- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Norman NUTTALL
- Location of story:
- Occupied Poland
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 01 October 2005
Prisoner of War Picture.
This story has been submitted to the ‘People’s War’ Web Site by Betty & Don TEMPEST of Lancshomeguard on behalf of Norman NUTTALL and has been added to the Web Site with his permission.
‘They Shot Me Down”.
It was 8th. February 1945 and our Flight Commander Squadron Leader Horsley’s plane, having previously failed to get airborne, exploded at the end of the end of the runway. Our pilot, Flight Lieutenant R. Bartlett, was promoted to Flight Commander in his stead and he promptly put himself and us on that night’s operation to the oil refiners at Politz near Stettin, when as a crew we should have been on ‘Stand down’.
It was our third trip to Politz within seven weeks, on more or less the same route — North Sea, Northern Denmark, East Coast of Sweden and over the Baltic Sea to Stettin.
To keep an air plot going for several hours relying only on forecast winds, was a nightmare for a Navigator, so it was a relief to receive a ‘Fix’ on the Swedish Coast from the Bomb Aimer, even though it put us way behind our time over the target, so I requested my skipper for “Full Speed Ahead”. To my dismay I was later a positive ‘Fix’ on Malmo, which this time put us ahead of time and necessitated ‘Dog-legging’ over the Baltic (criss-crossing over my track) to waste time. Unfortunately for us on this third trip the enemy were out in force, dropping flares to outline our planes and so pick us off. Our luck held until just after crossing the coast, at which time the Rear Gunner reported a four engine plane passing beneath, which proceeded to hammer us with Cannon-fire, and in what seemed like seconds our fuselage, loaded with 10,000lbs of bombs and a high-powered photo flash, was a mass of flames and full of acrid smoke. The skipper whilst struggling to retain some control, promptly ordered ‘Abandon Plane’, but, as the Bomb Aimer was having difficulty opening the front escape hatch, the Wireless Operator, (who could not escape down the fuselage) and I, as a last resort, attempted to open the top ditching hatch, but to no avail. After what seemed like a lifetime — and choking with fumes — the front escape passage was cleared and with due haste we abandoned our plane.
In free-fall, pitch darkness and biting cold, I sought my chest-type parachute, only to discover it was not there, but fortunately, I felt above my head and found the rip cord. Gripping tightly on the harness straps in case I fell out of them, I floated down to earth, to land in thick snow, minus my Chamois Leather boots, with which I had parted company on my descent! If that wasn’t enough, I had twisted my ankle into the bargain. Dressed only in my R.A.F. blouse and sweater — with part of my parachute bound round my twisted ankle, and another part of the parachute round my neck as a scarf, I gave up hope of walking barefoot to the Russian lines or to France, and sought refuge from the biting wind by placing myself behind a long straw covering which the locals used to line the outsides of their cattle sheds. It was not real cover though, and a German farmer and his dog soon sussed me out the next morning. Imagine my surprise when the farmer placed me in a large barn full of Polish slave labour, who greeted me like a liberator and thought my clothing was ‘Prima’. Having given me a piece of their small black bread ration, with a scrape of ersatz fat on it, (To my horror I was soon bringing it back).
I was taken by milk-cart to the nearest Gestapo Office in a village close to ‘Passwolk’. They didn’t like me one bit! They loaded their rifles with bullets and pointed them in my direction, I thought an ‘accident’ was about to happen. Again Lady-Luck came to my aid and a one-armed German proceeded to lecture them about the Geneva Convention, and later he gave me understand that he had been re-patriated from a British Prisoner of War Camp near Edinburgh. Was I glad that he was around!
I was taken at this point down a grass trail leading to a wood, with a guard holding a loaded gun behind me. I was almost sure he was taking me there to shoot me and decided not to ‘go’ without ‘having a go at him first’. Luckily for me it didn’t happen. Instead I was marched, in borrowed German Jack-boots to Passwolk and eventually to a straw-covered dungeon on a Luftwaffe air-drome near to Stettin, where eventually an American and eight R.A F. boys, two being of my crew, joined me there. Some Luftwaffe men later joined us bringing their guitars and sang ‘Good Night Ladies’ and requested the English words to the tune. ‘Incongruous!’ They also related some of their experiences flying over London but we remembered still to only give our Rank, Name and Number.
The next day we were given a 24hours ration of German Black bread and put on a train for Berlin, accompanied by guards. Due to the state of the railways from bombing, it took five days to reach the Capitol instead of one, with nothing to eat and just a little water. On the Berlin station platform we were seriously threatened by German Troops on their way back to the Russian front. They were ready to slit our throats if they thought we were Russian. Again, our luck held out and on learning we were British, backed away, leaving us forlornly standing there, our guards having retired to a safe distance. There being no trains to Frankfurt, we were incarcerated in Spandau Goal for the night. The next day we proceeded to Frankfurt where on arrival we were photographed for the records and stripped of every possession. (I have this photograph in my possession, having ‘Rescued It’ from the records at the end of the war!)
We were each placed in a cell, about 6 by 10feet, with just a bunk and a lever on the wall to call the guards if we needed to go to the toilet. (If the guards were in a good mood.) This cell was known by all R.A.F. personnel as the ‘sweat-box’ because they put the heat on during the day and we froze at night. You had to wait for the number of your cell to be shouted along the corridors, to be taken for interrogation, and for the German Officer to decide your fate. In my case I was sent back for another five days for sticking to my ‘Name, Rank and Number’, and having the nerve to give wrong information as regards to my Radar Reception over Germany. I didn’t realise that they had extracted a lot of information from planes of ours that had been found. I was told that for lying I could be shot as a spy, not a happy thought for the next five days. (Our Bomb-aimer was asked about a twenty-two thousand pound bomb that had yet to be dropped as a supposed surprise to the Germans, but they already knew about it). I was eventually realised from this Dulag Luft on the 6th. March 1945, only to be herded into trucks, forty at a time with no food or water, no room to sit or move and hardly able to breath. Again, the journey, which should only have taken one day, lasted until the 10th. March. We had no toilet facilities. At Wurzburg, whilst on the platform recently heavily bombed, a Nazi Official took out his revolver and threatened to shoot us all for “Working for Churchill and the Jews!!!”
On reaching Nuremberg we were backed into a siding and taken to a barbed wire compound with just three huts between two hundred Prisoners of war. We were given two horrible blankets and an armful of straw. We had no knives, forks, spoons or other utensils. A small kitchen to heat soup made from maggot-ridden peas, or fermented cheese soup etc. We had about fifty tin cans (Dishes!), between two hundred Prisoners of War, so dysentery was passed on. We had one loaf of black bread between 16people, so we had to take turns to be the first one to pick a slice and so on. No Red-Cross parcels were available on account of the destruction of the railways. We endured this and other states of affairs until the 4th. April, when we were force-marched until we crossed the Danube at Ingolstadt. (We were moved on because General Patten and his troops were pressing on towards Nuremberg). During this march we were attacked by American Mustang planes and some P.O.Ws. were killed or injured, until the Americans realised we were prisoners, and then they followed our progress every day
Eventually we reached ‘Stalag V11A’ at Moosburg (Not far from Dachau) The Stalag had been built to house some 30,000 P.O.Ws. but now must have reached 130,000 personnel. We arrived on April 18th. 1945 (The day after my 22nd. Birthday) I shared a Red-Cross parcel with six other P.O.Ws., mostly non-divisible because of being tins of milk, margarine etc., but the cigarettes were fine because we traded them with local Germans as we passed the villages, for one egg per cigarette, until others ‘upped’ the price. I had my blistered feet treated by medics using razor blades, and we existed, somehow.
About the 28th. April 1945, the Stalag seemed unusually quiet and we found that the German guards had evacuated! Shortly afterwards we were relieved by American Forces under General Patten, who toured the Stalag in his tank, to be greeted by the P.O.Ws. with unbounded joy and praise.
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