The memoir of Sergeant Harry J Whitwell wireless operator / air gunner 50 Squadron RAF

BWhitwellHJWhitwellHJv2.pdf
BWhitwellHJWhitwellHJv1.pdf

Title

The memoir of Sergeant Harry J Whitwell wireless operator / air gunner 50 Squadron RAF
Mrs Whitwell

Description

A detailed account of an operation on Friday, 8th October 1943. The crew of Lancaster 'N for Nan' were Pilot PPilot Officer John Charles Peter Taylor from London, Flying Officer Stewart Stubby bomb aimer from Herefordshire, Warrant Officer James Gary mid-upper gunner from South Africa, Warrant Officer William Beckthold rear gunner from Canada, Navigator Flight Sergeant Fred Burton from Winchester, Flight Engineer Flight Sergeant Joseph Handley from Otley and Wireless Operator/Air Gunner Harry Whitwell from York.
Their usual aircraft was unserviceable and they flew N for Nan for the operation. During the operation the aircraft was hit and all the crew bailed out. He jumped out with the navigator holding on to him. When Harry's chute opened the navigator fell to his death. He landed safely in a pond then assessed his misfortune. After a sleep he was caught by three men who fed him and gave him an ersatz coffee. They took him to Hanover which was very badly damaged. He met up with three of his crew in jail. They were transferred to Frankfurt by train and the guards were relatively friendly. Later they were transferred to an interrogation centre. They were then taken to a camp in Frankfurt centre and supplied with clothes, food and cigarettes provided by the Red Cross.
Next they were transferred in cattle trucks from the Dalag Luft to their permanent camp, Stamlager IV. Harry describes in detail the conditions and food in the new camp.
The account includes two photographs of Harry, one half length portrait and one full length of Harry in flying kit.
A printed version with identical text is included.

Creator

Temporal Coverage

Language

Format

59 page handwritten sheets including two b/w photographs

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Rights

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

Identifier

BWhitwellHJWhitwellHJv1, BWhitwellHJWhitwellHJv2

Transcription

*An account by H J Whitwell, a Wireless Operator with 50 Sqn. He describes his crew and being shot down on 8 October 1943. Having parachuted to safety, he recounts his capture and experiences as he travels from one POW camp to another, finally arriving at Stamlager IVB.


I think probably the best thing to do before relating my experiences after we left England on that fateful “op” on Friday the eigth [sic] of October is to give the names ect [sic] of my crew, so here goes.
John Charles Peter Taylor nicknamed “JCP” after his initials was a P/O the pilot and captain of our aircraft a Lancaster “N” for Nan [?] and along with “Stubby” our bomberdier [sic] was the only officers in the crew, he was London born.
Stewart Stubbs nicknamed as above was of course the bomb aimer and an F/O, he hailed from Hertfordshire.
James Gray the mid-upper gunner was a South African, though he [page break]
[Second page is a re-write of the page above and does not therefore follow on from it]
Probably the best thing to do before relating my experiences after leaving dear old England on that fateful “op” on Friday the eigth [sic] of October 1943, will be to give my crew names ect, [sic] so here goes:-
John Charles Philip Taylor, the skipper of our aircraft “N” for Nan was a Pilot Officer. He was only recently commissioned. We nicknamed him JCP and he was a Londoner. Nan was a Lancaster.
Stewart Stubbs the bombardier was a Flying Officer and along with JCP was the only officer members of the crew. “Stubby” was his “monica” and he hailed from Hertfordshire.
James Gray our mid-upper gunner was a South African, though he lived in [page break]
[follows on from first page, not quite from second] lived in Rhodesia, Jimmy was a W/O.
William Beckthold the rear-gunner came from Canada he also was a W/O, we called him “Canada”.
Our own Navigator Fred Burton whose home town was Winchester and he held the rank of F/S.
Joseph Handley the Flight-Engineer was also a F/S and like myself belonged to the county of “Broad Acres”, Otley being his home-town.
Yours truly the Wireless Operator/Air Gunner was an humble Seargent [sic] of 9 months standing my home being at York.
We had been very busy for the past eleven days operating on Hanover [page break] twice, Hagen, Borchum [sic], Munich and Frankfurt and we were all looking forward to the “Stand down”.
On the morning of Friday the eigth [sic] of October I felt pretty rough, having a bad cold and throat; Joe advised me to report sick but I held on thinking today would be the beggining [sic] of the Stand down as the moon was well up.
Freddy the navigator was grounded lucky for him, his ears were giving trouble.
We were soon to learn [inserted] that [inserted] we were on that night and did an air test. Our navigator for the night was to be a young fellow who had just [page break] returned from leave his own skipper was unfit. I can’t remember his name.
Our usual “kite” “Z” for Zebra was unserviceable with engine trouble, this old stager although being the oldest one on the squadron, was always lucky for us, we had flown in her the last 5 trips, she was a grand climber and although being rather untidy inside we were very attached to her.
We were given “N” for Nan in her place a brand new model, this was to be her first operation.
Briefing time soon came around and [page break] and “Jay” [?] gave us the “gen”, Hanover was to be visited once again, this meant a six hour trip at least.
Soon, we got the main briefing and was checked and told to run through it ourselves, we were given more “gen” from the Wing Commander and Group Captain. The Group Captain wished us best luck and away we all went to get our specialist tackle and back to an [sic] hurried “ops tea” This being over, we boarded the transport to the locker rooms to collect our chutes, harnesses, may [sic] - [page break] wests and other flying clothing. I have a warm position in the aircraft there-fore [sic] the only flying clothing I took along was my “flying boots”.
“Andy” our transport friend had the bus waiting. Little did we think we were not to see him again, and we were soon whisked away with our ungainly load of “gen” ect [sic] to “N” Nan. Very shortly we clambered aboard her and got all our stuff carefully positioned & visually checked the equipment and “J” and Joe warmed up the [page break] engines. Then we got our may[sic] -west’s [sic] harnesses and chutes fixed on and got out to stretch our legs and chat to the ground crews who were putting the final touches to her. As the time drew near to take off we clambered aboard once again and soon the engines were ‘revving’ up and we were taxing [sic] along to the runway. We were about one minute late in take-off but had plenty of time to spare to gain hieght [sic] over base. When 10,000 feet was reached and everything rechecked in the air and [page break] found to be satisfactory our oxygen was turned on by Joe and we fitted on the now fimilar [sic] mask. Course was set on schedule and we set ourselves as comfortably as possible for the trip ahead.
The navigator did his job alright as did everyone else in the crew, the engines were behaving well and we soon reached 20,000 feet and kept joking away to each other every so often, and in fact all went without incident.
Up came the tracking flares and on [page break] approaching the target Jimmy drew our attention to the P.F.F. flares. We went in and “Stubby” began the commentary for the bombing-run. The time then would be approximately 0045, when I noticed the radio had gone off. The first thing was to check my fuses, this meant opening up the panel on the starboard side of the A/C and in doing this duty I pulled my intercomm [sic] plug out of its socket. I am used to being off the i/c being a W/OP so did not worry as [page break] I knew it wouldn’t be a long job. While engaged thus I felt a violent lurch and the plane took a terrific dive, I was thrown upwards towards the roof and for some time was powerless to do anything. I knew by the feel of this we had been hit. The A/C pulled out to a certain extent, and I observed the escape door in the nose was open and bodies were leaving hurriedly. Then I saw the captain leave, all this time the navigator had not warned me of the “abandon [page break] aircraft” call, but looked dumbfounded-ed [sic] and powerless to move. The smell of burning and fumes was very strong and although the engines appeared to be functioning OK they were revved down and I was able to go forward and shout to tell him to grab his chute and jump for it, his chute was behind the chair propped on the starboard side, I observed no fires aboard. 
I then moved to the W/OPs seat and grabbed my chute, I then remembered the IFF so hurriedly put down my chute and pressed the button to explode the [page break] IFF and Navigation Aid. Of course I was not sure the navigators [sic] and pilots [sic] positions were to “live”. 
The next thing was to get my chute and clip it on, this proved a tricky job as the “Gee” was pretty bad now, being unable to hold the chute and clip it on this way, I moved to the navigators [sic] position, placed my parachute on his table and manoeuvred myself so clipping the chute on. 
All this time my thoughts had been on the speed the plane was moving earthwards I knew we must be very near the “deck” now, I shouted once again to my navigator telling him to [page break] get his own chute on and I then moved forward towards the escape hatch. 
The navigator then rushed at me without his chute and grabbed the lower part of my body shouting “I want to go down with you!” 
I had no time to argue but jumped with him clinging to me. After a few seconds I pulled the rip-cord and the chute opened, halting my downward descent considerably, but at the same time the jolt had flung the navigator off, almost certainly to his death, as the height I estimated to be 200 to 250 feet. If he had act-[page break]ed calmly he would have had ample time to escape OK as he must have been warned well in advance by the Cpt. I felt a sharp pain in my right little finger, also my left ear seemed to have gone deaf on me. 
My feelings at this juncture were very scattered, it seemed as though I was in a bad dream I pulled myself together and realised I was not dreaming but slowly approaching German territory, fields roads, hedges ect [sic] were rapidly racing towards me. Soon a pond seemed my destination but I pulled my harness on one side, and managed to steer myself to land [page break] or should I say splash in the shallow part. I was glad to get down, as there was still a fair amount of heavy & light “flak” also searchlights about and I did not want peppering. 
I found out later from members of my crew that as we were levelling up to take our photograph, we were attacked and hit in the port petrol tanks by JU 88s. I had not of course heard a word from my skipper up there on account of the I/C plug being out. 
We had [inserted] however [/inserted] dropped our bombs which was a good thing. I had dropped away from the main blaze and although [page break] the sky was a red glow only a few cottages were burning around me, it appeared to be out in the countryside where I had dropped. I found I was in a big garden or park surrounded by barbed wire. I could hear the sound of voices and the barking of dogs in the distance, though I was tensed up and listened as best I could with the good ear for fear they had seen my descent but the voices didn’t seem to be coming my way. I clambered out of the pond and then silently gathered in the chute, took off the harness and may-west [sic]. I had been fortunate in [page break] one respect as I still retained my flying boots. I kept listening every few seconds and heard voices, and also saw bicycle lamps approaching on a road which passed by. I kept very quite [sic] until they had passed. By this time the drone of our bombers were fading away, the gunfire was subsiding, and the searchlights were going out one by one, I judged the time to be approx. 0110. I ripped a big chunk off my parachute with the aid of my knife also took the torch out of my may-west [sic]. My right hand little finger was bleeding profusely so I tore off a strip of silk [page break] and roughly bandaged it, it was pretty painful also my ear was still effected. [sic] I felt very envious of those more fortunate crews homeward bound to a warm meal and then to bed. 
My next job was to scoop out an [sic] hole in the soft earth, and so bury my tackle. I got my stuff over carefully to a spot that was hidden from the road and would afford good cover from passers by on the road, by the way a good thick edge skirted the road which was all to the good. I soon, silently scooped out an [sic] hole and gathered in my chute as tightly as possible and along with the harness may west [sic] and [page break] cap I buried. The next thing was to carefully find a good spot to get out of the place. I got over the barbed wire entanglement with some difficulty. This done, I found I was in a big field of sugar-beet with a wood in the distance. There was a road at right-angles to the other road. The noise of people chattering and barking dogs also lights flickering, presumably bicycles. The lights of blazing Hanover made the landscape comparatively clear, the gunfire and searchlights had now packed up. I swung out to the right as far as possible to keep clear of the road, there were 3 or 4 barns ablaze quite nearby so I then and there [page break] decided the best thing to do would be to go into the wood and get a few hours sleep if possible, and carry on about 0400 o’clock, also to get my thoughts collected and organise my next move. I was about to enter this wood when I thought searchers were about, as a light kept flicking in and out intermittently this certainly “shook me”, I immediately threw myself down and waited a few minutes but the light seemed to be in one position so I ventured forward and discovered it to be [inserted] an [/inserted] almost burnt out incendiary bomb. Into the wood, I went and soon found an [sic] hollowed out piece of ground, not before a lot of stumbling [page break] around so I decided to bunk down here for a spell.
Although I was wet and miserable, I did manage to get to sleep. I slept longer than I had intended; cold and my feet still wet. It was getting light and must have been about 0500 Saturday morning. The weather conditions were cold but dry. I then got up and decided to survey the wood, it was quite small I got near to the edge and before I realized what was happening, 3 men appeared. They were uniformed, and armed, though I didn't know to which organisation they belonged. They gathered round me and one said in broken English that I was to follow them. I was led over to the road and [page break]

Page 22 missing [page break]

smeared with ersatge [sic] honey also a cup of ersatge [sic] coffee which I thought tasted pretty terrible, a few sips of the coffee and half slice of bread was enough for me. They were amazed that I didn't have it all. Very shortly I was told to put on my boots as I was to go to Hanover. Two guards appeared, and then I began a walk of about 5 miles to the town. Two guards each armed with rifles. It was then that I observed the enormous damage that we had done on this and previous raids, it seemed as though nothing had escaped and every other building was down or badly damaged by either explosives or incendaries [sic]. We passed through a village on the way and the local firefighters were busy. I felt pretty uncomfortable [page break] as the Germans kept glaring at me and uttering words of abuse, though I was not molested at all. When Hanover hove into sight, the damage was even more extensive, chaps were busy working away on the gutted and smoldering [sic] buildings. My thoughts at this time were, the sooner I get away inside some building the better for me. I was finally handed over to some Luftwaffe men at a building, they enquired the cause of our plane being shot down, wether [sic] “Ack Ack” or fighters.
This is of course I did not know and told them so. Two more guards were summoned and away we went again, through the main streets parks ect [sic] for at least 3 miles. Lorries cars and powered [page break] vehicals [sic] constituted a very small part of the traffic and even on these, large tanks fitted in the rear showed them to be run by gas, but there were many bicycles on the roads. As earlier, I came in for much abuse & I got used to it and payed [sic] no attention. I was also impressed by the sad unhappy looks of the people. The civilians clothes were poor and old fashioned compared to our standards. Uniforms of many types and colour were very evident and the “swastika” armbands kept popping up here and there. The german [sic] uniform seemed to my idea very “threatrical” [sic] looking. At this point my feet were beginning to trouble me and I wondered how much farther I had [page break] to go to get to my final destination.
We eventually arrived at a big building which I took to be a kind of Information Bearau [sic], shephared [sic] inside, and told to wait. Many uniformed men both Officer and NCO type were constantly coming in, and going out, also lots of “civvies”. This too had suffered, many Lufftweffe [sic] men were clearing debris away. During this time many spoke to me enquiring my nationality ect [sic]. After about one hour’s wait along came a Lufftwaffe [sic] Officer, he spoke good English, he said “the war was over for me, and I was lucky to be alive,” he also said, “what a beautiful place Hanover had been before the damage". I was taken into [sic] a nice car with him, an NCO was driving it. We seemed to go round the [deleted] busy [/deleted] main parts again [page break]. The damage [inserted] was [/inserted] everywhere, some of the roads were littered with debris about a foot deep, it was impossible to drive the car through. Eventually we arrived at a big building, and he got out and went inside, after about five minutes or so, he came out again and away we drove to land up at an Aerodrome.
He handed me over to the Officer in charge, and then I was conducted to a solitary cell with a wooden bed, a small table and stool, a very small barred window was the means of ventilation, the door had a peep hole in the centre, the time I estimated to be 0430. I was also given 2 blankets and although there were only hard boards to lie on I settled down and was soon fast asleep. I was shortly awakened and taken to a waiting van where along with two german guards was seated a Canadian Pilot Officer [page break] pilot, I noticed both his eyes were swollen and discoloured; on attempting to speak to each other we were “hushed” by the guards. I thought maybe the “Canuck” had been manhandled, but later learnt he had sustained these injuries before leaving his aircraft.
We started off, worming our way through side streets and the town was very soon left behind and after about seven or eight minutes we arrived at another big place this may have been the buildings of an aerodrome. Out we climbed to move into a big modern building, all our personal things and identity discs were taken from us after a thorough search.
Each article and my six shillings in English money were checked and listed and we were each made to sign our names and service numbers on this list. We were next taken to another guardroom, with [page break] similar cells to the last place, except there was heating laid on. I was ushered into one of these cells and given 2 slices of german [sic] bread and margarine with ersatz coffee for drink.
Being very hungry I soon consumed this, they also gave me a couple of blankets, the guards were pretty decent and spoke to me in broken English. I asked to have my injured finger dressed, and shortly along came an orderly and dressed it, though it looked to me a trifle septic. I was allowed to visit the latrine and after this got down on the rough wooden bed and was soon asleep. The next morning it being Sunday, I was awakened by the guard and given the usual couple of slices of bread with honey this time, and also the coffee. [page break]
The time the guard showed me was 0800. After my sparse meal, I thought I heard the voice of that of my captain, it seemed as though he was at the toilet, so I let out a yell and he gleefully acknowledged me. Soon after I was allowed to go to the toilet and there had a quick wash with ersatz soap. While so engaged I heard Joe’s voice also that of “Jimmy” but was restrained from calling them. While so engaged I heard both Joe & Jimmy’s voices but was restrained from calling them, it certainly was a relief to know that 4 of us at least was [sic] O.K. I returned to the cell and heard someone tapping morse on the wall, but was unable to read this. The time passed slowly as there was nothing to occupy ones time. At about 12 o’clock the guard came in again and [page break] beaming all over his face said “Comrade, goot German essen”. He was carring [sic] a plate containing a yellow looking concoction very salty which contained potatoes fat scraps and some vegetables, it looked has [sic] though it had all been cooked up together. I did not eat much although I was hungry but asked for a glass of water, or “Vasser” as it is called by the Germans, he brought some in. I passed the rest of the day until about 1800 hours by walking about the small cell. Occasionally the guards would appear and chat away in broken English, they appeared pretty decent fellows. At approxianetely [sic] 1800 hours I was given my couple of slices of bread and margarine also ersatz coffee. I visited the toilet, and then got down on the crude bed and was soon asleep. I awoke about eight o’clock, this of course being Monday, and then the guard brought in my breakfast and said, all the Englanders [page break] and myself were going to Frankfurt that afternoon. I was very glad to hear this, and hoped it would be the end of our confinement. I next was allowed to have a rough wash and awaited [sic] impatiently for afternoon. Around about midday the guard brought in the same type of dinner as the previous day, and on enquiry he said at about 1500 hours we would be moving and that I was to take along the bread rations for the whole journey. We were to arrive at our destination about 10.30 Tuesday. An hour or so later I was told to come along, and taken to a room and there was J.C.P., Jim and Joe, also the Canadian P/O and a New Zealand W/OP A.G. I then realized how scruffy I must look when I saw them, long tousled hair and quite a growth of the old face fungus. They all seemed unhurt except for minor cuts. JCP had lost his flying [page break] boots, Joe was minus one boot, but Jimmy had all intact. About six guards and a Seargent [sic] were in charge of us, they carried a kind of submachine gun each; also some large leather bags which I guessed contained our personal things: We were shepherded into an awaiting bus, with the guards at stratigic [sic] points and sat down, we were allowed to smoke. The bus started off and soon we were outside Hanover suberbs [sic] to finally stop at a small railway-station; probably the reason why we didn’t go to the Hanover main station was on account of damage to the same. We all got off and through to a platform, I felt sorry for J.C.P. walking around in his stocking feet, Joe too was inconvienenced [sic]. The station was quite busy, trains coming, and going, also many troops of all types were around and civilians. We were of course the object of attention [page break] although no demonstrations were made. The seargent [sic] or “under-officer” as he is known, in charge of the party got us a drink of the fimilair [sic] coffee. After waiting for about thirty or forty minutes, our train pulled in and we clambered aboard, the carriages by the way appear to be second and third class in Germany. Jimmy, the New Zealander and myself with guards were in one compartment while J.C.P., Joe and the Canadian were in another with their guards. I must say the guards were very good en-route, chatting and giving us food and apples, we stopped at quite a number of stations and were handed large cardboard mugs containing ersatz coffee, this seems a common practice in Germany, the people appeared to be very appreciative to the armed forces. We arrived at Frankfurt Main about 2355 and marched to a big building, [page break] on the station like an Enquiry Office. Upstairs, we found a very big room with rough beds on which were laid hundreds of American Army Air Corp. We were amazed to find such a lot of “Yankees”, many were wounded, there seemed a sprinkling of R.A.F here too, about half a dozen I should think. A few guards were posted about us; having no alternative we got down on the ground and though cold and uncomfortable I was soon in the land of nod. It was near 0630 and Tuesday morning when we were awakened and taken to a waiting [inserted] train [/inserted] which we boarded, though previous to this the under officer got us a drink each. Very soon, the train started and within fifteen minutes we arrived at a small station. The Americans were aboard too and we all got out, helping the wounded on to lorries. We all got on the lorries eventually and away we went again [page break] to arrive after about twenty minutes at a small group of wooden buildings heavily wired around with barbed wire. We went inside a small abulution [sic], I took the opportunity to get a wash of a sort minus soap. The next thing was that a guard took our names ranks and numbers After this were called for singly, and thoroughly stripped and searched in another room by an equivalent of our W/O. Of course escape aids, were what he was after. He seemed satisfied with me and away I went. Regarding the Americans, it appeared that a number had been P.O.W in Italy and the majority had been shot down on day raids over Germany very recently. I was struck by the very large number who had baled out of the “Forts” injured or otherwise I would say 90% compared to only ?% [missed from scanning] of our crews. Of course “baling out” in the daylight is a much simpler matter than the same operation at night-time, which I think partly accounts for this. I was taken to another room, [page break] and the door was locked. The size of this was about 10 feet by 8 feet and contained the usual rough bed and table. On the bed was sat an R.A.F Seargent [sic] A/G. He had been here two days and was getting “cheesed off” on his own, and was only to [sic] glad to have someone to speak to. Apparently it had been his first operation on Hanover and [inserted] he [/inserted] was the only member of his crew alive I felt sorry for him for we at least could say we had hit the enemy good and hard. Soon after this, another RAF Seargent [sic] A/G came in he was cut about the face and also had shrapnel splinters in his left leg, he was only too glad to get laid down on the bed. Four Americans were the next visitors and by now the small room was becoming rather crowded although it was much better than soltary [sic]. We spent the time chatting away and grumbling about our bad fortune until approximately 12 o’clock when a guard brought us dinner, which consisted of 5 unskinned potatoes each [deletion] unskinned [/deletion] there were also a glass of herbs tea [page break] a terrible tasting concoction. We spent the rest of the afternoon quitely [sic]. About 1700 hours a guard entered and called the injured RAF fellow and myself over and said, we were moving. We then went out into the passage and I saw J.C.P. and Joe among a bunch of Americans with some of our boys too. Jimmy was not there and I wondered what had happened to him, we soon was [sic] formed up and began a march of about half a mile to come eventually to a large collection of newer wooden buildings. The injured were helped along by the fit men as best they could, someone said this was the place we were to be interogated [sic]. After a short wait in one of the rooms our names were called singly and I landed up in another small confined room. The same furniture as previously I found inside. By this time, it must have been turned 1800 hours and growing dark [page break] I was given a couple of blankets and decided to try and to get some sleep. I was just getting “drousy [sic]” when the guard came in and grabbed my flying boots and slammed the door again. The usual fare as before was given me the next day which was Wednesday. The time certainly dragged as there was absolutely nothing to occupy ones [sic] mind, but on the Thursday afternoon I was visited by a German Officer who produced a form and wanted to know my home town my trade ect [sic] also the names of members of my crew although I did not tell him the first queries he told me the names of JCP Joe and Jimmy and I wrote them down on this form. About thirty minutes after he went away another chap came along with a list for the clothing ect [sic] I had. I guessed the time to be 1600 hours when I was asked to follow a guard and soon found myself in a big room with maps routes ect [sic] on [page break] The walls, a good fire was burning, seated at a desk was a “big shot” Luftwaffe Intelligence Officer I knew now this was an Interogation [sic] Centre. He was a cultured looking fellow and asked me to be seated, also offered me a cigarette. He soon got down to “brass tacks” and said that I was to give him answers to questions, he already knew so that he could satisfy himself I was not a sabetour [sic] or spy. I, of course referred him to my identity discs uniform ect [sic] and said that I wouldn’t been [sic] in the present unhappy state if I was a spy. Anyway he went on to ask me questions regarding training leading up to the Squadron Commanders ect [sic] I answered a few wrongly and he got wild and said, that he would keep me confined quite a time and then bring me back again for questioning. He told me quite a lot of things about the squadron that was correct, he had a big book with lots of “gen” on my squadron. the Wing [page break] Commander Flight Commanders names, he also mentioned the name of a surviving member of a crew lost earlier. I was led back to the cell very depressed, I certainly was not looking forward to another spell in my little room. I got back but along came another fellow, he wanted a list of my clothing also my description, hieght [sic] wieght [sic], colouring ect [sic] all of which he tabulated. He then said to my great relief, you are leaving, collect your blankets and give them to me. I did this very soon and away to a room where I found among lots of Americans and a fair number of R.A.F chaps J.C.P. Joe and later on jimmy [sic] came. Here we recieved [sic] our personal property, I was minus my keys and keyring also my six shillings English money but did not worry about this. We were given our bread rations and formed up and marched away to an awaiting bus minus [page break] Jimmy once again. The bus did not have seats so we all squatted down on the floor. Guards armed with submachine guns watched over us. We were soon on the move; by this time the moon was up and lighted up everything, we soon reached Frankfurt town and we were surprised to feel the bus pulling up in it seemed to us the centre of Frankfurt. We got out and a fair sized encampment ringed with barbed wire confronted us, quite a few buildings were under construction. We were counted & then moved into the place, then we were given a small towel and a packet of 20 French cigarettes by the RAF Staff. After this we went into one of the large Hutments, each contained about 20 small rooms with a fireplace, table, cupboards and five two–decker beds in each room. These we discovered would house 10 men each, there was also ablutions and latrines in each Hutment. Well, I must say this place had a very heartening effect [page break] on us. We bunked down for the night looking forward to the morrow when we were to recieve [sic] new Red-Cross underclothes also a box of toilet articles, then we would get to work and have a shower and remove the face fungas [sic]. 
About 0800 next morning Friday we went down to the cookhouse mess and had a big cup of tea with lots of milk and sugar also two slices of german [sic] bread and j [?] butter with jam. We were told that all the Red Cross parcels were “pooled” and put into three good meals and cooked by a permenant [sic] staff of British N.COs [sic]. The chocolate and cigarettes, fifty by the way, were given to the men on Saturdays. We thought it a grand idea; this meant all except bread, potatoes, with a small amount of sugar and margarine was provided by the Red Cross. 
There was a small library on the camp, which in daylight turned out to be very small camp and “transit” only but we really thought it was like heaven compared to the other places. The toilet articles were, Soap and Soap container, toothbrush and container, haircomb, toothpaste, shaving cream, Gillete [sic] razor with three blades and housewife [page break] we also recieved [sic] one pair of underpants vest, shirt and socks, later we recieved [sic] 1 great coat and one pair of boots, all these were provided by the American-Red Cross. A small sick-bay or “Revier” [sic] was installed on the camp and so I went along every other day and had my injured finger dressed. There was [sic] parades at 0900 hours also 1700 hours, otherwise we had no duties, in fact [deleted] one [undeleted] we had too much time on our hands. Americans kept arriving and going almost every day; to regular camps of course. 
The R.A.F. personel [sic] came along very slowly, consequently we had a fortnights stay at the place before we were sufficently [sic] strong to move along. Jimmy had arrived later on Thursday night and “Stubby” turned up on the Sunday worse for wear, but uninjured; he had been caught in his bid to escape.  He was of course overjoyed to see us. We chatted with different fellows and learnt that some had been months on the loose before been [sic] finally picked up. We volunteered to go to the railway station at Frankfurt on two occasions to collect Red Cross Parcels, it passed [page break] the time, the exercise was good also one had the opportunity [self-corrected] to see the town and folks. Frankfurt was a pretty big town but the streets were deserted of people compared to towns of a like size in England. The folks looked under norished [sic] and depressed. We had been at Frankfurt about 8 days when [inserted] at night [/inserted] the sirens sounded, all lights were extinguished and very soon the sound of heavy bombers were heard. It was our boys and the [underlined] ACK-ACK [/underlined] opened up in no uncertain manner, the searchlights too were very numerous. Soon the fimiliar [sic] P.F.F flares were dropped, greens and reds and instead of seeing them from above we now saw how effective the [sic] were from the ground. Of course we expected to hear and feel the “cookies” dropping any time now but as it turned out nothing happened good for as it was a “spoof” and certainly had it’s effect. One four-engined A/C away to the west, was coned and held by the searchlights right across the sky but although they pumped up everything they had he seemed to escape alright. We kept ourselves occupied at Dulag Luft as it was called by walking also reading and using [page breaks] the tops of our flying boots to make mittens caps ect [sic]. Jimmy & Joe used an Irvin jacket to line the insides of there [sic] battle dress. We had been at Dulag [sic] about 8 days when we lost J.CP [sic] and Stubby they left with the officers to a place near Berlin. We had been there a fortnight when our names were put on the next posting list of British N.C.Os to Muhlburg situated between Liepzig [sic] and Dresden. Berlin was about forty miles away to the north. By this time over ninety of us had accumulated. 
It was Wednesday afternoon when we left Dulag-Luft,[sic] first we were searched and all war –booty was siezed [sic]. I gave my mittens to an American so they would not fall into German hands. Some of the party managed to secret [sic] articles away cunningly and get by the close scutiny [sic] of the guards. The officer in charge also gave a short speech in which we were warned on the consequence of escape he also said we were not to converse with any of the civilian populace. These warnings proved unecessary [sic] as can be soon seen.  
We moved off and together with an armed guard boarded a tram; after a short while we climbed off and marched to a goods yard it will be approxamately [sic] 1800 and getting dusk and we waited until 3 cattle trucks [page break] were shunted in. We noticed these trucks were large enough to hold eighteen horses, straw was placed in them and we had a terrible shock when we were informed that forty three had to go in one of the trucks and forth two in the other, also two guards. our [sic] boots were taken from us and along with the guards were housed in the third truck [sic] We each received one Red Cross English parcel. Jimmy was in charge of the rationing of German food ect [sic]. An unthankful job I must say. The guards boarded up all openings, not that there was any likelihood of us escaping minus our boots [sic] We were two nights confined to this and arrived at Muhlburg about mid-day Friday. It really was an awful experience as at night-time we had to lay as best we could propped against each other, it being practically impossible to relieve stiff cramped limbs. The guards two changed over every hour and this caused more trouble not to mention them letting in the cold night air. The lighting consisted of a broken lamp with a night light placed inside. The toilet arrangements were bad too [sic] The reasons given by the Germans why we travelled this way was that they were so badly off for railway carraiges [sic]. on [sic] reaching Muhlburg which proved to be a [page break] small village we clambered out and were given back our boots. Next we were counted and marched in fives to the camp which was two to three miles from the station. The wounded were put on a cart and dragged by some British “tommies” who eagerly enquired from us the latest “gen” from Blightly. They also gave us some idea of the camp which wasn’t very encouraging.  
Up to this point I have refrained from giving any idea of the weather conditions in Germany since landing. Well, every day without break had been fine sunny and practically rainless. We arrived at the camp after about forty minutes, hugging our belongings, sweating and thirsty. Dust seemed to be everywhere [sic] The camp was a big one surrounded by walls of barbed wire and high sentry boxes placed every three hundred yards or so with a search light in each. Electric lamps were spaced about seventy yards apart too. We arrived at the entrance to find this was STAMLAGER IV B. We were recounted [page break] and handed over to our new keepers and away went the old guard. I had left untouched my Red Cross Parcel, not knowing when the next issue would be. Then away we went to land up in a big compound and told to wait further orders. We were certainly glad to get a rest as it had been a hot and dusty walk. The next thing was to scrounge some water as we were all longing for [delete] for[/deleted] a drink. Eventually we noticed a building near at hand and managed a cup of water each from some Frenchman. There appeared to be every nationality under the sun here though each had a compound. 
Next, we had to suffer the indignaty [sic] of having our hair sheared off, a fellow came out with a strange contraption which proved to be an [sic] hair shearer. One fellow turned an [sic] handle while another chap started shearing off our lovely locks. This was the closest thing to being baldheaded I have ever seen. We had a good laugh at each others [sic] transformation and when my turn came I took a peek in a window at my reflection & I wasn’t so happy. Still we were all alike & who was to see us except our companions. Afterwards [page break] we stripped and everything we possessed was place [sic] in big “debugging” ovens. The best part was to come for after this we moved into a big shower room and took a really hot shower bath, it [delete] was [/undeleted] certainly was enjoyable. We then moved along to drying rooms with big electric fans and soon dried off. Passing through another door we was [sic] suddenly caught unawares and found we had been disinfected. The next thing was inoculation [sic] and vaccination and from here we went outside to collect our clothes ect. [sic] Both Italian and Russian P.OWs were also going through the same processes and one could not help noticing the poor physical condition of a lot of them. Our photographs and other details were taken at another place and here we recieved [sic] our POW number. It was getting dark when we arrived at the British compound and we all felt hungry. On enquiry from the German Sentry we learned no rations were forthcoming at this time of day. We waited around for about an hour and about this time it was dark and we were cold and “browned” off. We were eventually shown into one of the barrack rooms the first impression one got was bad, there must have [page break] been well over two hundred men in one half of this [sic] barrack rooms, three tier bunks were crammed together down one side of the room while in the centre was [sic] draught pipes and two fires with hot plates on each for cooking and “brewing” purposes. Down the other side we found long tables and forms. An [sic] Hut Commander was in charge of each room and he certainly had a full time job. At one end of these rooms was a primitive latrine for night use only and at the other end we found a sink and cold water tap for washing up purposes while another brick place housed the abulutions, [sic] no baths or showers were provided. We were given “Billy” cans each and paliases [sic] stuffed with paper waste also a couple of blankets each and told as no beds were spare, we must bunk down on the brick floor. We were unable to get our beds down until the rest of the chaps cleared off to bed and altogether it was a terribly congested state of affairs. We lived under these conditions for over a week and in that time we each recieved [sic] an [sic] half share in a Canadian parcel [page break] by the way. I had shared my British parcel with two other fellows. We managed to eke out a fairly balanced diet with a little planning and the German sugar, margine, [sic] bread, potatoes and tinned meat supplemented our Red Cross foods. Quiet [sic] a deal of time was spent in preparing and cooking the meals. The way the Hut functioned was as follows, the Hut Commander was in control he supervised Rations, Water, Special Issues in fact everything in general that concerned the welfare of the fellows in his hut. Then there was [sic] Group Leaders who controlled the food and special issue of a group consisting of about thirty five men. Lastly we had Section Leaders who had the job of sharing out the rations of about five or six men under there [sic] section. Also there were Hut fatigues which consisted of “Chow-Carriers” whose job was to collect the soups and potatoes at dinner time. Dry Rations which consisted of either bread, margarine, sugar, cheese, raw and tinned meats were collected by other chaps. [page break] Hot water issues a day were made and fellows were detailed to collect these, another duty was known as Duty Hut fatigue and on this, practically everyone could be called on to do some duty as Wood Gathering Paper Gathering ectect [sic]. Well after about one weeks stay at Hut 36A as it was numbered we moved into another vacant Hut and was [sic] we pleased. This meant we got a bed each and I took the opportunity to bunk near my crew. [sic] Joe and Jimmy we also palled up with a paratrooper called Tom Berwick and Jimmy’s friend Sam Keok [sic]. The five of us decided to pool our parcels. [page break]


This account refers to the Hanover Operation on 8 October, 1943 by Lancaster I (DV324 VN-N) of 50 Sqn. Having taken off from Skellingthorpe at 2304, it was hit by flak at 21,000 feet while leaving the target area and crashed at Wilkenburg, 7 km SSE from the centre of Hanover. Sgt Dock and Sgt Beckthold RCAF are buried in the local War Cemetery. F/S Handley had a narrow escape in that his parachute pack very nearly became detached before he could pull the ripcord. W/O J.S.Gray was interned in Camps 4B/L3, PoW No.259874 with Sgt H.J.Whitwell, PoW No.259922. F/S J.Handley in Camp 4B, PoW No.259877. F/O S.D.Stubbs in Camp L3, PoW No.3013 with P/O J.C.P.Taylor, PoW No.3014.

(Chorley Bomber Command Losses 1943 and Lostaircraft.com)

Collection

Citation

Harry Whitwell, “The memoir of Sergeant Harry J Whitwell wireless operator / air gunner 50 Squadron RAF
,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 5, 2022, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/31212.

Item Relations

This item has no relations.