The Crew of Lancaster LL944 from 115 Squadron
Lancaster LL944 took off from RAF Witchford at 1203 hours on the 16th December 1944, detailed to bomb railway yards at Siegen, Germany. The sortie was conducted by No 3 Group RAF involving about 100 Lancasters and the bombing was to be carried out on radar assisted aids. Nothing was heard from the aircraft after take off and it failed to return to base.
The crew were: RCAF F/O D B Robertson, (Pilot), RAF Sgt E D Hutchinson, (Flight Engineer), RAF Sgt A H J Trumble, (Navigator) RAF F/O C A Smith, (Air Bomber), RAAF 429928 Flt Sgt R G Cornwell; (Wireless Operator), RAF Sgt R D Roberts, (Mid Upper Gunner), RAF Sgt D W Roberts, (Rear Gunner).
A Missing Research & Enquiry team reported “The aircraft appeared from the north west when the tail unit broke off and the aircraft dived and crashed near Uckerath. It was on fire when it crashed.”
Uckerath is a largish town 19kms east of Bonn. Four of the crew were killed and Sgt’s Hutchinson, Trumble and Smith were made POW’s. Those killed are now buried at the Rheinberg War Cemetery, in Germany, 24kms north of Krefeld and 13kms south of Wesel.
24 year old pilot, Flying Officer David Brownlee Robertson was a Canadian. He
son of George and Margaret Robertson, of Ottawa, Ontario. Born
August 8th 1920 David was the youngest of three children, his brother was Ernest
Brownlee Robertson, and his sister was Elizabeth Brownlee (Mrs. McCagherty). His
family origins were Scottish.
son of George and Margaret Robertson, of Ottawa, Ontario. Born August 8th 1920 David was the youngest of three children, his brother was Ernest Brownlee Robertson, and his sister was Elizabeth Brownlee (Mrs. McCagherty). His family origins were Scottish.
He lived at the Experimental Farm in Ottawa where his father George Robertson was one of Canada's leading poultry experts. David worked there for one year with his father. He was a student at Glebe Collegiate and participated in both rowing and football. In 1942 he enlisted in the RCAF and soon after began elementary flight training. Both he and his Australian crew-mate 22 year old F/Sgt Ross Cornwell, the Wireless Operator, are buried in a joint grave at Rheinberg War Cemetery.
Ross Cornwell was the son of Walter Clifford Cornwell and Ruby Cornwell, of Wilkawatt, South Australia.
Both the deceased air gunners in the crew were named Roberts but not related. They are in adjoining graves at Rhienberg. 21 year old Robert Daniel Roberts was a Welshman and son of Richard and May Roberts, of Abertridwr, Glamorgan. Sgt Dennis William Roberts was 21 and the son of William and Sarah Roberts, of Southend-on-Sea, Essex.
"The three members of our crew who survived owe our lives to David our pilot for his courage and determination. The plane had caught on fire and was flying on three engines with a bomb which had not been released because of ice. He kept the plane flying long enough to enable us to parachute out."
The Diary of a Prisoner of War: Alfred Henry John Trumble- 16th December 1944 to 11th May 1945
Passed by his daughter Elizabeth Evans to Peter Mitchell in 2007
I worked for Wiltshire Highways Department, volunteered for the RAF in 1941 and was called up in 1942. I undertook my training in South Africa, returning to Britain in 1943 to complete training as a navigator in Bomber Command attached to 115 Squadron Number 3 Group at Witchford, near Ely, Cambridge.
It was on our fifth bombing raid that we were shot down. On that occasion we had had a problem with our usual Lancaster and had switched to our reserve aircraft. There had also been a change in the crew and our normal wireless operator who was sick was replaced by an Australian, Flight Sergeant R G Cornwell.
Saturday December 16th 1944
Shot down 1520 hours by two Messerschmitts109’s near the town of Bonn after our port outer had been hit by flak over the SIEGEN. Had trouble opening our front escape hatch; our plane was then well on fire. Smithy and Eddie baled out OK approximately 1600 hours but when my turn came the plane went out of control and I went unconscious. Next I came to at the sound of machine fire, to my amazement my chute had opened and I was suspended in space. I spotted the two Messerschmitts 109’s circling and firing at Smithy, Eddie and myself, the red tracer bullets seemed to be coming straight at me. Our plane had already crashed and completely in flames. The tail plane with twin fins passed me in mid air. My head was bleeding badly and I went unconscious again. Came to approximately 1000 feet above ground, could see farm dwelling immediately beneath and groups of civilians watching me. Made a good landing, miraculously missing an orchard bounded by barbed wire fence. Felt dizzy and weak, and was captured straight away by about ten German land workers. After being searched they collected my chute and I had to carry my mae west. My flying boots had come off in the apparent explosion. Had to walk about a quarter of a mile towards the village when a German soldier on a motorbike came up and took charge of me. Was again searched, during which many women came and jeered at me and I thought I was going to be lynched. He took me on his motor bike to a large house where there were some German officers. From there I went by car to a Luffwaffe headquarters at SIEBURG. Here I was seen by a medical orderly. Had my head bandaged, my left side was paining, thought I had a fractured rib, also my hands were swollen and stiff. Sat for a long while, then 2 guards took me to the station – it was dark outside - waited by the entrance and then went back on to an electric tram, travelled for about twenty minutes, standing on my maewest. Walked to aerodrome and was taken into a guard room. Was given a bowl of soup - beans and meat with black coffee. Later had to go and see an interrogator. Slept in a single cell - one blanket. Felt weak and tired.
Sunday 17th December
Had breakfast. There was an air raid quite close. Was taken to an outside shelter, there I saw three RAF aircrew. That night I was taken to some communal underground cells, and the following morning we were given travelling rations. Also I was given a thin inner pair of American flying boots.
Monday 18th December
Went back to SIEBURG Station with the three RAF aircrew, and two guards. Travelled all day and all night - a terrible journey, lines damaged by recent raids. Feeling better but I must have looked awful. Hair burnt and blood still on my face, not having been able to wash.
Tuesday 19th December
Arrived at Fort Maine Early morning and an electric tram took us to OBERUSAL. Searched and taken to a cell. Later had photo and, fingerprints taken. Wooden bed with a wood shavings pallet. Electric radiator switched on one and half hours in the morning and evening. One small frosted window. Breakfast - two slices black bread and jam. Lunch a bowl of vegetable soup, in which I am sure was a rat’s tail. Tea 2 slices black bread with margarine. Had a Red Cross put on my door. Saw the medical orderly who dressed my head wounds and lanced my finger. Later visited by interrogator.
Wednesday 20th December
Long day taken to a German officer for interrogation.
Thursday 21st December
Friday 22nd December
As before. Saw Eddie (Hutchinson), our Flight Engineer and learnt that he, Smithy, the Bomb Aimer and I were the only ones saved. The remainder of the crew were buried at a small village called HURSCHEL OSBERHSON. Smithy was then in hospital with leg injuries. My wounds were healing OK. Felt much better.
Saturday 23rd December
Had a shave and a shower. My first wash in Germany. Saw Major Interrogator twice. Told that Eddie and I were leaving for WELTZIAR on Christmas Eve. That night we moved out from solitary confinement to adjoining block. Slept with approximately 56 RAF and American aircrew on the floor. Had a good place by the fire next to Eddie. He was OK.
Sunday 24th December
Given back my few personal possessions and marched with the others to the station. Only a short rail journey but it took a long time due to a heavy American air raid. Lovely weather but very cold. Arrived at Weltziar station at about 6.00pm. Marched to transit camp. Had a shower. First filled in various particulars and was issued with some essential clothing. Given a Red Cross case that contained all the essentials that I needed. We were then taken to the Mess run by our own boys, and I cannot explain how thankful I felt then. Christmas carols were being sung whilst we ate our supper - wizard soup, cocoa and bread and butter. Later went to our barracks. Three tier bunks and four blankets - about thirty men and one fireplace - very comfy. All my thoughts were of home sweet home and Vilna.
Monday 25th December
Up early and two roll calls at 9.00am and at 4.00 pm. Breakfast 2 slices of hard black bread and jam. Sometimes porridge and cocoa. Dinner, mashed potato and soup and sometimes biscuits, two cups of tea. 10 cigarettes. Tea - two slices of bread and butter, sometimes jam. Mashed potatoes with salmon or meat. These extras were from the Red Cross parcels.
Christmas Day menu - Breakfast - two slices of bread and butter with jam. Plate of porridge and 2 cups of cocoa. Dinner - biscuits, mashed potato with steak and kidney pudding, jar of stewed prunes and apricots. 2 cups of tea, 40 cigarettes and bar of chocolate. Tea - two slices of bread, butter and jam. 2 cups of cocoa. Mashed potato and salmon.
Went to a Church service in the morning after writing my first postcard home. Lovely service held in Mess Hall, with even a Christmas tree - decorated. Air raid warning during morning, had to go below in the shelters. After dinner went to a sing song and listened to’ Dulag’ band, all P.O.W’s. 7.00pm went to a pantomime show. ‘Babes in the Woods’- wonderful effort and dialogue. Produced by the P.O.W’s and permitted by the Commandant. There were German guards watching the show. Lights out at 10.30pm.
Tuesday 26th December
Straightened ourselves out. Eddie slept above me. Did some washing. Usual routine - many day air raids. Stayed in our billets at night if there was a raid. Could hear the front line guns. Could see V2 missiles shining silver in the sunlight, launched nearly vertical from distance of a mile or so. The target was London.
27th - 31st As usual.
Sunday December 31st
Sent another Red Cross postcard home. In the evening another intake and I met Henry Wagner sitting on the bottom of a three tier bunk, looking very desolate and in a bad way. He had been shot down over Holland where the land had been flooded and had been walking for about a week. His boots were almost a write off. We had previously met on a troop ship (New Amsterdam) returning from South Africa. Incidentally I had the top bunk. Went to Church service in the morning. Had another bar of chocolate thanks to the Red Cross Parcel.
1st to 6th January 1945
As usual, did some reading, good library, again thanks to the Red Cross. Many
air raids, one very close.
Saturday 6th January 1945
Wrote another postcard. Left Wetziar al 3.00pm. Given a hundred pieces of chewing gum. One Red Cross parcel between two – I shared with Eddie. Marched to the station, 25 men to a cattle truck – on wooden floor with straw and a small fire on the other side where the guards were positioned. Commenced journey to BANKAU at approximately 6.00pm.
7th, 8th and 9th January
Spent day in cattle truck. Stayed a long time at Bresla. Arrived at Bankau early hours of the 10th. Had many hot drinks of so called tea made from crushed acorns.
Wednesday 10th January
Left the train at 9.am. It was snowing. Lots of pine trees. First impressions of Bankau prisoner of war camp OK. Searched and particulars taken. Saw Jessie. Taken to sleeping quarters - 18 to a room, two tier bunks and all necessities. 2 tables, 14 stools, stove. Very decent lot of chaps. I went in to a combine with Jeff and Bill. One Red Cross parcel between two. Met Broadrib. Two roll calls per day out side in the snow at 9.00am and 4.30pm. 2 blankets, 1 bowl and one spoon issued. 12 cigarettes per week. We made jolly good dishes combining Jerry rations with Red Cross. Took turns with getting breakfast in bed. Non and fiction library Schools. I went to architecture and Art classes. Able to get paper and watercolours; commenced Vilna’s birthday card. 2 letter cards and 4 postcards per month. I wrote to Mum and Vilna, a letter and card each. This was a long established POW camp and well organised.
10th - 19th January
Usual routine. News of Russian offensive. First signs of evacuation on the roads. On the 18th a heavy raid at our camp at night. Ordered to be ready to march at 5 minutes notice. Packed my very few belongings in a small plastic suitcase provided by the Red Cross in readiness. Bill, Jeff and I sharing our reserve food.
Brief summary of the March commencing in the morning 19th January 1945 - The forced march made by approximately 1600 RAF aircrew at Stalag Luff 7, Germany.
Friday 19th January
Issued rations 2 and half days of bread and meat. Started at 5.00 am after parading for about 1 and half hours. Biting cold winds, roads covered with ice and snow. Carried my blanket around my neck and strapped the case to my back, had a red cross parcel in my hand. Saw the flashes of the front line guns. Passed through KIRELIZI3URG. Many people evacuated. Roads streaming with all types of vehicles and people. Many dead horses on the roadside. Walked 27 kilometres. Spent night in small barn with 2 cows, 2 turkeys, geese and pigs. Was given hot water and fresh milk. This was at a small village called WINTERFELD.’
Saturday 20th January
Started at 5.00am. Walked 12 km to KARLSIRLIHE arrived at 11.00am.
Sunday 21st January
Billeted at a large brick factory. Our two field kitchens made two brews of bitter coffee. Stayed until 8.00pm. We were warned by the guards that for every one of us who attempted to escape, 5 of those left behind would be shot. Walked right through the night. Cold and moonlit to begin with but later it became misty and dreadfully cold, ice forming on our coats. Many of our chaps were dropping out into the thick snow on the roadside. These were taken into the wagon drawn by a horse at the rear of the column. Many cases of frost bite. We were ordered to walk faster to reach the bridge over the river Oder before 8.00am on 21st. Very wide at this point. Very soon after crossing the bridge it was blown up by the Germans in order to delay the Russian Army. Finally reached BARKWITZ - distance of 41 km at 11.00am. Slept in a large barn with many horses at the back of us. Jeff was in a bad way. Supplied with some hot coffee. During the night we had a tin of barley and 2 slices of bread stolen out of red cross box. No lights whatsoever. My thoughts were of Vilna on this day, our 18th (month) engagement anniversary. A beautiful bright day.
Monday 22nd January
Left at 5.00am and walked 16km to Jenkwitz. I had acquired a case lid on the march. Loads of personal kit by then had been discarded. Arrived at noon. Given rations of half a cup of soup and half a biscuit. Slept in a cow barn, very warm but little light. Cows were mooing all night. Collected some carrots. Made a sleigh out of my case lid for my case, and was drawn by a string attached to my arms. Very effective over the snow and ice.
Wednesday 23rd January
Left at 9.00am. Snowed at commencement. Still bright but very cold. Snow and ice on the road. Marched 25km to WANZEN. Small bread issue and 1 cup of soup (pork). Three quarters of a pig between 1600 men Slept in a large barn - cold. Cooked barley and made several brews of cocoa.
Thursday 24th January
Spent a day of rest at Wanzen. Did some cooking. Bright and cold.
Friday 25th January
Left at 6.00am and walked 27km to KEIDERSDORF, still cold but cloudy. Last 4 km very hard going across a narrow country road and my sleigh was great success. Arrival at approx 2.00pm. Slept at top of barn. Half a cup of soup. I managed to get 3 or 4 small potatoes frozen solid. Tried to heat them by burning straw. The final result made me very sick.
Saturday 26th January
Stayed here all day. Made several brews. Issued with half a cup of barley. Received bread ration. 2/5th of a loaf and a spot of marg. Had a wash. Very cold and snowed a little.
Sunday 27th January
Left about 1 1.00am marched 27km to PFAFFIENDORF arriving approx. 5.00pm. Very crowded. Slept near ladder in large barn. Very cold. Half a cup of soup.
Monday 28th January
Left at 7.00am and marched 22 km to ESANDORF arriving at noon. Given a packet of biscuits and a small meat issue and hall a cup of soup. Slept in large barn - very cold. On the march there was a biting cold wind in our faces. Ice formed on our coats and blankets. I made some more barley soup and had several hot brews.
Tuesday 29th January
Spent the day here. Left at 6.30pm and collected 2 packets of KB biscuits after marching 6 km. Later on we went through a blizzard and encountered several snowdrifts. There were signs of people who had died and been covered by the snow. Road almost completely blocked. Many lorries and cars were snow bound - very hard going. Passed the town of JAVER. Arrived at PETERWITZ. Walked 23 km. Arrived approx. 7.00am. Walked last 2 km across ploughed field covered with snow.
Wednesday 30th January
Slept in a large barn fairly warm, issued with half a cup porridge and coffee.
Thursday 31st January
Still at Peterwitz. Had several brews. 2 issues of half a cup of soup. Commenced to thaw that night. Slight fall of sleet.
Friday 1st February
Left at 10.00arn. Bright and sunny, thawing fast. Difficult going, still had all my kit. Marched 17km to PRAUSNITZ. Very crowded, sleeping accommodation in large barn. The yard was small and about 12 inches of mud.
2nd to 5th February
Still here. 2 issues of half a cup of soup per day. As we were not marching our rations of bread etc have been cut down. Weather was mild and cloudy. Fellows are trading signet rings and watches for loaves of bread. Much stealing going on, they even take food from our own chaps and the cookhouse. Worse place of all. I slept in a large barn. Draughty and cold.
Tuesday 5th February
Promised transport at GOLDBERG. Started at 7.00am and walked 7 km to Goldber Goods Station. Given three quarters of a loaf of bread for two days train journey and a small issue of meat. That was the end of our marching and the snow had almost disappeared. The day was cloudy and rained slightly. Personally I felt OK except for my knees which ached a lot. Still had all my possessions. Marched 8 km. Total distance marched 245 km = 153 miles.
Loaded into cattle trucks. 54 men in ours. Dreadfully cramped. Train left at 2.00pm reached SAGAN at 8.00pm. This camp had already been evacuated.
Wednesday 6th February
Train started rolling early in the morning for our destination LUCKENWALDE STALAG 3A. Reached Falkenberg at 6.00pm air raid at 8.00pm. The guards locked us in when the train stopped during the raid whilst they were outside hiding in the embankment. No water rations etc issued still in cattle truck. Fortunately I had made my food last out, some chaps went 2 and a half days without anything. The extreme cramped space in the truck meant that half of us would stand whilst the others squatted. After about an hour this was reversed. To make matters worse we all we had to pee in was a large iron barrel, the shorter chaps had problems. Very soon the barrel became fully charged, the pee flowed over and the floor was inches deep, surging from side to side with the movement of the train. Eventually the train stopped and we were ordered out under the supervision of the guards and dogs. We had to squat and try to do our ‘business’ in a field covered in snow. Not a pretty sight.
Thursday 7th February
Still on train. Left Faulkenberg at 11.00am. Slow travelling.
Friday 8th February
Reached LUCKENWALDE early morning, departed from train at 11 00am. Three quarters of an hour to POW camp. Waited around until about 4.00pm, after being searched, had a beautiful hot shower. Later given two cups of hot porridge and barley soup with meat. Sleeping quarters on the floor in a large barrack. Wood shavings. We were all in an awful state, unshaven, filthy, my boots were kept on for over 3 weeks for fear of my feet swelling or the boots being stolen. At the beginning of the march two chaps had their boots taken by 2 RAF men. Two medical officers came round and begged that they be returned, as they were a matter of life and death. I never found out what happened. I must have lost stones of weight – all my bones were sticking out. We were taken in hand by a group of Irish Guards who had been captured very early in the war. I was washed; my hair was cut and generally smartened up. They were marvellous, after more than 3 years in captivity. Their discipline had been maintained, smart creases in their trousers, polished boots (using part of their marg. ration). First thing in the morning they would form up outside and carry out their daily drill. This must have had a sobering effect upon the Germans as well as for us.
There were no bunks and due to severe overcrowding, it was not possible to sleep full length. Waggie and I managed to get a spot against an outside wall. We slept packed in tight with a body either side. If I stretched out my feet I would touch the head of the next man. We all slept in lines the length and breadth of the room. The floor was wood and each man had a dirty blanket. We soon found we had lice, fleas, and bugs and had to undergo morning delousing. Blankets were hung out on the perimeter barbed wire. The outside latrine serving hundreds of men was simply a trench dug out of the earth to a depth of 6 foot and was about 8 foot wide. Seating was on a trunk of long pine trees about 8 inches in diameter fixed long the length of the trench about 20 to 30 feet. We had to balance on the trunk. Men had dysentry and diarrhoea. When the waste reached a certain height, Russian prisoners had to go in and clear it out. They were treated abominably and many died. Their graves were in the woods outside of the camp.
At nights the electric lights would be switched off and it would be pitch black. It was sheer hell trying to cross dozens and dozens of bodies trying to reach the latrines. Tempers frailled and it sometimes became violent. Being next to an outside wall, Waggie and I were not stepped on. Stalag 3A became vastly overcrowded with large numbers of P.O.W’s evacuated from camps likely to be over run by the advancing Red Army.
Number of men at commencement 1670. Number of men at the end 1426 mostly hospital cases.
8th - 19th February
Have written 2 postcards to Vilna and I to my mother. Bread ration was one fifth loaf a day. Small issue of marg and sugar. 2 cups of tea or coffee. Potatoes and soup at dinnertime, meat in the soup about twice a week. The soup is either pea or rolled oats - jolly good. Dysentery has broken out amongst the men. We are all hungry and much under nourished. Touch wood I feel OK. Able to do some cooking on a large stove in the kitchen. Sleep next to Waggie. Eddie is in another block. I spend most of my time resting, painting and reading. Have washed all my dirty clothes. Went to a Church service each Sunday given by Captain Collins, the padre. He really is a splendid type of man and did invaluable work whilst on the march. Also our M.0.Capt Watson. There are two roll calls -7.30am and 4.30pm. The weather has been mild but has recently turned colder. There are Russians, French, Yugoslavs, Polish and Norwegians at this camp, as well as Yanks, British and Irishmen,
Usual routine Commenced Vilna’s Christmas card. 21st - our nineteenth engagement anniversary. Wrote two letter cards to Vilna. 22nd Wrote letter to Mum.
22- 25th February
Usual routine. Finished Vilna’s Christmas card. 25th (Sunday). Wrote PC to Mum and Vilna. Went to Church in the evening.
25th February - 3rd March
Usual routine. Raids every night on Berlin. Very much colder.
Saturday 3rd March
Issued with a quarter of American parcel. Great excitement that evening, ate like Lords. That day I saw Max Schmeling. (World champion heavy weight German boxer)
Sunday 4th March
Snowing, slightly warmer. Commenced birthday card for my Mum. Have read several books on town planning.
4th - 6th March
Usual until the 6th I wrote letter to Mum and Vilna. Also wrote to war casualties’ A/C account. Have eaten jolly well lately. (But please note this meant eating potatoes cooked in skins covered with earth and coffee made from crushed acorns - try it! Ed)
6th - 9th March
Usual routine generally. On the 8th we had a complete American Red Cross-parcel issue -unopened. Great excitement - ate like lords. On 9th sent telegram to my Mum -Geneva (extra bread). Oven taken away. Have made a ‘blower.’ These are a fantastic engineering invention. It requires first a solid wooden base. I had spotted a suitable section – part of the end of the latrine construction. Having managed to rip it out whilst Waggie was on guard. It was a problem to get it back to the ‘pit’ without a guard seeing it. After a struggle we got it inside my trouser leg and walked back stiff legged. I did a sketch of a blower already constructed and with the aid of Red Cross tins we got it made. It had a geared system with a fan to create a draught under the stove on which was put a small basin. Fuel consisted on dirt, paper, small bits of wood and anything that would burn. It worked like a dream, boiling water in less than a minute. As there were only a limited number of these blowers it was necessary for one of us to remain with it on the bed space, in addition to keeping an eye on any food we had on occasions.
9 - 16th March
Usual routine. Weather perfect. Another full parcel issue (American) on Tuesday 13th. Went to Church on Sunday with Waggie. Our Smokey Joe is a great success. We usually have two hot meals and two hot drinks a day.
15th Big day Air raid West Berlin. Every night Mosquitoes raid Berlin. Yesterday I had an attack of the ‘screamers. Friday 16th March we have had our chests x-rayed.
15-17th usual routine.
Sunday 18th March
Went to Church feeling much better. Haven’t had any time for anything except cooking. Bread has been cut to 1/7th of a loaf, potatoes every other day. Our parcels are bang on.
19 - 25th March
Contents of American Number 10 Red Cross parcel
12 oz tins of Spam, meat and veg
1lb tins of powdered milk & marg
8oz tins of fish & cheese and peanut butter
6 oz tins of jam, rosemill pate
2oz tin of coffee
1lb pkt of prunes or raisins
2 and ¼ pkts of chocolate
7 oz box of biscuits cereal
2 bars of soap
pkt of salt
Contents of Canadian Parcel
Spam or corned beef salmon or sardines
Prunes or raisins
Issue of one American Red Cross food parcel during afternoon.
Wednesday 21st March
All my thoughts with Vilna over our 20th engagement anniversary. Beautiful spring weather. Feeling much better. Had a cold water shower. Lots of fleas. Some of the chaps have lice. Have cleared the wood straw from our bed spaces, find that sleeping on the bare floorboards is better.
Saturday 24th March
Waggie’s birthday - his 22nd.
Sunday 25th March
Perfect day. Going to Church after tea. During last week there have been several exchange stalls for food clothing etc. Also stalls for ‘Crown and Anchor’ etc. Had several go’s and won a few cigarettes. Sunday 25th went to evening service.
25th March - 1st April
Usual routine. Tuesday 27th issued with another full American food parcel. Had quite a lot left from previous week. Lost heavily with cigs in Crown and Anchor. Friday 30th (Good Friday) went to morning service. All my thoughts were of home and those I love. How much I long to be with my darling Vilna. Done lots of washing. Bought a box of water colours for 40 cigs. Also a belt (40) and a knife (45) also an extra loaf.
Easter Sunday 1st April
Dullish day and rather windy. Have had an extra spruce up, going to Church during evening. Hope this month will bring final victory. Lights out at 21 hours. Have noticed the trees bursting out in leaf and the birds are singing. Often picture the country at home.
2nd - 11th April
Issued with a full American food parcel. Usual routine until the 11th. On the Sunday I went with Waggie to Church. On the 11th Waggie and I volunteered to be evacuated with the officers to Stalag V 11 a. During the evening we packed.
Saturday 12th April
All ready to go. We were searched and I had a blanket taken away. Had to puncture all the tins. I took the ‘blower’ which we had made for cooking. Marched to the station arriving at teatime. Slept 40 to a cattle truck - lots of straw. Were given plenty of coal for cooking. Did lots of hot meals and drinks. Issued with half a parcel each. Did trading with the German people with cigarettes, soap and coffee in exchange for bread, potatoes, eggs, carrots, saccharine. Managed to find some rolled oats. There were railway sidings near the cattle trucks and under one of the goods wagon, we saw some barley on the ground. Crawling under we could see sacks of something above the floorboards. Managed to make a hole and barley came through. At this very moment, Waggie gave a shout. A young Gestapo type officer came running over with a revolver and shouting. We ran for our lives on the other side of the wagons and were able to mix with the crowd of prisoners clustered on the inside of the wire. It was a near go and we didn’t go back for the barley.
First night I slept well. Following morning, up at 6.00am still at the station. Had a wash and a hot breakfast. Later shunted into a siding next to a road. Had lots of hot ‘brews’ and meals. That evening we were told we could not travel being surrounded by the advancing Russian army, so that meant the next day we would be going back to the camp.
Monday 14th April
Packed all ready to go back. The heavy luggage was sent back by lorry. We took back pounds of potatoes, half a loaf, saccharine, 6 eggs, rolled oats and coal. No search this time. Issued with German rations - jolly good. Arrived back at camp tea time on 14th. Weather has been perfect.
Altogether it made a very pleasant break and it was grand to feel free again. The guard; had become very friendly towards us. Want back to our original quarters. The night before two RAF chaps had attempted to escape and were shot dead. That night I saw a terrific air raid on Potsdam.
Tuesday 15th April
Weather still perfect. Went to Church in the evening, all thoughts of home.
Wednesday 16th April
Had the other blanket returned. Had a ‘gash’ issue of food. I had chocolate, sugar and tea. We often had these issues from unclaimed parcels (mostly Canadian), mostly cigarettes.
Thursday 17th April
Had another half a parcel issued (1 parcel a fortnight now). Did lots of washing. Discovered a lice on me, caught on the train. Many chaps are covered.
Friday 18th April Usual sort of day, also 19th
Sunday 20th April
Wrote to my darling. Had a hair cut. Rumours of a local Russian breakthrough. Many daylight air raids, did some sketching. Had a feeling something was about to happen. That night we could hear the gun fire getting much nearer, could see the flashes very close, several air raids.
Monday 21st April
Our twenty first engagement anniversary. Russians reported to be 7 km away. The Germans are evacuating and leaving us behind. Civilians and guards were on the move throughout the night. Many of the German barracks have been ransacked. At quarter past one a senior British Officer came to say that at last we were under British rule. What a cheer went up and how very thankful I felt. It was a marvellous moment. A large red flag is flying over the cookhouse and several white flags have been fixed to the outside wire. We have organised our own lot of guards. It was grand to see some ‘Jerry Ba…. ds’ being marched away to the cooler. All we are waiting for now is the entry of the Russians. Lets hope everything will go smoothly. The weather is cloudy and raining slightly. We are going to celebrate by having something extra to eat. A quarter of an American food parcel issued.
Tuesday 22nd April
At 6.20am we were liberated by the Russians. I heard a series of cheers and was out of bed like a lark. The Russian tanks were thundering along through the camp road. What a glorious sight to see ‘Jerry’ prisoners again. The Russians were a fine set of men with bags of equipment. Waggie and I celebrated with tins of food to eat. All my thoughts were of home sweet home.
Wednesday 23rd April
There has been local fighting and several ‘dogfights’. Weather still cloudy and cold. No news of moving as yet but the Russian POW’s, poor devils, have gone to fight again. Did a patrol.
Tuesday 24th April
A quarter of a Canadian parcel. Bags of eats.
Wednesday 25th April
Went out walking in the pine woods. Collected lots of rhubard. Also had a table.
Thursday 26th April
Went outside the camp on a working party. Lovely day.
Friday 27th April
Went to Lukenwalde. Bags of bread. Beautiful day. Grand to walk about the country as FREE men. All my thoughts are of going home and my mother and Vilna. All I hope is that they are both well and safe. We made some custard with (green) rhubard. Have lots of spuds, bread, rhubard and sugar. Also lots of Red Cross food that we have stored. Talked to several Russians. They are a decent lot. Going to hear Churchill speech at 9.00pm. There are lots of radios that have been commandeered. Its amazing what the chaps have collected. Many chickens have been taken since the Russians have taken over, and food has much improved
Saturday 28th April
Had a shower. Spent a lazy day in the barracks.
Sunday 29th April
Busy on stores job, did not have time to go to Church. Repatriation Committee have arrived. Not likely to move for many weeks, worse luck.
Monday 30th April
Spent most of the day eating. Went for a walk through the woods in the evening. Saw two crashed F.W. I90 and many German uniforms in the woods. There has been much local fighting. 1670 of them broke out from Berlin.
Tuesday 1st May
The move to the Adolf Hitler Camp has definitely been cancelled. In the evening we went for a walk through the woods. Much firing going on. Saw two dead ‘Jerries’.
Wednesday 2nd May Usual sort of day.
Thursday 3rd May
In the evening an American War Correspondent visited the camp from the Elbe bridge head.
Friday 4th May
Went for a walk during the afternoon or a private foraging party. Collected from cottages 3 chickens, 9 eggs, lots of spuds, onions, rhubarb, preserved cherries and cranberries, preserved meats. Boiled the chicken before going to bed. On the following day we learnt that a convoy of American lorries were coming to take us away in batches. Gosh what excitement, I couldn’t sleep. Heard on the radio that our camp was mentioned on 9.OOpm news.
Sat 5th May
No signs of the expected convoy at 1 0.00am. For breakfast I had bread, butter, jam, meat, cheese and a boiled egg. Then cooked potatoes and onions mixed with barley and pea soup and ate it with the chicken. Gosh it was grand. All my thoughts are of home and my darling Vilna. 15 Red Cross lorries arrived at 2.00pm to take away the sick. No further trucks arrived.
Sunday 6th May
Expecting a convoy to arrive and take us away. They were expected at 10.00 but did not arrive until 2.00pm. They parked in a nearby village, as the Russians had still not given permission for us to be evacuated. First the Americans in the tents were evacuated and at that time the Russian Captain put a stop to further evacuation by putting on Russian Guards. Gosh I was terribly disappointed. That night a statement was read out by the Senior British Officer which mentioned that permission had not yet been granted by the Red Government and in view of the political situation Waggie, I and a few other RAF chaps decided to break camp. We knew that the river Elbe was about sixty miles away.
Monday 7th May
My father’s birthday. We were up at 10, had a big breakfast, packed our essentials and together with 6 others left camp at 11.00am. Managed to get away with it. Later were told by a Russian that a convoy of American trucks were stationed at a certain village. Reached there to find the trucks had left half an hour earlier. Walked about 21 km. Weather cloudy. To our delight a convoy of about 60 lorries were sighted and they stopped. Six were left behind and we got in one. There were many more of us who had escaped. The sun carne out and the lorries were driven by black Americans and our man stopped the lorry because his mate had spotted some deer in the woods. They came back with one they had shot. About 3.00pm the rest of the convoy returned fully laden (The Russians had still not granted permission). At last we were on our way to the Elbe bridge head. It was a grand ride through Germany. Passed through Wittenberg and Zerst. Reached the Pontoon bridge at Barby at 5.00pm and travelled on to Schonebeck. Grand to be with the 9th Army. Given two blankets and were stationed at a Junkers 52 factory. Slept in a small bedroom - 8 of us. Had supper at 10.00pm. Were up at 5.00arn. Good breakfast.
9th and 10th May
Wrote to Vilna
We moved to Hildershein, and were finally taken by a Dakota to the U.K.
The three members of our crew who survived owe our lives to David our pilot for his courage and determination. The plane had caught on fire and was flying on three engines with a bomb which had not been released because of ice. He kept the plane flying long enough to enable us to parachute out.
The crew members who died were David Robertson, Pilot: Dennis Roberts, Rear Gunner: Robert Roberts, Mid Upper Gunner and R.G. Cornwell, Wireless Operator, an Australian who replaced our regular wireless operator.
The Lancaster crashed at Uckerath, a largish town19 km east of Berlin. Those who died rest in Rheinberg War cemetery. May they rest in peace and rise in glory.
I now realize the profound effect the example of Captain Collins (Padre) had on me during the whole of the forced march, always helping those who suffered badly. Then at Stalag 3A Luckenwald Captain Collins obtained the use of a small room where he was able to hold a short service, and talked about Christianity. Quite a number of us were attracted to attend, and even when a raid by our own bombers in the vicinity, with all lights out, he continued. A strange coincidence – he was appointed vicar at Market Lavington, the village where Vilna and I first met.
After the war Jack Collins became vicar at Canford in Dorset and was chaplain at Canford School. He had rowed for Cambridge three times and was responsible for introducing rowing at the school. Later he was vicar at Marnhull and Lavington and while there was chaplain at Dauntsey's School. He then went on to Hever Castle in Kent.
Finally all P.O.W.’s will I am sure appreciate the tremendous assistance given by the Red Cross Society. Without their help a great number of us would not have survived. Apart from the food parcels, there were many other essential facilities provided which helped to make our lives more bearable. The two items I missed throughout the period was no salt and having no mirror.
Dad’s war diary. He kept it from day to day, hidden from the guards as it was forbidden to keep one. Nicky, his grand daughter, used it as the basis of one of her College dramas when she was doing her drama degree.
The first time I ever saw Dad cry was when he was telling us how he had met up with Henry Wagner in one if the POW camps and they stayed together for the rest of the war and were together on the march. Henry was going to let his boots go as they were falling to bits but Dad got some string and rearranged them and tied them to Henry’s feet.
I have also attached the poem Dad copied into his Christmas card for Mum and left for her before he went on the bombing raid and was shot down. She opened it on the Christmas Eve after Midnight Mass, not knowing whether he was alive or dead at that stage. Elizabeth Evans to Peter Mitchell
* Some of the place-names in this narrative have changed since 1944.
WAIT FOR ME
Wait for me – I will come back.
Only wait….and wait.
Wait though rain clouds lowing black
Make you desolate;
Wait though winter snowstorms whirl.
Wait through summers hot;
Wait though no one else will wait
And the past forgot:
Wait though from the distant front
Not one letter comes;
Wait though everyone who waits
Sick of it becomes.
Wait for me, I will come back
Through from death’s own jaws.
Let the friends who did not wait
Think it chance, no more
They will ever understand
Those who did not wait
How it was your waiting that saved me in the war
And the reason I have come through
We shall know, we two:
Simply this: you waited
as no one else could do.
War artist Ted Milligan was incarcerated in Stalag Luft 3A. He was a member of the 49 Squadron crew of Lancaster LM572 KA-P who were shot down over France in June 1944 with the loss of three of his crewmates. This film shows some of his drawings when a POW and his comments on the march Stalag Luft 3a & 7 POW documentary by Ted Milligan and John England
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