His memoirs have been submitted by his friend of several years Mr. Kevin Walford in April 2016. We are hoping that the son of George Stewart will find this article and contact us with additional photographs from his fathers album.
Kevin Walford explains: "At the age of 5 in his tin bath, in Edinburgh, he experienced a Zeppelin Raid. He was training to be an architect but thanks to the Great Depression he was unable to complete his training and he took employment with his father in the building trade. A keen racing cyclist as well as a cornet player with local dance bands. A member of the Territorial Army, but decided to join the RAF as his training with the TA (involving Bayonet charges) left him feeling they were unprepared.
His memoirs came through many hands before they reached me. Initially he was taped by the IWM being interviewed. This tape was given by his son to a Japanese gentleman who tested his English conversational skills by transcribing the transcript into a type written document. Finally the document was edited by myself, certain place names were misspelt. I wanted to put further photographs from a previously seen album he showed me of his training into his memoirs. Sadly the opportunity was missed as his son had them and we lost contact.
I had previously met Angus at the Wirral Aviation Society and visited him at his Home in Oxton, near Birkenhead. He was impressed by my knowledge of Bomber Command and we became firm good friends. Later he invited me to his 90th Birthday Party, this turned out to be a full Dinner Dance at which he was first on the floor dancing with his daughter in law!
Pre empting this I had taken him to see The East Kirkby Lancaster NX611 and he was given permission to see inside it. Incidentally although christened George it was in the PoW camp that he was nicknamed Angus as George was the name of the English King.
He died sometime in May 2005 and I lost contact with his son who returned to Malaysia
Apart from the Word Document he talked at length of his life before the war and afterwards so I think I knew him as well as a family member." George Lowe Stewart - born in August 1912, Aberdeen, Scotland a Lancaster Air Bomber.
For the full report on the day he was shot down please see Roy Wilcock's remembrance page to the crew.
When War broke out in 1939 I was 27 years old, unmarried and lived with my parents at Newton Hill, 8 miles south of Aberdeen, being employed by my father in his building business.
For several months after War was declared nothing eventful happened and life went on much the same. The local press described it as the “Phoney War”. Then when Hitler eventually did attack and overrun France in his Blitzkrieg in May 1940, the War then took on a different dimension. Everyone now felt a little apprehensive would he or would he not invade?
By this time my age group for mobilisation was now approaching and I knew that if I waited I would be drafted into the Army as I was an ex Territorial, having served 3 years in the Gordon Highlanders. As I did not like Army life I decided to join the RAF I went to the RAF Recruiting Office in Aberdeen and volunteered for flying duties. My ambition now was to become a fighter pilot. I knew however that it would not be easy and that I would probably have to pass a selection board of some sort. Against me was the length of time since I had left School, nearly 12 years earlier, so I decided to contact the head master of my old school and ask for his help with my education. He was very helpful and spent several weeks helping me to do revision work.
Eventually on the 30 September 1940 I received my calling up papers and rail travel warrants, and had to report to RAF Padgate near Warrington for a Medical Board and an aircrew Selection Board
On my journey south by train, I had to change at Preston and, as I stepped on to the platform, I thought to myself, my first step on English Soil.
Ahead of me someone at a Buffet stall was beckoning me to come forward and receive tea and sandwiches, and all free of charge. I could not believe it and thought, if this is English hospitality let's have more of it!
My tests at Padgate took 3 days and were quite an ordeal and I was glad when they were over. I was not concerned so much about passing the medical as I had always kept myself fit and felt pretty confident.
At one particular interview I had, when being questioned by a panel of RAF officers regarding the capabilities of co-ordination required in flying a plane, one of the panel remarked to his colleague that as I was a bricklayer, I must have excellent co-ordination. I think a point was scored there in my favour. Eventually I was told that I had passed both the Medical and Selection Boards for pupil pilot training and was given my service No. Viz: - 1023131, and rail travel warrants home, and placed on deferred service till further notice. Life for me now was full of excitement. I was on my way.
The next few months at home dragged on then it happened. I received the letter I was anxiously waiting for stating that I was to report to an RAF Receiving Centre at Blackpool on 10th March 1941. I was now nearly 29 years old.
The day after arriving at Blackpool I received another setback for all the entrants who had passed the Medical and Selection Boards at Padgate had to undergo the same Boards all over again at Blackpool It was annoying and I thought terribly unfair. I got through again however but felt sorry for some who were rejected. Failure to pass for pilot training did not necessary mean you would not fly, just that you would be recommended to train for observer or Air Gunner, in my opinion, second best.
I was billeted at 22 Palatine Road, previously a Boarding House along with about 20 other airmen and did my "square Bashing" on the prom, and what a bind that was, as I had done all this before in the Army. Morse instruction was given to us in rooms over Woolworth’s in the centre of the town. It was a wonderful time for me and I will always have fond memories of Blackpool with its glitz and glitter.
After approx. 2 months there, we were formed into flights of 50 and we were then posted to Manchester where we were billeted with private families and who did not seem to like us very much. We were only 2 or 3 weeks there, doing parades and lectures mostly, and then we were posted to London where we were billeted in luxury Flats in Regents Park. Again were there only a few weeks doing ARP duties and parades in the grounds of Regents Park Zoo.
Our next posting came through and we were sent to RAF Aston Down, near Gloucester where we were told it was for Ground Defence Duties. This Station was a Maintenance Unit and serviced mostly twin-engined aircraft. The C.O. was very sympathetic and realised our frustration at not being able to fly and organised several flying trips for us. My very first flight ever was taken here in a twin-engined Boston doing trials for engine trouble. I was given a parachute and along with 3 others, also with chutes, we were bundled into the Boston and took off. When we were airborne we decided to find out if we could put them on, as we had had no previous instruction. We had a great time however and did not worry too much about the spluttering engines.
We were 3 months at Aston Down before we eventually received what we had been waiting for; our actual posting for the Pilots' course to an ITW (Initial Training wing) and it was to be Stratford-upon-Avon, what good luck. 21/8/41. We had luxurious billets in most of the hotels. The course consisted of ground subjects only i.e. navigation, meteorology, signals, pyrotechnics etc. Exams were given at the end of the course and you had to pass to get through. I studied pretty hard on this course and vowed that it would not be the ground subjects that would let me down. The studying paid off for I come out pretty well in the exams and got 90% marks for the navigation exam.
I liked Stratford very much and at weekends the town was packed with girls from Birmingham. One Sunday afternoon two friends and I were strolling along the banks of the Avon when we noticed 3 girls talking to each other under a tree. We approached them intending to chat them up, but were prevented from getting any further when one of them shouted out and pointed to a canoe out in the middle of the river being rocked violently by one of 2 teenagers frolicking in the canoe. I stood spell bound expecting any minute to see the canoe overturn. Instead it started to ship water and slowly began to fill up. When the water reached seat level they both stood up very straight and they seemed mesmerised. Suddenly the canoe sank beneath their feet and one of the boys started to swim to the bank. The other boy suddenly shouted, "I cannot swim" and threw up his hands as he went under. While this was happening the girls were shouting to us to do something. My companions however were discarding their jackets and boots and were diving into the water. As I could not swim I had to stand there helpless, and to make matters worse for me they were shouting "coward" I felt terribly inadequate and very uncomfortable. Needless to say about 12 others who had seen his predicament and got him to the bank and dried out rescued the youth. When all this was over the girls had disappeared.
It was at Stratford here that I met a very nice girl called Margaret and I kept up correspondence with her throughout the war.
I was now looking forward to our next posting which would be EFTS (Elementary Flying Training School) where we would at last be taught to fly. On the 15th October our posting came through to EFTS at Ansty, near Coventry.
When we arrived at Coventry we assembled at the railway station and then marched up to the RAF camp. As we drew near we were quite excited to see small trainer aircraft doing aerobatics as the pupils were being put through their paces.
We also noticed one aircraft in particular which appeared to be out of control as it nose-dived towards the ground. It was about 250 yards away and we all knew that something had gone wrong. It continued on its dive and hit the ground with a loud bang but did not explode. Some of us thought it was a bad omen to have to see this before we even got started felt. We found out later that pupil and instructor had both been killed.
When we arrived at the camp and settled in, we were told that the scene of the crash was "Out of Bounds", nevertheless out of curiosity we stole out of camp and had a peep into cockpit of the Tiger Moth. The bodies had been removed but there was blood and bits of bone all over the cockpit. The sight of this made me shudder and most of us did not sleep well that night.
From the campsite that was fairly high up we could see all the Barrage Balloons strung around the edge of Coventry itself. It made an impressive sight.
Flying instruction took place as soon as we arrived and each instructor had 5 or 6 pupils. I was very excited when my turn came to have my first lesson. Some pupils become sick on their first flight and they had to hose down the aircraft themselves. After 6 3/4 hours dual control I was told that I was ready to go solo. I felt really good now and after I come down from my solo flight I felt I had now made the grade, what we did not know at this time was that this was a grading course and our real training was to be abroad. You were allowed up to 12 hours dual. in which to go solo. Some of my best pals did not make the grade and were left behind. After we had all been graded we were then given a spot of leave.
When we reported back we were told that we were going to America to be trained under the Commonwealth Air Training Scheme and we were all excited. We went by train to Gourock on the Clyde and then boarded a French liner called the Luis Pasteur. It was a 22,000 tonner and carried on six-inch gun at the stern.
We left Gourock on the 21st November 1941 and arrived in Halifax Nova Scotia on the 2nd December.
That was eleven days to cross the Atlantic because of bad weather and I was sea sick for the whole of the crossing. The seas were mountainous and the ship tossed and rolled all the time. The rumour was that she was built for the Mediterranean-only. It was also rumoured that the main stabilizers had been removed to accommodate more troops to make up the 12,000 supposed to be on board. One destroyer, the H.M.S. Garland, also escorted us and for most of the time we did not see her as she become hidden by the huge waves. Nearly everyone was sick and we were unable to do drills or lessons as expected of us. I will never forget that crossing.
When we eventually arrived at Halifax, we disembarked and were taken by train to No. 31 RCAF receiving centre at Monkton, New Brunswick. We were there approx. 10 days and were given all the information regarding our next postings. There were 750 of us and were classed as course 42 G. Some of us were sent to flying schools in California some to the central states of America, some to be in Canada and some to go to Florida. I was lucky and was chosen to go to Florida.
We were told that we were to go by train and would take about four days to get there. During this time we heard the news that Pearl Harbour had been bombed (December 7) and we knew that the Yanks would now be in the war for real.
Our four days train journey south was marvellous. We had the whole train to ourselves and we enjoyed the luxury of our first class compartment and the scenery was exceptional. It was very noticeable to see the gradual change from the greens of Canada to the pale browns and dark browns and the changing hues of the landscape as we went south.
Before we got to Florida however, we stopped in Alabama and went to a Receiving Centre at Maxwell Field, arriving there on the 18th December, just a week before Xmas. We were introduced there to the American style of training as we were now under the jurisdiction of the US Army Air corps. We also received our tropical kit there. We were now called UK cadets and addressed by the officers as "mister". Very unusual.
Maxwell field was a huge airfield and camp compared with what we had in Britain. Each Wednesday was open day, and relatives and friends were allowed in to watch parades and demonstrations, which we also had to be involved in. It was all Razza Matazz Stuff with the Band playing "Nothing can stop the Army Air Corps." many times over. We heard this tune played nearly every day that we added our own words "Except the Weather." We did not mix much with the American cadets as their quarters were quite some distance away and we only saw and spoke to them at the PX. We were allowed out of camp for Christmas and the New Year, only one day each.
Maxwell field was not very far from the town of Montgomery where we went to see our first ball game. It was a major event at the time. The North versus the south or the Greys versus the Blues, the rivalry dating back to the Civil War. The football stadium was huge and the spectators kept munching bags of popcorn all the time. We got the game explained to us by some of the local yanks but I did not find American football very interesting.
As we were now in the Deep South the coloured people comprised about 60% of the population and did most of the work. They did not have equal status either, with the whites. If you were walking on the pavement or sidewalk as they called it, and you met some coloured people, they would step off the sidewalk on to the roadway and let you pass. Even the iron cups of the street drinking fountains were marked coloured and white. This was certainly race discrimination and was alien to us. The weather at this time of year was mild and pleasant and I would say that I enjoyed my stay at Maxwell Field very much. I liked America.
After a few weeks at Maxwell Field we set off again by train for our Primary Flying School at Carlstrom Field, Arcadia, Florida. This flying School was situated on the West coast, midway between Tampa in the north and Miami in the south; it was close to the Everglades, a vast area of swampland. Close mesh wire fencing to keep out snakes, which were of the poisonous variety, enclosed most of the flying field. When we got there it was rumoured that an American Cadet had got lost and came down over the swamps and plane and cadet were never seen again.
The school had previously been used to teach civilians and was supposed to cost 2000 dollars for the six to eight week courses. The biplanes being used were Stearmans and were much larger and more solid than our Tiger Moths and I liked them better.
Our flying instructors were civilians and I was lucky to get a good one. His name was Bob and we got on very well together. As usual we had to solo again after a certain amount of dual. Some of us who had gone solo on the grading course back home failed to solo here and were washed out.
The style of training here was completely different from that in Britain. It was more stereotyped. The airfields were so huge that there were far more planes taking off and landing and you had to get into "traffic" as they called it, when you flew out of the airfield and when you returned.
Each pupil had to make his own cardboard computer with directions showing the correct entrance approach to the airfield allowing for wind direction etc. They were very safety conscious about this and pity helps you if you made a boob. You got the chop. I got the impression here that we were on a "crash" course; excuse the pun, for they did not make any allowances for mistakes. They would wash you out for the least thing, maybe it was because there were so many on the Pilots course waiting to take your place and they had plenty in reserve.
I did my solo with instructor Bob after 6 1/2 hrs dual and went on and finished the Primary Course with him. I think the instruction here was primarily to be able to handle and fly an aeroplane, as we did not do any night flying or cross-country trips. We were not allowed to do any dog fighting either for if you were caught you immediately got the chop.
At the finish of our course it was habit take up your instructor as the passenger and do as many aerobatics as you could to make him sick, needless to say this did not happen very often. We also received the equivalent of the civilian B Licence that enables you to fly a plane on your own but not to carry passengers.
During our stay here we were invited out many times as guests to various wealthy American families. I thoroughly enjoyed doing the course but was still looking forward to my next school, which would be Basic.
When our posting did come through we were told it was to be Cochran Field near Macon in Georgia. We arrived by train there on the 29th March 1942. After we settled in, we were introduced to our new instructors and the Basic Trainer, a Vultee monoplane with a radial engine; somewhat on the lines of the Harvard advanced trainer.
One of my instructors was called Lt. Shidal and I did not like him very much. I also had a feeling that he did not like me either. Maybe he could not understand my Scottish accent. When I questioned him on several occasions about some manoeuvre or other he did not give me an appropriate reply.
When I was about 6 weeks on the course and had clocked up a total of 110 hrs flying time he told me to take the plane up for an hours practice and to be back in time for his tea which was 6 o'clock; and if I was late he would give me a star. Stars or black marks were given to pupils when you did something wrong or made some error or forgot to put your flaps down when landing, when you reached 5 stars you got confined to camp on your one day off a week - a sort of punishment. As I already had 4 stars I did not relish the thought of losing my day off and kept that in mind when I took off.
When you are up flying on your own and enjoying every minute, one hour goes by very quickly. Needless to say when I glanced at my watch after about half an hour I thought, it showed nearly 8 minutes to 6, and I thought that I would just make it to the airfield in time. I put the nose down to get maximum air speed and set off for home. As it was most of the pupils who were up for the last hour must have had the same idea in mind. When I arrived back at the airfield I could not land on the designated runway, as there were so many aircraft about. I tried 3 times to land but had to give the plane the gun and go round the field again. I was getting a bit concerned by now, as it was nearly 6 o'clock. On my 4th attempt I had a much better position on my approach as I let down to the runway. To my right there were 3 other planes going for the same runway as well. As fate would have it, just before I touched down I noticed one of the aircraft to be very near and seemed to be drifting nearer. Edging over a bit I touched down on the edge of the runway and before my speed diminished enough, I hit a pot hole with one wheel and the whole plane tipped up on its nose and stayed there. I was shaken up a bit but was unhurt and immediately released my safety belt and got out quickly. As I stood by the plane and saw the bent propeller I knew that I had had it now. Capt Riddle the C.O. was the first to arrive and when he saw that I was unhurt he immediately ordered me to get another parachute and wait for him at his white plane standing on the tarmac. I knew that I would now be taken up for a check ride and that it was just a matter of time before I would be eliminated from the Pilots course.
The check ride was as I expected. It took about 20 minutes and he tried to catch me out all the time. When we got into his plane he ordered me to take it up to 3000 ft and level off. When I did this he again ordered me to do a spin. I knew that the minimum height for a manoeuvre of this sort was 4000 ft and when I told him, he agreed and told me to get to 4000 ft and get on with it. After we completed a few aerobatics he did not remark about anything and then finally he asked me to do a loop. To do a loop you have to put the nose down to gain speed then full throttle as you pull the nose up in a climb. When you get upside down you ease the throttle back until you come out of the loop and then ease throttle forward for normal flying.
As I come out of my loop I eased the throttle forward but nothing happened, the engine was dead, it had cut out. I checked the fuel gauge but found that O.K. I decided then to try and start the engine with the self-starter but after several attempts I gave up. Capt. Riddle meanwhile kept quiet in the back and said nothing. As I was now losing height I had no alternative but to tell him to be prepared for a forced landing. All that he said to me was "very well". I chose a field pretty easily, got into wind, and prepared to let down. As I was about 20 feet off the ground and about to touch down, all at once the engine roared into life. I was a little bewildered at this, when he barked at me saying, "I have got it. What about the ignition? You did not check the ignition." As it was dual control, he had switched off the ignition deliberately when I was at the top of the loop. I now felt very dejected as we flew back to base, and that was to be my last flight on the Pilots Course.
I was suspended from further flying after that and later told I would be taken off the course and would be sent back to Canada. Their reason they said was lack of progress, but I did not believe that and would not accept it. My only hope now was to try in Canada for a second chance.
They did not keep me hanging around for long for on 11th May 42; I boarded the train for Canada along with 9 other washed out pilots. Apart from my trauma of failure, I was sorry to leave the USA. for I had had a wonderful time, and it was also an education.
On the train journey back I met Freddie Robinson another Scot, who was to be my best friend throughout our future training. Our train stooped at Cincinnati for a connection and we had a few hours to look around. It was a very busy town and quite different to the towns down south.
While still on the platform I went to a Barber Shop there and as I sat in the chair having my hair cut, somebody started to polish my shoes and a girl sat beside me on a stool and was giving me a manicure. The Yanks did thing in style. Even while waiting for our connection Freddie and I watched a huge T.V screen on the platform showing the Andrews sisters.
When we arrived back in Canada we had to report to RCAF Station Trenton, Ontario, a Receiving Centre where we were joined by more pilot rejects from other flying schools. We discovered later that of the 750 trainee pilots on our course 42 G only 250 got their Wings.
As soon as I could, I made an application to have an interview with the C.O. When this was granted and was taken to see him, I inquired why I had been eliminated from the pilot’s course at this late stage when I had completed nearly 120 flying hours of the 200 required for the complete course.
His reply was that no doubt I could fly an aeroplane but that only the best were being sent across to Britain; and that I would make a first class Navigator as my records showed very good results on the navigation exams. I told him that I did not want to be a navigator and that I did not agree with him that I was not good enough. After quite a lengthy interview he could not convince me where I had gone wrong and I also could not convince him to get a second chance; and I had to leave his office feeling cheated; and I took it very badly.
Freddie also tried to get another shot at the pilots course but failed. It was rumoured that a young reject had committed suicide by hanging himself in the hangar (excuse the pun). I also met another colleague whom I had not seen since we were at Coventry and he was very bitter. When I asked him what he was going to be now, he said that if he could not be pilot he would stay on the ground as nothing else would do.
As we were now on the scrap heap so to speak we could come out of aircrew if we wanted but as I still liked flying, I made up my mind that I would go for second best and train to be an observer. Freddie also put his name down for the Observers course, and we both now had to wait for our course to commence.
The style of life in Canada was completely different to what we had been accustomed to in the southern American States. We had a lot more freedom and were given more time off. The town of Trenton was not very far away and Freddie and I went there quite often, where as in America we were confined to the airbase a lot more, and received open post or day off once a week and week-ends very rare.
One day when I was in Trenton on my own I noticed a bunch of Sergeant pilots standing around a shop window laughing and joking, and I felt very envious. On the bus back to camp I composed a verse of music to the tune of "The Little Boy that Santa Claus forgot."
This song was very popular at the time and my verse went like this.
I am the little boy the RAF forgot,
And goodness knows I did, I cared a lot.
I sent a letter to the board to have another try
It nearly broke my heart when they said that I couldn't fly
On the street I envied all those Pilot boys,
Who won their wings and went out to rejoice,
Feel sorry for that laddie he did not get his brevie,
I am the little boy the RAF forgot.
Freddie had now got himself a steady girl friend and one day he asked me if I would make up a foursome and go on a blind date with his girl friend chum. Now Freddie was a Jew and so were his girl and her chum. As it was a one off situation I did not mind and accepted.
Freddie's girl friend's people were well to do and had booked a cruise on the St Lawrence River for us and everything was paid for. I started to look forward to a whole day out on a pleasure boat with my Jewish date. I got a lecture from Freddie before we started, that I would be on my best behaviour and to be a gentleman (In other words keep my hands to myself)! Told him not to worry and that I would not let him down.
When the day came and I got introduced, I was pleasantly surprised. She was quite attractive and I was looking forward to a pleasant day talking to her if nothing else. After we got on board Freddie and his girl friend disappeared for long spells, but I did not mind as my date turned out better than I expected. As the day wore on and the weather beautiful she became quite attracted to me and we started kissing, and which surprised me. In fact at times she was quite passionate and was contrary to what Freddie told me, but being a gentleman I was able to handle the situation. I thoroughly enjoyed the cruise.
When we went out on a 48 hrs pass we usually stayed at the YMCA. On their notice Board from time to time they print a list of people, usually well to do, with invitations to spend the weekend with them.
Freddie and another friend called Dennis, and I, put our 3 names down, and the following week-end we were picked up at the YMCA by car by a strong looking middle aged man and off we went with him. As we drove along he told us that he lived about 5 miles away, and that he lived alone in a large detached house. He also said that be did all his own cooking and washing etc. and did not need a domestic help. From the gist of his conversation with us, I had a feeling that we had boobed, for there was something about him that I did not like. (Yes you have guessed it already)
When we arrived at his place he parked the car at the bottom of his drive and we all got out and walked toward the house. He took up a position in the middle of us and put his arms around Freddie and Denis's shoulders with a fatherly approach, but he said that his hands were cold and he tried to put them in Freddie's trouser pocket, to get warm, he said.
When we got inside, the dining table was laid very professionally and we sat down to a well-cooked meal, and which we all enjoyed, for we were all hungry. The only time we could talk freely to each other about him was when he went into the kitchen. We all agreed what he was, and decided that if he did not go too far we would stay the night and leave first thing in the morning. It was just as well that there were 3 of us for he was as strong as an ox. As the evening wore on we had to use all our skill to contain the situation. Dennis was a bit apprehensive when we retired to bed as he was sleeping in a room on his own. We did not get any sleep and were glad when it was morning. We then made hurried excuses about getting back to camp and left without breakfast we had no problem thumbing a lift and we returned to the Y.M.C.A. to complain.
They were very upset and promised to make retribution, but we were just pleased that they were to do something about him. After about 4 or 5 weeks at Trenton, instructions about our new course came through and we were formed again into flights of 50. Freddie and I were still together in the same flight and were sent to No. 31 Bombing and Gunnery School, Picton, still in Ontario.
The course was not all that difficult which was just as well for I did not put a great deal of effort into it. We did our air training on Ansons and Fairey Battles, nothing exciting. As we were all ex-trainee pilots we were given a chance by some of the pilots that we flew with, to take the controls for a few minutes. It was kind of them but I did not think much of that.
The course was uneventful and took us right through to September 1942 before we completed, and I celebrated my 30th Birthday there. We had some very good weekend passes and we took the opportunity several times to hop over into the states (USA), Ontario adjoins the USA. I went on a weekend pass to Niagara with another chum (Freddie was now courting and had it bad) called Jim Barnes and we took photographs of the Falls from both sides. The Falls are very impressive. We also took a trip in a small boat and viewed the Falls from below, which was even better. We also visited another town in the states called Buffalo, which was quite close to Canada. It had nearly everything one could wish for in night entertainment, strip shows, club and drinking saloons etc. and were open day and night. It was quite an experience to have been there and taken part (not the strip show), when we finally completed the course (there were no failures) we received our promotion and our observers half wing, and I cannot say that I was as jubilant as most of the others. To me it was only a half wing, second best. The saying was that with only half a wing the highest rank you could achieve in the RAF was Wing Commander, not that I had ambitions to be Air Commodore or Air Marshal, but it made you think why this should be. The top ten of the flight, those with the highest marks in our last exam, received their commissions (I came in 10 1/2).
We all knew now, that it was crunch time and it would not be long before we would be sent back to Britain. I made my mind up that before I left Canada I would have to see New York City, so I arranged with Jim Barnes (Freddie was still in love) to go there, we made application and got our passes and took the long train journey, 400 miles I think, to the Big Apple.
Immediately we arrived, which was late afternoon, we booked into the Y.M.C.A. The American equivalent I thing is the U.S.O. (United Services Organisation). When we settled in, we lost no time in setting out to find the Empire State Building. We thought we would have no trouble in finding it, owing to its height, but this is not so, you cannot see it from the street as nearly every building is a sky scraper. Eventually we found it with the hotel Me Alpine dominating its base.
Jim and I walked straight into the hotel and made for the bar, but not before I noticed an attractive looking woman standing waiting for some one, and she had the RAF pilot Brevee (wings) pinned on to her costume jacket. The RAF had been here before us apparently.
When we reached the bar and ordered our drinks we were approached almost immediately by an elderly gentleman who was sitting there and introduced himself as an ex-colonel of the Scots Guards who fought in the First World War. (I have forgotten his name). It was obvious that he was a man of means as the offered and bought the two of us a few drinks. He was extremely friendly and chatted with us for the next hour or so. By this time however we felt that we had had enough and our eyes started to wander as we looked around for female company.
It must have been very obvious to him what we were looking for, because he told us not to worry, as he would fix us up. He excused himself and went off for a few minutes, presumably to telephone and then returned and said we would have company. After about 15 minutes a very attractive young woman who gave him a peck on the check and was then introduced to us joined us. We both thought to ourselves, one girl was not much good, and again the colonel read our thoughts. He told us to be patient and that both of us would benefit later.
The girl was very friendly with both of us and said that she was a co-ed and was on her last year. It was obvious that he was her sugar Daddy, she told us that she was of Red Indian origin and was a princess in her own right, she also told us her real Indian name (which I have forgotten and could hardly pronounce anyway) and that it meant wading through flowers and that she got called Wade Flowers.
After a few more drinks he suggested that we should all go up to his flat which was on the 75th floor, but only go one at a time. Wade want first then after a few minutes Jim went. Then when I got the room number I went and the Colonel followed last. When the Colonel arrived the waiter was just behind him carrying a tray load of drinks.
While we were all enjoying our drinks Wade went into the bedroom but did not close the door. After a few minutes the colonel winked at me and motioned for me to go into the bedroom, when I went in Wade was undressed and was reclining on the bed naked, except for a towel. What stuck me was the colour of her skin; it was beautiful. It was a golden, reddy brown, (But then she was a Red Indian wasn't she?).
When I came to out, Jim went into the bedroom next, but the Colonel was content with his drinking. The waiter arrived again; this time with a tray-full of sandwiches and we all enjoyed a very nice snack. It was now getting late and we all decided to break up. As we left we thanked our host profusely and Wade then offered to drive us back in her Cadillac to the Y.M.C.A. So ended a very enjoyable evening.
The following day we accepted free tickets given by the Y.M.C.A. for an afternoon performance of the stage play "Arsenic and old Lace" it featured Eric Von Stronheim and was held in Broadways top theatre. In the morning we sauntered through the busy street viewing Times Square, 42nd Street, 5th Avenue etc. and took a few snap shots. We also went back to have another look at the Empire State as we both wanted to go to the top and see the views. This time as we walked to the lift, 2 attendants who looked like Army personnel frisked our cameras and us were taken off us and held till our return.
When we got to the very top of the Empire State you could walk right round. There were shops and restaurants and you could buy photographs with panoramic views. The outside walls or battlements surrounding the top area were approx. 3 to 4ft thick and about 4ft high, and you could not see over very well. I wanted to see what the ground looked like directly below, so I climbed up on to the parapet, as there was hardly anyone around at the time. I went to the edge and looked down and was surprised not to see the ground. There was a low cloud base and it was disappointing. The top central tower rose above us I would say another 150 ft but was closed to the public. I thought it was an impressive building.
In the afternoon we enjoyed the stage play "Arsenic and Old Lace" and after tea we went off toward the U.S.O. At the Y.M.C.A. we heard about the Jack Dempsey club and thought we would try that first, but when we got there they wanted 5-dollar entrance fee? They called it Cover charge. There was no Good Samaritan this time so we ended up at the U.S.O. and spent a very pleasant but uneventful evening there, with Dorothy Lamour and Veronica Lake acting as Hostesses. The next day we said good-bye to New York after spending a most enjoyable weekend.
When we got back to camp we had to turn our thoughts to buying presents and gifts to take back to Britain for our loved ones. I bought toilet soap, Ladies silk underwear and loads of nylons and various other things you could not get back home. I even took boxes of Lucky strike. Eventually we got word to prepare to leave and we had to make our own way, by walking to the Railway station. Every man for himself (Hang carry, so I had to discard a number of items such a books, soap, perfume etc. I then managed to get every thing in an extra kit bag and was able to carry the 2 kit bags tied together, hung round my neck.
Freddie on the other hand, and being a Jew, had accumulated 2 extra kit bags full of gifts and which he could not carry by himself. He asked me if I would help, but I refused and told him to be like the others and myself and get rid of some of the items. I even told him what to throw out. He kept ranting on that we had been friends for so long and I was some pal to let him down. Eventually I compromised and we devised a way of carrying our 5 heavy kit bags to the Railway Station. We got 2 broom handles and 2 pieces of wire and we made a sort of stretcher and then piled our kit bags on top. It was slow going but we had plenty of time and we managed it.
As we left Picton by train for Halifax, I was dreading the Atlantic crossing and kept hoping that the weather would be calmer than last time. Before we left we were not told what ship we would be sailing on, probably for security reasons, but when we arrived at the dockside in Halifax, a pleasant surprise awaited us. Berthed at the quayside was the giant Cunarder, the Queen Elizabeth, (the finest ship in the world).
Immediately we got on board we found there was no comparison between her and the Luis Pasteur. As we were about the first to embark we had the run of the ship, so to speak, and we did a lot of exploring. We were kept on board for 3 or 4 days but we did not mind as there was a lot going on to occupy our time.
One or two airmen started to climb the rigging of the ship's mast for a bit of fun, but came down again before they reach the top, which was about 120 ft above the ship's dock. Freddie challenged me that I would not go up one side of the rigging, go round the mast and come down the other side. I took up his challenge and started to climb and when I reached the top of the rigging, there was another 30 or 40 ft of bare mast still above, I found a small ledge about 18 ins wide in which I could stand on to get across. I miscalculated the width of the mast however, for as I stood up on the ledge, I found that the mast was too thick to embrace with my arms and I had great difficulty in keeping my balance as I circled the mast to get down the other side. I managed it needless to say, but it was touch and go.
On November 1, 1942 and around midday we sailed out of Halifax, and so ends the story of my air training in America.
When we had cleared the harbour, we started to pick up speed and in no time we were doing about 30 knots. Freddie and I stood at the stern waving good bye to America, and as the coast slowly disappeared we wondered if we would ever be back again. Gone was the glamour now and ahead of us the reality that a war had to be fought.
The Lizzie was unescorted because of her speed and she took evasive action by following a zigzag course to confuse the enemy laying in wait with submarines. I started to dread the crossing and wondered how long it would be before I was seasick again. After the first day was over however, I felt no signs of sickness and I really stated to enjoy the trip. Maybe God had answered my prayer for the weather remained calm and the ship remained as steady as a rock.
The Lizzie was crammed with Army and Airforce Personnel and included American and Canadians. We mixed well with them and they taught us to play crap and other dice games. On the morning of the 4th day at sea we were told that we would be sailing up the Clyde late that afternoon and would be docking at Gourock. Just 4 days to cross the Atlantic. I could hardly believe it. Sure enough we docked at Gourock that night, and the following day after clearance, our Flight, along with others, boarded a train, specially waiting for us and took us to no 7 Personnel Depot, Harrogate, Yorkshire.
Now that we were on English soil again what a contrast in life style for us now. The blackout and the shortages of commodities, which we had to get used to again. Nevertheless, I welcomed being back, for this was home, and it is difficult to describe the feeling.
We were all billeted in temporary Barracks which had been occupied previously by a detachment of WAAF’s and which could not have been prepared for us properly, because as we got settled in, and had a look around, I got quite a shock when I entered the toilet. The walls were covered with lewd drawings and obscene graffiti. I had never seen anything quite as bad as this before and wondered what kind of women would resort to this sort of thing. They were certainly letting the side down, in my estimation
That same evening Freddie and I and a few others went out and paid a visit to the nearest pub. When we got in, we saw a noisy bunch of WAAF’s sitting around a large table drinking and chatting. One W.A.A.F was on her feet trying to down a whole pint of beer without stopping, while her companions chanted the song "Drink chug a lug, chug a lug, so drink chug a lug, chug a lug", and so on. She was struggling, to gulp it down and beer was spilling from her glass and down over the front of her tunic, and no one seemed to care. I admit I had not seen girls carry on like this before, and it was disturbing. None of us made any move to contact them; I think we had just lost our appetite. Two or three days later we got our long awaited leave and went home for about 3 weeks. It had been a whole year since I had seen my parents and brother and sister, not forgetting Margaret in Stratford on Avon. I was looking forward to seeing them all again and to hand out the gifts which I had brought from America. My 3 weeks leave soon came to an end and when I returned to Harrogate.
Our posting to OTU (Operational Training unit) came through on December 1942 and we were sent to No. 19 OTU at Kinloss, Scotland. We were now going to get down to the nitty gritty part of our training.
When we got to Kinloss, I found it a bleak looking place and I did not fancy the location, I thought it was too near the Grampians. The Camp accommodation was insufficient to hold us all and we were split up in alphabetical order, and some were housed in empty houses around the camp. Freddie and I were still together as he was R and I was S, but we were unlucky and along with about 10 others we had to sleep in an old house without heat and it was brass-monkey weather at the time. We got issued with bicycles as we were about half a mile away, from camp. We were now living under pretty rough conditions.
The aircraft that we were to be trained in were two engined Whitley Bombers, and when airborne, flew nose down and had the appearance and shape of a coffin, in fact they were often referred to, as the Flying Coffin, it was a cumbersome aircraft and not very manoeuvrable, and most of the pilots did not think much of it. However it was from Kinloss that some of the Whitleys took part in the first 1000 Bomber raid on Cologne. On the Camp were a varied mixture of Pilots, Navigators, Bomb Aimers, Wireless ops, and rear Gunners and we all had to learn how to co-operate with each other to form a crew. My disappointment at not achieving my ambition to become a fighter pilot had now waned, because most of the pilots I talked to here, were not even given a chance to fly fighters, and I would not have liked that, as I had no ambition to become a Bomber Pilot (Meow?).
While we were here we heard about the new 4-engined bombers that were now being used on operations over Germany, and carried a crew of seven. We did all sorts of hazardous training here, especially cross country night flying in bad weather conditions, and on most of the cross country flights or exercises, we had to fly over the mountains. I did not like the occasions when the cloud base descended and we had to fly on instruments, and especially when we knew that our pilot was still under training, it was nerve racking sometimes to hear the ice particles hitting the fuselage as they came off the prop blades. We knew that we were icing up then, and it was time to climb above the cloud and get out. This was not always possible as the cloud layer could be as deep as 20,000 ft. Alternatively we could descend but this also was not possible sometimes, if you were over high ground. Quite a number of crashes occurred during my training and we all agreed that if we survived Kinloss we would survive anything (it should have been named Dead Loss).
Flying was not all gloom however and good weather had its compensations, for on a sunny clear day in mid December, flying over Ben Nevis and the Grampian peaks at 5000 ft was a wonderful sight.
Forres, Elgin and Inverness were the only decent sized towns that we visited. I still went with Freddie when we had time off. One night when we had been to Forres, we popped into a local cafe for a snack, before we went back to our empty house, and we noticed a young woman sitting on her own. After a little while she came and asked us for a light for her cigarette. As she had an American accent we asked her if she liked it over here and she replied that she was very bored and was homesick. She had married one of our air training cadets on an earlier course than us and he brought her over. He was on duty flying that night and we really felt sorry for her. So much for War Time Brides.
Eventually after nearly 3 months at Kinloss, our operational Training came to an end, and after a spot of leave we were posted to no? Personnel Depot south of Manchester. After we got settled in there, we were all introduced to new members of aircrews from other OTU's. It was here that we were told that we would belong to no. 5 Group and would be going to Mo. 50 squadron near Lincoln, flying Lancasters. We were then given a couple of hours by the C/O. to form ourselves into crews of 7, Viz: - Pilot, Flight Engineer, Navigator, Bomb aimer. W/op/air gunner, mid up per gunner and Rear Gunner, and which was required to fly 4 engined Aircraft. He told us that if anyone was still not crewed up by that time he would intervene and form a crew himself. As I did not know anyone in particular, it was a case of asking around, and the luck of the draw, so to speak. I was approached by a sergeant Pilot, a Scot, and 2 others who were with him, a Navigator and a Wop/AG, also both Scots and he asked me if I was crewed up and if not, would I be his bomb aimer. I quite liked the look of him and accepted. That made 4 of us and we went around looking for a Rear Gunner, a mid-upper Gunner and a Flight Engineer. It did not take us long and we ended up with a Canadian Scot as a Rear Gunner, a Yorkshire man as a Flight Engineer and a young 19 year old from Kent as mid-upper Gunner; 5 Scots and 2 Englishmen be together when we went to our operational Squadron. I did not see much of Freddie and we drifted apart as we both became involved with our crew-members
When we got to know each other we found that the Pilot had been trained on twin engined Bombers and would now have to receive extra training to convert to 4-engined machines. To do this we were now posted to a Heavy Conversion Unit near Birmingham, where we saw the Lancaster Bomber for the first time. We had heard so much about this new Lanc, and now we were going to be trained to fly in it.
While the Pilot was being taught to fly and handle the 4 engined Lanc, the whole crew had to take up their position and accompany him. At first it was a case of "Circuits and Bumps”, or better described as "Take offs and landings", and was very, very dangerous, and quite a few crashes occurred. Being the Bomb Aimer of the crew, my position was in the nose of the Lanc and I had to lie on my stomach on a padded trap door. The view I had was magnificent, for in front of me was the huge Perspex nose section from which I could see all around, ahead, and everything beneath me, in fact I had easily the best view of anyone in the aircraft.
However I found my position up front a little disconcerting, at times, especially when our Pilot was about to touch down to land on the runway and he had miscalculated his height, many a time my heart was in my mouth when he was touching down, and I could see clearly that he was too high, sometimes as much as 20 ft above the runway. Several times the screen instructor saved us by opening the throttles and shouting to our
Pilot "Give it the gun you!!! You are too high (etc, etc???). We also had to fly with him when doing air manoeuvres and I quite liked this. The Instructor taught him how to fly on one engine whilst exploring all its capabilities; it sure was a great aircraft!
It was also at this unit that I got the biggest scare of my life. It happened like this-all the bomb-aimers at the unit, about 12 or 14 of us, had to go down to the bomb Dump and get the practical tuition on how to fuse a bomb. We all knew about this in theory, but don't think anyone of us had actually seen a live bomb before.
The Flight Sergeant in charge, an efficient but arrogant type and who thought a lot of himself took us to the Bomb Dump, and we spent the whole morning there with him. He showed us all the different types of Bombs including the largest, a 4000 Ib. Block buster called a "Cookie", and which looked like a huge oil drum. Without the tail assembly fin, it was approx., 8 ft long and 4 ft in diameter. This one was the most interesting to us, because it could not be jettisoned safely. All the other bombs that we carried could because they had a thicker casing, were more streamlined and had the detonator cap protected by an outer propeller shield with a pin. As long as the pin was not released from the shield, the Bomb could be jettisoned from any height and would not explode.
The cookie on the other hand had 8 nose pistols as they were called but had no shields so the detonator caps were exposed all the time. He gave a lot of thought to this Cookie, and did not like the idea that if we were flying over friendly territory and our aircraft was in trouble we would have to go out to sea and jettison and not below 800 ft. We also knew it was not advisable to land an aircraft with bombs on board.
The various bombs were all stacked up into huge piles outside in a compound with a tarpaulin cover over them. When we approached one pile, the Flight Sergeant told us that he would show us how to fuse a Bomb. He then detailed some of us to carry one of the Bombs from the pile and lay it on the ground in front of him. The huge pile contained 500 Ib G.P. (General Purpose) bombs and took 3 or 4 of us to carry one across. We then laid the live Bomb on a cradle and formed a circle around him to watch. He unscrewed the heavy metal plug from the nose of the Bomb and then screwed in the nose pistol and said it was now ready to be fused. He then took from his pocket a cardboard box containing the detonator and held it up for us to see. We had all seen and examined a detonator before in our training days, but to watch it being fitted to a live bomb was another matter. It is a very delicate process to insert a detonator into the nose pistol, and care has to be taken not to touch the exposed striker cap, or the bomb will go off. When he had done this, we could all see the striker pin of the detonator clearly exposed and he now explained that the Bomb was fused.
He was still down on one knee however and was holding the end of the detonator with his fingers and while he kept talking to us he was watching our reactions. By this time I was becoming a bit apprehensive at the rough way he was handling the detonator and when he thought he had all our attention he struck the striker cap, a sharp blow with his hand. Well I thought my end had come!
He burst out laughing when he saw our shocked expressions and told us that it was a dummy detonator and that he did this all the time with new trainee crews (snide). Needless to say we all took a dim view of it but at least this time I did not get blown up.
For several more weeks we were kept at it flying morning noon and night until our Pilot and all the crew were as capable as you could get. It was Kinloss all over again and very hazardous especially when the pilot started to do landings with one engine.
One particular morning we took off for a short exercise, mainly to give our Pilot, or skipper as he was now called, a chance to test his skill by flying on one engine etc. As the flight was to be of short duration our navigator had no need to make out a flight plan and it was up to me to map read and navigate visually.
After about half an hour's flying, it is surprising how far an aircraft can drift, and when low cloud began to form we all decided to return to base. I calculated that that we had drifted about 50 or 60 miles south and found it was difficult due to cloud to get a pinpoint to give the skipper a course to fly back. I asked the navigator if he would come forward and help me to map read. The skipper asked me if we were lost and when I said I think we are, he then asked the Wireless Operator to get a fix or contact base. When this failed as well he then asked me to find the first aerodrome that I could spot and we would go down and investigate. After a little while I spotted what looked like an aerodrome and directed the skipper towards it.
We dropped down below the cloud to 500 ft, and then circled the Aerodrome a couple of times and found it had quite a good runway. The skipper decided to land there and we dropped down and made a perfect landing.
When we taxied to a stop we were met by the Station Adjutant who told us where we were and that we would not be permitted to take off again that day as we would have to be cleared. We found that it was a maintenance unit and were lucky, as the runways were long enough to take the Lanc.
We were all made very welcome and it made quite a pleasant change for us. We were confined to camp for the remainder of the day but we enjoyed a very good evening meal and went to the camp cinema afterwards.
The next morning after all the necessary preliminaries, we were allowed to take off and as the weather was clear we had no trouble finding our way back.
We completed our conversion Training shortly after that and then received our final posting to our operational squadron in Lincolnshire. I now realised that the real action was drawing near and viewed what lay ahead with mixed feelings. We all agreed however that we had had a thorough training and that made us feel a bit more confident.
Our crew consisted of 7 Men: Joe MacCrossan (Pilot) captain of the aircraft and always called Skipper when we were airborne, J. Wilkinson (Flight Engineer) "Yorkie" from Yorkshire, David Buchan (Navigator); Ken Morgan (Wireless Operator/Air Gunner), John Aitken (Tail Gunner) H. Stone and last but not least myself as Bomb Aimer/Front Gunner.
It was March the 29th when we arrived at No. 50 Squadron, Skellingthorpe, and were welcomed by the C/O. We were then allotted a Nissen hut on the edge of the dispersal area and which was to be our accommodation for the remainder of our stay on the squadron.
For the first few days we did mostly daylight exercises in the same Lanc, some Dingy Drill and the usual lectures; and then one lunchtime we noticed that our Skipper's name was on the list for Operations that night. He was singled out to be a co pilot with another crew presumably to show him the ropes (and which we all thought was a good idea). That night 8/9th April, Bomber Command attacked and bombed Duisberg in the Ruhr and every one from our Squadron returned safely. We all stayed awake that night waiting for the Skipper to return so that we could ply him with questions. It was quite exciting listening to his account of the raid, and I wondered how I would fare when on our first Op. I did not have long to ponder over that for on the next day all our names were up on the list for Operations that night 9/ioth April. We were now all very excited and keyed up, this was to be our first Op. Briefing was scheduled for 18:30 hrs and we all wondered where the Target would be, and hoped it would not be the Ruhr. There were supposed to be 8,000 Ack-Ack guns there.
That afternoon we took our Lanc up for its NFT (Night Flying Test) and gave everything a very special check up. Needless to say I did not enjoy my evening meal and was glad when it was time to go for Briefing. The RAF Regiment guarded the Briefing Room and no unauthorised persons were admitted while operations were being discussed. Briefing took about an hour and was addressed firstly by the C.O. and who revealed that the Target would again be Duisberg in the Ruhr. There was quite a hush went around the room when he announced this. When all the Gen was given out by the Met. and Intelligence bods, the C.O. finally addressed us again, wished us luck and hoped we would give the Target a damned good pasting this time.
We were to be flying in the second wave and the whole operation of around 500 Bombers over the Target area would be over in 30 minutes or so. Our instructions were to bomb only the red T.I's (Target Indicators) when we got to Duisberg. These indicators were a type of flare, which hung in the sky for several minutes and were definitely an aid to precision bombing.
The Pathfinder Force were a group of specially trained aircrew and carried sophisticated Radar equipment and flew ahead of the main stream to mark out our routes and aiming point.
Take off time or ETD as it was called, was scheduled for 23s50 hrs and as it was now a 4 hour wait and we were not allowed to leave camp, this wait was perhaps the longest period in my life.
Eventually zero hour drew near and it was time to go to our locker room and don our flying kit, Mae West and Chute harness, and also collect our parachutes and our rations of orange juice, sweets etc. We then waited for transport to take us out to Dispersal where our Lanc would be waiting already bombed up. A WAAF and her pick up truck usually did this journey.
When we arrived at Dispersal several of the ground crew were already waiting for us beside our Lanc which was ready to go. They took a great pride in looking after their Lanc (They said it was theirs) and helped us aboard, while the engines were being started we put on our helmet stacked our parachutes and plugged into the intercom and checked again all our instruments. By the time the engines got warmed up it was near zero hour for take off, so we waved to the ground crew and taxied out to the runway in line behind other Lancs and waited our turn to take off. When we got the green light we took off full throttle down the runway and my thoughts were now at last we were on our way. I now felt a little bit excited; especially as this was the first time carrying a live bomb load.
As I lay on my stomach looking through the nose hatch I could see all the runway ahead, and as we got near the end, the Lanc just about got airborne and cleared the perimeter hedge by about 15 ft to spare. I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard the Flight Engineer say to the pilot "Wheels up skipper". I certainly dreaded take off time.
As we climbed to gain operational height no one spoke. I think we were all keyed up and the suspense was showing.
Our route took us over the North Sea by way of the Dogger Bank - and being the Bomb Aimer up front, I was asked by the navigator to look out for a glimpse of the coast, as it would enable him to get a fix. There was very little cloud about at the time and as I kept peering out into the darkness all at once several blinding flashes burst out ahead of us and I knew this must be ack ack shell bursts. I knew also that we were now crossing the enemy coast. Searchlights also shot up, swaying from side to side trying to pick us out and the flak became a bit more intense but was not predicted.
As we could not hear the shell bursts owing to our engine noise, and as we did not get hit either, we did not realise the danger; I watched it with fascination. The Skipper broke the silence at this point and told us that it was only the coastal Batteries having a go and was nothing to worry about. He said that it was the night fighters that we would have to be on the look out for now. We soon left the coast behind and as we flew on into Germany we could hear through our intercom the tapping of the Wireless Op's transmitter trying to jam the Radar frequencies of the German Night Fighter Bases. Everywhere below and ahead was in total darkness and one did not realise that around us somewhere, there were hundreds of other Bombers. It would have been more comforting had we seen them.
Our route to Duisberg had 2 legs presumably to deceive the Germans that we were on route to bomb some other target. As we flew eastwards towards the direction of Hanover, I kept a look out for yellow Turning Indicators, which were to be dropped for the turn on to the Ruhr. We did not have very long to wait for suddenly away to our right 3 or 4 clusters of bright yellow markers lit up the sky and we altered course due south for Duisberg, dead on time.
Up till this time we only encountered isolated pockets of flak and as we did not see anything of night fighters we felt everything was going well. We were now flying at our operational height of 20,000 ft and as we flew on our new course I realised the time was now getting near for us to see some evidence of the first wave going in. I glanced at my watch, which showed the time was 01:05 hrs and .our ETA over the aiming point was 01:20 hrs that meant we were only about 50 miles away. At the height of about 4 miles high I would certainly be able to see the TI' s when they burst for the first wave. With only 15 mins. to go before we were due X started to prepare my bombsight etc. and to be ready, for it was up to me now to take over. I felt that if I did not get a good result it would reflect on the rest of the crew. I looked through the hatch again and then saw heavy ack ack go up ahead of us and realised crunch time was now at hand.
As we drew nearer, searchlights went into action and lit up the sky all round and I could now see for the first time our bomber stream silhouetted against the light. Flak now became intense and predictable and from way down below us and up to a height of around 40,000 ft their barrage was a solid wall of bursting shells. I licked my lips and knew that we could never fly through that lot without being hit.
There was now no need to look at my watch any more for I could distinctly see the Red TI' s over the target area. We were now in the thick of it as I gave the Skipper directions toward the TI's. The scene below us was indescribable and looked like a huge firework display. On the ground fires were all over the place and you could see hundreds of bright flashes, which looked like bomb blasts.
The sky was full of black smoke like a huge cloud and the air smelt of cordite (It felt like a sort of battle zone), in front and below us a Stirling Bomber was coned by more then a dozen Searchlights and ack ack shells were bursting around it. Further below and to my left I could see clearly a Wellington with an engine on fire. Light ack ack tracer shells were coming up towards us at the rate of knots glowing red, green and white, but fell short as we were flying too high. The heavy ack ack however was very different as shells kept bursting around us making the Lanc rock and bounce and was very scary.
The skipper was also on the look out for searchlights and especially a purple one. This searchlight was called the Master Searchlight and was supposed to be programmed and calibrated to act simultaneously with other searchlights. It was controlled by some one with binoculars. If this'
blue searchlight was focussed on you, you were as good as dead for all the others focussed with it and they all stayed with you till you were shot down. With a bit of weaving and dodging the skipper was doing well not to get caught.
I now had the Bomb doors open and the skipper and the rest of the crew know that we were about to start our bombing run towards our aiming point. This part was very dangerous and our crew did not like it for the aircraft had to fly dead straight and level for the best part of 1.5 mins.
Flying at 20,000 ft, I had calculated that our bombs would take 30 secs to reach the ground, and had also calculated that our photoflash, which was a large container full of magnesium and housed in the bomb bay, would be timed to explode above the ground seconds later. It is essential to get a good photograph of your ground bomb-blasts, to say you have done your job well. They all said I kept them too long over the Target.
With the TI's in my bombs sight, I was now on my bombing run and kept telling the skipper to steady the aircraft and fly straight and level reminding him every few seconds till the precise moment when I pressed the bomb-tit and shouted "bombs gone." For the sake of getting a good photograph I kept at him to still keep the Lanc steady for a further few secs. and then we dived away and got the hell out of it.
As we set course for home we all spoke a lot more to each other now for we felt that the worst was over. We had no bomb load to hamper us now and as there were only fighters to contend with we would be defending ourselves on equal terms.
The return journey was uneventful only the coastal Batteries came into action again but we soon left that behind. Our ETA at Base was 03:58 hrs and we arrived back pretty much on time for we had to circle the drome a few times to get clearance to land.
As we touched down we all congratulated ourselves on the good luck we had had that night in getting through unscathed on our first op. We made our way to the Briefing Room for our coffee and tea and our Debriefing. This was a sort of interrogation of how the raid went and what we had seen, etc. and did not last long. After we had put our kit away we then went to the mess and had our op breakfast of bacon and eggs with all the trimmings.
It was about 05:30 by the time we got to bed and we all slept well and got up again about 12:30. We had a light lunch around 13:00 hrs. and then went to the notice board to see if Ops were on for that night. As luck would have it Ops were scrubbed and we all made preparations for a night out in Lincoln.
The following day 11th April we found that Ops were scrubbed again but we still had to fly in the afternoon and do a cross country exercise. Ops were cancelled again the following night but on the 13th April our names were back on the board for Ops that night. Briefing was again for 18:00 hrs and we wondered where it would be this time.
We took our Lanc up for its NFT in the afternoon and then had a light tea before we went to Briefing. At Briefing we found that the target this time was to be Battleships lying in La Spezia harbour, Italy. That was a pleasant welcome surprise. We were detailed to carry 2,000 Ib armour piercing bombs, some with delayed action fuses. Our route was to take us over the Alps and then we were to drop down and attack the ships at 8,000 ft. As this was a long trip only about 200 four-engined bombers were to be used carrying extra fuel tanks.
ETD was scheduled for 20:30 hrs and our ETA back to Base was 06:30 hrs; that meant a 10 hr stint. On this trip we were given extra rations and pep pills; to take only on the return journey.
We took off down the runway in Lanc R5687 (Webmaster Note: later lost on the 27th July 1943 with all crew) and headed for the south coast of England where we had to rendezvous with other aircraft over a given searchlight and then leave at a given time. As we were a few minutes early however we had to mill around to kill time, and this manoeuvre was extremely dangerous. Once or twice we narrowly missed other aircraft doing the same and we were glad when the time was up and we set our new course.
We went by way of France and over the Alps and we encountered very little flak and definitely no fighters. There was some cloud about and the moon was out, and I can remember watching Mont Blanc in the distance It was fascinating. As we drew nearer I had a feeling that we were not going to clear the summit as it appeared to be poking up a lot higher than we were flying. My altimeter showed that we were flying at 18,000 ft which was ample room, but I checked with the Skipper in case. He also noticed it and we put it down to an optical illusion. As we flew over it, I looked down and thought to my self, what would happen if I had to bale out now. Brown bread no doubt, but what a horrible death.
Once we had cleared the Alps, La Spezia was not very far away for the Gulf of Genoa was now in sight, and we started to drop down to our attacking height of 8,000 ft. As we drew nearer I became quite excited for I caught a glimpse of the battleships, through a gap in the clouds and directed the skipper towards them. We had not seen anything of flak yet. (I do not think they were as keen as the Germans), and this op was proving to be a piece of cake. As we got down to 8,000 ft we were below most of the cloud and visibility was quite good. I had the bomb doors open now, and the bombsight set up and was anxious to get a direct hit if possible. I could see the battleships very plainly, like sitting ducks as I viewed then through the bombsight. As we got nearer to the aiming point, all of a sudden tracer shells came streaming up at us and they must have cottoned on, for a thick smoke screen was now enveloping the Fleet and the ships were disappearing from view. It was very frustrating as I was within 1/2 minute of releasing the bombs. As I could not see any battleships now, only a large cloud of smoke, I knew there was no point in bombing that, and after a discussion with the skipper and crew, we all agreed to bomb the docks. We made a survey first along the dock area to see what I could find. The ack-ack was only light and on our third go I spotted a large concentration of warehouses and dropped our armour piercing bombs on them. What a sheer waste of good bombs I thought. I was very disappointed and in my opinion it was an abortive operation. "C'est La Guerre".
Our return journey was uneventful. We took our pep pills to keep us awake and got back to base more or less on time. Nine aircraft from our Squadron took part and all returned safely. At de-briefing I hated having to explain what happened but got some consolation from the fact that all the other crews on the squadron were in the same boat (or plane).
With being so late returning from this trip, I presume, there was no time to prepare for the night's operations which were on and we all got a stand down. Six other aircraft from our Squadron however set out and bombed Stuttgart that night 14/15 April.
The following night 15/16 April operations were scrubbed and we took advantage by livening things up in Lincoln.
The next night however Ops were on and our names were up on the list. At Briefing the C/O revealed that the Target would be the huge Skoda Works at Pilsen, Czechoslovakia estimated to be 1.5 miles square. Around 250 heavies were to take part and most of them would be Lancs. The Pathfinder Force were to fly ahead of us and mark the aiming point and our instructions were to descend to 6,000 ft and bomb the red TI's only.
ETD was for 21:30 hrs and ETA at Base 06:30 hrs and that meant another 9 hour stint but this one would not be so easy. Our route would take us right through the centre of Germany and that meant Flak and night fighters all the way.
At 21:30 hrs flying in Lanc ED810 (Webmaster note: Lost on the 14th June 1943 - with all the crew) we took off 17/18th April and headed for Germany. There was quite a lot of cloud around but also a moon as well and we did not like that. Flak opened up as soon as we hit the Dutch coast but was not predicted.
As we flew on I noticed quite a number of night fighter stations suddenly light up and the fighters take off, but we could not bomb them as we had a more important target. There was some consolation however as we heard our wireless Op tapping away on his set trying to jam their frequencies and was possibly doing a good job. Now and again he would tune in to their wavelength and we could hear the night fighters receiving their instructions.
Luck was with us on our inward trip for we reached the Target without any incident possibly because we had the moon behind us. As we approached the Target area' I could see that several large fires had already started but could not see any Target Indicators. As I was about to instruct the skipper to fly towards them a burst of red TI's lit up the sky away to our right and I knew then that the fires were dummies. Flak opposition was very light and gave us no trouble and I dropped the bombs bang on the red TI's. Even as low as 6,000 ft I could not see anything of the Skoda Buildings.
About half way home on our return trip we got jumped by a night fighter. The first indication that we got that we were being attacked was to see tracer shells streaming past the aircraft from the rear. Our rear gunner immediately shouted to the skipper to take evasive action, as he was unable to fire back successfully as the fighter was standing off out of range. He would not engage us and for several minutes was content to keep pumping his cannon shells at us from a distance of 1,000 yds. As we were flying towards the moon he was probably getting a good view of us, silhouetted against the light. I climbed up into the nose turret and hoped he would attack, and I might get in a burst as he went by. The Skipper was weaving our aircraft from side to side in an effort to escape the tracer, and we all knew that it was just a matter of time before he hit us. As luck would have it, the Skipper spotted some broken cloud down below us and put the nose down in a dive and got into it quickly. By the time we had passed through there was no sign of the fighter and he had lost us. We completed our return to Base without any further incident. We found out later that of the 200 or so bombers that took part, 37 failed to return including 2 Lancs from our Squadron.
As before it was about 07:30 before we got to bed and when we finally awake and got dressed we were surprised to see our names on the Ops Board again for that night. We just had time to take our Lanc up for its NFT before Briefing commenced at 18:00 hrs.
At Briefing we found that the Target was to be Spezia again and about 200 heavies were to take part. The aiming point this time was to be the docks and the Pathfinders were to fly ahead and drop their TI's.
After we collected our rations and anti sleeping pills etc. we set off at 21:20 hrs, 18/19th April flying in Lanc ED500 (Webmaster note: this aircraft crash landed on the 02nd August 1943 whilst with 467 Squadron). This trip was similar to our previous one, across France and over the Alps and not much flak opposition. We bombed the TI's over the docks without any problem and had an uneventful return back to base.
The following day Ops were scrubbed thank goodness, for we felt shattered. The next night however Ops were on and our names were up on the Board. We took our Lanc up for its MFT and then went to Briefing at 18:00 hrs. The Target this time was to be the town of Stettin, Germany's main port on the Baltic coast, our route was to be across North Sea and over Denmark; and we were to fly over Denmark at 500 ft, climb to 12,000 ft and bomb the Target and then descend again to 500 ft for the return trip to base. I think the idea was that we would be flying below the enemy night fighter radar, which operated at a height of 1000 ft. We were told to expect some very accurate flak, as there were a large number of German naval guns along the coast. We were also told that Stalin had requested this raid, as there was a large quantity of German fighter and bomber aircraft concentrated there in preparation for use against the Russians along the Eastern Front.
We were also informed at Briefing that the Pathfinders were to use Green TI's as back up to the red and to bomb only where the Red and Green were together. Take off time was to be 21:30 hrs and return to base estimated to be 05:30, which meant another, long stint.
We took off from base 20/21st April in Lanc R5687 (Webmaster note: this aircraft lost on the 27th July 1943 with all crew) and headed out across the North Sea for Denmark. There was hardly any cloud and visibility was excellent. The forecast of a full moon later on was not encouraging.
We eventually hit the coast of Denmark flying at 500 ft and there was some very accurate flak coming up and several times near misses rocked us, and I prayed that we could not be hit severely as we were flying too low to abandon the aircraft. Safe parachute height was 600 ft. Luck was with us again however and we made it through the ack-ack unscathed and climbed to 13,000 ft. and successfully bombed the TI's.
The return journey over Denmark was again at 500 ft but we still kept a watch out for enemy fighters until we cleared the coast. We got back to base very thankful and thoroughly enjoyed our ops breakfast. I found out later that of the 300 Heavies sent out, 22 of them failed to return.
In the next 2 or 3 nights, no Ops were detailed, and we received 48 hrs passes and enjoyed a weekend in Nottingham. It was also about this time in Lincoln, that I met Freddie whom I had not seen for several weeks. He did not look well, he was white and drawn and a bag of nerves. When I asked him what was wrong, he said that he was up for the jump. He explained the he was also on the Stettin Raid, and that when flying over Denmark at 500 ft, flak was hitting their aircraft and he panicked, and jettisoned his bombs. At that low altitude, he said that the blast caused the aircraft to go out of control, and the crews were very lucky to have come out of it alive. He said that what saved them was, during that time, they were flying over a low hill and the blast was probably deflected. I felt sorry for him, for I knew what would happen. He would be charged with cowardice (called LMF) and would have to turn out on the Parade Ground before everyone on the Squadron including cooks and bottle washers, and the charge would be read out, and then his rank tapes and his Observers Brevy ripped off his tunic. A fate worse then death I thought, showing cowardice was what I feared most myself and was conscious of it all the time. After we said good-bye, I never saw Freddie again.
Before we did any more Operations, the Powers that be decided that some of the aircrew could do with a bit more exercise and several Crews of our Squadron including us were detailed to go on a two week toughening up course and we were sent to Peterborough. It was like an assault course and we had to take commands from Army personnel. Some of our crew took it badly, but if you were fit, it was not too bad.
Before breakfast every one had to do a two mile run; one mile to the turn, receive a chit and one mile back. There was no cheating if you did not get a chit, you did not get breakfast. We were kept very busy on the trot all day, plenty of physical Training, full pack going through woods and over obstacles etc., and if you tried to chicken out, some one with a machine gun fired live ammo along the side of you, in case you went astray, and to remind you that they were in control. The best part was to come however, for when we finished the course, we got ten days leave.
While at home with my parents, I told them all about my life on the Squadron, and they were quite concerned and asked me had I got to do these raids over Germany, night after night until I got killed. No, I told them, only until I did 30 ops, and then I would get a six months break; after that I would then go on to do a second tour of 30 Ops. I told them not to worry, that if I did get shot down, I might not get killed but could become a Prisoner if War.
I also told them that we had got the C/O.’s permission to fly to Scotland on one of our day flying exercises when Ops were scrubbed, and we would fly over each of our homes at low level and wave, for you could not miss seeing a huge bomber flying low over the house. I said I would write or telephone to confirm the date.
I still corresponded regularly with my girl friend Margaret from Stratford on Avon, and the last weekend of my leave I called on her and stayed overnight at her parents' home.
On the 20th May, we all reported back to the Squadron, and to duty, after nearly a months absence. As luck would have it Operations were cancelled for the next few days but we were detailed to carry out various flying exercises i.e. - formation flying, simulated air battles with a Canadian fighter squadron using camera guns, and last but not least getting flying experience using the SBA. system. The SBA. (Standard Beam Approach) system was highly dangerous to practice and very scary. The object of the exercise was mainly for the Pilot to practice landing the aircraft in foggy weather or very low cloud conditions.
This particular afternoon we took off for this exercise with our full crew aboard (We all wondered why the Skipper thought it necessary to have all of us with him, as a pilot and a Flight Engineer only are needed). Visibility was nil as it was misty and the Skipper was flying on instruments. We circled the Aerodrome a couple of times waiting for permission from control to start the exercise. I come up from the bomb hatch as I was no use on this occasion, and took up my position standing behind the skipper and Yorkie the Flight Engineer and plugged into the intercom and listened to what was going on. We were flying at a height of approx. 1,000 ft and I could hear Control giving orders to start the descent on a certain heading, which presumably was to take us on a direct approach to the runway. The SBA instrument was on the skipper's panel directly in front of him, and had a dial about 6 ins. in diameter with 3 pointers, 2 movable and one stationary. Theoretically, under ideal conditions and on a direct approach the two pointers would cross exactly in line with the third pointer and a loud Bleeping noise would be heard indicating a perfect approach.
As we let down and the Skipper cut the engines, it all went quiet and I could hear distinctly a Bleep Bleep through my earphones. No one spoke as the Skipper was using full concentration. As we descended to about 500 ft I could still not see the ground and there was quite a lot of turbulence now. The Bleeps also seemed to become a lot fainter and I heard Yorkie tell the Skipper to go to the left a bit, as the crossed pointers were not dead centre. As the skipper rectified this, the Bleeps became louder again. This was a nerve-racking experience; and the Control did not help, they kept silent all the time. When we got down to about 100 ft we could just see the runway ahead and we all breathed a sigh of relief as we touched down and made a perfect landing. I was glad we only did this exercise once. The other exercise that we did was with camera guns in co-operation with a Canadian Fighter Squadron flying Mosquitoes; and at a pre-arranged time and place they were to attack us, two at a time.
As it was a daylight attack, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and was in the Lanc nose turret having a go helping our rear and mid upper gunners. The Skipper certainly did his stuff as well, weaving and diving under our orders.
When the exercise was over, and later when the results of the camera shots were shown, I was pleased to know that we had all scored a few hits. The Canucks on the other hand declared that they had shot us down before we even scored any hits, but then they would say that wouldn't they? We all had a drink with them at the local that evening however, they were a good bunch even if they were brags, and I rather liked them.
On the 23rd May Ops were on again and our names were up on the list once more. Briefing was always around 18:00 hrs but that did not give much of a clue as to where the Target would be or whether a long stint or a short one.
We took the Lanc up for its NFT as usual and then waited for Briefing time. At Briefing when the Target was announced a hush fell over the room, for it was the Ruhr again and this time Dortmund. Take off time for the Ruhr bombing was always around 11 p.m. and return by 4 a.m. after all the preliminaries were done, we took off for the Ruhr at 23:00 hrs in Lanc W5004 and headed out to sea by way of the Dogger Bank again. This operation was to be major assault on the Ruhr as there had not been any Operations for several days and over 800 heavies were to take part, attacking in 3 waves.
There was very little cloud and visibility was excellent, in fact I could see for the first time some of our own Bombers. We were flying at approx. 12,000 ft and still climbing when I spotted some aircraft approaching at about the same level, and as one flashed by us, I realised it was a Heinkel Bomber and I could distinctly see the wire cutting hoop encircling the nose section. I shouted to the Skipper to look out for them. I suppose they were as much surprised as we were. As we flew on we spotted a few more and we ironically gave them a wave as they went past. (We found out later that Hull had been bombed that night) "C'est La Guerre".
Flak opened up as we crossed the Dutch coast but was spasmodic and did not give us any worries. Ken Morgan our wireless Op. was kept busy as usual, tapping away on his set and we could hear German voices on the intercom as we passed over the lit-up fighter bases.
All was going well as we altered course for our final leg to Dortmund. With about 20 mins still to go I could see way ahead searchlights and heavy ack-ack start up, and knew that the Pathfinders were already there. As before, as we approached the Target we had to fly through this heavy flak barrage, which caused the aircraft to bounce around a bit. I had a great fear of flak and knew that it was just a matter of time before we got our come-uppance.
However, luck was with us again, for we did not get hit and I dropped the bombs bang in the centre of the red Tl's and I could see all the damage below.
Our return home was uneventful and as we touched down at base we congratulated ourselves on completing another successful operation and returning safely. Unfortunately Bomber Command lost 37 heavies that night.
Later on the C/O. presented us with a signed photograph of a Lancaster and congratulated us for a successful bombing result.
Ho operations were ordered for that night 24/25 May but the following day our names were up on the list. At Briefing we discovered it was the Ruhr again and this time Dusseldorf. Bomber Harris was certainly out to give the Ruhr ay pasting, and 800 heavies were again detailed.
We took off from our base in Skellingthorpe in Lanc W5004 at 23:50 hrs on 25/26 and took the usual route across the North Sea and over the Dutch coast. Visibility was poor as there was a lot of cloud, our route towards the Ruhr went without mishap and as we approached the Target, flying at 26,000 ft, searchlights and flak appeared, but as there was nearly 10/10 ths cloud over the area at around 15,000 ft, the searchlights were unable to penetrate the clouds; and but for the flak this op would have been a dawdle. Unfortunately I could not see below the clouds either and as it was very glary I could not see any red T.I's to bomb. I consulted with the Skipper about this and we decided to bomb on the Navigators ETA, a hit or miss sort of situation was my view.
As we turned for home I felt disappointed because it was my job to get a good result, but I had to accept the fact that weather conditions had to be taken into consideration. We made it back to base without incident and I felt at least this was one more Op we could chalk up against the 30 we had to do.
Ops were on again for us that night 26/27th but after we had done our NFT they were cancelled at the last moment. Heedless to say I made the best of that evening with a blind date in Lincoln.
The next day Ops were on again and after Briefing we found it was the Ruhr once more and this time it was Essen. About 500 Bombers were detailed and our Target was the huge Krupp’s iron and steel factories. It was said that Essen was the most heavily defended town in the Ruhr and I was not looking forward to this Operation one little bit.
We took off from base 27/28 May at 22:30 hrs in Lanc W5004. As we continued on our outward trip visibility was not very good and there was a lot of cloud about. All was going pretty well for us but as we got nearer to the target we had to run the gauntlet again of the heavy ack-ack and dodge the searchlights.
One particular searchlight lit us up briefly for a second or two but that was enough to start the rest, as another and another homed in on to us and we were literally coned. We were carrying 2 containers in our bomb bay full of strips of tin foil just for an occasion like this and as I bad to act quickly I had the bomb doors open in a couple of seconds and released the container contents; I then gave the Skipper the O.K. and we dived away in a steep turn and got clear, and left the searchlights to hang on to the small cloud of glittering tinsel. Down below I could see the bend in the river Rhine and knew we were flying directly over Cologne. Another method that is used if you get caught, is for the pilot to dive the Lanc down towards the searchlight and the Bomb Aimer to fire down the Beam from the Nose Turret and hope for the best.
On our Bombing run up to the Target I could distinctly see huge fires and a lot of explosions taking place and knew that I could get a good result as I let the Bombs go dead centre of the Red T.I.s.I had the opinion that crews with the best Bombing results would be chosen for the Pathfinder Force, and it was my intention to be chosen, for I believed I would have a better chance of survival. The Pathfinder being into the target first to lay their markers had the element of surprise in their favour.
Our Homeward Journey was uneventful and as we touched down at base, I felt a lot happier about getting a result than I did the previous night.
No operations were ordered for 28th/29th, but the following night 29th/30th, ops were on and the target was still the Ruhr.” Once more unto the Ruhr dear friends, once more”. The town of Wuppertal was chosen and had large Machine Tool factories making Tank components and was approximately 15 miles South of Essen
At 22:55 hrs we left Skellingthorpe flying in Lanc W5004 and headed across the North Sea, visibility was good and there was very little cloud. Over 600 heavies were detailed to attack in 3 Waves and I think we were on the 3rd wave. We were flying at 20,000 ft when we entered the Ruhr and I could see that the fun and games had already started, for the flak barrage was extensive and the usual hordes of searchlights were weaving about. I could also see the red TI's distinctly with the green markers as back¬ups.
As we drew nearer we could see a double row of searchlights directly ahead of us and they were motionless, as if waiting for some aircraft to fly between them. We all wondered if this might be some sort of a trap, and the Skipper was undecided as to which way to pass. After a quick discussion with us, we all agreed to pass them on the starboard side. As we flew past, we began to dismiss this theory when suddenly all hell broke loose. We got bombarded with shrapnel and were being hit continuously. This was the first time for us to be hit and know what it was like. As the shrapnel hit the fuselage the noise was deafening and being directly under fire, so to speak, was worse than I imagined. I cannot describe the fear that gripped me. I think the Germans had got our range for the flak did not let up and after a few more seconds the starboard outer engine was hit and caught fire and within another couple of seconds the outer port engine was also hit and caught fire. Yorkie our Flight Engineer went into action and pressed the fire extinguisher buttons and was able to douse the flames. The two engines were now U.S. and had to be feathered.
While all this was happening, we were losing height rapidly and were now down to around 12,000 ft. As we were not getting hit any more, we continued on our bombing run and bombed the TI's at 10,000 ft and got a good result. As we turned for home I found I could not close the bomb doors and also found that the landing wheels were down, and it was apparent that the hydraulics had been damaged. With so much drag on the two engines, we continued to lose height and were down to 1,500 ft.
The skipper now gave the order to be prepared to abandon and to jettison everything that we could, to make the aircraft lighter. We all took a hand and out through the side exit went everything we could think of, and this helped for eventually we were able to maintain height at around 800 ft.
Morale was returning and we cracked a few jokes as we threw out the heavy steel bulk head doors. We thought they would probably smash through a house roof and awaken the house holder. Meanwhile the navigator was doing a good job by altering his flight plan and was kept busy re-routing us across Holland to avoid any hills and high ground.
As we were now flying under radar height we knew we were free from enemy fighter attack and we started to enjoy ourselves by shooting at the searchlights and having a go at the flak batteries as they tried to shoot us down. Up till now this was the only time that I ever had to use my front guns. We were nearly an hour late and probably the only straggler shooting along over enemy territory; hence the activity of the searchlights and flak batteries. It must have been very frustrating for them to know that there was only one enemy bomber and they could not get us.
We eventually made it back to base but there was still another obstacle to overcome, we had to make a safe landing. We all took up our positions in the aircraft with our backs to the centre spar for the crash landing and kept our fingers crossed. The Skipper did a very good job and got us down in one piece.
For completing this operation successfully the Skipper and Yorkie both were awarded the DFM.
The next day when we saw our Lanc on the edge of the runway, she looked a mess. When we had a look around we found 47 flak holes in the fuselage, and amazingly not one hole near the bomb bay. One hole the size of a bucket was in the floor and roof, just by the camera. Apparently a heavy ack-ack shell must have got a direct hit on us, but passed through without exploding. After we had seen the damage we all felt that we had been extremely lucky to have escaped uninjured.
The skipper took a photograph of the Lanc and we all kept a few pieces of the shrapnel which had been lodged in various parts of the aircraft, as souvenirs. The following day we took possession of a brand new Lanc straight from the factory. When we looked it over we found in the navigator's table drawer a note with names and addresses of six of the factory girls. We all took a copy of this and agreed to write to them.
During lunchtime in the mess, quite a few crews get together and chatted about their experiences on certain raids. I was quite impressed with one pilot and his crew who after completing their operation, always flew home under radar height. They told us that they had permission to carry small G.P. bombs and they used them on their way back to bomb trains and bridges whatever. They said it worked every time. We discussed this strategy amongst ourselves afterwards and agreed to give it a try as we had just proved it on our last op.
For the next eight days Ops were on each day, but were later cancelled. It was about this time when we got permission from the C/O. to go to Scotland for our daylight cross-country exercise, and we had already sent word to our folks when to expect us.
We went by way of Yorkshire and flew low over Yorkie's hometown and then went and buzzed his house a couple of times. We then flew up the east coast of Scotland towards Dundee, a town at the mouth of the River Tay, and then up the Tay valley at about 50 ft above the river towards Perth, the home of David our navigator.
As we flew up the river at this low level we came to a bend and as I was map reading I could see that the valley was narrowing too much for safety and told the skipper to pull up out of it as quickly as he could; and we just made it, another 10 sees or so and we would have hit the top edge and crashed. Another narrow shave. We then went on to Perth and buzzed David's House.
Our next visit was to my place near Aberdeen and as we flew low over the house a couple of times I was disappointed I did not see anyone come out and wave.
We then carried on across country to Glasgow where the Skipper lived, but I was unable to pin point his house and we had to be content with buzzing the area a few times. After that we called it a day and returned back to base. Our rear gunner was a Scots Canadian and did not have a permanent address over here; Ken the Wireless op also did not have a permanent address and Harry the young mid upper lived in Kent.
We were just beginning to get used to our new Lanc and felt confident in it when we heard the bad news that the Flight Commander fancied it and was to take if off us for his own crew-what we called pulling rank. With only nine or ten ops under our belt so to speak, we became the senior crew in the Squadron, as all the other crews we had known before had all failed to return.
On the llth June, Ops were on but this time were not cancelled, and the Target as expected was in the Ruhr and this time it was machine tool and armament factories at Dusseldorf.
As senior crew now, we were detailed to take with us an American Air Force officer presumably to give him an insight into night bombing, but I was not really sure, anyway we all welcomed his company. We took off from Base at 23:58 hrs 11/12 June flying in Lanc ED429 and set course for the Ruhr. Over 650 aircraft were detailed. Visibility was very good with little or no cloud and I expected a good bombing result. The Yank had the run of the aircraft and whiled away the time making brief visits to each one of us. As he was plugged in to the intercom system he could converse with us and we kept him up to date with all the information.
Most of the time he spent with me in the nose hatch, as he had the best view from there, and I welcomed it.
As we approached the Ruhr the usual flak barrage was missing and the searchlights just started to appear, and I think we must have been on the first wave in.
On our run in to the aiming point the TI' s were well placed and I made no mistake getting them dead centre, as I let the bombs go.
As we dived away out of it, I felt I had got a good result.
Our return to base was uneventful; we did not see or encounter any night fighters and for the very first time we had practically a flak free flight. I suppose the Yank thought the trip was a doddle, but it was not a doddle for some, 38 bombers were shot down that night.
The next night Ops were on again and the town of Bochum was the Target, and over 500 Bombers took part. As I write this now, sadly to say this operation was destined to be our last, our luck had run out. From the start we were dogged by events.
We took off from Skellingthorpe at 23:00 hrs flying in Lanc ED429 the night 12/13th June 1943. As we climbed towards our operational height one of the engines started to overheat and the Skipper cut the speed back to counteract this. When we checked the gyro compass it was found to have been switched off; alternatively it had never been switched on. When we reached 15,000 ft, oxygen height, we found that there was no oxygen coming through our masks, again the oxygen bottles had been switched off. The gremlins seemed to be taking a hand. We were also getting behind on time and I had a sense of foreboding.
As we turned on our last leg for Bochum the flak opened up and was quite extensive and was giving us bit of trouble. As we got nearer, I could see the red Tl's burst Out away ahead and knew we were on course. As I set the bomb sight up we started to get hit several times and I thought to myself "not another Wuppertal do again", so to be prepared I clipped on my parachute and lay on it. I got the bomb doors open, for we were on our run in to the aiming point, when suddenly we blew up.
I was blown out alive but unconscious and my first recollection on regaining my senses was to hear a noise in the distance and become increasingly louder and then explode in my ears. I felt a severe pain in my shoulder and head, and felt blood trickle down my face, and my feet were very cold. I was bewildered and did not know where I was, or what had happened. Slowly I began to realise that I was no longer in the aircraft but was hanging in mid air and assumed my chute had opened on its own accord. It was quite dark in front of me as the glow from the fires was behind me I could not judge at what speed I was descending or how far the ground was below me. My helmet and boots were missing and my descent to the ground was a nightmare.
In between the noise of the ack-ack fire and the bomb blasts I could hear a distinct Rip-Rip above me and still did not know whether my chute had opened properly or not; I tried to look up but failed. I now tried to gather my thoughts concerning the fate of the rest of the crew and wondered if the Skipper had made it as he would be the only one wearing a chute.
With these troubled thoughts I suddenly hit the ground and fell forward on my face. I found out later that I had landed in a cemetery and by sheer luck I had landed between two headstones. If I had hit them I possibly would have died.
I lay there for a considerable time unable to move, and after a while I managed to rollover on to my back. I can remember hearing an anti aircraft gun firing, not so far away and then I must have lapsed into unconsciousness.
When I opened my eyes again, dawn was breaking, and the noise of the guns and bomb blast was over, and I could hear voices shouting and knew they were looking for me, and hoped it would not be civilians. I did not experience any fear however at the thought that they might kill me for I was still only semi conscious.
When eventually I was found I was roughly handled by men in uniform and assumed they were from the flak battery. My luck was holding. After a while I was placed on a stretcher and carried by two men to a nearby hospital. On the way I faintly remember passing a now of terraced houses with white painted wooden fences in front and two or three elderly women standing there, and as I was being carried past them, they came forward shaking their fists, and one woman spat at me. My only other recollection at that time was being carried up some steps, placed on a table under a very bright light, and someone started to cut my hair off and remove my flying suit, then oblivion -Kaput.
Here endeth my contribution for my Country. Sadly my fighting days were over.
When I regained consciousness I found myself in bed and my head was covered in bandages and my arm, which was aching at the shoulder, was also bandaged up, and was supported by a wooden frame. I assumed I was in a Hospital ward as I saw several patients also in bed. One of the patients came over to me when he saw that I had my eyes open; a man of about 35, and spoke to me in French. Although I took French at School I could not quite understand him as he spoke very quickly; but as I did not feel too well I was not bothered. He went off and returned with a male nurse who also spoke French and attended to me, but as far as I can remember I was just content to lie there thinking.
I was very troubled about what had happened the night before. I kept thinking that we must have had a direct hit on our bomb load for the Lanc to have exploded so quickly; and the crew; were any of them alive? I also took stock of myself and wondered what sort of life lay ahead now. I hated the fact that I was now a prisoner, I would lose my self esteem; would become a third rate being and above all would now have to succumb to German orders. It was demoralising. I could not describe the feeling I had, only those in the same circumstances would understand.
I must have fallen asleep again for when I awoke there was a German doctor by my bedside. He spoke to me in quite good English and explained that I had a fractured shoulder, bruised ribs, and a forehead wound and that I was in shock, but would recover. He also explained that the patients around me were all French workers, (he didn't say working for the Reich) whose hut accommodations where hit by our bombs.
I was quite ill for the first few days and did not eat anything, and then slowly started to recover. The Frenchmen were very good to me and did not hold any grudge that they were injured because of us. The hospital had a chapel in the basement and there was a French priest or padre in attendance. As soon as he heard that there was a British airman admitted he came along to see me, and best of all he could speak a little English.
He told me that there was a permanent guard on duty in a room along the passageway and who was to keep watch on me night and day. He also told me that the hospital was a maternity hospital but also admitted emergency cases. He warned me that amongst the male orderlies, who were all Frenchmen, to look out for a certain one whom he thought was a collaborator. He also told me that I had been found lying in the local cemetery where I was picked up and taken here, and it was only a short distance away.
After about a week I received a visit from two Luftwaffe Officers. They were very smart and very polite and both spoke good English. They said that they had not come to interrogate me but only find out how I got here, and where were my crew? They brought along quite a lot of gold identity bracelets and dog tags belonging to British airmen, and showed them to me, but I shook my head and said that I did not recognise any of them.
To tell the truth I recognised the Skipper's gold wrist bracelet and a photograph of our Lanc on the tarmac at Skellingthorpe, which he must have carried on him. By not admitting that I recognised them, I faced the trauma of a very severe interrogation later on. The problem was that back home, we did not receive any instruction whatsoever on how to deal with a situation like this. I did not want to co-operate with the enemy under any circumstances. I cannot say that I hated the Germans, it was just that in an abstract way there was a war on and they were the enemy and I was resentful at being captured.
As I lay in bed one day I looked at a tea towel hanging on its rail and noticed a word printed on the red stripe "KIRCHLINDE". I did not know whether that was the name of the hospital or the name of the laundry. The name stuck in my memory ever since, and only for that observation was I able to trace the hospital again 48 years later when I returned in 1991.
We had air raid warnings very frequently as the RAF were still bombing the Ruhr, and the sirens had exactly the same sound as ours.
One particular night the sirens went, and everybody went down to the hospital shelter in the basement. I was left alone in bed on the top floor for I was not allowed the privilege of the shelter. In the distance I could hear the flak batteries open fire and the noise gradually grew louder. Suddenly there was a very loud crack and I knew that the ack-ack battery near the hospital had opened fire and also knew that the target was not for away. I was getting a bit worried by now and when I happened to glance out of the window I saw red T.I's hanging in the sky, and I thought this is it. I tried to calculate how far away the T.I's were and estimated about two or three miles only and any second now the bombs would start dropping.
Sure enough they came down all at once and fell like hailstones. The noise was deafening and the whole hospital started shaking. I could not stand the noise and so I took some cotton wool from my bandages and jammed it into my ears. I also knew that this was to last for the next half hour or so, and I thought to myself, surely I am not going to get killed by my own crowd. I could now understand why the Germans called us "Terror fliegers".
After sweating it out for about ten minutes the ward door opened and the padre came to me, and wanted me to go down to the shelter with him. He helped me out of bed and assisted me till we got to the shelter door where I found it wise to stop. Although I was in hospital clothes, they would know whom I was as word had got around that there was a "Terror flieger" in the hospital. I was taking no chances. On reflection, I could not remember seeing my "body guard” during this raid.
I was sitting up in bed one day when the French barber came into the ward and called out to one of the French patients to get ready. This patient was going to have an operation for piles or haemorrhoids, and the barber was to shave him.
There was only one table in the centre of the ward so he made the patient jump up on it kneel down and bend forward with knees apart, and exposed himself in full view of us all. Everyone now started laughing and skitting, but although it was all in French I was able to get the jist of the derogatory remarks. The barber meanwhile seemed in no hurry to commence and kept sharpening his cutthroat razor before he eventually shaved him.
I took a dim view of all this (excuse the pun) and thought the whole episode very crude; as if a screen of some sorts could not have been erected for him.
I struck up a good friendship with the padre, and after I was able to get on my feet, he invited me to go and see some old man who was in another ward, and who was dying. He was a German civilian and had asked the padre if he could see me before he died. I accepted and went and saw him and spoke to him, and the padre translated. As I said good bye to him, I shook him by the hand. I could not treat him as the enemy.
As the weeks went by and I became stronger, I took the liberty to wander around but was very conscious of the German guard who watched me all the time. He had a room facing the top of the centre staircase, which was the only means of exit from the ward I was in. On the other side of the staircase was the main body of the hospital, but I had no desire to explore anywhere near there-yet.
My guard looked a surly type, about 30 years old and always kept his holster flap undone. I could not understand why, for he knew I was injured and was not fit to do a Ski-daddle.
Word went around the hospital that some Russian prisoners were admitted, and one day as I and two or three other French patients were on the balcony, we could see these Russians on the balcony below us and they were trying to attract our attention. The Frenchmen told me that they were after some smokes, for the poor devils were not treated very well. They did not have the protection rules of the Geneva Convention to help them. So we' threw down some cigarettes and biscuits. As I looked out over the balcony and gazed at the countryside, it was very much similar to Britain. I could see a lone brick chimney stack in the distance (I wondered why we had missed that one) and wondered what part of the Ruhr I was in, and whether it was north, south, east or west, for I contemplated making an escape some time.
I deduced that the hospital would be south east of the town of Bochum, but was not sure how far. The night we attached Bochum I remembered that we flew in from the north, with a north westerly following wind, and at 20,000 ft up, when I hit the silk, I would have taken approximately 15 minutes to reach the ground, and with a wind strength of around 15 knots I would have travelled about five or six miles. I had a feeling that the place I was in now was half way between Bochum and Dortmund.
As the weeks went by, I was becoming quite fluent in my French, and had no trouble in conversing with the French prisoners. I say prisoners, but they were more like zombies, they seemed to have lost their spirit. I did not envy them for they must have been completely demoralised when they were put to work by the Germans for the Germans.
I was now allowed to go downstairs to attend the clinic, but of course not without my escort. The day that I went down, the corridor leading to the clinic was lined with wounded Frenchmen, all waiting their turn, with their dressings off and their open wounds exposed. I never saw anything like it before, especially in a hospital. These wounds were open to infection.
I was standing next to one chap who was still in his bed and he had only half a foot, and the stump was all black. I asked him if it was caused by our bombing, but he said no, it was caused by a mining accident at work.
Another fellow who was also in his bed, was lying there with no bedclothes, and had huge gaping wound in his abdomen. I could not understand why a wound so large should not have been stitched. It was pretty rough treatment I thought, for a hospital, but then again, maybe it was because we were PoW's.
One day about noon the sirens went, and this was the first time that this had happened during the day. As we could not hear any gunfire there was not much notice taken. I wandered out on to the balcony and looked up into the sky to see if I could see anything. After a couple of minutes or so, I heard the drone of aircraft engines and then the sound of distant ack-ack fire. As I looked harder I suddenly saw huge vapour trails in the sky about <0,000 ft up, and I realised that they must be American Forts, and were heading this way.
As they drew nearer I could hear machine gun fire and realised that they were being attacked by German fighters. There were dozens of them and were weaving in and out of the Yank formations. I stood there fascinated and had a marvellous view; it was like a scene out of a film show. As I continued to watch my heart sank for I saw one of the Forts get the chop. Two of its engines were on fire as it left formation and nose-dived out of control.
I looked for parachutes to see if anyone had got clear, and then I saw them appear, but I could not remember how many. Just at this point I felt a light tap on my shoulder and when I turned around the guard was just behind me. "Nicht Gut", "Nicht Gut" he said as he pointed to the doomed bomber. I ignored that remark and after a few minutes I got my own back, for one of the fighters also got the chop and was diving out of control "Nicht Gut" I said, and he glared at me. I don't think he could speak any English.
Later that afternoon I had a visit from the padre who told me that two wounded American airmen had just been admitted, and they were confined to a ward on the other side of the hospital. He said that he was going to see them and would do his best to get permission for me to see them.
I was quiet excited at this news, and told the padre that I would look forward to it very much. Sure enough, that same evening the padre came for me and we both walked past the guard without any problem. He must have fixed it for me somehow.
The two Yanks were surprised to see me but were very pleased. One was a Bombardier and the other was a Waist Gunner. We got on like a house on fire as we had so much in common. They said that they were not badly hurt and suffered mainly from superficial flak wounds. They also told me that they wore flak suits and I never knew that. After about half an hour or so the padre motioned that we had better leave and I made arrangements to pay them another visit.
The next time the padre and I made a visit we were stopped by the guard coming back and he made it obvious that it was not on, and it would not have to happen again. That did not deter me however, as I made it past the guard on my own, for my third visit, but it was a bit of a hassle.
After three or four days in hospital the Yanks knew that they would not be there much longer and the three of us made plans to escape. I told them that I was already planning an escape and that I had a double rope clothes line, twisted and knotted, and with clothes pegs every twelve inches, to form a rope type ladder, which I was to use in an escape over the balcony.
I then told the padre that the three of us were making plans to escape, and would he help by getting a compass, some tinned food and a few oddments of clothing. He was dead against this idea and I had a terrible job persuading him to help. Against his will, he did get me a compass, food and clothing, with three home made shoulder bags. On reflection, I did not realise at the time the dangerous position I had placed the padre in, as he could have got caught helping us.
I also got the padre to help me to get past the guard for a final visit to see the Yanks, to set the time and the day for our escape and to make the final arrangements. He said that he would dress me up as an old woman and would accompany me and we would walk boldly past the guard.
I put on a long black skirt, a grey woollen shawl and a woman's old fashioned black hat and off we went. As we drew near the guard's room the padre took me by the arm and guided me past his open door. The guard just glanced at us as we shuffled by and I knew that we had made it.
When the Yanks saw me they burst out laughing and I rather enjoyed the escapade myself. Whilst we were discussing our final arrangements, the padre kept shaking his head in disapproval and did his best to persuade us not to try, but we had made our minds up and agreed that we would make our escape in three days time. I then told the padre that it was our duty to escape.
The following day I had a visit from the same two Luftwaffe Officers who had visited me previously. They informed me that I was once again to become a flyer; and when I asked them what they meant, they said that I was going to get my uniform back and would be taken that day for interrogation but they did not say where. In fact they very rarely told you anything.
I did not know whether it was coincidence or whether some one had split on us, but it certainly put the kybosh on our escape plan.
I said goodbye to the padre and all my French friends and along with the two Yanks we left the hospital in an open truck guarded by a Luftwaffe corporal with a Tommy gun. At a guess I would say I had been in hospital approximately nine weeks for it was now the month of August.
As we drove along, we came to what looked as if it had been a town, and I could not believe my eyes. Everywhere was devastation. There was not a factory or chimneystack to be seen, every building was a mass of rubble. What had been streets were now narrow pathways between the mountains of debris, which were all, roped off, and this was as far as the eye could see.
As I did not know the route we had taken I could only guess that it was either Bochum or Dortmund. The devastation was so unbelievable that even one of the Yanks spoke out "Jeez" he said, "Your RAF have certainly knocked the shit out of this place", and I took this as a compliment. I also thought to myself, if only Bomber Chief Harris could see this. The guard heard the Yank's remark but I don't think he knew what the American was talking about. They were certainly full of praise at our achievements.
As we wound our way through the rubble I wondered if the town of Essen was just as bad for it was the worst bombed town on the Ruhr, because of its huge Krupps factories.
After about half an hour's driving we drew into a German Airforce camp, and as I did not see any sign of aircraft about, it must have been a penguin camp. When we jumped down off the lorry we were surrounded by a few other guards and escorted into a building where we were separated, and each placed in a small cell. The cell I was in was similar to a police cell back home. Every ten minutes or so, the small peep hole shutter would move and I felt I was being scrutinised. They probably had not seen a "Terror -Flieger" before.
The following day along with the two Americans we were taken by truck again to a railway station and escorted on to a train by two guards this time. I could not see any platform name place board and was unable to find out which station it was, but in fact I was not really bothered.
It was a corridor train and was half empty and we had a compartment all to ourselves with our guards sat at each corner, always with their handguns at the ready. As the train moved off I felt we were heading towards the Rhine. The Yanks were good companions and we had plenty to talk about. We never spoke to our guards at any time and they kept clear of us except to bark orders in gibberish.
One particular moment when I was reflecting I noticed some wording written on the carriage door NICHT OFFNEN FUR DER ZUG HALT. I did not know any German but I felt I knew what it meant. Elementary I suppose, but the words struck in may memory ever since.
We made a few stops at various small stations before we pulled into a large one and which was crammed with German troops. Within five minutes of stopping the train was full and the corridors were chocka. I had a guess that most of the troops were headed for Africa for their uniform had a tropical flavour. I reflected again and thought to myself, these lads were full of life and were just starting their war life and here I was just finishing mine.
When the train pulled out, I remarked to my companions that it would not be long before the soldiers, who were standing in the corridor, cottoned on as to who we were, and that we were sitting in comfort and they were standing. Sure enough as I kept looking at one fellow he returned my gaze and then the penny dropped, he noticed my Observer's brevet or badge and tapes and I don't think he could believe his eyes. Word soon got around and nearly every one had to have a peep at us.
After about an hour had passed one of the guards must have felt hungry, for he undid a side pack and took out some sandwiches and an apple, and began to eat. He offered a portion to his colleague at the other end of the seat who readily accepted and they both started eating. Now I thought that was in bad taste, (excuse the pun) on the other hand if they had offered to share with us, no way would I have accepted or even communicated.
We drew to a halt a few hours later and as it was not at a station one of the guards went out into the corridor to investigate. A few minutes after he had gone, the other guard who was sitting opposite me, opened the carriage door and leaned out with one hand only on the door handle. As I saw the position he was in, it flashed across my mind what a wonderful opportunity to attempt an escape. All that I needed to do was to boot him in the backside, which would have sent him sprawling, and then beat it, as quickly as possible. I looked quickly through the window and the partly open door to see if there were any bushes or walls or trees which would give me some cover but there were only open fields. As I weighed up the situation and hesitated the opportunity went; for the guard come in quickly and slammed the door shut. When the train started off again, I told the Yanks what had been on my mind and it gave us all something to talk about for a while.
We were still on the train until nightfall and did not have anything to eat or drink. Just before midnight the train started to slow down and then went into a crawl and as I looked out of the window I could faintly see shapes of wagons and other carriages and sensed that we were approaching a large town. The two Yanks and I conferred on this and we agreed that it must be Frankfurt. After another couple of minutes the train stopped altogether and just at that moment we all heard the wail of the air raid sirens. There was a lot of commotion going on in the train, everyone was chattering but I could not understand any of it. In the distance I heard some gun fire but there was nothing more after that and I thought once the all clear siren was given, we would proceed into the station. As it happened we spent the whole night on the train and daylight was breaking before we started again, very slowly.
When I looked through the window I was amazed to see the amount of bomb damage that had been done to the railway lines, no wonder the train was crawling. The cavities that we had to cross were sometimes fifteen to twenty feet deep and the rails were all shored up with timber construction and looked like bridges. We eventually got into the station and we knew then that it was Frankfurt.
When we all got out of the train the guards hustled us along the platform and made straight for some checkpoint or other where we all gathered with some railway officials. After a few minutes I noticed that both the guards had become agitated about something and started arguing with the officials. Their attention to us therefore momentarily lapsed, and I took the opportunity to escape and darted into a crowd of people near by and disappeared.
As I mingled with the people on the crowded platform I was amazed how easy it had been. No one took any notice of me and I had time to ponder at what I had done. I had not planned this; I was very weak and could not run far if I were chased, and worst of all it was broad daylight. I reluctantly decided that as the chips were stacked against me making a successful escape, I would just give them the run around, so I went and got lost.
I knew that they would now be looking for me and it would only be matter of time before there would be police or army bods guarding the station exits, I decided therefore not to go out of the station and kept mingling with the crowds all the time.
I would say I kept them on the hop for nearly an hour before I was cornered, I was walking behind a bookstall and when I turned the corner I come face to face with three uniformed men with tommy guns slung at the ready. They seemed more surprised than I was for I doubt if they knew what type a person they were looking for. I did not have my full battle dress on and did not look like an airman. I went to walk past when one of them said, "Halt" and I knew what that meant. They did not shoot me even though I did not raise my arms, because I could not owing to my injuries, but held me at gun point till one of them went and contacted my original escort, when he arrived I got a bollicking, but it was all in German.
I was then escorted away again by my guard who was joined by others; but I never saw my American friends again. I was once more placed in a truck and this time taken to a receiving centre for prisoners of War. It was a camp with wooden huts and surrounded by a high wire fence.
I was escorted into one of the huts and led into an empty room and told by the officer in charge who spoke good English that I would be required for interrogation. He also said that if I needed the toilet I had only to press an indicator button on the wall and someone would attend to me. He then left and locked the door behind him.
The room was quite large, about 14 ft square and had one window with obscure glass so I could not see out. There was one table by the window, three or four chairs and in one corner a single bed but no bedclothes only a mattress.
I sat on the bed feeling a bit dejected and disconsolate and after about half an hour the door opened and another person was led in and the door was again locked. This person was dressed in a white woolly sweater and dungaree trousers and when he introduced himself I was made up, for he was ex RAF.
He told me that he had been shot down over France six months previously, and had been rescued by a French Resistance Group, and that he had been helping them ever since. He said that he was now in fear of his life, for he expected a severe interrogation by the Gestapo, and said that they would try to get him to divulge the names of the ring leaders of his organisation, and if he refused he would possibly be tortured or shot. I felt sorry for him for I thought I had troubles.
It was very interesting to listen to him describing his exploits of how he blew up trains and put explosives in factories etc.
The door opened once more and four American airmen were ushered in, and before we could introduce ourselves another four joined us, making ten of us. They did not bother much with us Brits, but talked amongst themselves. They were from different crews and I found them very boisterous and boastful. The feeling I got was that they seemed quite pleased that they had been taken prisoner and that the war for them was now over, whereas I held the opposite view. If there had been a hidden microphone somewhere the Germans would have known everything.
There was one Yank in particular who got on my wick. He was bragging to the others that that when he baled out of his "ship" and saw the ground so far below, he decided that he would have time for a good smoke and so he lit a cigarette. The others seemed to accept that, but I thought to myself "You lying sod". He was certainly shooting a line there.
They become quite rowdy at times and they were continuously pressing the indicator button and messing the guards about. One guard was getting fed up with their demands and after one or two had been escorted to the toilet he told them to quieten down or he would shoot the lot. One Yank shouted, "Try it". They were certainly abusive. I remember I was half lying on the bed at the time and this guard was standing just inside the doorway pointing a Luger at them while he was telling them off. When he was about to close the door the Yank nearest to him wedged his boot in the doorjamb and prevented the guard from closing it. I did not see the next incident clearly but I heard a shot and the Yank collapsed on the floor. There was a bit of a commotion after that and one or two guards came running and the Yank was then carried away and I presumed taken to hospital. I heard later that he had been shot in the neck and had been given a blood transfusion but died later "Cest La Guerre."
I had been about two or three hours in that room when a guard came for me. He was carrying his drawn Luger pistol as usual and took me to another room and which was the interrogation room. As I walked in I saw a large desk and a Luftwaffe officer setting behind. As I approached him and then came to attention he looked up and spoke to me in very good English "Take a seat".
I sat down in front of him and tried to fathom out what rank he might be. He pushed a box of cigarettes across the desk towards me and offered me one, but I refused. He then introduced himself and told me who he was, and his rank, and was very polite and friendly.
He then asked me to confirm who I was, and I gave him ay name, rank and number. He said that was fine, and then asked how I got here as I was all alone. I then explained what happened over Bochum on the night of June 12/13 and how my crew must have all been killed. He then asked me what RAF squadron I was in and from which base did I fly. As I was not prepared to tell him this, I told him that my name rank and number was all that was required. He retorted that he would require a lot more information than that as I might not be telling the truth and could have parachuted down as a spy. I asked him "Do I look like a spy?” and he replied. "What does a spy look like?" He kept rattling on that if he did not get the information he wanted he would have to hand me over to the Gestapo and he did not want to see me tortured or shot. He then asked me what part of Scotland I came from and where was my hometown. As I was not prepared to tell him anything I hesitated and he said I was stupid and being foolish, and did I not want to write home to my people. I pondered over this for a few seconds and realised he had a point there.
I then told him that I came from Aberdeen and he said that he had been there and what a nice city it was and remarked "The Silver City of the North".
He then went on to ask me where I did my flying training and did I receive training under the Commonwealth Air Training Scheme, and mentioned nearly every school and squadron and place that I ever knew. In fact he knew more about the RAF than I did. He was very informative and I did not know how to cope with this, and I kept giving him evasive answers, as I did not want to co-operate. He then became quite stern with me and repeated that if I did not co-operate he would give me over to the Gestapo.
He barked some order to the guard in German, and who was still behind me and I was ushered from the room and taken away and put into a very small room no bigger than a cell, and left there. The window in the room had obscure glass and was tightly shut and the central heating was on, even though it was August. There was no ventilation and the heat was unbearable. I found out later that this was a method used to soften up the prisoners during their interrogation. I was given a plate of soup but I could not take it as it had fine bits of straw in it.
After about an hour or so in solitary, the guard came for me and took me back again to the Interrogation room.
When I sat down before the same Interrogator, he gave me a supercilious grin and asked me if I had thought things over and was I now prepared to tell him what he wanted to know.
I replied again that I was still not prepared to give away secrets of any kind to an enemy. He immediately replied that he only wanted to know which Squadron I came from and its locality and that I would not be divulging any secrets and that if he knew the squadron he would able to tell me its locality anyway, and said the sooner I co-operated, the sooner the interrogation would be completed.
He also kept ranting on that I would not be divulging any secret information, as he already knew a vast amount about all the various RAF squadrons anyway. All the time he was talking I had conflicting thoughts about what I should do. Do I tell him, or should I hold out and wait till the Gestapo interrogates me, and then tell them at the last minute before being taken away and shot; and again, I thought was' the information he wanted so secret, as he possibly knew anyway.
Reluctantly I decided to tell him and said I was from 50 Squadron in Lincolnshire. He seemed now quite relieved that I decided to co-operate and offered me a cigarette again, which I declined. He knew the Squadron and its location, then after a few more preliminary questions, I was given a Red Cross form to complete and then given my PoW No: 1341 and registered as a "Kriegy". He told me I would now be taken across to the PoW camp and meet the rest of the prisoners. I was then escorted away by the guard and taken to the main gates of Dulag Luft PoW Receiving camp.
Immediately I got through the main gates I received a warm welcome from the other prisoners and was taken into a hut and shown to my quarters or should I say my bunk and because of my injuries I was given the bottom bunk. It was a relief to be amongst people of my own kind again and to listen to English being spoken once more.
I was then given a slap up meal which they had laid on especially for me, and which was given to all new prisoners that arrived at the camp. The camp leader then introduced himself and told me that the Camp called Dulag Luft was not a big camp and was only a Transit Camp and that I would not be staying very long and that I would be sent shortly to a major camp, housing around five or six thousand PoW's. He asked me for some up to date news from Britain but I was unable to help him and explained that I had been shot down two months earlier and had been in hospital ever since.
He then gave me all the info. relating to PoW life and what was expected. He said they had formed an escape organisation called XYZ and said that anyone who was eager to escape or had a plan of escape, it was better to contact them first for a better chance of success.
Successful attempts had previously been made at this camp by tunnelling, etc. but most were recaptured later. Being placed in solitary confinement for a week to a fortnight immediately punished anyone getting caught. Cells for this purpose were built just outside the compound and the PoW’s or Kriegies as we called ourselves, (short for the German name Kriegsgefangenner or Prisoner of War) called this building the "cooler". The ration given was just bread and water, and, after a week or so in the cooler, you became undernourished and it was necessary then for the other prisoners to give food from their Red Cross parcels to get you off your knees and something like back to normal. He also told me that we each received a Red Cross food parcel every week; one week British, another week American or Canadian, and that we relied on these parcels to live on, as the German food was hardly edible.
The Germans, he said, provided us with a daily ration of a quarter loaf of brown bread (made from Wood sawdust), a plateful of stew, which he said was sometimes made from horse-meat, and a few potatoes (which tasted earthy).
Each Red Cross food parcel was in a cardboard box about 16 inches square by eight inches deep and usually contained a large packet of biscuits, tin of salmon, tin of powdered milk, tin of corned beef, small tin of butter, packet of Kraft cheese, packet of prunes or raisins, small pot of jam, porridge oats, packet of tea or coffee, a large bar of chocolate and a packet of 10 cigarettes and of course all the tinned stuff were punctured.
I was then given a printed letter form with about ten lines on which I could write home, and I certainly lost no time in writing to my parents to tell them I was still alive.
As we were all RAF NCOs we did not have to do any manual work and we were not put on parole, that is to say we did not take the oath, that we would not attempt an escape, so it was still our duty to do so, Our names were put on a list for certain duties around the camp mainly for our own benefit and survival, pumping water for our weekly shower (which was compulsory) peeling potatoes, carrying Red Cross food parcels from the store and carrying hot water from the communal cookhouse for our tea or coffee breaks etc.
As far as I can remember I was only at Dulag about a week or so before I was transferred to another camp, and along with some other prisoners we were marched to the Frankfurt railway yards and taken north by cattle truck to Stalag Luft I, near the town of Barth on the Baltic coast.
This was a very unpleasant journey for me as we were crowded thirty to forty to a truck, and as I had not fully recovered from ay injuries I was at a painful disadvantage. We were also reminded that we were still prisoners as we had a guard in each corner with a sub machine gun always at the ready.
When we arrived at Barth we were marched to the camp where the prisoners there greeted us very cordially.
Stalag Luft 1 was quite a large camp compared with Dulag but very isolated. The landscape was very flat and sandy and desolate. The huts were fairly big and held around thirty or forty Kriegies and each had a large brick-built stove at each end.
I was allowed again a bottom bunk and I made myself as comfortable as possible.
After I got settled in I found that tunnel digging was going on all the time at this camp and men were always being asked to volunteer; and I think I was about the only one to be excused. The trouble with the tunnels here, however, was the soft sandy soil, and every now and again the main camp gates would open and a huge steam roller would appear; and pity help anyone who had not got out of his tunnel in time.
As I grew stronger camp life became a lot more bearable, but there was however this feeling of uncertainty in everyone's Bind-the question of "How long will I be here?" The German radio did not help as it kept pounding out its propaganda that they were winning the war in Russia. We had our own camp secret radio and at certain hours every day a watch was kept at the hut window and our own news was read out. This news was still not good and I must admit during this period the war situation for us looked bleak.
Each day was similar to the next and what I think kept up our morale mostly, was the comradeship and companionship.
Our day started at 6 am when the guard unbarred the door of the hut and stood there with his back to the door and his rifle slung over his shoulder waiting I presumed for his cue to move off with the rest of the guards. There was just about time to get dressed before they were back again calling everybody out for the morning roll call. If you were slow or still in bed they would come into the hut with fixed bayonets and prod you and shout "Raus, Raus!"
These roll calls were held twice a day, morning and evening and to me they were about the biggest bugbear of PoW life. We all assembled on the parade ground in the form of a square and sectioned off into small groups so that we could be counted more easily but there was hardly ever a correct count first time.
One or two of the Kriegies would move out of line and join another line quickly, to confuse the counting, and this was probably to cover up for someone who was still down a tunnel. I was not sure if that was the reason, or whether they did this for devilment to disrupt the count.
There was one particular roll call when I had only time to put my ^greatcoat on over my pyjamas and we had to stand out in the cold for an hour and a half before they were satisfied with the count. The camp Kommandant was always present during roll call, and this particular time, speaking in very good English, told us that he would keep us standing all day if necessary till the count was correct.
When roll call was over, we had our breakfast of one or maybe two slices of the German brown bread (which I disliked), and if we were careful, a biscuit from our own Red Cross food parcel, and then our mug of tea or coffee with powdered milk. All the time I was a PoW I never lasted an egg or fresh milk or fresh vegetables.
After breakfast we went for our wash in the communal washrooms on the other side of the recreation area. The communal lavatories, or the Bogs in our jargon, were adjoining the washrooms and consisted of a long shed with a very deep trench dug in the ground with wooden seats built over it; and it stank. There was no privacy of course and in fact there was no privacy anywhere in a PoW camp.
In fine weather outdoor games were organised and it was up to the individual if they wanted to participate or not. There was always something going on and I cannot say that I was ever bored. There was also a very good library, the books being supplied by the British Red Cross Society. As I was not fit yet to take part in playing football or volleyball etc., I did a lot of reading.
There was also some music minded Kriegies around and we got together and formed an orchestra using various wind and stringed instruments ^provided by the Red Cross Society. As I was a cornet player in the local Brass Band back home I welcomed this, but was unable to obtain a cornet and had to make do with an old trombone. Nevertheless these music sessions were a great form of relaxation and took the mind off other depressing matters.
When lunchtime came, two of us would go to the cookhouse and collect our food ration with food cans provided by the Germans. We usually brought back a large jug of tea and a can full of hot boiled potatoes, and this with a couple of slices of corned beef or Spam from our own parcels, constituted our mid day meal. We had however the option of having "Deutsche Stew" from them if we wanted, but none in our combine cared for it. Some days we would make a sweet ourselves by cooking some porridge over our stove and mixing in some boiled prunes. What you can eat when you are hungry!
Afternoon was spent by most on the recreation area or reading or idly talking etc.; in mid afternoon we had a tea break and I shared out a biscuit to each of the other three.
When five o'clock came it was usually time for roll call and then out we would go to be counted and it was 'anybody's guess as to how long it would take for we were ready for our tea.
Tea time was similar to breakfast time - a jug of hot tea or coffee, a slice of bread with a piece of cheese or maybe just jam and sometime a large Canadian biscuit. The Canadian biscuit was the favourite of all the biscuits as it was a puff biscuit about six inches in diameter and could almost form a meal on its own. Occasionally we tasted a bit of salmon from our food parcels but we had to be careful that the salmon had not gone off, as we did not know how long it had been since the tin was punctured.
After tea, quite a lot of the Kriegies would take a stroll round the compound, chatting and talking shop and possible planning ways and means of escape. Our day ended when we saw the camp guards forming up just outside the compound gates, for they were ready to march in and then round us up so that we were all in our respective huts by 21:30 hrs. As soon as we heard the bars drop securing the front door, we knew that was it for the night. If anyone wanted to use the toilet during the night, they provided two refuse bins, one at each corner of the hut, but only for urinating in." If anyone fell ill during the night, or needed any medical attention whatsoever, it was just too bad; you had to wait till morning.
We also discovered that it was not a good thing to report sick; one or two prisoners had done so previously and had been taken to hospital, operated upon, and had their appendixes removed. It was rumoured that the German doctors were eager to use us as' guinea pigs.
After I had been about four or five weeks at this camp we were told that the Camp was to be transferred to a new, more up to date camp, called Stalag Luft VI, in German East Prussia, now called Lithuania. We were quite disturbed about this as we were told it would be a six day train journey right across Poland and we knew that the farther away, the more difficult it would be to escape back to Britain.
On the day we left Stalag Luft I, we all had to march down to the railway yards at Barth. I had already packed my belongings into an empty Red Cross food box, so I was quite unhindered and prepared for the march.
Our guards this time were not the usual Luftwaffe personnel, but young Nazi SS soldiers and quite a number were handling Alsatian guard dogs. As this was the first time that I had a close look at these SS troopers, I was quite impressed, they were smart, efficient but somehow different; I would say a bit arrogant and rather cocky.
Word went round not to attempt any break away at this stage as each trooper carried a sub-machine gun, and you could tell by their stern looks that they would shoot to kill, and they were only waiting for a chance to do so.
When we eventually got to the railway yards we were herded like cattle into cattle trucks, forty to a truck. Two Luftwaffe guards carrying their Tommy guns also came into the truck and stood guard at each end. Two empty refuse bins were also placed at opposite corners and were to be used as toilets. We were then given some food rations before the door was barred from the outside. The train then started on its journey to East Prussia.
We stopped approximately three or four times each day, to change 'guards, empty the toilet bins and to give us water. We were not allowed out of the cattle truck, not even to stretch our legs or to have a wash. As we journeyed on our main topic of conversation was on how we could escape. As we did not know if the guards could understand English, we discussed, in low tones, the possibility of cutting a hole in the floor large enough for a person to drop through and hoped some of us would be able to escape that way. About ten or twelve of us then got into a huddle in the centre of the truck and, shielded from the guards, one or two began to chip and hack away at the floor boards using dinner knives, forks and anything they could find sharp enough.
What none of us knew at this time was that the Germans had also done their homework and were prepared for such an eventuality. They had grappling irons fixed underneath each PoW cattle truck so that any prisoner escaping through a hole in the floor while the train was on the more would automatically get speared to death. As it turned out, none of us in our truck got anywhere near that stage.
Periodically our train would pull into a siding and wait for a troop train to pass. If you stood up you could see through the small louvres at each side of the truck, and it was quite interesting to watch these different trains passing by on the their way to the Russian front.
One particular train went by slowly hauling wagonloads of heavy guns and tanks and took about five minutes to pass. On each open gun carriage, were two or three soldiers, but were not in German uniforms, they were Mongols from Mongolia, and we wondered how they came to be on the side of the Germans. Some said they had been fighting for the Russians, had been captured, and were now fighting for the Germans. C’est La Guerre!.
One day when we were about half way across Poland we pulled into a siding and stopped, and the guards got out for a spell and locked the doors. When we looked out through the slats, we saw some British Army PoWs unloading crates from goods wagons and we waved to them. When they noticed us they came charging across, carrying mugs, cups and small bottles filled with wine, which they offered to us, but we could not reach out that far to get them. They were by this tine being harassed by their guards and were in fear of being shot at. As they were scattered all over our train, some of the daring ones were able to clamber up the side of our cattle truck and hand us a few cups and containers of the wine before they were all rounded up. We all shouted our thanks to them and wished then good luck as they were escorted away. The wine from the few bottles and small cups that we got was shared out to give just about a mouthful each, but it was a luxury to us.
The long train journey was quite an ordeal as none of us could sleep properly as we were unable to stretch out our legs. Eventually our ordeal came to an end when we pulled into a small town called Heydekrug and stopped for the last time. Again there were hordes of German guards waiting for us as we tumbled out of the trucks. We must have looked a mess, unwashed and unshaved. We were herded together again by these armed guards and marched off to our new camp; and there was nothing I wanted more than to get to this camp get cleaned up, and have a bed to lie on.
As we approached the new camp, it looked no different to me than any other P.O.W camp, except that this one was much bigger. It looked very isolated and in the middle of nowhere, just like Stalag Luft 1.
When we arrived, there were already a few thousand PoWs, American and British. The huts were similar to our last camp, except that they were off the ground, as if they were on stilts, and you could see through the space under them. Presumably the idea being to dishearten anyone with the notion of digging an escape tunnel.
The huts that we were allocated had not been occupied, and I was lucky and found a bottom bunk at the far end, near a large stove; and this bunk space was to be my home for the next year and a half.
There were approximately thirty, two-tier bunks in this hut, and were all situated head to the walls, which left the centre of the hut clear for the small tables and chairs.
After I got settled in, four of us, having adjoining beds, decided to share the sane table and to torn a combine, pooling our German food rations and our Red Cross parcels. The chap who shared the bunk above me was a Navigator called Pete Swan, who was married and lived in Conchs Quay, North Wales. The other two were both from Birmingham and were from the same crew Dibben, a Halifax pilot, and Pinky Tomlinson his Navigator. I got on very well with them and as the days went by, they appointed me to look after the food rations, and at each meal, I would decide what we could have and would allocate each of us a certain amount.
Now Dibben, who was a big fellow, would approach me, when I was mostly alone, and request an extra biscuit; and many a time I was able to manage it, I understood myself what it felt like to be hungry.
With regard to our cigarette ration we did not pool them as we only got a packet of ten cigarettes each per week, and which was not nearly enough, even for a moderate smoker. There were some who did not smoke, but not many, and they gained by it, by trading the cigarettes for chocolates or biscuits whatever.
Each of us lived a communal life. We were all NCOs of the same rank; we were all paid the same-nothing; we all slept under the same roof; we all ate the same food and we all had the same clothes and in my opinion, an ideal set up for Communism, equality; but where Communism slips up, we are not born equal, and opportunism became very apparent in P.O.W life.
Some opportunists had already devised ways of getting more cigarettes for themselves by opening a shop to buy and sell items of food, using cigarettes for money. You could buy a packet of biscuits or a large bar of chocolate for a packet of ten cigarettes. Other opportunists also became active, such as those who were hairdressers in civvy life would cut you hair for ten cigarettes, another chap called Lofty who was a commercial artist, would sketch your portrait for a mere twenty cigarettes. Now these fellows all smoked but were able to accumulate boxes of cigarettes, which they hid under their beds. I thought it was not fair as they were using their civvy street employment skills to make gain.
The winter of '43 soon came upon us, and as we were so far east, near the Prippet Marshes the temperature dropped below freezing, and it was very cold, but I was thankful and lucky to have my bed space near the hut stove. All outside games were mostly cancelled and we occupied our time indoors playing cards or getting involved in a hobby of some sort.
Someone started up a language class for French and German and I enrolled to take German. I also started to do some modelling and eventually made a Lancaster Bomber out of a chair leg. I did not have a saw so I had to improvise and make one. I got hold of an old dinner knife and banged the cutting edge several times against the angle iron of
the hut stove to form a jagged edge; a bit primitive but it did the trick. I also used pieces of broken glass to hone the timber into shape. It was slow work but I had all the time in the world.
There were some very skilled Kriegies amongst us. One Polish chap I watched was making badges and brooches of all sorts. He melted the solder from the corned beef tins and poured it into a mould carved out of a cake of German soap.
We also had an indoor Theatre where we held various exhibitions of our skills, sculpture work and model making etc. We also staged some very fine plays and they were so good that the Camp Kommandant and his wife and family attended.
Some of the players had to dress up as women for their part and there was one good looking young Kriegie in particular who took his part so well that he got "cat calls" from the audience and shouts of "What about a date" and "Can I take you home?"
This young fellow would be about nineteen, and he called at our hut one day and of course got ragged for taking part as a woman and also some wolf whistles. We knew some chap who was about four bunks away from where Pete and I were, and they struck up an association. After several visits, Pete and I became suspicious at their behaviour to one another, as they would both clamber up on to the top bunk and get close and fondle one another. A few visits later they became bolder, and as we watched, one started sitting on top of the other. Pete and I discussed the situation, as we both knew that it was leading to Homosexuality. With no privacy anywhere however, the situation could go no further. That incident was the only occasion that I had seen or been aware of in all my PoW days.
It was at this camp that I learned to play bridge and I took part in a few bridge tournaments. Some days when the weather was bad, we had to amuse ourselves as best we could. On one such day Dibben who also shared a table with us was a bit browned off and asked Pete and I if we would take part in a bit of leg pulling with regard to a Welsh pal that he knew, and we agreed to go along with him. He called Taffy over, and asked him if it were true that there were ponies down pits. Taffy replied, "Of course it's true". Then Dibben said "Angus here says, how could they get them to go down a pit, and what would they need ponies down a pit for?" This bantering went on for nearly an hour with some other Kriegies joining in before Taffy got the message.
Quite often we would organise a gramophone playing session after lights were out; and a volunteer would sit up and play records until midnight. We made two lights from small food tins filled with margarine, and for wicks we cut strips from our trouser braces. We all went to bed and lay and listened to the latest hits sung by Ann Shelton and Vera Lynn. "Blue Birds Over" We'll Meet Again" and "Coning in on a Wing and a Prayer", etc.
As Xmas time and New Years Eve '43 drew near, each hut had put down a brew. Someone had been able to get a small barrel to hold our brew, and we each gave up our packet of raisins or prunes or currants etc., and with some yeast, probably cajoled from the German camp orderlies, we had this barrel of hooch fermenting for maybe six or eight weeks before Xmas.
When Xmas came the Germans gave us extra rations, but I thought they were not much cop, and we had a bit of a celebration. New Years Eve however was a different kettle of fish for we opened the barrel properly and everyone that wanted to had a large mugful of the hooch. I got a mugful and when I looked at it, it just looked like rusty water and when I took a swallow, the taste was terrible and it burned your throat. One swallow was enough for me. This stuff was of course pure alcohol without the purification, so I gave mine away to someone. Pete Swan did not take much either but I cannot say that of the others. As the night wore on, Dibben and Pinky eventually finished their mugs and got well oiled; nearly everyone in the hut was singing. When you get sixty people cooped up together and nearly all stoned, you get problems; and that's what the Germans got that night.
Arguments and fights started up and some of the rougher elements of aircrew become so drunk that table and chairs started to get smashed and even a window got broken; and that's when the German guards appeared. They came charging into the hut, shouting to us to be quiet or they would burn the place down. My bunk space was at the far end of the hut away from the front door and I could not see the guards properly but there was a scuffle of some sort and two or three boisterous Kriegies were rough handled and taken away, presumably to the cooler. I believe our hut was not the only one to give trouble, for on the following day we heard that our Red Cross food parcels would only be issued to us in future, minus the packets of raisins, prunes, dates and currants etc. and anything they thought that would enable us to set up a brew again.
It was just about this time that I received ay first letter from home and I was made up. It took approximately two months for my first letter to reach home and about six weeks from home to reach me. My parents said that the Red Cross Society advised them to write only once a month to ensure that all P.O.W's could have a fair share of a delivery. My mother was overjoyed to know that I was alive, and she said that a clothing parcel was on its way. In my entire tine as a PoW I only received about six letters from home and three clothing parcels, and three letters from Margaret my girl friend. That was not the case with Pete Swan however.
When mail did arrive, about once every three or four weeks, the post attendant would stand in the centre of the hut and shout out each name in alphabetical order as he handed out the letters. When it came around to the S's I was thankful when I got one, and very disappointed if I did not. Then I would hear "Swan", "Swan", "Swan" about five or six tines as the mail was distributed. He confided in me and said that his wife was writing to him every day, which was contrary to the British Red Cross instructions. I thought to myself, there was always someone who was selfish enough to cheat on the system. He had that many to read, that at night tine when we were lying in bed, he would read then all out to me; and I knew just as much about his wife and now born child, as he did.
Up until this tine I was always called by ay Christian name George; but one day Dibben and Pinky had got a bee in their bonnet and remarked that a Scotsman should not have a name like George, as St George was the patron Saint of England. They came up with a lot of different Scottish names for me and they all finally agreed on Angus. I told them to grow up and dismissed the matter, but they would not have it and continually kept it up, that after a few days it eventually stuck. I was not particularly bothered and treated it as a pet name, as I did not dislike the name myself. My close friends now still call me Angus and that's how it all started.
One day I listened to a discussion going on about joining the Caterpillar Club. To become a member you had to save your life by using a parachute. If you made a voluntary parachute jump, that did not count. If you were accepted you got a membership card and a small gold caterpillar pin. If you baled out at night, you got a caterpillar with red eyes and if it was during the day you got one with green eyes. There was also another club you could join if you ditched in the water called the Gold Fish Club and you were given a small gold fish brooch.
It was sometime in February '44 that I sent off my application to the Irvine Parachute Co. Letchworth, England, to become a member of the club, but it was not until late November that I received a reply and my acceptance.
The whole camp was divided up into several compounds or lagers as they were called, and each compound held around two thousand men, American and British. We were segregated from the Americans so we did not see much of them. There were occasions however when the Germans allowed us to co-habitate, such as when we held competitions with them in sport, football and boxing matches etc. On their Independence Day, they were allowed to invite us into their compound to partake in their celebrations. The Germans could not understand the reason for our acceptance, as they pointed out that the 4th July commemorates way back, the defeat of the British forces in America.
We also had a secret radio in the camp somewhere, and we listened to the War news from the BBC everyday. With this information one Kriegie from another hut had drawn a large map of the Russian front and pinned it up on his hut wall. I went in periodically to have a look at it, as he had small flags denoting the front line, and you could see at a glance that the Germans were being slowly pushed back.
The Kommandant, a major and his junior officers ran the camp, but he also had orderlies doing normal camp duties. These orderlies were Luftwaffe squaddies and were usually dressed in boiler suits and forage caps but were not armed. Most of them could speak a little English and were very friendly, and would enter our hut at anytime and have a chat. They were not of very high intellect and we called them "Goons". There were also one or two infiltrators amongst them and we called them” ferrets". Their job was to find out if there were any tunnels being dug or any escape attempts being made.
These goons were sometimes on a good thing being with us, as they usually got an English cigarette or an odd bar of chocolate etc. for a little favour maybe. There was great animosity between them and the guards on the watchtowers, as I believe they were jealous.
About the beginning of spring '44, a notice was pinned up on the inside of each hut explaining the gist about repatriation, and if you thought you were eligible and severely injured enough, you had to put your name down in the space below. When I saw this I had no hesitation and down went my name in block letters. I believe there were only three names put down from our hut.
When my closest friends saw my name down, most of them ragged me and said I had no chance as I was not that badly injured but I put it down to jealousy on their part. Pete on the other hand said to ignore them and that I did the right thing and wished me luck. I also had a discussion with the other two who had put their names down and I was amazed to find out that one of them was not even injured at all and said that from now on he would act as if he was mental. I cannot remember if he succeeded, but I believe he was a pain in the neck to his close friends after that.
About a fortnight later I received instructions to go for a medical at the small camp hospital, and was examined by two English speaking German doctors. It was not much of an examination, more of a formality, as I believe they had my medical records from the hospital in Kirschlinde.
It was not until about a month later, in April, that I received instructions to go for an X-ray. Along with about another twenty Kriegies from other Lagers, we had to march from the camp to the small town of Heydekrug, a distance of about two miles.
When we got out of camp, we were guarded all the way by four armed guards. The two mile march took ages, as we had to stop frequently for the ones who were on crutches etc.; and by the time we had had our X-ray and got back to camp, the day was over. I did not build ay hopes up too much, as I knew I had to go through the International Medical Board yet.
A funny incident happened to me one night when I was sound asleep. I woke up suddenly and felt something wet being smeared across my face until I realised an Alsatian guard dog was licking me. This was in the middle of the night and in the dim light of a Kriegie candle I noticed a camp guard standing talking to our room leader, who was still in his top bunk and not far from me.
I then sat up in bed and patted the dog who was very friendly and must have, liked me. I tried to listen to what the guard was saying but he was speaking in German. The room leader could speak German as he was a South African and spoke Afrikaans. The guard was showing some photographs and the room leader explained to me that they were photographs of his wife and daughter who were both killed in a bombing raid in Hamburg where he lived. The guard was quite elderly and tried to explain to me that the war was no good and wished it was over. He was very friendly and I think he came in for a chat. You do not often get a friendly guard with a friendly guard dog. I think the room leader (I've forgotten his name) gave him some chocolate and a few English cigarettes.
Talking about the room leader, I did not particularly like him. He was a red haired six footer and a fitness fanatic; and he also had a few followers (creepers). He liked to show a bit of authority, but it did not wash with us. He tried to get us out of bed by 6 am each morning by opening the windows wide and shouting "Let's have you, you lazy lot," and "Hands off the joystick", and much more, but we just closed the windows again and ignored him.
It was more than a month ago since I had my X-ray and I wondered how long it would be before the International Medical Board convened for I was anxious to know if I would get through and with these thoughts in my mind someone came hurriedly into the hut waving a small sheet of paper which was the BBC news sheet. With excitement in his voice he read out the fantastic news that the Allies had invaded Normandy 6th June and had started a second front. We all cheered at this, for this was the most important news we had ever heard yet. Until this time, the BBC news was not very encouraging, but now we would be listening eagerly to every bulletin. This news certainly raised our hopes and boosted our morale. The next day one of the chaps in our hut pinned up on the wall a drawing of the French coast battle zone and stuck flags in to denote the progress on the Western Front.
As the weeks went by one or two of the other huts also had charts on the wall portraying the battle zone and the Allied progress that was being made. The German radio on the other hand gave out its usual propaganda that a small force of Allied troops had landed in France but was being repelled.
The charts on the wall were a good idea for us as we could tell at a glance the progress of the War as given out by the BBC. On the other hand it was a bad idea, as it showed also the true position to the Goons and the Ferrets when they came into the hut and discussed the fighting with us; and that gave them a clue that we were getting some secret information, which meant a radio hidden somewhere. Within a few more days we had a purge on the camp as about two hundred armed guards appeared one morning and ushered everyone back into their huts and a guard stood with rifle at the entrance door to each hut. As we looked through the windows we could see a bunch of men coming out of a hut carrying a various assortment of home made tools, band saws, chisels spades, hammers etc.; they were obviously looking for the radio. I also noticed two or three black coated figures, which I took to be the Gestapo.
After about an hour they had still not come to our hut and we became restless at being cooped up under these circumstances. One or two of the Kriegies who were "bunked" near the open front door, tried to talk to the guard who had his back to the door, but he would not converse.
What happened next I did not see fully but one chap who was smoking, deliberately stuck his lighted cigarette on the end of the guard's rifle, which was slung over his shoulder. The guard was standing on the bottom of the three steps up to the front door so it was easy to lean over and do it. It was a bit comical to see this and everyone near the door burst out laughing. The guard was no dim-wit and he sensed something was wrong and when he did discover the trick that was played on him he took it badly, and came up the three steps and without saying a word lashed out with his rifle at the nearest Kriegie and the butt caught bin on the side of the face so hard that it broke his jaw. I did not blame the guard; for this was the second episode that I witnessed by prisoners taking the mickey. They first one as I described earlier got shot in the neck and died.
I suppose this matter would not have gone any further, except that the injured Kriegie had to have medical treatment and of course had to tell the camp doctor how it happened. The result was that the guard was put under arrest for assaulting an unarmed prisoner and detained, awaiting trial. The Germans were very strict about discipline of this nature. When the rest of us heard about this, we contacted our room leader and persuaded him to contact the Kommandant and speak out against this disciplinary action and state the true fact that the guard was provoked. We found out later that this intervention had some effect, for the guard got off lightly.
Shortly after that another chap from our hut suffered a casualty but this time it proved to be fatal. As I mentioned before when you are locked up at night you have to stay locked up till six in the morning. If you feel ill, that's too bad. With sixty men in one long room its almost impossible to know each other's names or to know what is going on all the time.
It so happened that one fellow apparently was not feeling well all night and in the early morning had a bit of the runs and was anxious to go to the toilet which was across the compound. He knew that the door of the hut would be unbarred at 6 a.m. by the duty guard, so he was waiting behind the door ready to run across to the toilets.
At 5 minutes to six however, the guard unbarred the hut door and as soon as the Kriegie heard this, he darted out of the door and ran across the compound. The first knowledge that we knew of any mishap was the sudden noise of machine gun fire. It woke nearly everybody up and we all ran to the windows to see what was happening. When I looked out, it was sickening; this Kriegie was lying on the ground half way across the compound. The watchtower guards had shot him because it was not 6 a.m. I could hardly believe it. We could not go to his aid for fear of being shot ourselves, and we had to wait another fire or six minutes.
By the time we got to him, contacted the camp leader and got him to hospital he had lost too much blood and we heard later that he did not make it. That was two murders I witnessed. C’est La Guerre!
I was still waiting for news regarding my medical for Repatriation, and it was not until late summer that I received instructions to attend a full Medical Board of two Swedish, two Swiss, and two German doctors. Along with a few other P.O.W's, I was escorted out of the camp gates to the hospital and then queue up for the Medical. The chap in front of me whose turn it was next had stripped down to his shirt only and he showed me a huge scar where he had been stitched when his legs had been split open, and I knew he would be a dead cert to get through as he could hardly walk.
After about fifteen minutes or so, he cane out, and before I could ask him how it went, he gave me the thumbs down and walked away dejectedly. I thought to myself what chance have I got, as my injuries only consisted of a smashed shoulder and a head wound.
My name was soon called and as I walked into the room, I was ushered toward a long table where six doctors were seated. After the preliminaries of asking your name etc., two of the doctors stood up and came towards me and started to examine my injuries. One got hold of my injured arm and treed to raise it, but I resisted a little to make the movement seem less. Then they all each had a go, trying my arm with different movements. They then went into a discussion amongst themselves, and when they surfaced one doctor announced that I would now be going home. When I heard that I could hardly believe it, I was on top of the world, and the happiest moment of my life. I was going home. I could not get back to the lager quick enough to tell my roommates and to see the look on their faces.
As I predicted, there was a certain amount of envy or jealousy towards me amongst my closest friends, and I had to endure a few nasty wise cracks and a few jibes. I did not let that bother me too much however and gave a few back in return. Pete and one or two of the others however, gave me their support and asked me if I could jot down their home addresses and call on their relatives when I got back to Britain. I told them that I would, and would give their folks some insight into PoW life, and reassure then that everything was O.K. and they were in quite good health. PoW life did not affect me quite so much now and I was content to wait for the time when I would be leaving.
A few weeks later we gradually began to hear noises of distant gun fire, and we kept a constant watch on the wall charts to find out what progress was being made by the Russians, and, from what I could gather, they were only one hundred kilometres away.
One day we all noticed a lot of activity going on outside the wire. About one hundred yards away, a group of men started digging up the ground and word went round that they were to be gun emplacements for anti-aircraft guns. Sure enough, a few days later we saw them being put in place and the long gun barrels stood out clearly. We got a bit concerned now that our camp was so near the battle front, for this was ^contrary to the rules of the Geneva convention for PoW's; but there was nothing we could do about it but protest. Talk went round that the Russians could liberate us, but I thought that was wishful thinking.
Constant heavy gunfire could now be heard the entire tine, and a few planes did actually fly over the camp, but there was no fire returned by the camp flak guns. We were all now concerned regarding this situation and everybody knew that the Russians were drawing nearer and we felt that it was the duty of the Germans to do something or let us know what their intentions were, but they remained silent.
We held several discussions amongst ourselves regarding what we should do by way if escaping it to be everyman for himself given the chance. We felt that the Kommandant was leaving the decision to evacuate the camp to the last minute and that is exactly what happened.
Early one morning we were told that the whole of the camp was to be evacuated that day, and everyone had to be prepared to leave within a few hours notice. As soon as we heard this news, we welcomed it, but with mixed feelings as we did not know what lay ahead of us. Up until then I had had no further instructions regarding my Repatriation departure and it was not until late afternoon that I was contacted and told that along with the other Repats at the camp that we would be going by train ahead of the main evacuees. This was indeed good-news for me.
When the time came for me to leave, I got all my belonging into a kit bag (from the Red Cross) and which was collected by lorry, and with my side haversack on, I bade farewell to Pete, Dibben and Pinky, and the others, and as I marched out of camp and glanced back for the last time I saw the contents of various huts thrown out and smashed and loads of gramophone records being thrown in the air and smashed. The Kriegies were having a smashing time; and so ended my PoW life in Stalag Luft VI, July 1944
There were roughly about twenty Repats who were able to walk, and we then marched from the camp to the railway station. This time the guards escorting us were not armed, for there was no need for us to escape, now that we were going home; in a sense we felt that we were now no longer prisoners.
When we got to the station we were all given food rations and Red Cross food parcels were shared out. We were then put on to a passenger train and not forced into a cattle truck as previously, and I found this contrast so outstanding that it was hard to believe. However it was not all roses yet, , as we found that it was not a corridor train and each compartment held a maximum of twelve persons, so twelve of us were crammed in, six on each side.
The Germans did not tell us anything, and we did not know where we were going, but we all had a guess that it would be in the heart of Germany somewhere, and we knew that we would be travelling for at least three or four days.
After the first day, we felt a lot of discomfort by having to sit all day crammed on a seat; and still more discomfort at night, trying to go to sleep sitting up. We devised a method of using a sling to rest our chin on, by tying a scarf to the luggage rack above our head; but there is no substitute for a good lie down.
We were of course far luckier than those we had left behind, for I heard later that the whole camp was evacuated and the British Kriegies were forced-marched for days often without food or water and quite a number had died or were killed by the guards; it was the survival of the fittest.
From the PoW Camp we had just left in Lithuania, we train journeyed across Poland into the heart of Germany and finally to our destination which we found was a PoW camp, Stalag IV D, Annaberg near Leipzig. Part of this camp was turned into a Receiving Centre for all the British Repats who were on the Exchange of Prisoners list, Navy, Army and /Air Force, and were from all different PoW camps spread all over Germany, Poland etc.
This centre was not a prison camp to us as such, and we were segregated from the real Kriegies . As far as I can remember we were there for about two weeks until the full complement of around 1,500 Repats had arrived.
Life was now completely different from former PoW days, and we were treated with a little more respect. I also had something to look forward to, and I would say that the final two weeks of my stay on German soil were quite pleasant.
We then heard that we would be going back home via Sweden, and when we were all ready to depart, we were put on a special hospital train to carry the stretchered cases and the severely crippled. It was also a corridor train, and I enjoyed the comfort of now being able to move around for the first time on any journey I had done traveling through Germany.
Our train journey took us north past Berlin to a small town on the Baltic called Sassnitz directly opposite Treleborg in Sweden. Treleborg was the nearest port to Germany and was bout 50 miles across the Baltic.
When we arrived at Sassnitz, a Swedish ferryboat was already waiting to take us aboard. Everything went quite smoothly and we all got on board without a hitch. A mixture of German Army and Luftwaffe Officers along with a few Red Cross officials thrown in also accompanied us.
As we moved out of the harbour, I went to the stern and gazed at the coast of Germany as it receded; just as I had done when I left America, but this time I had no fond memories and no regrets as I watched the German coast disappear from view.
As it only took a few hours to cross to Sweden we were given a few sandwiches to eat and what a difference it was to eat white bread for a change.
As our ferryboat pulled in to Treleborg harbour we could see crowds of people on the quayside waving and cheering and I felt quite important. I also saw loads of uniformed nurses waiting to come aboard to attend to us as soon as we docked.
Within half, an hour the decks were swarming with nurses, and I did not take long to single out a nurse that I liked. She could speak a little English and she told me her name was Elsa Johansson, and that she and all the other nurses were detailed for this special occasion and that she would look after me and be my companion during my stay in Sweden. I still could hardly believe this was happening and it was taking time to digest, for I was having a wonderful time.
She told me we would be going by train to Gothenburg, where we would be staying for a few days at a Swedish Army base, prior to sailing back to Britain. It took a few hours to get off the ferry as the stretcher cases and the severely disabled were given priority, but I did not mind.
When we all eventually disembarked we went straight on to a hospital train for our journey up the coast of Sweden. As we pulled out of the railway station I noticed that the trains were all electric and when I remarked to Elsa about this, she told me they no longer had steam trains anymore as there was a shortage of coal and oil. I also noticed that the motor vehicles were driven by charcoal burning methods, and each motorcar had storage cylinders in the boot filled with charcoal.
It was a very pleasant train journey indeed, and I had time to notice that Sweden had some beautiful scenery.
When we arrived at the Army camp in Gothenburg we were all given accommodation in the barrack blocks and were treated like VIP’s. We then sat down to a slap-up meal of bacon, egg, sausage and fried bread etc., just like our operations breakfast back home on the Squadron, and we all gorged ourselves. This wag our undoing however, for within half an hour or so, nearly everyone was sick. I think the change of food was to blame, and we had to take it gradually after that.
We actually had the run of the camp and we could wander where we pleased, but we were not allowed outside the camp. We did not have any discipline as such and one or two Repats took advantage of this freedom, for as far as I can remember there were two separate cases where two nurses were raped behind the canteen. There are always some people who will step out of line.
Elsa showed me around quite a lot and introduced me to several soldiers and to some of her colleagues. She also introduced me to her best friend Marguerita who was also a nurse. I found the soldiers very friendly and quite a number of them could speak a little English. They were very keen to know about the War and what it was like to be in it. They also liked to listen to our experiences and plied us with questions. I really made a few friends amongst them.
After a few days we were told that our hospital ship was waiting for us at the quayside and we then got prepared to leave. I packed all my belongings into one kitbag including my personal logbook, which I treasured. In it I had drawings and signatures, addresses, poems and various items, which my Kriegie roommates had contributed to. We were told to take with us only our small side pack to hold articles for our immediate need and to stack our kit bags in a certain area of the camp to be collected and then taken to the ship. As I stacked my kit bag, I did not realize at that time that I would never see it again.
Before we left the camp I exchanged addresses with the soldiers and promised to write to them when I got home. I received from them a gift of Swedish army cuff links, two Swedish brooches and various mementos I then bade them farewell as we were transported from the camp by buses and ambulances to the quayside.
Elsa of course was still with me and when we arrived our ship was moored alongside. It was the passenger liner HMS Arundel Castle and had been converted into a hospital ship. There were huge Red Cross emblems symbols painted on both sides and with huge floodlights and I felt very reassured that no enemy ship or aircraft could mistake it.
We were on board a full day before we sailed and I still had the pleasure of Elsa my nurse's company. Eventually the ship was ready to leave and all the nurses began their farewells before they left. I exchanged addresses with Elsa and Marguerita and promised to write to them both. I then bade them farewell and thanked Elsa profusely far the kindness shown by her commitment to me.
As the ship pulled away from the quayside the crowds started waving and cheering again and gave us a good send off. There was no need to go to the stern of the ship this time, because we were sailing slowly up the Kattagat, parallel with the Swedish coast, which was still in view till we reached the Skagarak channel.
On board the ship there was quite a mixture of Repatriates, Navy, Army and Air Force, and as we were not all wearing uniforms you could not tell which from which, and when we spoke to each other were had to introduce ourselves. I myself was not wearing Air Force clothes and had on an odd pair of trousers and a khaki battle dress top but showing no rank, and I had no hat.
As I stood on the top deck leaning on the rail watching the coast line, I got into conversation with another Scot who was standing near me and he asked me what Regiment I was in, as he noticed I was wearing Army battledress. I told him I was RAF but had been in the Army ten years previously. As he was also wearing khaki I then asked him what Regiment he belonged to, and when he said the Gordons, 5/7th Battalion, you could have knocked me down with a feather. I told him that the 5/7th was the Battalion I had been in and from then on we really got together.
As we had a lot to talk about we introduced ourselves and he said his name was Tom Benett and he came from Bucksburn a suburb of Aberdeen. I told him about my misfortune in being taken prisoner and I asked him how he was caught. He said the German Panzers in their Blitzkrieg had overrun his Company in 1940 and he had never seen anything like it before. He said he was an infantryman and was in the Machine Gun Corps, and when the Panzers appeared they just came straight on and swept past them as if they were not there. He said everyone fired at the tanks but did no harm. The Scots then became demoralized and surrendered to the German troops as they mopped up afterwards.
We now started to walk round the ship's deck as we swopped yarns, and an incident occurred when we were walking on the port side of the vessel. Without warning a German "U" Boat suddenly broke surface and slowly came in sight. It then arose from the water in full view, the Conning Tower was then raised and several Germans appeared. I estimated that they were only about fifty yards away as I was able to distinguish their faces. They were having a damned good look at our ship and it must have galled them to know that they dare not sink us.
After a few minutes another sub appeared and I did not know what to make of it for I doubted that they were there for escort duty. They kept with us for about half and hour and then we began to leave them behind. Before we lost sight of them Tom and I gave them a wave for devilment, but they did not reciprocate and we put our two fingers up and said "Sod you then".
As far as I can remember, we were on board the ship for bout three days and our route took us around the north of Scotland, down its west coast and through the Irish Sea to the port of Liverpool. I was a very poor sailor and all the way through this voyage I kept my fingers crossed for fear of getting seasick again, but I was lucky and felt fine all the way.
On the morning of the last day of our voyage the Captain announced that he would be giving a religious talk about wars, our wartime future etc. and it would be held in the Stateroom, and he hoped he would get a good turn out to hear him.
I asked Tom if he would like to go with me but he declined; I don't think he was very religious. When I got to the Stateroom, I found it a huge place, luxuriously appointed, but hardly any people there. When the captain was ready to commence there were only about forty people in the Stateroom and it could easily have held 200 or 300.
His talk lasted about one and a half hrs and was very interesting, and I thought one of the best religious talks I have ever heard by a layman, and I was very impressed. One part of his talk which impressed me most was when he prophesied that the British Empire would fall and be defunct in the following years. Now that was something that was hard to swallow and I think most of us there at that time would not accept that.
He explained his reasons by quoting from the Old Testament, I think it was from the Book of Daniel, referring to when Daniel the Prophet had to explain to King Nebuchadnezzar the meaning of his dream or vision that five great kingdoms were to fall in the whole of the Earth, in the millenniums to come.
The captain derived from this, that four kingdoms or Empires had already fallen namely, Chinese Empire, Egyptian Empire, Grecian Empire, Roman Empire; and now the British Empire would be the fifth to go. That prophecy was in 1944 and as I write this, his prophecy has certainly come true, as there is no longer a British Empire. In fact the "Great" in Great Britain seems to be phasing out, even the word Britain as well, as most people seem to prefer saying the U.K.
He went on to predict, still from Daniel, what was to become of Britain in the future, and that we were to be joined or become part of something. Again his prediction has a ring of truth, for we are heading to be an ordinary state in a federal Europe. Only time will tell.
It was late afternoon when we sailed up the Mersey, and on our approach to Liverpool we received a tremendous reception. Ferryboats crammed with sightseers waving and cheering as they followed us into the quayside greeted us. I would not have missed this for anything, and this welcome made you feel it was great to be back home.
Shortly after we docked the crowds were still waving and cheering. Some Navy, Army and Air Force personnel were now starting to come aboard and quite a number of nurses and medical staff. Before we were allowed ashore, we were sectioned off into our various units and I had to bid farewell to Tom who had to go with the Army contingent. When all the RAF Repats were ready we went ashore and were then taken by RAF buses and pick-up trucks and whisked away to an RAF camp called Weeton in Kirkham.
When we arrived there we were hospitalised in special quarters, and given hospital clothes, which consisted of light blue jacket and trousers, white shirt and red tie.
We then had to undergo a severe medical and were kept inside the camp for three days and were not allowed outside. After the second day, they lads started to moan, complaining that it was like being a PoW again.
After I had my medical, I was told that there would be a good chance that I could receive the full movement of my arm, and they would send me to a Rehabilitation Centre for treatment. I was also interviewed and de¬briefed by senior officers regarding my capture and the circumstances;
and I was amazed at the casualness and attitude of the officers, for it seemed to me that they could not have cared less. I thought to myself "What a Shower".
When all the necessary checking and medical reports were done we were given a complete new uniform again, and I became a Warrant Officer for the first time.
I was then interviewed regarding my intentions about staying in the RAF. I was told that if my treatment was satisfactory I would be offered a commission to stay in; and if I still wanted to be in aircrew I would be sent to the Japanese theatre of War. I told them I would consider this, as I did not fancy becoming a POW again, especially in Japanese hands.
I was then given a month's leave with full pay and Travel Warrants to take me home. Before we all left for home our kitbags had arrived and had to be picked up. I was unlucky with my kitbag as it ha» not arrived and was told it had gone off to America by mistake. C’est La Guerre.
When I arrived home I was met at the railway station by my father, and Eddie my brother in-law. Eddie and my sister May had come up from Barry, South Wales, for the occasion and were staying with Mum and Dad for a couple of weeks. My brother Harry was also in the house when I arrived, and had taken the day off from work to welcome me.
It was great to be home again. After a few wonderful days, I wrote to my girl friend Margaret in Stratford on Avon and invited her to come up to Scotland for a week, and I would have accommodation for her with my Aunt Mary. She wrote back immediately and accepted, and came up by train.
After I introduced her to the family she felt a little shy, but I was able to make her overcome this and we spent a wonderful week together. When the week was over and she had left for home, my sister May and husband Eddie also decided that they had to go home, and after they had all left, I found that time started to drag a bet. I was missing the companionship of ay RAF comrades.
When I went out I usually wore civvy clothes but occasionally wore my RAF uniform to please my mother. My injured left arm and shoulder still gave me a little trouble and I could only lift my arm to elbow height.
One day as I was walking down the street, I met a young woman whom I recognised as the sister of one of my old schoolmates. Before we could introduce ourselves she blurted out "George Stewart! What are you doing home? I thought you would be away fighting the war."
When I explained that I had been a P.O.W and had been severely wounded and got repatriated and was now home to recover, she did not want to know but blurted out again "But what’s wrong with you? You don’t seem injured to me; and my brother is still over in Germany fighting the war at this moment; and he has been wounded twice.” now got quite annoyed at her attitude and decided to end the conversation, and as I walked away I remarked that he could not have been wounded very badly.
I was also approached by the local Education Authority about giving a talk about my war experiences to the schools. I thanked them and felt honoured, but as much as I wanted to do this, I had to decline as I felt I did not have the courage to go before a classroom full of pupils.
As I still had a few more days of my leave left, I decided to pay a visit to my Grandmother and my aunt and various cousins who all lived in Dundee. My father accompanied me and we spent a very nice weekend visiting them all. On the way home we broke our journey and I called on the parents of David Buchan our navigator and who lived in the town of Perth. I was made very welcome but I felt sad for them as I related the events, which lead to the time when our Lanc blew up; he was their only son.
My leave soon came to an end but I was also quite ready to go back. After the usual farewells to my parents I returned to BAF Kirkham where along with a few other aircrew we were bundled into a pick-up truck and taken at night on a long journey. We were not told where we were going and we still did not have a clue. When we eventually arrived at our destination it was not until next morning that we discovered that we were staying at a Rehabilitation Centre called the "Leas", an ex boys school and was south of Liverpool in the Wirral midway between Hoylake and West Kirby.
This Rehabilitation Centre was mainly for RAF NCO'S. There was a real mixture of nationalities, but only a handful of ex POW's. Quite a large number had amputations and were given certain exercises and instruction for the fitting of new artificial limbs.
In the washrooms it was commonplace to stand next to someone with a leg or arm amputation and watch them try to wash themselves. I had to help one fellow who was trying to wash his good arm with the stump of his other arm. There were also some very brave men amongst them. One chap, an ex kriegie who was standing next to me had no foot, just a leg stump; when I asked him how it happened he told me that his aircraft had been hit and was on fire and the crew had to abandon. In his hurry to bale out his foot got trapped in the fuselage. His efforts to hack himself "free with the aircraft axe failed, and at the last moment he bravely chopped off his foot.
Another chap was walking around with hardly any right arm. The side of this arm was sliced from his shoulder down and all the bone was showing. Apparently he had carelessly walked into a whirring prop.
I liked the "Leas" very much even though we were given quite strenuous exercises. We got plenty of time off.
I was still corresponding with Margaret my girl friend and on my first weekend off I went down to Stratford to see her and spent a very pleasant weekend there. She was a farmer's daughter and lived with her parents on the farm just outside the town.
As the weeks went by, my injured arm become much stronger as did my physical fitness and I was able to enjoy a game of squash. After I had been at the "Leas" for about six weeks I was informed that I was now ready to go before a medical board and which would be in London (at the RAF Power House). I was then duly given the necessary travel warrants, and then went and spent two very pleasant days there, despite the V2’s which arrived quite frequently.
After I had had my medical, I was interviewed regarding my future in the RAF I don't think they knew what to do with me. Eventually they recommended that I train to become a Navigation Instructor, and would be sent on a course for training. I was then given a spot of leave and was told to report back to an RAF Station near Scone, Perth shire, Scotland.
After a pleasant ten day's leave I reported to RAF Scone, and found it was (no 11) E.F.T.S. (Elementary Flying Training School), and furthermore it was also a University Squadron. No way was I going to stand before a class of University Students and teach them navigation, so I made up my mind to turn down the Instructors Course.
I then made an application for an interview with the C.O. about my refusal, and when I saw him I thought he would go up the wall. He was, to my surprise, quite sympathetic and we discussed various jobs, which I thought I could fill, and I settled for the job of Briefing Officer. This was a position that suited me entirely, and I was to be in charge of my own office, and have a young Plying Officer as my assistant.
This job was very interesting and important one. Everyone who landed on the airfield had to report first to ay office for clearance, and similarly before anyone took off they had to be briefed regarding weather conditions, firing ranges etc., and I was kept very busy.
I got on very well with the flying instructors who were mostly Sergeant pilots and they wanted to know about my war experiences and what it was like to fly on operations. One instructor offered to take me up in the Tiger Moth and would give me a turn at the controls. I accepted, but was a bit doubtful as to how I would react once I got into a cockpit again. I did not have long to wait before he called for me and I put behind me any fears that I had as we both went toward our aircraft. I did not know whether he had got permission to take me up or whether he had wangled it, but there I was, ready to take off again.
As soon as me were airborne I began to feel relaxed and really started to enjoy the flight. In all fairness he kept his word and let me have the controls for about fifteen minutes in which I did some slow rolls, lazy eights and managed a loop. I had done very well.
After I had been about three or four weeks at Scone the news came through that Germany had capitulated, May 8th and we all had quite a celebration later. Shortly after that I received instructions to report back to the Leas, Hoylake, again for further medical treatment. I was now sorry to leave for I was beginning to like the Station.
When I arrived there for the second time I found that there was a new influx of NCOs and I only recognised one or two that were still being treated. As soon as I got settled in I lost no time in getting in touch with Margaret and arranged to go and visit her the very first week¬end.
I went by train and arrived in Stratford in the afternoon. When I got to the house I was made welcome by her parents but only a cool reception from Margaret. She actually had another fellow staying there! I could not believe my eyes, and as bold as brass introduced him to me, a young Canadian Pilot officer who had just finished his training. To make matters worse I had to share a bedroom with this newfound boy friend. I did not sleep very well that night and knew somehow that the writing was on the wall, and decided I would leave first thing in the morning. From the small amount of conversation I had had with her so far I found she was getting too much attention from this Canadian and his friends, and she lapped it up. After breakfast I bade farewell to her parents and left for the railway station. Margaret, I think, was persuaded by her parents to accompany me. She was extremely quiet and barely spoke and as we got to the platform I said to her "Is this the finish then." Her response was something like "if that's the way you want it", and so matter of fact. I did not say any more but felt hurt and sad and I knew when I had been jilted. I felt I wanted to get away and when the train pulled into the platform I quickly said goodbye and left her, and I never saw or heard of her again. C'est la Guerre..! As it was a Sunday I had to wait about two hours at Birmingham's New Street Station for my connection back to the Leas, so I occupied the time in the Station Bar talking to the barmaid who was a good listener, and literally drowned my sorrows.
My stay at the Leas this time was spent doing similar exercises as before, but because I was not making much progress with my injured arm they decided to give me a manipulation. I was given an injection first which put me out and was then laid on a table (I was told later) and an orderly or someone took my injured arm and forced it back all the way past my head and they did this several times. When I regained my senses my shoulder hurt so much that I had to have a pain killing injection. I thought to myself that by stretching the ligaments this way was doing more damage. However I was allowed another week or so to recover before I had to have another examination. All in all I think I had three manipulations.
As I said before we got plenty of time off and went out nearly every night. Most of the NCOs were now looking forward to their discharge on medical grounds, and many took advantage of their disability.
From the railway station at Hoylake to the Leas was about three quarters of mile, and coming back by train from Liverpool, or wherever, the boys, full of alcoholic beverage would do all sort of pranks. On one occasion a paint van, which had been left unattended, was overturned and the paint cans spilled out all over the road. Many phones were also found ripped out of their phone booths; It was also common place to raid the front gardens of peoples* houses and present the flowers to the W.A.A.F's in the Dining Room. Complaints from the local residents about our behaviour were always being sent to the C.O, and every other day he would call assembly and address us about our misdoings. But what punishment can you dish out to people who are recovering from amputations? I think the C.O. understood and just told us not to do it again, and then dismissed us with the words "carry on".
It was also here that we went to all the notorious pubs. The Blood Tub at the north end of Birkenhead, The Conway in Conway Street and of course we always had a pub crawl around Lime St.Liverpool, visiting the famous 0'Connors Bar.
Every Thursday evening I did not go out, just that I made a habit of staying in, making up my laundry, writing home, doing any sewing that was needed, and having my weekly bath. I called it domestic night and I usually event to bed by 11 PM. Very few of the others copied my example but went out every night.
One Thursday evening I had been asleep for about an hour when I was awakened by something slithering cross my face and then I realised my boozy mates were waking me up for devilment. They had actually been stroking my face with a slippery fish of some sort, which they had misappropriated from a fish stall and were repeatedly saying, "Do you want
to buy a Battleship"; and you can guess what I said in return. These sorts of pranks went on all the time and there was nothing one could do about it, just try something and get your own back. On our notice boards from time to time were invitations from the local yacht club or Golf club for anyone who wished to take part in an evening’s game of Snooker or sometimes names were required for various house parties.
One day Jim, a close friend, brought up the subject about going to one of these parties, and as we both agreed, we put our names down for a party to be held in a private house in West Kirby. I can remember we were the only ones to do so and on the night in question we were both picked up by a young woman in her car and who introduced herself as the owner of the house. She was blonde and very attractive and very friendly and promised us a good time.
When we arrived at the house we found the party in full swing, and we also discovered that we were the only RAF bods there. The rest were all Yanks and mostly army officers, and I estimated about fifteen or sixteen, and all of them seemed to have a girl hanging around.
Our hostess did not introduce us to anyone so at first we just hung around and weighed up the situation. The house was huge and couples were wondering around as they pleased, going upstairs and occupying the bedrooms as they pleased. It was a very unusual party I thought for nobody seemed to be in charge and our hostess disappeared from time to time. There was no entertainment of any kind so after a while I decided to make myself useful instead of hanging around, so I went to the kitchen where all the drink was kept and took control of the drinks trolley and did a shuttle to all the ground floor rooms topping up the glasses and making myself generally useful.
As the evening wore on Jim and I got chatting to two girls who were not mixing very well and they told us they were both schoolteachers from Meols. They also said that they were ready to go home as they had had enough. By this time quite a number of couples had disappeared altogether as did our hostess, probably to one of the numerous bedrooms for the night. It was also obvious that there was no transport laid on and we would all have to stay the night. The girls did not like it at all but agreed to stay with us. We all went and searched around till we found an empty rear room on the ground floor.
The room was sparsely furnished having only a double bed but no blankets, three piece suite, a wicker chair and a glass cabinet. Jim and I went and built a fire in the old grate and which we kept going the whole night. Jim chose one of the girls and sat with her on the settee and I chatted with the other girl whom as far as I can remember, her name was Mavis, and we sat on the bare bed mattress I found it a bit hard going for she was a prim and proper type, and aged about twenty eight.
Eventually we all felt a bit tired, and when I saw that Jim had persuaded his girl to stretch cut with him on the settee, I suggested to Mavis to lie down on the bed, which she reluctantly did, and I was more than surprised when she allowed me to lay on the bed beside her. Nothing happened of course; and when morning came we all left and caught the first train to Hoylake where we got off and said good-bye to the girls who stayed on for Meols, and that was the last we ever saw of them again.
It was about this time that I met my future wife. One evening about four or five of as managed to get tickets for a dance to be held in the Birkenhead Town Hall. We took the train to Hamilton Square Station and then went to the "Letters" in Argyle Street for a few drinks, and then drifted over to the Town Hall. As we did not know anybody we hung around a bit to evaluate the talent so to speak, and then I noticed one particular girl who did not seem to be mixing well —with her chums. She seemed left out and had not got up for any dances. I studied her for a bit and wondered why and was making up my mind to ask her for the next dance when a sailor, who stood next to me said "See that one over there, I am going for her next dance", and the girl he was pointing to was the one that I had my eye on. I said to myself "not on your Nellie", and made up my mind there and then to beat him to it. As the floor had been cleared ready for the next dance, I now waited anxiously for the M.C.s announcement, and as soon as the dance was announced I was across the floor like a shot to ask her for the pleasure. She accepted, and that how I met my wife Audrey: probably only because the sailor had given me the challenge.
I had a few more dances with her and of course the last one and them offered to walk her home. She said it was too far but I persuaded her and we set off. When we came to Singleton Avenue we stopped as she said that we were only half way to her home and that I had better go back or I would miss my last train. I pondered over this and decided she was right, as I had about ten minutes left. Before I left her I got her phone number and said I would contact her for another date.
I sprinted back to the Station but the last train for West Kirby had gone. After some enquiries about hotel accommodation, I was told about the Central Hotel where I went and took a room for the night. I got the first train next morning and arrived back at the Leas in plenty of time to have a wash and shave before breakfast, but I did not get back unnoticed and had my leg pulled for staying out overnight.
I continued to date Audrey for a few weeks after that and then I received another Posting and had to report back again to No. 11 EFTS, Scone in Scotland. Before I left I told Audrey that I would keep in touch and would write to her.
When I arrived back at Scone I was given my old job back again and took up my life more or less as I had left off I also welcomed the privilege of being allowed a few hours flying time in the Tiger Moth.
As our RAF Station was only a couple of miles from the town of Perth, I spent most of my Saturday evenings going to the local dances there which were held in the Salutation Hotel. I had also been visiting my Aunt Maggie who lived in Dundee and had invited my cousin Gladys to come and see me and she accepted and we spent some very enjoyable weekends together. I also kept my word with Audrey and wrote to her regularly.
I had been on the Station for about four or five weeks when the news came through that the Americans had dropped an atom bomb on Hiroshima with devastating effect. When however a second atom bomb was dropped on Nagasaki with similar devastation and loss of life, the Japanese had had enough and on August 8th they surrendered.
By dropping these two atom bombs thousand of Japanese people were killed in a couple of days you could say, and brought the War to a quick end. In my opinion however, if these two bombs had not been dropped, millions of people would have lost their lives through a prolonged War. C'est La Guerre.
That same night of the surrender, most of us went into Perth and celebrated. It was another wonderful event and everyone had a good time, dancing in the Streets and gathering together to form parties.
Now that the War was officially over I had to take stock of myself for I felt that it would not be long before I would receive my discharge from the RAF. Meanwhile I continued to enjoy life on the Station. Among the Service men there were a number of civilian Instructors and I got to know them very well, and it was here that I was considered for the Freemasons, and was proposed and seconded, and at a joining fee of only ten pounds. Before I got any further however, my discharge from the RAF come through, 11th November 1945.
I then received instructions to report to RAF Kirkham, near Black pool where I would receive and be kitted out in civilian clothes.
Meanwhile I had written to Audrey and had arranged to call on her afterwards
When I arrived at Kirkham I was given my civilian clothes, which included a navy blue striped suit, which nearly everyone got and was called a "demob suit". Finally I was also told I would receive a War Disability Pension.
With my civilian clothes on, I took the train to Birkenhead and called on Audrey. When she opened the door and saw me in my new civvies, she burst out laughing for she certainly did not like me in them. Never the less, I continued to date her and we eventually married. Here endeth my life story in the RAF.