Interview with Francis Shamus "Jim" Cahir


Interview with Francis Shamus "Jim" Cahir


Jim Cahir grew up in Australia. He originally joined the army but later was transferred to the Royal Australian Air Force. He flew operations as a mid upper gunner with 466 Squadron. His aircraft was shot down and he became a prisoner of war. after several failed escape attempts, he was eventually liberated by the Russians.




Temporal Coverage




01:08:33 audio recording

Conforms To


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AP: So, this interview for the International Bomber Command Centre’s with Jim Cahir a 466 squadron mid-upper gunner and prisoner of war. The interview is taking place at Jim’s place in Airport West. Just across the road from mine as it happens. It’s the 8th of June 2016 and my name’s Adam Purcell. Jim, let’s start from the beginning.
JFSC: Yes.
AP: Can you tell me something of what you were doing before the war and why you joined the air force?
JFSC: Yeah. Well I was eighteen and the position with the government in those days, and this was 1942, was that all eighteen year olds you were called up in 1942 and they had to join the army. But I had more interest in the air force so I signed up after great trouble with my mother, who I can well understand, giving me permission to sign up for the air force. Eventually she did and I can understand much later that why she didn’t want me to join the air force. She’d lost her, my father, her husband only some years earlier. And I was still only very much a young boy at eighteen. But I went into the army as requested by the army authorities and I spent nine months in the army which I enjoyed, quite candidly. And then I was on the way to go to go to New Guinea and I’d reached Queensland for more training in the army when the air force decided to call out of the army all those young fellows like me who were young. We were eighteen. We’d signed up as volunteers. We’d had the education necessary. We’d already passed. So I was called back along with a lot of others from Queens, northern Queen, northern New South Wales and Queensland to join the air force, which I had already actually signed up for. And that was in August 1942. I was discharged from the army at 12 o’clock one day, and I was in the air force the same day at 1 o’clock, which was very disappointing because I mentioned I was going to get a bit of leave there but it never occurred. But anyhow, I joined and from that point on I became an air force recruit which, and I went to the usual places, Somers which was Initial Training School. And then after a couple of months at Somers I was posted to Parks in New South Wales which is a wireless school. And I spent six months at Parks and then I was transferred to Port Pirie which was a gunnery school. And from that point on I became an accomplished operator of radio and gunnery. At least I thought I was. From that, at that stage things were pretty desperate here in Australia. This was, must have been in 1943, early ‘43. And I was selected along with some others to do a special gunnery course at Mildura. I was dragged out of a draft that was going to England to do this course in Mildura. But it turned out after some time, a couple of months I think, three months maybe, that they trained us but they had no planes to allocate to us or for us to be a part of the crew. We were all sent back to embarkation depot which happened to be at the showground in Flemington there. From there we hung around for a period of time and was then put on the ship to go to England which we really didn’t know what was going on. We were just put on one day and sailed the next night I think. And the trip was very interesting to the extent that we passed through New Zealand. The ship got lost, believe it or not, in the Pacific Ocean, outside the port of Cuba, or Panama first. And we were approached by the American Air Force with a bomber with bomb doors open and, as far as we could see, a half dozen rather large menacing looking bombs. That flew directly over the ship. The ship was now silent in the Pacific Ocean and obviously they were getting directions from the Americans what to do. We eventually landed in panama, went through the Panama Canal. From the Panama Canal we went up to New York and set sail for, across the Atlantic for England. And we landed in England in Cardiff. And ended up being transferred from Cardiff to London just to be in time for an air raid that none of us had experienced and we thought it was very exciting. But the Londoners knew better than we did and we were hustled down to a air raid shelter for [pause] whilst the raid went on. From then we joined the — Brighton which is in south of England. And it was the home town of the, all the Australians. Where they had taken over the two big hotels and we were sort of landed in one of the hotels, not as a hotel but just as a sleeping establishment and for further schooling on wireless and air gunnery etcetera. From that point I was allocated to [pause] I’m trying to think of the name of the place, doesn’t matter. To a further advanced school for gunnery and for wireless and then eventually ended up on 466 Squadron.
AP: Can you tell me how you met your crew? Tell me how you met your crew?
JFSC: Yes. Yes. We sort of knew but there was quite a crowd. There was twenty odd I think, new recruits. And we were told that we were to crew up and we were put into a hangar more or less with the rest of the crew and I was approached by my pilot to be. And he was — I was acceptable to him and he seemed to be very acceptable to me. And thus from Pat Edwards, the pilot I met the rest of the crew who had, he had more or less selected prior to meeting me. So I became the last member of the crew as were all the others. It was amazing. Always amazed me that you could throw all those fellows together and they’d come out. Go in the entrance, come out at the exit all crewed up and all happy to be crewed up with those particular people who selected them or talked to them about it. From there of course it was, things were — more training on the squadron and a lot of daily flying on journeys across England and also night flying which was at that time quite terrifying to us who had never been in a plane at night. And you had to take off in the half light and come home in pitch black and try and find your own aerodrome was, I hate to say it but it was an effort on behalf of us by the navigator George Britt and the pilot and there were occasions they were dependent upon me to sight certain land beacons. To advise them that a beacon over there on the starboard side signalling such and such. AD, or some such thing. And that’s how we got home on one or two occasions but the authorities on the squadron didn’t know that.
AP: Very good. Backtracking a bit can you tell me what your thoughts were the first time you ever went in an aeroplane?
JFSC: Say again.
AP: What your thoughts were the first time you ever went in an aeroplane?
JFSC: Yes. That’s, I was very happy to be crewed up with Pat Edwards whose photo is there and his story is under there which I wrote.
AP: Oh excellent.
JFSC: And you can read and take a copy if you so desire. Tells what a wonderful bloke he was. I was very happy and it was exciting. There was no fear on my part as to the first time and that was only [pause] that was only more or less short trips around the aerodrome. The thing was that he had to find, I think, navigate around the Yorkshire in general and find your way home. And we spent quite some time doing that and we were, we thought we were pretty proficient at it.
AP: By the time you finished. You told me a little about when, when you first got to England and the first air raid shelter when you just arrived, before you got to Brighton.
JFSC: Yes. Well we certainly, we landed as I said landed at Cardiff. Came up by train to London and whilst we were in the train, not, more or less on the express of London the air raid sirens had sounded which meant that the train was slowed down and did stop temporarily somewhere and then obviously had instructions to carry on to whatever London station it was, which we’d forgotten. And I think really looking back on it was a foolish time in that we were in an air raid after being in London no more than half an hour and it was sort of exciting but we didn’t realise how ridiculous that thoughts were. And everybody was saying, ‘Oh,’ you know, ‘Write home about the air raid,’ and that, but really it was [pause] we were taken out of the train at one of the major stations and taken to an air raid shelter in a hotel, the basement of a hotel. Where? I don’t know. But the air raid did not last very long. And I sort of heard the guns firing and that’s about all.
AP: What, what did you think of wartime England in general? When you — your first impressions.
JFSC: I was amazed at the number of uniforms from different nationalities. There were hundreds or there were thousands of different nationalities walking around London, obviously on leave, all with different uniforms. And I thought who were the Brits and who were the — [pause] Anyhow, we soon found out how and it was an exciting time. We had twenty four hours I think in some hotel in London. And then we moved down to Brighton which was on the coast, South coast. After being in Brighton for a period of time we knew we were in England and we knew that they were pretty stoic. There was air raids, not every day. But Brighton, being on the coast, sort of seemed to be a place that the Germans seemed to like and drop bombs on. And we became quite used to air raid sirens and air raid warnings and we took notice of them. It wasn’t quite as exciting as the first one. It was more, we were more reasonable and realistic about it.
AP: What sorts of things did you do in England when you weren’t, you know on operations, what, what were you doing on leave for example, to relax?
JFSC: Well, we didn’t get plenty of leave from Brighton but we did get some and we’d head for London which was the Mecca of most airmen’s dreams or wishes to see. And we’d have a day or two leave but we had to go back to Brighton. It wasn’t until we got to another town [pause] I can’t [pause] my memory’s slipping on me. I can’t think of it. It was a training camp and we were introduced to Halifaxes there. And we had to do a certain number of hours. More the pilot had to do a certain number of hours training in there. Naturally the crew, we’d already been picked and we spent some time at this place and eventually moved from there to Leconfield which was the home of 466 Squadron and just continued our training there for some time.
AP: What did you think when you first saw a Halifax?
JFSC: A huge plane. I hadn’t seen anything like it. We was really, I can understand us being shipped out of Australia to England. I mean they wanted air crews but here in Australia the biggest plane they had was sort of a Hudson bomber which was out of date. And there was nothing to it to take its place and — that I know that I know of, oh they introduced flying 14 Liberators many months, many months. Maybe twelve months, maybe longer to Australians flying in from the northern parts of Australia and the islands. But I, I hadn’t seen a plane the size of a Halifax, and particularly four engines in it too. The biggest plane I’d probably seen was one with one engine in it. So our learning was very dramatic, very quick, and quite exciting.
AP: So what happened when you got to Leconfield?
JFSC: Leconfield. The training still continued. But it was getting more serious all the time. We did a lot of night flying, a lot of flying. Well, searching for planes that had come down over the North Sea quite often. Or, I presume, submarines or something like this. And I can remember going as far as Norway at one stage along the coast. Not that I saw Norway but what I knew was there we were flying up and down a stretch of the North Sea, or the Atlantic Ocean. I don’t know which was which now. Probably didn’t know then [laughs] either. Never saw a thing. But it was the Yanks had been to bomb a nuclear outfit in Norway that the Germans had set up and it was there — I think they called it a heavy water unit. It’s come back to me just then now. I was fishing for the name. And they had lost a few planes going out. We were pulled out to go and look for them. We could have dropped a dinghy if we’d seen anything. But I do believe that any plane that came down in the North Sea was doomed and I don’t really know of anybody but I’m sure there were some that did survive but I don’t know. I never met anybody that survived the North Sea or the Atlantic in the middle of winter which was December. So, that was more or less part of our training but part of our employment to try and save American lives. Never saw anything so —
AP: What, what happened next? Now you were at, you were on ops.
AP: Were you on operations now at 466?
JFSC: Yes. We were from that point on more or less we were treated as operational. That, that could have been really an operational trip but it wasn’t treated as. Then the next trip was dropping mines along the coast of Holland and I can’t think of the name of the place and I can’t show you a log book because I don’t know. I have no idea what happened to mine and it’s a thing of the past. It hasn’t, it did upset me originally but I thought — well what of it anyhow? I remember what I had to do and what I did. And I was dropping mines and very, very I understand that they’re very clever, mines, they, we sailed — or flew along the coast.
[someone enters the room]
AP: Hello.
Other: Hello. Hi.
AP: Where were we?
JFSC: Yeah. Oh yes. I was telling you about the mines.
AP: Oh yes.
JFSC: And they were very crafty, mines. They were, I think about two hundred and fifty pounds mines which was more or less, I think, I don’t know — my memory might be astray there. And they were dropped at a certain speed of the aircraft and at a certain height and they sank to the bottom and they lay dormant on the sea bed for a set period of time, might be three months, might be six months. I probably did know at that time but I can’t be sure. But yeah, then they floated to the surface, or not quite the surface but to a required depth, which caught heavier ships rather than somebody in their rowing boat. And they were supposed to have been very successful in that the Germans would sweep for mines, be clear, because they couldn’t scrape the bottom and then they’d declare that area clean and then the thing would come up some time. Now, all that was told to us and I think they were probably the truth. I don’t know. But we believed it. And we thought we were doing a good job. So that was the first operation we had. The danger in that was that you were flying at night at fairly low altitude dropping sort of high explosive. That if you had the wrong height and these explosives hit the water they’d explode and they’d do the exact opposite to what they were meant to do. They’d blow you up.
JFSC: Yeah.
AP: That was the main thing. And then also German fighters would patrol the coast and they had an advantage that they were controlled by radar etcetera. And they’d pick up you flying at a relatively low speed and not coming back. That’s what it amounted to. And there were quite a number who never came back as a result of mining operations. And it’s, I remember it was the entrance to the main shipping harbour in to Belgium or Amsterdam, somewhere in that area. And we would mine the, along the coast and to the mouth of the river, I suppose. It might have been river. I don’t know. Gulf anyhow. And I wish I could remember the name of the place. Well known port. Biggest port, I think in Europe. So that was the first one and we thought we were pretty good naturally. Then we had an operation to — we had a couple of them, mining. And then we did one to [pause] oh dear. The German city is, was in the Ruhr and in English it means food. So if you knew German you’d be able to tell me where I went. Food. Damn it.
JFSC: Essen.
AP: Essen. That’s right, very good. That was the first one. Essen. And then we had, came back and we were on another trip to Frankfurt on the Ruhr. Frankfurt – on – Main. The other Frankfurt’s over, well over in the eastern Germany. And we bombed Frankfurt but on our way home and a German night fighter took to us [unclear] in the – German night fighter took to us and shot us down. And I can tell you who it was. We’ve traced him. Heinrich Rokker. And he’d shot down sixty seven. He was an ace, as you can imagine, in the Luftwaffe and he shot down sixty seven four-engine bombers, Halifaxes and Lancasters. And he shot us down. And we only found that out much later. One member of the crew had paid a, he’s dead now, this member of the crew paid a visit to this Heinrich and was well received and he said the greatest danger it was that he couldn’t get away from Heinrich who was very happy to entertain him all day and all night. I never met Heinrich but I know all about him. And I’ll get to the reason that later on because that will tell you the story of what actually happened. So we were shot down and Patrick Edwards, who was twenty one at the time. I was just turned twenty. The rest of the crew were —
JFSC: The rest of the crew were twenty, twenty one, twenty two except for one old bloke who, he was, he was old. At least in our mind he was old. And his name was Ralph Parsons. We used to refer to him as Bloody Old Parso because he was so old. He was twenty seven. So that was the age of the crew, twenty seven — one. The rest in the vicinity of twenty, twenty one, twenty two I think. At the, the whole crew are now dead. I’m the sole survivor. I’m the sole survivor at, well ninety three really. Well ninety three next month.
AP: Looks pretty good for it too.
JFSC: Yeah. Yes. So I didn’t expect to be the sole survivor at all, but that too was a case of — we were shot down there. The starboard engine was shot to pieces and burst into flames. And all engines had exhaust, not exhaust, what do they, they call them? Extinguishers in them, which were supposed to control any fire that occurred in the engine itself. And the pilot ordered the extinguishers to be put on in the starboard engine, and the engineer did that, he reported, he did that, but he said they didn’t work, or they weren’t good enough. And never, I’ll never know of course but the fire still continued until it broke out into the wing itself, and then it spread along and it was burning fiercely in the engine and it spread out into the wing. And that would have traced oil or petrol coming down from the tanks there. And I was sitting in the mid-upper turret, and I was sort of looking down on it. So I could sort of report to the pilot exactly what I saw, which I did do. But it was a fierce fire and it got fiercer as it moved along the wing, and not certain whether it actually hit the inboard engine or not. Probably if it didn’t it would have, so the pilot baled us out, gave us instructions to bale out, which we did, six of us. And he stayed with the plane, and it was only his bravery and, and thought for us that he stayed with the plane and allowed us to get out in time. But he crashed in the plane and was killed obviously on impact. And he was buried at a little village called Belterhausen. B E L T E R S E N, I think. You can check that one. And [pause]
AP: I’m just going to stop it here.
JFSC: Still means a lot to me.
AP: Oh I’m sure. I can, I can tell it does because you still have your pilot’s photo up on the wall.
JFSC: Just give me a moment.
AP: Yeah. No problem at all.
[recording paused]
JFSC: Strange after all these years, and that was in December the 20th 1943 and here I am emotional. Anyhow, Pat was, gave his life for his crew and, I’m still in contact with the only member of his, the Edwards family that exists. Bruce Edwards was Pat’s younger brother, and I went and visited Mr and Mrs Edwards who lived in Newcastle. That’s when I got home and was able to tell them of my experience with their son Patrick, and how I owed my life to him. Bruce was only a schoolboy at the time and I’ve kept up contact with him right up until a phone call about a month ago just to find out how I’m going. And I have been up and I’ve stayed with the Edwards’ but they’re all dead except Bruce. Pat’s sister Mari who I got on well with in Newcastle. And she married an RAF bloke and lived in England, in England. And the times I’ve been to England I’ve always gone to see Mari. But she died just fairly recently. So the only connection is Bruce who is a retired solicitor now. So that’s my connection, but with the Edwards family which I’ll never forget of course.
AP: What was the first moment that you realised that you’d been shot down?
JFSC: Well, I probably had the best view of the fire. I’ll just turn that heater down a bit. I probably had the best view of the fire. Well I did have the best view of the fire because the others, some of them didn’t see it at all. And I remember saying to Pat, ‘Pat that’s breaking out into the wings.’ And he said, ‘Well, look at it we’ll have to abandon the aircraft, and I said, ‘I think so,’ and that’s when he said to abandon. So I suppose my view of the fire affected what I said. And which I believe was correct because when you’re sitting on front of a big flames, burns and smoke burning. And you could see it gradually moving along into the other engine, you had to make some decision, and Pat obviously was more occupied with — and the plane at this stage had gone into a dive. Because it lost power on one engine, and I think it probably lost the power on the other engine in due course. He had trouble in controlling it, and he eventually did get some control over it. That’s where it enabled us to get out because if it had gone into a spin you could — the centrifugal force would plaster you on to the walls of the plane, and that’s it. So, I probably didn’t realise then. I wasn’t — funny thing, I wasn’t frightened, like thinking back over it. I was, I knew what I was saying, I knew that what I was saying was the actual facts, and I knew that as soon as Pat said, ‘Abandon aircraft,’ I had to go, along with the others. So I bailed out of the rear entrance. And I fell, like I was conscious. I didn’t have time to take off — I had an electrical suit on for warmth, didn’t have time to take that off or anything like that. It would have been difficult to take it off anyhow. It would have been mad if I’d have tried it. So I fell and I can remember turning over. I can remember the plane passing over me and I was conscious I didn’t want to be caught in the tail of the plane. There were some cases of some poor individual got parachute — got caught up in the tail of the plane and he was dragged to his death. I think it has happened more than once. So I was conscious of that so I saw the, I don’t know whether you should have counted one, two, three, four, five or what, but I don’t remember doing that but I remember the tail of the plane passing over my head and disappearing and that’s the last I saw of it. It was on fire burning. I saw what happened. And I know now that we were over mountains and the plane must have come down on the other side of the mountain, and that blocked my view of anything that happened. That’s my interpretation of why I didn’t see it crash. So I landed in the ploughed paddy. You wouldn’t believe it, nice relatively soft landing in a ploughed paddy having no idea where I was. I managed to do all the wrong things. Got tangled up in the shroud, fell over backwards and in a cow shed but I was alright. I fought my way out of the shroud. And the instructions were very strict by the RAF. Get out of the area as fast as you can. Bury or hide your ‘chute. Hide up if it’s daylight. Hide up. But we didn’t fly during the days over the enemy territory, so it was unnecessary. But scram as fast as you can. And I did all those things. I gathered all the ‘chute up and I got into a forest which I just walked into. It was a pine forest of some description and after I’d gone in a certain distance — I didn’t have a clue where I was. I didn’t have a clue, north, south, east or west. But the main thing was get out of the area you came down in. And the plane was probably coming down at four or five hundred miles an hour so that everybody came down at a different time. And as far as I can see I was probably the second last or last out of the plane. So I don’t know what happened to the others and they didn’t have any idea what happened to me. I dug a hole with my hands in the forest and put the parachute and equipment that I had on me — Mae West and harness. And I tell you we all carried a kit, escape kit which contained a certain amount of money of all denominations and Horlicks tablets. And tablets which you’re supposed to put in a rubber water bottle and it purifies the water. And then the main thing was a silken map about the size of that and on one side was the map of Germany with the rivers and the main roads as far as I can remember. I would like to have kept that. And on the other side of — Europe, France, Belgium and Holland etcetera, and the same thing, but on the other side of the handkerchief. It was a handkerchief or a half scarf and that was silk. And that was all sort of in the escape kit which was kept in a pocket in your battledress here. And you wouldn’t dare open it unless you came down.
AP: Unless you needed it.
JFSC: Blokes were always dead keen to get hold of that that money. I can remember, in due course that was. I went for my life. Then after a bit of a rest in the forest I decided to go further on as far as I could but I wanted to hide up during the day. So I came to the edge of the forest when daylight was more or less breaking and I couldn’t see anywhere other than a bridge, little bridge. And I spent the next day underneath the bridge along with all the spiders etcetera, [laughs] which didn’t help me. At that stage I opened up my escape kit as they were known then and I counted my money which was, from memory was Dutch and Danish and French, Dutch, yeah. And I don’t think it would have got me very far on the local bus. There was hardly anything. But it was all genuine money and we had been promised that it was genuine money. You had to hand the escape kits back in when you landed at home. And they said that it was a death penalty for anybody who had counterfeit money in Germany during the war years. That’s what we were told. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t, I don’t know. But I accepted the fact that it was the correct money. So I counted that a couple of times just in case I made a mistake. It was impossible, make a mistake [laughs] anything up to five, five notes or something. And then darkness came and I was ready. I’d had, believe it or not I’d had a sleep of some description underneath the bridge. And then the darkness came and I was about on my way. I’d taken my flying boots off to relieve my feet a bit and counted my money again. That was important [laughs] because it filled in the time, looked at the map, and thought, yes — Paris. I’ll have a week in Paris before I turn myself in, or I contact the underground. So I marked out. It never occurred to me I had to cross two or three rivers between Frankfurt and the Rhine. And the Rhine at that point as far as I could see must have been half a mile wide. And I think, oh that’s alright, I’m sure to get over that. But then I was about to move and I’d stopped in a barn. It was about to snow, cold like today. And that’s why I’d stopped over night and had a bit longer than normal. And I’d made a hole in the weatherboards of the barn. I think I knocked out a notch in it, made it a bit bigger with another piece of timber. And all of a sudden I saw a farmer coming up carrying a gun, a rifle of some description, and two dogs. I’ve had it if he comes in the barn. And he did, with his dogs. Came in the barn and he poked round quite some time and I’m hiding behind stacked wood, firewood in a corner. And I thought I’m getting away with this. And the blinking dogs smelled me out and they got very excited. The farmer got very excited. And the only person who was calm and, as a cucumber was me. But anyhow he’s screaming his head off which made the dogs more excited and barking, and the look of them. They didn’t need a dentist to look at their teeth, they had perfect maulers and both of them fronting me and his screaming and dark brought more people out of the farmhouse which not so very far away. I don’t know. I say a hundred metres but I haven’t got any idea really. But it was quite close. And they came running, women and all and I was a goner. I knew I was a goner. So I went — the only. In the end the only person that was calm was myself. The people that came were excited, he was excited, the dogs were excited. And it was a real circus except I didn’t enjoy it. Anyhow, I was marched down the main street escorted by a young bloke who had a gun who’d come out of the farmhouse and could have been a soldier on leave. I don’t know. And the old farmer with his shotgun which he’d joined together at this stage ready to put a bullet through me. There’s no way knowing I was going to make a break for it at that stage. And I got knocked about a little bit by a young bloke who, you know. It was the old — he, I think he kicked me once or twice but it was mainly this [demonstrates] and I reckon I would have taken on Joe Louis, I would. You know. A really. At least I thought I was. But I was sensible enough not to fight back. If I’d fought back I’d heard tales of some blokes fighting back, silly, and getting beaten up good and proper. But I didn’t fight back. I protected myself as best I could which wasn’t particularly good. They marched me down. I met another bloke. They searched me for the umpteenth dozen time in that march down the village street. Everybody wanted to make certain I didn’t have a gun of some description. They even made me take the flying boots off. I don’t know what they expected in there. Luckily at that time they gave them back to me. They took them in a van later on. And then I met a bloke who went through me again as I went in. He picked up what I did carry always with me, Rosary beads. And I still carry them and I, he took them from me. He threw them on the ground and he stamped on them. And I wasn’t going, that about what it amounts to, I wasn’t going to pick them up. I thought, well I don’t have to have them. And I walked on, or was pushed on. And I’d gone another twenty or thirty metres I suppose and I felt a nudge on my back. And I sort of turned around expecting to find another bloke with a gun in his hand. And this was an old bloke who was probably not — well I was twenty I think at that stage and he was probably forty at the most but he was an old bloke as far as I was concerned. And he nudged me and said, ‘Catholic?’ And I nodded and he dropped the broken rosary beads in to my hand. And they were too, well I used them for a long time but they eventually sort of broke. Some of them were broken and they were cracked and that. They were sometime like that. And I don’t know what I’d done with them in the long run. I’d lost them so, and I never saw him again. And I don’t think anybody saw him doing it. I don’t know. But anyhow they were a great comfort to me. Then I was pushed into a cell. The local lock up which was below, the window was at the surface of the footpath outside. The cell was below and it was a broken window and I didn’t — I suppose it was, actually, as it turned out all that was locking me up locally until they got somebody of authority. And this was true. A bloke arrived. He had a hat on which had a velvet hat and he had a leather coat on and I’d been to the pictures about a week before in England the week before and I saw an SS bloke with the velvet hat and the leather coat. And he was come to take me. I thought, ‘Oh, hell’s bells.’ And whilst I was in the cell the local kids threw rubbish at me. Saw that the window was broken and I spent most of the time going from one side to the other. Down, up and down. And they threw everything at me and yelling at me but I didn’t understand a word of German so I couldn’t understand it. Anyhow, the SS bloke, he was an SS, Gestapo rather, bloke with the velvet hat and leather coat, and he came on a motorbike. So he took me away on a motorbike and chained me like that to the seat. Not, not — he rode a — what do you call it, a sidecar? So I was chained to the sidecar and I was hoping he was a good driver because I was going to arrive in a bad mess. Anyway he was sent and we arrived at a jail in Frankfurt. I wasn’t very far away from Frankfurt. And — am I alright?
AP: Yeah. Yeah.
JFSC: From there I was passed. He tried to do an interrogation and his English was [unclear] but I thought I was a smarty. I said that I couldn’t understand him and his English wasn’t good enough and that made him mad. And it made me mad too because I thought a stupid thing to say. I should have had more sense, just ignored him. And then I ended up in a place called Dulag Luft which every prisoner of war, air force prisoner of war finished up in. Dulag Luft. And that was in to a cell which was pretty, far less than — I could touch both sides. Because I used to do my exercise and I was there for about a week and I had a couple of interrogations. And all they got out of me was name, number and rank. And I stuck with that because the powers that be in England said, ‘If you start answering or have conversations with them you’ll find it, find it hard to stop.’ And that’s true. I spent Christmas day of all days in this lock up. Never saw a soul. Said, yelled out ‘Happy Christmas,’ [laughs] to anybody that could hear. Somebody in another cell — they yelled out too. That’s all we said. But my worry was that I was alright but I knew my mother who was a widow would be suffering. They would, the air force would have told her that I was missing on operations, which was right. Whereas I knew I was alright. So there you are. I upset the interrogators by insisting and quoting the Geneva Convention that that was all I had to say and he knew that was right. So in the end the Yanks got me out in the strip to the extent there was a big raid somewhere. The American Air Force had had a big raid on one of the cities somewhere very handy. I don’t know where. And they wanted the cells. And at least I take it they wanted the cells because all of a sudden there was about thirty air force blokes pushed out of their cell, their own private cell and gathered together and I think the Yanks were going to go in to there. I don’t — but that’s a certain amount of guesswork but it all happened all of a sudden. So, from there I went to, from Frankfurt. From Dulag Luft outside Frankfurt to Stalag 4B in Muehlberg in Saxony which is over in South East Germany in between, probably Berlin, Leipzig and Dresden, that group of. And Saxony was in that area and we were in Muehlberg. And I remained there in Muehlberg [pause] Am I going on too long?
AP: No. No. I have all the time in the world.
JFSC: I remained there. I had ideas of escaping and I changed places with a South African. The air force never worked. They were, couldn’t be trusted on the outside of the wire and they had, the Germans had good reason [laughs] to believe that. So, and the army, there was the camp at one stage had about forty thousand prisoners in it of every nationality. And I changed. And the army had to work. And they were taken out in work parties to do anything and everything I think. So I thought that’s a way out. If I can get out the main gate I’m on the way home. I had some funny ideas. I was optimistic. So I changed places entirely, with clothing, with any letters, where he came from in South Africa, where I came from in Australia. And we wrote our names down and put a sort of name there so that if we were caught we could say, ‘Yeah. That’s my home address.’ I went out and I spent a few days out as a private. I don’t know what his name was now — and working in the forest. And I found there were tighter restrictions there than in the camp. At least I thought so. There were more guards. They seemed to be closer to you all the time and at night you were locked up with a padlocked door sort of thing. So I thought, and the arrangements that were that they would, the workers would come back in to the main camp, Stalag 4B, for a shower if they were doing dirty work and we were doing dirty work. And I came back. It was every day but I don’t know every ten days you got a shower or something like that. You had to sort of wash in cold water otherwise but these were hot showers in the camp. And I’d arranged to come back. I decided to go back into the camp by changing places again with him, with this South African. At the shower we sort of changed. And that was the last time I saw of him. I never — I did it with another bloke but it wasn’t satisfactory. He was, he seemed to be more scared than I was. He was probably right too. And he didn’t last very long. He wanted to get out of the camp and get back to his mates, I think, in the work party. Anyhow, so that was my attempt, pretty poor. But then we were, had a secret radio in our hut and it was in a broom that sat in the corner of the hut and was inside a broom and it sat there for as long as I can remember. Long before I got there and I presume long after I left, it sat there. And a couple of RAF wireless operators had built it and I understand that they had a German soldier who had broken the rules at some time or other and they were blackmailing him that they’d tell the commandant if he didn’t do this and didn’t do that and they, they got a valve for the radio. And they built it. I don’t know how but they, it’s claimed that. The two of them were pretty smart boys apparently. So at 9 o’clock every night they came up to listen to the BBC news. They weren’t in the hut with the, with the radio. I think that was sort of part of the security. They’d come up in the darkness which was quite risky and settled down. And about two hundred blokes would be on the watch for Germans, peering into the darkness. So, and they’d make a list. I’d write the list and the news down and that would go around all the English speaking huts. The French, I think, did their own thing. I don’t know but it wouldn’t have been much good in have a radio in French when nobody could speak French but and then that would go around. Somebody would take it around and then I believe the bloke in our hut used to eat the paper [laughs] most paper would burn but he used to eat it. I don’t know whether he was that hungry [laughs]. So we didn’t know what was going on, and towards the end we could hear the guns firing from, from, coming from the Russians in the east. And we could see the bombers flying in to bomb Berlin and Dresden. And we were about thirty kilometres from Dresden when the big raid occurred. And Dresden, as far as I can remember, burned for a week. They couldn’t control it. And it used to flame up during the night and the smoke would be there during the day, black smoke. It was the best part of a week before they controlled it. Then the Russians overran the camp. Just to finish off quickly the Russians overran the camp, Zhukov’s army, he was the big noise in the Russian army. He over rode the camp and he said to our man — we had what we called a Man of Confidence who was our man between us and the Germans. And he was a Canadian who spoke German. And he acted as a Man of Confidence and was very good at it too. And the Germans accepted him and he accepted the Germans. So he was telling us what was happening. And then all of a sudden the Germans disappeared one night completely. We didn’t know it, never knew anything about it. And they disappeared one night. We’d wake up in the morning, we used to have roll call at 7 o’clock or half past 7. Something like that, every, and we had to get out of bed and stand in the cold and they’d count them. Some blokes would say we’d trick the Germans. We used to have five in a row and then they’d gradually move together and he’d count four. Then you’d have to have a recount. And then the next recount they’d move out the other way and he’d got seven. But there used to be arguments in the camp as to whether we should do it or not because blokes were shivering. But it’s the only thing we could do [laughs] It was really funny but it was a bit annoying in the cold. Anyhow, the Russians were in control and they said what food in the camp was yours and you feed yourselves and then you’re on your own. And this was from the Russian Army. So we did use the food in the camp and then of course we had to go outside and the Russians were sort of in control of the camp but you just had to be very careful not to annoy them otherwise they’d shoot you. I went out one time to get a couple of chooks. Get a chook anyhow, to cook. We had nothing to eat. And I went out with three other blokes and I went out looking for the chooks. And one went, I went one way and another went the other way and I struck up with a Russian who — I heard the bolt of his rifle change. And he was shoving at me and that and I‘ve got my hands in the air and I got a chook in one hand. And when, and then I made a bolt for it. He was as full as a goog. He was drunk. He couldn’t, could hardly stand to hold a rifle and I thought well it’s now or never. So I made a bolt down one lane and back to where the other blokes were. And all I could say they tell me was, ‘Ruski, Ruski. They’re coming they’re coming.’ We rushed down to the cellar. By the time we got down to the cellar I’d got a dead chook. I’d strangled it [laughs] poor old chook. But we enjoyed him. In due course we enjoyed him and the Russian never came near us. So we had, then I decided that’s enough for me. I’m going. The Americans were coming up from the west. The Russians were already coming east and they were saying, ‘You’ve got to stop in the camp.’ The Russians were. But five other blokes and myself that I talked into, air force blokes. I said, ‘I’m going if anybody’d like to come with me. And I want you to come with me because I’m scared stiff.’ And we went and we got out of the camp and we went to a place called Riesa. It was a little village on the River Mulde. I can remember those clearly. I can remember. And the war ended whilst we were in Riesa. And the Russians fired up the main street and they ran their tanks straight through houses where blokes took a liking to. And they fired heavy artillery shells. I don’t know where they landed but they certainly were too close. And by then we had commandeered a unit on the second floor so we could watch the river. And we were waiting for the Yanks to sort of cross the river. And we waited and we waited for three or four days and we decided to — some were the other blokes said that we would pinch a boat but nobody knew where a boat was. We’ll make a raft. Nobody had a hammer, nails or anything. And then it was decided to swim it and I thought, Oh. Swim it, bloody half a mile wide. And all I’ve got is have I learned to swim twenty five yards. Anyhow, we saw an American patrol approaching to this broken down railway bridge that had been, I don’t know who did it, probably the Germans to stop the Russians from following. And we made for this. We thought, oh we’ll make, I don’t know how we were going to get across but we made for it and the American blokes came and they luckily had a Russian interpreter and the Russians came up behind us and we’re on the edge of the bridge and the Russians are here. And the Americans were off. They’d stop for thirty forty metres away from the bridge. Candidly I thought the third world war was going to break out any time and we were the meat in the sandwich. But it didn’t. All of a sudden, I don’t know what happened but the Americans brought one of those tanks that had a span on it that they put over and we went over that on our hands and knees. I was dead scared that somebody had rocked the thing but [laughs] and I’d fall into the river and think that’s the end. And we were taken by the Americans to Leipzig. From Leipzig they in due course flew us to Brussels. We got out of the plane and were told to lay in the grass in the sunshine in Brussels. And the Lancasters arrived and it was beautiful. It was good. I’d never travelled in a Lancaster before. And I was the only one with a jacket, a recognisable jacket. And I got invited by the pilot to take the pilot’s dickie seat and the rest of the blokes who were air force had to be [laughs] down the back, being pushed further. No seats or anything. So landed in England and I was crook. I got shoved in the hospital and eventually came home.
AP: How did you find after that rather —
JFSC: How did I —?
AP: After that rather amazing experience how did you find getting back to civilian life?
JFSC: Getting [unclear][pause] I don’t know what I’m doing here. I’m getting [pause] No. It doesn’t seem to be working. I don’t know what that means.
AP: You don’t know what that means. After that rather amazing experience how did you find re-adjusting to normal civilian life?
JFSC: I had a job to go back to which helped a lot. And I came back and I did miss folks who were in the camp with me a bit in that they were ahead of me. I went in the hospital in England for a couple of weeks. Ten days. A couple of weeks, I think. I can’t remember. And they moved on whereas I was stationery. And eventually I sort of had and I didn’t have the crew that I’d been used to because they’d moved on. And they were four weeks, fortnight in front of me I think, never caught up with them at any stage. But I made, I met up with some other blokes that I knew. Eventually knew or got to know. And I think I handled it alright. I knew I was going home in due course, the shipping problem. There was a shipping problem in England immediately after the war. They, the Brits did the right thing. They were trying to move all the foreign troops out of the country. And they had thousands upon thousands of Americans there. And French. And every, every nation under the sun was there. They were all saying the, ‘When are you taking me home?’ attitude. And I had to wait until they had a ship load of Aussies going home, which I did do. But by that time I’d settled down in England. The company I worked for in Melbourne had an office in London so I got in touch with the London office and they gave me a job for a period of time which meant that I had to get permission from the RAAF to take it, naturally which I did do. And I took this job with William Horton and Co which was my company. And I worked for them and I came home in late November ’45, or December ’45. I’m not certain what date. But that job helped considerably I’m sure and I got double pay which was very nice. The company gave me pay and of course I was getting back pay from the air force [laughs] and nobody minded. They knew. The company said they knew I was being paid. And I said, ‘Oh yeah. I wouldn’t give that up. Actually the air force should give me more money than any company.’ [laughs] So then I was discharged in April ’46, I think. And I haven’t had any trouble. I’ve had a good family right from the beginning. I wasn’t married. I married in some years. Not — Glenne is my second wife and I’ve been married to Glenne for twelve years. And I was married to my first wife for sixty one I think years. I was married in ’49 and she died in 2003 I think. So that’s quite some time isn’t it? So I’ve had a very happy time in my life and that’s all helped. And I’ve got a good family. I’ve got one brother left now and he’s sixty. And I’ll be sixty three next month. And he’s sixty. And we’re funny thing just this is nothing to do — with my father was in the First World War. Can I — ?
AP: Yeah. Keep going. Please.
JFSC: Was in the First World War and won the Military Medal on Anzac Cove. And wore the Military Medal at the time when he was moved to Flanders. And he was recommended and the story over there recommended for the DCM. And everything went forward by two CO’s. And he never actually collected it. And he never did anything about it. And Paddy, my brother and I are now fighting for it. And it’s been going for five years.
AP: Oh yeah.
JFSC: And it’s all in writing by two separate CO’s, nothing to do with us. We think that he was awarded it and then the war in September 19 what ‘18 and the war ended in November and they said — right that’s all finished. Whoof. Everything entered the junk yard. But that could have happened. But now, it’s quite interesting. I’ll show you the latest letter I’ve got from them. Just at the top. No. No. No. Yeah. There.
AP: That one.
JFSC: Yeah.
AP: Oh yes.
JFSC: Yeah. You can read that letter and that’s the position that it’s in.
AP: Still learning.
JFSC: Still there. Yeah. That’s Paddy reckons he knew the CO but I said, ‘You can’t put that in the same letter. He’ll think we’re bribing him.’
AP: Another one.
JFSC: Yeah. So that’s just aside.
AP: Yeah. So I was actually going to ask whether you had any family in the first world war so that explains that side.
JFSC: Yeah. Yeah.
AP: So I guess that also explains why you —
JFSC: Yeah, certainly. I’d like you to read that.
AP: Yeah. Certainly.
JFSC: That, to me, is the most important document I’ve got. But that’s the photo of him with the Military Medal but then below that his —
AP: Yeah, very nice.
JFSC: Yeah.
AP: I guess that explains why you joined up and why you wanted to join the air force and not the army.
JFSC: Yeah.
AP: Most of all because of your father’s experience.
JFSC: Yeah.
AP: Alright. One last question before we wrap up. For you what is Bomber Command’s legacy and how do you want to see it remembered?
JFSC: How do I — ?
AP: How do you want to see Bomber Command remembered?
JFSC: I think they were the most amazing blokes I have ever met and likely to meet because it was a dicey situation there and yet they all took it in their stride. I’m sure that there were some who reneged but I never heard of them. I never saw them or heard of them on my squadron. But I don’t know. And blokes that I know even now that, even though I didn’t know them during the war years like for instance Laurie Larmar and jack Powell who was actually in Stalag 4B at the same time as I was but I didn’t know him. But I know he was because I’ve got a list of blokes who were in Stalag 4Band he’s among them. And also he’s told me stories and they’re still an amazing lot of fellas. And in the crew I had two Englishmen — the rear gunner and the engineer. And all engineers were English because Australians didn’t, didn’t train engineers, flight engineers. And the result is that we had an English engineer. And they’re both dead now. And their father was Australian. And I kept in touch with them but they all died of natural causes I’ll put it then. And they were still the same. There was, I’d ring them up and they’d ring them me. I think I did most of the ringing but they, the last one to die was the wireless operator and he died in a rest home in New South Wales fairly recently within the last twelve months. And he was still the same wireless operator that I flew with and anytime I went to Sydney I always went to see him. He used to drive me mad at times because he thought he was still in the air force [laughs]. But he was, he was the only officer in the crew too. Not that we took any notice of him. He had no authority really. Maybe on the ground but he didn’t in the air. Patrick was the authority and I admire you and admire the people that are doing something for. I said to Glenne, my wife, ‘I wish that I could do something.’ I said Laurie and I sat on seats while the people who did all the work around us weren’t in Bomber Command but they did so much for Bomber Command. And the pair of us just sat on seats. And she said, ‘But how old’s Laurie?’ I said, ‘Oh he’s ninety odd.’ And she said, ‘Do you expect him to carry tables or something?’ She said, ‘You’d be silly enough to carry one.’ I said, ‘No but I didn’t.’ So that’s I don’t know whether that shows you anything or not but it’s a marvellous organisation. I do belong to bomber Command in England. And I belong up here in Australia. Yeah. That’s —
AP: Bomber Command Association UK.
JFSC: It’s yeah the RAF really.
AP: Yeah.
JFSC: Yeah.
AP: So you’re still part of the active veteran community if you like.
JFSC: Well, yes. I am when I can be.
AP: I think I saw you on the television news once selling, selling for Legacy or something at [unclear] fields.
JFSC: Yes. That’s right. I’m all for it, and whether anyone will attest to that or if I can give some help. Now one of the —
JFSC: Can you imagine how blokes were in the Lancaster as they stand and this is what happens to them when they crash.
AP: Oh wow.
JFSC: Harsh what those pieces.
AP: Of your aircraft.
JFSC: Where they come from.
AP: Wow.
JFSC: Yeah.
AP: Hits the purse strings.
JFSC: Yeah. I’ve been to that site. I don’t know where the other half is.
AP: Wow.
JFSC: Yeah. And they were all Bakelite.
AP: Yeah
JFSC: Today they would be plastic.
AP: [unclear] That’s astonishing.
JFSC: Yeah.
AP: That’s very cool
JFSC: Somebody said what are they to you? I said I couldn’t put a value on them. They meant so much to me.
AP: Yeah. I can very much appreciate that.
JFSC: But [pause] you know it doesn’t kill me the thought of it but that I went to the Germans [pause] got a photo of them there, no blow me I must have taken it down. Got bits of [pause] I went to Germany with Glenne really to see where the plane crashed and where Patrick was buried originally. I’ve been three times to Germany. And I went and I met Germans. Two or three Germans who were — I suppose one was a detective. One was a real estate bloke. One was a railway man. One was a fireman later on. So who were interested and I’ve got their names and I’ve got their photo. If you want them you’re welcome to it — who were interested in chasing every plane that came down around Frankfurt. The area around there I think, more or less, home towns. They didn’t live in Frankfurt but they lived outside Frankfurt and then they started a little museum which they’ve got the tail plane of my plane and there’s no doubt about it because on the tail plane on the inner part of it is 274 and the 7 is the German — not the German 7 but the English 7. And they sort of had part and parcel of just the big tail plane and they took me to where the plane came down and that’s where they came from. And then they spoke, one in particular spoke very good English. And he asked me would like to see where Patrick Edwards was buried originally. And I said yes. I took the codes from my hand and they took me to the original site. And that was in the Belterhausen cemetery. And after the war the RAF went through Germany and [pause] what do they call it whatever the word is took in turn all airmen in a Commonwealth grave. And Pat is now in the Commonwealth governments. I think that’s what it’s called. There’s about three thousand airmen buried in —
AP: Reichwald or something.
JFSC: Not the town, town below. My memory’s just fading a bit.
AP: Hanover. Hanover.
JFSC: That’s right. Yeah. Yeah. And that’s where he’s buried.
JFSC: One of the bravest men I ever knew.
AP: On that note I think I’ll turn the recording off. Thank you very much Jim. I really appreciate it.


Adam Purcell, “Interview with Francis Shamus "Jim" Cahir,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 15, 2024,

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