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Sergeant Maurice Askew

Sergeant Maurice V. Askew

 

Unit : 207 Squadron, RAF.

Service No. : 1098180

POW No. : 1593

Camps : Stalag 357, Stalag Luft 6.

 

207 Squadron Lancaster EM-A EE126 was destroyed on the night of the Leipzig mission of 19/20 February 1944 near Meppen. I was its flight engineer and taken prisoner. My skipper, P/O Wally Jarvis was also captured and sent to an officer's camp. We next caught up with one another at my wedding in England on 4 June 1945. Both my navigator, Sid Pearson and my bomb aimer, Philip Paddock were also taken prisoner. Phil was very badly injured and confined to a German hospital for many months during which time the pilot of one of the two Messerschmidts that had shot us down visited him. Although Phil had been on the march and one of the first of our group to enter Belsen I had rather lost touch with him. The next time we met was during the time I visited England from my home in New Zealand in 1987 and then at my Golden Wedding in 1995. Since then we have kept in touch fairly frequently. Wireless Operator Jeff Moray and Canadians Len Linton, mid upper gunner and Sam Rogers, rear gunner were killed and are buried in German cemeteries.

 

I lost touch with Jarvis and Pearson some time after the war and although I have made various attempts to trace them over the years it has been with no success.

 

Picking up from this point the four of us in the photograph are, from left to right, George Barrett, Eddie Elkington-Smith, Jock Murray, and myself. A German guard (goon), who worked as a censor, was bribed by Jock with Red Cross chocolates and cigarettes took the snapshot. My print was sewn into my battle dress to take back to England. It is one of two very similar ones. As far as we have been able to find out these two photographs are the only two taken in a German RAF Prisoner of War camp during the war. We would be interested in hearing of any similar ones in existence and, indeed, any other bits of information or corrections to what George and I are saying here.

 

Jock Murray and I first met in a German civilian prison to which we had both been taken when first captured. Shortly after this we were moved to the interrogation centre of Dulag Luft at Oberursel, near Frankfurt on Main. Together with hundreds of other airmen we were next herded into cattle trucks to be transported across Germany and Poland to Stalag Luft 6 at Heydekrug on the Lithuanian border.

 

I had acquired a gashed eye and some shrapnel in one foot. A German doctor patched me up to the extent that my eye was bandaged and I was given a crutch to allow me to hobble about. Heydekrug had been built before the war to house German troops and had three compounds. There were approximately 2,000 British and Commonwealth prisoners in one compound, 2,000 Americans in another and about a thousand Russians in the third. There were seven infirmaries with a crucial shortage of beds, some shower huts and a little theatre. The weather was bitterly cold for the first few months of the year. We were each issued with two blankets so had to sleep on our two-decker bunks with our small amount of personal clothing piled on top of us. Food was in short supply and we were absolutely dependent on food parcels being received from the Red Cross. The German ration was a bowl of soup each day augmented with some bread, potatoes, turnips and sauerkraut. Pickled herrings were sometimes a luxury treat.

 

My wounds slowly healed. Our senior officer, W/O "Dixie" Deans was a leader who will be long remembered by the thousands of prisoners who were led by him during our days at Heydekrug. This is what George Barrett wrote to me recently from his home in York, abbreviated a bit in the interests of space:

 

I first met up with you and Jock Murray in the large tent that we were housed in at Heydekrug for a couple of weeks from 10 May 1944. With Eddie Elkington-Smith we were to form a combine of four for the convenience of sharing out Red cross food parcels... We eventually moved to Hut A12 in K Lager and 28 of us lived together amicably. You and I would go to classical music concerts (gramophone and records supplied by the Red Cross) on Sunday afternoons and typography classes given by Taff Lewis on Mondays. (Taff was a printer as was George. I was a graphic designer)... With the Russians advancing we were obliged to leave Heydekrug on 10 August. After a two day journey we arrived at Thorn in Poland where we were taken to POW camp Stalag Luft 3 (Stammlager 357)... Our stay here was shortlived and we moved into Germany after only a few weeks, again by cattle truck. This time to Falligbostel half a dozen miles north of Hannover and with Belsen on our doorstep. A terrible cold and wet winter followed with mud everywhere and a shortage of Red Cross parcels. On 6 April 1945 about 1,000 English prisoners left here to go on a 25km-a-day march north. Our captors had it in mind that we would be transported to Sweden and used as a bartering medium at the end of the war.

 

We had to march for two hours before having a ten-minute break. Sleeping arrangements were primitive. If a barn was available that was used, comfortable and warm in the straw, but always rat infected so I preferred to stay outside like many others and made myself "at home" in hedge bottoms. Food was becoming very scarce and it was a familiar sight to see a crowd of POWs helping themselves to slices of dead horses that lay at the roadsides. We crossed the Elbe on the 17th. On the 19th at Gresse, we were attacked by half a dozen Typhoons of the RAF despite our carrying a Red Cross sheet and waving frantically. Thirty three English prisoners, including some from the twenty eight of us who had lived together in Hut A12 at Heydekrug and a number of guards were to lose their lives in this attack... Burials were in the local village church yard that same evening with the rest the next morning. All the graves were dug by POWs.

 

In an article by Pastor Peter Stuwe, who was with the prisoners, wrote later when describing the deaths and burials,... "I arranged for the erection of a big cross at the graves with an inscription and I planted rose and pinks on the graves which later on blossomed beautifully. After two years the bodies wee exhumed by the English - and after establishing personal data (in so far as this was possible on the basis of the list which an English padre had given me) - were carried away to be buried with many others in a large common cemetery..." (Chronick des Kirschspiels zu Gresse, Germany)

 

As we continued the march George was clubbed by a guard and needed medical assistance at a makeshift first aid post set up in a village church hall. Eddie, who had some medical knowledge stayed with him as long as he could but was forced to leave and it was not until after the war that he and George met again in York where they both now live.

 

It was just after this that our guards decided to leave us as British and American troops were getting very close. Most of the guards left their guns and many changed into civilian clothes. We set off in small groups to where the gunfire sounded closest. Jock and I had been split away from George and Eddie and had joined up with two or three others. We had acquired handguns which we used to hold up a German staff car carrying officers. These we ejected and took their place. We headed to the River Elbe where our intention was to cross and drive east. At the river's edge we were stopped by British troops, transported over a temporary Baillie bridge and driven to a nearby airfield. Here we waited for some days before flying out in a Lancaster that had been modified to carry men and supplies. We landed at a British airfield, were sprayed with DDT powder and given new clothing.

 

I had been in German hands for fourteen months.

 

My sincere thanks to George Barrett (ex 158 Sqdn), Eddie Elkington-Smith (ex 148 [SD] Sqdn MEF) and Philip Paddock. I used some of the above records from a diary kept by Eddie and written up in paper by him called "The Last Four Weeks". Jock Murray died in the 1980s and Eddie in 2003.

 

 

My thanks to Maurice Askew for taking the trouble to send me this account.

 

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