Supermarine Spitfire IXE aircraft of No. 412 (Falcon) Squadron, RCAF, preparing for takeoff.Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-136915Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-136915
"When I woke up, there was a bunch of farmers around me with pitchforks telling me in German, “For you, the war is over”."
I joined up in September of 1940. And around that time, we were not doing very well. So I figured, I’d better get in there and help them win this war. So I joined up in September 1940 and trained to be a pilot. Well, you go through various training, land training, flight training, then you get posted overseas and you take more training. And then eventually, you get posted to a squadron, which I did get posted but before I got there, they decided to put on a special 1,000-bomber raid. And to get 1,000 bombers in the air, they had to use all the planes they had, which included training planes. So I went over in one of our own training planes. And I wouldn’t blame the planes so much as being green and not knowing what’s going on and German night fighters spotted us and shot us down.
Well, we all bailed out and we didn’t all get out, two of my fellows didn’t get out and I landed in some trees and I slipped out of my parachute and I was pretty high up in the trees and I knocked myself out when I hit the ground. When I woke up, there was a bunch of farmers around me with pitchforks telling me in German, “For you, the war is over”. And it was, and this was in June 1942.
I got picked up by the German Luftwaffe [air force] and taken to a prison camp and stayed there for a couple of weeks, then got transferred to a major officer’s camp called Stalag Luft III [a prisoner-of-war camp for air force servicemen]. Well, this was a brand new camp. It was built specifically for officers and I was a Flying Officer at the time. So I got into this new camp and brand new and the huts were brand new and it was a very nice camp, as far as you think being in a prison camp is nice. But I got there and spent the next three years there until the end of the war.
Well, they pretty well left us to our own. We had two or three roll calls a day but during the day, we were left to our own and so we did what we wanted to do. We played sports, we took classes, we had people in there from all walks of life, doctors, lawyers, teachers, so you could learn things if you wanted to. The main objective was to get out, so we started to dig tunnels, tunnels to dig out underneath the wire and get out. And at Stalag Luft III, we started three tunnels with the idea that if one had got discovered, we could keep on digging the other ones. Finally, about March  , the last tunnel was dug and we broke out and we got 70 officers escaped through that tunnel. Most of them were caught and 50 of them were shot. The most terrible thing that could happen, which was against all Geneva Convention rules but Hitler was so upset that we could do this and he [ordered] shot 50 of our officers, a lot of Canadians.
And fortunately, though I was drawn to go out, we felt we’d get a couple hundred out, we got 70 out. My number was about 140, so I never did get out - which probably was lucky.