Interview with Stephen Granville Bacon


Interview with Stephen Granville Bacon


Stephen joined the Royal Air Force in Kingston upon Hull. He wanted to be a pilot but became a mid-air gunner instead. He started at RAF Dalcross where he trained on Boulton Paul Defiant aircraft and went to 12 Squadron at Wickenby on Lancasters.
Stephen describes the preparations for missions, the cold and how the pilot would corkscrew as he approached targets. Following two trips to Essen and on his second trip to Berlin, his aircraft crashed. Another three Lancasters went down with no survivors. Upon landing in the snow he was captured by the German home guard and sent to an interrogation camp at Frankfurt. A person, claiming to be from the Red Cross tried to interview him but Stephen had been warned of this ruse and refused to answer any questions.
He and the other crew members were taken to Stalag VIII-B in Lamsdorf, near the Polish border. The conditions were very difficult with very little water and food. They burnt bed boards from their three-tier bunks to make tea and replaced them with string from Red Cross food parcels. The sanitary conditions were poor. Stephen, however, felt they were treated fairly.
He describes in detail the deplorable conditions in the camp. During his stay he escaped three times by exchanging identities with a member of a working party but was recaptured every time and punished by solitary confinement. He knew he had little chance of escaping as he couldn't speak German but wanted to keep the Germans occupied. He discusses some of the amusing incidents which occurred and outlines the entertainment activities in the camp. Stephen’s mother was informed he was missing, and his name read out as a prisoner of war by Lord Haw-Haw [William Joyce].
In 1945, he embarked on a gruelling march to escape from the approaching Russian army, often resorting to eating raw chicken and rabbit. Eventually the guards disappeared and he was picked up and looked after by the Americans and flown back to England for medical treatment. Stephen developed beriberi, weighing only seven stone. He was flown back to RAF Cosford in a C-47. After treatment he was sent to India as there were no flying post available in England. After the war ended, he was sent home to Blackpool for demob and worked in the coal mines, as a coal handler in the mills, a maintenance engineer and finally as a mill manager.







02:21:47 audio recording


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BW: This is Brian Wright interviewing Sergeant Stephen Granville Bacon at his home in Burnley on Tuesday 16th of February at twenty past two. Start us off -
SB: Err, excuse me a minute -
BW: Go on.
SB: Warrant Officer Bacon.
BW: I beg your pardon.
BW: Warrant Officer Bacon.
Other: Is that different?
BW: They only gave me your rank as sergeant.
SB: That’s what I finished up as. A -
BW: That’s fine.
SB: Warrant officer
Other: Is that higher than a sergeant? I don’t know.
BW: It is. Yes.
Other: Oh right. Warrant Officer
BW: That that was all they gave me, sergeant. So, Warrant Officer Stephen Granville Bacon can you just confirm for me please your service number and your date of birth.
SB: 1351298 as I already told you. That’s my service number and my date of birth is 2 3 21. 2nd of the 3rd 21.
BW: 2nd of March 1921.
SB: Yeah.
BW: And you were born in Barton on Humberside. Is that right?
SB: Yes.
BW: And what was your, you say you were from, your family was you had eight siblings. Is that right? You were one of eight.
SB: I’m one of eight.
BW: I see and -
SB: I had five brothers and two sisters.
BW: And were you the eldest?
SB: No.
BW: Eldest brother?
SB: I was the youngest bar one.
BW: And what was your home life like in the 20s and 30s? What would you describe it as?
SB: Strict. And that’s all I can say. I mean we used to have a time to be in at night before dark. Anything like that. We strictly adhered to that. So it was really strict.
BW: And where did you go to school?
SB: Pardon?
BW: Where did you go to school?
SB: I went to school at Queen Street School, Barton upon Humber which was a church school in actual fact.
BW: Were you a religious family?
SB: Pardon?
BW: Were you a religious family?
SB: No.
Other: You were quite poor I think. Am I right?
SB: Mind your own business.
BW: And so what age did you leave school?
SB: Fourteen.
BW: Which was I think standard at that that time wasn’t it?
SB: It was standard age at that time. And that was -
BW: Did you leave with qualifications or anything or not?
SB: No. I finished up in a class of my own x7 and WH Aubrey was the headmaster and I’d go to school and there was only me in this x7 and he’d just say Stephen just pop along and see if Mrs Aubrey wants anything. Any errands running or anything. And that was my last year at school.
BW: Yeah. Just running errands for -
SB: Oh yeah. There was no point in me being there on my own. It just wasn’t the class, the only one in the class I think and it was quite pointless. I did go to school as soon as I joined the air force.
BW: And what, what age were you when you joined up?
SB: Eighteen I think. Eighteen. Nineteen. I forget which. Eighteen I think. Was I?
BW: And what, what prompted your decision to join the RAF? Why? Why the RAF and not the other services?
SB: I had an ambition to fly but it didn’t work out that way. I joined when I went to enlist in Hull at Kingston I, ‘What do you want to be?’ I said, ‘I’d like to be flying in the air force.’ ‘Very good. But you can’t. You’ll have to join up as a AC plonk’ as they called it. AC2. ‘and then you’ll, you’ll have to put a remuster application in.’ Well, after several remuster applications I eventually was accepted to go to Weston Super Mare in front of a selection board and I think there was eight of us at that time. I didn’t see any more but I got a recall after seeing, being in front of this selection board to tell me I’d been accepted. From there I had to go to St Johns Wood in London for a deep medical.
BW: Ahum.
SB: And then from there I went to Craven Hill and then I went to Dalcross and that’s when I started flying.
BW: Whereabouts is Dalcross?
SB: Scotland. And there were Boulton Paul Defiant aircraft, we, which was a single engine plane with a turret on and the pilots, I think the majority of them were Polish. Quite nice chaps. A bit haywire when they got in the air. In fact, I remember the pilot who was flying, I was flying with we landed and he said, ‘I can’t give this in Steve.’ That was the, there were drogue, drogues towed and we used to fire at the drogues. He said, ‘You’ve got too many bloody holes in this drogue.’ I said, ‘Well you took me too bloody near’ and that was the attitude. Free and easy. Aye. But enjoyable. Oh aye.
BW: And so while you were there you were training as a gunner. Is that right?
SB: Yeah. That was all we did we used to fly over the North Sea, follow the drogue and fire at the drogues and that was our training.
BW: How successful do you think you were at that?
SB: I seemed to be fairly successful. I finished up with taking ten of us down into England and dropping them off here and there and I think it was because my name was first on the alphabet. More or less B. I seem to get all these things and in actual fact I was posted to India when I was stationed in Blackpool. The only fault was I wasn’t in Blackpool. I was in Burnley [laughs] and of course I had to go for the high jump and another, in front of another board and I explained what was going on and funnily enough I got in charge of the party going to Mold, I think, in North Wales and this party was eventually India on the, and though we didn’t fly we sailed on the Mauritania.
BW: On the Mauritania?
SB: Ahum I think it was its last trip.
BW: I see.
SB: In actual fact and the largest boat to go through the Suez Canal but they were quite pleasant at being a warrant officer. I had advantages. We’d waiter service at the table. We were on A deck and we used to look down at the motley crew on the other deck. Oh aye. My job was check the armoury so I used to go down into the bowels of the ship every morning, casually check and that was my day. The rest of it was deck quoits and all sorts of entertainment. Oh aye.
BW: You say you were already a warrant officer at that point.
SB: No. I was only a sergeant.
No. Are you -
SB: Oh at that point, going to India
BW: Yes.
Other: That was after the war isn’t it?
BW: Yeah.
SB: Yes. Aye
BW: So that was some time after your service in the war then when you went to India. Is that right?
SB: Yeah.
BW: Ok.
SB: There was no vacancies for flying. So -
BW: Ok.
SB: I took going to India which was quite an education.
BW: So coming back then to the early part of the war and your career. You said you went to school in the RAF and so you -
SB: Yeah.
BW: Was this before your gunnery training or after or part of it?
SB: It was before. I passed flying exams on Thorney Island which is not far from Portsmouth and the flying officer there he said, ‘I’ll set you an exam Steve. The equivalent to the flying job.’ And he did and that’s how I come to go to Weston Super Mare. He recommended me and I finished up in front of this board at, selection board in Super Mare.
BW: And was your intention when you joined up to be air crew air gunner or did you actually want to fly or navigate? Was your ambition higher than to be gunner or were you -
SB: My ambition was to fly. I remustered for a pilot but I didn’t get, it didn’t happen while I was vacant. I was otherwise engaged in Germany. [laughs]
BW: I see. I see.
SB: I was there two years in Germany.
BW: Ok. So you had your initial time in England as, as sergeant and you were trained on Boulton Paul Defiants as air gunner.
SB: Yeah.
BW: What happened after that? What was the next stage of training for you?
SB: That was it.
BW: Did you go to a conversion unit or an operational training unit?
SB: I went from Dalcross which was Boulton Paul Defiants. I went from there to Wickenby which was 12 squadron.
BW: And what period in the war was this? What sort of year was this?
SB: 1942.
BW: Ok so you finished training at Dalcross which I’m guessing would be summer ‘42. And you went to Wickenby to continue flying as a gunner. On, on what aircraft? What were you posted on to?
SB: Lancasters.
BW: Lancaster. So this would be a new squadron for you and a new squadron entirely because 12 squadron was only formed in September ‘42.
SB: [?]
BW: Or thereabouts.
SB: It was a very basic place were Wickenby. Very basic. Nissen huts.
BW: And did you live in the nissen huts with all your crew or was there another crew with you?
SB: No. We, in the nissen hut I was in we were all gunners.
BW: So you were all on different aircraft but you were all the same trade.
SB: Yeah.
BW: Ok. That’s interesting. Some, some huts were occupied by crews and so there’d be two crews in there but in your case you were just billeted with other gunners -
SB: Oh yeah.
BW: Entirely.
SB: Oh yes. In actual fact during my stay in Germany I, at the, where was it? I don’t know where it was somewhere down in the interrogation place it was and they give me papers to look at and I noticed one of the chaps who was with me in this nissen hut he’d drowned. It was at the side of his name - drowned. It was all propaganda them showing us these things.
BW: So when you were at Wickenby and you joined this new squadron how did you meet the rest of your crew?
SB: I haven’t a ruddy clue [laughs]. I’ve no idea whatsoever. My crew was three Australians, two Canadians, and myself and a fellow from Tadcaster and I was the youngest.
BW: Do you recall their names and what they did?
SB: Now then. Now then.
BW: I believe your pilot was Featherstone. Is that right?
SB: Bob Featherstone. The -
Other: There was the piece of paper that we thought were your crew but we weren’t sure. Have you got your glasses?
SB: Oh aye. Well I’ll tell you what they were.
Other: Oh right.
SB: There was Bob Featherstone the pilot. Laurie. Laurie Hickson, navigator. No, Laurie was the radio operator. Jack [Ebblestone?] was the navigator. Tommy Fouracres was the bomb aimer. My friend, the other gunner, I’ve no idea what his name was. All I knew him as was Robbie.
BW: And would he be Canadian?
SB: Robbie was a Canadian. And he wasn’t in the billet with me, with the other -
BW: What-
SB: With the other gunners. Robbie.
BW: Was he a mid-upper gunner or a front?
SB: Who?
BW: Robbie.
SB: Robbie was rear gunner.
Other: Yeah. Steve wasn’t a rear gunner.
BW: Ok and there was one other. A guy called Cooper.
SB: Engineer. Don’t ask me why, I don’t know because I couldn’t see him climbing on the bloody wings if anything went wrong with an engine. Quite surplus to requirements in my opinion was the engineer but we had to put up with it.
BW: And his name was Freddie you say?
SB: Harry.
BW: Harry, beg your pardon.
SB: Harry Cooper
Other: F H Cooper.
SB: He was a director of John Smith’s. Not John. There’s two of them. John -
Other: Sam Smith’s.
SB: John Smith’s
Other: John Smith’s Brewery.
BW: I see. And how did you all get on as a crew?
SB: Very well. Bob. Bob Featherstone, he was a very reserved sort of a person. He didn’t smoke. He didn’t drink. I remember being in the mess one time and I said, ‘Would you like a drink Bob?’ He said, ‘Yes,’ and I said, ‘What would you like?’ He said, ‘A glass of milk.’ And I got him a glass of milk. [laughs] but the rest of the crew were, me being from Barton on Humber I didn’t spend much spare time other than Barton on Humber like according to what the Germans told me the aerodrome was eighteen kilometres northeast of Lincoln. I didn’t know that.
BW: That’s right. That’s absolutely right.
SB: They like, we used to get before flight we used to have a briefing all the crews all together and we used to get lectured and what have you and one of the things was, ‘Now if you have the misfortune to be shot down and captured during your interrogation a little old fellow will come and he’s a member of the International Red Cross. He isn’t.’ And lo and behold I think it was in Frankfurt where this interrogation camp was and lo and behold eventually this little old chap came and he said, ‘I’m from the International Red Cross,’ and I said, ‘Don’t kid me.’ I said, ‘You’re not. I got that told that before I left England.’ ‘Oh. Oh.’ And that finished that and he give up trying to convince me he was the International Red Cross fella.
BW: So coming back just to Wickenby itself you were quite a mixed crew as you say two Canadians and three Australians and two British.
SB: Yeah.
BW: But you didn’t mix a lot on the base. You said you went back to Barton on Humber quite a bit.
SB: Well I -
BW: Is that right? To see your family.
SB: They used to be workmen and there was a workman’s bus went from Wickenby to Barton upon Humber which was rather convenient when, when I was available.
BW: And so you spent your free time mainly at home.
SB: More or less. Yeah.
BW: Did you get to socialise on the base with the crew before missions or after missions
SB: No not to any degree I think. No. I remember after the war I was on a course in Tadcaster and I found out my engineer’s telephone number was and I rang him and I said, ‘Hello Harry.’ I said, ‘This is Steve. I’d like to ask you and your wife to lunch with me. I’m at John Smith’s.’ ‘Oh. Oh well, well I’m helping my son to do some decorating.’ I thought oh. So I didn’t hear any more of it.
BW: But you still had to fly together in the -
SB: Oh yeah.
BW: In the aircraft.
SB: Oh yes. Oh yeah well I mean you don’t fly together. I mean, I was very remote on top of it. Robbie was remote at the tail of it and the others were at the front.
BW: So -
SB: We were two isolated persons other than RT.
BW: So your position in the Lancaster was a mid upper then was it?
SB: Yeah.
BW: I see,
SB: Three hundred and sixty degrees viewing. In actual fact I was walking, I’d been cleaning my guns and I’m walking along the aerodrome and I saw a fella on top of a Lancaster and I thought, ‘What the bloody hell is he doing?’ So I give a shout and I said, ‘What the hell are you doing up there?’ ‘I’m cleaning guns.’ I said, ‘You what?’ He said, ‘I’m cleaning my guns.’ I said, ‘Hold it. Hold it’ I said, ‘Stay where you are,’ and I went in the plane and through the main there was a cover some, behind the turret or front of the turret I don’t know which it was and he didn’t know you could rotate your guns manually and always park them over the tail and he was trying to climb over the bloody turret to clean his guns and he was a commissioned air gunner. He was a pilot officer. I couldn’t, I couldn’t believe a pilot officer didn’t even know how to rotate the bloody turret and was going to climb over it. I mean if he’d fallen off I mean it’s quite high up is a turret gun when it’s on the deck. Aye a pilot officer. How the hell he became a [governor/gunner?] I don’t know.
Other: [You’ve only told this to protect the innocent?]
SB: Oh yes it, another incident I might recall was, I don’t know why we were on [Denham?] Golf Course and we were intermingled with the army on dive bombing. This was not flying and there were, what was the popular twin engine plane? I forget. Anyway, they were dive bombing and this plane’s coming down and there’s four people walking across the aerodrome. They should not have been there and as the plane took off knocked a fellas head off.
BW: Wow.
SB: There was just a red flash and he was gone.
Other: I didn’t know they got that close to the ground.
SB: And as far as I can remember it was Sir Christopher de Bath. I think that was his name but he shouldn’t have been where he was. They just let the pilot fly a bit and then they brought him back and he was ok but that was not in my agenda as a -
BW: No.
SB: As a gunner. I mean we all gunners were all trained on the same things. Turrets and guns and that’s it.
Other: What was the golf course?
SB: Hmm?
Other: Was the golf course, did the golf course go across the aerodrome or something?
SB: No. I don’t, no. No. I don’t know during the war I don’t know if it was permissible the golf course no it was -
Other: [It was…?]
SB: They were using the golf course obviously for, to be a plane without any obstruction. No buildings or anything.
Other: Oh I see. He was probably looking for his ball.
SB: But I do remember that fella getting his head knocked off.
Other: Oh God. I didn’t realise they flew that close to the ground.
BW: So you’re on operations now at Wickenby and what sort of routine would you follow for missions? What sort of preparations would you make for a mission if you were on roster to -
SB: Well obviously -
BW: Conduct a raid?
SB: We had to look to our guns to start with. Then we all who were flying collected together for a briefing on where we were going, what height we were flying, what we expected to come across. Other than that we just clambered into the aircraft and away but it was very boring I should think just sitting there and not many, I mean, I never fired my guns in anger and neither did Robbie and as I say it was rather boring sitting there and no, no fighter aircraft or anything.
Other: Not much fun.
SB: Like Ruhr Valley. Well that was rather lively anti-aircraft gun and Berlin when we crashed and whatever the hell happened to us I don’t know. That was different. I can’t remember much anti-aircraft so whether there was flying, planes flying, fighters I don’t know but according to information I got from someone in Lincoln there was also another three -
Other: Oh yes.
SB: Lancasters went with no survivors.
Other: Yeah that’s right.
SB: So whether it was because of that I didn’t recognise any anti-aircraft fire and they were shot down by aircraft I don’t I don’t know but we were fortunate we were straight down and very, I only met Bob Featherstone, I only met him for a few minutes because we were separated. We were stripped naked and separated, put into different, separate cells and he said, ‘We just touched over five hundred mile an hour, Steve. In a Lancaster bomber.’ And I remember I sat there and I thought, ‘Bloody hell this is it.’ And nothing I could do. I just sat there. Initially I thought he’d put the nose down to get out and home but it wasn’t. They pulled the plane out of this dive and I thought I was going to go straight through the ruddy bottom with the pressure and and that’s what Bob said. He said we reached over five hundred mile and hour and then after we pulled out we seemed to be flying straight and level and Bob came on the RT, ‘Bale out. Bale out.’ So I said, ‘Just a minute, Bob.’ He said, ‘What’s that.’ I said, ‘Can’t we reach Sweden?’ ‘No.’ ‘Oh that’s just too bad then,’ and we, course getting in and out of a mid-upper wasn’t very easy and by the time I got to the back door Robbie, the rear gunner at that time, he was sat on the doorstep. The door had gone. He’d got an axe to it and opened it with an axe and he was sat there and as I got there he climbed back in and I said, ‘What’s to do Robbie?’ ‘I can’t get out.’ And I said, ‘Have another try.’ I thought I had to do something here and he got back sitting on the doorstep and I gave him a bit of encouragement and he went. But I sat on the doorstep and I rolled out and I didn’t find any problems whatsoever. Why, whether he’d lost his nerve or what I don’t know.
Other: He probably didn’t fancy landing in Germany.
BW: And you don’t recall how the aircraft was hit.
SB: No I don’t know whether it was hit-
BW: Whether it was fighters or flak.
SB: Gun whether it had been hit with a fighter or anti-aircraft I’ve no idea whatever. All I know is the plane crashed. I know it crashed because I saw the ruddy thing crash. I was hanging about up there. And but I’ve no idea and I’ve only heard that our plane crashed. I’ve no idea why it crashed or what caused it to crash but -
BW: And do you recall this was on your fourth sortie. There were two previous trips to Essen and one to Berlin. This was a second trip to Berlin.
SB: Ahum.
BW: And it seems this was the last time that the squadron visited Berlin through the rest of their tour but do you recall what it was like on the approach to the target. You say as a mid- upper you had a good view. Were you looking around -
SB: No problems whatsoever.
BW: For fighters? Could you see the target ahead?
SB: As we, I don’t know which it, whether it was so but you’re talking about the target. Towards the end of, or when I was flying the Mosquitos came into action and the Mosquitos used to drop flares and we used to bomb the flares but the Mosquitos used to pick the target, drop these flares and we’d bomb on the flares.
BW: You didn’t see much of Berlin at this stage below. Sometimes crews report seeing targets on fire or explosions on the ground.
SB: No. No. I can’t recollect seeing anything. No. I mean as we were approaching targets Bob used to corkscrew to upset the ground crews and that sort of thing.
BW: And were you picked out by searchlights at all?
SB: Only once. We got searchlight and went straight, Bob went straight down it and pulled out. Other than that we weren’t bothered with searchlights. Not like the pilots are today. Have you read in the papers about this -
Other: Laser.
SB: Oh dear.
BW: Yeah ridiculous isn’t it? Do you, do you recall the earlier trips at all over Essen?
SB: No. I mean I remember one time we were on low level practice and old Bell , Squadron Leader Bell got in touch with, ‘Mr Featherstone. You’re on low level not a bloody altitude.’ Well that upset Bob and of course I can see all this. We went down, we went down and we went down and there was as I say there was workmen on the Wickenby and there was a steamroller there and our, the people on that steam roller had never moved so bloody fast [laughs] when Bob went down and they must have thought he was going to hit it. I did as well. [laughs]
BW: And in general how did you find it? Flying in a Lancaster?
Other: [What did you call it?]
SB: It was what I’d always wanted. I mean going like a cross country over this country, Ireland very nice oh very oh yes very exciting. Not exciting. No. It wasn’t exciting but it was what I always had wanted.
Other: Cold.
SB: Oh we had four pairs of gloves on. A pair of silk, a pair of woollen, gauntlets and electric and we’d an electric waistcoat and electric slippers. Course at the back of the plane there was no heating whatsoever. Forty degrees wasn’t abnormal. You couldn’t touch your guns with bare hands or you just stuck to them. Oh it was very cold but [I had?] my fun here. I enjoyed it.
BW: And did you take hot drinks with you or anything like that?
SB: Pardon?
BW: Did you take hot drinks with you during the flights to keep warm?
SB: All we got flying was chewing gum and a small can of orange juice. A small can of orange juice by ten thousand feet was solid ice so were not much help really. Oh no it’s, I mean, I couldn’t move anyway. I mean I was just stuck in a turret on the top of the ruddy plane and that was it.
BW: Up there in the cold.
SB: Oh yeah.
BW: And this time of the year is the end of ‘42 and the squadron only became operational on the 27th of December so your early trips were in January ‘43 so it would be particularly -
SB: New.
BW: Cold at that time.
SB: It was cold. Damned cold. Oh yeah.
BW: It was cold at the best of times.
SB: In actual fact –
BW: At altitude.
SB: I landed in a field with several inches of snow and of course being in air force dark, darkish coloured I’m burying my chute and I looked up and there’s two fellas there. Both with guns. I suppose they were kind of home guard and we weren’t allowed to, we were advised not to take guns because if you did like the position I’d been, I was in they would have shot me because they thought I had a gun but we didn’t and these two chaps took me to a house and they must have rung the police or something. Anyhow, a guy, I remember he had a brown uniform which I don’t know what that was and he interrogated me. He says, ‘What, what, how many were in your aircraft?’ I said, ‘Only me.’ ‘Oh.’ I thought he doesn’t know much about this. He says, ‘What do you mean only you? I said, ‘We jettisoned tanks on the aircraft.’ I said, ‘There was only me.’ ‘Ah gudt gudt gudt. Here you are,’ and he gave me a twenty packet of Gold Flake cigarettes. I light up and he toddles off. A few minutes later he dashes in to the room, ‘You lied to me.’ [laughs] ‘I find another man.’ Well he found seven eventually but it was funny being given Gold Flake cigarettes but I lost them of course. When he found the second man he took my cigarettes off me but it was a bit of a comic. But we went to, I think it was an air force camp and that’s when they stripped us completely, put us in separate cells and eventually they transported us down south to, I think it was Frankfurt, I’m not sure about, that to an interrogation camp. There were quite a lot of people in it. Mostly air force of course and that’s when the little chap from the International Red Cross came up but and then of course we were taken to a Stalag 8b. Because of something happening with the Canadians who raided Dieppe, something about them tying prisoners of war hands handcuffed and the Germans wanted to have reprisals but they hadn’t enough Canadians to suit their purposes so they drafted the air force. There was about three hundred of us and we were in handcuffs. They were put on. They were decent about it. They put them on in the morning and took them off at night and of course it’s amazing what people get up to. They soon found out how to manipulate the locks on them and if the guards had been decent we’d just throw them in the box. If they hadn’t they had to undo every, every one. And, and they used to be radio reports put up in the billet. In the billet I say they were proper huts. No windows in. There were windows but they’d no glass. Very little water, just a dribble. No chance of getting washed. We were dirty. We stunk. Must have done. And lousy. Me and Harry Cooper the engineer who was, there were three high bunks in this place and er and initially they’d started with boards but the prisoners found a better use for the boards which was making a fire to get a brew and as time went on we got Red Cross parcels that usually a parcel between two but they were all tied with string and we collected this string and we made nets to replace the boards on the beds. At the finish I shouldn’t think there was a bed with boards on it. Only Red Cross string. And [pause] you must excuse me I’m looking for a handkerchief. I’ve just found one. Oh yes and we used to get tenth of a loaf a day which were about that much.
BW: About an inch and a half.
SB: Aye. Identity disc was just a tenth of a loaf and some used to, you could cut it. The bread was so like a solid mass and you could cut it so ruddy thin and some of the chaps used to cut and spread it out over the day. I used to do the same but I used to eat it and hope for the best and we used to get, they used to bring a dustbin thing in occasionally and that was supposed to be soup. I remember one soup what we called bedboard soup. It just tasted like sawdust. We were hungry but nobody could eat it. The toilets were forty seaters. Four banks of ten so you could have a chat while you were [laughs] aye. Four banks of ten and during the summertime if we got Red Cross parcels they used to stab all the tins so we couldn’t save them for making escape purposes. So, if we couldn’t consume them we used to throw them over to the next compound which was the Russians and they were very grateful to a point. I remember when they decided to move us from Lamsdorf which was on the Polish border and they set off, sent us all off marching, hundreds of us. I don’t know how many was in the camp at the time but I think it was, there was twenty five thousand in and attached. Most of them were on working parties. There were, ‘cause it was an army camp. They decided that they were going to move us away from the Russians. I don’t know why. And this was in January. A little bit of snow and what not and we started marching and I remember the first stop was at a brick works and I got bedded down on some blocks of clay and we’d, we’d all got a [?] blanket and eventually the blanket became too heavy and too much of a damned nuisance but we just, we were like bloody zombies walking in the snow and very little or nothing to eat. I remember one time that we were walking along and there was a potato clamp. Are you with me? You should be.
BW: Ahum.
SB: One of the lads took a dive for the potato clamp and he was shot through his shot through his face and that’s how desperate we were. I mean sometimes we were just laid in an open field. A derelict factory. Course no bedding. No cloth. No -
BW: No provisions of any kind.
SB: We’d no washing facilities whatsoever so we never got undressed for about three months and we must have smelled a bit ripe [laughs] but it was all part of it and it was war.
BW: And this period of time would have been January ‘45 is that right? This would have been January ‘45 or thereabouts when you were marched out of the camp.
SB: ‘44 ‘45 I forget which.
Other: [It would be towards the end of the war wouldn’t it?]
SB: Like another point as I said we used to get Red Cross, Red Cross parcels. Maybe two. Occasionally and they used to stab it and we used to throw it to the Russians and of course the Russians they were marched with us on this walk and they were separated from us in so far as we were in a compound and they were in the next compound and we were in a huge marquee and on the floor was small branches off fir trees and that was it and we’d no water but the Russians had a tap and when we went to the Russians and asked for water. ‘Cigarette’ and ‘cigarettes.’ Well, they knew damn well we’d no cigarettes. We didn’t get no water. That was the gratitude for giving them the parcels.
BW: I was going to say yet you’d been throwing parcels over the wire to them.
SB: Yeah and er -
BW: And they wouldn’t let you have water.
SB: Eventually we got, the Germans left us. The guards left us. We were in a camp with nothing and me, and I got friendly with an Australian soldier and we decided to have a walk and we were walking around the countryside. We saw a house with a light in it and we went and knocked on the door and there were a lot of mumbling and grumbling and I said, ‘What’s to do, Joe?’ He says, ‘I don’t know.’ Anyhow, Joe could speak French. He started talking in French. Eventually we got in this house. There was eight Madagascans and they’d got a set boiler, you know, a boiler with a fire underneath it full of meat and they give us as much as we wanted but nothing else but meat. No bread, no veg, no, just meat but by heck that meat was good and that was, I never met Joe again. The Americans came and at that point my legs were tight in my trousers. Beri beri I think they said it was and I went and found a medical, an American medical chap and he said, ‘Sorry I can’t give you anything.’ He said. ‘All I have is two or three aspirins,’ he says. ‘I’ve used everything I had.’ He says, ‘It’ll wear off eventually when you start eating.’ [laughs] And then we got in some clapped out Dakotas aeroplanes and they flew us back to Cosford which is near Wolverhampton I think.
BW: That’s right
SB: And there we were stripped again and deloused and treated like royalty. Oh yeah. They couldn’t do enough for us and then we were despatched home and then after I think I had four weeks leave and then I got sent to India and that was the end of the war for me. I I in actual fact I was in India in Delhi and I thought there’s all these bloody people getting relieved and they were conscripts. They’d completed their two years [and they would be ?]. So I got in touch with the officers and I said, ‘What’s my position?’ I said, ‘I’m an RAF volunteer reserve I suppose,’ I said. ‘I don’t know.’ ‘Oh we’ll see what we can do with you,’ and the next day I was on a train to Bombay. And there they were very obliging again, ‘Well we haven’t a place cabin-wise for you. You can go on this ship or you can wait till there’s a cabin available on another ship.’ Oh I said we’ll get the [excuse ?] let me get on it and I think it was the Scythia if I can remember right and I came back home and I, I was in a bit of a state. I’d no qualifications. I was a machinist before the war in a cycle works and I daren’t say I was a machinist or I would have been reserved occupation so I just said I’m a labourer. Anyhow, as I say I came back here and I got sent to Blackpool. I spent a lot of time in Blackpool and I met my wife. [back then?] as she was a young woman and we got married and I’d no qualifications whatsoever and of course going to Burnley it was either went to Burnley or Barton. Well, naturally I’d no, no say in the matter. It was Burton and I thought well I had to find something. I went as a coal miner. Had a few months in a coal mine and I got dermatitis and so I had to come out and my wife said, I used to see these in the paper, situations vacant and there used to be overlookers wanted. Overlookers wanted. I said to me wife, ‘What’s this overlookers?’ She said, ‘Oh you’ve no need to bother about that. You won’t be one.’ I said, ‘Its hard luck then.’ Anyhow, I took a job at just over three pound a week. Three pound a week and I thought well it’ll keep me going cash wise and I got in to the, this job three pound a week was at the end of the war and before the war the mills used to get large amount of coal on the canals but after the war it was delivered in three ton trucks and my job was wheeling it over the ruddy boiler and tipping over for the fire beater and I’m shovelling this coal one day and a fellow walking down the yard and he stopped. He said, ‘What are you doing?’ I politely told him [laughs] it was running off my nose was the sweat and ‘Aye all right.’ And he toddled off and a couple of hours later, ‘You’re wanted in the office, Steve.’ Oh I’ve got set for being rude with that fella and it was this same fella wanted to see me. He said, ‘How about coming working for me?’ ‘And who are you?’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I look after this mill. I look after four in Blackburn, one in Morecambe, outside Morecambe, Whiteland. ’ I said, ‘Right. What’s the reward?’ He said, ‘Oh you’ll be a lot better than what you are now,’ he said ‘And I’ve a van you can use,’ And I got into the textile trade then through this fellow Harry [Makenson] I’ll always remember his name. He looked after me. He made me an overlooker as they called it, was a maintenance engineer on looms and I I seemed to cotton on to it and I finished up manager of a weaving mill. I mean initially I didn’t know one end of a bloody shuttle to another and that’s how I finished. George Street Mill closed down and it’s gone now. It’s been knocked down. I retired and I’ve been retired thirty odd year.
BW: Ahum.
SB: But er no my war experiences was, this march oh that was grim was that. Oh bloody hell. I I ate raw chicken and raw rabbit what they if the people had left them, forgotten them, we didn’t forget them. Oh I think I weighed seven stone something when I and they sent me on four weeks holiday. I went back and, ‘Right. Get on the scales,’ and I did. ‘Get on the scales again.’ I did. ‘Something wrong here.’ I says, ‘What’s the matter?’ ‘You’ve put on thirty odd pound in forty eight days. What have you been doing?’ ‘Well,’ I said. ‘I must confess.’ I says, ‘I’ve been drinking Guinness.’ I said, ‘I’ve been drinking about an average of about fifteen bottles of Guinness a day. ‘
Other: Good grief.
SB: He says, ‘You what?’ I said, ‘Oh yes.’ That’s where my money went and I got back to my ten and a half stone and now I languish at twelve stone. [And you must excuse me ‘cause I must go to the toilet.]
BW: No problem.
SB: My escaping [laughs].
BW: I was going, I was going to ask you actually -
SB: Which was rather farcical.
BW: I believe you made a number of escape attempts.
SB: I er, in actual fact I never escaped. I was always someone else. The first effort was I swapped identities with a fella. An old, well to me an old fella. He would be about forty He was a member of the Pioneer Corp which was a non-combatant unit and I swapped identities with him and eventually I got drafted to a working party on an aerodrome and our job was looking after the grounds but it didn’t work out very well. It was alleged that someone had managed to dodge the guards, got in an aeroplane, couldn’t read the ruddy things and jettisoned the petrol out of it. We were straight back to the camp. All lot of us. That was number one. I reverted back to my position in the air force and its surprising there wasn’t a lot more people doing the same as me but anyhow, eventually I got another one. I got friendly with one in the army camp and he was fed up of working. I mean they’d no option. They had to work.
BW: So you were, rather than being, let’s say, given protection because of your rank and aircrew you were actually put to work. You were in labour gangs were you?
SB: At my rank no. My rank I couldn’t go to work. I wasn’t allowed to work. The soldiers were compelled to work so the only thing we had to, well I had to do was change my identity and as I say I changed with this guy. He was a Pioneer Corp and we got drafted back to the camp because of this misdemeanour, this alleged ditching the juice from the aircraft but whether that was true or not I don’t know but that was the reason I heard and eventually I got fed up and I got this other fella. I can’t remember his name. I know we were doing some work in [Gliwice] and I decided I’d had enough and I got hidden away and the guards were a bit slop happy and I was left and I had a couple of three days and that was it. I had nothing to eat so I got picked up.
BW: So you manged to give them the slip and spend three days away.
SB: Oh yeah.
BW: Two or three days.
SB: Oh yeah. Course I used to walk at night and hide in bushes and whatever during the day and oh that was the second time I think there was a field with a kind of a basin in it full of bushes. Ideal for sleeping. Only trouble was I was prodded in the ribs and it was a fella with a rifle. He could speak, he spoke very good English. And he says, ‘Come on. Come with me.’ And he was a farmer and he took me to his house, rung the local police and he was talking and he said, ‘I’ve come from America.’ He says, ‘It’s the worse bloody days’ work I ever did. He says, ‘Coming back here’ he said, ‘But you know the feeling. It’s your country. Well come and,’ he said ‘It’s the worse bloody thing I ever did in my life.’ He says, ‘I daren’t do anything but ring the police.’ And a policeman came on a two stroke motorbike. He made me push his motorbike and he walked on and I had a night in jail and the guards came from the camp to take me back and I settled back again and then I got the urge again so I picked on a fella going as an air force man. Aye, I often remember his name. They called him Bill Major from Liverpool. Only fault was Bill got fed up with being in the bloody camp. He was so used to going out to work so he changed his identity so when I eventually, where was it oh I was at a brick works and I was there one day working and I saw a spanner and I thought bloody hell that looks like the bolts on windows. It was a little, it had been a little school where we were billeted in, on this brickwork and this spanner it fitted the nuts so I got, pulled them out one side and got out and I was a gentleman I put them back and screwed them back and the lads who I’d got friendly with they came back and they said, ‘You left us in the real bloody muck,’ he said. ‘They didn’t know how you’d escaped.’ He said, ‘How did you escape?’ I said, ‘I found a spanner and I opened the bars and I walked out.’ There again I got caught again and of course every time I got caught I used to be sentenced to solitary confinement and it was solitary. 5 o’clock in the morning, fill a pail with water, scrub your deck out, stand your bed up. The bed was a few pieces of wood with rope across but you had to stand it up so you couldn’t sit on it and if you didn’t do it in their time they just used to kick the bloody bucket over and your cell was swimming in water but we put up with it. And there was one fella there one time I was in solitary and the padre used to come every day to see him. He was a New Zealander and it seems he’d been on a working party and he’d seen a chain on the ground and so he just picked it up and threw it into a machine and it was dodgy whether he was going to be shot or not and this padre used to come every day to see him and after the war I saw his photograph in the paper. He’d been awarded the BME is it?
BW: Um could be MBE.
SB: MBE aye. And so obviously he didn’t get shot and he got back home. Oh yeah. Aye. But I’m surprised there wasn’t a lot more of them swapping identities with soldiers who, well some of them had done four years. I’d a brother. My brother, he was a marine. He was taken prisoner on, [pause] where?
Other: Crete.
SB: Island.
Other: Crete.
SB: Crete. Oh Crete aye and one time I’m in in solitary and they used to take us out. Geneva Conventions again. They used to take us out and we used to walk around in a little circle. We had to get this exercise in and one day one, the fella said, ‘How long have you been here?’ I said, ‘I’m just doing fourteen days.’ ‘Well how did you get from Crete er from Germany er Italy?’ I said, ‘What you are talking about?’ He says, ‘Haven’t you just left Italy?’ I said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Were you a marine?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘That’s my brother.’ What happened he’d met my brother in Italy. But no there was some comical things happened. Oh yeah. Oh aye.
Other: [Not?] very comical.
BW: But you didn’t have to have your escape attempts approved as might be the case with others in some camps. You acted on your own initiative to try and escape.
SB: Oh I just went. I just went. Oh I wouldn’t. No. No I knew I couldn’t go anywhere because I couldn’t speak German but I thought well I’ve got to do something and as I say it became something of a, like I changed the third one Bill Major who got fed up of being in the camp because he’d always been used to working so he swapped identities with another fella so when I got back I had to find out who Steve Bacon was. [laughs] Quite funny really but oh no they -
BW: How were you picked up each time? I know you mentioned a farmer found you sleeping under a bush at one point. How were you picked up other times? Were you, when you were out of the camp were you not afraid of being picked up by the army or handed over to the Gestapo or something like that?
SB: I can’t remember to be quite honest. I’m just trying to think. I had that farmer and then we were sent back because of someone ditching the ruddy petrol out the aeroplane and then the third time I went Bill Major, Bill Major, Bill Major. I can’t remember how I got caught that time but I got caught and that time it was a bit of a nuisance. I got caught and of course I got sentenced to fourteen days, well it was twenty one days then. It had gone up. But I had to go to a straflager which was a part of the camp reserved for potential what not, isolation and in there, there were mostly soldiers messing about there because of the women and I remember one chap he was, he had to go to civilian court and he went and he came back and he said, ‘Right.’ He said, ‘Right, here you are.’ He’d taken all the lightbulbs out the ruddy waiting room of the court he’d been to. Oh there was some humorous ruddy things. Oh yeah aye oh aye but as I say I never escaped because I was never me. I was this Pioneer Corp chap. I belonged, I belonged the Pioneer Corp and I was a gunner and then I was an ordinary soldier with Bill Major and I’m talking I got back I’d done my solitary and I got back to the camp and back to the air force compound and I’m walking around one day. ‘How are you going on mate?’ I looked around, ‘I’m alright. Why?’ ‘You don’t know me do you?’ No it’s surprising what they got up to. I said, ‘No. I don’t know you.’ And he said, ‘I was in straflager with you,’ he said, ‘But I’ve escaped.’ He’d escaped into the camp. [laughs] what happened to him I don’t know but they used to get up to all sorts of ruddy tricks. They used to put this radio bulletin up every morning and of course the Germans, ‘They must have a radio.’ They cleared all everybody out. The camp was on a moor, moorland in actual fact as I previously said with a forty seater toilet where they used to pump it out and they used to spread it around the camp to stop digging tunnels and what not and, what was I going to say? I’ve forgotten. But they emptied the camp completely. They’d dogs in and all sorts in looking for the radios that wasn’t there but we had bitterly cold on this moor but we, we did it and, oh aye. And another time they used to, we used to have roll calls of course in fives and one day we were out nearly eight hours. They couldn’t figure out how we’d missed, they’d missed somebody and every time they went five, ten, fifteen. There were three hundred of us and somebody had bent down to tie, reckon to tie their shoelace. One missing. And they’d go again and they’d get it right. That’s right. And they were so bloody stupid. That’s right. Aye aye. ‘We’d better have another check,’ and so they’d check again and somebody had bent down and it would be the same again. One missing. And they’d dogs and they’d officers of all bloody sorts in the camp that day in our compound and they never found the one who was missing but it was our discomfort but we used to put up with it and that was it. It was part of the gang kind of thing but as I say I never escaped because I as never me.
BW: What were relations like with the guards? If people are managing to build rudimentary radio sets they must get the components from somewhere. What were relations like with the guards? Did you, were you able to bribe them or -
SB: Oh, no. They, they -
BW: Persuade them to do things for you?
SB: They didn’t like it. No, no. I know there was one, I did see one fella shot. He was being marched through the camp, past our compound with a guard, a guard with a rifle and all of a sudden he had his coat over his arm and he just threw it over the guard’s head and galloped. He didn’t gallop fast enough. They shot him. They shot him and he was dead. Aye.
BW: Just coming back to, I’m interested in the point where you talked about getting out of the aircraft and you took to your parachute. How were you then picked up? You landed in a field of snow and then -
SB: Picked up with two, two like home guard. I don’t know -
BW: Ok.
SB: They’d guns. That’s all I know and they took us to a house and there was a young boy in this house in actual fact and I had my escape kit with me. I thought, well there was chocolate in it. He wouldn’t eat it. He wouldn’t touch it. No. We had an escape kit. The chocolate and vitamin tablets and what have you and money but not German money. I don’t know. I think it was franks. I don’t know but -
Other: I think you thought it was the home guard didn’t you?
BW: And so they reported to the police that they’d picked you up and presumably the police came for you.
SB: Oh yeah.
BW: What, were you taken to a civilian jail? Or were you -
SB: Oh yes.
BW: Passed to the Gestapo? Or were you -
SB: Oh yes I had a night in the jail and the guards came from the camp, a couple of guards take me back. Kept them occupied. But oh no it had its humorous side.
BW: And news of your aircraft being lost must have reached home. There’s a letter here which is a reply from the wing commander at 12 squadron to your mum, ‘In response to your letter.’ She was asking about getting your personal effects sent back. When you got back to your family do you recall what had happened from their point of view? Were they told by the squadron you’d been lost? Did they know you were in a prison camp or what was their take on events?
SB: Well they initially telegram.
Other: Yeah that’s the other one Brian. That’s the telegram from to say he was missing in action or something.
SB: Your son is reported missing and then another one was something about Lord Haw Haw. You wouldn’t know that would you?
BW: William Joyce yeah.
SB: William Joyce, yeah. He broadcast my name as a prisoner of war and they sent my mother another telegram stating that take it with a pinch of salt.
BW: Yeah there’s an official telegram here that says, ‘Regret to inform you that your son Sergeant Stephen Granville Bacon is missing as a result of air operation 17th, 18th Jan 1943. Letter follows. Any further information will be immediately communicated to you. And that’s from, that would be air ministry I think but it’s, it’s er named from, I think Wickenby but so they’ve been informed by telegram. How, how did you end up on Haw Haw’s broadcast? Was this a regular thing to name POWs? Or was it -
SB: I’ve no idea. I haven’t a clue. I didn’t know until after I got back.
BW: Yeah.
SB: That it had happened.
Other: Yeah. I think they’d already had a memorial service for him in the [Barton?] church I believe.
SB: Oh aye. It was a long after the war I, my nephew sent me a paper cutting and it was from the local paper, Hull Times I think it was. And there was a list of names, ‘Would anyone who knew these people get in touch with us.’ They’re all, these people who had been killed during the war and Stephen Granville Bacon was one of them. I’m still here [laughs]
BW: Well it’s like when you were in the prison camp. You didn’t escape. That was somebody else. Somebody else was killed, it wasn’t you.
SB: Yeah it was. I was amazed when I got that paper cutting. I think I have it somewhere.
Other: That’s quite recent isn’t it?
SB: Yeah.
Other: Yeah.
SB: Aye.
Other: Yeah.
SB: Anyone know anything about these people who were killed during the war.
Other: Well I think it was something like -
SB: I knew a lot about him [laughs]
Other: Something like six months or so after that initial letter and Lord Haw Haw and his mother had to go around the village then apologising to everybody for -
BW: Right.
SB: Oh aye. Well er -
Other: Having a service for him.
SB: Like what was it now?
Other: I don’t know if she was more embarrassed [?] or what [laughs]
SB: Oh it was old Tom Everett. He was one of our neighbours. He must have been listening to Haw Haw and he heard this and of course he dashed out and went out to my mother’s, knocked on the door, ‘Your Steve’s a prisoner of war.’ [laughs] It must have been a shock for the old lady but aye that was Tom Everett.
BW: So you, just coming back to the point when you’re first captured were you in, did you meet up with the other members of the crew. Were you fairly close together when you were picked up? Or, I mean, was there any chance of escaping? Or making your own -
SB: We were all picked up at separate times.
BW: Right.
SB: And they must have got in touch with these, this I’m sure it was an air force camp that we were taken to where they stripped us and I mean they were looking for compasses and such like things and compasses used to be all over the ruddy place. I had it in the lapel of my coat. Bob Featherstone, I know he had one in his pipe. He didn’t smoke but he had a compass in the bottom if this pipe but the Germans knew all, all these things. They knew where to look. When we got our clothes back they were torn where they’d looked in the seams and what have you but oh no it’s surprising how much they knew about us as we knew about them aye.
BW: And you were handed over from civilian police straight to the camp. So there was, was there any formal interrogation that took place?
SB: No, not at that point. No, no, it was, as I say I think it was Frankfurt this camp we went to which was just an interrogation centre and it was very populated but they used to be in separate cells and they’d turn the heat up, heat up on us in the cell and it used to get bloody hot and then they’d switch it off altogether and it would just go just the opposite just to cool, just to loosen you off a bit. Aye. Oh aye.
BW: How long were in the interrogation camp at Frankfurt?
SB: I’ve no idea.
BW: Roughly.
SB: Eventually we were put on a train with no shoes. Nobody had any shoes on and we were taken to Lamsdorf on the Polish border. I remember the train it was it was luxury I mean there were seats in it but they were wooden seats but er and that’s how I got to Lamsdorf by train.
BW: Were there guards on the train?
SB: Oh yes. Oh aye. Aye, there were plenty of guards on the train and of course when you’ve no shoes it’s a big handicap.
BW: Did you get your shoes back or any shoes when you got to Lamsdorf?
SB: Any shoes, clogs, all sorts, wooden clogs. Not, not like what we used to wear. Not the proper clogs, wooden clogs. Most bloody uncomfortable.
BW: Lamsdorf had a reputation for being a tough camp. It was apparently notorious for poor conditions of construction, sanitation and overcrowding and had the highest number of British POWs there by the time of 1944 but you mentioned the sanitation conditions. Were the barracks that you were kept in were they, were they overcrowded at all or did you feel like you had enough room?
SB: Well I suppose we were overcrowded but it was all three tier, three tier bunk things and sanitation oh we’d, we’d as I say we had this forty seater, four banks of ten which used to be pumped out regularly and spread around the area to give it a bit -
Other: Pleasant.
SB: Of perfume but other than that there was no bathing facilities whatsoever. Oh no. As I say we were, we were lousy. Me and Harry, our engineer, I got friendly with him and we used to put out a blanket each and we used to have a bit of a line and we used to go and we used to stop at forty bugs.
Other: [?]
SB: I remember my mother must have had a brainstorm. She sent me a pair of pyjamas. Now, how the hell I got them I don’t know but I put them on and on the first night I’d, or the first morning when I took them off they were just polka dotted where I’d been bitten. I didn’t use them anymore. Oh no the sanitation was nil other than toilets but there was no, no shower. We’d a big trough thing with a pipe on top and water used to dribble out of it but you couldn’t have a wash. No.
BW: I’d just like to show you some pictures of a camp and just see if you think they reflect conditions or construction similar. The first, the first set show open type huts if you like. Purpose built long barracks and these aren’t the same camp as yours but do they -
Other: I think we took some pictures. There’s some stuff on the internet somewhere cause my son typed in Stalag 8b one day and came up with, oh and he instantly recognised the latrines I think. ‘Oh I remember that.’
BW: Yeah.
SB: I can’t recognise these at all. What is it?
BW: They’re, it’s a different camp but -
SB: Ah. Oh no.
BW: It’s -
SB: Totally different. That’s more like -
BW: It’s shown close to a town.
SB: I was going to say that’s more like ours. They were -
BW: Yeah.
SB: Proper barracks.
BW: Yeah.
SB: But they’d no windows ‘cause I suppose the previous tenants had bashed the bloody things out. Oh no. That, that is Stalag 8b of course. I mean, Bob -
BW: Were you -
SB: Bob Featherstone, our pilot, I mean we never saw him. He was a commissioned officer. He went to an Offlag.
BW: Ahum
Other: [?]
SB: So we didn’t see Bob again until, well I did see him again after the war. He was a, he was on the immigration situation going to Australia. Persuading people to go to Australia and persuaded me but my wife said no and that was it. Oh yes. Oh aye
BW: Were you close to a town or was, you said Lamsdorf was up on a moor.
SB: Oh it was isolated.
BW: Were you in reach of a town or just -
SB: Oh no, no it was -
BW: Middle of the country.
SB: Completely isolated. There was, what it doesn’t indicate there used to be turrets on stilts kind of thing on each corner of the camp.
BW: Similar to that.
SB: Oh there we are. Yes. There we are.
BW: These are pictures of guard towers and –
SB: Oh aye
BW: Barbed wire.
SB: And there used to be barbed wire and about six or ten feet from the barbed wire there used to be a single wire and if you went past that you were asking for trouble from that.
BW: You would be shot presumably.
SB: Oh yeah.
BW: It was like, like a trip wire I guess. And so there was plenty of barbed wire on the outer fences shown there. Were there two or three layers of barbed wire?
SB: Oh it was a fair depth of barbed wire. Oh yes. I never fancied this tunnelling business. Oh no. That didn’t appeal to me at all. I took it that changing identities was a lot easier.
BW: What put you off digging?
SB: Hmmn?
BW: What put you off digging or tunnelling?
SB: Well a bit claustrophobic I should think. And that Dulag Luft that’s an air force camp.
BW: Ahum.
SB: Well they didn’t have the opportunities like we had for swapping identities with soldiers going out to work because they were all senior NCOs and they weren’t allowed to go to work so they had an advantage but it was a disadvantage as well.
BW: It’s interesting that you took the opportunity to join a working party and go outside the camp. Was it the opportunity to get away from the camp a little bit that appealed or was it the idea of just having something to do?
SB: I think it was something to do. As I say I’d no ambitions about escaping completely because I couldn’t speak ruddy German and it was keeping the Germans occupied as well as anything else but er -
Other: If it’s alright I’m going to leave you to it.
BW: Do you want to, sorry?
SB: A grand lad. He looks after me with bills and -
BW: Yeah.
SB: He explains what, my heating, I haven’t a clue about it. I just had him on it this morning. He used to be in charge of a soft drinks factory and he used to drink like a fish but not soft drinks. It used to be beer.
BW: And this was your dad who was in charge. So, and that would, he would have died only shortly after you joined up then, presumably.
SB: In actual fact I didn’t get my first leave and I got a telegram to say he was dangerously ill and so I put an application in and I got a weekend and I always remember I was in, where was I? Duxford. And I went to see the station warrant officer and explained to him and he just calmly said, ‘And how many times is this your father’s died?’ I said, ‘As far as I know it’s only the first time.’ And I had a fortnight, a weekend, and he died before I got there. And when I went back I made an appointment to see the station warrant officer, ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘Now then. What can I do for you?’ I said, ‘You can’t do anything for me.’ I said, ‘I’m going to give you some information.’ He said, ‘What’s that? I said, ‘My father died for the first bloody time,’ I said, ‘And you remember what your remarks you made.’ He didn’t say anything. Oh aye. I had a brother in the navy for twenty years. One of my brothers was on mine sweepers. One of my brothers was a fireman and the other one, who was taken prisoner on Crete, he was a steeplejack and that’s the thing I can’t stand is bloody heights.
BW: And yet there you were in the mid upper position on a Lancaster.
SB: Oh that didn’t seem not the same feeling. I don’t know. It’s something different. I mean I had no qualms about jumping out. Well you don’t jump out. Well I didn’t. I rolled out but I never thought about it but Stan, my brother, who was a steeplejack I was talking to one of his workmen and they said, ‘Well he’s a bit of a son of a bitch.’ I said, ‘Is he?’ Hey said, ‘Yeah but there’s one thing about him. He wouldn’t ask you to so anything he wouldn’t do.’ But I said, ‘He’s different to me. I would be scared to bloody death.’ Oh yes. He died. Stanley died. He wasn’t ill. In fact Stuart came and knocked at my door. I answered it. ‘Yes Stuart. What’s the matter then?’ He says, ‘Stan’s died’. I said, ‘You what?’ He said, ‘Stan’s died.’ ‘My brother?’ he said, ‘Yeah.’ He was three years older than me and we used to fight like bloody hell as kids. I remember oh aye. He used to collect birds eggs. And I, and the brother in the navy he brought us a football and a pair of football boots each and of course we used to fight like hell who was going to have the ball. Is it your gang or is it mine? And he used to keep his eggs I think with a bowl on top in the bedroom and he, we’d had an argument about who was going to have the ball and I thought, ‘Right.’ So I went and took the drawer out and boom boom boom broke all of his eggs up and we used to have gangs of us and if they thought about it they’d just get us upset and say, ‘Who broke Stanley’s eggs?’ [laughs] And we, in those days we used to make our own enjoyment. I mean we had a three valve tel, three valve radio but for that we’d no nothing and we used to split up a couple of gangs and, Fox and Hounds and we’d have limits of where we could go. We’d go hide in trees and all. It was a totally different world to now. We never used to be in the house. No. And if we were, if I went home with my shoes wet. [Boing.] So I used to, I used to have socks on of course so I’d rub my bloody shoes up my socks so I wouldn’t get that bloody slap back from my mother. My father never touched us but my mother made up for it. Oh aye. Those were the days oh yes. And as I say I was, I was starting work at fourteen because well the money was seven and six a week then.
BW: And so you were working from the age of about fourteen when you left school up until the point, as you say you joined the RAF and you were a machinist at that point.
SB: Yeah. Like I, Elswick Hopper Cycle Works and I used to be in the machine shop. I was foreman’s stooge I think. The stooge was a fella called Tup Franklin and he said, ‘You’ve no need to mess about with turning Steve. Just do whatever wants doing. Put belts on and sharpen tools,’ and he says ‘Just sharpen drills’ he says and I got on very well with him and not being tied to a bench or anything like that it was just the job I wanted. And er -
BW: And then when war broke out you say you felt -
SB: Oh well.
BW: It was your duty to join up.
SB: Oh me and a fella called Donald Cook who was a pal of mine we were sat on, there used to be a drain goes past our houses and into the country and there used to be a [form sitting ?] where the road went over it and we were sitting one day and I said to Donald Cook, I said, ‘Right, Don. I’m going to join up.’ He said, ‘Right, Steve. I’ll join up with you.’ So we got on the train and the ferry. I think it was six pence and we joined up in Kingston upon Hull. Aye the old paddle steamer and the bar, of course we weren’t old enough really for drinking we didn’t drink but the bar opened up as soon as they cast the ropes off the pier. The bar opened and it used to close as soon as it got to the other side. Twenty, twenty minutes normally but as I was reading somewhere, I don’t know where, something about the estuary the Humber being very dangerous. Sandbanks. And I remember the sandbanks. If you got the ferry at low tide oh it’d take ages to get back. Only a, you could spit across nearly from Hull to New Holland and I had a friend, Noel, Noel Stamp. He was a shop assistant in Hull and the times he used to be late coming home. Two or three hours oh aye oh yeah but were no worse for it. We, we did very well. All my family did fair. As I say I met my wife in Blackpool. She was on a fortnight’s holiday when there used to be wakes weeks and Burnley used to have a fortnight followed immediately by Blackburn and there were her and a couple of cousins and I’m stood outside a pub waiting for it to open. A shortage of beer at that time and I got talking to a sergeant and an Irishman, a soldier, in, while I were in the queue and when the pub opened we dashed in and we got sat at the same table as three young ladies. One of them of course happened to be my wife. And she died though. She’s been dead forty odd years. A grand lass but it had to be, but it’s funny how things work out. I mean no one would have expected me to be finish up a manager of a ruddy weaving mill. I couldn’t, I never, I was never a weaver but I had to be a weaver to be an overlooker but Harry [Makenson], this guy who stopped and asked me what I was doing when I was shovelling bloody coal, he, he put me in to be an apprentice overlooker in [Burnley] and my wife was correct. They turned me down. I wasn’t local. My family didn’t work in the mills or anything like that so as my wife forecast they turned me down. So I saw old [Makenson] and I said, ‘Oh Harry I got turned down.’ He said, ‘Yeah, I know. Don’t worry about it. Come to Blackburn.’ He said, ‘I’ll get you in.’ I went to Blackburn. I went to the front of the committee and oh yes, oh yes and I was in and I was an apprentice. Harry [Makenson], he looked after me. He was a bit crude at times. I was his apprentice overlooker which I’d never been a weaver yet. Totally foreign to me and he said, ‘Right, Steve,’ he says, ‘Them boxes there.’ He says, ‘There’s machines in them, I want them running.’ He says, ‘You’ve got a bricklayer there to do anything you want him to.’ I opened these boxes and they were automatic [widening?] frames in them and with faults and mistakes I got them all running. He said, ‘Right, you’re coming up to [Longsham?] Mill.’ He said, ‘You’re going to be an overlooker.’ I said, ‘At last?’ He says, ‘Yeah.’ I was there about six months and I got called into the office and me and a fellow called Jack Sowerby, he was in the same position as me and Harry [Makenson’s] there. He says, ‘Now then,’ he says, ‘I know what I’m doing.’ He said, ‘I’m asking,’ I forget his name, Jimmy or Harry or whatever. He says, ‘I’m going to ask you do you want to go down to Highfield Mill and it’s shift work and this Harry said no. ‘Right. Steve, you’re going.’ [laughs] I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ He says, ‘You’re going to be an overlooker.’ I said, ‘I know I am. I’m an apprentice.’ He says, ‘You’re not. Not anymore.’ He said, ‘I’ve one finished. A foreigner.’ He said, ‘He’s finished down at Highfield Mill. You’re going there’ And they were Japanese looms and I used to spend the first few days looking to see what happened and I got on very well. I had maybe good luck and good judgement I don’t know but I was immediately an overlooker and then he opened another mill. He said, ‘I’m opening a mill Steve. You’re going to look after it.’ ‘Oh,’ I thought, ‘Christ almighty what next?’ But that mill it closed down through slump and then I came back to Burnley. I was in Blackburn for twelve years and I came back to Burnley and that’s where I still am. I don’t regret anything.
BW: No.
SB: No. I’ve had a, I’ve been a coal miner, I’ve been a ironstone miner at Stanton at Scunthorpe, I’ve been an industrial painter. I’ve, I’ve tried everything until I got settled in textiles. Aye.
BW: Interesting that you had a couple of jobs as a miner and yet when you were in the prison camp you didn’t fancy tunnelling.
SB: No.
BW: Did you ever feel claustrophobic as a miner?
SB: No but I, that, that, that totally different. A coal mine is six to eight feet high.
BW: Ahum.
SB: Other than the actual face and as they move the face along they move this passageway and rails so it was a different atmosphere. In the ironstone mine that was what they called room and pillar system and they’d go that way and go that way and leave a diamond shape to support the roof. That was the room and pillar and I was a a pipe fitter strangely enough but the, I forget, I think they called them eggs. I’m not sure only the pipes were made with a lip on and you put this adaptor in and it was airtight. It was all compressed air was the machinery fans and drills and everything and so I finished up as a pipe fitter but that was thirty foot high and it’s all, I think it’s closed now. Not, not because I left it but [laughs] it’s amazing what you can do when you have to do, oh aye.
BW: And were you aware of other tunnellers in the, in the camp? Were other activities going on like that?
SB: No. I don’t know of any. No but I did hear say that if they found any they’d, instead of pumping the toilet on the field they’d pump it into the tunnel. That would be a deterrent of course [laughs] but I never heard of any but as I say I was surprised I didn’t know any air force fella do the same as I did but I don’t know why. I mean to sit there and play bloody cards all day long there, Oh no it’s, you’ve got to get moving and of course there was always the chance of being shot I suppose. I don’t know.
BW: Some of the other activities here that went on in some of the other camps I’ll just show you were there similar things going on in other in Lamsdorf at all or not. They show a meal at one Christmas and they show a sports team -
SB: Oh yes.
BW: And amateur dramatics.
SB: There was. Oh we’d ladies. [pause] Oh yeah. Oh yes there used to be baseball and as I say ladies. They were fellas dressed as ladies and I knew one and the last time I heard of him he’d died on the isle of Ibiza. What did he die of? Aids. He was a queer. Denholm Elliot. And the first time I I saw him after the war I was, we were in the Odean cinema in Burnley and before the programme there used to be a screen come down with adverts on and lo and behold Denny, Denny Elliot was there advertising cocoa. But it didn’t, he was, he was definitely feminine. Oh his attitude and he was one of the main actors or actresses whatever you might call them and they used get organised and they would give a concert occasionally, oh yes.
BW: Did you sense any of that with the other guys who maybe dressed up?
SB: I didn’t meet any. Denny was the only one I met. Oh no he was a nice, nice lad. Very inclined to be a bit delicate but nature’s a queer thing. I never criticised Denny. I mean he lived his own life. He was seventy odd I think when he died but he died of aids on Ibiza.
BW: And was he in, he was in the same camp as you then.
SB: Yes.
BW: At that point.
SB: Oh yes.
BW: That’s where you met him first.
SB: Aye. No, I mean, in between times I mean we used to play cards. We knew cards inside out. Bridge. Bridge was the main game of cards and I used to, we used to cheat like hell. Like not really cheating but you might, I don’t know if you know bridge at all.
BW: I don’t know the rules of bridge to be honest.
SB: Well, it’s a case you make bids. I’ll bid one club. Well I’ll be the diamond which was over a club and then bid the heart and then the spade was the top card and we’d, we used to have, we had two packs of cards and we used to use we used to get thirteen cards each if I remember right and we’d start bidding. Well me and my partner we worked it out that I’ll bid a diamond or a diamond you missed the [?] out and of course that told your partner something about we were about a real system of cheating but there was nothing at stake. I mean it was just friendly. Well to a point it was friendly. But oh no but I suppose it was a hard life.
BW: Were there opportunities for sport?
SB: Pardon?
BW: Were there opportunities for sport?
SB: Oh, no. You were, you were pinned into your own compound. They were kicking the ball about but as a team no there wasn’t ‘cause I mean it was a transit camp. Here today and gone tomorrow working parties.
BW: Did you get to see much of the commandant?
SB: No. Oh no.
BW: Did you ever see him when you were brought back to camp having tried to escape? Were you taken to him?
SB: No. I went -
BW: For punishment or -
SB: I only saw his underlings. Aye. But no it was a fixed effort. You got seven days, you got fourteen days, you got twenty one days depending on how often you went there. I got to twenty one but er -
BW: Twenty one days in solitary.
SB: Yeah and it was solitary. They, they, you could figure out you could sit somehow and get comfortable and the guards would creep down but it was a concrete floor and they had jackboots on and it used to crackle so they gave themselves away. We’d stand up then immediately we heard this crackling. Oh yeah.
BW: And what sort of size of cell were you in?
SB: Pardon?
BW: What sort of size of cell were you in in solitary? What sort of size of room were you in?
SB: Oh only a little room. A width of a bed and another bed. About that maybe.
BW: So maybe six foot across most.
SB: Yeah six or eight foot maybe. We’d a high window and we’d hear a frog [croakus?] at night. Oh aye, the frogs kept us company at night. Oh yeah.
BW: And so was the window high up. Was it open?
SB: No. No it wouldn’t open.
BW: Oh.
SB: No.
BW: But even then you could hear the frogs outside.
SB: Oh yes. oh yes there was twelve solitary confinement cells but as I say it was solitary apart from this quarter of an hour we used to have walking around this circle which was one of the Geneva Convention rules that they had to have exercise.
BW: And do you think they treated you fairly in the camp in respect of the Geneva Convention or were there things that they should have done that they didn’t or -
SB: I think they were fair in so far as it wasn’t everybody who could have white bread. It was the sick and infirm who got white bread and this brown bread that we got which soldiers got as well it was bloody awful. It was so packed it was like clay and you could cut it as thin as a newspaper but we only got a tenth of a loaf so it didn’t really trouble us a lot [laughs] Oh yes. Yeah.
BW: And you mentioned getting the Red Cross parcels. Were they regular or did you -
SB: Oh no -
BW: Sense that they had kept -
SB: Intermittent.
BW: They were intermittent. Did you sense -
SB: Now and again and as I say two to one parcel.
BW: Do you think they were keeping those parcels behind for their own good?
SB: I don’t know. I’ve no idea. No. I never give it a thought.
BW: Yeah.
SB: No. But no I can’t say we were ill-treated they just hadn’t anything to give us. I mean, as I say, white bread was very unusual. You had to be ill or something. That was for ordinary people not us prisoners of war. No. I think, like they say, the Germans prisoners of war who we took got a lot better treatment. They got better treatment ‘cause it was available.
BW: Did you feel that you were treated differently to the Russians? You say they were in the compound next to them. The Germans had quite a different view of the Russians. Do you feel that or did you get an idea that -
SB: No I -
BW: They were treated more harshly than you?
SB: I didn’t, I didn’t have any idea to compare. I’ve no idea how they treated them. I mean funnily enough I was on the, oh Ibiza and I used to go drinking and my, I was favourite in a bar run by Germans.
BW: So many years after the war you went to a bar in Ibiza that was run by Germans.
SB: Yeah. Oh yeah. I got on very well with the Germans and they got on very well with me I suppose but no it was all over and done with and hope it never happens again.
BW: And in the years following how, how has it been when you’ve seen public response to Bomber Command and the, let’s say the commemoration of them? How have you, have you seen a change over the years that people from Bomber Command have been treated?
SB: Pardon?
BW: How do you feel the veterans of Bomber Command have been treated after the war? They’re, do you feel there’s been a change in attitudes since.
SB: Well I think just a nucleus of people forgotten. It’s one of those things that happened and that was it. I mean Bob Featherstone, an Australian. I mean he came from Australia. He was a school master and then he finished as a rep for the immigration authorities persuading people to go to Australia and I’d been mean I was working in Blackburn at the time and I went home, and my wife said ‘There’s been a man to see you Steve.’ I said, ‘Who was it?’ She said, ‘I don’t know.’ I thought. ‘You’ve to go down to the Labour Exchange at 8 o’clock tonight.’ I says, ‘Why? I don’t know that I applied for any position in anywhere.’ Anyway I went down and there’s Bob Featherstone sat. ‘Come and sit at the side of me Steve.’ And he was talking to people and he was telling them the truth. He said well, the whole point is you’ll get accommodation and you’ll have to, after three months you’ll have to find your own accommodation and different things and I was talking to him afterwards and I says, ‘What about me going Bob?’ ‘Oh you can go anytime’ He said, ‘I can find you a job. I’ve two houses. I’ve one in Geelong and I’ve one in Sydney.’ He says, ‘You can one for as long as you want.’ Oh I thought, ‘Bloody good.’ Anyhow, of course he was only in Burnley for a day and he came to our house and had a meal with us and then he went of course on his travels. He said, ‘Keep in touch, Steve.’ He says, ‘You can fly or you can go by sea.’ He says, ‘Let me know.’ And I was talking to the wife and I said, ‘Alice,’ I said, ‘You’ve got to think one thing.’ I said, ‘You might never see your parents again.’ I said, ‘It’s twelve thousand mile away, ‘I said and you won’t be able to pop over at weekends.’ ‘I don’t want to go Steve.’ I said ‘Ok.’ So I rung Bob and I said, ‘Bob,’ I said ‘it’s off. The wife says no.’ I often wonder what I would have done in Australia.
BW: Yeah.
SB: And Laurie. He was, he was another Australian. He worked on the railways. And Tommy Fouracre. He died. He was the first to die I think. He were a farmer in [?] or some such ruddy place. And the Canadians I don’t know what the Canadians were. I have no idea.
BW: It’s interesting that on that raid as you said before all of you escaped from the Lancaster as it was shot down and yet the three other aircraft that were lost on the same raid over Berlin all the crews were killed.
SB: That’s amazing. I’m wondering if it was as I say I didn’t think or I couldn’t remember ackack. I wonder if the ackack was kept off and the air fighters came in. I mean -
BW: And none of the other crew in your aircraft indicated to you what had happened even when you met up with them afterwards.
SB: No. All I know the plane crashed. Whether it, what it was hit, where it was hit, if it was hit I don’t know and as I say Bob only a few minutes with us and then he was off to an Offlag so I couldn’t get to know off Bob.
BW: And were you all, I don’t recall this being mentioned before and it’s only just occurred to me were you all kept together in the same camp apart from Bob who was taken off to an Offlag were the other six of you kept together? Or did you -
SB: In Stalag 8b?
BW: Yeah.
SB: We were. Oh yes we were held together. We used to play cards with one another and we used to, but nobody wanted to do what I did. I don’t know why. We all have our own funny ways.
BW: So the other guys although they’d all been taken prisoner and all detained in the same camp didn’t try to escape like you did.
SB: No. I mean the, to get out of the camp itself was impossible because there was such a depth of barbed wire and these towers on corners with machine guns. I mean it was hopeless. So there was only one way. Changing identities with somebody who got fed up with working.
BW: And when the camp was emptied and you were walking presumably westwards at what stage were you technically liberated? I mean were you taken to another camp and held there or were you -
SB: We were, I don’t know how long we were on the march. We were like bloody zombies and we finished up in this camp. There was Frenchmen in it in actual fact. There was four Frenchmen killed by a French aeroplane who mistook the camp and and we went to this camp and as I say there was a bloody great big marquee and branches on the floor for us to sleep on and in actual fact there was a young fella younger than me he got frostbite and it had -
BW: Infected his leg.
SB: Aye. He died. He died. He was only twenty one and we were there for maybe a couple of days and then the Americans came. The Germans had gone. There was nobody in the camp only us prisoners and then as I say the old Dakota came along and took us to Cosford and -
BW: And then you were back in this country.
SB: Yep. I was back to work. [laughs] Aye. I enjoyed being in India. I was in Bombay. I was in Madras and I was in Delhi and of course being a warrant officer I had a bit of a [sway?] and some of the lads they all, they always called me Red. I had red hair. If anybody was around it was sir but otherwise it was, ‘Hey Red, just a minute.’ ‘Oh Red. How about getting us on to the race, Guindi racecourse.’ I said, ‘I’ll see what I can do.’ And I’d get the big, I forget what they called them, bloody thing, the big van thing with windows and we’d go to the races at the weekend. Oh aye. It was useful being a warrant officer [laughs].
BW: Rank has its privileges.
SB: Oh yes. And like if I put my raincoat on and the cap badge or the same as officers and they’d salute me and I’d salute them back the silly buggers. I remember going, going to, oh I was going from Blackpool to Barton. I changed, I was travelling by coach and I changed coach at Leeds and as I got on the coach, ‘Oh very good. Right. Ok now.’ They’d been waiting for an air force officer and mistook me for him and the ruddy coach had been waiting for this fellow and it was convenient. It took me to Hull.
BW: Very good. I think that is all the questions I have for you. So -
SB: Well it is nice talking about it again.
BW: Thank you very much for your time. Thank you very much. It’s been great talking to you.
SB: It was an experience.
BW: It was a good one I hope. It was for me.
SB: Oh yeah.
BW: So thank you very much for your time Mr Bacon. Thank you.
SB: It’s been a pleasure.


Brian Wright, “Interview with Stephen Granville Bacon,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 24, 2024,

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