Veteran Stories:
Thomas W. Dowbiggin

Air Force

  • Mr. Dowbiggin pictured in his RCAF wartime uniform, circa 1944-1945.

    Thomas Dowbiggin
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"We went on a forced march [...] and the Germans knew the Russians were coming [...] so they moved. And they moved the whole camp, all of us."


[Being shot downed over Belgium] Well, I was flying Spitfires [Supermarine Spitfire, a British single-seat fighter aircraft] at the time and on, I don’t’ know, I guess about the 37th operation [flying mission] out of Tangmere [a Royal Air Force station], which is up near Chichester [West Sussex, United Kingdom], I ran out of gas and had to crash land in Belgium. Actually, I was right on the border of Belgium and France. And so I joined the Belgium underground [resistance] and spent the summer with them and then I got betrayed and turned in with four or five Yanks [Americans] that I had interviewed to tell them that they were in a good underground and all that crap, and to stay out of sight during the day. And so anyway, we were all betrayed and turned over to the Germans and I went to prison camp. Well, it wasn’t too bad actually, pretty well run, the Germans believed in the Geneva Conventions [regarding the standards of international law for the humanitarian treatment of the victims of war and prisoners of war] and we all got all kinds of Red Cross parcels. So many that we were doing pretty good, so we stored half of our parcels voluntarily. A lot of the guys had been there for pretty near five years and they were getting parcels from home all the time. And of course, I had only been there a year so I hadn’t even heard from my family. The place was almost in Poland, it was what they called Prussia in those days. It was very sandy. So we just did the usual kind of crap, marched around the perimeter. You were only allowed to go within 25 feet of the actual perimeter but we’d march around that all day to keep healthy. There was only about a thousand in our lager [prison camp], which was the British lager, because being Canadians, we were stuck in with the British. But there were more in the American lager, there were quite a few guys in there actually because they were a hell of a lot of bombers shot down, you know, and you’d have 10 guys or so in each bomber. So you know, you’d shoot down one, you’d get 10. [Forces marches across Poland and Germany, 1945] We went on a forced march because the Germans knew, see, we were about 30 kilometers from the Oder River and the Germans knew the Russians were coming and they were scared shitless of the Russians, so they moved. And they moved the whole camp, all of us. That’s right, that’s right. So we were on the forced march and still going and we were between Bremen and Hamburg and it all agreed that, you know, when we got to Hamburg, we were not going any further. So we were organized to desert but we got liberated instead. That’s right, yeah, a British scout car, which scout car consists of a driver and a gunner, and he drove up to us and he said: ‘Hey! You’re liberated!’ And that was how we knew we were liberated.
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