On January 5th 1945 we were briefed to attack the city of Hanover in Germany. The primary target was a ball-bearing complex. The Ministry of Economic Warfare thought it was a good idea that if we could deprive them of ball-bearings it would handicap their ability to make aircraft, tanks etc. The squadron I was on was 550, No1 group and we were based at North Killingholme on the edge of the river Humber.
Many a time you could go all the way and never see another bomber, until you got near the target and they’d all start to verge on it. The strategy was that 200 Halifax’s would precede us and draw up any night fighters. So then we, with 400 Lancaster's would arrive about an hour and a half later. By the time we arrive those fighters have had to get back down on the ground, refuel, re-arm, and by that time we should be through and away. That was the idea.
We came up to the target and it was all ablaze with fires from incendiaries. Then the patter would start between the bomb-aimer and the pilot, he’d be saying “left, left, steady” and all the time he’s watching the cross wires on his bombsight. When you’re approaching the target you’ve got to fly straight and level, which means you’re more vulnerable, you’re always more nervous doing this. All I remember is a terrific explosion. I must have been knocked out completely, and as my consciousness returned all these lights were revolving around me. But I realised this wasn’t so. The lights were the fires on the ground and it was me who was doing the revolving. I was just falling through the air! Then I go for the rip cord, but I didn’t pull it because I suddenly thought there’s 400 Lancaster's going through here at different altitudes, they could run into you in the dark. You’d end up as beefburgers if one of them hit you! So I did a free fall and just guessing at about 3000 feet I pulled the cord, because I knew I’d be below the anti-aircraft fire and the Lancaster's.
I landed just on the edge of Hanover on wasteland. It was about eleven o’clock at night. I just lay on the ground shocked and a bit concussed. The first thing I did was have a fag to calm myself down, that’s me all over, let me have a fag! I made sure I hadn’t got any broken bones, but they were all working. There was about six to nine inches of snow on the ground. So I made a hole in the snow and put in my parachute, harness and my Roberts suit, it was a special flying suit with electric wires in. My helmet had gone and I’d only got one boot, so I thought that’s no bloomin’ good is it, so I buried that as well.
I took off into the countryside, it was bitterly cold. We always carried an escape kit in the flying suit pocket. In it would be a silk map of Northern Europe, a compass, small razor blade, fishing line, a flat rubber water bottle and Benzedrine tablets. I sat on the edge of this wood to study the map. My brother said once, what was your first thoughts when you landed in Germany? The first was, I'm glad to be alive. My second thought was; to be honest, relieved that I wouldn't have to take part in another bombing mission. My next thought was what's happened to my comrades?
Anyway I was studying this map and a group of Luftwaffe ground staff with sub- machine guns and two dogs appeared. So the game was up. There was a sergeant in charge of the party and he could speak a bit of English. He wasn't interested in information that's not his job, he's just another soldier like me. He starts talking about classical music, and I like classical music, and as we were marching along he was translating what we were saying to his mates! They took me to an airfield nearby with a guardroom and bunged me in one of the cells. There was a big radiator in there, all nice and hot. Then one of the Luftwaffe chaps came in with some brown stew. It was great too, it certainly picked my pecker up I'll tell you!
I eventually ended up at Staglag Luft 1 on the Baltic coast. There was a group of American airmen there and they made us some barley porridge, they were good comrades. It was bitterly cold and the German rations were negligible, we were starving. We used to dream about food. We'd got quite a library of books so we'd skim through looking for the parts about them going for a lunch, we weren't bothered with the book, we wanted to find out what they were having!
We were freed by Zukov's Red Army. One morning all the guards had gone- fled. We'd got the place to ourselves. Later in the day the Russians came up with some tanks, they saw all the towers and barbed wire so they flattened that. There was an airfield nearby and we had to clear it of mines. Then one day a group of Flying Fortresses, American bombers arrived. There were no seats you just lay about or hung on to what you could. I think I was underneath the pilot and he said "Come up here buddy and take a look, your home". It was Beachy Head, all the white cliffs.
The wheels of chance and what have you. When we crewed up I said to Frank Renton which turret do you fancy flying in? He said I'm not bothered, so we tossed a coin. It meant that Frank went in the rear turret and I went in the other. Later when we got into the real bad stuff Frank said "I can't stand that rear turret." It is a very lonely position. Anyway he was getting a bit desperate and he was on about looking for another crew. So I said to the Captain, Frank can come into the mid-upper and I'll go in the rear turret. If we can get him through this tour of operations it might be alright. He can be up the front end and see the other blokes around him and he'll feel better. So that's how I came to be in the rear turret. Otherwise if it had stopped as it was Frank would have been the one to survive and not me.
[The transcript above was made available by Brian Goodwin. The original source may be Birmingham City Archive: this is being investigated and proper attribution will be added as soon as it can be ascertained.]