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25 July 1944: Group 6 Canadian Squadron 431 - and Life as a POW

by fabhorriblehorace

Contributed by 
fabhorriblehorace
People in story: 
H J DOUGLAS
Location of story: 
EUROPE
Article ID: 
A1999722
Contributed on: 
09 November 2003

.--- 25th July 44

Group 6 Canadian Squadron 431: Base: Croft Aircraft”Y*(Yehudi Menuhin)

This was our 23rd operation, which had included 3 to Berlin, and what a start.

The crew was W/C Hank Dow(pilot) Ken Jones(Navigator) Engineer (chief of section because our regular Jack Jackson was sick) Bomb Aimer Kraut ? Ed Parker(Rear Gunner), Bob Carter(Min Upper Gunner) and your truly Jim Douglas(Wop/Ag).

Rev-up and then away we go----but only a half way down the runway and “Y”
veered off to starboard, skipper immediately close-down and then we join the
queue again and for the 2nd time away we went and lo & behold, a bit further
down the runway, off we went again to the starboard with skipper going through
the same procedure as before and then we,for the 3rd time, join the qeueu again
and this time we made it---but only just. I was advised, sometime much later, that
the telephone wires normally running adjacent to the road had been removed by “Y”, and we were actually on course for Stuttgart.

Listening out every 30mins and eventually we were over Stuttgart and I do remember a two loud bangs, one against the aircraft and the other was me smashing my head against my equipment. I do not remember how long I was concussed, probably a minute but looking back down the fuselage it was well &
truly aflamed and I realised that there was nothing I could do to help BOB & ED. I tried the intercon but nothing was working.

I immediately went for my parachute, clipped it on. Ken Jones was busy at his
desk so I indicated to him about leaving the aircraft and he bent down & removed
the escape-hatch and he beckoned me to go. I stepped over the hatch facing aft but
instead of flicking out I was watching the mayhem going down below & I went out
of the hatch like Mae West putting her tight corsets and eventually the slipstream
caught me I caught my head on the other side of escape hatch and I was knocked-out again. In fact when I regained my senses within approx 45secs I touched down
minus 1 flying boot. I had the feeling my Mother was looking after me at the time.

However, I was wearing fisherman long woolly socks so the other boot was buried.

I was free for 3 days, mainly in woodland area, and the first sound of a human being
was a young german girl pedaling a cycle and singing at the top of her voice the
Woodpecker song, of course in german.
I was finally captured by Hitler jugens; I was asleep one night thinking I was still in
the woods but I apparently was in some-ones vines and the young were out early picking the fruit. I got up, started to walk, they followed, I stopped so did they.
I look around and noticed a couple running toward what appear to be a village.
Within a short space of time I saw the couple returning a few adults and so I was
led away to village lock-up.

The usually things followed, interrogation etc and installing at Olfag Luft 3 at
the new POW camp.
I was pleased to meet with our skipper who advised me that three others survivors
were also POWs
We in the next month has change of personel, 6 moving out to make room for new intake of POW—USA flyers.
Now we, in place of Bridge, had a preponderance of Poker.
Xmas came and went & we’re looking good for the Allies.
Jan 27th
1600hrs:German communique reports russian about 47 miles East of Sagan.
2230hrs: whole camp given 1hr to prepare for march. Every kind of wooden box & Beds were pulled to pieces to act as sledges.
Midnight: saw camp standing by sledges awaiting orders
0030 28Jan: ordered to be ready to go 0200hrs this was altered 0500hrs and it was not until 0600 that actually began to march, against the driving snow and it took us 4hrs to cover 4 miles.
1800hrs: we reached KUNAU where, cramped like sardines, we slept or tried to,
in a barn along with dozen cows.
0700hrs 29Jan: breakfast of 1 slice bread & coffee.
1200hrs reached WIESAU where we obtained water but after 10mins on our way
again. The elderly German guards were feeling the pressure of the march just as much as we were.
1700hrs: reached GROSS SELTEN, bedded in another barn.
30Jan: unable to continue trek, weather very bad. Had to thaw boots before I could
get them on. Set off again but the guards did’nt know our destination, they thought
it was a civilian internment camp but now that’s fallen through.
Received 5 slices bread, snow falling boots & socks wet. Some of the guys have got
swollen lips and sores due to sleeping with wet socks. Fortunately I have a spare set
of socks which when bedding down I change into them and wet ones I poked under
braces on my chest so eventually I had almost dry ones to change into.
1830 30Jan: reached BIRKENSTEDT. Learned W/C Stanford Tuck? Had scarpered with one of our Polish friends. The German farmer & his wife made
arrangement to supply hot water for brews.
31Jan: Weather bad and with a sigh of relief we had news that were not treking that
day.
01Feb: Camp split into 2 parties, USA & the rest.
The yanks departed 1130 accompanied by 3 rousing cheers from the “rest”which
they returned.
Midday we set off for our unknown destination minus the sledges due a rapid thaw overnight so everything was carried. The roads were just a sea of mud and the going was tough but 1500hrs we saw the Sun, the first time for many a week.
1815hrs at GRAUSTEIN, from authentic sources we learned that the Russian had
reached FRANFURT-on-ODER.
02FEB 0730hrs heading for SPREMBERG which we understand is 8miles from Graustein. Reached our destination(army camp) by midday. American a/c passed
on way to Berlin.
Billy can of soup, 1630hrs marched to rail head and bundled(40 men) into cattle truck where we spent the next 30hrs without water or facilities and very cramped.
1900hrs: train started rolling, frozen guys all around. We expected to reached our
destination in the morning but by midday we were still in the trucks and to relieve
oneself one had to use a box and to urinate we made a hole in the floor of the truck.

On one of the stops we made to afford us the privilege of going in the grass verge along side the track, with many of the guards standing line abreast facing us, a particular incident occurred. An Australian guy delayed getting down and was refused permission. He insisted he had to go but goon,waving his gun from a lowly
position at the penis, was met the “if you don’t get out of my way I’m going to piss all over you”. Unfortunately this goon did not understand much English and called
for a senior officer who took up the matter and ask the aussie to repeat the phrase,
which then brought forth a deep throated laughter from the officer and in german
told the guard to get back to his line and invited the guy to evacuate his bladder.

03FEB 1615hrs to reached our destination but remained cooped up until 1830hrs.
1845hrs marched to the camp, pouring with rain and then air-raid siren blurted out
and we were made to stand outside for approx 80mins, once inside we again waited
until 0130 4th FEB were we had to queue awaiting a shower, be searched; my time
came at 0340hrs and then into my allotted bunk. At 1030hrs I awoke to find I was in LUCKENWADE, looking around my room consisted of 200 bunks each displaying
8 wooden slats within sacking covering. Another air alarm tonight.
5th FEB-20th MARCH: Norwegian compound donated 1/5th Danish parcel to each man in our compound. Russian offensive in Pomerania doing very well.
Max Schemlin, former heavyweight champion of the World, paid a rather ingratiating visit offering photograph to all and sundry and raised a little smile when mention of Joe Louis obvious came into the conversation
21th MARCH: German garrison are very disorganised and things are looking very bleak for them.

22nd MARCH the invincible German are replaced by the implacable Russian
who have placed guards on the gates and at various parts of the camp. We understand that they want to transport all POW’s to “more” conducive camp.
23rdMARCH: everyone is congregating the main gate with arrival of USA trucks
but our allies refused to listen to young Lieutenant who argued at length but then
gave up and returned to his base.
At the time of going to main gate I was sure I was on my way so I took my belonging
all nicely placed a knapsack( a shirt tied at the bottom and the cuffs stitched to waist).
On returning to my bunk, placing my “knapsack” at the bed and relaxed.
Later on went for a walk towards to main gate and coincidentally the young USA
Lieutenant put another appearance. I must at this point, explain some where in the last month or two I had obtain a replacement set of togs for my original defrayed
gear----GI outfit.
So when I walked up to the crowds at the main gate, I listened, realised the young
Officer was’nt getting anywhere, I then wormed my way through to Russian guards, very politely with a smile, and extended my hand to each one of them. which
they in turn accepted and made my way to the nearest jeep, spoke to the sergeant who reply was “you are not a GI but in get anyway”.
Out of luck again but young Lieu’ with 3 jeeps & 3 x 3 tons trucks did a reverse to
point the way back to the ELBE, drove about 100metres along the road,stopped stood up and blew a loud blast on his whistle and from the undergrowth about 3 dozens bodies ran merry hell for the nearest transport. Heading for Schonebeck
and FREEDOM.
Postscript: You may be thinking, if I did not have my knapsack on my second but
successful attempt where was my “A WARTIME LOG” which had all the relevant
details as portrayed above.
Ned Sparks of Portsmouth UK took charge of my shirt/knapsack and after spending
some with the jolly old Russians brought it back to UK and into my possession within a couple of months.

Postcript to the above story

Remembrance Day shock for Storrington Ex-service pensioners

I would like to think that the RAFA home at Sussexdown, Storrington that is having financial crisis at the moment can maintain status quo.

This vital project is in jeopardy of closure due to lack of funding and many sick ex-service personnel may be forced out of their "homes" within the Sussexdown complex.

All these people gave of themselves for their country and their fellow countrymen and women.

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