Interview with Ron Wade

Title

Interview with Ron Wade

Description

Ron was born in Stoke-on-Trent. He left school at fourteen and tells of his experiences working in a pottery factory doing odd jobs until he was called up. He joined the Royal Air Force in 1939 at the age of twenty-two. Ron trained as an air gunner at RAF Morecambe after initially wanting to be selected for pilot training. He completed his air gunner training in South Wales at the end of the Battle of Britain - he tells of being strafed by a Junkers 88 and the damage that was inflicted to the Nissen huts. Ron flew the Whitley, which he did not enjoy. He then went to an Operational Training Unit at RAF Abingdon before moving to 58 Squadron based at RAF Linton on Ouse. Ron tells of being forced to bail out in 1941 after his Whitley was attacked by two German fighters over the the Netherlands. He did not remember that much since ammunition was exploding and a bullet hit him in the back of the head, leaving him with memory, taste and smell impairment. Ron also tells of his first interrogation by a German officer and how his humour nearly causing trouble at the at Cologne railway station. He was transferred to Stalag Luft I and then to Stalag Luft III. Ron tried a few times to escape but was discovered every time - he also details the death of his close friend during one attempt. Ron was eventually transferred to Stalag Luft VI (Heydekrug, Lithuania) which was his last camp before the end of the war. However, with the end looming, Ron was then forced to go on the long march. He then tells of some of his memories of the event, including being strafed by British fighters. Ron was freed when the British Army 10th Hussars caught up with the group near Lubeck, and he tells the story of his homecoming in May 1945.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2015-07-26

Contributor

Vivienne Tincombe

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

01:44:54 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

AWadeR150726, PWadeR1503

Temporal Coverage

Transcription

AM: Okay, so this interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Annie Moody, and the interviewee is Ron Wade, and the interview is taking place at Mr Wade’s home in, near Cheltenham at Bishops Cleve on the 26th July 2015. So, Ron, if you just may be start off with just a little bit about your background, about your school days and what your parents did? Off you go.
RW: All right now, it’s switched off
AM: [Laughs]. Okay, so off you go Ron.
RW: Right. What do you want first?
AM: Well just tell me a little bit about your, what your parents did, and school days, where you were born, just a little bit of background about you.
RW: Yes, right, I was, you’ve got the date I was born.
AM: I have.
RW: And um, my parents, I was one of four children, I had two sisters and a brother. Unfortunately my brother was killed during the war, not on operations, but he, after I was shot down, he was working for the gas company and he would have been, um, he needn’t have joined, let’s put it that way, but er, because I was missing believed killed for six months and he said, ‘they’ve got Ron, I’m going to take his place’, and he joined the RAF. He was coming home on his birthday, 1943, on a motorcycle, and I was the motorcyclist in the family and taking risks a place, he hit a lorry and was killed outright, and so my parents had a rough time because I was, they thought I was, I was injured they didn’t know how badly and so um, they had a rough time.
AM: They must have done, yeah. What did your parents do Ron?
RW: My father was, they had a grocery shop at the time, but before the war my father was a Master Grocer and he was made redundant by the person he worked for it as a, I was born. Let’s start off where I was born. I was born in Stoke-on-Trent and Longton was the name of the one of the six towns, not five towns, they forgot Fenton, and so, um my, that was my father, he was a Master Grocer and those days, when he was younger, to be a Master Grocer was quite a trade. And so um, he, my mother worked in the Potteries in Longton where most of the china was produced and Ainsley and all the top china work, and she was a Paintress, a freehand Paintress, and er, the, also my sister, one of my sisters was also a paint, a freehand Paintress on pottery.
AM: Where did you go to school?
RW: I went to school at Woodhouse, it was called Woodhouse and er, an Elementary School. I wasn’t very good [laughs] at maths but I enjoyed school, but when came the age of fourteen, in those days you had to pay to go to Grammar School. We couldn’t afford that, so at the age of fourteen I was kicked out and I left, and so um, I wandered around trying to get a job. If you think, this was in the thirties and a lot of unemployment and so I was told to go and get a job. So I got a job in a factory at Longton and it was a bit rough because I had to, as a warehouse boy, I was paid five shillings a week and one of my jobs was to scrub the floors, light a fire under a heater in the factory so they could bring their food and put it on the top to heat it up for lunch. If I was late getting all that done, I was in dead trouble [laughs], but scrubbing the floors, it was so the one floor from downstairs, the ovens, we had two big ovens, one gloss and one biscuit, that we called biscuit ovens, [coughs] and then after a while the former warehouse boy he er, he worked in the moulding, he became a moulder in the moulding shop, and he said, ‘have they got on to you yet about moving from here?’ and at that time, I was scrubbing the floors with a scrubbing brush, cold water, down the steps, all wood, wooden steps, cleaning the steps going down there [laughs]. And so and er, then the crunch came when they said ‘right, pack it in, you go downstairs and help unloading from the ovens’ and what happened, it was, they’d be firing and then they used to open up after the firing, take all the bricks away from the entrance and then for twelve hours it would be cooling off. And then they got me with the others, the people unloading right from the top of the ladders and they brought it down and it was still very, very hot ware and then they got me with the others, carrying ware like dinner plates, [laughs], carrying from the oven. Up the stairs, two flights of stairs, along the corridor, which I had to clean [laughs] and into the warehouse, where the women were and they unloaded from the baskets. And one day, I was going up with a basket full of cups and saucers, and I used to carry them on my shoulder, basket on my shoulder and one hand on my hip, going up the same flight of stairs and I caught a water pipe that was sticking out from the stairs, just caught the basket and I had a choice. Shall I go down with the basket [laughs] or try and retrieve what I could, but I decided to let the basket go [laughs] and save myself.
AM: Save yourself.
RW: And there the ugly manager, who was one of the bosses sons stood at the bottom, with his hands on his hips and he saw, he saw all the ware down there, all smashed, and he said, ‘I’ll stop that out of your wages’ [laughs].
AM: And did they?
RW: No, no, they’d have been forever [laughs].
AM: I was going to say wages probably wouldn’t have been enough, would they?
RW: No [laughs] so that was that.
AM: So that was your introduction to work.
RW: My introduction to work.
AM: What about the RAF, how did you come to join the RAF?
RW: The RAF yes - what happened there?
AM: What made you want to join?
RW: From there, I went, I had several other jobs you know, trying to make a living in the 1930’s, wasn’t easy, and I walked around for miles getting jobs for five shillings a week. And then I was always interested in the RAF and I wanted to fly and so I went to join up when the war started and er, they said, ‘no, no’. I said ‘I want to be a pilot’, because my uncle had been a pilot and been killed, and um, but I always, right from a tiny child, wanted to fly, I wanted to be a pilot, and so they said ‘no, we have enough pilots’, and um, my maths wouldn’t have been good enough anyway.
AM: This was right at the beginning of the war, 1939?
RW: Oh yes, the beginning of the war, when the war started.
AM: So you would be twenty two?
RW: Twenty two, that’s right and I had been married. I made the mistake of getting married, and er, anyway I had a daughter by that marriage and she is now ninety seven, eighty seven, sorry, and amazingly enough, she visits me, she stills lives near Stoke-on-Trent.
AM: Yes, excellent.
RW: And she comes now and then to visit. I, then, that’s right, oh they said, ‘if you want to go into aircrew, if you want to fly, we can offer you the um’, what shall I say, oh yes, ‘offer you the way you can get into aircrew and you can be the wireless operator, and then from wireless operator, you would be an air gunner. That’s the only thing we can offer you if you want to fly’, and so this is what happened. I joined up, I was called up and I offered my services then, and I was called up in January 1940 and I did my ITW in Morecambe, sent to Morecambe, and that was quite an experience, because we all walked down the street in Morecambe and they said, ‘you eight in that house, you eight in the next house’, and so this went on and as we were allocated this one house and the dear lady, who was the boss of the house, she was coming downstairs and we were just coming into the house, into the hall and she said, ‘I didn’t want you here, I’ve had enough with guests through the summer’, [laughs] and so that was our introduction to this place. She wouldn’t let us use the lounge, we had a little room at the back and then they had a kitchen, where we were allowed in, but not the lounge [laughs], and I wasn’t very popular with her because I didn’t like her attitude, and she said we had to be in at ten o’clock at night and so one of us used to stay around, say like if we went to a dance, you see, and so this is what we did and er, we made it enjoyable. I think the pranks we got up to such as I cut out a skull and crossbones and put it in the light that it shone, the light shone through the skull and crossbones [laughs]. They had um, a, a bit of a showcase in there and I saw er, a cup in there, I thought, the old man, poor devil, he was really under the thumb with the old girl, and I saw a cup in there, an inscribed cup and I thought, marvellous, he must have been a runner or something like that, and so when I examined the cup, fortunately the door wasn’t locked on the showcase, and I was disgusted to see that it was for mineral waters [laughs]. The cup was given for being very good with his mineral waters, and so what happened there was, I filled it with cold tea [laughs]and I wasn’t very popular at all.
AM: No.
RW: We were allowed to go upstairs to our rooms, she complained about, about the rifles, we all had our the Enfield rifles.
AM: Because you were square bashing?
RW: That’s right, yes, up and down the streets, and so um, she complained because we put our rifles in the umbrella stand in the hall, so she said, ‘no, they must go upstairs and under your beds’, so fair enough, this is what we did. But at ten o’clock in the mornings, we had to get up early, but at ten o’clock we had a tea break and so we all, the whistle went and we all had to fall outside in the street and er, the old boy had to make the tea, you see. By the time he’d made the tea for the eight of us, the whistle went again [laughs] so we had to form up outside again, and er, also the rifles had to keep going upstairs under the beds [laughs], so by the time we had done all these things, then we were going to be late on parade so that’s fair enough we managed it.
AM: Oh good.
RW: Yes, and then we were eventually, we were called by the CO, we had to go, we were called into the CO’s Office in Morecambe and – left, right, left ,right, halt - and er, we stood, the eight of us there, and we stood in front of the CO, and he had his bits of paper on his desk and he said ‘which one of you is Wade?’, so - left, right, left, right, halt - ‘Right, I’ve had complaints from your landlady’, and er, he read out all these different things that I had done in the house. And then I tried to explain, I said ‘I’m guilty of what she said, but it’s very difficult to go up and down the stairs in our boots and not make a noise’, that was one thing that she went on about, and the other thing was that she had to take up the stair carpet and so we were making more noise going up and down the stairs and this went on for a while, but the CO, ‘well, you won’t be here for very much longer’, which we weren’t fortunately, but next door they had a marvellous time, the eight in there, and they were allowed into the lounge and they had a piano, and the pianist there, I’m trying to think of his name - Ronnie, Ronnie, but he played at the BBC and er, his friend ran the Squadronaires.
AM: Right.
RW: I forget his name now, they were a nice couple of guys, and they also were able to fraternise with the two daughters [laughs] so they were unhappy to leave Morecambe [laughs]. Anyway we went from Morecambe up to um, to do the wireless course, wireless operators and er, so as I say I joined in January and when I went to Swanton Morley, no, not Swanton Morley, I’m trying to think of the name of the place we went to now.
AM: No, never mind
RW: It’ll come, and um, that’s right, and so I started a course there as a wireless operator and er, I did quite a few months there, doing Morse. Very difficult, very difficult and I was very happy to leave there [laughs].
AM: Did you pass?
RW: I passed, yes, we had to, and from there I was interviewed, now I was hoping they were putting me onto a pilots course [coughs] and I was interviewed by a group, and they were ex pilots from the First World War and um, as I sat there they were asking questions, ‘why did I want to fly?’ and I said ‘I’ve always wanted to fly since, I, since being very small’ and so er, I thought I am going to get my course as a pilot. But the one question one of these old boys threw at me was, ‘what would your feelings or attitude be, if you fired at a German and you saw his face disintegrate due to your bullets?’ I said ‘bloody good show, that’s what I joined for’ and so [laughs], and they all looked at me, you know, ‘who’s this crazy guy we’ve got here’ [laughs] and so that went on, and I thought, oh no, they’re going to put me on a pilots course. ‘No’, they said, ‘no, you will be an air gunner’. So I went down to South Wales and did an air gunner’s course there and this is just about the end of the Battle of Britain, and er, we were being bombed and shot up every day and night there, and er, and I was chased down the runway one day by a Junkers 88 and I managed [laughs], the bullets were going all around me and I got behind a sand bin and they came through the sand, the bullets from this 88 and then the hut, the hut we were in the, the normal RAF Huts.
AM: Nissen Huts.
RW: Yes, that’s right, all wood, and er, one day they bombed and destroyed the one each side of ours then we had to lie down flat as they strafed us, the bullet holes through the hut, through the wood.
AM: And this was at training camp in South Wales?
RW: In South Wales, yes, day and night. We weren’t allowed, as air crew, we weren’t allowed to sleep in the huts so we had to go out in the field and within tents and sleep outside, and there again, I was a bit crazy and I slept behind the beds. I put my mattress down there and then I thought ‘what’s it going to be?’ and my DRO’s, one of our men, was killed because he didn’t get in the tents, so I was turfed out of there and I had to go into a tent and er, that was the end of the Battle of Britain.
AM: Of the Battle of Britain.
RW: Yes.
AM: What was the training like Ron, the air gunner training?
RW: Oh it was intense, very intense and we had, had er, we had the um, Fairey Battles, Whitley’s 1’s and 3’s which were, they were pretty awful things this is why they had, and the Whitley 5’s we finished up on, they were also rubbish, [laughs] sorry to say. And um, as I said training had to be intense because we were the only ones carrying the war to the Germans, Bomber Command, and so from there other things happened you know, I was lucky to get away with we were, because they were bombing night and day.
AM: Because of the bombing?
RW: And so er, from there I went to OTU at Abingdon.
AM: Abingdon, Oxfordshire.
RW: That’s right, Abingdon, and er, that was very intense. We had very few hours off and because we were needed, and so from there a very good friend of mine, he was a pilot doing his training too and we were formed up into fives.
AM: So it was five, there were five of you in your group?
RW: Five in a group.
AM: This was for a Whitley?
RW: Whitley 5, yes, and er, Mac was his name, MacGregor Cheers and I’ve got it in my book, and he didn’t want to be a pilot, he wasn’t happy training as a pilot, poor Mac. There was me, I wanted to be a pilot and he would have rather, rather been an air gunner but it didn’t work out that way.
AM: How did you get together as a crew?
RW: Oh there we er, we had, later on when we got to the squadron, I moved on to 58 Squadron er, from training and um, this, our CO there, he said ‘I’ve been having too many complaints from you, from all air crew about the Whitley’, and we said ‘we’d rather be on the Wimpeys’, you know the Wimpey?
AM: I don’t know the Wimpey.
RW: Yes, the Wimpey was the one, I’m trying to think of it now, the Wimpey. We were on the Whitleys, I was flying on the Whitleys, this was the, this will probably tell you in the book there [looks through the book].
AM: I can’t find it, never mind it doesn’t matter.
RW: Anyway, we’ll find it yes. It’s my age [laughs].
AM: You’re allowed [laughs].
RW: And so we said we’d rather be on different aircraft, we didn’t like Whitleys, and he said, ‘anymore complaints and you’ll be off flying, you’ll be grounded’, he said ‘you fly in this and it’s a very good aircraft and you have to fly it’.
AM: Where was 58 Squadron based then, at that point?
RW: We were at Linton on Ouse.
AM: Okay.
RW: And that is where we had to form up and choose the crew, choose the fives, and er, it was very good, very good. And, oh yes, when I arrived there, our flight commander came through the hangar, I came from one door and he came through the other door, flight lieutenant, and um, he said ‘my god, we are glad to see you’, he said, ‘we had a rough night on Berlin last night and we had one aircraft left in our flight’. So he said, ‘come and meet the lads’, so off I went in the crew room and er, I met the lads and er, he said ‘right, this is Ron, Ron Wade, and er, he wants a cup of coffee. What do you want, tea or coffee? Who’s on making coffee?’, ‘Oh, I did it yesterday’, ‘now make him a cuppa, whatever he wants’, so I met the lads that way. But er, how we formed up in a crew we went into flying control and into the room there and all milling around meeting each other, formally or informally and this is where we formed up, and er, I was very lucky guy. I had a lucky war really because my original crew, I was taken off, we did two trips, two trips, I forget where it was now, but they said, ‘right that’s me softened up so you are being replaced by this Graham (I think his name was), Graham, because he ditched in the sea and he has been on leave for a couple of months, but he will be taking your place’, then last heard of, they came down in the sea, so this Graham had two trips, two operations both into the sea and the second time they weren’t recovered, so I was very lucky there, but I said to Amy, ‘how must his parents have felt?’
AM: Yes
RW: Because I think of him now, taking my place I had through good luck and he had the bad luck. My folks had the bad luck with my brother being killed and me being [unclear] after six months they thought I’d been killed.
AM: So just wheeling back a bit.
RW: Yes.
AM: So you didn’t, you were taken off that crew and then, presumably, put with another crew?
RW: Yes
AM: And did some more operations?
RW: Yes, with another crew, and then I was waiting to get on another crew and er, it was rather boring because I was sweeping, I was cleaning the snooker table and I got very good at snooker, and I was waiting and then I had several attempts to go on ops but something happened every time. And then on a Whitley 5, they um, they had a lot of what you call exacter trouble. If they snatched too hard then it would go fully fine and we would have to turn back and so er, this happened, different things happened and I didn’t get, because I had, I just, oh yes, what happened, from the trip before, it had been a bit hairy, got a few holes in it and er, I had a premonition from that, that as we were coming into land, I saw the runway and I thought I won’t see this again, I’m going to be killed. Strange feeling, it was a very, very, it, it and I knew I was going to be killed, strangely enough and I wanted to get this trip over, the next trip over, all my crew who were going to be my crew were on leave and I should have waited to come back but this is on January, January 8th I think, I think it’s in there, the book. Oh yes, my roommate, I won’t mention his name, but he came back from leave and he said that he was tired, he knew what the trip was going to be, it was a tough one, Konigsburg, and er, the CO said, ‘there are two fighter areas’, so he said, ‘keep North and be very wary because of the fighters’, and I knew that it was going to be tough because of so many things going on there. And so er, I volunteered for this, and he said that he was tired so the sawbones gave him a pill and told him to go to bed, so I volunteered, do you want to go to bed because always a thing come back, leave, he had a tough one, crew didn’t make it, we were losing so many in those days. And so off with his name, on with mine, just the [unclear] they wanted and er, I thought, I’m going to get it over with, and so off we went and this is when we were in Holland, North Holland, and then we had, they hit the port engine and we set on fire.
AM: Where? On the way to drop your bombs?
RW: Yes.
AM: On the way there.
RW: On the way there, yes, and er, we thought we were going to come down in the North Sea, we were going over the North Sea at the time, and January you didn’t live very long in the North Sea, and so we thought, that’s it, and all the rest of the crew were aged nineteen and I was the oldest.
AM: You were an old boy, twenty three?
RW: Twenty three, yes, and so um, the navigator said, ‘I don’t think we’ll make it, we are not going to make Holland’ and so the skipper said, ‘right I don’t know what you are going to do, but it’s no use coming down, we’ll have to go down into the sea and about five minutes that will be it because Whitley’s didn’t swim very well’ [laughs]. And so I was in the, I was flying as a rear gunner at the time, operating as a rear gunner, and by the way before that I had done a trip from um, the, when I was at OUT, I’d been, I was on a crew, going, dropping leaflets over Italy. We had a trip to Turin and it’s in the book there and dropping leaflets and we were attacked by two fighters and I told the pilot to do this um, manoeuvre to get away from them and um, then when we came up again, they fired at us and then I had the new Brownings, four of them, and they really did damage because I fired at them and then they turned and smoke poured from both of them and they retreated and went back. I didn’t know if they went down or not but they weren’t happy, and so that was an earlier.
AM: So that was Italy,
RW: And I was going to tell you.
AM: So now, now you’re on your way to Holland?
RW: That’s right on operations, I’d gone from there and I had a photograph taken by picture post in the turret, in the rear turret, showing off these new Brownings , and er, yes, so back to the squadron, on our way to Wilhelmshaven and then we were hit and I thought that’s it, this is my premonition coming because fire broke out and it was getting close, my job to get, we were given the order to bail out although if we wanted to over the sea, but by this time the navigator had informed us that we could make it, we just made it, North Holland, so we had been told to bail out. I had to get out of the rear turret somehow, we’d been losing height at quite a pace, so when I got out of the rear turret, because my parachute was in the fuselage, and so I had to open the rear doors of my turret, crawl out, then the order was to get my parachute and harness, ‘cos there’s no room in the turret for them, so my training was that I got these and then I had to get back into the turret with great difficultly, close the doors, turn ninety degrees and then go out backwards.
AM: Right
RW: But fortunately for me, as I was getting my parachute and harness and I put them on, the first wireless op came down the fuselage and he jettisoned the door, waved to me and the sparks and flames coming past the fuselage door, and he waved and jumped through this. Now I’m not getting back in that turret, I’ll never make it and so I was going after him and so I made for the door and, what happened next then, and, oh yes, I was about to jump and then out of the corner of my eye I saw the navigator coming down dragging his parachute and harness. He hadn’t put it on.
AM. Oh no.
RW: And so I couldn’t leave him, the plane was slipping like this – slipping, slipping, slipping - we lost a lot of altitude and we were getting pretty close, and so he couldn’t do anything because he was almost falling over every time the plane went. What had happened, the two pilots had gone from the door, from the front.
AM: So they’d bailed out?
RW: They’d bailed out, because he’d given orders for us to bail out by then, and as I say don’t forget that all the rest of the crew were nineteen, they very young. And so he went, that’s right, so I went back and zipped him up and then pushed him out, hoping that he’s there [laughs], then I went after him. Then I don’t remember anything else, apart from it had been snowing through the night, it was a very, very bad night and um, it was about eight o’clock and then I came down in this field and er, the place is called Anna Paulowna, a little hamlet, and the next morning um, a man going to work on the farm and er, he just saw me and I was covered in snow, and it had been deep snow through the night, and he found I was still ticking.
AM: So you were unconscious?
RW: I was unconscious because, what had happened, the Dutch people told me afterwards, that I had gone towards the plane, so we must have been pretty low when I bailed out. I was the last one out, and so that’s why I don’t remember anything, they said that they called to me to come away ‘cos I was making for the plane, so it wasn’t very far away, but as, what I remember when I bailed out, that I was hoping that the parachute would open [laughs].
AM: Quickly.
RW: Quickly, and the um, I wasn’t scared, strangely enough, I just wasn’t scared, and the only thing I could think of, I missed my bacon and eggs, because the only time we had bacon and eggs was when we came back from an operation, then I was calling swear words to the others ‘lucky bastards’ [laughs].
AM: No bacon and eggs.
RW: [Laughs] You’ll be having my bacon and eggs and that’s all I could think off [laughs]. I’d been looking forward to that, and then they called me to come away from the aircraft and so what had happened then, as the ammunition had been exploding, then I stopped one in the back of the head and so I’d been treated in hospital there and um -
AM: So the Dutch people found you?
RW: Yes
AM: And took you to hospital?
RW: No, oh no.
AM: Oh right.
RW: They called the Germans, because if they’d been found, they took me into the hamlet where they lived and then they called the Germans because if the Germans had come and found me first, we’d have all been shot. So the Germans took me away and then they took me into hospital because I’d stopped the bullet in the back of the head, the doctor said I was very fortunate because if it had been any deeper I would have been killed, which was my premonition. And if it had been over a little, I would have been blind and so what happened, I lost, I found out later, I lost the least of the senses that was smell and taste and I’ve never been able to smell and taste since. I can taste, I was tested for it when I came back home and I can taste sugar, salt, vinegar.
AM: So things that have a strong taste.
RW: That’s right yes, that’s all I can taste, so that was it.
AM: So you are in the hospital, you’ve been treated?
RW: Oh yes, I’d been treated.
AM: Then what happened?
RW: What had happened, I had an enema, do they call it? It was a hell of a mess [laughs] and then I was in this ward and er, I was, I remember being in this bed and looking up and there’s a fellow waving to me across the ward, and I thought, ‘who the hells that. I don’t know him’, and this went on for a whole day when he was waving and that was the navigator.
AM: Right
RW: And I didn’t recognise him and this went on and after a while it came, my memory came back again.
AM: So that’s two of you in the hospital?
RW: That was in the hospital. Oh yes and um, when I got talking to the navigator again, he said, ‘careful’, because I was well known for my dirty jokes at times [laughs], anyway different thing he said, ‘be very careful what you say because that one there, is a Nazi’. The only time they listened to the radio was when Hitler was making a speech so he said, ‘very, very careful what you say’. He used to go to the cupboard there, get this radio out, switch it on when Hitler finished speaking, disconnect, back in there, so he said, ‘be very careful’ [laughs], and from there I went in an ambulance, that’s right. They took me to an old camp, the French, French and Belgians in there and um, I’d asked one Frenchman there, he spoke English, if he could get me some information because we were right next to an airfield and they were working on the airfield, and I said, ‘can you get me an old coat to wear and er, then I can make my way with you to this airfield’. Somehow I was going to, although I was a wireless op, I knew the controls and I was going to try and steal a plane and get back home.
AM: This is in the first camp after the hospital?
RW: In the first camp, yes, and er, it was a rough old camp. I remember the blanket I had was 1917, and er, it was rough, and er, and I’ll never forget having, oh yes, they said, ‘can’t you taste that?’ I said, ‘why it’s all right’. I was eating this stuff, sauerkraut [laughs], rough sauerkraut, they were dished up with, I said, ‘no’ [laughs]. Anyway just after that, next day, two great big Nazi’s came in, ‘wait’, so this Frenchman must have, must have told them what I was up to because they took me and after seeing films of people being taken for a ride, I went in this Opel I think, I think the car was an Opel, it was an Opel, and the one as big as Gary. I had one each side of me, I was down middle of them, and off we went and er, I was taken down to the station, down near the station, into the large, like a town hall - left, right, left, right - up in front [laughs], not so nicer man, this CO, and he said, ‘right, this and that’ [unclear] it was a big desk, I’ll never forget and he said, ‘this man here has had his orders, and he is going to take you on the train to Frankfurt and he’s been warned and told that if you try to escape, or do anything, he will shoot you dead’.
AM: He spoke to you in English?
RW: Oh yes, oh yes in English, and so um, I was, people were trying to attack me on the way up, up to this town hall.
AM: Civilians?
RW: And one man came with a knife and the guard had to fend him off and others because they’d had an air raid there, you see, and so off I went, and went up to this town hall and that’s when he had his orders, anyway I was taken back down to the railway station.
AM: What town was this Ron?
RW: This was in Cologne.
AM: You were in Cologne by then.
RW: Yes, and I was driven right the way down there, and so I thought, oh yes. When I was in the waiting room and other er, Germans were in there, you see, drinking coffee, suppose that’s coffee and things like that, nothing was offered to me [laughs] and so then I said oh, ‘stand up’, and the door opened, as this door opened a major (unclear) he came in.
AM: An English, a German?
RW: No a German, a German major, he came in and they all gave the Nazi salute, ‘Heil Hitler, Heil Hitler’, yes, I came out I said, ‘Heil Churchill’, oh, he was just turning to go and I said this, and he got his gun out his Mauser, his Mauser or whatever it was, and I thought, well you’ve done it this time [laughs], and then he said ‘English schweinhund’ (unclear) off he went. I got away with that one [laughs], especially as I had just had this
AM: The warning?
RW: Warning yes, and um, and that was that and so when the train came, we went up to Frankfurt and um, he was watching me like a hawk.
AM: Were you handcuffed to him or anything?
RW: No, no.
AM: There was nowhere to run to though is there?
RW: No, but all the way I was wondering how I was going to belt him and looking at the window, how strong is it because I was going to smash it with his rifle, you see.
AM: Right.
RW: And it was quite a journey, beautiful trip from Cologne, up to Frankfurt but that’s in my mind all the time, how am I going to get out of here and get rid of him [laughs], and then the chance didn’t come, didn’t come. His eyes were on me every step of the way, he was scared he would have been shot if I had escaped, and so we went to my first real prison camp that was up to the um, what they called, it wasn’t a Stalag, before the Stalag.
AM: Was it a Dulag, Ron?
RW: A Dulag, and once again this officer, German officer came in and I was in the cell there, and one very high window, and er, oh he said, ‘I speak English very well, I was educated in Oxford’, and er, he said, ‘you will find we will treat you very well now, but er, a few things to add’, and er, he said, ‘this form here’, he’d got a form with a red cross on the top, ‘so all you need do is answer a few questions, so there you are’, and he said, ‘first of all, do you smoke?’, and I smoked in those days, so he got a packet of Capstans and a box of Swans.
AM: Vesta.
RW: Vesta matches, put them on the top there and there I was, smoking away, ‘right then, first things, name, rank, number’, that’s all right, name, rank, and number, and so put those in, he said, ’good, then we will let your parents know or what have you, that you are alive and well and injured’, and so um, that’s all right. ‘Now these other things’, and I looked on this form, ‘what squadron, your CO, what was his name, and the airfield you took off from, what was the aircraft you were flying, note it down here’. ‘There we are and that’s all I can give you, name, rank and number’. He said, ‘surely you want your people to know, you want your parents to know you’re alive?’, ‘yes course I do and that’s what you have to do because that’s all I’m giving you, my name, rank and number’. Then he became a German, and he went red and he did a lot of words came out that weren’t English and he said, ‘then you’ll stay here until you do fill that in’, and [laughs], and he grabbed the matches and cigarettes and put them in his pocket, and so I was fortunate in as much as I had to be taken up to the hospital to get my bullet hole seen to [laughs] and so I got away with that. Next cell he, whoever it was, had had a rough time, I heard him groaning and yelling and I think they beat him up because he wouldn’t answer and I refused too. The next morning they had taken my uniform away through the night, they’d taken it, I had to strip it off and they took it all away. The next morning, I saw they knew where the map was in the shoulder, then they’d taken the button off.
AM: So all the stuff that was to help you to escape?
RW: That’s right, they knew where it was, they’d taken it and the needle, the compass needle had gone out of the button [laughs] so then you weren’t full of tricks, and so that was Dulag, and from there, I was taken, I went to, yes, Stalag Luft 1, yes, I was taken there next.
AM: Were you still being taken on your own or were you with other prisoners by then?
RW: No I went in, the other prisoners I met there in Dulag and um, you know it was great to meet them and speak English, it was great and they’d give tips and that. I went to Stalag Luft 1 and um, then we stood at the gate welcoming the boys coming in and it was a sandy soil and we got them to throw the lighters and things in there, because the guards were trying to keep us back, you see, and as we went towards the gate, we did this at every camp we went to, throw your things in, throw them in, throw them in, because they had been stripped of things mostly and so what they did, pick them up and give them back to him and then, and then when we couldn’t get down to things, we just trod them in.
AM: Trod them into the ground?
RW: Into the ground as they forced us back, because them bleeders were very sharp [laughs].
AM: So you could go back for them later?
RW: Yes that’s it, and especially went from Stalag Luft 1 and then did about eighteen months there and then we were moved to Stalag Luft 3 and er -
AM: So what year are we now, 41 probably?
RW: My god, yes.
AM: So you were shot down early 41.
RW: January 41 yes.
AM: And then you were in hospital and eighteen months.
RW: I wasn’t in the hospital for eighteen months.
AM: No, no, the hospital and then you were in Stalag Luft 1 for eighteen months.
RW: That’s right.
AM: So we are now?
RW: Now in Stalag Luft 3.
AM: Probably early 43?
RW: About 43.
AM: By this time.
RW: And we did, and went to this new camp, er, we hadn’t heard of before.
AM: How did they move you, on trains?
RW: Yes, and er, yes, on cattle trucks, they weren’t very clean. There’s wire both sides of the entrance of the cattle truck and we were put in twenty each side, standing up, you couldn’t sit down, we were packed in. When you think half a cattle truck, and so this is how we moved, sometimes we had better accommodation but this new camp we went to was Stalag Luft 3, everything is new there, all the huts were new and so we started a different life.
AM: Were you the first intake into Stalag Luft 3?
RW: We were yes, from Stalag Luft 1 into Stalag Luft 3, and then, after that, they started to bring the RAF prisoners from other camps into Stalag Luft 3, and er, they said, ‘you’ll never escape from here, we’ve learnt too many lessons’, but we did, the lot, a lot of people said they tried, escaped from there and they probably tried but they didn’t succeed and it was difficult, and then all the different things, books had been written by prisoners [laughs] and things, no, it was very difficult. I tried once and out of the corner of our hut, I got down and one man from Cheltenham said, ‘you’ll get us all shot, you know’ because I dug through the floor and dug down and I could see where workmen had been, electricians or something yes, been working outside and there was a trench near the camp, near the um, wire and so I got down there and then got out there in the early hours of the morning. It was dark and er, I thought I can get under the wire, get under there, escape, fair enough, so I tried this and then I heard a guard approaching with his dog. Dogs, they were more like wolves, and he had got this one and I heard him coming along and so I got out of there, swiftly went up the road, oh yes, and I had an experience, I ran between two huts and I didn’t see wire stretching from one hut to the other and I ran into it, and it got me in the mouth, took me off my feet and I was strung up and the wire went into my mouth and forced, forced my teeth out. I lost seven teeth, and I landed on my back and then there was the guard and the dog, and he was afraid of that dog as I was [laughs], they weren’t trained to be friendly and so I was put into the cooler from there.
AM: What was that like?
RW: Rough. I had water to drink, bread, well when they say bread, black bread, just bread and er, I was in there for over a week.
AM: On your own?
RW: Oh yes, yes, oh yes.
AM: And no teeth.
RW: No teeth, they’d come out, I have no teeth now. I tell people that um, if I’ll say I had my teeth out, all paid for [laughs]. But um, all the time we were trying to, if we had any ideas about escaping, we had they had to go to this Massey who was the -
AM: What was the name sorry, Ron?
RW: Massey, Group Captain Massey, and you had to give your ideas to him for the escape committee, but something we noticed when we first went into Stalag Luft 3, that one part where the fence was, they hadn’t built any German huts or anything there, it hadn’t been finished. And so John Shaw, my good friend, he noticed this first and he said, ‘we’re gonna go try that’, he said, ‘we go first, the four of us’, I forget the other one and he said, ‘I go first because I noticed it first’. I said, ‘okay, then I’ll go, you get away now, I’ll go follow on’.
AM: How were you going to get out, were you going to tunnel under?
RW: Tunnel under there because they hadn’t built anything that side, so this is what we are going to do, and so you’ve got to appreciate, so John decided to go. What happened, bang, bang, and I have a photograph I’ll show you, with John, and shown in his coffin, he was shot right through the heart, so if people thought that these guards were asleep in the huts, no, and they were crack shots, they got him right through the heart, poor John.
AM: So the other three of you didn’t go?
RW: No, we’d been discovered that was it.
AM: Did you know the people who were involved in the great escape?
RW: No.
AM: No.
RW: No, they were mainly officers. You see what happened, we started off these tunnels under the cooking, took that away and then got all that (unclear) and then dug down to do the tunnels, but then again, we said this would happen, the officers took over, we started it as sergeants and then they said, ‘no, we are going to take over’, and then we were moved eventually to Heydekrug.
AM: To?
RW: Heydekrug.
AM: Which is?
RW: Heydekrug.
AM: Which is another camp?
RW: Which is another camp, yes, so we’d done a lot of work. I was, I helped out with moving the earth wearing these things there, but the soil, the soil we brought up from below, it was a different colour, so we had to take this earth from down below, walk around, walk around and distribute it and dig it in as we were moving, because they were watching us all the time.
AM: These are from the tunnels you dug?
RW: That’s right, yes [laughs], and we were getting rid of the earth, tons of earth, you know. It’s boring.
AM: Well yes, what else did you do in camp?
RW: Oh all kinds of things, apart from trying to escape [laughs], and er, we wrote shows. We did this, you see, and Les Knowle became a very good friend of mine and he was a pianist before the war, before he joined up and he, a professional pianist, was very good too.
AM: Was he the one next door to you in Morecambe or a different pianist?
RW: No, no, it was a different one.
AM: A different one.
RW: No, Les Knowle, he was a different one. This one I’m trying to think of his name, Ron, I forget now, but he went on to the BBC and worked from there and he was on the RAF Band.
AM: Yes.
RW: And then he became well known.
[Interruption]
AM: I’m just going to pause for a moment.
RW: Have you anywhere else.
AM: No, no, so we’ve got shows, what about, did you do any education they had?
RW: Oh yes, yes, and um, I’ve a pencil, and I was studying maths actually and I was going to do a course on maths and it was difficult because it was very, very cold, very cold, up in Lithuania, this was and getting close to Russia and so I was studying and then trying to write out holding the pencil.
AM: So literally holding it with whole of your hand?
RW: That’s right.
AM: Trying to write.
RW: Trying to write, it wasn’t easy, but it was quite good and then I studied, I was studying, was architect because I had been in the building trade, you see. I was taken away from the factory when I was fourteen.
AM: When you were fourteen yes.
RW: By my brother-in-law, who was, um, he’d come to the factory, fortunately before they absolutely killed me [laughs], and he said, ‘you, out’ and he took me away and made me an apprenticeship joiner.
AM: So you were a joiner. Going back to the camp in Lithuania.
RW: Oh Yes.
AM: So what happened then as, what did you know about what was happening in the war?
RW: We had clever people as sergeants, not all officers then. We had people from all walks of life as sergeants.
AM: As sergeants yes.
RW: And er, we had entertainers from the stage, and I wrote um, with Les Knowle, he wrote the music and I wrote the words for shows on the stage and I’ll show you a picture of him, but I don’t know if you have ever heard of Roy Dotrice?
AM: Yes
RW: You have? Well Roy, I’ll show you a picture.
AM: His daughter was an actress, Michelle.
RW: That’s right, he had two daughters, one lives in the States, Michelle, I was watching her the other night.
AM: And was he in the prison camp with you?
RW: Yes, yes, and then I never thought that he would, because he was very young, he was born in Jersey and he changed his age. He was very much younger than me then and he came over to the mainland and joined the RAF.
AM: What happened at the end of the war, how did you find out that the war was ending and what happened?
RW: Oh yes, now then, we had our radios that were built out of things, things we’d stolen from the Germans. I remember walking behind one man carrying, carrying a box and stealing something out of there and when they, they used to um, we used to be woken up in the early hours of the morning by the Nazis. They used to come in and get us out of bed, tear the place apart, and never put it back again, and all things taken out and then we would be walking around the compound from the early morning to late at night while these Nazis were searching and they, yes, and they used to go away with things. Oh yes, we used to steal their hats and their gloves and they weren’t very happy [laughs], and also if anyone escaped, they used to have what we called a sheep count, and they’d form up the barriers so we used to have to go through, and they’d check and check the numbers, you see, and we used to go through and then we used to go back round, and come in again, in the end they had more prisoners than they wanted [laughs], and that was one gag we got up to, and then some had contact at home. You’ve possibly seen it in the letters they used a code in a letter which the Germans couldn’t spot.
AM: To say where they were?
RW: That’s right, all kinds of things.
AM: So how did you find out that the war was coming to an end? From the radios?
RW: From the radios we had, yes. We had certain guys who were very clever, clever electricians among us, all kinds of things they used to do, where if a German came in the front about or something, a buzzer would ring at the far end telling whoever was doing something, escape committee at the other end.
AM: To stop them?
RW: Then bury the stuff again.
AM: Gosh.
RW: And then all things like that and um, the, yes, parts for the radios be stolen from the Germans [laughs] and they would build a main radio that one clever man used to operate. I forget the names now and um, they used to come around the huts and give us the, the news we used to get daily news, we knew exactly what was happening back home, and e,r when the invasion came, the first time, the Germans were gloating when they said, ‘that was your invasion’, when so many Canadians were killed, remember, my minds going.
AM: On the beaches at, yes.
RW: Yes, where so many were killed, and the Germans thought that was our invasion. They said, ‘you’ve had your invasion, you’ll be here’, I was told that I would be there for the rest of my life, they used to enjoy telling us this, that we would be there and we will be rebuilding Germany.
AM: Because they would win.
RW: That’s right.
AM: Sadly for them but thankfully for us.
RW: Oh, thankfully for us.
AM: They didn’t.
RW: But they loved telling us that we would be there forever.
AM: When it did all end? Were you involved in the long march?
RW: Oh yes.
AM: You were.
RW: That was the worst part of it.
AM: Gary’s making faces.
Gary: I’ll leave it.
RW: Okay. That was a tough one, the long march.
AM: How long were you on the march for, Ron?
RW: I can’t think now.
AM: Months, it was months, wasn’t it?
RW: Months, months, bad weather, bad weather, so many died, and then we were, we had no food and they’d been trying to get through to us and then this one Red Cross wagon appeared and he said, ‘this is the third load I’ve had. I’ve been shot at, and destroyed, then I have gone back and got another load’, and finally, well you know the story.
AM: Sadly.
RW: And some sights there, on that march, and one man, he was signalling with his coat in the meadow, this meadow where we were, shot up by the fighters and I saw him just cut in the air.
AM: Shot at by German fighters?
RW: No, by our fighters.
AM: By our fighters.
RW: Yes, they thought we were Germans.
AM: Right.
RW: And he was just cut in two, Roger. Next time I saw him, just his legs standing there, top half gone and they killed forty, fifty of us there, it was a rough one. Oh, and we were in twos, they delivered these Red Cross parcels, we shared one between two, and when we were shot at by Typhoons by the way, based locally and all the way through, we’d been shot at by Spitfires, and what have you, Hurricanes, they thought we were Germans. And on one occasion, we were walking, they made us walk at night because, so through the day, we had to sleep in barns with their animals, and the Germans, the German people used to give things to the guards but nothing to us, not like this country where there were prisoners, their prisoners there given food but we never got anything from the Germans. If we wanted a drink, we had to wait till we got to rivers, lakes, or something or get washed.
AM: So how did you get rescued in the end?
RW: Oh that is another story. The 10th Hussars. We were hearing reports our, our troops across the Rhine and how close they were getting and we were being marched away, we were going to be hostages and Hitler would have got rid of us eventually, we’d have been shot or what have you. We were heading for Norway somewhere and they were taking us as we were going to be hostages, but so many things happened we were shut up, barns were set on fire, men were there.
AM: With men in them?
RW: Yes.
AM: Yes. But the 10th Hussars were?
RW: The 10th Hussars caught up with us and oh, they were marvellous, they treated us like royalty. They set up trestles in this village in Ratzeburg in Lubeck, Ratzeburg, and er, this little village and it was in March, was it May?
AM: So May of 45?
RW: We went through Luneburg, where they signed the Armistice, and we went through there and then we came back through there when the signing had been done, and it was marvellous, so they set up tables there with food on, couldn’t eat it.
AM: I was going to say, could you eat it?
RW: No, no. One man died because he tried, he tried to eat, couldn’t. Then we came back from Lowenberg on Lancasters and I’ll never forget seeing white girls, posh ladies all made up, I thought they, I thought they were on the stage somewhere, heavy lipstick.
AM: Once you got back you mean?
RW: And this is when we, no, when the 10th Hussars. Oh yes, that’s another one, we had the, this major, English major. I said, ‘can I help?’ because I had had stomach trouble and couldn’t eat anything, so I felt this marvellous feeling.
AM: Freedom.
RW: Freedom, marvellous after four and a half years, freedom. And I’d stuck my neck out several times, one man, I bent down to pick up food or something, I don’t know what it was, peas somebody dropped on the road, and this guard, he came behind me, kicked me up the backside and I went over and I got up and turned round to gonna belt him, and the look on his face, and his Tommy gun was there waiting for it, just what he wanted. All they wanted, an excuse.
AM: To kill you?
RW: Yes and er -
AM: When you saw the Lancaster?
RW: Oh yes.
AM: You’d been in Whitleys, what did you think of the Lancaster?
RW: We saw the side of it really [laughs].
AM: Four engines.
RW: Four engines, yes, marvellous.
AM: So they brought you home in the Lanc.
RW: Yes, they landed at, forget now where it was, down South somewhere, and as we landed they opened the door and a lovely young WAAF came, and I had my box with some belongings in. This girl got it and I grabbed it back from her she said, ‘it’s all right you are home now’ [laughs] and er, she led me off and as I was talking to her, going up to the hangar, I said, ‘this is a holiday’, this is VE Day, you see. I said, ‘you’re on holiday, what are you doing here?’ She said ‘oh we volunteered, we were the lucky ones’. I couldn’t understand it ‘cos we were filthy and the first this they did - whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.
AM: Shower?
RW: Not a shower.
AM: Water?
RW: No - debugged.
AM: Oh right, oh sorry, they sprayed you?
RW: That’s right, yes, before anybody could touch us [laughs] and then they had all this food out, I couldn’t eat anything, not a thing, and then from there we came up on the train to where we went, see that photograph, and we came up there, all there, all the records were up there. That was marvellous. Then one day we were taken over, over there, records and what have you, but I went home and that was a rough time because I found my wife, I had my daughter, was that much older, she was only two and a half when I went away, she was seven she didn’t know me, didn’t know me, didn’t want to know me. And er, then my wife had met me at the station, although I didn’t want to see her because I’d had reports and she wrote to me and didn’t want to know me ‘cos she’d met an American and she wanted to get married to him. And so um, that was my homecoming, didn’t want to know me. I‘d had a letter from her saying she wanted a divorce, which I wanted too after that, and then my folks had been trying to meet the train to tell me what she had been up to, what she’d become, well you can understand it, it had been a long time.
AM: Yes.
RW: But the way she did it, she dyed her hair, it was red, and er, I’d asked a friend in camp who came from Stoke, from near where I was, where I lived, if he could find out why, what’s happening because she didn’t write to me. I’d only one letter that I had and she wanted more money, it’s all she was interested in.
AM: So your pay while you were a prisoner of war goes to your wife, doesn’t it?
RW: That’s right, it went to her and then she wanted more money, and so I came back and went up and met my wife, as I say, I didn’t know anything what she had been doing, no one had told me and this friend in camp, I’d asked him to find out what was happening, why I hadn’t had any letters from my, my wife and er, he put it off all the while. I said, ‘have you heard from your wife?’, ‘no’. I didn’t know anything about it.
AM: He wouldn’t tell you?
RW: No, and so when I got back, it was my wife who knew, my wife. He said to me, he said, ‘Ron, I couldn’t tell you what I found out about her’.
AM: No.
RW: Couldn’t tell you. So I met her and she was all over me and I met all her sisters and her brothers because it’s difficult, very difficult because my folks had been trying to meet me off the train but she’s the one who had been told.
AM: She’s the one who’s entitled to know.
RW: That’s right, and she’d got the time of the train, she met me, all the other trains had been coming in my side had been.
AM: They all missed you?
RW: They’d all missed me, everyone.
AM: Oh dear.
RW: My homecoming and I felt like going back.
AM: You married again though. Amy.
RW: Yes.
AM: I’ve met Amy and she is lovely for the record.
RW: Yes, oh the best thing that ever happened to me.
AM: Wonderful. I’m going to switch off now, Ron.
RW: Yes okay.

Collection

Citation

Annie Moody, “Interview with Ron Wade,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 12, 2020, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/8923.

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