Sgt Harold Cedric Alan Newland - Pilot - Aged 22 - (C.W.G.C.)
Sgt Robert William Floyd - Nav - Aged 20 - (C.W.G.C.)
Sgt Cyril Saddington Jones - F/E - PoW
Sgt Dennis James Druett - WOp - (C.W.G.C.)
Sgt Martin Harvey Christie Crow - A/G - Aged 21 - (C.W.G.C.)
Sgt Albert Edward Beaven - A/G - (C.W.G.C.)
Sgt John Davidson Haigh - B/A - Aged 20 - (C.W.G.C.)
The evening of March 12th 1943. Our Halifax lumbers down the runway loaded with H.Es and incendiaries. It’s our first op and we’re all dead keen to get to the Krupp’s works at Essen.
This is to be the second and final raid to end this huge works output for the German forces. The time is 7:20pm I wonder what my mother would say if she knew I was flying let alone going on an operational trip! I’d been in the RAF since 1940 as an engine fitter and explained to her that my three stripes and a brevi were just a promotion in my ground staff duties.
It seemed a matter of minutes when we were over occupied France there is quite a bit of flak, suddenly a flash and bang and Sparks the wireless op. is lying dead. We’re too amazed to realise what’s happened. We carry on towards our objective at approx. 21:12 we are over Essen.
I have a premonition of trouble and leave my seat, which has its back to the pilot and stand looking forward with my back to the armoured plated door that leads to the fuselage of the plane.
The next minute the aircraft is bathed in white from countless searchlights below.
Simultaneously we’re rocked from direct hits.
I ran for ten minutes without looking back.
When I do I’m alone, I rip off all my stripes and brevi, pull my trousers over my flying boots and my battle blouse up to my white woollen neck sweater, as I do this the second wave of bombers come in, the total force being 650.
It was all the raids of London rolled into one building and went on all around me. I lay on my stomach and waited for it to end before walking through what remained of the area around me. As I walked along an old man caught me up and muttered away in Deutch, which I could only answer Ja Ja this being the only German I know.
When he finally left me I got out my escape kit and checked my compass then set my course for France and started across country – we had been told to head for the brothel areas if we even got that far.
Finally I came to a small road and walked down it about 500 yards and there’s a pole across and a sentry box and I see a guard too late so I duck under it. He shouts Halt! And raises his gun, all I could do was talk a lot of gibberish and hope he wouldn’t fire and lucky for me he didn’t!
Without knowing I eventually arrive at Duisberg, it’s now about 3am on the 13th March. I’m feeling pretty groggy having covered the ground non-stop from Essen. I decide to save my emergency rations by breaking into a house for food and drink.
Whilst doing this my luck went bad on me, there appeared on the scene a German officer who had a gun which decided for me who the boss was of the situation. He took me to a local police station where a bullet headed inspector threatened to kill me as a spy because I had lost my stripes and brevi and (he said) disguised myself as a civilian.
They kept me at the station all night and for some reason refused to let me go to sleep. In the morning two Hitler youths came in and with the use of two books on German and English endeavoured to hold a conversation with me. They asked me where I had left my parachute I lied to them saying by a church they thumbed their books and one said “oh yes the place where the dead people live” I smiled at this which made them most annoyed.
In the morning a Luftwaffe officer came who spoke perfect English, he told me that he was going to take me to an aerodrome for questioning. We went outside where a motorcycle and sidecar stood. He motioned for me to get in the side car whilst he sat on the bike behind a sergeant, he took his pistol from its holster and said “Don’t attempt to escape or I shall shoot to kill”.
When we arrived at the aerodrome which had lots of twin engine bombers. I was amazed at the reception I got, the bomber crews were most friendly. They gave me soup, bread, cheese and beer which appeared to be their usual rations. They were most inquisitive about the quality of my uniform and especially my flying boots, I found out later why! After the meal I had in there mess with about fifty of them I was questioned and finally locked up for the night in a cell. I was not in the least bit downhearted about being captured I was confident that the war would be over in six months or so and I would be back in England.
The next day I was taken by car to a Dulag Luft which was a small camp where all captured air force personnel were collected together until there was enough to warrant a trainload to the larger P.O.W camps.
This camp was more or less run by British personnel who I hope get there just deserts, they must have got through hundreds of Red Cross parcels which they were not entitled to.
From there 70-80 of us went on a four day journey. We were so tightly packed that I spent most of the time in the luggage rack, this being the only place where I could stretch out.
At last we arrive at a small station which I think was named Oppeln . We marched from there to the main camp, which held 10,000 men and had 24,000 attached to it but out on working parties. It was known as Stalag VIII B. Before we entered it we were ordered to remove our flying boots and given in exchange wooden clogs such as Dutch people have. I was later told that our boots were reissued to the Luftwaffe, hence their interest in mine!
In the camp were approx. 1000 RAF and 9000 Army which included the Canadians captured at Dieppe. These Canadians and us RAF were issued handcuffs each morning which we were supposed to keep on all day, this did not worry us at all as we could undo them with the old type sardine tin key in a matter of seconds. These much to the boys delight were dispensed with after id been at the camp about 6 months.
Life at the camp was what you made it. I got out once by changing identities with a NZ soldier as the RAF were not allowed out in working parties. About 80 of us went to Bresslau and were put to work digging static water tanks in readiness for the expected trouble to come. When we got down about 12 feet we came across skeletons piled on top of one another. It looked like it must have been a huge communal grave, we used to carefully lift the skulls out and then smash them with our shovel saying as we did “another Jerry smashed”.
This job came to an end and we were taken back to camp. I tried once again to get out but was spotted at the gate this time and sent back inside. It was Jan ’45 that we were marched out of camp in a blizzard, we marched across Europe for about three months and eventually ended up at Brunswick where we were released by the American Army. About 40 others and I were flown to a hospital where we spent several days and then home to England.
When captured my weight was 12st 1 lb. When released it was 7st 3lb. I spent a month in Cosford Hospital where the doctors and staff were marvellous. Then home to good old civvie street
NB Whilst in Stalag VIII B I wrote to the red cross about the rest of my crew and the reply stated that only one man was buried, this being Jimmy Haigh the bomb aimer . The rest being blown to pieces or totally carbonised. I have letters in my possession to verify this.