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His war service began in 1940 when he joined the RAF. He became a pilot and was trained on Spitfires and Hurricanes. In July, 1940, he joined his first squadron right in the middle of the Battle of Britain. He was replacing a pilot who had been killed a few days before. In fact, he overheard his fellow pilots placing odds on how long he would last. He was 22 years-old.
He beat the odds against him and survived. At the end of the Battle of Britain, he had tallied five confirmed kills: 3 HE-111, 1 ME-109 and 1 ME-110.
After the Battle of Britain, he mostly flew patrols and escorted RAF bombers making raids along the French coast and intercepting the occasional German daylight raid over England
On three occasions, his Spitfire was damaged. Twice by AA fire and once by a FW-190 that he said was a real close call. The fighter was on his tail and he couldn’t lose him. But the German couldn’t finish the job. My uncle guessed that either his guns jammed or he simply ran out of ammo. Each time, he made it back to base.
In May 1944, his luck ran out. During an escort run over France, his aircraft was hit by AA fire and he quickly lost control of his Spitfire. He baled out and about a minute later, saw his aircraft explode beneath him.
He looked down and saw the coastline and realized he was going to be captured or even land in the ocean. He was near Caen when he was shot down. As he neared the ground, he saw a squad of German troops watching him with their rifles pointed at him. He was sure he was going to be shot.
When he landed, literally in the street, the Germans attacked him with rifle butts and began beating him. He then remembered hearing someone yelling in German and the beating stopped. He was then helped up and he removed his parachute.
A German captain approached him and, in perfect English, apologized for the conduct of his men and requested his sidearm. My uncle handed him his pistol and he was led away.
He was taken to a seaside hotel that the Germans were apparently using. He was placed under guard but treated well as the Germans gave him cigarettes, tea and sandwiches. He was confined to a room with two guards constantly watching him.
Six hours later, things changed for the worst. A German SS military police officer and three other SS enlisted men arrived and took him away. His hands were tied behind his back and a hood placed over his head. He was treated roughly and thrown in the back of a vehicle. They were yelling at him in German and had no clue as to what they wanted him to do.
He remembers driving at least for an hour when the truck stopped. He was led into some sort of building and was still unable to see. He was led into a room and then untied and the hood removed. He found himself in a small cell which he said stank horribly and was bare with no bunk or chair and was forced to sit and sleep on the filthy concrete. A horribly smelling garbage can served as the bathroom.
A little while later, a guard came in and escorted him to another room. He saw that he was in a small prison and could see other cells but no other prisoners. The prison was completely quiet and he began to wonder if he was the only one there. They took him for interrogation and another SS officer, a major, repeatedly questioned him on his target when he was shot down, his unit and so on.
My uncle refused to cooperate. He was slapped repeatedly and then tied to a chair in which an SS NCO took a particular delight in knocking him over, picking him up and doing it again. After a few hours, they took him out and back to the cell.
An hour later, they did it again. He still refused to talk and was told that if he did not cooperate, he would be shot. He then lied and said that he has no idea what the target was since he was simply following the bombers and watching for enemy fighters. He said that he would not need to know the target anyway since he was not a bomber pilot.
The SS officer slightly believed his story but then stated given his rank (Flight Lieutenant) he must have known something and had to have been briefed prior to the mission. My uncle stuck to his story and was taken back to his cell. My uncle then collapsed from exhaustion. He was then awakened by guards who took him for more interrogation.
This was a different officer who was a Luftwaffe captain who said that he knew was lying since all pilots know what their target is. My uncle said nothing. Then, the SS officer returned and wanted to know what type of aircraft he flew. He refused. After a beating, he said he was a Spitfire pilot and then he was returned to his cell.
He was left there for a few days. After that, the SS officer paid him a visit and said that they were not done with him yet. He said that my uncle would be shipped off to Germany for more questioning. If he told the truth, the would send him to a POW camp. If not, he would be shot.
That night, he was brought in for more interrogation. This time, they wanted to know where his earlier targets were and how many missions he had flown. My uncle knew that they were trying to figure out where the invasion would come and would not reveal his earlier targets. He stuck to his story about following the bombers and told them that they should know the targets anyway simply by seeing where the bombs fell. The Germans were not amused. He only said that the made a rendezvous over England and then covered the bombers to their target and back to base.
The SS officer was angry and they mentally tortured him by having NCO’s in the room eat hardy meals, smoke and drink water; the things he was being deprived of.
He was thrown into his cell once again and left there. A few days may have passed but are a blur to him. He slept most of the time and was awakened only by the delivery of food and water.
He remembers being awakened by the sound of gunfire in the distance. The date was , he later learned was June 6, 1944. Soon after, there was a lot of commotion in the prison. Germans were yelling and he heard a lot of movement outside of his cell. His door opened the door and he was ordered to stand in the doorway. He did and saw only a handful of prisoners standing at the entrances to their cells. They were spaced out so it was impossible for any of them to make contact. All were Allied airmen. Five Americans and 3 Englishmen including my uncle.
He then heard gunshots outside of the prison and couldn’t figure out what was going on. He thought that they were executing prisoners and thought that he was next.
They were taken outside where a truck was waiting for them. They were told that they were being moved but not told where. They were forbidden to talk to each other and they would be guarded closely. He saw other vehicles being loaded and it was obvious that the place was being evacuated. My uncle could only guess that the invasion had started.
As they waited, two German soldiers took a civilian man out of the prison who was blindfolded and gagged. A few minutes later, they heard a loud volley of shots. They were executing all of the civilian prisoners one at a time.
They were then tied behind their backs and placed in the truck. Two German guards sat by the door. They drove off and my uncle and his fellow prisoners sat in silence. After about a 20 minute drive, there was an explosion near the truck and small arms fire. The two guards leaped from the back of the truck while my uncle and the others hit the floor of the truck. My uncle saw one of the guards take several shots in the chest and he fell to the ground.
The firing suddenly stopped and he saw a helmeted figure peer into the vehicle. One of the Americans realized it was an American soldier and told him not to shoot. They got out of the truck and found themselves facing a platoon from the 82nd Airborne Division whom had set up an ambush on the road after parachuting in the previous night.
They were freed but remained with the 82nd for a few days until they were relieved by the advancing ground forces. My uncle was sent back to England where he was debriefed on his capture and then given a six week leave at home to recover. He was given a commendation for his conduct while in captivity.
When he returned, he was offered a discharge, a desk job or could return to flying again if he so choose. He declined and wanted to fly again stating that he wanted to get even with the Germans for what they had happened to him.
He had been replaced in his squadron so he was offered to fly Spitfires for a different squadron. He returned to RAF flight duties in September, 1944.
Here, he served with his new squadron in support of ground forces and making mostly ground attacks on German troops, vehicles and airfields. At that point, there very few German aircraft left to oppose them. He served during the Battle of the Bulge and in support of British troops advancing through Northern Germany. He ended the war as a squadron leader at the age of 27.
He finished the war in Europe with 15 confirmed kills: 5 HE-111, 3 ME-109, 1 ME-110, 2 FW-190, 3 JU-87, 1 JU-88.
After Germany’s surrender, his squadron received word that it would be deployed to the Pacific following home leave. As the unit was preparing to leave, atomic bombs were dropped on Japan and the war ended.
Today, my uncle is now 85 and lives a quiet life in his hometown of Bristol, England under the care of my cousin. He is a bit senile now but still tells his war stories down at the local pub with pride. I have met him on numerous occasions when visiting my family. He has told me this story many times but only when I was old enough to understand.
My uncle makes a habit of attending air shows in England especially when a Spitfire is scheduled to fly. When he feels up to it, he has my cousin take him. There, he will wear his old RAF cap and salute when he sees it. Some habits are hard to break.
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Despite his age, he is in pretty good health and is a regular at his local pub. Everyone there knows him and of his story. He doesn't dwell too much on what happened to him in May, 1944. Instead, he typically shares stories of the dogfights and ground attacks that he was involved in.
To this day, he still thinks that the Spitfire was the greatest fighter ever produced and does not want to hear about other aircraft of that era. I teased him a few times about the American Mustang and other aircraft to which his response was usually: "The Spitfire saved England."
God only knows what he would give to get behind the controls of a Spitfire again. I know that if he could do it, he would.
I once asked him about his dogfights and if there was any particular incident that he remembers well. He told me that his favorite combat experience was when his squadron intercepted a squadron of Stukas returning from a raid. They were not escorted and all fell prey to his squadron. He downed two of them and said that every member of his squadron was very satisfied with that attack. The Stuka, as we know, was feared early in the war. But against fighter opposition and without protection, it was a flying target. He says that fighter pilots just loved to tally Stukas.
To this day, he despises the Germans although my Mom thinks that that has gotten worse with his age. He lost a nephew and a neice in a Geman bombing raid and never saw them get to grow up. Several members of his squadrons were killed in combat including his squadron leader in early 1945 whom he had become friends with. His parents' home was destroyed by German bombs. Then there was his capture in 1944. Put that all together and I think anyone would feel the same way.
He still has a particular fondness for the 82nd Airborne Division. When the unit that rescued him was relieved by advancing ground forces, a major gave him a patch of the 82nd Airborne Division when he left. That patch survives to this day and is framed on his bedroom wall next to another display cases containing his insignias and medals. He says that he has never forgotten the names of the men who saved him from captivity in German or possibly worse.
Again, I'm glad you enjoyed it. I will see him next month when I take my wife to meet my English side of the family. I will tell him that I posted his story and pass along your compliments.
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I couldn't agree more with you. Obviously, we will have to rely on the historians and the writings of the veterans who were there to tell us what happened.
As a side note, there are only three pilots alive that served with my uncle during the war. They used to have reunions but those stopped years ago when their numbers began to dwindle.
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Andy H wrote:A great tale by a brave man, it's a sad fact that The Few are getting fewer, and it's important that the deeds done by these people are recorded before they rejoin there comrades.
Could not agree more.
Timman, a truly moving story. Reminds me of the following:
"Never has so much, been owed by so many, to so few"
-Sir Winston Churchill