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The German Pilot went to Bedales School!

by Elizabeth Lister

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
Elizabeth Lister
People in story: 
Kenneth James Webb
Location of story: 
Froxfield, Hampshire
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
06 October 2005

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by a volunteer from CSV Berkshire on behalf of Kenneth Webb and has been added to the site with his permission. Kenneth Webb fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

The German pilot went to Bedales school!

August 15th seemed just like any other day during the long, hot, exciting summer of 1940. The routine was the usual hot, tiring work in the harvest fields, even for a thirteen year old boy. During the afternoon we had often thankfully stopped work for short periods to lean on our pitchforks and watch the swirling vapour trails gradually developing, together with tiny puffs of anti-aircraft fire, high in the clear blue skies above Portsmouth. There were occasional dull rumbles of bombs exploding and the distant sounds of gunfire and aircraft engines. These sights and sounds had been quite usual for some weeks but it seemed that there was much more activity on this day.

Later in the afternoon, with my younger brother Geoffrey, I left the harvest field to return to the farm for tea leaving my father, grandfather and others still working. A little later I wandered up into the field behind the farm house to spend some time with scouts from the 1st Drayton Scout Troup. The scouts had been regular summer visitors to our farm for five years or so but earlier in the summer “Skip” (Skipper) Williams, the scout master, had asked to set up a permanent camp so that boys could avoid the dangers of Portsmouth.

At weekends the parents also came to visit us, many walking the four miles from Petersfield Station and sleeping in the large barns adjoining the farm house. My mother provided breakfast of bacon, eggs and tea for nine pence (4p). My brother and I always welcomed the campers as an extended group of playmates and “Skip” was an entertaining and interesting person who often suggested ideas for treasure hunts and other exciting games and exercises. I learned a lot about scouting and in return I showed them how to catch, gut, skin and cook rabbits and other country pursuits.

It was pleasant and warm in the late afternoon - everything seemed to have gone quiet in the air - until suddenly we heard bursts of machine gun fire from the south and saw a German Junkers 88 bomber flying fast and very low just above the hedgerows. It was heading straight towards us. The bomber was closely followed by an RAF Hurricane fighter which was pumping long bursts of tracer fire into it. When almost directly above us the engines of the Junkers started to rev like tormented bumble bees and the plane began a rapid climb, still doggedly followed by the Hurricane.

Within a few minutes the plane started to fall away to the west, at the same time two parachutes were seen to open and descend, also drifting towards the west. With engines still operating the Junkers 88 was soon lost to sight.

This whole incident, which only lasted a few moments, caused huge excitement. the chatter was soon interrupted by the noise of the Hurricane returning, flying very low above the farm with it’s engine flat out. The pilot then did a “Victory” roll as his plane headed south. There was a spontaneous cheer from us onlookers.

As soon as he saw the parachutes my father ran back to the farm, grabbed his Home Guard rifle, put on his armband and in my grandfather’s Ford 8 drove off to find the two airmen. He was not the first on the scene, their descent had been followed by a small group of locals on motorbikes and bicycles until they landed in a field a mile away, between Ivyhouse Farm and Bens Green. When my father arrived the two Germans were standing in the middle of the field confronted by some the locals. They had landed fully equipped with pistols etc but none of this, nor their parachutes were ever found. A few minutes later my father was escorting the two Germans back to the farm and into our large front kitchen. My brother recalls that after sitting quietly for a while one of the Germans enquired, in good English, where he was. “I know that I am in southern England” he said “but where?”. My father explained that they had landed in Froxfield which was about four miles from the town of Petersfield. “Petersfield!” said the German with some surprise, “Then Steep and Bedales is not far from here” My father agreed that it was only two miles away. “I went to school at Bedales” he said.

I ran down the back field after hearing that the two Germans had been captured and were in our house. The room was gradually filling with various onlookers, the local policeman was there, still wearing his bicycle clips and one or two Home Guards carrying shotguns.

I recall being quite impressed by the appearance of the two Germans sitting in the easy chairs either side of the fireplace. They were both good looking and smart in their grey/green one piece flying suits. I looked with envy at their badges and insignia and wished I could have one as a souvenir. Nothing much was said, the surrounding group just looked at them until my mother broke the silence by asking “Would you like a cup of tea?” “Yes please” said the German, “but have you yet (still) tea?” and they both looked genuinely surprised when two large cups of tea duly arrived.

After drinking the tea the German airman seemed to gain confidence although his companion, who presumably could not speak English, remained subdued. Looking around the room at the onlookers he firmly said, “The war will soon be over for you and the German army will soon be here” At this my father took three quick paces across the room and brandishing his fist in the German’s face shouted “Any more talk like that and I’ll knock your bloody head off!” This effectively stopped all further conversation and the two just sat there.

My brother recollects the changing panorama of heads and hats of people over the window sill as they walked around our house, policemen’s helmets and later army steel helmets and rifles with fixed bayonets.

Two soldiers arrived in the room and escorted the Germans out of the front door of the farmhouse, down the path and into a waiting 15cwt Bedford truck. The two soldiers looked rather small and scruffy compared with the Germans. Their rifles were .303 1914/1918 vintage but they did have impressively long bayonets.

About thirty or so local people were gathered in the road outside our house and there was considerable booing, hissing and waving of fists as the two soldiers cleared the way to the Bedford. The German prisoners were then driven off in the direction of Petersfield. The locals stood around chatting excitedly for a while and then dispersed. There was later some criticism of my mother because she had given the Germans a cup of tea.

The day after I cycled with some of my friends the four miles to Privett to see where two German planes had come down, just off the A32 road, near some prehistoric mounds known as “The Jumps”. The planes had arrived from different directions and had amazingly crashed within fifty yards and five minutes of each other. One plane had crashed on the edge of a wood and exploded on impact leaving a large crater with debris scattered around and in the branches of the nearby trees. The Junkers 88 from which “our” airmen had jumped was fairly intact but all the instruments and anything else that was detachable had already been removed.

An essential tool in those days was a short length of broken hacksaw blade with string wound round and round at one end to make a primitive handle. With these we laboriously cut most of the swastika emblem from the tail of the plane and searched around to find any other bits which had identification numbers or marks. We later cut the swastika into handy pieces and distributed them to our friends. I remember having my piece for many years after.

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