Henry Wagner's life story. Part one



Henry Wagner's life story. Part one


Hand written by Henry, Part 1 covers his early life and time at university. It goes on to cover in some detail his time in the RAF, his time training in South Africa conversion to the Halifax and operations on 51 Squadron. It also covers his time as a prisoner of war and his post war career as a teacher in both England and Kenya. This part also covers his marriage, two children and their first house.




153 hand written pages with photographs


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“…. we need someone with integrity, distinction and honour …
We need someone like H W Wagner”
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Extract from “Those Who Fall”, by John Muirhead, a Flying Fortress pilot. Published b Transworld Publishers Ltd., 61-63 Uxbridge Road, London W5 5SA.

“Everything happened that I have said happened, but it’s memory now, the shadow of things. The truth lives in its own time, recall is not the reality of the past. When friends depart, one remembers them but they are changed; we hold only the fragment of them that touched us and our idea of them, which is now a part of us. Their reality is gone, intact but irretrievable, in another place through which we passed and can never enter again. I cannot go back nor can I bring them to me; so I must pursue the shadows to some middle ground, for I am strangely bound to all that happened then.”

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[centred] Your life is waiting for you, H W Wagner. [/centred]
[centred and underlined] CARPE DIEM. [/centred and underlined]

The title is, of course, from the Latin poet Horace, of if you prefer his full name, Quintus Horatius Flacus [sic], in his book of Odes, and I will translate it for those of you who have not had the benefit of a classical education. It means “Catch hold of the day”, with the implication “and squeeze every drop of value you can out of it.” The quotation continues Quam minimum credula postero (trusting[?] the next day as little as possible) – because it might never come. While on the subject of Horace, another quotation of his seems to me to be suitable, although you may well not agree, except possibly insofar as it applies to your good self – Integer vitae scelerisque purus (a man of upright life and pure from guilt.)

Having been always interested in flying, it seems to me that life is like a take-off, circuit and landing, and I have divided this account accordingly.

[underlined] UPWIND LEG [/underlined]
The upwind leg has two parts – rolling along the runway to reach flying speed, then climbing to circuit height.

[underlined] Take-off. [/underlined]

[photograph of two young children with their mother]

I was born on 24 March 1923. In the photograph, I am the little chap in the middle. My mother on the left, of course, and my elder brother John on the right. There were destined to be two other

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brothers after me, Richard and Brian. Richard was only a year younger than me, and due mainly to the similarity in our ages he was the one who was always closest to me, although I never had anything against the others.

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[centred and underlined] Henry Stanhope [centred and underlined]

[centred] Henry the Seventh hits the charts [/centred]
One of the more engaging trends last year was the elevation of “Henry” to the top ten of first names, as disclosed by Mrs Margaret Brown and Mr Thomas Brown in The Times last week. It now occupies seventh place, enjoying – without the benefit of royal patronage – its most significant renaissance since the early Tudors.

To the 47 boys whose parents proclaimed their choice in the columns of this newspaper, I say “Welcome” – before adding a short introduction to the life that lies ahead of them. They should not be deceived for instance by those dictionaries of surnames which one thumbs through in W. H. Smith’s but never actually buys. These will tell you that it means “head of the house” and no doubt to the Plantaganet kings it seemed peculiarly apposite.

“Henry!” to the modern cartoonist, however, is a little man with a toothbrush moustache and half-moon glasses, washing up in a frilly apron while his virago of a wife slumbers next door in their surburban sitting room. The best portrait to be hoped for is that of an elderly Tory in hairy tweeds unloading his Scotch in the gunroom while his equally hairy wife is bullying the vicar at the village fete. The image is rarely swinging.

Nor is it a name which lends itself to some comfortable sobriquet or short-form – which, of course, is one reason why mothers like it. At school they solved it by calling me Stanhope, at college by switching to “H”. During National Service, fellow gunners, nonplussed by having a Henry in their midst toyed with “Harry” but settled for “Stan”, which struck a more agreeably percussive note in the barrack room. My first editor, on being introduced, scratched his head doubtfully and said he had a cocker spaniel called Henry. “What should we actually call you?” he asked.

At school I would gladly have swopped the dynamo on my bike for a name like Bob, or Bill or – as it was in Wales, Glyn, Gwyn, Bryn or even Geraint. Boys see safety in numbers and being called Henry was only one up on being Christopher Robin. Survival had to be fought for.

It is however a name one grows into and, in middle age, can offer some interesting advantages. It is, for instance, not easily forgotten and one which acquires a life of its own. Who would think of referring to Irving, Cooper, Kelly, Jackson, Kissinger or the fictitious Higgins (“Just you wait, ‘enry ‘iggins”) without their given name (“Christian” now being considered ethnically discriminatory)? An invisible hyphen welds them together like bacon and eggs.

There are also, as yet anyway, not enough of us in the English-speaking world to cause confusion. Having said that, it is arguable that when two Henrys do appear in the same office, battalion or school, the mix-ups are almost embarrassing.
They can also at times be quite flattering. In the elitist circles of East Coast America in the 1970s, to be called Henry was almost a passport to any dinner party in town. “There’s no disputing that Henry has a really first-class mind”, I once heard a Harvard professor say, unaware of the warm glow of pleasure he was causing six feet behind during that brief moment of self-delusion. I have never been confused with Henry Cooper, but that is perhaps because he is really called ‘Enery – though I would never do so to his face.

My “hooray!” for the 1982 Henrys is not therefore unmuted. Our image needs polishing. When someone calls “Henry” I still want to turn round – not just carry on walking like the Toms, Dicks and Harrys (no doubt corruptions of the original) who can always assume that it’s not meant for them. Back to the sink ….

[/newspaper cutting]

My mother and father were both Irish, which of course makes me Irish by birth, although later in life I took out naturalisation papers to become a

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British citizen. Of my father’s family I know nothing, but my mother came from an upper-class county family, the Strongs. I still have a salver with their family crest in the centre. We lived in a big house on the shores of a bay at Strand Hill, in County Sligo. The only person I can remember there is my grandfather, a grand old man with a white spade-shaped beard, who smoked a pipe. There being no such things as pipe-cleaners in those days, Richard and I brought in feathers for him, saying: “A fedder for Pa’s pike.” Regrettably, I knew little of my father; it was obviously not a happy marriage, and my parents separated when I was above five. I do know, however, that he was a man of many parts – he had a degree in theology from Trinity College, Dublin, a qualification in dentistry, and he was a well-known sporting shot, contributing to a magazine called The Shooting Times and British Sportsman. For my mother’s part, she was a keen hockey player, and also an Irish county golfer.

When I was three or so, we moved to England, for reasons unknown to me, and our first home was in a village called Sonning Common, near Reading. We lived in quite a large house called The Laurels, with a large orchard (apples, pears, plums, greengages, damsons and cherries) and a one-acre field at the back. There being no refuse-collection in those days, there was a big hole at the far end of the orchard, known as the ashpit. When it was full, another one had to be dug. In the field, my father had a clay-pigeon trap, and used to gather cronies there from time to time for shooting parties. He had a gun-room in the house, with possibly about thirty guns of various calibres, and several hundred cartridges, and Richard and I used to go in there and play – what madness to let two little boys loose among so much lethal apparatus. An old chap used to come and cut the front lawn with a scythe, and one day we threw cartridges at him out of the window, which pleased him not at all. Another room was the dental surgery, which terrified us when we were called in for treatment, as dental surgery was in its infancy in those days, and equipment was primitive. You could be sure of a painful session there. I remember seeing in one of the magazines a picture of

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a set of false teeth, and I thought to myself: “They don't just take out the teeth, they take out the whole top of your mouth as well.”

Two years after arriving there, my father left, and I never saw him again. My mother was left to bring up four boys on her own, with occasional financial contributions from my father, and a hard time she had of it. Heating was by means of coal fires, cooking was done on an old-fashioned range, lighting was an Aladdin pressure lamp and candles, and there was no hot water. Monday was washing-day, using a coal-fired copper, so Monday dinner was always cold meat, the remnants of the Sunday joint. Other days, it might be stew, hash, or corned beef, with rice or macaroni pudding. Breakfasts were always porridge, and tea was bread and jam, with cake on Sundays. Shopping was done at Plumb’s stores, down the road, where there were no packed foods – everything was weighed up and served separately, and there were chairs for people to sit down and gossip to the shopkeeper while the order was being made up. Biscuits came out of big tins with glass tops, butter was cut off the block. A jug was left out for Mr. Saunders, the milkman, who came round with a horse and trap and carried a small pail of milk up to the door, replenished from a big churn in the trap. An old biddy, Mrs. McCallum used to deliver paraffin from cans hanging on the handlebars of her bicycle. Sweets were a rarity, but now and again we got a halfpenny to spend, with which we usually bought a Chicago Bar, a bar of evil-looking (and tasting) toffee, but which had the merit of being very long-lasting.

One Christmas, Richard and I got a small bicycle each, known as fairy-cycles, with hard tyres, and we could safely be released to ride round the village, there being hardly any traffic on the roads. Once a week, we used to go into Reading by Thames Valley bus, for bigger shopping, and used to finish up with tea and toast in the Lyons Corner Shop.

Such was the way of life in those days, and although my mother had plenty of worries, it was no hardship to us boys. We went to the village school, presided over by “Gaffer” Forder. I did two years

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there, the first year in Miss Cobb’s class, and the second year moved up with the dreaded Mrs. Clayton. While at Sonning Common school, I made the acquaintance of Geoffrey Dolphin, who remained a lifelong friend.

At the age of seven, then, we moved to Henley-on-Thames, to quite a nice house in a quiet road, St. Mark’s Road. This even had the benefit of gas-lighting downstairs, otherwise illumination was still by candle. There was a large walnut – tree in the back garden, which we were always climbing. John was sent off as a boarder to the Bluecoat School in Reading, and Richard and I started attending the National School, a grim fortress-like granite building very different from a village school and peopled by hard urban nuts of a type that we were not accustomed to, so we quite often had a rough time. The Avery’s, Blackall’s and the Fowler’s come to mind. Richard went into Mrs. Plumb’s class, I being a year older went into Mrs. Piper’s class, and she was much addicted to frequent use of the cane. In fact, I got it on my first day there. Lessons in those days tended to be of the repetitive rather than the interesting variety; this particular geography lesson consisted of repeating the names of mountains in Britain, from north to south. Of course, the names meant nothing to me, nor did they, I suppose, to anyone else in the class, but those who could not remember them were lined up in front and received a stroke of the cane. The most feared teacher in the school was Mr. Ackroyd, who was even more liberal than Mrs. Piper in his dispensation of correction; at the end of “playtime”, he blew a whistle, whereupon everyone stood stock-still. At a second blast, everyone moved to a place where their number of class was painted on the playground. Then he would shout “Classed, right and left turn”, and you turned in the direction of your classroom. One day, I turned in the wrong direction, and received a stroke of the cane for “disobedience”. Physical education consisted of what was known as “drill”, and this meant standing in lines on the playground and obeying order such as “touching the toes”, “clapping hands above the head”, and “running on the spot”. What strides have been made since, in the way of gymnastic exercises with proper equipment!

After two years at the National School, when I was nine, the

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educational system was reorganised, and Richard and I went to a junior school, called Trinity School, run under the auspices of Trinity Church, where I was married twenty-seven years later. This was presided over by Mrs. Billingham, known as Governess, and under whose instruction I first started taking a real interest in learning. At the age of eleven, there was an examination to determine who would go to Henley Grammar School and who would return to the dreaded National School, and I was relieved to be one of the successful 23%. By this time, we had moved to a council house in Western Avenue, the family circumstances having become even more [indecipherable word]. It must have been something of a strain for my mother, having to buy uniform, games kit and P.W. kit, but there was a small grant from the Grammar School foundation Trust to help those who found the going difficult. At Trinity School, I became friends with Jim Clark, who is still a good friend, and especially of Jim Davies, who lived just down the road from us. Jim Davies was a Fleet Air Arm fighter pilot, on Corsairs, during the war. Afterwards, he took a degree in law at Oxford, then worked in the Attorney-General’s office. He was killed in a Douglas DC 10 crash after taking off from Paris; a baggage-door had not been properly fastened, and it opened in flight. The ensuing decompression buckled the floor, which jammed the controls, and all aboard were killed.

This concludes the runway section, then. The aircraft is nicely on the move, has flying speed, and the way ahead, barring accidents, is clear, and there is plenty of room for manoeuvre. The next section of the circuit is the climb-out, gaining height, looking round and feeling the air.

[underlined] Climb-out. [/underlined]

The climb-out begins with the commencement of education proper at Henley Grammar School. I arrived there in September 1934, with Jim Clark. Education was undertaken seriously before the war – you had to work hard in order to qualify for a good job. I had no idea what sort of work I would eventually do, there being no careers guidance in those days. But part from

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the underlying seriousness, there was no worry attached to the whole business, and it was an enjoyable time. This is the little lad who started at the Grammar School at the age of eleven.


In the 1930’s, competitiveness was encouraged in both sport and games. Nowadays, it is actively discouraged – no sense of inferiority must be allowed to develop, even among those who know they are inferior. Any attempt to be better than the rest is frowned upon, because it would tend towards divisiveness and the creation of an elite, so everyone must conform to a lower level. But in those times, prizes were awarded for academic achievement and medals and cups given for sporting excellence – there was every encouragement to do better. So everyone worked to the best of their ability, and I do not think anyone suffered for that reason.

About the time that I started at the Grammar School, I took my first tentative steps in the world of golf. Richard was the moving spirit behind this, and we bought ourselves a putter each from
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Woolworths, price six denarii, and we used to take them up to a field about a mile away and just hack about. Jim Davies joined us too, and nearly all our spare time was spent in that pursuit. Balls were obtained by looking for them in hedges adjoining the gold course. Finding more than enough for our needs, we thought about how we might turn them to profit. We used to make the occasional cycle journey into Reading and sell them at a sports shop. A dozen would bring in three shillings or so (about 15 pence in modern money); later, we developed contacts among local golfers, notably Tom Luker and Bert Butler, which saved the trip to Reading. Most of the money was saved with the intention of buying a bag of clubs each, but 3d. a week was spent on the Saturday afternoon visit to the cinema and 1d. on sweets. When enough money was saved, we went into Reading and went round the Junk-shops, obtaining a bag each (and scruffy old things they were), and a motley selection of old rusty wooden-shafted clubs. And so we were in business. There was no way of joining Henley Gold Club, golf being the preserve of the upper crust, but there was a nine-hole course on a public common at Peppard, some four miles distant, where one could play for 10/6d. a year. We cycled there whenever time and weather permitted, clubs over the shoulder, sandwiches in saddle-bags. Jim Davis was with us in this venture, and you couldn’t have found a happier lot, day in, day out, through holidays. Through a good deal of my life, I have had enormous pleasure from golf, and met so many friends. Golf is a great leveller, and when a man is on the course, his wealth and social status matter not a scrap. What is important is his attitude to the game. A young American golfer of great promise, Tony Lema, who was regrettably killed in a light aeroplane crash on his way to a tournament, wrote in his book “Champagne Golf” – “Golf is the one game that really gives a man the opportunity to play the gentleman.” One does occasionally come across the other sort on a golf course, but they are not true golfers, and may

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be disregarded.

Another activity which took up some of our time, mainly in summer, was kite-flying. The materials were inexpensive, as we made our own. My mother would cut up old curtains into large octagons, about two feet across, hem them, and stitch a pocket in each corner. All that was needed was 3d ball of string and a fishing - net. Fishing net? Yes. The net itself was discarded, the bamboo split down the middle and used to make four struts. Many an afternoon we spent sitting on the grass gazing up at the kites and giving an occasional twitch on the string. Threepenny gliders, launched by catapult, also provided a lot of entertainment while the kite string was tied to a fence.

Next - door to Jim Davies lived a young lad with the reputation of being something of a crazy inventor. His name was Reggie Cripps. One scheme he thought up was that if old armchair springs were attached to the bottom of an orange-box, it would, if dropped from a few feet with him aboard, bounce ever higher and higher. Where he thought it would all end I don’t know. A preliminary trial resulted in a dull thud. He suggested attaching a multiplicity of springs and dropping him from the roof of his shed, but we declined to participate. Another idea was that he should jump out of his bedroom window, using his mother’s umbrellas as a parachute, but his mother enters a firm nolle prosequi.

Throughout my time at the Grammar School, staff wore academic gowns, which was a novelty for me. In my first year, I made the acquaintance of Mr. Clifford, who taught me my first words of French. Boys sat on one side of the classroom, girls on the other. Next to me sat Anthony Griffiths, son of the local Baptist minister. I met him again in May 1945, in Germany. Part of the camp I was in was being moved by train, and the train was in sidings at Luckenwalde station. Walking along beside the track, I saw an officer who looked familiar, and asked if his name was Griffiths. He had been a Spitfire pilot, and was shot down on a sweep over France. Also in the same class was Dougie Blows. We used to stay behind after school, until quite late, playing Fives, and indulging in practical jokes with bicycles in the sheds. One

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trick was to slacken off the nut, turn the saddle round and tighten the nut again. Another was to suspend bicycles up the trees, another to weave thin wire in and out of the links of the chain. A further member of the class was Nelson Swinney, who had the enviable reputation of being the only boy able to spit over the fives-court wall. In this class too I renewed the acquaintance of Geoff Dolphin, and we remained together throughout our Grammar School career.

Early on, I was given the nickname Otto, which remained with me while I was at school.

At the end of the first year, I was presented with the Form Prize, a copy of “Captains Courageous”, which I still have.

Physical education was in the hands of Mr. Clifford, and although in the gymnasium where there was some apparatus, it was not very imaginative. Sport was rugby football, which I considered a rough game and to be avoided if possible, if not possible, keep as far from the ball as you could - if caught in possession of the ball, you were likely to be done over. This attitude persisted for a couple of years, then I did get caught in possession of the ball and realised that the only thing to do was to make a run for it. Having got away with it unscathed once, I did not mind so much having a go a second time, and gradually began to enjoy the rough and tumble of the game. So much so that for my last three years at school I was a regular member of the First XV, and received rugby colours. This entitled one to wear a special cap, dark blue velvet with gold piping and tassel, when going to play in matches. I played rugby for many years thereafter, and derived as much enjoyment from it as I did from golf. I still enjoy seeing a good rugby match on television. Summer sports were cricket and tennis, but I never made much of these. I liked watching cricket, and found my niche when I was appointed first-team scorer.
In the second year, the study of Latin was introduced, taught by the somewhat austere Mr. “Fuzzy” Phillips, and I soon realised that the languages were my strong point, not the sciences. I found science interesting but did not excel at it. Mathematics I found

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very difficult, and spent many hours poring over problems on the nights when there was Maths homework. I used to retreat to the front room to do my two hours or so of homework in the evenings, illumination was provided by a guttering candle, as it was in all the bedrooms - there was only gaslight in the dining room, and that was none too brilliant. There was no temptation to skimp homework, as there was no television or any other distraction.

And so the years passed until I entered the Fifth Form, the year of the school certificate. To pass this, to get a certificate at all, one had to pass in a certain range of subjects - English language and maths were obligatory, also a language, then a choice of history or geography, then a practical subject, where I just scraped a pass in art, having minimal ability in that subject. If you did not get a School Certificate, you stayed in the Fifth Form for another year to have another rack at it. If you passed, you moved into the Sixth Form for a two-year course leading to the Higher School Certificate. The work was of a different dimension altogether, far more advanced. To get a certificate, you had to pass in two subjects at Main level and two at Subsidiary level. I took English and French at Main level, and Geography and Latin at Subsidiary level. At least, that was my intention, but the Headmaster, “Sammy” Barnes enquired why I was not also taking mathematics, having passed therein in School Certificate. “I’m no good at maths, sir”, I said. “Wagner, you’re taking maths,” he said. “Yes sir”, I replied, and I was unwillingly plunged into the calculus, co-ordinate geometry, the binomial theorem, and the like. English was in the hands of Miss Smith, a lively young thing; French was taught by the deputy head, Miss “Misery” Hunter, Latin by Mr. Darling, who also took P.E., maths by Mr. Potter, and Geography by Mr. Bryant, who was later killed in the war. I passed in all these subjects, which qualified me for University entrance.

At the beginning of the Lower Sixth year, I was made a prefect, and a year later captain of Periam House. Meanwhile, the

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golf had gone on pace. We played at Peppard until the end of 1937, with the occasional day on Henley golf course when we had 2:6d to spare (12 1/2 pence in modern parlance.) We knocked up the Henley professional, Bill Pedler, at 8 a.m. to pay the green fee (which pleased him not at all), played one round, then another half a round, had the sandwiches which we brought with us, finished that round, played another round, went home for tea, and played another round in the evening - 72 holes in one day - good value for 12 1/2 pence. At the beginning of 1938, we enquired about joining the junior section of the club, but this was beyond our means. However, they would admit us to the Artisan section for £1, which we gratefully accepted. A full 18-hole golf course and no more bike-rides over to Peppard. And we made good use of the course, being on it at every possible opportunity.

September 1939 and the war came. It was not unexpected, but to us boys it did not mean a great deal. We expected it to be over quite quickly, never dreaming that we would become embroiled in it ourselves in the fulness of time. Preparations had been going on for some time in the past - gas-masks had been issued, evacuees came from London (and to our horror stooped so low as to dig in the bunkers on the golf course as if they were on the beach.) This was the beginning of my second year in the Sixth Form, working for the Higher School Certificate. To pass this you had to get six units (two for a subject at Ordinary level, one for a subject at Subsidiary level, get them any way you liked.) I took an extra one, Mathematics, at the instigation of the Headmaster (I see I got this slightly wrong on the previous page, but now have the certificate for your kindly perusal.) Studies were somewhat interrupted by the fact that we had to share our school premises with a school evacuated from London, Archbishop Tennyson’s School. We worked in the mornings, they had the place in the afternoons, leaving me free in the afternoons to sneak off occasionally for a game of golf. Also, Richard and I bought a folding two-seater canoe, on instalments, paid for with money we earned finding golf-balls, and we often

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took it out on the Thames when weather permitted.

To go back to the day war was declared, Sunday 3 September. We listened to the sad announcement by the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, on the radio (or wireless, as it was called then), at 11 a.m. Shortly afterwards, the air-raid sirens sounded, and gas-masks were brought to the ready - nobody knew what to expect. It was a false alarm though, and soon afterwards we settled down for our Sunday dinner. Then Richard and I set off over the golf-course. It was completely deserted except for us two. At one tee, adjoining the road, we were taken to task and heartily condemned by a passer-by for indulging in a frivolous pursuit at a time of national catastrophe, but it is difficult to see how we could have helped by staying at home. With the departure into the Services of most of the greenkeepers, labour was short, and Richard and I volunteered to go over on Fridays and mow a few of the greens for week-end play, as did other members of the Artisans. Big shots among the Artisans in those days were Bill Steptoe, Cyril Moss (handicap 1), Alf Smith, Percy Clayton, and George Piggott (“I can’t never ketch ‘old o them shots, I can’t, no, not them shots”, speaking of the lofted chip.) I understand his feelings, because I am not much of a dab at them either.

My elder brother, John, went into the Army, the rest of us were still at school. Rationing began to bite; breakfasts were usually scrambled dried egg, dinners either sausage-meat or fish, and tea was bread and jam. We each had our own pot of jam (1 lb. / month), and we would sit miserably at teatime wondering whether or not to have another slice and keeping an eye on the level in other people’s pots. There was also some very dubious meat or fish paste about.

And so we made our way into 1940 and the end of my school career. I had by this time made up my mind to go to University and subsequently into teaching. There was no careers guidance in those times - you had to make up your own mind what you would like to do. I was accepted for Reading University, travelling in each day by bicycle (7 miles), and home in the evening, in all

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weathers. At this time I made the acquaintance of Ken Ablewhite, who had gone to the University the year before, and we used to do the journey together.

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[university shielf]


This is to certify that HENRY W WAGNER of Henley Grammar School
Passed the Higher School Certificate Examination in July 1940 having satisfied the general requirements of the examination and having reached the standards shown (Advanced, Ordinary, or Subsidiary) in the following five subjects:

French Ordinary
Geography Ordinary
English Subsidiary
Latin Subsidiary
Mathematics Subsidiary

Index number 570
Place of examination Henley
Date of birth 24 March 1923


THE BOARD OF EDUCATION accept the examination as reaching the approved standard.

Signed on behalf of the Board of Education
Assistant Secretary

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We used to leave home at 8 a.m. in order to arrive for the 9 o’clock lecture, work till 12.30, have lunch in the Buttery, work again in the afternoon (usually in the library, as there were no afternoon lectures), have tea in St. David’s Hall (tea, toast and jam, and a lardy cake), then work in the evening until about 8 o’clock. It called for a good deal of self-discipline – you could waste an awful lot of time if you were so minded. Geoff Dolphin, whom I have mentioned before, also joined us at the University. In the first year, I had to study four subjects, two of which would be subsequently dropped. I took French (Professor Dessignet[sic], Dr. Bowen, Miss Paton, Miss Dale), Latin (Mr. Cormack), Geography (Professor Miller and Miss Campbell) and Logic (Professor Hodges). This first year course was called Intermediate Arts. In the sporting line, I played rugby, and even did a bit of rowing.
In the summer of 1940, before going to the University, I worked on a farm with Ken Ablewhite. Labour was scarce, and farmers were glad of anyone who could help them out. The days were long and tiring, but the work was very satisfying, especially as there were a couple of lively land-girls working there as well – Pat Pepper (as hot as her name suggests), and Mary Kew. We indulged in turnip-hoeing, sheep-dipping, silage-making, and harvesting until it got too dark to work any more. Dick Green, the farmer, used to lend me a 12-bore when the corn was being cut, and I supplemented the meat-ration at home with quite a few rabbits.

At the University, the men all enrolled in the Officers’ Training Corps with a view to joining the Army. This was not at all to my liking, but I did it because everybody else did. Wednesday afternoons were given over to training, wearing Army uniform, and consisted of drill, weapon-training, tactical exercises, etc., under the supervision of Captain Gillett and Sgt. Major Warwick. After a few months, an Air Training Corps was started, and I thankfully transferred to that. Flying had always been a great interest of mine, and the A.T.C. was much more to my liking. The Commanding

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Officer was Professor Miller, with the rank of Squadron Leader, but he knew little about the Air Force. All the administration was done by a regular R.A.F. Officer, Flt. Lt. Jordan. He had been shot down in a Hurricane and was badly burned about the face. He was assisted by Sgt. Linton, a W/Op Air Gunner, who had been shot down in the desert and had walked back to our own lines. He mounted a Vickers Gas-operated machine-gun in the grounds, and always manned it when the sirens went, hoping for a crack at a low-flying German aircraft.

As I said, flying had always interested me, and I had my first flight five years before the war began. It was just a matter of good luck, as paying for a flight was obviously not on. Sir Alan Cobham’s air circus was due to come to Henley in 1934, and by way of publicity coupons were printed in the Henley Standard, the first to be drawn out to be awarded a free flight. I went round all the hours in the neighbourhood asking if I could have their coupons, and sent in a whole batch. One of them brought home the bacon. The flight was in an Armstrong-Whitworth biplane which seated about 12 people, and lasted for some 20 minutes, over and around Henley. The next flights were undertaken when I was in the University Air Squadron; Flt. Lt. Jordan used to put up a list in the week of those wanting to fly on Sunday afternoon. He allocated the flights as equally as possible. We flew in various 2-seater Miles aircraft from Woodley aerodrome.

After working at Dick Green’s farm in the summer of 1940, Ken Ablewhite and I bought a motorcycle each. I got a 150c.c. Royal Enfield two-stroke for £15 and Ken got a 150c.c. Excelsior for £17.10.0d. Neither of us had ever ridden a motorcycle before, so the dealer that we got them from took us into an alley that ran behind his yard and explained the process and let us have a go for a few minutes, then he turned us loose to ride them back to Henley, without any tax, insurance or driving licence. Now and again we used them to go in to the University, but not often, as there was not much petrol allowed on the ration. Before long,

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I changed my Royal Enfield for a 250c.c. O.K. Supreme, a 4-stroke, which was a great improvement.

[photograph of Henry]
Photograph taken for identification purposes on joining Reading University Air Squadron.

[photograph of Geoff Dolphin]

Re the photo of me taken for Air Squadron purposes:- a pupil at the Queen’s Girls’ School, Wisbech, saw it and said: “Cor, I wish I’d ‘a knowed you in them days, Mr Wagner.” I said: “What’s the matter with me now, then?”, and she said “Well, it aint the same, is it.” I signed, and said: “No”.

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[photograph] Family photograph taken in 1940. Me in the blazer, next to my brother John. Brian on the right and Richard on the left. [/photograph]

And so we move on into 1941, in the summer of which I took, and passed, the Intermediate Examination of Arts. I started keeping diaries about this time, and some of them are still to hand, so I have many reminders of details which I would otherwise have forgotten. I note, for instance, that the air-raid siren was a frequent occurrence, even in the daytime, but there was never anything near Henley. The nearest bombs, and they were only small ones, fell at Doble’s farm, Shiplake, about three miles away. In this second year at the University, I took up cross-country running, and was a regular member of the team. Matches took place on Saturday afternoons, usually with two other teams from other universities taking part. The distance was 8-9 miles, and I noted, on one occasion “going was easy at first, but rather hard after halfway, mainly over soaking boggy ploughed fields and wet muddy lanes.” The 1941 diary is remarkable to me now for the amount that I managed to cram into each day. While actually at the University, every possible moment was spent working, often until 9 p.m. or later. And yet I seemed to go to the cinema at least twice a week and play golf at least twice, with swimming canoeing and a multitude of other activities

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thrown in, particularly at week-ends and in the vacations. In the summer, I worked again with Ken Ablewhite on Dick Green’s farm.

In September, having passed the Intermediate Arts examination, I returned to the university for one more academic year, to take First Year Finals in the summer of 1942 – call-up into the Air Force was deferred until after that examination.

On 8 December 1941, the Japanese attacked the American fleet at Pearl Harbour, and thereafter a state of war existed between Japan on the one hand and America and Britain on the other.

After the Christmas term ended, I worked in the Post Office at Henley, sorting letters and parcels. Extra staff were always taken on in the run-up to Christmas, and the pay was very welcome.

In June 1942 I took First Year finals and reached an acceptable standard, studying French with subsidiary Latin. This left one more year to complete the degree course, but there I had to leave it. For me, that completed the upwind leg. The circuit had been planned out reasonably well and everything seemed to be in working order. I knew where I was going, barring accidents, attacks by Gremlins, and that sort of thing, but there was the matter of the war to be dealt with first, and this constituted for me the
[underlined] CROSSWIND LEG. [/underlined]
Towards the end of August 1942 (the month in which I got the only hole-in-one I have ever had, playing a friendly game on Henley Golf Course with one David Mitchell), my call-up papers arrived and I duly reported to the Aircrew Reception Centre (ACRC, known as Arsy-tarsy) at St. Johns Wood in London. After a medical along with other members of the University Air Squadron, we were moved to a big block of what were before the war luxury flats (although there was not much luxurious about them then) called Viceroy Court, at Regents Park, to await events. It was the normal practice for prospective aircrew to be sent to an Initial Training Wing (there was one at Ilfracombe), but since we had done our initial training in the University Air Squadron, we were spared that, and went to a holding unit at Brighton, billeted in the Metropole Hotel, right on the front,

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which had been taken over by the Air Force for the duration. While there, I had this photograph taken. They must have done a brisk trade at Empire Studies because all the Air Force personnel seemed to patronise them.


People say to me sometimes: “Why did you join up? You were of Irish nationality and therefore not under any obligation.” But I felt that this was now my country, and that the obligation did exist. Then they say: “Well, why volunteer for aircrew then?” But the adventure of flying always enticed me; I felt that that was a job I could do as well as the next man, and that therefore there was no excuse for chickening out. Admittedly, there was not much chance of coming safely out at the other end, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

After a fortnight or so, postings came through to various Grading Schools. These were elementary flying training schools where prospective pilots or navigators were given a 12-hour course on Tiger Moths. Most were hoping to be pilots, of course, but instructors decided on suitability. I went to Brough, near Hull, and came under the instruction of Flying Officer Rothbone (later killed when a pupil landed a Tiger Moth on top of the one he

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was taking off in.) I went solo after 9¾ hours, about the average time, and was graded as a pupil pilot.

From Brough, I went on leave, and then back to Brighton again, this time billeted in the Grand Hotel. The time there was spent in drill, P.T., signals, aircraft recognition, navigation, armament, and clay-pigeon shooting. After some three weeks there, we were warned for posting, and one night, left Brighton on a special train which drew out at 2.30 a.m., arriving at Heaton Park, Manchester, at 11 a.m. Heaton Park was where those on overseas posting awaited their draft to a ship, and was a miserable hanging-about restless sort of place. Manchester is a rainy place anyway, and this was in January 1943. It was usually fog-bound and gloomy, and I was in a billet in Salford, some miles from the camp, a damp dingy tenement. Thankfully, I was not there long before my draft came through, and proceeded by train to Blackpool. All those on draft were dispersed round boarding-houses with typical seaside landladies. Tropical kit was issued, so we knew we were off somewhere warm. Three kit-bags had to have numbers and names put on in Indian ink – ordinary, flying, and tropical. That evening, Lee was one of the first away for the evening’s drinking; Bassingthwaite never got away at all. The time at Blackpool was spent just hanging about waiting – attending lectures, drill, route marches, going to the cinema, and that sort of thing. Finally, after about three weeks, towards the end of February, orders came to move. We went by train to Liverpool, marched to the docks, and embarked on a troopship, the S.S. Strathmore, 23,000 tons, and got organised on board, initiated into the process of slinging hammocks. These were slung from bars in the ceiling, and were difficult to get into because they were inclined to throw you out again. Also, the bars were too close together, with the result that you head was looking directly across at your feet. I soon gave up hammock-slinging, and laid mine out on the floor, but I was on the lowest deck of all, below the waterline; one of the propeller shafts ran just under the floor and thumped – thumped away all night, so sleeping was not the rest it should have been. The next day, the ship set sail from the Mersey and headed out round the north of Ireland.

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The sea was green and rough; almost everyone was seasick, and the evening meal was tripe and onions swimming in milk. There were not many takers. Life on board was pretty leisurely – there were a few lectures, frequent action-stations practice, but most of the time was spent reading and talking, and just sitting in the sun as the weather got progressively hotter. The ship was not in convoy, but sailing alone with one destroyer escort. It went far out into the Atlantic, then turned east, and ten days later land was sighted, and we entered harbour at Freetown, where the heat was stifling. There were many other ships in the harbour. The destroyer released depth-charges outside the harbour, having presumably detected a submarine. Three days later, the ship put to sea again, and in another fortnight arrived in Durban, South Africa. We then went by train to the Imperial Forces Transhipment Camp at Clairwood, just outside Durban. South Africa was a new world to all of us, far removed from the austerity of England. There was no black-out, and the shops were full of things unobtainable at home. The first things I bought were a big slab of chocolate and a tin of sweetened condensed milk, both of which I consumed as soon as I got back to camp. I used to go to the cinema every day in Durban with Peter Taylor and Maurice Gregson, and often we went swimming. Only one other thing stands out in my mind about that time, which was an organised visit to the Lever Brothers soap factory. I have always enjoyed visits to factories – Huntley and Palmers biscuit factory in Reading, Fry’s chocolate factory in Bristol, the Tusker Brewery in Nairobi.

After some ten days at Durban, we entrained for a two-day journey up through the Drakensberg mountains to the high veldt, to get another holding unit at Nigel. This was on an aerodrome, on Advanced Flying Training School where pupil pilots trained on Oxfords. A week later, postings came through, and we were dispersed to various Elementary Flying Training Schools to train on Tiger Moths. I came under the instruction of a South Africa officer, Lt. Goddard, not the easiest of men to get on with and somewhat anti-British. Circuits and landings was the first part of the programme, for which

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We flew about 20 miles to Rietgat, [sic] a small auxiliary aerodrome, just a part of the Veldt fenced in by barbed wire. Apart from circuits, the flying was done from the main aerodrome at Kroonstad, Orange Free State. Eventually, I had a solo test with Lt. Hooper, and did two solo circuits, going on later to solo steep turns, spins and loops. Three thousand feet was the statutory minimum for loops, but I always went up to four, being a great believer in plenty of height. They always say that the two most useless things in flying are height above you and runway behind you.

When I had done 10 1/2 hours solo, an incident occurred with Lt. Goddard which put paid to my aspirations to becoming a pilot. We flew to Rietgat [sic] and carried out various exercises, then Lt. Goddard said: “Just do one solo circuit, Wagner, then we'll go back to Kroonstad. Don't take long over it, because I'll have another pupil waiting.” He took out his control-column, secured the straps, and off I went. As I said, it was a very small field, and as I came in over the wire, I could see I was too high, so I opened up and went round again. This time also I could see I was too high, and opened up again. I saw Lt. Goddard standing in one corner of the field waving his control-column in the air and obviously in a rage. The third time, I was on the high side again, but I thought to myself that I had to get down at all costs. The Tiger Moth ran and ran – having no brakes, I could not arrest its progress, and it stopped about two yards from the wire, too close to turn it under power. So I undid my straps, got out, caught it by the tail-skid, pulled it back a few yards, turned it, got back in, and taxied back to where Lt. Goddard was waiting. “Right, Wagner,” he said, “fly me back to Kroonstad and make a good job of it because it is the last time you'll be at the controls.” And regretfully that was the end of my pilot training. I was “washed out”, as the saying went, and was, of course, very disappointed. Within three days, I was on my way to Roberts Heights, Pretoria, where I was re-graded as a Navigator. The three weeks I spent there were just time-wasting, doing odd jobs and often going into Pretoria to the cinema, waiting for a vacancy at a Navigational Training School. Eventually, a posting

[picture of Tiger Moth “I could fly one of these before I could drive a car”.]

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came through to 43 Air School, East London, which was quite a long way off. The train journey was through some spectacular scenery, down through the mountains to the coast. This was an Initial Training School where the rudiments of navigation were taught. I was, in fact starting again from scratch. Here, I met Graham Walker, who had been at the University Air Squadron with me, and who had been graded as a navigator from the start, and we kept together. For the first three weeks, nothing much happened, and Graham and I spent most of our time in town, going to the cinema, or swimming in the Indian Ocean from Orient Beach. We did quite a lot of P.T., had a few rugby games and had a lot of rifle and ordinary drill. While doing rifle-drill one day, the Station Warrant Officer, W/O Barnett came out to watch. He was a big fat man with piggy little eyes, a most unpleasant character. Observing the manoeuvre “Put down-arms”, when the rifle had to be laid on the ground, he remarked: “you bloody lot remind me of a lot of Waafs getting down on a jerry”, and I thought to myself: “What a common man, what a low lad.” Eventually, the course proper started, with lectures on DR navigation, plotting, meteorology, armament, signals, radio-navigation, aircraft recognition, compasses, and astro-navigation. This was all very concentrated stuff, and lasted for ten weeks, ending with an examination.

At the end of the course, postings came through, and I went with two friends, Graham Walker and Dave Wright, on an overnight train journey down the coast to Port Alfred, a small town miles from anywhere. This was where the practical navigation was done, interspersed with lectures. We were billeted in tents. There was a beautiful beach, almost deserted, where huge rollers came in from the Indian Ocean, picked you up and tumbled you along through the surf. There were sharks outside the line of breakers, so you had to be wary about going any further out.

the Flying Training was done in Ansons, with South African Air Force pilots. Their Ansons did not have hydraulics on the undercarriage, and it had to be wound up by hand, which was an awful chore. All right letting it down though. On alternate flights,

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one was either first or second navigator; the first navigator was responsible for plotting, wind-finding, working out courses, ground-speed and time of arrival, while the second navigator did photography and obtained fixes and bearings using the Astro Compass (which was not a magnetic compass but more of a bearing-plate) – all very well in the clear daylight skies of South Africa, but not likely to be much use in Europe where the ground was mostly obscured by cloud and everything was blacked-out at night. Also the second navigator took sights on stars, using a sextant, but astro fixes were far from reliable. Sights had to be taken on two stars and the readings converted into position-lines, using the Air Almanac. It took about 20 minutes to get a fix plotted, by which time you were about 40 miles further on.

And so the course went on until the middle of December. There were written examinations in all subjects. The last flight was a long navigational exercise, from the eastern side of the country to the western, and was by way of being a celebration. Base – Uitenhage – out to sea – George – Oudtshoorn, - Youngsfield (just outside Capetown). We stayed two days at a hotel in Capetown, and were disappointed not to be able to go up Table Mountain, as the weather closed in. We flew back to Port Alfred, and that was the end of the course.

[Picture of The Lagoon, Port Alfred]

On 23 December 1943, the passing-out parade took place, and brevets were pinned on with all due formality.

[Navigators Brevet]

Sergeant’s stripes were sewn on later onto best blue, battle-dress and greatcoat. That evening, there was a flight dinner at the Bathurst Hotel in Port Alfred. The traditional services Christmas dinner took place on the 25th, all serving being done by the officers.

[Air School logo on menu]

PORT ALFRED, South Africa

Christmas, 1943


Fried Stock Fish and Butter Sauce
Roast Turkey and Boiled Ham

Roast Potatoes
Boiled Potatoes
Green peas
Cauliflower and White Sauce

Christmas Pudding and Brandy Sauce

Fruit, Nuts, Sweets, Mince pies,

Toast: Absent Friends

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We left Port Alfred on Boxing Day, for the 2½ - day journey back to Clairwood Camp, Durban. There was the usual splitting-up of friends on posting, but by this time I was in company with Leslie Shawcross. This Shawcross had crashed on a low-level map-reading exercise, when the pilot flew too low and the aircraft skated across the countryside, so he had had a narrow escape, very nearly being yet another of the many thousands killed in training.

[photograph] ‘No. 5 Air Navigators Course’ [/photograph]

And so we move on into 1944. At Clairwood, we were members of the Sergeants’ Mess, and this was quite a luxurious place, with very good food and a bar. There was plenty of free time and no harassment, as we were just waiting for a ship back to England. We were not waiting long – on 6 January we embarked in Durban Harbour on the S.S. Arundel Castle, 19,000 tons. We were on an upper deck this time, sleeping in bunks instead of hammocks. Unfortunately for me, mine was the top of a stack of four, right under an emergency light which had to be left on all night and shone directly onto my face. Furthermore, a card-school gathered below and played all night, with frequent calls of “Twist”, “Bust”, “I’ll see you,” so sleep was intermittent. Life aboard was generally very leisurely, with the

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occasional gun-crew, look-out or messing duties, and most of the time was spent reading, talking or seeing cinema shows.

On 7 January, we were tugged out of Durban Harbour, and steamed around waiting for the convoy to assemble. On 12 January, we entered Mombasa Harbour; little did I know I would be there again 23 years later. We left that same day, headed out to sea and then turned north. On 17 January we entered harbour at Aden, left the next day and steamed into the Red Sea, and thence to the Gulf of Suez, where we anchored. Aircrew destined for the Middle East disembarked here, mostly South Africans.

A pilot, Flt. Sgt. Fillmore, lent me a book of Tennyson’s poems, which I enjoyed reading over and over again. My favourite was The Song of the Lotos-Eaters, and the most poignant is Crossing the Bar, which you will find at the end of this book. I have always liked reading poetry (proper poetry, that is, not what passes for poetry these days), and am quite happy reading again through old friends in An Anthology of Modern Verse. Think of all the philosophy of life wrapped up in this one:-

[centred and underlined] IF [/centred and underlined]

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors[sic] just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

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Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

Rudyard Kipling

Back to Port Suez – no, that wasn’t its name, it was Tewfik. Although the ship was anchored some two miles off-shore, an all pervading smell of burning tar and sulphur wafted out over us, its purpose being, so we were told, to counteract an outbreak of bubonic plague on shore. The ship steadily filled up with naval and R.A.F. personnel heading for home, and there was little room to move about. On 2 February, we entered the Suez Canal. About half-way along the Canal, it passes through the wide expanse of the Bitter Lakes, and it was the practice for north and south-bound convoys to pass each other at this point. There was a lot to be seen there – ex-Italian warships, submarines, flak-ships, army camps, gun-positions. All those aboard the troopship were able to indulge in the luxury of

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shouting abuse and obscenities at Military Police on guard at the gate of an army camp, about twenty yards away. The Canal is very narrow, and there was only about ten yards to spare on either side of the ship. At Port Said, after passage through the Canal, we took on oil and water from tankers, joined a convoy of four other troopships and three destroyers, and moved out into the Mediterranean. Torches and emergency rations were issued, as the northern coasts of the Med. were still in German hands and there was still enemy activity, although by this time the North African coast was in our hands. This coast was plainly visible to port, between Tobruk and Benghazi. Four days later, the coast of Sicily was sighted. The rest of the convoy went off to Italy, and the Arundel Castle was Stirling Castle entered harbour at Port Augusta. We left next day, joined a new convoy, and headed west, the next stop being at Algiers for one day. This was the last stop on the way home. We passed the lights of Tangier to port, went through the Straits of Gibraltar, round the north of Ireland and into the Mersey. Disembarked immediately, and proceeded by train to Harrogate. There was not much to be done there – kit inspection, medical, documentation – and at the end of February I went home to Henley on leave, for three weeks, returning to Harrogate thereafter.

After a few days at Harrogate, a posting came through to Whitley Bay, Northumberland. This was yet another holding unit. Aircrew were churned out from the training schools, then gradually moved up the line as vacancies occurred, heading inevitably for the squadrons – there was always an ample pool of trained men to draw upon. In Whitley Bay, we were billeted in ex seaside boarding houses, run by typical seaside landladies, and very sparsely furnished, food to match. There was much hanging about, parades, kit inspections, route marches, drill and lectures. On one occasion, even, I was detailed to dig the front garden of the boarding-house. I was not sorry to leave Whitley Bay.

The next posting was to an Advanced Flying Unit at West

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Freugh, near Stranraer, in Scotland. There was, of course, more waiting about while things got organised – lectures on the Browning gun, firing it on the range, dinghy drill, hydraulic systems of aircraft, flying control, night-vision, beacons and occults, radio procedures, astro, parachute drill, and “airmanship” (which covered just about everything). Here, I made the acquaintance of “Biff” Brewer, so-called because he was a keen golfer. Fortunately, the Sports Officer was also a keen golfer, and he often gathered together a few officionados and took us to Portpatrick Golf Club, where the professional had sets of clubs which he loaned out. It was a good course, along the cliff-tops, from where you could see Ireland across the water. There was a flying-boat base at Stranraer, and Sunderlands could be seen taking-off and alighting in the lough.

At West Freugh, these photographs were taken. They were intended to be handed to resistance groups in the event of being shot down, to aid in the preparation of false papers. These were known as [indecipherable word] photos.
[three facial photographs]
Flying training was done on Ansons on this course, an extension of the work done in South Africa, but under more difficult conditions. The weather was much worse, and on night-flying there were no lights to be seen, only the beacons and occults, and more use had to be made of radio bearings. The routes were generally N.W., over the Irish Sea, where there would be less traffic, a typical one being Base – Ayr - Rathlin Island (N. Ireland), - Dungannon – Peel (Isle of Man) – Base.

This course lasted six weeks or so, then the next posting was to an Operational Training Unit at Abingdon. There were talks

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on new aspects of navigation, such as navigating on the climb and descent, and on Gee, a radar device which enabled the navigator to get an instant and very accurate fix – no more need for getting position-lines and transferring them as necessary. There was much practice in plotting in the navigational trainer. There were also talks on the German Air Force, and other Intelligence matters, and on Escaping and Evasion.

At Abingdon, crewing-up took place. Twenty pilots, twenty navigators, twenty bomb-aimers, twenty wireless-operators and forty gunners were assembled in a hall and left to their own devices. It was up to each one to slot himself in, and in the end twenty crews emerged. My own crew consisted of :-
Warrant-officer Wilfred Bates – pilot (Newcastle)
Myself as navigator. (Henley-on -Thames)
Sgt. Leslie Roberts – bomb-aimer (Liverpool)
Sgt. Jack Jones – wireless-operator. (Lampeter, Wales)
Sgt. Thomas Worthington – mid-upper gunner. (Liverpool)
Sgt. Robert Thomas – rear-gunner. (Whitehaven)
There was no need for a Flight-engineer at this stage, as training was carried out on Armstrong – Whitworth Whitleys, which only had two engines. Later, on Heavy Conversion Unit, we were joined by Sgt. Eric Berry (Sale, Cheshire).

The Whitley was a heavy bomber in service at the beginning of the war, but since superseded. It was not a pleasant aircraft to fly in, being very cramped, cold, lumbering, and having no radar navigational equipment. Also it was very difficult to get out of in an emergency. The wing chord was very thick, the two wings being joined by a narrow tunnel across the fuselage, through which one had to crawl to reach the escape-hatch, encumbered by heavy flying-gear and a parachute-pack. It was engined by two Rolls-Royce Merlins. The Whitleys we trained on were tired and worn-out, and would not get above 12,000 feet.

As runways were being laid at Abingdon, we moved to Stanton Harcourt, a satellite for Abingdon, and flew from there.

[picture of Armstrong – Whitworth Whitley.]

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[photograph] Warrant-officer W.A. Bates. Pilot.

[photograph] Sgt. L.G. Roberts. Bomb-aimer.

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[photograph] Sgt. T.W. Worthington. Mid-upper gunner.

[photograph] Sgt. E. Berry. Flight-engineer.

The flights in the Whitley were, of course, longer than those in the Anson, a typical one being Stanton Harcourt, Newquay, Milford Haven, Stanton Harcourt, about 4 1/2 hours, including an hour or so on the bombing-range. One trip I have noted shows some of the difficulties that could be encountered : “Took off in fine weather 10.30, but ran into cloud half-way to Newquay. Started to descend, but the

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cloud got lower and thicker. Climbed to 12,000 feet, but icing started, so went down to 7,000 feet, still in cloud. Spotted a hole in the clouds, and went down through it to have a look. Identified position as Falmouth. Headed north, homed along the St. Eval beam, landed, and had dinner. Took off again 1500, and flew low along the coast, looking upwards at the cliffs of Hartland Point as we passed. Cut inland at Burnham and flew eastwards via Swindon through low cloud and bad weather, back to Stanton Harcourt.”

Apart from the long trips, there were many shorter ones, such as practice on the bombing-range and fighter affiliation, and quite a few navigational trips in Ansons while pilots were on familiarisation on the Whitleys.

The OTU course finished early in August; we returned to Abingdon, and a couple of days later went on leave. After leave, the next posting was to 4 Group Aircrew Training School, Acaster Malbis, near York. Being now in 4 Group meant that we would be operating on Halifaxes. Training School it might have been, but it was in fact yet another holding unit. Nevertheless, there were lectures on many diverse topics, such as broadcast wind velocities for bombing, pathfinder techniques, pyrotechnics, oscilloscopes, dinghy radios, hydraulic systems, German targets, flak, H2S, air-position indicator, homing on Gee, airborne lifeboat, - all good stuff.

The next move was to 1652 Heavy Conversion Unit, Marston Moor, near York. Here, we were introduced to the Handley Page Halifax, Mark III, on which we would be operating. Pilots had to learn the technique of flying a large four-engined aircraft, and the rest of the crew had to familiarise themselves with their positions in the aircraft and new equipment, as well as the general layout of the aircraft, such as flare-chutes, escape-hatches, oxygen equipment etc. The Halifax was engined with 4 Bristol Hercules sleeve-valve engines, and its all-up weight was some 30 tons. It did not quite match up to the Lancaster in performance and weight-lifting, but it was a good airman’s aircraft, solid, robust, and very dependable – it could take more knocking about than a Lancaster. It cruised at about 230 knots indicated airspeed when light, 210 when loaded. Fuel consumption was .9 air

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miles per gallon, and could carry about 5 tons of bombs, depending on the distance of the target. The bomb-load was usually mixed - perhaps one 2000 pounder, two thousand-pounders, four 500 pounders, and the rest made up of incendiaries, either 30-pounders or canisters of 4-pounders. The aim being to knock the target about and then set fire to it.

Here, we were joined by Sgt. Eri Berry, flight - engineer, and were now a complete crew of seven.


The first few Halifax flights were for W/O Bates to learn how to handle the Halifax and get used to doing so, including 3-engined flying, and for the bomb-aimer to drop practice-bombs on the range, so there was not much for me to do - just keep tabs on where we were. Even if lost, it was easy enough to get a Gee Fix and give a course for base. Air - to - air firing, for the benefit of the gunners, took place out to sea, beyond Flamborough Head. Flying was often cancelled through bad weather, or because of unserviceability of aircraft, since these were rather tired ex-operational aircraft, or ones

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which had been damaged by accidents. After about a fortnight of this sort of thing, the time came to venture further afield. The first attempt was a failure - Base S/C climbing to 16,00 feet - March - then the port inner engine packed up, so the propellor was feathered and we returned to base. It was another fortnight before we did a navigational trip again, the only flying in the meantime being night circuits. Much of the time in between was spent going into York to the pictures with one or more of the crew, or drinking in the Boot and Shoe or Spotted Ox at Tockwith, the nearest village.

A typical cross-country was Base - Darlington - Goole - Bury St. Edmunds - Market Harborough - Coventry - Nottingham - Base, but equipment of some sort often went wrong - one of the engines, Gee, H2S, DR compass - involving an early return. Sometimes we did not even get off the ground , as equipment proved unserviceable on being tested, or flying was cancelled at the last moment. If anything went wrong with the flying of the aircraft, there was a very efficient service known as Darkie (you couldn’t get away with that name nowadays.) The procedure was to call Darkie, and on enquiring the nature of the emergency , type of aircraft, whether heavy or light (i.e. bombs on or not), they would give a course to fly to the nearest aerodrome which could accept the aircraft, and monitor your progress to it. One such occasion reads “after 20 minutes, port inner packed up. Called Darkie, and landed 2125 at Bottesford, near Nottingham, a Lancaster Conversion Unit. Reported in at Flying Control, drew blankets, had supper, and turned in. Left 1340 the next day and flew back to base.”

At the end of the Heavy Conversion Unit course, the sausage-machine churned out the next, and final, posting, which was to 51 Squadron at Snaith, not far from Doncaster. We were now a fully trained crew, ready to be let loose on the Germans. All the crew were billeted together in a Nissen hut, which was shared with one other crew. Most of the daytime was spent in the Navigation Section or in the Bombing Section with Robbie, doing nothing in particular, playing draughts perhaps, or Chinese Checkers. The radio was always playing, a popular tune at that time being “Would you like to swing on a star, carry moonbeams home in a jar…..” I became heartily sick of that tune, and still dislike it even now. Another

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popular tune was “I hate to see that evening sun go down” (true enough), and, prophetically, “Don’t fence me in.”

The first few flights were familiarisation of various sorts - practice bombing, air-to-air firing, fighter affiliation. On the first flight, we did 3 circuits, then a tyre burst, so that was the end of that. On the first cross-country, which was up to Scotland, down to the Isle of Man and back to base, bad weather prevented us landing there, and we were diverted to Melbourne, returning to Snaith the next day. The next cross-country was Base - York - Belfast - Liverpool - Sheffield - Base, and was for practice in using the navigational aid H2S. If you will look back to the picture of the Halifax, you will see a bulge under the fuselage back towards the tail. This contained a rotating scanner. When radio waves were transmitted from it and hit something vertical, they were reflected back and showed as white patches on the appropriate receiver at the navigator’s position. Thus towns showed up extremely well and could be identified from a special map. Open ground showed up quite well; from water, there was no return. Controls on the set enabled the navigator to get his bearing and distance once the pinpoint was identified. Here is a photo of the H2S screen taken on a cross-country, while heading out over the Irish Sea. It says on the reverse “29.10.44 // 14,000 feet. 282˚ T. ISLE OF MAN. Range marker 10 miles. Sgt. Wagner.”


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The white patch towards the bottom is the northern tip of the Isle of Man. The white line going towards the left is the aircraft’s heading 282˚ True. The black line in the centre was over the northern tip of the Isle of Man when I took the bearing, which was shown on a rotating ring round the outside of the screen. The large circle was the range-marker, which I had set at 10 miles - 10 nautical miles, that is - we never worked in m.p.h. and statute miles, but knots and nautical miles.

Here is an example of a navigator’s log, and it gives some idea of how unremitting a navigator’s job was. An X means that the fix was obtained from H2S. The first fix is shown as X 173 YORK 13, which means that the aircraft was on a bearing of 173˚ from York, and 13 miles from the centre.

[missing photograph]

For the benefit of those of you who know nothing of the navigator’s craft, I will give a very brief description of the bare essentials. If you pointed a car at a destination on a limitless extent of tarmac, and proceeded at a set speed, you would arrive at that destination,

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and you would know how long the journey would take. Not so in an aircraft. The aircraft is suspended in a moving body of air, and where that air is going, the aircraft also goes, in the same direction and at the same speed, as when you have a goldfish in a bowl of water, so due allowance has to be made for wind speed and direction. “Well, once you know the wind speed and direction - - - - .” All very well, but first you have to find out what it is; then, it keeps changing, so you have to go on finding out what it is. Why does it keep changing? Imagine flying from A to B across an area of low pressure (see digram.) The wind-pattern in areas of low pressure is as shown by the arrows.


A comparison between where the aircraft actually is and where it would be if there was no wind gives the wind speed and direction, but it constantly needs updating.

Furthermore, the speed of the aircraft varied considerably through the air (and so over the ground), depending on height. Air becomes less dense the higher you, so there is less resistance to the aircraft flying through it. And density, of course, varies with the temperature - the warmer it is, the less dense, so temperature had to be taken into account as well. To complicate matters even further, aircraft on operations did not maintain a steady height for long; if they did, it would make matters easier for the Germans - they could inform their night-fighters of the height of the stream, and also fuse all their anti-aircraft shells for that height. So almost all navigating had

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to be done on the climb or descent. This meant that not only was the wind changing because of the particular weather pattern but was also different at different heights, as was the airspeed. So the navigator had to calculate and estimate what was likely to happen, without much hard information to go on.

Of course, on an operational sortie, the bomber-stream approached the target by a roundabout route, never heading towards it till the last few minutes, to keep the Germans guessing. Even then, it might divide say ten minutes before H-hour, and attack two different targets simultaneously, to divide the night-fighter force. There might be five or six different ‘legs’ to fly before reaching the target. Supposing the distance “out” was 600 miles, if you did not arrive within three minutes (early or late) of your allotted time, the Station Navigation Officer would want to know all about it. He would likewise be none too happy if at any time, “out” or “home”, you had strayed more than three miles off track. It was, of course, in your own interest to stay exactly on track – safety in numbers – night-fighters would prefer to catch solitary stragglers out of the main stream.

Pilots had a small route-map with the turning-points lettered, and I often got the query: “Pilot to navigator. Where are we, Wag?” and I would answer, for instance: “Leg[?] C to D, about 1/3 of the way along, on track, half a minute late.” It must have been monotonous for him sitting up there looking out into the darkness, turning as directed, but not having the faintest idea of how it was going or where we were. Although the bomber-stream contained several hundred aircraft, you never saw another one until in the vicinity of the target. You know all about navigation now, do you? Well done. As you appreciate, navigation was not on exact science, but more of an approximation. The art of the craft, if I may so put it, was to reduce the uncertainty and keep it within tolerable limits. Overleaf, you will find a letter taken from Picture Post, a popular magazine of the time, written by a member of a bomber crew, appreciating the navigator’s work.

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[newspaper cutting] The Key Man of a Bomber Crew
I am an American serving with the Royal Air Force, and have been serving since the outbreak of the war. Being a member of a bomber crew, and really knowing what goes on, I’m amazed at the way the British Press, including yourselves (“The Last Hour in a Lancaster,” May 15), refer to certain members of the crew as the “key man.” There is a “key man” in a bomber, but it isn’t the flight engineer, pilot, rear gunner, or wireless operator – it is the man whom Bomber Command refer to as the “key man”, namely, the navigator.

When we are flying over enemy territory, I often look at the other members of the crew (who, by comparison, are having an easy time), and then look at the navigator, who is working from take-off to landing. I realise then that it is from that map-strewn table that my destiny is controlled. The control column may be the nerve centre, but it is the navigation table that is the brain of an aircraft.
An Ally, R.A.F. Station, Somewhere in England. [/newspaper cutting]

To return to Smith, 16 November 1944. Woken 0740 by an airman and navigators were told to report to the Navigation Department for preliminary briefing for operations. This was so that navigators would know the target in advance (being warned to keep their mouths shut about it), and be able to get part of their work done beforehand. This consisted of marking turning-points, drawing in tracks on the charts, measuring the compass bearing of each and the distance, and seeing that everyone was in agreement. Then we had breakfast, at 0920, and went to the Briefing Room at 1000, with complete crews, for the main briefing, attended by the Commanding Officer (Wing-Commander Holford), Navigation Officer, Bombing Leader, Met. Officer, Intelligence Officer and Armament Officer. Afterwards everyone repaired[?] to the locker-room and put on flying gear. This consisted of inner quilted flying-suit, outer gaberdine suit, flying boots lined with lambswool, and parachute-harness. Contents of pockets were handed in, helmet, goggles and oxygen-mask picked up, as well as three pairs of gloves (woollen, silk, and leather gauntlets), microphone and intercomm[sic] lead. I carried the gloves only for use in emergency, in case of fire, and goggles for the same reason. If so desired, one could draw a revolver and six rounds, which I always did. You never knew when it might be needed; one of the great fears was coming down in the target area, where the natives would be vicious, and five rounds could be used on the Germans, the last one being kept for personal use. * So, with all this gear and parachute-pack and navigation bag containing all the necessary equipment (pencils, rubber, ruler, charts, Douglas protractor, dividers, Dalton computer), I repaired to the aircraft (C6A) together with the rest of the crew. We took off at 1250 and did a Radius

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Extract from “The Bomber Battle for Berlin”, by Air Commodore John Searby DSO DFC, published by Airlife Publishing Ltd, 101 Longden Road, Shrewsbury. [inserted in red] COPYRIGHT? [/inserted in red] [inserted] Applied for and granted. [/inserted]

Confidence in the skill of the navigator came only second to that placed in the captain: This aspect of the work of the crew has not always received the prominence it deserves, though somewhat earlier in this narrative I have made the statement that Bomber Command stood or fell by the quality of its navigators; and this is true. To be ‘lost’ over enemy territory was a frequent occurrence in the early days of the bomber offensive, as we have seen, but the consequences were nothing like so frightening as later on when the night sky was stiff with opposition. With a multiplicity of aids available after 1942 and in the context of a streamlined technique with Pathfinders to light the way there and back such incidents were few. However, on some occasions, when windspeed at altitude was unusually high, it could happen and could be damaging in the sense that security of the crew was impaired – seemingly – and those not in the know, such as the gunners, were entitled to feel anxious. We all took the navigator for granted – both captains and the remainder of the crew alike – he had the answers and was expected to produce them at the drop of a hat. A competent and confident navigator was a powerful factor for morale from first to last – courage, determination and the will to press on in the face of flak and fighters was one thing; but only the skill of the navigator could ensure that the effort was taken to the [indecipherable word] spot. The demands on his services were frequent, and we all heard with relief the familiar voice over the intercom on the way home: “Dead on track, Skipper – you should see the coastline in a few minutes – you can start letting down any time now.” A shaky navigator could be an uncomfortable thought in the minds of the rest of the crew – so much depended on him, and whatever the situation he must remain cool and capable of using his head quickly to calculate the new course to get us out of trouble. With punctured tanks, and the fuel running low, a single mistake on his

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part could result in a ‘ditching’ on a winter’s night with a rough sea below: likewise, he could run us over heavily massed defences such as the Ruhr perimeter by miscalculation. When the unexpected arose he was the first to be asked if we were still on the correct track and if not, then why not? Like the policeman – his lot was not a happy one.

And another reference later on:-
Navigators bore a heavy responsibility in getting aircraft to the target. Theirs was an unenviable task, subjected to a constant barrage of noise, working in the worst possible conditions, interrupted occasionally by enemy action and ‘nagged’ not infrequently by requests for information; they were expected to remain oblivious to all external alarms.[?]

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of action. This was necessary so that the whole squadron could set course over base at the same time. In order not to have a lot of aircraft milling about in the circuit at the same time, each navigator was given a track outward from base, towards the NW, each a few degrees different from one another so that aircraft coming back did not collide with any still outward bound. It was up to each navigator to determine his course to fly to maintain that track, and how long to fly it before turning to arrive over base at the appointed time of departure. In this case it was 1340, and the target was Julich, a small town not far from Aachen, only just inside Germany, being used as a supply and transit centre for the front-line forces, so we were not long over hostile territory. Bombing height was low, 10,000 feet. There was a little flak and no fighters. At the same time, a force of Lancasters was attacking Duren, a similar town a few miles to the south. It was an uneventful trip, but very effective, as this clipping from next day’s Daily Telegraph shows:-

[newspaper cutting] Two Rhine Towns Written Off
Photographs of Duren and Julich taken two days after they were attacked by very forces of R.A.F. bombers on November 16 show a close concentration of bomb craters almost without parallel in any previous attack by the R.A.F.
The centres of both these recently fortified towns, which were among the main defences of the Rhine, have been completely destroyed. [/newspaper cutting]

The following day, bombing photographs were on the board in the Intelligence Room. A camera was always operated a certain number of seconds after the bomb-release was pressed and took a photo of the point of impact. Our photo was in the centre, and enlarged, and showed the best strikes of the squadron, 200 yards from the centre of the town.

The second operation took place on 18 November, and was another daylight trip. The target was Munster. Navigators’ briefing was before breakfast, main briefing after. Took off 1245, radius of action, and set course 1325. Flak was light, no fighters were seen. Munster was covered by cloud. Concentration appeared poor on this attack. A word here about target-marking. There were two methods, Newhaven and Wanganui. Newhaven was used when the target was clear of cloud.

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Pathfinder “illuminators” would go in first and drop white flares, by whose light the second lot of pathfinders could identify the aiming-point. As near to this as possible they dropped the appropriate marker-flares. There were several different sorts – red shooting yellow stars, green shooting red stars etc. - and bomb-aimers knew which to look for. This did not give the Germans time to confuse the issue with their own flares some distance away. Most large German targets had decoy sites a few miles away where fires were often lit to simulate and attack, and these did a [sic] times attract a number of bombs. Wanganui marking was used when the target was obscured. Pathfinders dropped parachute flares upwind of the aiming-point, or rather upwind of the centre of the town. These burned for two minutes or so, and bomb-aimers aimed at them. This method was obviously not so precise as Newhaven, but it ensured a good spread of bombs, hopefully in the target area. Flares had to be continuously renewed throughout the attack. Always, some pathfinders were Wanganui-equipped, just in case the target could not be seen. So, after, at briefing, the instruction was: “Newhaven, with emergency Wanganui,” If all else failed, and nothing could be seen, bombs could be dropped by making use of the navigational device Gee. This was accurate to within 1/4 mile or so, and was therefore acceptable for this purpose. The bombsight was not used, and bombs were released on instructions from the navigator. Gee, however, could not be used on distant targets; it depended on signals sent out from England, and was susceptible to jamming. As one proceeded further away from the transmitting stations, the signals became weaker, and more difficult to identify, and on the cathode-ray tube gradually disappeared among all the clutter provided by the Germans. On some raids, a Master Bomber would orbit higher up, watching progress and giving instructions. There was a natural tendency for bomb-aimers to release the load a few seconds early, and this progression led to a “creep-back”, so that the Master Bomber had to advise a change of aiming-point. I heard once an instruction from

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him: “Apple Pie to main force. Bomb upwind edge of smoke.” And then later, when we were on our way home:” Well done, chaps. Now get off home and have your breakfast.”

On return from the Munster attack, Warrant Officer Bruce crashed in collision while waiting to land. After putting all the gear away, crews were de-briefed by specialist officers who took notes on how things had gone, and anything unusual that might have happened, and while this was going on, mugs of thick cocoa were provided, and tots of rum. I always took the rum neat, but there were some who tipped it into their cocoa, and almost unbelievably some who refused it altogether. After this second operation, we went on leave for ten days, during which Bob Thomas, our rear-gunner, got married.

Two days after return, operations were notified, the target being Essen, in the Ruhr. Navigators' briefing took place at 8 p.m., main briefing at 11. Took off 0226, radius of action, set course 0311. Usual route, base - Reading, - Beachy Head – over to France. Arrived over target 2 minutes late, bombed Wanganui flares 0539, arrived base 0823. De-briefing, breakfast, went to bed and slept till 5 o'clock. Heavy flak, some fighters in the target area, and this would be a suitable juncture to digress for a few words on flak. Intelligence knew where the heaviest concentrations of flak were, and aircraft were routed to avoid them, but there was no dodging it on the approach to, and over, the target. Bombing heights usually varied from 21,000 to 18,000 feet, different waves being allocated different heights. The Germans, knowing this, could only spread their shells about, barrage fashion, filling the sky with as much explosive as possible, in the hope of catching someone at random. The greatest concentrations were naturally north, west and south of the target, and it was not possible to avoid them. You could not go over the top because the aircraft, loaded, would not go high enough; you could not go round the outside because fighters lurked there, and anyway everybody would be coming in at different angles, causing collisions galore; you could not go underneath because of the risk of “friendly” bombs falling on you. So the only thing you could do was get your head down and run the gauntlet hell for leather through the middle, hoping that nothing
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had got your name on it. I only looked out twice over the target; it was like a fairground on Saturday night – target indicators, fires burning, photo flashes going off, anti-aircraft shells bursting, searchlights. After that, I just didn't want to know, preferring the scholarly calm of the “office.”

Here, I attach an account of the briefing for the Essen raid; you will see how much intricate organisation went into planning an attack. [account missing]

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Following the briefing and report on the operation, there are notes on some of the many devices used to outwit the Germans. References to “Window” may need some explanation. These were strips of metallised paper, cut to the wavelength on which German radar operated; each strip gave off briefly an echo on their cathode-ray tubes, the same as an aircraft did, with the result that their screens were hopelessly confused and it was impossible to pick out individual aircraft. It was first used in the fire-storm attacks on Hamburg, and vastly reduced flak casualties. There were two sorts, the broad and the narrow, the second working on night-fighter frequencies. Here is a strip of the narrow. [inserted]

The following night, there was an operation on Duisburg (docks and transport.) It was an uneventful trip. Took off 1640, radius of action, set course 1714. Base – Reading – Beachy Head – France – Duisburg. Surprisingly, flak negligible, no fighters. Bombed 2006 on Wanganui flares, arrived back at base 2340, supper, and into bed 0100.

The next operation was two nights later, on Hagen, in the Ruhr. Set course 1814. Over Reading, the port inner engine failed, so we went NE and jettisoned the bombs in the North Sea beyond Flamborough Head, and returned to base.

On Monday 4 December, there was a short local trip, down to Derby, followed by a blind bombing run on York, using H2S. A further word about H2S here. It was quite accurate on a fairly large target (provided it had been positively identified first – not much use though in a large conurbation such as the Ruhr.) The bombs were released on instructions from the navigator. I did not like using H2S for any purpose, and steered clear of it except in case of necessity. German fighters were known to home onto its transmissions, so I left it switched off as far as possible.

At this juncture, it would be appropriate to digress for a while (with your kind permission, of course), and describe briefly the modus operandi

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of the German night-fighter force. The ever-increasing activities of Bomber Command forced the Germans to withdraw large numbers of fighters from other fronts, so there were plenty of them about, mostly in Holland, northern France and western Germany. The single-engined types were Me 109’s and FW 190’s; the twin-engined were Me 110’s, Me 210’s, a small number of the later Me 410’s and most effective of all, Ju. 88’s which started out early in the war as bombers but were later converted largely to night-fighting. The single-engined aircraft operated on a system which the Germans called “Wild Boar”; they were vectored onto the bomber-stream and left to their own devices, to find and attack as best they could. The twin-engined operated on the “Tame Boar” system and came under close control from the ground; they were also equipped with radar, so that once they latched onto a target they were hard to shake off. The two standard methods of evasion were a violent “corkscrew” or a violent diving turn to port or starboard. Knowing that its presence had been detected, a fighter would often go and try its luck elsewhere, trying for a more unwary victim.

Now, if you had taken the trouble to read that list of various devices in the plastic envelope a couple of pages back, you would have noticed the one called Mandrel. Aircraft of 100 Group (Counter Measures), usually Stirlings (which were not fit for bomber operations because they could not get up very high), flew a “race-course” pattern out in the Channel, jamming the German Wurzburgs, which were long-range radar detectors. The Germans therefore knew that a raid was pending, but did not know where the main force would emerge from behind the screen. So they had two radio beacons a long way from each other, called Otto and Ida, and fighters orbited these beacons waiting for the main force to manifest itself, and when It did, half of them anyway were in the vicinity. It became the practice for the R.A.F. to insert a Mosquito among those orbiting these beacons, and he might be lucky enough to get a couple before they rumbled what was going on, and dispersed. At any rate, it made them nervous and threw them out of gear. This operation was known as a Mahmoud. There were many other operations designed to

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deceive and disrupt - a Mosquito would lurk near every fighter aerodrome, and catch fighters taking off or returning to refuel. “Spoof” raids would be taking place by smaller forces on widely-separated targets, or just several aircraft dropping target-indicators and then nothing else happened.
In the second half of 1944, the Germans hit upon the most effective way of dealing with a bomber once it was found and identified, so simple that it is amazing it was never thought of before, and it was a long time before anyone twigged what was happening. Early in the war, more aircraft, notably Wellingtons, had a turret underneath, but the fitting of these was discontinued, so there was no protection from below. Two tail-warning and downward-looking radars, Monica and Fishpond, were fitted, but these were removed when it was found that the Germans were homing onto them. Realising that they had a clear field from underneath, the German Fighter, invisible against the dark background below, would gradually increase its height until it was some 150 to 200 feet below the bomber, with the bomber silhouetted against the lighter sky above and its exhaust flames clearly visible. On the same course and at the same speed, the bomber was a sitting duck. German twin-engined fighters had a cannon sticking out through the roof, and the gunner could let rip with a no-deflection shot. They always aimed for the starboard wing-tanks, not the fuselage where there would be a risk of detonating explosives on board. Having thus set the aircraft on fire, they departed in reach of other prey. They carried no tracer among their ammunition, so that there was no give-away, and a bomber seemed to others round about just to catch fire for no apparent reason.
To return to Snaith. On Tuesday 5 December, the warning was given at 1130 for operations that night, the target being Soest, on the eastern edge of the Ruhr, which meant flying all the way round the industrial and heavily-defended complex. Main briefing 1415, out to aircraft, back for alterations to the flight plan, out to aircraft again, took off 1700 and set course 1800. Arrived over target 2 minutes late. Bombed on Gee, as the bombsight was unserviceable. Flak heavy over Hamm on the way in, light over the target. Arrived back at base 0200, a nine hour trip. Four
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aircraft went missing on this attack.
The following night, operations were laid on against Osnabruck. Took off 1600, set course 1625. Down to Reading at 2,000 feet, and saw Henley on the port side on the way. Passed over Reading bridge when workers were on their way home and the lights of vehicles were clearly visible. The sky was full of aircraft heading S.E. Climbed through icing cloud, proceeded on time over France and so to the target, one of the first aircraft in. Bombed on Gee. Out north over Holland, arriving back at base 2210, a six-hour trip. Flak very heavy over target. Eight aircraft missing from this attack.
The next day we did dinghy-drill in a reservoir, very cold, wet and muddy. On the 9th we did a practice flight, three simulated bombing runs of York, followed by practice-bombs on the range. On the 10th, roused at 0245 for operations, but cancellation came through after main briefing, the target being Bielefeld (presumably the viaduct.) This was laid on again next day, but cancelled again when everybody had got their flying-kit on. On the 12th, an operation was laid on against Essen. Flight-planning 1200, main briefing 1330. Took off 1600, set course 1620, bombed on Wanganui flares 1939, and arrived back at base 2200. Heavy flak in target area, as was to be expected over the Ruhr. Six aircraft failed to return. On the 15th, an operation was laid on against Dortmund, but later cancelled.
On the evening of the 17th December, briefing took place for an attack on Duisburg at 2230, then we had supper. Took off 0300 on the usual route via Reading and Beachy Head, and out over France. The weather deteriorated rapidly, wind velocity rose to over 100 knots, and the meteorological forecast was very wrong, so that the main force became widely scattered. Tried to make up a bit of time by cutting corners, but nevertheless arrived over the target seven minutes late. No marker flares were seen - with that wind velocity they would not have been much use, so we bombed using Gee. Soon after turning for home, we were set upon by a twin-engined fighter, which was driven off three times by our gunners. There followed a short interval when he seemed
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to have gone elsewhere, but such was not the case.
Here, I will digress once more (“what, again? Oh, all right then, if you must.”), and consider the possibility of surviving a tour of operations, I have already indicated that they were not very great. A tour consisted of 30 trips; average losses about 4%, therefore after 25 trips, a man was statistically dead, and therefore again the average man could expect to last 12 or 13. Some of course went on their first and some on their thirtieth, and obviously you needed a lot of luck on your side - it was not so much a matter of skill as of luck - a flak shell could catch any crew, no matter how skilful. As to the attitude of aircrews in general, there was a certain amount of fatalism involved, induced by the perithanatic situation in which they found themselves. I hope you will bear with me while I explain perithanatic for the benefit of lesser mortals than yourself. It comes, of course, from the Greek “peri” meaning ‘around’ (perimeter, peripatetic, periscope), and ‘thanatos’ meaning ‘death’ (euthanasia), and psychologists say that when in this situation there is an acceptance of what is going to happen and it ceases to worry. Personally, I never saw in others any evidence of fear - apprehension, yes, but not fear. When I say that the average man could expect to last 12 or 13 trips (i.e. rather less than half a tour,) this is borne out by the overall statistics of Bomber Command for the whole of the war - some 100,000 men flew with Bomber Command, and 57,000 were killed (i.e. rather more than half.) Today being Remembrance Sunday, I am reminded of a remark by Richard Dimbleby, commenting on the service at the Cenotaph: “Those that took the wings of the morning, or set their course by the stars into unimaginable dangers - - -.” The hazards were well enough known, though, “and their name was legion, for they were many.” - flak, fighters, mechanical malfunction, icing, cumulo - nimbus clouds and lightening, base fogged in on return, shortage of petrol, collision, fire, to name a few. In church the preacher, Canon [deleted] one indecipherable word [/deleted] [inserted] Hartley, [/inserted] an ex-prisoner of the Japanese, said: “I wonder how long Remembrance Day will go on. Until, I suppose, there is nobody left who remembers.”
To return to the situation in which we found ourselves. After
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three or four minutes there was a series of rapid thumps from the starboard wing, and almost immediately the Flight Engineer said: “Wilf, we’re on fire.” I looked back from my position down in the nose, and could see that there was a roaring mass of flame where the wing-root joined the fuselage and that the situation was obviously beyond control - burning petrol swilling in from the tanks, round the oxygen bottles, which would explode in due course. There was only one thing to do, which was to get out, and that right speedily, because one of two things was going to happen in a very short time - either the tanks would explode or the main-spar would melt and the wing would fall off. So even before the order came to abandon the aircraft, I was already buckling my parachute pack onto the harness. My seat, on springs, folded itself against the starboard wall when I stood up; I kicked away the legs of the navigation table, which folded itself down onto the port wall, leaving an open space on the floor with the escape-hatch in the middle. This was the way out for the three of us in the nose - myself, bomb-aimer and radio-operator. The mid-upper gunner would use the entrance - door half-way back down the fuselage, but the turret was difficult to get out of, and it took time. The rear-gunner would swivel his turret and drop out over the end, but again the turret was not easy to get out of, and furthermore his parachute pack was stored in the fuselage outside the turret. The pilot and flight-engineer would use whichever exit they could get at most quickly. I opened the hatch, raised it above the vertical, lifted it off its hinges, and dropped it through the hole. I then sat on the forward edge of the hatch and dropped through. A few words of explanation about how the parachute harness was designed. The pack was clipped onto two buckles on separate straps which came down from the shoulders and were attached to the main harness-straps by two pieces of string. The intention was that when the parachute opened, the string would snap, the pack would swing upwards, and you were left suspended from the shoulders. As I dropped through the hole, though, the pack
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caught on the rear edge, snapping the string, so that by the time I was in free fall, the pack was way up above my head, and to make matters worse the release-ring was facing backwards, so that I had to scrabble about to find the release-ring behind the back of my head. It was a relief, therefore, when there was a violent jerk as the parachute opened, and I was safely on the way down. The aircraft had been at a height of 14,000 feet, and the descent would take about 1/4 hour. After a few seconds, there was a whoomph as the tanks blew up, and I did not know whether anybody else had got clear. There were flashes of light and a rumbling in the distance, which I took to be thunder, but realised later were anti-aircraft fire, also, it was raining hard. As a factual observation, and with no intent to blow my own trumpet, there was no feeling of fear or panic in me - fear only comes when one has an alternative, and in this case there was not one, there was only one thing to do - rather a feeling of annoyance that when I got down I was going to be caught and stuck inside for the rest of the war. One of the advantages of being the navigator was that I had a pretty good idea of where we were; I knew we were over the British side of the lines, but knew also that there was a strong westerly wind which would probably carry me back inside Germany. If you take an average wind-speed on the way down of 80 m.p.h., I was going to drift some 20 miles. It was about 6.30 a.m., and still dark - perhaps just a hint of daylight - “dawn’s left hand was in the sky” (Omar Khayyam) - so I could not see where I was going to land, and in fact plunged down through branches of a tree and hit the ground. The advice was that when you landed, you were supposed to roll your parachute up and hide it. I realised that this was not on, as it was draped over the tree; furthermore, it was an apple - tree in the back garden of a house, and the curtains in one of the bedroom windows parted and a face peered out. So I took off my life - jacket, dumped it, and went down the side path and out of the front gate. Turning left, I heard the sound of marching feet approaching, so I turned right, and in a few minutes was out of the village and in open country. It was now getting light, and the thing to do was to find concealment wherein to [deleted] ly [/deleted] lie up for the day. Soon I found a wood of fir trees, and took
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refuge. First, judging by the sound of gunfire from the west, I knew I was in fact inside Germany. Then I examined the contents of my evasion-pack. This was a flattish plastic box, slightly curved to fit inside the thigh-pocket of a flying suit. It contained a map on silk, razor, rubber water-bottle with a packet of Halazone water-purifying tablets, energy tablets, Horlicks tablets, barley-sugar and chewing-gum, also a small compass of about 1” diameter. And there was a small slab of nut toffee.

My clothes were by this time wet through, and it was cold as well, so I did not have a comfortable day. Set off walking south, as soon as it was dark, keeping clear of the roads and going across country, over ditches full of water, through fences. The intention was to walk into France where I might make contact with the Resistance, and knowing the language would be a help. At daybreak, heavy rain came on again. Hid in a small fir plantation, after taking off wet flying-suit and boots, but could not sleep due to cold and general discomfort. Children with their mother and a couple of dogs passed within a few yards of me, but apparently did not see me. I ate three Horlicks tablets, one piece of toffee and a piece of barley-sugar, which I planned to be my ration for two weeks. It was a bad time of the year for evasion, there being nothing in the fields in the way of berries, fruit or vegetables. I drank from streams or troughs, using the water-bottle and purifying tablets. Set off again at dusk and walked till about 4 a.m., then came across a barn and stepped inside. As soon as it was properly light, I saw that there was a loft full of hay, with a ladder leading up to it, so I went up there, took off wet flying-suit and boots, stuffed them with hay, burrowed well down, and went to sleep. Not that stuffing them with hay did any good – they were still wet and cold when I put them on again. Pushed on again when it was dark, over the waterlogged fields. At daybreak I saw what appeared to be a dilapidated farmhouse, and I approached it with the intention of sleeping therein. It was occupied though; a middle-aged woman came out, and must have recognised me for

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what I was. Obviously, though, she was not in any position to cause trouble; I followed her inside and made sure there was nobody else in residence. She indicated I was to sit at the table, and gave me a few small apples, two slices of bread and two cups of coffee. It was by now broad daylight, so after leaving, there was not time to look for a good place of concealment[?]; the best I could do was a copse with wet brambles in it, so I hid up there for the day, although it was only half a mile or so from the farmhouse and one could expect the German woman to alert the authorities. There was not much sleep that day because I kept waking up with severe cramp, induced no doubt by wearing wet clothes for so long. I decided it was no use going on south, the distance being too great, so I turned back north towards Holland. The reasoning was this :-
There was no way of getting through the lines by going due west – anyway, the River Rhine was in the way, and that would be well-guarded. However, the British advance northwards into Holland had been very rapid, and looked like continuing, so I thought I would head NW round the corner in the lines and either hide up or maybe fall in with the Dutch resistance until the fighting moved on further north. An outside chance, but any chance is better than none.
That night, 21 December, it rained hard again. Towards dawn, I wandered about looking for somewhere dry to sleep. Stayed for a while in a shed beside the road, then it stopped raining so I carried on for another three miles. Found a stack of loose straw, so I dug some out and made a cubby-hole in the side, climbed in and went to

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sleep for the day. Got out at dark, put on flying suit and set out again. That night, it froze, and my flying-suit, being wet, froze stiff and the zips would not work so I could not get at my ration-pack. Suffered pains from cramp again. Walked all night, breaking ice on puddles to drink from. By this time, for various reasons all added together, I was getting light in the head and not thinking very clearly. I came to a railway embankment and climbed up. When I got onto the track, I thought: “This is stupid, all I have to do is walk along till I come to a station and get a train home.” So I turned left and walked along the track for about 20 minutes; seeing the lights of a station ahead, and hearing voices, brough me to my senses, so I got down off the track and pushed on. At daylight, bedded down in a partly-cut wood of fir trees. American bombers passed overhead. Pressed on again at night, and without thinking what I was doing, went through a village instead of skirting round it, as usual. At the far end, there was the click of a rifle-bolt, and a voice: “Halt, wer da?”, so I knew that was the end of my run. “Englische flieger,” I said, and the reply came: “Hande loch[?]”. I had run into a sentry-post. The soldier approached and indicated with his rifle that I should go into the post, which was a dug-out about ten feet square, entered by going down some steps. In it, there was a table, a chair, a bench, and it was heated by a wood-burning stove and lit by a pressure-lamp. The sentry was an oldish chap, well-meaning and obviously not one to make life difficult – he didn’t want any trouble, and I was in no state to give him any anyway. I patted the chest of my flying-suit and said: [five foreign words] and he indicated I should put it on the table, meanwhile keeping me closely covered with his rifle. He indicated also that anything else in my pockets should be put on the table. After that, the atmosphere became less strained, and he provided me with a bowl of soup. Then, seeing my clothes were wet, he told me to take them off and he hung them in front of the stove to dry, giving me his

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blanket to wrap round myself, and indicating that I should lie down on the bench and go to sleep. In the morning he permitted me to shave, using the razor from my evasion-pack, and then gave me a slice of bread and some of his meat-paste. As I said, not a bad old chap at all. By this time, his relief had arrived, and being apprised of the state of affairs, went to fetch another man. With this new man and the old original guard, I walked 8 km. to a fighter aerodrome at Alpen. This was on Christmas Eve. I was taken into the Officers Mess and subjected to all sorts of questions (but not of an operational nature) by those gathered therein. None, as it happened, could speak English, but one spoke French, and he translated for the rest. He asked how many times I had been over Germany, and when I said “eight”, he said that was nothing, he had been over London 66 times. They were interested in my flying gear, and also in the contents of my evasion pack. They gave me some of their dinner, which was a sort of spaghetti bolognese, but I was shunted aside into an alcove to eat it on my own. I was then handed over to their Service Police and made to sit on a stool in the middle of the room, watched over by a surly individual with a rifle. After several hours of this, my back ached, so I moved the stool against the wall, but an outburst and rifle-waving indicated I should stay where I was put. That night, I slept down in a warm cellar, locked in.

The next morning, that is on Christmas Day, I left Alpen with one guard; we walked five kilometres, then got a lift in a car to the nearest station and went by electric train to Dusseldorf. This was one of the R.A.F.’s main targets, and was much knocked about. On the platform I noticed a rat-faced little man going from person to person, talking to them and indicating me with a nod of the head. A few started drifting in my direction, and I didn’t like the look of things at all, but the guard saw what was happening as well and unshouldered his rifle, which caused them to lose interest. Bomber-crews were known throughout Germany as terrorflieger – (terror-flyers), which

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I used to think was unfair, as we were only going about our lawful business, and I don’t suppose German Airmen considered themselves as terrorflieger when they were bombing English towns. On the other hand, one can understand the attitude of civilians. The carpet-bombing of German towns was aimed at breaking the will of the nation as a whole to continue the war, by means of terror and destruction – any factories, military installations or transport facilities were a bonus unless they had been specially pinpointed for attack.

We waited for an hour in the waiting-room, then got a train to Frankfurt-am-Main, via Hagen and Giesen; Giesen had at one time been subject to attack, as the sidings were littered with smashed goods-wagons. It had started to snow by this time, and it was bitterly cold in the train. Civilians sitting opposite were much interested in the nature and qualify of my flying-gear, especially the boots. On detraining at Frankfurt, we walked a few km. to the Aircrew Interrogation Centre at Oberursel and I was handed in to official custody. My flying-gear was all taken away, except for the boots, and I was shoved into a cell in solitary confinement. The cell measured about eight feet by four; there was a bench along one wall with a blanket, a small barred window high up, and a light which never went out. There was a radiator below the window which came on at times during the day, but was off at night, so that it was hard to sleep because of the cold, and to make matters worse, footwear was taken away at night. There was a spyhole in the door, and beside the door, a handle. To go to the toilet, one pulled this handle, which caused a signal-arm to clang down in the corridor outside; this brough along a guard who escorted one back and forth. Outside each cell was a box containing sheets of toilet-paper; the first time, I took two sheets, but it was made very plain to me that the standard ration was just one. Hard luck on anyone who happened to be suffering from a common prisoner-of-war complaint known as the squitters or

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screamers. The daily allowance of food was four slices of bread, one plate of soup and two cups of warm weak coffee without sugar or milk. I presume the object of this solitary confinement, without seeing any one else and with absolutely nothing to do was a sort of weakening-up process, to make one more willing to talk when the time came for interrogation. It didn't bother me a lot, though, as I have always been somewhat solitary by nature.

After two days, I was taken out in the evening and up to a comfortably-furnished softly-lit room, smelling richly of cigar smoke, where an officer started off with general small-talk, then came to Air Force matters. The Geneva Convention states that all a prisoner is obliged to do is give his number, rank and name, which I did. He asked how long it was since I was shot down, and I saw no harm in answering that correctly, but when he said “That would be the night of an attack on Duisburg”, I thought I had said quite enough, and when he asked about squadron number and type of aircraft, I said: “You know I can't give details such as that, sir.” He persisted for a while with other questions, then gave up, and I was taken back to the cell for another couple of days, returning to the same interrogation room and interrogating-officer as before. This time, the approach was somewhat different. He began by remarking on the fact that I wore no identification discs. There were two of these, one round red one and one oblong green one with the corners clipped off. The were made of some sort of fibre, and the red one was fireproof. They were normally worn round the neck, but the string on mine had broken the day before the last flight, and I was intending to renew it when I got back. The dialogue went something like this:-

“There are two things that worry me about you, Sergeant Wagner. Here we have one single man in R.A.F. uniform who cannot, or will not identify himself, and who moreover claims a German name. How do I know you are who you say you are? Some details of your last flight might help to clear things up.”

(I could see what he was getting at – a veiled threat – but I

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explained the matter of the identity-discs, and said I could say no more.) He continued: -

“The second thing is that here we have an airman who has been wandering about in Germany for six days, claiming to have been shot down, but we have no others of the crew, and to crown it all, no wreckage of an aircraft that he came from. How do you explain this?”

“I jumped out over Holland and drifted back into Germany on the way down. Presumably the aircraft disintegrated over British-held territory.”

“Well, as it happens, Sgt. Wagner, I know more about you than you think. You come from 51 Squadron, Snaith, flying Halifaxes. The Commanding Officer is Wing-Commander Holford, and.....”(He went on to name the Navigation Leader, Bombing Leader and Signals Officer.) “You see, I have had other crews from 51 Squadron, and they have said more than you are saying. Now, what I would like to know are what operations you have been on, and what was your route and height to Duisburg. And what was the bomb-load.”

“The bomb-load was no concern of mine – I don’t know what it was. The height varied continually, and I can’t remember the exact routeing. Even if I could, the Geneva Convention only permits me to give Number, Rank and Name.”

At this stage, he desisted, and I was returned to my cell. I was roused at 2 a.m. and given a piece of bread and a cup of coffee. Departed 4 a.m., and walked with about fifty others, mostly Americans, to the station. Waited about for two hours in the cold, then went by train to Wetzlar, not a long journey, about two hours. Marched 4 km. to a camp, searched, given a P.O.W capture-parcel, and allocated a billet in a room of 3-tier bunks containing some 20 men. The Capture-parcel was a small fibre suitcase containing pyjamas, towel, socks, shaving-kit, soap, darning-holdall, toothbrush and toothpaste, comb, chocolate,

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and pipe and tobacco or cigarettes, and came by courtesy of the Red Cross. I dumped this on my bunk, stood up, and recognised the man in the bunk above. This was John Trumble, whom I had done some of my training with in South Africa, and we remained together through the hard times that lay ahead. His face lit up, and he said: ”Waggie!” and I said: “Hello John. A right old turn-up this isn’t it?” He had no other members of his crew with him either, so we teamed up. We spent six days altogether at Wetzlar, which was what would be called, I suppose, an Aircrew Disposal Centre, always cold and hungry, and that took us over into January 1945.

I stayed together with John through many difficulties for the rest of the time in Germany and returned to England with him. I stayed with him for a few days in the summer of 1945, then unfortunately we lost touch with each other, as so often happened in those days. It should not have happened, but it did. I often wondered what had become of him, and after writing the above, resolved to make a determined effort to find him. I knew his address was, in those times, Pottene Park Farm Devizes, but he had no connection with the farm, just lived in a rented cottage there. I thought of writing to the present occupier of the farm, asking him to send my letter on if John was still local, or perhaps he could look in the local telephone directory and see if he was listed. Then it dawned on me – “Phone directory, that’s it”, the library in Wisbech having directories for the whole country, about sixty of them. So I waded through some forty directories, and found several A. Trumble’s, but by a bit of good luck John always used the whole three Christian-name initials, A.H.J., and I located him in a village near Truro. If his name had been Smith or Jones, this method would not have been practical, of course.

There follow now some extracts from a diary I kept at the time, with some notes where further explanation is necessary.
5 Jan. 1945. Posting-lists up in the mess-hall. I am going tomorrow with John to Stalag Luft 7, Bankau, Silesia.
6 Jan. Marched down to station in the afternoon, after being searched and given

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a packet of chewing-gum each. Entrained in 2 cattle-trucks, 25 to a truck. One Red Cross parcel between 2 issued for journey. Half the truck occupied by guards.
7,8,9 January, on the train.
10 Jan. Detrained 0800 and walked up to the camp through deep snow. No greatcoats. Searched. Got a billet with John, & we got organised in a combine with 2 others for food-parcels and meals. Filled a paillasse with wood-shavings.
11 Jan. 1 Red cross parcel per man per fortnight promised, and reasonable German rations. First parade 0915 & the other at 1615. Quite a good library. Snow on the ground all the time, and very cold. Got greatcoat. Walked round perimeter track occasionally.
14 Jan. Went to church service in the evening. (The camp padre was an Army officer, Captain Collins. Air Force padres were, in the nature of things, unlikely to be captured. Captain Collins was a remarkable man, but more of him later. A very large proportion of prisoners attended church services, not I think because there was nothing else to do but because a belief gave a man something to hold onto in difficult times.)

One evening, there was a Russian Air-raid in the vicinity of the camp. I had just put margarine and honey on a slice of bread when the sirens went and the lights were put out, so I put it down on a stool and went to look out of the window. When the lights came on again, no bread. Accusations of theft, but everybody denied responsibility. Then I saw a mangled piece of bread stuck to the rear of another man’s trousers. I scraped it off and ate it.
18 Jan. Warned to be ready to evacuate the camp as the Russians were getting close. Packed case, packed as much food as we could, and wolfed the rest. I was ready to carry case, food parcel, and blanket wrapped round neck. Had to wear flying-boots as no ordinary ones were available. (These were lambswool lined, loose-fitting, and not designed for walking.) Very close Russian bombing. Sleepless night, as we had to be ready to move off any minute.

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(By this time, I had been issued with this identity-tag, and was officially “on the books.” In the event of death, the lower half was broken off and kept for records, the other half was buried with the body.)

19 Jan. Departed 0500 in bitter weather, after hanging about in the cold for a long time. Marched all day, 27 km. to Winterfeld. Had to eat snow as no water was available. spent the night wedged in a very small barn – hardly slept at all.
20 Jan. Wakened 5 a.m. and set off again. Marched all the morning, 12 km. to an abandoned brick-factory at Karlsruhe. Warm and dry. Had something to eat, a brew of coffee, then went to sleep. Feet very bad with blisters, so tied boots on with wire. Started dragging case inside the lid of another abandoned one, towing it along with a bootlace. Much kit jettisoned by the side of the road. Left 2000, as the Russians were getting close again. Marched without stopping all night.
21 Jan. Crossed the Oder 0500 – bridge mined, ready to blow up. Stopped in a village, but no accommodation was available, so pressed on another 5 km., making 41 km. in all (i.e. 25 miles). Many chaps dropped out during the night because of bad feet and exhaustion. Arrived Barrkwitz 1100. Got bed-space in a barn and had something to eat. A bull charged in scattering everybody. When it was ejected, went to sleep.
22 Jan. Roused 0300, as Russians were still pressing on Issued with a few carraway biscuits. The Germans had a bit of a job getting the chaps moving again, and there was some shooting. Pushed on 16 km. to Jenkwitz, arriving at noon. Moved some cattle out of a barn and got a bed-space organised. Warm, but very damp and smelling strongly of cattle. Ration 1 cup of coffee, 1/2 a biscuit and marge.

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(Coffee issued by the Germans was made of acorns roaster and ground up, and with milk and sugar from Red Cross parcels was not too bad at all.)

23 Jan. Left 0900. Marched 25 km. to Wassen[?]. Small bread issue and 1 cup of soup.
24 Jan. Spent the day at Wassen[?] trying to get some rest.
25 Jan. Left 0600 and marched 27 km. (17 miles) to Heidersdorf.
26 Jan. Stayed the day at Heidersdorf. Ration 2/5 of a loaf, and marge.
27 Jan. Left 1100 and marched 24 km. to Pfaffendorf, arriving at 1700. Small barn, wretched cramped bed-space, underneath a ladder – grain falling down from above all the time. Made up a double bed with John.
28 Jan. Left 0400; did 22 km. to Stansdort, in bitter weather, a fierce cold wind and driving snow. (You could rake your finger-nails down your face and not feel a thing, a real blizzard.) Arrived noon, dead-beat. Ration 4 biscuits and ½ cup of soup. (The German soup was watery in the extreme. There were two varieties – a) made from shredded dried turnip, and b) a less popular variety made from a very dark green cabbage of some sort, like spinach, known to the consumers as Whispering Grass, after a well-known song at the time.) Cold uncomfortable bed-space. Left 1830, still dragging case – nothing jettisoned. Collected 2 packets of hard biscuits (8 in all) outside a town after 3 km. Walked all night through a fierce blizzard – heavy snow, roads sometimes blocked, so had to clamber through drifts. Much transport abandoned. Many more chaps dropped out during this night.
29 Jan. Very heavy going. Slow halting freezing march. Arrived Peterwitz 0200 in an exhausted condition. Got a good warm ample bed-space; made a double bed with John and turned in, too tired even to wait for soup from the field-kitchen.
30 and 31 Jan. Spent at Peterwitz, resting.
1 Feb. Left 1000 and did 17 km. to Prausnitz.[?] Snow thawed half way, so had to start carrying case, and found it very heavy. Small dirty farmyard, absolutely crowded. However, got a good dry bed-space upstairs

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in a barn, by a water-cistern. Much brewing of coffee and porridge on fires in the farmyard. Soup twice a day from the field-kitchens.
[underlined] 2, 3, 4 Feb. [/underlined] At Prausnitz. On the evening of the 4th, issued with marching rations – 1/3 loaf, 1/3 tin of liver-paste, & some margarine. Although you could not style our progress as “marching” – we shambled along in a dejected shabby column, with German guards along the sides accompanied by Alsations.
[underlined] 5 Feb. [/underlined] Roused 0400; left 0700 and did 7 km. to Goldberg. Slight rain. Stole some sugar-beet along the way and gnawed at it. Packed into cattle trucks at the station, 55 men to a truck, and locked in. (These trucks, common on the continent, bore the legend 40 hommes, 8 chevaux, so we were well over the limit. There was not even enough room for everyone to sit down. There was a small barred window in each corner, also one large tin for toilet purposes. The vicinity of this tin was not rated very highly.) Travel slow, with many long halts of 7 to 8 hours.
[underlined] 6, 7, 8 Feb. [/underlined] On the train. Very hungry. Ate some spoonfuls of flour, barley and sugar mixed, from a cocoa tin. No water. Bought a crust of bread from Eddie, which he found beside the track, for tobacco.
9 Feb. Arrived at Luckenwalde, 23 miles S.W. of Berlin, 0800, feeling very weak. Marched 5 km. up to the camp, Stalag IIIA. Much hanging about. Brewed coffee. Queued up all the afternoon and had a hot shower. Got a billet with John – not too bad a position, on the floor on wood-straw, underneath a window. Warm and light anyhow, and room to stretch out. Porridge and potatoes from the Germans and a cup of soup from our own field kitchen.
10 Feb. Changed into pyjamas and washed dirty clothes. Had a shave.
11 Feb. German rations 1/6 loaf, 5 potatoes, 1/3 litre of soup, and German tea in the morning and evening. (This tea was a herbal mixture, and with milk and sugar made a reasonable drink. A count was held in the mornings early, to find who wanted their tea brewed and who wanted the mixture dry, to smoke – it was just like herbal tobacco. The potatoes were grown in a field near the camp, the crop being fertilised with the contents of the latrine (or “abort” in German), and were boiled in their skins.)

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[Newspaper cutting from “The Prisoner of War” dated May 1945, detailing the journey of prisoners to Stalag Luft VII and the conditions in Stalag IIIA, Luckenwalde]

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12 Feb. Wrote home. (This letter, however, did not arrive.) Bad attack of dysentery, which made me even weaker – nearly everybody had it. (This was brought on by eating raw or undercooked food, insufficient bulk, the freezing conditions of the march, and by general weakness and lack of resistance. For the first few days at Luckenwalde, everyone just lay on the floor, listless and apathetic, except for occasional dashes to the abort – not everyone made it in time!)
14 Feb. Usual day, weak with hunger and dysentery.
16 Feb. and thereafter, a succession of wretched days, very little food. Listened to BBC news brought round and read out daily in each barrack block, received on an illicit radio. This was known to the Germans, but they failed to unearth the set. Anyway, even if they did, there were others in reserve. Shaved and washed once a week. Two roll-call parades in the freezing cold every day, between 30 minutes and an hour each.

[photograph of the bunks]
Three-tier bunks of the type encountered at [indecipherable word] prison camps such as Bankau. At Luckenwalde we just lay on the floor.

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[photograph of ‘feeding quarters’]
Feeding-quarters for a “combine” of six.

[photograph] Luckenwalde. Bringing up one barrock-block’s daily ration of soup. The tub was known as a “keevil”. Blankets airing on the barbed-wire. [/photograph]
This was not the outer perimeter of the camp – there was the no-man’s land of some 50 yards, then the proper fence interspersed with towers (known as “goon boxes”) occupied by machine gunners. The term “goon” was used slightingly of all Germans, named after a comic-strip of the time – The Goons were a stupid shapeless lot of sub-humans. All

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Germans were treated with contempt by R.A.F. Prisoners.

[photograph of prisoners exercising}

Prisoners from the “cooler” at exercise. The usually got there for insulting the guards.

[photograph of soldiers in compound]

American compound. The Americans were late arrivals; all the huts were occupied, so they were accommodated in tents.

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[photograph of soldiers cooking]

Americans operating their cooking-stove, known as “blowers” or “Smokey Joes”, worked by means of a forced-draught propelled along a tunnel by a fan. All made from good-tins and pieces of wood. John's and my Smokey Joe stood on a base detached from over the doorway to the abort. The abort, by the way, was in a long hut, wooden box-like structures, perforated at suitable intervals, over a deep trench, and accommodating about 30 people. It was a social meeting-place and the centre for gathering and passing on rumours.

27 Feb. On fatigue. Slept last night fully dressed because it was so cold. Up 0600, in the dark, collected keevil and went down for tea. Parade. Breakfast. Another parade for blanket inspection. Had a wash and shave in cold water in a dirty wash-place. Afternoon roll-call 1700, then a Red Cross parcel issue, one between four, which greatly improved morale. Shared it out and had some real food. Then the sirens went and the lights went out, so turned in.

Parcel issue was not usually as convenient as this – it was often one between seven or one between nine, which made sharing difficult. Some people made nearly all the contents of their parcels into a sort of solid cake, known as “glop”, but we preferred to use one item at a time.

In 1982, I went to a Stalag Luft 7 reunion at Nottingham,

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and this is the menu and address to those present. Note the amounts stated in the menu, maintaining the tradition of difficult share-outs. How do you share six prunes between ten?

[menu missing]

Klim was dried powdered milk from American Red Cross parcels. The Limburg fish-cheese is worthy of note. It came in wooden

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boxes which, when opened, revealed about twenty oval flattish cakes covered with some sort of skin, and gave off an appalling stench. The only way of eating this delicacy was to strip off the skin, liberally douse the content with pepper and salt, hold your nose, and consume the cheese with the utmost despatch. There were not many takers, so there was plenty for those with stomachs strong enough to take it, but over-consumption could precipitate an attack of the squitters.

A few other items from this programme:-
Amongst the “sporting activities”, we find Louse Hunting. Lice thrived in the crowded insanitary conditions. If you have not had the privilege of encountering any, they were flat dirt-grey insects, hard-shelled – if you squeezed one between your fingers, it had no effect. The lurked in the seams of clothing, so had to be winkled out and crushed between thumb-nails, and there was a little spot of blood if they had recently fed. They carried, of course, the germs of typhus, and the Germans were always much perturbed to hear of increased infestation – any plague would have swept like wildfire through the camp, and while I don’t suppose the effect on prisoners would have worried them a great deal, it would eventually have affected the Germans themselves.

Dog-walking to Kreuzberg. Kreuzberg was the nearest town, and any prisoner requiring dental or medical treatment had to walk there, accompanied by a guard and the inevitable Alsatian.

Goon-baiting, which accounted for the majority of the inmates of the “cooler”, and was a popular sport aimed at making the Germans feel uncomfortable. I don’t think it took place much in Army camps, as soldiers were used to taking orders and doing as they were told, but aircrew were more rebellious independent spirits inclined to follow their own dictates. In a bomber-crew, for instance, the pilot was the captain, and any decision must ultimately be his, but he rarely had to give orders; in case of necessity, he took advice from the appropriate crew-member, a specialist who knew more than he did, weighed up the advice and then made his decision, but it was more a matter of consensus than orders. Goon-baiting usually consisted of telling the Germans that their country was finished, in ruins, that

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they had been misled, and that things were going to be tough for them. Ferreting came into the same category of making the Germans feel uncomfortable and inferior. A ferret was a member of the camp staff who prowled around looking for illegal activity, and was dealt with by the “duty pilot” system. The airman on duty, accompanied by a runner and a tail, would take up position at the entrance to the compound. When a ferret appeared, his name and time of arrival would be written down, making sure that he knew what was happening. The runner was sent off to go into each hut and call out : “Goon in the block”. The “tail” followed closely behind the ferret, making his presence felt. If the ferret turned round and remonstrated with him, he melted away into the crowd and a replacement took over. The object of all this was to inform the Germans that the compound was our preserve and that they only came in under sufferance.

And now a tribute to Captain John Collins, the Stalag Luft 7 padre. Read again the paragraph that describes him; every word is true, but words alone cannot do him justice. Where most of us were trudging along, heads down, concerned only for ourselves, he would appear at different parts of the column, sometimes speeding up, sometimes slowing down, so that everybody had a share of inspiration from his company. I can picture him now, face reddened by the blizzard, always cheerful, always optimistic, his arm round the shoulder of a man beginning to despair, carrying his gear for a little way as well as his own, then a pat on the back and off to find someone else. And the man he had just left thought: “If he can bloody well do it, so can I.” Truly a “man among men”, and I am sure his inspiration did save lives.

I kept some record of day-to-day events while at Luckenwalde, on odd scraps of paper: here is one such, written on the end-paper of a library-book, and making the best use of available space: -

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[pencilled notes indecipherable]

and on another scrap, a drawing of a Halifax; John, being a Lancaster man, asked me to do it so that we could see the differences between the two types:-
[pencil drawing]
MH were the identification letters of 51 Squadron.

16 March. Germans cut rations to potatoes every other day, 1/6 of a loaf a day, and half margarine and sugar rations.
21 March. Cold. High wind blowing dust all over the place. Difficult day for Smokey Joe – cut up a Klim[?] tin and made a windshield for him. Issue of 1 American Red Cross No. 10 per man – prunes, chocolate

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peanut butter, tuna, plum jam, Camel cigarettes. 3 wrapped chocolate for raisins. News good today – Worms, Ludwigshafen, Neustadt and Homburg taken. Germans in chaos all along the line.
24 March. Twenty-two today. They’ll probably be thinking of me at home and wondering what sort of birthday I’m having. (There had been no news for them from 19 Dec. to 6 March, so they had only heard less than three weeks before.) Shifted dirty straw from bedspace and burned it, in response to an anti-typhus purge by the Germans, so we lay on the bare boards thereafter.
27 March. Issue of the dreaded Limburg fish cheese. Got a bundle of wood from a Russian for 2 cigarettes. Diphtheria broke out in our barrack – block – enforced gargling the opening of windows.
30 March. Good Friday. Washed, shaved, & put on hair-grease. (This was an issue of an evil-looking black grease, much resembling axle-grease, which it may well have been. Goodness knows why they issued it.) Cleaned shoes. Parade by main gate 0920 for church – The Seven Words from the Cross, by Captain Collins.
2 April. Day dragged interminably. Made some prune jam, but it was cold and windy, a bad day for Smokey Joes.
5 April. Issue of 1 American Red Cross No. 10 per man. One more and they will all be finished – time to tighten belts again. Destruction of German rail-system and rolling-stock by the R.A.F. prevents supply of more parcels.
11 April. This evening, it was announced that a partial evacuation from Luckenwolde would begin tomorrow. All officers going, & N.C.O.’s from Barrack 3 and 33 from Barrack 7. John and I volunteered to be among the 33 because we thought the others might not get transport and would have to march. Packed kit and shared our food for carrying; we had a whole case full of tins of food stored up, a little from every parcel.
12 April. Called out to move off after soup 1100. Much checking and roll-calls. Search, just before which we had to get cracking in a hurry and puncture all our tins. Nothing taken, except they took one of John’s blankets. Marched down to Luckenwolde station. We had our

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blower[?] with us – John insisted on bringing it, and just outside the station we set it down and had a hot brew, which was very welcome although it was a hot day. Issue of 40 cigarettes per man. Entrained in cattle trucks, 40 per truck. Stole porage[sic] oats from a nearby train. (Looking up through the floorboards of a truck, we saw sacks inside. On being slit open with a knife, a steady stream of oats came through a wide crack, which was much appreciated by those in the vicinity.) Sleeping-space cramped, but I have been in worse. Very hot and stuffy – no ventilation.
13 April. Up 0600 & brewed up. Had bread, then stewed prunes. Talk by Wing Commander in charge of the party. Bombing of the line down at Treuenbrietzen means we can’t leave here for some time. BBC news read out during evening, also it was announced we go back to camp tomorrow.
14 April. Up 0600. Porridge, thin bread. Results of trading with German civvies – ½ loaf, 2 onions, 6 eggs, 30 saccharine tablets, and 4 lbs of potatoes for 65 cigarettes and 2 bars of soap. Marched back to camp and got organised in our same barrack. While we were away, 2 R.A.F. chaps shot trying to climb the wire – “stir-crazy”, I suppose.
17 April. Issue of 1 parcel between 2. That is the last now. Water turned off nearly all day.
18 April. News good today. Our advance appears to have slowed down, but the Russians have started a big push on the Berlin front, and are doing well. Organisation going ahead for running the camp ourselves when the Germans leave.
20 April. Bombing of Potsdam and Wriezenburg[sic] by U.S. heavies. Lovely fine day. Clouds of smoke over target. Made out a list of food in stock and rationed it to last 5 weeks. This evening there was a feeling in the air that something was going to happen, but there was no definite news. Russian artillery plainly heard, red glows in the sky.
21 April. Heard German staff moving out with lorries, tractors and cars during the night. Not called out on parade this morning. A few German guards still left, but not many. Russian tank crews brought in – short imprisonment for them. Looting of German staff quarters, but not much to be had. Prisoners record-cards from the camp offices were distributed – here

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is mine:-
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Dull rainy day. Wing Commander Beamont[?] (who later became chief pilot for English Electric, and was in charge of test-flying Camberras and Lightnings), announced that the Germans had left, the camp was surrounded, and the Russians were fighting in Luckenwalde and Juterbog last night.

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22 April. Slept fully dressed last night in case we had to make a dash for the trenches. French and British flags flying at the gate, and a big red Russian one over the cookhouse. White flags at intervals round the perimeter barbed wire. At 1030 Russian tanks and lorries arrived in force. All the Russian prisoners were given rifles and moved out straight away, anxious to kill Germans. (Russia was not a signatory to the Geneva Convention for treatment of prisoners of war, and they had a terrible time of it in the camp, almost starved or worked to death. The same treatment was accorded to German prisoners held by the Russians.)

Artillery duel just outside the camp in the evening, between Germans hiding in a wood and a party of Russians.

[pencilled notes indecipherable]

The next few pages are photo-copies of the part of Wing Commander Beamont’s[?] book The War in the Air, which deals with the liberation of Luckenwalde.

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then came the end in Europe. For some it was sudden: the nights suddenly quiet because no engines had to be tested for the dawn; the days suddenly long because they knew there would be a tomorrow. But for others, in the prisoner-of-war camps, it was a more drawn-out affair.


10th April. After weeks of better and better news, and of resigning ourselves to waiting for a few more weeks until final liberation, strated [sic] by our fighters, it will be an amazing stroke of fortune (and I know well enough what 20-mm can do to trains). However should this move come off, my policy will be to try and stay behind with the sick. This is the allied target area – not Munich.

Two days ago we saw a Mosquito release a cloud of leaflets overhead at about 20,000 feet. Intelligence reports that the contents are telling Russian prisoners-of-war that they will be liberated within ten to fifteen days.

The Russians have been literally starved by the goons and are dying in dozens of TB. The hospital is crammed with them. We had collections of food which we can hardly spare for them. Meanwhile great preparation of emergency food. Am fairly well off this time. One lives and learns. Over and above the Red Cross parcel I have acquired six chocolate bars, a tin of fish and three pounds of chocolate pemmican by judicious trading during the past weeks. So even without food from the Germans I should have nearly two weeks food at a bare living rate. In addition I have just traded a blue sweater and a pair of Jack Sharkies for two boxes of prunes, value 2s. 6d. But two days' food.

Midday. Germans announce officially that we move tomorrow. Have sent name in as unfit to travel – this is only partially true. But one risk is as good as another and I prefer this one as a fat better chance of liberation.

11th April. We have informed the Germans that this move is being carried out entirely without our co-operation. The only possible reason must be that we are intended to be held as hostages in the last stronghold in the mountainous area of Munich.

3 pm, Thursday, 12th April. After another night of tension, the camp was marched out to entrain for the incredible journey through the battle area to Munich this morning. As a notable change from the normal practice the move took place to the endless accompaniment of 'bitte,' absolutely no 'Raus! Raus!” at all.

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Even more amazing, my scheme has come off. I have been left behind with the sick bods against all the advice of the well-meaning older kriegies who were, I think, suffering from a surfeit of sour grapes. This was the best chance, and now, not three hours after the main party had gone, comes the news that the allies have cut the Magdeburg – Berlin autobahn. They could be here tomorrow.

The suspense is something of which I have never experienced the like. Waiting for a big low-attack show is a tea party in comparison! Atmosphere is electric.

The German officer on appel said, when I asked permission to remove a partition in a block for a new camp office: ‘One does not start a new building at five to twelve.’ At least they know the form.

The main party was still reported at the station, having spent the night in the trucks waiting for an engine which the Reichbahn [sic] people think is unlikely to materialise.

At 9.30 pm we received word that the boys were coming back as transport is impossible. Tank spearheads are reported at Brandenburg, Wittenberg – thirty miles from here – north of Halle and Leipzig. We are directly in front of the three-pronged thrust, and nothing short of fantastic ill-fortune can prevent our freedom in the next few days.

Saturday, 14th April. We worked late into last night trying to repair the damage in the blocks, caused by the departed kriegies themselves. In seven barracks there was hardly a serviceable bed. After appeals we received about fifteen per cent assistance in the big job of making sure that the returning boys would have at least a place to sleep. It is galling, the number of men who are not in the least concerned about the welfare of their friends and think only about themselves.

Still, somehow we arranged things and this morning the first party came in at 10 am, to the accompaniment of clapping and cheering from the Poles, and a loud chorus of ‘Hey, hey, the gang’s all here!’ from the Americans, accompanied by a trumpet, a violin and a mouth organ.

During yesterday’s appel we held a two minutes’ silence at attention in memory of Roosevelt who died yesterday. Particularly effective as the Americans were not on appel at the time, and remarkable

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because the company of German guards, who had paraded and were about to march off, remained at attention with us.

Reminder that the Germans are still in control came last night when two RAF NCOs attempted to climb the wire at the eleventh hour. One attacked a sentry with a bottle and was shot and killed. The other wounded. Bloody fools.

15th April. Terrific raid on Berlin suburb about twelve miles north of here last night. Made London show seem quite insignificant. Incredible din and display. Patton has a security blackout on the drive across the Elbe at Magdeburg. It is fifty miles away and is heading for us. Groups of kriegies stand in the compound all day staring south-west.

The atmosphere has more than expectancy, however, as the abort, always unsavoury, has sprung a leak.

Today’s big tragedy – I sat on my pipe and broke it.

Monday, 16th April. Tantalising news that the camp at Magdeburg to which the remainder of Luft 3 were sent from Sagen, has been liberated intact! When will our turn come?

Tuesday, 17th April. Another great Fortress raid passed over this morning. Mustangs and Thunderboirs [sic] are constantly in sight. Every thud and explosion, every flash of light in the sky is taken to be an indication of the advancing Americans.

Stalag II A consisting of some 4,000 Allied soldiers was evacuated into this area last week and, having arrived, had nowhere to go. They are living in the open, with no food supplies and no medical attention, and are in a tragic condition. The SBO sent our last reserve of Red Cross parcels to them yesterday together with two doctors and drugs.

Four hundred Russian sick were suddenly taken from our camp yesterday for destination unknown.
Wednesday, 18th April. Day after day, rumours add to the tension. The Russians are advancing fifty miles to the east, the Allies form miles to the west and south, but we are still here! The new optimisty [sic] has not borne fruit and now there is a new situation: no more Red Cross food.

Thursday, 19th April, night. The strain of boredom of the last few days was relieved at midnight when the Wing Commanders were routed out for a meeting with the SBO. His office was crammed with

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a circle of figures crouched round the table upon which lay a map of the area and two guttering lamps. He told us that the Russians had broken through south-east of us, were less than thirty miles away, and that the Germans proposed to march the whole camp unit of 4,000 prisoners-of-war in hostile country with no destination and no supplies of food or drugs, and most probably no shelter. The whole district is a battle area and such an action on the part of the goons cannot but have tragic results.

Friday, 20th April, morning. Still no further action by the Germans. We have our remaining food stocks packed and ready. Whether we go or stay, there will be no more food in a week’s time. With the possibility of freedom nearer than it has ever been, the chance of getting the chop is rather great. But to hell with the war! The only course is to relapse into one’s normal state of mental rigidity and sunbathe.

Saturday, 21st April. The most amazing day of my life. All night fires raged, guns thundered, and cannon shattered and at dawn a violent tank battle took place at Luckenwalde. Juterbog, twelve miles to the south, is in flames. FW 190s are ground-strafing within sight at all times. In short we are in the front line.

(By now most of the German guards had deserted, leaving the prisoners in charge of their own camp).

We are in the most critical of all stages now. Nearly free but without news of relieving forces, and in this country of brutality and horror anything might happen yet.

We know that the Russians are all round us. Perhaps they will be here tomorrow. I win £30 if they are. It is grand to have a job again. Quite a strange thing using a telephone!

Hell! An FW 190 has just strafed the whole length of the camp. I must go and see if there have been casualties.

Midnight, and no casualties. The organisation is almost complete. Amazingly enough the telephone network is operating and I have a set in my temporary office-cum-bedroom now. Very tired, have checked and arranged pickets on the of the NCOs’ compound.

Sunday, 22nd April, midday. Russians are here in force. Fighting all round. Local tank commander’s attitude is very brusque and dogmatic. I don’t think they like us very much. Tanks charging up and down have torn up our communications and in places the wire.

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The French are hysterical, the British a little less so, and the Norwegians are calm. The Americans are reported only a few miles away. I hope they get here before this comedy becomes a tragedy.

At long last the Red Air Force’s close support Aira-Cobras, Yaks, and Stormoviks fly above us. So do the Luftwaffe, putting up a brave show to the last. It was fascinating to watch a silver dart of a Messerschmitt delta jet dive straight down on to a formation of forty Fortresses, then Bang! bang! and a Fortress fell away while the Me 163 shot straight up into cloud.

In another scrap two Me 109’s shot down three out of twelve Aira-Cobras without loss. The Aira-Cobras were flying in formation under cloud. I caught a glimpse of the 109s as they dived straight astern, shot down two of the Cobras, and whipped up into cloud leaving the rest of the formation running round in circles wondering what had happened. Farther on the Me 109s came down again through another hole in the cloud and destroyed the third Aira-Cobra. They suffered no loss themselves.

1 pm. The Russians depart leaving us in temporary control. They have brought up a quantity of flak already, so it seems as if the area is nearly stabilised. However there are still plenty of bangs, and plenty of great unneighbourliness in this area.

The news announces tanks penetrating deep into Berlin.

Evening. Violent fighting in the woods to the north. Shells whistling and screaming overhead, and 109s dive-bombing the autobahn. The Russians have added heavy flak to their set-up here. The din is fantastic. More fierce fighting on the boundaries and cannon-strafing by Junkers 88s. Two Serbs and a number of Russians killed in the fighting round the camp. Violent action between a Russian tank and Germans as it left the main gate. The Russians seemed to win. They have taken General Ruge with them to fly him to Moscow. This leaves the SBO as the senior Allied CO.

(Undated.) Told officers and pickets to dissuade the men from going through the wire if possible, but if told to ‘b------- off’, to ‘b-------- off’ promptly and avoid incident. Then talked to the chaps in the blocks and reported to the SBO. Suggested that all compounds should be open, giving free circulation throughout the whole camp but within the wire. Bed at 2.30 am. Strafed by a Ju 88 at 4 am. Cannon shells all over the shop but fortunately no casualties.

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[typewritten script from The War in the Air]
8 am. Another direct threat to officers. Three sections of the wire cut away and Army NCOs loose. The RAF hanging-fire though pretending to follow Army lead. Walked into each barrack and addressed the men. Think I put the position over and am more certain than ever the trouble is due to just one or two bad characters. At one point nearly used the SBO’s authority to throw the worst types into the cooler, but steered clear. Am sure freedom of circulation within the whole camp would ease the situation.

This is the worst couple of days in my experience without exception. The feeling of the possibility that we might lose control of a mass of desperate men, under condition of front-line war and artillery shells, machine-guns, rifles, aircraft cannon and bombs going off all round, is inclined to be unpleasant. I think we can hold our own, but it is not a comfortable position.

Russians killed off four German wounded hiding in the woods. Nice people!

Stormoviks and Yaks in great numbers today. They seem to operate well on their side of the front! Dog-fights between four Aira-Cobras and one Me 109 overhead this afternoon. The Russians seem to weave violently at all times. The Yak is a good little fighter in the Spitfire class.

Our pet Junkers 88 low-strafed us with front guns again in the moonlight. Plenty return 20-mm fire from the town. Very interesting to be at the other end for a change. I admire these Luftwaffe boys for carrying on to the grim end.

A Russian patrol found four French POWs in a house outside the camp with some women. Russians shot and killed the Frenchmen for refusing to obey an order. They probably wanted the women for themselves.

Our own trouble has died down for the moment. We have averted a riot I suppose, but in actual practise discipline as such is gone.

Wednesday. Still no Americans. This waiting is tricky. Plenty of food now when at odd moments I can find time to eat. Yesterday I had my first hot drink and a meal of bread and rhubarb at 3.30 pm. The Russians are giving us all they can. Very friendly now and much back slapping, but no respect.

Thursday. Situation tense again in my compound. NCOs are not the

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slightest bit prepared to meet the officers half-way, and are quite certain that we are there to make life unpleasant.

In all this turmoil the thought that we are no longer in fact prisoners-of-war and should be home soon is difficult to grasp and is not in the least exciting.

Saturday. So ends this demoralising week of passing on and handing out orders that one knows perfectly well will not be carried out. Held a roll parade to check ration strength this morning. The men took a lot of persuasion and diplomacy to turn out for that. Last night the news of a link-up between the Americans and Russians at Torgau cheered everyone immensely. The later report that a jeep bearing three American war correspondents had been seen on the way to Berlin should do much to settle the present unrest.

Watched a Mig shoot down a 190 in four short bursts. Very pretty.

Wednesday. Ten days since the Germans left. One of the biggest battles we have seen is now raging on the north-east and northern borders of the camp. Rifle and tommy-gun fire is incessant and mortar duel is in progress with us in no-man’s land. The radio has announced the release of all camps taken by the Americans and British, but has said nothing of us. Our people must be worried. So are we.

Thursday, 1800 hours. The first Yanks in the camp. Two war correspondents in a jeep from the lines at Magdeburg. They are taking taking Beatty, our press correspondent, back with them tomorrow and he will fly to Eisenhower’s headquarters with our records. Maybe things will start moving. All the boys want to push off west and are doing so in increasing numbers. I would be right with them if I hadn’t this damned responsibility. Wrote a brief note home and put it in the jeep. It might get through.

Friday. Sunshine. Many more people walking west. Two hundred of the men from this compound alone walked out yesterday. The position is intolerable. We can and should march the camp west to the Elbe with of course the Russian’s approval. The Americans are at Wittenberg. Only thirty miles away – one day or so on a bicycle.

1600 hours. American colonel from Davescourt headquarters here, said our evacuation starts at once! Trucks arriving tonight and we shall be flown home. Can it be true! Shall we, shall I be out of this country of death and home in England? It is almost too much to expect.

Wing Commander ROLAND BEAMONT’S dairy,[sic] quoted by EDWARD LANCHBERY

It was too much to expect. The Americans sent the trucks, the Russians sent them back. It was another two weeks before they got home.

[/typewritten script from The War in the Air]

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Enclosed below is an account of the last days at Luckenwalde from my own point of view, and the journey home.

[pencilled notes indecipherable]

On one of our private forging parties, John and I fell in with some Polish prisoners who had been employed at the factory making V1 flying bombs. None of us could speak the other side’s language, so everything was done by signs. We went back to their billet with them, and they produced enamel mugs and bottles of spirit, looking like lemon-barley water, which we gathered was fuel for the flying-bombs, and must have been almost pure alcohol. Some was poured on a table, a match applied, and it went “whoomph.” We imbibed a fair quantity of this, and were soon blotto. We staggered back to camp and sagged down to sleep it off; woke up with a raging thirst and had a drink of water. This had the effect of re-activating the spirit, setting the whole

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[pencilled notes indecipherable]

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business in motion again, so we were back in square one.

I see “Stinger” is referred to here and there. This was Staff Sergeant Nettell of the Glider Pilot Regiment, the senior N.C.O. in our hut, and something of a comedian. Rumours were rife towards the end, our prisoners were somewhat apprehensive about what the Germans might have in store for them. One day, Stinger came into the hut, called for silence, and announced: “Everyone in this hut – is to parade outside in five minutes time – to march down to the stores – to draw picks and shovels – to dig their own graves.” I thought: “So it’s come to that, has it?” There was a stunned silence for a moment, then laughter broke out – Stinger and his jokes again!

The Russians were very reluctant to let us go, and our impatience mounted. American army lorries arrived on 6 May to take us away, but the Russians sent them away empty. The next day, prisoners started off trickling away on their own, walking westwards, and John and I set off in a part of about a dozen. After walking about 7 miles, we met another convoy of American lorries heading for the camp. One of them picked us up, turned around, and set off towards the west, finishing up at a P.O.W. reception centre at Schonebeck, in what was a Junkers aircraft factory. So on 7 May we were once again in safe hands. The war officially ended the next day with unconditioned German surrender.

11 May.
Embarked in lorries and proceeded via Magdeburg and Brunswick to an ex-German fighter aerodrome at Hildesheim. Had a hot shower and a de-lousing. In the latter operation, an orderly put the nozzle of a large syringe down the front of one’s trousers and sent a blast of DDT round the interior. Assigned to an aircraft party. Got a Red Cross parcel containing soap (toilet, tooth and shaving), shaving-brush razor and blades, 2 handkerchiefs, tooth-brush, face-cloth, toilet-bag, 50 cigarettes and ½ lb of chocolate. Soup, bread, coffee and a K-ration for tea.
12 May. Called out to the aerodrome after breakfast. A steady stream

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of Dakotas was coming in, filling up and taking off again. Took off 1600, flew over the devastated areas of the Ruhr, and landed at Brussels 1800. Tea and biscuits from the Naafi waggon. Transported in lorries to 42 R.H.U. at Louvain, about 12 miles out. Deloused once again.

13 May. Taken back to Brussels Airport in the afternoon, got aboard a Dakota and flew back to England via Ostend and the Thames Estuary. Landed at Wing, near Aylesbury. Deloused yet again – they must have thought those lice were pretty hardy characters, to have survived two previous assaults. After more tea and biscuits, transported to Bicester aerodrome, where we stayed the night. Bacon and egg, bread and marmalade, for tea.

14 May. Train to Cosford, near Wolverhampton. Given new uniform and kit, went through documentation, give ration cards and leave passes, and pay. Medical exam.

15 May. Left late in the afternoon, travelled through the night, and arrived at Reading 0430. Two hours to wait for a train to Twyford, and another ½ hour for one to Henley. When I arrived home the rest of the family were still in bed and I had to knock them up.
The following letters are in order, as received by my mother. The original telegram has not survived, but it read: “Deeply regret to inform you your son Sgt. H. Wagner failed to return from an operational flight over enemy territory this morning. Pending receipt of written notification no information to be given to the Press.”
* Letters on page numbered 90 onwards.

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[newspaper cuttings relating the heroism of the aircrews of Bomber Command]

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[Three newspaper cuttings on Bomber Command – the third worded as follows:]

The campaign fought by Bomber Command was the longest and the most sustained in British military history. It lasted from September 1939 to May 1945. It cost the lives of 57,000 of its aircrew – Britons, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans – a total which represents well over half of all those who flew on operations. Nowhere else was the casualty rate so high, perhaps because nowhere else was battle joined with the enemy on such a continuous and relentless scale.

They were all young men, all highly-trained. They came to England from all over the Empire, to volunteer for and to create the last Imperial force there would ever be. In the darkest days they were a symbol that ultimately their world would triumph, whatever the cost. They were a special breed, on a special crusade, and possessed it seemed of a special courage. They did not ask to live, but only to win.

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in charge, rumours were rife, and prisoners were somewhat apprehensive about what the Germans might have in store for them. One day, Stinger came into the hut, called for silence

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of Dakotas was coming in, filling up and taking off again. Took off 1600, flew over the devastated areas of the Ruhr, marvelling at the damned good job we had made of it, and landed at Brussels 1800. Tea and biscuits from the Naafi waggon [sic]. Transported in lorries to 42 R.H.U. At Louvain, about 12 miles out. De-loused once again, tea, and turned in.

13 May. Taken back to Brussels Airport in the afternoon, got aboard a Dakota and flew back to England via Ostend and the Thames Estuary. Landed at Wing, near Aylesbury. De-loused yet again – they must have considered the lice pretty hardy characters to have survived two previous assaults. After more tea and biscuits, transported to Bicester aerodrome, where we stayed the night. Bacon and egg, bread and marmalade, and tea.

14 May. Train to Cosford, near Wolverhampton. Given new uniform and kit, went through documentation, given ration cards, leave passes, and pay. Medical exam.

15 May. Left late in the afternoon, travelled through the night, and arrived at Reading 0430. Two hours to wait for a train to Twyford, and another 1/2 hr. for one to Henley. When I arrived home, the rest of the family were still in bed, and I had to knock them up.

There followed several days of seeing old friends and places again, writing to parents of the rest of my crew, playing golf, servicing motorcycle and generally relaxing and feeling glad to be home again and to be able to wander as I pleased. The following letters are in order as received by my mother. The original telegram has not survived, but it read; “Deeply regret to inform you your son Sgt. H. Wagner failed to return from an operational flight over enemy territory this morning. Pending receipt of written notification no information to be given to the Press.”

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No. 51 Squadron,
R.A.F. Station,
Nr. Goole,

Reference:- 51S/801/251/P.1.

18th December, 1944.

Dear Mrs. Wagner

It is with the deepest regret that I have to confirm the news already conveyed to you by telegram to-day, that your Son, 1604744 Sergeant H.W. Wagner, failed to return from an operational flight over enemy territory this morning.

Your Son was acting in his capacity of Navigator in an aircraft which took-off during the early hours of this morning to deliver an attack on a target at Duisburg, and I regret that nothing was heard of the aircraft or its crew after the time of take-off.

The loss of this crew is a sad blow to all of us here, particularly so in the case of your Son, who was looked upon as one of our outstanding Navigators, and who commanded the respect of all. We cherish the hope that he and his companions may yet prove to be safe and well, though prisoners of war.

Your Son's personal belongings have been gathered together by the Station Effects Officer and forwarded to the R.A.F. Central Depository, who will send them on to you in due course.

I would like to add that the request in the telegram notifying you of the casualty to your Son was included with the object of avoiding his chance of escape being prejudiced in case he was still at large. This is not to say that any information is available, but it is a precaution which is adopted in the case of all missing personnel.

Please accept the deepest sympathy of myself and all the Officers and Men of the Squadron.

Yours Sincerely
H.A.R. Holford
Wing commander, Commanding,
[underlined] No. 51 Squadron, R.A.F. [/underlined]

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(casualty Branch),

22 December, 1944.


I am commanded by the Air Council to express to you their great regret on learning that your son, Sergeant Henry Wolfe Wagner, Royal Air Force, is missing as the result of air operations on 18th December, 1944, when a Halifax aircraft in which he was flying as navigator set out for action over Duisberg [sic] and failed to return.

This does not necessarily mean that he is killed or wounded, and if he is a prisoner of war he should be able to communicate with you in due course. Meanwhile enquiries are being made through the International Red Cross committee, and as soon as any definite news is received you will be at once informed.


Mrs. J. E. Wagner,
14, Western Avenue,

[page break]

If any information regarding your son is received by you from any source you are requested to be kind enough to communicate it immediately to the Air Ministry.

The air Council desire me to convey to you their sympathy in your present anxiety.

I am, Madam,
Your obedient Servant,

Charles Evans



A photograph of the cemetery in Holland, sent to me a few months after the war by Mrs Worthington, mother of our mid-upper gunner.


A close-up of the crew's graves before proper head-stones were fitted.

[page break]


of Dakotas was coming in, filling up and taking off again. Took off 1600, flew over the devastated areas of the Ruhr, marvelling at the damned good job we had made of it, and landed at Brussels 1800. Tea and biscuits from the Naafi waggon [sic]. Transported in lorries to 42 R.H.U. At Louvain, about 12 miles out. De-loused once again, tea, and turned in.

13 May. Taken back to Brussels Airport in the afternoon, got aboard a Dakota and flew back to England via Ostend and the Thames Estuary. Landed at Wing, near Aylesbury. De-loused yet again – they must have considered the lice pretty hardy characters to have survived two previous assaults. After more tea and biscuits, transported to Bicester aerodrome, where we stayed the night. Bacon and egg, bread and marmalade, and tea.

14 May. Train to Cosford, near Wolverhampton. Given new uniform and kit, went through documentation, given ration cards, leave passes, and pay. Medical exam.

15 May. Left late in the afternoon, travelled through the night, and arrived at Reading 0430. Two hours to wait for a train to Twyford, and another 1/2 hr. for one to Henley. When I arrived home, the rest of the family were still in bed, and I had to knock them up.

There followed several days of seeing old friends and places again, writing to parents of the rest of my crew, playing golf, servicing motorcycle and generally relaxing and feeling glad to be home again and to be able to wander as I pleased. The following letters are in order as received by my mother. The original telegram has not survived, but it read; “Deeply regret to inform you your son Sgt. H. Wagner failed to return from an operational flight over enemy territory this morning. Pending receipt of written notification no information to be given to the Press.”

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No. 51 Squadron,
R.A.F. Station,
Nr. Goole,

Reference:- 51S/801/251/P.1.

18th December, 1944.

Dear Mrs. Wagner

It is with the deepest regret that I have to confirm the news already conveyed to you by telegram to-day, that your Son, 1604744 Sergeant H.W. Wagner, failed to return from an operational flight over enemy territory this morning.

Your Son was acting in his capacity of Navigator in an aircraft which took-off during the early hours of this morning to deliver an attack on a target at Duisburg, and I regret that nothing was heard of the aircraft or its crew after the time of take-off.

The loss of this crew is a sad blow to all of us here, particularly so in the case of your Son, who was looked upon as one of our outstanding Navigators, and who commanded the respect of all. We cherish the hope that he and his companions may yet prove to be safe and well, though prisoners of war.

Your Son's personal belongings have been gathered together by the Station Effects Officer and forwarded to the R.A.F. Central Depository, who will send them on to you in due course.

I would like to add that the request in the telegram notifying you of the casualty to your Son was included with the object of avoiding his chance of escape being prejudiced in case he was still at large. This is not to say that any information is available, but it is a precaution which is adopted in the case of all missing personnel.

Please accept the deepest sympathy of myself and all the Officers and Men of the Squadron.

Yours Sincerely
H.A.R. Holford
Wing commander, Commanding,
[underlined] No. 51 Squadron, R.A.F. [/underlined]

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(casualty Branch),

22 December, 1944.


I am commanded by the Air Council to express to you their great regret on learning that your son, Sergeant Henry Wolfe Wagner, Royal Air Force, is missing as the result of air operations on 18th December, 1944, when a Halifax aircraft in which he was flying as navigator set out for action over Duisberg [sic] and failed to return.

This does not necessarily mean that he is killed or wounded, and if he is a prisoner of war he should be able to communicate with you in due course. Meanwhile enquiries are being made through the International Red Cross committee, and as soon as any definite news is received you will be at once informed.


Mrs. J. E. Wagner,
14, Western Avenue,

[page break]

If any information regarding your son is received by you from any source you are requested to be kind enough to communicate it immediately to the Air Ministry.

The air Council desire me to convey to you their sympathy in your present anxiety.

I am, Madam,
Your obedient Servant,

Charles Evans



A photograph of the cemetery in Holland, sent to me a few months after the war by Mrs Worthington, mother of our mid-upper gunner.


A close-up of the crew's graves before proper head-stones were fitted.

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[photograph] Some of the graves. This photo was taken about 1982 by Mrs. Worthington's daughter, Joan.

In 1989, I saw a notice in “Airmail” inserted by a man who had visited Venray and seen the graves of 12 R.A.F. Men. He named them, and offered to send photos to relatives. I told him the names of my crew and the circumstances that led to their being there, and he sent me the following photographs.

[photograph] Warrant Officer W.A. Bates, pilot.

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[photograph] Flight Sergeant L.G. Roberts, Bomb-aimer.

[photograph] Sgt. E. Berry, Flight engineer

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[Photograph] Sgt. T.W. Worthington, Mid-upper gunner.

[photograph] Sgt. R. Thomas, Rear-gunner.

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Shortly after the war, I applied to join the Caterpillar Club, membership of which is limited to those who have saved their lives by means of a parachute. The club was founded by Leslie Irvin, who invented the modern parachute.

[inserted] Membership card to the Caterpillar Club. [/inserted]

In the middle of June, I went to stay for a couple of days [inserted] with John [/inserted] and his long-time girl-friend (now his wife) Vilna. They lived in a cottage at Potterne Park Farm, Devizes, Wiltshire. A very pleasant visit it was, the last time but one that I saw them for 44 years. But more of that later. We lost touch; it shouldn't have happened, but this sort of thing often did.

My leave expired on 11 July 1945, and I returned to Cosford. This was only for a few days, for the purposes of medical examination, documentation and getting fitted out in full kit. It was a time of unease, restlessness and doubt. I knew only one other person there, Frankie Sedgewick, who had been with John and me at Barkau and Luckenwalde. He was a great virtuoso on the piano and the accordion; although he could not read music, he knew all the tunes, and had a wonderful sense of rhythm. Before we left Barkau for the march, he had become the possessor of a beautiful accordion, thanks to the Red Cross. On the point of departure from Barkau, he slashed it with a knife, tears streaming down his face, and said: “I can't carry it, and those bastards aren't having it.”

[page break]


and said: “I can’t carry it, and those bastards aren’t having it.” He had been a member of a Stirling crew, shot down dropping supplies at Arnhem. The aircraft belly-landed on a road, skated along it and ground to a halt. The crew evacuated – Frankie into a ditch on one side, the other six into a ditch on the opposite side, all under fire. The six were on the British side and got away; Frankie was on the German side and got pulled in.

By the 15th of July, I was back on leave again, until the end of August. I spent those six weeks working on harvesting at Dick Green’s farm, playing golf, going swimming, and generally having a relaxed and leisurely time among friends. The war with Japan ended after the dropping of the two atom-bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th and 8th, as it was all over. On 29 August I reported to R.A.F. Wittering and remained there for nine days, but there was nothing much to do and no real reason for being there – the only purpose it served was to demonstrate to us that we were in fact still in the Air Force. Then there was a 48-hour pass, for which I went home, then back to Wittering again, then off on leave again.

In October, I went up to Liverpool to stay with Mr. Roberts, father of our bomb-aimer. While there, we went to visit the Worthingtons before returning home a few days later, but it was not long before I was back there again, for a fortnight this times, and the affair made good progress. It looked as if this might be it.

I applied for early release from the R.A.F. so as to continue my degree course at Reading University; this was granted, and I was demobilised shortly before Christmas, ready to start at the university again in January 1946.

This would seem to take us to the end of the crosswind leg, and it is now time to turn onto the downwind leg. This one is the longest of all the legs of a circuit, and the most peaceful. Everything should be organised and running smoothly; there is nothing of any urgency requiring to be done, and one may proceed with dignity and decorum towards

[page break]


the next turning-point, meanwhile watching the world go by.

[underlined] DOWNWIND LEG. [/underlined]
In January 1946 I returned to Reading University. When I left, I had one year to do for my degree, but now I had two extra terms, which were quite welcome as they gave me an opportunity to settle down again. I was only doing two subjects (as usual for an honours degree) – French and Latin. The French consisted not only of the language itself but also translation into French and from French, classical literature, modern literature, old French, the development of the language from Latin, essays and a considerable amount of reading. In term-time, and even during holidays, I worked very hard, often on into the night. During leisure times, I played a lot of golf, usually with my brother Richard, at Henley Golf Club. He was always a better player than me; where I would be hoping that my second shot finished somewhere on the green, he would be seen picking the spot on the green where he proposed to land his ball. During the summer, I worked on Dick Green’s farm, mainly on harvesting, and often borrowed a gun from him to go rabbiting. Tight rationing was still in force, so a rabbit was always welcome as an alternative to the dreary diet of sausage-meat or fish. Being a hot summer, I frequently went after work for a swim at Shiplake Swimming Baths, on the River Thames.

Joan came down from Liverpool for a week, and I went up to Liverpool and stayed with her family, and also spent a fortnight with them on holiday in North Wales, near Prestatyn. We became engaged during that summer, but early next year it was all over. Looking back, the affair was doomed to failure, because we could see so little of each other, living such a long way apart. There was neither the money nor the time for frequent visits, and the flame flickered and died.

1947 was the year of my final examinations, and I continued to work as hard as ever, reluctant even to give up time to play golf. I did join the University cross-country club, and used to run in

[page break]


team matches against other universities and athletics clubs on Saturday afternoons.

In June, I sat the final examinations for my degree, and when the results came out I found I had passed the B.A. with Honours in French, Class II Division 1. I did not expect a Class 1 degree, as these were rarely given. It must have been a close thing, though; some weeks afterwards, I met the Professor of French, Professor Pesseignet, and her said: “I would have liked to give you a First, but there were other considerations.” (He did not specify what they were.) However, Class II Division 1 was classified as a “good Honours degree”, so I was quite satisfied. Class II Division II was a run-of-the-mill degree, and Class III was for those who only just scraped through.

I acquired another motorcycle that summer. I disposed of the old 250 c.c. O.K. Supreme and took over a 500 c.c. high-camshaft MSS Velocette, a far superior machine in every respect. One evening, I went over to Maidenhead to help my friend Geoff Dolphin do some work on his 350 c.c. Royal Enfield. When the job was done, we repaired to the local for some refreshment and got talking at the bar to a Mr. Jupp. He ran a holiday-camp for London youth-clubs in the Isle of Wight, and asked if I would like a job helping in the cookhouse for a few weeks. Having nothing lined up in the way of holidays, I accepted, and went down there several days later. One evening, I was sitting at a table outside, reading, when a girl came and sat down and started reading too. After half an hour, I said: “That’s another book finished,” and stood up to leave. She said: “Would you like to read the paper?”, so I said: “Yes, please”, and she went and got her Daily Mirror. (Years afterwards, she said to me: “I didn’t know how near I was to losing you, offering you the Daily Mirror.”) When it got duck, I said: “It’s too dark to read any more. Shall we take a ride up to Culver Point?” and that is how it all started. Before leaving her that evening, I said: “Are you committed to anything tomorrow?” When she said no, I said: “I have to go up to Brading in the morning to get the cakes for the canteen. Then we could go along to the other end of the island, to the Needles and Alum Bay, and have

[page break]

something to eat on the way back. Would you come with me?” By the time that day was over, the friendship was pretty firmly established. Many years later, I said to her: “Why me?”, and she said: “I liked the look of you.” Honest to the nth degree.

She also said: “I threw myself at you, didn’t I?”. I said: “No, you didn’t throw yourself. All you did was open the door. What you were saying, in effect, was: “If you like what you see, do something about it.” The ball was always in my court, it was always up to me to make the next move, if I wanted to.”

The following day, as she was leaving for London again, I said: “Write to me”, and she said: “No, you write to me,” and I realised that of course it was not up to the girl to do the pushing, that was my job. This is the photograph she gave me as she left, with her address on the back. [photograph not included]

[page break]


It is hereby certified that HENRY W. WAGNER has been duly admitted to the Degree of Bachelor of Arts of this University. (Honours School of French Class II Division 1)

[signed] E. Smith [/signed] Registrar.
July 5, 1947. [/certificate]

[page break]


[photograph] [inserted] All my love, Darling, Joan xxxx [/inserted]

and this is one I acquired later, taken when she was a little girl.


[page break]


And so the affair progressed; we were very happy in each other’s company, and I quickly got to know her as a gentle, understanding, kind-hearted, undemanding and completely straightforward and honest, completely unselfish, and those characteristics remained with her, unchanged, for as long as she lived. There were never any words of anger, recrimination, accusation or petty temper between us. It did not take me long to realise I had got a good one.

Sometimes, I went up to London, to her home, for the week-end, sometimes she came to Henley, and we saw each other very frequently.

In the autumn of 1947, I went back to the University for one more year, to take a Diploma in Education, a necessary qualification for teaching in grammar schools. After finishing the course, I toyed with the idea of going into the R.A.F. Education Branch, but by the time the paper-work was all completed, I found out that the main requirements were for teachers of English, mathematics and physics. By that time, it was too late to apply for jobs in state-schools, but I got a job at Bodington College, Leatherhead, Surrey, a private boarding-school for boys 11 - 18, and started there in September 1948.


I taught mainly French and Latin, with some English, mathematics

[page break]


[missing photograph or document]

and geography. The classes were small, the fees high. The boys all came from upper-class families, and were easy to get on with. Masters were in contact with them a great deal in leisure-times. I used to run a model aircraft club, and we flew diesel-engined control-line models on the playing-filed when weather permitted, and built or repaired them on

[page break]

[University of Reading Diploma]

[page break]


dark evenings or in wet and windy weather. I was in charge of Rugby Football, and this led to many discussions on team selection and tactics. There were lessons in the evening instead of the afternoon, leaving afternoons free for games - I either played or refereed. There was always a match against another school or a club on Saturdays and sometimes on Wednesdays as well. In the summer I umpired cricket.

The headmaster, the Reverend J. G. Wilkie, was a man of liberal views on education, only hard on those who transgressed the boundaries of good conduct and gentlemanly behaviour. Prefects were allowed to smoke in their studies, and to brew coffee, and often when I was on duty and had seen all the boys into their dormitories and put the lights out, some of the prefects would say: “Come in and have a smoke and a cup of coffee, Mr. Wagner, and we’ll talk about Saturday’s team.”

On alternate week-ends, provided I was not on duty at the school, I used to go up to London and stay at Joan’s; the other week-ends, I went by motorcycle to Henley, and Joan came to Henley by bus, and the love-affair progressed well. One day she said to me: “Henry, are you going to marry me?” I had taken this for granted, it had never crossed my mind that it might be otherwise. I realised that a girl needs to have it put in so many words, and it was remiss of me not to have made the situation clear before. So it was settled, and the wedding was fixed for August 1949. The greatest worry was where we were going to live, as only four years after the war housing was desperately short, and we had no money to start buying a house. Talking the matter over with the Headmaster, he said that there was accommodation available in one of the blocks round the old stable-yard, which we could have at a low rent. So I spent all my available spare time redecorating this, and eventually it looked quite nice. Furniture and carpets were acquired on hire-purchase - you had to have “dockets” to get these, - and Joan

[page break]


made curtains and gradually accumulated the bare necessities. I had a radio of my own, but televisions and washing-machines were almost unheard-of, and we did not hanker after them. Nor did we have a refrigerator.

[photograph] Badingham College, from the playing-fields. [/photograph]
[photograph] My Velocette, in the stable-yard. [/photograph]
[photograph] Joan on the motorcycle, taken at Henley. [/photograph]
[photograph] Joan on holiday (right) with her friend Joan Rampton. [/photograph]

Joan made her own wedding-dress and the bridesmaids’ dresses. Joan Rampton was the chief bridesmaid, and her (Joan Rampton’s) little sister the second bridesmaid. For our honeymoon, we

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would be going to Bantry, in the far south-west corner of Ireland. These are the photos we had taken for our passports. [two photographs]

The wedding took place at 11 a.m. at Holy Trinity Church, Henley-on-Thames. Richard was my best man.
[photograph of the bride and groom]

[page break]


[photograph of the wedding party]
[photograph] Leaving the reception. [/photograph]
This was held at a hotel just

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across the street from Henley station, so we did not have far to go to the train. Train to Fishguard, overnight ferry to Cork, bus to Bantry.

On our return a fortnight later, we settled in to The Cottage, Badingham College, Leatherhead, Surrey. One of my first jobs was to go down to the bank to get out some money. I came out of the bank, and was handing over some of the money to Joan when the cashier came out. He said: “Did you know your account was overdrawn, Mr Wagner?” I must have miscalculated somehow, and I said: “No. I suppose you had better have this back, hadn’t you?”, and he said: “Yes, I suppose I had,” and took it. Joan said: “Right, I’ll see about a job then,” and immediately went and got herself a job in a grocery shop. What with her money, an advance on my salary, and a loan of £60 from my brother John, we were able to carry on until we got ourselves sorted out. But money was always scarce, as I suppose it is for nearly every newly-married couple, and there were no luxuries. We used to go to the cinema twice a week – no golf, no drinking, and holidays were in caravans or boarding-houses, travelling by motorbike. The furniture was being paid off at just over £9 a month. Food was still severely rationed. We did not ask for much – we had each other, and that was enough.

I enjoyed my work, Joan enjoyed working and being with other people. She always liked to have other people round her, and even later in life when money was not so important, preferred to be working than staying at home. We still went to London and to Henley on alternate week-ends.

The even tenor of life continued at Badingham for another three years. In the summer of 1952, on our return from holiday in Colwyn Bay, the headmaster said that, owing to expansion, he needed part of our house. That meant we would have to go. There was no chance of accomodation[sic] in the “Stockbroker Belt” of Leatherhead, so I gave in my notice for December 1952.

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and set about applying for jobs in the vicinity of Henley, as my mother was willing to put us up until we got sorted out. I got one at Earley, on the outskirts of Reading, at Woodley Hill Grammar School, a boys’ school. This meant a journey of seven miles by motorbike, but that was no hardship except on bitter winter days or in heavy rain. Richard did some auctioneering for a firm in Henley, and they had space to store our furniture above the auction-rooms, so that cost us nothing.

So in January 1953 I started work at Woodley Hill, and Joan got herself a job in a shop in Henley. Richard, being a partner in a firm of estate-agents, would keep an eye open for possible living accomodation[sic] for us, but this was still in extremely short supply. After a few months, nothing seemed to be coming up, so I began to apply for a job in South Africa, where the conditions of life would be better and we would find somewhere of our own to live. Joan was in agreement – she was always willing to try anything, and never raised any objections in major decisions of this sort. But no sooner had I started to apply than Richard came up with something that suited us absolutely. A golfing friend of his, Gerald Mundey, lived with his mother and his sister Joy on a big estate up in the woods at Harpsden, about 1½ miles out of Henley; the gardener’s cottage had become vacant, and we could have it at the modest rent of £10/month. So we moved our furniture up there and settled in. It was fairly isolated, but we got on well with the Mundeys and Joan was still out all day working. I started playing golf again and joined Marlow rugby club. Looking back, it was selfish of me to be out at rugby on Saturday afternoons and often well into the evening, and then go golfing on Sunday mornings, but Joan never complained, although she would have been perfectly right to do so. Once, playing rugby against Kodak, up in London, I broke my right ankle, and had to spend ten days in Henley hospital while it was mending. I had a few more days at home, then went back to work, riding the motorcycle with one leg encased in plaster, the leg which operated the gear-change lever.

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[photograph] Marlow Rugby Club First XV. [/photograph]
I played right-hand prop, and sometimes hooker when the need arose. The regular hooker was Budworth, on the right in the front row. He used to fly Beaufighters against terrorists in Malaya before he came to us. His wife usually accompanied us on coach-trips, and was one of the few women I ever knew who drank pints of bitter. Colin Gill, left in the front row, had a glass eye; in the course of one game, it dropped out into the mud and the game had to stop while we looked for it. The bath accomodation[sic] adjoining the changing-room was a deep recess about ten feet square sunk in the concrete, and we would settle down in the hot water after a game with pints of beer standing on the concrete behind us. After a particularly muddy game, the contents of the bath would be not so much hot water as thin liquid mud. Songs were sung. An invitation came once through the post

[page break]


for me to attend a stag-party. At the bottom of the card it said “Singing by our own choir.” Joan said: “That doesn’t sound very exciting, singing by our own choir,” and I said: “Oh, but you don’t know what our own choir will be singing.”

Many such memories of Marlow Rugby Club come back to me, such as the stag-party that got out of hand; the piano was adjudged not to be functioning correctly. Beer was poured into it without producing any improvement, so the instrument itself was dismantled, without finding the cause, and by that time nobody in a state to re-assemble it. After that, the committee put a stop to further stag-parties. Then there was the occasion when a large stag-party, complete with strippers, was held in one of the pavilions at Twickenham, attended by several clubs, and those in the know will recall that I made a libation to the gods of rugby-football on the centre spot of the pitch. The amount of pleasure I have had throughout my life from golf and rugby is really incalculable. Before I stopped playing rugby, I was made an honorary life-member, for services to the club. The club ran seven teams.

[Marlow Rugby Union Football Club card front]

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[Marlow Rugby Union Football Club card page 1]

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[Marlow Rugby Union Football Club card pages 2 and 3]

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for me to attend a stag-party. At the bottom of the card it said “Singing by our own choir.” John said: “That doesn't sound very exciting, singing by our own choir,” and I said: “Ah, but you don't know what our own choir will be singing.”

Many such memories of Marlow Rugby Club come back to me, such as the stag-party that got out of hand; the piano was adjudged not to be functioning correctly. Beer was poured into it without producing any improvement, so the instrument itself was dismantled, without finding the cause, and by that time nobody was in a state to re-assemble it. After that, the committee put a stop to further stag-parties. Then there was the occasion when a large stag-party, complete with strippers, was held in one of the pavilions at Twickenham, attended by several clubs, and those in the know will recall that I made a libation to the gods of rugby-football on the centre spot of the pitch. The amount of pleasure I have had throughout my life from golf and rugby is really incalculable. Before I stopped playing rugby, I was made an honorary life-member, for services to the club. The club ran seven teams.

Fixtures Sept. 1964 – April 1965

1st XV Captain: R.J. WELSFORD

“A” XV Captain: G.L. SPINKS


“B” XV Captain: D.L.G. THOMAS


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[Rugby fixtures Sept 1964 – April 1965]

[Rules of the ruby club]

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Eventually and inevitably there was an addition to the family. Helen was born at the maternity unit in Henley, and Joan was so proud of her, and she was certainly a lovely little girl. These photographs were taken while we were still living at Red Hatch Cottage, some in the garden, some on holiday.

[six photographs]

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[seven photographs]

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[six photographs]

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[two photographs]

We had been at Red Hatch Cottage about four years. Happy days though they were, money was still tight. I had the motorcycle fitted with a sidecar on Helen's arrival, so we could still get about. But we wanted a home of our own, and there did not seem to be much hope of getting one. I used to go to the bank on Saturday mornings to get out enough money for the week; the bank balance was often down to below £5, and I dreaded a month that had five Saturdays in it.

One day, I saw on the staff-room notice-board a circular from the National Union of Teachers asking anyone who had any salary queries to get in touch with them. For most of my time at Badingham the school was not recognised by the Ministry of Education and did not therefore count as reckonable services under the regulations. However, before I left, it was inspected and recognised. I put the point to the N.U.T. - was there any possibility of having this service all recognised for the purposes of stepping up the salary scale? They replied that it was up to the Local Education Authority. So I put the matter to the Berkshire Education Authority. I was called to the telephone one day at school – yes, they would recognise all that service, put me four steps up the ladder and give back-pay also for those four years. This amounted to some £270. I could hardly believe what I was hearing. When I got home, I said to Joan; “They rang me up from Shire Hall today. They won't recognise that service.” Terribly disappointed though she must have

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been, she put her arm round me and said; “Oh well, you tried.” All the time we were married, she never made me feel inadequate, not good enough for her, although I sometimes felt that was indeed the case – she deserved better than me. She never was sarcastic, never criticised me or made me feel small. All she had to know was that it was my best that I was doing; it may not have been a very good best sometimes, but as long as it was the best, that was sufficient. But even if things turned out well and I had not done my absolute best, I would be gently reminded. Her whole philosophy of life was based on love; she believed in being in love, she loved her husband, family and home. And in return, she always knew she was well loved. I was glad to be able to give her the happiness and security that she needed. Indeed, our marriage was secure in every respect - “Secure:- without care or anxiety, free from fear or danger, safe, confident, in safe keeping, of such strength as to ensure safety” (Chambers's Twentieth Century Dictionary.) I found this cutting many years later, tucked into Joan's writing -case; it obviously appealed to her, embodying as it does her whole philosophy.

[newspaper cutting – from the New Testament]

But I digress; I shall return to this theme later. Hiding her disappointment, and knowing I must have been disappointed too, she didn't complain but tried to console me with: “Oh well, you tried.” I let it ride for a few minutes, then told her the good news, and she was absolutely delighted. We would have enough money for the necessary 10% deposit on a house and to pay for the removal. There would be nothing to spare for the extras that would be needed, but these things would come in the fulness [sic] of time. So it was not long before we were looking around at new houses being built, and eventually settled for one on Ravensbourne Drive,

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Woodley, about three miles out of Reading and not far from the school where I worked. We used to go over on Sunday afternoons and see the progress being made, and as soon as it was ready we moved in. There was a great deal to be done getting the interior comfortable to live in, but Joan was a great home-maker. The garden was a wilderness containing a lot of builder's rubble, but I set to work to make it look nice and pleasant.

[two photographs]

Ravensbourne Drive, taken from outside our house, looking down the road (left) and up the road (right)

[two photographs]

The back garden. The back of the house.

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It was a big job getting the garden in order, but I was much indebted to John for a great amount of help – he used to come over and give a hand whenever he had the time. We mixed and laid concrete along the back of the house and at the side, and made the path running up the garden. I bought a concrete sectioned garage which we put up. I laid lawns, made a sand-pit for Helen, made the trellis and put climbing-roses on it to divide off the vegetable-garden, and planted the willow-tree. Made a coal-bunker too – there was no central-heating in those days. A whole range of kitchen cabinets as well – it was a matter of making things then rather than buying them. And always words of praise from Joan for what had been achieved.

Joan used to take Helen out to a nearby park in the afternoons, where there were swings, and it was there that she met Jean Hindley, who had her little girl with her. Joan was never backward in making friends (Think again how she got to know me), and Jean and Derek have been friends ever since. I always call into see them when I go down to Woodley, and there is always a warm welcome. We also made friends with Babs and Dave Read who lived a couple of doors along, and held lively parties

[eleven lines obscured by photograph]

had pints of mild and bitter, so it was quite obvious he had at least one redeeming feature. He used to be a Petty Officer in the Navy, on the engineering side. As I got to know him better, I

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was happy to consider him a good friend – straightforward, even-tempered, he took life very much as it came. Gradually, other inhabitants of Woodley joined us, and quite a large contingent from Woodley used to go over golfing at Henley – Jim Trevaskis, Bill Spelman, George Wall, Frank Way, Jeff Morgan and Alan Thorngate. I held the post of captain of the Henley Artisans Golfing Society at the time, and for a number of years thereafter. We played matches against the artisan sections of other clubs, and Joan and Anne used to make the sandwiches and come over and organise the teas for us. Good days they were, golfing at Henley in good company. Sunday mornings were the usual time, and after the game we would repair to the Bottle and Glass at Binfield Heath to take pre-prandial refreshment and play darts with the locals. On Friday evenings also we used to go out to one pub or another for beer and darts. And Joan put up with all this without a murmur of protest!

The school moved to new buildings at Winnersh, near Wokingham. In those days, and in such a school, teaching was a pleasant enough occupation and the boys were in general easy enough to get on with. There were exceptions, of course, but in the main they were a decent lot. On a journey from the front of the class to the back it might be necessary to give the odd boy a cuff, but the usual reaction seemed to be: “Fair enough, he caught me out,” and that was the end of it. Not so in these days, though. An action of that sort now would result in reports to the Head, parents up to the school, letters to the Education Department, and so forth. I remember writing on one boy’s report once: “Oafish stupidity is his outstanding characteristic.” At a parents’ evening his father said: “I take exception to this remark, Mr. Wagner. Can you justify it?” “Yes”, I said. “This very morning, when I had got the class settled down to work, he came in late, hurled the door open, which wrenched the door-stop out of the floor, slammed the door, and went to his place without a word of apology.” “Yes”, he said, “I see what you mean. I shall take the matter up with him.” On the other hand, on the last day of the summer term, one of my Sixth Form

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French students said: “Would you care to some out for a farewell drink, Mr. Wagner?”, so off we went. This would cause some raised eyebrows these days. I remember saying to him: “Two years ago, you were an inky little lad in the Fifth Form, now you’re a gentleman,” and that was the way with many of them.

While at The Forest Grammar School, my head of department was Keith Fletcher, an extremely able man and easy to get on with. He expected his staff to do their job competently and conscientiously, he consulted and advised, he did not lay down the law but what he said went, and he did not suffer fools gladly. He was a friend in those times, and has remained a friend every since. We see each other from time to time.

In the fulness of time, there was an addition to the family, and Philip made his appearance. In those days, it was the practice for only the first child to be born in hospital, so Philip was born at home. [Three photographs of Henry with his children]

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[Six photographs of the family]

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Henry Wagner, “Henry Wagner's life story. Part one,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 16, 2024, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/30735.

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