"And it was pretty much a zoo. Aircraft were falling out of the sky. Bombs were falling all over, going through people's wings."
My name is John A. Dwyer, and I'm eighty-five years of age. I was born here in London, Ontario. I joined the Air Force when Hitler marched into Austria.
After we'd graduated at Malton, Ontario, we went overseas. We landed at Greenock in Scotland and went down to Bournemouth where we had several months. After we'd been there for a while they sent us to Pershore OTU [Operational Training Unit] for more training. Then they gave us a brand new Wellington Bomber to take to North Africa, and we were to join our new squadron – 424. Then we converted to the four-engine Halifax's, which were brand new at the time, and we did our bombing of German installations on the continent.
One night we got to the target at the same time everybody else did, and it was pretty much a zoo. Aircraft were falling out of the sky. Bombs were falling all over, going through people's wings. We couldn't do much, but we did our bombing run and the pilot said, "Let's get out of here." Just as we pulled away from it, we got hit by ack-ack – though it could have been a night fighter – and the two engines on the left hand side were unserviceable, and the propeller had blown off and hit the port inner. The pilot said, "We may have to abandon this aircraft" but we were thinking if we could only get it to the English Channel we'd be alright. But he ordered us to abandon the aircraft, so we put our parachutes on and tore off the cover of the escape hatch. I sat in that hole and pulled in my knees, and I got swirled out into the air. It was cold and it was very, very dark. I landed very heavily on my head and my two knees in a plowed field. I spent the night wrapped in my chute.
Eventually we got picked up by the Gestapo and sent to a Dulag Luft, where they were receiving any Allied airmen who were shot down. We were taken for about a month in box cars. We could hardly put our feet down. We went to eastern Germany and through the Polish Corridor, and up into Stalag Luft VI. We were there until the 6th of February 1945, and we started marching. The Russians were coming. You could hear them – they were booming all over the place. We had guards and they marched us twenty kilometres every day. We slept in the open fields and the barns – anywhere we could. We marched until the 5th of May. On the 5th of May we noticed that the goons were still with us, but shortly thereafter they departed and we never saw them again. We started on our way westward by ourselves. We commandeered a horse and wagon, which didn't last very long so we got out and ordered from the Germans a brand new truck and we all climbed in. Charly Reilly, the American, and myself, drove that to a place called...
The war was over for us and we were taken to an airfield in England. I came home and spent the rest of the summer in the backyard at my parent's house. A year later I got married to Betty, a childhood friend of ours. Now we have seven children, twenty-one grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. I'm retired from Veteran's Affairs, where I worked for about thirty years.