Flight Lieutenant David G. Everson
Unit : 635 Squadron, Royal Air Force.
Army No. : 51287
POW No. : 8372
Camps : Stalag Luft III, Marlag und Milag Nord.
No.635 Squadron R.A.F. Downham Market and after as a POW
With the rest of the crew I arrived to join 635 Sqdn at Downham Market on 5th April 1944. The sqdn was equipped with the Lancaster Mk3 and was in No8 Group the pathfinder force of Bomber Command. We flew six training trips before our first op to Rouen, France. Three more ops on 24th, 26th and 27th April. These last April trips were to Karlsruhe, Essen and Friedrichshaven respectively. The bomb loads we were lifting averaged between 10000 and 13000 lbs which was over four times the load carried by the Hampden on which I had done my first operational tour in 1940.
May 1st 1944 went to Malines (France). The load was 6 (x4) cluster flares and 8 1000 lb MC bombs. The load consisted of markers and bombs so we helped to mark the target and then bombed afterwards. The total time there and back was only 2 hrs 35 mins. 3rd May another shortish trip to bomb Montdidier Airfield. This time dropping a 4000 lb "Cookie" or blast bomb, and 16 500 lb MC bombs. A total of 12000 lbs dropped from 10000 ft. 19th May we attacked a Radar Complex at Monte-Couple, Nr Calais, with 18 500 lb MC bombs from 11000 ft. Another short one of 2 hrs dead. 22nd May took off to Orleans marking and bombing. Taking 4 hrs 15 mins we carried 8 1000 lb MC bombs and 6 (x4) cluster flares (markers). We were back at base at 0410 hrs the next morning. 27th May the Luftwaffe airfield at Rennes was the target. We attacked with 18 500 lb MC bombs from 13000 ft. Next day, 28th May, we marked and bombed the marshalling yards at Angers. This time the load was 6 (x4) cluster flares and then 7 1000 lb MC bombs. Bombing was from 12500 ft. The marking altitude could vary and was usually much lower and as previously mentioned quite separate from the bombing run. The Angers trip was 6 hrs 50 mins and Rennes 4 hrs 30 mins. 31st May marked and bombed marshalling yard at Trappes, near Paris. The load was 6 (x4) cluster flares and 8 1000 lb MC bombs. The bombing was from 12000 ft and we landed back at base after 4 hrs 15 mins. I had now chalked up 74 Ops having done two previous tours. June 1944 on 3rd of the month bombed heavy gun batteries at Calais. We also marked the target. The bomb load dropped was 15 500 lb and 1 1000 lb bombs. I think the 1000 lb bomb was armour piercing. Also a 4000 lb "Cookie" was dropped. All the operations to France since we had arrived on 63 Sqdn were in preparation for the Invasion Of Europe and on the 6th June we took part in it. Airborne from base at 0247 hrs on the big day we bombed the heavy gun batteries at Longues, which was on the coast near Caen. We bombed the target at 0437 hrs with 11 1000 lb bombs and 4 500 lb ones. We were not able to see the invasion fleet and as planned, because of weather conditions, bombed on radar. Landed back after 3 hrs 35 mins flying. 7th June target was Tanks, Troops, Petrol and Ammunition Dumps in the Foret De Cerisy. It was apparently an SS Division that we bombed with 16 500 lb MC bombs. The raid turned out to be very successful and was of great assistance to our ground forces. We had taken off for this raid at 2345 hrs and therefore bombed 8th June at about 0245 hrs. On 9th June still in support of invasion forces we attacked St Jacqes airfield near Rennes dropping 18 500 lb MC bombs. Taking off at 0015 hrs we were home after 4 hrs 45 mins. The next operation 11th June was marking and bombing the marshalling yards at Nantes. It was planned to mark the target from 3500 ft. As we approached the target we descended in cloud, which in those days would be described as 10/10ths. We found we had overshot the target and that the base was lower than forecast and was about 3000 ft. Below the cloud base we turned to make another run to the target. As we did so the aircraft was hit by a burst of flak. A fire started to develop in the fuselage below my mid-upper position. Soon after this the Skipper passed the order to "bale out".
Having left the mid-upper turret I clipped on my parachute which had been stowed in the fuselage below me. I left the aircraft by the main door to the rear and on the starboard side of the aircraft. I remembered to roll out with my head down, this to avoid hitting the tail plane. It was a dark night and I landed without realising the ground was there. It was such an awkward heavy landing that I initially thought I had broken my left leg, after the pain had subsided a bit I knew it was a badly twisted ankle. My landing was in a field of small bushes which I assumed was a vineyard. As the soil was loose and dry it was fairly easy to bury my parachute with my bare hands. I hobbled with a lot of pain clear of the field towards a coppice. Here I decided to stay under cover, until daylight. In this small wood I was fortunate to find a long stick with a crook at one end that I was able to use as a crutch. Waiting I pondered the fate of the rest of the crew and the aircraft. The aircraft I heard flying away after I had quickly landed but nothing more was heard or seen. Although relieve to be alive and more or less in one piece, I felt utterly lonely. We had left base at 0015 hrs 11th June so I had therefore arrived in France at about 0215 hrs. The times quoted are G.M.T. so the local time of arrival was 0415 hrs to the best of my memory. It was soon light and I spotted a small farmhouse nearby. The garden of the farm was bounded by a lime stone wall which was quite tall. About 6am local time I saw the heads of two women in the garden and decided to approach them for help, I needed badly a drink of water. The reception I got was to be called "Assassin" by one of the women although I continually told them "Anglais and Aviator R.A.F." but to no avail. However there was a small old man in the garden I had not seen before and he was more friendly but very nervous and indicated by drawing his fingers across his throat and talking about "le boche". The attitude of the old man soon became clear, for as he spoke a pair of Ju 88s flew nearby climbing. They had obviously taken off from a nearby airfield. He also indicated that part of the farm buildings had been damaged by bombing, perhaps during a raid on the airfield. This the women perhaps had thought the allies had been responsible for and therefore did not welcome me. After he had given me a welcome drink of water I said farewell and moved off toward as I thought Normandy.
I did not move far - it was prudent to move only at night and lay up in the daytime. Walking slowly with the air of my "crutch" I pressed on to a large wood in the direction I wished to go. In there I fashioned a hide and making myself fairly comfortable slept for quite a time. Later ate some of the emergency rations I had carried, and after extreme boredom listening and watching I remained undisturbed. The weather remained dry and quite warm and when dark enough I was pleased to be able to continue my slow journey. During the night passed another farm which was in complete darkness. There was a pond near, and being desperate for water I risked drinking from it, the water smelled and tasted allright. A dog was barking and I moved on. After a couple of hours came to a river it was not very wide but had steep banks. Had thoughts of swimming across it but found the banks muddy and impossible to negotiate. The river was obviously tidal and I was perhaps not too far from the coast. Down river a strong beam of light could be seen sweeping a bridge. The bridge was obviously guarded so I decided to walk away from the river and came into a field in which were large mounds of hay. It was now beginning to drizzle, to shelter I was able to burrow into one mound. Finding it quite comfortable, I soon fell asleep. I awoke to hear voices and saw workers in the vicinity turning the hay. As they were some distance away I casually walked away from them hoping I would not be noticed, I did not look back and reached a high stone wall which appeared to be the boundary of an estate. I was about to peer over the wall when I heard the sound of German voices. It appeared to be a group walking from right to left along a road. When they had passed clear I was able to see there was indeed a narrow road between me and rising ground along the ridge of which were mature trees. I needed the shelter of those trees and managed to get over the wall and climbed the bank into the wood I had reached the shelter apparently without being noticed. Through the trees and running parallel to the road was a path which I walked along. I soon heard more German voices as I came to a hedge beyond which was a large house. The grounds of the house extended to the river and as by then I had decided to press on in daylight I aimed to get around and clear of this house. I walked down the garden away from the house sheltered by the hedge. I was capless, having lost it when I baled out. My flying boots I had tucked underneath my trousers and was still walking with the aid of my stick. In this state walking along the bottom, with the house now on my right, I suddenly came upon two Luftwaffe airmen. They were digging a slit trench and I just did not see them until too late. One a corporal was armed and pulled out a small automatic. They could see I was not in a fit state to do much and made sure that I was not armed, then carefully escorted me to the house. The house was full of Luftwaffe personnel. I believe they had been evacuated from a nearby airfield which had been bombed. I was received with some interest but was well treated I was given a drink and some bread and jam which was enjoyed. My ankle was examined by a medical orderly and bandaged. I was later met by a Luftwaffe officer and taken by car to an airfield near Nantes, it was Chateau Bougon obviously the airfield near to where I had landed. I ended up in a guardroom which being brick built seemed so very like those at R.A.F. pre-war stations.
I was questioned by a major of the Luftwaffe whom I guessed was the station commander. It was quite easy to answer with only my number rank and name which was accepted after a while and no pressure was applied. I was a little wary when I was offered a drink of wine and a cigarette for which I was grateful. The "C.O" told me that the night before a Lancaster had been shot down in the area and that seven bodies had been found. I tried not to re-act to this news but he probably read the shock in my face. I reasoned later that if he was correct it could not have been our Lancaster because there would have been six bodies if I had been the only one to survive. Initially I was locked up in a cell. I was visited by a young officer who spoke very good English. He had interpreted when I was questioned. He brought me an English novel to read. He also said he was Austrian and was the adjutant. After that to my surprise the cell door was left open and I was free to wander to the toilets and within the building but was still under guard. 12th June 1944 I was now a prisoner of war. On, I think, the third day there was a B17 (Fortress) raid on Nantes, apparently bombing a bridge over the Loire. I was able to watch from outside with my guards this convinced me they knew the war was over but this feeling was to prove premature. A Fortress peeled away from the formation and had apparently been hit by flak which was plentiful. The aircraft continued to fly away trailing smoke and parachutes were seen to open. Later three American aircrew arrived and were locked up but I continued to enjoy comparative freedom. We were all transported in a few more days by lorry to Chartres. Again I was surprised the lorry was right hand drive and British made it was obviously ex R.A.F. and had probably been there since 1940. Chartres was a busy military centre and was also a collection place for prisoners of war, army, from the invasion front, and aircrew that had been shot down and captured. A group of about fifty of us were eventually transported to Paris by road to leave by train to Germany. I remember we travelled in passenger coaches but very third class on slatted wood seats. This was luxury compared to what was to follow.
The journey was to a Dulag Luft. This was a Luftwaffe interrogation centre and temporary P.O.W. camp. I only know it was well into Germany we were not told where it was but I believe it had moved from near Frankfurt. The interrogation was intermittent after periods of solitary confinement. The whole process seemed to be a wearing down one. Food was sparse and consisted of a third of loaf of black bread a day, with watery soup perhaps twice and black ertsatz coffee once. Although this place was manned by the Luftwaffe I was once "interview" by a civilian, obviously Gestapo. Although I had continued to give only my name rank and number, he said, amongst other things, that he knew all about me and that I was a "terror flieger" with the threat that "German civilians would like to get hold of me". This nasty encounter with the Gestapo was only once and the Luftwaffe interrogation was routine and not persistent but I was kept in solitary confinement for some time. Eventually a group of us were communally housed the solitary confinement being ended. During this more relaxed period I and the others were guarded in our conversation and knew the possibility of being infiltrated. We were now able to write home. I had left a wife and baby daughter behind and they were living at Aylburton, a village in Gloucestershire. The letter I wrote to my wife she has kept and I have it now as I write this. There is no address and is headed with "Fg/Off D.G. Everson 51287 R.A.F. dated 15.7.44. I had written that, "I knew she would be happy to receive the letter and to know I was safe and well - also there is no permanent address for as yet I am not in a permanent camp then I can look forward to getting letters from you - now that I am a prisoner of war you will I know be content to know that I am now out of it - I can only write on one side so much keep this short - I sent love to her and the baby and all at home". The letter is on one sheet of lined paper and written in pencil. The envelope is also addressed in pencil and has a stick on label seal which states, OPENED BY EXAMINER 3503. The back of the envelope has my rank etc also in pencil. Obercommando der Wehrmacht in red and black ink is stamped four times on back of envelope. OKW was the High Command of the German Armed Forces. The letter although written and handed in in July was not received until January 15th 1945. Fortunately my wife received knew of me a month after I had been reported missing. it was via the German radio, Lord Haw Haw, as he was known, was after the war hanged as a traitor, to my regret, regularly broadcast names of new P.o.W,s. My wife was listening to the radio on 21st July and heard that I was a P.O.W. and was safe and well. Others contacted her as well including a group in London who sent a specially printed card completed in writing with the message. The card was headed "Message per German Radio".
Late August 1944 arrived at Stalag Luft No3. The journey seemed long and we travelled in Box Waggons so could not see much. I remember we spent one night stationary with bombing fairly close and after many long stops eventually arrived at Sagan. This station was a short marching distance from the stalag which was large and divided into four compounds each of which held just over 2000 officer (mainly) prisoners. Mostly British and Commonwealth. The total P.O.W. population at this time was just about 10000 mainly aircrew. One compound was kept separate for Americans. An administrative group of buildings in the centre of the camp included, baths, sick quarters, stores and accommodation and offices for the Camp Commandant and staff. These were all Luftwaffe personnel. Six of us arrived together and we were de-loused, bathed, medically examined, registered and booked in, issued with cleaned ex British Army kit and so I lost my R.A.F. battledress and now wore a khaki one. I had managed to recover my brevet, and rank tapes from my old uniform. A doctor on duty was a British Army one and there were apparently other P.O.W. doctors that did duty in the sick quarters.
The camp buildings were constructed of wood and I arrived in one of many large huts divided into rooms each holding six. I was welcomed into a room occupied by long term P.O.W,s, but was made to feel comfortable. The beds were wood framed with a thick string net like base but no mattress only blankets and a pillow. The beds originally had wooden slats but they had disappeared to be used for tunnel construction I was told. This activity had now ceased. The compound was run by the in-mates under a Group Captain who was known as the Senior British Officer. He had interviewed me soon after arrival and I was then booked into the compound by his staff.
It was wonderful to settle in to the camp and to be with my own. I had arrived emaciated. Because of the starvation diet I had experienced my stomach rebelled at the first decent meal I had had since my enforced departure from home. We fed in the hut and a good meal prepared mainly from Red Cross parcels was given me. Soon after eating I was in trouble and rushed out to be sick. The embarrassment soon faded and I was able to enjoy decent food once more. Food was mainly from red cross parcels supplemented by vegetables from the Germans. A large store of parcels had been built up not only from the British Red Cross but also from American and Canadian sources. These were not issued individually but the components were supplied on a ration basis to each hut. This rationing was controlled by the prisoners appointed to do so and supervised by the S.B.O. However, soap, chocolate and cigarettes were issued individually.
The toilet block was basic and had running cold water and troughs for washing. Baths however, with hot water, were available on a rota, periodically we were marched in groups, under guard, out of the compound to the bath house in the centre of the camp. Just inside the entrance to the compound was a well stocked library which was run by the inmates and toward the middle of the site was a Theatre. This had been well fitted out by the p.o.ws, the seats were made from the plywood from boxes that red cross parcels had been transported in. The compound was enclosed by a double row of high wire fencing. Along this fence guard towards were placed, except at "Appel", we were able to walk a well worn path inside the fence but well clear of it. Appel was a parade twice a day and sometimes at short notice laid on by the Germans to check and count the P.O.W,s. There was also an area big enough for soccer and other sporting activities. The sports equipment stock was large and varied being originally supplied by the different national Red Cross organisations. This like the parcels was channeled via the Swiss Red Cross.
We were well informed with news from home via a secret radio. A news sheet was brought and read to each hut twice a day. The procedure guard the doors at each end of the hut, to ensure no Germans were around, and then the news was read. The guarding of the doors was another of the duties we did. Another was to be duty cook of the room. We also did a "look out" job in the library. This duty was to log in and out the "ferrets" these being a special group of security guards who entered the compound to look for any illegal activities. To try and detect any "tunnelling" they carried a long steel spike to poke the ground. They were a total group of about ten under the leadership of an Oberfeldwebel (S.N.C.O.) They normally came in threes and when on duty we logged them in and out of the compound. This task was made easy because displayed in the library near the window used was a coloured cartoon impression of each of the ferrets which made them instantly recognisable. Each one had a nickname and were logged in accordingly. I had a shock on one occasion when one of the group came into the library to check the log to find out if the Oberfeldwebel was in the compound. Thus the system was accepted and used to their advantage as well as ours.
The camp was in Silesia (E Germany) on sandy soil and sited in a pine tree forest. Walking round the track was a regular and enjoyable pastime although not much could be seen not even wild life. The news was good and getting better those of us who were fairly new P.O.W,s were content in the knowledge that the war could soon end. One however felt sorry for the long term P.O.W,s some of whom had been "in the bag" since 1940 they were much more impatient for the end of the war than us. The official policy at this time was - no escape attempts - this I think was because of the war news and the prospect of victory and home. Life continued into Autumn and at the end of October I had written to my wife "I am keeping fit by playing plenty of soccer. We have a well organised league and managed to get in about three games a week. At the moment though I am hobbling around on one leg having been kicked on the right knee." the knee was soon healed and soccer continued. Other activities were lectures on all sorts of subjects. Poetry Reading. Plays and even Musicals. The talent amongst the captive population was immense and all the above, performed in the Theatre, was of a highly professional standard. There was also an Orchestra with instruments supplied, again, through the Red Cross. December came and with it Christmas celebrated with a Service and carols. The food on the day was as usual, I only remember that a cake was produced by rolling biscuits to crumbs and some dried fruit, like the biscuits from the parcels, mixed with juice and baked very successfully.
The New Year came with continued good news. The weather became very cold but dry the temperature was such that it was possible, led by the Canadians, to clear a shallow pitch of the right size, fill it with water when it froze and made a ice hockey pitch. This continued to remain frozen with temperatures continuing well below freezing. Soccer thus was replaced by ice hockey which I was able to get introduced to. The gear for playing was available again being supplied via the Canadian authorities.
February came and passed quickly as most months seemed to. Toward the end of the month it was rumoured that the camp may be evacuated this we knew was due to the Russian advance from the east. The rumours however did not bear fruit until the middle of March. Then after good warning we, our group of just over 2000, started a long march to the west. The columns from the other compounds, we later discovered, were dispersed in other directions. As it turned out we were the lucky ones. We were well clothed with army great coats double wollen balaclavas gloves and scarves and boots on top of thick socks. I do not remember ever feeling cold on the march. We also carried as much food as we could from Red Cross parcels. Also we had a number of hand carts supplied by the Germans on which to carry more supplies. A lot though was abandoned when we left. I thought of the loss of the food and equipment but in particular the library we had left and which had given so much pleasure.
In good heart we proceeded west happy to know we were going in the right direction for home. Accommodation for the night was usually in barns or schools and off again at first light after an improvised breakfast. The guards were still those from the Luftwaffe. The supervision was very loose but because it would not be prudent to escape we kept together. Avoiding large towns and cities we were routed through smaller towns and villages and were generally well received by the locals. It was possible to barter for such things as eggs and bread using the currency of cigarettes and soap in particular. The distanced marched I am not sure about but soon after about three weeks we arrived at Marlag und Milag Nord. This camp contained Allied Naval prisoners and was administered by German Navy personnel. Our arrival obviously caused a bit of a problem and the camp became rather overcrowded. We were however kept separately and unable to fraternise with the naval prisoners.
The new camp was located about 20 miles south east of Bremen and by the allied air activity in the area we guessed we were likely to be relieved soon. However in the middle of April this camp was also evacuated. We, still as a column of about 2000 moved out north east towards Lubeck, although at the time we were not sure of our destination. On the first day with the weather fine and warm, we were about to pass a field where the naval prisoners had stopped when I spotted a figure I knew. He was a naval rating who lived in my home village in Gloucestershire, Aylburton, where my wife was with her parents. He had been badly shot up in the channel in 1940 when crewing an M.T.B. I knew him well and that he was a P.O.W., but obviously never expected to see him. The escorting guards, elderly marines, were quite lax and I was able to go and talk to him. He was quite overwhelmed to see me and did not know of course that I was "in the bag" as it were. I left to keep up with the others promising that if I got home first I would see his mother and tell her we had met. This in fact happened.
The march was just over sixty miles in distance and took about six days at a leisurely pace, deliberately so, in the hope we might be overrun. As the weather was good we camped in the open at night and before settling down improvised a sign indicating P.O.W. This sign was for allied air craft which were seen frequently, usually they were Typhoons which flew quite low over our location. We knew we were being looked after and probably by the same squadron. Having crossed the Elbe river we eventually halted about 23rd April. We had stopped on a large estate outside Lubeck, which was to be our destination. Our S.B.O. was a Canadian Group Captain. He had been taken by the Germans into Lubeck, on his insistence, to see the layout. Because of what he saw and because of a rumoured typhoid out-break in the city, he refused to allow us to go on. We were allowed therefore to stay on the estate and obviously the impending end of the war had a lot to do with it, but we were very grateful to the Group Captain. We also got to know that the estate was owned by a wealthy family with financial interest in the tobacco industry. The head of this family apparently wanted us to stay, no doubt for the obvious reason that the end of the war was nigh. What better to impress the occupying forces than by hosting allied P.O.W,s. We were supplied with food did our own cooking and were fairly comfortable sleeping in farm buildings. After a couple of days the guards had gone and we were free. The sounds of war had been heard about this time and having been advised to stay put, we were relieved by the 11th Armoured Division on 2nd May 1956. The noise of many tanks were heard on this day by-passing us. A scout car with a Lieutenant and a driver, appeared from the division, with a message - to stay put and that we would soon be collected. They then rushed off towards the noise of the advance.
Freedom and Home
May 3rd a convoy of trucks conveyed us to Luneberg Heath and here was tented accommodation and reception camp. We were well looked after and waited our turn to be flown home. May 7th my batch were taken to Diepholz airfield to eventually arrive at R.A.F. Wing in a Dakota aircraft. Then by road to Cosford, another R.A.F. station and a reception centre, to be medically examined, kitted out as required, and generally fed and watered. As we arrived late at this time, most of the procedure, after a night stop took place the following day, May 8th. We had been able to send telegrams and eventually, armed with money and a railway warrant, I arrived home by train and car late on VE day.
There was good news of the crew that I had lost contact with during the early hours of June 11th 1944. Apparently the burst of flak had not only caused a hydraulic oil fire in the fuselage, but had also damaged the control wires forcing the aircraft out of control. This was when the order to bale out was given. The bomb aimer, flight engineer and the navigator left the aircraft via the front hatch in that order. I from the mid-upper turret left via the rear door. The pilot meanwhile had throttled back and selected 30 degs of flap to bring the aircraft under control. He then prepared to leave the aircraft when the rear gunner appeared holding only the quick release buckle which was all that remained of his burned parachute. The wireless operator alerted to what had happened stayed on board and together with the gunner put out the fire. By supreme effort the gutted aircraft with the rear turret missing, was flown home to an emergency landing at Warmwell on the south coast. All three surviving crew received immediate awards, the pilot a D.S.O., the W/Op a D.F.C., and the rear gunner a D.F.M.
Of the four of us that baled out, the bomb aimer and the flight engineer evaded capture and got home. The navigator and myself became P.O.W,s. The navigator after spending about twelve days with a French family was with the French Resistance when captured and handed over to the Gestapo at Nantes. He was very badly treated, and was in fact under sentence of death until he was recognised as a R.A.F. officer and reprieved to become a P.O.W. in a stalag, but not luft 3. We all survived the war except for the bomb aimer who returned to operations to be killed during a raid on Berlin.
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