Interview with Ron Hemsworth


Interview with Ron Hemsworth


Ron joined the Royal Air Force in January 1941. Initially a wireless operator/air gunner, he failed morse code at Blackpool. He was posted to RAF Swinderby and worked in the stores and flying control. Air gunnery school followed at RAF Bridlington and RAF Morpeth. Ron went to an Operational Training Unit at RAF Honeybourne where he crewed up and flew in Whitleys. He went on to multi-engine aircraft near York and flew Halifaxes. Ron joined 76 Squadron at Linton-on-Ouse and flew four operations: Stettin, Duisburg, a mine laying operation and two trips which were not completed because of issues with the intercom.
Ron describes how his aircraft was hit on the starboard wing and what happened to the crew. He had problems with his parachute and landed on a house roof, dislocating his leg. He spent a month in a civilian hospital in Munster. He was transported by a kind German fighter pilot to Dulag Luft, near Frankfurt. Ron was sent to Stalag Luft 6. People could study, and there was a library and entertainment. Ron made model aircraft. Provisions became scarce in the latter months. A tunnel was dug near the latrines and 30 prisoners escaped. The guards abandoned the camp and Ron was taken to an aerodrome and flown home in a Dakota. He went to RAF Cosford, but, with little to do, he came out of the RAF.




Temporal Coverage




01:14:17 audio recording


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CB: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Clare Bennett. The interviewee is Mr Ron Hemsworth. The interview is taking place at Mr Hemsworth’s home near Bourne on the 29th of July 2015. Well, Ron, lets first of all talk about your early childhood if we may. You were born in Peterborough.
RH: Yeah.
CB: Ninety three years ago. Do you remember much of your early childhood?
RH: Not a lot. Not a lot. [laughs] I remember when I was about five I’d had enough of school so I climbed over the gates and went to the recreation ground and played on the swings with another boy and all the while we were there, ‘Is there anybody after us?’ [laughs] I can’t remember much but as I got older I, me and another friend started the Peterborough Model Flying Club and we, I stayed in that until even after the war so we was always mad on aircraft and where I lived at that time was close to what was called Westwood Aerodrome and the aircraft always, well, nine times out of ten landed over our house and they were so low you could see who the pilot was practically. Hawker Harts. Funnily enough a friend of mine when he had to join up that’s where he went to and another friend of mine was at the same place and I think he stayed there most of the war. He used to go up and take the met report. He had a nice cushy job. And of course we used to get all these air displays. I can’t remember the name of the most prolific one. Used to do all sorts of stupid things but we always used to go to those. We couldn’t stay away. And when it come to joining up I decided that I would volunteer for air crew which was the way that you could get in and they said if you was in a model flying club you stood a pretty good chance of being air crew. Whether there was any truth in it I don’t know but anyway we got in and I joined up on the 1st of January. I started the year right. That would have been 1941.
CB: What did your parents, your parents were around at this time.
RH: Oh yes. Oh yes.
CB: And did they, were they happy for you to join up?
RH: Well I don’t suppose so. We never, we never mentioned it. [laughs]
CB: But it was what you’d set your heart on.
RH: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Did you have a particular crew position you wanted to do?
RH: Well everybody wanted to be a pilot didn’t they?
CB: Including you?
RH: Yes. Everybody. Everybody wanted to be a fighter pilot. I don‘t know why. Well I suppose probably safer than a bomber pilot, I don’t know, and actually I went in the first place as a W/Op AG.
CB: Yeah.
RH: Wireless operator/AG. But I failed the Morse code on sixteen words a minute. That was enough to drive you mad.
CB: Where was this at?
RH: At Blackpool.
CB: Oh yeah.
RH: I said I’d never go back and I never went back. You can imagine what Blackpool was like in the middle of winter. It was terrible. And the RAF took over, well all the places really. You know. And –
CB: Were you in a hotel or a guest room?
RH: Oh no. We were in guest house.
CB: Ah.
RH: And some of them were very good to us actually and some of them weren’t. And one we was at, one of the men, he was a friend of Charlie Kunz, the pianist and he used to give us, he used to give us a tune every night you know. That was alright. We were there having a tune one night and the boss came in with a dead cat and put it on the fire. Well everybody was up in arms. We went and reported it but nobody wanted to know.
CB: Oh dear.
RH: He said, ‘Well I’ve got nowhere else to,’ he said, ‘I can’t bury it ‘cause all I’ve got is concrete around the back.’ Every, everybody vacated the room quickly. And then when I failed that course I went on, I went in to the stores for a while while I was waiting for an air gunner course which, in those days you had to wait quite a while to get on one. Anyway, eventually I was posted to [pause] on the Fosse Way.
CB: Swinderby.
RH: Swinderby. Swinderby. Yeah. I went to Swinderby and of course everybody said, ‘Oh you’ll be here for years.’ Nobody, everybody was waiting. And I was only there a month or two and I got a course.
CB: How were things at Swinderby?
RH: Oh quite ok. Yeah. I went into the stores there as well. Oh, that, that was alright. But from there, after about a month I went into flying control. Now that that was a lovely job that was. I was in charge of keeping the availability of aircraft, of aerodromes. It was a huge book with every aerodrome in England on it and we used to get phone calls through such and such an aerodrome is not available, there’s a crash on such and such a runway and all that. All that had to be put down in the book. Yeah. So I was there for quite a while. There was only three of us in there. You wouldn’t run one of them for, with three people would you? Not today. And I mean I didn’t know anything about anything anyway and the one who was in charge was a sergeant pilot that had been, he’d been in a crash and he was sort of resting but I mean we didn’t know anything. Nothing in particular really. There were and there was, there was him, myself and a WAAF on the radio. That’s all there was. Anyway, from there on I went to, I can’t remember, oh I went to air gunnery school at [pause] up on the east coast near Scarborough. Bridlington.
CB: Ah.
RH: I can’t remember what number that was.
CB: No. Don’t worry.
RH: But from there we went to Morpeth and that’s when we did our air gunnery. And that was spectacular. We had Polish pilots and they were absolutely mad.
CB: What sort of planes would this be at this time?
RH: Do you know I was trying to tell somebody the other day? They were aircraft that nobody else wanted actually. They were supposed to have been torpedo bombers for the navy but they weren’t successful at all so they dumped them all at the –
CB: Albacores?
RH: No. They weren’t Albacores. No.
CB: Not to worry. Doesn’t matter.
RH: Yeah.
CB: So you, did you get on with these Polish pilots? They were -
RH: We got on fine with them. In fact, after the war one of them was a friend of mine for years but you know they’d do things like, ‘They say this aircraft won’t fly on one engine. Well it will. I’ll show you,’ and then switch one off you know. Absolutely mad. Yeah. I can remember while we was at Bridlington we were doing PT on the, on the beach and two Spitfires came over and they shot us up on the beach at about nought feet. Well everybody fell flat on the sand and then these two Spitfires went out to sea. They were so low one of their wings caught the sea. He did about ten cartwheels and burst into flames.
CB: Oh dear.
RH: Yeah. And they were both Polish pilots. The other one shot up to about twenty thousand feet. I don’t know what he told them when he got back. [laughs] Anyway, that was, after air gunnery school then we went to Honeybourne. Honeybourne was next. Cow Honeybourne and -
CB: This would be your OTU. Your -
RH: Yeah.
CB: Yeah. Operational Training Unit.
RH: And we weren’t crewed up or anything then.
CB: No.
RH: We were all this and that. And I know it was a terrible day when we got there about 4 o’clock in the afternoon and there was about twenty people got off the train and everybody was saying, ‘I suppose we wait for transport,’ you know so we were hanging about and this Aussie came up. He said, ‘What’s everybody doing?’ So we said, ‘Well, we don’t know. We’re just waiting.’ ‘Where’s the telephone?’ So he got on the telephone. He said, ‘There’s about twenty of us here waiting at the station for transport. Get it down here quick.’
CB: Was he an officer or just a, just -
RH: No. He was only a sergeant. I thought he’d be alright, you know. He was a pilot. Anyway, after we’d soon got to Honeybourne we had to crew up. Well I suppose everybody knows how we crewed up. Everybody in a room. Just walk around and find who you want you know and I got Bruce. The one that said, ‘Send somebody down’. I got Bruce. He were brilliant. He really was. Yeah. He looked a bit like Churchill and he was more or less his build. Quite fat you know. Yeah. And we went on a, on a course while we was there. Escape course and that. And we had to do everything at the double. It was an army place we went to. Even when you went for your meal you had to go at the double. So we passed Bruce on the way, walking. He said, ‘If you pomme goers want to run,’ he said, ‘You run.’ he said, ‘I’m walking.’ And he never did run [laughs]. He walked everywhere. It was when we were, had to climb over this wall and the rest of the crew trying to push him over this wall [laughs]. It was hilarious really. He always said, ‘If anything happened to the aircraft I’ll never get out.’ Of course poor old Bruce never did. No. Anyway –
CB: So you, you’re a crew now of seven.
RH: No. Six.
CB: Six of you.
RH: Six. Yeah.
CB: And you gelled quite -
RH: We was on Whitleys.
CB: Right.
RH: Yeah.
CB: And you gelled well. You all got on.
RH: Oh yeah. Yeah, we got on well. Yeah. [laughs] The bomb aimer was about twenty seven so we called him the old man. [laughs].
CB: So you were on Whitleys for a while.
RH: We were on Whitleys. I did, I suppose I did about a hundred hours on Whitleys but you see you do what you call circuits and bumps getting used to landings and take-offs and the only people on it was the skipper and me in the back. To balance it out I suppose [laughs]. I was only a balance really.
CB: What did you think of the Whitley as a plane to fly?
RH: I liked it. Oh she was a steady old thing you know and Bruce used to say that if you, if you banked to the left if you didn’t bring the stick back again straight away she carried on going over [laughs]. Anyway, it was a steady old bus and I think it could have taken a lot of punishment as well. Big old thing. You could actually, from the inside, crawl into the wings. There was an opening where you could crawl into the wings and get to the back of the engine because it was quite a -
CB: Yeah.
RH: Wing root. You know. Anyway, from there we went to multi engines. I can’t remember the name of that place.
CB: Did you say it was near York?
RH: Yeah.
CB: And you don’t think it was Elvington though.
RH: No. No. It was only for getting used to multi aircraft. I’ve got a relation lives there now. I can’t even think of the name of the place. That’s the trouble you know. Your brain goes.
CB: No. Not to worry. It might come to you. So you then went to this place.
RH: Yeah.
CB: And -
RH: Yeah.
CB: Went on to the Halifax.
RH: Yeah. And from there we went to Linton on Ouse which was 76 squadron.
CB: How would you compare the Halifax with the Whitley as a plane to be -
RH: Well of course it was completely different really. Faster, and could carry more and it had even got two beds in it. I liked the Halifax. We called it the Halibag actually. And I thought it was good but I mean they did have trouble with the, with the first few marks until they got it right. I think they got it right in about 1944 and they even changed the Merlins for some radial engines which were a lot better and more powerful but I don’t know about that. Anyway, we were there. We did, we only did four ops. The first one we had to come back. The intercom went. Then we went to Stettin and that was low level Stettin was. That was exhilarating. Quite interesting that was. We were low, we were lower than the land at one time over the water, over the Baltic and all the Dutch people were opening their doors, showing their lights you know and waving.
CB: What did you feel when you saw that?
RH: Pardon?
CB: It must have been moving to see that.
RH: Oh moving yeah and I mean we could see people on bicycles and all lit and everybody waved. It was lovely really. Until we got to the flak ships. It’s wasn’t very nice then. [laughs] Anyway, we did Stettin. I thought it was an easy op actually but a lot of people said it was, it was a bad one. I don’t think so. And then there was Duisburg. That was a horrible. Happy Valley was a Happy Valley. You know we called, [pause] Happy Valley, yeah. And mind you we were attacked at one moment but I gave instructions to slip him away because the idea was if you could get away without firing the rest of the fighters wouldn’t say, ‘Ah there’s one there,’ you know. Actually, you give the game away once you’d started firing. So I thought until he’s getting, you know, so he’s dangerous I won’t open fire. So we didn’t.
CB: You could seem him actually following you.
RH: He was just turning on to us.
CB: Oh.
RH: Yeah. I think it was a JU88 actually. And what was the next one? Oh the next one. That was a dead loss. We were doing a gardening trip. You know what gardening is?
CB: Mine laying.
RH: Mines. Yeah. And soon after we got off the ground the intercom went so we had to stooge around for five hours getting rid of the petrol. And then we had to come in with the mines still on board you know.
CB: Five hours.
RH: Sticking out the bottom as well, you know. The horns on them sticking out.
CB: Yes.
RH: A bit dodgy. Held your breath a bit.
CB: How did you feel when you were, you know, due for an op? You knew that your name was on the list. What did you feel?
RH: I can’t remember feeling particularly scared or anything. I think, I think you were so sort of tied up in it that you didn’t think about that aspect really.
CB: The morale was good with your crew.
RH: Oh yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Except my navigator. When we was at, we went to Duisburg. That was the Duisburg one and we were just coming up to the markers that the whatsitsnames had dropped and he said, ‘Skipper, can I go up front and have a look?’ He said, ‘I’ve never seen the target.’ He said, ‘Yeah Ted, you go up and have a look.’ We heard him unplug his, about two minutes later he plugged in, ‘I’m not going to bloody well look at that anymore.’ So he said, ‘We’re not going through that are we?’ He said, ‘Yeah. And it’ll be straight and level.’ ‘God,’ he said,’ I don’t want to look again.’
CB: So they’d dropped the target indicators.
RH: He, he -
CB: The target indicators had been dropped.
RH: They had been dropped. Yeah.
CB: And you were heading for the -
RH: And we were on the run in. You know.
CB: So you’d have all the colours and -
RH: Yeah. Oh yeah. Yeah. All the colours. Yeah.
CB: But could you see them? Had he gone through them, sort of thing?
RH: Yeah.
CB: You saw them from the back.
RH: Oh I got a better view than anybody.
CB: So, what, tell me about the conditions in the back with you being the rear gunner. It’s always thought of as the worst position in -
RH: Quite tight.
CB: At five foot eleven and a half I expect it was.
RH: Yeah. And of course when you got your full flying kit on everybody else wore sids, what they called sidcots but I had full ervins on, trousers as well you see and you couldn’t move about. I tried to do this once or twice. Well you can’t. You can’t do it. The guns get in the way or your knuckles get bruised.
CB: Did you remove the panel from the turret like -
RH: Yeah.
CB: Some of them did.
CB: Yeah.
RH: To have a better view.
CB: Yeah.
RH: You did that ‘cause that obviously made it very cold.
RH: That’s right. Very cold. We used to get, they used to pack us sandwiches and some silly fool packed salmon sandwiches one day and of course they froze didn’t they. Couldn’t get your teeth into them [laughs]
CB: I hate to mention a Lancaster but I’ve got to. Was your, the parachutes like behind the, the doors. It wasn’t -
RH: Behind the turret.
CB: Yes.
RH: Yeah. And then -
CB: So you had to swing around to get to it when you needed it.
RH: Yeah.
CB: Right.
RH: Yeah. And the Lanc was the same. Must have been.
CB: Yes. It was.
RH: ‘Cause you can’t wear your parachute in the turret.
CB: There wasn’t room for much.
RH: No.
CB: At all.
RH: And then you had to go, about that far from the turret was a door with a handle on it and that’s what I caught the parachute on which opened it and I didn’t know.
CB: So you’d done, you’d done one, you had to come back on and Stettin and Duisburg and then your, your gardening so was that you being shot down on the fifth or was that a bit later?
RH: No. Now that would have been if everything would have gone right which of course as I say we had to go back on two of them that would have been our fourth trip.
CB: Right.
RH: And at that time everybody, it worked, well they’d worked it out that the average that people did was four. You didn’t last any longer than four so we nearly did it. Yeah. I mean people who did thirty, God knows how. I mean I was reading a book earlier that somebody did thirty and they never fired their guns. They were never attacked. Well they must have been damned lucky. Must have been lucky ‘cause I mean the night fighters there would be sixty or seventy up a night. All around you, you know. And you’d see aircraft exploding all around you when they were hit. You see what they used to do they had to come up underneath and they had a gun, or two guns protruding upwards so all they’d got to do was come underneath and just pull the trigger and you couldn’t see it.
CB: Sneaky.
RH: Couldn’t see it happening and they didn’t seem to do anything about it.
CB: You were told that the operations you know that it was about four before, you know, trouble or whatever. Did that put you off making friends with others or did you just keep to your, your crew and -
RH: Oh no. No. As a matter of fact I had, I had a friend on the same squadron who worked with me before the war who I knew very well and he, he baled out and his chute caught on the tale wheel. Bob Cadmore and he went down with the aircraft. Yeah. [pause] No. No. No. We all mixed up alright together. Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Was it a good station? Linton on Ouse.
RH: I thought so. I thought it was very nice and of course we was at a famous hall about a mile away was where we were.
CB: Billeted. Yes.
RH: Where our mess was and our billet was and there was food on all day long there. You could just walk in and huge table with everything on it. It was a lovely place really and I’ve been back there since and we were in a particular room called the oak panelled room and when I went I went to that room and I thought I’d take a photograph, you know, just the same. There were nothing in it. Just the bare room and the panels ‘cause my, when we walked in my navigator said, ‘I wonder which one with the secret door is.’ You know. I always remember that. Anyway, this woman came along and she said, ‘You can’t take photographs in here.’ I said, ‘Oh what a shame.’ I said, ‘I lived in this room for a while in 1943.’ ‘Ahh take as many as you want.’ And I did take some.
CB: Good.
RH: Yeah. Anyway, that was, where did we get to?
CB: We’re on now, I think on this -
RH: 76 squadron.
CB: Yes.
RH: Yeah. Yeah. Which was Cheshire’s.
CB: Yes.
RH: Not at that time. He’d just moved on. Although he was around because I remember standing to attention as he walked in front of me once. Lovely bloke though. Yeah. Everybody liked him.
CB: Yes. I heard.
RH: Yeah. So there.
CB: So we, can we talk about the operation that was -
RH: Yeah. Yeah. Alright.
CB: The final one.
RH: Well it was dusk, duskish when we were taking off and everybody got in the aircraft and my navigator was still standing there. I said, ‘Come on Ted. Get in.’ He said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘I’m just taking a last look around,’ he said. ‘I’m not coming back.’ ‘Don’t be so stupid.’ He said, ‘I know I’m not coming back.’ And of course he didn’t. Anyway, I bundled him in and so we took off but we had problems right from the start and this was a brand new aircraft actually. Went for a burton on the first night.
CB: Oh dear.
RH: Another fifty thousand quid gone. And Ted was, he gave the wrong instructions as navigator and Bruce was questioning it. ‘I don’t think you’ve got that right, Ted.’ Anyway, somebody went to him and his oxygen pipe had come undone and he didn’t know quite what he were doing, you know.
CB: Oh.
RH: Anyway we got back on course and as I say as we saw the red markers go down they hit us just as we were turning on to the markers. Yeah. And of course the flames went back about fifty to a hundred yards. You could see everything like daylight and the side of the turret was melting. It was pretty horrendous really. So I got out quick. Forgot I’d got my helmet on and -
CB: When you say you got out quick you mean you turned the turret around.
RH: Turned the turret.
CB: And got into the aircraft.
RH: Well, I was facing that way anyway.
CB: Oh right.
RH: Yeah. Opened the doors. You know.
CB: Yeah.
RH: Got out, threw my flying helmet and picked up the parachute two hooks not knowing I’d only got one on and I went up to the escape hatch and my mid upper gunner was arguing with my engineer. I could see them arguing. I could see that he hadn’t got his parachute and he was trying to make him go, ‘Get back for your parachute,’ you know, and in the end, to save himself he went you know and I’ve forgotten his name now he jumped [without] his parachute. Panicked I suppose, you know, yeah and so we were the only three that went out there. My bomb aimer remembers the aircraft being hit. He don’t remember any more but he woke up on the ground with his parachute at the side of him and he said he don’t know, ‘Who put it on or who pushed me out.’ Somebody must have done. And that’s was how we, that was the end of our trip.
CB: It must have been, we’re talking about seconds here aren’t we in-between being -
RH: Must have been.
CB: Shot and -
RH: I mean I went to jump out the escape hatch, took a last look around and the parachute was all up against the door where I’d just come out of.
CB: You’d got it caught and it had come out.
RH: Yeah. I’d pulled the rip cord. Yeah. And I thought well that’s it. I’ll go and sit with the skipper. I made a move to go and sit up front with the skipper knowing I’d had it you know but something seemed to tell me to gather it up and try.
CB: What was the plane doing at this time? Was it just -
RH: Going down.
CB: Steadily going down.
RH: Yeah. Yeah. Steadily going down. And we’d still got all the bombs on and everything and they’d hit the petrol tank and the incendiaries so you could tell the starboard wing was well on fire. Where did I get to?
CB: You just -
RH: Anyway, I fell out.
CB: Yeah.
RH: I can see it now as plain as anything the tail was that about far from me, zipped over me like that as I was going backwards you know and the tail wheel fortunately never caught on the [?] on the tail pump, the parachute never caught on the tail wheel which a lot of people had that. They made it a retractable tail wheel in the end. Anyway, it opened but it was spilling air all the because it was only on, and I tried to get the other one but I couldn’t. I couldn’t. So I was going down pretty fast but it weren’t half quiet. You can’t, you know, once you baled you’ve been sitting there for about three hours with all that noise and suddenly silence and you think to yourself, ‘Where the hell am I?’ And I didn’t really know exactly where I was to be honest. And then I could see this house coming up. I thought well I can’t steer clear of it and there was such a crash and I went through the roof up to there. I made a lovely mess of the roof.
CB: Good.
RH: Do you know that’s what, that’s funny that’s what crosses your mind. To think that’s buggered the roof up [laughs]. Sorry.
CB: No. That’s quite alright.
RH: And the next thing I was worried about was the parachute. I thought well the parachute’s alright. They’ll use it. What can I do about it? Nothing. But one of the Germans that come up he cut all the cords off me. I thought, good he’s ruined the parachute too. Aint it daft what you think about? It took them about half an hour to get me off the roof but they were very good. They were very good.
CB: It sounds as if they arrived pretty quickly.
RH: Yeah. As soon as I hit the roof I could hear voices. Well I made enough noise.
CB: And where was -
RH: Every time I tried to move clatter clatter clatter clatter you know.
CB: So this would be -
RH: In other words, ‘Come over here. I’m over here.’ [laughs]
CB: I think it’s in the book where you, do you remember the town or the place where you landed so gracefully?
RH: I can’t remember it.
CB: It is in the book over there.
RH: I don’t think it’s very far from Munster because they took me to Munster Hospital. The Luftwaffe picked me up. No, first of all I went to a little hospital which must have been close to hand and I’d dislocated my leg and they tried to put it in with chloroform but the chloroform wasn’t any good. I could feel everything you know so they packed it up and then the Luftwaffe came and they put me in this Mercedes. I remember it was a Mercedes because I remember that bit on the front, you know and inside it was my mid upper gunner. I said, ‘Where’d you come from.’ He said, ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I did a bit of walking but they soon picked me up.’ And they took me to this aerodrome and they dropped him off at this aerodrome. I can always remember this there was FW190s there. We were quite close to them. Then they took me to Munster Hospital and they were, they were marvellous. They really looked after me.
CB: A civilian hospital.
RH: Yeah.
CB: Was it? Yes.
RH: Big hospital. I had a room to myself and when I was getting better, I was there a month, I mean I needn’t have been there a month really. I could wander where I wanted. Go outside. Do what I wanted. And there were nuns. A lot of the nurses were nuns and they were lovely. ‘Anything you want you tell me. I’ll get it for you.’ You know. And there was a picture of Hitler on the wall like that, about as big as that and the first thing I did I turned it around face to the wall you see and she came in she said, ‘You mustn’t do that. You can’t do that in Germany. You mustn’t do that. ‘And she put it back. When she went out I turned it back again. I was doing that backwards and forwards.
CB: Were they German nuns? Yeah.
RH: In Munster.
CB: Yeah.
RH: Anyway, I had a good month there really. There was a lot of French kreigies as we call POWs. There was a lot of French kreigies there and they kept coming in and bringing me some of their food and, although I got plenty of food, and there was a few Russians as well and they stole some neat alcohol and they were drinking this stuff. They wanted me to have some. I said, ‘Not likely. I’m not touching that stuff.’ Anyway, I’d been there about three weeks, no, perhaps about a fortnight, about a fortnight when they did the dams raid. They did the dams raid on the 16th and they brought this other fellow in and he was off my squadron. He was off 76 squadron as well, and he’d got five bullets in him so the doctor there who was a General actually, red stripe down his trousers, you know, he said, ‘We want you to come and hold him down.’ I said, ‘Hold him down?’ ‘We’re not giving him - ’
CB: Chloroform.
RH: ‘Chloroform or anything because we need it for ourselves.’ He said, ‘You’ll just have to hold him down.’ I thought this is going to be fine. Anyway, I went in the operating theatre and held him down while they started taking them out. It’s horrible really and eventually well pretty early on he passed out anyway which was the best you know but he’d got one in his back that was close to his heart. He’d been shot in the back and they went in like that about that far around, took the meat out, took the bullet out, put some stuff around it and put it back. Do you know in a month you couldn’t tell it had been done? He were running around. Tommy Thompson. Yeah. So anyway, we, we got over our little problems and they decided to send us to Dulag Luft. I suppose you’ve heard of Dulag Luft.
CB: Near Frankfurt.
RH: At Frankfurt yeah. So they sent these three Germans to pick us up. The two of us. Well one of them was a fighter pilot who was on a rest and he were lovely. He really was and then there was two more. He was in charge of the other two. So he said, ‘Well before we go to the station,’ he said, ‘If you don’t mind, if you don’t mind, I’m going to see my girlfriend who lives in Munster,’ he said, ‘And you can come along with us. And we went in this house, met his girlfriend and her parents, we had a cup of coffee and then we left to go to the station and all the stations were under water from the dams raid. All the platforms were under water. It was alright at Munster but some of the smaller ones were. Anyway, we had a compartment on our own and he took off his gun belt and threw it on the luggage rack and said, ‘We don’t need that today. We’re all friends.’
CB: You wouldn’t have known that the flooding was due to the dams raid.
RH: No. I didn’t -
CB: Obviously.
RH: Know about that.
CB: Did they mention why it was flooded?
RH: No.
CB: In any way.
RH: No. No. I didn’t find out till afterwards.
CB: Oh.
RH: I wondered what all the water was about, you know. But I mean people say, ‘Oh they didn’t do any good,’ you know. Believe you me they did. Anyway, we had to go down the Rhine and we had to change at Cologne. Change trains at Cologne and as we were changing, no before that, I won’t go too far ahead, when we got to Cologne we had to wait for the train so he took us into a restaurant and we had a meal in the restaurant. There was all German officers and that around. Nobody took any notice. No. Yeah. It was alright. I’d got my cap, no my gloves stuck in my epaulets. He said, ‘Would you mind taking them out? We don’t do that in Germany.’ He said, ‘It looks bad.’ So I stuffed it in my blouse you know. So after we’d had the meal he said, ‘Come with me,’ he said, ‘We’re going for a walk along the Rhine so I’ll take you in Cologne Cathedral. So we went into Cologne Cathedral and had photographs, well he took photographs of us together you know and we come back caught the train, well we got onto the platform and there was a little Canadian air gunner who were being escorted by a German Wehrmacht and he were knocking him about. So this pilot said, he said, ‘Look at him,’ he said ‘A hundred and fifty percent national socialist.’ So he weren’t for Hitler evidently.
CB: No. Well you were going through, you know you were travelling through Germany.
RH: Yeah.
CB: And we’d given it, particularly Cologne, quite a pasting.
RH: Yeah, this was, this was on –
CB: Did you see any of the devastation that –
RH: No. I didn’t.
CB: We’d caused.
RH: I can’t say as I did actually. No. I think we must have missed it. [laughs]
CB: [laughs] So the thousand bomber raid was a bit of a waste of time [laughs]
RH: I will admit that the nurses kept saying, ‘You don’t think they’ll bomb us again will you?’
CB: Ah.
RH: You know. I said, ‘No. I wouldn’t think so.’ They did though not long afterwards of course. Anyway, we had hours long down the Rhine and they kept pointing the different places out. We had a lovely time really. It was lovely.
CB: What was the food like? I mean they had poor rations themselves didn’t they? What food did they give you?
RH: I can’t remember.
CB: Well if it had been poor I think you’d have probably remembered
RH: Yeah. I don’t think it was. Yeah, it was quite good. Course the cinemas and places like that were closed, you know. Yeah. Yeah. It seemed funny to see people walking about though and -
Other: Passed on the right
RH: On the left.
Other: No right through dear.
RH: Right through on the Rhine.
[machine paused]
CB: Ok Ron. We’ve gone down the Rhine and we’ve arrived now at Dulag Luft
RH: Dulag Luft. We were just deposited at Dulag Luft and they put us in a six foot cell to try to get information. I was in that for about a week. Eventually they let you out and when I got out they lined me up at the end of the room, there were five or six more there. Then they brought another one out, another fella out, stood him at the side of me and he said, ‘I know you.’ I said, ‘Yes. I know you.’ I said, ‘It’s Mr Hands. You used to teach me mathematics didn’t you?’ It was my teacher.
CB: Oh good grief.
RH: Yeah. And we stuck together for the whole two years. Yeah. Yeah. That was interesting. Yeah. Anyway, we got into the main compound and there were Yanks in with us as well and from there on they sent us to Heydekrug but we did have normal coaches but they were wooden seats and I think we were about four days. Oh those seats were hard. I finished up in the luggage rack. More comfortable up there. So we got to Heydekrug and it was a fairly new camp actually at that time and had already brought some of Luft 3 in and gradually the camp filled up. Well, I was there for two years. Well not that one for two years but I was there for a year I suppose. It was quite interesting because we did, well I didn’t but they dug a tunnel and I think we got about thirty odd out and I think two or three got back and it was quite interesting really. We did hear. We got letters from them in code to say, you know, ‘We got back,’ sort of thing and then they took us to, we was in Poland. Thorn in Poland for a while. Can’t remember much about that and then from there we went to 357 and there was a lot of paratroops there because as far as the Germans was concerned paratroops were Luftwaffe.
CB: Yes.
RH: So we all got in together you know and they were from Arnhem. We had a lot of the Arnhem fellas in. But that was quite interesting.
CB: So this would be about September ‘44.
RH: Yeah. That’s right. And of course they moved us out of Heydekrug because the Russians were approaching. That’s why they moved us from there. Anyway, back to, Fallingbostel was 357. I have to think about this. They went out on the long march. Fortunately I didn’t have to go on that because I was in hospital at the time. I can’t remember what was wrong with me. So I got out of that one.
CB: So the conditions weren’t, you didn’t think they were too bad during this prisoner of war time.
RH: No. Not until about the last six months, nine months. Then of course we were coming in from one side and the Russians in from another squeezing them you know. We weren’t getting the parcels through. I mean at first we were getting nearly a parcel a week each but towards the end we weren’t getting much at all. All we were getting was potatoes and soup. Soup. Couldn’t call it soup really but we existed on it and got a parcel here and there from the Red Cross. Don’t know what we would have done without the Red Cross really.
CB: The escape from Stalag Luft 3 in March of ‘44 when the, and the fifty were eventually -
RH: Yeah.
CB: Captured and shot.
RH: Yeah.
CB: Was there anything, you know, recriminations or, you know how did you hear about it?
RH: I think the camp commandant told [pause] our leader. I’ve forgotten his name now.
CB: Shaw?
RH: No. Not Shaw. It weren’t Shaw.
CB: Oh.
RH: You’ve got that wrong. The footballer, well he wasn’t but we called him that for a bit.
CB: Oh Dixie Dean.
RH: Dixie Dean.
CB: Right.
RH: Dixie Dean. I think he told Dixie Dean and Dixie Dean said, ‘How many were just injured?’ Because they said they were trying to escape you see. They’d made a run and tried to escape.
CB: Yes.
RH: So he said, ‘How many were only wounded?’ ‘Oh none. They were all killed.’ He said, ‘That’s not possible.’ He said, ‘If you just fired like that,’ he said, ‘There would have been some that would have survived,’ and of course they couldn’t say anything about that.
CB: No.
RH: So the camp went mad. Took all the shutters off the windows, took them in the middle of the parade ground and set fire to them. That was our –
CB: Protest.
RH: Answer to it. You know. So that’s how we found about this. Of course a lot of the fellas that had come from Luft 3 knew all of these people. I didn’t and a lot of us didn’t but some did so –
CB: Was, was morale damaged or did you –
RH: Well we was pretty damned mad really.
CB: More angry than –
RH: Yeah. Yeah. More angry than anything. Anyway, as I say we got 357 and they went on the march and we were left behind fortunately and all I can think of now is this little armoured car came in the gates. One morning we woke up and there were no guards. Everybody had gone and this little armoured car come in. Of course everyone went mad. They crowded around this armoured car. Eventually some of the army came in as well you know and they were looking after us. The white bread was beautiful.
CB: What sort of thing did you do in the prisoner of war camp for entertainment and to, you know, pass the time?
RH: Well -
CB: What did you do?
RH: Of course, Heydekrug people were studying and you could do. It was all, it had been arranged that you could study and some, some people passed exams. So everybody got something to do if you wanted to and there was a good library. I started Polish. Learning Polish. I give it up. I couldn’t stand that. But people were studying all sorts.
CB: And the camp would put on theatre productions.
RH: Oh yeah well everybody got a bit of a hand in that.
CB: Yes. You didn’t take to the stage yourself.
RH: No. No thank you. No. No. And then we were doing things like making panels in the wall that took out so you could get to the next room. You see there were, the hut, there was like two huts like a semidetached house really and the door, the doors were side by side but you had to go up steps to go in one. Well we worked it out it took them so many seconds to come down the step, just walk across, go up the next steps in the next room so we took a panel out of the wall and made it so that you could, somebody’d slip through and back again and somebody in the next hut was one of the escapees so they took a panel off as the Germans went down the first lot of steps, took the panel off, I whipped through, jumped into his bed at the side, pulled the blanket over as though I was asleep and they’d come around counting you see. Well everybody was there but they weren’t. That were good fun. Yeah.
CB: Were there any tunnels that you knew of that were being dug?
RH: I know there was one from the, from the latrines and you know the latrines were actually about thirty holes so you had quite an interesting time when you went to the latrine. ‘Hello John how are you getting on? What are you doing?’ Are you doing so and so, you know. Everybody was talking [laughs] and so you’d go in there and instead of being there for five minutes you’d be there perhaps an hour talking to two or three other people, you know
CB: Did you ever fancy escaping yourself?
RH: No. I didn’t. I couldn’t get in a tunnel. Oh I couldn’t do that. No. I’d helped. I helped them. I helped. I did belong to tally ho as regards helping out with things. You know. Anyway, I thought it was more sensible to stay where you were. Don’t get shot so easily that way. Hopefully. Anyway, went in to the latrines one day and some bloke was standing there and said, ‘Don’t go in number one. They’re digging a tunnel down there.’ They were down there digging a tunnel. Of all the places to pick. But you see that was the closest to the wire. That’s why they went for that one and they did get about thirty odd out.
CB: Right.
RH: Yeah. I don’t know how they smelt but, I think, I bet the Germans picked them up easy [laughs] from their perfume. Oh dear.
CB: So -
RH: Do you know there were people even making model aircraft and flying them? And the only way you could get the glue, you know this sticky brown paper? We never threw, never threw anything away all that was boiled down and finished up as glue at the bottom of the pot you know. And silver paper, you can make things out of silver paper. It was all melted down but you, you needed a pile about half as big as this room to get a little bit of, and then they used to make a mould out of soap and pour it in and you got whatever you wanted so when they were making a German uniform they made the buckle out of silver paper that had been melted down, you know. ‘Cause I mean, we’d got people there that made uniforms and made clothes and all sorts of things because I mean the RAF uniform was almost the same as Luftwaffe. You couldn’t hardly tell the difference. So there was always somebody slaving away on something. Never a dull moment. I mean people, they would say, ‘Well didn’t you get bored?’ We never got bored. Too much to do. Yeah.
CB: Did you know what was happening in Europe war wise at this time?
RH: Oh yeah.
CB: Did you have a radio or -
RH: Yeah we had the radio. Every lunchtime this fella would come in, ‘Right chaps. Watch the windows,’ and somebody’d sit near the window, watching out the windows, see if there’s any moles about. ‘There’s one coming up.’ ‘Hang on a minute.’ ‘Oh sit down. We’ll wait till he’s gone.’ Everybody that walked into that camp, every German that walked in that camp was plotted all the way around. We knew where he was all the while from one mouth to another you know. So and sometimes somebody would say, ‘Ferret.’ We called them ferrets and you see the huts were about this high of the ground and they’d crawl under to make sure that there were no tunnels you see and somebody would say, ‘Ferret.’ ‘Where?’ About ten blokes would get together. They’d stand there, ‘Ready, steady go,’ and everybody would jump up and down. Well all the dirt used to fall like that you know and he’d come scurrying out the other end dirt all down [laughs] Oh we pulled their legs something horrible really. I mean when a, when a guard walked up and down with his rifle over his shoulder there would be about five blokes right on top behind him following him like this you know and then as soon as he turned around they just vanished. One, ‘cause as regards tunnels we had to shore them up with bed boards so eventually everybody had only got about three bed boards left. Head, bottom, feet, you know. Oh it was uncomfortable. And one day they came in, take, they took nearly all the bed boards away on this lorry and there were the German guards standing on top of them with a schmeiser, you know. So when he looking over that end someone were nicking them off the other end. As soon as he swung around they was nicking it off the other end. [Laughs] Whatsisname came around he said, ‘I’m afraid somebody is going to get shot.’ He said, ‘Why don’t they pack it in?’ He said, ‘They’ll get shot.’ Dixie Dean. He said, ‘I’m scared to death somebody’s going to get shot.’ Anyway, nobody ever was.
CB: I think you mentioned that the guards had a peculiar way of searching. They’d search for one thing one day and -
RH: Oh yes. Oh yeah. Yeah. They only took what they were looking for that day. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
CB: So if they were looking for scissors one day, the next day if they found some they weren’t bothered.
RH: No they weren’t bothered. No. Mad.
CB: What was the relationship between you and the guards? Did you -
RH: Well you got to know one or two of them yeah but don’t forget they were all old people. Not as old as me but they were, they were, some of them had been prisoners of war in England and you might get one that would talk to you, you know but there was always one or two of our people that spoke good German and they’d try and get things. You know. They were kept for getting and once, you know, they’d offer them something big or something that was not much at all but once you’d got him on, under your thumb the answer was well, I want so and so.’ Oh I can’t get that. I can’t get that.’ ‘Well you’d better or else you’ll be on the Eastern Front,’ ‘cause that was always their worry. Eastern front. You know. So they’d get it in the end. Bits for cameras and things like that. Yeah. But we did used to swap things with some of them. I mean I can remember when we were swapping tins of cocoa for a loaf of bread but I mean there was, it were full of sand with a bit of cocoa on the top. [laughs] Oh we were rotten. [laughs] Throwing it over the wire you know.
CB: Did you know when D-Day had happened?
RH: I was home on D-Day.
CB: Oh right.
RH: I was home about a week before D-Day.
CB: Oh.
RH: Yeah. Yeah fortunately because 357 was close to where they signed the -
CB: Oh the -
RH: Yeah.
CB: Armistice.
RH: Can’t remember where that was now but we were close to that. Yeah.
CB: So what was, what happened towards, you know the end of your captivity? How did it come about? The truck arrived. The, and was that the end? Did you -
RH: Yeah. Well they took us out in trucks to this aerodrome. I don’t know what aerodrome it was. I never did find out and we were there all day. There was thousands there you know and the army was in charge. There weren’t many RAF. Not at that moment. They were nearly all army and these Dakotas landed and Lancasters and Halifaxes. They’d pile the army in you know. Well we’d been there all day and one of our blokes said, he said, ‘I’ve had enough of this, they’re not taking all their men.’ He said, ‘We’re the ones, the RAF are taking us back and,’ he said, ‘We’re stuck here.’ He said, ‘I’m going to have a go at this.’ Anyway, the next Dakota came in and he ran across to it and when they put the ladder down he went up and had a word with the pilot, squadron leader somebody. So he said, ‘What’s your problem?’ So he said, ‘They’re taking all the army,’ he said, ‘And just leaving us.’ He said, ‘They’re not bothered about us.’ He said, ‘Well I’ve finished. This was my last flight,’ he said, ‘But I’ll take you. How many of you is there?’ So and so. ‘That’s a couple over what I should do,’ he said, ‘But,’ he said, ‘I’ll chance it if you will.’ He said, ‘All of you come across here,’ he said, ‘I’ll take you home.’ So he did an extra flight and brought us back. And when we got to the other end everybody had a WAAF each to look after us.
CB: This was at Cosford.
RH: At Cosford. Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
RH: Yeah.
CB: What was your feelings when you landed?
RH: What?
CB: What were you feelings after, you know your captivity, all you’d been through?
RH: Well I can remember, I can remember passing and everybody was looking out the window saying, ‘Look the white cliffs of Dover. At last.’ You know. That was a lovely sight that was. And I don’t know where we landed. It wasn’t Cosford ‘cause we had to catch a train to Cosford.
CB: Oh right.
RH: But there was, on the train there was four of us to a compartment. We had the whole train to ourselves, you know.
CB: Did you ever think you weren’t, you wouldn’t make it back?
RH: No. I never thought about it. I thought we would eventually you know. I suppose we were lucky they didn’t shoot all of us really. Yeah.
CB: And you got to Cosford and then -
RH: We were there ‘til they kitted us out and I think I had six weeks leave. Everybody had about six weeks and back pay for two years.
CB: Wow.
RH: And all the Canadians and Americans were saying, every time they jumped out of bed, ‘Another pound in the bank.’ That were marvellous. I’d draw some money out and when you went back the next time there’d some more been put in. As fast as you drew it out they were putting some more in. I’ve never come across that since then though funnily enough. No. Lovely.
CB: So in your six, six weeks off or so and then what happened? Were you -
RH: Went back to Cosford and they didn’t know what to do with us really. We were going into towns where they were having these parties in the, street parties remember and they were taking us to these street parties and then they took us round Austin Motor Works to see that, all that. You know. It was all very interesting but really we were a dead loss to them really. Couldn’t do anything with us. Not many people stayed in. They asked you if you wanted to stay in. Of course my friend Ted did. He said, ‘Yes. I’ll stay’ and he got to squadron leader.
CB: And what did you do?
RH: Came out.
CB: Went home.
RH: I was a bit sorry. The last day I felt a bit sorry really. Still there we are.
CB: You had the camaraderie of your pals you know, even though -
RH: Yeah.
CB: Just for the four tours or whatever.
RH: Yeah.
CB: And then you had the friends you made in the camps and then it was just a sudden stop.
RH: Yeah and I mean we was all going to meet so and so and not many did.
CB: No.
RH: Once you got back into Civvy Street and you got into work again I suppose it all changed didn’t it really? Yeah.
CB: Perhaps some of them just didn’t want to remember what had happened.
RH: I don’t, I mean people say that. I don’t think we were very bothered any of us. I mean and others say they don’t like to talk about it. Well, all the ones I know don’t mind talking about it. Not really.
CB: What work did you do after the war?
RH: I went back to the Co-op.
CB: And you settled into that happily.
RH: Well only for about two years and then my stepfather was a sub postmaster and when he died I got it so I had the post office for thirty two years. Yeah. That was alright. That was a good job.
CB: Do you think your experiences in the war had any effect on you afterwards?
RH: I don’t know. I suppose in a way you got to the point you were frightened of anything anymore. Weren’t frightened of anything anymore. You know, you thought to yourself, ‘Well. I got through that I can get through anything.’ Yeah. I mean we had three raids at the post office.
CB: Oh crikey.
RH: We got rid, well we got rid of it. I didn’t get rid of one. The second one that come in. He pointed a gun at me and said, ‘Money.’ And my wife was in the corner. She said, ‘What’s he want?’ I said, ‘Money.’ She said, ‘Tell him where to go.’ I said, ‘I’m going to.’ I said, ‘Look. There’s the door. Get out of it.’ And then he turned around and walked out. Which was very lucky. I said to her afterwards, ‘He were pointing a ruddy gun at me not at you.’ [laughs]
CB: You never thought ‘Oh my God I’ve fought this war, I’ve been involved and then this happens.’
RH: It makes you wonder doesn’t it? Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And then there was another man that had been defrauding the post by ordering insurance stamps. Insurance stamps were worth a lot of money in those days and he’d order all these and they’d put them through and he’d say, ‘Oh just a minute. I’ve got a parcel in the car. I’ll go and fetch it.’ He never went back, he never went back with the money. I forget what they called him, they’d given him a name. Two years they tried to catch him and we caught him. He came in and did his usual, you know and the wife was in the corner and she went ‘psst’ you know so I didn’t, I didn’t put the stamps through. I kept them this side you know, he said, ‘Oh I’ve got a parcel. I’ll just go and fetch the parcel.’ I knew he was making a getaway really. He could see I wasn’t going to give and as he went out the postman came in the door and I said, ‘John, get the number of that car, that van for the person who’s just run out.’ ‘Where? Where?’ You know. ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘You’re too late.’ I got straight on the phone to the, our policing department and the police put road stops up all around Peterborough and when they got to Stanground the woman on the counter of Stanground said, ‘Oh. I think I’ve just served him.’ Just like that you know. They see this bloke coming out the door, they grabbed him and it wasn’t him. [laughs] Anyway, he were further down the road and they caught him before he got in the car. But I think we got two hundred pound for that. Yeah. We had three lots of two hundred pound. Very useful. [laughs]
CB: Well Ron it’s been absolutely wonderful to hear you. Thank you very much for this interview.
RH: Oh it’s alright. You’re quite welcome.



Clare Bennett, “Interview with Ron Hemsworth,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed February 23, 2024,

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