Veteran Stories:
Andrew Carswell

Air Force

  • A page from a book of cartoons that Andy Carswell created while a Prisoner of War (P/W) in Stalag VIII-B. The book was made as a souvenir of prison camp life for his friend and fellow P/W, Bill MacLean, who was sick with Tuberculosis and being repatriated on a prisoner exchange organized through Switzerland.

    Andy Carswell
  • Prisoners of War (P/Ws) in Stalag VIII-B. Photo taken by a German photographer in the camp, October 1943.

    Andy Carswell
  • Front cover to the book of cartoons, "A Remembrance from Stalag," that Andy Carswell created while a Prisoner of War (P/W) in Stalag VIII-B. The book was made as a souvenir of prison camp life for his friend and fellow P/W, Bill MacLean, who was sick with Tuberculosis and being repatriated on a prisoner exchange organized through Switzerland.

    Andy Carswell
  • Andrew Carswell when he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in 1941.

    Andy Carswell
  • A page from a book of cartoons that Andy Carswell created while a Prisoner of War (P/W) in Stalag VIII-B. The book was made as a souvenir of prison camp life for his friend and fellow P/W, Bill MacLean, who was sick with Tuberculosis and being repatriated on a prisoner exchange organized through Switzerland.

    Andy Carswell
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"some middle aged woman from an upstairs window said something in German, which I would have sworn sounded like, let the poor kid in."

Transcript

We climbed up to about 20,000 feet over England and then flew over Denmark, and over the Baltic Sea. And there was a lot of bad weather up into that area, until we got more or less north of Berlin. And then we headed south over the Baltic. And for some reason or other, we were somewhat to the east of the track we should have been on and we went over a town called Magdeburg. And Magdeburg is a good size town, an industrial town. It’s still there as a matter of fact. And we encountered, you know, a fair amount of flack [anti-aircraft ammunition] at that time and shortly after that, the right-hand engine caught fire and started burning. And we tried to feather the engine and stop the fire.

And not only that, but the controls weren’t working properly. Something happened to the rudder and the elevators, and the aircraft was going down in a dive. So there was two things wrong there. The aircraft was out of control and something happened to the controls; and the wing was on fire and there’s about 1,000 gallons of gasoline inside the wing, and it was a matter of getting out in a hurry. So I gave the order to bail out. I walked all night after I got shot down at 9:00 at night at 20 below zero weather, you know, typical Ontario weather, and finally, I decided that I had the choice of either freezing to death in the woods or finding a house somewhere.

So I stumbled up the steps of a farmhouse, banged on the door and caused a big commotion; and a little old guy came out, crunching around the driveway, around the side with a big shotgun and pointed it at me and I said, don’t shoot. And then his wife or his mother, or some middle aged woman from an upstairs window said something in German, which I would have sworn sounded like, "let the poor kid in".

So they took me into their living room and put me on a chesterfield-sofa type of thing, where I immediately pass out. I’d been walking all night, from 9:00 at night. And when I woke up, the room was full of people, policemen and farmers and kids; and a little boy came walking up and looked at my shoulder and said, ah, Canada. And I said, yeah. And, of course, they all thought I spoke German and I said, nah. And then after that, they’d say something in German, then look at me quickly to see if I understood. But they had obviously phoned the police and the military and whatnot and pretty soon, a car came up with a couple of cops in it; and they took me into the car and they took me down to city hall.

My book is all about life in the prisoner of war camp. I was there for two years and three months, and a few hours. And during that time, I escaped two times and I was recaptured two times; and I spent time in a Gestapo [Nazi secret police] jail in Stutthof, which is on the Baltic Ocean. And I also spent some time with another fellow in Czechoslovakia in a jail in a town called Brno, B-R-N-O. But I got some experience out of that. And learned a little bit of German, you know, bad German, swear words and things like that.

Early in January 1945, when the war was dragging down to a close, the Russians, we were in a prison camp in Poland, Stalag VIIIB, at Lamsdorf. The Russians were in the distance and about to move into that area, so they decided to evacuate our camp. So this was the famous so-called ‘death march.’ So they had a three hour notice and they moved us all out of the camp. This was in the middle of January in about 20 below zero weather and we were fairly well dressed. We had uniforms given to us from the Red Cross and very fortunately for us, the Germans were signatories of the Geneva Convention. So we got our Red Cross parcels and that kind of thing.

And basically, we walked back west and some people claimed to have escaped during that march, but there wasn’t much point in trying to escape: you’re going in the right direction, you’re going towards the Americans and the British. So, anyhow, we walked, we spent the next month or so walking; and finally, they got us to a camp called Fallingbostel [Stalag 11B], which was a POW camp not far from Hanover in Germany. And we stayed there for a month or so until the Allies came through and [British Field Marshal Bernard] Montgomery’s 2nd Army came through and liberated a lot of us.

Interview date: 13 September 2010

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