[Note: This section of the diary covers the dates of February 1st to March 3rd, 1943. Transcription and transcription annotations have been provided by the collection donor; some descriptive/explanatory sections were added during the revision of 1993.]
Mon Feb 1, 1943:
Doug Ball, tail gunner arrived this afternoon. After being paid Jack & I hitch-hiked to Sandy, getting the train to Cambridge where we put in two & a half hrs before getting the Norwich train. We arrived in Norwich at 10:30 pm, no taxis to be had & pitch black, the best blackout I’ve seen. As we were walking the 3 miles to Day’s home it started pouring with rain. His family were waiting for us. We got to bed early in the morning. A real soft bed.
Tue Feb 2, 1943:
Mr Day woke me up around ten & presented me with a cup of tea. Breakfast of bacon & egg. After lunch, Molly, Jack & I went to town. The S. P’s stopped Jack because his overcoat collar was turned up. We roamed round a little in the rain, before going home. Molly’s sister, Phyllis (WAAF) came over. After tea we went to Molly’s home & from there to a dance. The dance was packed with Yanks. Got a taxi back home.
Wed Feb 3, 1943:
Mr. Day awoke me with the usual cup of tea at 9:30 am. The sky was clear & the sun shining. After a breakfast of bacon & egg, Jack & I strolled down the street to the barber shop. We came back to get Molly & our cameras. By the time we reached town the sky was overcast. However we had a look at the Norwich cathedral from across the river near the ford & up close. There is a Norman castle on a hill nearby. Took 2 pix at the top of Elm St. Visited the RTO, but Jack’s pass wasn’t there. Had late dinner of onions, steak & egg at 2:30 pm at Day’s. It started raining hard. I caught the 4:14 train for London where I booked accommodation at the Albion Court Hostel.
Thur Feb 4, 1943:
After breakfast I roamed round London looking for a bicycle, no luck. Bought a sheath knife & some poker chips. Went to Liverpool St. Station to meet Jack & Molly, Eric Ramm was there. After they booked their room in the Strand Palace we went to a show. Later meeting Molly’s sister Phyllis & her Aussie friend. Had supper in the Strand Corner House (Lyons). Back to Albion Court.
Fri Feb 5, 1943:
Up early & down to the Strand Palace to meet Jack on the way I bought some filters for my camera. We had lunch in Pinoles, then booked some seats for “The Man Who Came to Dinner”. After supper I headed back to my bunk.
Sat Feb 6, 1943:
Went down to the Strand Palace early, here I met Bucky Harris & Hunter (P.A.) Grads who are on Coastal. Bucky informed my that Hec. Ruben has been commissioned. Jack, Molly & I met Doug Ball at the Beaver Club. After visiting a restaurant we went to a show, then bustled Jack & Molly off to Norwich. Doug & I tried to get seats for the theatre, but couldn’t so went on a crawl. We tried to get on the Universelle Brasserie in Piccadilly, but it was packed, so we headed for another pub accompanied by a WAAF (Unis) & a civy, Wendy Ince. Late as we had missed out but Wendy invited us to stay at her house in Worcester Park. She is married but separated, has a daughter ( Vicky) of 3 years, lives with an elderly aunt. We had late supper & Doug & I bunked down in the living room.
Sun Feb 7, 1943:
We were awakened by the little girl who brought the morning paper in to us. Then Wendy came in and lit the fire to heat up the room. We were left alone till we were dressed.. Shaved & fixed some to the plumbing upstairs, then breakfast. Sat round the fire awhile before leaving for Doug’s mother’s home in N. Edmonton. We arrived at N. Edmonton in time for tea. Visited one of the local pubs then to bed.
Mon Feb 8, 1943:
After breakfast we hunted all over Edmonton for a bicycle but nothing that I wanted. Had venison & waffles in a restaurant in Leicester Sq.. Went to Albion Court for my bag. We had an hour to kill so went in to a news theatre. Boarded the 6:40 train at Kings Cross. We were intending to get off at Sandy, but a fellow passenger persuaded us to go on to Tempsford station. We did and were stranded, however the corporal at the barrier phone for a transport for us as we would have walked 5 or 6 miles across the Drome. At the end of the place they have some Douglas Havocs. When we arrived at the Mess, Dougie said we were new arrivals and ordered a special supper of eggs & bacon.
Tue Feb 9, 1943:
Raining today & mighty cold. We spent most of the time at the Flights. We endeavored to get lockers, but there were none available. Lots of mail for me today, a parcel from home and one from Win. I have a tough cold. After tea I sat by the fire in the Mess. So cold tonight that I put my Irwin trousers on the foot of the bed and put my inner flying suit on over my pajamas to keep warm in bed.
Wed Feb 10, 1943:
Last night I was warm in bed for once. Still cold outside. After a shave in the Mess I went down to the Flights. After sitting around we went for some lockers. We brought 2 back, but couldn’t get them in the door. No keys available for the double doors so we couldn’t get them through there. We left them outside. After lunch it started raining hard. Played poker all afternoon to tea time. What a cold wet miserable hole this is.
Thur Feb 11, 1943:
Fri Feb 12, 1943:
Gas practice this morning so I had to take my respirator down to Flights with me. Eric & I went to the store & drew out some equipment ( a new Irwin Jacket for me). After lunch we went to the Intelligence Section & obtained our escape kit then to the parachute section for harness & Mae West. After tea I discovered someone had taken my towel out of my little bag. An ENSA concert tonight. It was pretty good. Jack is still in sick bay.
Sat Feb 13, 1943:
This morning we went on a map reading trip to Harwell airdrome, south of Oxford, landed then returned, On the return we did a stretch at a few hundred feet & 200 mph indicated. This low flying is great stuff. We are doing an op tonight, briefing at 3:00 a lot different to bomber briefing. Picked up a chute then made out my log & charts. This trip takes us to Belgium & should last 5 hrs. After a flying supper I went down to the Flights. Take of at 9:30. We are carrying 2 Joes (agents), a spare navigator & 2 dispatchers. We flew at 1000 ft & 191 mph true. The French coast was crossed at 50 ft. Our first turning point was the flat edge of wood south east of Bonai, then a loop in the river further on. We dropped Joes west of Liege then off toward Brussels. As there was no moon visibility was poor so we had to stooge about to get the exact spot to drop the Joes. We dropped pigeons, containers, leaflets & packages in the area south of Brussels. Both receptions were lighted. We couldn’t find the other receptions as it was a bit late, so we headed for home. Only one Stukas tried to pick us up near the coast. We crossed the English coast at 3000 ft. Map reading was very poor. When we were landing Dougie accidently fired one of his guns.
Sun Feb 14, 1943:
Got to bed at 6 this morning. Last night we did half our job. Quite a few crews came back without dropping anything. Got up at 3:30 pm shaved, washed & had tea. Then Eric, Dougie & I went to the sick bay to see Jack. He was in the middle of a card game, we joined in for a while then left to attend the cinema in the NAAFI. After waiting three-quarter of an hour till they fixed the projector. The first part of the picture didn’t have any sound in it. When they finally got the sound going the film wouldn’t show. We left & had supper, then to bed.
Mon Feb 15, 1943:
The day started with a downpour of rain, but brightened up to a sunny, windy day. Spent the morning writing letters. Ted Howe came back from a 48 in London. We aren’t operating tonight so I spent a quiet evening in the Mess.
Tue Feb 16, 1943:
Down to the Flights early today, wrote letters in the morning. In the afternoon I heard I would be flying with another crew as 2nd “dicky”. We took of at 6:45 for Denmark with 4 Joes (agents), 2 very tall ones, one short stocky one and a medium sized fellow, all tough hombres. We crossed the Danish coast at a low altitude, the moon was up and everything was very clear. Quite a number of the farm houses were lit up. Someone on the ground flashed us “V” on a flash light
Wed - Thur Feb 17 & Feb 18, 1943:
Fri Feb 19, 1943:
Shot down over France.
A March to Freedom Lamsdorf - Poland to Ditfurt - Germany
This is a daily diary written while on a forced march from Poland to the western part of Germany. It is not a literary work.
In the spring of 1993, I read this diary for the first time since 1945. The writing was so small that I had the pages enlarged and typed. Abbreviations were written out in full, expressions not suitable for family reading were removed. The rest is the way I wrote it.
Place names and distances were obtained from roadside signs. These had not been removed as the Germans had not expected an invasion. The present names of places that we passed through in Poland, the Czech and Slovak Republics are different.
Thousands of P.O.W.’s had similar experiences as they were being marched ahead of the Russian Army.
R.A.F. 138 Squadron did low level night flights for S.O.E (Special Operations Executive) who trained and supplied agents for the Allies over occupied Europe as far east as Poland and Czechoslovakia. During my time on the squadron we used Halifax aircraft to drop agents and supplies to the Resistance people. These drops were usually made from about 600 feet.
Our bomber had a crew of: First Pilot, Peter Kingsford-Smith - P/O; Second Pilot, RC Hogg - F/O; Navigator, AFA Dawkins - F/Sgt; Wireless Operator. EJ Ramm - Sgt; Rear Gunner, D Robinson - Sgt; Dispatcher, J Davison - Sgt; Flight Engineer, FR Jerome - Sgt; Flight Engineer trainee, HJ Long, - Sgt. On this trip we also carried an agent. I was the navigator.
RAF 138 Squadron flew from Tempsford for S.O.E. (Special Operations Executive). These special duties operations were highly individual affairs with none of the mass briefings and mass take-offs of Bomber Command. We flew during the full moon periods, hence the name Moon Squadron. With the lives of dozens of agents and freedom fighters at stake, the need for secrecy and security was important. Usually only the pilot and the navigator knew the location of the drop zones. Crews operated alone and were unaware of what other crews were doing. The difficulties of navigation for the special duties crews necessitated pin-point accuracy on a small often ill-defined target after hours of flying across enemy territory. The navigation on the journey and on the approach to the target had to be of high order. Reception committees were instructed to choose sights for their dropping grounds which could easily be seen from the air. This was not always possible for them. The air craft after having found its target area, might have to search for some time before discovering lights obscured in a valley or hidden by woods. Finding isolated fields in the heart of enemy territory was a difficult and dangerous business in the absence of navigational aids.
However researchers in S.O.E .cooperating with other scientists created a navigational device, a type of mobile radar in two halves called Rebecca and Eureka, a small radar system. Rebecca the heftier half was mounted in the aircraft and operated by the navigator to pick up signals from Eureka, a portable battery operated transmitter weighing about 100 lbs. Eureka was a radar beacon to be set up in a dropping zone. It was coded to reply only to a particular signal from Rebecca, which could activate it from 70 miles away. Both Rebecca and Eureka were equipped with devices which would blow them up if anyone tried to examine them. Their combined error was within 200 yards and was of great potential value to the Resistance groups. The weight of Eureka and the condition of its batteries were often a problem for the people at the drop zone. As a result the navigator nearly always had to rely on map reading and dead reckoning. In order for him to do this, the pilot flew at a low altitude. The drop zone was often a small ill-defined target. To drop agents and supplies the pilot of a heavy aircraft had to fly just above stalling speed with flaps down and at an altitude of about 600 feet. The front gun turret and the mid upper turret had been removed, from our aircraft. A round hole about a meter wide was cut in the floor of the plane, aft of the bomb bay and fitted with a removable cover. Near this hole inside the fuselage, a rail was fitted to which parachute static lines could be clipped. A signal light operated by the pilot or the navigator, shone red when the drop zone was near. The dispatcher then removed the hatch cover. When the signal shone green he checked to see that the static lines were attached to the chutes. Then the agent jumped through the hole, his chute being opened by the static line. The dispatcher then retrieved the static lines when all jumps had been made. What with navigation difficulties in the air, police difficulties for the reception people on the ground and the unpredictable weather that might cloud over a dropping zone in a few minutes, it was not surprising that quite a number of sorties flown by special duties dropping aircraft were abortive attempts.
SHOT DOWN OVER FRANCE
On the night of 19 February, 1943 we flew from our base at Tempsford to a drop zone in France. We were flying at about 500 feet when we ran into ground fog in the Loire River valley. Our pilot Jack Day was in hospital so we had another pilot plus a co-pilot on a familiarization trip. There was one male agent to deliver and probably some cargo. We were never told what cargo we carried. We were flying at about 500 feet when we ran into ground fog in the Loire River valley. The pilot took the plane above the fog and a short time later we were hit by anti-aircraft fire. We started to lose altitude quickly and the pilot told us to prepare for a crash landing. I had no time to get into a safe or crash position so I fastened my seat belt and hoped for the best. The first impact produced a loud sound of metal being torn apart. My seat was ripped out of its fastenings with me still in it. I hit various parts of the fuselage before losing consciousness. I awoke on my back and still strapped to my chair. One knee and leg were injured and my face bloodied. I crawled out of the aircraft and joined the agent and the rest of the crew. They were not injured. As the overload tank was leaking fuel we were able to set the aircraft on fire and destroy all charts, maps and other material that might identify us or our destination. We got away from the crash safely. The agent suggested that we go north to avoid Germans searching to the south of the burned out wreck for the crew who might be heading for Spain.
Eventually we came to a river and found a rowboat, but no oars, so we used our hands to paddle across. When we reached at the other side of the river we walked some distance till we reached an empty barn. While we rested the agent went to a nearby farm house to obtain food for us. He then continued his journey on foot to reach his contact. We stayed in the barn till the next night, then we spit up in pairs. Eric Ramm, the wireless operator and I headed in a southernly direction. Later that night we crept through a village without disturbing anyone. We went into a wooded area to sleep during the day. No one came near us. The following days we slept in woods or in barns if we could get into them. Night travel was across vineyards, on roads if there was no traffic or along the edge of woods. Progress was slow because of my knee and leg injury. Some food was obtained from farmers.
One evening we knocked on the door of a house on the edge of a town. We were invited in by the owner who spoke some English. While he obtained civilian clothes for us to wear over out battledress his wife prepared a meal for us. He suggested we take a train to Marseille where we could meet a contact. This idea was abandoned because I was limping so badly. We figured we would be questioned about it and with our knowledge of French so poor we would be exposed. I hoped that by walking and resting, my leg might improve.
On Feb 25 1943 near the village of St. Senach after walking all night on country roads we stopped at a farm house to get food and water. The farmer and his family were having breakfast and invited us to join them. As we sat down one of the sons left on the pretext that he had to attend to the cows. After we had finished breakfast a French policeman walked in. He spoke some English and greeted us in a friendly manner. We were given the impression he was there to help us. Eric and I with the policeman left the farm house. After walking a short distance we were surrounded by six policemen armed with rifles. So this was the help? We must be important to have seven policemen escort us from the farm
FEB 26 TO MAR 4 1943 TOURS PRISON FRANCE
We were taken by truck to the jail in the village of St. Senach in Vichy, France. The cell doors were left open and we were free to walk in the walled courtyard. An armed policeman prevented any attempt to escape. I went to the toilet to flush some notes I had made since landing. What a surprise, just a hole in the floor between two raised cement foot prints. I stuffed the papers down the hole and made sure they couldn’t be retrieved, you know how. To quench our thirst we were given what looked like bottled beer, but turned out to be a very, very dry wine. This was lunch.
Later in the afternoon a large car with three German policemen arrived to take us north to the prison in Tours. Here we were put into separate cells. My cell was small, the window at the end wall had no glass, just iron bars. Standing on a chair provided a view of stone walls and nothing else. The bed was an iron frame with 1" x 2" iron slates set on edge and covered with a blanket, a no sag bed. A small table hinged at the wall and held level by two chains was useless as the chains were broken. By the door was a toilet bowl with a tap above it, no paper, no soap and no towel. The door had a peephole with a sliding cover on the outside. Periodically a guard would slide the cover up and look in. The temptation to poke a finger into his eye was considered but not attempted as I would have been shot. However when an eye appeared I put my eye close and stared back. The result was fewer peeps by the guard. Food for the day consisted of a tin containing about half a liter of hot water with a few slices of turnip. The guard opened the door and pushed the tin with his boot. He retrieved the tin later.
During the last week of our stay, the nearby Luftwaffe station sent some crackers and a small round of Camembert cheese. The cheese had a hard crust and liquid center. You applied the cheese to the cracker with a finger. That meant you had to live with a stinky finger for the rest of your stay. We never found out the Michelin rating for our accommodation. On the second day Eric and I were ushered into an office occupied by a stenographer and civilian who stated he was in the Gestapo. He spoke with an American accent and said he had lived in New York before the war. He asked if we had been on a four engine aircraft. We were noncommittal. He then assumed we had been on a twin engine aircraft. He said that we were lucky that the German army did not have us. A truck load of soldiers had been looking for the crew of a large aircraft, when a twin engine aircraft had strafed them killing many of the soldiers. No more questions were asked and we were returned to our cells. The next day were back in the interrogation room. We were given a cup of ersatz coffee probably made from roasted acorns, certainly a change from turnip soup. The interrogator tested our knowledge of German and was satisfied that we were ignorant of the language. He spoke to his stenographer in German. She left the room and reappeared later with a guard and Harry Long the engineer trainee. Harry said nothing to us but the expression on his face told the interrogator what he wanted to know. We belonged to the same crew. No more questions were asked. However, he said the crash had spread a supply of Sten guns on the field. There were no more interviews during our stay.