Interview with John Martin


Interview with John Martin


John Martin was born in June 1922 and lived in London. He always wanted the opportunity to fly and so at the age of 19 volunteered to join the Royal Air Force as an armourer. He was not accepted as he was in a reserved occupation. Eventually he reapplied as aircrew and was accepted as a wireless operator. He describes his signals training at RAF Yatesbury, involving flying in Dominies and Proctors. June 1943 saw him undertake advanced flying training with 14 Operational Training Unit at RAF Cottesmore and then RAF Husbands Bosworth flying Wellingtons. He completed conversion to Lancaster bombers before being posted to 166 Squadron. January 1944 saw him flying an operation to Berlin, where his aircraft was shot down. He describes how he had to get out of the burning aircraft before parachuting in to a field where he was captured. Initially he was taken to Dulag Luft near Frankfurt, where he was interrogated and believed to be a spy as he had no identification tags with him. Eventually imprisoned in a prisoner of war camp in North Prussia. As the Russian forces advanced, John was moved to another camp in Poland, and then again to one north of Hanover. Here the prisoners heard about the D-Day landings in June 1944.
Allied troops arrived and repatriation to the United Kingdom was carried out by C-47 aircraft. On arrival in England, he and other returning men were taken to RAF Cosford where they were given baths, clean beds and new uniforms. Rehabilitation courses were provided, and John served at RAF Cranwell until he was demobbed.




Temporal Coverage




01:42:47 audio recording

Conforms To


IBCC Digital Archive


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GC: Ok, ok. Hello, my name’s Gary Clark, I’m at the home of John Martin to interview John for the oral history digital archive for the International Bomber Command Centre, and hello John.
JM: Hello.
GC: And, welcome to your interview, and can we start with your date of birth and where you came from?
JM: The date of birth is the 16th of June 19- 1922, which makes me ninety-six.
GC: And, so what made you think to join the RAF?
JM: Well, in my youth very, very few people could fly or could afford to fly, aircraft were very few on the ground and this came, I'm sorry to say not as a- The idea of getting at the Germans, I joined up with the idea- I could see an opportunity to fly [emphasis], which I did of course. So, that was the- I must be honest, that was the main reason but, I'm always glad I joined the RAF because it’s a great experience, you meet so many people from different parts of the world, so I enjoyed that and valued that part just as much as being able to fly. So, that was it [chuckles].
GC: So, how old were you when you?
JM: I was nineteen when I volunteered, yes, and I was in what was a reserved occupation then, and if you’re interested in this bit, so I could get into- I never imagined myself- I'd only had an ordinary elementary education, I never imagined myself being accepted for aircrew and flying and pilot or anything, navigator. So, I thought, well an armourer you’d be quite close to the aircraft and I volunteered as an armourer [emphasis] and I went to the recruiting centre, passed the medical, everything was going well, and suddenly somebody came up and said, ‘Mr Martin, I'm sorry we can’t accept you, you’re in a reserved occupation’, I packed up again [laughs]. So, I didn’t get in as an armourer but then I knew that if you could get into aircrew, any occupation you might be have- Might be in then was ignored and aircrew took priority. So, very gingerly- Well the- There used to be advertisements in the local, in all papers, national papers and everything wanting people for aircrew, but it always stated at the bottom of the advertisement that a secondary education is essential, or words to that effect, and of course I'd had elementary education so that was me out all the time, and then I noticed after- Well probably a year [emphasis] I would think, they dropped that bit about the secondary education so I volunteered for it, and I got accepted. No, prior to actually volunteering I knew my maths were not good enough and that but luckily, I had this friend who’d had a better education than I, he was keen to get into aircrew, so he coaxed me along up to a better standard and off I went to volunteer and to my surprise- Oh there’s a wireless operator you see, I thought that’s not aiming too high and I was interested in wireless you see, and I thought that’s a very interesting job to be in. Anyway, I went before the selection board as a potential wireless operator, and if you could imagine a row of six group captains and they hardly knee[?] it and they’re sitting there nodding to each other like this, and I thought I'm never going to get through this. To my surprise at the end of the interview they said, ‘Well, Mr Martin we think you’ll make a very good pilot and we’re going to enlist you as pilot’. Which I did, I was over the moon about that of course, you know. Anyway, I was called up- Put on deferred service for some months and then called up, report to St Johns Wood in London and went through all the procedures and you get tuition in morse code and maths, and the interesting bit of it is a lot of the lectures and tuition takes part in a building of Lords Cricket Ground. In fact, it’s the [emphasis] room I think, where the committee sits and I presume drink whisky and watch the match going on, and this is where we sat, and on the wall at one end there’s a picture of W. G. Grace looking down on us [chuckles] and I really thought I'd gone up in the world then, you know, and we had- Used to use a lot of the zoo, the London Zoo buildings for things. Anyway, this went on, having more tuition in maths and sitting in the classroom there then, this (I forget who he was) a flight lieutenant or something came in and said, ‘Right, all you lot are bomb aimers’ [laughs] just like that, no- And it turned out in the end we learned that there was a great shortage of bomb aimers so they were going to use all the recruits in that purpose and I did find out at a later date, whether it was in force when I joined or not, but they never recruited people as pilots or bomb aimers or navigators, they were PNB’s so they could be used for any position in the crew you see. So, anyway, I don’t know where I found the courage but I spoke up for myself then, I said, ‘Look, I wanted to be a wireless operator, you told me I was a pilot and now you say I'm a bomb aimer, I'm not too- I’d like to go on- Carry on to be a wireless operator’. Oh, he didn’t know about that, he said, ‘I’ll let you know about that later’. Anyway, he came back in a couple of hours into the classroom and said, ‘Yes, that’s alright, you can go on as a wireless operator’. So, packed up in London and went off to Blackpool then, where you do elementary things like morse and semaphore, semaphore and drill, foot drill and all of that on the promenade, yeah.
GC: Square bashing was it?
JM: Square bashing yeah, and then you go off to a signal school that specialises in signals and I went to Yatesbury in Wiltshire, No. 2 signal school I think that, and then in those days wireless operators were not taken directly onto the next stage of training, they were put out to get a bit of experience as a ground wireless operator, and believe it or not I was sent to a mustang squadron [chuckles] which is an army co-operation squadron and they didn’t have a morse key on the station and the only thing to with signals really was that I had to fill in a book for a dispatch rider to take off up to London to say- To state the service ability of the aircraft on the squadron. But it was very, very interesting on that squadron, and the commander, the squadron leader commander, I've never known a person like him before or since [phone rings]. Yeah, and as I say it was very enjoyable because the CO was a very down to earth man, he called a spade a spade and that was it and he told you what he thought of you or- And he was very easy to get on with. In fact, the- When I did the second day I was there, the flight sergeant who I was working under said, ‘The old man wants to see you’, oh, so went off, timidly got to his office and tapped on the door and he bellowed, ‘Come in’, and he’s on the telephone when I get in there so I’m standing there rigidly to attention, and he said, [mouthing and motioning to sit down] he means me to sit down in a chair, and actually I looked around to see if somebody had come in behind me, you know, no it was me [emphasis] who got to sit in the chair, never heard of anything like that before. Next thing you know, he’s- A cigarette packet, ‘Cigarette?’ [laughs]. It was a shock if anything, you know, to come across this, that such a person was running this squadron, and that was his way of going on all the time, you know, and he called most people by their Christian names and, and he was a fine man to be under but quite- Never met anybody before or since like him [chuckles] and what they were- Would of done of course, they would’ve been preparing for the invasion I suppose, you know, they were an army co-operation squadron and they used to set off from, from the airfield with, oh several lorries carrying their own runways in a roll and when they came back after probably ten days they all looked like a load of tramps [chuckles], not had a shave or anything it was, you know, really a rough bunch, and- Apparently where they were there was a NAAFI van which the- Only the other ranks were allowed to use, anybody but- Up to a corporal you can use the NAAFI, but there’s the poor officers and that they got nothing, but the CO he gets onto one of the guys, ‘Here, give us your greatcoat’, put on his greatcoat and went in the NAAFI [laughs]. You can- You know, I never met a man before or since [chuckles] like him, it’s just how he went on. But it was grand and then- Anyway, my posting came through to continue with the air operating wireless course, and he got me in the office, he says, ‘Look here’, he said, ‘Do you really want to do this? Bloody dangerous this Bomber Command lark’ he says, and I said, ‘Yes, I think I would’, ‘You sure?’ he said, ‘I can get you off, you can stop here with me if you like?’. I said, ‘No, I think I like’, ‘Well, alright, well good luck to you, best of luck to you’, and off I went, and you go then to the, to the next signal school where you do- Start off with the ground duties but then you convert to air operating, starting off on an aircraft which is- Which we called the de Havilland Domni- Dominie, and it was in- Had a civilian life of a de Havilland Rapide. What it was, was a seven-seater airliner which they used to use to go to the Channel Isles and that sort of- Short trips like, and it was rigged out so that there were five pupil wireless operators and one instructor and you took off and flew fairly locally for a while, keeping in communication on the wireless from- In the aircraft, doing everything they tell you, air comms, set exercises you see, and then when you get a bit more advanced you go on longer trips and a bit higher to start taking loop bearings on the loop aerial, and then when you completed that successfully, got through that, you go on flying solo on your own on these little aircrafts, Percival Proctor they were called, and to our delight they were fitted out for the civilians, you know, had the lovely head lining in and the seats were all leather and all that they did, they took one of the front seats out of the aircraft and I sat on the back seat and my equipment was in front of me either side of the pilot. That was very, very nice but the problem is that the pilots who were flying these Proctors, quite a portion of them were fighter pilots and some of them had been in the Battle of Britain and they were as mad as hatters [chuckles]. They would be doing all sorts of twists and turns and there you are with a- Your log book strapped to your knee, with a pencil in your hand and one minute you’re trying to force the pencil off the paper because they’re climbing so rapidly, and the next minute they’re diving so hard you can’t get the pencil down to the paper, and here’s the morse signal still going on of course, which you’re supposed to be taking down and that, and- But the thing was that if you complained about them you’d probably get far worse next time. But luckily there were some quite nice pilots on there and especially stuck in my mind was two officers of the Royal Indian Air Force, and they were still wearing their turbans, they had special earphones and they were real [emphasis] gentlemen, you know, and when you come down, they say, ‘Did I do that well, for you? I didn’t-’, yes and you know, real gentlemen they were. Anyway, got through that, quite alright. I say after the struggle with these mad pilots and then the next stage of training, went off to a place on the Welsh coast, not far from Bridgend to do what they call an emergency gunnery course, but it doesn’t entail any flying at all, it’s a ground-based flying, two Brownings on a- Mounted on a pedestal and that’s the only- And that was all was necessary really because when you get up into the four-engine bombers you don’t go near the guns anyway. So, it was only an emergency course, and then, the end of that this is when your presented with your wings, which is a great occasion of course. I can always remember the old group captain, I think I can imagine they kept him locked away somewhere and when it came to the wings presentation, they got him out and he comes along with, ‘Oh congratulations my boy, congratulations’, he gets to me and says, ‘Congratulations old boy’, phew [emphasis] and these great whisky fumes [chuckles] all over me, and his uniform was more green then blue he’d had it that long, but there’s a nice old boy, did the job well. And then you go off to- From there when all that is completed, we went off further up the Welsh coast near to Caernarfon, which is now Caernarfon airport I think, but you do what you call, advanced flying training and we were equipped with Ansons, Avro Ansons there which is a very nice aircraft to fly in and it was known as the flying glasshouse because great big Perspex canopy, and it was used in the early days of the war by the, by the Navy- In co-operation with the navy, coastal command, looking for U-Boats, that’s a submarine, and it would’ve been a very good aircraft but, the problem of course it was very slow, and- But it was very nice aircraft to fly in and we did some wonderful flying from there, going up the west coast of the country, over the isle of Anglesey, quite close to the Isle of Man and you could see all- And you had a map in front of you as well and you could pick out all these little tiny islands, and some of them were so small they were just a grass patch, no houses, and sometimes you could see who I presume was the farmer rowing across the [chuckles]. Oh, and the weather of course was extremely great, it was in June 1943, and it couldn’t have been more ideal flying if you’d have paid thousands of pounds to do it, and during that time you get your first experience of night flying. That was a bit of a scare to start with [chuckles], nobody told me that you can see the exhaust gases burning flying past and I thought it was a fighter [emphasis] on our tail [chuckles] but no, it’s the sparks coming off the two engines. You get used to that and then when you, when you finished that course you feel fairly competent then, and the next step is off to Operational Training Unit, and we went to a very nice station called Cottesmore in the- Rutland, Rutlandshire, and it was what you call a peacetime station, built between the wars and you had all the mod-cons there, very comfortable but in fact we, the trainees were billeted in a country house about a couple of miles away, or less, perhaps only a mile, but we were taken each way by bus, didn’t have to walk or anything, lived like gentlemen we did, and that was very interesting. But then, suddenly, ‘You’re all gonna be moved’. ‘You’re all going to be moved’, and there was a rumour that the Americans were going to come to Cottesmore and we thought, oh fancy giving it to them, you know, and we went to a brand-new airfield called Husbands Bosworth, that was in- On the borders of Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, and- To complete the Operational Training Unit course, and this of course, you really get down your flying operational aircraft or, and you’re really getting down to business, and you do (with the whole crew)- Start off by doing what they call circuits and bumps, that’s taking off and landing, taking off and landing, taking off and landing. But, one problem about that is, that the airfield was nowhere near complete in its construction and the pilot had to watch out for lorries [chuckles] and one chap actually took about three feet off the end of his wing tip on a GPO engineers' lorry, you know. Very difficult it was, but there you are it happened [unclear] then- And the CO of course, of the station, would be under pressure to get going, ‘Come on get it going’, and all that. He couldn’t say, ‘Well give it a rest’ or anything, and so it went, and you, you do things like drop bombs from there, and all the while you’re doing wireless exercises which are done in co-ordination with the rest of the- But everybody’s learning then, the pilot, the navigator, the gunners. You’re all learning but all learning your own bit.
GC: So how did you- What was it like being crewed together then? How did you crew up?
JM: Ah yes now should’ve mentioned that. At Cottesmore, you’re all brought together in a room, and believe it or not there’s tea and biscuits on hand, and you sit down at these little tables and get talking and move about if you want to, and the idea is that you form a crew entirely on your own bat. Nobody guides you or orders you or anything, and I saw this very strong nice looking chap, bit older than us and I thought he looks nice and steady and I went up to him and said, ‘Do you want a wireless operator?’, ‘Yes, yes’, and he’d already got navigator and a bomb aimer and thing, so it was just a matter of getting a rear gunner, which we did, a very good one, Dick Walton[?], and that’s how we formed up, and that’s the most informal thing I've ever know I should think [chuckles]. Now, I was talking to- Or rather, in correspondence, with a modern fighter jet pilot and he said, ‘Yes, that was the fine idea, but it’s not allowed anymore ‘cause they thought it- You got too familiar with each other’. So, although they’ve only got a crew of two, they change every so often. I suppose, they must’ve found this an advantage, but in those days, we got together ourselves and did everything together really, and, and that’s how it went, and as I say you’re doing things which get more and more advanced, your exercises that you do, and you finish up with a quite a long cross-country trip and then in those days, from that station we were converted to what was the, the main airfield. We were a satellite of a larger airfield and we were transferred to there to complete our training, still on the Wellingtons but, doing more advanced and much longer cross-countries, probably six, seven hours perhaps some of them, you finish up with that is, and then, the next thing to do- That’s all been done on Wellingtons but the poor Wellington had been pushed out by now and it was four-engine bombers. So, you were then sent off to what they call the conversion unit, that was to fly. And we had the advantage there which didn’t last much after we did it, of flying all three of the heavy bombers, the Stirling, Halifax and Lancaster, and each had their qualities. The old Stirling was the most comfortable and spacious. The only thing of course is that, you couldn’t fly very high which wasn’t very good on operations. The Halifax was quite a good aircraft to fly in and you were on two levels, which was quite- Something never experienced before, the pilot and the engineer are on a higher level, navigator, wireless operator, down on the lower level, but very comfortable aircraft to fly in. And, then of course the Lancaster, and before we finished the, what they call a conversion course, it became quite obvious that they wanted all the Lancasters on the squadron, and we were engaged taking Lancasters to a squadron and bringing back their Stirling or Halifax- No they kept- Never Halifax, always Stirlings [unclear], flying the Stirlings back, and I learnt afterwards that that’s what the only aircraft they had on the conversion unit, they didn’t get a chance to fly Lancasters because Harris, our boss, butcher Harris as we called him, he was a very hard man and thank goodness he was, because he was one of the few that really got on with the war, and he wanted every Lancaster on a squadron, bombing Germany. For some- I’d learnt from somewhere, that he got a bit of a grudge against the Halifax, and I don’t know why, if he fell out with the manufacturers or what, but he was all for the Lancaster, that was the thing and- So we finished up on Lancasters and went to a Lancaster squadron, number 166, and that’s where you learn what you let yourself in for, because that’s when you start to see, ‘Well he didn’t get back last night’, ‘No he didn’t, no’. There was a chart in the CO’s office and we were all called in there to start with and, I'm looking at this chart and at the end of- There’s a great list of names there of the crews that are there, not there but had been there, and at the end of one or two of them there was a star [emphasis] and I said, said to the CO, ‘I suppose sir, they didn’t get back, they got shot down?’, ‘No [emphasis] they’ve finished their tour’ [chuckles]. Which was a bit of a shaker, you know, and that’s how it was actually but, we only managed to be on our third before this fighter got us. Each time to Berlin we went. But of course, you don’t get used to going to Berlin because you go a different way each time and come back a different way, and in any case when you’re up at twenty-thousand feet there’s no sign posts or say, ‘Oh yes, we turn right here’, or anything like that, you’re all- You’re depending entirely on your navigator and you do get one or two markers on the way that are dropped by the pathfinders just in front of you. But if you’re not pretty well where you should be, you wouldn’t see the markers anyway so, there you are. So, the navigator had to be pretty well up on it, and the first time we went to Berlin, I didn’t know it at the time, but we were in the very first wave, and when we got there, there was nothing going on at all, and I switched over to the intercom because most of the time of course, the wireless operator is not listening to- His listening to his own wireless signal. Switched over to the intercom to hear the skipper saying to the navigator, ‘Are you sure we’re there Jock?’, and Jock saying, ‘Yes I'm sure we are Jimmy, we are, we are’. Jimmy said, ‘Well we must be early, we’ll have to do a dog-leg’, and just as he said that, the flak opened up and you could hear everybody in the aircraft go [gasps], like that. Terrible sight, and you just think you will never [emphasis] get through that, you know.
GC: Are you aware of the other planes around you?
JM: Oh yes, very much so and you can see them getting shot down which isn’t- Doesn’t add to your [chuckles] morale very much, and you realise that some of them never stand a chance of getting out, probably being hit by an anti-aircraft shell and just explode straight away. But, anyway on this third trip we were just very nearly up to the target and I was still switched off the intercom, listening to what we called then was tinselling and it was- What you were tasked with was listening out on the receiver, you’re given a frequency band at briefing and you keep switching over this band and you’re trying to pick up enemy ground to air, or air to ground patter and what you can do then is, once you know the frequency, you can tune in your own transmitter to that frequency and there’s a microphone in one of the engines and as you press the key, the noise of that engine would be sent over the frequency, much to the annoyance of the Germans on the ground and in the air, you see.
GC: So, you’re jamming them in a sort-
JM: Jamming of it, yeah, yeah. So that’s what you were doing a lot of the time, but I don’t know if this was just a squadron thing or whether it was accepted throughout Bomber Command but they said, ‘You can, with a long stretch reach back to twiddle the knobs on the receiver and at the same time look out at the astrodome, helping the gunners looking for fighters’, you see, and I was doing this right and the every so often, twice an hour, you get what you called a group broadcast that’s coming through for No 1 Group, and that’s very important that you get that because there’s no telling what might be on it. But mainly it’s telling you what winds have been found by the pathfinders just in front of you, which you immediately give to the navigator because he wants that for his flight plan. Anyway, I look back at the clock and its ten-past eight, I thought oh time to get that broadcast so I swung round very quickly and I didn’t have time to readjust the set and these canon shells came flying past my arm and I was smothered in green crystals or burning- Something burning from the shells exploding. I was sparkling with green, and I realise later how lucky I was, they must’ve just ripped past my arm. Well, I know they did ‘cause I saw them, and anyway I knew then it was time to get on- Switch back to the intercom and I switched back to the intercom to hear immediately the skipper saying, ‘Bail out, bail out’, because he knew the aircraft had been that badly hit, you see, it was hopeless, and the navigator and I (he sat just in front of me), we stowed our parachutes side by side on the other side of the aircraft. We were just like one man grabbing our chutes and clipping them on. All you wear while you’re flying, of course is a harness but you can’t wear the parachute pack because you were- Be too obstructive to any work you’re doing, so you stow your pack separately, making sure you know where it is of course, and off we went to try to bail out. Now, you’ve got a strict drill to follow, which you’re always told from when you first start on Lancasters and I was supposed to open the rear door of the cockpit, go down the fuselage and out of the back door with the mid-upper gunner, and as soon as I opened the door, the flames [emphasis] I could see and it appeared the whole fuselage was burning fiercely. But even so I could look through them a bit and see Bob Brown the mid-upper gunner climbing out of his turret, but the turret itself was right keeled over to one side, it must’ve caught a lot of the heavy canon shells I should think, and-But there was Bob Brown climbing out of it. So, I thought he’d have a good chance of getting out. So, my first thought was slam this door shut again to keep the flames back and I thought, what I'll do, I'll follow the rest of the crew out through their escape hatch in the nose, and the bomb aimer would go first, so he should do because he’s laying over it, and then would be the navigator and then the pilot and then the engineer, I think that was the order. But you had to stick to the order that you went on. And, I thought, well, what do I do, you know, well I can’t barge in on them. So, by that time I knew the aircraft was in a very steep dive, so I thought well there’s something I can do and I went and struggled forward, got in the pilot seat, tried- The idea, try to pull the aircraft out of the dive, but as soon as I touched the stick I knew it was useless, it was flopping about, I think the controls had been cut down in the fuselage, so I couldn’t do that, and I thought well I'm going to die now, and I was certain I was going to die. So, I went back and sat in my seat, and then in all the panic I remembered that I- On my desk at one side you’ve got two buttons and if you press them simultaneously it blows up the IFF set down in the fuselage which is a means of identifying whether something coming up behind you is a friend or foe, and also of course when you’re coming back or going out the, the ground crew at- The ground people want to know who you are. So, that was what that was for, but of course I didn’t want it falling into the hands of the enemy. So, you got strict orders, I pressed the two buttons and blow it up but, of course in my panic I'd forgotten to do this [chuckles], but I did do it when I came back, whether it was still there to blow up or whether it had been blown away I don’t know. But I thought this is it I'm going, because the aircraft by then was almost standing on its nose I should think, and- The next thing I remember was this huge red flash, but no- I didn’t- I don’t remember any noise in the explosion, and the next thing I knew I was spinning over and over in the air and seeing this great piece of fuselage go flying past me, it was that close, I'm very lucky that it didn’t hit me, and then the parachute opened, but I can’t remember pulling it myself. I rather think that what happened that, as I was being blown out the D-ring on the pack got caught in a piece of the wreckage which pulled it and just like- Out I went. But anyway, we were flying at about twenty-thousand feet when we were first attacked, but when I got enough sense to look down now that the parachute having opened, I think there was no more than a thousand-feet, very close [chuckles] and looking down I think, I'm going to go straight in that canal. I thought it looked just like a canal, the long straight thing. I thought, well that’s alright I don’t mind where I drop [chuckles]. But as it- Well I found out later it was a main road, and it was wet, so from above it would look like a canal. But I landed in this, it was like semi-rural area and I landed in this small field but I didn’t have enough sense to get myself off the ground, I was being dragged along by the parachute and it was quite some time before I thought I’ve got to stand up and collapse the thing, you know, which I did eventually and managed to uncouple it, and I lay there for some time thinking how badly I'd been hurt, I knew I'd been hurt, my head and my knees and arms, pretty painful. But then I thought come on, go on, you’ve got to get away from here because we get no end of instruction what to do, get as far away from the scene of the crash as possible and you might stand a chance of evading, and I've got that in my mind, I thought I've got to get rid of this parachute for starts and I could see a straw stack or a hay stack, so I thought that’s the place, put it in there. But of course, I learnt later that must’ve been obvious to the Germans where I'd put it as well [chuckles]. But anyway, I staggered along, hardly knowing where I was going, next thing I knew I'd gone onto this main road and straight away two soldiers there with fixed bayonets and rifles got you. So, you know that-
GC: So, you got caught then?
JM: Took me across the road to their- And I think what it was, there was a searchlight unit because when I got inside this hut thing, they- I could see they were Luftwaffe personnel, they weren’t army, they were Luftwaffe and under German rules all things like anti-aircraft guns and searchlight are controlled by the Luftwaffe aren’t they, not the army, as we were in Britain like. So, anyway, the good thing was they were very kind to me really, and they immediately sent off for a medical sergeant and he came and he was a nice old boy he was and spent a lot of time, and I couldn’t think what he kept pressing my leg for, and I know now what he- He was seeing if I'd got any flak buried in my legs you see, I'm sure that’s what he was trying to do. But, anyway, he gave me quite a lot of time and attention, and he bandaged my head up in paper bandages, and he said, you know, more or less told me I was- Would be alright, and then they- The rest of them told me that in a little while I'd be taken to their headquarters, and in the meanwhile I thought I'd got some coins in my pocket and that’s forbidden, you shouldn’t take any money with you when you’re flying, and I thought I’ll get rid of this, so I gave it away as souvenirs [chuckles] and they were very grateful to receive them you see. So, then I was carted off in a car to the, what I presume was the headquarters of these searchlight units, and I was taken upstairs into a, quite a large room and there sat a sergeant and to my surprise he was holding my parachute [chuckles], I presume it was mine, he tossed it over and motioned to me to put it on the floor and lay down in front of him, and he sat at the desk with his pistol on the thing there listening to this wireless that’s playing very German regimental music, all night long, and he said, ‘You mustn’t move’, and that. So, then next morning I was taken off downstairs again to a hut, somewhere outside this building which I presume was the living quarters of some of these people, and they were quite kind to me and I was surprised how many of those could speak English, and one of them I spoke to- Speaking to, he says, ‘Where did you, where did you live?’, and I thought, should I tell him this? You know, and I thought no it can’t do any harm, I said, ‘Well, you know the Wembley Stadium?’, ‘Jah, Jah, Jah’, said, ‘Near there’, ‘Near Wembley Stadium [emphasis]?’, ‘I played football there as a youth’ [chuckles]. Yeah, so quite easy to get on with but- And they even gave me a midday meal but I couldn’t eat it, you know, perhaps it was the shock and concussion and all that and it wasn’t very appetising, but they were getting stuck into it and when they asked me, ‘Aren’t you going to eat that?’ and I said, ‘No’, well they were all in and, you know, they soon finished it off [chuckles] because I learned later that their rations weren’t very good either, the ordinary- I think the front line troops were treated very well but they went down in stages, the quality and quantity, till they got down to what they call garrison troops and they were the people who’d be guarding us you see, and they didn’t get very much, well I don’t know about much but their fare wasn’t very good, bit of old German sausage which they called wurst I think, and couple of slices of black bread, you know. But anyway, I was kept there and they told me that very soon I'd be collected and taken in to Berlin, and we weren’t very far out of course now. Anyway, they ushered me out and there’s this great long Mercedes there, the longest Mercedes and poshest Mercedes I’d ever seen. There were these two smart Luftwaffe guys in the front, sitting there, but in the back was David [emphasis] the engineer, head bandaged up like this and he were grinning, grinning and laughing his head off at seeing me coming out, I'm [chuckles] stumbling and that. Anyway, I was let in and the, the chap, the officer in the passenger seat he immediately whips out his pistol and said, ‘You two know each other?’, and, ‘No, no, we don’t know each other, no, it’s another Englishman, you know’, and he seemed to accept that, but we knew from- We used to get a lot of lectures from intelligence, you know, and you tell them as little as possible. I mean if they knew we were in the same crew that would be helpful to them, and we were always warned about the interrogation we were going to get. Anyway, we were taken off in this car to Tempelhof airfield, which was like a small airfield more or less in the centre of Berlin, I think, and we were put down in the cellar and before long we were joined with some more RAF aircrew, obviously been shot down that night and they looked a bit knocked about like us I think, and we were told that we’d be there for a while, then we knew we were going off to a place called Dulag Luft. We’d heard a lot about Dulag Luft from our intelligence and this is where they interrogated every allied airman. You all went there for this interrogation, and- But we set off by train, a passenger train and we sat there like lords in the passenger- But the sergeant in charge of the party, he warned us, he said, ‘Now, whatever you do, make yourself’, in his own words, ‘Make yourself as scarce as possible, be as inconspicuous as possible’, he said, ‘Because the civilian population are very hostile towards allied airmen’. So, we understood this and we kept as quiet as we could. Anyway, we arrived at, where's Düsseldor- I’m trying to think of the town that Dulag Luft was attached to-
GC: It was- I’m not sure.
JM: I’ll tell you later when I think of it. Anyway, we get to our destination and we’re waiting on the platform for some transport to take us to Dulag Luft from the rail station to Dulag Luft, and ooh anyway while we were waiting there, there was a plate layer working on the line, he gets up his hammer and takes a swing at one of our chaps and this of course drew the attention to all the crowds on the platform as to who we were, and they started to come forward en masse and, luckily this sergeant in charge of the party, that was escorting us- [whispering in background].
GC: Frankfurt?
JM: Yeah. Yes, the crowds on the platform they realised who we were, allied gangsters as they called us, gangsters we were and they surged towards us en masse and it’s very, very frightening but, luckily- I don’t know if it had happened before to this sergeant who was in charge of us, but he immediately pushed us up against the wall and formed a D round us with his troops and they raised their automatic weapons and they made it quite clear even to our English ears that if they came to (this crowd that were coming), if they came any closer, he would open fire, you know, and there was a bit of a hesitation there, but eventually all grumbling and mumbling they split up and went away. But I shall always be extremely grateful to that sergeant, the way he handled that situation. As I say, whether it had happened to him before, but he certainly did it right, and did it in quick thinking. Anyway, from, from Frankfurt station, believe it or not, we went to the Dulag Luft interrogation centre by tram car [emphasis], which seemed a bit odd but when you think about it, it’s very efficient, we were the only ones on the tram and we got on the tram just outside the station and it put us down, right outside Dulag Luft, and as we went into the place, you go up the first insight into what you’re going to get there, the- As you approach it, you were obviously going into the main door and we could see that one of the windows had been deliberately broken and it had been stuffed up with the foil that we used to drop on bombing raids, that fooled radar and it had the code name of Window, and they pushed it in there and what they were saying is, ‘We know what you call this stuff and you thought it was a secret didn’t you?’ you know, and that’s your first touch of psychology you might say [unclear]. Anyway, we were moved into the main hall and then almost immediately we were split up into individuals and I was marched out between two or three Luftwaffe airmen, taken into a room where I was made to strip out entirely, no consideration to any injuries that I've got, you know, get stripped out and they got my clothes and immediately in the- In our battle dress blouse, around the waistband at the back where you had sewn in the back (we knew it was there ‘cause we) like a passport type photograph and with great gesture and that, they got their knives and cut that out, you know, ‘We know where to look for that’, you know. Trying to demoralise you all the time, you see, and then you also- One of your buttons on your battle dress has got a magnetic dot on it so it would act as a compass and they, ‘Oh there it is’, and cut that off, you know. They were being as psychologically cruel to you as they possibly could, you know, and then they did things like light a cigarette and blow the smoke in your face as though to say, ‘We Germans have got everything’, you see, you know?
GC: Yeah.
JM: And, we had been warned about this sort of thing so it was a bit of help, but then we- The last thing that they did, we were issued just- Not long before I was shot down with some long john underpants and they were made of pure silk and wool and they were very good for keeping the cold out, well more on the airfield because I didn’t need them really where I was in the Lancaster it was too hot, but on the North Lincolnshire airfield, unofficially we were wearing them all the time, not just for flying duties, you know, and they were holding these up as if to say, ‘These old fashioned things we modern Germans, you know, don’t wear those anymore’, you know. In other words, they were, as I say, humiliating you as much as they possibly could. Anyway, they must have a button somewhere and they pressed this button and in came two guards with bayonets- Rifles and bayonets, took me off down what seemed to be endless corridors in to a little tiny cell, and there’s a bed in there, probably no more then- Well if it was two feet wide that was as much as it was, and there wasn’t much room at the side to get into it, so the cell must of been very small in width, and down the end was a very small window, very high up in there, and I was pushed into there and the door [claps] slammed and you knew you were inside then, and there was few dirty old blankets on the, on the bed, but we had to get on the bed ‘cause there was nowhere else to go, there was no standing space. So, anyway I was listening to what was going on up and down and I knew that I had nobody in the cells at the side of me, I was entirely on my own and it was quite, quite demoralising that was, you know, because you’ve got to remember that in an aircrew, you’re working with people all the time and it doesn’t do your morale much good to be shut away on your own, you see-
GC: By now you’d have been-
JM: And they probably knew this, you see, the Germans, yeah.
GC: And you’d have been worried about your crew members as well, wouldn’t you?
JM: Yeah, yeah and- Anyway, I was shut in there and later on in the day they brought me two slices of black bread, which I just couldn’t eat and some Ersatz coffee, which I couldn’t drink. Well, I just had a couple of sips of it but, anyway, that was the food I got that day, then the next morning I got what would be their breakfast, which was the same again, a little steel mug of coffee and a couple of black slices of bread which I had to have a nibble at, but I couldn’t finish them all and that’s how it went on for the, about the first day and a half. But then, they come and collected me out of the cell to take me to be interrogated, and this is where I stepped into real trouble because- I gotta go back to the squadron now that- We do the ops we’re on, we hadn’t been briefed but the washing facilities on the headquarters group of this dispersed airfield were much better than on the living site, so I thought, oh chance to go wash here, so I stripped out and had a good wash, came away, left my identity tag hanging on a hook. So, this chap starts to interrogate me, and hinting straight away that I wasn’t an airman at all, I was an agent dropped for espionage purposes, you know, and he suddenly- I said, ‘Well, you know, I’ve got my uniform”- uniform yeah, ‘You were wearing no identity tags’, and of course it- Well I knew, I’d missed them just before take-off, but I knew there was no time to do anything about it, and of course, I didn’t know I was going to get shot down but, I never realised the significance of them, I thought they would accept the uniform and that would be it. But he kept on about it, you know, and, ‘Right, well tell me who the crew are’, and then he gets on to that, he said, ‘You don’t even- Don’t seem to belong to a crew either’, you know, and he took that line about me being a, an agent rather than an airman, and I was dismissed back to the cell to think about a bit, you know. I came back- He had me back the next day, taking up the same line, you know, asking me different questions and he was on- I said, ‘Well, I’ve got uniform on, you know’, he said, ‘I can go and buy those in Paris in the black market, as many as I like so that means nothing’, you know, and I thought well, that’s it, so I felt really hopeless and he kept me there- No he didn’t, yes. Then he let me go back to the cell, yeah, and the next morning I was once again ushered out, into the corridor and I knew I was going to interrogation once again which I was dreading. But, although I didn’t realise it, I was being led in a different direction and I encountered quite a different person there, and he more or less greeted me and said how we’re both wireless people, ‘Technicians’, he said, ‘So we understand each other, don’t we?’, you know, ‘Yes’ [chuckles]. And then he was talking about different thing- Then he suddenly says, ‘Were you carrying fishpond?’, and this shook me rigid because only two or three days before being shot down, all wireless operators had been summoned to the operations room, to be introduced to a new piece of equipment that we’re going, going to be fitting soon to the squadron. Absolutely [emphasis] top dead secret. Its code name was fishpond.
GC: How did he know?
JM: Yeah, and of course this really shook me rigid, you know, and I was thinking what I was going to say, but he- I didn’t have to think up an excuse, he said, ‘Come with me’, and he led me off into another room, and there he gave me my second demonstration of fishpond, because it was all set up there working. So, this shook me but he didn’t dwell on it too long and next thing I know, I'm back to the cell, you know, and I thought that’s a funny thing, you know, nobody’s supposed to know about that, and then I was back to this first man again, was still saying that I was- Obviously I was a case for the Gestapo, and he couldn’t deal with me and then he suddenly whips around and says- Questioned, say, ‘Right, tell me your crew, tell me about your crew’, and of course, I knew- Didn’t- Couldn’t- Knew I didn’t- Mustn’t tell him about that, because it would link me with them and link me to a squadron, but it’s very difficult when you’re actually facing it. But the main [emphasis] thing I think you feel more than anything, it’s the isolation. The whole time you’re isolated as a prisoner, whereas when you’re in the aircraft- In an aircrew, you’re mixing with other people all day and everyday sort of thing, and you notice that, you feel that very much, and how much on your own you are. Anyway, I went back again two or three times to this first man and on one occasion, he said, ‘Right, if you’re aircrew as you say you are, tell me where you were trained?’, and of course I knew I couldn’t tell him that, and another boy said, ‘You no need to think you’re telling me anything’, he said, ‘Look in there’, and he tossed this great thick book towards me, and I opened it up, and, he urged me to, he went, ‘Look at it, look at it’. I opened it up, and I could see it was in alphabetical order, there’s a list of all RAF establishments and what units were stationed there, what squadrons there were, and I thought, well what do I do about this? But luckily his telephone rang and he was answering that telephone and it seemed that the telephone call was more important than dealing with me, so unbeknown to me he must have a little button at the side of his chair, pressed that and the guards came and took me away again. So, I thought that got me out of that [chuckles] one, you know. And then, next time I went back again to the wireless man and he was asking me questions that I knew I mustn’t answer, but he wasn’t very persistent, he wasn’t the bullying type, he was more friendly than anything, which once again we’d been warned about, the friendly attitude, and- Then again, at least another two times, I went back to the man who I’d now- I now called the espionage man, and he said, finally- All the while on the desk he’d got this file, and he must’ve been a wonderful actor because he got me frightened to death and he’d look at this file and then eventually close it, said, ‘Right, this is now, is [emphasis] a matter for the Gestapo’, you know, and off I went to the cell, think, well this is it. Then that afternoon I was feeling, you know, what they gonna do with me, but, that afternoon there was this terrible feeling in the cell that the whole building was shaking and all the air was being drawn out of the cell, and I couldn’t think what it was really, but then it came to me then. What it was, was the- When the Americans bomb, they do what they call carpet bombing, and they fly in formation and the bomb leader- The leader opens his bomb doors and once the rest of them- And they let the bombs go in one go and it has a terrible effect. We saw the results of this actually going through the streets of Frankfurt. Not just individual buildings that had been bombed, vast areas [emphasis] and it had just been bulldozed just to get the road clear, and the rest of the area was just a load of rubble, you know and- Anyway, I had to put up with that, that was very frightening, and- Another thing was, that came to me at that time, that the intelligence people back on the squadron, all the while during training were talking about Dulag Luft and they said, ‘If they keep you there more than ten days, watch out, you’re either telling them- You might’ve told you something or they think you’re going to’, and this was day nine [emphasis] I think, and I thought I don’t know, don’t think I've told them anything, and the last words, the last interview was with who I call the- The man who threatened me with the Gestapo, he closed this book and said, ‘Right, that’s it you’re off to Gestapo’. So, the next time the guards stopped outside the door, I thought that’s where I'm going, and I went off between these two guards, could hardly feel my legs [chuckles] I was so frightened, I thought well I’m off now to the Gestapo, and when I got a bit further along, we came to this door and it appeared to be going to the outside and I thought, it’s even worse, they’re gonna shoot me now, I'm going to the firing squad now, you know. Anyway, they opened this door, and there’s a big crowd of the lads in there, all laughing and joking and smoking cigarettes. I was released then, and oh what a relief, and then next thing you think is David the engineer who went down, got out with me, coming out grinning all over his face, head bandaged up. So, that was the end of Dulag Luft, and that afternoon, that very afternoon, we were marched off- No not marched- Taken in lorries to what would’ve been a marshalling yard I would think, on the rail, it wasn’t a passenger station, and we were loaded onto these trocks, and once again we were- We could recall and identify them as being for prisoners because before being shot down- Looking at the news reels at the cinemas in, in- Back in Britain, we often saw these Jews being loaded into these cattle trucks, being prodded in and then exactly what it was like, all barbed wire around the thing, you know, and I thought, that’s it. Anyway, we got in there and it wasn’t too bad, there was- Wasn’t room to lay down, but we could sit with our backs against the wall, and the guards had the centre section where the doors were, so no chance of getting out of there, they occupied that, and off we went in this, in this trock after about a half an hours wait, and we didn’t know where we were going to of course, but we knew we were- Kept stopping with the train, each time we thought well this is it, this is where we’re getting out. But, no, we realised later we were being pushed into a siding, to allow other trains to come by, and we also knew that we were going in the direction of the Russian front, because the train going in out of action were loaded with things like lorries and field guns, the trains coming in the opposite direction to us were loaded with wounded, wounded soldiers, all bandaged up and some you could see looking through the windows on stretchers, they looked- You know, a terrible sight really, although they were the enemy, they [chuckles]- We still had a little sympathy for them, and- Anyway, that’s what we did, kept stopping in sidings. Eventually, we got to where we were going to, this Stalag right up in North- East Prussia, right, to the North of East Prussia, and we were- Not a very long march from the train, but certainly well under guard and marched into there, and then we were put in a compound and there were only us few English or British chaps, there were Empire people in there, there were Canadians of course, Australians and that. All the rest were Americans. We had to mix in with them, but they were alright, we got on with them fine really, and the funny thing like I put in my book, that our idea of Americans we got from the films that we saw in the cinemas, and we knew that they were all rich, they went out in big cars, took their girlfriends out to big slap-up dinners and all that, and they hailed a taxi just by doing that and run there. Of course, we knew about the cowboys and all that, but we realised these were just ordinary people like us, you know, they had an ordinary job and earnt an ordinary living doing it, so they were very much like us. But we learnt a bit about the American Air Force and that, and of course they’d all- Most of them had come out of liberators, or B-29’s, you know. As I say, we got on fine with them, we played their ball games with them, but what we couldn’t understand is the way they tried to barrack the striker while he’s waiting for the ball to be delivered, and they’re all shouting insults and telling him to hit it when he shouldn’t hit it and all that. Couldn’t understand that, because, thought nothing like our cricket is it, you know [laughs]. But we got on with them quite well, and then suddenly for no reason known to us- Well it was probably because there were more and more Americans coming in, that the British and Colonial Empire people were moved out of that compound into another compound, where the- They were all British or Australian or Canadian in there. But we understood them more, they were in the same air force as we were, and what we did notice straight away was much more organisation there, and the next thing we realise is a man comes into the hut, all dressed up smart, collar and tie, all that thing, and he’s got the BBC news bulletin reading to us, which is wonderful really. They were much, you know, they’d been in the- Most of them had been in the bag two or three years or, perhaps some of them more. In fact, there was one man there, and he was shot down on September the 4th, 1939, that’s one day after the war, and there was another man who’d been in there that long, or nearly that long, and he was actually- Let me try and explain how they ran the aircrews then. You had the navigator and pilot, they were together all the time, but the gunners and the wireless operator were not included in the crew, they were in their own ground trades and then when there was operating, they would be called in to crew up and go off on a raid. And this particular man, he was living out in civilian accommodation with his wife and children and as usual, he sets off to work and he’s a fitter by trade, but he hadn’t been on the job many minutes before he was called in for briefing, and off he went and was shot down. So, he went off to work in the morning, leaving his wife and children, and she didn’t see him again for-
GC: Five years, maybe?
JM: Five years [chuckles]. Yeah, laughable now but, no. But, anyway, we joined up with them and actually in our hut, there were people from my squadron and of course we could yarn[?] a bit about that, and then came the thought of being overrun by the Russians, who were- Because remember, we’re out in the North-East part of Germany, quite close to the Russian front, and we could hear the guns getting louder and louder, and we thought the Germans were just going to clear off and leave us. No, no chance about that, they collected us all together, went off, although it was a hurried exit, it was very well organised, no panic whatsoever. But, when they came to our compound, K, they sort of split it down the middle and the line of huts opposite to us, which included our navigator- Our engineer, Dave, he was in there, they were taken off and we were left there for the time being, and they- Those that went out with that patch, they had a terrible time they did. They were off to the, off to the coast of the Baltic from there which wasn’t very far, and there they were put on this old ship, an old merchant ship that was- Used to carry coal, and they were rammed down into the holds, down a little narrow ladder, and there was hardly room to- Hardly space to put your feet. Of course, I didn’t know about this, I had to learn all this from David when I met up with him later, and also there is a book telling you all about it, which I've read and learnt a lot from that. But they were rammed down into this. No water, no sanitation, anything, and they set off sailing, and somebody found that there was an E-Boat following them, and they thought what’s going to happen, they’re gonna get out there, they’re going to take the crew off and sink us, you know. Also, known to the- ‘Cause they’re all RAF, but it was a great mine raid area, a lot RAF mine laying in that area, so every time they hit something, bit of flotsam, they thought that’s it, you know, had all this to put up with until they landed eventually in a port further down the coast, where they were taken off there, put into some railway trucks, but never- They weren’t driven off, they had to stop there all night. Once again, hardly any water, hardly any room to move. But in the- Next morning, they realised that the guards that had taken them on the ship and that, had gone, and in their place were these young Kreigsmarine people (be the equivalent of the Hitler youth) and they were the most arrogant people they could- And they were each armed with a bayonet, and they were sharpening these bayonets in front of the prisoners, letting them see they were going to use them, you know. Anyway, they set off from out of these trocks on a march, and there was a great big German officer leading the march and he was so tall and spritely, they couldn’t keep up with him marching, they had to run, and there were these young Kreigsmarine guys, anytime that anybody dropped behind a bit, they’d slash ‘em with these bayonets. Most terrible, and I mean, what a miracle and I’ve only just dodged this for being on the right side of the compound, and they were taken off to a new [emphasis] camp, new prison camp, and they were treated pretty badly all the while I think there. But, as I say luckily, I wasn’t on it but- Now, with us, we were- We went right off to Poland, long train ride and we landed up in a place called, where was it? Anyway, this Polish- Small Polish town, and we were marched from there to the prison camp, and it was really better off than in the old camp, much more room to move about, but of course, no more to eat, starvation was always apparent, and we learned that it had been used previously as a Polish officers training camp, and the Germans were still using part of it for training purposes. But we were allowed out, almost until it got dark, and we had much further to walk around in, seemed a lot better you see, no more food of course, but and it- Of course it was getting much warmer by then, after the cold weather up in the Baltic, and, you know, reasonably well. But, then of course it wasn’t long before we could hear the Russian guns to the East of us, but we didn’t think we were going to get liberated then, we’d learned our lesson from the previous camp, and sure enough they gathered us up and off we went back to the train from there, and up- Back up into Germany itself again to just North of- Can’t quite think of the name of the-
GC: That’s alright.
JM: Way up into, into- More towards the North at Hannover, thirty miles to the North of Hannover, and we were there and the food got scarcer and scarcer then, but the lucky thing was that we could see much more air activity going on, but of course, what we were waiting for was the army to come along and liberate us, but- The Red Cross parcels which were- Had been our life saver because we were certainly slowly starved to death under the German rations, but we weren’t well fed at all, including the Red Cross parcels, but they did stop us from actually dying of hunger, and they became more scarce because even the commandant said, ‘when we put a barge onto the river or the canal, it’s shot off, if we put a train onto the rail road, it’s shot off, if we put a ship in the port, it’s bombed, what can we do?’ But that was good news, but that didn’t help us [chuckles] much and- Anyway we, we thought, you know, we were getting near and then of course, D-Day came along, which was a great booster to us, and we heard about that over the secret- No we didn’t. The Germans themselves posted that up on a notice in the camp, and the wording of it was, was something like this, ‘At last the allies have delivered themselves to us. Now we will apply a pincer movement and those that are not wiped out will be driven back into the sea’, and we didn’t want to hear the rest of the thing. For us, the allies had landed and that was it. But the- We were still getting the British news bulletin through the secret radio and from what we heard from that, yes, they’d landed and they were pushing across fine, hardly any opposition at all, you know. But, when we- Well it would’ve been two years, eighteen months later anyway before we got the truth that they were having a terrible battle once they’d landed to gain any ground at all, and the German forces were very much amassed down there. But we weren’t told this on the news, they were- According to them we were making great strides, you know, and we began to think, well, where are they [chuckles]?
GC: Yeah, that’s the propaganda I suppose?
JM: Yeah, yeah, and- Anyway, this went on for long enough and yes, they did gain- Took over- Took the whole of France for instance, and the Russians of course were advancing from the East, and we were making headway in Holland and Belgium. But then came the winter of 1944 and instead of coming forward in Belgium, they- According to the reports we were getting off the radio, they were being driven back. Very demoralising. But, anyway, we were getting hungrier and hungrier by then. We wondered if we’d ever, ever survive. But, eventually, we were- The forces did catch up with us and the first we knew of them, was one single British tank came up near to the camp, blew a farm house to pieces and then turned round and went back again [chuckles]. But within about two days, there was an armoured car came right into the camp, from the seventh Royal Irish Hussars, and the poor guys inside, they couldn’t get out because of the crowds around them cheering and waving but- Took them [chuckles] probably half-an-hour to get out of the front, they were showering us with bars of chocolate and some bread, and tins of bully beef and that sort of thing, and- Which of course, we all pounced upon, and then it was some time, some hours before anymore armoured cars came up but we weren’t- We couldn’t think what to expect when the front came up to us. The only guidance we had was what happened in World War One, when we imagine there were thousands of troops with fixed bayonets would come forward and fighting every inch of the way but, these guys were arriving, they were clean [emphasis], admitted, they got tin hats on but they marked us welcome off the barrack square [emphasis], you know, all clean uniforms and- Of course they all got a small arm or something with them, wasn’t what we expected at all, and then some more heavier forces came up-
GC: So, when the- When they came forward then in the armoured truck, where were the German guards, had they, had they gone had they?
JM: They’d gone then, yeah. Well- I’ve got to tell you a bit. Just before they got to us, they took most of the camp out, but it was my idea, my idea actually, I don’t know how I thought of it. We concealed ourselves in an empty hut, so we were left in the camp.
GC: I see.
JM: You see, but they took everybody else out. Now, that was a stroke of luck, because almost the first night- The first day after they were taken out the camp, they were strafed by our own Typhoon aircraft, with rockets, fire and machine guns and there was no end of them killed from our hut [emphasis]. So- But what happened was, and as I say I’ve got this idea of concealing ourselves in an empty hut and let them take them out, and we would perhaps be able to wait until the forces came up. But- Actually, what happened, before any forces came up- Came onto us, any, caught up with us, they were forced to bring these prisoners back and this is where we- When we learnt, and how we learnt what happened to them, and there were several in our hut who were dead, killed, you know. So, we had- Did do a lot of good by not going out with the rest of them. But, then of course we were all there, no food or anything, but I did manage to find a few rotten potatoes which I shared out amongst our group, but then I became terribly ill, I was sick and- Terrible temperature, and I put it down to these rotten potatoes, and I really felt like dying, I didn’t care what was going on outside, I was in that bed, with as many coats and blankets I could get over me, and then somebody come back and said- Somebody came in to the hut and said, ‘The British medical officer’s come back’, to get me out there and see him, you know, and I thought, well I don’t know, I might as well die, you know, but then I thought, well it’s my only chance and I got up. When I got to his surgery, there’s a great long queue and all the time I was having to go off with diarrhoea, you know, but luckily all the rest of the queue were doing the same thing [chuckles] so, so you eventually got to see the MO and he said, he said, ‘No, it’s not- Nothing to do with that food’ he said, ‘You’ve got dysentery’. He said, ‘There’s a lot of it about and unfortunately there’s nothing I can do for you really’, but he said, ‘Take these two white tablets’, and an orderly came out and gave me two tablets and he said, ‘What you’ve got to do is get back to your bed, keep as warm as you possibly can, and that’s all I can say for you’. Which I did, went back there, and it was at that time when these other cars came in so. I don’t think I went down to see the first one, I was feeling too, too ill, you know, but things improved. I got better, a lot better after that, I suppose it’s when you start getting some food.
GC: Yeah.
JM: And then came the news that they were going- Started to take us home, take us out, and we’d already decided amongst ourselves in the prison camp that those who’d been prisoners the longest would be the first to go, and that system was followed right through. But, when I went, I was feeling quite comfortable, got plenty of food, I'd got over the dysentery, had plenty of food and we could go out and about. But, there was one thing there that we thought we were going to cop it again, they- One of the regiments, I think it was one of the guards regiment, bought up their band [emphasis] in the back of a lorry, and they set up there, all their instruments in the back of the lorry and they were playing this wonderful music to us, and suddenly [imitates firing] machine gun bullets everywhere, they- We scattered in all directions but the band, they seemed to go in an orderly manner under their lorry, as I said, perhaps they were used to it, but we weren’t [chuckles] and- But I don’t know whether we were the actual target or what, but anyway, as soon as it was done, the band were back up onto the- Back on the lorry playing away but we didn’t start listening for a while after that [laughs]. We were too scared, but it was a very good gesture, you know, and then what happened when they started- When my turn came, we were driven through on a lorry, army lorries, to an airport, way over to the West, it was called Diepholz, the place, and it had obviously seen a lot of war because the whole of the airfield was- Well, you could see where there’s been craters filled in, they had either been severely bombed or artillery fire creating all- But it’d all been filled in and the airfield was back in operation again, so. We were in- Put into army tents, which wasn’t too bad at all and, next morning they started to take us off in these Dakotas, and- But we thought because we, we- Thought we weren’t gonna get away that day, we thought gonna have to wait a longer day. Oh, must tell you one thing. As we were going on this journey, we came to a river, big river, I think it was the Elbe, and the bridge across it had been destroyed and the army had put a pontoon bridge there, and these army lorries that we’re in, they stood that high, terrific height off the ground, and as we drove onto the first pontoon it healed [emphasis] over to one side, and there we were looking at the river [chuckles] we thought, we’re going to drop into there, but took a bit of getting used to and you were certainly happy to get to the other, the other side [chuckles]. But that was on the way to the airfield, as I say we got there and they laid on a good meal for us there, and they got these tents ready for us to sleep in, and the next morning as I say they started to take us back, but we were told that we would be- Have to wait until the morning, but then they came again and said, ‘One of the Dakota crews has volunteered to do another trip because the weather’s so good and they can do it’, so off we went, that night. No, it was still light, afternoon then when we set off, and we flew westwards of course from there and, in this- These camps that we went to, we joined up with the army, in fact there were more army prisoners than RAF, but the thing was, that these army prisoners, none of them had flown [emphasis] at all in an aircraft, you know, they had been fighting in the desert and Italy and that, and they were quite strange to an aircraft so. But anyway, we got in this Dakota which was- We could see it’d been fitted out to drop paratroops actually, and they got flying along there and then the cockpit door opens and this guy comes out, handing out sweets and chocolates and the man sitting next to me in a really terrified voice, he said, ‘Who was that? Was that the pilot?’, and I had to tell him, I said, ‘Well, it’s probably a second pilot or’, I said, ‘He’s perhaps gone onto automatic for a bit’. But he was really frightened this guy, you know [chuckles]. Anyway, we approached Britain from the North Sea of course, but then he must’ve done- Whether he was ordered to do that, or whether he did it on his own back, he must’ve turned to the South quite a bit, and brought the aircraft up flying straight at the white cliffs of Dover.
GC: Could you see that then?
JM: And he got, got one of his crew to make sure we were all looking out through the cockpit window and these white cliffs of Dover came up and he went straight over the top of the-
GC: How did you feel at that time?
JM: Oh, oh, bit tight in the throat, you know, and we went off to an airfield in Buckinghamshire, called Wing, and we were met there by WAAFs, Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, took us and lead us back to this reception area where there was tea and cakes waiting and then there was a quick medical examination. That was a funny bit as well. Imagine these people, with some of them had been in prison camp for five, five years, they’d never seen a woman, well only if they’d seen one, it would be in the far distance, and when we came they’d set up this emergency medical centre and it consisted of about six cubicles of- Done up with sacking or something like that, just temporary things, and- But one of them was staffed by a lady doctor [emphasis] and we found this out, I'd just been called into one of them and as I went to go through this door, the door sprung open further up and this chap came tearing out, being followed by a lady doctor saying, ‘Don’t be so damned ridiculous’ [chuckles]. But I thought to myself afterwards, well, it wasn’t very well thought out that was it, you know? I mean they didn’t have many lady doctors anyway, but I thought [laughs] and- Anyway, we all went through that and they did a good check on us and, and then we, we went off then, I think they must’ve split the army then from the air force personnel ‘cause we went on a train straight to RAF Cosford and we were all very well received there. We came off the train and unusually the train at Cosford is very near to the main entrance of the camp, you had hardly any distance to walk and we got into this- Well a dormitory I suppose it was ‘cause you gotta remember in those days RAF Cosford was the main RAF hospital for the whole of Great Britain, you see, and- So we were taken into this what I suppose was a ward and then into a bathroom, where, oh I- We put out whatever we were carrying in this ward and then we were lead off to a bathroom and there was a bath, full of water at just the right temperature, there were big white towels waiting there for us, oh absolute luxury. We dived into these baths and wallowed about in there, and then we- When we’d had this bath we came out and they showed us where we were going to sleep, and there were the beds laid out with lovely clean, white sheets and they turned back ready to get into, there’s pyjamas laying on the top of the bed, well we couldn’t believe it, and I think that was the best nights sleep I ever had. But the funny thing happened the next morning, in my early days, I think it was the first signal school I went to, there was a flight sergeant there, he wasn’t a technical man at all, he’s there purely for discipline and he was a right swine, you know. If he- I think his objective was is to have every one of you on a charge before you left, you know, and he was being shouting and hollering all the time, you know. Anyway, I woke up next morning from this wonderful sleep in this wonderful bed to be handed a lovely mug of hot tea, and who’s [emphasis] giving it to me but this flight sergeant [laughs].
GC: Oh, incredible.
JM: And I couldn’t help saying to him, ‘I’ve seen you before’, and told him where it was. No, I didn’t tell him where it- I said, ‘I’ve seen you but, where it was’, and I said, ‘I can’t remember which one it was but it was in a signal school’, and then he said, ‘Yatesbury’, and then he said, ‘I think I remember you too’, and he said the date of when I was there, you know, got it all in his- He had nothing else to think about I suppose [chuckles]. Anyway, that was a very rewarding to me, you know, it was like a revenge if you like, but he spoke very, very friendly, you know, the old flight sergeant had gone, you know, he was on this new job of receiving prisoners back. But, anyway, they then had- We had more medicals then at Cosford and we were fitted out with all new uniforms, well battle dress and we were even given- Asked us where we wanted to go, and the found out the times of the trains and every- They couldn’t’ve done any more for us, and it was actually on May the 2nd, I think, when we were [unclear] and according to air force rules and regulations, summer begins on the May the 1st, so there was no greatcoat for us, but the weather had changed completely and it started to snow and these people more or less said [unclear] to the rules and they went and found these greatcoats, and we were very glad of them too, to go out and- Next thing, there we are, we’re out standing on the platform going home, and, wonderful, and then I must tell you about a wonderful coincidence that, Adelaide my wife, course I'd met her years before because I was- Did my OTU course at an airfield quite close to her village, but that didn’t come into it really because she herself was in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, she was stationed down in Gloucestershire, but we met because she went to the local dance and that’s where we met, and we kept in touch, well when I moved away of course to different places, we kept in touch and I saw her three or four times I suppose after- Before being shot down. But I didn’t know what had happened, or anything, she could’ve gone off with somebody else or something, you know, but when I got to my sister's house where I intended to go, because my parents had moved away from London then. Thank goodness they did because of the flying bombs and rockets and that. They’d moved into Huntingdonshire, and I sort of- Well, I didn’t- I did go there on leave a little bit, but for the seven day leave I only spent about two days there and I wanted to get back into London where the- You couldn’t say the bright lights in those days ‘cause there weren’t many but, the life then, the London life, yeah, and- So, I decided that’s the place I'm gonna make for, from Cosford, I’ll go to my sister's house, which was quite close to where we used to live actually, and I could see there was a lot more damage been done around there and I knocked on the door and I was very apprehensive, I thought, well, anything could’ve happened, you know, I thought they could’ve been killed or moved or something like that. Anyway, a few seconds went by and my sister opened the door, and shouts, ‘He’s home, he’s home’.
GC: Wow.
JM: And why she shouted that was, unbeknown to me there was a family reunion being arranged at her house, ‘cause they knew I was-
GC: You were back?
JM: Free, yeah. They didn’t know when I was coming home actually, and they had arranged this reunion and also quite by coincidence, Adelaide, or Ann as I used to call her in those days, that was her name in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, she had been on leave, but on her way, she decided to call and see my sister, and she was there too.
GC: Wow.
JM: [Chuckles] Wow, it was unbelievable the coincidence, you know. But then, she was due back then, she had spent most of her leave and I think she had one or two days to go. So, we said between us, ‘Shall we see if you can get some more leave?’. So, every quick communication then, there was- You wouldn’t be able to telephone in those days, sent a telegram off to her CO, could she have a further forty-eight hours leave. Next day, the answer was back, ‘Take seven [emphasis] days compassionate leave, plus forty-eight'.
GC: Wow.
JM: We had a lovely time together, you know, and it was really very nice. But I think that’s as far as we’ll go, I'm back in England.
GC: You’re back in England, yeah, and that’s a good place to finish yeah?
JM: Yeah, and- But we were very- For the whole of the way, from the RAF point of view we were treated very well indeed and we had a very good rehabilitation course, a month or so, six weeks after we came home and we had a nice long leave and we- Everybody did everything they could for us, you know, very good. But then I went back working for them then [chuckles] at Cranwell, but that was quite enjoyable really, we- Adelaide and I were married then, and we managed to get to living out accommodation which was extremely rare, or scarce that any is going spare and especially in an establishment like Cranwell, there were thousands of people there and there was quite a number of them were seeking rooms so that they could get their wives up there. But I was lucky, working on my section was this old guy and he was an ex-merchant navy wireless operator really, and he knew everybody I should think on this vast camp of Cranwell, I think he knew everybody from the air commodore downwards, you know, he could speak to anybody, he was also the station band master. But he, knew somebody who knew somebody, who got some rooms to let and he- And I used to work with him, you see, so [unclear] and he said, ‘I think I've found you somewhere’. So, we- And it worked very successful. Adelaide got on very well with the landlady and we could go- Got plenty of spare time at Cranwell and we could go off every weekend and we went to- All worked out very well. And then the day came when I was demobilised [chuckles] yeah. End of story.
GC: Yeah, well that’s great. Thank you very much John, and-
JM: No, it was good.
GC: It’s been a pleasure, thank you.
JM: Ah [chuckles].



Gary Clarke, “Interview with John Martin,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed November 28, 2022,

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