Interview with Jack Kenneth Lyon


Interview with Jack Kenneth Lyon


Jack Lyon was a navigator/ bomb aimer and a prisoner of war for almost four years. Born in 1918, he was employed with the London Gas Company as a bookkeeper until August 1939 when he transferred to Shell. At the outbreak of the war, Shell closed their London office and Jack enlisted in the RAF on the 5th September. He was attracted to the extra privileges that aircrew received. Initial training commenced in late 1939 and elementary flying training in June 1940. Being unsuccessful with pilot training, Jack completed navigator training at RAF Prestwick, followed by armament training at RAF Manby, and operational training at RAF Kinloss. On completion of training, Jack was awarded his commission and posted to RAF Linton-on-Ouse. Being the only commissioned member of the crew, Jack found the opportunities to socialise restricted. Having only completed a few operations, Jack and his crew had to abandon their stricken aircraft. Separated from his crew, Jack was arrested by a German soldier cycling past who, faced with a long walk, decided the easiest way was for Jack to ride on the crossbar. Stopping at the first house they came to, the soldier arranged for Jack’s wounds to be attended to, and he was given tea and cake. Initially billeted in Stalag Luft 1, before being transferred to Stalag Luft 3 in April 1942, where he remained until early 1945. Douglas Bader was also billeted there, and Jack witnessed the famous incident when Bader inspected the German guards before being transferred. Early in 1945 with the advancing Russian army getting near, Jack participated in what became known as “The Long March”. Following the German surrender, Jack returned home, and following demob, returned to continue his career with Shell.







02:03:03 audio recording


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CB; My name is Chris Brockbank and today is the 2nd of February 2018, and I am here in Bexhill with Jack Lyon, to talk about his life and times, now he’s aged a hundred. So Jack what is your, what were your first recollections of life?
JB: Well I think a baby in a pram, and I remember going past a hoarding in Sydenham and I must have dropped something, yeah that’s my first, I was only about five years old I suppose then, apart from that I-
CB: What did your parents do?
JL: Sorry?
CB: What did your parents do?
JL: My father worked in the Smithfield Market, connected with the wholesale bacon trade, that sort of thing. He was a clerk in, George Bowles Nichols was the name of the firm. It had a, you know, a stake in Smithfield Market but they didn’t deal much in meat, mainly in products like ham and that sort of thing. George Bowles Nichols it was, he was a clerk in there. And he was a, oh right from a young child he had a, he was, had a bad health, in fact he had three brothers and they all did except one: they had a hereditary disease which gave them this hump back sort of thing. He nevertheless managed to work, to travel up to London every day, until in 1932 he had a, well he had a, and he died in 1932, anyway, of this, it was while we were on holiday my memory, in this town of Cleve. He didn’t die there, but he was in a very bad way and we only got home, a few days later he died. Well that was, what did I do then.
CB: And you lived in Sydenham then.
JB: I, we was living in Sydenham, and I attended Brockley County School. I’d passed what was the equivalent of the eleven plus from a, I began my school at five years old, in a, they call a church school I think it cost me, cost my mother about a shilling a week to get to, for this, a good education though, very good. I was going to say I passed this, the equivalent of the 11-plus and I went to this Brockley County until, well, I left school at sixteen and I went to work with a London gas company, the South Suburban Gas Company, which had an area extending from Lewisham right down to Tonbridge. I worked in their admin department. At the same time I was studying night school and, let me see that takes us up to, oh yes the, I left, I passed that what’s called the 11-plus and I was at the school and then the South Suburban Gas Company, I joined that in February 1934, and at the same time I tell you I was night school at a place in Knights Hill and I remember on the 30th, sorry on the 30th November 1936, somebody rushed in and said the Crystal Palace is on fire and of course that was the end: we watched that happen. Great pity because it, well it had, anyway I continued to work. In 1939 when I was still working for the South Suburban, I was studying night school as well - accountancy and that sort of thing - I passed stage one of the Royal Society of Arts bookkeeping, and the tutor was, worked for Shell and he poached me. He said, ‘you’re, you have quite good knowledge of accountancy and that sort of thing, would you be interested in transferring from the gas, from the gas company to Shell?’ Well I thought about it, and financially it didn’t, in fact it was slightly worse off I had to pay my train fare to London, but I thought well, it’s a good thing to be a small fish in a very large puddle and you couldn’t get much larger than Shell, could you? It was world wide then, Royal Dutch Shell, and I agreed. In fact I joined Shall about the 1st August 1939. I remember Shell opened an account for me with Lloyds Bank, 39 Threadneedle Street, where they banked themselves; they opened this account for me. But as I say, at that time we were working in St Helen’s Court and there was another famous RAF person also working there, Douglas Bader. He, when he lost his legs in a flying accident, he was invalided out of the service and he joined Shell as a management trainee, I remember that. Well, as I say on the 1st of September, Shell began, operated their wartime programme and that involved closing the London office. So they said well Mr Lyon we shan’t require your services during this present emergency, but in the meantime we will bring your salary up to parity with, what until it’s parity with what you’re earning now, and [emphasis] at the end of the emergency you will be free to rejoin the company if you so desire. Well that’s what, on 5th, war was declared on the 3rd of September, wasn’t it?
CB: Yes.
JL: That was a Sunday, wasn’t it.
CB: It was.
JL: On the 4th of September, I and a friend of mine, we made an effort to join the army because we had a connection with the Royal West Kents. They used to invite us to their annual, the Aldershot Tattoo, and we used to be entertained in their sergeants mess so we decided to join the army, but when we got to Parish Lane, Penge where their office had been, it was closed! [laugh] I suppose part of the war, we said well that’s a funny way to run a war but still, that’s it, there’s nothing we could do about that. And the next day, the 5th of September, somebody said oh they’re opening an RAF recruiting office at, in the Yorkshire Grey pub so we took a 75 bus from Sydenham High Street to there. We were examined and my friend was rejected because he had flat feet. I said he would have been more apt if he’d been joining the army, but still, that’s the way they work. I was accepted and I was told to go home, get overnight things and come back and I would be taken to RAF Uxbridge. I did that and, as I say, I was examined and accepted for, in the air force. They asked me then what trade I would like to be in and I said well what can you offer me and they said well cook and butcher well that didn’t ring any bells with me so I said hmm what else, and they said you could join the secretarial branch. Well I’d been pushing a pen for the last five years and in those days I think I want a change. They said well what about aircrew? I said well what about it? They said well if you complete your training satisfactorily you’ll be automatically promoted to the rank of sergeant, receive twelve and sixpence a day I think it was, plus so much flying pay, so there was really no contest was there. And that’s how, I passed the medical for flying and I was given a uniform which I must, was told to wear at all times because I was still actually in the air force. I was given two books to study. One was called mathematics for engineers and the other one was practical mechanics. Neither of them had much bearing on flying training, but there it was. Now this was the phoney war. I went back to my house, we were living in, oh, we had a little flat, my mother and I had a little flat in, just near the Sydenham Road, well as I say the phoney war dragged on until the 30th of December 1939. I had a telegram, “proceed to number one initial training wing, Downing College, Cambridge,” and that is where I went. Now the course was supposed to last for six weeks. In fact it dragged on to nearly four months. The reason was there were still no training facilities available. It had its up side. We were billeted in the, well what used to be the students home in, when they were there because when they were students there in Downing College, some of the colleges did have students as well, but we didn’t have that, we were permitted to use the clubs, that the College’s silver, yes, and we took turns at serving and washing up. So as I say, that relieved the monotony a bit. But this dragged on until as it were, what they say the nemesis, on the 10th of June, 10th of May 1940 the Germans invaded the Low Countries, Holland and Belgium, yes. I was, I was on fire picquet that night and the admin had been headed by a, well I must go back a bit. Before the second world war, Brigadier Critchley, his name was, was chairman of the Greyhound Racing Commission. Now when the war started he was given the rank of Air Commodore and he recruited quite of his old associates for various posts. Our adjutant was a name of Shaffey and I believe in peacetime was a tennis coach, he came and he was in a terrible state, he said LAC – we’d been promoted to LAC by the way after a number of weeks, which meant our pay was a bit better, Leading Aircraftman - what do I do with this LAC Lyon? I said well you must call, as soon as it’s light you must have a general, a roll call of all the students, all the would-be airmen, check for deficiencies in kit and that sort of thing, and the instructions were: ten recruits and each, name, not by name but by number, to various RAF stations, not necessarily air training stations and I and nine others were posted to RAF Kinloss which was not, at that time it was called 45 MU I believe, there was no flying directly from there, because as I say it was mainly material. Well we made the journey up, I had to stay, we stayed overnight I remember in the YMCA in Edinburgh, we managed to get a billet there. We travelled on the next day and we arrived at RAF Kinloss to be viewed with a certain suspicion because at that time it was stories of nuns in parachutes, coming down by parachute and all the rest of it, we were not exactly given a heroes welcome. However, they found us a billet where we could lie our heads for the night and after a day or so they received some sort of confirmation of our status and we were trained in air station defence. I think we, they, the weapon we had was interesting: it was a 20mm Hispano-Suiza cannon which had to be what they called “cocked” before it could be fired, the great thing is not so much the strength, dexterity because the story was if you lingered a bit you could lose a few fingertips, however we were trained in the use of it. And we were going to have a read out, two read outs, five of us in each, in each one, but the cannon was, overnight was requisitioned for service in the south of England where it was thought would be far more useful in the event of an invasion. It was replaced with a, I recall it was a 1912 Lewis, Lewis gun with a pan for ammunition.
CB: A drum.
JL: And even then it was a bit of a situation. We were told we must not open fire under any circumstances without consulting the Station Defence Officer. Well first of all we didn’t know who the Station Defence Officer was and even if we did we had no means of contacting him. So therefore, as I say it was perhaps a good thing that our skills were not called into account. This went on for a few weeks and the only outstanding thing I can remember is that one night, or one morning, we woke up to find on a stretch of uncultivated area in the camp were prone figures. They were guarded by normally armoured personnel and we were instructed not to attempt to approach these people in any [emphasis] circumstances. Well, they were in fact refugees from the evacuation of Dunkirk: they were up there because they were spread all around the country, they didn’t want too many in the same place, bad for morale. They stayed there, one night they disappeared and that was that. Not long after this, I was, we, yes, I and one or two others were posted to RAF Elementary Flying Training School at a place just outside, where the beer, Burton. Burton, that’s right, you know, there’s a sign he’s gone for a Burton, well that’s there. Burton on Trent. I was trained as a, in those days all aircrew were first of all trained to be pilots. I failed the pilot’s course – so the failure rate was quite high, something like thirty per cent - and then I was asked what I wanted to do, they said well the only question is becoming a navigator bomb aimer. The senior, the officer in charge of training there, tested my knowledge of mathematics, it was not a big test, it was comparatively simple, just sort of fourth fifth form geometry and that sort of thing. I satisfied him I was intellectually capable of becoming a useful navigator and bomb aimer and then I was then posted to RAF Manby, Number 1 Air Armament School, at a place near Louth in Lincolnshire, where we went through, wait a minute, no, no, one of them, sorry I’m jumping the gun, I was posted to RAF Prestwick, in Scotland for a navigation course. That went on until, that’s right, we completed the course in I think it was September 1940, and I was then posted to, wait a minute, that’s right, I was posted from Prestwick to this one, this Number 1 Air Armament School in Louth in Lincolnshire, that’s right. I satisfactorily completed that course and I was called to the Station Commander, or Training Commander in charge of aircrew training. He said, ‘LAC Lyon, in view of your passing out at the top of the class and your past service record you have been awarded a commission,’ pending what they used to call well, you know, gazetting, whichever, whatever the wartime equivalent of that was, where I would be promoted to sergeant, and I was posted then to, oddly enough, RAF Kinloss! But by that time it had become Number 19 Operational Training Unit, well, it gives you, it tells you, the name tells you what it did. That’s right, this, this was in, this would be about November 1940. I completed the course in early January and let’s see, I went to, oh yes, that’s right. Nothing particularly, well, you cut all the bits and pieces short. The course was completed in, oh yes, in about, I think it was, March of 1941 I was called to the admin office in Kinloss and said that your commission has been confirmed. I was given a week’s leave to get myself a uniform and that sort of thing and then I would return for operational training. I bought my uniform, I managed to stay with a family I knew, their name was Truss, I think it was, and he was an engineer and he was working actually I didn’t know turned out it was the largest, there was an article about it the BBC Channel 4 some time, it was the largest armaments factory in the whole of the country. I didn’t know the extent of it then, but he was employed there. I got my uniform and whatnot and returned to RAF Kinloss and after, in a few days, I was posted to RAF Linton on Ouse which at that time was, it had, it was unusual, a brick building very good accommodation. It was built in the intermediate war years. It also had the other squadron was, they had Halifax, they were being converted to Halifaxes but they were not operational. So that’s right, I stayed with them and returned. Right, well I completed at RAF, at RAF Linton on Ouse I remember I was taken a very bad cough and cold and I remember the medical officer said, ‘Oh, Pilot Officer you have a nasty sounding bit of congestion there.’ And within half an hour or so I was ensconced in this local nursing home to be treated for this congestion. After about ten days there I think, I was released and my training continued. Right. Now, here we come to our, first of all I was to join with a man named, was it Flight Lieutenant Walker, who I think he had the nickname Johnnie, well he would wouldn’t they, that name, but then that order was countermanded for some reason unknown to me, the rumour had it that he was getting a little too fond of his namesake, sort of rumours that are rife in war time. I was then teamed up with a crew the first pilot was Sergeant Roberts. I was the only commissioned member of a crew. Now I don’t know what you know about, can you see any particular reason that that would cause difficulty, you probably don’t now, but it did then. As I was commissioned and they were not I could only converse with them socially or otherwise, in two places: either in a crew room or of course in the aircraft itself, otherwise it was actually forbidden to associate with me as commissioned officer to associate with non-commissioned personnel on the camp area, so it did make things a little awkward, didn’t it. Very unusual situation, that. Anyway, on the, was it on the let me see there, the 1st, of, was that, would be May 1941 we were allocated a new aircraft and told that the, in the crew room, we were told that the target was marshalling yards and adjoining railway station in Dusseldorf, Germany. Right, and we were going to do a pre-flight air test, as you were operations rules insisted. We were in the aircraft waiting to start and well, Roberts, the captain, started the engines but calamity intervened: there were no chocks in the wheels, under the wheels and the aircraft rolled forward and collided with what I think was called a Huck starter.
CB: Oh dear.
JL: No one weas injured but the propeller blades of one engine the Whitley, they were, it was a Whitley 5 was the actual classification of the aeroplane. Well, there is, chaos reigned and it just about did because, I didn’t mention, but shortly after my arrival early at RAF Linton on Ouse, one night there was an air raid. Now I looked around and there were no instructions of what to do in the event of an air raid, I thought well, what do I do? I thought it was a question of Jack you’ll have to play it by ear and wait and see what happens. Suddenly there was an almighty bang! My bed lifted off its, it seemed about lifted about a foot in the air and came down well what do I do? If I rush out to find a shelter I may be going the wrong way. I thought no, I’d better stay put, so I did. The next morning I got up and I went into the Officers Mess and there was no hot water, well that was not unusual, what I didn’t know, overnight a shelter had received a direct hit and quite a large, I think about twenty airmen were killed, including the Station Commander, so that was not a very auspicious beginning to my stay at Linton, was it? Anyway, I did, I, well nothing I could do there then, just hold on. We, I, the station was in a really, a terrible, the pilot was confined to quarters, told he would face a charge of gross negligence and we were told that we would not be flying that night, so we returned to, the rest of the crew, returned to our quarters. Not two hours later there was a change once more. Group, you see it was Headquarters at 4 Group, Group wanted a full number of aircraft involved, no exceptions. They said you, we have allocated you another aeroplane. You must be ready within two hours for take off and your pilot will be Sergeant Roberts. Now there’s a volte face isn’t it, one day he’s considered not fit to fly and next moment it’s all over and he’s fully qualified to fly as captain again. Well, that aeroplane that they gave us should never, in my opinion, should never have been used. We’d only, we took off with the rest of the squadron, but after about only an hour and a half flying, the port engine began to overheat and the, Roberts could do nothing about that, we had to reduce speed, it meant we cut our speed by about ten knots. That in itself was not particularly of great concern, but what was far more important was that we couldn’t get above ten thousand feet. Now the previous briefing the recommended height had been fourteen thousand so theoretically we could have been knocked out with one of our own bombs, but I don’t think that that’s very likely. There was no, well there wouldn’t be any fighter aircraft, they were also using anti aircraft fire, in any case, I think all the fighter squadrons in that part of Germany had been withdrawn and were sent to the, what would be the east front in Poland and regroup and practice for the, what the plan, what was it called - Operation Barbarossa – which was due to and took place on the 21st of June, yes 21st of June 1941 so there were no. Well we, I, we flew on this and almost immediately [emphasis] we were caught in that blue light which locks on to you and it is so dazzling you cannot see your own instruments, it’s so, it’s, you’re virtually as good as blind. We, I released the bombs at what I considered, though I had no idea really where it was, but I knew we’d got to get rid of them, they went down, and we immediately turned and I gave, I gave Roberts a course for home, although we never had any time to check the variation from magnetic to compass course, but let’s hope it was alright. But not long after we turned on for home, the port engine caught fire! The extinguisher didn’t work so therefore we flew on. Now, then the pilot said to me, ‘look Jack I can’t contact the rear gunner. Do you think you could crawl along the fuselage and see whether he’s all right?’ I said, ‘yes I’ll try.’ I opened the door behind the wireless operator and I was immediately assailed by a cloud of fume and flame. I really thought my, my time was up. I didn’t feel particularly frightened, I don’t know why, but then of course the adrenalin snaps in, doesn’t it. I seized an oxygen mask, took a few gulps of it, and Rob looked around, and he said, ‘oh my gawd, abandon aircraft.’ Now, it so happens that the exit is, in that particular aeroplane, was right beneath where I was sitting, so I had to be the first one out otherwise I’d block the exit for the remainder of the crew. I opened the hatch, I jumped, I don’t actually remember pulling the cord, the release, parachute release cord, I obviously did otherwise I wouldn’t be sitting here, would I? I came to and I could see by that time the aeroplane below me and it was like an enormous [emphasis] torch in the sky, the entire plane was burning. Now how this happened, I don’t really know, but that was a fact. I saw it hit the ground with one tremendous kind of smoke and flame. I landed, and it was a windless night, so much so that the canopy covered me. I looked, I got it off and I looked around. Now I’d either landed in what was a probably a recreation ground, or what might have been a sports field, but I think it was a recreation ground. I know in the escape books they scurry around and bury their, bury their parachute. Well, you needed a power, power digger to make any impression on that soil: it was hard as a rock! But within less than a minute a German soldier turned up and well he didn’t, although he didn’t say it, had he done so I’d have been inclined to agree with him. “For you the war is over.” Well I wouldn’t have got far in the old fashioned fleece lined flying boot with no proper heel to it and in British battle dress, so there was little I could do but accept it. Now, this one, I could have walked in front of him and he could have walked holding on one hand on his rifle and the other hand his bicycle, so we accepted that the only other alternative: I sat on the cross bar and he did, we proceeded on a bicycle. Now either way, he stopped. Now it was, I wasn’t quite sure at the time, but depending on whether Germany had double summer British, double summer time, but it was well past midnight, he knocked on the door of this house, at that time I could understand a fair amount of German because I’d been studying German at night school, but that’s another, that’s another. He said I have a wounded British officer here, I’d like you to give him a little help. The lady produced some warm water. Head wounds always bleed a lot although they’re really only superficial and this was only a superficial cut, she bathed all the dried blood away, and believe it or not, she also made a cup of tea. Tea not coffee. I thought that was very impressive and I knew enough German to say vielen danke, kneidiger frau: thank you dear lady for your kindness. We then proceeded on for the rest of the journey to a town called Goch, G-o-c- h, not far from the Dutch border. Now for some reason that I never discovered, I did not end up, oh, first of all the policeman, he said give me your pistol, I said ich habe keine pistol, I have no pistol, which I didn’t, the sort of thing I didn’t want to be lumbered with that. He thought maybe a bit odd but he accepted it and that was it. I didn’t spend that night in the cells, he put me in the telephone exchange of all places. And all night, it was a manual exchange in those days, you hear the thing going up and down to finding its correct slot to go in to, anyway I can’t say I slept much but still, that was, I was dry and I’d saved my life so I couldn’t really grumble. The next day the, a Luftwaffe officer turned up and he said would you please come with me, and together with, at some stage or other, we picked up the rest of the crew so I must have had, I think, a slight case of concussion, but anyway, we ended up, he took us to the Luftwaffe base at Duisburg, and he said, ‘oh by the way, your comrade, the rear gunner is quite safe, but when he landed he broke his ankle and he is receiving treatment in a clinic near here, but he is otherwise he’s safe and well.’ And now believe it or not, these, they were extremely polite these Luftwaffe officers, very high standard of education I’d say, in fact some of them could speak English; some of them had spent time in England. We were entertained in the officers mess. There was no attempt made to extract information from us. We talked about cricket or the weather or something like that, and then they said, well we now have to hand you over to a representative of the German Air Force POW body and we went, we, they duly took us in hand and we went by I think it must have been a sort of a mini bus I think, yes it must have been. It wasn’t a, wasn’t a truck, it had seats in it, I know. Well, where do you think they took us? Believe it or not they took us to Dusseldorf and we got out of the thing there, and we stood on the platform. There was absolutely no sign of any damage whatsoever. [Emphasis] We were not the object of any kind of well, abusive attention from the Germans. They looked us up and down and took no, virtually no notice, in fact we had, it was a corporal with us, and he came back with some sticky buns for us. Well, so that was the, from we entrained at Dusseldorf and we travelled to Frankfurt, that is Frankfurt on the Main, the river Main, which at that time was the prison, the Luftwaffe prisoner of war body as what they called the Dulag dursrstadtlager’s transit camp. Now we, when we reached this transit camp, this is where we, they put me in the, I suppose they did with the other, rest of the crew as well, in the interrogation cell, which was really not much different from a second or third rate boarding house the only thing is there were bars over the window. Now before we’d had no instructions to what to do in event of being taken prisoner, of course they do it now, but they didn’t in those days, in 1941. But anyway, a Luftwaffe major came in and he gave me a form to sign and he said if you complete this, your details will be sent immediately to the Red Cross in Geneva and your relatives or whoever you’ve asked to be notified, will know within forty eight hours that you are safe and well. Now, we had [emphasis] oddly enough, been briefed about this. It wasn’t anything to do with the Red Cross in Geneva, it was actually prepared by the German Intelligence Service. I read it and I said, ‘I regret, Herr Major, I am not allowed to divulge some of the information that you require.’ And he accepted this without argument: that was that. And the next day I was released into the compound there. Well of course they had got far more on their hands to worry about than a rather insignificant crew. The last Sunday I think it was, in May, which used to be called Whit Sunday, there was a break out, there was a tunnel, the permanent staff at the gulag had been building this tunnel which they broke on I say, on the Whit Sunday. All were subsequently recaptured except for Roger Bushell, and that’s another story. So you might well say that I wasn’t the only failed bomb aimer, was I? We know that now. Anyway we travelled by normal train from Frankfurt, after Frankfurt. There were some guards there, but they were, they didn’t make themselves too obtrusive. We arrived at a place called Barth, which was the site of Stalag Luft I. Stanlager all that means is it’s a permanent camp, Stan means permanent, as opposed to Durst means transit. So that’s all. That was Stalag Luft I we found ourselves in. Now at the entrance to that I went one way because I was a commissioned officer and the rest of the crew went the other because they were not, because at Stalag Luft I there was an NCOs compound as well as an officers compound and that was in fact the last I ever saw of any of them. Any of them. Peculiar isn’t it, never mind. We were only there, well I stayed there until about April of 1942 and that was when Stalag Luft III was opened. The journey there was uneventful. We got to Stalag Luft III and I was allotted a, well a billet obviously, a room, [sigh] how much more of this do you want from me?
CB: Just keep going. We’ll stop for a break. I think you deserve it. So, you said you were shot down on the 3rd of June 1941.
JL: Correct. Yes.
CB: You had been in the squadron since, for a couple of months, by then.
JL: Oh, no.
CB: Three months was it?
JL: I think it was.
CB: April.
JL: So much happened, air raid and whatnot. I think it was about the mid April when I got to Linton on Ouse, yes.
CB: And you talked about the crew, but in the air, what was the cohesion like?
JL: Well, we could fraternise.
CB: Were you all on christian name terms in the aircraft on operations? When you were flying?
JL: Well, the only one I knew quite well was Robbie, that’s all, the pilot. I don’t remember. If they told me I, it didn’t sink in.
CB: No. Then you already mentioned, that in, outside the flying period, if you were, time, if you were going out and socialising, that was different.
JL: Some of the better class, you know the real, the nice hotels in Linton on Ouse, didn’t like too many non-commissioned ranks in there, they were fussy.
CB: They only wanted the officers in.
JL: They only wanted officers, yes.
CB: Yes. I suspect times changed quite radically later.
JL: Oh, they must have done.
CB: When the heavies came. Yes.
J: They must. But in the early days it was a, it was strict, I was given, no doubt about, I was given strict instructions I was not to fraternise.
CB: Yeah, that was the early part of the war.
JL: They were very particular about it in those days, the air force.
CB: Right. And because you were shot down so soon into your tour, you didn’t have a lot of time to get to know your crew well, did you.
JL: I had very little time, Robbie was about the only one I knew.
CB: Yeah. Fast forward again into Sagan, Stalag Luft III. How was that organised? You had the officers and NCOs. But in the officers’ side.
JL: There was an officers’ compound, and an NCOs compound.
CB: And in the officers compound, how did that work?
JL: Actually I went in to a the, they were quite small huts, and there were only two more in the room that I was in. I was billeted with a man with, a chap named Jules Silverstone, who was in fact Jewish and also this chap Pop Green, who in fact had served in the first world war. He was a, interesting history, at the beginning of the first world war he held a commission in the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry.
CB: Right. We were in that. We were in that.
JL: Really. Yes well, he had a commission in that but he later transferred to the Machine Gun Corps because the Germans hopelessly outclassed us in that, in those, in weaponry. He survived the war, but he was told that he was only allowed to fly on training missions, but being that sort of man he probably got himself on an operation and he was flying in a Hampden and they were shot down, and he survived, without, he wasn’t injured, and as I say I was billeted with him. He said that Passchendaele was the worst he had ever [emphasis] encountered. People died there not in action, but in a mass of filth and slime. He said it was, it was appalling. What happened was, he said the Germans withdrew to higher ground and left us in these swamped trenches. He said, as I say, he hated it. And of course, well he, [laugh] he was the only man who was rather sorry when the war ended. The reason was he’d have to go home and rejoin his wife whom he hated the sight of, [laughter] and last I heard of him he was running a taxi service in Bray.
CB: Any reason why he hated his wife?
JL: I don’t know, but he did. He didn’t go into that. [Chuckling]
CB: Yes. What, you said there were three others. So you had Jules Silverstone, Pop Green, who was the other?
JL: Jules Silverstone. His father was a solicitor in Birmingham, but he didn’t follow in this father’s footsteps, he moved heaven and earth to join the RAF. Now I think he was, at age, I think he was thirty four. He was too old to join as pilot or navigator, he had to be classed as a gunner. So, that was it, he was a -
CB: Was an air gunner.
JL: Pilot Officer Silverstone, gunner. Interesting him, because he knew all about this stuff they used to call window, the one that, when they released it, it had black, black on one side and a sort of reflective surface on the other. It played hell with the tech -
CB: With the radar.
JL: With the radar, yeah. And it wasn’t, he said they won’t use it, he knew this, he said but they won’t use it till they’ve found a reason to overcome it. And it was in fact, it wasn’t used until that raid on Hamburg, that firestorm they created.
CB: On Hamburg.
JL: Hamburg. In 1943. Yeah.
CB: Who was the third person with you?
JL: Sorry?
CB: Who, you mentioned two people, who’s the third one?
JL: There was only Pop Green and Silverstone. Three in the room.
CB: And you. Oh, just three in the room, sorry. Yeah, okay.
JL: They were quite small huts. There were only, I think there were only four, only four huts in the officer’s compound, certainly not many. I tell you what we, did happen one day, do you remember that story of the one who got away?
CB: The German.
JL: The German, yeah. Well he turned up, he was in, dressed in ordinary German uniform, he was a major, major, and I remember seeing he was on the doorstep to one of the huts chatting to a man named talking to Squadron Leader Mac Dunnell [?]. Of course he was, actually, the German, he was shot down during the Battle of Britain wasn’t he.
CB: Yes. Yes.
JL: That’s right. And of course Mac Donald [?] was part, flew a Spitfire I think. They were chatting quite friendly, and he was not accompanied by any other German personnel. he just wandered around chatting to people.
CB: Amazing.
JL: He had a sad ending, he was killed in a flying accident. He was testing new fighter apparatus I think, but he had engine trouble or something, he was lost at sea, never found, they never recovered his body, in November 19, oh, 1940 41. That was the one that got away.
CB: Off the Dutch coast.
JL: Yeah. He was there.
CB: Well. he escaped in Canada.
JL: There was obviously, you know, a bond in the, between the two air forces at that time, later on they didn’t, but there was in the early days.
CB: A Chivalry.
JL: Yeah. Chivalry. That’s it, chivalry of the air.
CB: Extraordinary really.
JL: So well that’s my story. Long before, Douglas Bader, who was, he was taken prisoner wasn’t he.
CB: Yes.
JL: When, something, either his plane collided with another one, anyway but he was taken prisoner.
CB: He was shot down.
JL: Whether he was shot down or not.
CB: By one of his own people, he was shot down by one of his own people it turned out.
JL: Ah well that’s. By one of his own people?
CB: Yeah. They met in prison and the chap had to own up.
JL: Oh, I met him personally.
CB: But he didn’t admit.
JL: Because he was also Shell.
CB: Yes, he was.
JL: Well anyway, That was a. When he was in the camp he used to play golf, he would try to. And because of his, he lost his legs you see, I mean his prosthetic legs,
CB: Yes.
JL: I think they replaced them, they threw them out or something like that. He would sometimes fall over but god help you if you went to assist him, you know he would swear at you, he was determined to get on his feet unaided. Anyway, he had a bit of a falling out with the powers that be there. Because he didn’t like the way they were treating the guards and whatnot as if they were friends not enemies. it was decided he would be better off in another camp and the last I saw of him, well not the last, the last in the prisoner of war camp I saw him, he was being escorted out, he turned it into his own advantage inspecting as if these as a company.
CB: Oh you saw hm doing the inspection did you? Of the guard.
JL: He was inspecting the, yeah. That’s typical Bader, isn’t it. Now! I retired, I left the air force in something like well, October 1945 but I remained on as a, I was paid by the air force till I think it was January ’46 and very soon after going to, where did we work to? Very shortly we, I was asked if I wanted to go to Venezuela because Venezuela still had most of its wells, oil wells and I agreed, and I was, I went out to, we didn’t go out on a ship I went out on a tanker SS Luscia, Luscia I think she was. She was imbalast so she rocked about a bit I’ve never been seasick or any other sick in an aeroplane. We finally docked at Aruba, in, which belonged to, was a Dutch possession then, Aruba, in the West Indies and I was only there for a night and then we got a, I was flown to Maiquetia, which was the airport for Caracas. Caracas itself is about five hundred feet above sea level, the capital of Venezuela. I was, from Maiquetia I travelled by a bus on a road which they say was built by convicts in the Gomez, when Gomez was a dictator of Venezuela, you could sometimes look down and see where you’d been ten fifteen minutes before. I reached Caracas, or I might say that they charged me, I had to have what was called a certificate of identity, and I had to pay for it in the local currency. They took a, all I had, was a, I had an English, I had a five pound note I think, they gave a stamp and it was probably worth about one tenth of that in the local currency, the so-and-sos. That’s how it happened. When I got to Caracas, I found a billet in the Hotel Majestic and I knew enough Spanish, I’d, interesting while I was in the prisoner of war camp I had lessons from of all people Tom Kirby Green, why he should be a good Spanish speaker, mind he served with the Republicans, didn’t he, in the war in Spain.
CB: In the Spanish Civil War.
JL: Lord Haw Haw announced it, didn’t he, yeah. So that was that, yes. I had enough Spanish to say I’m in the employ of Shell, they were called the Caribbean Petroleum Company then, they didn’t, Shell, enter into the name although they used the, what it is, the, oh it’s a scallop isn’t it, that’s the Shell sign isn’t it, the scallop, and oh I think it was the afternoon of Christmas Day, a chap named Swinson turned up, he said, ‘Oh Lyon, I’m glad to find you,’ he said, ‘I know you, we were advised you were on your way but then we sort of lost track of you.’ But then of course I served in the, on what they called internal audit, that is not, not, as opposed to the exterior audit, was actually Price Waterhouse in those days. They did the proper auditing of Shell’s possessions there, I went round to these depots making sure their equipment and whatnot was properly registered and that sort of thing. It was quite interesting work. Well, while I was there, who should, that was having travelled down to the fields the main producer in the Maracaibo, while I was there on this what they call internal audit, who should turn up but Douglas Bader. Now he was on a, well they say he was just, reviewing his position, he was visiting, but what he was really was doing he was trying to push the company to try to use British aero, aircraft rather than all American, and I was introduced to him as: ‘oh this is Mr Lyon from our head office in Caracas.’ And he said, ‘oh, hello there.’ I said, ‘but sir, we’ve met before haven’t we. He looked, I said, ‘last time I saw you, you were acting as a kind of inspector of a -.’ ‘Oh my gawd yes!’ And we kept in touch quite a lot afterwards, I’ve known him for quite.
CB: Did you?
JL: Yes. Bader, so.
CB: How did you find him, outside Stalag Luft III?
JL: I got on with him very well. He certainly wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but he had a, he was shrewd. One of the airfields in the concession area, was at a place called Mushi de Suleman [?]. It’s at five thousand feet and in the hot season the pilots were having great difficulty in taking off because of the rarefied air. Now in those, this was the days before computers, I didn’t get a, I got a file across my desk one day, and this was, Bader had seen this problem that they had and he had written in the margin, “let them take off with half tanks”, and he knew that in emergency they would still have enough to reach wherever necessary to safety and yet still travel with only half a tank. He did very well as a, in Shell. He finished as the President of Shell Aviation with a private jet to fly. So he did very well there. But he certainly, he had this, being able to see the, you know little bit further through a brick wall than most people. I had great admiration for him. But I agree he wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I always got on with him quite well. Yeah.
CB: Where did you go from there?
JL: Sorry?
CB: Where did you go from there?
JL: After I returned home by 1950, April 19. By the way, I flew the Atlantic in, at a time when there weren’t many transatlantic flights. I was staying in Montreal at the time, I had some relatives there and I was booked on this, it was little more than a souped up DC4, the aircraft we flew in. We were due to call only at one place: Halifax, but I remember the pilot made a special landing somewhere, he wanted to pick up, I think they were Catholic priests I believe, the look of ‘em, there was snow on the ground, I think we were lucky to take off again, but anyway we did. But flying at that, of course in those days you only flew at probably about twelve thousand feet, something like that, looking on down this unbroken mass of well pine trees I suppose, you wouldn’t have stood a dog’s chance of anything if you’d had to make a forced landing in a plane in there. Anyway we did we, I got home and 1950, in April 1950 and I, [pause] I met my future wife. Now, now I had known her as a schoolgirl because I was friendly with [chuckle] her half uncle, it sounds like carbuncle, doesn’t it [laugh] but he was a half uncle because they’d been, the father grandfather [unclear] had married twice, but that’s all I, we met again and well we decided to get married, Hazel and I. Our, our union, we didn’t do too bad: sixty three years exactly because she died on our wedding anniversary.
CB: Did she really.
JL: In 19, sorry, 2013. So we’re not bad was it.
CB: Fantastic!
JL: So , and then I, well I continued with working. I had the opportunity to leave about the end of. You see they formed what they called Iranian Oil Participants which was agreement hammered out with the Shah as he was then and when they kicked out Masadic [?], he agreed that concessions could be opened by this consortium of oil companies, and there was the BP had a forty per cent interest in it, the major oil, American companies had another forty, Shell had fourteen percent and the Company Francaise de Petroleum the remaining six per cent. That was how Iranian Oil Participants, and I was senior financial, financial assistant in, seconded to Iranian Oil Participants and I held that post for seventeen years. At the end of it I was getting a bit tired of it. I had a man that I’d no respect for: a man named Hoppen. Let’s say he shafted me once, he fed me to the, he tried to feed me to the lions that’s it; fortunately I was set, I had no respect for him after that. He said, ‘I’m not going to make you redundant, Lyon.’ I said, ‘thanks very much, I don’t want to be called redundant, I think I’ve done a pretty good job for seventeen years. Thank you.’ All I asked was that they brought forward the, at Shell you retired at sixty, that was before, and then there was also a reduction made for overseas service which I had, so it would only mean bringing forward my pension date by three or four years, not too much to ask, but that served me well because you see it’s an index linked pension.
CB: Yeah.
JL: Now, my monthly salary is worth, worth much more that I was actually paid when I retired.
CB: Yeah.
JL: So I made the right decision there.
CB: You did, yes.
JL: Staying with, staying with Shell. So I have some things to worry about but money is certainly not one of them.
CB: What made, what brought you down to Bexhill?
JL: Ah! Shortly before I retired, I’d lived in St Leonards. We had a, I had, we had a small bungalow in what they called the Links. It was actually originally it was a golf course, because I, it wasn’t being used as a golf course then but nothing else. I used to walk across this links to West St Leonards where I picked up the train for, used to take me to Cannon Street. But so, that brings it well, I’ve been with them ever since.
CB: But you decided to leave St Leonards and come to Bexhill.
JL: Oh yes, well, I made the right decision there.
CB: What made you do that then?
JL: There wasn’t much there for me in the air force: a failed navigator. I mean. They don’t even have them now anyway do they?
CB: Well, It’s different.
JL: No, no I made the right decision there. I knew I would. No, I couldn’t go wrong.
CB: You mentioned air force again. Going back to your flying times in the Whitley.
JL: Yeah.
CB: What navigation aids did you have in those days? We are talking about 1941.
JL: Well you had a thing called a CFC, whicb you set your, you set your, the course you would want to follow, and then you fed in what the, the wind direction, and you fiddle around with it and that gave you your course to fly. They did have, you could have, some of the Whitleys, not the one I was shot down, didn’t have one, they had an astrodome.
CB: Oh yes.
JL: So if you’d been trained in the use of the [unclear] mill, polar, star charts you could theoretically fix your position by air, star sight, but certainly the one we flew in, the old one they trundled out, that didn’t have one, didn’t have a - there was only one exit there, and that was downwards.
CB: Oh right.
JL: So that was the only navigation instrument we used to rely on, and dead reckoning as they called it.
CB: So in the daylight you could more easily see where you were, but flying at night, what did you do there?
JL: Oh yes it was. I did in fact, have use of, while I was waiting for this, at Cambridge, Downing Cambridge, Downing College Cambridge, I used to read Air Publication 1 2 3 4 and this was the navigational training of a pilot,
CB: Right.
JL: Because we were all supposed to be trained as pilots to start with in those days, they didn’t have different courses then. I was able to use it one day because I know we took off and the mist came down, I was pretty certain we were drifting off course, well it did tell you what to do. You flew halfway to your, half the distance that you’d previously calculated and then [emphasis] you gave the pilot orders to fly twice the distance that you were, you think you’d been going off course, twice that distance and that should give you a course to your original. It really, all you’re doing is flying the two sides of an isosceles triangle, and I tried it and we did, and out of the water, out of the thing, saw this, it was just an island.
CB: You’d got it right.
JL: So it certainly, it worked, I know.
CB: This is doing the maximum drift calculator isn’t it.
JL: Sorry?
CB: This is the maximum drift calculation.
JL: Yes, it’s for, they call it pilot navigation.
CB: Yeah.
JL: Yeah, oh yes. Because he couldn’t take bearings and all that sort of thing could he. As I say, it’s a simple, simple, it’s just geometry really, that’s all you’re doing, flying the two sides of an isosceles triangle. Yeah.
CB: So how many ops did you do before you were shot down?
JL: Only a couple, that’s all.
C: Right.
JL: We had to, they call them nurseries, they were using them to bomb an occupied port like Calais or somewhere like that. How they arranged it so that the, you weren’t dropping bombs on German and French civilians I suppose they had some means of contact in, I didn’t know what it was but that was all, a couple of those and this was just our third trip, that’s all.
CB: How many aircraft were there in the squadron?
JL: That I don’t really know. It was not public information anyway.
CB: And when you went out on a raid, on an operation, did you go with other aircraft or did you go as individuals, as singletons?
JL: Each one took off, you got the, from the Control Tower you get the take off clear, that’s it, one by one.
CB: But you weren’t in any kind of formation or cohesive?
JL: Oh no, it was only Americans that did that, formation flying. Oh no, quite impossible at night.
CB: Yeah. And before you went on the op how did the briefing go?
JL: Well as I say, it was quite clear. The marshalling yards, and the adjoining station: Dusseldorf. That was in the briefing, that was the target.
CB: But they got you all together in a room where everybody was briefed together did they?
JL: That was, yes, well not the second time, we were only given about a couple of hours’ notice to, there was no second briefing, we were just told to fly the original course. Yeah.
CB: Were, when you went off on the ops were all the crew together or were the briefing only for the pilot and navigator?
JL: Well, the pilot and navigator, myself, or bomb aimer I was acting as, we were there and the second pilot, and of course, but the rear gunner was at, well where he should be, the rear gunner. What he, you see he was getting, he was getting fried, there’s no doubt, because the whole aeroplane was on fire and we didn’t know it.
CB: Ah!
JL: So he, what he did, he just rotates his, rotates his, turret, pulls the ripcord, and the airstream takes him out, clear of the, the Whitley was built so that you were clear of the tail, the rear gunner was clear of the tail, twin tail, it just pulls him off and that’s it, that’s what he did, yeah, but as I say he broke his ankle, that’s all.
CB: So all the crew survived.
JL: All the crew survived, yes.
CB: And all of them were captured.
JL: All of them were taken prisoner, yes.
CB: Taken prisoner. What about after the war, first of all how did you get back? Were you flown back or did you come on a ship? Or what happened?
JL: Well at the end of the war, I was here wasn’t I.
CB: No, but you were flown back were you? Or did you come back by ship?
JL: Oh I see what you mean! Well, we by the I think it was the 1st of May 1945, we heard a bombardment and we guessed that was to cover the crossing of the Elbe by the British forces. The next day, the 2nd into the, we were billeted in a farmyard, well we were told that it belonged to a German, well he was in the tobacco business we heard, I don’t know how true that it was, but anyway, the accommodation was fine, we managed to get, it was good weather then, quite warm, no problem there. Into this compound the, came a, there was a British light armoured vehicle. There was a Captain I think, and a corporal. He didn’t say it to me but apparently he said to somebody, I believe there are quite a number of POWs here, and they said yeah, about six hundred if you look around. And that was the end of the war. What we didn’t know was, that as of the 30th of April all German forces in North West Germany surrendered to the British. Well they obviously, they’d rather surrender to the British than the bloody Russians wouldn’t they, that’s what they did. So actually the war ended in that part of the world a week before the main alliance. So, I remember the guards, they neatly piled their arms as you should do and that and they went off to what was called the cage, which was, that was the name the British gave to it, where they, and then they’d be taken ordinary prisoners of war. We’d only been there a short while and a convoy of American Mac trucks turned up and we were loaded on to these and this convoy set off. We got to a place called Rheiner, where we exchanged the American transport for British, well they were only yes, British RSC vehicles and we finally, we crossed the Elbe, I know. They had, well they had one of these revolving things and all the searchlights on, the idea because the war was still on theoretically, as protection as we crossed the Elbe. We, that’s right, we stopped at Luneburg, which was the place a week later the official German surrender took place, and they flew us on, then they drove us on next day to this Rheiner, this airfield at Rheiner. And we waited and we, I was flown home, most of them were, in the, it was a Douglas DC3.
[Other]: Dakota.
JL: They called it a Dakota. And we landed at Dunsfold in Surrey I think it was, where they gave us tea and biscuits you know, the Women’s VS, and we were really then rushed high, as quick as possible up to RAF Cosford which was the gathering centre for POWs, and there we were stripped bare, I don’t think, I never had any, they were thinking of lice. Actually, interesting thing I never saw a louse all the time I was in Germany, let alone getting infected with them, lice so that was. We used to get showers occasionally, but that was, that was certainly not getting rid of lice, it was merely to get a bit of, clean ourselves. We had a quick turn around. I was given fresh clothing, battle dress only with an officer’s stripe on it and I was home on the 9th of May 1945. We were living, my mother was living in Wallington. She had a flat which was a house owned by a relative. Wallington it was, yes.
CB: In Surrey.
[Other]: Surrey.
JL: Yeah, in Surrey, yeah. That was it, that’s my war story.
CB: So how did you actually get to the Elbe? Were you in the Long March?
JL: Oh, I, you look at my book, I never called it a march, it was a, I called it the long walk home.
CB: Yeah.
JL: Yeah well, in those days the incurable optimists thought that when the Russians turn up: oh they’ll be brothers in arms and we’ll celebrate their victory with liberal tots of vodka. [Laugh] We didn’t think that! We refused to countenance the story that Hitler, and he did actually give this order, all, all commissioned personnel, ex-prisoners of war to be shot. But fortunately in those days his writ didn’t extend much beyond his bunker. So we refused to accept that. The one that we thought would happen and in fact it did that we would be put on the road and have to leg it to wherever we were supposed to be going. That is why I used to do at least five circuits a day on foot.
CB: In the camp.
JL: In the camp, yeah, in preparation for this, and of course it paid off. It wasn’t, the Germans never pushed the pace. The only thing is, our first night I couldn’t find any covered accommodation. Everywhere I went I was politely told to shove off [laughter]. No room at the inn. So I crawled into a great pile of hay, or straw I suppose it was really, covered myself entirely and I went to sleep and next morning I got up and I was all right. From then it was really dead easy, because a thaw had set in. These people who had built themselves sleighs – they were useless. Similarly those people that had got trollies, they were useless because they didn’t have any hard wood for a bearing, it went through and that was their trollies and their sleighs were useless. I went, I just plodded on. I had a little suitcase I remember, made of fibre. The first, the second night, after the, when I settled down to the straw or hay, or whatever it was, we were billeted in the stable. I believe it was actually, the stable was owned by General von Arnim. The man who replaced Rommel when he was repatriated on grounds of ill health, wasn’t he. I don’t know, that’s the story, it belonged to General von Arnim. Anyway, I was bad enough to get a dry place to sleep. I admit I was a bit close to the horses, but I don’t think they’re any particular menace. I was awakened by a terrific bang! I thought oh my goodness that’s a shot first of all, isn’t it. I thought no, not a shot. I looked, I was using my little fibre suitcase as a pillow, and there was a bloody great hole in it, it was the hoof of a, it must have been within inches of my head! [Laughter] But from then on it was dead easy because the, we stopped at a place called Spremburg. Now there was a glass factory operating and it was still working. We managed to get a, I did manage to get a bit of a wash down and the girls were decent enough to look the other way. I managed to get myself a bit of a clean up. From there we went on to a place called Spremburg, which was a rail head. Now here our column was split in two, why, I don’t know. One, we were loaded on to, on to, they weren’t cattle trucks, they were the old fashioned you know, these Eschable carourdon [?] variety from the first world war, we were loaded in to one of these. The others they went to a place called Luckenwalde, I think was, actually that was liberated by the, by the Russians, and from all accounts they weren’t too well treated to start with by the Russians until they found, were sure who they were. But we were lucky, we were loaded into this. Well, it was crowded, yes I grant you, but the real reason was that we were in pitch dark, everybody wanted, for some unearthly reason to sit as near the door they could. I don’t know if they think it was suddenly going to open and they were going to be wafted away to safety, but they wouldn’t move. When daylight came we were able to sort ourselves out. Now I grant you the toilet facilities were not all that good, but no worse than a ordinary soldier in the field in action has to cope with, a sort of open latrine, and above all, I’ve virtually I’ve experienced worse crowding in London’s underground. So it wasn’t all that bad. We trundled along, we, I remember we did a very slow stop-start circuit of Berlin, course there was a raid going on at the time. We arrived then at a place called, what was it, oh it was a little village, small settlement, not far from Bremen. We, it was, I remember we stopped outside this camp, and look up at it and miserable rain was coming down, there was this thing over the door, well it didn’t, we used to always used to say it was a “Work Makes You Free”, and we used to say “work yourself to death”, but it looked a pretty dreary and unuttering place and we went in to this. It was called Marlag and Milag Nord and it was designed, by the name you could tell, for Royal Marine and Merchant Navy officers: Marlag and Milag. And there were, we were a little concerned because we thought this camp is empty. Where have all these Marine, Naval and Marine officers gone? And we got a horrible thought they might be in some mass grave or other. However, it wasn’t true, they had been moved, when, where and why I’m not actually sure. But when we got inside, well if we had any clothing, warm clothing we were lucky, or dry clothing we put it on. It was a nothing, not a camp I’d recommend but it was, at least it was dry and there was, we had adequate food. There was a certain thing, belief that we were short of food, well I can assure you we never were, we had more than we could do with because the Red Cross parcels were being delivered by since the rail system was on the blink they were coming in by truck and they were, they were dumping parcels by the side of the road by us. Well I couldn’t carry, well most of us did, took out things like chocolate and tea and coffee and things like that, the rest of it. We offered them to the guards but they wouldn’t, neither would the civilians, I suppose they still might be pounced upon by die-hard SS, SS army, the army SS not the civilian SS. In fact one, one night we were billeted with these SS Waffen, Waffen SS, they, weaponed I mean, armed SS and we did, well always had a low profile but these chaps were very willing to chat to us. They got somehow idea that it wouldn’t be long before we joined forces with them and then finally put the bloody Russians -
CB: Out of Germany.
JL: Where they should be. Well it was, well, actually the second, as I say, if the first leg of the, our all expenses tour of north Germany was bearable, the second was a doddle. It was fine weather. Warm enough to sleep outside, in fact sometimes we walked through orchards white with blossom, not with snow with blossoms and we, there was no attempt to force the pace, but what did happen on the way, we stopped, in all the, four, nearly four years I was a prisoner of war I never suffered not even verbal abuse, let alone physical, never, but this particular, we did have a bit of trouble there, it was more directed at personal about us, in general. In fact the civilian population we got, they tried to you know, reach our ranks, the Germans just turned bayonet and rifle, pointed and don’t you dare come any closer. Well we moved on and then we thought we heard an explosion and we saw smoke arising from this. We thought it was the town that had been attacked, and we, you know as they say well it couldn’t have happened to nicer people. I’m afraid it wasn’t that, it was our column [emphasis] that had been attacked! By a, I think it was a Canadian Squadron Leader flying a Typhoon. He, he must have been blind, because this, it couldn’t possibly been a, it wasn’t a, looked like a German unit of any description but anyway I’m afraid he did and there were quite a few people killed on there. And that to my mind I think was the only, some, I’ve read in terms of hundreds something, hundreds killed on this so called long march, it’s just not true. The only other fatal casualty was a chap named Large I think it was, he had a ruptured appendix but there’s no reason to say he wouldn’t have had it anyway, it wasn’t caused by the conditions and that was that. We reached, we reached the place called Stade, was the southern side of the Elbe, and oh one thing I did see while we were at Marlag and Milag Nord, I saw a V2 fired, not many people have seen that. There was a bit of a rising ground and I happened to be on it and then suddenly I saw this, this thing, this great rocket, with this great burst of flame as it rised slowly and slowly and slowly, and it appeared, of course that was as much an optical illusion, it held itself out and it turned to get its bearing and by that time it couldn’t reach Britain, so probably the target was Antwerp, but that’s I saw a V2 fired and not many people have seen that. Anyway, we got to this Stade place and the Elbe ferry if you please, was still not operating normally, it was, and there was a, there was a boot repairer there, some people’s boots needed a bit of attention, mine were all right, but anyway he did what he could. We crossed the Elbe and we arrived at a place called, oh, just outside Hamburg. You come up a cobbled street, which we had, quite steep and we were then met by what, I, was the most horrible thing I’ve ever come across, a migration of slugs! Can you believe this, they were marching up on a broad front. There was absolutely no way of avoiding them. Blankenese, was the name of this little town, that’s the name of it: Blankenese. We tried to pick our way, very, very carefully and thank god I managed to keep on my feet, otherwise if I’d fallen can you imagine the state I’d been in. Well from then on it was, it was easy going and as I say, we got to this, this open, this tobacco man’s, well he was, farm and from then on it was the journey home. But I’ll never forget, oddly enough we saw a reverse, I mean a thing so beautiful. I’d never seen it before. It was a, I didn’t tell you, hadn’t told you that in September of 1942, I and a number of others were for some reason which the Germans had and they didn’t bother to give us the details, we were transferred to a place called Offlag 21B. Now Offlag meant it was an officer’s camp, that’s all. 21B. And we stayed there through a rather dreary time, the winter, until we moved in April, but I came back and I didn’t go in to the north compound I went back to the east compound for some reason or other. Why I don’t know, and actually I didn’t move into the north compound where the tunnel was being dug until September of 1943. How are we doing?
CB: You’re doing well. One final question. What happened to the guards after you’d walked all this way? Did they just surrender or did they leg it or what did they do?
JL: Oh yes. Well they were only part of this. They’d realised, they heard they were all German forces had surrendered and they were only too pleased, they just neatly piled their arms and that was that. They knew all right. And they went off to go, to be taken in what we called the cages to a British prisoner of war camp. Some of them actually, when I lived in Salcombe in South Devon many years later, there was a chap there used to run a driving tuition, he’d been one of these there and he’d stayed in England.
CB: Funny.
JL: So he didn’t have too bad a time.
CB: Well Jack Lyon, thank you for a very interesting conversation.
JL: My pleasure.



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Jack Kenneth Lyon,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 23, 2024,

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