Hello and thanks for visiting this “War Years” page, this is the second of three pages that cover my Grandfathers “full story”.
War Years covers my Grandfathers time in Operational RAF Squadrons during WW2.
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Chapter 5 – Operational Squadrons
616 Squadron, Westhampnett (20 Nov 1942 – 27 Nov 1942)
Crest of 616 Squadron, motto “Nulla Rosa Sine Spina” (No Rose without a Thorn)
You get posted to different places. It came to the weekend and I said to this fellow in the orderly room don’t post me until Monday and I’ll go to London and spend the weekend there, then I would not be breaking the rules. Well he forgot to send the signal and I went down to this 616 Squadron on the Monday, down south of England and when I got there and they said, who the hell are you. The corporal had forgotten to put the posting through and they didn’t know who I was. I was out on the limb and no one knew where I was. Then the “wheels” took over after that and it all got cleared up. I didn’t stay there a long time, it was a nice station they had Spit 6’s there with a pressurised cabin. I nearly got killed in that, never mind, the fellows that I joined with were great, I was still a Sergeant at the time and they had organised one of the Batmen (A “Batman” is a Soldier or Airman assigned to a commissioned officer as a personal servant) to light the fire, polish your buttons, all these extras that didn’t come with the job as a sergeant. One day while I was there I flew the Mark 6 without the canopy, it was a clamp, two clamps that you pushed this way went this way and two that went the other, very tight cabin, but same size Spitfire, it had an elongated sharp wing tip and was supposed to be used for high flying. It was an ordinary 5 but pressurised, but the motor would take it up that high anyway, it was a bit of a failure, they built one more lot but they didn’t use them. To get out of it you pulled the two wires that were joined to the clamps and they opened the canopy in an emergency. I went up without the canopy and had a waltz around, it was interesting. The next time I went up I had the canopy on, not operational, just practice. In the 5’s you used to hear the shrill of the airstream going through the Cranston (Supercharger) and through the canopy gaps, but in the Mark 6 there was nothing, it was sealed off, next to no noise just a low hum from the motor. I went up and did some aerobatics, I did a loop and was pulling out when I passed out from the G-Forces. I heard a voice, it was someone on the same channel as I was, and someone was telling me to pull up. I came to, I don’t know what position I was in but I was close to the ground about 1500 feet, no more. I got it straight and level and back to the airfield. Then I went into shock once I got down on the ground. I had to sit in the cockpit for a while. The Erks (Ground Crew) took the hood off, then I got out on the wing and sat there. I started sweating profusely and had the shakes, I’d realised how close I’d come I guess.
I had two shocks in my life, these sort of shocks. I nearly accidentally drowned a fellow over by Marton (New Zealand) once. He didn’t drown but when I realised I went into shock. There were 4 of us that went out in a rowboat at the Rangitikei river mouth. It was slow moving water, very wide and very deep. We rowed out, just to please the girls we were with I guess, I got in to have a swim and the fellow I was with was standing up and couldn’t make up his mind whether to get in or not. It was a flat bottomed boat and I had my feet and hands on the boat, so I pushed the boat and he went arse over into the water. He started to drift behind the boat because the tide was starting to go out, I was just swimming around thinking there was nothing wrong. He yelled to me “I can’t make it.” I thought oh shit. He could swim but not very well and he couldn’t get back to the boat. I yelled to the girls to get the anchor up and I swam back to the boat, hopped in and grabbed the oars and rowed over to him. I missed him but got an oar out to him and managed to pull him over to the side of the boat. Frank, he came from Napier and was a nice fellow, hung onto the side, but couldn’t get in. It was about that stage I went into shock, when I realised what I’d done, I nearly drowned a person by being foolish. His parents had a cleaning business in Napier, later he went to the Middle-East with the army and wrote to me once. He got through the war. I was twenty at the time. That was my first wake up. Later in the war, my mate Smithy had a similar thing flying. He went up on this height climb. He turned his oxygen on but it hadn’t been connected to the bottle. He remembered being at about 20,000 feet, when a Spit goes out of control, it will do a loop, well he didn’t know how many loops he did before he came back too.
A lot of people got killed or badly injured in accidents, in one year of fighter control there were 11,000 accidents alone… all preventable.
Me Sleeping, you felt tired a lot, all the fresh air
Next I was posted up the East Coast of England to Martlesham Heath, just out of Ipswich, and joined 132 Squadron there.
132 Squadron, Martlesham 30 Nov 1942
Crest of 132 Squadron, motto “Cave Leopardum” (Beware the Leopard)
***This Chapter with almost 300 combat missions is incomplete at this stage, be continued soon………… please check back!**
Chapter 6 – A Very Bad Idea.
29 April 1944
There was an American 1000 bomber raid on Berlin. Our C/O Geoffrey (Alan Geoffery Page) had asked permission to fit auxiliary fuel tanks so we would have the range to go into Germany to support the Bombers. It was a 90 gallon tank and only had a 6 inch clearance from the ground when you took off, which wasn’t much. They were made for ferrying aircraft not for combat.
We were going in on a “Ranger” looking for stragglers to protect them and to shoot-up any German fighters that were re-arming and re-fuelling between attacking the Bombers.
At 13.10 hours six of us set off from Detling, briefed to sweep from Eindhoven to Munster. We made it over the Channel and into Holland, low, over houses, telegraph wires and things like that, you kept as low as you could without hitting them. I can still remember seeing an old boy ploughing a field, horse and plough, waving to us.
We were looking for German fighters going down to refuel and re-arm again to attack the bombers.
It was a misty day with fog or smog, industrial haze, just big rolls of it. An aircraft came out of this fog, I didn’t know which way it was going immediately, I had a blink and he levelled out, it was going across our front less than a quarter of a mile away.
I thought it was a Dornier 17 Bomber as it had twin tails. It happened so quickly, I remember calling up to say it was there and then I thought “I’d go have a go” and “unclipped the button” before breaking off to attack it. At the same time he must have seen all of us by that stage.
There were 6 of us and only one of him so he must have had clean underwear. I was on the left hand side of our group. He turned into me at the same time I turned toward him, and we both “opened” up on each other, it all was over in a split second. My right wing was hit and the leading edge opened up, this probably saved my life as it tore my aircraft around to the right out of the way of his cannon fire and he passed to my left. I tried to turn around to line up on him again but that’s when I noticed a great big haze of fuel vapour from my aux 90 gallon fuel tank.
In retrospect I should have turned away and tried to get on his tail, but we were both flying at just above roof top height, there was no room to attack from above or below, it was that or nothing.
That stuffed up the whole day and with my aux fuel tank gone I knew I wasn’t going on with the crowd. I changed over the tanks straight away, as I was flying on the 90 gallon aux tank, and dropped it. So I don’t know who got that on their roof top! The thing now was to get up by the coast and get picked up by the air-sea rescue. My gauges were showing that the oil was in trouble. There was intense anti-aircraft fire, thick and fast you might say, and I called up and told Geoffrey, I’m going home, all he came back with in his impeccable English accent was “I’m sorry old man, I can’t help you, start walking.”
I later learned that Geoffrey was setting up to follow him, that’s what I should have done and set him alight. The others had strayed right over the German occupied Deelen airfield and there was a lot of anti-aircraft fire from around the heavily defended airfield, the air was alight with shells. Everyone got hit that day except my C/O Geoffrey and Smithy (Lacy Smith). Someone lost a hood, my number two got flak in his neck, we were in 3 pairs “Paddy Pullin” got hit after me, I don’t know how he got hit but he did, I don’t think Jabs got him, think it was anti-aircraft fire.
Above: Copy of the ORB report from 29th April 1944. It’s worth noting that the ORB is a record of accounts that happened each day by those that returned. So it is not always accurate as in the heat of battle not everything is seen or remembered correctly. For example above states J.J Caulton was hit by flak, this was not correct.
The German aircraft turned out to be a Messerschmitt Bf110 with 3 crew, when the pilot realised there were six of us and he was over his own airfield he made a dash at landing. Geoffrey said he was bloody keen as he was on his tail filling it full of lead and it was alight. The German still put his wheels down and landed it, with him and his crew abandoning the aircraft with it still rolling and jumping in a ditch before it burnt out.
Above: (Top) Example of a lightly armed Dornier 17 which with its twin tail, at a glance looked similar to a Messerschmitt BF110 (below).
I knew if I climbed the motor would not take it for long, then I could be committed to bailing out. I would not get very far to the North Sea where I knew there were Air/Sea rescue launches patrolling, they had an old amphibian that could land on water and pick you up. I called up and gave a mayday in case I got there. I could have been picked up, but I’d still have to make it into the water. That was a bit dicey really because Spits didn’t land too well in water, they flipped over on their back. Plus on the way (if I had made it to the coast) you got shot at by all in sundry as you were climbing up, or you could have been.
Chapter 7 – Back To Earth
I was still heading north but didn’t get very far. My oil tank had also been hit and it wasn’t long before my motor gave up, I must have got about 30 miles. I looked around and quickly picked what looked like a nice straight field between some canals. I was prepared for a rough careen across the ground, but I hadn’t bargained on hitting a bank straight off – I touched down, the props broke off and then I hit this bank. I was going around 120 mph to a full stop, I had tightened my straps, but the crash broke the cable that held my straps, it was supposed to have a 7 ton breaking strain, that’s what let me slam into everything. I couldn’t feel my leg at all.
I got out and stepped down but my leg gave way because my kneecap had been smashed. It was unpleasant and there were cuts and bits and pieces everywhere. The gun sight had hit me on the head and taken a chunk out – I wasn’t completely knocked out, but it wasn’t far off.
The plane was sizzling, I should have used the thermite bomb and blown it up but I didn’t do it. I guess, maybe because I couldn’t get away far enough from it, if it exploded. A Dutch farm boy came over running and tried to pick me up, but he was small and had no show. I thought he was younger than me, about 16, but it turned out he was my age, then next minute one of the Germans Luftwaffe guards from the nearby post came down. He had a tin helmet on and had a sub-machine gun and stood behind me and said something, I turned around but could only see out of one eye, as the gun sight had hit me in the forehead and it was chock a block full of blood, he was shouting and waving his gun at me, I said “piss off” or something to that effect, I was annoyed that I was covered in blood, sitting on the ground and couldn’t walk and he was yelling at me. He wanted me to put my hands up I guessed. Then he came around the front and felt me for my revolver, which I never carried anyway. When he found I didn’t have one he was quite happy – more relaxed.
I had a revolver issued, a lovely Smith and Wesson, polished one, I just didn’t carry it. I’d often thought what would have happened if I had it in my boot like we were meant to. Six shots was no bloody good to you on the other side, you’d be dead after the first shot, I couldn’t hit the arse end of a haystack.
Then I was made to get up with the assistance of this Dutch fellow and a Priest arrived from somewhere. I wasn’t feeling too good, but between the two of them they helped me walk towards the German guard post. There was a drainage ditch with a small wooden board across it that we had to cross, which we did. I said to the Priest, what show have I got of getting away, he spoke alright English and he said, “no your leg will give you away” he asked my name so I don’t know if that got back to the Underground or whatever.
When the German guard was not looking I gave the Priest my escape money, I had about 40 pounds worth of escape money in foreign currency, I knew I was not going to run or walk anywhere. I said to him it’s yours, take it, and he did.
Then we went past the Dutch boys farm house, his mother was sitting outside on a chair in the sun. She got up and waved me to come in, I said thank you but no thanks, as I thought I might get them into trouble if they were involved, so then I walked on a little way and I heard a little voice behind me. I turned around and it was this Dutch boy’s little sister with a big glass of milk. I drank that down, that made me snap out of the shock that I was going into, and I started to think more clearly. My head had taken a big whack and I was knocked around. The German guard was walking beside me with his gun, he didn’t stop anyone that tried to talk to me.
When we got to the tower there were 10-12 guards in this two-storey tower and it was about 600 yards from where I crashed, a bit of a painful trip.
The guards policed the district, they were air force soldiers with a blue uniform. They lived with the town’s people and looked after the crossing, looking at identification of people travelling from one town to the next. Everyone knew the invasion was soon so the guards and towns people were all treating each other well. It was only a small town with a petrol station and a couple of houses.
I was put into this bottom room, they were quite decent to me, they gave me a cold boiled egg because it was about 4 o’clock in the afternoon and some coffee, it was bloody awful made from acorns, very bitter. They left me in the room not too worried about me escaping I guess because of my leg.
I’d been there for some time and I could hear kids yelling and running around. One of the guards said come outside, I went to the door way and presented myself and a school was out, there was a whole lot of kids crowded around, it was almost embarrassing, they were laughing and pointing.
The school teacher, a woman about 40 or 50 saw me and got off her bike, threw it on the ground and rushed over and wanted to know when the invasion was going to take place, she spoke in English, I said I didn’t know but it wouldn’t be long. Then the guards came along and shooed them away.
I was back to sitting down feeling sorry for myself, I had a bit of meat out of my head and another out of my shoulder, all they had was crepe paper which they gave me to cover the wounds. I had been to the pub the night before and someone lent me a quid, don’t remember who it was and he never got it back. When the guards gave me the cold egg, I gave the two of them some money each.
The guards rang into the nearest aerodrome to say I was a prisoner in the tower.
After a couple of hours when I saw a small car coming along the road through the window of the room I was in. It was little, a little Opel and had 4 people packed in it. I thought to myself that I can’t get in there, that car, with a busted knee and realised then that it mustn’t be for me.
Sitting there through the window I could see the little bridge across the ditch that I had come over and I saw these four Germans walk over it and around the corner and next minute there was a knock on the door.
I said come in, and an officer came in. He didn’t stride in, which he had every right to, but just calmly walked in.
He didn’t have a word to say to start with and then stood to attention and saluted me. He did not give the Nazi salute, he gave the ordinary military salute which was surprising because everyone on their side was supposed to give the Nazi salute. I acknowledged him, but did not salute back as I didn’t have a hat on, we didn’t salute without a hat. He said in English “were you flying the Spitfire” and I said “yes”. He said, “I was flying the other one.”
He had his number one blue on, (best uniform) I thought my God. He introduced himself as Major Jabs. He spoke quite good English really, it was quite an interesting sort of a happening, because he treated me decently. Then we talked awhile with the aid of a few hand signals, maybe 20 minutes.
One of the things he said to me was “when’s the invasion going to take place?” I said “really……… Churchill hadn’t told me yet, if he had of I wouldn’t be telling you would I.” Jabs then replied “I’m sorry I shouldn’t have asked that question.” He was quite genuine about it.
They knew it was about to happen, it was about 6 weeks until the invasion (D-day landings). The Germans could see all the evidence, the pile up of traffic around the south of England, a lot of it was fake stuff, but a lot was real, all the shipping that was around the coast near Dungeness, concrete pontoons, they were great big tanks with no motors or anything like that, they used to tow them across and sink them in a line to create a break water to shelter the landing troops, but they were enormous, there was about a dozen parked along the south coast of England, we did not know what they were for at the time.
Next I said to him (Jabs) something that he would not of understood, an expression. I said ”You haven’t got a show, you might as well throw in the towel, you can’t win” which was a boxing ring expression. But it was such an unusual happening with such a decent fellow, he was such a nice fellow, you couldn’t have been shot down by a nicer one.
He said would I come out and have your photograph taken, I said well yes I don’t see why I shouldn’t. I thought I haven’t got much to lose now, and I have no option. So I went outside and there I meet the 3 others. Two were Major Jab’s crew who did not speak English, the third was a Political Officer who spoke good English and was taking photos.
Major Hans-Joachim Jabs (with hand raised) and talking to John J. Caulton a few hours after John’s plane crash-landed in Holland, 29 April 1944. This photo was taken by a “Political Officer” that accompanied Jabs and was not seen by John until the 1970’s. Caulton can be seen with a bandage on his forehead due to striking the gun-sight on landing and stands even though his knee-cap was also badly broken in the crash.
Accompanying Jab’s, left to right were Hptm. Knickmeier (NJG1 Operations Officer) and Jab’s radio operator Erich Weissflog.
I did upset him though (the Political Officer) he was taking these photos and I asked if it was an American camera. He said “we Germans make the best cameras in the world” he didn’t leave me in doubt. He didn’t like me asking that question much so it put in a little friction, I just ignored him as I was dealing with Jabs and he was Major and all the rest of it. You realise how far you can get with “care”, you don’t want to be silly about it.
It turned out that Jabs was told by the Political Officer at the aerodrome not to come out, but Jabs said no, he was going to see the man he had shot down, and having such a presence/reputation he was allowed, but only if this Political Officer could accompany him.
These Political Officers could be pretty dangerous. If you spoke of anything that was out of order, they informed the Gestapo who would take you away, they did not want them turning their backs.
Above: Another photo of Jabs and crew taken from a different angle. In this shot the German Luftwaffe guard that captured Caulton at his aircraft can been seen in a peaked cap.
So when this small encounter had finished, he was about to leave to go down to my aeroplane, I said would you mind telling me your name, which he did and I said to him well with my memory I’ll probably forget that down the road, I said would you mind writing it down. So he took this bit of paper out of his pocket and wrote his name and signature on it. I said will they take it off me? So he wrote in German something to the effect of “please let the prisoner keep this souvenir of Major Jabs” and I folded it up and put it in my top pocket.
Above: Note given to Caulton by Major Jabs a few hours after Jabs shot Caulton down in a head to head air battle. Caulton carried this note through the POW camp and back to New Zealand after the war.
I went back to the tower to wait to be taken away. Around two hours later, it was still evening and it was still light, this other car drew up, it was a small two door and out got a couple of the most nastiest fellows you have seen, they were pale, pointed, evil looking, with a full billiard green uniform on, with a big brass disc plate on their chest that had writing on it, some sort of police.
Example of what German Military Policewould have looked like arriving in an Opel car. Note the plate or Ringkragen worn around the neck when on duty. This stamped steel plate on its neck chain gave rise to the nick-name of the “Chain Dogs”. They ultimately were controlled and reported to the SS.
I had come to the door and without any words I was motioned to get into the car, they had my parachute and slung that into the back seat of the car first, then I got in. I was only just in when one of them pushed the seat back into my crook knee. This sat me bolt upright because I couldn’t bend my smashed knee cap. I jabbed the seat forward, but one of them was getting in at the same time so this jammed his arm between the seat and the steering wheel. He just slowly turned around and gave me a deadly look, a final sort of look without saying a word. I thought to myself, I’d better tip toe a bit here Caulton and I nodded and moved my foot as best I could to give them enough room. They did not speak a word to me, we drove for about 30 miles, I think it was to Deelen airfield where earlier all the action had taken place (battle). On the way I was wondering if I was going to end up at the right place, anything could of happened I guess. I had that sort of feeling. They took me to a guard room on the airfield, which had a cell with just a wooden bed and a wooden stool, no bedding, nothing. This bloody little man, the guard, kept on screaming at me when he accepted me as his prisoner, kept on pushing me into the cell and screaming the whole time, when I say screaming I mean high pitch, they didn’t yell they screamed.
As much as I tried, if I sat on the stool, or the bed my leg hurt like hell. I could stand on my leg but I could not bend it. I worked out that the stool was slightly lower than the bed, so I got up on the stool and managed to get from there onto the bed without bending my knee. Next minute the guard came back into the cell and screamed Rouse! He called me everything, murderer of Frau and Kinder (women and children) and everything he could think of, all in German but I got the idea.
He had his rifle and he started to push me off the bed and around, he was having his vent on me, he went back out and then again he came back, he was wound up. This time he wanted me out of the cell, there was a lot of pain and trouble as I tried to get off the bed and I staggered out of this cell and was directed into another cell exactly the same, no different. I think he was just moving me to make me pay. I thought stuff him, I know how to get on the bed now, I moved the stool over beside the bed and went to get up on it to get onto the bed but when I went to step across the stool went from under me and I hit the wall and fell on the floor. My leg got bent behind me, without being silly and exaggerating it, it bloody well hurt. I was writhing on the ground in pain and then the guard rushed in, I took a swipe at him. I really did and said “get out of my way”, as my leg hurt so much I wanted to get it out from under myself. I was still yelling at him telling him where to go and how to get there, then he ran out and left the door open. He brought back a couple of Yanks, because they had come down like confetti that day because of the big raid over Berlin. They helped me up and I was taken into another room with a wood wool mattress on it. The guard was completely changed from then on, he would come and check on me to see how I was. I can only put it down to the fact that he may have lost family during raids and he had a hate for anyone that was on the other side. To change like he did showed a bit of heart. I didn’t let up on him though, I told him to piss off every time he came near the door. But then he sent for the doctor and another fellow. First of all they gave me an injection, for lock jaw, tetanus, the biggest needle I’d ever seen, like a 3 inch nail. I said is that for me? He motioned for me to pull my trunks down and he threw it like a dart, which got that over with. Then he put a big aluminium splint on my leg which was a bloody menace, because not only could I not bend it but I couldn’t get anywhere.
The next day they took us away by bus up to Amsterdam. This was a different group of guards and they were rough. It was one of a couple of buses with myself and around 30 Americans. There was this guard, I’d recognise him tomorrow, he had a tooth missing at the bottom, he was a little bastard, he was a little fellow screaming all the time and bumping people, knocking them with his sub-machine gun as he went past and falling over my leg as he went past as I had to have it out in the aisle because of the splint, so about then I got rid of the splint and left it on the bus as it was doing more harm than good.
There was one Yank on the bus who was talking all the time under his breath, the guard knew there was someone talking there. You weren’t allowed to talk, you had to look “stool” faced and straight ahead otherwise you got hit. On the way he kicked a few with his boots. We arrived at the station and all got off and assembled in a line. A Dutchman walking past got too close for the guards liking, between us and the shop walls beside us. This guard ran over and hit him in the guts with his gun to bend him over then kicked him about 4 or 5 times until the Dutchman ran away. We all knew anything could happen, they meant business. This Yank was always causing a bit of strife, swearing under his breath, trying to be the big Tony (big man).
They walked us down to a building and we went into this great big room, which took about 90 of us at least. We were there for 3 or 4 days, just bunks in this barrack room. Some Dutchmen brought our food in, they had a green uniform on, German uniform. They were collaborators in the German army. Some of us talked to them, not in German but in signs and gestures. Someone said, these buggers will get it, when the invasion takes place they will be round up and shot. Then this Yank, the same one again, said “when Uncle Joe gets here” and drew his finger across his throat, Joe was a nickname for Stalin (Russian dictator). Everyone went on and we had lunch, it was bugger all really, pretty grim. I’m lying on my bunk bed, and the door came open and two people came in. One was the Dutch guard and the other a German guard. The Dutch guard pointed at me. I got hooked out of there, away across a yard and up into another building to the Commandants office. A fellow up there had my records already and knew who had shot me down, he said, oh Mr Caulton what is this you are threatening one of my guards? I said I haven’t threatened any of your guards, why would I do that? (I didn’t realise at the time that he was talking about this American), I can’t speak German, I can’t speak Dutch. The commandant spoke very good English, he had worked in an orchestra in England between the wars, and he was a Captain. He said one guard has complained, did you threaten him by some sign? The penny dropped then and I remember this fellow with his finger on his throat. I said, you can either take my word or not believe me, I said I did not threaten one of your guards. He said “I accept your word as an Officer”. I said “to be sure do you want to get the guard up here to take a look at me again. He said yes and he sent for him. By this time I was sitting beside this Captain, as he had seen I was wounded and offered me a chair. The Dutch guard entered the room and I guess when he saw me it put him off a bit, as he took off his hat, shoved it under his arm and gave the Hitler Nazi salute. He was then asked, was this the man that threatened you by some sign. As it was in German it was explained to me later that the Captain told the guard that he had accepted my word, the guard said that he had picked me out by mistake, he didn’t really know who had done it. The guard was sent off, he was in the middle of the room, he had put his hat back on, then took it off again, gave the Hitler salute and spun around and went over to one wall, but there wasn’t a bloody door there, so he went through the same performance again before he went out the right door. They respected rank in a big way, and the fact that I was sitting next to his “Boss” really threw him I think.
I said to the Captain, why’s the Dutchman on your side anyway? He’s supposed to be on ours. He said “Mr Caulton I am a soldier not a politician”. We talked a little while and he asked me about some tune he had heard, a song “Chattanooga Choo Choo”, I said I would not have a clue, but he was very into music. There was a line in the song that was something like, “Flat Foot Floogie with a Floy Floy”. Floy Floy was a policeman I think, and he wanted to know what that meant as it was a slang word. He then said if you see any of my guards abusing any of the prisoners, you have my permission to ask for me and tell me. I said thank you for the honor. He went on to tell me that this morning he had gotten a Canadian Air Force Officer away from the Gestapo. Because they like to keep their own (Air Force prisoners) the Navy kept their own and the Army theirs, that was how it was supposed to be. A lot of things happened (in the war) that should not have happened, so the Captain may have saved the Canadians life, I’m not sure.
He then asked me if I knew where I had been shot down, I said I didn’t so he wrote it down on the piece of paper that Major Jabs had given me. I’m always sorry I never got his name. The Captain said I’m coming down tomorrow to speak to the Americans, they spit a lot and that could cause trouble. If a prisoner does that in public, it is a sign of disrespect and it could lead to something bad. I said thank you and was taken back to the others.
I later found out that this American that had caused the trouble by putting his finger to his throat was a Major Bob Salzarulo.
Major Robert L. Salzarulo, former Commanding Officer of the 788th Bomb Squadron. A member of the original cadre of the Group, having joined it as a Captain in September 1943. He baled out after flying as a command pilot with the Lt. Moore crew on the 29th April 44 mission to Berlin, just 19 days after the 467th flew its first mission. On that day twenty eight aircraft were dispatched and twenty-six attacked the general target area through eight-ten/tenths clouds. Three aircraft were lost with thirty-one airmen, thirteen Killed in Action, seventeen Prisoners of War and one Evadee. Salzarulo spent the rest of WW2 as a POW.
Photo credit http://www.the467tharchive.org/personnel.html
From Amsterdam we travelled to Frankfurt. All the Air Force goes through a place called Dulag Luft which was the interrogation centre there, you’re locked up in solitary. A lot of little interesting things happened there in as much as the first night in this Dulag Luft they put us in an underground cell, and I was the first in there. And then suddenly they kept on shoving all these – mostly Americans – because they came raining down like confetti. There’d been a big thousand bomber raid on Berlin the same day as I was shot down. Next minute there’s standing room only and the doors are closed and you could hardly breathe. It was getting a bit desperate. No one was company – you couldn’t sit down, everyone was standing up. I thought ‘well someone’s got to say something’, so I went over and hammered on the door. After a long time the door opened and this goon – we used to call them goons – a dumb looking German, he was just a sentry, I demanded in a very loud voice “take me to the Commandant.” He looked me up and down, pushed me inside the door and shut the door again. You can imagine the bloody guffaws (ribbing) that I got, you know, because although everyone else is in discomfort but no-one else did anything about it.
The next day I got my own back because they took us out – well, I don’t know where the others went but I got singled out with this fellow in a room, and he spoke very good English. He was only a boy about twenty, a brand new uniform on, an NCO, he wasn’t an Officer. And I had to sign this form. It was a bogus Red Cross form – we were warned about it, you know. So I took it and I put my name, rank and number down and that was it – pushed it back to him. And this went backwards and forwards and – I just said “that’s it”, you know. So then he started, the only swear word he knew was ‘bloody hell’, so he started to swear – “bloody hell”. You know, so I stood up, I said “I’m an Officer”, and I said “I will not be sworn at.” He picked the paper up, he pissed off – never saw him again.
So I lost one and won one. And the next minute I’m into solitary and I stayed there for about – I don’t know, about three weeks.
It wasn’t very pleasant – it was very cold at night, only one blanket, and the bed was full of bed bugs. The meals were just enough. You had two slices of thin bread with rancid jam on in the morning, and a plate of gruel at lunchtime – it looked like stew and porridge and anything else they could find, and a flat plate. I refused it the first night, it wasn’t a nice sight with all the drippings down the side of this eight gallon can on two bicycle wheels – and I was disgusted. I said – you know where to go and how to get there. I wouldn’t have it, once. The next day I ate the stuff because I was so bloody hungry, you know. At night time you got two slices of bread again, that had just rancid butter and mint tea.
So yeah, it was an unpleasant place to be in. They had this fellow come round with a wet hand, called me by name and said how good he was and how good I had to be otherwise I’d be handed over to the Gestapo. I said “oh, don’t talk a lot of rubbish” I said “because my C/O knows I’m here. I spoke to him when I was on the ground.” I hadn’t spoken to him when I was on the ground because I couldn’t talk, but I spoke to him just before I hit the ground. That was my defense, if you like. Eventually when I left that cell, he said “my name is Schwarz.” He said, “that’s Black in English”, he said “maybe we’ll have a beer together later on.” I said, “not on your life.” You know, I wasn’t going to sell out to him at all. That was that.
Example of Dulag Luft (Frankfurt) 1941. This was the first stop for captured airmen where they were interrogated. However shown above are prisoners enjoying a game of football so it must be assumed these airmen are through interrogation and waiting to be relocated. Photo originally part of F/Lt Ivan Collett NZ 403775 collection who was shot down 26 October 1941- 57 Squadron Wellington Z8946 – target Hamburg. Later was a POW in Stalag 1 then transferred to Stalag 3. Lived until 7th July 1988 in Havelock North, N.Z.
So then after that we waited out in the big pen with all these Americans. Then an interesting thing happened there because the Yanks being the Yanks, they have the best of everything. Their Red Cross parcels were as good as anyone else’s, no better, but they’re more prolific and there were more of them. We came out, and by this time – through the Red Cross – they’d sent enough of these little suitcases with a strap round them for all of us.
When we left that camp it must have been a sight to the local population. We were marched to the train, and I can’t remember how far that was, and this – I might add, I’m bloody crippled, I hadn’t been to hospital at this stage with my broken knee. So, I was going through the hobs a little bit. We all marched while eating a whole lot of food, lots of cigarettes of course – I can’t remember how many packs ‘cause I didn’t smoke. We even had clean underwear and a little suitcase. And I suppose the locals probably thought that the Germans had given them to the prisoners but in fact they were Red Cross gifts.
We were marched onto the train and went through Cologne in a decent carriage – we had to draw the blinds but we saw what we wanted to see. Then we changed trains and were packed into box carriages, the ones that had a sign that said “six horses or forty men” and we went all the way to Sagan which was part of Poland but occupied by the Germans.
Chapter 8 – Hospital
Once inducted to the camp (Stalag Luft 3) and had taken my photo, they sent me off to a little hospital the same day. It was a temporary hospital in Balaria, Poland, it was about 4 km from the main camp at Sagan. I had to walk there with a guard, they wouldn’t give me any transport, which was agony with my knee. I arrived there to a room about 4m x 4m which was the little hospital room. That’s where I met Mac, (Malcolm Sutherland) it was just Mac and I there. He had lost a leg at that stage. He had been trained in NZ and his number was close to mine, so around about the same time. He was an interesting fellow, he was a very determined Scotsman there was no way you could talk him out of things once he had decided.
Above map shows my trip by train from Amsterdam to Cologne, to Dulag Luft (Interrogation) , to Frankfurt, to Stalag Luft III (POW camp) to the Oflag IV (Hospital).
Mac had been with a New Zealand Squadron and they ran into a bunch one day (enemy fighters) and 4 of them got knocked down, one was killed and of the others, one survived and walked back, Chalky White, he had written a book. (NZ413919 Fl/Sgt L.S.M White) I had trained with Chalky, so knew him well enough to know his book was a little embellished. Going back to dear old Mac, he got hit from underneath, the back of his seat and he got hit behind the knee, blood everywhere, but he was determined to get back to England and headed that way. He realised that he wasn’t going to make it back as he was losing consciousness and decided to bail out. The recommended way to bail out was to roll the Spitfire over, and you dropped out when it was upside down. So Mac did this but all it did was cover him and the cockpit in blood and he couldn’t see anything. He managed to get rid of the hood by pulling the pins either side and then he couldn’t push himself out of the aircraft, he had lost all his strength and he knew he was about to pass out. So he pulled his rip cord of his parachute where he sat. He went unconscious and at some stage must have fallen out of the aircraft, missed the tail plane and he floated down and ended up in a paddock and there was a group of Germans, a platoon and there was a doctor with them. They put a tourniquet on his leg and slowed the bleeding. Next thing Mac knew was he woke up in hospital in France (Rouen) with his leg removed at the knee. Once he had recovered some, they gave him a peg leg. He and another fellow, an English fellow that was in hospital with him, thought they better escape. They climbed over this high fence, Mac didn’t know how he did it, but he did and away they went. It got to the stage where Mac’s leg began bleeding, they got to some sort of café and asked for help, which was available in France, at the French’s danger, more than anyone else. The French said, we’ll take the Englishman but not Mac, because there was a trail (of blood) all the way to where he was, and he was helpless. The Englishman said, if you don’t take me, I’ll stay with Mac, and he did. After the war, this Englishman lived in Australia and used to come over and visit Mac, they stayed friends. He was a decent fellow.
They couldn’t do much for me at this little hospital so after about a week they said I had to go to the main hospital in the town of Obermassfeld. It was a long, long way away, by that time everything had healed, all the cuts and I was pretty good really, wasn’t on top of the world.
The invasion still hadn’t taken place at that stage, and I was due to get shipped off to this other hospital. One night Mac and I were in this little hospital room and all of a sudden the door was flung open and this fellow rushed in. He said “here, drink this” and he handed me a homemade tin mug that had what looked like water in it, so I knocked that back, then I couldn’t get my breath back because it was straight, hard, distilled liquor. I don’t know who made it. He was Ronald King a New Zealander from Nelson, funny I had to go all the way to Germany to meet him even. He said “we’ll be home for Christmas”. Well that didn’t work out either.
Flt Lt Ronald Walter King, NZ405286. On a delivery flight from England to Malta on 16/17 Feb 1942, the Wellington IC AD591 that he was piloting strayed off course and was hit by flak, force-landing near Castlelvetrano airfield. One of the six crew was killed and the remaining five were taken prisoner. Ron spent the next four years in Stalag 3, at one time he sewed escape uniforms for the “Great Escape” by using twine from care-packages as cotton thread and blankets as coat material.
In the time I was away I got Mac to write home to Dad for me. Mac, I never saw him again after that until after the war. I went to hospital and had an operation and he went home to England as he was deemed too wounded to stay as a POW.
F/O M.G Sutherland (Malcolm George) NZ/413506, 485 Squadron was shot down with 3 other Spitfires on 22nd August 1943 flying Spitfire IX EN634. After the war later returned to live in New Zealand. Mac passed away on 14th May 1969 aged 49.
So after a false start, the next week I left. I went all the way to hospital with another fellow, and that was a little bit worrisome. We went on with one guard each, no rifle. I said to the guard who was with me “where’s your rifle?” You know, by sign language, you know – you can get through most questions I suppose. Oh, he just patted his pistol – they all had a side arm and he was the best shot, he explained he was better than the Officers and all the rest of it – and took me way down to Obermassfeld which took about four different trains to get there.
Sometimes we were in pretty bleak circumstances, but this time we were on passenger trains, and I was concerned at one stage ‘cause we were in this long carriage with civilians. Of course we had blue uniforms on, and we were considered terror fliegers (terror flier) you know, which is self-explanatory. And I had a couple of crutches, and I’m sitting on the end of my seat with the guards next to me and this other chap who was going to an eye hospital was opposite with his guard, and down there on the left hand side – this is the carriage – down there, this fellow saw me – an elderly man, must have been 60 – that was elderly I suppose those days. And he could see, he recognised that I was Air Force because of my RAF uniform. I watched him, and I thought ‘this is going to be dangerous’. He started to get excited, and Germans when they get excited – apart from screaming, they get uncontrolled in their body… you know, they shake all over and they scream, and you don’t know what’s going to happen next, particularly if they’ve got a gun. Well, he didn’t have a gun, but he started to work himself up and I thought ‘this is going to be a bit dangerous, I’ll prod him with one of these crutches’, you know as a fend off so what’ll happen who knows? My saviour was the fellow next to him as he was a German soldier, and by this time I saw he had a medal on, a red medal with a white strip through it on his tunic. It was a Russia (Eastern) Front medal. You sort of learned and you heard about these things as time went on about the Eastern Front, not many good things. All he said to this old fellow in signs, what he said I don’t know, but what he signed was, calm down, you know and the old boy settled down so we never had any trouble from him. But had he not said that, he could have worked up the whole train. So it was one of those things I never had to go through, but I don’t know what I would have done. I wouldn’t have let him hit me, I would’ve prodded him, but yeah – you’re not going to get very far with a bloody crutch. Oh, well my guard was there, I don’t know what he would have done either. It was a dangerous situation, see a lot of airmen got murdered, they took them around the corner and did them in. Understandable, they may have just lost their family in bombings.
But it was just amazing, they left us on this one station and I’m buggered if I know what station it was, it was as busy as any English station, while they went and had lunch at one stage, with just the two of us standing there. I thought ‘anything could happen here’, you know, ‘if someone recognises the fact we’re terror fliegers, we’re gone’. But no, the guards came back, they had their lunch and had their beer or whatever and off we went again.
This other Airforce fellow I was travelling with was going to an eye hospital. Never seen him before, he was an air gunner or something, we parted company a little while later.
Above: Post war photo of the Hospital at the town of Obermassfeld that was under the administration of Stalag IX C. A three storey stone building that was previously a National Socialism, state operated leisure organisation. During the war, the hospital was operated by British, Canadian and New Zealand medical staff in difficult conditions.
The Hospital was an old agricultural college and talk about basic – it was like a barn, you know, wooden floors, rough wooden floors, the beds were wood wool and the frames were wood, nothing that could be cleaned well, I never even saw a mop for the floors.
The doctors were our own either taken in France or North Africa, there weren’t many of them. They were over worked, never stopped working really.
The hospital was so full of burn cases, fully infected, it was shocking. A lot of not so funny things happened in that ward, my memory is as clear as the day it happened about some of those fellows. Some of them died. There were about 15 of us in there at a time, no more.
I was first on the table in the morning. They shaved my leg and cleaned me up with spirits the night before the operation, first class treatment.
A New Zealander “Kemble”, one of two brothers from Upper Hutt, did the operation. He was a gynaecologist before the war. He actually came back to Hastings, New Zealand where I lived after the war, I didn’t know he was in the same town. And next minute he’d gone back to England. He was very good to me. The operation went on. My kneecap turned out to be smashed in three pieces. They drilled through the knee cap and threaded “gut” through it to hold it together then sewed it up. I got back to the ward with a big splint on it, all wrapped up in clean bandages etc, and then I got the infection. I had a complete clean wound on the outside – all the facial wounds and that had all cleared up.
I don’t know how long after it was, maybe 10 days everything just got worse and worse, blew up like a football and pulled at all the stitches. But the hospital was so full of infection, mostly Americans that had got burned and a sad bloody awful mess, I wasn’t the worst at all. This Salvation Army guy from England, Burt Warwick, he was our chief nurse and you couldn’t have got a better nurse, he was just one of those fellows that cared, and everyone was personally looked after by him. I said Burt, I can’t feel my foot, because every time he put something under the heel to build it up higher it was like red hot cinders, when it blew up again they took me down to the theatre to look for the bag of infection. It was as sore as hell. It was a hard case English fellow, he was a hard diamond, I think he was from the east end of London, you know you couldn’t have killed him with a pick axe sort of thing. He made the mistake of holding onto my bad leg while they were probing with a needle, they missed the first time, and the doctor said, “no not there,” the second time they hit it, it hurt so much, he had hold of my bad leg but my other leg came up and kicked him under the chin. You couldn’t credit the pain. The doctor said, “you should’ve put him out before you started all this”.
So, I didn’t really get into the other ward until things started to take a mend. In that time, we had a few dropped off (die). All the rest were pretty sick, in discomfort to say the least. One fellow came in and I’ll never forget he appealed to me from across the passageway between the foot of our beds. He had a body cast on with an arm up in the air and a leg cast also. They had given him meds to prep him for an operation to relieve a nerve in his leg. They fed him on this pill that hadn’t done me any good, it was a Sulphur drug, it was as big as a big peppermint, but it was brick coloured. You couldn’t swallow it, you had to sort of chew it and it went all around your mouth and stuck. Anyway, they fed him on that and because his bowels weren’t working, it poisoned him, or so the Aussie Jim told me, he knew it because he was from the Army medical corps, a hard case fellow, a nice chap. I didn’t realise he was going to die but in his “pang” (last moments of passing), he sat up and reached his hand out to me… he had just got married, he was in the Naval Air Corps. It poisoned him, it poisoned me too, went right through me and made me sick but at least I didn’t die. Burt the orderly gave me this glass of powdered charcoal, I think they called it Black Jack, I couldn’t go to the toilet for a week, and when I did it was a piece of coal.
They brought another fellow in, poor bugger, he had been shot in the guts, it was all green and hanging out, hell of a mess, see they didn’t get to hospital until the damage had all but been done. They (the Germans) didn’t worry about getting you to the hospital, it was when and where it suited them.
There was also a Rhodesian fellow in with us. Apparently, the aircraft made it back to England without him, he had panicked and there was flak hitting and he didn’t wait for the order, he bailed out. The crew didn’t even know he had left, all they found was a dent in the tail pane on landing where his leg had hit. It had taken a lump of meat out of the calf of his leg, so they were going to have to amputate. They took a look at his leg when he was in the bed beside me, opened it up and it was all gangrene, the smell… I was nearly sick.
There were so many stories. Another fellow told me he was in a Liberator, it caught alight or got hit and sort of blew apart, he said. “I was in the fuselage, just going end for end” all those sorts of things happened. Horrific things, this was just one thing, these were happening all the time. They took photographers with them and some of this was caught on film, you have probably seen some of it on TV. In a way interesting, but people had to put up with it. Aircraft with engines all alight, or the aircraft disintegrating, some got out, some couldn’t and didn’t get out. That was what it was all about, and they certainly had a rough time, they really did, and did a great job. You heard a lot of stories and they probably got exaggerated in some parts, but there is footage of some, so they were obviously telling the truth.
I could not eat after that as they had me on these Sulphur pills. A great big pill, you had to have it in your mouth and it all went around, and you couldn’t get it out of there, but it puts you off your tucker, and I couldn’t eat. I lost a lot of weight there, I was as sick as a chook for a while. I must have been there two months at least; the infection didn’t come back. The doctor sat on the bed one day and said you have got to start eating, This American (name: Mussa) across from me said “don’t encourage him”, cause he was getting the tucker that I didn’t eat. Tucker (food) was pretty lean on the ground there. He (Mussa) had a bullet through the hand and was in quite a bit of pain. He gave me an address at Coral Gardens and after the war I tried to find him, but he wasn’t there or never got back to there.
So back to Dr Kemble, he came and sat on the edge of my bed and said you’ve got to eat. I said I can’t even think what I would like, he said try, give us an idea. I said I’ve thought of one thing, I said “pineapple” but I said you wouldn’t find any pineapples in Germany during a war! He contacted the Red Cross department and got pineapple, and it did help. Cubes of tinned pineapple. I wish I had kept in touch with some of these fellows. Kemble got me in front of the rehab board to see if I was bad enough to be sent back to England, but there were plenty more in worse shape than me, so the board didn’t accept, it didn’t matter anyway as the war was nearly over at that stage.
Another fellow I met in there was John Kendrick. He was this fellow, from Mississippi flying a Liberator and he got as far back as Holland. He was determined to get back to England, so no one bailed out, but the inevitable happened and he ran out of air, the co-pilot was killed, he was badly hurt. I didn’t hear the full story for about 2 months later at least.
Above: The crew photo was taken 26 August 1943 at the Army Base at Pueblo, Colorado during final bomber training. Unusually the crew stayed together from training through deployment. (Photo kindly provided courtesy of Mobley and Kendrick Families)
Back row, far left:
John Marcus Kendrick Jr., pilot, Flight Officer, Edwards, Mississippi, beside him
Stephen Peter Judd, co-pilot, 2nd Lt., from Cannonsville, New York, died as a result of severe head injuries from the plane crash.
John Marcus Kendrick Jr, pilot, Flight Officer
Above: Germans inspect the wreckage of the B-24 Liberator Bomber S/n 42-99975 Nickname: Yankee-Rebel Harmony aka “The Latrine Rumor”
8th March 1944. On return from a Berlin bombing run flew on two engines, but petrol tanks were punctured, and aircraft attempted a belly landing southeast of Leeuwarden at Eernewoud. Unfortunately, during the slide hit an ‘American wind motor/mill’ severely damaged the cockpit and wounded both pilots. Co-pilot 2Lt. Steven (Judd. P) died within an hour on the way to hospital. Pilot John Kendrick had both legs amputated. The other crew escaped and were helped underground by the resistance.
They brought him in (John Kendrick) and he had no legs at all, he’d had 3 amputations with his legs, broken left arm and a fractured skull. He’d been in hospital in Holland, his hair had grown, and he looked like one of the Beatles. They had dragged a couple of Yanks in to give him a transfusion during one of his operations as he was basically dying, after losing a lot of blood, they took one leg off, then later the other one became infected and they took that off, then they took a bit more off the other again above the knee. When he got there, you couldn’t stop him talking, because he hadn’t been able to talk to anyone, he’d been in this hospital in Holland with a German nurse in charge of him and the Dutch nurses were not allowed to go anywhere near him. She was a bit of a bitch to him and made him wait for a pee or to go to the toilet, he said one day he couldn’t wait any longer and had to let go. She had to clean him up. Half way through he said he smiled and said to her “I bet when Hitler promised you the world you didn’t think you would have to wipe an American’s arse”.
I heard that when he was leaving the first hospital he was put on a hospital train, and the German doctors went down to the railway and drank to his “guts” because he was so full of guts, and he really was. He had been in that hospital for 3 months before he came to us.
I was getting better, and I had picked up this little piece of mirror from somewhere to shave with, when he saw me shaving, I hadn’t met him at this stage he had just arrived and some chaps lifted him into the bed, he asked through someone else if he could loan this piece of mirror. I gave it to him and then I watched as he was diagonally across the room, he looked at himself in the mirror and just kept on looking, I didn’t say anything at the time but when I got to know him better, I said John, why were you looking at the bloody mirror, he said “I was trying to work out who the bloody hell I was”. He was in a bloody mess, but he was quite determined he was going to walk again, whether he ever did I never found out, I never got in touch with him again. He was quite a character. While we were all getting well, we would discuss things and have arguments to keep the mind active, to stop going bloody stupid, they talked about the American North South revolution, if John didn’t agree with what I thought should of happened, I’d hum a little song called “Marching Through Georgia” cause that’s when the General burnt the place from one end to the other. Little things like that, they were all little minor, little happenings, but they were great fellows, and some had to put up with a lot, some of the burn cases were a little shocking. They didn’t get there (to the hospital) for ages, so infection took over, that was the worst thing really.
My knee still wasn’t right. Up to that point, I’d only had Sulphur tablets, they are what was used before penicillin. I was the third prisoner of war to have penicillin. The first was a chap that had it had spinal meningitis, a Canadian fellow, another fellow had lost part of his hand, I was getting well by this time, but my knee would not heal up, it was just flesh. They puffed penicillin on like chalk and you could almost see it closing up. The Canadian army fellow was in a bad way, thin as a rake. They gave him a shot of this penicillin, one below his skull in the back of the neck and one in his backside, and overnight it started to cure him. Of course, the Germans had never had this, as this was from the Red Cross to our doctors, all these German doctors came over to see the result, not of mine but of this Canadian fellow.
Germans had been pretty brutal prior to that, frost bite in Russia and allsorts, they would rather cut a limb off than mess about with it and there was one cure, that’s a stump.
We went up from Obermassfeld to Meiningen which was a German hospital town, a recovery sort of place, as we got out of the hospital and made room for somebody else. There were German soldiers everywhere, limping or missing arms or legs or whatever, you only saw them from the inside of the camp looking out.
I did go outside the camp on a burial party for a soldier that had died, I was walking, stumbling as my knee still wasn’t completely sorted, Arnhem had happened, and we had 6 soldiers from there, Airborne types, formed up in a formation to go bury this fellow. It was interesting there as the coffins had a big piece of glass in them to see who was inside. The hearse was drawn by horses, it had big scrolls of black, out of another world you know. We went through the town up to the cemetery, it was a long bloody walk I could have done without, but when we formed up at the grounds in the Meiningen hospital we had a British Sergeant Major with a strict voice command, if you haven’t heard one before, it’s very loud and very concise and it shocks you into reality.
We were all waiting around, and this Major gave the command to fall in and it was electric. Including the 6 airborne there were about 20-24 of us. The interesting thing is one of these old German guards that was in his pill box, almost fell out of it, cause he wasn’t ready for this barked command, so that was a wakeup call for him. They marched us into the town, and I can remember clearly, there was a platoon of these wounded Germans coming towards us and we were going towards them, and we had to go to the left around a corner and it looked like they might get there before us, so he (the Major) quickened the pace and we got to the corner before the Germans, they had to mark time (march on the spot) while we got around the corner. It was another little victory I suppose you might say.
These Arnhem boys were all dressed up in their brays, it was a little bit of propaganda for us really. They were given the right to have a parade and by doing it, you took over a little bit, it was great to be part of it. I’m lucky I can still remember it, but the memories sort of get burnt into your skull a bit, quite an event that you didn’t really want in, but you were, and they became a big part of your life.
After this place I came back to the temporary hospital near the camp again. In total I was in the hospital for about two and a half months because it all got infected.
Chapter 9 – Stalag Luft 3
This photo was of when I was first shot down (top left) and this is after I came out of hospital. (bottom right) I wasn’t too well there, I had a rough time in there with my leg, I got infections in it. You can see the difference in my face.
After being in the hospital for a bit, I went back to the camp at Sagan. In the camp I was posted to a bunk room with about 8 older Naval fellows, Fleet Air Arm, they must have been around 26 years old. Fanshaw was one fellow’s name. They had been there for some time and I didn’t get on with them, felt the odd one out, you know what I mean. Then I met this fellow outside, Johnny Wilkinson, a New Zealander, he was also in the Fleet Air Arm, I said would you happen to have a spare bunk in your outfit? He said no, why? Do you want to move? I said yeah I’d be pleased to, because I knew one or two of the fellows that were in his room. There was about 4-5 New Zealander’s in the room. There wasn’t any restriction inside the camp on who could move except for the people in charge of each bunk room. I don’t know if they took it to a bit of a committee or the like, but one day he came up to me and said they had a spot spare. I got in the room and enjoyed their company. They were a good bunch of guys, of the 3 high bunks I got a bottom one so I didn’t have to climb up any with my crook knee, I still hobbled around on that leg.
F/Lt. John H Wilkinson RNZNVR – Fleet Air Arm
Shot down over Mersa Matruh, a port in Egypt, flying a Fairy Albacore torpedo bomber whilst acting as a “pathfinder” for South African bombers. August 1941
Hit by flak and crashed into the sea. Both Pilot and Navigator survived to be washed ashore in their dinghy the following day and captured by the Italians. Later transported to Stalag 3 as a POW. Survived the war even though he sustained a broken back in his crash. Returned to New Zealand until his passing in April 2019 (98 years) For his full story visit:
Johnny is still alive up in Auckland, he gave me a woollen New Zealand blanket in the camp. It saved me from the cold. He had it sent through the Red Cross of course, in the early days you could be sent personal things, later on in the war, no. The German issued blankets were wood wool, they looked like a blanket, felt like a blanket but didn’t keep you as warm. Some of the prisoners had a job in the food hut, they had the job of puncturing every can before it got issued, a Red Cross parcel was supposed to keep one person alive for a week, it had lots of goodies in it. Basic stuff, tins of salmon and other fish, cigarettes of course, chocolate, gum, the Canadian ones I’m thinking about, there were different Red Cross parcels, some from Canada, New Zealand and America. It was St John’s Red Cross, the Yanks went into the parcels in a big way, there was always SPAM. They shared the parcels out, if they were short you would get half a parcel, one parcel between two. You got two potatoes a day and a piece of German bread also, you swapped some stuff, and someone did the cooking in your bunkroom. I used to collect the potato peelings from the fellows that peeled their potatoes in our room and cook them up to get a bit extra. The bread was very heavy, I couldn’t get used to it, you could have used it as a door stop.
Photo of Stalag 3, Example of the huts and conditions. Photo credit IWM.co.uk
Then winter came on and it was bloody frigid there. You couldn’t get warm at all, you know. There was a little sort of stove in each room with about fifteen fellows in three tier bunks, not half the size of this room. And that’s where you lived and ate.
Example of a bunkroom in Stalag 3, East compound. Photo courtesy of Ron Kings collection and the King Family. Note this is an early photo with two tier bunks, later as POW numbers increased, a third, middle tier was added.
There was bugger all to do all day. It did become interesting because you could take any subject you liked, you put your name up on a board. I went and learned American history for a while, something to keep me occupied. I don’t know why I picked it but it was available and there was a talk on. Also, there were two in my room – one was a Doctor. He had his first two years in medicine. The other had his first two years at law. So you could take those subjects, as prisoners, but you know – by the time I got there the end was nigh. But you could take almost any lecture you want, there was someone there from every profession.
Some of my drawings from one of the Art classes held in the camp.
The German guards were on the outside of the camp, and the security people were on the inside, there was a roll call morning and night. “Apell”, they called it. There were 1200 in this compound, 10,000 in the camp total. It was split into different compounds or camps.
Example of morning “Apell” or roll call, this photo was taken in Stalag 3, East compound. Identified as “Bill Jennens on the prowl”. Photo from Ron Kings personal collection, courtesy of the King Family.
A lot of interesting people and a lot of interesting things happened. There was the Wooden-Horse escape, that happened before I got there, as also the Great Escape had just happened a month or two prior. Everyone was still talking about the escapes, the wooden horse escape, 3 of them got out and back to England. They used to vault over it every day and dig the hole underneath, bring all the soil back, and sneak the horse back with the guy inside, absolutely amazing stories really. Every now and again they used to tip the horse over, so the guards would see it was just an empty shell, and they never woke up to it. They used to go out each day, thirty yards near to the outside wire, I was shown exactly where it was when I was there. Before I was shot down, back on the base, these fellows that had made it back to England would come around and have a talk… it was their job, well a holiday, to “fill us in” and tell the crews what to look for if you ever got taken prisoner, conditions and things that would be of use if caught. Then I bloody ended up in the camp they got out of! It was less than 3 or 4 months later! Just as we got in there were signs up saying ‘escape is no longer a sport – these 50 fellows have been shot trying to re-escape’ when they were actually murdered, you know, and there was a lot about that. After the “Great Escape” shootings the SBO (Senior British Officer) would not allow any escapes, it was unnecessary loss of life, you just had to wait it out.
Aerial Photo of Stalag 3, I was in the East Compound, then briefly in the North Compound before we were moved.
For me it was pretty uneventful in the camp, I just kept out of the way. All these other things that happened, happened around you but you didn’t see them, or you weren’t supposed to, and if you did see them you were told to shut up, you know. You were well instructed. There was a wire, a warning wire, it was about 20 yards from the main fence. If you went over the warning wire you could be shot there and then. No one had got shot while I was there but they had been before I got there. The Guards did not talk or interact with us, the only time it happened was apparently at Christmas. The story was they made their own hooch, someone went over to one of the guards and said did they want some Schnapps and threw a bottle up to him in the tower. The guard apparently got pissed (drunk) up there, I was told this so whether it’s true or a nice story I don’t know. The only Christmas Eve I was there, the guards sort of let their “guard” down a bit, Germany is probably one to celebrate Christmas more than any other country and there was a sort of unwritten rule that the fella’s inside would behave, and it was honoured, so the heat went off everything and at midnight on New Year’s eve, everyone was back inside in their huts, asleep or talking, and an American from next door, a trumpeter, went out and played “holy night”, in a still night, a very still night as cold as charity, the starts were out and there were a few heads that dropped and I’d say a few tear drops as well. You can’t recreate it, all the prisoners there, some had been there four years plus, suddenly he had stuck up, and he played it so well. It’s an experience that sticks with me, if only it had been recorded, but you can’t record the surroundings and all the feelings, it was absolutely amazing. I’ve been asked to give talks before on what I’ve seen, but you can only state the facts you can’t convey the atmosphere.
The Americans were kept in a separate compound from us in the camp, the 8th Airforce.
Official RNZAF Officer P.O.W list for Stalag 3, showing camp or compound number.
We knew the guards were thinking to move us for some time as the Russian Armies were getting closer to Sagan. Then all of a sudden, the camp was broken up and ten thousand people went two different ways. Those that could walk were marched North. The Doctor came around and said to me, “you’re not going”. My mate (Alister Boulton) had an injury similar to my broken knee, so he stayed too. Us that couldn’t walk well were called “cranks”, we went south later on.
Flying Officer Alister Bouton (N.Z 391573) – One of the other Kiwi’s that stayed behind with me due to injuries. Alister was a Navigator on a Sterling Bomber, which was caught alight and crashed partly on a school building on the border of Holland and Germany. Alister parachuted out and was the only survivor of seven crew.
Of course, the snow was about a foot deep at this time. Oh God, it was a bloody terrible night that they went out in the snow. And quite a lot of them died. I didn’t – you know, didn’t have any of that, I was lucky really. We were left there, about 160 total, four of us Kiwis that couldn’t march.
R.N.Z.A.F official list of New Zealand prisoners left at Stalag 3.
Chapter 10 – Heading South – Moosburg
On the 28th January (1945) we were moved from the East compound to the North compound where the “Great Escape” had happened. I slept in the room where one of the tunnels had been. I had the opportunity of getting some things. One of the fellows that was there found some radio parts, which he built a radio, he was from Whakatane, (Ken Aickin) he knew a lot of the huts and he pulled out handwritten passports and identity cards, they were partially made, all Gothic printing. I was going to bring one of those away, but I thought God, if I get caught with one of those, who knows what would happen, in retrospect I should have taken a chance. I did help to get the radio parts out cause when we got retested (searched going between camp compounds) towards the end of the line, you would pick it up and come through. Your belongings were turned out on a table and searched, so I picked the bag up that had the radio parts and gave it to him. It was only a short distance and a moment of “stillness”.
The wall panels in the hut were tongue and groove and Ken knew where these parts were, so he went and hooked them out. Ken stayed with us for two other camps after that. He got the radio together and we had the BBC news.
For the rest of the camp another hut had a radio, and someone would call out “JH” every day at lunch time, everyone would go to the door of their hut where the news was read out. The Germans knew the radio was in that hut, they often searched it but could never find it. It was built into the leg of the table in the middle of the room, they had hollowed it out. It was one of those things, as it was right in front of them they didn’t think to look. We had lookouts to look for the ferrets (security guards), the lookouts had “artist impression” drawings of each ferret so they could keep an eye out for them, watching the entrances to the camp coming in. The head ferret would sometimes ask the prisoners where one of his guards were if he had lost track, as they knew the prisoners would know where they were. Before the move there were 12,000 odd blokes in the camp and an expert at everything among them.
On the 6th February we moved from Sagan when the Russians got close … they moved us across to Nuremberg, arriving on the 11th. We heard that Sagan was captured on the 16th.
To get there we were shoved into train cattle trucks with you know, just nothing in them. 40 men crushed into each truck. There were about 160 of us, and we moved over to Nuremberg where we went into a German camp for American’s. Oh God, there was bloody thousands of us into this Air Force compound, very small, I think there were about two thousand including ourselves. And that was interesting in as much as the place was a Hitler youth camp originally, before the war, and the facilities were made for them.
When I got to the camp at Nuremberg, I went to collect my blankets in this American compound, I heard this voice from inside this tent and it sounded familiar, I said “who’s handing out the blankets?” He said “Captain Butcher.” He had been shot down a month before me while flying a P-51 Mustang. This was the American fellow that had crashed at our airfield in England some months ago that I became friends with.
Chester John Butcher, shown above well after the war as a Brigadier General
Butcher was forced to make an emergency landing near Biscarosse, France after being damaged during a strafing run on a bomber escort mission on 27 March 1944 in P-51B Mustang #43-6777, becoming a Prisoner of War.
355th Fighter group. No stranger to forced landings above shows C.J Butchers P-47D Thunderbolt (42-22538 – ‘The Butcher’) after a forced landing on the 5 Jan 1944, 2 months before becoming a POW. Upon returning to base at Steeple Morden, he became lost and while attempting to land at the first airfield sighted, he landed hard and damaged the landing gear. Immediately took off and returned to base and made a wheels up landing. Credit IWM.
Conditions at Nuremberg were pretty primitive and there were no Red Cross parcels, so food was scarce. The rations were one loaf of bread to be shared by seven men and a small amount of cabbage in hot water.
In this camp at Nuremberg we saw awesome sights, extraordinary things. While I was there I saw 3 raids, 2 daylight and a night one, on the City of Nuremberg that was only about 5km from our camp.
The American’s carried out a 1000 bomber day raid (on the 20th and 26th of Feb), it’ll never ever happen again, it just can’t. They flew pretty high mostly about 30,000 feet, they were hard to see, but it filled the sky. You could see the bombs coming down.
One night (16th March) there was a night bombing raid on the City of Nuremberg. We were nearly bombed. RAF bombers at night at about 18,000 feet. The path finder’s came in and dropped a whole load of parachute flares and lit the place up like daylight. Fantastic thing really. Then next the Mosquito aircraft came in and they marked the target under this artificial daylight. Then the Bombers came in, the heavies and dropped these big block busters, no fins on them, they used to tumble through the air, like a couple 44 gallon drums joined together. They were all incendiaries in different sizes.
Example of a “Blockbuster” bomb that the RAF dropped from Lancaster bombers.
At the time I was over talking to this American friend, there were no trenches or anything, we didn’t have anywhere to sit. You weren’t allowed to talk, but I was talking to Bob Slazarulo and the alarm went up. We couldn’t get back to the hut, all the lights went off around the camp, and it all started. I remember seeing marker flares, green and red, when the bombs hit some of the flares were thrown up in the air. We sat there and Bob said “do you think they know we are here? And I said “no” and they didn’t, well they might, but it was impersonal, no one thought who was down there. I never thought of the poor bloody French men I might have injured when I jettisoned my auxiliary tanks when we used to go over to France. We dropped them off in case we got hit. The CO would say something like, “drop your babies”. There’s 12 or 22 gallon tanks, they still had fuel in them, they weren’t empty, you have to drop them before they were empty. Some people below must have got hurt or killed.
When the American army got near, as far as the Oder river, which was only 40 miles from the camp, we could hear the guns. The melt started (snow melt) and that stopped all the tanks for a while, till they got rid of some of the snow. So on the 4th of April they started to move us down south to near Munich – right next door to Dachau, the death camp. Moosburg was the name of the last place. This time we had to march to start with. We covered 24 kilometres that day and around a further 5kms the next day. That night we spent in the woods with heavy rain and on the 6th of April Red Cross trucks arrived and transported us to Berching – a few hours there and then on to Moosburg. Later we heard Nuremberg was taken around the 18th April.
In this camp at Moosburg it was full to the brim with prisoners and pretty chaotic. A funny thing was, there was a church within the camp. An American was poking around and got up in the tower and found a whole lot of German paper money and started passing them down, saying who wants some, and I took a couple.
Worthless German notes acquired from a church tower within the camp at Moosberg.
The German money was worth nothing due to high inflation, you needed a wheelbarrow full of notes to buy a loaf of bread, it had no value. The priest must have rolled all the money up from the “plate” going around at the end of each service and put it up in the tower of the church in case they became valuable.
On the 25th April we received news from the Swiss that we would remain in Moosburg until liberation.
The American 3rd Army captured Moosburg on the 29th of April after a small amount of fighting for around 2 hours. During the fighting two people in our part of the camp were injured by stray bullets.
29th April 1944, U.S tank enters Stalag 7A. POW’s welcome it before clambering on board. Photo credit: USAF Academy Library.
The following day, General Patton rode in his Jeep up the main road into the camp. And that’s when we were liberated, on the 29th of April 1945. So, I had a year and all but two hours, as a POW.
30th April 1945 – General Patton inspects POW’s a day after the “The Fourteenth Armored Division Liberated 110,000 Allied prisoners of war at Stalag 7A, Moosburg, Germany’s largest prisoner of war camp. Patton can be seen wearing his trade mark pearl handled six-shooters.
From an interview with Alister Boulton, with John Caulton at the time:
We were addressed by an American Lieutenant who said that they didn’t want to release us all at once as the war was still going on and we would block up the access roads.
He then said “we’re going to split you into certain numbers”. “We’ll split you into 10 lots and we’ll take one from each lot and you come forward” and he picks out a card and if you drew number one, your lots the first out. If you draw number 10 you’re the last out. Our fellow drew the bloody last 10! The American then left us and said “Anybody that tries to go through the wire, you’ll be put back to number 10”. I said to my friend Johnny Caulton, “we’re no worse off if we do try and cut the wire and go out. We’re last anyhow and they can’t make it any worse for it. Why don’t we give it a go John?” He said “Bloody good idea” so we did cut the wire and we got out and I don’t know how they didn’t catch us. Perhaps it was a bit risky as there were still a lot of irate Germans around. However “nothing ventured, nothing gained”, and we were to have some luck on our side.
Chapter 11 – To Paris
We got a way down the road and saw there was a car through the hedge, a nice little Opel. It had a flat battery, not a tool in sight. I said to this Yank, who was pushing cars off the road with another vehicle if he could help. He said he had orders to push everything off the road to make way and couldn’t help, so we carried on.
Someone had given us ingredients, sultanas and the like. We gave it to this lady in a cottage along the way and got her to make us a cake. Then we took off and the first ride we got, took us way into the back country somewhere, it was a radio truck of some description, they were setting up a relay station. That was our first bad move, cause we were off the main track. After a long walk, it was getting quite hot, we got back onto the main track.
There were four of us in our party, Alister, me and two others, but there were stragglers and other people around about. We got to a crossroad and saw it would have been no use having a car as there were piles of them everywhere on the side of the road, the American military police were at each cross road taking them off people to keep the roads clear for the military trucks passing through. They had bowled them over and taken the wheels off most of them to stop people grabbing them again. At every crossroad there were piles of cars of every make and model.
We asked a MP, we told him we were heading for Paris, we had decided as a group that was the place to go. The MP went across and asked the next American convoy that was going back empty if we could get a ride, and we climbed aboard. The first night we stayed with them. How the bloody hell I did not wake up dead I don’t know. They cooked for us, in this lovely drawing room of a house, a meal with a little primus, in this home we were put in. They just took over homes, they told the people you either get out or go down to your own rooms, we are taking over these rooms. They had had 11 cases of brandy (cognac), and had one case left, we were drinking it out of a mess tray and anything that would hold liquid. Someone decided to make a meat loaf in this lovely drawing room with a parquet wooden floor. I remember I was full of bloody cognac, the last thing I remember was someone slipping over and knocking over the primus, someone must have picked it up, but I woke up in the morning alive! The bloody house could have burnt down, cause I was out cold.
So, we stuck with them for quite a while, we had about 5 different rides to get us back to Paris, it took 3 days in total. The second night we were billeted with some Greeks, civilians that had been taken over by Germans, slave labour I suppose you’d call them, we stayed the night in that house. The next day we were waiting for, I can’t remember the town, it had been badly knocked around 6 weeks before, they had firebombed it. Apparently, there was a division of SS occupying it, they had been told to get out, they didn’t, and it was levelled with the liquefied petrol. The whole town’s people were gone. While we were waiting for a truck to arrive the next morning, they had given us a rifle incase, they had a name for them, werewolves, roving bands of Germans who were setting up traps for vehicles and people.
We never saw any, but they gave us a rifle just in case. They picked us up (the transport again) and an awful thing happened there, the house we had been told to go to, to be picked up was built into the hill, the yanks weren’t happy until they had broken the lock of the door and had a look inside. It was packed full. They levered open one of these packing cases and there was some lovely china, this yank said look at this and fired it back into the case and then put his rifle in and crushed it all to bits. Did not take anything, just destruction. I didn’t like that, different story if he had taken it but to destroy it for no reason wasn’t nice. Then we moved on and the next ride travelling along a motorway we were sitting on top of empty fuel cans on the back of the truck. I remember my friend Alister was in the cabin with the driver, a Frenchman. Didn’t know where the hell we were going, it was a pretty dangerous rocky ride, all empty Jerry fuel cans, stacked. We got off that and then got onto a big long tray, I don’t know what it would have carried, on the roughest roads until we got to Paris. Pretty tiresome towards the end, especially the big trucks as there was not a spring in them to cushion the ride.
We had an Olympic success in Paris as we got to a staging point where drivers slept before they headed to the nearest port. It was just like back in the camp, wooden two tier bunks so we weren’t too keen on that. I got the loan of a jeep and went into Paris, never been there before, followed the river around to look for accommodation. One of the yanks was a driver and we found the Red Cross, they didn’t have any accommodation, they sent us to a hotel called the hotel “Francier”. At the hotel they said, “Americans only” you British have your own hotel, he gave me the name of the hotel, I asked for a phone and called the hotel “Metropole” I said who I was and that we were some POW’s from Sagan and asked if they could have some transport pick us up in an hour so I could go back and get the others. We had to go all the way back to the staging point and collect the others, the jeep was full of people, 4 of us and 5 yanks. When we got back to the Hotel Francier there was a car to pick us up and take us to the hotel Metropole.
It had been taken over by NAAFY (Navy, Army and Airforce). There we could draw on our bank accounts, free lodgings and meals. We were the first incoming POW’s to arrive there. We discovered there was no “club” and shortly after that we met up with some Canadians, they had a club of their own, Army Club, a four-storey building near the opera house and they made us welcome. We could eat, drink and write, very good set up with a nice bar. We tried to find a place to get new uniforms, as ours were pretty ragged, but we couldn’t find any.
We started out one day to an Airforce unit thinking we might get a battle dress from them. We got on a truck to go there and headed off. The streets were full of crowds, they started piling on the front of the truck we were in, the back was full. I saw a chap on the front bumper slide off and go under the truck, I never saw him again there were just too many people, he must have been run over or hurt at the least. It got to the point that we could not go on after ½ a mile and we had to give it away, we got off the truck and made our way back.
In our wanderings around Paris we saw a long queue, so we decided to join it and see what it was all about. It turned out to be hot showers. It was run by the Americans and the orders were ”dirty clothes there, through the showers and clean clothes on the way out. I did not want to end up in all khaki so I kept my blue battle dress jacket and got a pair of khaki trousers and clean underclothes.
Eventually I found a place to buy pair of tan shoes that matched my newly found trousers and to replace my flying boots as my feet were coming out the bottoms. I was also reasonably presentable now to go out or to the bar.
We stayed about 10 days in Paris, did the shows and were made very welcome. The French hadn’t had much of the war through Paris at all. The club that we belonged to, I’d never seen so much bubbly in all my life, never drunk so much in all my life. I thought this will never happen again, I’d better make the most of it. We had money in our hands, so we could buy things.
I had a year’s pay saved up from being in the camp, we could have stayed there for some time!
One of the days we were at the Place de Concorde square, with two big fountains and an obelisk in the middle. Alister and I went out for a walk one evening and saw a couple of fellows swimming in one of the fountains, they got a bit sick of that and then they started to wrestle and at some stage near dusk, the electrically came on, one of the fellows stepped on a lamp and they both dropped in the water, one was half over the side. They had been electrocuted. A Canadian soldier hopped in, it was about waist deep and he got a bolt too before he pulled them out, one came to, the other some Red Cross had on the ground and was attending to him, we walked back past half an hour later and he was still there, dead cold, gone.
Example of the “Place de Concorde square”, Paris. One of two fountains.
There was VE day (Victory Europe), the French, everyone went mad, you’ve seen people go mad at football games, well that had nothing on this, totally mad. There were big fly pasts that were quite dangerous. The American airforce flew tight formations overhead, Marauder bombers at 100 feet, I stood back, I didn’t want to witness an accident. I don’t know how many hundred aircraft, all following the river in Paris.
VE was meant to be 1 day, but it lasted 3 days of celebration. Everyone was happy, hugging, it was quite an occasion, the weather was good.
One night in the club we got talking to this Canadian. The Canadian army had gone up into Holland and liberated it. One of our guys said come have a drink with us and went to get him a drink, the Canadian said, no, no, no, and opened the top of this battle dress jacket, it was chock full of German money. He had taken over a German paymaster up in Holland. There were 3 kinds of legal money, French and German occupational currency and the original French. He said, “don’t worry about that” and pulled out handfuls of this money, so we obliged and drank with him until it was coming out our ears.
We were all full of booze, we were buying champagne by the bottle, it was all marked with “For the German army only” a black label, could have been bloody poison, if you think about it now. I’d never drunk champagne except once at Wanstead (where I lived as a boy) when there had been a wedding nearby and we got given a thimble full each.
Alister was married and had not seen his son, he’d been born while he was away, so Alister buggered off. The other two we travelled with from the camp, Ken Toffen and a fellow Smith had gone and I teamed up with this Canadian fellow (Bandeen) he was an ex POW, to go home. I said there was an airport somewhere here called Le Bourget, so we went out there on a bus, about 16 odd miles out. We got there and I thought where the hell do we start. There was a row of big hangars, one we walked into and on the mezzanine floor there were names. I looked along and saw W.C (Wing Commander) Heaphy, I’d gone to school at Silverstream with two Heaphy brothers from the West Coast, one was Des (Walter Desmond Heaphy) , so I went up and knocked on the door. I was beckoned to come in, so I did and asked “Des Heaphy” he said yes? I hadn’t seen him since 1934, he’d left before me. He was in the communication part of the Airforce, he had done his flying. I knew he had been in the Airforce because I’d read a write-up about him, so we sat down and had a cup of tea. He said, “what do you need?” I said I want to go home! We talked for around an hour about other people we had known and stuff, then I was on a DC3 back to London.
My air ticket from Paris to London, 12 May 1945
TO BE CONTINUED……..