Photo: Maritimers Sterling David Banks (right) of Prince Edward Island and Donald Gordon Thompson (left) of Florence, Nova Scotia, posing in front of a Harvard after receiving their wings December 19, 1941 with Course 39. Banks was killed in action August 19, 1942 when his Hawker Hurricane was brought down by flak during the Dieppe Raid. Thompson died of injuries in a flying accident January 17, 1943. (DND PL-6467)

Frank Blinkhorn - Course 61

By Caroline Wyatt, BBC News correspondent - Frank Blinkhorn was just 17 years old when he joined the RAF in wartime Britain, and was given only eight hours' training in a Tiger Moth to prove he could go solo. He was then sent to Canada to qualify as an RAF fighter pilot flying Harvards. He won his wings on his 19th birthday, returning to England to fight the Luftwaffe. "I remember walking up Oxford Street with my fiancee when I came back from my training in Canada, walking past Selfridges, which was ablaze after being bombed. Many of his comrades died in the skies over enemy territory. He himself was lucky to return alive. “A lot didn't come back - and I nearly didn't," says the 86-year-old. "I was shot down over Boulogne harbour on 8 May 1944, just a month before D-Day. We were on a reconnaissance flight for D-Day, and one of our jobs was to fly out to Germany to do a weather recce for the big bomber raids coming up. We were coming back out of Boulogne and I got a ground shell in the engine - and in those days there was no ejector seat, so you had to ditch." His plane ditched into the cold waters of the Channel in the midst of a minefield. He was knocked unconscious, but was rescued.

Albert Louis Schlegel - Course 35

By Brian Albrecht, The Plain Dealer CLEVELAND, Ohio March 27, 2017 -- For 72 years, the remains of Cleveland's World War II fighter ace Albert Schlegel were known only as X-73, buried in an anonymous grave in an American cemetery in Champigueul, France. Then, in 2016, an investigation finally revealed the tragic story of the airman who had been shot down while flying his P-51 Mustang on a mission in France, and was apparently captured by German troops and summarily executed with a bullet to the forehead. Schlegel, who wanted to fly and fight so badly that he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force shortly before America entered the war in 1941, will be buried with full military honors on March 30 at the Beaufort (South Carolina) National Cemetery. "Uncle Sonny" will be saluted at the memorial service and burial by his nephew, Perry Nuhn, 84, a former Clevelander now living in Beaufort County, South Carolina. Nuhn, the last surviving family member who knew Schlegel before and during the war, is a retired Air Force colonel who served as a bombardier/navigator during the Korean and Vietnam wars. He said his uncle was born in Cleveland but raised in Garfield Heights, and played baseball and football at John Adams High School. His hobbies included making model airplanes. Nuhn said Schlegel was put in charge of watching the kids whenever Nuhn's family visited. "With us, as kids, he was patient, did not complain about watching us and keeping us entertained," Nuhn said. "Both before he left for Canada and when he came home after flight training, he passed on all his toys and models, some clothes and other items to us, some of which I still have," he added. "He was someone it was easy to want to be with, and caring." After Schlegel graduated from high school, "like all kids at the time, he was interested in aviation, and wanted to go into the U.S. military air (program)," Nuhn said. At the time, however, aviation candidates had to have two years of college, and "there was no way he could go to college, he didn't have the money," Nuhn added. Schlegel then heard the Canadians were recruiting American pilots for the war, and he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. One Canadian officer described Schlegel as a "good, clean-cut American lad. Will develop into good aircrew material. Pleasant and good appearance." Schlegel went to England to join 8,800 other Yanks fighting for the RAF in the Eagle Squadrons, but was injured while riding in a Jeep that hit a bomb crater on an airfield. He lost most of his teeth, and four pins had to be used to set his broken leg. (Those injuries would later help identify his remains.)
(Photo: Albert Schlegel in front of a Harvard trainer at Aylmer) Once healed, Schlegel, who was nicknamed "Smiley," tore up the skies in a variety of aircraft. He flew Hurricanes and Spitfires for the British. After becoming part of the U.S. Eighth Air Force's 335th Fighter Squadron in 1943, he also piloted P-47 Thunderbolts and P-51 Mustangs. He flew missions escorting bombers and attacking ground targets. Eventually he became an ace (five or more victories in the air), credited with 16 enemy planes (confirmed and probable, in the air and on the ground). Schlegel was able to make a short visit home in 1944. Nuhn recalled that the pilot spoke little about combat. "Hairy war stories were not in conversations with me or my brothers," he noted. "Mostly, funny instances about him and his fellow 4th Fighter group friends."
Nuhn said many veteran pilots were being re-assigned to duty in the U.S., but his uncle chose to return to combat. "He wanted to go back over and fly," he said. On Aug. 28, 1944, Captain Schlegel was a flight leader on a raid on a railroad yard near Sarrebourg, France. Three of the flight's 16 planes were shot down by enemy antiaircraft flak, including Schlegel, who radioed the formation, saying he'd been hit and "might have to bail out." Neither Schlegel nor his plane was found. The Germans did not report Schlegel as being captured, and the pilot was listed as missing in action. However, an investigation in 2015 turned up reports that on the day Schlegel was shot down, in the same area, villagers of Valmy, France, reported seeing an Allied airman brought to the train station by German troops, then hearing two gunshots. A body was later discovered near the train station, shot in the head, and the remains -- identified only as X-73 -- were transferred to the American cemetery in Champigueul. Investigators had the skeletal remains sent to a laboratory in Nebraska, where they were identified, and Nuhn was notified in 2016 that the family's longstanding mystery had been solved. Nuhn recalled that when his uncle was reported missing, then killed in action, "I do not believe my mother or grandmother ever got over his death. As for me, instant shock, deep loss and grief." Nuhn will speak at a memorial ceremony honoring his uncle on March 29 at the National Museum of the Mighty 8th Air Force,in Georgia. A flyover is planned by current members of Schlegel's old squadron, the 335th. He also will speak at the March 30 burial, where Schlegel's uniform and decorations will be displayed. Nuhn remembers Schlegel as both a fighter pilot and an uncle. Judging from Schlegel's letters home, "he was truly happy when flying," Nuhn said. "He got a 'rush' from real low-level flying. "I have known more than a few fighter pilots. Generally they tend toward more on the wild side as pilots go," he added. "I would not put my uncle in that category. But when it came to flying fighters, he loved it, and I suspect he was a determined 'fighter' as a fighter pilot." As an uncle, "he was always somebody we looked up to," Nuhn said. When he first got word that his uncle's remains had been found and identified, Nuhn said he was surprised and relieved. "You're talking about closure here," he said. "It's like reading a book, and now you're on the last chapter."
After a journey of more than 70 years, U.S. Army Air Force Capt. Albert L. Schlegel made it home Thursday morning to his final resting place. Schlegel, a World War II pilot, received a hero’s welcome home as hundreds gathered along the road in front of Beaufort National Cemetery to pay tribute to him. He was welcomed home by school children, veterans, current service members, families and many others who just wanted to say thanks one final time for his service to the country. “This completes the story,” Perry Nuhn, Schlegel’s nephew and last remaining relative said of the service. “Now I know what happened to him and it is good to have this closure. This is not a sad moment. This is a happy moment.”
Above: Edited copy taken from original 8 mm film footage shot by Group Captain Norman Irwin, Station C.O. - for research and private study only.


During the 1930s we had all been concerned by the danger of another War with Germany after all the British Empire had lost 1 million soldiers between 1914 and 1918. The worries increased when the Germans elected Hitler and the Nazis to power in 1933 and thereafter the seizure by the Nazis of the Rhineland, the Ruhr, Sudetenland and in Czechoslovakia and Austria the Anschluss (the Anschluss was the take over of Austria by The German Nazis) Britain and France only slightly strengthened their armed forces – wishing to pursue peaceful policies, but Germany was creating the world’s most efficient and aggressive military force. The British Prime Minister (Neville Chamberlain) made many a weak concession to appease the Germans – but they were intent on world domination. Then on 1st September 1939 the Germans, with the connivance of the Russian dictatorship invaded Poland with massive forces and heavy bombing of cities. The British in the peace treaty of 1918 had guaranteed to protect the independence of Poland, and warned Germany to also respect its treaties with Poland or Britain would have to declare war. So on Sunday morning 3rd September Neville Chamberlain broadcast to the nation that we were at War again like 1914-1918. At this time I was working in C&H Fabrics, but that afternoon, at the age of 18, I sat down and wrote to the R.A.F. offering my services as a fighter pilot to try to protect the people of Britain from the terrible destruction of heavy German bombing which the British press had predicted. There was a family tradition of volunteering to fight to save this island. My father volunteered on the outbreak of the First World War, and served in the trenches in Flanders. His younger brother, Stanley, became a Pilot in The Royal Flying Corps in 1917/18 and William Neville (First Company Secretary of C&H Fabrics) flew British Fighters in Mesopotamia in that War. Keith was only 16 years old at the end of the War in 1945, but shortly afterwards became employed in digging up the many unexploded bombs. Some two or three weeks passed before I had a reply, which suggested the R.A.F. was too busy to consider me! Anyway there was no dramatic German bombing early on, and a period of ‘phoney war’ followed. Some 7 or 8 months later the war really started. Denmark and Norway were invaded by Germany, and then Belgium and Holland were over run, followed by France and the defeated British army retreated to Dunkirk. Many of the British and some French troops were rescued by sea, but all the weapons and equipment was lost. With the surrender of France and the other European countries Britain and its Empire were left to fight on alone. So in the almost hopeless situation, I offered my services again, and I was accepted. It was March 1941 before I could go to Ballacombe and Torquay for training. From June 1940 the British position seemed quite hopeless and the Germans had conquered almost all the rest of Europe. But Churchill took over power as Prime Minister and was determined to fight on despite the odds. The Germans decided to invade England, and their preparatory step was to destroy by bombing the R.A.F. airfields and the Ports. This started The Battle of Britain in the south-east of England and the Germans had a superiority of 4 to 1 in aircraft and aircrews. But the R.A.F. fought brilliantly, using all the aircraft and pilots they could muster, which obviously meant heavy casualties for the R.A.F. Somehow the R.A.F. held on, and on 15th September 1940 the Germans made an enormous battle effort against the R.A.F. – but the R.A.F. destroyed a lot of German aircraft (despite the losses of British fighters), and the Germans abandoned their invasion plans. So we had won the Battle of Britain. Next the Germans switched to night bombing attacks on British cities and armament factories. One night in September 1940 there was a mass raid on the Surrey docks, and the London railway stations. I was returning home from work in Kilburn and found that all the railway stations were out of action and so had to walk home (some 15 miles) The R.A.F. lacked night fighter aircraft, so they had to start manufacturing these and heavy bombers to attack Germany. The Germans were able to employ all the factories all over occupied Europe to provide them with weapons of war. Also Italy had joined in the war on Germany’s side that summer – thus starting the war in the Mediterranean, including North Africa. As a result of Britain’s determination to put all its efforts into the war, by early 1941 the war effort was progressing. I was now required to train as a pilot, and sent to Torquay in Devon. So on the journey Stanley came to see me off at Paddington Station, and amongst the rest of the would-be pilots, I saw somebody I had known at school named Perrot. He lasted the course until Elementary Flying School in Canada – but was then ‘washed out’ because the RAF flying standards were so high. After re-assessment he became a navigator for bombers, but sadly was killed during bombing in Germany. Early in the War the RAF was ruthless in it’s standards for flying, and said up to 90% of applicants did not make the grade. Like all the other volunteers I had to learn about warfare, military discipline, airmanship, air navigation, how to counter poison-gas etc. Also I passed my 20th birthday (un-noticed) and left my teenage years. Although I still had two or three weeks of the course in Torquay to complete, I was suddenly given a railway ticket for a 48 hour leave. So I went home to say goodbye to my family. On my return to Torquay we were shipped by train to the Wirral into a miserable and muddy holding camp. After a couple of days or so, another train journey took us up to Greenock on the Clyde. There we loaded kit-bags etc. on to a large camouflaged ship, and at dusk we sailed out past the submarine boom with a scratching gramophone playing a Scottish lament. I guessed the reason for the hasty voyage was the sinking the previous week of the German battleship the Bismark, a great threat to allied shipping. But of course we did not know where we were going. The Atlantic voyage was very uncomfortable on the crowded converted liner – The Windsor Castle – and the rest of the convoy was a damaged battleship, due to be repaired by the ‘neutral’ Americans, plus we had an escort of four destroyers. We took turns keeping watch for enemy submarines, and all the ships were going at maximum speed. Anyway, one morning the rest of the convoy had vanished, and a few hours later we were disembarked near Halifax in Canada. There followed yet another long and uncomfortable journey by train through Canadian forests, but at night we caught a glimpse of the name ‘Quebec’ as we passed a railway station. Next day, tired, dusty and fed-up we reached some railway siding and met a Canadian Air Force Sergeant. He realised a psychological approach was called for ‘I know you guys have had a rough time, but you help me and I’ll help you. You have professional experience and can march into this building to impress the new rookies I have to train’ So we marched in very smartly, and received a great cheer from the new recruits. There was now a great change from the hardships of the past journeys. Canada was a land flowing with milk and honey! The Canadian Sergeant advised attending Sunday morning service in a local Toronto Church – he said that on the way out of church you will be surrounded by very patriotic matrons who will invite you home for a special Sunday lunch. Try to choose one with the prettiest daughters!’ Well I met a Mrs ‘Mom’ Harris who cared for me while I was in Canada, and she became a pen-friend of my mother’s. They took me to Niagara, the Muskoka lakes and let me drive their car, and I had an excellent time. They said that when the war was over I should emigrate to Canada! I was certainly tempted! (Photo: DeHavilland Tiger Moths)
Within a few days, I was posted some distance away to Oshawa and very quickly I started flying Tiger Moths. After only 4 trips of one hour each, the instructor said” now you fly solo”. Initially I did not find it easy, but with determination and practice I improved. So early in June 1941 I was a pilot. It was hard work but very satisfying – and the work was relieved at weekends by all sorts of journeys and entertainment encouraged by the Harris family, even including a game of cricket in York, Canada.
The course ended in late August, and we were given a weeks holiday. With another R.A.F. friend we went outside the airfield and raised a thumb. (Photo: Barry Hamblin pictured during his training at No. 14 SFTS Aylmer) Immediately cars stopped asking where we would like to go – so we said Montreal and off we went. I think we stopped the night at Kingston, then hitched a lift to Gananoque where a boat ran across the St. Lawrence river to New York State in the U.S.A.. On arrival we met some U.S. immigration officials who asked to see our passports. I said that I had never had one. The Officer said ‘you are in the uniform of a belligerent country and the U.S.A. is at peace, so I cannot let you through’. Then he said how sorry he was not to let us through – ‘we Americans are hospitable people and I hate to be mean’ so they sat us down in comfortable chairs, supplied coffee, biscuits and offered cigarettes. One could hardly have been thrown out more politely! On the return boat journey I met a girl from Virginia who wrote to me for years – but after I was married Shirley wrote and told her of our marriage – end of correspondence! Well we proceeded to hitch to Montreal and back via Ottawa, so we saw something of Canada. On our return some of us were posted to the Canadian West to be bomber pilots, including Cyril Payne, who had been with me since Torquay, his Mother lived near Croydon, and got to know my mother. Cyril qualified on Bombers and flew one back from Canada to England. Sadly he was killed on an operational flight against German U-boats and Fighters in the Bay of Biscay.
(Photo: North American MkII Harvards at No. 14 SFTS Aylmer) I went to Aylmer, near Lake Erie, by London (Canada). Here the aircraft were North American Harvards, a big change for us, with high speed retractable undercarriages etc. Anyway, I got a lot of flying experience and became efficient until the end of the course in late November, when I was awarded my wings. A proud ceremony attended by many Canadian patriots including the Harris family to cheer me on. But the next day they came to see me off at the railway station – with many tears. I had had a wonderful time in Canada. The train was poor and uncomfortable, but in two days or so it reached Halifax. It was now December, bitterly cold after Toronto’s autumn and we had to wait for a boat. Eventually I was part of a small group out on to a meat boat. While waiting for the Convoy to form, we heard on the radio that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbour, thus bringing the U.S.A. into the War. Well it was an enormous convoy, but the speed was determined by the slowest merchant vessel, so it took us three weeks to reach Belfast. We managed to avoid the U-boat menace, by a northerly course between Iceland and Greenland – but it was incredibly cold, so I tried to grow a beard! Anyway we were lucky – two Atlantic crossings without being sunk. We landed in Belfast, got across to Heysham in Lancashire where I was able to phone my parents for the first time for 6 months or more. My father came to meet me at Paddington where I gave him a large suitcase of food I had carried from Canada. I was then transferred by train to Bournemouth arriving Christmas morning. One thought longingly of how much better it was in Canada. Shortly afterwards we were all sent to Hastings – Marine Court on the seafront. There was nothing to do but wait for the posting which did not happen until early February. I was given a few days off and saw my family. Thereafter there was little to do but wait – check in daily and maybe take a bus ride round the country. Things happened in February – I was posted to an operational training unit at Sutton Bridge on the Wash. Here I was given the briefest of checks flying a Miles monoplane. Then I read the instructors manual for a Hawker Hurricane, and then flew it. My first single seater operational flight, which luckily was no trouble. A very uncomfortable and bitterly cold airfield which lay below sea level – to walk round it you had to climb on top of the sea-walls and suffer the vicious east wind off the North Sea.
Anyway I got lots of practice flights including firing the Hurricane’s eight machine guns at seagulls on the Wash. March 24th that year was my 21st birthday – I applied for the day off, but no consent was granted. I slipped out of the airfield the night before to go home. In London I was stopped by security, but bluffed my way out of trouble ‘desertion’ would have been thought serious. I managed less than 24 hours at home, then managed to get back to the airfield unnoticed. Towards late March 1942, the Air Force decided to move the entire operation – aircraft and pilots to Dundee in Scotland. I was allocated the worn out Miles aircraft to take up. We had to refuel at Acklington, but as soon as I selected down for the landing wheels, There was an incredible alarm warning noise. I tried two or three times but the alarm always went off. Finally I flew low over the control tower, waggling my wings, but nobody seemed interested. So I decided to land the aircraft very cautiously and had no problem. I reported to an engineer on the serious problem, but the reply was ‘you should have been told the alarm was defective’. Anyway, refuelled I took off again and landed safely in Dundee ignoring the warning alarms. I had only a few days after that on a new satellite airstrip near Forfar. Then a weeks leave at home in Kenley where I received a letter posting me to Turnhouse in Edinburgh, where I was to discover we were to re-form a fighter squadron – No. 242- being equipped with Spitfires. I was lucky to be one of the first arrivals and was soon to work my way into being one of the permanent staff – rather like the first eleven at School – and I never wished to belong to any other part of the service. For a couple of days I worked hard sitting in the cockpit reading the manual – I needed to work out and memorise all its details before flying it – and of course there was never any possibility of real practice in a single seat fighter. I also became very friendly with Arthur Hampshire who had come from our operational flying unit with me. He lived near Manchester, and told me he had a scar on his forehead from when he landed badly one night during training. A few days later he asked me to fly as a Section Leader and he would fly as my number two. I agreed and discovered how exceptionally good was his formation flying – he kept his wing tip about two feet from my starboard wing! As our friendship developed we were amazed to find that we had some sort of mental relationship when flying, and he could understand my thoughts from my aircraft to his, we generally did not need or use the radio and we continued to fly as a section through all our operations in England and the Atlantic Coast of Europe. Also shortly after I arrived at 242 Squadron in Turnhouse, (April 1942) an experienced Flying Officer named “Benny” Benham arrived, and was promoted to Flight Lieutenant of our flight – a capable person who survived the War. Well we soon moved from Edinburgh to Drem (June-August 1942), and on occasion to other airfields in Scotland, depending on what had to be protected. We had a couple of US battleships off North-west Scotland, so Arthur and I went to Peterhead to protect the battleships. Also in the Southern-uplands we did a multi-service practice of an invasion to come. Sadly we had a pilot killed in the southern uplands from a flight of 3 that I was leading – due to a radio fault, and the pilot did not hear my instruction to him to return to base. In May the whole squadron was moved for a few days to Ayr on the West Coast of Scotland. We were briefed that the liner Queen Mary was returning to England at maximum speed bearing an incredible number of American troops (believed 18,000), and as we had Spitfires armed with cannon and machine guns, we must escort them safely into Glasgow. It was emphasised that it would be a terrible blow if the Queen Mary was damaged by enemy planes or U boats. Our share (Arthur and I) would be 30 minutes over the convoy (May 23, 1942) and then another pair of our Spitfires would take over. I disliked the look of Ailsa Craig, which rose steeply from the sea – dangerous in fog. All went well for us, but after dark a German bomber on a reconnaissance aircraft was heard overhead. We sent up another section of Spitfires who had little hope of finding the raider in the dark. But sadly the less experienced pilot of ours (Pilot Officer David Hunter-Blair) did not switch on his oxygen, lost consciousness and crashed and was killed somewhere over the Southern Uplands. The plane (Spitfire AD540 – “Blue Peter”) was not discovered then, but by accident was found by a BBC adventure programme (Blue Peter) 50 years later. I went back to Drem with the Squadron, but one Spitfire had been out of action so a couple of days later I got a lift in a Boulton Paul Defiant (a two seater fighter) back to Ayr and collected the Spitfire.
(Note: June 8, 1942 Sgt. Hamblin, flew Spitfire Mk. Vb. BL614 during a No. 242 squadron training flight. The aircraft survived the war and is now displayed at the Royal Air Force Museum, Hendon.) Sometimes the Government thought ‘it might be good for us to visited by a Cabinet Minister or celebrity’. One day they sent the Foreign Secretary, Sir Anthony Eden, who made a few trite remarks, and I thought looked incompetent. My opinion seemed justified when years later he became Prime Minister and made a rotten job of the Suez Crisis. However sometimes they sent somebody impressive – like Lord Trenchard, who made a speech to us about successful tactics of the American pilots who had just won the Battle Of the Coral Seas. He was interrupted by an accompanying , and less senior Air Marshall, who said’ that information is scheduled secret Sir and you must not discuss it’. Lord Trenchard told this Air Marshall to ‘shut up, how can we expect to win the War if my Pilots are not fully informed?’ After a few days at Ouston by Newcastle, we were sent by the R.A.F. as a Squadron down to North Weald (August 1942) in Essex. Arthur and I had been busy, and for the move south I had been made Transport Officer, for no apparent reason, so we spent the two day journey driving a staff car and it was a rest. Perhaps the Commanding Officer wanted his less experienced pilots to get some extra flying experience. We did a number of flights around Essex, London and the South-East and checked courses back to the aerodrome. Within a week we were to begin attacks on the French, Belgium and Dutch coast. Maintaining complete radio silence in all of South-East England, and flying never higher than 100 feet above the ground, the enemy radar could not know when we were coming. We flew very low across the Channel with our slip streams stirring up the water, but the moment we could pick out the French coastline we climbed very fiercely often up to 30,000 feet. The enemy anti-aircraft gunfire got going immediately, and the sky looked like it had black measles. Generally we went in large formation – often 36 Spitfires and hoped that if there was an air battle we would start with the advantage of height. At North Weald we were the newest Squadron – the two senior squadrons were Norwegian and very experienced. The whole wing of 4 Squadrons was led by Wing Commander Scott Maldon. At the start of the War he had been reading Classics at Cambridge, but had been in the University Air Squadron and so was collected by the RAF at the outbreak of War. He fought in The Battle of Britain in 1940 and was lucky to survive. Due to heavy casualties among pilots he made rapid promotion, and would finish as an Air Vice-Marshall at the end of the War. I envied him his job then responsible only for tactics, and leading the wing when attacking the Germans – but I did not have his luck. Later I saw his obituary, and he lived to be 80 years old. For these air engagements we knew the Germans were equipped with Focke-Wulf 190 fighters, which were superior to our current Spitfires in rate of climb, and very steep turning thanks to their ball bearing ailerons. However, we had practiced very hard to compensate for the disadvantages, and we made a number of attacks against the so-called ‘Fortress Europe’. Then we were sent down to Manston near Ramsgate. A tricky airfield so close to the Channel that it was very difficult to protect against hit and run raids. A road ran Across the airfield to camouflage it, so we had to land on top of it. The next evening we were briefed very precisely.
We would invade the port of Dieppe in the morning with some 10,000 Canadian infantry who would hold the port for half a day and then return to England. Sadly half of them never returned. Our instructions were to operate between 3,000 and 10,000 feet only – above Spitfire Mark 9 would be superior to the Focke-Wulf 190s – and below the Navy would attack all aircraft. The R.A.F. and the Luftwaffe each lost about 50 aircraft – and this left the Luftwaffe noticeably short of aircraft and ammunition for several days – but the R.A.F. was better supplied. The facts we discovered were firstly that the Germans were too strong for us to succeed in invading a port our 8 destroyers were incapable of destroying enemy guns on top of cliffs and we had not been given any more powerful vessels; and the Canadians had little chance of success. Politically there was some success, the Russians were encouraged by the hope of a second front. The Germans had to strengthen their aircraft and forces to protect the Atlantic Coast which again pleased the Russians. We were not heavily engaged, but on that day I flew 4 sorties (the latter of which was to protect the returning convoy of ships and troops). I am sure the Allies learned many invaluable but costly lessons, which were to help the invasion in June 1944. Thereafter we flew a number of attacks against the European Coast – and managed as a Squadron to sink a German light warship in a Dutch harbour. I flew very low for my attack, and the R.A.F. used the photography I produced for an Instructional film. I became very familiar with the landmarks in South East England, especially Kent. I used especially Dungeness, the Marine Court building at Hastings and Canterbury Cathedral – though Canterbury flew a balloon at 150 feet, and I had to keep under 100 feet, so one had to be watchful. Years later Canterbury was to have importance for me – Bryce and Bryan went to Kings School Canterbury, and I later met Ailsa and Claudius there. However in more serious earlier times one could be grateful to be back at Canterbury in one piece. On one occasion I became engaged in a dog fight high over Dunkirk with a FW190 German fighter getting close to my tail. So I put the Spitfire into a really steep turn, so at maybe 5 ½ /6 gravity I completely lost vision – but not consciousness – I had practised this a lot – and coming out of the turn I could see again and there was not another aircraft in the sky! So for safety I put the aircraft into a vertical dive, watched the ailerons which could be ripped off with excessive speed, and returned fast and low to Canterbury and North Weald. So the summer passed, and suddenly in early October we were all withdrawn from 11 Group/South East England and sent for some specialised long distance navigation – I did not know why – but obviously we were now thought to have knowledge and experience of combined operations for invasions. Our Squadron Leader named Parker, was posted to Training Command – appropriate as we all felt he preferred flying over Canterbury rather than Calais! He was replaced by Squadron Leader (Dennis) Secretan (much better). I lost touch with Secretan after I was shot down, but he wrote to my parents saying that the Squadron had lost an above average pilot (a considerable qualification in the RAF). Years later I saw memorials to his family in a church near Rudgwick in Surrey – so maybe he survived the War. We had a Flight Lieutenant named (Dennis)Fox-Male (nice chap), who was sent to the USA later, to speak in lectures for propaganda. We were also joined by a South African Battle of Britain ace – Peter Hugo as Wing Commander. However, I never flew with any of these people, because the king of warfare in North Africa was to require smaller numbers of fighters and by now I was sufficiently experienced to be leading Flights. I got a short leave (the last for almost 3 years!) and then reported back to somewhere on the Wirral. We then guessed that we must be going overseas – so all of us Officers paid to stay a few nights in the best hotel in Manchester. Then we were sent to Gourock on the Clyde again. I think we received some khaki clothing suitable for tropical wear – and so we all tried to guess where we were going. Our ship sailed and we were part of a massive convoy, and we had a rendez-vous with an American Battle fleet of carriers and battleships 1,000 miles west of Gibraltar . Afterwards I was to find that they would invade Morocco.
(Photo IWM: Supermarine Spitfire Mark Vs assembled by the Special Erection Party for Operation TORCH, undergoing initial engine tests at North Front, Gibraltar. The Special Erection Party was established at Gibraltar in July 1942 to assemble and test fly aircraft crated from Britain by sea for the reinforcement of Malta. On 28 October 1942 an unexpected shipment of 116 Spitfires and 13 Hawker Hurricanes arrived to be prepared for the Allied landings in North Africa - Operation TORCH and a further shipment was received a few days later.) At about 03.00am on November 7th we were taken ashore in rowing boats as silently as possible – it was Gibraltar. After a few hours sleep we had to report to the Garrison cinema. Then an Air Marshall came onto the stage, unrolled a map of Africa and said ‘ tomorrow morning gentlemen you will take over all of North West Africa’. The 8th army was doing well at El Alamein, and it was obvious that if we seized the North West of Africa, the German Afrika Korps would also have to fight at the rear as well as its front; have its supply lines cut, and be totally lost. In fact this took some 6 months, but it was the allies first major victory of the war, and cost the Germans 300,000 men. The Air Marshall said ‘ Deny the Germans the use of airspace and you take off all the Aircraft tomorrow morning to seize Algiers’. Before our commando forces had even landed we sent off over 100 Hurricanes – by the time they had reached Algiers some airfields had been captured. Then the Spitfires were to be dispatched. I had carefully considered the take-off problems. Gibraltar had only one runway – made much narrower by all the fighters stacked together along the entire width of the runway. I had to lead off a formation of three Spitfires and my number two and three pilots were relatively inexperienced – hoped they could keep dead straight on take-off, also all aircraft were fitted with heavy long range fuel tanks so would require a longer take-off run - the runway ended abruptly in the sea. I no longer had Arthur Hampshire (KIA - January 1, 1943)flying as my number two because he had been promoted to a Section Leader. I checked all three aircraft – kicked the tyres for pressure, checked screens clean to give a good view of the enemy and put my fingers in petrol tanks to check full Fortunately my precautions paid off, everything worked, and I led my formation of 3, straight to Maison Blanche Airport at Algiers, almost 500 miles and all landed safely. The same day the Americans (some flying Spitfires) took other parts of Algeria and Morocco. We were in the most forward position as our squadron had battle experience. My chief anxiety was that we had no petrol with which to refuel, so would be unable to defend ourselves if the enemy attacked. Also we had no food, but discovered a shed on the airport selling something, but it did not want payment in the British Military occupation money, but eventually sold me a couple of doubtful sausages for an English half-crown. The transaction I encouraged by gesturing with my loaded Revolver! No supplies arrived that first day, and one remembered problems the Spanish invasion Fleet suffered in the middle ages. Anyway as night fell there was nowhere to sleep, so I stayed to guard my Spitfire. I had chosen the one marked BH in letters a yard high – Hoped it might frighten the enemy. I got a little sleep on the ground under the wings, And kept a sharp eye out for the impoverished Arabs who were looking for anything to Steal. The following morning – 9th November – the landing craft from the convoy were still having difficulties with the swell of the waters, and all that came ashore were crates of beer – no use for a thirsty Spitfire. But in the afternoon quantities of petrol in 4 gallon Drums arrived and we were able to refuel and so the aircraft became airworthy again. The first German bombers arrived shortly afterwards to be met by plenty of armed Spitfires, and so they had to return at speed to their base in Cagliari on Sardinia. As I was taking off however, a stack of bombs fell on the runway ahead of me – so the moment I was airborne I did a sharp turn to port and was not damaged. We spent about a week there and could protect the coast and shipping around, but the next invasion landing was beyond our range at Boujie Bay and we lost three liners to Torpedo planes. If only the landing equipment had included suitable washers and unions, we could have re-fitted our long range tanks and covered Boujie Bay, but they were still in England. On November 15th commando forces had seized an airfield at Djilli about 180 miles ahead, so off we went at once. Many of the first squadron overshot the small grass airfield and were damaged, we were the second squadron to arrive and had heard of the problems on their radio. So we came in on ‘precautionary landings’ not very neat but allowed a safe but bumpy landing. The next morning my new number 2 came on a patrol with me, and we spotted a Junker 88 Torpedo bomber as did two other Spitfires. They attacked it first, without destroying it. Then I attacked it and it had to jettison its torpedoes and Lindsay my number 2, followed and the bomber finally crashed into the sea. None of the crew survived and each of the 4 Spitfires was awarded ¼ victory. On arrival at Djilli we had seized a very smart casino to sleep in. Arthur Hampshire and I shared a very elaborate flashy room, running water etc, though Arthur complained about the beds – said he thought it had been a brothel! There was plenty of French booze, but the catering staff had little ability with food. It improved after some gesturing with our Revolvers! There were some French pilots still around, and uncertain which side they should be fighting for. Anyway they came and took a look at our Spitfires and asked a few questions. Finally one of them looked at the plastic covers on our cannons and asked their purpose. Doing our best in school-boy French we gave the colloquial English term, explaining it translated as ‘chapeaux anglaise’ -this caused laughter, relieved their anxiety and hopefully they left to volunteer for the ‘Free French’. Djilli was right by the sea with a pleasant beach and generally was a very pleasant place to be. We lost no pilots there, though we flew quite a lot of sorties. After one flight I returned and after landing I felt mentally and physically exhausted – enemy bombers attacked before I could get out of the aircraft, so I simply had to sit there until they departed. Later that day I was walking over to the beach, when there was a sudden cry from some Officer from an observation post we had. The officer said he had been telephoned by an Air Marshall who was abusive and difficult, so could I come and talk to him? Luckily the important Air Marshall was friendly when I explained I was a pilot. He demanded to be told of the ‘Mayfly’ – code for how many serviceable aircraft we had – so I could tell him and he was pleased.
(Photo: Operation TORCH: Supermarine Spitfire Mark V reinforcement aircraft and a Hawker Hurricane, prepare to taxi out from the flight line at Bone, Algeria, for delivery to forward units in North Africa, after being ferried from Gibraltar.) Next day we were urgently ordered forward to the next captured airfield at Bone some 100 miles ahead now called Annaba in Arabic, and I was forced to leave two bottles of Algerian Champagne on the beach. Sad thing. I think Djilli was perhaps the airfield I favoured most in all my experience. Anyway Bone was to be a much rougher and tougher experience. Bone in fact had been a civil aerodrome with runways, but at night time the lighting often failed. The ground crew made some lights by spilling and igniting petrol, but I don’t think we got all of our replacement aircraft down safely. Strategically Bone airfield was close to a large harbour, and was easy for enemy bombers to find who were based in Southern Sardinia and Sicily. Also we did not seem to get any warnings of attack – probably we had no working radar. There was now much more activity for us – we needed to protect the advanced British Troops who were quite a few miles ahead towards Tunis, and being attacked by enemy troops shipped across the Mediterranean. We also needed to protect ships and installations in Bone harbour, which was now a vital supply base and also a base to supply Malta. So we were very busy, and inevitably constant engagement cost us pilot’s lives. On one morning our Group Captain, with lots of rank and old for flying Spitfires (probably mid thirties) told our Squadron leader that he wished to fly as my Number 2, and I was to be sure that he got back safely. I did my best but somewhere ahead over Tebourba in Tunisia we were attacked by Messerschmitt, so I ordered us to climb very steeply into the sun for protection. The strategy worked though I lost sight of him so I returned to base, and he landed at almost the same time – so I had done my duty. I went to a crude flight office to speak to him but before we could speak, there was an Enemy bombing raid, and the Group Captain rushed out to keep the ground staff working on re-fuelling and re-arming. Instead of lying flat on the ground as protection from falling bombs, sadly the next bomb blew off one of his legs – so bravery was expensive. I yelled for our Squadron Doctor, but it was all very messy. I retired back to the flight office, laid below a marble covered bar and ate field rations being bread and cheese. The next morning we were alerted to a British convoy being attacked on route to Malta. Our Squadron leader decided to send 6 Spitfires and announced that I was to lead them – this seemed to me like a prospect of promotion. So I hurriedly briefed the other pilots – some not very experienced – that we would fly as 3 sections and I would lead the section at middle height, so they must keep in loose formation on me and watch keenly all the time for enemy aircraft and shipping. No sooner had we reached a couple of thousand feet than I saw a massive convoy of ships beginning to enter Bone Harbour. I cursed our luck, and the shocking inaccuracy of naval intelligence (yet again) and returned my formation to the airfield. The next day, I became involved with my number 2, (Lindsay) in a dog fight with Messerschmitt 109s. We shot one down, and I was attacked by one of them, and could see him clearly shooting at me. I was not concerned because I was in quite a steep turn, and with full deflection shooting he had little chance of hitting my aircraft.
(Photo: Still from camera gun film, showing smoke billowing from a stricken Messerschmitt Bf 109F as more cannon fire from a Supermarine Spitfire. IWM) The following day we had another engagement, I did the traditional vertical climb to the sun, so steep my number 2 stalled off. I was then alone but above a Messerschmitt I pounced on it and shot it down. I saw one of our aircraft shot down and the Sergeant Pilot – a cockney – was killed. On the way back I saw a formation of Junkers 87 dive Bombers attacking our ground forces. Unfortunately, I had no ammunition left in my cannons, and only a few rounds left in my machine guns, but just to try to put off the dive bombers, I attacked them, and used up all my remaining ammunition and hoped it would spoil their aim on our infantry. The fighting was now becoming intense, we were destroying German aircraft, but we were also taking heavy losses ourselves, and a number of our regular experienced pilots were failing to return from engagements. The Germans had seized airfields in Tunisia and were now being well supplied. So far I had been lucky, but for how much longer? I had now been in Africa some 23 days and had flown probably 45 sorties, and now we were fighting almost 1,000 miles from Gibraltar. The next afternoon I was engaged late in the afternoon, and my aircraft was hit in the oil tank. Fortunately it continued to fly back as far as our airfield, hopefully not too serious a damage to the oil tank. But my windscreen was covered with oil so I could not see forward, and outside was nearly dark. I approached the airfield as cautiously as possible, using the altimeter as a guide to the aircraft height and carried out a precautionary landing. No wheels down , so a belly landing. I just succeeded but I could not see another aircraft parked on the ground, and my wing-tip broke off its tail. not pretty, but I was unhurt. The Germans were now furiously trying to hold a front in Tunisia and were heavily supplying it with troops and machinery. No-doubt they were fully aware that their Afrika Korps (some 300,000 men) was now forced to fight on two fronts, east and west. The combined Allied Army (with General Eisenhower as Field Commander) was not doing well so there was much air fighting for the R.A.F. every day. Well on 2nd December 1942, we had information again from Naval Intelligence that a Malta convoy was being attacked. The position was North East of us, so I was sent with my number 2. I reached the advised position, but of course there was no sign of it. Anyway in view of our position, and I believed that the Germans were establishing an important air base where the French had had major installations at Bizzerta I decided we had enough range to return that way and make a quick low run over the airfield with all the guns firing and might destroy several enemy aircraft. However, this never happened, because a few miles later, still over the sea, I managed to spot 5 large aircraft, obviously transport, flying in formation. They were Italian enemies. So we attacked, and on the first attack shot down one each. Then on the second attack, my number 2 shot down a second enemy, but my target was only damaged. So I tried a final attack, but I was hit by return cannon fire from the main aircraft. One shell twisted my starboard cannon and the other shell felt like it had hit the engine – either oil tank or coolant tank. I guessed the worst, so being low over the sea I immediately climbed at maximum speed, knowing that nobody had ever survived landing a Spitfire on the sea. I reached about 2,500 feet before the engine failed, so I turned the aircraft over, opened the cockpit cover and bailed out. I knew the danger of being hit by the tailplane, but avoided it. I was concerned that the parachute had not been serviced since England, but it worked. I also knew that dropping into the sea there was a danger you could be swamped and drowned by your parachute, so I released myself from it when I descended to about 50 feet. It blew away safely in the breeze, but I hit the water hard and lost my breakfast. I then opened the dinghy we each carried, and scrambled into it. Fortunately, the Mediterranean was not cold. I checked to see what equipment I had in the dinghy – a collapsible flag, and a whistle, and a collapsible oar – but neither food nor drink. It was about 10.00 a.m., my watch had failed when hitting the sea, so I had to keep alive in the hope somebody would pick me up. I learned afterwards that the Squadron did try to find me – but without success. So the 2nd December passed without seeing ship or aircraft, as did December 3rd, and the nights were difficult as the dinghy needed occasionally inflating. On 4th December several sharks fins appeared, though probably they were dolphins, but I did not fancy them bursting my rubber dinghy. So I fired a couple of rounds from my revolver into the sea, hoping to discourage them. I was then left with only a couple of rounds, which I felt is wise to keep in case of need and there was the unpleasant thought that if suffering from terrible thirst, it was better to end your life than drink sea water. Obviously it was a blow to be shot down, and see my successful flying career ended. But on balance I reflected that I had destroyed far more enemy aircraft than my losses. It was the first successful allied victory as in 3 ½ weeks in Africa we had advanced from Gibraltar, and were now fighting almost 1,000 miles ahead into Tunisia. However, coming down to earth, I knew that I had no hope of survival alone in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. However the first sign of human activity I saw was just before dusk on 4th December when I saw a convoy. I calculated I was some 17/20 miles north of Tunisia, and it was not possible to row that far. Although the convoy was a mile or two away, it was my only hope, so I waved the flag, fired a shot in the air, and splashed the paddle hoping to attract attention. Anyway, they saw me and sent a naval escort vessel back. Somebody shouted in doubtful English ‘stay’ and I couldn’t do anything else. I dropped my revolver and map into the Mediterranean, while they got close and lifted me into the vessel. I could not stand. They took off my soaking wet clothes, wrapped me in a blanket and put me to bed. When I had recovered a bit I was given some canned pears which tasted wonderful! Some while later I was taken to see the Captain, who was very pleasant. he said ‘pity we have to fight you but we are poor and you are rich’. I then got some much needed sleep. We arrived in Western Sicily at Trapani and I was handed over to some military official who was having trouble with a chaotic telephone system, and I was then moved to an army barracks for a couple of days, where I continued to catch up on my sleep. I was then put on a train via Palermo and Messina to mainland Italy and to Rome guarded by a sentry with a fixed bayonet. As he kept dozing off during the two or three day journey I could have easily killed him with his own bayonet, but did not think I would have had much chance of escaping from the train, and I was sorry for him anyway. We eventually got to Poggio Murtute outside Rome, where I was held for two weeks, interrogated very inefficiently, and then sent by train guarded by an officer to Chianti near the Adriatic coast. Here I was taken in to a Prisoner of War Camp filled with 8th Army British Officers who had been captured at Tobruk. My recollections are that things were a lengthy bore, food was always short, it was overcrowded, the Italians were incompetent, and the peasants I had seen were very impoverished, but the only good thing was that one was still alive. So I was supposed to be allowed to write home. The Italian authorities did not like something that I had written and I was sent for by a Captain Croce of the Italian Secret Police, who ordered that I should be put into Solitary Confinement for a fortnight. Arriving in this ‘solitary’ confinement I found an American News Correspondent – Larry Allen of Associated Press, who had lots of experience of the Mediterranean war which passed the time amusingly. My parents had been told that I was ‘missing from air operations against the enemy’, and it was 3 or 4 months before they heard that I was alive. The War proceeded and some 9 months later Italy collapsed and surrendered, and we were instructed by the Senior British Officer (ex Indian Army) not to run away to the mountains, but to stay put so that Allied Forces could collect us. It was bad advice, because within a couple of days we were taken over by heavily armed German Paratroopers, forced into cattle trucks and shipped to Germany. The one or two Officers who ran for it were killed by the Germans. It took a few days to cross the Alps, go through Innsbruck in Austria and dump us in a camp in Regensburg in Bavaria. We then got some food – but not much. The Germans picked out British and American pilots and put us on a train with Sentries. We spent the night in a cellar on Leipzig station – while the city was being bombed by the R.A.F., but luckily no bombs hit the station. The next day we got a train onwards and arrived at Stalag Luft III, where there was an enormous number of Aircrew – British, American, Polish, Czech etc all of whom had been shot down from 1939 onwards. Although the Germans seemed better organised than the Italians, it seemed the same as the boredom, shortage of food, discomfort etc, as in Italy. I was now 22, but on my 23rd birthday, the officers escape organisation had successfully completed a tunnel – a remarkable operation without tools, cement, timber etc and despite the German staff watching closely at all times. A total of over 100 escaped, though the last of this number were recaptured without getting far – but over 60 got well away. I think only 3 or 4 got back to England via Sweden, but it created enormous efforts for the German Army and police etc. to recapture them. Finally to discourage any further attempts Hitler ordered that 50 British Officers who had been recaptured be shot. This was cold blooded murder, totally contrary to the Geneva convention which Germany had signed. Of course we had all understood the difference between professional German Officers who had grown up observing the rules of warfare and behaving properly as we did, but on the other hand the Hitler and Nazi influence meant that the Gestapo, the Abwehr, and the S.S., were just thugs without conscience, compassion or civilisation. The R.A.F. High Command let it be known that no Officer should try to escape in future to save lives. However, after the War, at the War Crimes Court the R.A.F. demanded retribution for those who had signed the death warrant, and those who had murdered unarmed Officers.
(Photo:British prisoners of war tend their garden at Stalag Luft III.) Of course I met many other British Air Force Officers at Stalag Luft III including ‘Wings’ Day, who was a contemporary and friend of Douglas Bader. A tough and remarkable officer, who had often been ill-treated by the Germans when trying to escape. There were also some who had been seriously involved in tunnel escapes, a number of whom were later murdered by the Nazis. Secretly one met others, whom the Germans never discovered their past history – one Bomber Pilot who had come from Berlin and joined the RAF, several Jewish Aircrew who were not publicly admitting their religion, and one English pilot who had frequently visited Germany pre-war because he owned a famous Rose Nursery and surreptitiously brought back information of Military Development.
(Prisoners of war watching a boxing match at Stalag Luft III POW camp, scene of the 'Great Escape' in 1944.) Sadly I heard that Peter Bosch (a South African) and a friend of mine from 242 Squadron had been shot down March 22, 1944, into the Adriatic, seen to get into their dinghy, but never discovered. I could appreciate the similarities, and could only compare my luck. For us, the year 1944 continued and we were cheered by Russian advances and the Anglo/American successes in the Normandy landings, though we were anxious for our families at home about Hitler’s V rockets and bombers. In January 1945 in Sagan (German/Polish border) we began to hear sounds of Russian shelling, which was getting nearer and increasing. By this time of course, there was heavy snow and it was very cold, which would last all winter there. The Germans would not wish to loose so many thousand aircrew – if set free they would strengthen the allies resources – so we were concerned that they might simply murder us. However, at the end of January we were told that we had one hours notice to prepare ourselves to march, and it was already night time. We collected what we thought we could carry – we had previously worked out we would need as much warm clothing as we had. Knowing how desperately cold it would be I decided layers of clothing would be best. I started with pyjamas from a Red Cross parcel from home. We had prepared and saved some basic food also from Red Cross parcels – cans of American oleo margarine and a specially cooked cake, I baked with oleo margarine and raisins.
(Photo: Three British prisoners of war chat to a German officer in the Red Cross parcel store at Stalag Luft III, Sagan, Germany. Piles of Red Cross parcels can be seen piled up behind them.) You could swallow pieces even if in freezing gales and consume with some melted snow. Anyway, at about 01.00 a.m. the Germans were ready to move us. A friend and I managed to steal an old sledge the Germans kept for moving heavy objects – so this enabled us and other friends to take some extra clothing and food, and take turns to pull it on the snow and ice. Obviously the Germans had problems escorting so many thousands of prisoners of war, so did not care about the sledge as the camp would be over-run by the Russian forces anyway. Unfortunately we had to abandon everything we could not carry. They marched us that night and all of the following day, but the following night we reached some farm buildings and many of us were herded into a large barn. The only protection from the bitter cold was piles of straw into which we immersed ourselves as best we could. The word went round ‘if you have any matches don’t light them!’ The straw could have caught alight and burned everybody locked in the Barn. We knew of course that when marching or walking you dare not let your feet be still or you could easily get frostbite. Some of the guards got frostbite and pneumonia etc. in the terrible conditions, and some of them were older than we were. We continued to walk westwards for a couple of days until we reached a small town named Muskau where we were locked into a disused cinema for a night and then marched to a train at a sidings where we were crowded into cattle trucks. The sledge had served us well, though in day time the weather warmed a little, which made it difficult to pull. However, on a village street we passed a dustcart with wheels, and I seized this and we transferred our load. Obviously at this time the population, civil and military were all desperately concerned about the proximity of the advancing Russian army. As one of us commented ‘the march of so many thousand of us could only be compared with Napoleon’s army retreating from Moscow’. After a couple of uncomfortable days on the train we reached Bremerhaven near the Atlantic Ocean. Conditions as usual were awfully uncomfortable. However, some Red Cross food arrived to prevent us from starving. We were supposed to be away from the battle areas, but the British were coming up from Belgium, Holland and the West Bank of the Rhine, and the Russians and Americans were advancing in their Sectors. We were in Bremerhaven until the beginning of April, and German High Command decided to move us further from the advancing allies. We were now more optimistic about the end of the War, and the weather was beginning to feel as if spring was arriving. They marched us out of the camp and headed north. It did not seem worth the risk of being shot escaping because the Germans seemed to be definitely losing the War. The first night we slept in a field and it came on to snow, but it was nothing like as cold as it had been in January, and each day and night it felt more Spring like. So we moved On each day, but we pretended to be only well enough to walk slowly, trying to give our troops as much time as possible to catch up with us. Things were becoming much more relaxed for us – Winston Churchill had made a speech saying he would hold the Germans responsible for all allied prisoners of war – and no-doubt all Germans realised they had lost the War. A friend and I went off to collect some twigs and logs to start a fire on which to cook. It was a nice day and attractive countryside so we were wandering along happily, when along came some German Officer in full uniform – drew his revolver and said ‘halt!’. We did so and said we were British P.O.W.s looking for some firewood. He became less fierce when we said it was such a beautiful day and of course the “Kreig was Capute”. The next day we reached the area of Blankanese, near Hamburg, and the German Commandant got some ferry boats to take us across the big river. Somehow, the Red Cross was sending us food parcels via Sweden, so things were less threatening for us. I had not had any chance of washing for a week or so, but found a tiny stream swollen with melted snow, so got a brief cold bath. Mostly now the Germans were becoming more friendly, and we passed a farm, so I looked in and said in my few words of German “had they any goose eggs to swap for some surplus Red Cross coffee”. I don’t know if they understood, but I was asked if I was hungry, I said yes, and was given a bowl of hot soup for which I was grateful. We were now close to Schleswig-Holstein, everything was becoming more friendly and finally we reached Lubeck on the Baltic – it had been a long journey from Africa in 2 ½ years. They had nowhere in Lubeck to house us, so we were marched back some 5 or 6 miles to a large farm where we had shelter in farm barns and sheds. The sentries were getting anxious, and wondering if they should desert the German Army. We heard that Hitler had committed suicide in Berlin, as the Russians were continuing to advance. There was now an increasing trickle of German army troops walking past us, away from the fighting. We began to talk to them, and said the farm had a large well stocked pond of fish. We offered to give any of them a cigarette if they would chuck a hand grenade into the pond to bring the stunned fish to the top so we could collect them. We thought it was a way of neutralising a few weapons which could have cost human lives. A couple of days later we were over-run by British tanks of the Cheshire regiment and so officially freed. These troops had just over-run Belson concentration camp, and though they were hardened infantry who had fought all the way from El Alamein, Some of them were physically sick at the sight of mounds of naked Jewish corpses, and their terrible mal-treatment. They had seen that this incredible bestiality was controlled by the German S.S. troops. From that moment though we were capturing German soldiers by the thousand , any in S.S. uniforms got promptly shot. I remember asking a British Infantry man if he thought this right – he said it was after what he had seen at the concentration camp, and I tried to explain to him that if we acted that way we were morally lowering ourselves to the German Nazi level. I think the discussion saved the lives of a couple of the S.S., but I doubt if they were gently treated. There was still a couple of days to go before all the German troops in the area had been Disarmed. I got a lift with some British Army officers into the city of Lubeck. We visited the Mercedes showroom as they needed to replace one of their vehicles damaged by gun fire. They knew that the next day they had to free Denmark and immediately after free Norway so they invited me to join them. I was very tempted, but had not seen my parents since 1942, so decided I should return to England. I thought that for the moment a car would be useful and helped by the army officers (well armed) persuaded the garage owners to lend me a Mercedes with driver – thus had a chance to see some of the area. The following day a couple of Army repatriation officers arrived and began making arrangements for our return to England – mostly a matter of filling in forms. Next day some army lorries took us back an hour or two to Diepholz to a German airfield now controlled by one R.A.F. Officer and a staff of Germans. We passed through a hanger and were fixed up with new battledress and sundries, like washing materials, toothpaste etc. There was also a dining room offering bacon and eggs – it was a surprise to meet a female waitress who said “would you like more bacon and eggs sir?” That evening a number of DC3s (Dakotas) arrived and flew us back to England, landing in Oxfordshire at Wing. The R.A.F. was delighted to have us back, congratulated us on our behaviour in enemy captivity, and were keen to get us back home to our families. They needed to give us rail warrants and the officer in charge, an Air Vice Marshall, joined in the organisation to speed things up. I thought how the R.A.F. had become so efficient and helpful! I caught a train back through London – very crowded but I was exhausted, and managed to sleep on the floor of the Guard’s van. London was a tremendously exciting place – it was 6th May and it had just been announced that 8th May would be Victory in Europe Day. So I caught a train from London to Kenley, and at the local station deposited with the only porter on duty, my kit bag and a large case of food I had managed to bring. I walked up the hill, Hayes Lane, I knew so well, but had not seen since 1942 and was re-united with my parents and brother. I slept in a bed – the first time for many weeks, and the next morning collected my baggage from the station with my father and his wheelbarrow. No car or petrol left! The following day, 8th May, I went to a Victory Party at Kenley Cricket Club with Keith, and met a girl – guess who?
Epilogue: My only further experience of the war and the RA.F. was one day in July 1945, when they wanted to see me somewhere in Yorkshire. They kindly were interested in my future and offered me various safe and easy jobs, but said that they would not want me to fly operationally against the Japanese who were still at War. They checked on my academic records, and said they could get me a place at Cambridge University. However, I knew of the terribly run-down state of C&H Fabrics, and said that I would prefer to leave. I argued that my only talent, useful to the R.A.F. was the ability to shoot down German aircraft – and they were no longer flying. So they de-commissioned me, thanked me, gave me a useless civilian suit, a gratuity of almost £80 for 5 years service and the rank of Flight Lieutenant. Fortunately they gave me a double ration of food for some weeks which delighted my Mother, and they forgot to stop my salary until the end of the year. So the War was won! Note: Barry Wilfred Hamblin died 10 May 2012 at the age of 91. Information and photos kindly provided by the Hamblin family.
Above Photo: Page from Barry Hamblins' RAF pilot logbook. Note the November 2, 1941 flight at Aylmer with LAC (Charles)Woods.


Charles Woods (August 31, 1921 - October 17, 2004) was an Alabama businessman and broadcaster and aspiring politician. He graduated from No. 14 SFTS Aylmer November 21, 1941 as a member of Course 37. He was born Charles Arthur Morris just 35 miles outside Birmingham, Alabama. His divorced mother was unable to support her two young sons so she placed them in a state orphanage when he was five years old. He never saw her again and at age of 6 was adopted by P. A. Woods family from Headland, Alabama. He attended schools in Hollywood, California, where his new family lived for a some time, and in Headland. Woods transferred to the USAAF in December 1942 in Cairo, Egypt. He was severely injured in a 1944 airplane crash on December 23. He taxied down a runway in Kurmitola, India, carrying 28,000 pounds (12.7 tonnes) of aviation fuel to be delivered in Lulaing, China. After making the trip alone, hundreds of times, on this particular trip, he was flying with a pilot-in-training, Captain Stalmacher, in first seat. Stalmacher erred on take-off, braking too soon causing the airplane to lose speed with too little runway left. The bomber exploded on take-off, and Woods was the only crew member who survived. He suffered severe burns over 70% of his body. The fire erased his face, destroying his nose, eyelids, ears and hands. He was transported to Valley Forge General Hospital, a military hospital in Pennsylvania six weeks after the accident. Since he was so weak, he could only travel short legs at one time. The 10,000 mile (16,000 km) trip proved arduous to Woods who arrived at Valley Forge malnourished, dehydrated and suffering from infections in addition to being severely burned. Woods, severely burned, was dying and needed new skin. In desperation, skin was taken from a recently dead soldier, with his family's permission, and was draped onto Woods. This "foreign" skin normally would have been rejected by Woods's immune system within 10 to 14 days—too soon for his own skin to grow back. However, the new skin survived for more than a month, buying Woods just enough time to save his life. This breakthrough led to the development of techniques for organ transplant. He was a patient of Dr. Joseph Murray at Valley Forge General Hospital from 1945-1947. Murray won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1990 for work in organ and cell transplantation. Woods and his case is featured in Dr. Murray's 2001 autobiography, Surgery Of The Soul: Reflections on a Curious Career. Over the next two years, Woods was operated on 24 times to construct a new face, often with very little anesthesia. Woods prevailed and began a very successful career in construction and in radio and television stations. He built a multi-million dollar empire in franchises all over the country. He owned WTVY in Dothan, Alabama from its early years until 2000, in addition to other radio and television stations. He ran for governor and lieutenant governor of Alabama, once running against George Wallace. He was known for his long form self-purchased television campaign commercials. He came very close to winning the Democratic nomination for Alabama Lieutenant Governor in 1974, leading in the first round of voting but losing in a runoff to incumbent Jere Beasley. In Nevada he had a respectable performance in the Democratic primary against Harry Reid in 1992, although Reid won re-election in the primary and the general election. Woods also sought the Democratic nomination for President in 1992 as a long-shot candidate. He showed best in North Dakota, winning 20.26% after write-in winner Ross Perot, Lyndon LaRouche and before eventual nominee and President of the United States Bill Clinton.[1] His presidential bid slogan was The Businessman's Approach.[2] Woods then ran in the Republican primaries for US Senate elections in Nevada in 1994 and Alabama in 1996, but lost in the primaries both times. In 2000 and 2002, he won the Democratic nominations to run in Alabama's second Congressional district, and was defeated by Republican Terry Everett twice. [3] Although never elected to public office, Charles Woods made many important contributions to the voters in Alabama. Despite the intense suffering he underwent, he always said, "I consider myself an ordinary man greatly blessed by God." He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in November 2004. (Interview credit and information - D. Woods - YouTube Harold Channer interview)


Excerpt and photos from Immigrants of War - Len Morgan's story. On a cold March day I caught a city bus in Detroit, rode through the tunnel and got off at the first stop, Windsor, Ontario. In a window across the street was a poster with a John Wayne-like pilot headed, “Adventure In The Skies!” Over the door was a sign: Royal Canadian Air Force Recruiting Station. I went in. A Sergeant in a blue uniform sat at a desk. “I’m an American,” I said. “I want to enlist for pilot training.” “Fill this out, lad,” he said, “and I’ll send you along to see the officer in charge.” So it was true. A high school diploma and two letters of recommendation were required. If you hadn’t brought them, a nearby print shop could arrange convincing duplicates. Then came a physical during which I didn’t mention having worn glasses for astigmatism. Finally, at No. 9 Elementary Flying Training School, St. Catharines, Ontario, we saw what we had come for – airplanes, only they weren’t called that. Aircraft was the official term, aeroplane would do and kite was the official slang. The school included a cluster of barracks, classrooms, a parade ground, one hangar and 25 or so yellow Fleet Finch biplanes. I logged 65:50 at No. 9 EFTS and was sent on to No. 14 Service Flying Training School Aylmer for single engine instruction in the Harvard, known south of the border as the AT-6 and the Navy SNJ. It was a considerable move up with a 600-hp engine; retractable undercarriage (landing gear) and airscrew (propeller) adjustable between fine and coarse (low and high) pitch. Our class was two-thirds Canadians, the rest British, Australians and Americans. Speech-wise, the Canucks and Yanks were indistinguishable. We Aylmer students were divided into three flights. The Harvards assigned to each flight bore distinctive hubcaps. There was much rivalry between us for the least bent props, smashed wingtips and wheels up arrivals. Infractions required contributions to the “Rumble Fund,” ranging from 25 cents for taxiing in with flaps down to $5 for a belly landing. My groundloop cost $2. Although my group had the best record, there was plenty in the fund to finance a memorable party at graduation. Low flying was strictly prohibited and almost guaranteed being washed out. It was foolish to try; the large black numbers on fuselage and lower wings made for easy identification by local farmers. There were dreaded check rides with the OC in the rear seat, including the Solo Check, Navigation Test, Instrument Test and Wings Test - the final flight review of student progress. I sweated out constant check rides in later years but none more than that one. It decided everything. Successful students were winged after 100 hours of Harvard flying and recognized as “pilots,” at least on paper. On a bleak November day we marched into a hangar for the Wings Parade and individually stepped forward to salute an elderly officer of World War I fame who pinned on the coveted wings. Eighteen of us Americans received our RCAF wings that day (November 21, 1941). Don Vogel came from Michigan, a tall, lanky, reticent redhead with a keen sense of humor. He had logged a few hours in Aeroncas and wanted to fly fighters. He would get his wish. Charlie Woods was from Alabama. Handsome, irrepressible and maddeningly cheerful, he was a wheeler-dealer. He could talk you out of your socks. Girls found him irresistible. “I bring out their mother instinct,” he explained. The fact was, he wouldn’t take no for an answer. Bill Baldwin was heavyset, good-natured and sported a mustache. He often spoke of his folks in Denver. He was vain but not insufferably so and played the role of Yank in the RAF with fair success. For that matter, we all imagined ourselves to be adventurers, even soldiers of fortune, the only difference being that Bill looked the part. Several of us newly-fledged pilots waited in a bleak Nova Scotia camp while a convoy was assembled. I remember one afternoon someone rushing in saying, “It’s on the radio; the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor this morning.” We weren’t sure where Pearl Harbor was but we knew it was American. Six days later we sailed from Halifax aboard the Letitia, whose sister ship, the Athenia, had become the war’s first U-boat victim two months earlier. Someone dubbed our ship “Athenia Mk. II.” There were 4,000 souls on board; it normally carried 1,500. Two weeks after walking off the Letitia, four of us walked onto the Viceroy of India in Glasgow, bound for the Middle East, wherever that was. It was back to hammocks below the water line – “right where the torpedo comes in,” as a sailor reminded us. We docked at Port Said, Egypt, 63 days after leaving Scotland and took up residence in a tent city. Bill, Charlie, Don and I remained together throughout training and for a year overseas. For reasons never explained, hundreds of us fledglings without operational training were posted to Egypt, where there was no operational school. Frustrated, we languished in a desert tent city. The 9th Air Force of the USAAF set up headquarters at Cairo in mid-1942. Most of us Americans transferred to the U.S. Army Air Forces in Cairo and wound up hauling troops and freight in Air Transport Command C-47s. So much for Spitfires. You went where they sent you and did what they ordered without question. Bill, Charlie and I transferred to the Army but Don, fearing an assignment to transports, maneuvered a return to England and fighter training. We three became C-47 copilots on the trans-Africa network which was just being established under contract with PanAm. Twenty months after sailing from Canada we were rotated back home. Charlie and I waited for Bill, who was due back from India. We had shipped out together; we would return together. A message came in: Bill had had an accident. No survivors. Charlie and I left that evening on the long trip home. Charlie went to Dallas ferrying base. I drew the same lackluster duty at Memphis. Don’s sister wrote he had been shot down – no details. After six months – the minimum “rest period” for overseas returnees – Charlie was sent to the China-Burma-India Theater to fly the infamous Hump. I was sent to a C-46 school whose graduates also went to the “Rock Pile.” I was kept in Nevada to instruct. Charlie was not so fortunate. He crashed in a C-109, a flying bomb created by converting a B-24 to tanker aviation gas. Its crews wore tennis shoes to avoid sparks, yet their ships exploded, on the ground and in flight for no apparent reason. Charlie crashed on takeoff in India. He ran from the wreckage hideously burned. Doctors gave him scant chance of living. They would come to know his indomitable spirit. “I got scorched,” he joked when I first entered his room, and then explained in detail what had happened. After four years in hospitals and literally scores of operations he emerged, a hairless apparition minus ears and eyelids, blind on one side, his nose constructed with flesh from his arm. What remained of his fingers were frozen into claws. “I was lucky,” he said. He invested his mustering-out pay in rent property, mortgaged it to buy more and so began a success story perhaps unmatched in American business, all things considered. Charlie made it big and earned every million of it the hard way. Yet he often said he’d trade his amazing success for my airline job. Upon returning to England, Don requalified in the Harvard, then checked out in the Allison-powered Mustang I. After completing operational training he was posted to 268 Squadron at Tangmere. Don transferred to the 357th Fighter Group, Eighth Air Force, also P-51 equipped, and was engaged in high-level bomber escort. “I sometimes regretted that,” he said. “I never again felt the camaraderie we knew in the RAF.” I knew exactly what he meant. And Bill. After the war I went to see his parents in their small home. He would have done it for me. I slept in the room that was his as a boy attending East Denver High. A gold star hung in the window. He was their only son. Answering their many questions, I recalled our training days, the long voyages to Liverpool and Suez, our months in Africa, making them sound more fun than they were. I said Bill was happy and doing exactly what he wanted right to the end. That part was true.