- Contributed by
- People in story:
- WO Harry Cyril Cooper, F/Lt Cliffe Bowyer
- Location of story:
- Holland and Germany
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 09 July 2004
WWII MEMOIRES IN BRIEF
W.O. H C COOPER - 942498
14 MAY 1943
Shot down on 15th operation of second tour. Operation to Duisborg in Stirling Z (Zola) in which I was Flight Engineer. Aircraft hit by flak on run in to target, starboard inner engine on fire, flames spreading along wing. The pilot F/Lt Bowyer and myself managed to get the aircraft to the Dutch border, rest of the crew had baled out. The aircraft was now very difficult to fly, needing the two of us to hold it straight and level. Cliff, the pilot, ordered me to bale out. As my parachute opened, the Stirling exploded and hit the ground, killing the pilot.
I had baled out too low and was caught up in a tree; this probably saved my life. Releasing the chute buckle was a gamble, as I had no idea of the distance to the ground. In actual fact it was quite a way and I ended up with a badly scratched face (not a pretty sight) and a badly damaged back (granted an R.A.F. disability pension in 1992).
After reaching the ground I found myself very near to the blazing plane, fortunately the bombs had been jettisoned. Despite my painful back, I started walking in a westerly direction, realising that the 'Goons' would soon be on the site. I soon reached a farm and realised I was in Holland as clogs were all lined up outside the door.
About 5am I reached another farm, my back at this time was very painful and I eventually collapsed in front of the farmer. This man gave me a huge breakfast after which he put me in his own bed (fully clothed). I was awakened by the arrival of two German Luftwaffe soldiers who took me to a local prison and then on to Amsterdam Civil Prison.
21 MAY 1943
Taken by train to Oberusel Transit Camp, met some other members of crew.
28 MAY 1943
First experience of 'cattle truck' comfort on way to LUFT 1 (Barth). This camp was run by airmen who had been prisoners from 1940. It took me quite a time to settle down as a P.O.W.
Moved to Heydekrug (LUFT 6?) where I spent some time in the hospital having flak fragments taken from legs and neck, this was done by a German doctor without anaesthetic.
While in hospital the occupant in the next bed was George, a very large American Waist Gunner, he was very keen to escape, so we managed to escape together. When we were both out of the hospital, one very dark, no moon night, we got out of our Lager into the Vorlager, we moved across this Lager into a depression in the ground t hide and rest. The rest was shattered by a raucous "Hand Hock", I stood with hands up at once, George did not, and was shot and killed. I realised afterwards that George did not understand what 'Hand Hock' meant. My sentence was 14 days in solitary.
Whole compound moved to Cross Tyschow (LUFT 4?). We were 'Cattle Trucked' to Memel and put on board a ship 'Insterburg'. This operation took hours as there was just one ladder into the hold and we all had quite a lot of luggage. The cruise to 'Strettin' took 4 days, the weather was terrible, many of the P.O.Ws became ill. We were sailing down the Baltic to Strettin being allowed out of the hold two at a time. The conditions in the hold were nauseating.
From Strettin 'Cattle Trucked' (60 men to a truck) to Gross Tyschow station. The walk from the station was 5 km; before this started we heard the officer in charge of the Luftwaffe escort winding his men up by screaming, "these are the men who bombed your homes and families". The moment we started marching, dogs were let loose, guns were fired and the march changed to a run. To increase the speed, later, shorts were fired at our feet and heads; bayonets were also used to prod us on our way.
Many of the Kreigies had to throw away their kit (overloaded). Those of us who had not discarded kit were actually congratulated by some of the German guards for our display of grit.
Having arrived at the camp, we were put into what can only be described as kennels, having to crawl in and then not being able to stand. This accommodation lasted six weeks during which we had the most horrendous thunderstorm lasting four hours, going round and round the camp which was situated in a forest clearing. In this storm a number of Polish P.O.Ws were killed.
After this we were moved into a newly built barracks. Life was a little easier, being able to stand. The C/O of this camp was the man who had organised the 'run up the road', he obviously did not like the R.A.F. as he encouraged the Posterns to fire into the compound at the slightest provocation. One day a number of R.A.F. were injured, two being killed; my own bed space had two bullet holes, fortunately the occupant was not in it at the time!
Our room which had 12 triple bunks, (also with people sleeping on the floor) was the home of the camp radio (what a thrill it was to hear Big Ben). The radio was hidden in a special compartment built into the three-hole toilet seat and was never found, though searched for many times by the Goons.
1 FEB 1945
This day, with thick snow on the ground, was the day the Goons decided that the Russians were too near, so they decided to march us due west. 800 R.A.F. set off with whatever they could carry from the Red Cross store. 500 R.A.F. arrived at Luneberg on 2nd May.
After 2/3 weeks marching we were getting mixed up with the retreating Germany army, the Russians being not far behind. Because of this our guards decided that we had to march for 36 hours non-stop. During the last 12 hours some of the 'Kreigies' were going to sleep while marching, falling into the road if not caught by their friends. Our numbers diminished considerably during this period of 36 hours, some of the men decided to take off on their own, others just disappeared, my own circle of friends decided the safest plan was to stay with the crowd.
During the three months march we had two nights inside warm premises, one a Brewery, in which I alone with a Russian, cooked all the potatoes we could find, to share with the rest of the marchers. Most of the nights we slept in open barns or fields.
Later on in the march we stayed three nights at 'Fallingbostel' sleeping in a marquee on straw, what a pleasure this was after nights spent in the open. After crossing the river 'Elbe' we slept one night in a barn which was attached by Mosquitoes, a number of R.A.F. being injured and some killed, two on each side of myself.
We were liberated by British forces around 29th April, two of my friends and I took a horse and cart from where we were sleeping to move west. This was changed for a bus soon to be filled with other 'Kreigies'. This soon ran out of fuel and we were left stranded, the three of us left the crowd of 'Kreigies' and later I the day we commandeered an auto union sports car from a high ranking German officer. At the point of a gun he decided that discretion was the better part of valour. I relieved him of a Bulova Gold watch, my own having been taken from me at Dulag Luft. I still have this watch today. The car got the three of us to a repatriation centre at 'Luneburg' where an English high-ranking officer relieved us of the car.
After the usual repatriation process, far too many were bundled into a Dakota, which managed to stagger off the ground and take us to 'Cosford' from where we were eventually sent home with two ration books each. I stayed in the R.A.F. until August 1945.
H C COOPER
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