Flying Stories by Paul Hilton



Flying Stories by Paul Hilton


Nine accounts of flying activities during the war.

Additional information about this item has been kindly provided by the donor.

'David Joseph's son Brian met Paul Hilton in the 1980's through work, and he was wearing a prisoner of war tie. In conversation it became clear that Paul had some common experiences with David's, and a meeting was arranged. They had been in the same camps and on some of the same forced marches, had many common memories, but had never previously met.'




20 typewritten sheets

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Written by Paul Hilton.

[Underlined] CHIEFY [/underlined]

On the night of 1st June, 1942, Bomber Command mounted the second of the now famous thousand bomber raids on Germany. The night before, amidst much publicity, we had taken part in the first thousand raid on Cologne, my first as Captain of a 4 engined Halifax.

All 35 Squadron (at Linton-on-Ouse) returned safely that night and we all felt that at last we were doing something positive to help the war effort.

The Germans were somewhat taken by surprise and our overall casualties were low considering the number of aircraft taking part.

On 1st June our target was to be Essen in the Ruhr valley with Krupps as the pinpoint.

Tremendous excitement and enthusiasm was general with ground crews as well as aircrews and we all attended briefing and prepared for the take off with hopes for another successful show.

In due course we were taken to our dispersal point in the usual trucks where we unloaded parachutes, harnesses, charts etc., and duly went through the run up and check procedures. We had air tested our aircraft that morning and everything was still functioning satisfactorily, so in due course form 700 was presented to ne for my signature by the LAC of our ground crew.

I signed and then with all four engines running we started the slow crawl from our dispersal point towards the end of the main runway.

We must have moved about 50 yards when one of the ground crew ran in front of us furiously waving two torches. I pulled up smoothly, strict RT silence of course, and soon someone shouted up through the front escape hatch “return to dispersal.” We managed to turn the heavily laden Halifax and return, where I was told to switch off engines. Flight Sergeant (Chiefy) McKay, a dour little Scot then appeared and told us we had a glycol leak in our port inner engine. How did he know?

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He said he could smell it. He had just happened to be walking behind our aircraft when he caught a whiff. No doubt, we couldn’t go.

I was furious, how long to fix it. Not tonight, too bad.

The rest of the Squadron were all taking off and disappearing into a black sky, and soon all was quiet. We trooped back disconsolately to the Sergeants Mess feeling very dejected and sorry for ourselves. Once again, our Squadron operated without loss, only this time we had missed out.

On reflection, however, we would almost certainly have lost that engine either during take off or very soon afterwards and the thought has often gone through my mind, would a 20 year old pilot with just 400 hours in his log book have coped with an aircraft full of fuel and 6,500 lb of HE and incendiary bombs. I know I would have tried a landing had we managed to get airborne, but who knows.

I can’t remember if I thanked “Chiefy” for almost certainly saving us. I don’t think I ever bought him a drink in the Mess. If he is still around I should like to do it sometime. You see we didn’t have much time, we were shot down the next night, so perhaps it didn’t matter much after all.

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[Underlined] Gone for a Burton [/underlined]

Early in May 1942 I returned to my old station “Linton on Ouse” in Yorkshire, where I had previously served with 58 Squadron on Whitley Vs. I had been with “58” from October 1941 until they joined Coastal Command at St. Eval in Cornwall early in April 1942. At this point I elected to convert to Halifaxes at “Marston Moor” near York and managed to get posted back to Linton where I joined 35 Squadron.

With 58 I had survived the winter as a second pilot, sitting helplessly in the right hand seat for five operations and in March had successfully completed the customary two “Nursery Trips” as Captain.

During May I was crewed up and together we did a number of cross countries and other details working up towards the big thousand bomber raids starting with Cologne on 30th May.

Both my parents lived in Seremban, Malaya and with the entry of Japan into the war, they had been forced to make their way with other Europeans to the Island Fortress of Singapore. The surrender stunned us all and I had anxiously awaited any news of my parents whereabouts.

I had lived through the winter at Linton and had no illusions as to our chances of survival on Bomber Command. Both 58 and 35 had had their share of losses. Of the course of six pilots at Driffield just after Christmas on a blind approach procedures course, I was by then the only survivor.

Singapore had fallen in February and the chances of either of my parents reaching safety by now seemed somewhat remote but with the complete lack of news there was nevertheless a remote chance that one or the other might still turn up.

I thought in that case, particularly my mother might need some financial assistance which would ultimately be my responsibility. If I was around, I would be able to arrange a dependant’s allowance, but in my absence, this might be a bit difficult.

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I decided to seek the advice of the Squadron Accounts Officer and had an interview with the Flying Officer Assistant i/c Accounts. He listened to my unusual story and was obviously at a loss to comment. He was used to straightforward questions with answers neatly tabulated in his little book or covered by the syllabus of his Chartered Accountants examinations and seemed reluctant to pass this on to higher authority. He paused for a while and then at last drew himself up in his chair and with great deliberation said, “Well Sergeant, if you are afraid of going for a Burton, why don’t you make a will?

My total assets, £25 in the Post Office Savings Bank and a broken down Austin 7 in the car park, seemed unlikely to be much help in the support of either parent for any length of time and I felt that further discussion was unlikely to lead anywhere so I thanked him kindly and took my leave.

I intended bringing the matter up with “Welfare”. I believe we had someone in that capacity, or more to the point, Wing Commander Marks or my flight commander, Sq.Ldr. Peveler. I knew either of these two would have raised the roof, but I determined to await an appropriate moment.

I had often wondered what “gong for a burton” was really like and very soon on the night of 2nd June I found out.

Incidentally, neither of my parents were in need of any help I could have given them. My father stayed the whole time in Changi Jail, Singapore, but Mother nearly made it. She was on board one of the last ships to leave Singapore, the “Vyner Brook”, a small coastal steamer loaded with refugees which was bombed off the south east coast of Sumatra. Mostly women and children, they were all interned in camps at “MuntoK” and “Palembang” where more than half of them, including my mother, succumbed to the rigours of malnutrition and tropical diseases.

Bomber Command crews had a slim chance of survival whilst actually flying but once we became “Kriegies” (POWs), thanks to a comparatively civilised enemy and thank God also for the Red Cross, most of us lived to tell the tale.

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[Underlined] Curse my luck. [/underlined]

Not many of us fighting on the Allied side ever thought we would welcome the sight of advancing German troops. In my case, I reckon they arrived just in time to save my life.

I was pilot of a “Halifax” returning from a raid on Essen in the Ruhr valley on the night of 2nd June, 1942 when we were unfortunately jumped by three JU 88 night fighters. It was a clear night with a full moon, our exhaust flames must have been clearly visible for a considerable distance and the fighters soon made short shrift of both our inner engines. Our two gunners put up a spirited fight despite the unequal battle between out 303 rifle bullets and the enemy’s canon fire, but the action was inexplicably broken off, leaving us limping homewards on our two outer engines.

We were just sorting ourselves out when alas our starboard outer developed an internal glycol leak, whether it was overstressed or due to enemy action we shall never know, but this meant the end and I had to give the inevitable order, “Bail Out”.

We were a bit low by then and when my turn came, the thought of ditching on what looked like a patch of swamp or water seemed my best chance. I turned off course towards this area but very soon found this to be ground mist obscuring a row of trees and some houses. Too late, I was on the point of a stall and mushed into a house. The starboard wing was ripped off at the root and the remainder of the aircraft spun around in a flat cartwheel through 180 degrees. I was in fact thrown backwards in my seat.

I must have been unconscious for a second or so as when I came round, the port outer engine had just caught fire. I then had a violent struggle with the escape hatch over my seat. It moved at last and then I managed to crawl out onto the top of the fuselage and jump down onto the port wing. The dinghy was inflating and I just had enough presence of mind to grab the package of iron rations as I passed.

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My first reaction was to get clear as quickly as possible, there were still several hundred gallons of high octane too close to the burning engine, so I started running towards the cover of the trees I could see almost alongside in the moonlight.

I ran between two of them and was just about to go along the road that they were bordering when there was a piercing scream of “Halt” from right behind me. Almost immediately I was prodded with a viscious [sic] jab from a rifle muzzle in the small of my back.

A terrified lone German sentry had just escaped being hit by the Halifax which by now was nicely ablaze and too darned close for safety. My captor didn’t seem to be aware of our imminent danger and continued prodding and screaming in a hysterical manner. I wondered where his trigger finger was. The safety catch would certainly be off and guns, I was always taught, were dangerous and shouldn’t on principle ever be pointed at anyone. My greatest fear was that he would let the darned thing off by accident. He was so excited that anything could happen. He might do it on purpose, “The Englishman started to run”, no one would disbelieve him. Perhaps his family had been bombed in Cologne three nights before. Such thoughts raced through my mind. The fire was getting hold of the port wing and I knew all those gallons of high octane were bound to go up at any moment. Any minor explosion would make him jump and pull the trigger inadvertently. The prodding and screaming continued, how long could this last, my all too short twenty years seemed almost over. A pity, I had so much to experience and done so little. This was the moment of truth. I felt so helpless and had no control of the situation and this was when I really knew what fear was. I was hot but the sweat running down my back was cold. A minor bang, one of the outer wing tanks had blown up and another prod. I was still there, but how long could this go on. Suddenly a torch shone in the distance and I heard some shouts and saw another torch. Fortunately my sterical [sic] captor saw and heard them too, and the tension began slowly to ease, eventually after what seemed an eternity, I was surrounded and someone had the sense to move us all away to a safer distance. Just in time, the main wing tanks went up with a muffled roar and we could all feel the blast of heat. My original captor melted into the background. I never even saw him but could hear his excited story being related in the distance.

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I stood for a while with my liberators and we watched the remains of the Halifax burning furiously. A fearsome sight, one I hope never to get too close to. I remember one of the troops found my parachute harness and “Mae West” life jacket which I had dumped in the field in my haste and I was then led off to the local barracks. I was later to find out this was in St. Leonard near Brecht in Belgium, right in the middle of an intense curfew area, literally crawling with German troops.

I was taken inside and led to a standard German army double tier bunk bed, complete with wood wool palliasse, a type I was to get to know so well over the next three years. I suppose I must have been suffering from a certain amount of shock as I lay down, boots and all and went out like a light.

I didn’t have time to curse my luck at having been shot down, but later I came to realise that far from being unlucky I had in fact survived a whole succession of miracles in the short space of less than half an hour.

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[Underlined] FOR YOU THE WAR IS OVER [/underlined]

By now we were some way inside Germany en route from Cologne to Frankfurt in a corridor type railway coach. We were free to wander along to the toilet and our three guards had completely relaxed. They undid their belts and left their revolvers lying on the seats. After one visit to the toilet I actually sat for some time on one of these weapons and only moved off because it was somewhat uncomfortable.

I was dressed in the usual clothing, battledress, submarine sweater and, of course, the inevitable flying boots, the old green canvas type, fur lined, in which one shuffled along as if wearing oversized carpet slippers. The thought of being able to walk any distance, let alone run from a train in broad daylight, was quite out of the question.

When first captured in Belgium the story was quite different. I was pounced upon within minutes of stepping from the blazing wreckage of the Halifax, and the local German army unit and the Feldgendarmarie kept a very close watch on my every movement. They handed me over to the Luftwaffe in Antwerp airport who continued the process. Sitting on a toilet seat looking at a jackboot keeping the door open is an unforgettable experience and quite puts one off the job in hand.

Our guards on the train were flying types, one Feldwebel (Sergeant) and two Obergefreighters (sort of Corporals). One spoke a little French and with him I tried to carry on something of a conversation. I learned he was a Navigator and had recently seen service on the eastern front. He and his comrades would get a couple of days leave near home after escorting us to Dulag Luft, the reception and interrogation centre at Frankfurt.

The time was early June 1942. The Germans were at the height of their success. Tobruk had recently fallen and their troops were at their furthest points in the Caucasus. Our position was not encouraging. Singapore had

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fallen only four months previously, but we still endeavoured to keep up the appearance of high spirits, even though we knew we were in for a long wait. Sooner or later the obvious remark had to come. My navigator friend grinned from ear to ear and said, “For you the war is over”. I smiled back and said, “Yes, aren’t we lucky, but for you it has not yet started.”

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[Underlined] GOOD APPETITE [/underlined]

We always called him Cyril. This wasn’t his real name but that of the chap with whom he had swopped identities. I was one of the large mob of new Kriegies brought in to Luft 3 Sagan just after the thousand bomber raids on Cologne and Essen in May and June 1942. We were housed in 39 and 40 Blocks, but somehow a few old Kriegies from Lamsdorf, the big Army Stalag, had been pushed in with us. Most of the batch from Lamsdorf were swop overs.

When Goering decided to bring all the RAF Kriegies together at Sagan, quite a mixed bag was collected and Cyril was one of these. What his real name was I have quite forgotten. It was unpronounceable. He was from Israel, ‘Palestine’ in those days, and he had served in the British Army, Military Police I think, and was captured in Greece. I believe he was born in Riga but had emigrated to Palestine when quite young. He already spoke a number of languages, Russian, Polish, German, French and, of course, Hebrew and Yiddish. Only English seemed to have escaped him and so, finding himself among British soldiers was a blessing in disguise. He soon set about the task of learning the best of English with all the necessary Anglo-Saxon descriptive adjectives. When I knew him these were apt to get somewhat out of context, especially when he got excited, with comic results.

I an effort to learn better English he decided to swop identity with an RAF navigator. As a private soldier he had to go out on working parties and at Lamsdorf many RAF sergeants swopped over to get out of the camp with the obvious possibilities of escape.

At Sagan, Cyril made the best [sic] use of the library, such as it was, and was soon one of the best read among us. I was also trying to learn German and Cyril was always a great help. He had a great sense of humour and was able to tell a joke against himself.

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English, it would appear, is about the only language that does not have an expression equivalent to “Bon Appetite” or “Guten Apetit”. We only have “Cheers” or “Bung Ho”, or some other equally fatuous expression before we drink, but, alas, nothing before we eat. Whilst in his early days at Lamsdorf, Cyril was endeavouring to say the right thing to his British Army comrades and one day noticed one of his friends just about to start on a bowl of soup. He quite naturally made a literal translation of “Bon Appetite” and said, “Good appetite my friend”. His friend stopped short, looked up and said, “What do you mean ‘Good Appetite’? Of course I have a ****ing good appetite!”

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[Underlined] 40 HOMMES 8 CHEVAUX [/underlined]

It would be interesting to know just how many thousands, nay, millions, of troops, prisoners, internees and others have travelled, some on their last journeys, in this famous four wheeled French rail wagon in both the last two wars. I can well remember our trips from Heydekrug (East Prussia) to Thorn and later from Thorn to Fallingbostel during the summer of 1944.

The side doors were opened wide and each end was crossed off with barbed wire spread over wooden frames. A small door or gate was built in for access.

Three guards occupied the central area, about one third in total, and 24 prisoners were confined to each end. Space was somewhat limited and we all lay heads to the outside with a pile of feet in the middle. No toilets were provided. On long trips prisoners had to wait until the train stopped and were then allowed out in batches to operate in the countryside. The two trips I remember were relatively short and there were no stops for calls of nature, however, during daylight we were allowed singly to come through our little holes in the wire and pass water along the line through the side door, hanging on to the vertical rail on the side of the wagon.

I recall the journey from Thorn to Fallingbostel was by night and at first light the queue started. This became a verbal process among us and my turn was some way down the line, by which time I was nearly desperate and had built up a good head of steam. At last it came and I scrambled through the hole and clung on to the vertical rail with my right hand, with my left I feverishly undid the remaining metal trouser buttons (they were always popping off, no zips in those days), and started literally groaning with relief.

At this point or shortly before, the train had been slowing up and to my horror (I was still a bit embarrassed), I saw that we were slowly approaching a level crossing on the outskirts of a German village. About

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thirty citizens of Hitler’s Reich were patiently waiting to cross and I passed slowly by, just out of reach, still in full spate.

I noticed no reaction from my hosts, so I can only assume that they were used to being shown respect by their captives in this manner. Needless to say, my embarrassment soon passed and I enjoyed my unique point of vantage. I even had an almost uncontrollable urge to give a Nazi salute which I thought would be appropriate, but of course, my right hand was fully occupied in holding on to the rail at the side of the door. A pity, I felt this would have completed the performance.

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[Underlined] “Welche Nummer” [/underlined] (What Number)

There are few more morale shattering sounds than that of a heavy cell door shutting behind you and the bolt going clonk in the lock. There is something positive and very final about it and it gives one a feeling of complete helplessness. There you are, it’s no good banging on the door, no one will take any notice.

It was early autumn 1943 in Stalaf [sic] Luft 6 Heydekrug in East Prussia near the Baltic coast. One particular morning an unusual number of ‘Ferrets’ (security troops) in dark blue overalls with all their tools had descended on our barrack block. They were proceeding to turf us out and to tear the place apart. I don’t know what they were looking for, a tunnel perhaps, but they meant business. In the initial confusion we were all milling around and I happened to be close to a table where a lot of the tools had been laid, hammers, crowbars, jemmys, saws, screwdrivers and a large pair of pliers. I took a fancy to the pliers and when no one was looking they quickly disappeared into my trousers pocket. Unfortunately, when I grabbed them they were open and in my haste they clicked shut. One of the Ferrets heard this, looked round and started asking his friends whether any of them had picked up his pliers. I took this as a cue to get lost and started to saunter out of the block. I looked for anyone I knew to off load but before I could get a dozen paces away out of the door I was grabbed and hauled up before the security officer, Major Peschel. He growled something which I suppose meant “Lock him up”, and there I was in the so called “Cooler”.

The cell was six feet wide and nine feet long. It had a double bunk bed with a complete set of boards but no palliasse, a stool and a metal jug for water. The tiny barred window had a “Lichtfanger, a wooden partition on the outside allowing a view of sky or a small area immediately beneath the window.

I sat down on the stool for a while to assess the situation. I was there for I knew not how long, so I supposed I had better make the best of it. I was allowed to send a note into the camp for a few things,

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tooth brush, razor, knife, fork and spoon, and a couple of books. One was a German Grammar which I was steadily ploughing through. Now here was a chance, I could really get some useful work done and might even get some help from my jailers.

There were about half a dozen other inmates in the twelve cells and one soon learned how to make contact and to know the ‘drill’ or mode of life. The legendary W/O John Snowdon was already there doing one of his numerous stretches, so advice was readily available.

The cooler was a rectangular building with only one entrance. The guard room was just inside the door. A corridor with six cells on either side had a toilet at the far end. I forget what type and a fire bucket of sand near the toilet served as a post box. Only one inmate was allowed out at any one time apart from the half hour daily exercise when we walked around in a large circle, well spaced apart.

When you wanted to visit the toilet you knocked on your door. The duty guard would come out of the guardroom and shout “Welche Nummer” to which you had to reply (in German of course) the number of your cell. In my case “Sieben Bitte” (seven please). He would then say “Komme sofort” (coming) and go back and fetch the key to your cell. He would then have to hang around while you operated, no doors or partitions, and when complete lead you back to your cell and by then someone else might be waiting to take their turn.

The cooler was outside the main compound but in the so called “Vorlager” an outer area but still within the main outer barbed wire fence. Our own medical officer had pronounced the cooler water unfit to drink so we had to have bottled water from the main camp cook house. To this was added milk and sugar and tea or coffee. It was understood that the guards helped themselves which was allowed for at the cookhouse. Food was another problem. We were supposed to be on bread and water with one day of normal food in every three. Sometimes if the guards were willing. A prisoner on his good day would be sent in enough food to feed the others as well. It depended on the guards. There were two shifts of 24 hours each with an “Unterofficier” (Corporal) and two or three men.

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One of these shifts I remember well. We didn’t see much of the Corporal, but I got to know “Bruno”, a thick set chap with closely curled hair and “Franz”, a tall, gangling, untidy type with spectacles somewhat out of line. He had no pretensions as a soldier. It wasn’t for the sake of cigarettes or any other form of bribery but Franz and Bruno both wanted a quiet life and seemed to respond to common courtesy. Impatient inmates who shouted abuse and banged on their cell doors generally had to wait while those of us who “cottoned on” got the best service, or at least the best of what was going. As I was trying to learn German I was soon learning all the best polite phrases and making good progress through my grammar book.

As the cooler emptied somewhat (the population was always fluctuating), the service improved. We dropped to about three inmates and by then Franz used to knock on my cell door first thing in the morning and I would say “Come in” and Franz would hand me my coffee in bed. With a cheerful “Guten Morgen Herr Hilton” we would converse for a while, any news, the weather etc. We both seemed to know instinctively that this was the sensible way to behave. It cost nothing and generally made the best of a bad job. We were not alone in this. At another time in the same cooler I heard tell of a German guard trying to learn English who was taught to say “Good morning, Sir. Your coffee, Sir.” I never managed that, but to both Franz and Bruno I was always Herr Hilton, even though they were both considerably older than I. But alas, all good things come to an end. One night the Heydekrug tunnel broke and unfortunately only five or six managed to get away, the remaining thirty odd being dug out and pushed straight into the cooler with us.

Chaos reigned for a day with up to four to a cell until all were documented and the majority sent back to the main camp to await their turn for the customary sentence of fourteen days.

For the rest of my time in the cooler we stayed two to a cell. No more coffee in bed and I was now subjected to a companion who talked incessantly.

One had to wait ones turn, quite a long time on occasion, for the inevitable trip to the toilet. On one of these poor Franz quietly apologised to me for the deterioration in the service, but hoped I would understand.

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[Underlined] The Hero’s Return [/underlined]

Appearances do seem to have a marked effect upon the way one is treated through life and the healthy, robust figure usually commands respect. The invalid or under-nourished, on the other hand, has often to struggle to keep his place in society and to attract any attention.

I had just returned from Germany after three years as a P.O.W. I was one of the first batch to be released and we had gone through the RAF reception depot at Cosford rather before they were ready for us. Although they had done a surprisingly good job, they had nevertheless omitted to order enough badges of rank so the first of us, mostly Warrant Officers due to automatic promotion, were sent home on leave in Airmen’s tunics and greatcoats with no badges on our sleeves. Not that we cared much for that but these things seem to make a difference in a somewhat class conscious society.

I was released early in April 1945. Most of our camp were marched eastwards towards the River Elbe, but because I had spent most of the winter in our camp hospital with a chronic form of bronchitis and a bout of pneumonia thrown in, I was left behind in our camp hospital. My 6ft. 2 inch bone structure was carrying an all up weight of about eight stone with a “Belsen Horror” like expression to match. RAF Cosford clothing stores had done their best, but I was never an easy one to fit anyway.

I left Cosford on leave with new kit but also as much of my old kit as I could manage to salvage which had survived the delouser. I think we were done at least three times, clothes and all. DDT was squirted up sleeves and trousers with reckless abandon until I was quite raw in many sweaty and tender areas.

I passed through London and deposited my considerable collection of kit at the Services left luggage office on Victoria Station. I wanted to visit the hairdresser in the catacomb under the station. A haircut was long overdue, “these things were important then”.

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I settled in the chair for the first proper haircut for some considerable time. I thought that this was also a special occasion and I would be having to kiss a number of female relatives within the next two hours or so, so on completion of the haircut I suggested a shave. The barber stroked my 23 year old chin contemptuously with the back of his hand and said, “You don’t need a bloody shave.”

To this day I have still never had a shave at a barber’s.

I crept back to the left luggage office and started to load up my two kit bags and haversack only to hear a loud Australian voice, which could be heard halfway across the station, “Why don’t you hang your ( ) out mate”, a well known coarse service expression meaning if you load up like a horse why not dress like one.

In the compartment of the train to Haywards Heath I was obliged to listen to the sad tale told by an ATC officer of a young clerk who had recently been jailed for masquerading as a Wing Commander, complete with DSO’s, DFC’s etc., and who had given thrilling lectures to factory workers and ATC squadrons. It was considered by all to be a huge joke and such a pity the poor lad was jailed. The authorities certainly lacked a sense of humour.

I am afraid I couldn’t comment. I had known too many real ones, mostly now dead, and if anything I felt sick. I crouched further into my featureless greatcoat and when we arrived at Haywards Heath I loaded myself up again like a horse and crept quietly home.

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[Underlined] CORNED BEEF [/underlined]

I had just arrived back from Germany and was unpacking my kit. Apart from being equipped with new clothing from Cosford, a specially organised reception centre for ex-POWs, my belongings were meagre. I had a half kit bag of new gear and a small army rucksack which I had acquired just before leaving Thorn the previous August.

I took out the few items brought from Germany, tin mug, fork and spoon, toothbrush etc., and a small tin, 1/2lb I believe, of Corned Beef. I can’t remember when I first got hold of this tin, sometime during the last autumn when Red Cross stocks were still available. These petered out during the winter and we had been subject to very small issues for some time, leaving us on German non-working civilian daily rations, i.e. 400 gm bread, margarine and jam to cover this, and about 1/2 litre thin swede soup (pea soup Sundays).

Being a careful sort of chap I usually had a few odd bits left over, a small tin of jam but not much else. Once opened, a tin of meat had to be eaten and I had managed to hold on to the corned beef for the last emergency. I remember eating one in the cattle truck ride from Thorn to Fallingbostel, digging the meat out with my pocket knife and gnawing at a piece of hard bread. My reactions were to do that again, but I then thought ‘Why, here I am back home in civilisation, I can’t behave like that now’, so I took the tin downstairs to the kitchen and handed it to my aunt.

I was staying with my father’s two sisters, one was married with a daughter a little older than myself. Despite the war time shortages, my relatives always kept up appearances and did their best to live in proper style. The next lunch time was no exception.

The highly polished dining room table was, as usual, set with place mats and lace doilies. The sub [sic] shone on the cut flower vase and the two sparkling cruets. Each place set with two, or was it three, knives, forks,

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serviettes in silver rings, the lot. Salad was the order of the day with the usual salad creams, vinegar etc., and then, somewhat to my surprise, a large plate was produced upon which stood in solemn state, a small naked piece of corned beef. My long treasured tin had been breached at last.

My uncle, an engineer, took great pride in his ability to carve and was always meticulous in the sharpening process. I remember this day he paid particular attention to a long corrugated knife which he then used with great dexterity on the tiny lump of corned beef. Wafer thin slices soon started to fall to one side and at last these were dealt out rather like cards.

At this point my cousin came into the room and exclaimed, “Corned beef, Mummy! Where did you get that?”. “Paul brought it”, was the prompt reply. Here my other aunt joined in, an ex-nursing sister and sometime deputy matron with a voice and manner to match, “Paul brought it! Good heavens, we haven’t seen corned beef for months.”

Like most ex-POWs I was suffering from so called “withdrawal symptoms” and I was quite unable to add anything to the conversation. My throat contracted and it was some time before I was able to swallow. My thoughts at this point were ‘What’s the use.’ I soon forgot this incident and only remembered it about ten years later when I was able to regard it with some humour.

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Paul Hilton, “Flying Stories by Paul Hilton,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 16, 2024,

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