I well remember our first Berlin raid, 18th November.
I well remember our first Berlin raid, 18th November. When we arrived at our target we must have been ahead of our ETA as everything was in darkness, we thought that our Navigator Jim Gourlay had dropped a clanger and put us in the wrong place. Jim was so sure that Berlin was below the clouds, that we started to circle the target area and then after a while the Markers and TIs started to fall, so we then lined up onto our bombing run and dropped them without meeting much flak. That was the only time we pranged Berlin with ease. I think Jerry must have been asleep, that night. All the remaining raids, he was on his toes, in the end he was sending up trellis work type of flak.
The Berlin raid on the 26th November, when we were presumed missing, was due to us being forced to land away, due to our aircraft being damaged. I think that was all due to the flight plan for that particular raid. The reason being that particular flight plan had been laid on for a raid on Berlin which should have taken place 24 hours earlier but which was cancelled at the last moment. The same flight plan was put in operation the next night, same times, same route, same turning points.
On this particular Berlin Raid our route was lined with fighter flares on both sides, we were sitting ducks. That night on the way to the target we had to pass Frankfurt and that was when we were clobbered with cannon fire, our gunners could not see the fighters due to the flares.
Anyway we were blasted by cannon fire, the rear turret was put out of action, we discovered next day that a cannon shell had exploded under the rear gunners seat, knocking out the electrics and hydraulic system and shell splinters had sprayed out from the impact of hitting the hydraulic pump under the centre of the turret seat and they had perforated all around the edge of the seat.
We called up the rear gunner Terry Dowling, he said that he was OK but the gun turret was out of action. He would not come forward but said that he would stay in his useless turret to keep an eye out for fighters. His electrics were knocked out, only his intercom was working. His heated flying suit was useless without power, but he sat there whilst we continued, our cockpit cover was damaged and a piece of the canopy had dropped down my neck, and at first I thought that I had been hit.
We carried on to the target and dropped our load on Berlin which was well alight, and started back home. One of our petrol tanks had been hit so we had to juggle our petrol feed using the cross balance cock. We at last crossed the coast and made for the nearest aerodrome. A couple of our aircraft had already touched down, when we had permission to land, we made our approach.
We checked the under carriage to make sure that everything was working OK. We touched down and then put the runway out of action, due to our aircraft which had now lost flying speed and as it tried to settle on the wheels of the undercarriage one of the tyres had been shot up and the aircraft just slewed across the runway and came to rest.
Next morning we went out to see the aircraft, we had spent a couple of hours trying to sleep in chairs at the mess but to no avail. When we climbed into the aircraft next morning the fuselage looked like a colander, there were holes everywhere. Cannon shells had gone through the main spar and wings and the port petrol tank jettison trunk was hanging down out of the wing, just like an elephants trunk. We could not fly the aircraft back to Dunholme Lodge as it was a write-off.
We piled in to another of our squadron aircraft to get back to base, and as we were passengers in the aircraft we were watching all the other aircraft of our squadron taxiing around the perimeter track to take off. We saw that the aircraft stationed on this drome were Stirlings which had quite a high undercarriage. Anyway we were watching F/O Higgs taxiing just rear of our starboard quarter when a WAAF, driving a small pickup with a canvas cover which had a few aircrew sitting in the back of the truck, headed towards F/O Higgs and attempted to drive under his wing.
I suppose she had done the same thing under the Stirling aircraft many times. Unfortunately the propellors on the Lancaster were much lower, and the next thing we saw was the spinning prop of the Lanc hit the canvas awning and the pipework which supporting the awning, and fling it high in the air. The men in the back of the now open truck unfortunately were badly injured - but 44 Squadron had to leave another aircraft at that aerodrome.
On another raid on the big city, we were making our way home back to base, I think that we must have been ahead of the first wave and minding our own business with thoughts of the bacon and eggs waiting for us back at our base.
Ahead of us all seemed quiet, no sign of flak or searchlights when all of a sudden, all hell broke loose, flak and searchlights everywhere, a couple of searchlights picked us up and we were blinded for a few seconds, fortunately before we could be covered by other searchlights, a couple of shells exploded near us and our aircraft dropped like a stone and out the searchlight beams.
I would add at this point, our Radio Operator declined to use the Elsan at the rear of the aircraft during our trips to Germany. To ease the call of nature he had obtained a large open tin can which he used frequently during our trips and usually it was nearly full on our return trips.
Unfortunately, this particular time it was nearly full and, as the aircraft dropped, we felt as it we were floating in mid air, our feet left the floor of the cabin, at the same time, the open can that usually reposed on the radio operators table, slowly left the table and started upwards to the roof of the aircraft. During this time the Radio Operator, Rex Bennett, was unable to move but to just sit in mid air and watch his tin can slowly reach the roof and gradually tilt over spilling its contents all over him.
By now we had left the flak above us and with our nose down returned to base. It appeared that we had entered the Ruhr Valley by mistake. Our navigator swore that he had used the correct wind directions given to him by the Met man at our briefing, and it was not his fault that we were off track. The wave of aircraft following us spotted what was happening to us and altered course to miss the hot reception.
Afterwards at briefings the squadron was told not to worry about flying into any hot spots as F/O Phillips and is crew would leave the way and fly over them, giving the remainder of the squadron time to alter course and therefore miss the hot spots.
A few nights later we did happen to fly over another heavily defended town in error, and as the flak started to bang around us, a voice was heard over the intercom. It was F/O Phillips addressing our navigator Jim Gourlay in no uncertain way. The words were brief and to the point, they were Jim you bastard, you have done it again, but luck and evasive action got us out of trouble and back to base. I think the words uttered over the intercom at that particular moment when the flak opened up certainly eased the tension and relaxed the crew.
On the lighter side of flying at that period we were carrying out the usual air test prior to ops that night when a Flying Fortress formatted with us on our starboard quarter. We saw the American pilot look over to us and shortly afterwards feather one of his engines, he flew on three engines and looked at us again.
We replied by feathering our starboard outer and flew on, he then feathered another engine, by this time we were getting fed up with him, so without looking at him, we feathered two more engines at the same time, by now we were flying on one engine and still formatting.
I think we must have shaken him rigid because he took one look at the Lancaster flying on one engine alongside him. He restarted his engines, waved to us in acknowledgement, waggled his wings and broke off the competition. We were never troubled again to demonstrate the flying capability of the Avro Lancaster during air tests, to our American Allies.
During one of our stand down periods, we were going to carry out an extensive air test. At this time our Gunnery Leader was going on leave to Belfast and it was arranged for us to fly him over to Belfast. The trip was uneventful, we landed OK but the weather clamped down so we could not return to base. The Gunnery Leader kindly offered to treat us to a meal and a show in Belfast which we gladly accepted.
After the meal and the Variety Show he left us and we went on a sightseeing tour of Belfast. We were intrigued by the local public houses, they had sawdust on the floors and I remember a young woman coming into one such place with a large basket on her arm, selling cockles and mussels. I had heard the song but never expected to see it in action. We sat in the bar nearly all afternoon which we thought unusual, we were finally asked to leave at about 4 oclock, as they had to close for one hour, but to come back again at 5 oclock when the bar would be reopened.
We wandered around the area for about an hour, we did not want to wander too far in case we lost our bearings for the return journey to that particular public house, and also to our route back to the aerodrome. We did find our way back to the bar and spent a pleasant evening. The fun started when we left that bar and went out into the blackout. There we were, seven airmen in a strange town in the blackout, trying to find our way back to the aerodrome. I think we must have been slightly tipsy after the time we spent I the bar, I think the customers in there must have supplied most of our drinks during that time.
Anyway when we got out in the fresh air, we kept losing each other in the blackout. We tried to keep contact by calling out, but to no avail as other people in the street were answering us. Finally, we thought of our whistles attached to our battle dress for ditching in the sea. As we felt all at sea at the time, we started blowing our whistles and, with their help, we made our way safely back to Nutts Corner aerodrome. I hate to think what the inhabitants of Belfast thought was happening that night with all the whistles blowing.
The next couple of days we were still fogbound. We had not come prepared for our enforced stay, we had no small kit or shaving gear with us, so we had to stay in camp, we must have looked a real scruffy bunch of airmen by this time. The other aircraft on the base were Lockheed Hudsons with their slatted bomb doors.
The Hudson crews wanted us to open our bomb bay doors as they had not seen a bomb bay as long as a bus before. We were rather embarrassed by this request and declined to open the bomb doors. We declined the request by saying that we had secret equipment in there. The only secret in there were a couple of white practice bombs in one of the bomb racks and we did not relish the remarks that would be forthcoming from the Hudson crews when they were spotted. We managed to keep our secret and were pleased when the weather cleared and we were able to return to base for a bath and shave.
18th March 1944
The 18th March 1944 started as just a normal day. We saw the battle order, we were flying again that night. With luck we thought this should be our last operation before our leave which we were looking forward to after a couple of hectic months of operational flying.
At the briefing, when Frankfurt was named as the target, I think we all felt a bit apprehensive. I know that I did for some unknown reason. I shrugged off the feeling putting it down to the time that we were clobbered there on the way in to Berlin. We were detailed for wind finding this night so that we would be ahead of the main force and well on our way before any enemy aircraft would be able to climb to our altitude.
In theory we should not have met any fighters but, on the other hand, we would be a single blip on the German radar screen for predicted flak, which would follow us across the sky, until the main force following us would present a big and better target for the German flak and searchlights.
The crew bus took the crews to their respective aircraft dispersals where the ground crews were waiting for us. The aircraft had been checked during the day, the bomb bay and fuel tanks with their respective loads were all ready. The air miles had been carefully worked out and the optimum amount of petrol required for the operation had been changed to pounds weight and added to the weight of the aircraft. The balance of take off lift weight would have been made up of the 4000 lb cookie and the balance in canisters of incendiaries suspended in the bomb bay around our 4000 lb cookie.
We had arrived at our aircraft early so we sat on the grass smoking our last cigarette before climbing into our kite. I think the usual pre-op banter was missing that night, at least it was for me. At last it was time to board the aircraft; the controls were checked and everything was normal. The Form 700 was duly signed and the ground staff wished us safe journey and left the aircraft.
We taxied to the end of the runway where the usual group of well wishers waved us off, we got the green light from the controller in the caravan at the side of the runway and we took off.
The journey started off as normal, there was not much cloud about and we were able to see other aircraft taking off and climbing up into the night. We headed out over the sea, our navigation lights had been switched off, and our gunners had fired a short burst to test their guns.
We settled down for the long trip ahead, climbing steadily to obtain operational height, prior to transmitting our wind finding back to base. We crossed the enemy coast and were greeted with the usual light flak, we carried on into the night we seemed to be all alone up there. The bank and search procedure was carried out just in case any fighters were in the vicinity, but the gunners reported that everything was OK.
After about a couple of hours we picked up a faint blip on our audible Monica, the signal was so faint that it did not register on our visual Monica screen. We carried out further bank and search routines but still no aircraft was spotted. We carried on towards the target but gradually the audible Monica became more pronounced. By now the other aircraft must have been with us for about 15 minutes, according to the sound coming through our headphones.
At last our Radio Operator, Rex Bennett, reported that a blip was beginning to appear on his radar screen. We still could not spot the aircraft but the loud warning note coming through our earphones indicated that it was getting close. Finally, the Radio Operator managed to get a fix on the blip and reported that the aircraft was below us. I looked out of the cockpit bubble which enabled me to see down under our starboard wing. I had not expected to see anything as our bomb aimer had not reported any sighting, as he had a greater visibility angle under the aircraft than I had, but the noise in my ears told me otherwise.
Suddenly an aircraft appeared out of the thinning clouds way down under our starboard wing, at the same moment the aircraft opened fire on us from his mid upper turret. The burst of fire hit our starboard engines and petrol tanks, which burst into flames. The aircraft must have had guns in the turret as we were too far away from the aircraft for normal .303 guns to inflict so much damage with one long burst to our aircraft. The burst must have surely cut into our wing spar and the heat would also have started to weaken the wing. The flames were so great that I was unable to see the other aircraft after it had opened fire on us.
We had no hope of putting out the fire, if we dived down in the hope that the slip stream may have put out the fire, I feel sure that the starboard wing would have folded up, and we would be unable to leave the aircraft.
Our pilot, Frank Phillips, gave the order to abandon the aircraft and he told the bomb aimer to drop the front escape hatch. Bill Taylor the bomb aimer clipped on his parachute and straddled the floor of the bombing compartment to enable him to release the jettison switch which was part of the floor.
Whilst this was going on, I handed our Navigator his parachute and handed up another to our Pilot who had released his seat harness with difficulty as he was trying to steady our doomed aircraft to enable the bomb aimer to jettison the hatch and jump clear. Frank Phillips clipped on his parachute to the hooks on the front of his parachute harness. Frank then ordered me to jump as I was standing in the gangway leading down to the now empty bomb aiming compartment and blocking the exit for everyone else, except the two gunners.
The rear gunner would simply revolve his turret at right angle to the aircraft and fall out backwards. The midgunner would leave by the side door, that was the reason the Pilot was doing his best to keep the aircraft steady.
I slid down into the bomb aiming compartment and sat on the edge of the escape hatch and rolled out into the darkness. I grabbed hold of the parachute handle as I left the aircraft. Unfortunately I had forgotten to disconnect my oxygen flexible hose which was attached to my face mask.
As I rolled out of the aircraft, the flexible hose stretched and so did the elastic straps of my mask which pulled away from my face, until the aircraft hose broke, allowing the elastic straps of my face mask, which had been stretched to the limit, to return the oxygen mask to my face with so much force that when it landed the microphone hit my nose which started to bleed. I suffered with a bleeding nose, for which I was unable to stem the blood, for at least a fortnight afterwards. After the hose broke, I fell from the aircraft and pulled my parachute, I could see the aircraft above me before the chute opened.
At the same time they opened up again with the mid upper guns. I think that this burst of machine gun fire must have raked the bomb load on to the tail end of the aircraft. I learned afterwards that when our aircraft blew apart it also blew the Pilot, Navigator and our Wireless Operator out of the aircraft. If the 4000 lb bomb had not gone off I feel sure that Frank Phillips would not have been able to bale out, for once he had released the control column the aircraft would have nose-dived into a spin and cut off his only means of escape from the aircraft.
I had baled out at about 20,000 ft and after the aircraft had passed overhead, I just hung there. I felt as if I was drifting backwards so I tried to twist my parachute so that I would land facing forward. I could not hear the main bombing force yet so they must have been a log way behind us.
I just hung there in the dark, there was no sound. I had never experienced such quietness, before or after. I had expected to hear the wind in the parachute lines but there was no sound at all.
After a while, I thought that I would prepare for my landing. I had no idea how high I was, as there was hardly any moon, to see the ground below. I crossed my legs in case I landed in a tree. Finally, I spotted a lot of white lines below me, so I pulled on my harness and landed on a ploughed field with the furrows filled with snow and I just went limp before I hit the ground and I rolled forward to break the fall. I could hear a dog barking in the distance so I quickly released my parachute harness and gathered in my parachute. I then dug a hole in the snow and buried my parachute and harness.
I was not sure where I had landed but I started walking away from the sound of the dog barking, as I guessed there may have been a farmhouse near the dog. I began to feel tired and exhausted, so when I blundered into some thick undergrowth in the dark, I decided to crawl into the undergrowth. I was hoping to inflate my Mae West and sleep on that, but I found that when I operated the CO2 bottle the gas escaped from a tear in the Mae West. I must have ripped it when I left the aircraft.
As I laid there in the darkness listening for any sound of a search party looking for me or the other members of the crew who may be in the vicinity, my only thoughts at that time was the usual telegram that my parents would receive from the Ministry saying that I was missing. I think that depressed me more than my own predicament at the time. I was unable to sleep, I could only doze as the blood from my nose started to trickle down my throat so I had to try and keep head upright in the hope that the blood would congeal. I had to breath through my mouth as my nose was beginning to block up.
When dawn came I was still and shivering with cold. I opened my escape aid kit but I found that the tube of condensed milk was useless. It had dried out in the tube, so I ate a couple of Horlicks tablets. I started sucking another one, and I unfolded the silk escape map which was also in the kit. The map could also double as a neck scarf as well. I had no idea where I had landed and as there was not any sun I had no compass bearing to talk of. As I looked around I found that I was on the edge of a large field, and that if any farm hand came to the field, there was no cover handy that I could retreat to.
I decided to start walking so I cut off the top of both my flying boots which made them into shoes. I stripped my battledress of badges and rolled up my flying suit and tucked it under my arm and started to walk along the edge of the field. I came to a gate which opened on to a rough road. I followed the road hoping to find a signpost from which I would be able to get my bearings with the aid of the scarf map.
If I was spotted I was hoping to be mistaken from a foreign labour worker. We had been told in the past that if we were shot down in Germany, that there were so many foreign workers about, that dressed in our battledress we would look like one of them. I was hoping to get my bearings before I was seen and then find somewhere to hide until darkness fell. I could rest up during the day and walk at night, if my luck held I may even meet up with one of my crew.
I carried on walking until finally I came to a signpost, the names on it did not register with my map, so I thought that I would carry on and try and avoid any village that I came to. I walked on and turning a bend in the road, I found that I was abreast of a house. I had not seen the house or roof as each side of the road had high hedges on each side. I was about to turn back when I saw the curtains move, I had been seen. If I turned back now it would look suspicious, so I trudged on hoping that if I was lucky there would not be any one about, as I saw that I was approaching a village.
I must have been still in a state of shock, because I should have known that any village inhabitants would know all about the farm workers or forced labourers in their district. Which was my mistake, the village looked deserted when I entered it. As I was passing a beer house, the doors opened and about five or six men came out and called me. I replied and called Auslander hoping that would fool them into thinking I was a foreign worker. I was mistaken, the men walked down the steps leading from the beer house.
The first house I had passed, the person who had seen me through the curtains must have telephoned ahead to warn the villages to watch out for me. I was outnumbered and in no state for sprinting out of the village and I was sure that being Sunday there were people waiting at the other end of the village. I suppose they had their own Volkssturm who would be pleased if I tried to make a break for it.
The men from the beer house crowded round me and guided me towards the stale smell of beer. I went up the steps and into the bar. They guided me into the kitchen which had a very large scrubbed table standing in the middle of the room. I could speak no German and they no English. A large German woman, I think she must have been the landlords wife, made a telephone call and after speaking into the phone beckoned me to the phone. A voice speaking in English said to me You are now a prisoner and for you the war is over. How often I was to hear that phrase in the future during my stay in Germany.
After the telephone call I returned to the form that I had been sitting on, after a time the landlady brought me a sandwich of very coarse brown bread which smelt sour, it had some kind of white cheese in it. I took one mouthful and it tasted vile. I put the sandwich in my pocket and then drank some milk which was handed to me, that washed down the taste of the bread and cheese. By this time I think the entire village population must have arrived to see me. The room and the bar was crowded. I must have been good for trade that morning.
After a while an army officer came into the room. He offered me a cigarette, and said that he was on leave and that he was in the Tank Corps. He could only speak a few words in English but between us we managed to converse. I asked if I could wash somewhere. He spoke to the landlady and then he beckoned me out of the house and into a yard at the back of the building. There was a pump standing I the middle of the yard, he produced some grey looking soap from somewhere. I took off my shirt and tried to raise a lather with the soap, someone operated the pump. The soap was rough, like pumice soap. I managed to wash off the dirt and blood from my face and neck. I felt like a side show with the villagers watching me washing.
My one regret was that I had left my haversack in the aircraft which had contained my small kit, English white soap and razor. I would have liked to have seen the look on the faces of my audience if I had my soap, they would have been jealous of my Lux toilet soap with its smell and lather. It was impossible to get a lather with their soap.
As I was towelling myself, someone walked across the field towards us dragging a parachute. I was hoping that it was another of my crews chute. I knew that Bill Taylor, the bomb aimer, had jumped but I was not sure if the other members of the crew had been able to jump in time, as there had been only a few seconds between the two bursts of gunfire from the other aircraft. The German officer showed me the parachute and harness. The harness was covered in blood, I was not sure whether the finder of the chute had removed it from a body, if so I wanted to know who it was. I checked the number painted on the back of the harness, it was my chute, I could not have made a very good job of burying it in the dark.
I washed the blood from a couple of my handkerchiefs whilst the pump was handy, My nose was still blocked with congealed blood, but I was afraid to blow my nose and start it bleeding again which happened from time to time during the next few weeks. The officer explained that a couple of soldiers would take me to their barracks. Later on during the morning the escort arrived, before I left the German officer gave me the remainder of the packet of cigarettes.
We walked for a while and then boarded a trolley bus which towed a trailer bus as well. During the journey I managed to stuff my escape photographs down the side of the bus seat without my guards seeing me. At the barracks I was locked in a cell. I asked the guard for the toilet I was not sure how long I would be locked up. He took me to the toilet. He would not let me shut the door. I suppose he thought that I would escape down the pan. I was wearing two pairs of longjohns which was usual in cold weather. I do not know what he thought seeing me sitting there.
I returned to my cell afterwards and was locked in. I put the plastic box containing my escape kit behind the slopping wooden plank which formed the pillow of the wooden bunk. I ate a couple of Horlicks tablets and laid on the bunk, after a couple of hours I heard footsteps so I put the escape kit inside my battledress, thinking that I was on the move again.
I was taken to the guard room where a short fat German was in charge. I was going to be searched. Whilst I was stripping off my uniform the German found my escape kit and he went berserk, shouting at the guards, things got worse when he found the two hacksaw blades sewed into my battledress blouse. He started looking for my compass trouser buttons, but I was not wearing them so he was unlucky. He kept the fountain pen my sister had given to me when I joined the RAF and also the escape aids. The tin of Horlicks tablets and tube of condensed milk he gave me back.
When he found the little paper screw of wakey-wakey tablets he again went berserk with the guards. He did not know that the tablets were not poison, I had them to keep awake when flying. We used to take them before we took off on ops, but if the operation was scrubbed at the last minute and we had taken the tablets, we found that we could not sleep that night, so to overcome that, we used to take them during the trip if we felt drowsy, or just after takeoff, needless to say I had not taken my issue that night.
While this was going on, I was still in my longjohns and people came in and out of the guardroom, also quite a number of women, I suppose they must have been soldiers wives, or camp workers. At last I was handed my trousers and I got dressed. At that moment another member of our crew was brought in to be searched. It was Bill Taylor, our bomb aimer. He must have been in another cell all this time, without me knowing. The guard spoke to Bill in German and much to my surprise Bill answered him in German.
During all the months we had flown together I am sure that the crew were not aware that Bill could speak German. I shared a room with Bill back at the squadron and he had not mentioned it to me. Bill Taylor came from Liverpool, he was over six feet tall and also walked with a stoop, he had a very dry sense of humour, and was also was a bit of a loner. I know, during our leave he used to go mountaineering but he enjoyed climbing and I suppose the solitude. He was a good bomb aimer, he never seemed to be in a hurry or get flustered.
I was taken back to my cell and I was sorry that I had not left my escape kit hidden behind the plank on my bed as the guards did not search the cell when they took me to the guardroom. I asked for a razor so that I could shave, instead they sent in an orderly who gave me a shave using a cut throat razor. That shave had to last me for a couple of weeks. Some time later I was given a bowl of carrot soup which was tasteless but it was wet and warm. That evening I was handed a mug of acorn coffee and a slice of dark coarse bread which also smelt sour, just as the bread given to me that morning at the beer house.
The following day Bill Taylor and I were take by train to an air force camp and it was there that we met up with the remainder of our crew. I was sorry to learn that both our gunners had been killed. I suppose the second burst of fire or the explosion caught them before they had a chance to jump from the aircraft.
We stayed at this aerodrome for a couple of days and then were taken to Frankfurt railway station. Frank Phillips had lost one of his flying boots when he left the aircraft and, as I always wore two pairs of socks when flying, I gave him a pair which he put on in place of his missing flying boot. Frank had already worn out his own socks.
Not only had the pilot lost his flying boot when he left the aircraft, but also his parachute had not been clipped on to both harness hooks on his chest, with the result that when the chute opened, instead of being suspended by the two straps, Frank was hanging by only one strap, the other was still attached to the front of is harness, causing him to spin like a top and the canopy of the chute was spilling air as the chute was coming down lopsided, due to his weight being on one strap instead of two. His rate of descent must have been faster than normal due to the spilling chute, and he was lucky that he had not broken any bones on landing in the dark.
I had no idea that when we took off that night to bomb Frankfurt, that a few days later we would be standing on the railway platform of that same town. I think aircrew had a built in fatalistic belief that it cannot happen to me. I suppose we had to, otherwise we would not have volunteered for flying duties.
Frankfurt and the people we saw on our way to the station, also the people in the railway station, were still recovering from the bombing raids. Our guards moved us into a quiet part of the platform away from the civilians, who could have turned nasty towards us as we were wearing our RAF uniforms. Frank Phillips suggested that we should not talk or laugh, so as not to rile the people.
We were in no mood to grin or laugh anyway, as we knew where we were going, not that the guards told us. We knew that we were being taken to the German Interrogation Camp, called Dulag Luft or sweat box. Our Intelligence Officer back on the Squadron had warned us of this interrogation camp and its staff also of their methods of obtaining information from captured air crews. When we arrived at the camp we were locked in a large cell together, in the hope that we may have mentioned our squadron details or anything else that we may have said that would have been of use to the Germans, listening to us from hidden microphones in the cell.
The Germans were unlucky as we had been warned about this trick, also about the bogus Red Cross forms that we would be asked to fill in at a later date whilst at Dulag Luft.
The guards monitoring our talking finally got fed up with our guarded conversation and took us off to be searched again. This time the camp staff carried out a thorough search. We had to strip naked and stand on a stool, so that every part of our body could be inspected for hidden escape aids.
Afterwards we were taken to the cell blocks, and we were each locked in a small cell which contained a wooden bunk against one wall. The area of the cell was about six feet by four feet. It had a light bulb let into the ceiling and the only daylight came from a frosted glass window which had bars on the outside. At night the guards closed shutters on the outside of the window for blackout purposes.
Often we were awakened in the night by the guards and taken for another session of interrogation. When I was first questioned by the interrogation officers there were two of them, one of them ranted and raved calling me a spy, as I had no badges or stripes on my battledress and that I would be shot, etc. The other officer played the part of the good guy and they took it in turns questioning me.
After I had kept repeating my name, rank and number, one of them said to me Of course we know all about you and your crew which rather surprised me but I thought he was bluffing, until he said you are from 44 Rhodesia Squadron. I could only guess that the letters on the side of our crashed aircraft were still visible and that the Germans had obtained our squadron numbers from them.
The officer who had been ranting and shouting left the room, the guards were still standing by the door. The remaining interrogator told me to sit down, there was a chair in front of his desk. He offered me an English cigarette and he then went to a large bookcase which nearly filled one wall of the room. He took down a thick heavy looking volume and on the outside of the front cover I saw the 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron Crest. He read out things about the Squadron that I was not aware of, also the names of different aircrew of the Squadron.
His knowledge of our Squadron and its past happenings were far greater than mine. He was still trying to gain information so I blew my nose and of course it started to bleed again, and I suppose he did not fancy my blood dripping on the floor of his office, that he told the guards to take me back to my cell.
I think that I was questioned about six times, sometimes in my cell and sometimes elsewhere, The bogus Red Cross form duly appeared but I only filled in my name, rank and number and left the remaining questions unanswered.
I have no idea how long I was held at Dulag Luft. Bowls of soup which were very watery and tasteless were passed into my cell at odd times, I should think about twice a day. When the shutters on the window were closed, without my watch which had been taken from me, I had no idea whether it was day or night. At last I was taken from my cell and I was told to walk down a long corridor which had cell doors on both sides.
When I looked towards the far end of the passage I saw Frank Phillips standing there with other ragged looking aircrew. Frank saw me approaching and I saw him raise his hand towards me which held a lighted cigarette which I gladly shared with him.
We were then taken to another hut with the rest of the prisoners in the corridor. There were two tier bunks in the room with paper mattresses filled with broken wood shavings, which raised a lot of wood dust every time we moved. As there were not enough bunks for us, we all had to double up two to a bunk, but I think we were all relieved to get out of the confinement of the cells, we just laid on the bunk fully clothed and went to sleep.
The next day we were taken to a railway siding and loaded into cattle trucks, we were packed in but just had enough room to sit on the floor, and then the sliding doors were closed and locked. The only ventilation was from a couple of small grille. After being in the truck for a couple of days the stench was very strong especially as we had some American airmen with us and some of them had suffered frostbite in the feet which had now turned to gangrene and when they removed their flying boots at odd times the stench was overpowering.
Anyway at last we had Frankfurt and Dulag Luft behind us. Ahead of us were our respective prisoner of war camps waiting for us and of course our first Red Cross Food Parcel. Frank Phillips went to Sagan Stalag Luft 3 and I went to Heydekrug in East Prussia, Stalag Luft 6.
Links & Notes
18-19 March 1944
44 Sqn Lancaster III LM306 KM-L Op: Frankfurt
F/L FH Phillips pow Stalag Luft III pow no 3755
F/S HW Carter pow Stalag Luft VI/Camp 357 pow no 3264
F/O JL Gourlay RCAF pow Stalag Luft I pow no 3815
F/S WR Taylor pow Stalag Luft I
P/O RK Bennett pow Stalag Luft III pow no 3752
F/S D Curtis +
W/O TE Dowling RAAF +
T/o 1900 Dunholme Lodge. Flying at 19,500 feet outbound, attacked by a night-fighter whose fire set light to the starboard fuel tanks. Both Air Gunners rest in Hanover War Cemetery, though there are indications that the Lancaster may have crashed at Altenkirchen, roughly 38km ESE of Bonn. F/L Phillips had a miraculous escape from death in that he unpacked his parachute as he fell, the rip cord having failed to release the canopy from its pack.
RAF Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War, 1944 (WR Chorley, Midland Counties Publications, 1997): page 118
Footprints on the Sands of Time: RAF Prisoners of War in Germany 1939-45: Appendix I (Oliver Clutton-Brock, Grub Street, 2003)
RAF Nutts Corner http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nutts_Corner
44 Squadron http://www.44squadron.org.uk/
Stalag Luft 3 Sagan http://www.rafinfo.org.uk/rafexpow/rafexpow_sl3sagan.htm
Stalag Luft 6 http://www.b24.net/pow/stalag6.htm
page last updated 28 June 2010: © ACA Surrey Branch 2010