Interview with Harry Winter

Title

Interview with Harry Winter

Description

Harry Winter grew up in Cardiff and worked in a paper mill from the age of 14. He served in the Home Guard before he volunteered for the Air Force. After training as a wireless operator at RAF Yatesbury he flew operations over Germany, France, and Italy with 431 and 427 Squadrons. His Halifax, LK633 (ZL-N) was shot down over Hameln returning from Kassel on the night 22/23 Oct 1943. Four of his crew were killed and he sustained injuries to both legs. He escaped summary execution through the intervention of a German Army medical orderly. After the War, Harry helped the medical orderly with his application to train as a dentist.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2015-07-08

Contributor

Jackie Simpson

Rights

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

Format

01:19:33 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

AWinterH150708, PWinterH1508

Conforms To

Temporal Coverage

Transcription

AS: Okay so, this is Andrew Sadler on Wednesday 8th July 2015 interviewing Harry Winter on behalf of the Bomber Command Archive at his home in Streatham South London. Can I start Harry by asking you where and when you were born?
HW: I was born in Cardiff in 1922.
AS: And can you tell me what your family background was?
HW: Yes my father was an er Engineer and Fitter Turner he was a tradesman er he spent the First World War at sea as an engineer on ships and when he got married he worked for the Cardiff Gas Light and Coal Company as a Maintenance Engineer. Er I went to school in Cardiff from about five years of age to Lansdowne Road Boys School and I left there at fourteen years of age, in those days er jobs were difficult to obtain and money was very very short although my father being a tradesman he was in in work all of his life er he had no problem with regard to employment, um and I left at fourteen and I went to the local paper making mill it was a very large mill I went there and I started in the office there as an assistant stock keeper then I went on to costing and finished up er on um on the order department for one particular machine making vegetable parchment, er I was on that until 1941 er when the war had started and I first went into the Home Guard and spent twelve months in the Home Guard and then on January 2nd 1941 Cardiff got blitzed and I decided to pay them back by endeavouring to bomb them, my age nineteen, I was coming up for nineteen when I would have had to be conscripted in any case and I didn’t want to go into the army so I volunteered for air crew, er I was sent to Weston Super Mare for my air crew selection board, passed and er waited er for a few months while er they they organised the er recruitment etcetera. I was called up in September 1941 sent to Padgate er in Lancashire where I was kitted out and then on to Blackpool where we did our initial training such as square bashing and learning Morse, although I had been learning Morse in the Home Guard I was very helpful that I knew most of it when I got there which helped a great deal, um I was in Blackpool from September until the second week of January 1942 er then I was sent on leave and went to Yatesbury Number 2 Wireless School at in Wiltshire er to learn the technical side of wireless etcetera etcetera, and learn about all the various instruments etcetera, and of course drill and er various other things. I left I passed out there as a wireless operator in March 1942 and er I was sent on er oh am not quite sure what you call it on I was sent to Angle a fighter station near Milford Haven to get experience on the radio communication, I spent the summer there until September 1942 er then I was posted to Cranwell Number 1 Radio School where we had more technical work on the more advanced radio instruments etcetera etcetera, and the new inventions. I spent from September until December at Cranwell then I was posted back to Yatesbury for a refresher course in January 43. I left Yatesbury as wireless operator fully fledged in March 1943 and I was sent to Manby Air Armaments School for a short course on air gunnery, then on to er advanced flying unit at Bobbington in Worcestershire where we were flying on Avro Ansoms with navigators, and trainee navigators. From there we were posted to 23 OTU at Pershore er where they were using and er what do you call them using what’s the aircraft er, oh dear –
Other: [?]
HW: Wellingtons [laughs] they were using Wellington bombers, er there we got crewed up I met the navigator of course at Bobbington and er by the time we got to Pershore we had agreed to join together and try and make a crew, er when we were all assembled at Pershore they put us in a hanger and the pilots and bomb aimers and rear gunners were all assembled there and we just mixed together and made up our own crews we weren’t forced to fly with any person we met each other and er we er crewed up together and er there we did our OTU, and from there I did my first operation. Um about June 43 we were sent on a sea search er in the North Sea there had been an American bombing raid the day before and some aircraft had come down in the sea so we went over over the North Sea to er search for a er dinghies etcetera, er we went over as far as Texel and er we got fired on by the anti-aircraft guns at Texel and one of the shells had hit the port engine and er put it out of action so we limped back to an aerodrome near Rugby where my the pilot had been trained as an advanced pilot, er my pilot was an American my navigator and bomb aimer and rear gunner were all Canadians, er we landed at this aerodrome just outside Rugby and the next day we were picked up by another aircraft and returned back to Pershore, that was the only exciting thing I had up to that present moment. From Pershore I was sent to Topcliffe Number 1659 HGU Heavy Conversion Unit where we were converted to Halifaxes and we were there for a month and then we were posted, I was posted, we were posted first of all to 431 Squadron at Tholthorpe in Yorkshire, we did a few trips there and um wee the apparently 427 had lost a few aircraft at that time so they transferred us to 427 Squadron, er 427 Squadron it was this was all 6 Group which was all Canadian Air Force, um er 427 Squadron was adopted by the Metro Goldwyn Mayer Film Company so we were called the Lion Squadron and we had a model lion presented to us by one of the Director’s of Metro Goldwyn Mayer in June 1943, there is a record of it er Pathe Newsreel recorded it I have a recording of it on my computer showing them presenting the lion to the Squadron Commander. We settled down at Leeming, various operations came up and we did various operations over Germany, oh France, Italy and Germany, and during the August and September and then in October er we were doing a few bombing raids in various places in Germany again and on 22nd October we were, oh, [I’ll just finish my coffee, whispers]
AS: Your going now.
HW: Yes we did various trips they varied um er sometimes they were quiet other times a lot of flak and night fighters attacking and er [?] sometimes very heavy cloud, intense cloud, icing etcetera, we experienced all this and um the er er sometimes we had a bomb on sky markers and sometimes if it was clear we bombed on ground markers, er these all went under special names, er they they these names had been invented by the air by er er, what was it, a New Zealand er Marshall who was in charge of um, let me think of it, oh dear my mind wait a minute, er he he introduced what did they call it, pathfinders yes pathfinders, pathfinders used to drop these various target indicators and we used to have to bomb target indicators. Er on 22nd October 1943 we were informed that we were on another operation er we went for our briefing and we were informed that we were 560 bombers were going to bomb Kassel er we were briefed and er went to our aircraft to test them er we were allocated “L for Love” which had the name “Lorraine Day” on one side and “London’s Revenge” on the other side, we went then for our pre-flight breakfast er and er we were due to take off at five thirty in the afternoon, we kitted out went to the aircraft got in the aircraft and um the pilot tried to start the engine and the port inner wouldn’t start we tried three or four times so it was getting near five thirty then so er I got the Aldis lamp out and signalled across to flying control that the engine was US unserviceable, er a few minutes later a seal [?] came over in a car and the pilot informed that the aircraft wouldn’t start the engine wouldn’t start and of course the er maintenance flight sergeant he confirmed it just wouldn’t go so er the the commanding officer said ‘G George is bombed up a spare aircraft go over to that’, er we the transport that had taken us out to dispersal had gone so we had to transfer all of our kit across to “G George”, “G George” had no window that’s the strips of foil for anti-aircraft er er radar blotting out and er so we had to carry all the bundles of window between us from one aircraft to the other, er we got into the aircraft and that started up and of course five o’clock five thirty just after five thirty we took off. We flew down to Cromer where all the aircraft er that were bombing that night congregated to assemble for the final trip across the North Sea, we flew across the North Sea and of course immediately we arrived over the Dutch border we started getting attacked by flak, um there was a diversion er flight going to Frankfurt so we were our course was towards Frankfurt for a while and then we turned off north of Frankfurt to er for Kassel, just before reaching Frankfurt the rear gunner er informed the pilot there was a night fighter coming up on the stern, er the mid upper gunner confirmed he could see it also so er he of course the rear gunner took over then and he requested he demanded the aircraft be put into a um corkscrew the er the pilot corkscrewed the aircraft and at the same time the two gunners started firing on the night fighter er we by the time we came out of the corkscrew the night fighter had gone so we carried on towards Kassel, er we were the second wave into Kassel er there were three waves altogether we were the second wave um five minutes before reaching Kassel we saw all the first TI’s going down and the first bombs going down etcetera etcetera and er we followed in and by the time we got to Kassel the night fighters had estimated our course and er they put a line of er fighter flares above us so we were flying just like going down a high street with all the lights on and er we were lit up just like daylight and the night fighters were above us observing us, and the navigator, the bomb aimer took over for the bombing run and we dropped our bombs and er we turned put to port towards Hanover, [have a drink of tea, whispers], the night fighters of course had been following us we couldn’t see them because they were behind the fighter flares, and er about five minutes after leaving Kassel there was a terrific bang, series of bangs and the pilot said ‘we’ve had just been hit’ apparently canon shells had hit us, er he endeavoured to contact the rear gunner there was no reply, he tried the mid upper gunner there was no reply, so he asked the engineer to go back to see what whether they were okay, the engineer said ‘he couldn’t go back because he was watching the petrol tanks’, so he asked me and I went back I went back to the mid upper turret and hit the mid upper gunner on the thighs and er shook him but there was no reaction at all he had his head down and there was no reaction, so I dashed back then to the rear turret and the rear turret I banged on the rear turret doors I could see the the rear gunner in there er shot down so there was no reply from him so I tried to open the doors but they wouldn’t open so er just as I turned to return er the fighter came in again and attacked us, er I was running at the fuselage and I felt a terrific pain in my right thigh and by the time I reached the pilot I put my thumbs down to indicate there was no life with the gunners and I noticed then that the port wing and engines were all on fire, the pilot shouted ‘bail out, bail out’ so I dashed down the stairs to my position underneath the pilot er which was just behind the navigator, the navigator lifted up his chair and table and lifted up the escape hatch I handed him his parachute and I put my parachute on and as I put my parachute on I noticed I had his name on mine so I tapped him and indicated so we changed parachutes and I went out and er I was out first er I landed in a tree er and er hit a branch with my left thigh and I had a terrific thigh when I hit one of the main branches, er it was quite dark but I could see the branches against the night light and I put my right foot on one of the branches er released myself from the parachute because I was hung about twenty I suppose about twenty feet up in a tree released myself and then put my left leg on the branch to climb down and my left leg gave way and I collapsed and fell from the trees and knocked myself out, er the next thing I knew it was getting dawn I suppose be about seven thirty in the morning this was about nine twenty five at night when we were shot down it was about seven thirty in the morning it was just getting light and er I noticed that I was in this small wood er and er I tried to stand up and I couldn’t so and I was feeling very very thirsty I didn’t realise then that I had lost a lot of blood and that’s why I was thirsty, so I looked around and I could see that it was lighter down below than it was up above so I crawled to the edge of the wood and there was a field there and I noticed there was a farmer and two boys spreading manure etcetera etcetera on the ground, so I shouted to them they came over and I asked them for water er they stood me up and I collapsed again and went unconscious the next thing I remember I was on a horse and cart going across a field I momentarily came conscious and realised what I was doing what’s happening then I lost consciousness again, the next thing I woke up I was on a bed in a hospital with a doctor and nurse looking over me and er when they realised I had regained consciousness they said ‘you have er er broken your left leg and you are wounded in your right leg’ I said ‘where am I?’ they said ‘in Germany’ I said ‘I can’t stay here I’ve got to get back to England’, er I tried to get off the ch the bed then I realised I had no use in my legs so I laid back on the bad, er I was there overnight [takes a drink] and the next day a German medical orderly came and informed me in broken English er that he was escorting to Dulag Luft, they put me on a stretcher I’d been my leg had been strapped up by this time of course and they put me on a stretcher and took me to the railway station which I noticed the name was Lugde [spells it out], um they was only the medical orderly so they had to get an outsider to help carry me on the stretcher and the outsider when we got to the station he left me just left the medical orderly with me the train came in so I had to get off the stretcher I had the use of my right leg by this time and er the the er medical orderly got me into the train er we travelled a short way and we had to change trains [takes a drink] er he took me out and er where we were changing trains there was no platform so we had to get down onto the side of the railway er he took me um the stretcher out then helped me down then helped me across to the platform and then brought the stretcher down for me to lay on the stretcher, er he went to get some refreshment and while he went to get refreshment a big a to me a great big German er huge German with a walking stick came and stood in front of my er stretcher looked down and said ‘my house in Kassel has been bombed’ er I looked at him and er I thought seeing the walking stick etcetera etcetera discretion being the better part of valour I kept my mouth shut, at that time the medical orderly came back with the drinks and er the this civilian went off, er we got back on another train travelled another distance and we had to change trains again, er the same thing he there was no platform so he had to help me down and he took me into the canteen in this station where there was a lot of soldiers, er he went to get some soup for me and er when he came back with the soup a German soldier with a Schmeisser came over he wanted to shoot me so the medical orderly looked around and found a er another soldier of higher rank he’d found a Feldwebel which was a sergeant, the sergeant came over and immediately this German with a Schmeisser went, I felt very grateful to the medical orderly for what he had done so I gave him my name and address which wasn’t against the law anyway because we were allowed to give name address and rank etcetera, we got on to another train and er there oh just before we got onto the next train a a a another escort came up with three other airmen and one of the airmen was my bomb aimer, so er he said to me ‘both the gunners and Bob the pilot were dead’ er he had been picked up er near where the aircraft crashed taken to the scene and er there in the turrets the turrets had come out with the shock of the crash the gunners were still in the turrets the pilot was still in the pilot’s place and of course the fire had burned him, so er he identified the rear gunner by his dentures er half his head had been blown off by a canon shell, er the mid upper gunner had one had been shot in the stomach and of course the pilot er he must couldn’t have got out don’t know why but he went down with the aircraft and was killed in the crash and then burned after. Anyway the bomb aimer and the other aircrew were taken to one compartment and I was taken to another, er we arrived in Frankfurt am Main the next morning er at about ten o’clock and they took us onto the station and er they informed us that as I was wounded they wanted an ambulance so they phoned for an ambulance [pauses to take a drink], so after a while an ambulance came and the three other aircrew and myself were put in the ambulance and we were taken a short distance to Dulag Luft at Ober, Oberursel, the bomb aimer and the other two aircrew were taken off there and I was taken about another kilometre or so to a hospital called Hohemark [spells it out] it was a clinic for mentally disturbed people before the war it had been taken over by the Luftwaffe and the first the ground floor was used for German wounded er the first floor er for British wounded and the third floor and the second floor for the staff to sleep, er I was taken in by on the um taken into Hohemark onto the ground floor into a room and locked in er about five minutes later a German officer came along and he offered me a cigarette and put a form in front of me with a red cross on the top and on there it had my details requesting my details of name, rank etcetera home address, squadron and all the details of the squadron, er I filled in my name, rank and home address and handed it back to him and said ‘that’s all I’m afraid I could inform him about’ he said ‘I will tell you your history’ so he informed me the date I had volunteered in Cardiff, he informed me of every station I had been sent to in Britain er and the dates etcetera etcetera he informed me of all my crew and er then he left and he came back and he said he came back about five minutes later and oh he said ‘I left out Bobbington you were at Bobbington as well weren’t you?’ I said ‘well if you say so’ ‘yes’ he said ‘you were’ so er after about half an hour oh then they had him told me to undress and get in the bed there took all my outer clothing away with him, incidentally the medical orderlies who took me in were all British, er one was a warrant officer mid air front gunner who’d been shot down a year earlier he was a Liverpudlian, there were two Welsh paratroop medical orderlies they had been captured in North Africa and the rest of the staff there was a German corporal, er two German gefreiters and a German doctor, er after the interrogation the two medical welsh medical orderlies came and took me up to the first floor and there were various rooms and ere r various beds had been taken over there were other aircrew with broken legs and broken arms and of course there was a lot of burns there was one ward there with a lot of burnt aircrew, I was put in a bed and handed back my uniform and on my uniform I had two buttons one an RCAF button and one an RAF button the RAF button had a compass in that had been taken off I also had a compass in my front collar stud that had been taken out taken away so they had realised what was in there they had tested and found these compasses and took them away otherwise I had my my er cigarette case and all my own er belongings returned to me, um they put me in a bed there and er oh they had they asked me to stand up so I stood up and er ‘oh they said your legs not broken get in bed’ so of course the next day one of the medical orderlies came to dress my right thigh where I had a lot of proud flesh where this canon shell had hit me part of it and it gave me a wound when I lost a lot of blood and of course he started dressing the wound and looking down he said ‘your leg is broken’ he noticed that it was at an angle so I doctor came along and confirmed it, this doctor who’s name was Doctor Ittershagan [spells it out] er he was a specialist in broken bones er apparently he had taken up a new invention where instead of putting the leg in plaster they opened the wound opened the leg er stretched the leg to put the bones back in place opened the leg and put a metal pin inside the femur pushed it up through the thigh put the bone together and knocked the er pin into the bottom part of the femur and sewed the leg up so and we were able to get around on crutches there and er apparently they were seven six other aircrew there some with arms that had been broken and some with legs that had been broken and they had all had the same operation we were treated as guinea pigs because this was a special new idea, um so Doctor Ittershagan was there to oversee us. Er we spent a few months there and just before Christmas time a fighter pilot came in he had crashed er he was a PRU Photograph Reconnaissance Pilot and apparently he’d been flying over France er taking details of the weather and he hadn’t noticed that his oxygen had given out he’d broken his oxygen pipe and er the next thing he knew he was on in the aircraft the aircraft had flown into the landed pancaked itself into the ground he was slightly wounded, apparently when he got out when they took him to Dulag Luft they found he had two dummy legs he was the second legless pilot er so of course he was sent up to Hohemark and er to have his slight wounds er seen to and er this was at just Christmas time so we spent we had Christmas dinner at Hohemark with Colin Hodgkinson which was his name er he was featured in “This is Your Life“ some years after in the BBC. I was there until right throughout Christmas and various as we were oh Christmas Day we were able to get along on crutches so we went out on Christmas Day and met some of the German wounded so we started playing football on the grounds [laughs] in Hohemark, anyway various aircrew were coming in with wounds, burns etcetera etcetera some of them died there of burns etcetera, one pilot he was a member of the Dunlop Family and he got seriously burnt and he died on the operating table there. There was another Welshman came in er at the end of er March he had been on the Nuremburg raid and shot down and when he was when he bailed out the propellers caught his left arm and left leg and took his left arm off at the elbow and left leg off at the knee and he was on crutches, er various other, oh another one came in he had his legs both legs blown off and he landed in icy water and he had the sense to get his parachute shroud lines to tie around his thighs two girls German girls picked him up and took him to hospital and er he’d been sent to Hohemark before being repatriated of course because he was seriously wounded. We were there through the spring and summer part of the summer and er met quite a lot of er German officials etcetera and some of the German fighter pilots used to come in and have a chat with us about er flying etcetera and of course the interrogators used to come in and every afternoon about three o’clock we used to have coffee so the er interrogator had the habit of coming at about three o’clock when we were having Nescafe and of course he would come and have a cup of Nescafe as against the Acorn coffee that they were issued, and we used to chat with them and er we said to one we said to one of them one day ‘how is it you’ve got all this information about us?’ so he opened his briefcase and get a folder out and showed us details of an American Squadron he said ‘this is Amercian B17 Squadron’ he said ‘they are still in America they are due to fly over to England’ he said ‘we’ve got the details of every aircraft and every member of the crews’ and we said ‘well how do you get a lot of this?’ well he said ‘there is a lot of Irishmen working in America and a lot of Irishmen working in England and the information gets through’, so anyway so that satisfied out curiosity. Anyway one of the er guinea pigs, what was his name?, er oh dear Mike Sczweck [?] he was an ex Polish emigre to America he was a ball turret gunner [?] he’d had his arm broken and he’d had a metal pin put inside it and he was getting rather restless, so we used to be allowed out every afternoon from about two to three o’clock before coffee to walk round the grounds etcetera for a bit of exercise, er this was about the 4th June and the er he informed us that he was going to try and escape so er we er when we got back in we got to our window and of course they had long u um venetian blinds there and the windows were open and the long chords if you put them out of the window they’d reach to about six feet above the ground below so er there were two Canadians and myself er we were in a room and we helped lower him down and this was about half past three in the afternoon, very hot afternoon about four o’clock we had a thunderstorm er we covered as Mike had a habit of laying on his bed they were double bunks he was on the top bunk he had a habit of laying on the bed we made up his bed to look like he was laying on it, there was seven of us “The Seven Pin Boys” guinea pigs in this room so that night er we all went to bed and the German medical orderly came in Adolf Dufour he was ex ex er World War One soldier he came in so and he noticed we were all in bed so he closed the door and we all went to sleep the next morning we got up and had our breakfast and of course they put out the all the meal so er a few of us surreptiously took part of the roll etcetera and marmalade ate it and drank the coffee etcetera then about eleven o’clock in the morning the English warrant officer, Liverpudlian came up and he said ‘where is Sczweck?’ so we said ‘well on his bed I suppose’ he said ‘he is not on his bed’ and he went straight away and reported him as being escaped.
AS: So he’s just been found missing?
HW: Yes and he this Liverpudlian as I say he reported straight away they got in touch with Dulag Luft which was a kilometre away and er they came up with dogs etcetera but of course this was the day before he got away and there had been a thunderstorm in any case so er they said ‘right’ they picked the three of us and said ‘pack your bags’ and they took us down to the cooler at Dulag Luft they walked us down came down to the cooler and we spent a couple of days there, and then two days later they came and told us they wanted our braces and boots er now there was one of the ambulance drivers German ambulance drivers a German American he again had been er er living in America went to Germany at the beginning of the war and they kept him there so he could speak perfect English with an American accent so we said to him ‘why have you taken our braces and boots?’ he said ‘there’s been a landing on the French coast’ he said ‘we don’t want you to try and escape again’ anyway two days later they handed us our braces and boots and sent us to a hospital just outside Homberg and all the other pin boys were there and we all had our pins extracted er and we sent back to Hohemark er on on walking sticks etcetera for a few days until the wounds had healed and they took the stitches out, and then oh by the way incidentally when we were there at Hohemark there used to be a warrant officer an English warrant officer he was down at Dulag Luft and I don’t know what he was doing but er he used to come up periodically he was dressed in full RAF warrant officer uniform, Slowey his name was warrant officer Slowey he had been shot down about two years earlier and no doubt he was collaborating with the Germans so of course whenever he was around we kept our mouths shut he of course he had came up for information, there was also a girl who used to come up from Dulag Luft, her mother was Scottish and her father was German and er at the beginning of the war she went back to Germany and stayed over there and she used to be sent up to talk to us at times to no doubt try and get some information from us but of course they had all these sort of things like going on and tricks to try and get some information from us, anyway I don’t know what happened to Slowey ‘cos as I say we were sent back to Hohemark for a few days then I was posted er er to sent to Obermarshfelt[?] a clearing hospital near Meiningen in the centre of Germany, er it was a mixture of various prisoners there was English soldiers there etcetera er so I was there until er we could walk properly and then in July middle of July we were informed we were being sent to prison camp, er they put us on a train and er they were seven of us eight of us altogether and two guards the two guards only had little hand pistols to guard us with so er on the journey in the morning there was an air raid went and er we heard the aircraft going over and when the all clear went the train started again and we got as far as Erfurt and actually Erfurt had been bombed so we had to change trains at Erfurt, so we got on the platform there was crowds on the platform of people who had been bombed out and there was one particular person with a Swastika ensign on his arm and he noticed us and straight away he started shouting ‘terror fliers’ in German ‘terror-flieger’ informing the crowd that we were terror fliers we should be hung er at that moment a German troop train came in and stopped momentarily on the platform and the guard said to the Germans ’asked where they were going if they were going via Leipzig’ they said ‘yes’ so he got us all on the troop train with the German soldiers and we went off otherwise we would have been hung [laughs]. We got as far as Leipzig where we changed trains again and er then we er the next train was overnight to Dresden, we reached Dresden the next morning and they put us in the basement of the station where we had a sleep etcetera and er of course they’d given us a few rations, a box of Red Cross box of rations so we had our rations and er then we were transferred in the afternoon on a train again and went on to Upper Silesia Bankau which was Luft 7 we reached there about six o’clock the next morning and we marched from Bankau er from the town of Bankau to the prison camp er we were admitted into the prison camp and it was a new one just been built and there was only about forty prisoners there but a lot of huts, the huts were only eight feet high, ten feet long and eight feet wide, and they put six of us in there, there was no beds we had to sleep on the floor no tables no chairs or anything we just had to oh and they gave us a bowl and a spoon and a cup, I’ve still got the cup I got at home with my I still got my German prisoner of war mug, so we were there and there was another compound next to it which was being built with substantially bigger huts the Russians were building that, so in the summer we had just had these huts to live in and the only water we had was a pump in the centre of the field centre of the parade ground er like a village pump where we got our water and where we could only get underneath there and have a bathe. We were there until mid September end of September and then we were transferred to the next compound where we had better accommodation we had double bunks double tier, two tier bunks etcetera etcetera and about sixteen of us to a room um we settled down there and of course they had water laid on there and once a week we were allowed a shower we were taken in batches rooms each room went into the shower, under the shower a German soldier would turn the water on to get us wet let us have a shower a wash turn the water on again to take the soap off and about ten minutes that was our shower that was our cleaning. We were there until January 19th er 1945 when the Russians started advancing so they decided we had to move er we were informed there was no transport we would have to walk, so early in the morning of 19th January they took us out we had no Red Cross parcels none had arrived, er so we went out with no food and we walked thirty kilometres that day to a place called Vintersfelt [?] where they put us up in various er er um cow sheds etcetera etcetera er and some sat out in the open, er we did that forced march then from the 22nd from 19th January to about mid February forced march each day er the camp commandant he informed the Germans and the doctor the English doctor prisoner of war we had informed the Germans we were exhausted we couldn’t go any further so the Germans after we’d marched forced marched through storms etcetera in the night minus forty degrees er with sleet and snow etcetera for about fourteen days um they they marched us to a station where they put us in cattle trucks forty to a truck locked us in and er we were there in this train for two days weren’t allowed out er two days later we arrived at a place called Luckenwalde er which is about twenty kilometres south of Berlin it was a very big camp all nationalities in there so er we were marched into Luckenwalde camp there again there were no beds we had to sleep on the floor er we were issued with the minimum amount of food er I lost about two stone actually in that time er and er we were there until about the 22nd 23rd April er when we woke up one morning to be informed the Russians were outside we looked out and there were Russian tanks out there and they they ploughed down the outer wire and came in they informed us that we could go east if we wished but we couldn’t go west we could go out and forage for food if we wished so various parties went out foraging for food into the town er in the meantime the Russians and the Americans had met at on the Elba. The Americans came over and the Russians stopped them at the edge of the camp and the Americans wanted to take us away and the Russians wouldn’t allow us they were keeping us hostage until they got all the Russian prisoners that had joined the German forces back into Russia to shoot them. So er the Americans informed us that down the road a few kilometres away they would station some trucks and if we could make our way down there we would get away, so after the next day I walked out with one or two others and walked down to this copse there was an American truck there we got in a soon as it was filled up the American truck took us across the Elba that was on 8th May which was er VE Day, so we crossed the Elba into er into a German town and we were put in er a barrack part of an aircraft factory that the Americans had taken over and of course there they fed us er we stayed there for about a day then they trucked us from Luckenwalde sorry from the camp er to um er where was it Mankenberg [?] no not Mankenberg and we finished up at Hanover, er we stayed overnight at Hanover and the next day they put us on Dakota aircraft and flew us to er Belgium Brussels and we arrived in Brussels in the early evening and there they deloused us kitted us out in army uniforms and told us gave us a few francs and told us we could go in town and have a beer [laughs] which we did we came back to be informed we were back on a train er which was a prisoner of war train with all barbed wire and bars on and we were shipped to er er from Brussels to Amien er there we stayed overnight and the next morning there were aircraft landed at Amien and they flew us they flew us to England where I landed just south of Guildford the next day, again we were deloused er kitted out in British uniform and er sent up to Cosford where we were medically examined and if we were fit given a pass and sent home. I arrived home about the 10th or 11th of May er and that was the story of my life up at that up until that time.
AS: Fascinating.
Other: [Laugh] [?] trying to transcribe all that.
HW: ‘Cos there again I as I’d been a prisoner of war I was due for discharge but they wouldn’t discharge me until I had my tonsils out so I had to wait a year before going into a hospital an RAF hospital immediately they came out they discharged me and I went back to my civilian job in paper making and I have been in paper making ever since.
AS: Why did they want to take your tonsils out?
HW: Actually I got tonsillitis in October and I’d been reported sick and of course the day we were to take off I didn’t bother I felt better so I didn’t report sick so I told Bob the pilot ‘I wasn’t reporting sick’ and he said ‘right we are on tonight’ and that was the fateful day [laughs].
AS: Can you tell me about what happened with the German medical officer who stopped you from being shot?
HW: Yes, I he was a medical orderly Gunter Aarff [?] his name was he was about nineteen years of age about two years younger than myself and he could speak fairly good English so of course having met him in Dusseldorf at the Control Commission and we went there and we gave I gave my report he gave his report.
AS: Can you tell me can you just tell me again because you mentioned it when this thing wasn’t on how you were contacted about?
HW: About er er he wrote me and said he introduced himself that I was the person he had escorted to Dulag Luft.
AS: Because you’d given him your home address?
HW: Yes his father had been killed etcetera and he wanted to become a dentist. So of course I arranged it I wrote to the Control Commission they gave me permission to go over I met him we went there together he gave his story I gave mine and er of course he went into university and he became a dentist and of course from then on we kept in contact each year those candlesticks there he sent they were Christmas boxes each year we used to exchange Christmas boxes etcetera etcetera.
Other: Have you got a photograph don’t know?
HW: Yes I’ve got one, as I say we kept in contact ever since we went over there he’s been over here we went one time and he took us down the Rhine boat trip all day trip back up to Cologne etcetera so we did a cruise on the Rhine etcetera.
AS: So he really saved your life and ?
HW: Oh yes he saved, yes that’s why I gave him my name and address because if he hadn’t got this sergeant er the German he was drunk of course he would have shot me, so of course we kept in contact as I say until two years ago er we sent him a Christmas card and we had no reply we did again last year we still had no reply er we had heard in the meantime that he had cancer but er no doubt this has overcome him and he has passed on.
AS: So you really went to the Control Commission to act as a character witness a character reference so he could get into university?
HW: Yes, they said they couldn’t er order the German authorities to give him a place but they could recommend it of course he was recommended and he went into university yes.
AS: Can you tell me after all this how you managed to settle back into civilian life?
HW: Yes, I went back into my er into the paper mill of course they had taken on other staff but they were forced to take us back er and of course they offered us such low salaries that a lot of them just couldn’t afford to go back and they found another job, I was lucky that I had twelve months leave paid leave with warrant officers pay so I was getting £6 a week as a warrant officer and £3 a week civilian pay so I was able to manage to but they gave me didn’t give me my same job back they gave me another job on costing and while I was there I took up paper making studying paper making at City and Guilds etcetera and passed the City and Guilds on papermaking and we had an associate mill at Treforrest where they coated the paper put on this coating for photographic paper, chocolate wrappings etcetera, er waxing, er they used to put the purple coating on the paper for Cadbury’s wrappers etcetera etcetera, er wax craft etcetera er waxed brown paper that is for various jobs in the metal industry um papers for the books for printing books etcetera coated paper and er that was 1946 I went back to the paper mill, 1949 I understood there was a job going in the order department in Trefforest so I applied and of course I got it so then I was in charge of the paper coating on the on all the coating machines, er I was there for about two years inside the office then they decided they’d like me to go out selling paper so I went out travelling they provided me with a car and I started travelling selling paper. In 1953 er there was an upheaval in the with the directors of the mill and the managing director resigned and they decided to take me back in to do the job until they could find another managing director er having experienced outside work I didn’t want to stay inside so I said well I would do it for a year they said right they would find somebody in a year, they found somebody but they still kept me in. At that time my wife’s parents who had been evacuated to Cardiff during the war had moved back to London er and my father in law had contracted er er cancer so we came up for a holiday and er I had a customer in London who had offered me a job if ever I wanted to come up to London so we came up for a holiday and er I went to see him they said yes they would like I could start straight away so I left my wife up here we looked round found a house left my wife here and er I went back put my notice in worked a month and came up to London to live and I started in the paper trade again selling paper to printers and that I did right until I retired in 1986.
AS: Was it difficult when you came out of the RAF fitting back into civilian life?
HW: Yes yes having had the freedom of the RAF I found it very very difficult being tied down to a desk yes.
AS: What do you mean by freedom you were a prisoner of war for several years?
HW: Sorry
AS: You were a prisoner of war for several years that wasn’t
HW: For eighteen months yes.
AS: Eighteen months?
HW: Yes yes and of course er there was the life fighting for food because the Germans gave us the minimum amount of food so we wouldn’t have the energy to try to escape, er we used to play football or cricket etcetera er in the centre of the camp and each day do a march around the perimeter we would all be exercising walking round for miles and miles round the perimeter between the escape wire and the huts to keep keep fairly fit which we were glad of because of the forced march. In September 43 of course there was Arnhem and of course the glider pilots although they were in the Army the Germans treated them as Luftwaffe so they came into our camp and we got really depressed we felt that with the Russian advance we would be home by Christmas and of course that made us our morale dropped a great deal of course we had the paratroopers not the glider pilots there with us joined they the camp. By the time we came out of the camp in January 45 there were fifteen hundred of us when I went there there was about twenty five so you see the number of prisoners of war that was NCO prisoners of war taken in those few months and er only about twenty about ten percent of people flying over Germany that were shot down were made prisoners the rest were killed so you can just imagine the number of people fifty five thousand five hundred and seventy three were killed during the war.
AS: Afterwards did you have you managed to keep in touch with any of your comrades?
HW: Yes I kept in contact with all my crew with the remainder of my crew and of course the parents of the er er members that were killed, there again the parents of my pilot died after a while and er the mid upper gunner then kept writing to me but when in 1949 I told them that I was going to Germany to speak on the part of the medical orderly I think I might have upset them ‘cos they stopped writing, anyway the rear gunners mother she came over here and she went to visit his grave etcetera etcetera we kept in contact with them we went all over we visited them I visited my navigator and my bomb aimer we’ve been over in Canada a few times there so we er kept in contact ever since. Now about five years ago er my bomb aimer died and about four years ago my navigator died we are still in contact with the daughter no the yes the son no grandson of the rear gunner and his family, the navigator’s wife we’ve been in contact with them until last Christmas we sent the usual letter we had no reply er so therefore I am the only survivor the last survivor of the crew.
AS: Well Harry thank you very much indeed.
HW: That’s all right.
AS: It’s been a fascinating tale.

Collection

Citation

Andrew Sadler, “Interview with Harry Winter,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed November 17, 2019, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/8774.

Item Relations

This item has no relations.

Can you help improve this description?