John Yeomans in Regina, Saskatchewan, March 2010.Historica Canada
John Yeomans' Miniature Service Medals.John Yeomans
"But we had the opportunity to look at this and it made you realise that maybe you thought you’d had it tough but some people had had it a damn sight tougher."
At the end of February of 1942, we were on a trip to Augsburg in Southern Germany. We were supposed to go out ahead of the main forces I said. As we were taxiing out, we had engine trouble and we had to either do one of two things. Either cancel our trip or have the ground crew come out and try and fix it. Well, the ground crew came out and tried to fix it, they were working on it for about 20 minutes, which meant all the rest of the squadron had gone, we were 20 minutes late in getting ready to go, during which time, our rear gunner, who was the American in the RCAF [Royal Canadian Air Force] was ill, had to be taken out of the aircraft and another guy put in. So that delayed our takeoff so we were not now in front of the force, we were way back.
And anyway, we did our sortie [an operational flight by a single military aircraft] against Augsburg. On the way back, we were shot down and I was wounded in the left leg and the head and was in no condition to evade capture and the following day, I was caught and then I became a POW [prisoner of war].
I then served in three different POW camps, initially, in East Prussia. Then when the Russians started their advance from the east, they moved us into Poland. When the Russians continued their advance, they moved us into Rhineland Westphalia [North Rhine-Westphalia] to a hellhole called Fallingbostel, which was a dreadful place, which is where I spent the winter of 1944.
And going from one camp to the other, as I say, from East Prussia to Poland into Germany, some of the marches were very very difficult and stringent, you know, they called them hell marches and they called them death marches and things of that nature. They weren’t very pleasant. The beginning of April, when we felt, well, it can’t be more than a month or two and our side will be here, the Germans decided that they would take the air crew and officers out of Fallingbostel, march them back into Germany to be held as hostages. So we were then given rations for this, we were lined up and marched out at about 7:30 in the morning on what regarded as an unnecessary march, which could be a death march.
Anyway, when we stopped in the early afternoon, so we could use a field for certain purposes, together with two others, we escaped. And I was then on the loose for almost three weeks until we were picked up by some advancing British people.
I had the experience of going in on a British scout car into the fore–lager [camp] of the [Bergen]-Belsen Concentration Camp. And it had been recaptured by the British shortly before that and I was able to see the appalling conditions there with the heaps of bodies and that sort of thing. And at the time we were there, we were not supposed to be there of course, but we had the opportunity to look at this and it made you realise that maybe you thought you’d had it tough but some people had had it a damn sight tougher. And at the time we were there, they were bringing in Germans from surrounding villages to help bury some of the bodies that were still hanging about there.