Veteran Stories:
John Deluca

Air Force

  • Canadian Pacific Telegraph, 1944.

    John Deluca
  • Letter to John Deluca's Parents, written by Percy Buck, a mother of a pilot, 1944.

    John Deluca
  • John Deluca (on right) with a friend on route overseas, 1943.

    John Deluca
  • Identity Document taken by German Soldiers when John Deluca was captured.

    John Deluca
  • John Deluca's Letter from prison camp in Poland sent to his mother, 1944.

    John Deluca
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"And I pointed to, “Can you hide me?” And they pointed to two soldiers that were running with their rifles up and they took me prisoner."

Transcript

I’m John Deluca. I was born in Port Arthur, which is now Thunder Bay, Ontario. And I enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force in August of 1942. September 12th, 1944, we were assigned to a raid on a place called Wanne-Eickel, on the Ruhr Valley [Germany]. And this was going to be a daylight mission. We had always flown nights before. And when we flew nights, we used to fly in a concentration. We’d be anywhere from 300 to 1,000 planes and you would pick your own spot in there.

Well, on this daylight raid, we were assigned a level and we were in the, the front of the first level. So we, we had to fly where we were assigned. Otherwise, we’d have flown in the middle of the group. And the Germans had developed an anti-aircraft gun that made its own corrections, called predicted flak. And we were told about it that day at the briefing. And then we got over Holland, we could see the flak exploding. I couldn’t see it because I’m facing backwards, but the pilot said it was getting closer and closer. He said, “I don’t like this,” he says, “I’m going to try and turn out of it.” Just after he said that, there was a large bang and I was almost afraid to look back for fear there’d be nothing there but a gaping hole. But then the pilot said, “The plane’s out of control, bail out.” So I don’t wear my chute when I’m in the turret. The chute is in a rack at the back of me. I have to turn around, open the doors and reach back and get my chute. So the plane was buffeting badly and I said to the pilot, “Can you hold it steady while I get my chute.” And he said, “Make it quick because I’m hit.” So I did make it as quick as I could and out I went.

Here the navigator was hit by a piece of flak on the bridge of the nose and blood was squirting into his eyes. And he was saying, “I’m hit, I’m hit.” And so two of the other guys up in the vicinity of where he sat, put his shoes on him and pushed him out the, the hatch. And both he and the bomb aimer passed out on the way down. Like we were up fairly high at 17,000 feet and with lack of oxygen, you can pass out. So when they came to, they were in the hands of German soldiers.

The pilot got out, but he died from his wounds. It’s a matter of survival and when he said, you know, “bail out,” well then I, we had practiced bailing out, down on the ground, you know, putting your chute on and getting your turret straight and turned around and be it. So it was very automatic to me when it, when it came. And then once I got out, then it was daylight and not a cloud in the sky, so I could see what was going on. And we were in an area where there were a lot of canals. And I landed in a little triangular island made out of, because of the canals around it. And there was a, a German Anti-Aircraft Squadron staying on that little island, so I had no chance to go anywhere.

There was some farms on that little island and I landed down in front of the farmhouse in a field, I think there were turnips growing or something in there. And a young couple ran out towards me and I, we had a book with all of the various phrases in French and Dutch and that. And I pointed to, “Can you hide me?” And they pointed to two soldiers that were running with their rifles up and they took me prisoner.

They kept me overnight in their building they were in, on that little island. And the next day, they took me into Amsterdam. I was then transferred to an interrogation centre in Frankfurt, where I was in solitary confinement for five or six days, and every day, they brought us in for interrogation. And of course, we were instructed to say nothing except our service number and name and eventually, well, after five days, I was in a room that was, the mattress was just straw in a paper sack. And it was full of fleas. And I counted over 400 flea bites on my body. And from scratching them, you know, there was blood on my clothes. The doctor, you know, looked at me, I showed him the bites and he says, “I’ll do something about it.” And then the next day, they took me out of there into the prison camp into Germany.

Prison camp was just being built at the time and we were in small buildings, maybe ten by 14, seven of us, there was just enough room to sleep on the floor, no more. We had, were issued with a bowl and a cup and a spoon. Life in the prison camp at that time wasn’t too bad. They didn’t make air force prisoners work because they felt we all had training in escape, so they kept us in and you know, we played sports, soccer and things like that, and played cards. So, you know, it really wasn’t that tough. We were getting Red Cross parcels, the German food wasn’t very good and not very much of that. But supplemented with the Red Cross parcels, it was enough to get by on.

We were there until mid-January, when the Russians were beginning to get close to the camp and they told us prepare to march out. And we marched in midwinter, the day we started, it was a, almost a blizzard blowing. And we walked 26 kilometers that day. We were cold and we were hungry and we were on the march for 17 days, always sleeping in barns and wherever. And cold through to the bone and hungry, all you could think about was food and what you were going to eat if you ever got out of there.

And then after that, we were placed in cattle cars, railroad boxcars, about 50 to a car, and there was not room for everybody to sit down. You had to take turns standing and sitting. And we were on, on those cars for another 17 days and we got to a place in northern Germany. And we were there until May. Eventually, the Russians drove the Germans away and we figured, “Oh fine, we’re, we’ll be going home now.” But they didn’t want to let us go. They said we had to be registered first, but nothing was happening. And we weren’t getting very much more food than we were getting before that. So the mood was getting kind of ugly around there and finally, the, the war ended and Americans came in and we eventually got away from the Russians. And had trouble crossing the Rhine River because the Russian guards were on every bridge and wouldn’t let us across. And finally, the truck I was on met up with four high ranking American war correspondents and they took us to a small bridge where there were a couple of Russian guards and they gave us cigarettes and bottles of liquor and they said, “Shower these guards with this stuff and get back in and we’ll shoot across the bridge.” And that’s what happened and that’s how I got back. And we went from the Rhine into Belgium and we spent a couple of nights in Belgium before going back to England.

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