Manchester Mark IA, L7486, on an air test shortly after delivery to No 207 Squadron RAF at Waddington, Lincolnshire. It carried the code letters 'EM-P' and 'EM-Z' during its service with the Squadron.Imperial War Museum. CH 3888, Air Ministry Second World War Official Collection.
"We could see the tanks from a considerable distance and they looked like little bugs spitting fire. And a few shells whistled over the camp and the roar of diesel engines increased and the tanks came on, and the machine gun fire would break out somewhere."
I did those seven trips as a second pilot. And when they finally made me captain of a crew, I got shot down the first time I went over with a crew. They gave us a raid to do, hit some submarine docks. I think they were in Le Havre, France, so we wouldn’t have to fly very far over enemy territory, just fly in and fly out. But it didn’t go all that easily. We got hit over the target. There was flak [anti-aircraft artillery] bursting all around us and shrapnel going through the air, you could hear it pinging and banging as it crashed through the airplane and the thing was bouncing around all over the place. I could feel the stick twitching in my hand, as flak went through the ailerons [impact the aircraft’s roll], and so on.
We headed out to sea and I had one engine dead; and I said to the fellows, anybody want to bail out while we’re still over land? They said, no, let’s try to make it to England. So we headed north, but didn’t get very far. We came down about 20 miles out of France and hit the water. We all got out into a dinghy, drifted for six days. Drifted up on the Cherbourg Peninsula and the Germans were right there. So we became prisoners. That’s how I spent most of my air force career [laughs], through the years in the prison camps.
Now, some of the funny things would happen, not necessarily really funny, but sort of interesting. The day we left the camp at Nuremberg, that was the third of April. We started out and we would march for 50 minutes, and take 10 minutes break for a smoke. Well, within the first, before the first break I guess it was, one of the fellows, oh yeah, I guess it was when we sat down to smoke or see if we could eat a little bit or something. One of the fellows cut his finger when he was opening a can of something or other. And there were some girls that had come along wearing a grey uniform and a little bag over their shoulders, first aid people. They just sent them with us for the first few miles to see if anybody couldn’t walk or something. And this fellow, Smith, from Port Arthur, Ontario, went to one of these girls to ask if she had a band-aid to put on his finger, you see.
And so whatever happened, I wasn’t right there at the moment, they said, okay, anybody that’s hurt, can’t walk, get up on the truck here. There’s a couple of trucks going with us, carrying records and such like, whatever went with the prisoners. And Smith got up on the truck apparently and when the truck pulled away [laughs], the guard that was to go with them (so there wouldn’t be a lot of prisoners sitting out in the open up on the top with nobody seeing they didn’t escape or anything), this guard had tried to get on the truck before it started. The spare tire was in under the box of the truck. He got his feet up on the spare tire and his arms hooked over the tailgate; and was hanging on for dear life as the truck moved away, and Smith was sitting up on top of the load holding his rifle for him. And well, they just disappeared over the horizon and I don’t know how that poor old fellow got up onto the truck finally. [laughs] That was the last I saw of them for a while.
The commandant that was with us at Nuremburg was a pleasant sort of guy, a jolly sort of fellow. They say he came from Vienna; and they say the Viennese people are inclined to sort of enjoy life. This guy would come along, they way they counted us twice a day, they’d call us out on parade and we’d be lined up, five deep in neat ranks and the files, according to the barrack block you lived in. And they’d come along and count. It was a quick way to do it when they were five deep every two men in the front row, meant ten prisoners. And he could glance along and see if there were any blanks or anything; and when he’d get to the end, the odd number ones show up immediately, so he knew how many prisoners representing that block were on parade. So this fellow would come along and he’d call out in English, one, two, three, four, today, you are prisoner, tomorrow, I will be prisoner, nine, ten, 11, 12.
By this time, we were getting the news, somebody had a radio and, of course, that was certainly verboten [forbidden], but there’s always somebody that had a radio going and could tell us the BBC news. So we knew what was going on, to a considerable extent. We knew that we were going to be liberated. The next morning on parade, the old fellow from Vienna came down along the line counting us prisoners, as if he thought the war would go on forever, but knowing that tomorrow had arrived today, he would be a prisoner. That was the last time I saw him and I hope the Americans treated him alright. He seemed to be a pretty good fellow.
Oh, and when we were on parade in the morning, we could see the tanks from a considerable distance and they looked like little bugs spitting fire. And a few shells whistled over the camp and the roar of diesel engines increased and the tanks came on, and the machine gun fire would break out somewhere. Finally, about noon, an American tank crashed through the gate and symbolically, we were free.