Interview with Peter Liddle

Title

Interview with Peter Liddle

Description

Peter Liddle was living in Falkirk when he and his twin brother both volunteered for the RAF. Peter became a bomb aimer and was posted to 460 Squadron at RAF Binbrook. He was shot down and as he was descending by parachute he could see his burning aircraft and at least three other parachutes coned by searchlights. Peter became a prisoner of war at Stalag Luft 4B.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2016-11-30

Contributor

Julie Williams

Rights

This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Format

00:48:52 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

ALiddlePAF161130, PLiddlePAF1601

Temporal Coverage

Transcription

DM: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is David Meanwell. The interviewee is Peter Liddle. The interview is taking place at Mr Liddle’s home in Badshot Lea in Surrey on the 30th of November 2016. Ok. Peter, if you start of with just a bit about growing — where you were born and growing up.
PL: Yeah.
DM: Before you joined up.
PL: Right. I was born in Falkirk in 1921. In Falkirk. A twin. A twin brother, Alfred. And in 1939 when the war started a mobilization order came out saying that all male person, all male persons between nineteen and [pause] sixty I think it was had to report to to the local Exchange in Falkirk. That date duly arrived. At nineteen my twin brother and I went and joined up. And three options — army, navy or air force. My twin brother and I being ex-members of the ATC at that time volunteered. Volunteered for aircrew duties. After the usual medical examination I was called up in [pause] 1940 and report to Aircrew Receiving Centre at Lord’s Cricket Ground. From there kitted out and posted up to Initial Training at St Andrews. And from there I did a graded — posted to a Group Grading School. Flying School in Perth and soloed on Tiger Moths after eight hours instruction. From there eventually posted to Canada [noise of letter box ] Oh post. And to join the Empire Air Training Scheme. And after training in Canada — Ontario, Calgary, several other stations met my twin brother. He was, he was doing pilot training as well. And we came back to the UK in 1943. That’s it. Joined the Operation, Operational Training Unit, OTU at Lichfield. And posted to Blyton on twin engine Wellingtons having been crewed up at a centre in Lichfield. Three members of the crew were [pause] four members of the crew were Australian. Mid-upper gunner, wireless op, pilot and navigator. After operational training posted to a Conversion Unit at Blyton in Lincolnshire. Near Gainsborough. Converted from twin to four engine aircraft there via a Halifax first and eventually posted to a squadron at Binbrook. We picked up a flight engineer there because the four engined aircraft required an extra crew member and they weren’t trained in Australia.
DM: And you were flying as the bomb aimer. Is that right?
PL: Pardon?
DM: You were the bomb aimer.
PL: Flying as a bomb aimer.
DM: Yeah.
PL: After I joined the squadron, 460 in November ’43 and after one or two exercises, fighter affiliation, air to air firing and fighter affiliation our first raid was scheduled for the 19th of November. The big city. Berlin. It was the start of the Berlin bombing campaign and I went on the 19th, 21st and 23rd of November. We reached the target alright and dropped our bombs. No problem at all. We were engaged over the target by a Focke Wulf 190 but we managed to evade that attack. But my hydraulic hoses on the turret burst for some reason and I was covered in oil. Hydraulic oil. We, we turned then for the return trip back. There may have been a change of wind and and I think at the time we were blown south of the markers, route markers, on the way back and we finished up over the Ruhr. Happy Valley as it was called then. We were immediately coned by the radar controlled blue searchlight. Impossible corkscrewing, evasive action. We couldn’t get out of it and in no time the port engine was on fire and the captain told the [pause] control the hydraulics. The captain told the mid-upper and the rear gunner to vacate their turrets. The shelling got worse. We were flying about twenty, twenty two thousand feet at the time and no amount of evasive action we could get out of the radar controlled searchlights. The plane was on fire then. Diving down. And the captain said, ‘’Crew. Prepare to abort. Abandon aircraft.’ And I did the, as I was trained to do released the forward hatch so as we could bale out from there. I sat on the edge of the hatch. Oh I jettisoned the hatch cover down. Sat on the edge. Whipped off my intercom and oxygen mask helmet in case they snagged on the parachute cords and somersaulted forward out of, out of the plane with a terrific deceleration. I thought at first I may have got caught in the tail but no. I was safe. Dropped the rip cord away. I could watch on the way down the plane diving away on fire and at least three members of the crew were coned in the searchlights on the way down. I didn’t know where I was going to land because coming down at night you couldn’t tell the difference between the, the, what was water, what was buildings or what was forest. And luckily I came down in a patch next to the forest. I landed quite heavily but survived that. Followed my training instructions. Burying the parachute which was, which I did under the, next to a cattle truck. Truck. Cattle truck. Where the ground was soft. I then buried my flying kit except the battle dress. Checked on my escape kit. Buried all my badges etcetera and went into the woods and settled down there. I could hear the all clear go on the, on the sirens. Next morning. Early. It was still dark. Dawn. The first person I saw was a Wehrmacht soldier cycling home. Probably off duty. He had his can on the handlebars of his bike. Later on in the day I checked on my escape kit. I checked out where I was. I could tell I was in Germany because the navigator said, ‘I think we’re east of the Rhine,’ And I confirmed that by seeing the German notices on their electricity pylons — “Verboten." During the day I tried to get my bearings but I came across a group. A group of Hitler Jugend parading in the nearby roads. I managed to get between — in Germany on most roads there’s drainage on both sides of the road. I went down into one of those connecting culverts and I must have been seen by somebody but they came and asked me for my identification. They knew at once that I was an aircrew member. They took me to the local police station then and told me my pilot had been killed. Killed by flak in his parachute. They didn’t say who else had been killed at the time because they hadn’t found the two gunners who were still trapped in the aircraft. The other three members of my crew — they didn’t say anything about that. And I didn’t, I didn’t meet up with them until I eventually got, got to Dulag Luft via an experience. I was being escorted by a Luftwaffe officer and we had to stop enroute in Cologne. And unfortunately there was an air raid on at Cologne then and of course we had to go into the air raid shelters under the station. And that was bit dodgy because all the lights went out at one time and I was down there on my own. Aircrew. Just been on a raid to Berlin. The all clear went without any mishap down in the shelter and when we came above near the cathedral I could see the damage done to the, done to the, one of the spires. We eventually reached Dulag Luft and I was there until about the 8th I think. Oh [pause] I just forget. We eventually went by train. Cattle truck. It took about three days, two days to get across Germany to Nuremberg which is just north of Dresden. And I think I arrived, we arrived [pause] we arrived the 28th of November. Registered with the Red Cross then and given a number. Once you had that number there you were under the jurisdiction of the Red Cross. Anything could have happened between Dulag Luft and prison camp. Every time there was an air raid on then the trains were shunted into the siding. I was there too. We were duly photographed and that identity card, I’ll tell you about that later on, we acquired after the liberation by the Russians from the, from the German headquarters. That’s it. And fingerprints. All the information. That’s my air force number 1556756. That’s cleaned up, shaved, in the prison camp. A little — and the number.
DM: 203 263602.
PL: 263602.
DM: How did you feel when you arrived at the prison camp?
PL: Pardon?
DM: What were your thoughts when you got to the camp? What did you think of it?
PL: Well, on the camp it was at night because it was no — we had no idea where we were really until we went through the gates. Well, we were in prison camp then. The next day we were deloused. Hair all shaved off by the Russian prisoners. They were operating the machines. Like a horse trimmer. Deloused. And allocated a camp. While I was in the camp I was apprenticed. Trained at, being apprentice trained at the time. I managed to get a drawing board and information from the Red Cross through their education scheme. And during, in ’44 when, when there was a typhus, typhus epidemic in the camp we were, we were confined to our barracks. Barracks. Now, if you look at that there there’s the RAF compound consisting of four huts. Two hundred men in each side. A wood built hut there. Centre ablutions. And another two hundred odd. So there was four hundred in each. Aircrew. Locked up. The gate, the gate into the camp was there. Right. Well, we were moved from there out to hut sixteen. I think.
DM: That was originally the French and Dutch compound.
PL: Yeah.
DM: Yeah.
PL: They wanted that for, for a different nationality. So, we were there ‘til the 23rd of November. Out on parade. Appell as they called it. No guards there to take the count. They’d left the camp the night before. And the next thing we saw the Russian cavalry coming up that road from Neuburxdorf. They came up there. Cossacks. Run to the front gate which was there and gone up straight down the main roadway. Back out again and off. That was it. So we were left in the charge of the senior British officer then for him to negotiate with the Russians. Now, the Russians held us in that, in the camp apart from allowing us to go out for foraging to get food. And the army were quite good at that. They brought back fresh meat and food. Chickens. And of course it didn’t do us any good because we couldn’t eat fresh meat. We’d been, we had been without parcels for about — well we were down to one parcel between twenty. So we were short of food. Eventually the Russians said, ‘Well, we’ll march you down to Riesa,’ which is a town quite near the camp. Near Dresden, ‘And we will billet, we’re going to billet you there until we come to some agreement with the Americans.’ They might have been holding ex-POWs as bargaining power with the Americans. A Canadian chap and I we decided we weren’t going to Riesa and we made our own way and stayed for a couple of nights with a German family enroute to the River Elbe. We stayed with this German family and after being in a prisoner of war camp for two years they gave us a bed for two nights with a white, the first time I’d ever seen a duvet. That was the German nightwear you know. And during, during the time there we were visited once or twice with the, with the Russian soldiers looking for female members of their family. We said goodbye to them but with regret because they wanted us living with them as a protection. We eventually got to the Elbe. And on a tributary of the Elbe at a place called Oschatz near Torgau. That’s where the Americans were based. We crossed the river there on a pipe bridge to the other side and the Germans were waiting there. Russian trucks were waiting there to take us to our camp at Halle. They’d captured an airfield in Halle. And from there they fed us and of course I listened to Churchill’s big speech on the, on the radio. And they flew us to Brussels. And then from Brussels to Cosford. At Cosford in [pause] near Wolverhampton. We were debriefed there. Medicals. Kitted out and sent home on leave. I duly arrived home at — mother didn’t know my whereabouts at all and she just said, ‘Come away,’ and that was it. Back home in Falkirk.
DM: You were going to say how you got hold of your identity card. Your prison identity card.
PL: I’ll tell you about that. After the, two or three days after the Russians when the camp had settled down we, one or two of us went up to the commander. Commander [unclear] Got into the filing cabinets. Found out where our papers were and we all — that’s when I got my, got the original. And that’s a copy of it. The original. It was all information of —that’s where I lived in Falkirk. Next of kin, identity and air force number. Shot down. They’ve got it down as Essen on the 23rd of the 11th ’43. That’s a photograph of that with the identity. And that’s the negative. When I got back I corresponded with a Mike Garbett. He was author of Lancaster 1, 2 and 3. He he got in touch with me to relate to him an experience. So I set all that down and sent it. Sent it off to him. So that’s really an account of what happened. That’s it. And he acknowledged, he acknowledged it. As I say when I was in the camp that’s the, that’s the original plan of the camp I drew when we were in quarantine. And I’ve based the, I shan’t get that out because it’s getting a bit fragile now.
DM: I can imagine.
PL: This is a small print of the — print of the camp.
[pause]
DM: Did anybody escape from the camp while you were there?
PL: Well, we had an Escape Committee but they weren’t very happy about escaping. The only means we had of escaping were the army. There was, the army POWs who were sent out on commando, work parties. And they devised a scheme where an army man would change places with an RAF man. Right. And when they went out in the working party the RAF man devised a way of escaping. It wasn’t very successful. Always came back into the camp. Two weeks in solitary. Punishment. But the way, the way I drew this at the time paced out all the perimeter lighting. About fifty yards between each column. That gave me the scale of the camp. And as I say when we were there last in April for five days we got a copy of [pause] a copy of this.
DM: This is when you went back to the camp.
PL: Back on a visit.
DM: Yeah.
PL: On a display. On a display board. P Liddle. Because after the war, after the release [pause] there’s a book on there. The visit. If you’d like to have a look at that.
DM: So you went back to the Stalag.
PL: Yeah.
DM: In April 2015.
PL: Went back on a Monday.
DM: Right. How many of you went? Can you remember?
PL: Well —
DM: Actual. Actual POWs. Obviously you had family and friends.
PL: I think I was the only one then.
DM: Really.
PL: Yeah. Guest of honour.
DM: Yeah. I bet.
PL: If you like. That’s my son and grandson. They were, they were, when we [pause] that’s one of the organisers. [unclear] Berlin. To the Imperial War Graves.
DM: Yeah. Cemetery.
PL: [unclear]
DM: Yes.
PL: Have you been there?
DM: No. I haven’t. No.
PL: That’s the Olympiad 1936. That’s inside the [pause] Soviet War Memorial in Berlin.
DM: How did the Russians treat, how did the Russians treat you when you were with the Russians?
PL: The Russians?
DM: Yeah.
PL: You mean the Germans?
DM: No. The Russians. When you, when the Russians liberated the camp.
PL: Oh. They were off.
DM: They didn’t sort of bother with you.
PL: No.
DM: At all.
PL: In fact the Russians prisoners of war as soon as the Russians, the Cossacks arrived they were off. Just knocked the fences down and went off.
DM: Went off.
PL: Where they went?
DM: No.
PL: No idea.
DM: And the Germans. How did they treat you while you were there? Were they fair do you think?
PL: They were fair because we didn’t have to go in working parties. That’s the main gate. Stalag IV-B. There’s a party going out now. A working party. But being senior NCOs we didn’t have to do work.
DM: Were you a warrant officer by then?
PL: No. I was a warrant officer when I got back [laughs] Six months Colditz. That was two of the members. Well, that’s a Memorial in the camp. No. In Neuburxdorf. It was built by the French POWs. Well France.
DM: So, what, how many nationalities were there in your camp? Obviously Australians, Canadians and British and New Zealanders.
PL: And there were Serbians and later on there was a Romanian. They were German allies at the time but they capitulated in ’44 and they brought all the officers in to the camp as POWs. And during the time they were there I acquired through the, through a middle man, a dealer if you like, a Polish Jew. Aye. His name was Novokowski. I remember to this day. He came to me one day and says, ‘I’ve got a pair of binoculars. Romanian officer’s binoculars.’ He said, ‘And I could get you a luger as well if you want. If you want it.’ he says, ‘I want three hundred. Three hundred cigarettes.’ Of course cigarettes were legal tender.
DM: Yeah.
PL: And I was quite fortunate in getting a regular supply from the squadron. So I’d still got them. I’ve got the, I had these binoculars buried in my bunk somewhere. Under the floorboards at the time. Took a brick out and put it under the floor. And I was able to keep the rest of the lads [pause] what was happening with the American Air Force raids. It was very helpful that. My son, my grandson, we laid a wreath at the, at the Memorial. Now, only those who have been imprisoned should talk to us about freedom. That’s the trans, my grandson translated that. That was left on. And that there, that little obelisk, holding up your original drawing. After the war, after the release of the camp the Russians converted the, refurbished the camp as a camp for dissidents for, ‘til 1949.
DM: Right.
PL: They electrified and boarded up all of the fences so as they couldn’t contact the outside world. We had a piper in the party. And that’s me actually sitting on the foundation.
DM: Of the hut.
PL: Of the hut.
DM: Of your hut. What happened to your twin brother? Did he survive the war?
PL: He, he finished up flying with the Second Tactical Air Force at Lubeck on rocket firing Typhoons. He survived the war. He died two years ago.
DM: Right. Was he a pilot or a navigator?
PL: He was a pilot.
DM: A pilot. Yeah.
PL: He was a pilot. He got right through the war without a scratch. That’s a display board in the camp. There was a section there where my plan was stuck up.
DM: So I assume — was the camp in old East Germany or was it in West Germany?
PL: It was in old east Germany.
DM: It was. Yeah. So you obviously wouldn’t have been able to visit it until after.
PL: Aye. Yeah.
DM: Right.
PL: And after, after the, where you crossed the River Elbe. That’s it.
DM: So how did you get across the river?
PL: I went across a pipe bridge. Bridges were down. Torgau and Oschatz. [pause] My —
DM: Can you remember when you were demobbed?
PL: Well, after my two weeks leave, repatriation leave, I could have. I could have come straight out of the air force. Ex-POW. But I opted for an extra six months to get back into civilian life after. After the two years I wanted to get myself acclimatised. So I was posted down to De Havillands and they gave me a job in a drawing office then to get used to. And after six months I came out and had an interview for a job with United Steel Companies in Sheffield. And my intended wife lived in Sheffield. She was an ex-wireless op. She corresponded with me while I was in Germany but her letters always came back with holes in them, you know. She told me too much about [laughs] And my, we were [pause] that’s a, a Dutchman did a panoramic view over there as a painting and made it available. You can see the similarity as the — to my drawing. What else have I got to show you? [pause – pages turning] Now, when the camp was being used as a camp for dissidents about seven thousand were buried in a mass grave. Never heard of again. No names. And this is a Memorial that the families erected.
[pause]
DM: Did you, was it four of your crew that survived?
PL: Pardon?
DM: Was it four of your crew that survived the —
PL: Four.
DM: Yeah.
PL: Aye. Well —
DM: Did you meet up with any of them?
[pause]
PL: I’ll tell you about them.
DM: Right.
PL: But I’ll just put these away. Years ago.
DM: So the —
PL: Ten years ago I got a letter from Australia.
DM: Right.
PL: It was from the nephew of the pilot. His mother was the pilot’s sister and she had handed all the information to her son who was flying with Quantas Airways at the time. And during one of his trips to Luxembourg they decided to do a bit of research and find the [unclear] I was going to show you that. I’ve got his letters. I’ve got his letters somewhere.
DM: You didn’t meet any of the crew while you were a prisoner.
PL: Pardon?
DM: You didn’t meet up with any of your —
PL: Oh yes.
DM: You did.
PL: They actually landed in our, the same camp.
DM: So all four of you were in the same camp.
PL: Yeah.
DM: Right.
PL: Well, used to [unclear] anyway this Grant, the pilot from Australia he researched the, found where the actual crash site was.
DM: Right.
PL: Mollen. He sent me this. That’s Mollen [pause] that’s — he researched all this and the crash was at Bahnhof. That’s a German station at Mollen.
DM: A station. Yeah.
PL: And at [pause] He spoke to a woman in there. She was sixteen when the plane came down. She remembers it when she was a girl. And in 2006 my son and I he was, he was a Porsche enthusiast at the time. He was driving a 911 and he bought a car. A Boxster S. He said, ‘We’ll take it to Germany, Peter and visit the — ' I had the information from the pilot.
DM: The crash site.
PL: He said we’ll go and visit that. And so we went there. Actually went to the site but the woman that lived there she was on holiday so we didn’t see her. But then from there we went to Reichswald. To the Imperial War Graves are. [pause] The pilot, the two gunners. That’s there and the pilot is there. Three men. Three of them they were re-interred at Reichswald near Arnhem.
DM: Right.
PL: So we went to visit that. The Australian pilot, Grant Worthington, he told us about where the graves were and he was really surprised. His one remark was about it was, about it was no signs of graffiti at all. It was designed by a British architect. Very moving really. There’s the Boxster I went in outside the station house. That’s where the plane came down. Near the Bahnhof. That’s the station house.
DM: Right.
PL: There’s the railway and it was near. It was on that road. The crash site and he’s put a plaque on there somewhere. We didn’t see it but we — no time you know. But these are different. That’s, that’s the obelisk at the camp there.

Collection

Citation

David Meanwell, “Interview with Peter Liddle,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed August 7, 2020, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/11170.

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