Interview with Andrew Carswell


Interview with Andrew Carswell


Andrew Carswell volunteered for the Royal Canadian Air Force in his native Toronto. He trained as a pilot and on arrival in the UK and completion of his further training he was posted to 9 Squadron. His first operation was to Berlin. On their final operation they were attacked by a night fighter and in the subsequent departure from the aircraft one member of the crew broke his leg, one crew member’s parachute didn’t open and another had resisted all prompts to leave the aircraft. Andy was taken as a Prisoner of War and was sent to Stalag 8B which he escaped from twice before being recaptured.




Temporal Coverage




00:44:31 audio recording


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ACarswellA170614, PCarswellA1702


DK: Ok. So, I’ll just introduce myself. This is David Kavanagh for the International Bomber Command Centre interviewing Andy Carswell on the 14th of June, I always get the dates wrong. 2017.
AC: 13th. Isn’t it March the 13th?
DC: 14th.
DK: Oh, it’s the 14th . Yeah.
AC: 14th eh?
DK: 14th. 14th of June 2017 at his home in Toronto. I’ll just make sure that I said Toronto. Make sure everybody knows I’m here. So, if I just put that there.
AC: Now, you have the address of the home in Toronto and all that.
DK: Yeah. I’ve got all the address. Yeah.
AC: That’s good.
DK: If I keep looking down I’m not being rude I’m just making sure it’s working. There’s been a couple of occasions when I’ve been beaten by the technology when the battery has just stopped or something.
AC: I see.
DK: Right. Yeah. I think we’re ok.
AC: Do I have to speak any louder than normal or —
DK: No. Just, just speak normally. Just sound like that.
AC: That’s good. That’s good.
DK: Firstly, what I wanted to ask you was what were you doing immediately before the war started?
AC: Ok. I was going to high school. I was, immediately before the war started I guess I would be about sixteen years old or so. And just before my eighteenth birthday the principal of the high school I was going to — I was in Grade 12 and in those days you needed twelve grades in order to graduate in to university.
DK: Right.
AC: But they changed it. The timing on the thing so that you had to have thirteen grades. So, I was at the end of my twelfth grade. I was just coming up to eighteen years old and the principal, in one of his lectures said, ‘Anybody who wants to do war work can get off early.’ And so of course I stuck my hand up and said, ‘Yes, I want to do war work.’ And so I got off early and the first thing I did was I went downtown to the RCAF Recruiting Unit.
DK: Right.
AC: On my eighteen birthday. I was eighteen years old and I walked in there and they said, ‘What do you want?’ I said, ‘I want to join the Air Force.’ They said, ‘Oh. What do you want to be?’ And of course everybody watched the movies. I said, ‘I want to be a pilot.’ So they said, ‘Ok.’ And they put me in and I went to, to the local unit in the Toronto International Exhibition there and, at Upper Avenue Road, and they sent me to, to Belleville. They had taken a school for the deaf and dumb and kicked everybody out.
DK: Right.
AC: And I don’t know what they did with them. And they put us in there and some of us were sort of dumb too [laughs] but anyway we were selected there on the basis of various tests to be pilots, air gunners, or navigators.
DK: Right.
AC: And you had to be smart to be a navigator. And you had to, you had to be, I guess a good shot to be an air gunner so I was trained as a pilot. So, they selected me as a pilot and they sent me to, right off the bat to what’s the name of the place?
DC: Goderich.
AC: Goderich. Yeah. A little town on the Lake Huron and where there was a civil airport operating and there were volunteer instructors at that time. And there I soloed. Learned to fly an aeroplane. And then they sent me a couple of hundred miles away. Down to a place called Bradford which is also in Ontario. And they, they were flying Avro Ansons.
DK: Yeah.
AC: The very first order of Avro Ansons where you had to crank the undercarriage up and down by hand. And so I graduated from there as a pilot and I got to wear a pair of wings and I was a sergeant pilot.
DK: Did you, did you find learning to fly easy? Is it something that came naturally to you?
AC: Oh yes. It was very easy for me because I had spent most of my time outdoors. I was in the Boys Scouts.
DK: Right.
AC: And I did a lot of hiking and that kind of thing. And so they gave me a couple of weeks leave and then they sent me to England. Here I was, still just a little over eighteen by then I guess. And, and in England I went to Bournemouth where all the Canadians went.
DK: Just, just going back a bit how did you come over to England? Were you on one of the —
AC: On a ship. A boat.
DK: Right. Yeah.
AC: I forget the name of it. It was a — had normally been a freighter, I think.
DK: Oh right.
AC: And I was not too, not too — my memory is kind of clogged there with all the other things that are in it. But anyhow I went over by ship, you know. Evading the German submarines and so forth.
DK: Yeah.
AC: And eventually we ended up in Bournemouth. And in Bournemouth they sent me to, on more training. And I took three or four different courses on different kinds of aircraft. Getting larger, larger and larger from the smallest multi-engine aircraft to, to things like the DC3 and whatnot. And finally they put me on the Lincoln. Which was the brother of the Lancaster but it had different engines in it and it would only fly on one engine if one engine quit.
DK: Was that the Manchester?
AC: The Manchester. Yeah.
DK: Yeah.
AC: They put me on the Manchester.
DK: Yeah.
AC: And nobody liked the Manchester because they knew that if one engine quit the other one wasn’t enough to keep it going.
DK: Right.
AC: So, anyway and then they graduated me up to the Lancaster.
DK: Yeah.
AC: And I spent several weeks or a month or two flying the Lancaster and then they sent me up to number 9 Squadron.
DK: What did, what did you think of the Lancaster as an aircraft? Was it —
AC: Oh, great. The Lancaster itself was a very good aircraft and it was as easy to fly as the Avro Anson or any of the other aircraft. It wasn’t very cosy inside like the American aircraft. The Americans had lots of nice cushions in their front seats [laughs] And all kinds of good lighting and whatnot. And the Lancaster was just basically the controls that you needed and the — that was, that was basically all there was. You had your rudders. And there was no, no engine activated controls, you know. Everything was done.
DK: Manually.
AC: By force of —
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
AC: Force of habit.
DK: Had you, had you joined up with your crew at this point?
AC: No. No.
DK: Oh. Right then.
AC: They sent me to number 9 Squadron. And then they had a [pause] I’ve been trying to — that’s a good question. I’m trying to remember where they had the — I think we had the crew selection before I got to 9 Squadron.
DK: Right.
AC: And then people would go around saying, ‘Look. I’m a navigator. Do you want a navigator?’
DK: Was that then —
AC: ‘I’m a rear gunner,’ and all that.
DK: Right.
AC: So, anyway that was supposed to be my selection but I didn’t know any of the other people involved. I just picked people who looked like nice fellows [laughs] and we ended up with a crew of seven or so.
DK: And was the rest of your crew, were they Canadian or were they British?
AC: They were a mixture. The flight engineer was Scottish.
DK: Right.
AC: Jock Martin his name was and —
DC: Paddy Hipson.
AC: Paddy Hipson was Irish. Yeah.
DK: Yeah.
AC: And what else have I got? I had a couple of English guys. My wife’s got a better memory than I have. She, she, we’ve been married seventy years and she can still remember every bad thing I ever did [laughs]
DC: There was three Canadians besides you.
AC: Who, who were they? Three Canadian besides me eh?
DC: [unclear] The fellow that froze to death.
AC: Oh yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
DC: And —
AC: That was my navigator.
DC: And then there was —
AC: That navigator was a Canadian and he was just —
DC: Claude Clemens.
AC: Claude Clemens was a Canadian. He was a rear gunner. Yeah.
DC: West Ontario.
AC: That’s right.
DK: Was that — I’ve got your crew here as yourself. Sergeant Martin.
AC: Martin. Yeah.
DK: Yeah.
AC: That’s Scottish.
DC: Martin.
DK: Scottish. And what was he then?
AC: He was the flight engineer.
DK: Flight engineer. Galbraith. Galbraith.
AC: Galbraith. Yeah.
DC: He’s the one that froze to death.
AC: Yeah. Galbraith was the navigator. He was a Canadian.
DK: He was the navigator. Hipson?
AC: Harry Hipson was English.
DC: Irish.
DK: English. Irish?
AC: Scottish.
DK: He was Scottish.
AC: Scottish. And what was he then? The wireless operator?
AC: Hipson [pause] Oh, I know. He was the, not the — bombardier.
DK: Ah bombardier. Yeah. And then Sergeant Phillips.
AC: Sergeant Phillips.
DK: Yeah.
AC: Sergeant Phillips.
DC: Eddy Phillips.
AC: Eddy Phillips.
DC: The one that got a leg broken on the march.
AC: Yeah. That was Eddy Phillips was, I’m glad you’re here Dot to remind me of these things. Eddy Phillips was a part of our crew and he broke his leg after we landed.
DK: Right.
AC: And he moved about in different hospitals. I never saw him again.
DK: Oh right.
AC: But he didn’t die. He got home ok apparently.
DC: What did he do in the aircraft?
AC: Eddie Phillips was a mid-upper gunner.
DK: Air gunner.
AC: I think that’s what he was.
DK: And I’ve got Sergeant De Silva.
AC: De Silva. Yeah.
DC: English fellow.
AC: Oh. He was a mid-upper gunner. Yeah. Sergeant De Silva.
DC: De Silva. Yes.
AC: De Silva. And —
DC: His parachute didn’t open.
AC: And he was killed because his parachute didn’t open.
DK: Right.
AC: With him improperly loaded up into the aircraft, I guess.
DK: And then Sergeant Clemens, I think it says.
AC: Claude.
DC: Yes.
AC: Claude Clemens was the rear gunner. Yeah.
DK: He was the rear gunner. Ok.
AC: And he was a Canadian.
DK: Right. Ok.
AC: He just died a while ago.
DK: Ok.
AC: Big talker.
DC: Twelve years ago.
AC: I’m surprised that they’re still sending people out because I’m one of the youngest of the whole lot and I’m ninety four and Dorothy is ninety five. We’ve been married seventy years.
DK: Years. Well, congratulations.
AC: She remembers every year of it [laughs] Sometimes that’s not a good thing.
DK: Don’t ask me how long I’ve been married. Twenty two years. There you are.
AC: Twenty two years eh. Well, there you go.
Other: We’ve got a long way to go.
DK: [unclear]
AC: Anyway, so that’s, that’s how we got crewed up.
DK: Right. So, you were —
AC: As you know, that they normally the captain of the aircraft was normally commissioned and he was —
DK: Yeah.
AC: Started off as flying officer and then went to flight lieutenant and so forth. Well, on my first trip I was a sergeant pilot. I was the only pilot on board a Lancaster and I was only a sergeant. And there was no other, no other officers in the crew of course.
DK: Right.
AC: And they sent me on a couple of trips with other people just to see how I did and I would take the flight engineer’s spot because they only had one pilot in those aeroplanes. And then they put me on operations fairly shortly after that. And the first trip was fairly normal, I think.
DK: Can you remember where that was too?
AC: To, to Berlin.
DK: So, your first trip was to Berlin.
AC: And the second trip was to Berlin.
DK: Right.
AC: And then they stopped it. They lost so many aircraft that they stopped it for a while. They had aircraft going down all over the place. In fact when we were shot down we were about half way between [pause] what’s the name of that little town? I can’t remember now.
DC: Well, John took you on that trip.
AC: Yeah.
DC: To retrace your steps.
AC: Yeah. I’m just thinking yeah. But anyway, it was about half way between the [pause]
DC: Do you have any? You can look.
No. No. I don’t have any notes.
DC: Yeah.
AC: We weren’t supposed to take notes.
DC: We went to the wrong place when we were in Germany.
AC: Yeah. We went down to that town.
DC: You sat opposite.
AC: Where I got shot down.
DK: So, so this was the fourth operation then was it? You were shot down.
AC: Yeah.
DK: Can, can you say a little about what actually happened on that particular operation?
AC: Well, we were, we were at twenty thousand feet or so and a, and a barrage of flak came up around us and the next thing I noticed the navigator was pointing at the right hand engine. And the right hand engine was on fire and the fire was creeping towards the gas tanks. It still had a thousand gallons or more gasoline in them. So, I, I gave the order to bale out and so the rear gunner baled out, and the mid-upper gunner baled out and the mid-upper gunner’s parachute didn’t open as you know. The rear gunner, he only died a few years ago. And the rest of the crew all got out but my navigator who had recently been married and he was so anxious to get home he didn’t care what was wrong with the aeroplane. He kept saying, ‘You should go. Take — ’ such and such a course. And so we had a bit of an argument and I said, ‘If you don’t go out I’ll go out ahead of you because we’re going straight down.’ The aeroplane was on fire by then. And so he finally went out and I went out and that was it. And then I found myself in a tree and I [pause] that’s all in that book anyway, I think.
DK: Yeah.
AC: And I decided I’d walk towards Switzerland [laughs] which was a stupid idea. But I was walking pretty well all night and eventually I realised that I had two choices. Either give myself up or just hide in the woods until I froze to death. And I didn’t think that was a very good thing to do so I walked a little farther and I saw a farmhouse in the distance, down a side road. And I went down there and I knocked on the door of the farmhouse. Some woman opened a, opened a window up above and yelled something at me. And I just said, ‘It’s pretty cold out here. Let me in.’ [laughs] The next thing I know I hear is a crunching noise in the side driveway and this little old guy with a gun almost as big as himself came out, pointed it at me. And I said, ‘Don’t shoot.’ And then the wife came out and yelled something at him. And they decided to take me in. And I went into their living room and they had a Chesterfield about that size there and they told me to sit down there. And I sat down there and fell asleep. When I woke up again there was a great crowd of people wandering around and looking at me. And a little boy was looking at my arm here. It said Canada on it. He said, ‘Oh, Canada.’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ And then everybody sort of thought that I understood German. Which I didn’t. And eventually a car pulled up with a couple of Nazi soldiers in it and they made sure that I didn’t have a weapon on me. And then they put me on the car. They took me down to the town hall which was — oh it’s in that book there anyway.
DK: That’s all right. Christine, can you have a look through there and see if you can find out the town he parachuted into? Just see if you can find it.
AC: I was trying to think of the name. I had a beer there too. Not after I got shot down but after.
DK: Yeah. When you went back.
AC: When I went back with me wife.
DK: You didn’t get a beer the day you were shot down then.
DC: He went back with John.
DK: Yeah.
DC: Our son took Andy back.
Oh yeah. That’s right. You weren’t with me on that one were you?
DC: And John has a very very good memory [unclear]
CK: Was it Zerbst?
AC: Pardon?
CK: Zerbst Town Hall. Z E R B S T.
AC: Zerbst.
CK: Zerbst.
AC: Yeah. Z E R B S T. Zerbst.
DK: Yeah.
AC: We were quite close to there when we got shot down. And so, I was, I was kept in a private room with a young fellow with a gun sitting there. And finally he went out to get something to eat and he came back and said something to me and he offered me some food too. So, he gave me something to eat. I had a sandwich along with him. And then I stayed there for a day. And the next day a bunch of soldiers came in and marched me out into the parade square where they had a crowd of people around. And they were all looking at this strange guy that had just got shot down nearby. And from there we went to a Luftwaffe station where they put us all in cells and various people came in and interviewed us and whatnot. And they were fairly decent, you know about the whole thing. And after that they put us all together except for the dead people. They couldn’t find the navigator. They didn’t know where he was. And neither did I. I suspected he was hiding in the woods, you know. Which would be not a very smart thing to do in sub-zero temperatures. But so they eventually found him. He’s buried near Berlin right now.
DK: Right.
AC: And —
DK: So, he had frozen to death then.
AC: Yeah.
DK: Yeah.
AC: He just stayed out until he froze to death. It wasn’t a very smart thing to do either. But he was so much in love with this woman he’d just married that he figured he could get home. Sad eh? So, anyway that was, that was the beginning of my two years and three months in a POW camp. And they moved me to a place called Lamsdorf.
DK: Yeah.
AC: The rest of the crew was there and I spent the next [pause] And what did I do there? I figured I should do something useful so I escaped a couple of times and I got caught a couple of times. Let’s see. Three times I escaped, I think. Two. Must be. You’re right, Dot. Two times I escaped. Lucky I’ve got somebody to correct me. So, I escaped twice. I got caught twice. I spent time in three different prisons.
DK: ‘Cause reading your book what you seem to have done is exchange places with an army —
AC: Oh yeah.
DK: Was that how it was?
AC: Swapped over. Yeah. That was the, the theory that the people running the place you know. The RAF people decided that that was the way to go. We didn’t dig tunnels or anything like that. We swapped over. And I swapped over with a couple of different fellows.
DK: Yeah.
AC: And they went up into my barracks and wore my uniform. And I went down into their barracks and waited for my name to be called. My fake name. And then I got marched out with the rest of the people and —
DK: And the Germans never cottoned on to this then. That this was what was going on.
AC: Oh, I think they, they suspected. But I mean to them a POW was a POW. You know, they all looked the same.
DK: Yeah. Because I was very surprised when, when you were captured you were still that army person.
AC: That’s right.
DK: And even they took you back they still didn’t realise that you were —
AC: That’s right.
DK: Air Force.
AC: That’s right.
[background noise]
DK: Can, can I just stop?
[recording paused]
AC: I didn’t have much of a record as a bomber pilot.
DK: Yeah.
AC: I got shot down on my second trip really as captain. And it was all very sad. And after that I don’t remember anybody who ever flew a Lancaster who was below the rank of flying officer or flight lieutenant, you know. They automatically commissioned people to be captain of a huge aircraft like that. But anyway, that’s the basic. The rest of the story is in the book.
DK: I see with your second escape you were actually captured and held by the Gestapo.
AC: The Gestapo.
DK: It was the Gestapo?
AC: Yeah. We were, we were arrested [laughs] for eating lunch in a park. And you got —
DK: So, what was your plan of escape because you’re —
AC: We were going to Stettin and we were going to —
DK: Right.
AC: Get on to a Swedish ship to go to Sweden.
DK: Right.
AC: And that was, if I’d known more about it I would have gone to Denmark I guess because there they hated the Nazis.
DK: Yeah.
AC: They were driving people over to Sweden all the time.
DK: So, you’ve got false documentation now, presumably.
AC: Yeah.
DK: And you’re taking the part of, of foreign workers.
AC: That’s right.
DK: Is that the idea?
AC: That’s right. And they didn’t, nobody knew we weren’t foreign workers. We didn’t tell anybody.
DK: Yeah.
AC: The thing about the Gestapo was that they were just a mean bunch. I think they had to be mean to be selected. Our own guards were nice people, you know. Basically —
DK: Yeah.
AC: And some of the people, some of the Germans we met like you may remember a part where we had just got to Czechoslovakia and we were being taken back to our camp by a guard and he was quite friendly. And he, and he spoke to the other fellow a lot because the other fellow spoke German. You know. Had been a prisoner since Dunkirk. And any time an official looking German walked by, you know he’d change his story and be talking about something else. And, but he asked why we took a freight train. Because when we took a friend train all the way to, you know from where we jumped. Where we escaped the working party.
DK: Yeah.
AC: We jumped on a freight train. And I was pretty good at that because I used to do that as a kid. I had, when I went to high school you know. We went out to the freight yards. We’d jump on a freight train and go —
DK: Yeah.
AC: For a couple of miles and then jump off again. But anyway, so we came down in a freight train because we jumped on it. We were at a slight slope uphill and the freight train was going at a fairly slow rate, you know. And we’d run along beside it and jump on. And the guard said, ‘Well, why didn’t you jump on an ordinary train?’ And my friend who spoke German said, ‘Yeah. We, we took a freight train because the ordinary trains have got all these Gestapo people on them.’ And they, they said, ‘Oh, that’s, that’s not true,’ he said, ‘Most of our trains are full of people. Workers.’
DK: So the German guard was giving you advice on how to escape.
AC: Yeah. So, the German, the German guard was telling us how we, so, he said, ‘The next time you escape you should go on a passenger train.’ You know, this is a German guard.
DK: Yeah.
AC: Yet the Gestapo guys they were really mean. If you put your head out of line to look down you get hit on the back of the head with a rifle butt. You know. They just amused themselves and they’d take the women in there and march them around. Make them sing patriotic songs. And then they would take the men down there, march them around and make them go on their hands and knees. You know. Just —
DK: So, how long were you held by the Gestapo then?
AC: Oh, a couple of weeks.
DK: A couple of weeks.
AC: I think it was. I think it was more than a week anyway. Two weeks.
DK: Right.
AC: And, and then a guard came and rescued us you might say. He —
DK: So, had you, had you been trying to explain to the Gestapo that you were escaped prisoners then? Prisoners of War.
AC: Oh yeah. They — but they didn’t bother them.
DK: No.
AC: They, they didn’t give any particular respect to Prisoners of War or anybody else. But anyway the, the guard who came down who was very nice. As a matter of fact, on our way out the main, the main part of the prison I mentioned to the guard that they had taken my watch away from me. I had a Rolex Oyster. And that’s about a two thousand dollar watch, you know. And he said, ‘Oh. Ok.’ So, he went to the fellow on the desk and he started yelling at him in German and telling give me back my watch. The guy opened the drawer.
DK: Wow.
AC: And gave me back my watch.
DK: Wow.
AC: So there was, there was a guard. An ordinary, an ordinary soldier giving the Gestapo a hard time. And we had to give him advice on how to get back the best way because he didn’t know the railroads as well as we did.
DK: Yeah.
AC: And so we went back there. That was my last attempt at escape. And then after that I got back. And nobody ever caught us in the form of our, nobody ever proved it or even suspected that we had changed identities a couple of times.
DK: So you went back to the camp then as this army person.
AC: That’s right.
DK: And then you swapped over again.
AC: I swapped over again. I re-swapped over and I —
DK: I’m just amazed that the Germans never quite cottoned on to this.
AC: So am I but the like I said the average guard there would be a postman or something who would just as soon be a guard in a prison camp then fight the Russians. You know, the Russians were really mean. They were even meaner than the Germans. They still are I think but —
CK: Can I just ask which camp this was? Was this Stalag 8?
AC: Stalag 8B. And then they changed the name to 344, nearer the end for some reason.
CK: You mentioned in your book about a couple of coincidences. You met a couple of chums from Canada or something.
AC: Oh yeah. That’s right. I met a, I met a couple of chums who had gone to the same high school that I went to.
DC: When you first went in the camp.
AC: When I first went in the camp. Yeah. That was my first visit to the camp where they unloaded the train and then they marched us all down to the camp. And a couple of these fellows actually met us and said, ‘Hey, what are you doing here?’ I said, ‘Same thing as you. What are you doing here?’ That camp had a maximum capacity of about twenty five thousand. There were a lot of people there. So, and you can imagine the guard’s problem.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
AC: You know. Keeping track of all these people. In fact they had a compound which, where they supposedly punished people who were trying to escape and what not. I’m trying to think of the name of the compound. Anyway, it’s in, it’s in my book. And, and we never saw the inside of that but we heard about it, you know. If you were caught climbing a fence or trying to beat up a guard or something then you go in to that camp and get punished. So, anyway that was my, my whole period there. And then the, the end came when the Russians were so close you could hear the guns firing and they decided to take us off out of the camp and they tipped the whole Air Force compound at once. They marched us out about 3 o’clock in the morning and we were going west on the, on the side roads. And we were sleeping in barns and so forth.
DK: Had you been expected to be evacuated as the Russians advanced?
AC: Well, we didn’t know. Nobody told us everything. And they decided they were going to take it because having a bunch of prisoners in fairly good condition was a good thing to do when the British were obviously winning the war.
DK: Yeah.
AC: I think most Germans knew that the war was pretty well lost by then. And they marched us all the way there. And the most interesting place we stopped at a train pulled over, stopped because there was going to be an air raid. And the name of the place was Halberstadt, which means half a town. Halbe is half and stadt is town. And the RAF came and bombed the place. Shot up the place quite, and some of our own people were killed there which was fairly normal for wartime you know.
DK: Yeah.
AC: And they and so the next morning they gathered up, they buried the people that were killed and they put the rest —
DK: So, you’ve been both. You’ve been both dropping bombs and on the receiving end of them.
AC: Oh yeah. That’s right. I was on the receiving end.
DK: Right.
AC: And so they put us back into another train and they took us all the way to West Germany. And, and in West Germany we were in a camp that had just been evacuated. They had taken a bunch of officers and people out of there that they wanted us to hang on to and they put us in the camp. And then we were in that camp when what was his name? Not Montgomery. Montgomery. Yeah. Montgomery and his army came by that area.
DK: Right.
AC: And they, they released us. I was quite disappointed because I met a couple of British soldiers that were telling us where we could go to steal things from houses. You know. How you can loot houses. They’d just walk into a place with the guns and start to look around.
DK: Really?
AC: And take stuff off the mantelpiece and whatever.
DK: And this is, this is —
AC: I was quite disappointed with that, you know.
DK: Yeah.
AC: After the way we had been treated. But you’ve got to remember we also knew that the Poles and the Jews and the Russians and a few other people like that were treated really terribly by the Germans.
DK: Yeah.
AC: The Germans. I guess we were the best treated, treated of the lot because we were connected with the Red Cross.
DK: Yeah.
AC: And you know what Germans are like. They go by the book and the book said the Red Cross was in charge of us. And so the Germans —
DK: So, just going back a bit to your time in the camp would you say you were fairly well treated then?
AC: Yes. I think we were fairly well treated and any, anybody who wrote a book saying we weren’t well treated I think they were probably stretching the truth a little bit.
DK: Do you think the Red Cross parcels made a big difference then?
AC: Oh yeah. They made a big difference because we would get an average of maybe one, one or two Red Cross parcels a month and one Red Cross parcel particularly the Canadian ones were full of butter and jam and all kinds of things that you didn’t get. Because our normal food, God only knows what was in but you know, dead horses and whatever. And that is why I’m so old, I think. I’ve eaten so much crappy stuff. I’m, I just had my eighty fourth birthday and Dorothy —
DC: Eighty fourth? Ninety.
AC: Oh, ninety fourth. Yeah.
DK: Ninety fourth. Yeah.
AC: Ninety fourth. Yeah. And Dorothy’s birthday is coming up. Her ninety fifth is coming up at the end of next month.
DC: Ninety six.
AC: Yeah. She’s going to be, she’s going to be ninety six. Well, she’s got a much better, better memory than I have. So, I didn’t meet Dorothy until after the war.
DK: Right.
AC: And she was working for a big oil company. Imperial Oil. And she was, had a pretty good job too. I didn’t marry her for her money of course but —
DC: Oh yes you did.
AC: So, but anyway and I was a starving student, you know. I had to go back to school and get my grade thirteen. And then I went to university and I got admitted in to university as an architectural student. And in the second year I realised that this would be a pretty boring occupation doing stairways and tall buildings and things like that after what I’d been through. So, on top of that I didn’t have a job or anything and didn’t have any money. Dorothy had some money. But anyway we got married and, and I re-joined the Air Force. Did I join the Air Force after we got married?
DC: [unclear]
AC: Yeah. And I re-joined the Air Force and that was about — 1945.
DC: 1949.
AC: ’49. Yeah. And I was in the Air Force for the next twenty odd years. And then I was too young to start over again then so I went to Transport Canada. And in the same capacity as a pilot.
DK: Right.
AC: And doing safety work. And my job there was to look after the safety programmes in the Province.
DK: Oh right.
AC: I was the head safety officer. Anyway, so, and that’s, so I’ve been a pilot all my life. From, from age nineteen to, to now.
DK: And could I just take you back a bit? When Montgomery’s armies turned up and you’d been liberated how did you then get back to England from there? Or Canada really?
AC: Well, actually they took us by truck down to the nearest airport and then they flew us back in Dakotas, you know.
DK: Right.
AC: You know what a Dakota looks like. And there they sorted us all out and like an idiot I said I want to go back to Canada when I should have stayed and looked around England a bit first. But anyway, so I went back to Canada pretty well —
DK: Right.
AC: Shortly after. Before the war was even over. And that was the end of, that was the end of my military experience. And I got a, I got a private pilots or a commercial pilot’s licence and I got an instructor’s job at the local airport.
DK: Right.
AC: Then I joined the Air Force, and —
DK: So, what were you flying between 1949 and the twenty years you were back in the Air Force.
AC: Well, they didn’t put me on Lancasters. They put me on Cansos.
DK: Right.
AC: I was flying Cansos and, and the first year I was flying as a co-pilot with another chap whose name was [pause] I can’t think of it right now. But he’s probably dead anyway. But anyway he was flying all over the Arctic and looking for the North Magnetic Pole and this and that.
DC: The [unclear] Magnetic Pole.
AC: Do you remember his name, Dot?
DC: Just a minute. [pause] I have to think about it for a minute.
AC: Yeah. Anyway, anyway, so his job was, you know relocating the North Magnetic Pole and a few things like that. And the following, the following year they decided to make me a captain so they moved me to Vancouver.
DK: Right.
AC: Where I took a course on the Canso. I thought I was going to be flying the Lancaster but no I went on to the Canso and I must have done fairly well on that because when I came back I was a captain on a Canso for the next couple of years. And then after that just to make things different they moved me on to Cansos in Vancouver. And I spent another five or how many years were we in Vancouver.
DC: Seven years.
AC: Seven years in Vancouver. There you go.
DK: Yeah.
AC: So, I was seven years in Vancouver. And most of our work was rescue work, you know.
DK: Yeah.
AC: Locating crashed aeroplanes and things like that and that’s where I got that medal from the Queen there.
DK: Oh right.
AC: See the picture of me and the Queen.
DK: Yeah. Oh yeah.
AC: I sent her a picture. I sent her a letter asking her if she would sign the picture. She said —
DC: Oh no.
AC: She said, I got a letter back from her assistant saying sorry but we can’t do things like that. You can imagine the problem we’d have writing to everybody who wanted our signature. So, she said, “I appreciate your enquiry,” and so forth and so on. It was the same as the Air Force Cross except it was a peacetime medal.
DK: Oh right.
AC: And it was for rescuing a guy who was having a, some kind of a heart attack in his head out on a weather ship. You know.
DK: Oh right.
AC: In those days they had weather ships way out.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
AC: In the middle of the ocean. And so I went out there and landed close by and they brought this sick guy over on a life boat and loaded him into the back of the aeroplane where there was a couple of nurses there. And then this guy was loaded in to the aircraft I’d got to take off in fairly rough water. But I had put two JATO bottles in the aeroplane.
DK: Right.
AC: One on each side. And do you know what a JATO bottle is?
DK: Is it a —
AC: It’s a rocket.
DK: Jet Assisted Take Off
AC: And it lasts for two or three minutes and so we managed to get off at about the second bounce. We got off and stayed in the air and flew this guy to Victoria where he was sent to a hospital and apparently lived to tell about it. So, anyway that was one of the more spectacular ones I did but I did lots of picking guys out of the water and flying them home and things like that. So, that was my job in Vancouver. And then they sent me to Toronto. A staff college again wasn’t it?
DC: You went to Goose Bay, Labrador first.
AC: Oh yeah. I went to Goose Bay, Labrador as a chief operations officer there. I was a squadron leader by then. And then I was told that there were so many people due for promotion that they were going to have to pass me over and start promoting some younger people otherwise everybody would be retiring at about the same time. Which was fair enough. So, I never got any higher than squadron leader.
DK: Yeah.
AC: But it was a pretty good job anyway doing that.
DK: So, so you never flew the Lancaster again post war.
AC: Oh, I flew the Lancaster again in Vancouver.
DK: Oh.
AC: Having been a Lancaster pilot they chose me to check people out in the Lancaster.
DK: Oh right.
AC: And so, I checked quite a few people out in the Lancaster. I flew a few tours myself looking for various crashed aircraft and whatnot.
DK: You didn’t, you didn’t fly the one that’s still flying did you?
AC: No. I didn’t.
DK: No.
AC: I didn’t fly that but no, I’m, I’m listed as a Canso pilot. I got thousands of hours in a Canso. And my son, one of my sons started a business which he called Canso. And he’s got the whole, and it’s doing pretty well.
DK: Yeah.
AC: So, and he’s got his whole office full of Canso pictures and parts and things like that. So, it’s quite flattering to see.
DK: Yeah.
AC: All these Canso things are out. So, anyway that’s my story. It’s not much of a story.
DK: Oh, it’s a great story. Just going, looking back now after all these years. How do you feel about your time, you know in the Air Force during the war and particularly as a POW? How do you look back on that now? Your feelings.
AC: Well, considering the fact that my father and mother both died in their 60s. My older brother died many years ago and he was a couple of years older than I was. My younger sister, who was quite a few years younger than me died just last year. I figure, and I may be wrong but I figure that the bad food that I got used to in the camp and the good treatment I got, pretty well, you know went together and made me sort of, I’m still, despite what my wife may think I’m still fairly healthy.
DC: I watch his diet.
AC: Just, my recent call to the doctor, he said, ‘You’re very slightly on the diabetic line.’
DK: Right. Yeah.
AC: And so I —
DK: So, you think it —
AC: I told Dot this and now she gives me hell every time I have a cup of sugar.
DK: So, you think it made you a stronger person. Is that what you’re saying?
DC: Yes.
AC: Yes. I think —
DK: Yeah.
AC: I think it, I think it made me stronger. The fact that, you know, some of the people like my rear gunner Claude Clemens he never went outside the camp once, you know. He just sat there and played bridge and played cards and had a good time and then got released. And I and a number of other people thought that we should be doing something useful like trying to escape.
DK: Did you see it as your duty then to escape?
AC: I thought so. Yeah.
DK: Yeah.
AC: So, I mean I was a young fellow I’d believe anything in those days. But —
DK: Was it partly then to stop the boredom? You know. That you were doing something. This was —
AC: I was doing something yeah. And I was hoping to get to, to get out, you know. Actually have a successful escape. And they never did send the escapers back on operations. They used to send them back to Canada or someplace.
DK: Right.
AC: So they could propagandise the other people. So anyway, that was my reason for trying to escape but I think that it actually did me some good because I can eat almost any kind of food. Can’t I Dot?
DC: Yes. You don’t like certain kinds of green vegetables.
AC: So, anyway that’s, that’s my story.
DK: Ok.
CK: Did you keep in touch with some of your crew?
AC: They’re all dead.
CK: After the war.
CK: Ah.
DC: Well, we did keep in touch with them.
AC: We kept in touch with them. Yeah.
DC: But there’s none of them left.
AC: Claude Clemens was one of them.
DC: And Mac.
AC: And, yeah.
DC: And John Marchant, he’s dead.
AC: Yeah. They’re all dead now.
DC: And —
AC: And I’ll probably be dead in a couple of years. That’s why I wondered about you guys waiting ‘til, waiting so long to do this. There’s all kinds of —
DK: It’s taken a while. Yeah.
DC: De Silva’s grandson keeps in touch with us. Michael de Silva. His father got killed at [unclear]
AC: Who are you talking about?
DC: De Silva’s. You know the —
AC: Oh, the son of the fellow.
DC: That was the grandson.
AC: The grandson. Yeah.
DK: So, that’s de Silva’s grandson is still in touch with you.
AC: Can I make a cup of tea?
DK: Oh, I’d love one, I think. What I’ll do is —
AC: Let me make the tea, Dot. You just sit down.
DK: What I’ll do is I’ll just stop this now.
AC: Yeah.
DK: But thanks very much for that. That’s been —



David Kavanagh, “Interview with Andrew Carswell,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 27, 2024,

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