Maurice Holloway (on the left), with his father in England, March 1941.Maurice Holloway
Prisoner of War photograph of Maurice Holloway, 1944.Maurice Holloway
Maurice Holloway in the cockpit of a North American Harvard aircraft during his pilot training.Maurice Holloway
Portrait of Flight Sergeant-Pilot Maurice Holloway, Royal Air Force, 1943.Maurice Holloway
Portrait of "Marushka", the woman from the Polish Underground in Krakow who first helped Maurice Holloway to safety.Maurice Holloway
"They were all captured and I was on the loose for two days. And, eventually, I was caught too."
At the target, we got hit and we lost an engine. We were down at 6,000 feet over the target and the Dalmatian Mountains [in Croatia, on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea] that we had to come back over to Italy were around about 9,000 feet. So I was trying to maintain altitude and couldn’t, and we were gradually sinking. And so basically, we either had to crash land or bail out. And, of course, crash land is not a consideration at night. So I briefed them on how to bail to and so on.
They all went out and the door slammed shut, and I was alone in the aircraft as a consequence. And I had a bit of difficulty getting the door open and by that time, the aircraft had rolled on its side and I managed to get out and open the chute. I didn’t wait the three seconds that they said you should wait. Fortunately, the chute opened, the aircraft missed me and I had the sensation when the chute opened of going upwards. And the next thing I knew, I hit the ground. They were all captured and I was on the loose for two days. And, eventually, I was caught too and taken to the local jail, and thrown into jail. I was interrogated by all kinds of people that all I would tell them is number, rank and name.
I was interrogated there and the next thing I knew, I was shipped off to Budapest [Hungary], where it was a little bit rougher. And this apparently was a Gestapo [German secret police] prison. I had the German civilian interrogator and I was thrown into a cell. I’d been in the cells before in the other places, but I was roughly handled by the guard, being thrown into the cell and kicked into the corner. Then the interrogation every day: number, rank and name; number, rank and name; number, rank and name; number, rank and name. So he said that he felt I was a saboteur and that we shoot saboteurs. I counted up the scratches on the wall. There were all kinds of scratches on the cell.
I should mention the cell. It was about, oh, five feet wide and probably about 10 feet long, had a steel bed and a stinking blanket. On another occasion in prison camp, there was an air raid and we were supposed to stay in the huts during the course of the air raid; and this fellow thought he heard the all clear and actually, it was the all clear from the village down below. He came out of the hut and was shot by one of the guards and killed. And, of course, other things like the Red Cross parcels. It was quite a unique experience being in a prison camp actually.
People would tell stories of what they did before the war; and on one occasion, we used to get these guys who, you know, had interesting stories, to come around and tell it to various groups. They’d be paid off in cigarettes, which is a medium of exchange.
There were still armed guards on the outside and in the pill boxes. Russians this time. So we tore some floorboards up from the buildings and made it a gang plank. And at night, when the guards were chatting at different corners, we ran across through the gangplank across the barbed wire and ran across the gangplank, and they saw us and started shooting. Fortunately, the lights were facing in towards the camp and not away from the camp. And we ran down the hill and probably beat the Olympic time for 100 yards.
But at the bottom of the hill, there was a frozen river and we didn’t stop to worry about how thick the ice was. I just ran right across the river. And fortunately, it held and [we] got into a rather working class area of Katowice. We then knocked on a door and a girl opened it and we said, you know, we were wanting to find somewhere to sleep; and I told her who we were, and she said, well, you can’t stay here, there’s a Russian billeted [staying at the house].
I got with the Polish Underground during my stay with Marushka. The lady’s name incidentally, it was Marya Chikovska. And we used to refer to her as Marushka, which, of course, is the Russian name for Maria. So we were put in touch with the Underground and we were still maintaining being majors. So a message came to the Underground for, find the senior British officer and get him to register all the prisoners of war and we’ll negotiate with the Russians at this end to get you out. And so I set up an office in a place called Ostoya, which was near the centre of Krakow. And we passed the word around to all the prisoners of war to get registered there and, and so on.
And once we were registered, we had 427 prisoners registered and 16 women. The charity of people in Poland and particularly, people who had little or nothing themselves. And there was so much happening in that period that certainly it stayed with me. I was asked to give a talk to children on November the eleventh, told them to, don’t be evil, be kind, make someone happy every day, then you’ll be happy.