Interview with Fred Hooker

Title

Interview with Fred Hooker

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2016-05-25

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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

02:18:06 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

AHookerFJ160525

Transcription

DM: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is David Meanwell. The interviewee is Fred Hooker. The interview is taking place at Mr Hooker’s home in -
FH: Church Crookham.
DM: And the date today is the twenty -
FH: 25th
DM: Fifth of May 2016. Ok Fred. Well if you could perhaps start off by telling me a little bit about your childhood, growing up and your family.
FH: I was born in a little hamlet called Dipley under the control of Hartley Wintney Rural District Council in 1924 which makes me ninety two now and I’m one of nine children born to my parents Minnie and William Hooker. I’m the last one living now. The rest have all passed on. My elder brother was a prisoner in Japan when Hong, captured when Hong Kong fell in 1941. Unfortunately, he died on the same day as I was released from the German prisoner of war camp. I done all my schooling in Hartley Wintney walking about three and a half mile each day to school. I only had a secondary education and joined the Boy Scouts at the age of eleven and then in 1941 when the Air Training Corps was first formed we heard, a friend of mine and myself heard of a squadron being formed in Basingstoke which we made, we found out where the squadron was meeting and we visited each week to their meetings until the flight of the same squadron four four, 444 squadron was developed in Hartley Wintney.
FH: So, when, when were, when were you old enough to be called up? I mean did you get called up or did you volunteer first?
DM: Yeah. I was just coming to that one.
FH: Right.
DM: In 1941 I made an application to the air ministry to volunteer for air crew duties in which I went to Oxford for an assessment test which unfortunately I failed on the first attempt but the following December, 1942 I once again applied and was successful in passing out and was put on the waiting list to be called up to train as a wireless operator/air gunner. In March 1943 I received my calling up papers and I had to report to Lord’s Cricket Ground in London along with a load of other chaps the same day and there we were, had our usual injections, issued with our full RAF uniform which I was very proud to, to receive and from there I was in London about a fortnight and then posted to Shropshire. A place called Bridgnorth where I done my ITW training which consisted of a lot of square bashing as we called it and school classroom work. From there we were sent on leave and had instructions while on leave to report to Yatesbury in Wiltshire for the wireless training which was all new to me although I had done Morse, a certain amount of Morse sending and receiving while in the Air Training Corps. Unfortunately, when we got on to technical side of the wireless I’m afraid I come unstuck and I had to leave the course and then sent to Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey, re-mustered and became, was put on the list to train as a straight air gunner. Once again I had to go through the, an ITW which was at Bridlington and we done all our square bashing and PT exercises along the front on the promenade which was rather draughty being that it was in the January February time. Having passed out there we were sent on leave once again and on the 28th of December 1943 I left home and travelled overnight to [Carn?] in, sorry it wasn’t [Carn?]. It was Stormy Down in South Wales. Number 7 AGS. Air Gunner School. From there, very disappointingly we’d done nothing for three days until the 1st of January when we was all called on parade and was instructed that we would be training as straight gunners. I was in a section of chaps who was posted to the satellite station at Rhoose which is now Cardiff Airport. Greatly changed these days. There we was in, put in classes of about ten or twelve chaps. My instructor was a Sergeant Walmsley who I, we had a photograph taken of the group in our little classroom. When we finally passed out as air gunners which was somewhere about April the same year, 1944.
[Recording paused]
I passed out as a sergeant air gunner in April if I remember right and from there we were sent on leave not knowing what initial training wing we were going to which turned out to be Moreton in the Marsh, Gloucestershire where we met up, or where I met up with some old pals I had been training with right throughout the, my service life and while waiting on Reading Station to travel to Moreton in the Marsh I spoke with a warrant officer who was going to the same station and apparently he was a pilot who had been flying high service ranking officer’s about the country and wanted a change and fly something much larger. So when we were at Moreton in the Marsh we were instructed to mix amongst all the other lads that had arrived there at the same time. Navigators, bomb aimers, wireless operators, pilots and Phil, this chap from Devonshire, the warrant officer, we palled up together straight away and I introduced Leslie, a lad I’d been with since leaving Sheerness to go, to start my training as a straight air gunner and introduced him to Phillip who eventually introduced us to a bomb aimer by the name of Yon Davies from Wales and Jock Munroe from Aberdeen who was a navigator. We had a nice long chat together and decided that we would form a crew together but we was minus a wireless operator which on the following day we had to parade again and while we was in the assembly hall Phillip notified the officer in charge that we, he was short of a wireless operator who then introduced us to Dougie, a chap from Yorkshire who was looking for a crew and we all shook hands and we were then classed as a crew which was the only all British crew on the course at the time. The remainders had New Zealand, Australian and South African pilots. From there we done a lot of landing, circuits and bumps. That’s the word. Circuits and bumps. Giving the pilot a chance to get used to the twin engine aircraft which was a Wellington and we done quite a lot of cross country running while we was there to keep fit and of course cross country flying where we done our, the gunners done their firing, air to air firing over the Irish Sea. We, we then moved on, having passed out as a crew from the Moreton in the Marsh we were posted to a place called Dishforth in Yorkshire near the city of Ripon. There we converted to four engine Halifax bombers which was rather exciting in a way because there was the first time I had my own turret. During our training at Stormy Down Les and myself used to take it in turns firing from the tail turret as there was only the one turret on the Wellington air craft. The turret was a Boulton Paul manufactured and being in the mid-upper I could see all the way around which was a marvellous experience for the first few times seeing that I could look in all directions, scanning the skies for other aircraft that were sent up for training purposes to help us identify various aircraft which was, we’d done a lot of of course at Stormy Down but it increased as we got into Moreton in the Marsh where we crewed. From there we finally passed out but not before we lost our wireless operator. Unfortunately, Dougie got into trouble while visiting Harrogate one night and we, before we left we contacted or we was introduced to a Canadian wireless operator/air gunner and we all agreed that we’d welcome him in to the crew which we did but in the conversation that took place while we was being introduced he told us that he’d operated on Marauders from Blackbushe Airport and I looked, I said nothing and after a while he enquired where we’d all come from so when he got around to me asking where I lived I asked him if he knew much about the area that he’d been stationed at at Blackpool er Blackbushe Airport and he mentioned that he’d used to go to the village of Hartley Wintney and drink in the Lamb Hotel and the Swan Hotel which made me smile and from then on he realised that I knew something about Hartley Wintney.
[Recording paused]
Our new member. His name, we called him Pacqi, Pacqie Pacquette but he was known as Pacqi. I can’t pronounce his proper name but not to worry. He turned out a good pal of all of us and he was very good at his job. And at times we, during training we changed positions and done each other’s jobs just for a few short while, time. Sometimes you’d, I’d go in the bomb aimer’s position just to get used to using the sight just in case of an accident while we was on operations and at one stage I actually took the controls of the Halifax which was a dual aircraft at the time and of course the skipper was there in readiness in case of rather sharp dives or anything but we, as a crew we melled together and it was quite a, good companions. Les, the gunner that I trained with right throughout and myself were, became very good pals and one weekend when we had a weekend pass we travelled down to Hartley Wintney together and Les met my parents and the family that was home at the time and we had quite a nice weekend together there but finally of course we was posted, had a posting come through for South Africa after we passed out as a full crew on conversion unit which was a Canadian unit at Dishforth. We were in, actually in line at the headquarters to get our passes to go to South, leave in Africa and we heard the voice on the tannoy to say that Pilot Officer Groves’ crew and two others that were there. I can’t remember the pilot’s names, to report back to the flight office as leave had been cancelled. Very disappointingly we walked back to the flight office and we were informed that we, that our posting had been changed and we were going to 102 squadron at a place called Pocklington, twelve miles from York, that same day. We would be replacing three crews that had experience that were being posted to South Africa where we were originally going to be posted to. Well, no leave so off we went. We got everything packed ready to go and the three crews were instructed to be ready to leave the squadron at 2 o’clock, if I remember right, on that same afternoon which was the 18th of August 1944 and on our journey by coach to Pocklington we arrived along the road, I can’t tell you the actual number of the road but as we were about to turn into the ‘drome we saw a Halifax bomber that had crashed in the field right opposite the ‘drome and we learned later that it had failed to take off but they were lucky nothing exploded and the bombs were still in the aircraft as we landed on, arrived at the aerodrome which wasn’t a very good sight for us. We weren’t very pleased about it. But I did fail to say that when we got to the, when we first got to the squadron my pilot, Warrant Officer Groves was, got his commission, was then Pilot Officer Groves who, for the first time had to go to his quarters and the, us NCOs to our quarters and the first time we’d been parted from that angle but everything turned out right and we settled into out billets taking over the beds of a crew that had failed to return the previous day.
[Recording paused]
DM: Ok.
FH: On the, as I said we arrived at the squadron on the 18th of August. Unfortunately our stay wasn’t too long but we’d done a few flights from there. I think we started on the 16th of August, just local flights landing and taking off and we done, was called, or we noticed our name on standing orders on the 3rd of September to go on our first bombing operation which turned out to be an airfield in Holland named Venlo. Venlo Airfield. Of course everything was new to us with regards the information we gained from the camp commander, the bomber, bomb aimer officer, navigation officer, the gunnery officer giving us instructions where the different gun emplacements were on our route but fortunately for us they were few and far between and our flight was quite straightforward although there was just a few puffs of flak exploding as we got near to the airfield but the bombing went straight and good. The pilot, not the pilot, the bomb aimer I should say, took photographs of the bombs exploding and on our return journey our wireless operator called up to get permission to land and we were diverted to an aerodrome in the Midlands, just close to Cambridge if I remember right. The name I’m afraid I forgot there, the actual aerodrome but it turned out to be an American ‘drome and when we arrived there the weather was as bad as it was at Pocklington but after three attempts the pilot said, ‘Well I must go in this time,’ he says, ‘We’re very short of fuel,’ and the Americans switched on the ground lights to give us assistance but unfortunately the weather was so bad we only got glimpses of the flare path and as the pilot went in so we realised there was a hangar coming towards us. I was sitting in the top turret and I could see this hangar coming towards us but fortunately the engines were cut and the aircraft came to a standstill rather abruptly but lucky enough everybody was safe and wasn’t hurt in anyway but once we got out of the aircraft and taken to the debriefing room of the American forces that were stationed there we were swore at by the Americans for making such a bad landing but it turned out they hadn’t given us any warning of the ground wind and as Phil went in so he was blown off the runway on to the grass and the Americans weren’t very happy and neither were we actually. Anyhow, we had a debrief, a short debriefing and then shown to our billets and from there we were taken to the dining room. We were all starving hungry by this time. Unfortunately for myself I didn’t enjoy the meal so much as the others. It was a whole partridge and vegetables. Having been instructed not to fly with dentures by the medical officer at 102 squadron I’d taken my dentures out and which gummed me and of course where the other lads were gnawing the bones I had a job to gnaw them. I cut some of the meat off and was able to eat that but with regards gnawing the bones which I could see my pals really enjoying I was absent from that part. But our stay there was, lasted a week which we were rather surprised about but one of the reasons why we weren’t allowed to land at Pocklington there was a hill, I understand, about eight hundred feet high, where we had to fly in over to make our approach and it just wasn’t safe to do so and apparently the weather was bad for a whole week there. We finally got back and again we had a severe debriefing, wanting to know exactly everything that happened from the time we took off ‘til we landed. We mentioned at the time during the debriefing of witnessing an American aircraft while we was at the American unit being flown by an officer, a Lightning aircraft, a twin boom one and he was doing a shoot up of the ‘drome as he’d finished his tour of duties apparently and was going to be posted home the following day but unfortunately he went too low, hit some cables and shot up in the air, ejected his seat and out he come but the plane crashed and we understand that he would have been promoted to a major on his return and would have to pay for the aircraft. How true that was we don’t know but knowing the Americans we took it along with us like you know. Anyhow, the following day, the, that was the 10th of September we returned to Pocklington. On the 11th of September our names were again on the list to go on the bombing trip that was scheduled to take place the following evening. When we arrived at the briefing rooms we sat down waiting for the senior officers to arrive and of course with one movement everybody stood up as the CO come in and we were told of our target and shown it on the map which had been covered by a sheet until the officers arrived, turned about, turned out to be Gelsenkirchen in the Ruhr and there was a load of, ‘Ahh’ because a number of the lads apparently had been there before and were very lucky to return. Anyhow, we each had our listen to the briefing and then we had our own section officer, like with Leslie and myself we had the chief gunnery officer of the squadron talking and warning us to be on lookout from the time we took off until we returned to the aerodrome as a lot of fighters used to return following the aircraft back to the stations especially if there was one crippled and as it goes in to land so they would attack and fly off again. Well the experience I had on that 11th of, on the 12th I should say, no, I beg your pardon, on the 11th of September was one I shall never never forget. We was miles away from the target and we could see this smoke in the, in the distance and as we got closer so the shells were bursting all around us and of course we was in formation going in to the target and it was just, the sky was full of black specks where the shells were exploding. The way I often explain it to people the sight was, visualising the modern day fireworks that’s, explodes with coloured lights and flares imagine that as being shells exploding all around you and that’s exactly how it was and while we was on the bombing run, the actual bombing run in the Pathfinders were telling, or giving instructions what to bomb. The red targets or the red flares and then a voice came over. ‘Number two take over. Number two take over. I’m going in. I’m going in.’ And everything went silent on the wireless and at the same time there’s planes at the side of us exploding, mass of flames. Oh it was horrible. We eventually got on course to come home which was a very pleasing one and the journey home was reasonable. We got rid of the flak and on our landing we taxied around to where our parking area was. The ground staff was there waiting for us and as we climbed out the aircraft they greeted us and we, as a crew, wandered around the aircraft and was amazed at the amount of holes we had in our fuselage. We, we wondered how lucky we’d been and as we got, looked up under the nose of the aircraft right where Taffy had been laying, his legs spread out, there was a hole in the bottom of the, where he’d been laying right up through the top and had gone right through between his two legs and out the top and he fell to the ground, Taffy did, and hands together and we all did the same and it was very quiet for a few minutes. We was all in prayer I assumed and we continued with looking around the aircraft with the ground staff and saying how lucky we’d been to return. And -
[Recording paused]
DM: Ok.
FH: We finally arrived at the tail of the aircraft and the transport was waiting for us to take us back for debriefing which, as a crew as we arrived we received our little tot of rum which went down really well. Apparently it’s a thing that happened each time a crew came back from a bombing raid, was given a tot of rum and debriefed which lasted quite a while and we explained to them as a, as a crew that we’d inspected our aircraft and it had quite a few holes and that in it and thought we were very lucky to arrive back on English soil. Anyhow, after that we had a nice evening meal and went to bed. I think we slept but it was a while before we went off if I remember right. Now, the next morning arrived and had our breakfast, had a look at the standing orders and there we were again down for the next bombing raid, which was our third. Two within two days and we all prayed, hoped and prayed that we wouldn’t be going back to the Ruhr which it turned out our target was a town called Munster in Germany and we were due to bomb the marshalling yards and if my memory is correct there was two hundred aircraft every half hour on the target, on numerous targets as well throughout Germany that day. Well our flight over Germany, the North Sea and Germany was quite usual with aircraft either side of us and we flew on and got close to the target when we got a few shells exploding quite close but, all these raids incidentally were done in daylight which I hadn’t mentioned before. So we could see what was happening in the skies to other aircraft but this particular day we didn’t see any damage to any aircraft. This was the 12th of September when all of a sudden I realised I was sitting in mid-air. There was no Perspex around me and I could just see my guns hanging over the tail turret and the ammunition across the, from the turret across to the tail of the aircraft. I guess I shook my head. I don’t know. And I realised that I was sitting in fresh air and had no guns to fire if I had to so I decided best to go up to, along with the pilot and sit with him which I got out of the aircraft seeing a big hole on the port side of the aircraft and the whole plane was full of flames and I saw one chap diving through the hole in the front so I picked up my ‘chute which was burning all across one corner of it. So by this time I guess I was losing oxygen and didn’t realise what I was doing and I can remember throwing it back on the floor, just standing there wondering what to do. With that, my saviour, Charlie the engineer, flight engineer saw me. He came running back, pulled me forward, picked up my ‘chute, I remember seeing his arm going across the ‘chute like this. He clipped it on and pushed me out but as I was going out I could see the pilot, white, his face was absolutely white and he was holding the stick back into his stomach trying to keep the plane on course I guess but that was the last I saw of him. As I went down in the parachute I don’t remember pulling the cord and I guess it was because the parachute was blown, blown to bits, or blown, the small auxiliary ‘chute was blown out and pulled out the main ‘chute which I think I went down rather quickly. I can’t honestly say how long it took me to come down but it didn’t appear to be in the air long but I do remember seeing a Spitfire circling around us who had been escorting, we had the Spitfire escort that day and that was the first I’d seen of them in actual fact but it must have come down within three hundred feet of the ground, flipped his wings and flew off again and I guess he was, he’d been circling to see how many parachutes had jumped out. I also witnessed this aircraft which I assume was ours make a belly landing in just one mass of flames. Make a belly, belly landing on the ground as though he was, he was just making a normal landing but it was just one mass of flames. With that I hit the ground and witnessed that there was a whole load of civilians and troops emerging on the area where I was about to land which turned out to be a field of sugar beet and away from buildings it was but there was a load of civilians but seeing a couple of soldiers I had no chance of escape I merely put up my hands and just stood there. With, with that they came and stripped off my parachute harness and was searched. Can you -
[Recording paused]
These Germans brushed their arms all over me. Made sure I didn’t have a pistol or anything with me and indicated that I had to pick up my parachute and being the size it was it was rather a armful to carry and I indicated to walk across the field and these two chaps was following me. Well we come to a barbed wire fence so one of the Germans put his foot on the barbed wire and held it down, indicated for me to crawl under and believe me that was quite a task with the silk parachute all rolled up and trying to get through which actually brought a smile to my face for just a moment. Being an English gentleman as I thought I stopped the other side to give them a chance to get through but that was the last time I stopped until I had to climb aboard a coach out on the road because one of the guards put his jackboot right where it hurts and believe me that did hurt and it lasted for several days. I just kept walking. Put into this coach which was parked alongside the side of the road and there I had a strip search, naked, everything, put on and then I was told to dress or indicated to put my clothes back on but of course my flying suit and all that kind of thing was pushed to the back of the coach somewhere. I didn’t see that again. It was only a few minutes before I saw Charlie, the one that had pushed me out the aircraft coming towards us and he was come in to the coach and we went, went -
[Phone ringing. Recording paused]
Yeah Charlie went to get on the coach we went to shake hands with each other but that didn’t last and we didn’t really shake hands because my guard, one of my guards hit me across the wrist with his, with the butt of his rifle and Charlie just looked at me. He had scratches on his face which were bleeding a bit. Nothing too severe and he had the same treatment as I did. A strip search and we weren’t allowed to talk to each other. He sat in the middle of the bus and we was about to move off when Taffy turned up, the bomb aimer, with his two, couple of guards. We didn’t shake hands knowing that we’d get another hit across the wrist and he was searched and put in the back of the bus and we were then driven to some army quarters which we assumed was a local barracks. There we were put into a big dining hall or assembly hall and facing a door. Charlie was on the left hand side of Taffy, Taffy in the middle and I was on his right and we stood there for a number of minutes. We couldn’t talk because being warned that microphones or things might have ears, and they’d listen to what we were saying. All of a sudden the door opened and a big tall German officer stood in the doorway. Taffy started falling, falling forwards and we grabbed him, both of us so that he wouldn’t fall and the voice said, ‘It’s alright Taffy,’ and he raised his hand. He said, ‘It’s alright Taffy. The war for you is over.’ And nobody said anything and Taffy was by this time standing upright again and the chap disappeared and we never saw him again. We were eventually marched out from the building all along the canal bank or at least it was a towpath. I assumed it was the canal or a river and to our left the houses were all burning and people shouting and screaming. We were being hit with pitchforks and broom handles all across the backs and the two guards were trying to protect us from them which they did and we were very grateful actually to them for that and we finally got to these, some more barracks. We assumed they were barracks and -
[Phone ringing. Recording paused]
FH: Yeah. We eventually arrived in some army barracks and were put in to a cell, the three of us together and there was only one bench along one wall which we sat on looking at each other and not saying anything, the fear of perhaps a microphone being placed and we just sat there. We eventually had a cup of very black coffee brought in to us and the following morning, oh we spent the night sitting on this bench trying to sleep but I don’t think we got much. Anyhow, the following morning we were brought in a slice of black bread which was horrible but later on we got used to eating it and it wasn’t bad but the first bite was ugh we didn’t like it at all.
DM: I have to just ask did you have your teeth with you? Did you have your -?
FH: No.
DM: You didn’t. No.
FH: No. No teeth and during that day or later in the day we had another cup of coffee brought in and one of the guards, the chap that came in spoke English and we had a conversation and he said, ‘We, we shouldn’t be fighting each other. We should be fighting the Russians together.’ Anyhow, we didn’t see any more of him and the following day, the following morning we were, we started our journey to Dulag Luft which is the main interrogation centre for air crew. It was quite a long train journey. I can’t remember the exact days it took us but it was, as we got on the way one guard that Taffy was sitting with went to sleep and the other one soon nodded off and Charlie was close to the guard, saying nothing to anybody just fiddled about and took the revolver or Luger out from the holster of the German’s strap he had around his waist, looked at the Luger and there was no bullets in it. A little relief but nothing, no words were spoken and we, I don’t know to this day what made Charlie do it or why. He, nothing was ever said about it afterwards. Anyhow, we arrived at Dulag Luft and that was the first time that we’d been separated and we were actually on our own. How close we were to each other in the cells I don’t know but it was a very strange feeling being alone in a foreign country not knowing anybody or be able to speak to anybody. After a while a Yankee voice was, I heard as though he was coming from the next building, next room and he said he had a gangrene foot and was calling the Germans all names but I didn’t answer because it could have been a stooge you know. We’d been warned so many times about these things that took place but anyhow finally after, I don’t know, I think I was in Dulag Luft about a fortnight but most of the time spent on my own in this cell being tortured as I put it because right next door was the loos and if one wanted to use them they had to drop an arm, pull a little cord and the arm would drop down outside and warn the guards that was up and down the passageway that they, they were needed. Now arriving in the loo the tap was dripping and I went to get a drink and wash my hands, sent away. You weren’t allowed to wash your hands after using the toilets or have a drink and believe me that was real torture that tap dripping day and night, day and night. It was horrible. Anyhow, eventually I was called out and taken outside of the building along what I call a, it was a pathway along the edge of a parade ground and then they took me down, down some stairs and in this room which was quite a large one underground and it had doors all the way along which I assumed was individual cells and I had to stand in the doorway of one of these that was open and in front of me there was a clock and two German officers come through, stood in front of me, one with a Luger and the other started asking questions and asking where, what happened on the squadron before I left and about the briefing and how many aircraft was taking off. All that kind of thing. I didn’t answer. Just my rank and name which annoyed them and they kept pressing this lever on the Luger, the chap did, which I assumed was the safety, safety lever and I was three quarters of an hour I was standing there thinking, ‘Well, why don’t you pull it?’ At the same time thinking in my own mind nobody knows whether you’re alive or dead. So what. And I remember that even now I can see, see myself in that room. But eventually they said, ‘You’re too young to die now Sergeant Hooker. Go back to your cell.’ And it was quite a relief actually to walk back in to a cell and be on my own. Funny thing to say and think no doubt but that’s what it was. Anyhow, the following morning the door opened and I was marched out again. This time to an office a few doors along. ‘Oh good morning Sergeant Hooker. Have a cigarette.’ ‘No thank you.’ ‘Take a seat.’ ‘No thank you. I’ll stand.’ ‘Please yourself.’ We had been warned that this kind of thing again took place and he started asking questions again eventually ringing a bell and another chap came in with a book and he started flicking through the pages of this book and in the end he’d flicked through the pages and named every place I’d been to from the squadron backwards to when I joined up. Even naming Dipley as the place I was born which I was absolutely flabbergasted with and I thought well none of my crew knew I was born in Dipley. They knew I’d lived in Hartley Wintney but didn’t actually know I was born in the hamlet of Dipley so I thought well they can’t have spoken and told the Germans. Anyhow, he said, ‘You see sergeant we know all about you so what’s the point in killing you? You’d better go back to your cell and we’ll send you with others to a main prison camp.’ Can you for a minute.
[Recording paused]
FH: Yeah. We was, I was sent back to my cell a little relieved. Still not knowing how long I was going to be in this cell on my own. Was brought in some food. Another slice of this dark bread and coffee. The following morning the door opened, ‘Come out. You’re moving.’ And as I walked down the passageway so I could see the rest of my crew and several other chaps.
DM: When you say the rest of your crew -
FH: Well when I, yeah -
DM: How many survived? How many?
FH: I say and the rest of my crew that survived the aircraft. Unfortunately my pilot and my very good friend Leslie, the tail gunner didn’t survive the aircraft when it crashed but it was a pleasure to see then the rest of the crew and these two strangers who seemed to be on their own. They palled up together and stood together and Charlie and myself spoke with them. One was a flight engineer and the other one was a sergeant and we was all put on a train to go to a camp called Bankau in Poland which at the time we didn’t realise was in Poland. We was told we was going to Luft 7 and, which took several days train journey with no food but Charlie and myself spoke with Frank Meade the engineer and the tail gunner Tommy Beech and we stayed pals right throughout our prison life actually and when we finally arrived at Bankau we were walked from the station to the camp and there was this barbed wire fence right the way around. We could see, it seemed to be for miles but inside all we could see at first was a load of garden sheds. Rows and rows of them. And after being photographed and I think we had a couple of photographs taken which was, turned out to be for identity cards we were informed afterwards and then waiting outside for I’d say about a half hour we were eventually allowed into these, amongst these huts which held about six or eight people and no, no windows in the huts if I remember right but we was, had to sleep on the floor in these huts or sheds as we called them, garden sheds but fortunately Charlie and myself managed to stay together and Frank and Tommy they were in the same shed which, we didn’t get much sleep at night because first one wanted to use the loo which was the old drop of the arm again. Sometimes the guards would take notice of it and sometimes they’d make you wait and anyhow eventually a number of weeks after we were put in to proper billets as we called them. They were huts similar to the English military huts with, divided in to rooms and each room catered for eight, eight chaps. We lost touch, Charlie and I lost touch with our bomb aimer, navigator and wireless operator in this time and, but Frank and Tommy stayed with us and we had two tiered bunks so Charlie and I was on one bunk and the rest of them, there was a New Zealand pilot, two Canadians. What was the other one? Two Canadians, a New Zealand pilot, I forget who the, what the other one was and the four of us but anyway we, we got on very very well together and after a day or so we decided to, that whatever rations we got from the Germans we’d put, would pool into one bowl ‘cause we each had a, been given a small bowl and a knife and fork, or fork and spoon I think it was so that we could eat our soup which was rather a mixture. Sometimes it would be what we called whispering grass. It looked like grass been boiled up. Another time it was cheese which tasted of fish and as you bit it it was like chewing gum as you pulled it out your mouth to break it along with a slice of their dark bread but anyway we decided share it and the Red Cross parcels which we had very few of but sometimes we had a whole parcel for oneself which was very rare. Normally one parcel between four and it was all pooled and shared out evenly and we made quite decent little meals from the tins of meat and mashed potato but had we had our own parcel we felt that we’d open a tin of meat, everybody would open a tin of meat and just eat that whereas if we shared it we’d have a slice or two of meat, a bit of potato or dried egg mixed up. We thought it would work out better, the rations. Which in our opinion it did and we was quite pleased and we, the eight of us got on very well together. The times, day time there was a mass of people marching or walking all the way around the perimeter track for exercise. It was quite a sight. Some in clothing that had been issued, I forgot to say that we went to a transit camp first before going on to the main camp where we were, had a good shower and a good meal and issue of a Red Cross case which contained clothes. Fresh new underwear, pullovers, socks etcetera cigarettes and we shared this food all together when we was in Bankau but the, pardon me. During the daytime we used to walk all the way around the perimeter track for exercise and perhaps meet up with strangers and have a chat and because we were free to speak there although there were guards patrolling around the inside of the camp but you kept your eye open you could talk freely and it was during this time that we discovered from Charlie, no, not Charlie, from Taffy our bomb aimer how he knew this chap that stood in the doorway and spoke and apparently in 1938 he was working with, in a factory in South Wales with Taffy and they got on well together apparently and not knowing that he was a German, in early part of ‘39 he left to take up a job in Cambridge which they thought nothing more about you know. One moved on in their life. He had no idea he was a German until he saw him standing in that doorway which you know absolutely shocked him and he couldn’t explain any more about it, you know. But that was one big shock to all three of us actually that day. Walking around as I say for entertainment and exercise was something we done each day besides perhaps playing a game of cards which we did manage to get hold of a packet of cards, playing cards, when we was in the room but failing that life was quite boring until in the early part of, well until the Christmas time, I suppose, 1944 being our first Christmas in the camp we all thought of Christmas at home, Christmas puddings etcetera so we decided to have our own Christmas pudding which what we done we saved the crusts off the bread each day for several days so we just ate the bread. We saved the stones from the prunes that was in the Red Cross parcels. We cracked them open and cut up the kernels, we cut up the dried fruit that was in the parcel as well and the prunes, a few prunes, mixed it with the dried milk powder and margarine. A little bit of cheese was put in to it and margarine and it was all mixed up together and we had a what we called a blower stove which was made up out of empty tins and another tin with a little bit of fuel in which, wood shavings or whatever we could find and we turned the handle and turned a fan, make a fan, blow the flames and we cooked this concoction up for quite a while and it turned out to be very solid so when it was emptied out the tin it was just a solid lump of mixture but the taste was beautiful. We each had a couple of slices, each of the eight of us and we had a cream which we made out of the klim, klim milk, dried milk, mixed it all up and it was delicious and we celebrated our first Christmas away from home as you might say, with this pudding. It was delicious. It really was.
[Recording paused]
FH: After that of course or during that time we could hear gunfire in the distance which we assumed was the Russians advancing on the German line because we, there was a radio in the camp unbeknown to Germans of course and we were kept up to date with what was going on with the war and a chap used to come around and everybody was on guard, you know, different schemes each day to, so the Germans didn’t know anything about it you know and little messages were read out to groups of people of what was happening in the war but eventually we were informed that we were being moved out from the camp so the Russians wouldn’t, wouldn’t kills us and the Germans would look after us, with a smile from everybody. But the first time we was ordered out on parade I think it was, I’m not sure if it was the 17th or 18th of January but we stood on the parade from 3 o’clock in the morning for several hours in the snow and blizzard just with the, we had two blankets which we had in the hut which were wrapped around us trying to keep us warm and we had our little Red Cross cases with a little bit of food in that we’d shared out when we knew we were on the move and the clothing we, we had on, you know. A couple of pullovers and a couple of pairs of socks and that kind of thing. But anyhow on the 19th of January we were called out again early in the morning and I think it was about 8 o’clock, I’m not too sure, we were started out on this forced march. The Germans not even knowing where they were taking us. Just told to march in a certain direction. Then of course the march didn’t last long. It was just an amble of walking both by the German guards and ourselves and we was put in to an old brickyard to have a rest later in the day and we managed to find somewhere to sleep, the four of us, that’s Charlie, myself, Frank and Tommy and we covered ourselves with the blankets to keep warm. 8 o’clock in the evening we were ordered to get up, go on a night march which wasn’t very pleasing and we sort of hung about in the brickyard and most of the chaps had gone by this time out on the road and something made one of us move some pallets that were stacked up. We don’t know why. Nobody said anything but we all crept in behind these pallets and pulled them back in position thinking we wouldn’t be found but unfortunately a sniffer dog with a guard just saw the pallets move, apparently. We learned this afterwards and so the guard pulled them out and out we had to go. Fortunately the dog was kept away from us and we were just ordered out whereas he could have shot us there and then but at that time the hundred and, what was there, twelve hundred chaps that had left the previous camp were out, all lined up and we were marched to the front of the queue or almost to the front of the queue where the leaders of the Germans and the leaders of the camp were all standing ready to move off which was, turned out to be a very terrible night for us. We marched and marched and the snow seemed to get deeper and deeper. Eventually we were actually up to our waist in snow trying to get through it and of course the marching had ceased by that time, we, it was just an amble and people was passing and others were trying to get in, you know in to the walkway that the leaders were making. Had a photograph been taken I would have loved to have had one of it but no and during the night we were informed through the, and seemed to go right through the whole column of men that if we didn’t get over the river Oder by 8 o’clock in the morning we’d be left to the mercy of the Russians and how this came about I don’t know but we, we got the message and by this time loads of people were in front of us and we, all of a sudden the four of us woke up sitting on our cases. Nobody else in sight. What happened I don’t know but we must have sat down for a rest and everybody else had passed by and of course by this time the snow was flat as a pancake where twelve hundred people had gone over it, you know and who came around first or who moved first I don’t know. I don’t think either of us did but we eventually I remember all four of us standing there. I can see them now or see us now there. Standing. Looking. And we just took over, we, while we was in the brickyard we’d broken up a ladder and made a little sledge several, which several other chaps had a part of and put our cases on and we was pulling it along which helped us as we all linked arms, the four of us walking along you might say like kids linking arms and we had this sledge pulling our four cases on. Anyway, eventually, how many hours after I don’t know but eventually we caught up with the tail end of the -

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Citation

David Meanwell, “Interview with Fred Hooker,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed September 26, 2020, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/8785.

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