supplemented. But it took eight weeks for the Germans to notify the Red Cross about us and for the first parcels to arrive. There was three weeks supply for the original seventy-eight prisoners in the first batch of parcels. But, by then, the number of British prisoners had increased to one hundred and ten or twenty so the supply was inadequate.

Someone in England, a Rotarian, decided to adopt me because he thought I'd get parcels more quickly from England than from Australia. But I got a lot of stuff from Australia - letters and fruitcake. The chap in England sent me cigarettes, which I used to bribe the guards to get things for me.

There was an army station not far from us, which, apparently, had an ammunition dump. One day there was a tremendous explosion. It blew out all the windows in our huts.

We had one bloke with us who always ate by himself He used to eat his goodies in front of us. On the day of the explosion he had made a big plum pudding out of raisins and biscuits. It was sitting up on the windowsill and all the glass went into his pudding. It spoilt his party but we weren't sorry.

     

To pass the time, as I could draw, I used to scribble a bit on the walls. We could also play darts or quoits if we wished. We had to stop playing football because the compound had, at some stage, some sort of pit which had food buried in it. Some of the officers were worried that it could have been diseased. However, we did play basketball.

One day I was late getting out on the parade ground to be counted. The head German guard, who used to count us, came into the hut and found me still there. As a penalty, I had to do some camp work. Normally, NCO prisoners were not required to work. He came back with a big axe. He said I had to break up some stones and lay them in front of the hut. There was a pool of water there and the stones would save us walking through the water.

I hit the stones with the cutting edge, rather than the back, of the axe. He wasn't very impressed.

I was late again, about six months later. I was crook I had pleurisy. Anyhow, I went out and had to do duty - mend the barbed-wire fence. He picked up the hammer and got me some nails. He held the nail and I was to hit it. I hit his hand. He shook his head. I finished the work anyway.

On 26 January 1945 I wasn't late, but he called for volunteers to do some work. You wouldn't believe it. I put my hand up and nobody else did. He just looked at me and shook his head.

Certainly, I had volunteered. So he took me into the hut and let me have a cup of tea and a cigarette while all the others were out in the cold - but he wouldn't trust me with any work. The other blokes called out, collaborator!'

     

I was very lucky. I was in hospital for eight weeks. I had pain and they took me up to the doctor - I don't remember whether it was the German or our own doctor. They shoved me in the lazarette for eight weeks and I was treated well during that period. That coincided with the Normandy landings. The other prisoners had a very rough trot in that period but I ate well.

There was one bloke who mucked in with me who used to disappear every now and then. He escaped about three or four times. He would always be back after a couple of days.

He told us he had once got on a bus and got down behind a seat. A German officer and his wife got on and, with the whole darn bus to choose from, they walked down to the back of the bus and sat on top of him.

Eventually, a French pow, who was about to be repatriated to Britain, died. This fellow took his place. He could speak French, and was successful.

The Russians liberated us on 23 April 1945. We then had to make our own way home. There were no jerries in the camp, except for the commandant. They all shot through because the Russians were coming one way and the Americans the other. The Russians, on their arrival, shot the commandant.

We shot through as soon as the Russians arrived because there was no food. The Russians were battling for food themselves.

A mate and I had to walk. We had to cross the Elbe - the Americans were on one side and the Russians on the other. We found a broken down bridge where we could cross.

                

Before we were allowed to cross, the Russians took everything off us - including our watches. Once on the other side, the Yanks took us to Halle by truck. It was the first time I had seen any real war damage. They flew us to Brussels, where we stayed about a week, and then flew us back to England.

Keith Skidmore

Acknowledgements: Sources used by us in compiling Archive Reports include: Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vols. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vols. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries', Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tom Kracker - Kracker Luftwaffe Archives and Fred Paradie - Paradie Archive (both on this site), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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