Recollections - Warrant Officer B F Hughes

MDryhurstHG1332214-160608-05.pdf

Title

Recollections - Warrant Officer B F Hughes

Description

Account of operation to Nuremberg on 28 August 1942 in Halifax where aircraft was attacked and shot down by night fighter. Continues with account of capture, interrogation and transport to prisoner of war camp. Describes camp occupants, situation, facilities, barracks, compounds, roll call. Continues with conditions/retaliations after Dieppe raid. Concludes with short account of long march as Russians approach.

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Date

2014-06-26

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Six page printed document

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IBCC Digital Archive

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This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Contributor

Identifier

MDryhurstHG1332214-160608-05

Transcription

Recollections – Warrant Officer BF Hughes (Service No NZ402870
RNZAF)

[black and white photograph – Bernie Hughes]

Shot down 28th August 1942. Halifax BB214 - Sgt H G Dryhurst

Date Target/Duty S/N Rank Initials Surname Age Hometown Service Missing POW

28/08/1942 Nuremberg BB214 Sgt HG Dryhurst POW

28/08/1942 Nuremberg BB214 Sgt JW Platt 25 Liverpool. RAF M

28/08/1942 Nuremberg BB214 Sgt AA Roberts RAAF POW

28/08/1942 Nuremberg BB214 P/O VMM Morrison 19 Ottawa, Ontario,
Canada. RCAF K

28/08/1942 Nuremberg BB214 F/S JJ Carey 22 Ottawa, Ontario,
Canada. RCAF K

28/08/1942 Nuremberg BB214 Sgt BF Hughes RNZAF POW

28/08/1942 Nuremberg BB214 Sgt JL MacLachlan 21 RAFVR K

This article was written by Bernie Hughes and sent to me by the Hughes
family some years ago. It was published in the RAF Elsham Wolds Assn
newsletter in 2007. In view of the renewed interest in the crew of BB214, I
have added this to the web site. Many thanks to the Hughes family for
submitting this interesting item. DF 26th June 2014

“Although the details of what happened within the plane the night we were
shot down are still vivid in my mind, I am rather vague about such things as
the target for that night and the number of aircraft taking part. I have a dim

[page break]

recollection that the target was Nuremburg, that the number of aircraft was
about 800 and that for the first time we were dropping bombs not pamphlets
on that city. I could be mixed up with the stories shared by us later in our
P.O.W. camp in Ober-Silesia of course, but it is my recollection that
Nuremburg was our target.
We had an uneventful flight across the Channel until we reached the French
coast where all hell broke loose. Very heavy anti-aircraft fire was
encountered and we had n extremely busy time trying to avoid being hit.
Eventually we had escaped it and pressed on towards our target. Along the
route we saw heavy outbursts of gunfire on both sides of us, but apart from
two or three awkward patches we seemed to be having a charmed run. I was
just congratulating myself that we were going to have a rather easy trip
when without warning there was a shattering sound of bullets cutting
through metal, an explosion, flames everywhere and much coloured smoke.
I was normally the tail-gunner in the crew but on changing over from
Wellington bombers to Halifax bombers, I asked to change over to midupper
turret for a few flights to see what a difference it made. Underneath
my feet in the fuselage, flares were exploding, there was a lot of smoke and
flames, and I could not see out of my turret. The plane was now in a dive
and I slid out of the turret to get my parachute and clip it on to my harness. I
have always been afraid of heights often “freezing” when climbing a ladder
to get on to a wall or roof, and I had sworn that I would always stay with my
plane as I felt I would be too terrified to bale out. However, when your life
is out on a limb you forget your fears quickly and your main aim is to do
anything to preserve yourself. I attempted firstly to get through to the front
of the plane to contact the skipper. Finding this impossible I then tried to
open the door into the rear-gunner’s turret but this seemed jammed and
would not budge. By this time I was praying, cursing, laughing and crying. I
tried to open the entrance hatch to make my escape, but it would not move. I
kicked, screamed and yelled and after what seemed an eternity I finally got
the hatch open. I turned onto my stomach to slide out into space and my
harness caught on a jagged piece of metal as I went through the hatch. I
found myself pressed against the fuselage like a fly on a wall while the
plane plunged towards earth. I consider only God got me off that hook.
When, after what I consider the worst few minutes in my life up till then, I
finally broke free from the plane. I found everything so peaceful that I
delayed pulling the handle of the ripcord. When I did it was to find a forest
of trees coming up to meet me. I landed in a wheat field completely
surrounded by trees. I could hear machine gun fire in the skies above me and
the barking of dogs through the trees. I rolled up my parachute, and together
with escape documents that I tried to tear up, hid them under a wheat stack
and proceeded through the trees on to a road, which sloped downwards. I
started to walk down this road when I was suddenly confronted by a youth
who peacefully but urgently tried to stop me and pointed in the

[page break]

opposite direction. He kept saying, what I figured out later when I had learnt some
basic German words, “Deutschen Zoldaten”. Later on when I had time to
think more clearly I figured out that he must have been the son of a foreign
worker forced to work in Germany, and that he was trying to warn me to
make off in the opposite direction. Later when I saw him in the crowd that
gathered as my captors brought me to headquarters I smiled at him but he
ignored me. I must have been in a state of shock after my escape from the
plane and parachute descent because I did so many stupid things and took no
evasive action.
I continued down the road, around a bend, and without warning two German
Air Force soldiers stepped from behind the trees and with rifles pointed at
my back, they shouted at me to halt. They marched me down to what
seemed to be part of a monastery building that presumably had been
commandeered for war purposes. I was told there was a night-fighter base
nearby and that the pilot who had shot us down was from that base.
My interrogation was conducted firmly but courteously. I gave my name,
number and rank but refused to provide further information. I was advised
by my interrogators that they knew my squadron, but merely wanted my to
verify the information. I said if they knew so much there was no need for me
to add anything further. I must add that their information was pretty accurate
but I refused to tell them so. Being still a little shocked might have helped
me. I was told that Harry Dryhurst, the Skipper, had his parachute caught in
the trees and had to unbuckle himself and drop into a canvas sheet held by
his captors. Also that Roberts, the Navigator, was captured and was being
interrogated, that the plane had dived into a lake and was on the bottom, and
that the bodies of the crew had been recovered. From the information they
gave me later I thought that only one body remained in the plane, John
Carey, the Canadian front-gunner.
After the interrogation we were taken by train the next day to a P.O.W. entry
camp. Here we were put in solitary cells. I spent about five or six days in
solitary. I think the idea was to break you down a little so they could obtain
further information from you.
I recall in the cell next to mine the window was open and I could hear the
inmate giving lots of information about life on his squadron and how
bomber crews reacted to raids, and how big the turnover was in aircrew. I
still think this was a plant because I was interrogated not long after that and
told I should co-operate more like many of my comrades. In case it was not
a plant I mention the matter to the senior British officer when we were
released into the main camp after solitary confinement. Solitary
confinement, though not harsh or cruel, was very unnerving to young men
coming straight from the free and easy camaraderie of an RAF squadron.

[page break]

Release into the main camp was like an unexpected holiday. Here one could
talk, read, play games, enjoy comradeship and have more satisfactory meals
(Red Cross parcels, not German black bread, watery vegetable soup and
ersatz coffee). Perhaps the greatest release was the feeling of space and not
the claustrophobia of being shut up within four narrow walls.
After a short stay at this quite pleasant camp we were entrained and taken by
rail to the huge P.O.W camp Stalag V111B – Lamsdorf, in Ober-Silesia on
the border of Poland. This camp contained P.O.W.s from practically every
war front commencing from the British Expeditionary Force in France up
till Dunkirk, Greece and Crete, the Desert, the Mediterranean, Sicily and
Italy. There were British, Anzacs, Canadians many captured after the
abortive Dieppe raid, South Africans, Ghurkas, Americans and
representatives from all the nations involved on the British side in the war.
Although it was mainly an Army camp there were naval men and members
of specialist groups such Parachutists, Commandos, Desert Long Range
Groups and approximately one thousand Air Force men. From memory
there were about ten thousand men in the camp at any one time, plus a total
of nearly ten thousand men in various working parties attached to the camp
for administrative purposes.
The camp was divided into compounds with approximately one thousand
men in each, living in stone barracks with concrete floors and wooden
shutters covering the window openings. In the middle of each barrack was a
washroom containing cold water, washbasins and a stone copper for boiling
water when wood was available. About a hundred men lived in each half of
a barrack with three-tiered bunks in rows on one side of the room and
wooden trestles with wooden frames on the other side. There was an outside
latrine (a forty-holer we called it) built from the same materials as the
barracks and with a covered sump at the back. Periodically, a horse-drawn
wooden tank was brought into the compound, the wooden covers of the
sump were opened and the human waste pumped into the tank. The tanks
was then driven from the camp into the surrounding fields and used as
manure. In the summer the latrine smelt to the high heavens. In the winter it
was a severe penance to go to the latrine as it was icy cold, there being no
doors nor shutters over the windows. As it was not permitted to go outside
the barracks at night a wooden tub was positioned inside the porch for toilet
purposes. Barrack inmates were rostered each night to carry out the tub and
dispose of the waste. It was not a pleasant duty but luckily only happened
two or three times a year for each man.
Life in each compound varied according to circumstances. At normal times
the gates of each compound were opened at 9.00am and locked at 4.00pm in
the winter or 6.00pm in the summer. Inmates of one compound could visit
inmates of another or go to lectures in the school building, or play sport on

[page break]

the two clay sites set aside for this purpose, or go under guard to the shower
block on their rostered day of the week. Some nights there were stage
performances in the theatre building and different compounds, whose turn it
was that night, were escorted under guard from their compounds to the
theatre and back afterwards. Roll call was taken in the morning and
afternoon to coincide with the opening and closing of the compound gates.
Normally this took 10 – 15 minutes but every so often if there had been an
escape from the camp or radio sets, which were strictly forbidden, had been
found in the barracks then the compound inmates could be kept out on
parade for hours. On one particular occasion we were kept on parade from
9.00am until after mid-afternoon with only the proven sick allowed to sit on
the ground for short periods of about 10 minutes. There was a strong protest
by the senior British representative but this was ignored by the German
control, as were other protests. There were frequent interruptions to the
normal running of the camp when compounds were kept locked. Classes,
lectures and the theatre were shut down and apart from visits to the latrine
under guard no movement was permitted between barracks in the same
compound. This was also a grim time as Red Cross parcels were not allowed
to be distributed and the inmates had to exist on German rations such as
watery vegetable soup, or fish soup with fish heads swimming in it, black
bread, ersatz jam, or fish cheese (a vile tasting and smelling concoction) and
black ersatz coffee.
Perhaps one of the worst periods for the camp was just after the Dieppe raid
by the Canadians. Some of the German prisoners captured by the Canadians
after their initial landing were found dead on the beach with their hands
bound behind their backs. The Germans at first thought they had been bound
and then shot by the Canadians and it was not until later they realised they
had been killed by flying bullets, probably from their own side, when the
Canadian attack was repulsed and the few who escaped were driven from
the beach.
However, in retaliation, for what the German Command at first thought was
a British atrocity all Air Force personnel in the RAF compound at Lamsdorf,
as well as all Army personnel, in the other compounds of the rank of
Corporal or over had their hands tightly bound with very strong string from
early in the morning till evening. They were not permitted out of their
barracks except under guard to the latrine. German front rank troops from
the Russian front, who were on home leave, were brought in as extra guards.
Armed with quick-firing rifles with bayonets attached they patrolled four to
each end barracks. They were fine soldiers, unable to be bribed like normal
guards, who once bribed, could be forced to bring into the compound
forbidden items such as parts of a radio, tools, clothing etc.

[page break]

These soldiers were not at all happy about doing guard duty in a P.O.W.
camp but they did it with quiet efficiency, firmness and no cruelty. This
period lasted for four to six weeks. With the demand from various war
fronts for more experienced troops these guards were pulled out and
replaced with the normal camp guards posted outside each compound. The
string around our wrists was replaced by handcuffs. These were brought in a
large tray into each end barrack by two guards. Each P.O.W. had to put on
his own handcuffs and keep them on until they were unlocked at the end of
the day. Gradually, the mean learned to open the handcuffs with a nail or
similar shaped object and the whole operation became a farce. In the end the
guards were bringing in the trays, leaving them in the porch and collecting
them in the evening. This particular period of reprisal occupied several
months before dying out. The next major disruption in the camp took place
at the end of December 1944.
The Russians were breaking through on the Eastern front and the Germans
decided to move the occupants of StalagV111B westwards. Each occupant
was issued with a Red Cross parcel of food and told to carry whatever
clothes and personal item he could manage. Under armed guard we started
to march westwards through the cold and snow of a severe eastern European
winter. We were billeted overnight wherever room could be found for each
group in large buildings, other unoccupied camps, churches and factories.
Many of us contracted Dysentery, various types of stomach ailment, feet
troubles and because of lack of bathing, lice.
Eventually with another RAF friend and a British Army friend of his, we
escaped from the main march, and after a series of adventures we contacted
a party of Polish foreign workers on a party complex. With their help and
guidance we hid up in a barn where they kept a farm tractor. For over a
week they smuggled food and drink to us when they came each morning to
collect the tractor. The last day they advised us that American troops were
approaching the area and they would have to lie low to avoid being caught
in any military action. That night there was a fierce battle. In the morning
we could hear tanks rumbling along the road, then the sound of motor driven
vehicles approaching the barn. We buried ourselves deeper in to the hay.
The doors were flung open and an American voice called out, “Okay fellows
you can come out now. The Americans are here.”
It was April 9th, the greatest day in our prisoner of war life. The outfit that
rescued us was the Second Battalion Combat team 23, Second Division
(Infantry), 1st Army, Officer Commanding Lieut/Colonel William A Smith.
I have his autograph and I have kept it since the war years.” Bernie Hughes
This item is courtesy of the Hughes family in New Zealand.

Citation

B F Hughes, “Recollections - Warrant Officer B F Hughes,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 30, 2022, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/28684.

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