Veteran Stories:
John Ivan Anderson

Air Force

  • Flight Officer John Ivan Anderson, then a prisoner of war in Stalag Luft-III in Poland.

    John Ivan Anderson
  • From left to right: J. Ivan Anderson (Canada), Raymond Smith (England) and Frank Frudd (USA). Picture taken in February, 1943 at Ripon, Yorkshire, England. This picture was taken to commemorate the day they all received their commission from King George VI, and to celebrate the three countries (Canada, England, USA) uniting in a common fight. Frank Frudd and J. Ivan Anderson were both serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force (since the USA had not yet entered the war, Frank came to join the RCAF) and Raymond Smith was with the Royal Air Force.

    John I. Anderson
  • A Stalag Luft III prisoner card. July 4, 1943. When the Germans deserted the camp, Mr. Anderson took this out of the officers file cabinet.

    J. Ivan Anderson
  • "To Ivan with Love", a picture of Mr. Anderson's wife, Rose (née Campo) Anderson, circa March 1942. Ms. Anderson sent this picture to her husband to let him know she had joined the Army. She retired as a Corporal with the Canadian Women's Army Corps.

    J. Ivan Anderson
  • Mr. Anderson's Royal Canadian Air Force Observer's and Air Gunner's Flying Log Book dated between August 28, 1941 to July 3, 1943.

    J. Ivan Anderson
  • Inside of Mr. Anderson's Flight Log Book describing some missions in which he flew over Germany and occupied Europe.

    J. Ivan Anderson
  • This section of Mr. Anderson's Flight Log Book gives information on the July 3rd 1943 mission in which he was shot downed over Belgium and in which his rear gunner got killed. Shortly after, Mr. Anderson was captured by the Gestapo in Paris. Mr. Anderson was at that time flying with 405 Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

    J. Ivan Anderson
  • Envelop from the International Red Cross' Prisoner of War Post for Pilot Officer John Ivan Anderson.

    J. Ivan Anderson
  • Mr. Anderson's RCAF Discharge Certificate dated 11 September, 1945.

    John I. Anderson
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Listen to this story

"So we had a good theatre in the [Stalag Luft-III] north compound and we made good shows. Men dressed as girls. You’d think they were girls. And we even told some of the German officers they could come in and see the show. And they did!"

Transcript

Then we had to go to Cologne again so went to Cologne, bombed Cologne and then on our way back over Belgium we got attacked by night fighters, the Messerschmitt 109 [the Messerschmitt Bf-109, a German fighter aircraft]. And he took our two starboard motors and set them on fire. Actually he knocked the receiver and transmitter right off of my knees. It just blew smoke. So our flight engineer said, “The flames are getting pretty strong.” So I run upstairs and pressed the fire extinguishers in each motor and it died down in a little while and then started up again.

And then our engineer said, “It likely ruptured the fuel line so you got 30 seconds before it gets to our wing tanks.” And in the wing tanks we still had 2,000 gallons of high-test gas in each wing yet, because we started out with 2,500. So the order came to abandon ship. So we started getting our parachute together and then the rear-gunner said, “The hydraulics are gone. I can’t turn my turret so I can get into the plane to get my [para]chute!” So I sent the mid-upper gunner to him to hand-crank him back around so he could get out. And then the intercom went dead so – however at the end I know we lost our tail gunner in the crash of our plane anyway. So the other six got out at various times. And when we got back to Canada after a while, I asked the mid-operator, I said, “Did you go back and turn Johnny around?” He said, “Oh yeah, I turned him around. He was getting out of his turret and getting his parachute.” So that’s – I helped him as much as much as we could but we lost him in the crash.

So they took us in to another town in Brussels and there was a few other people there that wanted to get out of the war too. So we got on the train in Brussels to go to Paris. And as we crossed the frontier between France and Belgium, our documents fine, we went right through. We got to Paris. We stayed in a hotel one night and then next day we started to walk down to the train station to get on to go to Southern France. As we were getting on the train in Paris, we were caught by the Gestapo [Geheime Staatspolizei, the German Secret State Police]. I think some Frenchman squealed because they were playing both sides to the middle. They were getting paid for the Germans for turning us over, getting paid by the British for trying to save us.

But we got caught there and then they took us to Fresnes gaol in Paris. And of course got caught with false documents. They stuck us in there. There was six to a room and we had to wait for the Red Cross to come in to verify who we were, to certify who I was. But it took five weeks for the Red Cross to come into Fresnes gaol in Paris there and when they did they said, “He’s an officer of the Royal Canadian Air Force. He belongs in a prison camp according to the Geneva Convention. Get him to his prison camp.” And the others were NCOs [non-commissioned officers], they went to different prison camps.

So I ended up in Stalag [Luft]-III [Stammlager Luft, a prisoner of war camp for captured air force servicemen]. So I went to Stalag [Luft]-III in Poland there, Sagan, and was there almost two years until the Russians started getting too close and too close. We were supposed to get one Red Cross parcel a week and it turned into one between two men and one between three men and one between four men. The Germans were using all our food, the Gestapo. So – because we were using a lot of stuff in there to trade with the guards to get cameras, to get radios. We got all the guards to work for us. They’d bring stuff into us and we’d give them a chocolate bar. They had grandkids, 8 years old, never saw a chocolate bar. So that would buy me a radio or things. We used them to full advantage. The guards were about 60 years old, 65 some of them. So they were very good to us and we were good to them because we’d give them stuff from the Red Cross parcels.

They moved us out of there to another prison camp, 8 miles away and they picked up most of the people that we were working on the [escape] tunnels. We had four main tunnels going [nicknamed] Tom, Dick and Harry and George and George was full of supplies for when they escapers were coming. They had clothes looking like Belgium people or French people. We made all our own clothes out of blankets and got dye from the guards to dye them. So we were all set there for the breakout [during the night of 24-25 March 1944]. 76 got out of there before the guard with the dogs found it and it was too close to the fence. It wasn’t far enough into the forest. But what can you expect when you dig a tunnel 30 straight feet down, 350 out on a slant to go out under the fence. I think that was pretty good. [Flight Lieutenant] Wally Floody, he was a real miner in civil life and he organized the whole thing [the ‘Great Escape’]. He’s gone now. There’s so many of us that are gone. So then they found out where the tunnel was in the 104 [Hut 104, the prisoner hut were the tunnel entrance was located] and of course all the other boys that were in the tunnel were coming back and they caught them all of course.

The movie [‘The Great Escape’], Wally Floody had it copy written and he wouldn’t let Hollywood make the movie, not unless he went down and supervised it by himself because he was the one that done it all. And they said, “All right, we’ll pay your way down here. We’ll pay you salary to supervise the whole movie.” He went down for two years, [19]61 and [19]62. The movie came out in 1963 [directed by John Sturges]. Hollywood had one American in there. He said the rest are all Canadians, come on.

Steve McQueen [Terence Stephen ‘Steve’ McQueen, an American movie actor] was his name and he really brought life to the camp there for quite a while making hooch and beer and vodka out of the potatoes and stuff like that. And we had a real party there. It threw the Germans for a loop because they didn’t chase us from going from camp to camp. There was the east compound, the north compound, center compound and west compound. And the west compound was the German guards. So we had a good theatre in the north compound and we made good shows. Men dressed as girls. You’d think they were girls. And we even told some of the German officers they could come in and see the show. And they did! And they thought that was great and then they gave us whatever we wanted because they didn’t know which was boys or girls, they were all boys, all army people and air force.

Oh it was two long years. I was married before I went overseas. I married my sweetheart. She was 18. I didn’t want anybody else to get her while I was away. So she didn’t know where I was because when they caught us in Paris we went to Fresnes gaol and of course no letters or anything go out from there. And she didn’t know for six weeks until the Red Cross came into the prison in Paris and then sent her a telegram. It said, “We’re pleased to inform you that your husband, Flying Officer J.I. Anderson is now a prisoner of war in Germany.” So she knew I was alive. So that was five or six weeks after I was shot down. She was working at the Suffield Experimental Station in the hospital [Experimental Station Suffield, a military research facility located near Suffield, Alberta]. She was a nurse, the Army uniform. She was with the Canadian Women’s Army Corps, CWAC. And in Suffield there, they were testing all kinds of chemicals, mustard gas and everything like that. And the Army boys who wanted to wear the uniform but they didn’t want to fight, they put them there. We treated them as guinea pigs. Send them out in the open air to spray mustard gas on them or chemicals and they would come back and go into the hospital and be treated. That’s where my wife got her COPD if you know what that is, Chronic Obtrusive Pulmonary Disease of the lungs. So she stuck it out there until I come back.

When I came back of course I went to the Canadian Women’s Army Corps. They let my wife come for two weeks holiday with me. Then she had to go back and she phoned me that day she went back and said, “They wouldn’t give me my discharge. They said they need me here.” So I put my uniform on and medals and walked down to the Canadian Women’s Army Corps and said I wanted to talk to the major in charge. And pretty soon she came back and I started telling her my story and she said, “Wait a minute. Let’s go down and have a coffee.” So we went down and had a coffee and then she said, “Let’s go back to my office.” So I finished telling her my story that I wanted her to get discharged but they wouldn’t give it to her at Suffield Experimental Station.

So she gets on the phone to Medicine Hat and then to Suffield and she said, “Do you have a Corporal Anderson there?” And they said, “Yes we do, but we need her.” And she said, “Just a minute. I’m Major so-and-so in charge of this CWAC and I’m ordering you to put Corporal Anderson on the train tonight with her discharge and send her to Calgary.”

I went down to the train and met her. There she was with her kit bags and everything, all her belongings and that’s when we started married life together. We had 6 kids, 12 grandkids, 12 great-grandkids.

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