Veteran Stories:
Frank Thomas Rowan

Air Force

  • Flying Officer Frank Rowan (left), No. 170 Squadron, RAF, with other Allied prisoners of war in Germany, 1945.

    Frank Rowan
  • Frank Rowan (on right) and Royal Canadian Air Cadets in Winnipeg, Manitoba, September 19, 2010.

    Frank Rowan
  • Flying Officer Frank Rowan, No. 170 Squadron, RAF (centre, facing camera) shortly after his capture in Germany, 1945.

    Frank Rowan
  • The telegram sent to Flying Officer Frank Rowan's mother in Ottawa, Ontario, notifying her that her son was missing in action, March 18, 1945.

    Frank Rowan
  • Frank Rowan, during his period as the Service Officer of the Wartime Pilots' & Observers' Association, 2007-2008. Mr. Rowan is also a Past President of the organization.

    Frank Rowan
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"Our aircraft was hit by, I assume, a night fighter, shortly after we had dropped the bombs. The pilot gave us orders to bail out."

Transcript

I trained in northern Wales and different parts of the UK [United Kingdom], and then at one base, all the different crew studies, we were formed in crews; and I was asked by an RAF [Royal Air Force] wing commander, [who had been] a peacetime officer, whether I would join his crew, which I did. And then he selected other people. And then I started my training in Bomber Command and we were, wound up on the squadron, [No.] 170 Squadron, an RAF squadron; and its base [RAF Hemswell] was stationed just north of the city of Lincoln in Lincolnshire, in England.

On St. Patrick’s Day, the early hours of 17 March in 1945, on a raid over Nuremburg in Germany, our aircraft was hit by, I assume, a night fighter, shortly after we had dropped the bombs. The pilot gave us orders to bail out. I bailed out; I assumed that I was at about 18,000 feet when I bailed out. I landed just close to a runway on a night fighter squadron, a German squadron naturally. I was captured immediately. The next day, they picked up other people that had bailed out after the raid; and four of them were from my crew. There were a number of trucks and they dumped out of those trucks the body of about at least 60 people that [they] had picked up after the raid. Most of them were airmen, but there was civilians and others.

And at first, when they got us to take dog tags off a number of the airmen; and with my colleagues, we picked up about 12 dog tags. We didn’t help them pile the bodies together. They poured gasoline on them and they cremated them right there. Just about that time, they were starting to empty prison camps and they were, I guess, their team was to turn over the prisoners to Allied officers, but they didn’t want to turn us over, I understand, not to the Russians. So we started a few hundred on the march; and on the second morning, we were maybe 150 to 200 stragglers on the road. We were guarded by some older soldiers and most of them had dogs, German Shepherds or Dobermans to guard us. We were on a march. We were just entering a village when we were strafed by an Allied fighter plane. I didn’t see the plane. The German soldiers grabbed me by the arm, and others; we piled behind trees or lying down: and there were about maybe 30 people that were hit in the back of the parade. And all we remembered that they were screaming and noise.

Those that were injured, there was nothing that they could do for them. The German officers spoke to the head Allied officer; and all they could do was they, those that were badly injured, they shot them in the back of their head. There was no cruelty or anything else, but I mean, there was nothing else that they could do about this kind of thing. And so this type of experience stays with you.

So after that, we would only march at night. Subsequently, I figured out, we went south, we went east and different directions, but we eventually gathered, we were, I don’t know how many, but hundreds and hundreds of prisoners from different camps. We walked, we were out on a march for about 45, 46 days, until we were about six, seven days after V-E [Victory in Europe] Day [May 8, 1945], we were liberated close to the Czechoslovakian border. We were liberated by General [George S.] Patton and the American Third Army.

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