Interview with Henry Wolfe Wagner. Two


Interview with Henry Wolfe Wagner. Two


Henry’s aircraft was shot down when the fuel tank exploded on the starboard wing and came down in Holland. Henry was the only member of the crew to bail out. Their target had been the armament works in Duisburg. Henry drifted across the River Maas behind German lines and was taken prisoner. He was interrogated at Oberursel, near Frankfurt, and moved to a transit camp at Wetzlar before being sent by train to Stalag Luft 7 at Bankau.
Henry describes The Long March from Bankau to Luckenwalde, the cold, the guards and lack of food. They walked for some three weeks to Goldberg and then spent two days in cattle trucks going to Luckenwalde. Anyone who fell was left at the roadside to die of exposure.
Henry refers to the large number of aircrew who lost their lives in Bomber Command and one of Air Marshal Harris’s speeches on the radio.




Temporal Coverage




00:53:56 audio recording


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AWagenrHW170719, PWagnerHW1701


CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today is the 19th of July 2017. Through a misunderstanding I’ve come along to help with an int — to do another interview. But today the original interview from May last year has arrived. So what we’re going to do now is to just put in some extra items for Henry Wagner and let’s hope that that will be useful. We were talking about being in Stalag Luft 7 and the German reaction to glider pilots. So, what was that?
HW: Yeah. Anyway, the chap in charge of our hut was, his surname was Nettle. So, you can guess what his nickname was. Stinger he was called. Anyway, one morning we, towards the end we didn’t know what the Germans were going to do with prisoners. We were worried about how they were going to, would they be all exterminated? Knowing the German record in that sort we just didn’t know. Anyway, when Stinger came back from a meeting one morning he came into the hut and he said, he had a funny way of speaking by the way. He put in the letter H where it shouldn’t be and left it out where it should be. Anyway, he says, ‘Right,’ he says, ‘Silence.’ So, everybody was quiet, ‘Right,’ he says, ‘Everybody in this hut is to parade outside in ten minutes time to march down to the stores to draw picks and shovels to dig their own graves.’ Well, there was, ‘Oh,’ we thought, ‘Oh. It’s come to that has it?’ So, he let it go for about ten seconds and then a smile spread over his face. Oh, it’s only old Stinger and his jokes again [laughs] And they talk about the Long March from, from Bankau to Lukenwalde. It wasn’t a march at all. We were there. There was no military precision. We just dragged ourselves along through the snow. Bitterly cold. You could rake your fingernails down the side of your face and you wouldn’t feel a thing. So, you had your shoulders hunched and you just shuffled along through the snow like that with the German guards with Alsatians beside you of course. And there was no marching. I’ve got a video tape, that’s right, which I can’t play now but that’s beside the point, of a reconstruction of the, what they call the Long March. But it’s all, it’s all people that are young, healthy, clean. They’re not dragging themselves along through the snow. They’re walking at a fairly brisk pace. It’s all, it’s all [pause] it’s all Pantomime really. I’ve never bothered looking at the thing again, I never will because it was no portrayal of what they call the Long March. There was no marching about it. And in the barns at night. I mean these people had dormitories. They knew where they were going to stop. They knew how far they were going to walk. We never knew how far we were going to walk until we stopped for the night. They were mostly in barns. There might be food available. There probably would be a sort of a soup made on their field kitchens. And you just laid down on the floor. So, that was, the Long March was, well it’s all described in the, in there. If you read through you’ll —
CB: Sure.
HW: You’ll see what I thought of it.
CB: And what was the menu normally?
HW: Pardon?
CB: What was the menu? What did they serve you to eat?
HW: Oh. What? On the march?
CB: Yes.
HW: The so-called march. You got a bit of bread in the morning. In the evening a bit, a little bit of margarine quite often. And a brew of the stuff that they called tea. You got nothing through the day until the evening. It was usually, well a soup made with some sort of a herb. I think they were mostly swede tops and bits of swede and things like that. The lads called it after a popular tune at the time. The lads nicknamed it Whispering Grass. And that was it. Otherwise you drank water. So, there was a thin time.
CB: What happened to those prisoners who failed to keep up?
HW: I think the Germans gave continual warning, ‘Anybody falling out will be shot.’ But I don’t think that ever happened. They were just left lying in the snow and they would have died from over exposure and just given up.
CB: What about your, on your feet. What shoes or boots did you have?
HW: I had my flying boots which were bad to walk in because they were lambswool lined. They were loose fitting. I tied them. I tore a bit of wire off of a, off a fence as we were passing by and wound those around just to keep them on my feet.
CB: And what was your destination?
HW: Our destination. Oh, actual walking was a town called Goldberg. And we were promised that when we got there train transport would be provided to Luckenwalde, near Berlin. Which was duly how it turned out. They got that right.
CB: And what sort of transport was it?
HW: What sort of what?
CB: Was it trucks? Rail? Just cattle trucks was it?
HW: Oh yeah. Cattle trucks. Forty men to a truck. It said, they were, they’d been looted from the French railways and it said on the, painted on the side of each one, “Quarant homme. Huit chevaux.” Forty men. Eight horses. So they put us in. Probably more than forty men. You couldn’t all lie down at the same time. There was straw on the floor. A big bucket in one corner which if you needed a pee that’s where you went. Of course, lying down and trying to get a bit of sleep anywhere near that bucket it wasn’t, it wasn’t a favourite place [laughs] One German guard in the, in the truck with us with a rifle of course. But the German guards you see at this stage they were all the fighting men had been moved to the Russian Front and so on and the combat areas all around Europe. They were like our Home Guard really. They were oldish chaps. They didn’t want any hassle and we, we played along. They didn’t give us any hassle. We didn’t give them any hassle.
CB: So, how many days were you walking?
HW: Well, occasionally we stopped for a whole day in some farmyard. It’s all in, I can’t remember off hand. Somewhere about three weeks, I think.
CB: Oh. Right. And then on the train.
HW: That was only — maybe two. Maybe two days.
CB: Going back to your earlier comment. In the prison camp, the reason you were all concerned about being shot, the joke wasn’t very helpful, was because with Stalag Luft 3 and the Great Escape.
HW: Yes.
CB: Then the Germans shot fifty, didn’t they? So, but the other point was you mentioned about glider pilots. So, the reaction of the Germans to glider pilots. What was that? A confusion.
HW: Oh, they accepted them the same as they accepted them as airmen. They didn’t accept them as fighting men. Although of course when they landed their glider they didn’t just sit there and do nothing. They were fighting men from then on.
CB: Yeah. So, these pilots had been captured where? Where would they have been captured?
HW: What? The glider pilots? Arnhem. Arnhem, and around about there.
CB: Right. Ok.
HW: Crete, some of them had been captured at.
CB: Ok. I’ll stop there for a mo.
[recording paused]
CB: So you were shot down and there was a sequence that occurred.
HW: Yes. Yes.
CB: So, what was the first you knew about there being an attack?
HW: A warning from the, from the mid-upper gunner. Corkscrew port. Err corkscrew starboard go.’ Now, are you familiar with the corkscrew movement?
CB: Yes.
HW: When an aircraft is coming down on you like that and you’re — he’s coming, you’re both going the same direction he can sit tight and take good steady aim where he was. So, the thing to do when you came under attack from a fighter was not to turn away from him and go in the same direction but turn towards him so you were closing. The two aircraft were closing at some five hundred miles an hour. So he had no time whatever to take careful aim. In fact, if there was a corkscrew and you were moving upwards it was forcing him to go upwards as well. And he couldn’t get at the bomber flying down below. So it was this corkscrew manoeuvre that was the good one. If a Messerschmitt 110 pilot had time to take aim then he was nicely placed. But if he’d been detected and a corkscrew movement by the bar was immediately started he was on a loser. So, that was their favourite method of attack. The other method of attack if it was by a Junkers 88 which had a cannon sticking upwards in the roof was to come along underneath the bomber, point his cannon upwards at the fuselage or petrol tanks or wherever and just let rip. Because he was flying at the same speed as the bomber so he could take careful aim.
CB: That’s using schrage music.
HW: Yeah. We, we had, there was a downward looking radar that we had to detect this but unfortunately the Germans were homing on to that, transmissions of that radar. It was helping find a target, in fact. So, this downward looking radar called Fishpond was, was soon, was soon given up.
CB: So, on this, on this occasion how did the attack proceed?
HW: The first attack he was sitting in a nice — he should have known. He should have been able to take our plane. He came down, opened fire but missed. There were no hits. So, he carried on downwards. Came along underneath and up to his original position for a similar attack from a similar sort of position. This time our gunners knew what was going on and started the corkscrew manoeuvre as soon as he started to dive. But he was able to get in sufficient shots with his cannons and machine guns to perforate one of the petrol tanks in the, in the starboard wing. That was all, if they had time they preferred to attack from the starboard side because any pilot learning to fly always sits in the right hand err left hand seat. So pilots had the war, even in modern times they find it easier to look out to their left hand side rather than look right across the fuselage to the other side. So, the [pause] well that’s about it. As I said the petrol tanks were set on fire. One petrol tank anyway was set on fire and it was, oh the pilot, the engineer said, ‘Wilf, we’re on fire.’ And I looked up from down in the nose and I could see a roaring mass of flame where burning petrol was coming flooding in through the wing roots into the fuselage. And that was also where the oxygen bottles were stored. And if they’d got really, when they got really hot they would have gone off like bombs anyway. The pilot just took one look and gave the order to evacuate the aircraft. There was obviously nothing, there was no way that fire was going to be put out so he had no hesitation. On the first attack I’d kept my parachute pack on. On to the parachute harness. So I didn’t have to scrabble around to try and find that and then clip it on. It was on there and ready for when the second attack came. So, that’s it.
CB: So, the parachute you wore on the front or behind you?
HW: Oh, on the front. Two. Two clips on the front.
CB: Right.
HW: On the chest parachute.
CB: So, on the fighter’s second run he was successful and punctured tanks on which side?
HW: On the, on the starboard. Or right hand side if you want. In the wing root.
CB: And when the pilot realised what was going on what did he then do? He called —
HW: Oh, he just said, oh, he looked up, ‘Abandon aircraft.’ There was no hesitation. Not, ‘Well, I wonder if we can get that put out.’ No. There was, as I said there was no way that fire was going to be put out. So, that’s how it went.
CB: So, when you get the order to abandon aircraft what was the sequence that you went through?
HW: I, I was already standing up so my seat had folded over on springs. Folded itself against the wall. Kicked away the legs of the navigation table and that collapsed leaving an open space about, about four feet by three feet I should say. It’s a big trapdoor on the floor. I bent down, turned the handle of the trap door, raised the trap door and when I got above the vertical you could lift it off its hinges. Turn it diagonally, drop it through the hole and then follow it. Facing backwards of course out of the slipstream.
CB: Right. So, that’s straight through the floor and then the idea — what did the rest, what were the rest of the crew supposed to do?
HW: The bomb aimer should have been next. He was, it was all sort of — we’d been well trained at abandoning aircraft. There was no — they were all our drills. There was no pushing and shoving, ‘Get out of my way.’ ‘Let me go first.’ ‘Hurry up.’ ‘Get a move on.’ No. There was none of that sort of. It all fell in to place like that. So, the bomb aimer would have been next. The wireless operator would have been third. The, the mid-upper gunner he would have had to extract himself from his turret which he was very closely held in, hemmed in by machine guns, ammunition belts and heaven knows what. He would have had a job to. It would have taken him time to get out of there, locate his parachute, put it on to his, on the hooks on his chest. The same applied to the rear gunner. He couldn’t keep his parachute in the turret because there wasn’t room for it. He kept it in the fuselage just outside the turret. So, he had to open the turret doors, extricate himself from all the equipment inside the turret, reach for his parachute, put it on, make his way to the main exit door on the port side, open the door. You see, it all took time. Time was getting. They hadn’t the time to do it.
CB: Right. So, in the practicality, the actuality I should say of this you got out as soon as you were told to do so.
HW: Yes.
CB: What happened to the rest of the crew?
HW: Well, presumably trying to extricate themselves but I hadn’t been long out of there, only a few seconds before there was an explosion. And I think a petrol tank with just vapour inside exploded when the flames got to it. Or else the main spar had been so weakened by the fire that under the weight of the engines the wing just fell off and the aircraft would have gone in to a spiral like that. Trapping those inside. They’d never have made their way to an escape hatch then.
CB: So, you didn’t see any other parachutes?
HW: No. There weren’t any other. So, they must have, they must have gone down. Nobody was injured I don’t think. But they must have gone down in this knowing quite well they’d no chance of getting out and that they were going to be killed when it hit the ground.
CB: What height were you flying that day?
HW: When we were attacked we were flying at fifteen thousand.
CB: Did you normally fly within a band or what was the —
HW: Well, on the way to the target, oh and on the way home again you never flew at the same height like that. It was always slightly on the climb, a little bit level, down a bit, up a bit. Down. Down. Down. Down. Up. And like that so that the Germans couldn’t, if they knew we were going to be flying at fifteen thousand they’d have had all their anti-aircraft shells fused for fifteen thousand.
CB: Was there a popular height that you would fly?
HW: Pardon?
CB: Was there a certain height that was more popular that you would fly?
HW: No. No. They were graduated from, bombing height was normally eighteen thousand to twenty thousand. Lancasters could get a little bit higher. Lancasters could probably get up to twenty one. But Halifaxes, well they could struggle up to twenty one but usually not above twenty.
CB: So, at the time you had already dropped. What was your target? You’d already dropped your bombs.
HW: What was that?
CB: What was your target that day? Duisburg.
HW: The armament works at Duisburg.
CB: Right.
HW: I mean, and quite often if you didn’t hit the actual armament works, a lot of bombs did no doubt but if if they were falling in around about within say four or five hundred yards they were going to be destroying railway lines, power stations, the worker’s, the worker’s hospitals, the worker’s homes. They were going to spread chaos around about setting the whole thing on fire. Letting the fire carry on and do the explosives. Scatter them and the flammable material about and the incendiaries we carried set it on fire. So —
CB: So, what was the combination of ordnance that you carried?
HW: Oh, it varied. Once, once we had a two or probably more than once, you’ll see what our bomb load was on, on the report of the operations that our aircraft carried out. You’ll see the bomb load. A mixture of the two thousand pounder. Maybe two one thousand pounders and some incendiaries. Or maybe eight five hundred pounders and some incendiaries. Sometimes a thirty kilogram incendiary device. Phosphorous bomb. Sometimes it was the ordinary five pound incendiary. Just ones that burst in to flames when they hit the ground. It varied from time to time. But you could see by the —
CB: Yeah. Now, the Cookie was a four thousand pound drum. What was in it?
HW: A Cookie?
CB: Yeah. What was in a Cookie?
HW: Just, just explosive.
CB: One single blast bomb was it?
HW: Hmmn?
CB: One single explosive.
HW: Yes. Yeah.
CB: Not combination of things.
HW: No. No. No.
CB: Ok. Just stop there a mo.
[recording paused]
CB: So, in, in how did the crew gel? In the air and socially.
HW: Oh, absolutely. There was no suspicion of anybody not being quite up to the mark. Everybody performed their job perfectly as far as I’m aware. On the ground sometimes we went [unclear] to go together, to hire a bicycle go off to a village pub and have quite a few beers there and sometimes I’d be with one. Sometimes two or three of us would go together. Sometimes the whole crew will go. We had got station bicycles and headed for the nearest pub.
CB: In some cases people got a bit nervous about what they were doing. How did you see the reaction of your crew before take-off?
HW: What? You mean about dropping bombs and killing civilians? Well, their attitude was, well they asked for it and they got it. I remember hearing Air Marshal Harris on the radio once when, when he’d got Bomber Command built up the way he wanted. The strength that he wanted. He had said originally, ‘Give me four thousand aircraft and I can finish the war.’ Well, that wasn’t on. They couldn’t. There were too many other demands for equipment. But he soldiered on until, there came a time when you remember the thousand bomber raids on Cologne for instance? When he’d got enough he’d got enough. And he said on the, on the radio, and he had a very Churchillian way of talking. He said, ‘People say that you can never win a war by bombing alone. Well, my answer to that is that it has never been tried before. And we shall see. I have the men. I have the aircraft. I have the equipment for the navigators to get the aircraft to the right space. The Germans started this business of area bombing in London. Now, they are going to get a taste of their own medicine. Hot and strong. And they won’t like it.’ So it gave new heart to Bomber Command. Right. We finished dropping bombs on open countryside. Now, each bomb is going to do some damage. We’ve got the equipment. We’ve got the gear. We’ve got the organisation. From now on we’re all going forward. And as I say the Germans asked for — they started the business of area bombing so they hadn’t really got any grounds for complaints.
CB: It was a dangerous task going on operations.
HW: Yes.
CB: How did the crew react to that?
HW: Some, some hundred thousand men flew with Bomber Command. And I’ll give you it in very round figures there and fifty six thousand were killed. So, your chances of coming through were less than, less than fifty fifty. And moreover when you’d done your thirty, thirty trips was a tour, when you’d done your thirty you were as they said rested. But in fact you weren’t rested at all. You went to Operational Training Units and to assist with the training of other pilots who were just getting ready to go on operations. So quite a lot were killed in that sort of —
CB: Yeah.
HW: In that sort of activity as well. And then to go back for another. Another twenty. A second tour was twenty. When you’d done that lot, if you’d, very few done it — when you’d done it then they couldn’t make you do any more. You’d fulfilled your obligations.
CB: What knowledge, experience or hearsay did you have about people lacking moral fibre. LMF?
HW: I never came across any of it at all. I can understand that maybe for some people the mental stress was just too much and they couldn’t take any more. I don’t believe they chickened out of their own free will. They just felt that they could not do it anymore. And so I don’t look upon those as cowards. I look upon those who were prepared to give it their best shot but they couldn’t cope with it.
CB: Now, the RAF took a pretty stern line on that.
HW: Pardon?
CB: The RAF took a very stern line.
HW: Oh yes. They didn’t take the same point of view as I’ve just been explaining. They were sent to ordinary Air Force camps. Not necessarily operational. And they were put on the dirtiest jobs of cleaning latrines and wash houses. All that sort of thing. The Air Force regrettably looked upon them as cowards. I don’t think there were all that many of them.
CB: Right. What would you say was the most memorable experience you had in the war?
HW: Well, just getting shot down I think. They were all memorable. The getting shot down, the aircraft on fire, the parachute jump. All these sort of things. The Long March. They all added up to a pretty unpleasant time.
CB: As you said just now you were the sole survivor of the seven crew in the aircraft because the others just didn’t get out. How did you feel about that?
HW: That’s the way the cookie crumbles.
CB: And after that, in Prisoner of War camp to what extent did people discuss their experiences?
HW: Most people told you as much as I’ve been telling you. They seemed to, seemed to be the same sort of thing in most crews. They tell you what happened. Not complaining mostly but tell you what happened. And that was the way it was.
CB: In Stalag Luft 7, did the Germans come and interrogate you after you arrived ever?
HW: No. That was all done at Frankfurt. At Oberursel. They got all the information and that was it. You were just sent to a prison camp. You were just a prisoner.
CB: And what was the procedure they followed in interrogating?
HW: The procedure?
CB: When you were being interrogated what were, how did they do it? What was the procedure?
HW: Oh, when I arrived at Oberursel I was put in a solitary cell. All, all arrivals there were placed in solitary cells. A very narrow cell where the windows were barred. You couldn’t see out. They were frosted glass. There was a bed with a bit of a mattress on it. Not very well stuffed. A blanket. And that was, when you wanted to go to the toilet you had to pull a handle near the door and like a signal arm outside in the corridor fell down with a clang. And the German guards in the corridor came along. And you’d say, ‘Toilet.’ And he’d take you along to the toilet which was at the end of the corridor. Outside that toilet there was a box on the wall with sheets of paper which you had to have to take with you as you went in. I thought — I took two, they were a bit on the small side. I took two sheets of paper. And the German said, ‘Nein. Nein, he says, ‘Ein. Ein.’ So, I had to put one back. And you got escorted back to your cell. And you got your tea in the morning. And a bit of bread. The soup at mid-day and that was very much it.
CB: So, what was the first bit of interrogation they did?
HW: Oh, yeah. I got taken, after about, I’d say two days maybe it was absolutely solitary. It was to break you down a bit, I think. Got taken. A guard took me along to another part of the prison and where the interrogation took place. I was put in an office where there was a German. A major I think he probably was. Wearing a black uniform anyway. It smelt richly of cigar smoke in there. A very comfortable office. I was sat in a chair in front of his desk. And he could speak, of course perfect English. Obviously he had to do that, didn’t he? And he said, ‘There are some things I would like to know about you, Sergeant Wagner,’ he says. ‘Firstly,’ he says, ‘You have no identity tags.’ I said, ‘No. Before we came last evening I had to wear them around my neck on a piece of string but the string broke. So I left them behind me and I thought I’ll put new string on when I get back home.’ ‘Ah,’ he says, ‘Yes’ He says, ‘What squadron were you?’ ‘You know, sir, I can’t tell you things like that. The Geneva Conventions says that I must tell you my name, rank and service number.’ So, ‘Ah,’ he says, ‘It would be a big help to me,’ he said, ‘ If I could believe you, you see,’ he said. ‘We have a man here who has no identity tags and he will not say, he will not say what squadron he belongs to. He says he has been wandering about in Germany for six days. Six days without any food?’ He says, ‘I must think more about this.’ And I was sent back to the cell again. Left for another two days and got called up to his office. And he says, ‘Ah, sergeant. Sergeant Wagner,’ he says, ‘I have had some information. Some more information has reached me,’ he said. ‘I have had a crew in from 51 Squadron who say, I asked them, have any member — and they tell me their squadron,’ he said, ‘They tell me what squadron. You did not tell me what squadron,’ he said, ‘They tell me what. I say has any other crew been missing from your squadron lately? And they gave me the name. They say, ‘Yes. The crew of Warrant Officer Bates.’ ‘Ah,’ he says, ‘And a sergeant was, sergeant, the navigator was Sergeant Wagner.’ He says, ‘Things are beginning to fall into place now,’ he says. He said, ‘You were wandering about for six days without food? What did you drink?’ I said, ‘Well, water out of cattle troughs mostly.’ And he said, ‘What was your bomb load on the night you were —?’ I said, ‘Firstly, sir, you know I can’t tell you that. Secondly, I didn’t know what the bomb load because it was of no interest to me.’ And thirdly he says, ‘What height were you flying?’ I said, ‘We were never on the same level. Sometimes we were going up. Sometimes we were going down. Sometimes we’d be level a bit,’ I said, ‘I can’t remember all the different.’ So, that seemed to satisfy him. He realised that I couldn’t really be expected to remember all that. So, in the end he was still smoking a cigar by the way and it was, he realised I think, well, I’ve got all I can get out of this chap. He’s not being deliberately obstructive. I can’t expect him to remember these things. There’s no point making things more difficult for him. Because getting towards the end of the war they realised they wanted, they didn’t want to raise their heads above the parapet. They wanted to keep a low profile. If he’d been guilty of any, I should say illegal activities then he would have been made to pay the penalty afterwards. So, we parted on reasonable terms shall we say. I went back to my cell. Left there for another three or four days and then got moved by train to, to [pause] moved by this to Wetzlar, that’s right. It was a transit camp. Everybody went there and they were sorted in to batches according to which prison camp in Germany they went to. And when my batch came up after about after three or four days then off I went by train over to, over to Bankau.
CB: So the plane landed where?
HW: The plane?
CB: Where did your plane land?
HW: It crashed in Holland. Just close, just the British had been occupying that area for just a few days. The Germans had just been kicked out. The, so the crew were all buried by, by the Dutch people and, but on my parachute I drifted back across the River Maas and landed behind German lines. In the back garden of a house in a village.
CB: Did you?
HW: It’s all in there.
CB: Yeah. Did you have any detail of where the plane actually crashed?
HW: No. No. It wasn’t until after the war that I went back there because I was in a Dutch twinning club. And I went over there one year and got in touch with the Dutch farmer whose land it had crashed on. And he gave me a big piece of — a big piece of the fuselage of our aircraft. A big piece of metal sheeting which I brought back to England and which is now in our aircraft museum over here at Wisbech.
CB: Did the Germans recover the aircraft or did they just leave them in the field?
HW: Well, the Germans weren’t there when it crashed.
CB: No. No. I just wondered if in general —
HW: Oh. In general.
CB: You knew whether they had left.
HW: No. They wouldn’t. They couldn’t be bothered. If it skated along on the surface.
CB: Yeah.
HW: Came down and was in reasonable condition of course they salvaged it and examined it and tested it and all that sort of thing. But it had gone in. It had gone in deep.
CB: Yes. If it was vertical.
HW: Some that we’ve dug up in this vicinity they, well one over near Downham Market it had crashed between, between two water courses. And we got in touch with the Water Board and they said, ‘You can go down to sixteen feet and no further or you’ll upset the water table.’ So, you have to get permission from the Ministry first that there’s no explosives on board.
CB: Yeah.
HW: So, then you have to get the landowners permission. And if he says no of course you can’t go on his land and dig it up if he says, ‘No. You can’t come on here.’
CB: No.
HW: So, quite often it’s been a matter of just waiting.
[recording paused]
CB: So, after the war did people have interest in you being a POW?
HW: No. No. No. Not really. No interest whatever. In fact, it’s the same with a lot of people. My daughter has three sons and none of them ever showed the slightest interest in war time or my flying career or war time or anything of that sort. They’ve never seen any of these documents I’ve got here. They just show, haven’t shown any interest. My son, on the other hand, he was always interested in flying. He was, he joined the Air Training Corps. Wanted to go into the Air Force as a pilot. He was accepted for officer training. But for aircrew training he failed the medical. They said, ‘No. You’ve got a weak right eye,’ So they said, ‘We can give you other careers.’ ‘No,’ he said, ‘Pilot. I’m not interested in anything else.’ So, he resigned from the Air Force and took on, went into Air Traffic Control. And that’s where he worked all his life. Down at Air Traffic Control down at Southampton.
CB: Yeah.
HW: But he retired last about two months ago now and he’s, he’ll finish off his, the contract that he got, house that he’s got that he rents down at, down at Bishops Waltham. He’ll finish off that contract and then he’s going to buy a house up at Thetford. So —
CB: Right.
HW: And my daughter has just, she’s sold her house at Milton Keynes. They’ve moved up to Dersingham so they won’t be far away. So, but my son took up — he was interested. When I took up the hang gliding of course.
CB: At ninety.
HW: He perked his ears up.
CB: Yeah. Yeah.
HW: And I said, ‘Well,’ I said, ‘If you’re interested,’ I said, ‘I’ll pay for your training. You can come over with me when I go over hang gliding. You can take your elementary certificate and then your club pilot certificate,’ he said. I said. So that’s what he did. So, he’s got as well as his he took his own private pilot’s licence just to, just to prove to himself he could do it. And then he’s, so he’s a qualified hang glider pilot. Same as I. But of course I don’t carry on. They won’t let me go hang gliding now.
CB: No. For your ninetieth birthday what did you do?
HW: I gathered my daughter and her children, sons and my son and his wife and we had an evening over at the Rising Sun pub. No. Not the Rising Sun. The Locomotive pub in Wisbech. And drinks were on me and we had a very happy evening all gathered together there. And we — I’ve forgot what I was going to say now.
CB: Didn’t you go on — did you do a parachute drop?
HW: Pardon?
CB: Did you do a parachute drop?
HW: No. I wanted to do. A friend of mine whose wife has MS, he said, ‘Would you do a standard parachute jump for MS funds?’ I said, ‘Well,’ I said, ‘I’m not very keen, Dick because, well quite honestly I can’t stand this business of going around asking people for money and asking people to sponsor.’ He said, ‘I’ll take of all that,’ he said. ‘Leave all that to me.’ He said, ‘Would you do it?’ I said, ‘Oh, I’ll do it alright.’ So, I got in touch with the appropriate, appropriate Association and they said, ‘Well, yes, they said, you’re going to have to have a doctor’s certificate of fitness.’ I said, ‘I’ll get that alright.’ So, when I went to my doctor he said, ‘Oh,’ he says, ‘I don’t know about that,’ he said, ‘You know you have a slight heart murmur.’ I said, ‘Yes. I’ve had that for years and years.’ He said, he said, ‘I’m not sure about this,’ he said. ‘I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll consult with a colleague of mine who is a heart surgeon and I will ask his advice. See what he thinks. So, and I will let you know.’ So, I went back a week later. ‘My colleague said he does not advise this.’ Mind they were just watching their own backs. I mean if they’d said yes and if there had been trouble, then they would have been in trouble. So, and I don’t blame them for watching their backs in these compensation days. So, I said to Dick, ‘Well, no. I can’t do it, Dick. They won’t let me. I’ll tell you what I will do though. I’ll do a bunjee jump.’ So, he said — ‘And you can, if you can get people to sponsor me for that, ok. You carry on.’ So, I got in touch with the bunjee people, ‘Do I need a medical?’ They said, ‘No. How old are you?’ I said, ‘Ninety.’ ‘Do you take any drugs?’ ‘No.’ ‘Have you had any heart trouble?’ ‘No. Not really. No.’ ‘That’ll be ok then.’ So, so I went. So, I did the bunjee jump and I’d do another one if I had a chance. I enjoyed that.’
CB: What was it, what was it, what did you feel when you did it?
HW: What? While I was going on? Oh, enjoying it. They don’t let you go down like that which would be a bit tame. They swing the jib from side to side. They swing you back and forth like that. So, it’s not a just a straight drop. Yeah. I enjoyed that. I’d like another one of those. But if another, if another, if they come back to Wisbech again and I see, I see, I get the chance I’ll give it another go.
CB: There’s a notion amongst flight —
HW: Hmmn?
CB: There’s a notion amongst flying people that they don’t want to jump out of an aeroplane if they can help it. Do you think having had to get out when the plane was going down that gave you a different perspective?
HW: No. No. It was a case of stay here and die or go. So the obvious answer was go.
CB: But doing it again you would have a choice?
HW: If I had. Yeah. I’d be quite happy knowing what the drill is. Know I’ve got to drop a certain distance before pulling the, before pulling the cord. And, yeah I’d be quite happy to do an ordinary solo jump but of course they won’t let me now.
CB: No. No. Henry Wagner thank you very much for the rematch.



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Henry Wolfe Wagner. Two,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 13, 2024,

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