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ID Number 183
I was born in Leavesden on 8th December1920. I left the village church school at 14 and got a job with an upholsterer in Abbotts Langley. I had various jobs after that including working for a public works contractor in Hemel Hempstead. We were in at the beginning of the new town and did quite a bit of work for the New Town Commission. I finally went to work as a gardener for Chiltern-Hunts and stayed there until I was 65 and then worked part time for another 10 years at their place in Shendish.

You would like to know about my experiences in the war? Well, I wasn?t a fighting man, I was a transport man. I was called up in early 1940 and was one of the last 20 year olds to be called up and then they dropped it back to 18. I went to St Albans for a medical and they said I was fit and that I?d better go and see the officer to see which regiment I should go into. I went to his office and I?d already been doing a bit of driving and who should I meet but this colonel from a Scottish regiment. He said, ?You can drive? ? *RASC ? and that was me into it. We started congregating on the train and eventually we came to Porton Down and there was this big sergeant shouting and hollering. We went to the barracks and we was given a uniform and kit and 2 sheets and then we were marched to where the barrack room was. Well, the uniforms! ? the man behind the counter eyed you up and decided what size you needed and chucked them at you. We had quite a laugh because those who had a uniform that didn?t fit you had to go round and find someone who had something that did fit you.

We started. The idea was to have a month?s drill to make us into soldiers and we spent this month marching backwards and forwards and saluting and one-thing-and-another. I remember the first pay day ? if you didn?t salute right, it was ?stand over there? or if you didn?t know your number. Then we was told to parade outside after tea and we had an hour?s drill. I?ll always remember the chap next to me kept saying, ?We?ll never get out of here with that corporal? and I said, ?He keeps looking at his watch as well?. We then went to a driving school. They had what was called ?mounting drill?. You had to stand next to your vehicle and at a command you had to see if there were 4 wheels on and if the tyres were blown up and then you stood in front of the vehicle and then you?d get in. We had about a month there and when we left, we?d done with that and it was get in the lorry and let?s get going.

We was eventually posted to Camelford in north Cornwall. The porter was very insistent that we got in the right carriage on the train. Well, when we got to Camelford the rest of the train has disappeared. The system they had on the Great Western of slipping coaches meant they?d unhooked, then all away! When we got to this place we found they had no vehicles and not enough rifles to go round so you had to borrow one if you were on guard. We had quite a reasonable summer there because we was quite near the coast and we could go there on the weekend.

Eventually we got some vehicles and moved up to Wimbourne where we had ?luxurious billets?. It was a racing stables and we had 6 men to a horse box!

Then 6 of us were posted to a unit in Chard and soon as we got there we could see they was going overseas and we was last minute reinforcements. We was billeted at Christmas in a horrible old glove factory that was filthy dirty. We had no beds and we couldn?t sleep on the floor because it was too dirty so we all slept on barrack room tables. Anyway, eventually they had a platoon of non-drivers who went overseas and we were disbanded and sent to Exeter and attached to the Southern Command and the 7th East Yorks. Later we got some English made tank transporters and did quite a bit of experimental work. We took the first lot of experimental amphibious tanks from Castle Bromwich to the coast in Lincolnshire. They had a canvas side and airbags that pumped up and pulled them up. They was watertight ? they hoped! We saw them floating about in the lake. It was ideal. They could come in on a landing craft and go into the water and then out (onto dry land).

Sometime after that we went into billets at Enfield and began to get the American Diamond Ts ? big 6 wheeled vehicles. And we had a trailer that was made by the Dyson Company in England. At the back of the vehicle was a great big ballast box and they had the idea of filling it with old tank treads but they wasn?t heavy enough. Then they tried sand. If you happened to be going along the road years ago they used to get sticky in summer. You wouldn?t be able to get up the hills. They was too light. Eventually they got it right. They put 10 tons of pig iron in the box and that seemed to do it alright!

We were known as War Office Transport then and we moved tanks about England. The Americans were bringing in their tanks that we picked up from Bristol or the South Wales ports and took them to the old training place at Tidsworth. There was a picture in Picture Post one time that showed American tanks as far as you could see and that was Tidsworth.

One experience I had was in Doncaster. The corporal in charge of our section liked to drive the lorries. He said to me one morning, ?Ere, let me have a drive?. We came to this big crossroads so he said, ?Get out and when the others come, tell them this way.? Well, I never saw no others. I knew they were going to Wetherby so I tried to get a lift but there was a big convoy going up and you couldn?t get near a private vehicle. I eventually got there and didn?t know where to go so I thought I?d better report to somebody so I went to the local police station. I only had a boiler suit on, not a uniform. The policeman there said, ?Ah yes. I think you?d better go York ? that was Northern Command Headquarters. He took me to the York road and stopped a car and so I got to Northern HQ. I went up the steps and there was a big blue cap on the door. They took me to the officer in charge of transport and I thought, ?I?m for it now?, but he said ?Ah, I?ve been wanting to meet one of you? and arranged for his staff to get me a meal and then take me to the YMCA. I got a train to somewhere on the moors and met up with a company there. All the officer said when he came along was ?Well, you?ll want 2 days subsistence, won?t you??

Eventually we had to hand our vehicles over to another company and we went to Chalkwell near Southend-on-Sea. They didn?t know where to send us and we sat on our kit all one day and on Sunday afternoon they said we were going to march to Southend station. Well, either they didn?t get the message right or they got the wrong station. We went to one station and there we were ? rows and rows of us standing outside the station and the officer went in and came out and we had to march to the other station.

We arrived in Hull and started getting new vehicles. I remember the night before D-day. We had a very pleasant journey through the Derbyshire Dales in brilliant moonlight and we got to a transit camp early in the morning and it came over the tannoy that they?d invaded. We got organised and moved towards London. We were in houses that was partly built ? they hadn?t been plastered inside and it seemed like there was a man riding up and down the road on a motorbike without a silencer, but we soon found we was wrong. They were doodle bugs going over.

We were sent to France following the D-day landings but spent quite a lot of time in the New Forest first because our vehicles were too big and there wasn?t enough room to use them until they took Caen. We used to convoy reinforcements up but it was quite awkward because most of the bridges were not strong enough. Usually there were 2 bridges. So we had to pull up, unload the tanks, cross and then load again. We went nearly a mile up the road before we started loading again. We carried ?ducks?. These were American amphibious troop carriers with very flimsy tracks that couldn?t run any distance on hard ground.

We followed the troops up and then stopped in Belgium and had various workshops there. We eventually moved into Germany and I drove a transporter across a pontoon bridge over the Rhine. The Dutch were very hard hit by the war. They had no fuel. They?d run a bicycle down the street. They might be lucky enough to have a blown up tyre at the front but they?d have a pram wheel at the back. I left Germany on a stretcher. Workshop staff were standing round a fire in a goods yard. Well, they?d left demolition charges and there was one in a piece of wood. I don?t know why I should have been chosen but I was a casualty. I was taken by air to Brussels and was in hospital there and then I went to Ostend. Whilst I was in hospital in Ostend, the war finished. I can remember the aircraft flying over very low taking the prisoners (of war) home.

Eventually I come back and I was going to be on a draft to India. Fortunately I was a driver mechanic and they only wanted drivers. I was posted to Bicester garrison and drove the officer in charge of transport until I was demobbed in the late summer of 1946. We went to Guildford and Burtons was there and we all had these suits. For some reason or other everybody knew it was a demob suit. You could have trilby hats and all sorts. And that?s when I finished.

*RASC ? Royal Army Service Corps

Read information about the Diamond T tank transporter driven by Charles and see a photograph of it in a seperate file.

Interview by James Price and Glen Taylor

Keywords Royal Army Service Corps; War Office Transport; D-day, Normandy; Belgium; the Rhine
Collection Overseas Battle Fronts
Place UK; Normandy; Belgium; Germany
Year 1939 - 1946
Conflict World War Two
File Type html
ID Number 204


I wanted to join the RAF because from about 1934. I began reading about the RFC in the First World War and it hooked me so much that I got ticked off (at school) over and over again and my odd job book was filled with sketches of aircraft. And I still kept drawing them.
One thing led to another and I was coming up to 17. I thought Dad?s just the person to ask. I said, ?Dad, I?m turning 17 in a few weeks time. Any chance you would sign my application?? ?What for?? he said. ?To join the RAF and fly. They?d only be little aircraft.? My father had been in the 2nd Battalion, Enniskillen Fusiliers, although he wasn?t Irish himself. He said, ?If you?d seen the poor b?. coming down from the sky on fire, no parachutes. So, no.? Once I left school in 1936 I went to work for John Dickinson & Sons in Apsley as a clerk. But he finally gave in and the forms were sent off to join the *RAFVR. On May 18th 1939 a bunch of hopefuls gathered at Luton for medical and suitability checks. What a sight! Fifty or sixty of us most of whom came from the nearby hat factories. There was a lot of derision because the girls in the hat factory next door stood at the windows watching. That turned to alarm when we realised that they were still there watching when we stripped off and went through various naked (medical) procedures. At the end of the day I was told, ?You?re in.?

I joined the No.29 E&RFTS RAF Volunteer Reserve at Luton. We were flying Miles Magisters; single engine, twin pilots ? one behind the other. The trainee pilot sat at the front. That went reasonably well for 3 weeks and then one of the instructors dived onto a section of the land owned by the Vauxhall firm. Both (pilots) survived but it was a bit of a mess and made the instructors realise how vulnerable they were.


It went on like that until they announced that we were at war with Germany. When Germany invaded Poland on September 1st I was at work and we watched as various people were called up to their units, but not the RAFVR. Eventually after work dad and I drove across from Hemel to Luton. It was absolutely tremendous. The town centre was jam packed with 17-20 year olds, all as happy as Larry, each with a pint pot in his hand. My father, who had been in the First World War, was a bit upset about it and the war hadn?t even started yet. They didn?t want us yet, so we were all sent home.
We were told that we could pack in our day time jobs. That was the (best) day of my life. On the day that war was declared, mother phoned to say it was on. I started packing up my desk and my boss was suddenly all excited. He said, ?Mr Denchfield, what are you doing?? ?I?m packing my desk up.? You can?t do that until I tell you to.? I said, ?If you stand there in 5 minutes time and you still see me it will be a miracle. I?m off home and I?m now under the control of the RAF.?
br> A week later the call-up came.

We went to Bexhill first where we were taught the basics and then to various other flying schools. At Chester, thank the Lord, Spits (Spitfires) turned up. Ollie Cooper and I adopted the habit that when we flew on a different aircraft the one who went first would hold his hand out and get **half a crown from the other. When we first flew Spits I was hoping to be the first away but I was having a bit of a conversation with the Flight Sergeant and Ollie Cooper beat me to it. Anyway, I duly took off and did my half an hour flight and landed. It was stupendous I?d never been in an aircraft like it. You fiddled with the controls and you felt the response immediately.
When I got back Ollie came over and gave me half a crown. I said, ?Don?t be bloody silly.? He went off about half an hour before I did. He said, ?Did you see what I saw on the tarmac?? I said, ?You mean that Spitfire stuck up on 2 legs and nose?? I said, ?I wonder who the clot was who did that? Was it you?? He said, ?Yes. You know how I used to turn Harvards by putting hard rudder on and opening the throttle. I did that in the Spit and it didn?t turn.?


I bailed out of the aircraft which was on fire. I had previously unhooked all my bits and pieces so I was free of the aircraft. I had realised where I?d got the smell of fuel from. It was in the fuselage underneath my feet. There was an inch and half at least of fuel mixture washing backwards and forwards and I thought, ?God, it just takes one round going through over the top of that and I?m on fire.? I thought, ?I?ll bail out.? I?d been airborne for about 10 minutes or so. There was a sudden burst of flame from up front and an awful noise and I was gone. I just stuck the stick hard forward and she (the plane) helped me no end by spinning over at the same time and threw me clear. I landed on an iron hard, icy, snow-capped field. I had lost one boot so I had to land on one foot. I was glad I did because the snow was like little bits of ice sticking up. I got rid of my equipment and buried it in the snow around me and then had one of those moments of nature. I decided I needed a pee badly. I was in the middle of this when I caught sight of 2 blokes in green uniforms coming towards me. Without thinking I dived flat in the snow but they must have seen me because they kept coming straight ahead, so I stood up. They said, ?Ah, Mr RAF, for you the war is over.? They took me back to their place. I was introduced to pilots right, left and centre because St Omer was the base for that fighter unit. I met the bloke [Major Walter Oesau] who said he?d shot me down. He lasted until 1944 when he was shot down over France by a Mustang. By that time he had scored over 100 victories (planes shot down). I was his 40th.

I went from the St Omer centre in company with another pilot who?d been shot down. He?d got shrapnel in his back so he wasn?t very happy but he could speak German which I couldn?t.
Eventually I was shunted off to a prison camp under the guard of 2 Luftwaffe people who were going on leave. When we got there I teemed up with a bloke called Jones. We called him Flip because he?d had an operation that upset his talking and he sounded like Flip the Frog. We were together for the whole time. We went to different camps in Germany, Poland and Latvia. We were not always well treated. A lot of it was brought on by ourselves because we had a policy of making the Huns hurt. We did things like b??up their bicycles if they were unwise enough to leave them and anything like that. They didn?t feed us well. If it hadn?t been for the Red Cross and their weekly parcels we would have got very short of food. People at home knew that I was alive. We had 3 letter cards and I think 2 postcards to send to whoever we wanted.


By early March 1945, I was at Stalag Luft 357, Fallingbostel and we knew that things were coming to an end, the Rhine had been crossed and our troops were streaming eastwards. We all made up emergency packs as best we could as it was obvious that we would soon be on the move. It wasn?t long before we were marched out, on a march that was to last until May 1st. At first we were marched south from the camp having made a wreck of what was left (of it). We were told we were going north but after about 10 days we turned round and came back. The German sergeant in charge of us said, ?Look, don?t laugh at me but we are going to turn and go back west?. There was a raucous burst of laughter. He said, ?No, I mean it. I?ve been getting instructions daily on where to take you and these instructions have ceased with the death of Hitler. I?m going to march you back to the west and hope that we come across English or American troops.?
So we did, and days later when it was still light we were parked in a road leading up to a farmhouse. We?d been given a place to sleep in and it was a place that had been used to store sick animals and we had to clean it out first. We were cooking a meal in the roadway with what we?d got and suddenly a voice said, ?I?ve just seen a British tank?. He might as well have said. ?I?m Adolf Hitler?. He said, ?I mean it. Aren?t you listening to me? I?ve seen several of them.? At that there was the sound of tins and crashing. He said, ?They gave me a sack of tins - food.? At that everyone woke up.
The next morning without getting the okay from anyone we set off in various groups down to a village we?d seen and there we saw American tanks with British people in them. We put our heads through the officer?s window and said, ?Any chance of any firearms?? ?Oh, no,? he said, ?We can?t allow Prisoners of War to have them.? We said that we had been allowed to have 8 machine guns in our Spitfires and nobody cared where we fired them or anything and now you won?t let us have a rifle each.
We swore at him and walked away. Shortly after that British troops arrived and we were told to go and pick up a German car. A car came along and out got 2 Luftwaffers and 2 women. Very attractive they were too. I held a pistol that I?d managed to get by then and Flip said, ?I?ll just search the women.? I said, ?Are you sure?? He said, ?Well, you never know. Women nowadays do most things.? The squeals those women made when Flip was running his hands over them searching for guns!

We marched back towards the Channel coast. We got as far as an airfield at Rhine, from where they were flying people home. This was a British run place, mark you and we were expected to pick up a plate that someone had just used and a knife and fork. What they?d had was egg and potatoes. You couldn?t clean the plate.
We?d just joined the queue when some sergeant said, ?I?m asking for members of party ?so and so? to follow me. We?re flying you home.? That was us. We dropped the plates, shot across ?flying in?, and picked up a parachute almost without stopping to draw breath. We got on a Lancaster which turned out to have been from 617 Squadron, the ?dam busters?. This one was one of their later planes and was used to drop the 10 ton ?Grand Slam? bomb The first night back they laid on a gorgeous supper in one of the empty hangars. There was table after table. Each one had 10 people on including one of the ladies? services, civilians as well as military. We had great difficulty in not using the language we had been using for the past 4? years. Eventually one of the army people lost his wit completely and said, ?Hey, mate pass the bloody sugar.? Only he didn?t say bloody. He used some other word. That set us all laughing. Even the girls laughed, and we were okay after that. And then we got home eventually. I got to see a girl called Barbara Gregson. I was told she?d like to talk to me. I?d been her boyfriend in 1935 when she was 15. She was with the police in Watford. So I got in touch with her and eventually we were married.

I wanted to stay in the RAF but they told me there wasn?t a post so I went to work for AVRO up near Leeds. I don?t regret joining up despite all that happened. I remember stories my Dad used to tell about the trenches and I thought I?m never going to go through what Dad went through. I?d sooner go out quickly so I?ll go for the RAF. What people went through in the First World War was sheer bloody horror. Mark you; there were episodes in the Second World War that were of a similar nature. War is the same, I suppose.

Interview by Pippa Carr and Laura Dowse

* RAFVR ? Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve ** Half a crown - a coin worth about 12? pence in today?s money

Read a more detailed account of David?s capture by the Germans and his escape from captivity at the end of the war on other pages under the heading "Overseas Battle Fronts."
Keywords RAF; spitfire; Luton; Luftwaffe; POW
Collection Overseas Battle Fronts
Place Hemel Hemptead, Luton, St Omer, Germany
Year 1939 - 1945
Conflict World War Two
File Type html
ID Number 134

Douglas was on holiday in north Wales with his cousin in February 1942 when he had to register for military service.

?I had to go to a little church hall to register. I stated a preference for the navy. I chose the navy because I liked the sea. It was very popular, the navy; it was the senior service and they were a bit more fussy about who they took! You could get into the navy if you had been in the Boy Scouts and knew semaphore because they were desperately short of signallers. You use flags to do the alphabet. It can be done very fast ? up to 12 words a minute. In Nelson?s time the signallers were known as ?gentlemen of the lower deck? because you had to be able to read and write and in those days that meant they were the sons of gentlemen.?

He had to report to Skegness and the unlikely site of Butlins Holiday Camp that had been turned into a naval training camp where he was to begin training as a signalman. First impressions were not promising.

?The first thing they did was line you up in your civvies and an officer came out. He looked as if he was old enough to be my granddad. What he was, was a pensioner and he said, ?Right, you are a load of stinking civvies and I am going to make you into sailors.? I thought, ?Crikey, fancy talking to us like that.? I was a young 18 and a shy sort of bloke.

There were rows and rows of huts built for holiday makers ? a couple and 2 children, and each had a double bed and bunk beds. Anyhow, they had 4 sailors in each hut. The sleeping accommodation was bizarre. The double bed had a barrier down the middle that was 3 planks of wood. We called it the ?walls of Jericho.?
Each chalet had a little wash basin with cold water and there was an electric heater that didn?t get very hot. It was a bitter winter and we were absolutely frozen. We were about 50 ? 25 metres from the sea and we were in the end chalet and the wind blew across. Some nights we didn?t bother to get undressed, we slept in our clothes. And the toilet arrangements! Of course you had to go outside to the toilet block in the freezing cold. I was brought up in a good home and to go to this was absolutely terrible, but you got used to it. We did drill and went to classes. We learned Morse code and semaphore, coding and special signals for convoys at sea.

The afternoon of our passing out parade we were dived -bombed by some Germans. We?d planned to go to a pub for a meal but some of the instructors and other people planning to come had been killed. It was our first experience of death and the meal had a cloud over it.?

After basic training you could you be sent to Portsmouth, Plymouth or Chatham. Douglas was sent to Portsmouth where he waited to be drafted to active service. He soon learned the ropes.

?The navy was very traditional ? steeped in history. For instance, you weren?t allowed to whistle. If you were caught whistling you would be put on a charge. That was because in earlier days a mutiny was started by someone whistling a certain tune. Also, everyone in the navy got a tot of rum and there was a procedure where you had to line up in a certain order. If you were an ordinary seaman you had 2 parts water with your rum, petty officers had one part water and full officers had it neat.

Some of his friends were lucky and got postings in Britain but Douglas was sent to Freetown in Sierra Leone. He was warned that it was a terrible place. They called it ?the white mans grave? because of the extreme heat.

?We set off with our kit bag and our hammocks. Each sailor had a rolled up hammock to carry. Inside were 2 blankets and a thin mattress. There were hooks in the deck head (ceiling) and we slung our hammocks from these. They were very comfortable. As the ship rolled the hammock swung gently.
Most of us were terribly homesick. We?d had embarkation leave and said goodbye to our mums and dads, brothers and sisters. Africa seemed like the other side of the world. There was talk of torpedoes and I must admit that I was frightened.
One good thing though was that signalmen had the privilege of going up onto the bridge with the officers. You could see what was going on ? much better than being a stoker down below.
We were with a convoy, mostly troop ships but there was an aircraft carrier with us. It was quite a sight ? 50 ships all steaming along together. Troop convoys would go very fast so they could outrun submarines.?

Freetown proved to be quite an experience.

?There was nothing at Freetown, just a few corrugated iron huts and a jetty. For accommodation we had an old Union Castle liner called the Edinburgh Castle. It had been converted into barracks. The accommodation was worse than Skegness. The engine had been taken out and it was just a hulk. The food was pretty grim and there were rats. Going ashore was interesting. It was so hot that shore leave was only from about 12 until 5 o?clock. I was so fed up I only went once. Some of the sailors used to get drunk. That was an experience. The men were so drunk they had to be thrown into the boat like a sack of potatoes. There was a beer called Black Horse that was twice as strong as any other beer. They were dragged down to the mess deck and they slept it off on the deck or a table. They couldn?t get into their hammocks.?

After 2 or 3 weeks in Freetown Douglas was given another interesting job. Some of the Frenchmen who had been rescued from Dunkirk had formed a Free French Navy. He was about to join them.

?I was told I would be drafted to the Commandant Drogou. I asked an officer what that was and he said it was a Free French ship - a flower class corvette ? and the best of bloody luck! I thought, ?Oh, crikey. What have they done now??
It was a boat specially designed to escort convoys ? not a big boat. The crew were all French with about 6 Brits on board. One of these was the liaison officer and he spoke fluent French. The idea was that the French could work with English ships because they had English signalmen on board. It was so unusual. Discipline was nil and the French didn?t really like us. The first day I was on board there was a knife fight. I asked this English chap who was helping me with my baggage what was going on and he said, ?Oh, don?t worry about them. Their bark is worse than their bite.? They had 3 sailors from New Caledonia on board. That was an island in the Pacific and they were Polynesian. They took a shine to us. They were our bodyguard!?

Food on board the ship was bad but it soon became worse.

?The refrigerator broke down and they couldn?t get it fixed so they decided to take livestock to sea. They got a pig, a crate stuffed with chickens and 3 ? 4 goats. They tied the pig up and it fouled the deck all the time. The cook was an albino Polynesian and a most uncouth man. One day he plonked 4 dead chicken in front of us and said, ?You no pluck, you no eat.? When the chickens were dished up they were just cut in half, right down the head and body. He couldn?t be bothered to cut the head off. We got fed up with this and lived off cornflakes and condensed milk for days.?

Another interesting experience took place when Douglas was on watch. It was very early in the morning and pitch black.

?One of the lookouts called that there was a ship, so we flashed it a message in code. There was no reply. We flashed again, 3 or 4 times. Still no reply. So someone rang down to the captain to say there was an unidentified ship. We were called to action stations. The captain came up and decided to fire star shells which would light up the sky so we could see the ship. There was a bang. They?d only opened the wrong box and were firing live ammunition! Finally one of the English chaps picked up an SOS message. A ship was being fired on by an enemy ship. I said, ?Oh yes, that?s us!? They fired about 5 rounds of live ammunition before they found a star shell. Then the ship ? it was only a small merchant ship started flashing back. It was a friendly ship and we all went on our way. If that had happened on an English ship people would have been court -martialled but they just laughed and joked about it.

In 1943 Douglas came back to England after convoying for about 15 months plying from Gibraltar and south to Pointe Noire on the west coast of Africa.

?The ship was returning for a re-fit. It was British built by Harland Wolfe in Northern Ireland. A re-fit was usually done every year or so to bring it up to date with the latest equipment that had been developed during the war.?

Douglas says it was exciting arriving back in the UK, meeting family and friends again but he was upset to hear about various friends who had been killed whilst in the forces or in air-raids. He remarks that his time abroad was very interesting, being on a French ship and learning how the Allies could cooperate in times of war. One has to experience serving under these circumstances to appreciate what it was like.
The ship was due for a fairly lengthy re-fit so the most of the French and British crew were drafted for disposal to other ships and establishments. Douglas was drafted to combined operations. This unit was to establish signal stations when assault troops landed during an invasion. He was posted to India and Burma and took part in the re-capture of Rangoon in May 1944.
He eventually retuned to the UK and was de-mobbed in May 1946.

Interview by Ed Gardner and Nicola Price

Keywords signals, convoy, Africa, morse code, Chatham, corvette, Free French
Collection Overseas Battle Fronts
Place Skegness, West Africa, Burma
Year 1942 - 1946
Conflict World War Two
File Type image
ID Number 118

Mr Downing was just 20 when he set out to be part of what was to become one of the major deciding factors in allied victory. On the 5th June 1944 Mr Downing, who was part of the Tank Corp (22nd Dragoons), woke up to find that he was going to board the ship on the way to the D-Day invasion in Normandy

?Just before the invasion we were sent to Gosport outside Southampton. We had a few days of freedom and then everything stopped ? we weren?t allowed out. They waterproofed our tanks by putting cordite on them and on the back they put a great big funnel so the water couldn?t get into the engine. It was important that the tanks did not land in more than 7 foot of water. It took about a fortnight to do the waterproofing and everything. The tanks were in effect mine-sweepers, fitted with heavy chains and balls. A rotating drum made the balls flail the ground with a force of 300lbs, thus exploding any mines.
On the Friday before the landings we were escorted to Southampton Water. Our tank had to be covered because it was a secret weapon. We knew what we had to do but not when or where we would land.

On Monday when we awoke we were passing the Needles, on the Isle of Wight, so we knew it was the real thing then.?

However, terrible weather halted proceedings and D-Day was postponed for 24 hours, but Mr Downing and his regiment were left on the flat-bottomed ship in the rough waters, anxiously waiting for the day ahead:

?They passed around anti seasickness pills. The further we went, the rougher it became, and we all soon found out that the anti- seasickness pills didn?t work. I was so seasick that I think that if the Germans said, ?Come this way sonny?, I would have said, ?yes, ok?. The adrenaline kicked in once we landed, but before that I couldn?t think about anything else. The captain of the ship, a New Zealander, was sick. Everyone was sick.

Through the night we had to observe strict wireless silence and in the early hours, about 4 o? clock, all the wireless operators tuned in suddenly. Some time after this all the ships opened up. There were battleships, rocket ships, cruisers ? everything. We were given orders to take our place. I was thinking, please may we land in less than 7 feet of water. As it happens, we did land in shallow water. The commander gave an order and a lever was pressed and we moved forward. It was 7.45 am.
We began to flail immediately. We were only gone a few yards when there was a blinding flash and the turret filled with smoke. I thought that was the end of us but the commander had given orders to blow the cordite to remove the waterproofing on the tank as with it on the engine would have overheated?.

Mr Downing landed on the Normandy coast at Juno beach with the Canadian forces. There was a small village called Grave-sur-Mer just in land from the beach. The 22nd Dragoons were supposed to clear the way for the Winnipeg Rifles who would follow behind.

?The idea was that we flailed a safe lane and then moved aside so ordinary armoured vehicles could go through in our tracks.
We hit several mines. Every time you hit a mine you lost several links in the chain. If you hit enough mines you lost the chains and then of course if you hit a mine you blew up.
The tank commander saw a church in the distance and thought that there may be Germans in it, which we later found out there was. I was ordered to hit it, which I did and got several direct hits. As I waited to receive further orders I turned around to see that the tank commander, Sergeant Upson, was hit in the face by something, probably shrapnel and was bleeding heavily. I handed him a field dressing and he went to get medical help but the strap on his gaiter got stuck on the ring that held the turret in place. I undid his gaiter and he struggled off.?

Mr Downing did not see him for months afterwards, but thankfully he survived.

?We came to a steep ridge, the front end of the tank went up in the air and we came straight down on a mine. The track was shattered and we couldn?t move. We were stuck there under fire. So, there we were in a crippled tank, no commander just the wireless operator, the driver and me. At the tender age of 20 and a few days, I had never seen a dead person. But I certainly made up for it that day. Each time I looked out I saw a dead Canadian with a wireless set stuck to him. Antenna stuck out. There with his mouth wide open.

After a while things quietened down and I noticed the spare water tank had been hit and water was leaking out of it. I thought that rather than just letting it waste away I would have a quick wash. Then someone called out ?snipers? and I jumped back in the tank. If there was a record for doing this quickly I?m sure I would be the holder of it.?

Mr Downing then described his experiences in the evening. ?We made our way to the beach. What a sight of burning vehicles everywhere, the dead and wounded lying around, wrecked ships stranded on the beach. The darkness fell and the Luftwaffe, which we hadn?t seen all day, came down and bombed the beaches all night.
We found a cemetery and sheltered behind graves never realising that the safest place was probably in the tank?.

Being a highly religious man, Mr Downing always kept the bible with him. In fact he read it so much that he was nicknamed Bishop by his comrades: ?I certainly felt that God was watching over me. The regiment was known as the ?funnies?because no-one at the war office expected us to survive. No provision of food was made for us.?

Mr Downing did not get home until August the following year as after D-Day he was moved onto Belgium, Holland and Palestine. Yet, it is clear that the end of the war did not bring him jubilation. His sergeant was killed the day before the war ended, therefore leaving him in a mixed state of grief over the death of a comrade and the happiness that the war was over. He summed up his experiences on that day:
?D-Day has since been named the ?longest day?, it certainly was for me.?

Mr Downing returned to the town in Normandy only a few years ago for the D-Day 50+ ceremony. When visiting, he found himself re-acquainted with a man named Roland, who at the time of the attack was with his mother in the church which Mr Downing was ordered to hit. However, there were no bad feelings and Roland now sends Mr Downing Christmas cards every year.
Most coincidently, however, when returning again for the D-Day 60+ celebrations they met again. Mr Downing was given a photograph of a little girl when he took part in the landings in 1944 and he had later given this photo to Roland. Whilst at a ceremonial dinner, he asked Roland if he still had it. Roland said he had and went to fetch it from his car. When he asked around the room if this woman still lived in the town, the woman that had been acting as a host to Mr Downing and his daughter during their stay came forward. She could not understand why Mr Downing had a picture of her a small child, but was amazed to hear what had happened.

Interview by Zoe Farrell and Aaron Sparrow.

Keywords D-day, Normandy, Canadian, tanks, mines,
Collection Overseas Battle Fronts
Place Normandy
Year 1944
Conflict World War Two
File Type html
ID Number 110

Interviewed by Fiona Wright, Ed Gardiner and Sarah Kay at the Royal British Legion, Hemel Hempstead, November 2008

Edward - Where would you like to begin?
Maurice - I joined up in 1942, and went for basic training. From there I went to Sutton Bridge in Lincolnshire which was the Central Gunnery School for the RAF, where they were training pilots to fire their guns and hit things. We used to tow drogues behind a Lysander*. The drogue was like a long white sausage cloth thing. I used to have to go up there and control this drogue and you get Spitfires come at you from all sides and hit these things. I was there for about 6 months I think and then went to Melksham in Wiltshire, which is where I met my wife Hylda. I then got sent overseas and was in India for 2 years. Hylda ? We came under the same Training Command. As you know, there was bomber Command and Fighter Command and we were really under Training Command, because don?t forget all these people had to be trained. All the jobs needed training.
Maurice - We went out on the Nevassa, a lovely old cruise liner but we were 4 decks below the waterline, which wasn?t good because at night there were subs around so most of them slept on the deck - it was a bit dodgy.

Fiona - You slept on the deck the whole way to India? Maurice - Yes, most nights we went up there. It was hot but it wasn?t so far to get in the water. Down below you had no chance at all.

Fiona - So you were an engineer basically? Maurice - Yes, an electrician. Yes, I wanted to get in air crew like most of us do but I had one eye that was dodgy so I couldn?t.

Fiona - So what sort of jobs did you do?
Maurice - Servicing aeroplanes - Spitfires and later on Lancasters . In fact the last job we did I was at RAF Benson. That was the King?s Flight headquarters. By then I was fitting cameras in Lancasters for Town and Country Planning. I expect they did Hemel Hempstead. They were getting information for building the new estates so I expect Hemel was on the list.

Fiona - Where were you based in India?
Maurice - In Ambala. Every summer they used to send us up into the foothills of the Himalayas for 3 weeks because you got dehydrated on the plains. That was quite good ? 3 weeks in the summer.

Sarah - What was the scariest thing that happened to you?
Maurice - The scariest thing I think was probably before I went. It would be the air raids. We lived in Stanmore then and we used to get air raids every night. The nearest bomb was only about a mile and a half away. It was quite frightening. In those days I was only about 15 or 16. I remember my dad put duckboards in the Anderson shelter when we first got it because it would always feel damp in there. One particular night, I?d say I was about 14 ? it was 1939 / 40 ? we went down the garden, all of us my sister and me, Mum and Dad, and he shone a torch in the shelter and saw the duckboards in there. He said okay get in and I jumped in and there was 2 foot of water in it. The things were floating on the top.
Also, when they rev up an engine on a Spitfire usually 3 or 4 airmen have to hang over the tailplane, otherwise it will come up because of the pressure. But I know of 2 cases where it took off with the airman on it - and this has happened, actually happened. I didn?t believe this ?till yesterday when I read it in a book but it happened to a WAAF. A WAAF was holding on for some reason on this aircraft and it took off and it did a circuit of the airfield. It landed with her on.
Hylda - Women did good work ----
Maurice - Tradespeople, weren?t they? She was probably a rigger or something.

Maurice ? One thing I?ll never forget when we were coming home. We were in the Red Sea I think and we were all lying about on the deck with nothing to do and this guy came up from the sick bay still in his pyjamas and stood on the rail and said something and jumped over the side. So it was ?man overboard?, of course and they stopped the ship and lowered a life boat and went out for him and couldn?t find him. But as they lifted the boat out of the water these sharks were underneath, so he had no chance. When it was in the paper when we landed ? we found a newspaper ? they said he fell overboard. But he didn?t fall, he jumped overboard. I suppose they told his family that he fell. Fiona ? So why did he jump do you think?
Maurice ? I think it?s meant to be called ?sun-happy? and he got too much and that?s why they had him in the sickbay ? he was going a bit funny. The sun got very very hot and you couldn?t stand it, you know. I?ll never forget that.

Fiona - Did you stay in the same place once you were in India?
Maurice - I stayed in the same camp in Ambala. I was an electrician as I say, but I used to drive the fire tender as well ? the fifteen hundredweight with a trailer on the back. One aircraft crashed into the back garden of some married quarters and pulled a fence down. We could do nothing for the pilot ? he was dead ? but they had to put this fire out and get the body out the aircraft ? it was horrible.

Edward - I was just looking at your medals. What are they all for?
Maurice - That one is the 1939-40 Service Star, that was issued to people in that period of time. That is a Burma Star because I was 2 years in Southeast Asia Command, and that?s the War Medal, oh, and the Veterans Badge.

Sarah - What sort of food did you eat when you were in India?
Maurice - Very good food, actually. I could never complain about the food and one of my favourite things was supper time - cheese and potato pie. It was always the cheese and potato all mashed up with a nice crust on top and I used to love that. No, the food was excellent.
Fiona - You didn?t have Indian food then?
Maurice - No funnily enough we didn?t. No ? we never had curry. All that time in India and we never had curry. We went out and bought curry, you know, if you wanted to have something different, but it was always just English food.

Fiona ? Can you describe a typical day in India?
Maurice ? A typical day? Well, we used to have bearers to look after us. A bearer would probably look after 7 men. He?d wake you in the morning with a cup of tea. There was the Punkah-wallah who used to sit there with a rope and pull the old fans backwards and forwards and if he stopped you threw a shoe at him because he?d dropped off to sleep. Then we?d go for breakfast and after that do whatever duties we were employed at. You?d finish early ? just after lunch some days because it was too hot. We used to go down to the NAAFI**. Our camp was surrounded by a 6 foot monsoon ditch. When we came out of this NAAFI one day ? we?d had a couple of drinks and were a bit tipsy ? it started to rain so we were running like mad to get back to the camp and I fell in this monsoon ditch and it had 6 foot of water in it!

Hylda ? What about the camels?
Maurice ? Oh, that was another thing. Camels! There used to be a camel train come through once a week and I was, you know we all did it, on guard duty outside the main gate with a rifle and bayonet. All the bearers on the camels were fast asleep so they just turned the first one round and all the others would follow. Four hours later when this guy wakes up??.
Fiona ? How do you fall asleep on a camel?
Maurice ? I don?t know, but they did! They used to curl up with their legs there and their head on the hump.

* Lysander ? A British army aircraft used during the Second World War.
** - NAAFI ? Navy, Army and Airforce Institute. The NAAFI provided recreational activities and sold goods to armed forces personnel and their families.

Keywords RAF, India, Melksham, Lancasters, Air raid shelter, Spitfire
Collection Overseas Battle Fronts
Place India
Year 1942
Conflict World War Two
File Type html
ID Number 73
I was in the army for 8 years and 256 days.

I joined the Territorial Army with 7 comrades on the 1st March 1938 because my local army barracks had a very good billiard table and bar. When war was declared me and my comrades were alarmed because we had joined up mainly to play billiards!

In 1939 I was sent to France with the BEF (British Expeditionary Force) as part of the 4th Battalion of the Royal East Kent Regiment to hold back the advancing German forces. It was the first battalion to land in France. The battle raged through France until we came to the episode of Dunkirk. My squad was one of the last out of France. As the troops came into Dunkirk some were appointed to the defensive shield round the outer perimeter of Dunkirk and I was one of them. This was to allow the troops to escape from the beaches. When the signal came for us to leave it was too late to get on the boats and we were told to get out the best way we could. We decided to go up the coast and came across a Renault car. We managed to get it going and all piled in. We finally escaped from the port of Le Havre on the last destroyer leaving occupied France. Only a quarter out of the 800 in my battalion got away.

When I came home there was no stopping. We were re-trained and re-equipped and were then sent to Malta where I was part of the defence of the island during the siege. If we had lost Malta we would have lost control of the whole of the Mediterranean. It was a wonderful combined effort by the navy, army and air force. I had a job servicing Spitfires. For my efforts during this campaign I received the Maltese George Cross. The George Cross is the highest medal in the land except for the Victoria Cross.

The Battle of Malta was over and we moved on again to North Africa where, to my surprise, I became part of Sir Winston Churchill?s 234 commando brigade. Our objective was to capture the Aegean Islands just off the coast of Turkey. I was on HMS Eclipse on the way to the Aegean Islands when it struck a mine and the front end of the ship was blown up. Hundreds of the lads were drowned but I had had a tip that there were lots of mines in the sea and it was safest to stay at the stern of the boat so I survived. I took my heavy clothing off, climbed onto the railings and managed to get hold of a cork life belt. There was a young fellow sitting on the railings and he was screaming. He?d been blinded by the blast and I could do nothing for him. That haunts me even today. In those circumstances the golden rule is every man for himself; so I jumped. I didn?t realise it was 60 feet above the water. I hit the sea with a wallop. There were hundreds and hundreds of lads around me badly burned. The whole sea was on fire. I had a bit of common sense and realised I had to get out of there as quick as I could so I swam and swam for 5 hours and was finally picked up just as dawn was breaking. I was in hospital for a bit and then rejoined my own unit.

A powerful battle took place and I was captured by a German commando and put on a ship bound for Athens. From there we were loaded onto a cattle truck and transported right across Europe to Germany and a hard labour camp in Leipzig. On that journey, 3,000 of the lads died.

I survived the labour camp right through to the end of the war. At this point myself and 4 of my comrades decided to escape. It was a terrible night and the German guards didn?t like standing out in the pouring rain. We got under the wire and made a run for it. The objective was to make it to the American 8th Army at Gera which was south of Leipzig. We travelled only at night sleeping during the day. Half way, we lost one of the fellows. He was so ill we had to leave him. We were almost at the end of our tethers. We had no food and our clothes were in rags, but then we came to a road and saw an American tank. A couple of G.I.s came racing out thinking we were Germans so we put our hands up and started shouting that we were British POWs. They took us in charge. I was in a terrible state. I had tuberculosis and weighed 3? stone. They were so kind to us. They moved us to another American base and I was flown straight back to England.

On arrival in England I was placed immediately into an army hospital to recover. However I did not. My injuries and experiences, such as the labour camp, were severe and preventing a full recovery. So the doctors decided to take a sample from my lung to investigate why. When they did this they found diesel oil from the boat that sunk in the bottom of my lung! After intensive treatment I made a recovery back to full health. I had 8 years in hospital altogether.

I was discharged from the forces in Dover Castle in Kent, and was given a pension of ?2 a week to live on, so I came home but was still very ill. After a few days my mother suggested that I go and visit relations in London, so I did. I went and stayed with them for a few days and whilst I was there I met a girl called Ruby. Ruby worked in Sainsbury?s and everybody knew her. Within 3 months of meeting her we were married. She cared for me and got me back to full health.

Interview by Alex Brook

Keywords Dunkirk, Malta, Aegean Islands, POW, George Cross
Collection Overseas Battle Fronts
Place Dunkirk
Year 1940
Conflict World War Two
File Type image
ID Number 181

Interview conducted by Louise Hayes and Pippa Carr

How did you come to be in the Army in the first place?

I was one of the last National Servicemen. Put in context ? I broke my ankle playing football two months before I should have started national service after leaving school. And so they wanted to defer me for six months so I asked them if I could have deferment for three years and went to university first. That meant I was quite old for a National Serviceman and I don?t know anyone else who graduated at the same time as I did who went. So I really was one of the last.

What was the unit that you served with?

In Berlin it was 62 Squadron, Royal Army Service Corps as it then was.

What responsibilities did you have?

I was in charge of a Platoon within the Company but, as with all things in Berlin, nothing was the same as it was anywhere else. So, although I was in charge of the platoon, I had one English sergeant and two English corporals and all the rest of the platoon were German. We only had tipper trucks which would not have been engaged in hostilities had there been any. They were purely for civilian use.
,br> Where did you serve in Germany?

In Berlin and then a short period in Dusseldorf.

What kind of things were involved?

What did I do? In terms of the platoon, I was only there because it was a requirement to have a British officer in charge of the platoon. All the staff were German ? I don?t think any of them spoke English. The sergeant who was immediately under me was a fluent German speaker because he had a German wife and he did all the organization but it was almost entirely a civilian organization. They had their own foreman, they had their own little groups and they more-or-less organized themselves. When I say they organized themselves, it was more that everything worked on a daily basis. So, unless we went out on exercises, I was very much a figurehead. Different things could happen and one was given a load of ancillary jobs as well. It wasn?t very exciting!

What were these exercises?

The only exercises we did in Berlin was the call-out procedure. Other than that, we took all the vehicles down into the zone to do the exercises on training grounds there. I mean Western Germany as it used to be. We went onto training areas there and we performed general transport exercises rather than exercises specifically relevant to Berlin.

I believe you also despatched sometimes from Berlin to the west?

That was one of the ?funnies? because Berlin was funded on the Bonn Budget. All the costs of maintaining the garrisons in Berlin were paid for by the German Federal Government so it wasn?t a British Army cost. That meant that all our vehicles were German. We didn?t have any British vehicles at all because the Germans provided the vehicles for us. Also, the corridor through the zone, through the Russian zone, was also German-funded. You?ve probably heard of Checkpoint Charlie which was the one established between East Berlin and West Berlin. Prior to that there were Checkpoints Alpha and Bravo and Alpha was at Helmstedt, which is on the border between West and East Germany, and Bravo was where you entered Berlin from the eastern zone and those two points were also funded out of the German budget. The Berlin end was no problem because we just drove straight down there as required but the one at Helmstedt was a different ball game because we had to take their supplies down to them. So that meant that every four weeks or so, somebody had to go down there with the fuel ? liquid fuel, solid fuel ? and also certain other things as well. That was when the trips came and you actually knew you were still in Berlin.

What were the events in West Berlin leading up to the Wall being built?

Nothing! It just came out of the blue. I was actually the Orderly Officer for the barracks that weekend. Looking back on it, it was strange, almost eerie, because I knew from the radio that the Wall was being built and there was activity down there so I was actually quite prepared ? for a change we?re actually going to be called out to go to stations and it will mean something ? but they didn?t call us out and we sat there ? we knew the Wall was going up ? but we didn?t take any action at all. I think the Americans did. The French didn?t and we didn?t. But the Americans didn?t do anything. They just watched them build the Wall. What would have happened if the Americans had chosen to trample over it in those first few hours I don?t know ? nobody knows. You could say that if the Americans had just gone those extra two hundred yards and driven a couple of tanks over the Wall then it would never have been built but they didn?t do it, possibly because, if you look at it another way, it would have been an act of aggression and just the excuse the Russians needed. But there was no build-up at all. Certainly, as far as I was concerned, the hierarchy might have known that something was afoot but at my level it just came out of the blue.

Which years were you in Berlin?

Sixty and sixty-one. The Wall went up in August 1961 so I was only there for two months while the Wall was up. Most of my service in Berlin was pre-Wall. Not that it made a great difference to daily routine. The routine continued as it had before.

I believe part of your duties involved taking patrols into the Russian Sector?

I didn?t take patrols as such. After the Wall went up, they decided that everyday at least one junior officer would go into the eastern sector i.e. the eastern half of Berlin and we had to go for three things ? they would say, ?Can you go to this area and report on troop movements and the forces there etc?? The ridiculous thing about this was that we had to go in a military vehicle and we had to travel in full dress uniform. In other words, you couldn?t go in combat gear so there was no way we were going to be inconspicuous. Therefore, it was absolutely useless to go in the back way, so to speak, and peer through hedges and everything else. I?m afraid I took the view that they know we?re there so I drove up to the ?front door?, had a look and went away. I was never tackled or anything.

But you were spying?

Yes, I was in a way. In those days I knew what the Russian TAC signs were and I knew what the East German TAC signs were so I could identify which unit was in which location. So, to that extent, I was putting information back into Headquarters. It was an almost surreal situation because we were going in, we were collecting information ? intelligence information ? but because we were doing it in uniform, in military vehicles, there was no point in being secretive about it. It was obvious who we were and what we were going to do. This was all a bit ?Cold War-ish?. The Cold War was ? at the level I was at ? almost a bit of a game. It was obviously rather more serious at a higher level but at our level it was artificial, even to the extent that when we took vehicles down through the corridor, the white Russian officers, not the oriental ones, if we were going to be held up for six, eight hours or whatever, they would tell us, ?You?ll be waiting eight hours today? and that was it.

Were these deliberately obstructive tactics?

Yes. The checkpoints were always manned by Soviets and not by East Germans. Whether they would have told a more senior officer that he was going to be held up for eight hours, I doubt, but with a junior officer, they were quite open about it. And if you had the tankers down there was a lot of checking and they would take every last piece of kit off the tanker, dismantling everything and laying it out on the ground, checking it all over meticulously. They were the worst ones ? it could take three hours to check all the kit on a tanker. They would stop us and search us even when we were in ordinary soft-sided vehicles ? if they were feeling that way.

What was your view of the Soviets?

Other than meeting them at the checkpoints, we had nothing to do with them. On a purely informal basis, the white Russians were quite friendly with us. The chaps who came from further east generally speaking weren?t as friendly. The only time we met them was at the checkpoints. They were a bit more abrupt at Checkpoint Charlie ? more abrupt and off-hand than at Checkpoints Alpha and Bravo. I think as a transport unit we were going through Alpha and Bravo far more regularly. An infantry unit would only go through those checkpoints when they were going to an exercise and tanks would never go through. So we saw them more than most.

Did the Soviets also send patrols into the western zone?

Not that we were aware of. There were these marvellous institutions called BRIXMIS and SOXMIS. BRIXMIS was the British Mission to East Germany and SOXMIS was the Soviet Mission to the west. SOXMIS had these cars and we knew they were there and it was a constant threat. We were warned about SOXMIS cars because they could travel anywhere and I don?t know how they were kitted out but BRIXMIS cars were Opel Kapitans ? the biggest saloon they did. These were replaced every six months and they absolutely bristled with cameras, listening devices and everything else and they went into East Germany purely with the intention of gaining intelligence information. And I suspect the SOXMIS were floating about the streets of West Berlin with exactly the same intention. I twice saw a SOXMIS car but never when I was actually posted in Berlin but afterwards when I was in the TA (Territorial Army). Everyone knew what they were ? they had to have very large plates on them identifying what they were ? the same for the British. It was just part of the game.

What did the border between the zones look like before the Wall went up?

Before the Wall went up you only knew you had gone into East Berlin because the architecture changed. There was no sign saying you are now entering East Berlin. There were signs on the boundary of West Berlin and the zone ? ?You are about to leave the British Zone? ? but there were no signs saying you were going into East Berlin. Until the Wall went up you could just drive around East Berlin. You had to go in uniform; you weren?t allowed to go into the east in civilian clothes. As long as we put our uniform on, we could go where we liked and by private car as well. Prior the Wall, you knew you were in East Berlin because the atmosphere changed. The gaudy advertising hoardings disappeared and the people were of a different way of thinking and the Russian-inspired architecture.

Did you like the atmosphere of East Berlin?

No, I can?t say I liked it. It was different and we did go into the east quite a lot, especially on Sunday afternoons, purely because the east had more countryside than the west and there was quite a large area on the eastern extremities of Berlin which was pure countryside. There wasn?t any real equivalent to that within West Berlin ? so about once a month on a Sunday afternoon I would get in the car and disappear and drive around . The only danger was then that you had to have a reasonable navigator because what you mustn?t do was drive over the border and there were no signs whatsoever between East Germany and East Berlin. While we were perfectly free to move within East Berlin, in no way were we allowed into East Germany. Had we strayed over that border, it would have been straight down to Potsdam (ed : Soviet military Headquarters in Berlin). We were pretty careful on that side.

Before the Wall went up, were there checkpoints then?

There were only Checkpoints Alpha and Bravo. Checkpoint Charlie was part of the Wall. There had been a checkpoint there but you didn?t have to use it ? it was a box in the middle of the road and that was it.

Didn?t they put barbed wire up between the zones?

Initially, it was a few breeze blocks and a few coils of barbed wire on top of them. That initial day, when they first went up, was no more than four-foot high breeze block with barbed wire on top. But by the time they continued to construct the rest of it, I believe it was about two-feet thick. Topped with wire and glass, not to mention the watch-towers and Vopos etc. (ed: Volkspolizei ? East German Police). It went up overnight ?only that initial phase. They started at the key points, like the Brandenburg Gate and built the Wall around the Brandenburg Gate but only to a very elementary level ? and similarly on the other main roads. There was none of the blocking-up of windows in the side streets and that kind of thing ? that only came later. Having got it erected, they just kept building it and building it. It went up overnight but they worked on it for months, if not years afterwards to bring it to the level it was finally at.

One thing I thought you might ask was the atmosphere within Berlin which was an isolated city, obviously. We had had the Berlin Airlift to keep it supplied. From a personal point of view, it was a strange feeling just going into Berlin because you knew you were cut off from the outside but once I?d done a trip down to the zone, through the checkpoints to Helmstedt and back, I forgot about that and one just continued a life in Berlin. Within Berlin, I think the only thing you noticed was a lack of fresh milk. There were no farms within Berlin at all but there were allotments and vegetables came up on the barges. You didn?t have fresh milk so whenever you had tea or anything at all, it was always evaporated milk. It stays with you for a long time. And that was the other thing ? most of the supplies for Berlin came up the river on barges. All the solid fuel, all the liquid fuel came up the river and was unloaded at the docks.

The other thing was that, although it was called the Berlin Infantry Brigade Group, it wasn?t a Brigade Group at all. It was a collection of military geared to Berlin. I said earlier, our transport squadron would normally have been four platoons of twenty vehicles which were general load-carrying but we only had one platoon like that. My platoon was tippers which dealt with the supply of solid fuel to various installations. The Third Platoon was purely coaches for taking children to school and that kind of thing and they had about six Volkswagen which anybody within the garrison would use as taxi-cabs. The fourth one was purely staff cars and the BRIXMIS cars. So we were very unusual in that situation. We only had one infantry regiment instead of three, we?d only got a troop of tanks instead of a squadron and it was just accepted that, if anything happened, if the Berlin Garrison lasted 24 hours, we would have done extremely well. We were a sacrificial lamb and it was accepted that we would be completely over-run but we had to keep the presence there ? to maintain the British influence within Berlin itself. We were expendable ? to have lasted 24 hours would have been miraculous. They would have had to have attacked us as a starting point. But we knew that ? so when we had a callout we only took out the normal military vehicles. We didn?t take out the tippers, the coaches or the staff cars ? none of those went out. The only vehicles we would actually have used if anything happened would have been the normal military vehicles.

Did you visit Berlin after your national service?

I?ve been back twice. I left the Army after national service, thinking, ?That?s good, that?s the end of that. I can go back to normal civilian life.? That lasted for all of four months because I went into London to stay over the weekend with an ex-school friend and he dragged me down to Trafalgar Square to a CND (ed: Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) march and I looked round and thought, ?Well, if they can afford the time to be in the CND, I can afford the time to be in the TA.? So I went back home and joined the TA and, from that point on, I served for another thirty-odd years in uniform and was able to get back to Berlin while I was still serving.

Did you feel it was different each time you went back?

All my visits back were in the sixties. I?ve not been back since. In the sixties, it hadn?t changed a great deal ? the Wall was still up. I think if you went back now, it would be unrecognisable because the Olympic Stadium ? you?ve no doubt seen on television what the Olympic Stadium is like now ? left over from 1936, was purely a horseshoe of concrete terracing and a vast area of grass and concrete which we, in fact, used for parades and that kind of thing. Whereas now, if you went out there, the Brigade Headquarters was in the area at the edge of the Olympic Stadium but now it?s a modern athletics facility. So, vast changes there and, of course, the east will be totally different since 1989. I think I ought to go back! When I did go back, I still knew people there which was an extra incentive. I knew the staff in the Mess and I knew a couple of Germans who ran restaurants. I?m not now in contact with them but I was in contact during that period so when I went back, it was quite nostalgic in a way. Also, I had an open sports car in those days which made me feel even better! And the Russians didn?t try to hold me up in that!

Was it your experience that Berliners were a different kind of Germans than found elsewhere in the country?

Yes. The British were always more accepted in Berlin than anywhere else because they knew that, if we went, then anyone could walk in. But they also have their own peculiar accent. Even I ? I don?t actually speak any German now ? whilst I was out there, I apparently had a Berlin accent. And when I went out into the zone and spoke in a restaurant or hotel, I could be recognised as having come from Berlin!

Keywords National service; Royal Army Service Corps, Checkpoints Charlie, Alpha and Bravo; Berlin wall, Soviets; 1936 Olympic stadium
Collection Overseas Battle Fronts
Place Berlin
Year 1960s
Conflict 1960
File Type html
ID Number 205


Just after crossing the French coast I reported some contrails up to port and slightly to our rear, but they extinguished almost immediately, so whatever it was had moved either above or below the contrail level. I had no idea where we were-there was no time to look at the map which was left folded in my left boot- but we must have been near to the target (the airfield of St. Omer), when I caught a flash way up behind as I was about to start the steep turn back towards the centre once more. I held off the turn to have a good check, and then turned back, only to see the squadron a good 800 yards or so away in front as my extended run had taken us apart. As speed in regaining position seemed to be vital, it was not clever to be on one's own in enemy skies, I did a quick left and right steep turn during which I had a good shufti behind, and then slung the coal on and went fast to get back with the rest.

I was about halfway back and about to have another look behind, when there was a sudden staccato vibration and sparks seemed to erupt out of my port wingtip. My ?bloody hell' and steep left hand turn initiation only just beat a violent clang from up front, at which the rudder pedals suddenly lost all feel and became seemingly disconnected from the rudder. As the nose fell away the cockpit filled with a white mist accompanied by a foul smell of glycol and 100-octane fuel. I let the nose go on down hoping whatever it was couldn't follow and that the mist would clear before it became a problem (I remembered the unseen white hot debris from the exhausts, and in the context of the fuel smell didn't have a lot of confidence in the immediate future).

The mist rapidly went however, and I was able to ease out of the steep diving turn to edge slightly west of north whilst weaving like mad one way and the other to clear my tail, and able now to check damage. The port wingtip was mangled, the rudder just a useless uncontrollable flap, the radiator: and oil temperatures were perhaps a little too high, and the elevator perhaps a bit less than precise. However she was still flying and I was at about 9,000ft having lost the rest in the diving turn, and thinking it might be an uncomfortable ride home.

Over the next few minutes the radiator and oil temps showed a gradual but steady rise, and I found the cause of the petrol smell, nearly 20 gallons of fuel were sloshing about in the belly of the fuselage under my feet. I now knew why my lower legs were so cold -on the ground I later found the insides of my flying boot and my trouser legs were absolutely saturated with the damn stuff. On checking the fuel gauge the top tank was empty so that had clearly been hit, as had the glycol tank or piping.

By now I was having to accept a gradual height loss in order to maintain the 290mph desirable as the Merlin seemed not to be giving its best, and another cause of disquiet was the ever increasing amount of tail heavy trim having to be wound on to stop the nose from dropping. Looking in my rear view mirror I thought I could see strips of fabric trailing from the elevators -the view was not all that clear, but if it was so could have accounted for the effect on the a/c. Some 6 minutes after being hit we were down to maybe 6,000ft with the radiator temp almost in the red. I could see the Channel, and had seen the Blenheims pass about 1,000ft above me clearly on their way home and going like the Devil.


My thought was that she'd never reach the Channel and I wasn't about to try to put her down -not with all that petrol washing around, so like a good Boy Scout I prepared by disconnecting my helmet leads and ramming them securely into my parachute harness straps, and then released my Sutton harness so I was unattached to the a/ c. There seemed little point in doing anything else as I'd run out of scope in playing with pitch control and throttle, and when all throttle movement had been used she was clearly going to go in only one direction, even if the overheating didn't do it first?and that was down. I decided to stand on the seat and then kick the stick forward to throw me out, but my planning came to naught. A most expensive sounding noise came from up front, accompanied by darkish smoke and jets of flame, and as I started to stand, letting go of the stick, dear old 'P' helped me to the last. She threw her nose violently down and I shot up and out like the cork from a bottle! And then there was only a flickering jumble of sky and snow as I obviously somersaulted, until I yanked the ripcord. What a relief to be right way up, and even greater to look up and check the beautiful white canopy fully open. My right boot had disappeared as I was launched from the a/c, so the landing itself -on one foot to save my unbooted one was a bi t of a thud, but there I was in the middle of a snow- covered stubble field-iron hard! The only cover in sight was a clump of bushes maybe 10o yards away up a slight slope. They were not leafed and even a mouse would have laughed at them, but I couldn't be a chooser so I dragged myself and chute up there, where there was snow about 18ins deep into which I pushed the chute and the mike etc from my helmet. I then attempted to' shoe' my right foot by tying the oxygen tube in such a fashion as to hold the helmet around my foot; this worked reasonably well.


I was now aware I hadn't had a pee since early in the morning, and I was thus engaged, crouched behind these silly little bushes, when two uniforms walked through a field entrance some 25oyards away. I finished my pee lying down! It was to no avail -they walked straight up to me, and as I stood up the one with the gun said ?For you the war is over' (and I thought they only said that in things like the 'Hotspur' and 'Magnet', we live and learn).

It was all very friendly, and we walked as a small group down to the opening they'd come through, meeting on the way a French boy of about 8/Ioyrs old who asked my age. Although I understood him perfectly my answer of 21 was given using all 8 fingers and 2 thumbs twice and a bit!
We got into the Ford V8 they'd arrived in, and drove, perhaps, 400 yards to where the remains of poor ?P? were smoking.

She had impacted on the side of the road which was sunken slightly below the field level, and all that could be seen was a rather buckled tail assembly sitting on top of a mass of jumbled scrap metal in what was clearly a damn great hole. I could see nothing identifiable in this mess -no sign of seat, panel, oxygen bottles -no nothing; and I guessed it was my good fortune not to be with it all umpteen feet down. Broken chunks of main plane lay at the side together with the broken remains of 8 Browning. 303 machine guns, barrels snapped, and 8 ammo boxes with sides peeled back to show the indentations of the cartridge rims on the inside surfaces looking most like a machined finish. Ammunition lay everywhere. Loose wreckage lay all over the road and elsewhere -I picked up the tail wheel from 200 yards inside an adjacent field!

She (N3249) was manufactured by Vickers Supermarine at Woolston near Portsmouth in December 1939, being in one of the earliest batches made. She had flown with 92 and 602 squadrons, with 92 she had scored over France during the Dunkirk evacuation in the hands of Stanford Tuck. She had the original type of u/c retraction via a lever in a box on the right hand side to select 'up' or-'down', and out of the same box a lever with which to pump up the hydraulic pressure to effect the required change. As pumping with the right hand caused the left hand (on the stick) to make sympathetic pumping actions also, one could always tell the new boys as they climbed away from take-off in a series of steps .We had all done it. The more recent a/c had instead a single lever only with the hydraulics supplied from an engine-driven pump.


Although I could not know it I was the first of the Luton VR lads and the first of my immediate friends to be lost in 1941. Unhappily so many, and most far less fortunate than I, followed my path during the spring and summer of that year .Dad said the weekly columns of the Luton News of that period regularly listed pre-war VRs in the ?killed and missing' columns.
So many keen, air minded youngsters joined the RAFVR in 1938/39, in the full knowledge that the international situation might well mean their (to them) good fortune in being able to fly RAF a/c, but would one day require a recompense to be paid.
And how they paid! Of the 130 or so pre-war embryo pilots at Luton I have only ever come across 5 other than myself, although I expect there must be a few more somewhere. Fred Whitehorn, badly burned; Ron Parker; Ray North; Goodwin and Arnold Hill who became Chief Brewer with Green's Brewery, these are the only ones I know to survive.

Source: David Denchfield?s written memoires, supplied by his son, Nigel. October 2011

Keywords RAF; France; St Omer; Luton Volunteer Reserve; POW
Collection Overseas Battle Fronts
Place St Omer, France
Year 1941
Conflict World War Two
File Type html
ID Number 207


Dave Denchfield

Since arriving at Stalag 357 (Fallingbostel) on August 14 1944, life has rapidly become abso-bloody-lutely awful for we ?gentlemen of the RAF? (Churchill?s words ? not mine!). Able to bring with us from Stalag Luft 6 (Memel, Lithuania) via Stalag 355 (Thorn, Poland) only what we could carry, our fags (cigarettes to our American readers ? Ed) soon ran short. As they used greatly to deaden the hunger pangs it was not helpful that the supply of one Red Cross food parcel per man weekly also largely dried up. By early March ?45 we RAF POW ?old timers? had gone through the worst winter ever ? we even had to admit to those we had b---s-----d for so long that it was worse than 8b at Lamsdorf in 41/42 ? and we had been bitter cold, damp and ravenously hungry all the time. My ?fighting? weight back home of 10 st 5 lb was now down to a few pounds under 7 st. My main memory is of sitting on the edge of my top *?pit?, fully dressed complete with French greatcoat, gloves and balaclava, studying calculus, strength of materials etc. or painting watercolours.

However, by early March we began to look for warmer weather and the liberation, and when news of the Rhine crossing was afterwards accompanied by rumours of an evacuation, ?Flip? Jones and myself each made a haversack from odds and ends and stuffed in our evacuation kit ? one each underpants, vest, shirt, wash bag, towel, eating irons, tin plate and a tin mug made from a Tate & Lyle syrup tin ? so that, when in mid-March the Hun began to roust us out, with the addition of a 5? x 3? cloth laughingly called a blanket, any fags we still had plus whatever non-essentials we could manage, we were ready for the off. Our party of 250 ? just one of many ? strolled out at about 16.00 and walked until near 01.00. It was great to be out and relatively unfettered by the guards ? who by this time were the old, the infirm and the very young ? and shortly after dark fell we two, plus three others, attempted to sidle off down a side road but were caught ? mile away and brought back. Some 15 minutes prior to stopping for the night we all went down flat as a great ball of flame rolled along the ground just fifty yards or so away from us in the field ? next day we were told it was a Mossie (Mosquito) and we thought he?d probably been after the six tanks we?d passed a couple of minutes before. We were dunked into some farm barns for the night and just before dawn I went outside for a pee and then stood watching the flickering western sky and listening to the faint thudding from there. A guard of some years joined me and somewhat quixotically I gave him a fag and we stood quietly smoking. To my ?Das krieg, ist fertig?? (The war is over?) came ?Ja, alles fertig, alles kaput? (Yes, everything is over, everything is finished).

There followed days of walking from farm to farm ? seemingly haphazardly but edging gradually towards Denmark which was rumoured to be our final destination. There were 250 of us spread over perhaps ? mile with guards scattered among us and we were all tired, hungry and bloody cold ? in fact there was a kind of rapport between the goons (guards) and us for we were all being b------d about. I vividly recall sitting at the side of a ditch one wet morning ? six of us vainly trying to roll some of Flip?s Balkan Soubranie pipe tobacco in toilet paper which then had to be licked all over to overcome the porosity. In between we were stripping and reassembling the guard?s machine pistol as he instructed. Some nights we holed up in barns but only too often we slept outside in our inadequate blankets. We froze and I swore I?d never camp again ? one resolution I?ve kept!

One of the other down sides was that by day we all suffered from dysentery ? one night I went sixteen times ? which was most debilitating. I used to walk with the rear coat tails of my French greatcoat buttoned round to the hip (a good design feature!) and reckoned that from the warning stomach churn I could be in the nearest ditch/field/ what have you with trousers down (haversack still on) in ten seconds flat ? it was a foolhardy man who risked taking any longer! At any one time there was always someone so employed. Passing through a village one day we saw one of us clearly in extremis asking an old couple at their cottage door for the use of their outside loo. The arrogant shooing off by the archetypal ?squarehead? (a slang word used to refer to the Germans) was answered by a swift ?trousers down? ? ?trousers up? and then ?run like hell?. Between steps one and two the gleaming white flagstones at the front door received a shock from which I doubt it?s recovered yet! Still, it was all good clean (?) fun and we who saw it were much raised in spirit by the sight and sounds of the puce-faced spluttering German gentleman.

We did have a sick-cart with an MO and two or three orderlies ? on which the ?too sick to walk? were placed but all there was for dysentery was charcoal powder mixed with (floating on) water. Did nowt (nothing) and was awful. On about three occasions we left a party of sick with an orderly to be picked up by the Allies ? we hoped. By April the rough living and lack of facilities had overcome our efforts to keep clean and we were filthy. None of us changed clothing for we couldn?t dry anything washed. Our spare we kept, hoping to be able to have a change and a washday sometime. I would guess we were lousy too ? or ?chatty? as my father would have said in WWI.

About April 20 my knee which, doubtless from all the kneeling on wet ground at cooking fires, had troubled me for a week finally caused me to ask the MO if he had owt (anything) to help and get the answer ?Only stop here with the sick?. Still he let me put my kit on the cart and once I had cut a thick stick with my friendly goon?s knife I was more or less ready for the day. What a good fairy was on my shoulder that day!! Normally we covered perhaps ten miles a day, but today it was going on for thirty ? including a pleasant stroll through the centre of Luneburg where by this time we were far too shattered to attempt to wind up the assembled populace with our call ?Hier sind der terror fliegern? (Here are the terror pilots). We were not allowed to rest until well outside the place and next we were walking across Luneburg Heath along rides cut through the woodland. Crashed aircraft had cut swathes through the trees ? I should have said that all along our route we came across the sad remains of many of our aircraft and everywhere we looked the trees glistened with caught-up **Window. This had been so since our second day out. At one junction of two rides the whole universe seemed on the move ? civilians, service people, men, women and children all going every which way to get home or get to the Western Allies before Uncle Joe (Stalin) could catch them ? this was when Joe was still in East Prussia or thereabouts and Monty (Field Marshall Montgomery) a mere forty odd miles away! Quite late we dropped to the floor. Outside ? at our camping site next to a small stream I, who had started out empty-handed was by this time carrying kit for Flip and Tex (by this time our third member), and we were all cold, hungry and completely clapped (worn out). But there was straw to find, food to heat and firewood to get. We were wet, the ground was wet, the firewood was wet, there was no straw to be found to go under our blanket and we were undoubtedly p----d off and weary. Luckily next day there was a shortish walk from about 14.00 to fetch up at a school near Elbe at Lauenburg from whence we were roused at 03.30 the next morning to cross the river via a bloody great bridge prepared for demolition with what looked like 500 pounders in wooden boxes ? Eddie, who lifted a lid to see, got quite a shock and let the lid go PDQ! We walked S.E. along the banks of the Elbe and rested up alongside it. The three of us stripped off completely and washed at the water?s edge and watched a large barge motoring seaward. Ten minutes later, sitting watching the nude bodies at the edge of the Elbe from some 100 yards away, we cheered four Spits (Spitfires) that came hurtling along the river from southward ? and then went violently flat as pancakes as four lots of canon opened up. As they b------d off we sat up to view the horde of pink bums poking out of the Elbe. No-one was hurt ?apart from those on the barge, which drifted back past us, smoking like mad. We heard a boy was hurt but in the cynical fashion of those days just said ?He shouldn?t bloody well have joined?. During the early afternoon we were walking past verges littered with Red Cross marked litter and whilst pondering what this meant found we were passing the only one of our other parties we were to see, fell out on either side and ? they were all scoffing the RED CROSS PARCELS! Suddenly no longer wet, cold or tired we near galloped into the village where we each collected one Canadian food parcel and 50 Gold Flake fags ? and then watched four Tiffies (Hawker Typhoons ? Ed) send five salvos of rockets down at some unseen target a mile or so away. ?That?s given some sod a headache? said Ted. And so it had. Thirty minutes later all the euphoria of the Canadian chocolate and Messers ***Will?s solace for all gave way to horror and disbelief when we learned the sod was in fact the party we had walked past. Flip and myself lost two very good friends that day.

The food and fags gave a good sense of wellbeing and, as we three found, following Flip?s suggestion, the prunes, eaten boiled, gave quite a relief from the dysentery. Certainly the pains and the frequency were greatly reduced until about two days after we ran out, when both were back in full measure. Eventually we bedded down in some hay barns where we were to spend about five days. Even now I go cold when I recall those rickety old barns with four levels served by a system of Heath Robinson ladders with ****kriegies dug into the hay on all levels with we three on the top floor (some 30 feet up). And in the dark all one could see was a blackness with myriads of glowing fags from ground level up. (Keep the Fire Officer away!).

Unbelievably, the feldwebel i/c (sergeant) of the party had had to ?phone Berlin for details of each march prior to setting out, and now that contact was lost. Hence our sojourn while he waited for events to make his mind up. The rest from walking did us all good and we managed to get reasonably clean ? I stood in the shallows of a lake ? in the snow ? stark naked, soaping and washing down whilst talking to a young German couple of my own age. It all seemed perfectly natural then.

On 30 April the news that we would that evening march about ten miles to the west where the Allies would then be was greeted with the usual kriegie rude comments, but so it proved to be ? our feldwebel had guessed right. Flip, Tex and myself elected not to sleep in the barns we reached ? even to our uncritical eyes they were c--p ? and elected to sleep on the mound of straw outside. One blanket under all three with little Tex in the middle and with two blankets over we slept fully dressed with boots on but laces loosed. We had the best night?s sleep ever and I woke at 06.00 or thereabouts, deliciously warm, to find we had an inch of snow over us ? and we were in fact bedded down on the farm manure heap! It was 1 May and my thoughts did not include a May Queen. Later that day a British Army Captain and sergeant appeared and said we would round up German transport and get back to Luneburg. We spent the next day doing just that and searching POW?s from whence I got a 7.62 automatic (March Police now have it). Flip also rounded up three old carving knives we found in a workshop, so with these stuffed down our socks and guns at our waists we felt a little safer ? until Flip drove us to lunch with a platoon of Green Howards ? he took for ever to get that ?drive on the left WRONG ? the Sherman which came round the corner on it?s right and stopped a fleas bum from our bonnet RIGHT?. The mass of transport at the farm would have served a division. We even had a steam lorry and a swimming truck.

Mid morning on 3 May we set off across the Elbe on a Bailey bridge to reach the large barracks in Luneburg awash with kriegies. And the sheer delight of reasonably cooked hot food and the sheer bliss of HOT water. And then to sleep on a bed with full-size, proper blankets. The next morning we were off again ? ten to the back of an army lorry to stop the night at a little village ? Solingen ? and then the following morning off again westwards to stop at a village, the name of which I?ve forgotten. And then the next day off on the last drive through Germany. We ended up in Emsdetten near the Rheine and were put into a school. We tried the patience of the major i/c by responding to his delivery of Monty?s edict re non-fraternisation with German gels by the clear rather statement that if we could so far recover as to have thoughts in that direction then ?frat? we would and then Monty ? for all we thought of him ? could do unmentionable things with his edict. Having cleared the air there was not much we could do after our meal as it was now dark and the street lighting was non-existent, so it was ?pit time? once more. The following day, 7 May, was spent just walking around Emsdetten until near 16.00 when we visited a recreation centre set up in a part of the municipal offices and for some three hours immersed ourselves in magazines and drank lots of tea/coffee. I was stuck into a mass of ?Illustrated London News? and from the pictures of ordinary life realising what we had missed for 4? years. I suddenly became aware they were shutting up and I was the only one left. Outside it was like the Black Hole of Calcutta ? and which way to go? B------d if I knew. Anyway they say the Devil looks after his own for I set off walking as quietly as I could down the centre of the road with the knife in my left hand and the cocked pistol in my right. Ten minutes later, with no trouble at all, I was at the school ? and so to bed.

Sometime around 23.00 we all came violently awake to the sound of heavy and continuous m.g. (machine gun) and small arms fire. Having thrown on some clothes and grabbed our guns we were told the unconditional surrender had been announced and it was all over.

Just after mid-day on 8 May we were driven through the waste brickyard that had been Rheine to the airfield and at around 16.00, Flip and I took the last two places in a 617 Sqn ?Grand Slam? Lancaster ? YZ-C ? and I have a photo! We landed at Dunsfold and having suffered the DTD spray down each arm and up each trouser leg were taken through into a hanger to be sat at one of many tables, each for ten men and presided over my one of the many women from a multitude of women?s organisation. We had a Wren, and as we ate I like to think we gradually passed one of the more difficult transformations necessary ? how to adapt our normal highly imaginative language to suit mixed company. I did say gradually!

Just after dark we were driven to the railway station to board the train to RAF Cosford and went through crowds of wildly celebrating people.

Flip and I sat down in a carriage and immediately, just like blowing out a candle, we went completely brain dead and sat devoid of thought, feeling, awareness or owt else. I had not experienced this before. However, very gradually as the train wended it weary way west of London we came back to this world and sat, speaking very little and smoking a lot.

A mere 4? years overdue, two fighter pilots had at least flown home ? if not to base ? on VE day.

H D Denchfield

(Retyped from the original text MRHMM ON4513_

*?Pit? ? this is slang for the bunk. David had the top one, probably of 3, straw mattress, 1 blanket, freezing cold, and highly likely that the across slats were mostly missing having been used as firewood or shores for an escape tunnel

** Window - Window was the code for the aluminium strips that the bombers dropped to confuse German defensive radar. It was first used during the 1943 raids on Hamburg that produced appalling devastation.

*** ?Wills? -Wills made cigarettes, he is referring to the packs of Benson & Hedges found earlier.

**** ?Kriegies? Our POWs in Europe called themselves "Kriegies." It's short for the German word for prisoner of war.

Read how David was captured after his Spitfire was attacked over northern France. The story is told in another file in this section of the website.

Keywords RAF; POW; River Elbe, Spitfire; Red Cross
Collection Overseas Battle Fronts
Place Germany
Year 1945
Conflict World War Two
File Type html
ID Number 138
Description Douglas with his British crew on the Commandant Drogou. He is on the front row, second from the right.
Keywords Commandant Drogou
Collection Overseas Battle Fronts
Place At sea
Year 1942
Conflict World War Two
File Type image


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