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My War as an Air Gunner by Fred Stead

by Yorkshire Air Museum

Contributed by 
Yorkshire Air Museum
People in story: 
Fred Stead
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
A2770265
Contributed on: 
22 June 2004

This story was submitted to the People’s War website by Justine Warwick on behalf of Fred Stead and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the terms and conditions of the site.

I served as an Air Gunner throughout the war. I have been the National Chairman for the Air Gunners association - a worldwide association — which only disbanded last year.
My story takes place in 1944 when I was flying with a special duty squadron supplying resistance groups all over Europe with arms and food especially just before D-Day. All the supplies were dropped by parachute and the drops took place at night. We used the moonlight to see the ground. My squadron was 138 — well known as a secret squadron. We used to fly low level single aircraft and had to find a dropping zone — such as a field or the banks of a river. There was very close contact between the resistance groups and the special ops group in London who organised it all. I flew about 22 missions over occupied Europe and my last venture was on the 31st May 1944. We took off in the evening to go to Belgium. We were attacked as we were crossing the Dutch coast by a night fighter. We were on fire and we had to bail out. Unfortunately the navigator and bomb air man bailed out and just as I was about to jump, I got a nudge by the pilot who was really anxious as he hadn’t got his parachute. I knew where it was and went and fetched it and put it on his harness. At that time the fighter attacked again and the aircraft was burning so he gave me the signal to bail out. And just as I did, I saw the beach below. The breeze was blowing off-shore and I was blowing out to sea. Not much I could do about it. I knew I was going to come down in the sea and I had to look around to see which would be the best way out for me. I spotted a piece of land over to my left and thought it would be my best bet — it didn’t seem far away. I inflated my “May West” (life jacket) and set off in the direction I thought this piece of land was — but I could no longer see it now I was in the sea. I kept swimming and swimming by which time the aircraft had crashed near the beach — so I knew to swim in opposite direction. I was beginning to wonder if I was going in right direction but I did eventually get to piece of land. Then I had to decide what to do next. I had landed on the Dykes so I decided to head inland and look for somewhere to dry out. I found a hut which seemed to have no in so I just kept walking. I saw a building which appeared to be just under flood water and headed for that. Just I was walking by an outhouse I was taken prisoner by Armenian soldiers who were fighting with the Germans. I got transported to various prisons on the way to Germany by very heavily guarded trains — but they did reserved carriages for us. I met up with my navigator and bomb airman who had also been captured, however, I learned latter the rest of the crew had died. I ended up at Stalag Luft 7 Air Force camp for allied air crew - a new camp. We stayed there until after Christmas 1945 and during that time I worked in the camp hospital. We had to provide our own medical support, and there were 1500 people in the camp. After Christmas 1945, with the Russians advancing, the Germans decided they would head west and started to move us during the winter of 1945. Most blokes just had what they stood up in and we were billeted in all sorts of weird places like abandoned schools and farm yards. We had to walk and rations were virtually nil on the march — a bit of black bread and jam jar of coffee maybe but that was it for the day. And most of the walking was done at night when the temperatures were well below zero. We ended up in another camp south of Berlin and stayed there. The Russians released us and the Germans disappeared as fast as they could. Unfortunately the Russians decided we couldn’t go home as they were negotiating with the allies over Berlin and kept us for another month. Eventually the Americans managed to negotiate to let us come home and provided transport to the river Elb where they were encamped. We saw White bread for the first time in years! The Americans flew us to Brussels and then RAF flew us back to England. During my stay in prison camp I kept a diary which I still have to this very day.

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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - 138 squadron

Posted on: 19 April 2005 by Albert Edward Heap

I am currently researching my Uncle's war history and wondered if you knew him at Tempsford. Albert Edward Heap was his name, and he was a Flight Engineer. He was there from April 1944 until February 1945. I have only been able to extract minimal information about his war history from Innsworth, and it is rather like pulling teeth. I need to find someone who knew him, or flew with him, or can direct me to another source to find out details about who he flew with and on what missions. I have a photograph of him standing next to aircraft number LJ999 which I understand was a Stirling and crashed in Belgium in 1945 with all crew surviving and being held POW until the end of the war. Any assistance would be gratefully received.

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