Interview with Fred Hooker


Interview with Fred Hooker


Fred Hooker was a mid-upper gunner on 102 Squadron at RAF Pocklington, where he flew three operations before being shot down. Born in Hartley Wintney in 1924, Fred’s first experience of the RAF was visiting RAF Odiham as a member of the Air Training Corps where he flew in a Tiger Moth and Blenheim. Enlisting in March 1943, Fred‘s initial training was at Lord’s Cricket Ground. Gunnery training was undertaken at RAF Stormy Down where he was introduced to clay pigeon shooting before being flown in Anson aircraft and firing at drones with a camera gun and eventually using ammunition. After qualification, he crewed up at RAF Moreton-in-Marsh before converting to Halifaxes at RAF Dishforth. In August 1944, his crew was posted to 102 Squadron at RAF Pocklington where Fred recalls witnessing a Halifax fail to take off as they arrived. Upon return from their first operation, they were diverted due to bad weather and remained at the diversion airfield for several days so Fred was relieved when they returned as he'd left his dentures at Pocklington. During their third operation, the aircraft failed to reach the briefed height but the crew decided to continue and were hit by either enemy anti-aircraft fire or a bomb dropped from above. Fred was in his position in the rear turret when he suddenly found himself sitting in open air as his turret had been blown away. When he reached for his parachute it was on fire and the rest of the plane was just a mass of flame. He saw the engineer rush to him and put out the flames on the parachute before guiding him to the escape hatch and pushing him out. As he descended a Spitfire was circling and the pilot dipped the wings before departing. Fred describes being captured immediately after abandoning the aircraft and the interrogation that followed. He was transferred to Stalag Luft 7, and the Red Cross supplied him with another set of dentures. Fred provides a graphic account of the conditions during the long march and the overcrowding in Stalag 3A. Upon waking up on the 23rd of April 1945, they discovered the German guards had disappeared. Russian troops arrived later and continued to treat them like prisoners but Fred's group managed to escape and join the nearby Americans. After being transported to Belgium, he was flown home and landed near Guilford. Despite being frustratingly close to home, Fred was taken to RAF Cosford for debriefing. After the war, Fred retrained and spent time travelling across France salvaging abandoned vehicles.




Temporal Coverage




03:02:20 audio recording


IBCC Digital Archive


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TO: Ok. Good morning, good afternoon or good evening, whatever the case may be. This interview is being recorded for the International Bomber Command Centre. The gentleman I’m speaking to is Mr Fred Hooker and my name is Thomas Ozel and we are recording this interview on the 26th of August 2017.
FH: Yeah.
TO: Can you tell me a bit about where you grew up and where you were born?
FH: Yes. That’s about four miles away from where we are now in a village called Hartley Wintney back in 1924. Did all my schooling in the same village and I joined the Service from the actual village which I [pause] getting stuck now. I joined the Air Training Corps when that was first formed in 1941 and that was the, really the start of my liking to, in wanting to join the RAF and join the bomber crews because we used to go to RAF Odiham for different lectures and that in the Air Training Corps. And while we were there we were often had flights in various aircraft having the written permission from the parents to fly and my first aircraft was a Tiger Moth that I flew in. And on another occasion I went up in a Blenheim aircraft sitting in a gun turret. Of course, the gun turret was made safe, or the guns were made safe and from there it got me bugged and I wanted to join the Air Force. Not only that around the same time one afternoon in the garden I was actually digging a shelter for the bombers and there was a whole load of aircraft coming down across the sky from the Reading area and it turned out to be the first attack, thousand aircraft raid on Cologne. They come over the village and I stood there along with other neighbours watching these aircraft. I could see the gun turrets moving, the guns moving, the chaps waving to us as they were flying over and that really gave me the bug to join the RAF and hopefully become a member of a bomber crew which eventually I did and joining up in the actual Air Force on the 29th of March 1943. And I had to report to Lords Cricket Ground for my, well I joined the Service and where I had all the inoculations etcetera. I think there was about a fortnight I was in London after which I was posted to a place called Bridgnorth in Shropshire as I was under training as a wireless operator/air gunner at the time and fortunately during the training I enjoyed Bridgnorth. All the square bashing, PTs, never so fit in my life as I was then. And as I say I was posted to Bridgnorth. Done that and then from there I went to RAF Yatesbury for wireless training in Wiltshire which I thoroughly enjoyed. With regards the Morse Code I’d done some in the Air Training Corps and I improved my reading and sending of the messages but unfortunately when it got around to technical details I’m afraid Freddie came unstuck ‘cause we used to have tests every so often to make sure that we could carry on in the course. But as I say I failed one test and I remustered to a straight air gunner. That was, I had to go to Sheerness for the remustering and there I met some other chaps that had been on a pilot’s course and a bomb aimer’s course and become very friendly with them. In actual fact the Les, Les Duncan from Sunderland, we palled up very well very quickly and in actual fact in the end he became our tail gunner on the crew that I was flying with. Which was quite exciting because we were inseparable in those days. We’d both done another course of physical training etcetera in Bridlington, Yorkshire along the sea front. There was no, no parade grounds or anything so it was all done along on the promenade which was a bit drafty at times as we were there in the winter months. But anyhow we, from there we were posted to Number 7 AGS in Stormy Down, South Wales. And of course, we didn’t know until we both arrived there that we was going to meet again because the various chaps went to various units of the gunnery. Different Gunnery Schools. But fortunate for me Harry and Les came to the same Gunnery School and we got on marvellous and although we weren’t actually in the same classrooms for our lectures etcetera we became good friends. And when it come around to we had to start using guns to fire which was quite exciting really thinking we was going to go straight into the aircraft and use Browning. 303 Browning guns. Instead of that we went on twelve bore shooting at clay pigeons as the start of our firing which, that led to flying in an Anson after that with camera guns which to me was quite exciting. I always fancied cameras but never really got around to studying photography to that extent. But we had taken the photographs of the, no the Faery Battle, sorry. The Faery Battle aircraft used to attack us and we used to, that was towing a drogue which we used to have to fire at. And from there from the films taken they could estimate whether we hit the target or not which was pretty good at times. I must say it myself I was, quite enjoyed that. And then we moved on to firing 303 guns which was mounted into, this was on the Avro Anson we were flying in those days which had a turret fitted not normally used on an Anson. Just for training purposes and we finally passed out at, well I say Stormy Down actually we’d been diverted or posted to a satellite of Stormy Down. A place called Rhoose which now I understand is Cardiff airport. Some difference. But from there we was transferred or posted I should say to Moreton in the Marsh, Gloucestershire. Of course, we went from home to Reading Station on the local bus and sitting on the station I met another chap. We had our greatcoats on because it was pretty fresh and talking to this gentleman there, he was a warrant officer, I discovered that he was going to Moreton in the Marsh as a pilot to crew up the same as I was. So we had a nice long chat on the platform and we sat together in the, going down in the train, got to know each other, about each other’s family etcetera and I eventually crewed up with him as his mid-upper gunner. Of course in Moreton in the Marsh we were trained on, no, crewed up on a Wellington bomber but once again we were put to a satellite station called Enstone which, which was quite enjoyable. And Les and Harry they both in the same group we all went to Enstone which was just what we wanted because Les and I had made up our minds that if possible we’d fly together. And while we were there we had do dinghy training and believe it or not that was in Blenheim Palace grounds. The grounds of Blenheim Palace. There was an Avro Anson parked in the middle of the lake which was great fun because some of us, though fortunately I could swim but some of the crew couldn’t swim at the time. But we had a row out in a little boat to the aircraft and sit in the positions as though we were doing a crash landing in the sea and had the instruction. And as we hit the water we heard a noise in the aircraft. That was the time we were sitting in the aircraft and of course that was the time we had to open the dinghy, get the dinghy out, open it up, blow it up and sit in the dinghy. That went on for a couple of days but after that we passed out as a full crew. We had Phil the bomb, sorry Phil the pilot came from the Salisbury area. Jock the navigator he was from Aberdeen, Taffy the bomb aimer from Wales and Les, my old mate he came from Sunderland and of course, myself from Hartley Wintney. And we got on quite well together as a crew and eventually we passed out having done various cross-country flights firing at different targets in selected areas in the North Sea and I suppose it would be the Irish Sea as well. But from there we went on to Halifax bombers in 6 Group which, transferred to 6 Group thinking we were going to remain in 4 Group but no. It was a Canadian unit we went to at Dishforth and there a flight engineer joined the crew which, he was a chap from Romford in Essex. Old Charlie. Charlie [Warderman.] He was about the oldest member of the crew in actual fact. He was an old London bus driver. From there we became good friends and made up the crew but unfortunately, we lost our wireless operator while we was at Dishforth. He got in to trouble with the police. Never heard proper details about that but anyway we were joined by a French Canadian chap from Montreal as a wireless operator and of course as we introduced ourselves all the way around to him and he told us about his Service life which apparently he’d been, already been on operations flying as a wireless operator air gunner on Marauders from Blackbushe. So I kept quiet and let him carry on talking about Blackbushe and that. I asked him about different pubs in Hartley Wintney and he discovered that I’d come from Hartley Wintney and we had a quite nice old chat from that. But we’d done all the similar things we’d done at the OTU when we were at Dishforth and we finally got transferred or posted should I say to 102 Squadron. But prior to that we were actually told we were going on leave for a fortnight and being, joining a squadron in South Africa [knocking noise in background] But that all fell by the wayside, what that noise was I don’t know but here we go. We eventually got to RAF Pocklington, Yorkshire, 102 Squadron and the sight that greeted us as we turned in to the entrance of the aerodrome was a Halifax bomber sitting in the field where it had failed to take off which rather, you know put funny feelings in our stomachs seeing a crashed aircraft, you know. But we got over that and we finally started our bombing and that was 18th of August 1944. And we’d done our first bombing raid on the 3rd of September and the target was Venlo Airfield in Holland which was all new to us. The actual being informed of what they expected of the crews and telling us, warning the gunners to keep a good eye open the whole time from the time when we took off ‘til we came back but we didn’t encounter any aircraft, or any enemy aircraft at the time and the bombing trip went well. We had a small amount of flak but we didn’t take a lot of notice of it. But unfortunately, when we came back, flying over the North Sea we were diverted and we had to land at a ‘drome in Cambridgeshire which I never really knew the name of strange as it may seem. But we were there, we had to stay there a week before the weather was changed and we could land back at Pocklington and while we were there I witnessed an American pilot shooting the ‘drome up because he had finished his tour of ops in a Lightning aircraft and he shot the place up twice and on the third trip he was flying over and he went under some cables and caught the fins of the aircraft and he shot up in the air, baled out and the aircraft crashed. But we did, as I say finally get back to Pocklington but prior to that while we were there the night we landed we were interrogated. After two unsuccessful attempts at landing and the third one the pilot took, took a chance and went in because low on petrol. Short of petrol. And we had a nice meal but I didn’t enjoy mine so much as the others because on medical instructions I had I was flying without dentures and we had a nice partridge and I couldn’t gnaw the bones like the other lads. It was quite a laugh really. Anyway, finally we got back to our own ‘drome and that was on the 11th of September. On the 12th, the morning of the 12th we were on orders for a briefing, I think it was about 10.30 in the morning and to go on another bombing raid. This was quite an extensive [pause] what’s the word? Briefing. That’s the word. Briefing on the target and the amount of aircraft that was going to be flying that day I think was about two hundred every so, every half hour on to the target. And it turned out to be the Ruhr. Gelsenkirchen. And of course, from the old memories of the crews that were on the squadron a big ‘Aaaargh,’ went up and we realised that they’d been there before and it wasn’t a very happy place to be. So of course, warned again by the gunnery officer after the briefing what he expected of all the gunners, you know to keep a sharp lookout. Watching out all the time, not just for the enemy aircraft that may attack but making sure there was nothing above us or that the other aircraft weren’t getting too close which we’d got used to doing. Anyhow, the, as we were going over the North Sea near the, getting near the border of Germany we, I could see smoke in the distance as we got closer and closer and realised it was the target area that we were approaching. And flying in formation we were the, one began to feel, you know wondered what was happening. I know I did. And still keeping an eye open watching what we had to look out for and the ack ack was firing away and the only way I can really describe it myself the firing of the German guns was in the modern day fireworks. You know the, with modern day fireworks they explode in the air all different colours. Varying coloured lights and that. Masses of them and imagine that was the shells bursting around us and believe me it was, well put it bluntly hell. And we, we carried on. We dropped our bombs and after there was the Pathfinders on the, guiding the bomb, the bomb aimers in and we saw two aircraft go down while we were on the bombing run and one, the Pathfinder we heard him say, ‘Take over number 2. Take over number 2. I’m going in. I’m going in.’ That’s the last we heard of that. But the, to see these other planes at the side of us going down it was a bit unnerving but you just got on with your job and it seemed to disappear from your mind you know because you’re thinking about yourself and guarding yourself. But anyhow we eventually got through the target and the navigator gave, flew on the new course to fly to come home which we did and we gradually got away from the flak and eventually landed back at Pocklington. [banging noises] It may be the workmen outside. I don’t know.
TO: [unclear]
FH: Anyhow, we got out the aircraft. The ground crew were waiting for us. Welcoming us back. Of course, we looked around the aircraft and it was just covered in holes and we thought we were rather lucky getting back. When Taffy got right under the nose of the aircraft, looked up there was shells gone up right through where he had been laying with his legs open. Straight up through the centre, between his legs and out the top and he just more or less fell to the ground with his hands closed and I think he said a prayer same as we all did thinking we were damned lucky to be back home. And the old aircraft had a load of holes in. Since then we wondered how we did manage to get back. But anyhow the following day oh we had a nice time. We had rum when we got in for debriefing and we all debriefed as a crew, then individually by the, like with our case Les and I, had the gunnery officer. We went to bed that night and the next morning looking on orders we was on orders again for another raid. Of course, we’d been trained for this so we, we knew what to expect, you know. That’s why we were sent to a squadron. To do these bombing raids. Anyhow, same procedure as normal and after the briefing of course you weren’t, you made no contact with anybody outside on the ‘drome. You kept to yourselves so that no, anybody around the place to get the information to send off to the enemy, you know. Everything was all secret which we got used to after a couple of trips or a couple of briefings. This time the target was Munster in Germany. Crossing across the North Sea was ok. Normal flying except that when the navigator asked the pilot to climb to nineteen thousand feet which was the bombing height that day we found he couldn’t get the height. Only eighteen five hundred feet high. A discussion took place between the crew and we decided that you know we could carry on without. Didn’t want to turn back so we carried on to the bomb site and as we approached we had a bit of flak. And on the bombing run Taffy was giving an order to Phil to, you know, ‘Steady. Steady. Left. Left. Right. Right.’ Anyway, all of a sudden I discovered I was sitting in fresh air. It made me smile a bit at the time but I thought how has this come about? And as I had come to my guns were trailing over the tail turret and the ammunition was being pulled out all along the fuselage. Thinking to myself well it’s no good sitting here. Can’t. No good without guns. I’ll go up front with the pilot which I did or attempted to do. Disconnected oxygen etcetera to go up the front and the aircraft was one mass of flames. So at the same time I saw somebody disappear through the hatch, front hatch so I picked up my parachute. It was burning and I guess through the lack of oxygen these things were happening but I just dropped the parachute back down thinking well that’s no use to me. And all this happened in a matter of seconds I guess but it seemed ages but I’m sure Charlie at the front, he was the flight engineer he come, seemed to be running back to me over the spar. He picked up the ‘chute. I remember him doing it. I can see him now as I’m talking putting his arm across the flames on the ‘chute, clipping it on and somehow he got me over the spar in to the front of the aircraft into the cockpit where the exit was and the last thing I saw before he pushed me out was my pilot Phil sitting there with the stick back into his stomach. Very white. I can remember that and I can see him now. And Charlie pushed me out and I came to proper then coming down in the fresh air and while I was coming down I could hear psst psst psst and I assumed it was bullets being fired from the ground by the troops that I could see as I was coming down, surrounding me. And a Spitfire circled around as well while I was coming down. Didn’t see any other ‘chutes and I just hoped and prayed that everybody was out but I did see the plane which I assumed was our plane making a perfect belly landing away in the distance just one mass of flames. Of course, that disappeared out of sight and this Spitfire was circling and he must have been within five hundred feet of the ground and he dipped his wings and then shot away up in the air enough to say, ‘I’m on the way home.’ And that’s when I really first felt lonely. Just for a split second and then I was on the ground. And of course, I could see as I was landing that there was civilians and troops running in to this field that I was about to land in which I discovered, well in my opinion was a field of sugar beet and of course landed a bit heavy not having a full ‘chute. Anyway, I disconnected it and I had no chance of escape. It was 6.30 in the evening. I stood doing the hands up and a couple of German soldiers were within what fifty yards of me by that time and they gave me a search all over, make sure I’d got no firearms etcetera. And from there we marched across a field which was as I say was a bit of rough walking because it was some kind of root crop. I said it was sugar beet but anyway I’m carrying my open parachute and the guard put his foot on some barbed wire at the end of the field and I had to crawl underneath this wire which was not the easiest of tasks being open parachute carrying. They put me in to a coach there where I was strip searched and the parachute and flying jacket suit were taken from me and thrown into the back of a coach. While that was going on Charlie arrived with his. He’d been picked up, and also Taffy and they went through the same treatment as I did. But shaking hand with Charlie as he got in and you know didn’t speak at all. Just shaking hands we got hit across the wrist with the butt of a rifle which was a little bit painful. Same as the kick I had as we got through the barbed wire. I stopped like an English gentleman as I say to allow them to get through because I didn’t know where I had to go and he, the jackboot went right in my rear which I felt for several days afterwards. So anyhow finally we got put into some Army barracks where we were [paused] we’d been walking along this canal bank and were being beaten up by the civilians with broom handles and forks and if it hadn’t been for the guards protecting us and tempting to fire at the civilians I don’t think I’d would be here now. But anyhow, we finally arrived in this Army barracks where we stood in a big hall. A kind of a dining hall place or assembly hall and after we were standing there I was on the right, Taffy in the middle and Charlie was on the left and we, all of a sudden a door opened directly in front of us. Taffy started falling so we instantly grabbed him to stop him falling on the ground and the chap in the doorway says, ‘It’s alright Taffy. The war’s over for you.’ And he disappeared. Of course, we couldn’t talk to each other and we didn’t find out until we got into the actual camp, Luft 7 in Poland what it was all about. And it turned out that in 1938 this chap was working with Taffy in South Wales and he’d left there to go to Cambridge to improve himself and I guess he went back to Germany. But from that there we were put into a cell for in Munster for three nights. Three of us in one cell. And from there we had to go to Dulag Luft, the Interrogation Centre which was a bit [pause] a bit much at times but anyway we were in separate cells there for the first time and that was quite a lonely spot then. But anyhow as soon as I, we’d been warned at briefing not to take any notice of any voices or anything we heard when we were in the cells and I hadn’t been in there five minutes before a Yankee voice come I could hear. He said, ‘Are you a limey?’ I didn’t answer. He said, ‘Where did you catch it?’ I kept quiet. Didn’t answer at all and apparently, he said he had a gangrenous foot but I just didn’t answer and I just sat on the old bench that was there. But eventually after about a week I was called for and was taken, marched out from the cell along the corridor down the flight of steps, outside in to the, well, we were passing a parade ground. Then I had to go down some old steps in the building and this had doors all the way along either side of the building and the doors was open. I was told to stand there or indicated to stand there where I stood for forty five minutes actually with a pistol in front of me. There was two officers, I assumed they were officers of the German force and one, one was asking questions. Where we come from, what my trade was and all the rest of it. Still just answered number, rank and name and he kept fiddling with his pistol. The safety catch went on and off and I got like that I remember saying to myself, ‘Why don’t you pull the trigger? Get me out of it.’ I said, ‘Nobody knows whether I’m alive or dead so why don’t you do it?’ Anyhow, after forty five minutes he says, ‘I can let you go back to your cell now, Sergeant Hooker.’ He said, ‘You’re too young to die yet.’ Went back and I sat, I remember sitting on that bench, wooden bench, collapsed out to be honest. And anyhow the following morning I was called again. I thought oh no. Not again. This time went the other way. Went into an office. ‘Sit down, sergeant.’ ‘No. I prefer to stand.’ ‘Oh, have a cigarette.’ ‘No. I don’t smoke.’ Although I could have done at the time you know. I did used to smoke a bit but we never, we were warned against it. Not to smoke, you know or to take a cigarette but I could have given anything to have one. But anyhow after a while he started asking questions again and then he went on the phone. I remember this clearly. Went on the phone and presently a chap came through the door with a book. Put it on the desk in front of the officer and there he started turning these pages over and every page he turned over he mentioned a name of the RAF stations that I’d been at. Right from the time I joined up in the Lords Cricket Ground back to where I was born. It was amazing. Whether it told on my face or not I don’t know but once again he said, ‘You see Sergeant Hooker,’ he says, ‘We know all about you so what’s the point in shooting you.’ Still didn’t say anything. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘By the way Wing Commander Wilson is on our list. He’ll be the next one. We’ll get him. We knew he was supposed to lead the attack today,’ he said. ‘When you attacked.’ He said, ‘But he was standing at the end of the runway when you took off wasn’t he? Saluting the aircraft.’ It shook me something shocking that did. Knowing that. And that is actually what happened. Wing Commander Wilson’s plane went u/s on the way around to take off. And he said, ‘So, there we are.’ He said, ‘You go back to your cell.’ He says, ‘And in a few days’ time you’ll be sent to the prison camp.’ And I went back to my cell and sat there on this old wooden bench which we used to sleep on as well and I couldn’t take it in. That he knew all about us because my own crew didn’t even know where I was born apart from the fact that they knew I lived in Hartley Wintney. But I was actually born in a little hamlet a few miles away from there and he actually knew this. Anyhow, a couple or three days after we were called out again and there was Charlie and the bomb aimer over there and the navigator and the Canadian W/Op. They were there as well so we hadn’t been in touch with them at all. And there were several other men, two chaps we started talking to or Charlie and I did. A flight engineer Sergeant [Mead] and a Sergeant [Beech] from Kent. Anyway, we became very good pals then once we got into the prison camp which was in a place called Bankau in Poland. Took several days I believe if I remember right getting there but once we was there we, we was put in to what we called dog kennels. These garden sheds. And there were seven in the one I arrived in. We were only there for a short while. I can’t remember exact dates but from there we were put into proper huts and there was, that was divided off into small rooms and there was eight of us in a room in four double bunks. We became very friendly altogether and for exercise like all the rest of the lads we used to walk around the perimeter track day after day just to keep a bit of fitness together. The food was a bit rough and in very short supply as it had been during the whole time I’d been in the Interrogation Centre. But there we are. We got through. We had a bit of German cheese and their soup which was, well we called it whispering grass. That’s what it looked like. Bits of grass boiled up. Sometimes there was skinned potatoes boiled up. But the bread I got used to in the end. Eating their dark bread which was horrible to start with. The one thing in passing towards the end of the time we were in Luft 7 we were issued with bread that had been baked in 1937 for the Spanish Civil War. It was on the wrappers of the bread. Like we get our bread nowadays in wrappers. It was just like that. It was some of the finest bread I’ve ever eaten. It really was. Of course, during that time in Luft 7, through the Red Cross I had a set of dentures made because I was flying without mine. And there again they didn’t cost me anything apart from we were allowed to give the dentist a tablet of soap for hygiene purposes which I did and they were a lovely set of teeth. I had them on for a number of years after. After the war. Anyhow, from there of course, the Christmas ’45, sorry ’44 we heard that we were about to be moved from one camp to another. And over the Christmas period there the Yankee aircraft we could hear up in the sky we actually could see them. They were flying quite regular. But on the 17th of January we were informed because we used to have a parade every twice a day for number count, make sure no one had escaped, etcetera. We were informed that we’d be leaving the camp later that day to a destination which the Germans couldn’t tell us. Anyhow, we stood out in the snow and cold with what personal items we had in a Red Cross case which we’d been given in [pause] not in the Interrogation Centre, a transit camp which we went to after we’d been interrogated and that had new clothing, underwear, pullovers, towels, shaving gear which was very acceptable because I hadn’t had a shave or wash for over two weeks. And but from there as I say we were on the parade ground for a number of hours on the 17th then sent back to our billets. On the 19th we were to call again 3 o’clock in the morning on parade. Everybody woke up. Snowing. Breathing very cold. We eventually moved off. I think it was about 8 o’clock if I remember right. Over twelve hundred of us. There were sixteen hundred of us in the camp. Anyhow, there was way over twelve hundred and we, the marching didn’t much. It got into a walk and we stopped a few hours afterwards and put up into a farm building for the night. Then we walked again the following morning for a short while. And then we stopped outside a brick yard, a disused brick yard and we spent the day there. Some were lucky enough to be under cover. Others were in the open. Resting. We were told we were staying there for the day or for the night I should say and early evening we were called out again. We were on the move. The word went around. There were about, so we hesitated whether we’d get out or whether we’d stay there hoping we could get away with staying there and perhaps make contact with the Russians as they were making their push. As we were about to move we saw a pile of pallets. The four of us. There was Charlie, myself and Frank and Tommy. So nobody spoke. We all seemed to go to these pallets and start moving them, a big pile of them and we laid behind. Thought now we’re safe. Nobody will see us here. And we just moved them back in position probably and we were spotted, it turned out by a dog seen the pallets move. A dog. A German guard was checking everybody was out. Anyhow, he controlled the dog. It didn’t attack anybody and we, he ordered us out and in that time he pushed us up near the front of the queue that was forming to make the night march as it turned out. Well, that night it was really snowing and being in front of the queue, or almost in the front we were in sight of the German guards and the chief officer of the camp and the interrogator, not the interrogator, interpreter I should say of the camp and we was walking through snow up to our waists. So we were literally sort of digging ourselves through. And this went on all night. We left there at 8 o’clock at night. The march started and during the night we were informed that if we didn’t get across the River Oder by 8 o’clock in the morning we’d be left to the mercy of the Russians because they were getting so close. For some unknown reason we got over the river, over the bridge which had big holes drilled in them ready for being exploded. You know, exploding. And during the night, I can’t quite remember if it was before that incident or after we found ourselves, the four of us sitting on our cases. We had these Red Cross cases which we had fixed on a piece of an old broken ladder we found in the brickyard and used it as a sled to pull these cases along, you know. We had our towels and a little bit of personal stuff, clothing left. Most of it we was wearing to keep us warm. But we suddenly discovered we were all four of us sitting on this case. Nobody else in sight. I can’t remember who spoke, or if anybody spoke first but we eventually got up and we linked arms as we had been before helping each other along trying to keep each other up. Standing up. And of course the snow was flat and icy where all the lads had gone before us but we eventually did catch up with the group, on the tail end of it but after we’d got over the river, when did I say when it was? About 8 o’clock in the morning. Tired out of course but a short while afterwards we heard the explosions of the bridge being blown up. And that night or that morning we waited outside a farmhouse for like about an hour while the farmer finished milking his cows. You could see them in the stalls. And they turned them out into the snowy field and all of a sudden there was a mad rush and everybody was rushing inside so they could lay down and have a rest. Well, the four of us we spotted the old [unclear] where they used to milk the cows. The stalls. The cow stalls. Just room for four of us to lay down. Well, there was, the cows had been in there all night and we had a good old job trying to clean them out using our boots to move the droppings. We got a bit of straw or hay and managed to lay down on it but it wasn’t very thick. It was very hard and cold but that’s how we spent our night or the rest of the day I should say. But again, we’d no food and this went on for a number of days. I can’t quite remember how many there was. The memory is going a bit. But we were sleeping in cow farms, cow stalls, open barns. Sometimes the barns had hay in. I know in one instance we were sleeping on some hay that was in a barn down the bottom. Others had climbed up on top of the rig. But in the morning we couldn’t find our shoes and where the hay had moved, people moving about at night going to loo etcetera but we did finally find them. But another instance we got to, we were about to move again from the farm and had a short march that day and got to another farmhouse. And this was in the evening time and I could see, or four of us could see shadows moving about in the distance in this farmyard and I went to investigate because we had a feeling. We could see the shadow of a house in the darkness. Over the line, I took a couple of mugs with me to get a drink of water for the four of us and when I got there I was ushered inside and told, you know, told not to speak. It was in broken English. It was some Polish people and there were two of the lads, Polish lads who were on march they’d come up and found out there were Polish people in the house and two of them were going to stop there and hide and they had the floorboards up and they were going to hide in to, underneath the floorboards when our lot moved off. And I was warned you know not to say anything other otherwise you know, you’d be finished. I eventually got back with this water and they wanted to know where I had been and all the rest of it but thankfully we were eventually told we were going on a, the end of the march was over and we were being transported by train.
TO: Sorry. Can I just ask what is that noise?
Other: That’s the fridge.
TO: Ok. I just wondered.
FH: Are you alright?
TO: I was just wondering what the noise was that was all.
FH: Hmmn?
TO: Just wondering what the noise was. That was all. Sorry. Carry on.
FH: Yeah. We, we were informed we were going to be travelling by train for a while but we had another small march. But once we got on the train or on the train there was trucks, goods trucks and there was sixty five of us in one truck which in normal circumstances would have been a bit crowded to say the least. But it wasn’t long before people wanted to relieve themselves. Of course, we couldn’t open the door. That was locked from the outside. There was a crack in the door and various chaps stood at the door trying to relieve themselves but in the end a corner was used to, they wanted to do number twos as they call it. And eventually no. It was, I don’t know how to describe it. The stench was terrific. Everybody was wanting to relieve themselves and using the corner and of course that meant chaps were getting closer and closer together because during the, a couple of days before we got on the train we’d been at a farmhouse and somebody found a tub of what they said was molasses. Of course, everyone being hungry and thirsty put their mugs in and had some of this molasses but it was what they called farm molasses and of course Canadians used to love molasses. Similar to treacle in our case, you know. But this turned out to be farm molasses which they used to use to make sileage for the cattle. Dysentery set in with nearly everyone on the train and believe me it was no, no holiday sitting in that train. We did finally stop and then we were allowed out of the trucks and some of us got out. I think most people got out but a lot of us couldn’t get back in on our own. It was on a slope and it wasn’t on the, it was out in the country so there was no platform and we went down the slope and done what we had to and got back up the slope to get in and the Germans were actually helping us into the trucks. The guards. And some of our own chaps who were a bit fitter helped each other up. Anyhow, we finally got to the destination which was Luckenwalde and there we had a short walk to the camp and crowds of people were, or a crowd of chaps were getting near the gate anxious to see who we were and what. What we were. And it turned out it was an Army camp that we were arriving at. Stalag 3A. And again, we had to stand outside, be photographed again for identity cards. We eventually got into this camp. Into huts. There were no bunks and just the open hut and I think it was just over two hundred to a hut. And we were fortunate. Fortunate to find a place near the side of the hut where we could lean against. There was no, you couldn’t really lay down there was so many. The crowd was so, you know intense and so close together. But anyway, that went on for a while and it was there that I discovered two lads. One from Aldershot, and one from Blackwater and the third one from Basingstoke. And the lad from Basingstoke unfortunately was taken to hospital one night and he passed away with a gangrene stomach. And the following morning or the morning after the padre come around asking if anybody knew him that was in the area where he was resting and sleeping, this chap. He’d been taken out of the room. But I imagine that he was in the same Air Training Corps as I was in Basingstoke so I was allowed to join the party for the funeral which part of the way I carried a imitation or homemade paper wreath with paper flowers on. And halfway along outside the camp, it was quite a walk we changed over bearers and I helped carry the lad to the cemetery which all were under oath not try to escape, you know on that particular occasion which we all agreed to, you know the padre and everything. Anyhow, finally on the 22nd of April [pause] Yes, the 23rd of April we woke up and then, no. That must have been about the 22nd we discovered that the German guards had gone and a senior, I think it was a Norwegian officer had been put in charge of the camp and he gave the instruction no one to leave as the Russians were very close. And on the 23rd these Russian tanks arrived and it was a sight I’ll never forget. They, these tanks went straight down the main road I suppose you’d call it of the camp, the barbed wire either side knocking it down. Everybody was cheering I remember and they turned around, the tanks did and come back up and with the tanks, on some of the tanks were Russian prisoners. They were you know a compound further down sitting on the tanks and some were walking and it was said that they were continuing with the troops to Berlin. They were in a sad state I must admit. And the next thing another follow up troops as they moved off further on the second wave of Russian troops come which had women in them, amongst them as well and we were treated just like prisoners as well by them. Short of food. Not allowed out. But some did venture out I agree. On one occasion, one day there we were, several of us walked down to the Russian compound where they’d killed a cow. We tried to get some of this meat to cook up but didn’t get much luck. They gave us a bit of a tripe which we couldn’t do anything with. It was horrible really. But anyhow, eventually word went around that American trucks were arriving. Everybody was quite pleased and excited looking for them. When they did arrive we rushed to them. I know I did to get on one of the trucks. They were going to take us back to the American lines which turned out to be about eighteen kilometres away. But waiting there in the trucks then some of the guards got very close and ordered everybody off the trucks. ‘You’re our prisoners. You’re going home. We’ll send you home through Odessa,’ they were saying. Anyhow, we got turned off the trucks, put back in the camp and the word went around they’d come again in the morning, the Americans because they didn’t want to make bad friends or cause trouble with the Russians. So they said they’d return again in the morning which they did and again I was one of the lucky ones to get on the trucks. This time I’d somehow or other, I don’t know how I’d lost, lost contact with Charlie and the two new mates, Frank and Tommy. But anyhow again we got turned off the trucks with the Russians firing at us. So the message went around anybody fit enough to walk eighteen kilometres the Yanks would wait there for twenty four hours waiting for us. I joined up with three other chaps who was in the, got off the same lorry. We went into the woods that was close by heading in the direction that we were informed that, we were being fired on then by the Russians as we were trying to escape I suppose you’d call it. But we weren’t the only ones. There was a load of others as well but we was dodging in between the trees. But eventually the firing stopped and we carried on and met up with four or five other. And in the end there was a group of ten of us that after some chatter amongst ourselves five of them decided to return to camp but we decided, you know we started and we’d finish. And that night, well during the day I don’t know how far we’d covered I’m sure but we were very tired and hungry we come across this little village and we could smell new bread being baked and of course that made us worse. Made us feel hungry and we sorted out some and spoke to some Russian guards and took a chance that we’d speak with them and they indicated, or we made them understand who we were after a while. Ex-prisoners of war, English and they cottoned on to who we were. They took us into a house and ordered us to sit down and they disappeared. Well, it was only a matter of ten minutes I guess and they came back with four or five jars of bottled meat and a big bucket of milk and indicated to us to eat and drink and then to lay down and sleep. So we really got tucked in to this bottled meat. It was good. And the milk. So we finally said well we’ll stop there and we slept through the night. And then the following morning we thought well we’d better say thank you to these Russians but we didn’t know where they were but we went outside and eventually we saw these chaps coming back to us pushing bicycles. We thought are they the same men or aren’t they and it turned out they were and they’d got bicycles for us to ride instead of having to walk because we were informed we were going to America. And there was four bicycles so we shared one. Gave one a lift so far and then changed over you know. Five of us on four bikes. Then eventually we got to [unclear] where the German, a load of German civilians and we were trying to get through to the bridge and couldn’t get through. But eventually we made contact with the Russians that were guarding the bridge which was the entrance for the Germans to get across into the Yankee zone but they weren’t allowing that. There was quite a few men their side. But eventually we got in contact with them and told them we wanted to get over and, ‘No. No. No.’ Then they indicated they realised who we were and I pointed to my bike, flat tyre, no good. So they took this bike away from me and more or less snatching it away from me give it to a German lady and snatched her bike away from her and told us, indicated for us to go across the bridge. Which we did and it was long, not long after we got over the bridge we turned. I remember turning left and going along this road. We heard grenades going off. We thought have we done right? They’re still fighting. Anyhow, suddenly three or four Yanks came out from the woods away in front of us, a hundred or a hundred and fifty yards in front of us. They looked and we put our hands up and we called out, ‘English. English.’ Anyhow, we gradually met up and from there they, we threw our bikes on the grass and they got transport for us and took us to their headquarters where we was given some food and drink, cigarettes. And then we moved on from there to a place called [Halle]. I think it is. Anyhow, there again we were given some more cigarettes, more food and it was there that there were some other lads, some Army lads who had been prisoners and had got that far and of course my feet was terrible with blisters. So one of these lads seen me hobbling. He asked what was wrong and I said, ‘Oh, blisters.’ He said, ‘I’m a medical man,’ he says, ‘From the Medical Corps.’ He says, ‘I’ll have a look at them.’ Anyhow, he looked and he disappeared somewhere. He’d been there several days apparently but he came back and I think he must have pricked one of the blisters and it was all running out you know. And then he put a padding on it which was a little bit uncomfortable to start with but after a while it made it easier for me to walk. So I thanked him and then we didn’t see him again. We got, I got moved on to Belgium to an Army, a British Army camp where we had a good shower and a wash, a shave, tidied up again. And from there they gave us some what they called [Banff[ money. It was money that was issued to the occupying forces during the war and we bought a couple of little gifts in the evening. The following day we were told, we had breakfast there of course amongst the troops and we were told that our names would be called out and we’d have to go to a certain point they indicated to us. An assembling area where we’d be flown back to England. Well, waited all the morning. Nothing happened. And we had lunch or I had lunch and I realised I was the only RAF chap there. So waited and waited and mid-afternoon I heard the name, ‘Sergeant Hooker, RAF.’ So I hurried to the assembly point and met up with a crew of a Dakota and they said, ‘Well, you’re on our flight,’ and there was a load of Army chaps there as well so we all got aboard and I discovered sitting in the aircraft a contingent of RAF chaps. Anyway, we took off. I was very pleased you know to be taken flying again and I just got settled in my seat you know and thinking that the White Cliffs are over there and I see a chap coming down from the cockpit, one of the crew members. And he’d been sent down by the pilot asking if I would like to go and fly home in the cockpit along with them which I grabbed the opportunity and I sat up there coming over the English Channel could gradually see the White Cliffs getting nearer and nearer. And the pilot was asking where I lived and said that he was landing at Dunsfold near Guildford. I said, ‘Oh well, that’s not too far from home.’ I said, ‘In fact, I’ve got relations in Guildford.’ Anyhow we got there and we landed and the first chap oh I sat back in the fuselage of course for landing and the first chap I met when the door opened being the first one off the aircraft was a Salvation Army officer who welcomed me home. Shook hands. Then the next chap in the line was a senior RAF officer who, you know shook hands. Again, welcoming me home. Then there was the Army chap. Anyway, we finally got into the hangar in Dunsfold. We had a short interrogation there. Wanted to know when I was shot down and about the crew and if they were all alive. Eventually we were transported that night into Guildford Railway Station and going on the platform thinking it was empty there was a load of women and of course there were a lot of other RAF chaps with me this time. You know they’d landed earlier and that. I forget how many there was but anyhow we were sent there or driven there by transport to go catch a train to Cosford, near Wolverhampton. So, I said, ‘Well, why can’t I go home?’ I said, ‘I’d be home in no time.’ ‘No. You’ve got to go to Cosford and get re-kitted and that. Well, these woman as we, the group walked on the platform a woman grabbed us and this particular woman had grabbed me or took hold of my arm and we walked away from the others. She said, ‘We’re all here to take information from you.’ She said, ‘So we can contact your parents or relatives to let them know that you’re home safe.’ I said, ‘Well, I had sent a telegram to them.’ ‘Yes, but we’ll, we’ll let them know exactly what’s happening and how you are.’ So I told them everything. I said, ‘Well, I’m not on the phone at home,’ I says. ‘My parents haven’t got a telephone.’ ‘Don’t worry. We’ll ring the local police station.’ Which she said they would do and get the police to go to the house and tell mum that we was on the way home, or on the way to Cosford like, you know. Which apparently happened it turned out. After I’d got home they told me all about it. But while we were there there was a big shout. One of the girls quite close to us yelled out loud and disappeared. And it went quiet, everybody went quiet, saw this girl running and she’d spotted her brother entering the platform and after a while everybody cheered and that kind of thing, you know but it was a very moving moment actually. Anyhow, he was allowed to go straight home. We went up to Cosford on the train. Got there in RAF Cosford and could have a wash and shower and all that kind of thing and laid out on the bed was the old RAF blue uniform. Hospital uniforms. Clean pyjamas. Nice white sheets in the bed and we enjoyed our nice night’s sleep. Then and during the day we, the following morning we had breakfast and had a proper interrogation of what had taken place from the time we’d left the ‘drome until we got back to where we were then and asking about the deaths of the different ones you know, the pilot and the tail gunner. Anyway, we finally got rekitted, smartened up and I travelled down to Reading by train with a lot of London boys and we were allowed to travel that night providing we could get home. Well, I looked at the timetables and things and thought well I can get to Reading and catch the last bus as I thought but anyway it was, unfortunately the last bus had gone when I got there. Very quiet of course. This was midnight and I eventually plucked up courage and rang a farmer that I knew in the village not knowing whether they had petrol for cars or anything like that. Anyway, the son answered the phone and I was a bit choked up and he couldn’t understand what I was saying for a while and he said, ‘Did you say Freddie?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ And he, I can remember him saying, ‘Calm down, Fred. Calm down.’ He said, ‘Wait a minute.’ And then he said, ‘Are you alright?’ and I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘What are you doing? Where are you?’ And I explained I was just coming home from a POW camp and this was my first visit home and I was stuck in Reading. And he said, ‘Well, alright.’ He says, ‘You stay where you are,’ he says. I remember this as plain as life. ‘You stay where you are.’ He says, ‘I’ll have a word with dad. Wake him up.’ Anyhow, it turned out that they had petrol enough and David was allowed to, excuse me come in to Reading and pick me up which was quite a moving, a moving moment when he did arrive and we drove back across what we call Hazeley Heath and made me think of the times when I used to go on leave and walk from Reading to Hartley Wintney but this time it was, I felt I wasn’t fit enough and I’d a full pack and everything. But anyhow, as we turned in our local road and thinking it was all going to be in darkness I could see lights in our living room and in the kitchen and as David pulled up outside the house there was mother and father at the gate waiting for me. And I was at last home and met up with the family who was there. There is only one thing I regret because when I, while I was in the camp I cut the tops of my flying boots off so they were ordinary shoes and I used the silk to make a silk scarf but while doing, one of the flying boots, the leg part of them was covered in shrapnel. Bits of metal and I filled a matchbox full of these and had carried them all the way through and everything and they was in my hands while I was waiting at Reading Station. I found them in the matchbox but I never saw them again because when we’d been hit I mean I wasn’t injured in any way but my left toecap of this shoe, flying boot had a split from one side to the other and it didn’t even touch my sock. Just the shoe and I’d saved them. When I got new kit in Cosford I put them in my kitbag and brought them with me. But that I’m afraid was my life in the Service. Apart from the fact that I did stay on for a while and joined the Motor Transport Department. Did my training up at [Wittering] just outside Blackpool. And eventually I went back to France to a Repair and Salvage Unit travelling over France recovering broken down vehicles. That I say is my memories of service life but I often regret not staying in. There we are. That’s another tale. Thanks.
Thank you so much.
[recording paused]
FH: Right.
TO: So when you were growing up were you interested in aircraft?
FH: Not until I got involved with the Air Training Corps when that first came about in 1941. Yeah. That’s the only interest I had before. When I was a young lad at [pause] what age would I have been? I’d have been about eight years of age my sister worked as a housemaid in a private house and an aircraft, a private house and private aircraft used to land there. A chap by the name of Fielding and it was in the field next door actually to where Lord Alanbrooke finally arrived at and lived. A house called Ferney Close. And I always remember it was a red aircraft and my sister used to come home on her day off she used to tell us about this. Usually flying around the area then it would disappear for parts of sight and it would land in this field and they were allowed out to see it after it landed. Otherwise, no. It was the joining the Air Training Corps and seeing these aircraft we mentioned earlier coming over on the first, what turned out to be the first thousand aircraft raid on Cologne that got me really in to flying. Yeah.
TO: And when you, in the 1930s do you remember anyone being afraid of Hitler?
FH: Being afraid of Hitler?
TO: Yes.
FH: Let me think [pause] Not until, well ’38 I suppose, ’39 time. I can’t remember anything before that. Not really. No. No. I don’t think so. Can’t give much of an answer there.
TO: And do you remember the day the war started?
FH: Yes. I was standing in our living room in what is now Priory Lane, Phoenix Green and I was standing near, between the window and the living room door and father had ordered us to keep quiet. There was three or four of us children there at the time and he put the, had the wireless on and he says, ‘This means we will have to go without things for a while.’ I remember him saying that. But I can remember the Prime Minister saying, ‘We are now at war with Germany.’ Now, was he, what was his name?
TO: Chamberlain.
FH: Sorry?
TO: Chamberlain.
FH: Chamberlain. Because he lived quite local over at Heckfield, a few miles from home and his sisters lived in Odiham if I remember right but not that I ever knew him or met him you know. But I hear his voice now in my head saying, ‘We are now at war with Germany.’ Yeah.
TO: And what do you think of his policy of appeasing Hitler?
FH: Come again?
TO: What do you think of Chamberlain making the agreement with Hitler in 1938?
FH: I don’t know. I’ve never really thought on that really. But thinking back I don’t think it should have taken place. No. But I can’t really give much of an answer to that one.
TO: And do you — sorry, were you going to say something?
FH: No.
TO: Do you remember the preparations people were making for war?
FH: Oh yes. Digging. Digging big holes in the garden. Filling it with corrugated iron walls on the inside of the big hole with steps leading down to it. That’s what I was doing myself in our own garden on the day the thousand pound, [laughs] thousand pound [laughs] the thousand plane bomber raid was to take place. Some people had done it much earlier of course. And then there was you could purchase the Anderson shelters and there was another one.
TO: Morrison.
FH: Morrison. That’s right. Yeah. I know while I was on leave once I went down to my sister in Folkestone and we had to get in this, this shelter that was in her living room in the corner under the table. The table was over the top of it. And because there was a bombing raid on I’ve never been so scared in my life sitting in there because if a bomb had come down I think you would have just been buried, you know. I could never quite work out the reason for such places like that. I can understand the huge, larger underground shelters that they had but for the individual having one in the house I couldn’t quite see that but there we go. That was about it I think.
TO: Were there any air raids where you lived?
FH: Yes. There was one. Now, this would have been when? They weren’t that, it wasn’t an actual raid on the village or area but a bomb was dropped and landed in a field right on the outskirts of the village which I actually saw leave the Dornier aircraft while I was working as a gardening boy. This would have been in what? 1942, I guess. I was working at Winchfield House owned by a Colonel Cherington and this lone aircraft kept flying over in daylight one afternoon and we saw the actual bomb doors open and see the bomb leave the aircraft and it landed in a field close to what we called Mount Pleasant in Hartley Wintney. And no one was injured or anything but we did, I did view the crater later in the evening and there was a few windows, I believe broken but no casualties and that’s about the only one I can remember local. Although when I was at home at the time I don’t know but I understand there was a few found or that had been dropped along the, near the railway line at a place we called Elvetham. A couple or three miles from here but I don’t know any details on that one.
TO: And once you’d joined the Air Force what kind of rations did you have?
FH: Rations? While in the Service do you mean?
TO: Yes. In the Service in general.
FH: Well, I think we used to have a sweet ration. I don’t think cigarettes were rationed. I can’t remember that. But food of course. I mean, we had them supplied to us. You know, from the mess. Although in Civvy Street there was the usual rationing going on but once I was in the Service that didn’t affect us except that when we went on leave we were given a ration card with little coupons on that the shopkeeper used to have to tear off. Was it two ounces of tea a week? An ounce of cheese or a couple of ounces of butter. I forget the exact amount. A very small amount but of course that helped, assisted mother with feeding me when I was on leave. That kind of thing. Yeah. That’s about it I think. Yeah.
TO: And when you were volunteered for the Air Force what was the process for becoming air crew?
FH: Well, first of all I applied I don’t know whether it was to Oxford or where it was but I had to go, travel to Oxford. I had the reply after writing and I had to travel to Oxford for an interview and an assessment test. And that was, I’d done my first one in 1941 but unfortunately I failed that and very disappointed. I came home again but in 1942 [pause] yeah late ‘42 I reapplied and got through it ok. I was quite chuffed. Most of the local people I spoke to said, ‘You haven’t got a chance on earth. You’ve got to have a proper education. College or university education.’ I said, ‘I don’t know,’ I said, ‘But I’m going to have a damned good try.’ Which I did and I studied hard in the Air Training Corps. We had various lectures from people from the RAF Odiham and we used to visit, excuse me, visit RAF Odiham for lectures as a group in the ATC. And that is where I gained a lot of information that was needed with regards discipline. We were shown all a number of different forms which we learned numbers of because the Service life was all numbers on forms and as I say that’s where I really got the liking to and wanting to join the Air Force. Yeah.
TO: And what medical tests did you have to do?
FH: Well, we had the general medicals and well they checked you for everything in those days, you know, wanting to know the illnesses one had had but, and a load of injections of course. Things I’d never had before apart from having been vaccinated as a kiddie but they just took it in your stride you know. They asked questions and you answered them as best they could regarding your medical health which in those days I was quite fit, you know. Just have the normal measles and mumps when I was a kiddie. That’s all. Nothing serious. Yeah.
TO: And did you hear about events in the war like America becoming involved?
FH: Yeah. We heard this on the radio, you know. All the time he was at home dad always had the 6 o’clock and 9 o’clock news on the radio and nobody dare speak in those days while the news was on. If you did you got a clip around the ear because he was interested in what was going on, you know. He himself had only been in the Army a short while during the previous war, the First World War. He was just a short chappie. He was refused on height for a long time but he was for a few, a couple of years I think it was in what they called the [unclear] depot near Southampton but the guards knew it was quiet 6 o’clock and 9 o’clock at night and he mentioned about the Yanks being late coming in to the war I remember. ‘Just like they were last time,’ he said. But otherwise, no. And of course, we heard early on of the so many aircraft didn’t return from a raid. That kind of thing on the news and it didn’t cross my mind when I got interested in planes that it might happen to me. Just one of those things. Yeah.
TO: And what did you do for entertainment in the RAF?
FH: Oh, that would be telling wouldn’t it? The [pause] well I don’t know. Just carried on normally. We used to go out for a drink sometimes or spend the evenings in the NAAFI along with friends and I’ve known when we’ve gone out for a stroll around the camp you know in the local villages. But otherwise, we spent a lot of time doing the old, [unclear] we called it in those days. Cleaning the brass and the webbing and actually we didn’t get a lot of spare time. Not in our case. No. We were always studying in the evenings. Checking what we’d been through during the daytime you know. Sometimes you’d get assistance from a mate. Another time he wouldn’t speak to you. But normally the friendship in the Services was terrific. Something I did miss when I finally left. Yeah. The comradeship. Yeah.
TO: How would you describe morale in the Air Force?
FH: Good. Very good. Yes. I think so. From my experience it was very good and there’s no other word for it. The comradeship and the morale was good. You missed that kind of thing when you come into Civvy Street.
TO: Were there ever any problems with teasing or bullying?
FH: With bullying?
TO: In the Air Force.
FH: Never come across it myself. No. I must admit it was if one was in trouble or say in trouble perhaps couldn’t afford to, had spent the money and couldn’t afford to have a cup of tea or a pint of beer in the NAAFI one of your mates would always buy you one you know. It was the same when we was on the Conversion Unit. It was a Canadian unit as I mentioned earlier. We used to join them in the gambling sessions sometimes. I think they called it Sevens. Throwing the old dice. Well, many a time I’ve been broke from about an hour, an hour and a half after being paid same as Les and we always found somebody to give you a drink or a cup of coffee and loan you a quid if you wanted one. You’d always be paid back. The comradeship was terrific. Yeah.
TO: Did you ever visit the cinemas together?
FH: I think we used to go to a cinema occasionally. Yeah. I can’t say what. We used to have one on a camp, on the camp where you could go but what the films were now I don’t know. No.
TO: And what did you think of Churchill?
FH: It’s a job for me to describe that. At times he was, I mean he got us through the war from that angle but I don’t know. I daren’t say what I really think I don’t think. Not towards the end. I mean he didn’t have much, didn’t have much to say about Bomber Command boys after the order to really as far as I’m concerned came from him in the first place for these bombing raids etcetera. Red Arrows going over.
TO: Oh yeah. There we go. There we are.
FH: Sorry about that.
TO: No. No.
FH: A perfect time to do a fly past.
TO: They’re doing a fly past for Odiham Aerodrome.
Other: No. That was Thursday.
TO: Oh, was that Thursday.
FH: Oh, there they go. There there go.
TO: Yes. [pause] marvellous.
FH: Couldn’t ask for any better interruption.
TO: There they go again.
FH: There they go.
Other: [unclear]
FH: Wonderful.
TO: Wonderful.
FH: That reminds me seeing those go by the window now the last day or supposed to have been the last hour the Vulcan flying. That comes just a few feet, well a few hundred feet I suppose it was above our road and come straight down the road. It was a beautiful sight. But anyhow that’s beside the point.
TO: Ok. So would it be ok if we put [unclear] for us so they don’t crease. Sorry. Just that is creased. And what did you think of Arthur Harris?
FH: Bomber. Yes. Well, he carried out instructions didn’t he from the higher ups and like the rest of us in the Service he was carrying out orders as far as I’m concerned. And that’s, that’s it. He was a good leader as far as I’m concerned. Yeah. But otherwise, never met him of course. No. I can’t say much more.
TO: And what was your opinion of Halifaxes?
FH: To me they were the finest aircraft ever made. I enjoyed every trip I took in them and to compare it with the Lancaster well it’s a job to because I only went into a Lancaster aircraft once and that was only about eighteen months ago when I visited the flight station at Coningsby. We were allowed, I was allowed to climb in there and go over the Halifax, the Lancaster and I still think the Halifax was a nicer aircraft. Yeah. It’s one of those things. They’d both done a good job. One may have carried a heavier bomber load, bomb loads but in the war effort I think they were both the same. Yeah.
TO: Were you aboard a Mark 3 Halifax?
FH: Yeah. We operated on the Mark 3 from the squadron. Yeah. It’s [pause], I’m not sure what Mark it was. Whether it was a Mark 3 at Conversion Unit or not I wouldn’t be too sure on that one. The old memory fades sometimes.
TO: And what were conditions like in the mid-upper turret?
FH: Very cramped as far as that goes but then you didn’t want to move about. You were sitting there and your turret moved with you and you looked, gazed and looked all around. Up, down all around. It was, it was a lovely flying position I think for seeing things as well, you know. Yeah. Beautiful. Boulton Paul turret. Yes. Many days ago now but I did manage to get into a Halifax. It would have been last year I think it was. We went up to RAF Elvington in Yorkshire and I was allowed to climb aboard there which I had to have a little assistance getting in but it was, well it brought back a load of memories to me. Good and bad. And I was only disappointed that Elizabeth couldn’t, wasn’t allowed into the aircraft there although she didn’t climb aboard the Lancaster as did our friends. But my friend, Chris, from Worksop, he helped me in and out of the aircraft same as he did with the Dakota but the Halifax it’s a shame they didn’t save one so it could have joined the what was the Memorial Flight. Why they never come back I don’t know. Except they are rebuilding one in Canada which I sometimes get little whippets of news from but I haven’t had one lately. No. Lovely aircraft.
TO: And did you ever know of any cases of people who refused to go on bombing raids?
FH: No. I heard that some people did and then they were classed as LMF in initials. Lack of moral fibre. And I think it was disgusting for those chaps to be labelled with such a thing because believe me I’d only done three trips and as I mentioned earlier the one in the Ruhr it was hell let loose. So, I can’t, I don’t wonder of some chaps not having the nerve to go again but being labelled LMF I think was wrong. Yeah. But I knew, never knew of anyone.
TO: When you were aboard the Halifax how did it compare to being aboard the Wellington?
FH: Well, quite a different experience in a way because with the [pause] when I was flying in the Wellington on training when we were crewing up mainly my position was looking out of the astrodome unless it was my turn to do the firing exercise. Then Les and I would change over and I’d sit in the tail turret to do the, carry out the firing exercise. But the experience of looking around and searching the sky which I practised in the astrodome was about the same except it was a much smaller area to look around. The Wellington I think could take a lot more punishment than the Halifax I think in as much that, how it was constructed. The framework being criss-crossed or whatever the wording is because I was flying in the Wellington once I was in the astrodome and actually saw the wings literally flap up and down which any other aircraft I think they’d have snapped off at the time. There was a, we had a Polish screened pilot instructing our pilot on the Wellington and he told him to dive down over base. We was over Reading at the time and he said, ‘When I say dive I mean dive.’ But Phil just did a gentle dive and he just took over the dual aircraft control and whoof. I was just in the astrodome dumbfounded. Mouth wide open. But we didn’t see him afterwards after the pilot reported him while we was debriefed. Yeah. Because that is one thing the pilot if possible excepting emergencies of course has to warn to the crew, or has to warn the crew on if he’s going in to a steep dive. Yeah. That’s about it I think.
TO: What was the process for moving the turret about?
FH: What was?
TO: The process for rotating the turret?
FH: The purpose.
TO: The process.
FH: Process. Oh, you’ve nearly got me beat now. Nearly forget it’s so long ago since I’d done it. It was a, we had a handle there, you know and port to starboard. Dip or raise on the handle. I’m trying to I remember if it was just a single. I can’t remember now. It was a single handle I think. You’d go port to starboard. The normal position for take-off and that kind of thing would be facing tailward. The turret would be, you know. Yeah.
TO: And what was the process for take-off?
FH: Well, everybody would be checking before we took off and check all particular instruments you know. The positions. We’d ensure the guns were loaded and the safety catch was on and that it worked of course but you always would be in a safe position on take-off. And at times I believe we used to, I used to have to sit in the fuselage for take-off. I can’t quite remember whether that was the actual rule. I’ve got a feeling it was during the training and once we was airborne you’d climb aboard and when you was on ops of course as soon as you got airborne you put your safety catch off and start the business of rotating. Searching the sky.
TO: And when you were on a raid could you see anything beneath you?
FH: Oh yes. For instance, our first raid was the airfield, an airfield in Holland and actually saw the bombs dropping. You know, landing on the airfield, yes. But when we were at Gelsenkirchen of course it was so, the area was full of smoke from the fires and the exploding of the bombs. We were actually bombing, in our case a red target which the Pathfinders indicated to the bomb aimer to bomb on and so we didn’t really see the bombs hanging there except that some times you’d be next to, pardon me, next to a puff of smoke. But it was so dense you just, your bombs exploding joining all the rest of the chaos that was going on. Yeah, then we were going to the Munster raid. Well, I don’t know because we were hit. I say we were hit. I don’t know even to this day whether we were hit from a bomb above us, whether it was ack ack or what the reason was but we were hit, you know. And whether the bombs had been gone I don’t know. So it was all, all very blank that side of things was. How long as I said before I was knocked out I don’t know. I shouldn’t think not long. Being in fresh air. I don’t know. Yeah. That’s about it I think.
TO: Could you actually hear the explosions of the flak?
FH: I can’t recall that one. No. No. I saw plenty of it. Yeah. Yes, it’s so one got hit and he started diving in flames but no I can’t recall whether I heard them or not. Saw the puffs of smoke all around us. Oh. Yeah. Glad to get out of that anyway. But hearing them I don’t know. I can’t, can’t say.
TO: Could you ever see fires beneath you? Could you ever see fires on the ground?
FH: On the ground? [pause] No. Well, when we were going into the Ruhr the second trip I mean there was a mass of smoke. The whole area was. So we didn’t actually see the flames there. I don’t [pause] On the first one I don’t remember seeing fires at the airfield no. We saw the explosions but no we didn’t actually see a fire start. No. Definitely not and probably did because we were carrying incendiary bombs. Yeah.
TO: And what about searchlights?
FH: No. We did all daylight raids ours was so they didn’t —
TO: Ok.
FH: They didn’t play havoc with us but I believe they did with some chaps. Yeah.
TO: And did you ever see enemy fighters?
FH: Didn’t see one enemy fighter. Not on, not while we were on bomber trips. No. No. The first one I saw was in Farnham funnily enough before I joined the Air Force. One that had been shot down or something and was on show in Farnham but otherwise, no.
TO: And did you hear about the bombing of Hamburg in 1943?
FH: Well, yes, we heard of the different raids taking place but I couldn’t, couldn’t relate any actual details. No. No. It’s you used to listen to the news you know about so many of our aircraft missing. The target was Hamburg or wherever it was we’d hear on the news you know. But you didn’t feel as though you was taking a risk. You didn’t think of that happening to you and being shot down until it happened.
TO: When you saw the planes for the Cologne raid were you aware, did you learn later it was the first thousand bomb raid?
FH: Yeah. Yeah. We learned later on it was. Yeah. Yeah. But it was a sight which stays with me. Where I was in our back garden with a spade in my hand digging and the neighbours was in their gardens and all of sudden this noise approached from what we called the Reading area over to us and they seemed to be turned right about our heads and heading towards Southampton. And plane after plane after plane. I can’t tell you how long it took for them to all go by but there were the boys with their waving their guns and looking because they weren’t very high. I couldn’t tell you the exact height but they could certainly know and they would see people on the ground and waving and they were waving. Moving the guns up and down to the people below. It was a wonderful sight but I can’t remember how many returned the following day. I don’t know. But it was a wonderful, wonderful sight. Yeah. There we go.
TO: When you were in the POW camps did you ever hear about the raid on Dresden?
FH: We had, someone had a wireless in the camp and we used to get snippets of news sent around to us by a group of chaps who was, nobody, well we didn’t, nobody in our hut knew where the wireless came from except I was told once a chap had a crystal set made into a set of false teeth. How true that was I do not know. But we used to get the little newsflashes most days. And someone would stand just casually at the door of the hut when the man came. A different one each day bringing around the news, you know that he’d heard on the wireless because the guard used to walk around the camp as well so if anybody was about nothing was spoken of, you know. Just casual everyday conversations like, you know. And on several occasions heard little bits of news while we was on the march. So whoever he was, whatever he was he did deserve something in recognition of what he’d done and kept the morale up of, of the lads in the camp. Yeah.
TO: And what was your opinion of the Browning guns you were using?
FH: Of course, I didn’t fire them in anger but they were, the four were synchronised together to fire together. Of course they were so synchronised if I was facing tailwards or frontwards over the wings the bullets wouldn’t hit them. They were so synchronised that you missed the tail turret or the tailplane, you know. Good thing. But no I think they were good. In fact, I think towards the end of the war they went to a .5 millimetre but ours were 303s. Four of them. Yeah.
TO: And what’s your best memory from your time in the RAF?
FH: My best memory? Now, that makes me think doesn’t it? Best memory. I suppose was when I flew back in to Dunsfold. Yeah. And the worst memory was there at the same time when they told me I had to go to Cosford instead of going straight home. So, it all turned out right, ok. Yeah.
TO: Do you think there is anything Bomber Command could have done to reduce its losses?
FH: Well, I don’t know. I mean to send a thousand I know it only, I think it only happened about twice, a thousand planes raid but I mean averages. Men had to be shot down or failed to return for some reason but I mean, I think it was in our case I think there was about two hundred planes on the target every half hour, you know. Which I would have thought was sufficient because the more there are there the more chance you’ve got, or the more the Germans had I think of hitting us and of course another thing with regards ourselves we were informed that if an aircraft, which in our case we were lower than we should have been when we were dropping our bombs the gunners on the ground picked out single aircraft out and put a box barrage up so, all around us so whichever way you turned up, down, sideways you were bound to get something. And it’s possible that’s what happened with us.
TO: Were you ever, when you were a prisoner were you ever worried that the, that the Germans might start killing captured airmen?
FH: Killing?
TO: Captured airmen.
FH: Well, we did hear of a case actually in our camp. I can’t say that I witnessed it but I have got a photograph of where it had taken place in my collection of photographs that was actually when the chap found this camera in the offices after the Germans left and the offices were ransacked for different ones to see what they could find as souvenirs. This one chap from London found a camera and he notified us that the, one of the films had been taken and he was going to include it on there whatever it was and it turned out to be where these two chaps were being shot. Yeah. Attempting to break out.
TO: Had you been taught the procedure for baling out during training?
FH: As far as I’m concerned the only training I had was in the Air Training Corps. We was over at Odiham and we was in a hangar one day. We’d been, been to a classroom and we’d been taught about parachuting. How they were folded and all the rest of it. And we were taken to one of the hangars and in one corner of the hangar there was one a platform right up in the ceiling and there was a rope hanging down and a ladder going up the side of the wall and we used to, they instructed us to, the corporal there, we climbed up the ladder. They’d feed a harness on us and explained that we’d be dropping at the same rate as though we were coming down in an actual parachute. It was geared towards a certain speed and we were told we’d got to hit the ground, to be in a ball and to roll over on our shoulder as we hit the ground. They had a mattress down for us to land on, you know. Not the concrete. And we’d done the rolls in PT and that kind of thing but the actual training from an aircraft? No. I can’t remember anything taking place. No. Except being told not to pull the ripcord while you were still in the aircraft which happened sometimes.
TO: What do you think was the most important battle of the war?
FH: I’ve no idea. I wouldn’t like to comment on that. No. They say the Battle of Britain some people but I don’t know. Without the help of the other Services no one Service could have won the war on its own. It was a joint effort as far as I’m concerned.
TO: When you began operations and were in 102 Squadron did people ever talk about comrades they’d lost?
FH: About?
TO: About friends they’d lost on raids.
FH: No. The simple reason we weren’t on the squadron long enough. We arrived there on the 18th of August ’44 and as we moved into our billets there were several airmen picking up the uniforms and belongings of another crew that had failed to return the previous night. And we thought that was quite a good omen. Or a bad one. Yeah. We just settled into the billet and we were there from the 18th to the 3rd of September which isn’t long really. And then as I said before on the 3rd of September we had to land away from base and when we come back we was on ops the next day to Gelsenkirchen and the next day on the fatal op so we didn’t really know anybody else on the squadron. Which is a shame really because we, we spoke to our own gunnery officer, I forget his name now but no, we didn’t know anything about other chaps.
TO: And did you remember hearing about the Dambuster raid?
FH: Yes. Vaguely. We heard about it but I can’t tell you quite where or when it was off hand. No. No, I can’t give you a date or where it was I heard it.
TO: What did you think?
FH: I’m bad on dates.
TO: Ok.
FH: Remembering dates.
TO: Do you remember what you thought when you heard it though?
FH: Oh, we thought it was quite a unique invention really because it was something entirely new as far as we was concerned and it had done its job. And we were rather surprised it was never used again but there you go. Yeah. You see various parts of it are supposed to have been part of a bouncing bomb in different places I’ve visited since the war but that’s about all.
TO: And what was everyday life like in Luft 7?
FH: In the camp? Well, it was just the same old routine. Up in the morning. Make a hot drink whenever possible. We used to make these home made what we called blowers with a bit of metal, with a tin with water in and turn and make the fan underneath the flames of odd bits of wood or cardboard. Then we used to go for, oh in the, pardon me the usual parade which was messed about with sometimes. They used to be counting the prisoners every day or twice a day and we’d line up on the parade ground and often somebody would decide to play up and move about in the parade while they were being counted and then they’d have the wrong number. Spent hours sometimes on the parade ground waiting for the Germans to say, ‘Alright go back to your billets.’ Which we used to do to play cards. Sometimes there was somebody would give a lecture or a talk on what their job was pre-war. And there would be the vicar, he was an Army chap funnily enough gave a, always took a church service on a Sunday. And one that he was second in command to [pause] the pilot officer, an Australian chap, of the camp, he was a Methodist minister and he used to give a Sunday service on a Sunday which I used to go to very often. And strange as it may seem I met up with his navigator back in 2015 at my first reunion and I met again where are we now? Last year. ’16. No. This year, sorry in Gloucestershire. I met with him again down there. Not that I knew him then but we got to know each other through the man that organised the reunions. Yeah.
TO: And can you remember what your room was like?
FH: What? In the prison camp you mean?
TO: Yeah.
FH: Yeah, it was a normal size. Well, like the English military huts divided in small rooms. It had one, what type of stove they called it? The round stove with the chimney going out through the roof which was never used because you couldn’t get the fuel for it. But there were four double bunks so each room after we left the garden sheds or dog kennels as we called them was eight. Eight to a room. Yeah. And we, you know sort of palled up in there and become good friends but unfortunately the only one I kept, could make contact with after the war was Charlie but he passed away in ’68. But the rooms were quite nice from that angle. Had a small table in and a bench seat to sit on. Yeah. Yeah.
TO: And what did you do to pass the time?
FH: Play cards. Chat about home life. Different places we, you know different ones come from. That kind of thing. We used to do quite a bit of walking around the perimeter track when the weather was suitable to keep exercising. Try to keep fit. Yeah.
TO: And what rations did the Germans give you?
FH: Very very little but I don’t think I can actually quote the one you, sometimes we’d get a slice of bread or a bowl of so-called soup which as I mentioned earlier I believe sometimes consisted of what looked like grass boiled up. Sometimes it would be potato skins where they’d been scraped and boiled up. Occasionally we’d get a jacket potato or a whole potato. I wouldn’t say a jacket potato. Oh, sometimes you’d get cheese or so-called cheese. It was about the size of a fishcake and you’d bite into it. It was like chewing gum and you could pull it out. Right out. It was horrible stuff. I don’t think everyone ate those. No. That was terrible stuff that was. But no, the rationing, the food could have been a lot lot better. No. that was one thing we did suffer.
TO: And did you ever get letters from Britain?
FH: I didn’t receive one. I sent several. The first one was at the transit camp after we’d been there and had a wash and which was a good one we were given a Red Cross letter and a Red Cross Card and it’s a period that said you would send one to your parents or wife whichever the case may be. And the other one you would send to the Irvin Parachute Company and notify them that you’d saved your life with one of their ‘chutes which I’d done. I sent one to mother and father of course but I never had a reply whatsoever. No. We sent several others but after the war they were a number of them were returned that mother and the girlfriend had sent. They were returned to me at home but not when we were a prisoner of war.
TO: Could you tell me that story again please of the, your friend on the train who managed to get hold of the Luger?
FH: Oh yeah. We’d travelling from Munster to the interrogation centre with the two guards. There were only the three of us. We hadn’t met up with the other two of our crew that survived but Taffy, the bomb aimer Charlie, myself was on the move. Charlie sat by the side of the, one of the guards. I sat next to him. Taf was on the other side of the carriage along with another guard and we’d been travelling for quite a while and they seemed to doze off. Of course, we didn’t speak because having been warned to be wary of such things you know in case something was said they picked up on. I saw Charlie who was looking sideways at the side of his, I saw Charlie, saw his hands down near the guard and the next time he had his luger in his hand and he opened it up. Just shook his head. And there was no bullets in it. I was shaking. I don’t mind admitting it. I was absolutely shaking because I was only a young kiddie I was. Charlie was about eleven years older. And eventually he put it back in the holster. Just carried on. The train journey went on. Of course, we couldn’t say anything to each other about it. And unfortunately, Charlie never mentioned a word about it afterwards. What his intentions were if there had been bullets in there whether [pause] I don’t know. But later on on that journey we were stopped at a station and we were on the one line and on the line to the left of us a train pulled in and there was all the German personnel covered in blood and bandages all over on one of their hospital trains. So one of the guards pulled the blind down in our carriage and the door was locked and they indicated to us that if they didn’t, if they hadn’t rolled the blinds down they would attack us and they wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. I realised, I did at the time well they had no bullets in their guns. But anyhow in the end there was quite a noise on the platform and in the end it seemed to quieten down with the civilians and we were let out and we had to run across the platform into a, well a kind of a waiting room and we were shoved into this room. The door slammed shut on us the three of us and I don’t know how long we were in there but quite a while and then the train, we heard the train start up and we were then, the door was opened. They looked around the door backwards and forwards and one guard had gone out and opened the carriage door and we were rushed in there. The door was shut shut and off the train went but there were a few people still on the platform but of course the train was on the move. They couldn’t do anything about it. We were safe for a bit longer. Yeah. Funny experience it was.
TO: Did you, well you already knew Normandy had happened by the time you were captured but did you think the war would soon be over when you were captured?
FH: Yeah. I think we, if we speak the truth we had a feeling you know we were getting to the end of it. Yeah, because the bombing was what’s the word? Quite, well the trips were quite regular and in numbers. Quite a high number of bombers coming out every day and the casualties you’d hear on the wireless we didn’t think we’d be there too long but we had no idea really. Wondering at the same time whether it was going to be years or months you know. Yeah.
TO: Did the mood of the guards change as the war turned against Germany?
FH: Hmmn?
TO: As the war, as it became, as the war went on did the mood of the guards change in how they treated you?
FH: To a certain extent yes because the very first night we were put in the cells at Munster and we were there for three, three days and on the day before we were sent to the Interrogation Centre one of the guards came in with our coffee so called and he stood chatting. He spoke English. He said we, ‘We should not be fighting each other. We should be fighting the Russians together.’ And we didn’t make much comment because I mean we still didn’t know whether it was a put up job you know being weary for our own sakes. But no, in the actual camp there was an Irish, well we called him Paddy, he was a German guard but when we was on the march he actually had civilian clothes underneath his Army uniform so that if they dispersed because he could get rid of his uniform and become a civilian or a prisoner of war, you know. Or, you know join our ranks. But what happened to him in the end I don’t know but, yeah because he was alongside us for quite a while but of course in different speeds, you know walking, ambling along you know. They were as bad as us. The guards, because they had to keep going you know and they didn’t really want to. No. [pause] Yeah. That’s about it.
TO: How did the guards behave in Luft 7?
FH: Well, they was reasonable really. I mean they were doing a job that they were paid for the same as we had been. But no, the higher ups they were a bit more severe you know. The old sergeant, and I forget his name but they were very firm. They wouldn’t stand any nonsense you know. But the ones who was patrolling the camp, ok you didn’t tell them anything and, but they were quite friendly in a sense. Inclined to speak to you or, in their broken English, you know. But they were doing a job they had to do. Yeah.
TO: And did you ever get Red Cross parcels?
FH: Yeah. We had a few. More Americans than English which I think once we had one each. They weren’t very regular the whole time I was a prisoner of war. Often one partial where they would be shared between perhaps four or six chaps and then at one stage it was one box per room which was eight men. And it would consist of what do you call it? Chocolate. Very hard thick chocolate. Some butter or margarine stuff. Tinned milk. A bit of tinned meat. What else was in them? Oh, prunes and sultanas. That type of thing boxed up. And cigarettes. There was always about two hundred cigarettes in each parcel which to some people you know was food to them you know. In fact, I used to have the odd occasional cigarette but it was while I was a POW that I started smoking in earnest if you’d like to put it that way because there was always plenty of cigarettes. Some chaps used to trade their food for cigarettes but I didn’t get to that. I often bought food, bartered food you know for cigarettes you know but unfortunately, I didn’t give up smoking when I came home. I carried on until 1995. But yes the food parcel was good. It was good food. The English parcels were slightly different but unfortunately, we didn’t get many of them. Either of them. And didn’t get any at all after we left Luft 7. No.
TO: And what were the weather conditions like during the Long March?
FH: Weather. Way below twenty degrees. And as I mentioned a number of night marches you could call them and the snow and blizzards we apparently marched around so they tell us Breslau, Breslau a couple of times around the autobahn and it was just a complete blizzard the whole time. They had no idea where they were taking us to. The Germans hadn’t. And well now when I see a little bit of snow I shiver. I really hate the stuff. I’ve seen enough of it in my life. Yeah. But of course, we was walking in our boots. These fine shoes we had on. Yeah. We used to have a, we took them off at night but in the morning they were still frozen. Just walked in frozen shoes and that. But I went to the Medical Centre on one occasion with my toes and they said it’s a touch of frost bite but whether it was I don’t know but I’m still to this day suffering with my toes at night. They seem to get warm and sometimes go numb my two big toes. But there we are. We’re still here. Still telling the tale.
TO: Did anyone get, did anyone get hyperthermia?
FH: Well, I can’t honestly say about that, no. No. I can’t really answer that one.
TO: And were there any prisoners who were unable to go on when they got ill?
FH: Oh yeah. During the march, well those that were sick when the march started they were left behind or taken to a Medical Centre. But on the march they had a horse and waggon where they, anybody took queer was put into this horse and waggon you know and carried on on the march but what happened to them in the end I don’t know because there were so many that didn’t arrive in the camp at the end. Luckenwalde. Either gave themselves up or jumped in the river as we crossed over. Through the holes. Things like that. It happened I’m afraid. Yeah.
TO: Were you ever worried that Allied bombers would attack you?
FH: Well, we were concerned put it that way but I don’t think we ever encountered any.
TO: And did you ever wish that the Germans had left you in Luft 7 for the Russians to take?
FH: Well, we did actually. Our little group. Because it really took it out of us on the march. We lost a lot of weight. And of course, the only snag was the Russians, our RAF uniforms were very similar to some of the Germans uniforms in colour and the fear was that they would shoot on sight. Ask questions after, you know. So that was one of the reasons that there was nothing on the march but I think perhaps we might have been better off if we had stayed where we were. But on the other hand those that were like myself I said earlier we’d been after the Germans moved out and the Yanks arrived with their vehicles and they stopped the Yanks taking us out. They said they were evacuating us via Odessa. And the things I heard afterwards a lot of those chaps did go that way and were never heard of since. But how true we don’t know but it was a long way around or would have been, you know. Yeah.
TO: What else can you say about the morning that you were liberated?
FH: Well, I mean it was all hand waving and trying to contact, get in touch with the Russians because they were on the move with the tanks, you know and there were troops following by foot you know. But word was going around stay where you were you know because the Russians weren’t going to stop with their tanks. They was on the move you know. But yeah, it was joyous I suppose for a while. But when we realised that they was basically holding us as prisoners it changed. The mood changed completely because we was a number of days with them when the food was worse than what it was with the Germans, you know. So that was one of the reasons why we had, the others with me to leave the camp and get near the Yanks if we could you know. To get food and help because we, when I come home I was just under seven stone and in fact I was putting weight on so much I went to the doctor and queried, you know. But they sort of explained that it would be a thing to do but not to overdo the eating but it all worked out in the end you know.
TO: And how did you feel when you heard that Germany had surrendered?
FH: Well, we were quite pleased naturally and of course that’s when we thought we were on our way home but that was on the, was it the 8th of May wasn’t it? Yeah. I’d just had my twenty first birthday on the 3rd of May and that is when some of the chaps well we were actually, no I beg your pardon we were actually on the trying to contact the Yanks because they’d arrived at our camp on the 23rd and the war was still on when we, when we heard [pause] Sorry when we were on the march, on the move to get in touch with the Yanks is when we heard that the war was over. Yeah. And because when we heard these hand grenades going off in the lake after we got over the bridge, the River Elbe we thought there was some in-fighting going on you know. But it turned out that these Yanks were passing time away because they were bored and they was killing, blowing up all the fish in the lake. Yeah.
TO: And when did you get your first proper meal after leaving the POW camp?
FH: Well, we had food from the Yanks but I suppose if I remember right the first real meal was at the Army camp in Brussels right before I was flown back home. I was there basically a couple of days. Yeah. We had plenty of cigarettes given to us on the route but you know we weren’t really interested in those in a way we had so many of them. Yeah. I know we sat down to the meal in the Army barracks. Yeah. Amazing.
TO: This is just going back slightly but can you tell me how you actually felt during the bombing raids?
FH: What?
TO: Just —
FH: Us bombing them do you mean?
TO: No. When you, when you were above in the turrets.
FH: Yeah.
TO: You were on the raid.
FH: Yeah.
TO: What were your general feelings?
FH: Well, I must admit I didn’t think about getting shot down. It’s a, it was a strange feeling. You knew that chaps were being shot down. The planes not returning. Every day you heard it on the news you know but when you was actually doing it at least I didn’t think of being shot down. Not until I was sitting in the turret without any guns. Well, the first day I mean it was nearly a normal run. There was a few ack acks but over the Ruhr that was a different kettle of fish altogether. That was, well hell let loose is my opinion. As I said the only way, the best way I can describe it is today’s fireworks when they’re all in full swing and a load of them going off in the sky all different colours and that. Imagine that those were shells exploding and an aeroplane flying in between them and that’s as near as I can get for that. They weren’t coloured of course. They were just puffs of smoke you could see you know exploding all around you. Yeah.
TO: And how did you feel about the bombing campaign itself?
FH: Well, I suppose we thought it had to go ahead to win the war, you know. I mean I joined up to fly and that meant you’d be on bombing raids, you know. But you didn’t think, or I didn’t think personally that I was bombing people. I was bombing targets. I mean until we were walking along this canal in Munster after we’d been shot down and we had these two guards with us and on our left was a row of houses all burning. It would be about a hundred yards from where we were on the canal bank and they were running towards us when they realised there was English people being walking along this towpath. I mean that is when I realised or I realised I don’t know about the others that we may have killed people. When we saw the row of houses being burned and you know and they were running after us with pitch forks and broom handles which some of them got through and hit us across the back which well we’ll say no more. And we were pleased to get off that canal that night. Off that tow path. Yeah. That’s it.
TO: And how do you feel about the way Bomber Command was treated after the war?
FH: Terrible. They weren’t recognised at all for the work they’d done in my opinion and it took, took the authorities a long time to realise that, this is why I didn’t speak much about Churchill and I think we’ll leave it at that because he was the one who was leading the war. He was the one that followed instructions who made and gave instructions to the powers that be to do this and do that but he didn’t speak of us after the war when so many people was talking about Dresden. But what about Coventry and places like ours. Southampton and London. Yeah. There we go. But as far as I was concerned we were bombing military targets you know and it never entered our heads that we were killing people. No.
TO: Why do you think Bomber Command was treated that way?
FH: I’ve no idea except that [pause] I suppose they spoke about [unclear] so much that well they gathered it was wrong to do it. I think so but I don’t know. I think Bomber Command was treated very badly or the personnel were. That so many thousands gave their lives for and then not being recognised for what they’d done. Terrible. So that’s only one individual’s opinion. Yeah.
TO: And how do you feel about the Memorial in Green Park and Lincoln?
FH: I like that. I think it’s something well worth supporting and I admire the people that thought of it and that were running the whole scheme. And I hope and pray that I can get back there again and just place a poppy against my good friend Les and Phil’s name on the monument one day. Whether that would be possible I don’t know but what we saw of it on that opening day it’s a terrific place. Well worth the money being spent. Yeah.
TO: How did you feel when you heard about the Holocaust?
FH: Well, how can I word it? The shock to think anybody could literally do it. I mean ok soldiers were being killed in battle and that kind of thing on both sides but their whole lot of them just being put in a chamber. Oh. It don’t bear thinking about. And on our march we passed very close not knowing it at the time to Auschwitz. Of course, we knew nothing of it until after the war. You know, it made us, well made me think, well, you know we’re so close to where it happened you know. But there we go.
TO: How do you feel about Germany today?
FH: Germany?
TO: Today. How do you feel?
FH: Well, I think Mrs Merkel or whatever her name is is a funny woman but on the whole the Germans and I mean we’re doing the right thing to get together and that. When we first moved over here in this area from Hartley Wintney to Church Crookham in the bungalow just a few doors away from here our neighbour was a German POW over here and we used to have chats about it. We got on well together and I mean that is the only thing that’s going to stop another war I think. I mean we’re so intermixed now I think they were after the last war as far as the First World War but they’ve intermixed other countries have. More now over the last decade or so that I mean it nearly goes against the war. If it didn’t, well it would be a different kind of war and your air gunners wouldn’t be needed for one thing. But no I think it’s a good thing that we are getting together. Yeah. No, I mean we carried out our instructions. The Germans carried out their instructions. The troops. Airmen. So there we are.
TO: Did you, I probably should have asked this one before but did you feel any animosity towards Germany during the war?
FH: Well, I don’t know. I mean, we realised that the authorities had declared war against each other and that we had to do our [unclear] memories of England to bring an end to it in some form or other. And that’s, I chose to join the Air Force. Yeah. But I really think so many of us were so young we didn’t realise what we were letting ourselves in for, you know. But no regrets. No. We helped to bring peace to the world again. Although it makes you wonder whether if it was ever worth it with all the loss of life. There we go.
TO: And what do you think of films that have been made about the war?
FH: I’ve watched one or two but you cannot in my opinion [pause] now, what’s the word?
TO: Recapture.
FH: Yeah, the actual fighting and bombing I mean. You can’t recall in actual words. Now some have been sort of highlighting the humour and that put in them but no. I don’t. I don’t think, well they can’t capture the actual meaning of the battle. No.
TO: And what have you done since the war then?
FH: Not a lot. No. I’ve had numerous jobs but mainly shop work and selling which I enjoyed which I was doing before the war. I had one spell of lorry driving which I’d done for a major [unclear] in Hartney Wintney. And from there I travelled all over Scotland, Wales and England of course delivering shrubs. We worked for a wholesale. It was a Dutch firm actually operating out of Bagshot, just outside of Bagshot. He used to grow all types of shrubs and trees and we used to transform to various nurseries. Yeah. Quite interesting. He got me about a third of the country. But I was a member of Toc H which was formed after the First World War. And what else? Oh, when I retired yeah, sorry about that.
TO: That’s alright.
FH: When I retired and moved over here I joined the, I worked voluntary for a Day Centre for eleven years. Yeah. But otherwise just normal. I didn’t really have a trade. That’s why it is I’m not rich but I’m happy and I always have been and will remain so I hope. We moved into this flat what almost eighteen months ago now. Yeah. A brand new flat and we’re happy and cosy. Contented. Yeah.
TO: Have you ever been back to Germany at all?
FH: Unfortunately, no. I would love even to this day to be able to go back to Germany and visit the graves of my two friends. Yeah. But as I say not being a millionaire it’s always been against me but never mind. I always think of them. And although I do attend the local Memorial Service in the village where I was born and joined the Air Force throng on the 11th of November but if I can’t get there through bad weather I don’t have to go there to remember them. It’s the same with my brother that I lost. They’re in there all the time. Yeah. Never mind. Who knows what will happen in the future? Nobody does. No.
TO: Anything else you want to add at all about your experiences at all? Any stories that you didn’t mention before?
FH: No. Where are we? No. I don’t think so. I think it’s really been well covered. I will probably dream away tonight although I didn’t last time.
Other: No, it’s —
FH: But often when I’ve been to [unclear] not exactly nightmares but I kick my feet about and but I think I got over that one. We’ll let you know in the morning. No.
TO: Just one last question now to finish off there. What’s your thoughts on Britain’s involvement in events in the Middle East?
FH: What? The present day like you mean? Yeah. Well, personally I mean we do poke our noses in things quite a bit but on the other hand I feel that perhaps we missed out when the trouble in Syria started. We should have gone there and sorted them out there and then and prevented a lot of this that’s going on today. That’s my opinion for what it’s worth. But no, it’s [pause] I don’t know, the world’s got to get together somehow but how it’s going to happen I don’t know. If ever it will. There has always been wars. There’s always a weaker member. We learned that at school didn’t we? But I’m quite pleased that a lot of the schools I believe in England now are talking about the Second World War and what went on and that kind of thing. I mean for instance my granddaughter she’s a schoolteacher at Lee on Solent. No.
Other: Bexhill. Bexhill.
FH: Bexhill in Sussex and she’s got one of my books. Oh, she’s got this one. I think she’s got the one I showed you earlier, the first one. And on Armistice Days she brings that out and puts it on her desk. She talks to the class about it and tells them what her grandfather had done and she’s done that now for, well ever since 2009/10. But now she’s just given birth to her first child, my great grandchild. The photo is behind you. And so whether she’ll be back there in time for this year I don’t know. But she has done her part as a teacher to inform. And a number of the local schools have had photographs of my war years but that’s about all I think. Yeah. Thanks.
TO: Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure.
FH: Thank you. Thank you for coming so far to speak to me and hopefully it’s not been a waste of time.
TO: It’s been an amazing way to spend my time. Thank you.



Tom Ozel, “Interview with Fred Hooker,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 1, 2023,

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