Sergeant Douglas Smithson

 

Unit : No.10 Flight, "G" Squadron, No.1 Wing, The Glider Pilot Regiment

 

Douglas Smithson joined the British Army at the beginning of the Second World War and became a Royal Engineer with the 246 Field Company. He served with this unit during the Battle of France and was evacuated with them from the Dunkirk beaches. He spent the following three years in Britain until, in September 1943, he decided to join the Glider Pilot Regiment. His story follows:

 

27th September 1943. An important day in my life! Off duty in the evening, I was in a canteen [not N.A.A.F.I] and saw, on a notice board, a summary of an A.C.I. asking for Glider Pilots and that no person should be stopped from applying unless they were scheduled for abroad. The following day I saw Mr. Edwards our then Section Officer about a transfer who said I should have to see the C.O. Which I did but as I expected the C.O. tried to put me off at first, saying he could not do anything without seeing the A.C.I. and inferring that the A.C.I. was not in the Company Office and therefore there was nothing he could do. I asked him if it would be alright if I showed him the A.C.I.. Reluctantly he agreed. So, that evening I went back to the canteen and asked the manager if I could borrow the AC.I. from off the notice board. His reply was that he knew nothing about it and as far as he was concerned it was not there. A nod was as good as a wink and I borrowed it and showed it to the C.O. He went on a course and I went on leave so I thought that I had missed my chance again. No, not this time! I returned from leave to Kirkcudbright. A packet of cigarettes to the company office sergeant and I signed a form applying for a transfer to the Army Air Corps for training as a Glider Pilot.

 

Time elapsed and we were still on Bridging practice but on the 7th. Nov., Sunday, I was called into the Company Officer and told that I had to go for an interview in Edinburgh. A bit of a panic as my kit had not yet arrived but it soon did and I was away. Monday and I had to sit a maths paper as well as an intelligence one. More papers to fill in and then an aptitude test on a make shift cockpit. Tuesday and now before a board consisting of a Lt/Col. Wing/Co. and a Flt /Lt. The Lt/Col tried to dissuade me by saying it was not much of a job and really like a bus driver's. The F/Lt. said it was dangerous but when I said that I was in the RE's of the 3rd.Div., they looked at each other and said no more. [The Division was the assault division on "D". Day.] The Lt./Col. told me that I had passed and that I now had to have a medical - which I passed AI. At the end of the medical I found out what colour blindness was. Another candidate was entering the room as I was leaving and as he called out the numbers in the multi-coloured circles he said one of them was blank. As I could make out the number from where I was standing I knew he was colour blind in those combinations of colours. Returned to the unit which had moved to the edge of an aerodrome near Forres in Morayshire. As far as I remember the airfield was either Kinloss or Findhorn. I may remember later.

 

A browning-off time waiting! Ready for work on the 8th December, I was ordered to the Company Officer and told my haversack rations were ready. I caught the 11-55 train to Aberdeen and then to London and from there to Amesbury. From there we were trucked to Fargo on Salisbury Plain, arriving around 12-00 hours.

 

10th December 1943. Arrived at Fargo camp on Salisbury Plain around dinnertime according to my diary, although that is only an entry from memory. Fargo is where the serious volunteers are weeded out from those only trying to get out of their own units. So the first few days are made very unpleasant. First I had to change my blanco from dark green to very light green, not an easy task. Next, I had to scrape my brasses clean of dark green paint and highly polish them, another time consuming job. Our uniforms had then to be pressed and smartened up as best as we could. That took most of us the rest of the day and most of the night. We did all this because, on de-bussing on arrival, one of the men without thinking, cleared his throat and made a very slight spit on the ground. [I stress a very slight spit]. He was straight away carted of to the guardroom, so we knew what to expect. In the morning he was on a charge and decided he did not want to become a glider pilot. He was then returned to his unit and the charge was dropped.

 

On the first parade, I was lucky; I was third on the front rank. When the Officer started to inspect us, the second man was not up to scratch. The officer looked along the row saw that I was a Corporal and told me to take the man to the guardroom, which I did and then stayed there until the parade was over. I am sure that my turnout was no better than his. That day, about a third of the men asked to be returned to unit. They all thought they were escaping from that sort of bull.

 

We had that kind of parade every morning and one or two others dropped out. One of the group beat the system. He realised that, on parade, no roll call was called, so he only attended the classes held after the first parade of the day. It was never noticed and later he passed out as a glider pilot. We had lessons, during the rest of the day on aspects of flying such as map reading and the Morse code, we also had many periods of drill along with battle courses, when a lot of smoke was used. My respirator was not working well and I spent the rest of the day. One chap had to go to hospital.

 

Fortunately we were here only ten days and then found out who were going to Booker for the E.F.T.S. course of which I was one. Out of the twenty of us on the course only eight were going directly on the next course. I was very pleased and hoping there would not be so much bull at Booker. Before starting off, one of the party was sent back and would have to wait for the next course. Why I never knew! We were glad to get away. [Later we did not think it too bad and often talked about it with almost pleasant memories].

 

At Booker Airfield our billets were easily the best I have ever been in. Civilian cleaners looked after them and all we had to do was to lay out our kit on our beds. First day and lectures from the Lieutenant Colonel and Wing Commander followed a kit check. We now had flying kit, ready for the serious business of flying. Spent the last days of 1943 mainly on guard duty, one of which I did at Denham, another small airfield nearby. At one time there were film studios there.

 

Had my first flight in an aeroplane, a Tiger Moth. The instructor took off and got me acclimatised and then let me take over. Quite different to what I had imagined. One had to use so little effort to move the control stick, that really it was not moved but eased from one position in the direction required. The feet on the rudder pedals needed the same action. After a few days, flying in the air was not too difficult. Taking off also became easier after some trial attempts and confidence given by the Instructor. Landing was not easy, as control of the speed and height of the Tiger at the same time required effort and practice. Once one got the idea of judging the height from the horizon and the ability to feel the plane on to the ground things got more enjoyable and flying became the fun one always thought it would be. Finally came the big day entirely without warning. I was surprised when the Chief Flying Instructor came and said that he was taking me up for my eight-hour test. I took off and did all the flying myself. On touching down he got out and told me to stay in and take her for a circuit and landing on my own. No time for any doubts! I was in the air before I had time to think and in no time at all I was rolling in to land. I had made my first solo. I was then brought down to earth as the Instructors, after congratulating me; told me I could now start learning to fly. [Other Instructors came along to see any trainee pilots taking their first solo]

 

It now became almost daily routine to fly circuits and bumps, gradually making more difficult manoeuvres. After about 10 hours, I had my first night flight. At first this was very strange, as everything was so different but again after a number of flights one got used to it. On reaching 11 hours and foolishly beginning to think I could fly, I learnt that one could have too much confidence. I was told to do a few solo circuits and bumps and so I started off into the air with ease, never lost sight of the airfield and came into land. At the last minute another Tiger took off in front of me and as instructed I pushed the throttle forward and went round for a second circuit and came round to land again. This time I bounced and had to rise again to do another circuit. Now I was not too happy. Third time trying to land I bumped too much again and so round once more. I was now beginning to think that I was going to stay in the air for ever. This time all was well and I made a good landing. Even so my confidence was shaken and it took a few days to get back the feeling that I might be able to fly properly some day.

 

We were obviously wanted in the regiment because when we had finished 16 hours flying and had made our solo flight, we were moved to Shobdon not far from Leominster in Shropshire. The airfield is still in use. Here we began our first glider training. I had an acclimatisation flight in the Hotspur. This glider was intended for operational service but at this time was not considered large enough and was used for training. From the first, I enjoyed flying it. It could carry about 10 men but when I flew it there was only the instructor and myself. The instructor in the back seat. To begin with we did a few circuits and bumps and then more adventurous things. The first time I stalled in the Hotspur it was quite frightening, much more than in the Tiger. I followed the instructor's orders and raised the nose until we had very little airspeed. I thought we were going up forever, when suddenly the end of the world occurred, at least it seemed like it! I watched the A.S.I. and somewhere around 35 A.S. we dropped out of the sky. I pushed the stick forward and then eased back and we slowly flattened out and I breathed more easily. Next was to solo. After this I started to enjoy most of the flying that we did. In free flight, after I had pulled off from the tug [A Miles Master] it was almost like riding a motor cycle. One could swing with the glider. Near the village of Shobdon was a wood and when flying over it, with care, one could nearly hover. The currents of air were strong and the glider almost stopped and only slowly eased downwards with a kind of rocking motion. My mate at the time [Since deceased] Frank Basnett, had an interesting experience. On one of his flights he pulled off too soon from the Master and I watched him trying to lift the glider over the railway line that ran alongside the airfield. He had not enough distance and so had to land in the field. Much laughter afterwards!

 

Night flying! As usual, strange at first. My first order from my instructor was that on touchdown I was to give it full left rudder. My first circuit and I tentatively pushed my left foot forward on touching down, and we slightly went left. This did not please him and whilst waiting for the tractor [David Brown's] to pull us back to the start, he told me again to give it more left rudder. The third time he was starting to get annoyed and said he did not want to be on the airfield all night and explained that the tractor drivers always fetched the gliders nearest to the starting position first. Therefore, the next circuit, as soon as we touched the ground, I really stood on the left rudder bar. We swung almost at right angles and careered side ways down the airfield. I expected the wing to drop at any time and crumple but it didn't. The undercarriage shook but remarkably no tyres burst and we came to a stop. The Instructor complimented me and we were soon ready to continue. I did the same for the remaining circuits and we had a fairly early night. The undercarriage of the Hotspur is very wide and very strong, which probably accounts for the instructor's confidence.

 

There was one sad affair during my stay. I was again on night flying and on our second circuit, when the instructor noticed that the combination that had taken off in front of us was losing height. I took more notice of it and realised that the Master was not climbing, as it should have been doing. The Master then veered to the right and dropped more quickly. The Glider pulled off. The Master hit the ground and soon burst into flames. The Glider landed easily close by, helped by the light from the burning Master. At the time we thought that no one had been killed but only injured. Reading the G.P.R.A. magazine a year or so ago I read in a letter to the magazine that the pilot and a passenger [not usual] were both killed. There was danger even in what we thought were safe pursuits.

 

At Shobdon I flew another RAF aircraft for the first time. It was the Miles Magister. In this plane I was instructed in elementary navigation. After a few flights, the Instructor piloted for about half an hour. I wondered what we were going to do, when he flew us round a hill, [I think one of the Brecon Beacons] and then told me to take over and fly us back to the airfield. I did and after landing he complimented me on returning directly on a reciprocal bearing. I did not enlighten him on that; I had only a slight knowledge of what a reciprocal was. I had seen the railway line just after having taken over and as it ran alongside the airfield there was not much difficulty in finding the way back.

 

Before I leave Shobdon I must record another happening that occurred there. I had been put on ground duty as extra ground staff and was armed with an Aldiss lamp, in this case with a red light only and I had to use it to point at anything that needed a warning. I thought I should have nothing to do except watch gliders and tugs take off and land. I was mistaken. After about an hour or so, I saw, coming in from the other side of the railway line, a Master, obviously preparing to land. It was about half a mile away and I became interested to see what kind of landing he was going to make. The Pilot seemed to be doing every thing correctly and I thought he must be well experienced, when I realised that his undercarriage was not down. I pointed the lamp at the Master and kept it on the cockpit as well as I could but the plane continued flying past me at 30 feet or so and as it passed I could hear the warning buzzer going, something was wrong. He touched down about 30 yards from me and made a beautiful belly landing. The pilot jumped out quickly in case it burst into flames but it did not and all was well. The underneath of the wings were torn off, along with part of the back of the fuselage. The prop was bent but little else. Talking with the pilot before he reported to the office, he explained that he had seen my light on him but that there was little he could do. His undercarriage had jammed some time before when he tried to land. Ground control had told him to fly around and get rid of most of his petrol and then come in again. He had done so and the only fault was a spoiled aircraft.

 

I was now more confident in the air and was really enjoying flying around the village and airfield but, as usual, when enjoying something, it seems as if the powers that be can not rest until they have stepped in and spoiled the fun. This was the case now. I had finished the conversion course to gliders and was posted to Leicester East, an airfield about 3/4 mile from the city of Leicester. Here I joined 10 Flight G Squadron and was in that flight until I was taken prisoner of war.

 

Leicester East, a few days messing around, we were waiting to be organised. I had been on guard duty and was waiting for orders when I was told to report to an Officer in a Stirling waiting on the runway. I learned that we were to go to Barham [?] in Norfolk to fetch some Horsa gliders and that I was to operate as a timekeeper there for the take off of the tugs and gliders. My first time in a large aircraft! It was very large inside and I did not see much of the trip. I returned in the last glider piloted by Lt. Telfer. On the return flight he said he would show me the stall.

 

He asked the tug pilot to take us up to around 6000 feet and then he cast off. We were close to Leicester East. I was standing in the door opening, between the two pilots and had a brilliant view of the countryside, easily the best position of any plane that I know of. When the lieutenant said that he was going to stall I asked if I had to go and belt myself to a seat in the back. Visions of the stall in the Hotspur floated before my eyes and I was preparing to drop out of the skies. I was told that I was OK where I was. I watched the A.S.I. as we came to the stall and the speed dropped away to about 35/40 AS. As we stalled, the Horsa seemed to shake itself and as the pilot pushed the nose down, we quickly resumed normal flight. We flew round whilst loosing height and came in to a perfect flapless landing. The most pleasant stall yet.

 

Our stay at Leicester East was soon over and the Squadron moved to Fairford in Gloucestershire. I was the 2nd pilot and was able to get in a lot of practice. An entry in my diary shows the date as the 25th March and that we had a load of RN and RAF personnel. The entry goes on to compare flying a Horsa to flying a Hotspur. The Horsa being a much larger aircraft is heavier to fly. The flaps are much larger and the angle of descent can be much steeper. We crossed the perimeter track at a 1000 feet and still touched down before halfway along the runway and stopped very quickly, using the brakes. I remember being at Leicester East and seeing a Horsa coming in to land for the first time and noticing how steep the angle of descent was. I thought it would never pull out before hitting the ground.

 

My first pilot is named Arthur Newton but is always referred to as Spinner. Whilst training at his E.F.T.S. and on his solo effort at a stall he went into a spin and had difficulty in getting out of it. Hence the nickname "Spinner". He was a good pilot and helped me a lot. From now on most of my flying was done with him. He was from near Stockport, I think it was Heaton Chapel. I visited him once after the war, but have not seen him since. He never joined the Association and therefore I lost track of him. [Found and visited 1999.]

 

Had various training flights and also a number of ground exercises with plenty of sports and PE. I often thought that we may have been short of tugs as we all wanted to do more flying. Towards the end of April I was on a night flying exercise with a pilot called Spelman and I found it most enjoyable as I was able to get a lot of flying time in. The towns were easily identified even though there was a blackout. We had a slight mishap on landing. I had not enough flying time in for landing at night, so Spelman was piloting. The landing run in was nearly ended when we touched another Horsa's wing tip with ours. Not much damage but Spelman was very annoyed as it was the first time he had had to report any damage at all [Maidenhead, Aldershot, Winchester and even Booker flown over.]

 

End of March and the Squadron had a talk from the C.G.P. Col. Chatterton. This time he was not so strong on the role we should have to play after landing. This entry in the diary must mean that previously he must have stressed our part as infantry. We had many lectures by the Officers on the different aspects of our job. At about this time I saw our RSM. He was always referred to as "Tojo" and we rarely came in contact with him. This is born out by the fact I never knew his proper name.

 

Sometimes when I read the diary, I think to myself that I hope no one else ever reads it as often seems as if I am on holiday. There are many references to swimming - going into various towns, going to the cinema, having a drink and doing many activities that are really very good fun. However we did take flying very seriously and some of the schemes that we went on were not always easy. The diary does remark that we had many training flights but not all are remarkable. Although some revive memories and some are more note worthy than others. One night flying exercise was a bit dicey. We had a late start and flew in formation towards Birmingham and then turned south and headed for Netheravon, an airfield on Salisbury Plain. It was laid out in two halves and the 40 + gliders had to land in one half. We all had landing lights, but as we were two from the last it looked as if there was no room left for us to put down on. How we managed I still do not know, but Spinner did and we were OK. Unfortunately one of the kytes behind us could not make it and landed in the road outside the airfield. The pilot broke his nose but was not long out of action.

 

Went retrieving [that is, going to fly gliders back to Fairford, from places where they had landed after an exercise, i.e. if it can be done.] I flew back behind a Whitley for the first time and found it not comparable to being behind a Stirling. The air speed is slow and the glider is all over the place like a kite on the end of a string [Whitley Air Speed -110, Stirling AS - 160 sometimes faster.]

 

Had now become friendly with Frank Basnett, a married man who had been in the RA [AA] and at one time stationed in East Anglia. I asked him why he joined the G.P.R. Like many soldiers he had become bored and just wanted a change. I told him he must be mad. His chances of a safe billet in the AA was much better than in the G.P.R, especially as we now knew that we were sure to be in some part of the invasion, though no specific role had as yet been given us. He was an early member of the G.P.R.A. and later whilst teaching in an approved school in Exeter I visited him in a similar school in Shropshire. [In those days I did a fair amount of motor cycling.] Sadly he died some six years ago.

 

It was now May and we were told more about the invasion. Sand models were made of the area in France where we were to land. Our landing zone was to be close to a village called Coleville-Sur-Orne. We got to know the area backwards from the sand model and from maps which had now been issued. We had non-flying exercises to give us some idea as to what to do after the landing. Excitement was beginning to mount and most of Southern England looked like an ammunition depot. Guns, tanks, and various types of carriers both British and American were all over the area. Bombs and other supplies were stacked along many of the road sides.

 

We had talks from Officers about loads and aspects of flying such as what to do in case of ditching in the channel or not landing on the landing zone and other hazards. On one flying exercise we landed with 120 Gliders on one half of the airfield at Netheravon. Spinner and myself were 2 gliders from the last and had difficulty getting down. As usual the space left for us, near the control tower, was much too small and we ended up only about 30 yards from it. We found out later that the King was in the control tower when we came down and that along with others, he crouched down, as it seemed that we might hit the building. Whilst we were waiting to be picked up by a truck after the landing, a Brigadier came up to us and said that he was on a Senior Officer's course at Warminster and that observing our exercise was part of the course. He was very interested in finding out about our gliders, what they could carry and how far. We told him how far we had travelled on this exercise and the load we could have carried if laden, as well as the time taken. It worked out at 400 miles with 3000 men and their equipment in just under 4 hours. He expressed terrific surprise and said the best he could have done in the past was around three days. We did say to him that loading time, particularly if 6 pounder anti-tank guns were included, would make the time longer.

 

On another exercise at Netheravon we again landed on one half of the airfield and a battalion of Paratroopers dropped on the other half. This time the King and Queen along with the two Princesses were watching, Princess Margaret being in the uniform of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. The Parade afterwards could easily have turned into a farce as many of the men were not aware that a parade was expected later. Most of us were stretched out on the ground alongside the main runway relaxing and telling the usual tales about the flight. All at once someone shouted out "The King's here." The fastest parade ever. One minute flat and the best parade of Glider Pilots ever. We had no kit to worry about, so it was easy. The King was very brown. We thought he must be made up. The Princesses were really enjoying what, I suppose to them, was almost a party. Browning the Chief Glider Pilot was with them. Like all parades, the higher in rank the senior officer, the easier the parade. Your own Colonel! If things are not correct there's hell to pay and that means extra work for someone.

 

Noted from the diary that when not flying I was often driving for the M.T. section. I got to know the Cotswolds very well and still find them very interesting although somewhat marred by the industrial and tourist traffic which is on all roads to-day. The latter is very heavy as the area is so very close to the Midlands and yet so peaceful and calm. The buildings are all part of the scenery. Arlington Row at Bibury still brings pictures to my mind.

 

I did not fly behind Whitleys often [only about 3 times I think.] for which I was very pleased. They were very slow, compared to the Stirling, and the Horsa floated about a lot. At this time we had a number of strange orders. We had to do some small ground exercises when we were moved in sections by truck for only short distances. Two to three miles or so and then left to take cover. After an hour or two we walked back to the airfield. I now think that these exercises were for the Officer's benefit and had something to do with the ground situation in France after landing.

 

We were given advice about making a will, which most of us did. Quite a lot of hilarity but one of the points I learned was that anyone can make a will and provided that two independent people sign it it is valid. This will was separate from the one in our pay books and was kept by the War Office I do not know if any other units did the same.

 

At this time, the end of May, Fairford, our airfield was often used for dropping people into France. I had a talk with a Frenchman who was waiting to go. He was looking forward to going as he had been in England since Dunkirk. I thought "better my job than his" but one never knows. He would not tell me where he was to be dropped.

 

Friday 26th May. Serious news! We were confined to camp [the airfield]. This restriction was lifted on the 28th. What it was all about no one knew, although we expected this would happen when the invasion was near to starting. Was it near now? Confined again on Friday 2nd.June and this time we knew it was serious. Briefing now took place. More "gen" on the landing zones and we were given the gathering point for the Glider Pilots after landing. More about loading but no information about individual glider loads. Gliders can not stay on the ground for long when fully laden, as the weight will damage it. Monday we had a short church service in the afternoon which turned out to be very emotional. The RAF Chaplain took it. The start of the invasion should have been today but the weather reports were not good and we go to-morrow.

 

D-Day, the Sixth of June 1944

 

In the morning we loaded our glider with three Airborne Gunners, along with their Jeep and Trailer filled with stores and ammunition. We were now ready for take-off. Late in the afternoon all went well and we lifted off easily and flew in a large square touching the edge of Birmingham before heading towards the south coast. This was to allow all the gliders to get airborne. At a height of a 1,000 feet we crossed the coast near Bognor Regis and headed towards the Normandy coast. Here we changed from high tow to low tow position. This meant that we were now flying lower than the Stirling. It also meant that flying became much more difficult. This was because we were following so many aircraft, the air streams, from the other planes, plus part of our own threw us all over the sky almost like a paper aeroplane on the end of a string. It also meant that we were flying the Horsa together and not taking turns and thus became more tired. However we soon saw the coast of France and the great number of landing craft and small boats going back and forth to the beaches from the larger ships off shore. No noise from below as our own sizzle through the air was too loud even though we had no engines. The slip stream noise at 160 mph airspeed is loud. We had now to keep our eyes open as to where we were, relative to the ground. There was little time before we needed to cast off We were over the coast and could see the River Orne beneath us. A right turn by the tug, a loss of height and there below us our landing zone with some gliders already on the ground. We cast off, put the nose down and with full flap were soon heading steeply for the ground. Poles and wires could now be seen. Spinner picked a path between the poles. A slight shudder as our wheels took the wire and we were down, brakes on and we bumped to a stop. The glider was a little lop-sided as one wheel was in a hole but no damage. The main wheels could have been dropped over the channel but our decision to leave them on was right as they clearly took the wire first and slowed us down quickly.

 

I told the gunners to get out and start unloading. They were not to tell twice. We soon had the tail off and the runners in place. We all helped to push the jeep and trailer down the runners and then connect them together, load them with the gunner's personal kit and they were ready to join their unit. The lance corporal thanked us for a good trip and a safe landing. Then with best wishes they were away. I thought at the time, that it had not been a good trip for us as, over the channel, it had been very rough. The fact of being safely down on the ground again probably influenced their views.

 

We looked around and shouted to other pilots nearby. We then re-entered the glider and took out our own kit, had a look at the map, not really necessary as Pilots from other gliders were making their way to a small orchard alongside some farm buildings. Here we started to dig slit trenches for ourselves. It was easy going in the French soil. We could hear a few sounds of fighting in the far distance but nothing near us. Many of our own fighters were flying around overhead, far different from Dunkirk when it was the other way about. Then they were mainly German.

 

Three Junkers 88 s did flyover us at about 2000 feet and watching them I got ready to take cover at any sign of bombs dropping. Not a chance, within seconds they were attacked by our fighters and made off to their own lines. We carried on digging and soon Spinner and myself were sitting in our slit trench looking at each other. This was the first trench Spinner had dug. We spent the night there. At first light Lt. Corrie came in a duck [a personnel carrier for both land and water] and ordered 7 of us to go with him to operate as guides for the battalion which was to move to a new rendezvous. I was placed on a crossroads not far from the beach and stayed there for most of the day. More Ju 88 s came over and bombs were dropped this time. In one case, I threw myself on to the ground thinking they would drop near me. Not so, they finished in an orchard about 100 yards away. Lucky again. One of the German planes must have been shot down, because later when walking towards the beach, we passed a soldier marching two German flyers away, probably to a Prisoner of War compound.

 

Not really strange but on crossing a road before going on to the beach I passed some of my old mates of No 1 Section 246 Field Company Royal Engineers. They were testing for mines on the side of the road. I had a few words with them. Charlie Cox and Jack Devenny told me that they had had a rough time of it on the beaches. They also said that Sgt. Peter Gallagher had been blown up by a mine and killed whilst clearing mines earlier that day. He was too good a man to lose. Nearer the beach I had a word with Sapper Russell Gill also of 246 Field Company. He was by himself and waiting for the rest of No. 1 Section. We carried on to the beach and there got on a landing craft fully expecting to set off back to England. [Glider pilots were issued with special passes to enable us to get back to England as soon as possible so that we could bring more Airborne troops into action, when and where needed.] We spent the remainder of the day cruising in circles just off the beaches and really left about 16-00 hours. An exciting few days but much easier than the actions in Belgium and France in 1940, culminating at Dunkirk.

 

I remember little about the return across the channel. We docked at Newhaven about 08-30 hours on Thursday 8th June. I probably slept for most of the crossing as I had learnt how to sleep when ever possible and under any kind of conditions and for long or short periods. On getting ashore from the landing craft we were taken to a sorting centre and there had a bath and a meal. As far as I remember we had no casualties nor any minor injuries and were soon in a truck and heading for Fargo, our depot on Salisbury Plain. Almost there and on the edge of the Plain, we were stopped by a Military Policeman and then greeted by Lt. Col. George Chatterton, the Chief Glider Pilot, along with reporters and cameramen from the Daily Express. Much line shooting and photographs taken. One, showing T-D. [Sgt. Kenneth Travis - Davison, Later a Lord Mayor of Leeds.] Sadly he died about seven years ago. He was wearing a German coal scuttle helmet and standing in the back of the truck with the rest of us round him. My face could just be made out in the bottom left hand corner. This photograph became the centre front page of the Daily Express on Friday the 9th of June. I had a print of it but have since misplaced it. I only hope it is somewhere among the memorabilia.

 

After the debriefing we returned to Fairford and waited for further action. More debriefing at Fargo. Most of us had a similar story and from our point of view, everything went according to plan. Like all battles there are many differing stories. Here we learnt of our flight's only casualty. This was the youngest member of 10 flight and he was hit and killed on the descent to the landing zone. His name was Sephton. I cannot remember his first name but the manner of his death was tragic. On this operation, we had such few casualties that to be killed and not even to land and take some part in what one has trained so long and hard for, makes warfare a strange and terrible activity. After the war I became friendly with Peter Denton a chemist at the ICI in Deighton. His wife had a brother in the G.P.R. He was on the "coup de main" party and landed during the night of the 5th.of June and was killed. Visiting the area after the war I took photographs of his grave in Ranville Cemetery and gave prints to Mrs. Denton. Wars are not the same for everyone.

 

Saturday the 2nd September our flight moved to Brize Norton in Oxfordshire and not far from Oxford. We were billeted in tents close to the Sergeants Mess. There was no "gen" about any operation but on Sunday we loaded some gliders with a Polish Anti-tank battery. On Monday we unloaded them and were told that we were not on the "Op." whatever it might have been. Another anti-climax and nothing to do all day! Tuesday, Spinner {Staff-Sergeant Arthur Newton} and me spent the day watching planes and gliders take off and land whilst lounging on the ground near the end of the runway. Casually watching an Albermarle, with a Horsa in tow taking off, I gradually realised that something was going wrong as the plane had not lifted off when it should have done and the Horsa was airborne. As the plane passed us, we could hear the warning signal going. Almost immediately the undercarriage dropped and the plane carried on, on it's belly, across the perimeter track, over the grass edge of the airfield, through the boundary hedge and into the next field where it came to a stop, following a ground loop. The glider, still airborne, calmly did a left turn over the grounded plane and landed easily alongside, The crews of both plane and glider quickly disgorged from their respective kites and stood idly by, glad that they were OK. After that I did not look forward to flying behind an Albermarle.

 

However we do as we are told. The next day we were detailed, with others, to fly a spare glider to Manston in Kent. This was a special airfield used by any aircraft that might be in trouble when returning to England after a raid on the continent. The runway was very wide and we could almost have landed across it.

 

When flying behind a tug and we arrive at the landing zone the drill for pulling off, is, first, the tug Pilot informs us via the intercom in the tow rope or, if that is out of order, by an Aldis lamp pointing at us. We then pull off when we can make our landing safely. Our tug pilot must not have known the drill as he made a couple of circuits without signalling, so we pulled off without the necessary sign. Later, in the Mess, he told us he had forgotten. We could have been flying round Manston for hours. We had a good meal, a drink and a bed for the night. A pleasant trip back to Fairford to-morrow, but not so. Dragged out of bed and informed that we had to return to Fairford immediately. No sleep for us that night! We had stops in Croydon and Reading arriving back with "G" Squadron at 14-30hrs and were confined to billets straight away. Another "op" in view! This operation almost became a farce as it was on and off a number of times and we were confined and let loose frequently. I managed to get to Lechlade a few times and went rowing on the Thames. On one occasion, I rowed so far upstream that my oars almost touched the banks. Until then I had not known that the source of the Thames was near. It is, of course, higher up and close to Cricklade.

 

At last the "gen" seems genuine. We have started briefing and the landing zone is close to Arnhem on the Rhine. Three rivers are to be crossed and our landing zone is the most advanced. It will be quite a party.

 

The next two days were taken up by more briefing and preparations with no chance of outside visits. On Sunday the 17th September the first lift set off on "Market Garden" the name of the operation. Market for the Airborne side and Garden for the land operation.

 

Monday the 18th September. The only record I have of what follows is from the back of a photograph and was written after I had been taken RAF on the Island of Overflakke in the Scheldt estuary. For many years I thought the island was Schowan.

 

Monday 18th September

 

This was the date for me, as we were on the second lift, the first lift being on Sunday. As there were to be three days of the "op", we talked a lot about the advantages or otherwise of being on one or other of the lifts. Not that it mattered, "Orders is orders" and we did as ordered. We thought that each day would be slightly easier but as it turned out there was nothing in it and all were equally bad. On thinking back I realise that I was lucky but did not think so at the time. However I must get on with the writing. I had not much time for introspection.

 

We loaded the glider we were to fly during the morning. Our load was a 6 pounder anti-tank gun, its jeep and three Airborne Gunners, one of them a lieutenant corporal. We had a chat about the "op" along with what to do in case of any emergencies. I do not remember how many combinations [Tug and Glider] there were setting off from Fairford but the perimeter track appeared full of Stirlings. We were to use the Horsas lining up alongside the main runway. After lunch the first combination was away and every two minutes another one took off. The ground staff had had plenty of practice by now and no hitches occurred. Soon our tractor pulled us on to the runway and in position behind our tug. The towrope was fixed to the plug under the rear gunner's turret and then the two arms of the yoke were fixed under our wings. They released properly when we pulled the release knob. Then we were away and in a few hundred yards were airborne. Having something to do had settled us down and the calmness of flying was beautiful. The view from the cockpit of the Horsa is brilliant as the Perspex is all around and goes down to our feet, making map reading very easy. This was an aspect of flying that I always enjoyed. We made the usual circuit to give time for all the planes to get airborne and we were heading almost due east parallel to the Thames. We crossed the coast north of Canvey Island. A change of direction and we headed for Holland. The flight was easy and I flew across almost the whole of the North Sea.

 

We could see the coast of Holland and Spinner took over. I relaxed a little, but not for long. Just short of the coast I heard the rear gunner of the Stirling calling to his pilot telling him to climb and go right, fast, as a Dakota was moving in towards us. I immediately looked to my left and there, about forty yards away and sliding towards us was a Dakota pulling a Waco. At the same time I shouted to Spinner to go right and up. We had no time to think and by now the wing of the Dakota was almost passing over our tow rope but as we were going right and up, so the rope went around the wing of the Dakota and that was the last we saw of the Americans. We had no time for fear. In going up we had climbed as well as the Stirling and now were lifting its tail and this caused the nose of the Stirling to go down. At 160 mph and heading for the ground, which was a mere 1000 feet below the pilot pulled back on his stick to stop the dive. The towrope was not strong enough to have the Stirling doing down and the glider going up. [We had not had time to change our path from up to down as everything happened so quickly.] It snapped and we were now flying free. At once the noise quietened and the sound became a peaceful sizzle.

 

We had to decide what to do. We were still just over the sea and knew that Air-Sea-Rescue launches were underneath our flight path and our first reaction was to turn and head back to where they might be. So I went into the back and told the gunners to prepare to ditch, inflate their life jackets and cut a hole in the roof with the axe I had taken from its fastening. I then returned to the cockpit and got ready to help Spinner. We were still close to the island and I thought the idea of a wet landing a bad idea. The glider could only stay above the water for an hour even if the touch down was perfect and we had no idea how near or far away the launches would be. Spinner thought the same and therefore turned back towards the land. Now I had a problem - which way was the wind blowing? I looked around to see if I could see any smoke but I could only see one building in the distance and no sign of smoke. I even looked to see if I could see any seagulls as I know that birds always alight into wind. No joy! By this time we were only 300 feet up. No time to think now. The touch down was perfect. I have said that Spinner was a good pilot and he proved it here.

 

I told the gunners to take their kit and put it some distance away from the glider and then to destroy their gun. They knew how to do this and started at once. I then looked about me and saw that we had become the centre of attention for some Dutchmen who must have been working in the nearby fields. We had an audience! Spinner had started to get our kit out of the glider so I went across to the Dutchmen and asked if anyone spoke English or French. A young man said that he spoke a little French. My French was poor but with signs and what language we had in common I understood that the Germans had seen us come down and were already on the way to us. It appeared that a local farmer had phoned them. The name Quisling was used. The young man told me that the Germans would come from the general direction of the farm we had seen as we were coming down. Some of the Dutchmen seemed to expect us to start fighting the German Army on our own, but during this time Spinner had been pouring petrol on and about the glider so when I got back, he set it on fire. As there was a lot of ammunition and more petrol in it, it soon started to explode, with bullets flying all over the place. The audience melted away. We headed away from where we expected the Germans to come and towards a high banking, which was on two sides of the field. We climbed the banking and saw what I realise now we should have expected, the sea and a short stretch of beach. The banking was, of course, a dyke. We got together on the beach and rested and tried to decide what to do. I was the only one with any experience of action. Spinner had been on "D" day [3 days] and the gunners had seen no action at all, so it seemed as if it was up to me. Not that there was much we could do, on an island, on the edge of the sea and far outnumbered by a fast approaching enemy. I thought the best we could do was to try and keep out of sight, wait until dark and then see if we could move to a better hiding place and even find a boat.

 

We had no sooner discussed this when two young Dutchmen walked along the beach clearly looking for us. I went to them and using Spinner's escape map they pointed to the island of Schouen [this is why, for fifty years I thought we landed there]. They then told me more about the direction that the Germans were coming from. On being asked about boats and about hiding, they just shrugged and left us. We had little chance.

 

Looking about us, we saw a dip between two dykes where there seemed to be more cover. I posted one of the gunners to look over the left-hand dyke and the other gunner to cover the right, a more open area. Spinner the lieutenant corporal and I then had a talk about the possibilities open to us. Not very many! Movement was very restricted and no possibility of any hiding places in this area where we found ourselves. From the two Dutch chaps, any direct help could not be expected and boats - an impossibility. They had also pointed out another direction from which the Germans were coming. Things looked bleak! Just then the gunner on the left dyke came scrambling down and excitedly signalled me to come to the top but at the same time to keep my head down. Poking my head over the dyke edge, I saw the reason for his excitement. There, not 25 yards away, was a German soldier looking out to sea. Obviously he was trying to impress his Officer with his efficiency because he had his hand above his eyes and was constantly looking to right and left, out to sea. He never saw us. We slid down the slope as fast as we could and silently signalled the others to move away fast. We had no need to bother as there, half right and on top of the third dyke was a section of infantry looking at us, with one soldier prone on the ground and behind a machine gun which was pointing straight at us, at a distance of about 50 yards. The moment of truth! I asked if anyone had a white handkerchief. The Officer standing beside the machine gunner came over and we were now Prisoners of War!

 

With the German Officer was a Sergeant Major and about 50 soldiers, others having returned to their billets after the excitement was over. There was no nastiness and before long we were trying to talk to each other. I had that morning's Daily Express with me and showed it to the Officer. On seeing the front page - which was full of broad arrows pointing out the progress of the war and the near hopeless position of Germany - he smiled ruefully and as best he could, in a mixture of German French and English, told us that the war situation may be so but that we were still prisoners. I could not disagree. We hung about waiting for transport and at one time I was almost on my own when a German soldier came close to me and started to say something like "Nix Deutch", repeating this, a time or two, very quietly, and at the same time tapping his shoulder badge. I looked and saw that the word Armenia was there. The penny dropped and I realised that he was trying to tell me that he was not a German but an Armenian and somehow I gathered that he was really wanting to be on our side. I do not know what he thought that I could do! Anyway a Ford Pilot [A prewar Ford saloon car, if you do not remember.] soon arrived and the five of us were put into it. The Officer was in the front and then, I counted them, eight other soldiers managed to crowd into and on to the car. I still do not believe it myself but it was so! We started off and in a very few miles arrived at the local Police Station.

 

Inside the Police Station we were put in a room with one soldier guarding us. He had a machine pistol resting on his knee [Always Schmeizzers in tales of the war but not always so.] Women came through the room occasionally and talked with the Guard but said nothing to us. They were Dutch but, judging by the way they talked, they were almost bilingual in Dutch and German, or the languages are very similar. I had an orange in my kit bag [nothing had been taken from us except arms and ammunition]. Feeling hungry [I soon got used to the feeling] I pointed to the kit bag, The guard cottoned on and nodded his head, at the same time watching me with his hands on his gun. When I pulled out an orange he nearly fell off his chair. It must have been some time since he had seen one. [We had them in our air crew rations when on operations.] We slept on the floor until roused early next morning.

 

We were given no food. As soon as we were on our feet, two guards took us outside and marched us to a railway station. There we got on to a local train and soon arrived at a small port where we got on to a ferry. There were many passengers and as soon as we had left the quay the guards did not worry us so long as we stayed near by. Soon I began talking to a German Corporal who could speak fairly good English. He was returning to the Russian front after leave. He agreed that the Germans had lost the war but we talked mainly about life in each other's country. We soon had to stop as we had reached the mainland. Where is he now?

 

Leaving the dock we travelled in a coal-gas powered truck to a fort where I met another Armenian soldier who also tried to tell me he was not a German but he did not stay long as he had other duties to do. We soon moved, this time to a large house opposite to a large railway station. Here I found out the name of the town we were in. The station had the name Dordtrecht written in large letters along the facade of the building. Still no food and our own rations were eaten. We only stayed there overnight and the following morning moved to a barn where we were joined by about thirty other prisoners. One of them was ill and a German doctor could not understand what was wrong with him. I tried to help but language problems did not get us very far. I do not know what developed as I was fetched to go on my first interrogation.

 

The Sergeant who had come for me searched me to make sure that I was not carrying anything that I ought not to be carrying. My escape wallet was sewn to the back of the pocket where I kept my ordinary wallet. This I took out, the Sergeant was interested in the photos that I had there and when he had finished I quickly put it back, thus covering the escape wallet. When I was patted again he did not realise there were two wallets in the pocket. This Sgt. then marched me to the office where I was to be interrogated. On the way he talked as if he was trying to help me. Telling me to say nothing and keep quiet and not to anger the Officer as well as not to give any secrets away. This in passable English! I was not seriously worried as I was not in possession of anything serious and I could not think of anything they could do to me now that they would not have already done.

 

I saluted the Officer behind a table and gave him my rank name and number. The only information that we are allowed to give, [mine is Sergeant and my army number 1886189] never forgotten by servicemen. He then asked me where I came from, clearly wanting the airfield. Not wanting to antagonise him I said Huddersfield [my hometown]. This puzzled him and he looked at the sergeant who was also puzzled. He then asked me where Huddersfield was and I told him. I think he then realised that it was my hometown. This annoyed him, he grunted and had me thrown out. Going back to the barn with the sergeant. I gave him a cigarette. He responded by giving me an apple.

 

Another move, and this time to a larger barn where we joined about another 100 POWs. This group included Poles, Canadians and an American aircrew, as well as more of our own forces. It was still only Thursday [21st.Sept.] and we did not stay here long. We appeared to be more organised now and under the control of a German Corporal [More authority than the similar rank in the British Army.] with some very young German soldiers. There was a handcart on which the Germans had put their kit, ready for the march. I thought it would be useful to be with it so I got Spinner and a couple more and volunteered to push it. We set off some time in the morning and left Dortrecht behind, heading for Gorinchem. Road signs had not been removed. The young guards spread around the column. As we walked along, I had time to watch the guards and it transpired that they had walked all the way from Normandy. Not at any time had they had any transport. Their boots were in a dreadful condition. Most of them were hobbling. On our arrival in Gorinchem our arrival was almost like a victory parade. People lined the streets and youngsters started shouting particularly from bridges we passed under. The guards would fire over their heads and that would make them run off, only to appear again further down the street. The adults on the roadside did not make much noise but the excitement could almost be felt.

 

The night was spent in a large shed that had been part of a new garage. Early in the evening and we had a less pleasant experience. The shed was crowded. Spinner and myself were sitting on the floor with the Americans [3 I think], when our German Corporal walked in with a Sgt/Major dressed in a black uniform with silver edging. We did not need to look at his badges to realise he was SS. The two walked slowly around, the Corporal seeming somewhat deferential. As they passed us, the sergeant major was heard to say to the Corporal in a very hard tone of voice, a phrase in German, which none of us could understand. They did not stay long and left. The American Navigator then asked his pilot what the sergeant major had said, explaining that the Pilot could speak German as his Grandparents had been immigrants from Germany many years ago. The Pilot looked at us and asked if we thought the sergeant major meant what he had said? We all agreed that he did. The Pilot then translated as follows "If I had my way I would shoot the lot of them." We were somewhat chastened.

 

We stayed in the shed that night and set off on Friday to walk to Utrecht. On the way, the Dutch people were still clearly pleased to see us and threw apples to us by the score. I like everyone else had my battledress tunic stuffed with them. It was autumn and many of the streets were lined with apple trees. So far the few of us pushing the cart had tried to go as slowly as possible in hope of being overtaken by the allied forces. At that time we knew nothing about how the Arnhem operation was progressing and were hopeful that it had been successful and our forces by now heading for the Zuider Zee and cutting off the German forces around us and thus making our POW life very short. You know now that that was not to be but we still went as slowly as we could. The guards were on our side. They could not march well and our slow pace was easier for them. The Corporal did tell us that if we went too slowly, he and his guard could be changed. We might have SS troops for guards. This had an effect and we moved faster. We could hear the guards grousing as they tried to keep up. They were in a very poor state. We had many advantages over them. All of us had very good kit. I had a battledress and boots that I had only worn for "D-Day", the battledress being well impregnated with anti lice powder. [I was very grateful for that later.]

 

We carried on marching and at last reached the River Rhine and there had a shock. Before crossing, our guards were removed and the Feldgendarmarie took over. We now marched as they wanted. We were soon over the bridge and into Utrecht. People still lined up to watch us pass but the mood was very different, the people being silent. Even so I had a moment of uplift. We were marching more in line now and I was on the pavement side. I came alongside a man leaning on his folded umbrella. I had not taken much notice, when, in English and quite distinctly, I heard him say" Never mind lads it will not be long now". I glanced quickly towards him but he was looking straight ahead and making no sign of any kind. It was a strange and marvellous moment. We marched into a vacant school building for the night and settled down. Our guards were now changed again and were normal army soldiers.

 

Sometime in late afternoon, a company of the Hitler Jugund came into the school and we had to share the facilities with them. They were all about 16 years of age and had been helping their forces to make defences in the area. Our soldiers got on well with them and soon German and English voices were mingling together. I think the English squady could get on with anyone, provided they were not actually fighting. We stayed in this school all day but in the evening, as soon as the sun went down, we were roused and ordered into the schoolyard. Formed into a column and marched to the railway station. There was no reaction from the Dutch people this time as very few were on the streets. In the 8 Horses 40 men railway wagon 62 of us were pushed in. I managed to get under one of the two openings that were in opposite corners. I wanted to be able to look out when it became light. To say that the wagon was full is an understatement. It was not possible for all the 62 to lie down properly. Only by piling legs on top of one another was it possible to sit and part lie down. This was all right until the bottom legs got too tired and then with much bitching, binding, pushing, shoving and kicking, the legs at the bottom moved to somewhere near the top. This was OK until the process started again. Multiply this and the general chaos can be imagined. I can not repeat the basic English that was heard all the time. Later some of the Polish contingent were equally at home in the use of basic English.

 

About 5 kilometres from Amersfoot I was asleep, when machine gun fire from above the train shook us all awake. The train was being shot up. Was I going to be killed by our own forces after all the action I had been through since 1940? Bullets could be heard hitting something. Then all the train shook as the wheels left the rails and we bumped to a stop. Steam could be heard hissing from the engine. We could hear the plane now and it seemed to be going away but then the noised noise changed as it turned and came back for another run at the train. During this time, the men nearest the sliding door had been working away at it, trying to open it, which they did in time for us to jump out and see the RAF Mustang flying away after having shot up the engine. We could see some German soldiers helping the driver or fireman away, obviously wounded.

 

It was then that I realised that the guards were not there. I moved to the side of the track and into the wood alongside. Could I disappear? I could vaguely tell that one or two others were of the same mind. Another thirty or forty yards and a rude awakening! What was that shape in front of us? Yes, it was a German tank and we were in a tank concentration area and were soon rounded up. We went back to the railway track and were surrounded by more guards than prisoners.

 

After a short messing about, we walked along the line into Arnersfoot and were lodged in a small school, which was used as a transit camp. Some Dutch Red Cross ladies gave us a little food and water and we rested there until morning. Waited there all day and at night walked to the railway station in Amersfoot. There once more acquainted with another cattle truck. Set off as soon as it was dark. We knew now that we were heading for Germany. We had not finished with all the excitement yet. Close to the border but still in Holland, the train suddenly rattled bumped and shook. We were once more off the rails. Saboteurs had derailed the engine and we were again at a standstill. So we stayed until morning, when another engine came and we set off once more. It was now Wednesday the 27th September. My diary notes that travel was very slow as our engine was often used for shunting. The Germans must have been very short of engines. When we moved I could see that we were passing through an industrial area. I thought it must be the Ruhr which, was confirmed as we halted in a marshalling area, near a signal box, just outside Dortmund. The signal box was partly wrecked as the field on the other side of the box was full of bomb holes and one had dropped closely to it. The bombs had all been wasted, the only damage being the shored up signal box. It was American daylight bombing.

 

We moved away and with many stops slowly travelled into Dortmund. I could now realise what damage had been done to the town. Looking through the opening which, I had again managed to be near. I saw that there was not one building with the roof intact. No windows were whole and piles of rubble were everywhere. It was terrible. Still moving slowly, we passed through Frankfurt, also devastated with no real sign of life. In the wagon we were also having a very poor time of it. My diary just says "Terrible living in truck". At Amersfoot, we had been given steel helmets (British] in case of being bombed. I will not explain what they were mainly used for but I am sure you can guess. The two opening were devoid of glass.

 

We had had no food since Amersfoot but at some of the stops we were given water. On Saturday the 30th September we arrived at a smallish town called Limburg and stayed all the night in the truck. On Sunday we walked into the Stalmayer [Stalag] and found it to be an awful place. The compound was tiny and held about 1500 men in absolutely shocking conditions. We had some food and a wash at some taps outside the huts. We hoped our stay would not be long. The camp was Stalag XII A.

 

On Tuesday the 3rd October Travis-Davison arrived with another party of POWs, he had been taken prisoner at Arnhem. Now we heard the news that the relieving force did not arrive in time to join up and thus were unable to form the hoped for bridgehead across the Rhine. We had to reconcile ourselves to the fact that we should be incarcerated for longer than we thought. Dysentery was rife, especially at night, with the awful conditions of no inside water and only one toilet for the 350/400 men in the hut, we realised that POW life was not just waiting until the war was over. At first we had only German rations and these were very poor. Most of us had only been prisoners for a relatively short time and had not had time for our stomachs to get used to the smaller intake of food. This meant that the pangs were felt more. Even so, on one parade when some small rounded cheeses were being distributed by the guards, our idea of food came to the fore. The cheeses in boxes looked as if they were coated in red lead paint and the smell was high. A prisoner next but one to me looked at his round of cheese, smelled it and roundly remarked that it was not fit to eat. A guard standing behind me understood and said "Give it to me". The soldier did, the guard took it, ate it, and appeared to enjoy it. I ate mine and found it rather mild with only the smell a little unpleasant. I never refused food after that, whatever it looked like.

 

There is little to tell about this camp - it was so soul destroying. Nothing to do but to try and get a book from the few there were in the camp. I managed to get Pickwick Papers, at the time I think it kept me sane. The only trouble was that I had to hand it back within 48 hours. I just managed it and read the last chapter whilst queuing up in order to hand it back in. I think I have a better knowledge of the book than I should have had if I had had more time. On Monday 9th. October a little joy when some Red Cross parcels came into the camp. We had to share them and I think there were 4 to a parcel. There was little chance of another one until goodness knows when. The issue from the Red Cross was as a supplement to the German rations. There should have been one per man per week. During all my time as a POW I only had a parcel to myself on three occasions and they had to last much longer than a week. The chief topic of conversation was food, the choice, the cooking and menus for after the war. Sometimes in small groups, we had competitions when each had to name something to eat beginning with the first letter of the alphabet and then the second and so on. When one could not think of something, he had to fall out. The winner was the one who was left at the end. After the parcels were issued, we used the cardboard from them to mark out chessboards and cut smaller square pieces to mark and name for the differing pieces. Playing chess was my first real pleasure at Limburg, although I am not a very good player and never play at all now. Time passed very slowly and without any change. I just remark in the diary that we had expected a parcel one day but it did not arrive and how it was a calamity.

 

Saturday 21st October. Joy! Spinner and myself were fetched out of our hut by two guards and told we were moving. Ten seconds to pick up our meagre belongings and we were ready for off. Why we were picked out, I never knew exactly but it seems that as Glider Pilots we should be prisoners of the Luftwaffe and not the Army. There were other Glider Pilots there, so why pick on us? May be because we were the first Glider Pilots in this camp. We were not sorry and followed the guards. We soon knew that they were from the Luftwaffe. We went to the railway station at Frankfurt and waited for a train for Auberoizal, [?] an interrogation centre. For all that the town had been heavily bombed, there were quite a number of people on the platform. Then, almost enjoying ourselves, the air raid warning sounded. No one took much notice but then another one, slightly different, sounded, this time there was almost panic and we all went down into a large passage under the lines. The guards explained that the first warning was for the area and the second for somewhere nearer. Once again, having seen the devastation our bombing had done to the town, I wondered if I was near my end. Not so! Nothing happened and the all clear went. Later the guards told us that the bombs had dropped 16 kilometres away.

 

Arriving at the interrogation centre, we were put into solitary confinement. This was a room along a corridor, containing about 10 similar rooms. Inside there was a bed, which was the same length as the room. The width of the door and the width of the bed made up the width of the room. By the side of the door was a handle, which, when released, made the arm of a signal drop down on the corridor side of the room. This was to use in case of ones need to call a guard in order to use the toilet or in case of any emergency. It was not long before I learnt to set it a long time before it was really required as the guards never opened the door straight away. Sometimes twenty or even half an hour would pass before it was answered. On one of my calls I gave the guard a cigarette and hoped it would payoff. To another guard I bartered a few cigarettes and a small piece of soap for two apples. The first cigarette paid off best. The next day, the first guard was on duty when the meal came about 11-00 hours. The food was porridge and each prisoner had about half a mug full. The guard saw me and picked up my mess tin which held about four times as much as the mug and held it in front of the soldier giving out the porridge, muttered something, and I was given about four times the ration.

 

On the second day of our confinement, I was taken for another interrogation. This time I was put into an office and waited for something to happen. There were a few magazines devoted to flying lying about so I opened one and read for a few minutes until a young Luftwaffe officer came in and sat down at the desk. He appeared very pleasant and asked me the usual questions of name rank and number, which I answered. He then asked me where I had flown from and where I was to land. I replied that I could not answer any more questions and looked at him, I also said that I did not think that he would have answered any more, had he been in a similar situation. He seemed to accept this and started to talk about some of the German aeroplanes mentioned in the magazine I had been looking at. He was very relaxed and did not seem very anxious to find out any more about my war activities. I thought that he was just enjoying some different company.

 

Spinner and myself were only in this camp for about 3/4 days before moving again. I only remember walking alongside a tram track to the station. [In Germany a few years ago I saw that there were many such tracks by the side of the road with coupled carriages running on them.] After a couple of miles or so we reached the station and boarded a train for Vetzlau, where we arrived after a relatively short journey. I think it is a small town on the edge of the Ruhr. Here we had a marvellous meal of soup, bread, corned beef and potatoes. At first I found it difficult to get the spoon to my mouth without spilling most of its contents. The excitement of food like this made our hands tremble. This camp was staffed by English army personnel. With food like that, they must never have known what it was like to be POWs. No luck about staying there. We left that evening for a permanent camp. On leaving we were given a Red Cross parcel each. One of the three times that I had a parcel to myself.

 

At the railway station we entered a truck but what a difference. There were twenty-four of us. Spinner and myself were the only glider pilots in the group all the rest were RAF. The truck had been altered. There were large windows along the sides. Short forms to seat two screwed to the floor with eight of them along each side. There was plenty of room and by two men turning round and facing another two, we could put the window blackouts on our knees and play chess or cards. The 5/6 guards had a room at one end. The Sergeant I/C was an Austrian and could speak good English. The journey became pleasant and as we could look out of the windows, much more interesting than previous journeys.

 

The journey was a very long one and also very slow as, again, the engine was used for other work at various times on the way. We were heading for Upper Silesia without really knowing where that was. The country was very open without many particularly good views but at least we could see things. We had set off on Tuesday the 24th October and arrived at our destination on Saturday the 28th October. It was the longest train journey I had ever had. The destination was a village called Bankau near a small town Kreutsburg. The German Polish border was in the area with the largest Town Breslau. The only town with a name that I had heard before.

 

As soon as we had had our photographs taken in a hut in the forlager we entered the camp proper and were greeted with, enthusiasm by many of the POWs there. They were avid for news from England. Many having been prisoners for one, two, three or may be four years. I have the photographs that were taken at Bankau and very rough I looked. It must have been a week without a wash or shave.

 

The camp was not a large one and held about 1400 prisoners, mainly RAF some glider pilots, and a few Americans. It was really a rectangle of barbed wire surrounding an area of almost level ground. The men's huts were in two rows parallel to the side wire. The entrance was at one end and opened on to the forlager in which were the camp administration huts, and which we passed through in order to enter our much larger part of the camp. Thus we had to pass through two guarded gates. The area in the centre of the camp was used as a football pitch. Two huts were not used to house prisoners but used (a) for schoolrooms or small meeting rooms. (b) A large single room to house the theatre or large religious services. The wire was about 15ft high and consisted of an outer and inner wall about 5ft apart. The narrow area between filled with an even worse type of wire, which we called dannert. There was a trip wire about 9/10 yards inside the main wire. This was to keep the prisoners away from the main wire. Overstep this trip wire and you could be shot by any of the guards in the watch towers which were spaced about fifty yards apart around the outside of the camp.

 

Spinner and myself were placed in room 49/12 in a hut about the middle of the top side of the football area. When we arrived, there were 12 men in the room, all RAF. We soon found out all the things we could do and the things that were not on. We soon settled in. There were many things to do and I quickly joined the French class, the Building Construction class and one on Surveying. The Library was fairly good and I decided to "gen" up on the classics beginning with Martin Chuzzlewit. The weather had been fairly dry but we did have a heavy storm at the beginning of November, which flooded the football pitch. Towards the end of November it became much colder and I remarked that it was always around minus degrees. I managed to play the piano a little but found the lack of practice left much to be desired and I was unable to get on to the piano often enough to improve. I joined the Yorkshire Club and listened to many tales about the county from various members.

 

There was a canary in the camp [a crystal set], which brought us the news from the BBC. This set was highly secret. I never knew where it was kept. When the news was ready and reception good [it was not always so], four men brought it round. One man stood at each end of the corridor which went down the middle of each hut; one stood in the corridor outside the door of the room in which the news was being read. One of the men inside the room would keep watch through the windows for any outside danger. Any goon in the block and the paper was hidden and everything looked quite innocent.

 

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