An Airman's Adventure - The Nelson Gilboe War Diaries

An Airman's Adventure

Nelson Gilboe (1922-1997), Royal Canadian Air Force
Diary of 1940 to 1946

(Supplied by his friend Red Schofield, Flying Gators - Gainesville, FL)

Chapter One - I Reach For The Blue Horizon

It was the first Monday in September, 1940, and I had gone across the river from my home in Windsor to view the Labor Day parade in Detroit. The day was warm and sunny, making it perfect for the marchers who were taking part in the parade as well as for those who just stood and watched. The war in Europe had been raging for more than a year now, and the factories in Detroit , as well as those in the rest of the country were busy gearing up to supply the Allies with the tools to do the job , as Prime Minister Churchill had called it when he asked President Roosevelt for material assistance. The war had brought an end to the Great Depression of the thirties and now the local union representatives were proud to ride on the truck drawn floats that were so evident in the parade.

The parade ended before noon, so I boarded a street car and rode it out Jefferson Avenue to the East side of Detroit where I went to visit with my aunt Millie, who was my mother's younger sister. I had planned on staying over night, but shortly after I had arrived , the telephone rang, and after my aunt had answered it and talked for a few minutes, she motioned for me to take the phone. My mother wanted to talk to me. " I just got a call from someone at the Air Force recruiting office" she said. "They want you to go there tomorrow morning. Why are they calling on a holiday? And what do they want with you?" "I don't know ma" I answered. "Maybe they just want to know if I'd be interested in joining the Air Force. Anyway, I'll be home soon and I'll go by there in the morning". I handed the phone back to aunt Millie who still had other things to say.

I could feel a quiet excitement building in my stomach. The conversation I had with my mother was somewhat of a lie. I knew what the Air Force wanted. I had applied for pilot's training in June but I had neglected to tell my mother knowing that such an act on my part would start a storm of controversy if my mother knew about it. I had always had a keen interest in airplanes and flying for as far back as I could remember. Like many other boys of my age, I had built balsa wood models and covered them with tissue paper. We flew them with power from wound up rubber bands and hand made propellers. If I was having dinner and I heard a plane fly overhead, I would have to rush outdoors and watch it until it flew out of sight to some unknown destination. And now, just in the past two months, the papers were full of the heroic deeds of the fighter pilots who were saving their country, flying Hurricanes and Spitfires in the Battle of Briton. I just had to be one of them.

I left my aunt's home early and returned to downtown Detroit where I boarded the ferry boat back to Windsor. On my way home I thought back to the activity that had lead up to today's phone call. I had turned eighteen years old in the previous April and I had gone down to the Air Force recruiting office to see if I could enlist as a fighter pilot. I had also gone to the Navy recruiters and asked them the same question. It really didn't make any difference to me who I flew for, I only knew that I had to fly one of those fighter planes that I had read so much about. The officers at both offices told me the same thing. I would have to finish high school before I could qualify. Six weeks later I received my diploma from Sandwich Collegiate Institute, in the town of Sandwich. I had mastered grade thirteen and received a senior matriculation. I then went back to both offices and asked again. This time they took my application and told me they would call me when they had an opening. I could hardly wait. I thought about it every day but I never said a word to my mother. Now the truth would have to come out.

When I arrived home, my mother was waiting for me with a thousand questions. I tried to evade most of them but it was soon evident that I would have to admit that I had already applied for pilot's training, and if they wanted me I would have to go. That was another white lie, but I just wanted so badly to be accepted. When morning came I hurried down to the Air Force office and presented myself. They did not seem all that anxious to have me, but said to have a seat and they would call me. What was taking so long? Didn't they know there was a war to be won? Finally, after what seemed an eternity to me, I was called into the back room and told to strip down to my underwear. I was going to have a simple medical examination. A local doctor had been brought in to take my blood pressure, pulse, and to thump on my back and chest as he listened through his stethoscope. I was also made to step up and down on a stool several times as the doctor listened to my heart rate. After reading the chart on the wall, I was pronounced medically fit and then there were some papers to sign. I thought then that I was "in", but not so!.

"We'll call you", one of them said, as he dismissed me. I would have to go home and wait some more. This time there would be daily discussions on the matter as my mother did not easily give up. Up to this point I had heard nothing on the subject from my father. I guess my mother had not told him yet, and I did not think it was my place to tell him either. Fortunately, only a few weeks went by, before they called again. This time they told me to come prepared to be sent on the train to Manning Depot, a basic training station on the Canadian National Exhibition grounds in Toronto, Ontario. Now my father would have to know!.

My father seemed enthusiastic when he heard that I hoped to be a pilot in the Air Force. If I were successful, it would give him something to brag about at the Pattern Making shop where he worked as a pattern maker. I dressed in my best ,(and only) suit, and with a black Gladstone satchel, in which I carried a few personal items, I reported to the Canadian National railway station, down on the banks of the river. My father had driven me there, and he and my entire family, two younger brothers and my mother saw me off to join the Air Force and to be one of those heroic fighter pilots we had been reading about. It was October, 1940, and I felt an excitement through my whole body at the prospects of what lay ahead. As I felt the train start to move, I leaned out the open window of the day coach and waved to my family as long as I was able to see them waving to me from the station platform. For the first time in my life, I was free and independent of the family unit

Chapter Two - Manning Pool

It was the first time I had ever been on a train, and although the journey took little more than four hours, each minute seemed to bring another sense of wonderment. The farmlands slipped by the window at an alarming rate and I loved the feeling of importance as we whizzed by the road crossings at high speed and I saw all the cars waiting for us to pass. Lunch was served in the dining car, on tables covered with white table cloths and real silver plated utensils that were embossed with the crest of the Canadian National Railway. Each of us was handed a card on which we marked our selections from the menu, and then uniformed waiters brought us our food on silver trays. It sure wasn't like this at my house!

After a few station stops along the way we arrived at the Toronto station at about two o'clock in the afternoon. There was an Air Force sergeant there to meet me and a few others who had come in from different parts of the country, all with the same destination at hand. The sergeant checked our names off the list he had and finally we all followed him like sheep out to where a stake truck was parked. There were thirteen of us , all with our various types of luggage, and all dressed in Sunday suits. We were herded into the back of the truck and began the 30 minute ride to the Exhibition grounds.

When we arrived, we were de-trucked on a loading platform adjacent to what seemed to be a warehouse building. There we were lined up shoulder to shoulder and told to wait until another NCO came who would give us further instructions. We were ripe for taking orders at this point. This was real military stuff! Soon a corporal appeared and told us that we would have to prepare for a "short arm inspection" We were ordered to drop our trousers and underwear so that the doctor could check us all before we went into the barracks. When we had all stripped down and stood shoulder to shoulder naked from the waist down, the corporal left saying that he would get the doctor. It was embarrassing for all of us to stand there side by side not daring to look down at the man beside you, for fear of offending him. After all at this point we did not even know each others' names. After about five long minutes, a sergeant appeared and asked us, "What the hell is going on?". One of the braver ones of our group volunteered to tell him that we were waiting for a doctor to give us a short arm inspection. The sergeant shook his head in disbelief. "Pull up your pants you ninnies " he shouted. "Don't you know when you've been had?" We sheepishly pulled our pants back on, and the sergeant took us inside where we would have to sign in and begin our issuance of military clothing. I'm sure that a lot of base personnel had a laugh at our expense that day. But we also had learned a valuable lesson. We would not be so easily caught a second time.

For the next six weeks , we lived in a world different from anything we had ever experienced before. The barracks building had been converted from one of the barns used at the exhibition. There were hundreds of beds only three feet from each other. We slept amid nocturnal grunts and snores of every description. At six o'clock in the morning, were awakened by some NCO threatening to take our lives if we were not up and shaved and had our beds made in time for roll call in fifteen minutes. We washed the sleep out of our eyes and quickly shaved at a trough of running water into which a hundred taps were flowing with lukewarm water. Chromed steel mirrors were hung from the water pipes for our convenience.. After our lavatory duties we rushed back to get into our ill fittng uniforms. We put on brightly polished black boots, made our beds, and reported outside for a quick march to the mess hall for breakfast. The bacon and eggs which we ate at six- thirty had been cooked at four-thirty. There was no extra charge for the grease that floated in the serving trays. Was this how I would I would become a Spitfire pilot?

The days were filled with drills and route marches. The object seemed to be to get us so tired out by nightfall that we would have no trouble sleeping in the din that was omnipresent in the barracks hut. The food was designed so that we would not be tempted to overeat, thereby, keeping our weight down. It all worked out as planned. Then one day in the middle of November, a rumor spread that our unit was going to be transferred to another station. I inwardly said a word of thanks when I learned that about twenty-five of us would be leaving for our nation's capital, in Ottawa, in two days.

Chapter Three - We Stand On Guard

We were going to Ottawa! They probably needed us to keep some great national secret from falling into the hands of the enemy. We had gone through the required training. We knew how to carry a rifle and we had demonstrated how we could "Present arms" if some dignitary crossed our path. We were ready! On a cold morning near the end of November, we were unceremoniously loaded into the back of the ever present stake truck. Our kit bags were thrown in after us and we began the cold thirty minute ride to the train station.

Soon after we arrived at the station platform, with our kit bags swung over our shoulders, we were led to the train which would take us to our destination in Ottawa. It would feel good to get back into the warm comfort of the train coach after the blustery cold truck ride from the manning depot. Imagine our surprise when we were put aboard a rail car which had been revived from the inventory of some museum. This car was old! It may have been used to make movies of the old West and train robbery days. The seats were fashioned out of wood and were devoid of any type of padding. For heat there was a coal stove at one end of the car, but no one had put a fire in it. The lights were fueled by gas and they didn't work either. Oh well, Ottawa was only 200 miles away, so how bad could it be?

It could be pretty bad we discovered. This train never went more than twenty miles without stopping to let other trains go by. I believe we might have stopped at road crossings to let automobiles have the right of way. And what about food? Where was the dining car with the white table cloths and the uniformed waiters? What had happened to the embossed silverware and the glossy menus? Of course, they were not there. We had been transported into a time warp and were living at the turn of the century. Sandwiches were distributed along with lukewarm coffee from a thermos jug. Were we involved in some fiendish survival test? It seemed like it when it took us almost ten hours to travel a distance, which under normal circumstances, we could have expected to cover in less than four.

We arrived in Ottawa after dark, with the temperature well below freezing.. I could not remember having been so cold for so long a time. But here we were now at the capital city, and we could see the clock tower of the parliament buildings from the station.

It was exciting just to be here. We all wondered what our job would be like amid all the pomp and ceremony that was associated with this city. A bus had been sent to pick us up. That was an improvement. At least the bus was heated and it felt good to get aboard. We rode through the picturesque park- like environment of the Capital buildings, then through some of the business districts. Soon factories appeared and not a few storage warehouses. We crossed a river, and turned into a small street which ran along the river bank. The bus entered an area protected by large gates and a guard house, and soon we stopped in front of a two story building made of a mixture of bricks and stone. The driver opened the door and stepped down onto the ground. Then he motioned for us to follow him.

We entered through a small lobby and were ushered into a large room furnished with mess tables and chairs. We were invited to remove our coats, and sit down. It was time to have a hot meal. Hallelujah! Civilians catered the food, so it was a pleasant experience. Anyway, we were very hungry, having had nothing to eat all day except a sandwich on the train. While we ate , we were introduced to a warrant officer who was in charge of this station. He would be our commanding officer for our stay here. This building would serve as our barracks, with beds on the second floor, and mess hall and reading room on the first floor. The building was situated on Victoria Island, a small piece of high ground in the middle of the Ottawa River. From our windows we could see the backs of the parliament buildings which were high on a bluff overlooking the river and the bridge which connected Ottawa to the city of Hull, in the province of Quebec.

Our duties here would be to guard the warehouses on the island from any intruders who might attempt illegal entry from the river's edge. We were not told what was being kept stored in the warehouse, but we assumed it must be something of great importance to warrant our being here. There was a staff of about fifty guards kept on duty at the station, with half of them being rotated out at a time. We were replacing twenty-five who had just left. Twenty-five others had been on duty here for three months. This news came as a disappointment to all of us. It meant that we could expect to be here for the next six months, doing guard duty on this desolate piece of land surrounded by an ice covered Ottawa River. What happened to being trained to be a fighter pilot? Had they made a mistake in our records? In six months the war could be over! Surely there was some mistake. But there wasn't. We stayed on duty there for the entire winter until April of 1941. We found the warehouse contained not some highly secret weapons but rather some military clothing stores. Shirts and shoes and socks! Who would cross an icy river and climb a twelve foot high chain link fence to steal a pair of army socks? No matter, we had a job to do and we did it with only the occasional whine. We walked around the island perimeter with a rifle on our shoulder and a bullet in our pocket, much like Barney Fife, the loveable deputy to Sheriff Andy Taylor. We worked two hours on and four hours off around the clock with no days off. As December and January rolled around the wintry weather turned bitter cold with the temperature often sinking to 25 below zero. We wore heavy boots and clothing, along with balaclavas which were like woolen socks which we pulled over our heads and down over our faces. Two hours of duty walking around an island in the middle of the night, with the cold wind howling in off the river seemed like an eternity, and we did it every night. Once a month we were granted a forty-eight hour leave during which we were free to come and go as we pleased. This did not give us time to leave the city, but it did allow us to explore Ottawa and visit its many attractions. We were also given complimentary membership in the local YMCA, so we used their indoor pool and other facilities at every opportunity.

April finally arrived, and we knew that we would soon be moved to another station. The winter had been severe for those of us who had never lived in such a cold climate, but now the days were turning warmer and the trees had begun to show signs of life again. We all were in a better mood. About the middle of April it was announced that our group would be posted to the Initial Training School (ITS) in Toronto. This was the first step in the process of training for a position in aircrew. We would be on our way at last. We boarded the train again for Toronto and this time they found a better class of day coach for us, so we arrived at our destination only a few hours after we left Ottawa.

Chapter Four - We Begin Initial Training

We arrived back in Toronto on a warm day in early April. The signs of spring were everywhere. Tulips were already blooming in the parks, and the lawns were turning a fresh bright green with the new growth of grass. Many of the trees were already sporting a new crop of leafy buds. I mention these things because there was such a change from the horribly cold winter we had just experienced in Ottawa. Also, since the Air Force had taken over the old Eglinton Hunt Club in the North part of Toronto, and converted it into the Initial Training School. there were many vestiges of the old landscaping which remained after the conversion had been made, and so the lawns and flowers were a welcome sight to us when we arrived.

The large barns which had been home to a great many horses, now had been converted into class rooms and study areas. The dormitory for students and staff had been the clubhouse only a short time before, and the dining room actually had tables covered with table cloths with the food catered and served by a civilian staff. Had we died along the way and gone to heaven? No , we were now aircrew trainees, and with that went a certain amount of prestige. With the posting to ITS we were all given our first promotion, from Aircraftsman Second Class, (AC-2), the entry level , to Leading Aircraftsman (LAC), which afforded us the smallest pay raise known to man but it was a step in the right direction. Along with the promotion, we were allowed to wear a white slash of felt cloth in our wedge caps to indicate that we were aircrew trainees. It also served as a signal to some of the girls we met, that we were not to be trusted out of sight of their fathers' suspicious glares.

We would be here for about six weeks and we would be given highly concentrated courses in theory of flight, navigation, internal combustions engines, radio and Morse code. There would also be sessions in the Link Trainer, a flight simulator, which might indicate that you did not have the co-ordination required to be a pilot.. But first there would be the comprehensive medical examination. It began simply enough with the blood pressure test and the chest thumping, but soon things got serious. They had to test our lung power by having us blow into a tube which forced a column of mercury to rise to the required level. That was the easy part. It got harder when you were told to hold the mercury at that level for as long as you could. Since we each had been witness to the results attained by the chap in front of us, it was only natural that you would want to exceed whatever results he had attained. I think most of us managed nearly two minutes, but to do that you had to continue to keep the pressure up until everything in front of you took on various shades of red and you felt as though your head would explode.

Next was the decompression chamber. About a dozen at a time would sit on the benches attached to the wall of a circular room with a rounded ceiling about twelve feet high. We were given pads of paper and pencils, and then waited until the air pressure in the room was gradually lowered to simulate flying at an altitude of up to twenty thousand feet. We were not supplied with oxygen although it was available to each man on demand. As we went through the various levels of twelve, fifteen eighteen, and finally twenty thousand feet we were asked to solve simple arithmetic problems using our pads and pencil. We were asked also to write our names, and a few questions that might require even simpler answers. Strangely enough, we reached a point where many of us could no longer write anything that made any sense and some even began to laugh at everything as if they were drunk. Eventually we were told to apply the oxygen masks and we were slowly returned to the normal air pressure at ground level. When we examined the notes we had made on the pads, and found that in most cases they were unreadable. The exercise served to demonstrate to us how dangerous it would be to fly at high levels of altitude without the benefit of oxygen, and it could easily lead to loss of control of the aircraft and even to death in some cases.

And then of course there was the eye test. Read the charts. That was easily done by any eighteen year old with good vision. But wait! What were these books of page after page of three inch circles filled with multicolored dots which made no sense at first examination. We were told to find those in which we could recognize a number printed, and on some there was nothing but the dots. We each took a set into a private cubicle and sat down and stared at each page trying to decipher something that we could recognize. Finally, little by little, we began to see numbers appear before our squinting eyes. Now it was becoming easier, and we wrote down the results of what we saw. Those who failed were probably color blind.

Next came the darkened room. Silhouettes of aircraft were projected onto the wall and one by one we were asked to identify the type of aircraft we were looking at. Also, we looked into a lightless box and asked to identify the aircraft silhouette we saw as soon as it became visible to us. I passed this test for night vision with the highest score. It must have been because I had spent some of my youth reading by the light of kerosene lamps. The eye tests went on for an entire day. We looked with one eye and then the other. Finally it was over and the results were sent to a rating board.

Of course, there were tests on all of the study subjects we were given. We had to send and receive twenty words a minute by Morse code. Navigational courses had to be set for triangular flight paths with varying wind speeds and direction. We had also to learn the "Able, Baker, Charley" alphabet for proper radio procedure. The results of all these tests were sent to a rating board, and there a decision was made as to who would be trained as pilots and who would become navigators. If you didn't qualify for either of those there was a good chance you would be sent to air gunnery school to train as bombardier or air gunner. In any case, there was no turning back at this point. Whatever was decided by the board would dictate your fate in the Air Force. Naturally, when the course ended everyone eagerly, though somewhat fearfully, awaited the posting of the results.

One Friday night after I had been at ITS for only about two weeks, I had gone to a movie theater. While there I suffered an excruciating pain in my stomach and had to return immediately to the station. I went to the orderly room and complained of my discomfort. The corporal on duty told me that there was no doctor available, but a medic at the nurses station might be able to help me. He thought it must be something I ate so he gave me a mild laxative and told me to go lie down for a while. He assured me I would be just fine in the morning. An hour later I was screaming with pain and it was decided I should be taken to Christie Street hospital emergency room. We had no ambulance available, but we did have a driver and again the blessed stake truck. I was put on a stretcher and loaded aboard the truck for a fast trip to the hospital. The driver, in his haste, cut corners at the intersections thereby allowing the back wheels to climb up and over the curbs and down again. Each jolting thrust of the truck bed caused me to nearly pass out with pain.

Finally, at the hospital, a doctor diagnosed my symptoms as an appendix that was about to rupture. He called for immediate surgery. I had never been in a hospital before, so once again I was experiencing a first in my life. By early morning, I had had my appendix removed, and I was recuperating in a hospital ward of four patients. I had to stay there for a week so my parents drove to Toronto to visit me. It was the first time I had seen them since I had enlisted. Now I worried that I would fall behind in my studies and that I would be washed out before I even got started, but the administrators were kind to me, and allowed me to study from books while I rested at the hospital. Then, after I was allowed to return to the station, I was given the extra help I needed to catch up with the rest of the class. I was put on reduced physical duties for a while, but I attended all of the study periods. Finally, the day came when I joined the others in the orderly room and awaited the results of our efforts to be posted on the board.

Chapter Five - We Are Pushed From The Nest

The announcement came that the postings would be put on the bulletin board in the orderly room at 0900 hours . When I arrived in the room there were already fifteen or twenty LACs gathered around the board. Some had begun to walk away to make room for others. While those who had been posted to Elementary Flying Training Schools (EFTS) were elated, others learned that they were not so lucky and were being sent to navigation schools and bombing and gunnery schools. They mostly walked away with obvious disappointment. I was anxious to learn my own fate. I would die if I couldn't be a pilot. When I worked my way close enough that I could read the typewritten page, my eyes scanned down through the alphabetical list to the Gs. There it was; LAC Gilboe, N.E. to No. 7 EFTS, Windsor, Ontario.

I couldn't believe what I was reading. Not only was I being sent to train as a pilot, but they were sending me to a school in my own home town, at an airport where I had been hanging around for the past ten years or more. It was just stupid luck that they needed a new class at that school at the time when I became ready for my training. I couldn't have been happier. We were given a 48 hour leave, and those who lived near enough to go home for a day, did so before we reported to Windsor EFTS on June the 15th, 1941. It was almost a year to the day from when I had graduated high school and run down to the recruiting office with my certificate in my hand, begging them to take me in.

The war in Europe had changed considerably in that time. The Battle of Britain had been fought and won. Britain was saved from the Nazi invasion by the will and determination of her fighter pilots. But that was then, and now a new strategy was being initiated by the Germans. England was receiving millions of tons of material from America, just as President Roosevelt had promised, and great convoys of merchant marine vessels were plying their way back and forth across the North Atlantic ocean. The German Navy , in order to minimize the success of this operation, had organized their submarine fleet into wolf packs of what would come to be called U-boats. The Battle of the North Atlantic was beginning.

The Commonwealth Air Forces now needed more multi-engine pilots than they did fighter pilots. The Nazi naval bases at Wilhelmshaven and Kiel were getting the attention of the British bomber forces, and casualties were often heavy .This turn of events gave me cause for concern. I had not begun would go to twin engine schools when we finished our elementary flying. I had never stopped wanting to fly fighters, and I could not accept the idea of sitting behind the wheel of a bomber, carrying a crew of five or more and flying off into the night to dodge flak and search lights while we dropped a few bombs on the enemy docks. Not that this was not a very honorable and necessary duty, mind you. It's just that I was caught up in the accolades and glory that went with flying Spitfires and Hurricanes, and I had to be a part of it.

I visited with my family for a day, and at the appointed time, I reported for duty at No. 7 EFTS, ready to begin my flying training. After the usual prerequisites at the orderly room, I walked over to the barracks to which I had been assigned. Some of my co-students from ITS were already there and the room was all a-buzz about the exciting days we knew were immediately ahead. A sergeant came in to give us our instructions for the afternoon. We were to go to the stores building and be outfitted in our flying gear which , we were told, some of us would need in the morning.

Again, as at ITS , we learned that our dining room was catered by a civilian staff. We were able to order off a limited menu but the food was excellent. After lunch we headed over to the clothing stores and proceeded to be issued the gear we would need for the next six weeks of training. We were given flying suits and helmets. Goggles and leather gloves, along with a personal "pilot's flying log book", made up the rest of our equipment. Many of us rushed back to the barracks to try on the flying suit and helmet and to have our pictures taken in full regalia. Training would begin in earnest on the next day.

In the morning the entire class of twenty-five or thirty reported to the pilot's lounge attached to the side of the large hangar. Most of us had taken the time to examine some of the training aircraft that were parked on the tarmac in front of the hangar. They were Fleet Finches, biplanes from the 1930's, with open cockpits set one behind the other, and radial engines turning a fixed wooden propeller. The engine had to be started by swinging the propeller, and communications between the cockpits was by a gosport tube which had to be yelled into at one end and listened to at the other end by the tube entering the earpieces built into the helmets. All in all, it was very primitive equipment by any standard, but to us , who had mostly never been off the ground, it was high tech!

Our morning segment began by our having instructors assigned to us. Each instructor was given the responsibility of four students. The plan was that he would fly two students in the morning and two in the afternoon. The students would have a half day ground school each day at the times that they were not assigned flying duty. My instructor was Sergeant Warren Pague. Although, he was a civilian instructor imported from Texas, he was given the rank of sergeant so that he could exercise authority over his fledgling charges. Before lunch that first day, Sergeant Pague had lined up his new students, and announced to them that there was a good probability that two of them would wash out before the class was completed. It was a fact that about half of the trainees who started would not make it through the elementary training. That meant that there was still a chance that I could end up as an air gunner on one of those night bombers. The thought of it gave me a queasy feeling in my stomach.

June 22nd dawned warm and sunny, a perfect day for flying. I reported to the hangar immediately after breakfast dressed in my new flying gear. I was scheduled for my first airplane ride. A sergeant Warren appeared and announced that he would be taking me on my familiarization flight. I had already spent hours sitting in the cockpit becoming familiar with the half dozen instruments that were spread across the instrument panel. I had sat and fantasized what it would be like to actually be flying and the moment had arrived when my fantasies would become a reality. On the previous days we had been instructed on the care and use of a parachute, so when Sergeant Warren indicated he was ready, I slipped into a parachute and headed out to the Fleet Finch that awaited us. I climbed into the front seat and a member of the ground crew helped me secure the safety harness. I heard Sergeant Warren through my earphones when he spoke into the gosport tube.

"Are you ready?" he asked.
I picked up the little funnel attached to a tube and spoke into it: "Yes sir."
"Okay, here we go."
The ground crewman stood looking at Sergeant Warren expectedly.
"All clear?" asked the sergeant.
"All clear sir"
"Brakes on."
"Brakes on sir"
"Switches on."
"Switches on sir"
"Contact" said the instructor
"Contact sir".

And with that exchange at an end, the big propeller was pulled around by the ground crewman and the engine roared to life. It was like something out of one of the world war I movies I had seen so often and it thrilled me to be a part of it.

We taxied out to the live runway and after checking both ways to see that all was clear, we turned into wind and soon we were rolling toward a a take-off and my very first flight. We were in the air for thirty-five minutes, but to me it ended much too soon. I was amazed at how the earth looked below, and everything looked so clean and tidy . All the houses were in neat rows and none of the blight left from the recent depression could be seen. The air felt fresh and cool on my face as we slipped slowly across the city.. Too soon it was over and we were approaching the airport for the end our ride. Tomorrow I would begin training in earnest. I thought: "It couldn't get much better than this".

The next day, Sergeant Pague talked to me for a few minutes, reminding me of how the aircraft would react to the various inputs to the control surfaces. We took off and he allowed me to follow him through with my hands on the controls as he wheeled the Finch through shallow turns and dives. I was amazed at how little the stick had to be moved to get the required result. For several days I was allowed to fly the aircraft myself more and more each day. We began to make touch and go landings and then on the morning of July the 5th, after we had made several landings, some of which I was not proud of, Sergeant Pague pulled the Finch off the runway, and climbed out of the back seat. He secured the safety harness and walked up the wing to yell in my ear:

"You seem to be having a problem this morning, perhaps you could do better if you knew I was not there to help you. You're on your own now. Go do a circuit then come back and pick me up".

I suddenly felt a little sick at my stomach and my palms began to sweat slightly. As I taxied back to the take-off position, I saw Sergeant Pague walk over and sit on the grass beside the runway. When I got to the end of the runway, I checked all my instruments and controls twice. I checked the magnetos, and finally I checked to see that all was clear for take-off.

I got straight on the runway and my mind was racing in a thousand different directions.
"Please God don't let me screw up " I prayed to myself.
Then I opened the throttle full and began rolling down the runway.
"Keep it straight! Watch the airspeed. Tail up ; keep it straight. Now let the nose come up. We're airborne. We're flying!"

I climbed up to about 500 feet and started my turn to the left . Soon I was at 1500 feet going downwind parallel to the runway. It was then that I chanced to glance behind me and fully realized that the instructor wasn't there. I was up here alone. I began to relax a little as I gained confidence in my own ability. Now I throttled back and turned back toward to airfield . When I was lined up with the runway, I closed the throttle and established my glide path . It was looking good.
"Watch your airspeed!" I reminded myself several times.
Then I was over the runway only a few feet off the ground." Don't let it touch" my instructor had often said. "Hold it off as long as you can". This is what I did and then I felt a bump. I was down and rolling along the ground. I had done it!. I taxied back to pick up the Sergeant. He climbed onto the wing and patted me on the back. Then he climbed into the rear cockpit again and we were off to make a few more touch and goes. But I had soloed, and that made my day.

We trained here for another five weeks and then it was time for the CFI (Chief Flying Instructor) to give us our flight tests and certify that we were ready to proceed to the next level. Sergeant Pague had been accurate in his prediction that only half would complete this course. Before the end of the first month, two of my co-students had been washed out and sent back to manning depot in Toronto for further assignment. Now the rest of us awaited the results of our flight test and our own future assignments.

At last the results were posted to the bulletin board in the flight lounge. LAC Gilboe to No. 14 SFTS (Service Flying Training School) at Aylmer, Ontario. I was going to fly the Harvard. A single engine advanced trainer known to Americans as the AT-6. I knew then that I was going to be a fighter pilot..

Chapter Six - We Get Our Wings

There was no train station in Aylmer, Ontario, so when the train arrived at one of the county roads that led to the airport, it stopped and ten of us who had come there from the EFTS at Windsor, got off and boarded a truck that had been sent out to meet us. It was past midnight and raining, so when we arrived at No. 14 SFTS we had no opportunity to get a good look at the station. We were taken directly to our barracks where we quickly selected a bed and tried to get a couple of hours sleep before the six o'clock reveille. It was then, shortly after daybreak that we saw the sea of mud that surrounded our building.

This station was not officially opened yet. We were among the first lot of students to be assigned here for training. Oh, the hangars were finished and the aircraft tarmacs and runways were completed, but the rest of the station was still under construction and sidewalks or even service roads were not paved yet. The rain of the night before had turned all the yellow clay into a morass of shiny mud. However, the administration had seen fit to have wooden walk ways built between the main buildings and the paved area around the hangars, so we were able to navigate most of the time without getting mired down.

Our first duty was to check into the orderly room to let them know we were there. Then it was off to the flight lounge to meet the instructors and be assigned to a training class. After a short talk from the assistant to the Commanding Officer, we were allowed to inspect the aircraft we would be flying for the next two months. And what an aircraft it was; A North American AT-6, which we in Canada renamed the "Harvard". I was mesmerized by its beauty. From the large 600 hp radial engine to the sleek swept back low wing and onto the triangular rudder and tail section, every bit of her said "Fly me!" I climbed up onto the wing and peered into the deep cockpit with its bucket seat and Sutton safety harness. I had never seen so many dials and switches on an instrument panel before. Add to that all the levers and wheels set along the inside wall of the cockpit and I wondered how anyone could ever master so many gauges and control devices. To a young pilot just out of EFTS, and who had barely mastered a Fleet Finch, what I was looking at was mind boggling.

No more just take off, fly around a while, and land again. Now we would be concerned with retractable undercarriage, flaps, constant speed prop and inches of mercury. There would be instrument flying both in daytime and at night. And simple loops and rolls in the Finch would now become violent dog fights with cameras instead of guns, but realistic nevertheless. We were told to spend the rest of that first day just sitting in the cockpit and memorizing the location of all the flying instruments, engine gauges, and control levers until we could touch any one of them blindfolded. It was not an easy task and I doubt that anyone was ever actually called upon to do that, although we did not know that at the time. I took my copy of the manual and studied it diligently. I wanted to be ready for my first flight in this beautiful but intimidating flying machine, and that memorable day would be tomorrow.

My instructor would be Flying Officer Doug Webb. He was also from Windsor, and I remembered him from my high school days. He had only recently graduated from Centralia where there was an Instructor's Flying Training School. I was to be his first official student; it promised to be an interesting experience. F/O Webb did not give me my familiarization flight. Instead, a Sergeant Early spent the morning with me and introduced me to some of the more intimate features of the Harvard. We talked about the narrow undercarriage and how the aircraft was prone to ground looping on landing if you weren't careful. He spoke of the difficulty of seeing in front of you while you taxied since the cowl of the airplane interrupted your forward vision while the tail was on the ground. That was the reason we would taxi out following a snake like path as we moved along so that the area in front of the airplane could be viewed from the side as we turned this way and that.

Finally, it was time for the talking to come to and end; we were going to see what it was like to fly in the big yellow bird. Wearing a seat pack parachute, I climbed into the front cockpit and Sergeant Early showed me how to fasten my Sutton harness. This was a safety belt that had four heavy webbing belts. Two came from beneath the seat and two came down over your shoulders. The four were joined together just below the chest area by a quick release lock system which allowed you to shed the entire harness by pulling just one pin from its moorings. I would learn the importance of that quick release system on more than one occasion in my future flying days.

The great engine started with a large puff of smoke and then a powerful roar. What a difference from the little engine that was hand started in the Finch. We taxied out to the live runway, all the while Sergeant Early talked to me through the intercom. That was another new experience. We had two way radios now, and we would have to learn to communicate with a control tower. It was all so new and seemed so complicated. We received permission to take off and we taxied out onto the live runway. I watched as my throttle moved eerily forward and the Harvard began to accelerate down the runway. Soon the tail was up and I could see ahead over the cowl. Then we were airborne and climbing steeply. Up came the wheels and back came the pitch control. Soon the throttle came back as well and we were cruising at 3000 feet. We flew for a while then Sgt. Early let me try to fly it myself. I was surprised at how easily the Harvard responded to my commands. After a few minutes, Sgt. Early took back control and he flew down to a very low altitude. He wanted to show me something. We did a steep turn at about two hundred feet and looking out past the left wingtip I saw a crashed Harvard spread across several hundred feet of a ploughed field. The aircraft had crashed two days ago during a night flight when the student pilot had forgotten to uncage (unlock) his artificial horizon before taking off. He thought he was flying straight and level when in fact he was spiraling into the ground. There were very few fatal accidents during all of the years of pilot training in Canada, but this was one of them and the sight of the strewn pieces of airplane scattered over the ground made a lasting impression on me. Later I would become quite proficient at instrument flying, knowing how important it was to read the instrument panel correctly.

On the eleventh of August, I took my first hour of instruction in the advanced trainer and nine days later on August 20th, after four and a half hours of dual flight, I was allowed to make my first solo flight. Each day after that I seemed to find the Harvard easier and more fun to fly. On the warm summer days when the sky was filled with big fluffy cumulus clouds, we would find ourselves playing follow the leader with two or three other students, darting in and around the cloud banks like young puppies playing a rough and tumble game and learning the first rudiments of the deadly dogfights that were to come later.

Our instructors concentrated not so much on teaching us to fly, that would come with experience, but rather on teaching us instrument flying and navigation. We took many trips around the local areas, many of them under a hood so that we could not see where we were going or where we had been. We also learned to fly in formation with other aircraft. That would be important went we were assigned to fly on a squadron.

The training continued through the summer, then on October 9th, I was scheduled to fly with Flight Lieutenant F.E.Grant. He was the Chief Flying Instructor and he would give me my "Wings test". It began by him throttling back when I had just taken off and gained about five hundred feet of altitude. He yelled in my ear:
"Forced landing1" "I'll have to go straight ahead sir" I yelled back
"OK you have control" he said, and with that I opened the throttle again and began to climb back into the sky. We had dropped to nearly two hundred feet. We flew for an hour and ten minutes, and when we landed he gave no indication of what the results of the test might be. It would be another week before I would know.

Finally on October 16th, 1941, I learned that I had passed all my tests, and since I had achieved enough points to put me in the top ten percent of my class , I was being awarded a commission as Pilot Officer. I couldn't believe what I was reading. My mother would be so proud of me. We had our "Wings" parade and some Wing Commander came from headquarters to make a speech and pin wings on the chest of each of the graduates. After that, it was home on leave for two weeks before leaving for overseas. I had an officer's uniform made by an approved tailor in Windsor, and I'll never forget the first day I wore it down the street to see if any of the local soldiers would salute me. Well, I managed to attract one or two, but mostly I was ignored by them. I guess they could tell a brand new officer when they saw one and they weren't impressed. I visited with my family and friends for those two weeks and in the first week of November I boarded a train for Halifax where the French liner, Louis Pasteur, was waiting to take me to England.

Chapter Seven - Sailing! Sailing!

It was the longest train trip I would ever take; forty-eight hours to cover the 2000 miles from Windsor to Halifax, Nova Scotia. It's too bad trains today are no longer what they were then. We travelled in a chair car during the day. The coach had only two rows of comfortable easy chairs, one row on each side of the car. Each passenger was afforded a picture window view of the passing countryside, and we travelled through some of the most picturesque parts of Eastern Canada. The dining car was as I have described before, with the white table cloths and flatware of real silver plate. At night we slept in the sleeper car in upper and lower berths. It would cost a small fortune to travel that way today even if such a train were available.

In Toronto, when I had to change trains to board the Trans-Canada Limited, I ran into Grant Aitchison and Vic Thagard who were going to England with me. We had met at Aylmer SFTS and had received our wings together. We became close friends and eventually we would go to Africa together and fly on the same squadron. Unfortunately, neither of them would survive the war, but we never thought of that possibility at this time. Mostly, we laughed and thought of how exciting it was going to be to get to England, and someday soon be given the privilege of flying a Spitfire or Hurricane on a squadron. We speculated on what it would be like to meet an enemy aircraft in the air. We had no idea of what lay ahead.

When we arrived in Halifax, it was a cold and cloudy day with a hint of mist in the air. Fog was rolling in off the Atlantic ocean, and the chill of autumn reached in to our very bones. After a few days the weather never changed, and I got the impression that the people who lived in this area had probably never seen the sun shine. Once again we were billeted in an unfinished camp, and we walked on wooden walkways to avoid the mud left by the wet weather. When word came that we would be boarding a ship that day, we found it hard to feel bad that we were leaving Halifax. We hoped that the weather would improve when we got out to sea. What a terrible surprise the fates had in store for us.

We were aboard the Louis Pasteur for a day or two before we weighed anchor and set out to join a convoy of ships that was forming just outside the harbor. The French liner had been converted from a luxury passenger ship to a troop carrier. That meant that thousands of soldiers and airmen were crowded aboard. using all available space for sleeping quarters and mess halls. Twenty millimeter Bofors guns had been installed on the fore and aft main decks and we had to take our turns to man them, even though most of us had never seen such guns before. We were given a very short course on how to operate them should we come under attack from a German aircraft while were at sea. We prayed we would not have to use them.

Finally, on a cold gray dawn, we set out on our crossing of the Atlantic. It was still foggy and we could see only a few of the twenty or thirty ships that were bunched together for protection from the German U-Boat wolf packs. On the outside perimeter of the convoy were several destroyers which had been re-commissioned from World War I and loaned to the Royal Canadian Navy by the United States. These ancient ships of war would be our only protection on the long voyage that lay ahead. Since we had to keep our position in the convoy , we had to travel at the speed of the slowest ship. Of course, that made us even more susceptible to attack.

We had been at sea for only two or three days when the storm hit. Winds of gale force would blow sea water and rain in horizontal sheets across the deck of the ship. Waves had reached a height of more than fifty feet from their crests to the valleys between them. And though the ship we were on was much larger than those in the rest of the convoy, we still were tossed around like a cork in the angry sea. We wondered about the crews on the destroyers which at times we could see would bury their bows into the mountainous waves and completely disappear under water for a short time before they would stagger up and out of the water as they climbed to the crest of the next sea, only to go over the top and dive into the next valley to do it all over again.

After a couple of days the wind stopped blowing, and the sea settled down to a gentle roll. Those who had been seasick, and there were many, began to recover and actually felt like they might live again. There had been doubts in their minds a day before. A rumor spread that we had lost two or three of the smaller ships during the storm. It was not surprising when I think of how black and fierce the water seemed to be. I'm not sure how long it took us to cross the ocean, but it must have been more than a week. One morning when we awoke we found that we were in the outer harbor of the Mersey River. We would be disembarking in Liverpool.

As we slowly drifted into the main port, it became strongly evident to us that we were entering a war zone. Sunken ships lay at rest on the bottom of the river with only their top sections visible. Buildings along the wharf were pock marked with holes left by the bombs which had been delivered by the German Heinkel 111s and the Junkers 88s. Soon after we had been moored at one of the piers, the soldiers began to disembark while we waited for our orders to come from our liaison officer. We stood at the rail and watched as lorry after lorry lined up and loaded the Canadian army units to take them to their destination. Finally it was our turn, and we too embarked on the omni-present lorries for a short trip through Liverpool to the train station. It seemed like an alien world that we had come into. There no vehicles on the street except those that were painted in a green and tan camouflage bearing military markings. The crowds of people on the sidewalks went quietly about their business threading their way around the sand bags which protected the bomb shelters and boarded store fronts.

We were taken directly to our train compartments with no time to visit in the city, but we could tell from the damaged buildings and piles of rubble that Liverpool had been the target of many of Goering's raiders. The train pulled out of the station in late afternoon and we headed for London where we would be billeted at the Regent's Palace Hotel. This hotel in the center of London had been converted into a manning pool for the Air Force. All airmen arriving from the commonwealth went first to the Regent's Palace for indoctrination before being posted to another station in the UK. Since it was nearly midnight before we arrived we had an opportunity to see London at night. There was not a light anywhere to be seen, not even the glow of a cigarette. Vehicles drove with only the smallest opening in their covered headlights, and these were hooded so that they could only be seen from road level. It was an eerie sensation to ride through these streets knowing that there were people all around you but none could be seen. When we arrived at the hotel we went into a blacked out lobby and then when the outer doors were closed by a member of the home guard, the inner doors were opened into the brightly lit main lobby. We were assigned our rooms and went to bed with the warning that the black out shutters must not be opened for any reason while there was a light on in the room.

We were kept in London for only a day before we were posted to the RAF station at Bournemouth. This was a resort town on the channel coast about 80 miles southwest of London. Again we were billeted in a converted hotel and assigned two officers to a room. We were introduced to our first experience of British military tradition here and that was the use of batmen by all officers in all services. In our case of being only junior officers we were required to share a batman between two men. The duties of the batman included keeping the officer's clothing properly cleaned and pressed. He also tidied up the room after the officer had left to go on duty. and the service I liked best, he would awake me in time to get to my station on time and present me with a cup of hot tea and an arrowroot biscuit which I devoured before getting out of bed. I still like my hot cup of tea in the morning, but now I have to get up and present myself at the breakfast table before I can have it.

We were outfitted in battle dress uniforms here and issued the English money we would need for everyday expenses. It was not long before Thagard, Aitcheson and I had sampled most of the pubs in town and even tried our expertise in dancing with the English girls at the two or three dance halls that we found. We enjoyed Bournemouth immensely. The civilians were especially friendly to the visiting Canadian and Australian aircrew members and often invited us to their homes to share what little they had in the way of food and libation, but there was always a lot of tea and cakes available and to a young nineteen year old such as I it suited me just fine.

On the 1st of December we were sad to leave Bournemouth because we had in the few days we were there just begun to make new friends in the town. However, duty called and we were posted to a new station. This time it was to the extreme Northeast part of England , Newcastle on the Tyne. The winter weather here reminded me of that which we had just a month before left behind at Halifax. A cold mist drifted in off the North Sea and obscured the sun for the entire time that we would be there. It was a complete reversal from the warm sunny climes of the town of Bournemouth which we had left behind. Just outside the city of Newcastle was the RAF station of Usworth. Here was located No. 55 OTU (Operational Training Unit). The station was equipped with Hawker Hurricanes. There is no way to describe the excitement we all felt when we first layed eyes on these humped back fighters that had gained such a grand reputation for destroying enemy aircraft during the Battle of Britain. It was going to be only a matter of days now before we would be flying these powerful war veterans ourselves.

We were checked into the barracks and again we shared a room with another officer. Some of the graduates from our Service Flying School were here also but if they were sergeant pilots they were billeted in a different barracks from us.

Another British tradition we found. What made it worse was that we had become close friends with some of these men but they were not allowed to visit in the officer's mess nor were we allowed to visit in theirs. There were many occasions when we made exceptions to these rules, much to the discomfort of our English hosts. We learned to eat "bubble and squeak" for breakfast, a mixture of sausage and brussel sprouts fried in a pan and served with a smoked haddock on the side. The alternative was powdered eggs and toast, which was nearly always my choice, since that was somewhat closer to what I had been accustomed to. The best meal by far, was the daily high tea, which included some fairly tasty sandwiches and delightfully rich cakes. Well, enough about eating, we had some airplanes to fly and we started that on the morning of December the ninth.

Chapter Eight - I Fly A Real Battle Of Britain Fighter

Thagard, Aitchison and I, along with two others reported to "A" flight at 0800 for our introduction to the Hurricane. Those aircraft which would not be flown immediately were parked in the dispersal areas which surrounded the airfield. Each aircraft was parked in a bay which was protected on three sides by a wall made of sand bags. This in case the airfield was bombed or strafed by enemy attack. The active Hurricanes were lined up on the tarmac in front of the flight lounge. We walked out and admired the sleek fighters like a boy looking over his first new bicycle. We felt them with our hands and climbed into them so that we could easily fantasize actually flying them. We watched jealously as others climbed into them and took off on their secret flights and landed again an hour later. We were impatient to have our turn, but first we had to fly the Miles Master. This was an advanced trainer similar to our North American Harvard, except that it was powered by a Rolls Royce Kestral in-line engine of about 600 HP. We had to demonstrate that we were proficient in that aircraft before we would be allowed to pilot the Hurricane. It would take me three flights of about thirty minutes each, doing nothing but take-offs and landings before the instructor certified that I was ready. That moment came on the morning of December 14th.

I was somewhat apprehensive when I climbed into the cockpit of this front line fighter for my first flight. Although the controls and instruments were almost exactly the same as in the Master, they were quite different from those in the American built Harvard. The brakes were air actuated instead of hydraulic. That meant that we had to keep a check on the amount of air pressure that was available for braking. Undercarriage and flap controls were both on the same lever so you had to be careful that you didn't retract the wheels when you wanted to raise the flaps. There were many other differences but we would have to adapt to the British systems.

When I had completed all my preflight checks, I taxied out to the live runway and requested permission to take off. Upon getting a green light from the tower, I turned into wind, and watching the edge of the runway to keep myself straight I opened the throttle and went hurtling down the runway, pulled by the 1030 hp Merlin engine. I was immediately struck by the gentleness of this aircraft. It responded eagerly to my commands but not wildly. I flew around the circuit and lined up with the runway in preparation for my first landing. It was so easy it seemed to land itself. There was no inclination to ground loop as there had been at times in the Harvard. It was heavy enough that when it touched the runway it wanted to stay there without ballooning up again. I began a love affair with the Hurricane at that moment.

Our flying at the OTU was of course all solo, but in most cases we followed the lead of instructors who were veterans of the Battle of Britain. We would fly in formation on their wing as they led us through hedge-hopping low level flights. Low level to them meant at crop duster heights. There were times as I sat on the inside of a formation turn, I would steal quick glances at my lower wing tip to see how far it was off the ground. It seemed sometimes that I could count the blades of grass in the pastures. On the other hand if we were practicing dog fighting or navigation, we were required to climb through ten thousand feet of overcast before we would emerge into the sunlight on the top of the clouds.. Here we would spend thirty to forty minutes in the clear blue sky and then we would have to enquire from ground control as to our position so they could give us a heading and instructions to get us back to the airfield.

We flew the Hurricanes at OTU from the 9th of December until the end of February. During that time America had entered the war as a result of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. We wondered how soon we would be seeing the Americans flying their P-40s in England. I don't think that ever happened as the P-51 Mustang was being introduced to replace the Hurricane and the Americans adopted it as the fighter to escort to their B-17 bombers. The Americans also used the P-38 Lightning in this effort.

The winter months in the northeastern corner of England were harsh in that we never saw the sun for weeks on end. The cloud ceiling was always low and there seemed to be a constant cold and damp wind blowing off the North Sea. By the middle of February many of us were wondering if there was anywhere that we could go where it would be warm and dry. The Airforce would soon provide an answer for us. When we had completed our flying training at the OTU at Newcastle, we were proclaimed to be certified fighter pilots, fit to serve on any squadron. The air activity over England had subsided considerably and RAF fighters put in much of their time making sweeps over the coastal areas of France attacking shipping and transportation.

There was however a war going on in Africa which many people had more or less forgotten about. It started out being only skirmishes between the British Expeditionary Forces and the Italian army which had been fighting in Ethiopia , but as the fighting increased and the Italians faced defeat, Hitler sent Field Marshall Rommel to help the Italians with his Africa Corps. The fighting there was escalating and there was a desperate need for the RAF to provide air cover to the British army. A request was posted on our bulletin board for volunteers to go to the Middle East and help in this regard.

When some of us read this request, we immediately thought of the warm sunny weather which was associated with the desert areas. We rushed to volunteer if it meant that we would be free of the cold wind blowing off the North Sea. Within a few days Thagard and Aitchison, along with myself ,found that we had been posted to the town of Padgate in the center of England. Here we were outfitted with tropical gear, given dozens of shots to prevent any conceivable disease and warned not to associate with the native women in Africa. We were supplied with and shown how to use a .38 caliber pistol, and lastly we were given several days of experience on the use of a machine gun. I began to suspect that we were being transferred into the army, but it was just that we were going to a battle area and it was felt that we should have at least a minimum of preparation.

Early in March, thirteen of us were taken to the Scottish port of Greenock outside Glasgow and put aboard the submarine supply depot "Adamant" This would be the maiden voyage of the Adamant which had been commissioned only two weeks earlier in February. She was a large ship of more than 12,000 tons and was equipped to meet the needs of any submarine at sea. She carried fuel, torpedoes and a complete machine shop for making repair parts. Also, there were deluxe cabins for the use of submarine crews while they waited for their vessel to be serviced. We were assigned to these cabins for our voyage to "Somewhere in Africa." There were several merchant ships in our convoy as we left the mouth of the Clyde Estuary, and before we had gone very far into the Atlantic waters we joined by a segment of the British fleet which included many destroyers and the aircraft carrier "Illustrious"

Within three or four days after leaving the chilly shores of Scotland we sailed into the warmer waters of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Spain. From there we detoured around the German U-boat base at Dakar and headed toward the eastern tip of Brazil in an effort to avoid the wolf packs. It would be almost thirty days at sea before we would sight land again at the port of Freetown in West Africa. During the coarse of our trip we would enjoy watching the Grumman Martlets fly off the carrier and fly past our ship at levels below the top deck. For most of us it would be the first time we would see flying fish flitting quickly along the surface of the calm waters. It was hard to believe that death could come suddenly in the flash of a torpedo explosion if we encountered enemy forces.

At Freetown the Adamant anchored in the deep waters of the outer harbor and thirteen of us from the RCAF were put aboard a tender for what we thought would be a visit to shore. Instead, when we reached the inner harbor and we had weaved our way through a maze of smaller merchant and navy vessels, we came upon the "Newnorthland". This was a wooden vessel of some 1500 tons, which had been a St Lawrence river boat prior to the war. She had a list of about 15 degrees as she lay anchored in the bay. When we saw that we were headed for this relic a groan was heard to come from all thirteen of us. We were put aboard and assigned two small cabins which were furnished with double bunk beds covered with dirty blankets. About three hundred black native Africans were crowded on the afterdeck and fenced in so that they could not visit any other area of the vessel

That night we sailed under cover of darkness and inched our way towards Takoradi, our destination, some three hundred miles to the south. It would take us nearly a week to get there. A week during which nearly all of us would suffer from attacks of ring worm, tinnea, and lice. That is not to mention riding on the backs of some of the biggest cockroaches any of us had ever seen . Finally on about the tenth of April we arrived at the small port of Takoradi where we reported immediately to the camp hospital for a general cleanup and delousing. We learned then, for the first time, that we would be flying Hurricanes across Africa to the Egyptian capital of Cairo. Life was beginning to take on a new glow.

Chapter Nine - Hurri-ing Across Africa

I had been sent to Takoradi by the RAF for the purpose of ferrying a new Hurricane fighter across Africa to Cairo. Takoradi was a small port city on the west coast of Africa and about 4000 miles from what would be my destination. The Hurricane aircraft arrived by boat in large wooden packing crates. They then had to be assembled by the local labor force and made airworthy for the flight. It was part of my duties to see that the aircraft which had been assigned to me was properly assembled and made ready to fly. I would be the test pilot to take it on it's first flight. Everything was new and unfamiliar to me. I had never been in a tropical setting before, certainly nowhere as strange as this dark side of Africa.

The assembly plant and landing strip had been cut out of the dense jungle overgrowth. Monkeys played in the trees and watermelons grew wild in the open fields. And, most of all were the mosquitoes. Millions of them carrying malaria to the unprotected. We wore our pants tucked into the top of our boots all the time and in the evening we wore nets over our pith helmets to cover our faces and any exposed skin that might seem attractive to some bloodthirsty critter.

Finally the time came that my Hurricane was ready to test, so I took an especially good look around it and climbed into the cockpit. The powerful Rolls Royce Merlin engine roared to life and soon we were rolling down the runway and lifting quickly into the African sky. I guess I had expected that the wings might come off, or some other major catastrophe would befall me on this maiden flight, but all went very well and soon I was enjoying my first look at the West African countryside. After about an hour of getting acquainted with the local area, I landed and declared the aircraft serviceable for the long flight to Cairo.

There would be six Hurricanes flying as a group and we would be led across the continent by an experienced crew flying a twin engine Blenheim. We only had to follow the leader. There would be some pitfalls. We were issued no maps of the region as none were available. The radios in the Hurricanes were not made serviceable so we could not communicate between aircraft or to the ground stations. When we asked what we should do in the case that one of us got separated from the pack, we were told that the route was well marked by burned out aircraft which we would spot as we flew our course. Could they be joking? We were to discover that they were not! As a last assurance before we left on this flight into uncertainty, we were issued what the well wishers called a "Goolie Chit". What, you might ask, is a goolie chit? Well, we asked about that too. A chit in British terms is a note written from one person to another to convey a message. A goolie, well, that's a very personal part of the male appendages and we wondered why we would need a chit in reference to our goolies. We were told that our course to Cairo would take us over some very hostile areas where native tribesmen were known to detach the goolies from any enemy males they captured and to then after putting the detached goolies into the prisoner's mouth they would sew his mouth closed and leave the poor chap to be found, probably dead, by some passerby. The chit, which was written in several native languages, promised to pay the bearer a handsome reward if the prisoner was returned safe and unharmed. The whole thing was too depressing to think about, and we thought it probably was some sick joke anyway. But just in case I stuck the chit in my shirt pocket for safe keeping.

The morning came for us to leave. The weather was reported good to our first refuelling stop at the town of Accra about two and a half hours flying time from Takoradi. Our leader took off in the twin engine Blenheim and circled the field waiting for his fold of six Hurricanes to get off the ground and fall in behind him. When we were convened into a loose formation, we set off for Accra. We flew at 12,000 feet where the summer air was cooler making it more comfortable for the pilots and easier on the engines. From that height we were able to get a good view of the African landscape as we covered the five hundred miles to our station. We reached Accra without incident and landed in time for lunch. While we ate, the aircraft were refuelled and we were soon on our way to the next stop at the the city of Kano, another three and a half hours of flying time away. By the time we reached Kano we had spent more than six hours strapped into the small cockpit of a fighter aircraft. We were all glad to know that we would be spending the night here in a comfortable hotel room . We had passed the tropical part of West Africa now and had entered the western edge of the Sudanese desert. Daytime temperatures reached past 125 degrees but a light jacket felt comfortable after the sun had set. We enjoyed a good dinner in the hotel dining room and I learned what a "Punka Walla" is. Since air conditioning was unheard of in the desert at that time., a large rectangular frame, as wide as the dining room itself, and covered with a cloth material to act as a fan, was suspended from the ceiling and hung over the dining tables on two long ropes. Another rope connected the fan to a "Punka Walla" , a boy hidden behind the wall. As the boy pulled on his end of the rope, the fan began to move back and forth across the dining room creating a breeze each time it passed overhead. And so you ate in cool comfort as long as the punka walla behind the wall did not tire of making the large fan swing to and fro.

Early in the morning we were on our way again. Six Hurricanes following closely to our leader who was the only one who knew where we were going. It would not have mattered if we had known. With no navigational aids and a landscape below that looked like a sea of sand it would have been impossible for any of us to know where we were at any given moment. After a short flight of only two hours the Blenheim began to let down and led us to a landing at a refuelling station near the village of Maiduguri. There was time for a cool drink and we were soon off again for and equally undistinguished village of El Geniena. A very small spot in the middle of the Sudan desert.

We had been flying for nearly four hours when it became apparent that our leader was making large circles in the sky. Obviously he was looking for the landing ground and I began to have suspicions that he might be lost. Others in the pack must have felt the same way, as they began to fly closer to the leader in the hopes that they could get some signal as to what was happening. The flight began to take on an ominous note. Suddenly my yellow caution light indicating low fuel level came on and I knew that we soon would have to make a decision to land whether we found the landing ground or not. When I thought it was time, I switched to my reserve tank to avoid having an engine failure in the air. I knew that now I had only twenty minutes of flying time left. We still had not found our base. I had visions of the engine stopping and me having to ake a crash landing somewhere in that great expanse of sandy desert below me. Finally I took my fate into my own hands. I had only ten minutes of fuel left. I flew up beside the leader and gave a hand signal that I was going down. I waved goodbye and he waved me a thumbs up for good luck, and I throttled back and headed for the desert floor. I soon was flying at about five hundred feet looking for a flat spot on the ground which might provide a safe landing site. Suddenly, I saw it. Flat as a plate and no obstacles to be seen. I still had five minutes of fuel. I turned back, never taking my eyes off my target, and when I was satisfied that I was in the right position, I put down the landing gear and lowered some flap and in a few seconds my obedient Hurricane was rolling along the hard desert floor to a safe landing. When I had come to a stop and turned off the Roll Royce engine, all became very quiet and I took a moment to say thank you to Him who had led me down safely. I thought too about what might have happened to the ones I had left up above. I was sure they too had reached the end of their fuel supply. I learned later that the other five Hurricanes had stuck together and all made crash landings near to each other. Though none of the pilots were injured, we lost all of the aircraft. The Blenheim leader eventually found the station and made a safe landing to report that he had lost all of his charges.

I had been sitting in my cockpit for only a short time contemplating my situation, when I heard the sound of a horse approaching. A man, dressed as an Arab, was approaching my aircraft at a gallop. I did not know where he came from nor what his intentions were, but I sat still in my cockpit and nervously fingered the handle of the 38 caliber Smith and Wesson pistol I carried as a side arm. The stranger rode up to the side of the Hurricane but did not get off his horse. Instead he made gestures that I should come with him to wherever he was bound to take me. I made no move to leave the security of my cockpit. Besides, I had already decided that the safest action I could take was to stay with my aircraft. At least the Blenheim crew might have some idea of where I had gone down, and they may have radioed for help to search for me in this area. The Arab horseman grew more frantic in his gestures as he pointed to a spot on the horizon where a small cloud of dust had begun to appear. I stood up in my cockpit and looked into the haze formed by the heat rising from the desert. In the far distance, near the horizon, I noticed something beginning to appear. I stood up in my cockpit and looked into the haze formed by the heat rising from the desert. In the far distance, near the horizon, I recognized that a large group of people were running in my direction. My Arab friend motioned again for me to come with him as he pointed to the approaching crowd. Finally, when he saw that I was steadfast in my will to stay with the aircraft, he made a last shrug of his shoulders, shook his head from side to side in despair and galloped away in a direction opposite to that from which my new visitors were approaching. If he was my friend. I thought, and he was afraid of those who were running toward me, did I have reason to be afraid as well? I began to feel for the goolie chit which I had tucked into my shirt pocket a couple of days earlier.

As the approaching crowd got closer I began to recognize that there were women and children as well as men in the group. Many of the men carried long poles which had been sharpened at one end to form a spear. The men and women wore modest cloth coverings, but the small children were naked, and everyone was covered with a heavy coat dust and caked on dirt. I thought then that they must all have come from a nearby village.. I did not know what to expect from these people, but I decided to face them directly as a friend.. I climbed out of the cockpit and stood erect on the wing of the Hurricane and the thought crossed my mind that if one of them throws a spear toward me, I should best be standing when I try to defend myself with my puny service revolver.

When the group got to about a hundred feet from the aircraft, they all stopped and stared at the airplane. I was sure that none of them had ever seen one at such close range before. While I waited for their next move, one of the small boys, who may have been three or four years old, ran up to the trailing edge of the wing and looked up at me with a grin on his face.. At this point I jumped to the ground and acting as friendly as I knew how, I picked the boy up and sat him on the wing of the aircraft, while I tousled his hair and gently tickled his ribs as you would do when playing with any small child. I believe then is when I realized these were friendly people who were just as frightened of me as was of them.. They slowly came nearer the aircraft, and when I mave no move to object, they soon were taking up all the shady spots they could find under the wings and fuselage. I would guess there were nearly a hundred of them including many small children and they were all talking excitedly amongst themselves paying little or no attention to me.

I had not eaten or had anything to drink since breakfast, and it was now getting to be late afternoon. My thoughts began to turn to food and water and the possibility that I might not have any. There was supposed to be a survival kit buried somewhere in the bowels of the Hurricane. I would have to find it. My visitors seemed to have lost interest in me as a person at this time, so I began to remove a panel marked "Survival Kit" from the side of the fuselage and sure enough, there I found a small container of food, water, and emergency medical supplies. The food I found consisted of one tin of bully beef and about a dozen hard tack biscuits. There was also about a quart of water in a metal container with a screw on top. My first need was water so I opened the container and took a sip to taste its contents. The water had a foul taste of metal and was nearly too hot to drink since the temperature on the interior of the fuselage was much higher than the outside temperature which even in the late afternoon exceeded one hundred degrees. My next effort was directed towards the tin of beef. The tin was opened using a key in the same way that sardine tins are opened. When I had rolled the top of the tin part way back, I saw that there was much melted fat exposed so I poured the fat onto the ground for the insects to eat. When I had emptied the tin of its fat content it became evident that there was little else left in the can, and what there was looked unappetizing. I gave up on the bully beef and decided that at least I could eat the biscuits.

Chapter Ten - Back In The Air

It was about at that point when I saw another individual approaching on horseback. This one was dressed in the uniform of the British army. He also was a native Sudanese and spoke no English, but he did indicate that he had some knowledge of the airplane. First, he wanted me to use my radio to contact his base. I tried to explain that the radio was not serviceable, but he was not convinced. He jumped up on the wing and stuck his head in the cockpit, and began twirling the radio dials in vain. Finally, he gave up and taking a pad from his pocket, he indicated that I should write a note for him. This I did, telling whom it may concern that the aircraft was serviceable and needed only fuel. I said also that the bearer knew my location. The native then put the note in his pocket and turned to leave. But first, he ordered everyone but two of the villagers to return home immediately. They all got up and obediently left. By the use of sign language and the occasional word of English, the soldier told me to stay where I was and to be sure to sleep in the cockpit during the night. The two villagers were to stand guard while I slept.

When darkness fell I did as I had been told and got a small amount of sleep. The desert nights are cool compared to the torrid daytime temperatures, and it felt good to relax on my parachute cushion and try to forget my troubles for a few moments. I must have slept well, for at break of day my sentinels awoke me and said they were going back to the village to get more water and perhaps some food for themselves. I busied myself with my own ablutions and personal requirements. The mere brushing of my teeth made me feel renewed again. I tidied up around the Hurricane and made it ready in case my soldier friend returned with help this morning. I had no idea as to how far he had to travel or when he would return.

Soon, my Sudanese friends returned with more water. We sat around and waited as the sun climbed higher into the heavens and the unbearable heat returned. I gave my friends a tour of the airplane, even letting them sit in the cockpit. They seemed thrilled with everything they saw and touched. Like children, they would examine one part or another then look at each other as if to say "So that's how it's done." Later in the day the conversation, if you could call it that, got around to our weapons. They were each armed with a spear which they had made for themselves. I asked them to show me how to throw one. I had had some experience in high schoolin throwing a javelin, so I thought that at least I would not be embarrassed. They laughed when my spear throwing exhibition was less than expert. I was then given a sobering demonstration when one of them threw the spear at a sprig of a bush that was trying to grow in the sand, and split that tiny branch in two. I tried to show them how I could do as well with my revolver but it was no contest.

In the afternoon. a desert hare was seen loping across the desert. These animals are similar to our own jack rabbits. I was amazed when one of the natives took off at a trot in the direction the hare had taken. In a short while he returned with the rabbit in tow. I believe he had run it to death. The day passed with no sign of any rescuers and I began to feel that I would have to return to the village with my friends if I were to survive, Up until now I had been managing on biscuits and water, but I would need something more substantial soon. I prayed that tomorrow would bring better news. I slept better the second night now that I felt more confidence in my guards on the ground below me. When morning came we went through the same ritual as the day before and by ten o'clock the two were back and the waiting game began anew.

Suddenly, one of them jumped up from his squatting position and pointed off in the distance. Again, I saw a cloud of dust indicating that someone was approaching. In a couple of minutes a British Land Rover car came into view carrying two British airmen and my old friend the native soldier. After much hand shaking and many "Glad to see yas" the airmen went about their work. They had brought ten five gallon cans of fuel with them, so proceeded to put twenty gallons in the reserve tank and the remaining thirty gallons into the main tank. They assured me that I had enough fuel to easily reach the refueling station which was less than fifty miles distant. The plan was, that another aircraft would arrive around noon and circle overhead. It would wait there until I could get the Hurricane airborne and then they would lead me to the base station. I anxiously awaited the arrival of my new leader. In the meantime, (my rescuers had thought to bring along some sandwiches and tea) we enjoyed a civilized repast.

As planned, a Blenheim appeared overhead and one of the airmen fired a flare to indicate our position. The pilot took note and was soon in a holding pattern waiting for me to join him. I climbed into the cockpit, did a quick check, set the throttle, and the Rolls engine burst into life. In a few minutes I had climbed up to join the Blenheim and was flying alongside his wing. We had flown less than ten minutes when the pilot signaled to me that the landing strip was dead ahead and we began to let down on our approach. I had allowed myself to get well behind the Blenheim so as to follow and land behind him. I still had not seen the runway when I saw his wheels being lowered, so I followed suit and lowered my own gear and flaps in preparation for landing.. Then I saw them; oil barrels that marked the edges of the landing strip. A couple of shacks and a pile of five gallon fuel cans was all that marked this station. Everything was covered with a layer of sand. Finding the place from the air was like looking for a particular wave in a sea of water. No wonder our previous leader had not been able to find it before his charges ran out of fuel.

Soon, I was completely refuelled and ready to proceed on my mission to deliver this Hurricane to Cairo. The problem now was that I was alone and had to continue by myself. The Blenheim that had just led me to safety was going in the opposite direction back towards Takoradi. I had the option of waiting for another group to come by which I could join, or I could continue on alone. To wait would have meant that I might spend the next several days at this Spartan station which had no sleeping facilities for guests. I was told that the next stop only an hour and a half to the East and was easy to spot from the air. They had regular barracks facilities and a proper mess hall. That did it for me. I would take my chances alone.

I set course for El Fashera and prayed that I would not miss it. There was nothing but more desert for many miles beyond El Fashera. Sure enough, after what seemed like a very short flight, I spotted a small town which was an oasis in this vast desert. I soon had the landing field in sight and I felt relieved when I had rolled to a stop in front of the refuelling area. No one came out to meet me even though I sat in the cockpit for a few minutes thinking I should have some kind of welcoming committee to give me directions.. I could see a barracks hut nearby and it was dinner time, so maybe everyone was having dinner and no one noticed my arrival. I decide I would go and announce myself.. I climbed out of the cockpit and walked toward the tail of the aircraft. When I passed the tail section and turned toward the barracks, I stopped dead in my tracks. Between me and the hut I was trying to reach, was a huge male lion walking slowly toward me. No one was in sight to help me. I was afraid to run and Leo was getting closer.

Chapter Eleven - I Reach The River Nile

Now many ancient Egyptian pharoahs were known to have tame lions to add to the decor of their palaces. And I suppose even some rich modern eccentric Emeer might own one or two as a prestige enhancement. But, at a refuelling station in the middle of the desert? I don't think so. All I know is that I was frozen in my tracks and unable to move for what seemed an eternity. The lion had come to within twenty feet of me when he turned and looked back towards the barracks. Then he did the most unexpected thing. He just layed down in the sand and looked up at me as if to say "Well, are you going to stand there all day?" I began to move slowly sideways around him and easing my way toward the building. There was a front porch attached to the hut where a couple of empty chairs were placed. I was near to the building when two men came out the door and calmly went and sat in the chairs. When the lion saw the men come out of the door he quickly got up and came toward me and the porch. At that point no one had said anything but the men had begun to smile. The lion went past me as if I didn't exist and went and layed down on the porch by the two men. This is when they started to laugh in earnest and told me to "Come on, he won't hurt you. He's too fat and lazy to hurt anyone".

When I reached the step to go up on the porch, the men got up and shook my hand , and wecolmed me to El Fashera station. They had hidden inside when they saw me land, and enjoyed watching my performance as I came away from the Hurricane and was met by their pet. Apparently, this show was often repeated at this station because the lion went out to meet all incoming passengers and crews. In the few hours that I spent there I even got up the nerve to pet the big feline once or twice but I was never comfortable when walking away from him

They had comfortable quarters at this desert unit and I enjoyed my stay overnight. After a good dinner in the mess room. one of the airmen took me for a visit tothe local bazaar.I bought several souvenirs including a figurine of seven elephants walking head to tail all carved from ivory.It never occurred to me at that time that elephants were killed just to get the ivory tusks. I guess I thought that ivory came only from tame elephants who had their tusks removed or from those who had died a natural death. In any case, I lost all my souvenirs when I was taken prisoner, as only my log book and photo album were returned to my mother by a squadron buddy.

The next morning I was ready to leave El Fashera for the next stop which was Khartuum,more than three hours flying time to the east on the river Nile. I had the opportunity to study a large map of the region and decided that if I flew east until I came to the river , then turned left, I would eventually come to Khartuum or one of the many settlements that dotted the river's edge. I left after lunch so as to avoid flying into the rising sun all morning. After three hours I was beginning to wonder where the river had gone when I spotted a large patch of green landscape coming up on the horizon. Sure enough, there was the river winding its way to the north and eventually to Cairo and the Mediterranean Sea. I made a left turn and headed north. After about thirty minutes I came upon a large city that could only be Khartuum. I had made a mental note of where the airport was situated, so I flew around to the east side of the city and found a large airport. Since I had no radio to receive landing instructions I flew over the airport and took note of the wind tee to see which runway was in use . I then made my approach and landed after making sure that no other aircraft were on the approach at the same time. I taxied up to the commercial ramp where I saw that other aircraft were parked. Before I could turn off the engine, an airport attendant ran out and told me not park there. He pointed to another hangar some distance away where all military aircraft were serviced. I then taxied to the designated area and parked the Hurricane to await further instructions.

Khartuum was a large city with good hotels and fine restaurants. I decided that this would be a good place to spend the night. I needed a bath and a change of clothes. so I took my kit bag from the aircraft and hired a taxi to take me into town. It felt good to be clean again after nearly a week since I had left the relative comfort of Takoradi. I had been under considerable stress in all that time and I felt the need of some rest. The hotel was just as you may have seen in pictures. It was made of stone blocks with many large openings so that air could move freely through the rooms. The windows had no glass but were covered with iron grills and drapes that could be drawn for privacy. They never saw much rain so there was no provision to keep it out. There were large ceiling fans in the dining room and in each bedroom to help make living in the desert heat a little more comfortable. After I had bathed and put on fresh clothes, I went down to the dining room and had a cool gin and lime. Itwas important that you had your ration of lime juice every day to help in avoiding malaria. It seemed natural to me that you should take your ration of lime juice with a little gin There was good food in the hotel. The war had had little effect on what was made available to their kitchens. I had my first taste of curried chicken that night and I have grown to like the flavor of curry on not only chicken but also with shrimp and rice.

After a very relaxing dinner, and since it was still early in the evening. I decided to take a walking tour of Khartuum. Since this was the capitol of Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, there was much English spoken and there were also many men in British uniforms. If it had not been for the many natives in their long white robes and red fezes I might have forgotten I was in a foreign country. When darkness fell I decided to take in a movie. I paid for my ticket and walked through a door in the front of the building. I was surprised when I entered that there was no roof to this movie house. You in fact sat in seats facing a movie screen at one end of a large room with the projection room behind you as in any movie house. There were walls with dim lights on both sides of the room, but if you looked up you saw only the night sky filled with a million stars. It was my first experience in an outdoor theater. Having no roof made the theater cool and relaxing after the day's heat had been evacuated.

In the morning it was time to leave again. I paid my bill and took a taxi back to the station at the airport. The Hurricane had been checked by the RAF ground crew and been refuelled. The rest of the trip to Cairo should be a snap. I had only to follow the Nile for about a thousand miles as it wandered through the desert. My next refuelling stop would be at Wadi Halfa some three hours away. I should be there before lunch. I enjoyed flying down the Nile. There was so much to see. I flew low enough so that I could get a good look at the boats that were pushed up and down the river by men who used a long pole to stick into the river bottom and then leaning against the pole they would push the boat from under them as they walked along the gunwales. There were pumps that fed water into the narrow green strip of desert that was irrigated on both sides of the river. These pumps were powered by oxen that walked around and around in a circle all day as they pulled water out of the river and dumped it into the irrigation ditches. Nothing seemed to have changed for these people in the past several thousand years. Men rode camels and carts were drawn by oxen. Watermelons were the crop of the season, and could be seen being carted everywhere.

I soon reached Wadi Halfa and landed without incident. There were other Hurricanes being serviced there and I had a chance to talk to other ferry pilots. Some were taking their Hurries as far east as India and Singapore. They still had a long way to go. I got what information I could about the weather (It never changed!}, and after a spot of tea and a sandwich, I was back in the air headed for Luxor where I would spend the night. Luxor was only two hours from Wadi Halfa. After about an hour I noted that my engine temperature was beginning to rise. I opened the cooling vents to their full opened position, and climbed to a little higher altitude where the air would be cooler. This strategy seemed to work, as the engine temperature stabilized. However; I began to be anxious to reach my destination at Luxor before I had real engine problems. Lady luck was kind to me again as I saw signs of a city come up in the distance. It was easy to find the airport in Luxor and I made a short approach and quick landing, being eager to get the Hurricane on the ground while the Rolls was still running. An examination found that I had developed a small glycol leak in the cooling system. A part would have to be removed and replaced by a new one. An easy job except that the part would have to be ordered from, and come from the maintenance depot at Cairo.

"How long will that take?" I asked.
"Well, if we order it tomorrow" the mechanic said, "And if they ship it by air on the Cape to Cairo Airlines, we could have it in two or three days. But sometimes" he continued, "They send it by the next Air Force plane to be coming this way, and that could take a week"
"Tell them it's urgent " I said and I thought about what I would find to do in Luxor if I had to stay a week. Luxor is on the site of the ancient city of Thebes. It had not been so long since I was in high school studying my ancient history, that some of these names took on a familiar ring. Here could be found the ruins of the temple of Karnak, the avenue of sphinxes, the valley of the kings, and the recently discovered tomb of king Tutankhamun. There was much to be explored in Luxor. I would become a tourist. But first I needed a camera.

Chapter Twelve - The Tourist

It would be several days before my Hurri would be serviceable again, so with the help and recommendations of some of the staff at the maintenance hangar, I found a room at one of the only two hotels available in the town of Luxor. After getting settled into the small room, I went to the front desk to inquire about some sightseeing around this ancient city. Tourism had been somewhat suspended since the war in the Middle East had been raging for more than two years. In the streets, men dressed in British military uniforms often outnumbered the natives who could easily be recognized by their long black robes covered by a dark suit coat.. The clerk behind the desk thought that he did know of a dragoman (tour guide) that might be available. He would give him a call.

For the rest of the day I explored the business section of the city, hoping to find a store that might have an inexpensive camera for sale.. At that time cameras were very scarce since the military was taking nearly all the camera production for military purposes. I did manage to find a small "brownie" pocket camera of prewar vintage. I paid an exorbitant price for it and a roll of film, but I am pleased that I still have pictures of the area that I can enjoy today. When I had returned to the hotel later that evening, the clerk called me and said that he had made arrangements for a dragoman to meet me at the hotel early the following morning.

After breakfast on the next day, as I sat waiting in the lobby, an Egyptian walked up to me and introduced himself. He would guide me to the ancient parts of the city if I would hire him for a full day at a time. The price would be five English pounds per day. This was more than I earned but I agreed to try him for at least one day. He provided the transportation in a well worn small English car, and we set out to see the sights. I was fortunate in that my guide was well informed and spoke excellent English. We began at the Temple of Karnak, a short distance north of the city. The approach to the ruins is by way of the Avenue of Sphinxes. This was a wide walkway with twenty sphinxes lying side by side about ten feet apart facing the same number of the statues on the opposite side of the walk. The site of the temple itself defies description. The huge round columns have a diameter of at least ten feet and are fifty feet in height. All are covered with carved hieroglyphics put there many thousands of years ago. Atop the columns are laid horizontal stones weighing many tons. One has to wonder how they were ever put there. We pent much of the day exploring different rooms in the temple and trying to make sense of the carvings.

I was taken to see a large stone scarab mounted on a stone pedestal near to edge of a small lake. Apparently, the scarab was the god of life. When important people died their bodies were put on a barge and paraded in front of the scarab in the hopes that life would restored. If it failed, and it usually did, a proper burial then took place. The most impressive piece of engineering I saw were two obelisks standing fifty feet apart and looking like miniature Washington monuments. These monuments weighed 700 tons and 1100 tons each and each was made from a single piece of rock.

After a full day with my guide my appetite had only just been whetted. He had mentioned that we could cross the river the next day and visit the Valley of the Kings, also known as the dead city. Here were buried many of the pharoahs of ancient Egypt, including the renowned Tutankhamun, better known as King Tut. I asked if it were possible to visit that much publicized tomb which had only been discovered about twenty year earlier. He said that the site had not been developed very much since its discovery, but if I wanted to go there he would take me. We made plans to go the next day.

To get to the dead city we had to hire a small boat to take us across the river. This was done and soon we were standing before a towering rock escarpment that contained the tombs of many ancient Egyptian leaders. We climbed upward from the river over rubble and large rocks. There was no path leading to where we were going. Finally we came to a narrow opening resembling a cave between walls of stone. My guide motioned for me to follow him. It was a narrow passageway with room for only one person to walk. We came to an opening in the side of the passage and stooped to enter. It was dark inside, but the guide using a flashlight showed me a room that was about thirty feet square with a ten foot ceiling. The room was empty so we continued on our way through another opening in the wall and this time I found myself in a large room containing a few pieces of wooden furniture and a glass topped coffin which was place on a raised dais. Looking into the coffin I could see that a mummy had been placed there for the benefit of tourists like myself. My guide explained that though this was King Tut's tomb. His mummy had been removed to the Cairo museum with all the other pieces of value that had been discovered when the tomb had been opened in 1922 by the English archaeologist, Howard Carter. It occurred to me at that point that we were quite deep into the bowels of this rock cliff and I began to feel the need to get out. I never would have made it as a miner. We left the tomb as we had found it and soon we were back into the fresh air and sunlight.

By early afternoon we had returned to the east side of the river and were thinking about ending our day of exploring. Several times during the day my guide had mentioned that he new a man who could charm snakes and scorpions. He thought that I would enjoy being entertained by him if we could find him. I think that it was less than a coincidence that we happened to "run into" the man just at a time when we were going to call it a day. We were still near the site of the temple when my guide pointed off in the distance and exclaimed "There he is!" We negotiated a price and the man offered to find a snake amongst the rocks of the temple in the room in which we were standing. He sniffed at all the crevices and called for a snake to appear but none did. Finally he suggested we go to place where he knew there were snakes all the time. Here he went through the sniffing routine again, and surprise, surprise he announced that he could smell a snake in one of the holes in the rock. He put his hand into the hole very cautiously at first, and then after several failed attempts he finally pulled a snake out that was about five feet long. This snake {which I think was his long time buddy} he draped around his neck so that I could take a picture of them. He then offered to put the snake around my neck to take my picture, but I don't like snakes that well so I refused.

We got back to the hotel by dinnertime. My guide told me that I had seen about all there was to see around Luxor. I thanked him for his services and he went on his way. I have no doubt that he was probably a con man at heart but he did entertain me for two wonderful days, which I still remember. I had kept in touch with the maintenance crew that was repairing my aircraft. They told me that the required part had arrived and the Hurricane would be serviceable sometime in the afternoon. I would be able to get on my way again. So now, four days after I had arrived in Luxor, I was back at the airfield making a brief inspection of the plane and getting ready to leave on the last leg of my journey. That would take me to Cairo, only two hours away straight down the Nile valley. A DC-3 belonging to the Cape to Cairo Airline was getting ready to depart for Cairo in about thirty minutes. I had a chance to talk to the pilot about the weather and I asked him if it would be a problem if I tagged along with him to his destination. He replied that he had no objection if I stayed well behind and below him so that his passengers would not see me. He thought some of them would get nervous if they thought that they were needing a fighter escort on this leg of their trip. I promised him he would never know I was there, but since I had never flown in this area before, I would feel much more secure following someone who knew where he was going.

I took off about twenty minutes before the DC-3 was scheduled to depart. I wanted to be sure that the repair that had been made to my cooling system was satisfactory. Also, I wanted another look at some of the sights I had seen in the past two days. I flew low over the temple and then across the river to the valley of the kings and the dead city. I could see evidence of a great many tombs buried in the rocks below. I flew over the colossi of Memnon, which are two huge statues built of rock depicting gods sitting on their thrones. There are holes placed strategically into these statues so that when the wind blows they give off an eerie howling sound.

The DC-3 was lifting off the runway, so I circled far behind him and took up my position there. He would fly the short trip at a relatively low altitude of about 5000 feet. I followed along much lower. I saw many pyramids built along the edge of the river. There were field crops like cotton and some forms of grain. Many sail powered boats plied their ways up and down stream. All in all it was a very interesting flight, although I had to fly a little slower than I normally would. The Hurricane's cruising speed was considerably faster than that of the commercial transport.

Soon, I began to see signs that we were approaching Cairo. Populated suburbs began to line the river, and many roads were in evidence. When the DC-3 began to let down I flew up beside him, although some distance away and waggled my wings to thank him and to tell him I was leaving.. I then had to find the airport where I was to deliver the Hurricane. There were many airports around Cairo, including both civilian and military installations. I had a close look at several until I found one that had many Hurricanes and other military aircraft parked around the hangars. I concluded that this must be my destination. I was right. After I had made my landing and taxied over to what seemed to be the main hangar, I parked the Hurri and shut down the Rolls Royce for the last time. The staff made me welcome and congratulated me on delivering the aircraft to them in good condition. This journey had finally ended, but another was about to begin. Somewhere a squadron was waiting for me.

Chapter Thirteen - I Get Converted

I had just delivered a Hurricane II C to the maintenance and repair depot at the Heliopolis airport near Cairo. I had begun the trip at the assembly plant at Takoradi on the west coast of Africa, along with five other Hurricanes being flown by Canadian Airforce pilots such as myself. Unfortunately, our leader became lost over the Sudanese desert portion of our trip and we lost five of the six Hurri's due to forced landings. Luckily all the pilots survived the crash landings in the desert and eventually returned to their units.

In my own case, as I have previously reported, I managed to make a safe landing without damaging the aircraft, and after being refueled, I continued the African crossing by myself. Now that I had arrived at my destination, and delivered the Hurricane safely and in good condition, I was somewhat at a loss as to where I would go from here. I talked to the commanding officer of the repair depot and of course he asked:

"What unit do you belong to?" I replied that I didn't know. "The last I heard I had been attached to RAF Ferry Command and ordered to fly this Hurricane to Cairo". "Well," he said, "I'll have you taken to the Ferry Command headquarters in Cairo, and they'll know more about it than I do". So, off we went, a driver and myself in a dusty 1940 Ford staff car. When we arrived at the Ferry Command office, the driver stopped and opened the door for me to get out. When I did, he saluted me, wished me luck and drove off in a cloud of dust leaving me standing there to look after myself. I went inside the building and found clerks moving in every direction carrying little bits of paper and things, but none of them paid the least attention to me. I finally got one of the more important looking clerks to stop long enough for me to ask him where the Ferry pilots report to after they have delivered an aircraft. "Oh," he said, "You have to report to the RAF houseboats across the river. Any cab driver will take you there." And he hurried off to deliver his sheet of paper to someone who probably would trade him for one of his own.

I went back outside, wishing my driver had not left me so soon, and hailed a cab. After assuring myself that the driver knew where the RAF houseboats were, I let him take me there. When we arrived, I stepped out of the cab and saw that there were three large houseboats moored along the river docks that bordered on the street. The grounds around them were beautifully landscaped and everything seemed to be fresh and clean???? A refreshing change from the kind of places I had been visiting in the past two or three weeks. I found what seemed to be an office aboard the center boat and announced myself to the NCO in charge. He took my name and a few particulars, and then had a Sudanese houseboy show me to a room with a river view. The houseboy made sure everything was in order, and asked me if I would like a bath. I must have looked like I needed one! When I said that would be nice, he said he would draw it and inform me when it was ready. I had never been treated with such respect before. Certainly not while I was in the air force. In a few minutes the "Boy" (I was all of nineteen years old), announced to me that my bath was ready, and he led me down the center hall to a bathroom, where he directed me to a tub half filled with warm water. He then handed me a large bath towel and said that he would wait for me outside the door. After a relaxing twenty minutes in the tub, I put on the only clean underwear I had with me and opened the door to the outside. My friend was standing there with a light cotton robe for me to wear while he took the damp towel from me and I returned to my room.

I learned that the servant had been assigned to look after my needs while I was aboard the houseboat. He brought me drinks when I ordered them from the mess bar, and if I sat on the deck to drink them and watch the activity in the river, he would stand behind me with a fly swisher (A part of a horse's tail attached to a leather handle) and brush the flies off my clothing whenever one landed where he could see it. In talking with some of the other resident officers, I learned too that this was a rest and recreation station for those Ferry pilots that were between assignments. The usual stay was two or three days.

Of course, since I did not really report to Ferry Command, my name never came up for re?assignment. As a result, I became what might have been termed a permanent guest. Unfortunately, I needed to get some money to continue living in this style of luxury. My bar bill was growing each day, and since I was in desperate need of tropical clothes, I went to the paymaster with my field paybook and asked for a month's pay. Naturally, he would have to know to what unit I was assigned, before he could advance me any money. Reluctantly, I told him I was not assigned to any unit at the present time. Since I could not convince him of that, he made a couple of phone calls, and before the end of that day, I had received my advance in pay, and I also was politely but firmly dismissed from my posh assignment on the house boat.

The paymaster arranged for transportation to take me and my kit to a barracks near the edge of town in Cairo. Here I was assigned a bed in a hut and along with several hundred other pilots, I began my wait to be assigned to a fighter squadron in the Western Desert. I learned that some of the pilots had already been waiting there for many weeks, since there were no aircraft available for them to fly. There was a serious shortage of fighter planes available in the Middle East at the time and the pool of available pilots continued to grow as new pilots arrived in the area every day. Nearly all of them were experienced on Hurricanes and Spitfires since they had all just come from England, as was my own case. There was a new South African Air Force Wing that had just been formed and they were to be equipped with the American made Curtiss P?40 Kittyhawk which had just begun arriving in the Middle East aboard ships that had come by way of the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

None of us was trained to fly the Kittyhawk, so volunteers to man the new squadrons were very few. Everyone seemed willing to wait for an opening on one of the Hurricane squadrons of which there were eight operating in the desert at the time. However, four Canadians, Vic Thagard, Grant Aitchison, Don Peterson, and myself, decided that we were to far down the waiting list, we might as well join the South Africans and help them man their Kittyhawk Wing. Otherwise, we thought that we might spend the entire war in a barracks hut outside the city of Cairo. For the other three, that might have been a wiser decision, since all three of them would be killed in action before the war ended.

Since none of us had ever flown an American fighter, it would be necessary that we be given at least a few hours of flying time on the type before we were hurled into action against the more experienced German pilots who were equipped with the much superior Messerschmitt 109. Thus we found ourselves posted to a South African Air Force (SAAF) training field where there were three or four beat?up looking P?40 Tomahawks and an old AT?6 Harvard. The Harvard was used to familiarize ourselves with the differences in the controls that we would find on the P?40 from what we were used to on the British fighters. There were hydraulic brakes. The British used compressed air. The Flap and Gear controls were very different, as were the engine (Allison) instruments compared to the British(Rolls Royce) engine After we had flown a couple of flights in the Harvard with the SAAF instructor, he announced that we were ready to climb into the Tomahawks and go it on our own. I must say that we were not too excited about the prospects of climbing into this unfamiliar beast and "Go it on our own" as the SAAF instructor put it. The airplane looked too heavy to even fly. The undercarriage was narrow and could easily cause a ground loop. There were many things about this "Hawk" that made us all nervous. However, the job had to be done. I pulled myself up on the wing, and gently eased the seat pack of my parachute into the bucket seat buried in the bottom of the fuselage. I was impressed with how much wider the airplane was than the Hurricane, and how I could move my arms about without rubbing the sides of the cockpit with my elbows. There was even a seat adjustment which would raise and lower the seat so you could see comfortably through the reflector sight which was mounted on top of the instrument panel. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad after all. I did note that there was an ashtray built in and I wondered who would smoke in this cockpit that reeked of oil and high octane gasoline fumes. Certainly not me!

I did my cockpit check, primed the engine and began the starting procedure. The inertia starter whined as it built up high revolutions. At the peak of the starter's whine, I let in the starter clutch. The thirteen foot propeller turned slowly at first as if it was reluctant to go. There were one or two puffs of black smoke that were emitted from the exhaust stacks near the front of the cockpit. Suddenly the Allison roared to life and I knew that now there would be no turning back. This beast of an airplane and I were going to reach for the "Wild blue yonder". It was the middle of May and summer had come to the Western Desert. The daytime temperatures would often reach 120 degrees. Therefore it was important to get off the ground as soon as possible with the P?40 because the in?line Allison was quick to overheat if it was kept on the ground too long after starting. I taxied quickly to the take off point. Everything was clear and although there was no visibility over the long nose of the airplane, by taxiing in a zigzag fashion and looking out of the side of the cockpit, you could establish that the area in front of you was clear.

I had been told that I would have to use left rudder on take?off to offset the torque of the propeller. I didn't know it would take as much as it did. As I opened the throttle I began to apply rudder. I thought I would run out of rudder before I ran out of throttle. Soon the tail lifted and I could ease a little off the rudder. I was used to the lighter Hurricane and its gentle lift into the air as it gained speed. I wondered if this Hawk was ever going to fly. Finally, and with, what seemed to me, some effort. it left the ground and we began a slow climb away from the landing field. I mention all this only to emphasize that there was a great deal of difference between this airplane and the Hurricane I had become used to flying. I would get used to this one too.

As the days passed, My friends and I took our turns flying the four Tomahawks for an hour or two each day. We flew about the sky dogfighting with each other to test our flying skills and to see what the limits of the airplane were. We learned it could turn tight, dive fast, and take punishment from unskilled pilots. We also learned it would climb slowly, would barely fly at twelve thousand feet and the engine tended to run hot even in the air. The Me 109's had little to fear from us. After all we had inferior airplanes, which we hardly knew how to fly, and none of us had ever seen an enemy airplane up close yet. At least we were brave! When each of us had acquired ten hours of flying time on the P?40's, we were told we were ready to join the squadron. Any additional experience we needed would be provided by the squadron on regular operational flights. Great!

Chapter Fourteen - 260 Squadron

The South African Wing 233 was made up of four squadrons of Curtiss P?40 fighters. Two of the squadrons were comprised entirely of SAAF pilots and staff. There was one squadron of Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and the fourth squadron was the newest and least experienced in the wing. It was 260 RAF squadron and was staffed by an English ground crew. And though it was designated as RAF, about half of the pilots were Canadians, while the rest were made up of New Zealanders, Rhodesians, English, and a couple of Americans in the RCAF. Only Squadron Leader Hanbury (RAF) and his two Flight Commanders had any previous battle experience when the squadron was formed. Those three, who were decorated veterans of the Battle of Britain, were given the formidable task of creating an effective fighting force from this group of 24 inexperienced pilots.

When my buddies and I had completed our conversion to the Kittyhawk, we were assigned to 260 squadron and told to report to their Operations Officer as soon as possible. The squadron was operating off a landing field at Bir El Baheira which is just a few miles east of Tobruk, and near the Mediterranean coastline. That was an hour and fifteen minutes flying time from our training base or about three hundred land miles. There being no organized transportation available, we were told to get on the coastal road and hitch a ride to the front with some army vehicle. There was however, one Kittyhawk available which had been repaired and needed to be ferried back to the squadron. We drew lots and I was the lucky one to fly to the squadron while the other three had to hitch hike.

I had no idea where landing ground 115 at Baheira was, but I checked the map and found that if I just followed the coastal road to the west and watched for obvious landmarks, I should have no trouble. Since the squadron operated only a few miles from the front line, my greatest fear was that I would fly past Lg 115 and end up over enemy territory. As I neared my destination, I noticed that there were many landing grounds in the area, but I found the one that had a few Kittyhawks parked on all four sides and figured that I must be at the right place.

I should explain that the desert was very flat and had few if any obstructions to low flying aircraft. There were no trees or wires to contend with, and the highest obstacle might have been the turret on a German Panzer tank. It was not unusual for damaged or out of fuel aircraft to land on the desert and be repaired or refueled on the spot and flown away again with no problems. The designated landing grounds were areas of hard sand or gravel, which were bulldozed level and given an ID number. The wing that occupied a landing ground established a squadron on each of the four sides of the square and unless there was a strong wind blowing, each squadron would take off in line?o?breast formation to avoid sucking in the dust created by swirling prop wash of the large propellers and in a direction away from their own squadron site. Upon returning, each aircraft would land toward the squadron site in order to avoid making long taxi runs in the hot desert temperatures. Of course this all meant that there were times when two squadrons returning at the same time would be landing in opposite directions to each other. All of us would give way to the approaching aircraft, but there were a few close calls of head?on collisions from time to time.

I flew low over the field and identified the HS marking on the few Kittyhawks I saw parked on the ground. These were the identifying letters of 260 squadron. I then circled back and landed toward the squadron side of the square. A ground crewman helped me locate a parking place for the Kitty, and then using an available jeep, he took me to meet the Operations Officer in a tent nearby. The Ops Officer welcomed me and explained that the squadron was away on a sortie at this time but they should be back in about thirty minutes. He offered me a cool drink of lemon squash, and told me just to make myself comfortable until the CO came back with the squadron.

I was sitting comfortably in a folding canvas camp chair when I heard the sound of approaching aircraft. Standing up to get a better view of the returning Kitty's, I saw six or seven of them coming in on a long approach and preparing to land side by side. I did not immediately appreciate what began to happen next. Apparently some Me 109's had joined the Kitty's in their landing approach and were firing at them as they touched down on the ground. I heard the sound of canons and machine guns being fired. And I saw P?40's stop short and the pilots jump out and down to the ground in an effort to get away from the target aircraft. Dust was flying everywhere and the visibility from my vantage point was beginning to fade. Finally the noise abated and the attack was over. I had just tasted my first experience of enemy action and I began to wonder what I was doing here. Soon the pilots began to arrive at the Ops tent in jeeps. I did my best to stay out of their way as they excitedly reported to the Ops Officer the results of their sortie and the way they were surprised on landing by the attacking 109's.

When things quieted down, I was introduced to the CO, S/L Hanbury. He was unsmiling, surly and in a black mood. I could understand his attitude after the surprise attack the squadron had just experienced, but I learned later that he was always in a surly mood. No one had ever seen him smile. He was a serious fighter pilot with many victories in air combats with German pilots, and he tolerated no horseplay or ineptitude among his young charges. I suspected that being a member of 260 squdron might not be a lot of fun.

Since I was not acquainted with any of the pilots, and I needed to get settled in for the night, I got my camp kit out of the plane I had brought in, and began to set up my bed site. The kit consisted of a canvas folding cot, and a folding wash stand. A sleeping bag and a small pillow completed the kit. All of it was rolled up into a small cylindrical canvas bag that fit into the baggage compartment behind the cockpit. I took out my bed and set it up on the sand near where the other beds were set up just outside the mess tent. Everyone slept out under the stars and though the daytime temperatures were quite hot there was considerable cooling when the sun went down. The insulated sleeping bag would feel quite good by the early morning hours. It must have been shortly after 2200 hours (10:00 PM) when I climbed into my bag and settled down for the night. I was excited about what tomorrow might bring and how I would fit into this group of strangers. I also wondered about Thagard, Aitchison and Peterson, and if they were having any luck hitching a ride up here to join me.

I awoke from a deep sleep with someone shaking my shoulder. "Wake up sir!" a voice was saying. I opened my eyes and saw a man leaning over me. "Wake up sir! Quickly"., What's the matter?" I asked. "What's going on?" "Gerry's coming sir. You have to get your aircraft off the ground right now. We're abandoning the area and retreating immediately. I scrambled to my feet and noticed that there were parachute flares in the nearby skies that lit up much of the landing ground. A quick look at my watch told me it was 0300. It would be nearly two hours before daylight. I quickly rolled up my kit and grabbed a ride from a passing jeep. "Where are we going?" I asked the driver as he sped toward the Kittyhawk I had parked there only hours before. "I don't know ." he answered. "But we're gettin' the hell out of here right now."

I could hear other aircraft starting up and some were taking off in the dim light of the nearby flares. I knew that the only thing I could do was to follow them as best I could. I stowed my kit in the P?40 and climbed into the cockpit. I had left my parachute in the seat, so a ground crewman helped me get buckled up. He then sat on the leading edge of the wing as I started the big Allison and soon we were taxiing toward the take?off area. When we got there. he stopped me and walking back across the wing to the cockpit he yelled that it was all clear ahead and with that he jumped to the ground and was gone.

I nervously opened the throttle and soon I was speeding into the darkness on my take?off run. I, like the others, used no lights of any kind. Only the blue flame coming out of the exhaust could be seen in the darkness. As I got airborne and crossed the outside perimeter of the landing ground at about two hundred feet I saw the black crosses on the top of a squadron of German tanks that were approaching our camp. I hoped the ground crew would escape. Many of them didn't!

After a few minutes I settled down and began to take stock of my situation. I was up here on a dark night flying around, knowing there were other aircraft in the vicinity, and straining my eyes in the hopes that I would see one before I ran into it. I soon found the sea coast and decided I would follow it back to the east until I had reached the point I had started from on the previous afternoon. The sky in the east was beginning to lighten and I knew that it would be daylight soon so I would be able to find the training base where we had been flying for the past couple of weeks. Again, I thought about my friends, and wondered whether they would be warned in time before they drove into the advancing German Force. I learned later that they were safe but it would be two weeks before I would see them again. At 0500 it was daylight again and I began to pick out familiar landmarks. I headed for the SAAF base and put down there certain that they would know where the squadron had relocated. They weren't sure, but it was decided that I should just stay put until we got some information. That suited me fine., and I headed for the mess to get a breakfast of sandy powdered eggs and sausages.

Chapter Fifteen - I Join The Show

For the previous two years the battle line in the Middle East had been see?sawing up and down the coastal road from as far west as El Agheila in Libya to East of Tobruk at the Egyptian border. In June of 1942, the German Panzer division, under the command of Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, broke through the defences of the British eighth Army and began an advance that would not stop until they reached El Alamein in Egypt's Western Desert, less than fifty miles from the port of Alexandria.

On the 24th of June, General Ritchie, who had been commanding the British forces, was replaced by General Auckinleck, who was under orders to stop the advance at all costs. El Alamein was the perfect place to set up a defence. It was only a short distance from the sea to the Qattara Depression in the south, thereby making it impossible to be out?flanked by the German panzers. Also, Rommel's lines of communication had lengthened quite rapidly and he was having trouble getting the fuel he needed to continue his advance. The line at El Alamein would be the site where both sides would stop and regroup.

I had flown to the forward landing ground on June 17th, only to be forced to fly back to the base in the early morning hours of the next day. I waited there until the 19th when I was instructed to return to lg 76 where the squadron had reformed after having been scattered by the surprise advance of the German tanks. The coastal road was crowded with retreating British transports and foot soldiers. It seemed that each time the squadron left to go on a sortie, they were instructed to land a few miles east from where they had taken off Before the end of June, we would have been stationed at landing grounds 76, then 115, then 09 to 85 and finally at 97 which was only twenty miles west of the Cairo?Alexandria road . There were times when I heard the pilots wonder aloud if they were going to continue to retreat toward the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, or were we going to go south up the Nile River and continue retreating towards Khartuum. No one knew the answer.

In the midst of all this confusion, my own career on the squadron was launched in a very undignified manner. It was to be my first operational sortie, and I was given the responsibility of flying as No. 2 to the CO, S/LHanbury

As the squadron of P?40s stood line?o?breast waiting for the signal from the CO to take off, I was in my position on his right wing. My instructions were that I was to hold that position and watch for enemy aircraft that might approach from our left rear. I was very nervous and filled with the excitement of the moment. In checking my engine instruments, I noted that my engine was quickly overheating, and I knew that we must begin moving soon or risk engine failure on take?off. Since we had to maintain radio silence, I got the CO's attention and pointing ahead, then asking for a thumbs up OK, I hoped he would let me take off immediately and join up with the squadron in the air. He looked ahead and thinking that I wanted to know if it was all clear ahead, he looked out the side of his cockpit, nodded and gave me a " thumbs up". With that I opened the throttle on the Kitty and went rolling across the gravel on my take?off run, thinking I was all alone. Not surprisingly, when I began to move, the rest of the squadron, thinking it was the CO's plane that was moving, all began to follow me. The CO was the last to join in the take?off. However, he soon took command again and the squadron headed for the enemy lines to do a sweep of the advancing German tanks. In the meantime, I had taken off and done a large climbing circle hoping to join up on the CO's wing when he became airborne. Unfortunately, when I looked back, the squadron had disappeared and I had no idea of where they had gone. I had no choice but to return to the field and land and await the return of the surly S/L Hanbury. I would know what it must feel like for the condemned to face his executioner.

When the squadron returned, my CO had little to say to me, but there was a lot of good-natured ribbing from the other pilots after the CO had retired to his "Office" tent. However, it would be the 29th of June before I would have another chance to fly with the squadron. During the interim, we had retreated still farther to the east to lg 85. Also, my three buddies from the conversion course had finally caught up to us and now were assigned to squadron duty along with me. In the next four months I would fly 54 operational sorties on which we would meet enemy aircraft and be forced to defend ourselves. Our main duties were to harass the enemy ground forces through dive bombing and strafing, and to escort the light bombers (Bostons) on their missions over enemy air fields and troop concentrations.

My first operational flight was relatively easy when compared to the beating the squadron had been taking in the past few weeks. I flew on the bottom echelon, protected by two layers of fighters above me. Our only duty was to fly a reconnaissance mission over the front line area and report any unusual troop movements to our intelligence officer. We were gone for nearly two hours and in all that time we never encountered an enemy aircraft. The flight did a great deal to renew my confidence in myself as I managed to complete the mission without "screwing up". I also learned how the squadron always flew in a "fingers four" formation, which can be best described by holding your hand out in front of you and spreading your four fingers as wide as possible. Your middle finger would be the section leader with his number 2 on his left. Right of your middle finger would be the number three man with his wing man on his right represented by your little finger. In this type of formation the outside men scanned the skies toward the center and rear of the flight. and calling out if any unidentified aircraft were spotted. We flew in three levels of altitude. Bottom cover which was safest, and where all new pilots were given their first experience. Medium cover was at a level above the bottom and below the top cop cover, which was the most dangerous of all since the enemy fighters were almost always higher than we were and attacked the top cover first.

In the weeks that followed, I flew nearly every day and on some days we were required to fly a second sortie. Generally, we escorted the Bostons on their bombing missions and when they had reached their target safely and dropped their bombs, they put their noses down and headed for home at high speed. It was then that we in our Kittyhawks would descend to a very low altitude, and strafe targets of opportunity. We would find enemy trucks and troop encampments. Occasionally we would destroy the anti aircraft guns which had been sending flak up to meet us on our incoming flight.

I was on my fifth sortie, flying number two to the section leader who was Stocky Edwards. We were top cover for the Bostons (How did I get to the top so fast?) when I heard it. One of our section identified himself on the radio and snapped: "Rats at four o'clock, angels two" This meant he had spotted enemy fighters off to our right, two thousand feet above us. My head swung up to the right. There they were; two pencil thin 109s turning toward us. "My God!" I thought to myself. "I'm for it now. They always attack the rear plane in the formation first. That would be me." My palms began to sweat on the control column, and I was not sure what to do next. Then Stocky's cool voice came over the air: "They're coming in???????easy now???????? turnabout right when I say go????? steady now." I watched them coming down from a five o'clock direction. There were two of them and their white spinners loomed closer each second. Weren't we ever going to take evasive action. I was scared to death, but I had to hold my position. They seemed very close now, in easy range, then Edwards snapped a command: "Turnabout right! Go! Go! Go!" At that each of the four of us turned a very steep and tight 180 degree turn and faced the 109's head?on. They were forced to break off their attack and had already started pulling up when they passed us going the opposite direction. One was so close to me I could see the pilot's facial features as he went by. Edwards called again; "Turnabout right, Go!" and we all turned and continued on in the direction we had been going when the attack was made. Our job was still to keep the fighters from reaching the bombers some five thousand feet below us.

A few minutes later another call came over the radio. "Twelve o'clock , they're coming down. I then saw a 109 going straight down in a vertical dive right in front of me. I pushed the stick forward in an attempt to get him in my sights and I squeezed the trigger on my pistol grip all at the same time. I was much too far away to have hit him, but when I heard the loud clatter of my own six 50 caliber machine guns and smelled the cordite in the cockpit I thought for a moment that I myself had been hit by some unseen enemy fire. I quickly climbed back up and sought the security of Edwards' wing. By now the Bostons had reached their target and dropped their bombs on an enemy air field. They turned and headed for home. We turned too and headed for lower altitudes. We knew the 109s couldn't catch us in a dive so we felt fairly secure. Going home I joined the rest of the squadron, strafing trucks and tents until we reached the safety of our side of the battle line. Then we headed for home, our mission complete. I had been baptized and fired my guns for the first time at an enemy airplane. When we landed and reported our results to the Ops officer, I joined the others in telling what I had seen and done. I felt at last that I was one of the boys!

Our aircraft were always widely dispersed in the parking areas. This was to avoid having the planes all nicely lined up when "Gerry" came to strafe us as we often did to him. To get to the parking area required that we taxi through an obstacle course of slit trenches and "Camel humps" . These were three and four foot high mounds of hard sand deposited there when the wind blew the gritty stuff around dead desert bushes that littered the area. Since it was difficult to see what lay in front of the P?40 while taxiing, it was necessary for a ground crew member to sit on the leading edge of the wing near the wing tip and direct the pilot around these wheel traps.

Normally, parking an aircraft was an uneventful task. Oftentimes the ground crew would do it without the pilot's help. On one occasion, for me, the unexpected happened. I was taxiing merrily along, about twenty miles per hour with the crewman sitting on the end of the wing. I turned this way and that at the hand signals he gave to me. Suddenly, he began to wave both arms franticly. He had seen what I did not. We were coming directly on to a camel hump which he had not seen until the last second. As my left wheel climbed up and over the three foot high mound of sand it caused the left wing tip to rise suddenly up about ten feet then drop just as suddenly down again, leaving my crewman sitting in space about fifteen feet off the ground. His arms flailed the air as he tried valiantly to stay aloft. Unfortunately, gravity would prevail and he dropped quickly and unceremoniously to the desert floor. I quickly stopped the aircraft, set the brakes, and rushed out to help him. "Are you hurt?" I asked anxiously as I tried to help him up '"Of course I'm hurt, you dumb ass" he yelled, "Didja think I wouldn't be?" It turned out that he was only slightly bruised. (Those Limeys were a tough lot!) and he never apologized to me for speaking to me in that tone of voice. Nor did I remind him that he should. After that I tried to be a little more careful when I took out to the desert scrub with a man sitting on my wing.

Chapter Sixteen - Stocky Edwards

Allow me to introduce you to: Flight Sergeant James F, "Stocky" Edwards. He was nicknamed Stocky because of his 5' 10" height and a physique akin to the trunk of an oak tree. He was born and raised on a farm near Battleford, Saskatchewan in western Canada, and before he was eighteen years old, he had been offered a chance to try out for the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team. However, fate had other plans in store for Stocky. When the war came along he was driven by national pride and patriotism to join the Royal Canadian Air Force as a pilot trainee. This would lead him to become one of Canada's most successful fighter pilots of World War II. When the war ended, Stocky would hold the rank of Wing Commander (Colonel) and have destroyed 18 aircraft in the air and probably destroyed and additional seven. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar. He was also recommended for the Distinguished Service Order, but the war had ended and the RCAF decided to withhold that distinction. Stocky went on to make a career of flying with the RCAF and is now retired and living in the small town of Comox on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada.

Stocky was one of the first pilots to fly with 260 squadron after its formation, and on his very first flight, a Me 109 suddenly appeared directly in front of him, so he promptly shot it down and claimed his first victory in the air. Although he held only the rank of Flight Sergeant at the time, when I joined the squadron, some two months after Edwards did, he was often placed in command of a flight, and even led the squadron at times when the Squadron Leader was unavailable.. I was given the honor of flying as his number 2 whenever we flew on the same mission, and was with him when he claimed many of his air victories.

There was an occasion on July 6th when our squadron was flying top cover for the Bostons, that we sighted two enemy fighters off to our left. We turned and made our attack from behind them and about at the same altitude. Edwards took on the leader as I fell in behind the second one. I had throttled back in order to stay behind him and was about to fire my guns when the 109 suddenly began a steep climb to avoid my fire. This tactic was often taken since the 109 could easily out? climb the heavier P?40. In any case, I opened my throttle wide and tried to follow him up in his attempt to escape me. I fired from too far away knowing that I had little chance of hitting him from that distance. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a Kittyhawk coming in toward him from his left side. I saw the flashes of fire as the six 50 calibers spewed out their lead. Then the 109 in front of me exploded into a hundred bits and pieces as I flew through the debris. Edwards , who had damaged the first 109 to where it was falling to the ground, had come back to get his second victory by destroying the one that obviously was getting away from me.

The German tactic of climbing to escape our attacks once nearly cost me my life. We had spotted a flight of two 109s (They mostly always flew in pairs) coming directly towards us at about a thousand feet above.. When they got close enough, I foolishly pulled my aircraft up into a vertical climb to have a shot at one. As I rapidly lost flying speed, the aircraft was near a stall when I fired my guns at the 109 as he passed above me. By now I was into an inverted climbing attitude and the aircraft began to shudder violently as it attempted to continue flying. Suddenly, I found myself spinning down in a flat inverted spin. There was no way that I was going to recover control. I watched the altimeter needle going round and round on the dial as the ground loomed closer. I even thought that death would be sudden and painless, and strange as it may seem I felt no great fear. And then a voice told me that I didn't have to die. I had a parachute for this very purpose. I opened the cockpit canopy and released my safety harness. At that instant I was thrown violently out of the aircraft by centrifugal force. I didn't bother counting to three as I been instructed in ground school. I just reached for the rip cord and pulled it as quickly as I could. There was a loud bang as the canopy of the parachute snapped open. And suddenly all the violence had ended and I was quietly drifting toward the ground where I could see my Kittyhawk burning on the spot where it had smashed into the earth below.

But there was more trouble coming! Looking up at the sound of an approaching fighter, I saw a 109, probably the one who had enticed me into this predicament in the first place, diving toward me in an obvious attempt to destroy me in my parachute. In his intense concentration on doing me in, he failed to notice that a Kittyhawk had dropped in behind him, and before he could do his dastardly deed, his own aircraft had been blown to bits, and he himself was drifting down in a parachute only a short distance away. I would later thank my Australian buddy, Ron Cundy, for saving my life.

I was falling into a battle area, probably best described as "No man's land". I was not injured, so as soon as I reached the ground I rid myself of my parachute, and looked around to see what my next move would be. A British half track gun carrier was speeding toward me with the desert dust flying up behind it. The driver barely stopped when they got to me. I was sort of scooped up and we did a U?turn and raced back for our own lines again. I had been rescued by a unit of the Fifth New Zealand division. Another of their units had picked up the German pilot as well, although I was never given the chance to meet him. I wondered if he was hurt and did he survive. And then I promptly forgot about him.

The "Kiwis" took me to the tent of Brigadier General Kippenberger who commanded this division. He greeted me enthusiastically, and asked me if I would like a cold beer. A COLD BEER? On the desert? I certainly would. And so he reached into a burlap covered koolgardi and withdrew a cool bottle of beer for my pleasure. A koolgardi is a wooden frame the size of a small refrigerator. It is covered with burlap cloth and a tray of water is placed on the top with wicks of burlap leading the water to the sides of the koolgardi. This procedure keeps the sides wet all the time and if the whole unit is put in a shady spot where there is a slight breeze. the evaporation of the water keeps the contents inside the box frame quite cool. What will those folks from down under think of next? The General spoke to me for a few minutes and told me how much he appreciated the job the Air Force was doing in supporting his ground troops. He then ordered his driver to take me to a nearby landing field where I was put aboard a "Lysander' which is a short take?off type of observation aircraft. From there I was flown back to my squadron where I was welcomed amid cheers and a few Gin and Lime squashes. I was sorry to learn a few days later that an enemy artillery shell had landed in General Kippenberger's tent on the day after I had spoken to him and he was instantly killed.

There was always good natured revelry whenever anyone "walked back" to the squadron after being shot down and posted as "Missing In Action". Too often they never came back. Our squadron, along with the other squadrons of P?40s and Hurricanes often suffered heavy losses on our missions. This was due , I think, to the superior qualities of the Me 109 which we were encountering, and also to the lack of experience of our own pilots when compared to that of the Germans. Where our new pilots arrived on the squadron, as I had done, without ever having fired a gun at an enemy aircraft, our adversaries had already flown in air battles in Europe and, before that, in the Spanish civil war. The German fighter pilots claimed many victories in the air every day with some, like the famous Hauptmann Hans?Joachim Marseille, who claimed as many as five and six on each flight. He would amass more than 150 air victories before he was himself killed in October of 1942.

I have often credited Stockey Edwards for using his sense of good judgment and creative teamwork to save the lives of the pilots who flew with him. I recall that on the morning of September 5th, 1942, four of us; Edwards, Cundy, Geoffory Fallows ( A New Zealander) and myself were flying top cover as usual when we were suddenly attacked by a flight of 12 to 15 Messerschmitts. It would seem that at least some of us were doomed to go down. Stocky, on seeing that the odds were stacked well against us, ordered us into a line astern formation. That is: one directly behind the other. Since I was Stocky's number 2, I fell in behind him with Cundy behind me and Fallows bringing up the rear. When the first 109 came down, Edwards went into a steep turn and ordered everyone to follow. This put us into what would later be known as a " Defensive circle", much like the wagon trains used to do out west when they were attacked by hordes of Indians. The Jerries could not join in the circle with us for fear that they themselves would become targets of the Kittyhawk that would be behind him. They were left to dive on the circle from above, fire at an elusive target moving at right angles to their attack, then climb back up to try it again. This action went on for more than fifteen minutes. The Germans had emptied their guns at us without scoring a hit, and we had never had an opportunity to return their fire. Finally, they broke off the attack and joined up to head for their home base. Edwards, figured that by now they were low on fuel and certainly out of ammunition. He got us back into our "Fingers Four" formation and said: "Lets get them when they land". I thought he had lost his mind. I had never been so tired and stressed out, and now he was taking us to the Germans' own fighter base. I'm sure we all had Guardian Angels working overtime that day because before we reached our destination, we looked up and saw another squadron of 109s patrolling their base and protecting the returning fighters from intruders such as ourselves. When Stocky saw the welcoming committee awaiting us, he wisely decided it was time for us to go home and lick our wounds. I had never been so happy when I heard those three little words, "Let's go home!"

I still see Stocky Edwards once in a while at reunions and such and we trade letters on a regular basis.

Chapter Seventeen - The Other Enemies

There were other enemies to contend with in the Middle East desert besides the Germans and Italians. First, there was the sand itself. Endless seas of gritty sand. We had sand in our food, sand in our clothes, and worst of all, sand in the engines of our airplanes. The mechanics and engineers fought a tireless war in trying to keep the Allisons from wearing out prematurely. They had special filters fitted on all the air intakes. Besides that, when the aircraft was at rest , and not being serviced. the entire cowling was covered with a canvas protector specially designed to keep out the blowing grit The reason we did our take-offs and landings in a line-o-breast formation was to avoid the engine inhaling the sand storm generated by the whirling propellers.

The Allison engine which powered the original P-40s did not fare well in the desert heat and sand. It was estimated that we lost as many aircraft and pilots due to engine failure as we did to the enemys' Air Forces. That may have been a slight exaggeration; however there were many instances of engines suddenly overheating and seizing up and in some cases even exploding in the air, for no particular reason except that sand had gotten into the oil and just ground down the running parts. The Allison engineers were constantly visiting the squadron, trying to correct the situation but to no avail. Finally, in about October of 1942, we began to receive a new P-40 which we called the "Warhawk". It was fitted with a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, which was built in America by Packard under license from the British firm. Besides performing better in the sandy environment, it was also equipped with a two speed supercharger which allowed us to increase our operating altitude from 12,000 feet up to 24,000 feet. For a while we surprised our German friends by diving on them from above, just as they had been doing to us for the past many months. But, eventually, they just climbed up to 27,000 feet and it was the same game all over again.

The wind could blow the sand into a torrent of blinding grit at times. When these sand storms occurred we had to take refuge in the available tents. To be caught outside meant that eyes, ears, and mouth would soon be filled with a fine dust. Also, since visibility in one of the storms was reduced to nearly zero, it meant that all flying operations had to be curtailed until the storm passed.

Our other enemy was the nomadic Arab tribes that roamed the desert to the south of the battle areas. These pirates of the desert, were enemy to all sides. If a pilot of either the Allied or the Axis Air forces happened to fall into their hands, they would hold the pilot for ransom and deliver him to whatever side would pay the most for his safe return. Of course this practice did not endear them to either side and it was not unusual for a fighter pilot to "test" his guns when he came across a caravan moving across the desert in daylight. Mostly these nomads stayed well hidden during the day and travelled in the darkness of the night. It was one of these Arabs that caused me to make a crash landing on the morning of September 16th. On the day before, our squadron had returned from a mission to find that our landing ground was obscured by one of the infamous sand storms. We had to land at a field near the village of Idku in the more fertile Nile valley. We parked the aircraft wherever we could find space and went into town to find sleeping quarters for the night. The following morning, the day dawned bright and clear and the sand storm at our landing ground had subsided. Twelve of us started our engines and took off for our home base.

I had been in the air only a few minutes and had climbed up to about 3000 feet when my number two called me on the radio and suggested that I check my oil pressure. He informed me that there was oil coming out of someplace under my aircraft and the oil slick covered the entire side of the plane. At about the same time as he called to tell me this, I had already noticed my oil pressure beginning to fall and the oil temperature was rapidly rising. I was still a good ten minutes away from home. I throttled back and saying a little prayer, I kept only enough power to maintain my altitude. I knew the Rolls-Royce had been known to run for a while without oil. I hoped this one would.

Finally, our field came up on the horizon and I started to feel better. It looked like I might make it. Even though the pressure had dropped to zero and the temperature was well into the red part of the dial, the engine showed no signs of stopping. The landing ground was well in view now and I throttled back to make a straight in approach. My number two was still flying beside me although there was nothing he could offer in the way of help. I lowered my undercarriage and put down a few degrees of flap.

Doing this caused me to slow down considerably and I judged that I was going to undershoot the field. No problem, just add a little throttle. When I moved the throttle forward the engine stopped with a loud thumping sound. Perhaps a connecting rod had broken in the engine, It didn't matter now, I was going to make a crash landing a few yards short of the field. In those few yards were the slit trenches and "Camel humps" of the dispersal parking area. If I was going to land in that obstacle coarse, I would want my wheels up.

Of course, without the engine, I had no hydraulic pump to retract my undercarriage. That would have to be done manually now, using a wobble pump. I was still at about 1500 feet when the engine stopped, so now flying with my left hand and vigorously operating the wobble pump with my right hand, the wheels slowly began to retract. I knew I would never have time to get them up, but at least I could get them unlocked and started up so that when contact was made with the ground, the gear would just collapse into the wings.

I was only twenty feet off the ground when I started to level off and bleed off any excessive speed. The ground below was rough with "Camel humps" of hard sand and rock. I locked my Sutton harness tightly back in preparation for the crash. The P-40 was sinking now as I kept trying to keep its nose in the air. And them came the awful sound of metal crashing and smashing against the hard ground. There was a large fireball of flame that erupted from under the broken cowling, and the fire began to ignite the oil slick on the side of the fuselage. Before the doomed aircraft had come to rest. I released my harness and rolled back the canopy. Then I took off over the side of the cockpit , down on the wing and running as fast as I could with a parachute still strapped to my back, I jumped off the end of the wing on to the ground and continued for another hundred feet. I fully expected the burning aircraft would explode at any second now.

But it didn't; it just burned with a lot of hot flames. I sat down on my parachute pack and watched it, thankful that I had been able to escape before the flames reached into the cockpit. It was not long before a crowd of onlookers had arrived from the squadron base which was only a quarter mile away. A fire truck came on the scene from out of nowhere and several "Volunteers'" began to unroll the hoses that were stored in its rear compartment. When the pumps were turned on the hoses leaked like a sprinkling system from every crease where the hose had been folded. Finally, they gave up and just let the fire burn itself out.

On the following morning, the chief engineer and I returned to inspect the burned out hulk which by now had cooled off. We discovered that about twenty holes had been punched into the oil radiator with some sharp instrument. Consequently, after I had started the engine on the morning before, and the oil began to heat up, much of it was lost as it made its way through the cooling radiator. It took only about twenty minutes to pump out the entire eight gallons that was the capacity of the oil tank. We surmised that one of our more questionable Arab friends had found his way to where the aircraft was parked at Idku and sabotaged the oil radiator sometime in the middle of the night

This was the second Kittyhawk from which I had narrowly escaped becoming a casualty. Although my squadron buddies had begun to call me "Lucky", I felt that the pendulum would have to swing the other way. Soon I would have to even the score. Although I had destroyed my share of enemy equipment on the ground, I had yet to claim my first victory in the air. I was determined that I would have to try harder.!

Chapter Eighteen - I Get Even

By the tenth of October, 1942, we began to see many changes taking place in the desert campaign. General Montgomery had taken over the British eighth army and there was a large build up of equipment and troops evident from the air.. We, as a squadron were beginning to fly two sorties on many days when up until now we had only been required to fly one. Rumors were rampant that a big attack was coming soon but no one had any idea od when it might be. Another strange event took place at that time. Prime Minister Winston Churchill took time from his busy schedule to come and visit the troops on the desert. Our squadron had been given the privilege of escorting his plane from place to place as he visited the various troop concentrations near the front line. Now why would he be out here unless something big was about to happen soon?

There were changes taking place on our squadron as well. Squadron Leader Hanbury had been given leave to go for a rest in England. He was replaced by a Rhodesian, S/L Devonish. We did not know where Devonish had come from, but we soon learned that he had no stomach for flying Kittyhawks, and unless it was going to be a very obvious "Cakewalk", he usually found some reason that he could not go with us on many of our sorties. It was now left to F/Sgt Edwards and F/Lt Cundy to lead the squadron until another Squadron Leader could be found. Also, since we had suffered unusually high casualties in the past month, I had become one of the senior members of the squadron and was now leading sections of four. I began this by first leading those sections on close cover to the bombers. This meant that my section was protected by eight to twelve fighters flying high above us and we seldom got involved with enemy fighters. Actually, the close cover of fighters had begun to carry five hundred pound bombs and had become fighter-bombers.

The Battle of El Alamein began at 2200 hours on the night of October 24th.. We had no warning until late afternoon of that day. We should have gotten a clue since we had been flying two sorties a day for the week before, bombing German gun positions and strafing troops wherever we could find them. At ten o'clock that night we saw the desert sky light up with the flashes from thousands of artillery guns. Moments later the ground around us shook with the noise of the gunfire that was being generated some twenty miles away. The artillery barrage lasted the entire night and into the next day. Never before in the war had there been such a concentration of shellfire. Our job was going to be to protect our ground troops from being harassed by the German fighters.

On October 26th, I had graduated to leading the top cover. Promotion seemed quick in those days! Dick Dunbar, a Canadian who had come on the squadron only a month before was my number two. We were escorting Bostons over the town of El Daba when the radio silence was broken.

"Rats at nine o'clock, angels zero!"

I quickly looked to my left and there they were at our same altitude, two Me. 109's already in a steep diving turn on our section. At almost the same instant there was another report of 109's attacking the lower sections where Edwards was leading. It was too late for us on top cover to turn about and face our attackers as we usually did. We would have to fight them in any way we could. The first attack was made on Dunbar as he was the outside man on the "fingers four" formation we were flying. He went into a steep diving turn to the left hoping to evade his attacker, but the German had expected that move and just dropped in behind him. I had lost sight of the second 109, but I saw my opportunity when I dived left to help Dunbar and his attacker appeared suddenly right in front of me. I knew he was concentrating on Dunbar's aircraft since he made no effort to get away from me. He was at perfect range when I squeezed the trigger on the control column. The six fifty calibers hurled lead and fire into the German's tail section. I saw parts of the tail explode and fly off as the Gerry broke off his attack on Dunbar and pulled up into a steep climb, which was always the way they knew they could escape. This time it didn't work for him. His aircraft went into a half roll and he was soon spinning out of control toward the ground down below.

I could not follow him down as I would have liked to as there were other enemy fighters all around and Dunbar and I had to get back up to do our job of protecting the bombers below us. Edwards had destroyed the leader of the second group of 109's that had gone in below us. When the fight was over we had destroyed three of the four who had attacked us . Sgt Thomas who was flying with Edwards had earned his first air victory as well as I. Unfortunately, my friend Dick Dunbar was killed in action only a few days later.

Two days later, on October 28th, I had another opportunity to claim a victory. I was again flying top cover duty on a fighter sweep over the enemy troops. We all carried a five hundred pound bomb on these sweeps. When we reached the target area, we would go into an echelon formation and roll over into a steep dive lining up with the target on the way down. It might be a truck or a concentration of tanks; whatever we thought would make a good target in the short time we had to decide would have to do. When we had the selected target in our sights we would release the bomb, then continue down to ground level where we would empty our guns strafing trucks, tents or troops. Anything that we came up on was vulnerable.

On this day we, on the top cover, had not reached the target area when we spotted two Me 109's below us. They were positioning themselves to attack the leading section of the squadron which was below and in front of us. I gave the order for my section to jettison their bombs and we turned and dived to the attack. I picked out the rear aircraft of the two and dropped in behind him. I had my throttle completely closed so that I would not over shoot and end up in front of him. He must have seen me in his mirror, for when he took evasive action I was directly behind him at about two hundred yards. I eased the throttle open again and began to close the distance between us. Suddenly, he nosed the 109 over into a steep dive and headed for the ground. This was a serious mistake on his part. There was no way that a 109 could escape from a P-40 in a dive.. We could go faster and pull out later because of the greater weight and strength of the Kittyhawk airframe. I rolled over into a dive and followed him down, confident that my number two was behind me giving me cover.. As I got closer and our speed increased, I began firing short bursts at him. I could see my DeWilde ammunition sparkle as it exploded when it contacted his aircraft. The dive steepened and we were getting perilously close to the ground. Why was he not trying to pull up? I knew I was hitting him but the 109 stayed intact. I glanced quickly at my instruments. I was indicating well over 400 miles per hour and my altitude was only about 4000 feet.. I would have to break off the attack and begin levelling off or risk crashing into the ground. As I began pulling up, I lost sight of the 109 beneath my wing, but as the ground slid by quickly beneath me I saw his plane hit the ground and explode into a ball of flame. I had managed to level off with only about five hundred feet to spare. I had won my second victory in almost as many days.

I used the momentum of speed that I had accumulated to quickly climb back up to twelve thousand feet where I would resume my patrol. I learned on the way up that my number two had wisely chosen not to follow me down but had remained circling above to give me cover until I returned. The two of us joined up but we could not find the remainder of the squadron which had been split up by the initial attack. Also, I was running low on fuel by this time and I knew that my ammunition must be nearly exhausted. I decided that we would go back to low level and strafe what we could find on our way home. When we got back we learned that Squadron Leader Hanbury had been killed when the transport in which he was being carried back to England was shot down over the Bay of Biscay. He would be missed my many of his squadron pilots.

Chapter Nineteen - Two's A Crowd

The battle at El Alamein had been raging for more than ten days. It was apparent now that the Axis forces would have to pull back. There was no longer any resistance from the German army and the Luftwaffe had almost disappeared from the skies. In the last few days, although we had been flying two and three sorties a day, we were encountering fewer and fewer enemy aircraft. The coastal road running between El Alamein and Mersa Matruh was solid with German utility vehicles and walking troops making their way back to the west. What had started as an organized retreat was turning into a full-scale rout.

At 0600, on the morning of November the third, we took off on what was to be a routine sweep of the coastal road to harass the retreating German and Italian troops. Since there was no longer much resistance from the German Luftwaffe, our Squadron Leader Devonish elected to lead this mission himself. He led the four Warhawks on the bottom flight while Edwards took lead of medium cover. I had my section of four on top cover again. Normally, in these early morning attacks, we would fly a short ways past our selected target then make a 180 degree turn and attack from west to east along the coastal road. In this way, although we would be flying into the sun as we concentrated on our target, we would have a clear view of what might be behind us if we ourselves became the attacked.

However, on this occasion, and no one will ever know why, S/L Devonish picked out a target on the road in front of us and ordered the squadron to begin their descent. To watch out behind us we looked directly into the rising sun, so it was almost impossible to be sure we were safe. The leading section of four had already reached a level close to the road, with Edwards' section about five hundred yards behind them. My section brought up the rear about the same distance behind Edwards. Suddenly, events that had seemed to be routine, took a dramatic change .Within the time space of about two or three seconds. a German pilot would lose his life, and mine would forever be changed.

There had been no warning from anyone that "Rats" were in the vicinity. I happened to glance straight up and sitting there about a hundred feet above me and a little ahead of me was a single Messerschmitt 109 who was making a diving attack on Edwards in the section ahead of me. At the instant that I saw him, he was seen also by Edwards who looked back and saw a large white spinner of a 109 sitting right on his tail. Edwards screamed into the radio:

"Turnabout right, turnabout right, go! go! go!"

But it was too late. I had already started up, firing as I went, to intercept the 109 before he could fire his 20 mm cannon. As Edwards started to turn, the German turned with him and in doing so, he came directly into my line of flight. I saw the black crosses on the bottom side of his wings and I knew that I was going squarely between them. There was a soft sound of a "whoomf" as my left wing cut through his fuselage, neatly cutting his plane in half while at the same time shearing off most of my own wing on that side. The 109 went straight down into the ground, while I continued in an upward direction with the help of the speed at which I was traveling before the accident happened. My aircraft was now tumbling upwards completely out of control. I glanced quickly outside the cockpit and when I saw the wing was gone, I knew that all was lost. I then rolled back the canopy and once again I released myself from my harness and was thrown violently out of the cockpit by an invisible centrifugal force.

I felt no pain as I left the aircraft and a broken antenna wire slid along my thigh inflicting a deep gash in my upper leg. When I pulled the ripcord and the 'chute opened I first looked down to see how close I was to the ground. Not very far! Then I noticed my torn pant leg was covered with blood and I wondered how badly I was hurt. Maybe my leg was broken. What would happen when I hit the ground?. My mind raced with all the possibilities. As I looked down towards the spot where I would likely land, I saw an Italian soldier calmly set aside the pan in which he was preparing his breakfast, and he picked up his rifle as he waited for me to arrive. Other soldiers were also running toward the area. This possibly would be the end for me. They had to be upset with us. We had been strafing them every hour or two for the past week. They would not be happy to see me.

In a few moments I had hit the ground and there being no wind the 'chute collapsed around me. I was immediately surrounded by a half dozen Italians who had their rifles pointed at my head waiting for someone to make the next move. Almost immediately, a German staff car appeared on the scene, and a German officer approached all the while shouting orders at the soldiers who surrounded me. The German took off my shirt and wrapped it tightly around my bleeding leg. An Italian took off my shoes and I never saw them again.

The German then pointed at a nearby truck and ordered me to be put into the passenger seat. He then designated a driver from the group and sent the others away to continue with whatever they had been doing before I had arrived. Then he went on his way as well.

Now things were quieting down a little and I began to get my wits about me. I was in a GMC stake truck which the Germans had probably captured on a previous campaign. I had an Italian driver who spoke no English but had been ordered to take me to a nearby field hospital. There was only one problem. This Italian had never driven a truck or any other vehicle and was completely dumbfounded as to how to proceed. With the use of some sign language, and physically helping him to shift the gears, we did manage to get the vehicle started and rolling in one of the lower gears. Then he steered us wildly around various obstacles until we arrived at the Red Cross tent about a mile from where we had started. When we stopped. I patted him on the back and thanked him over and over again. Not so much for bringing me here, but for not killing us both in doing so.

Some orderlies took me from the truck and laid me on a stretcher. There were wounded men lying on stretchers all around the tent. I was taken directly inside where I saw two parallel rows of operating tables with a man's body on each one. A basket, partially filled with body parts was near the door. Doctors and orderlies moved swiftly from one table to the other checking on the progress of each patient. I was soon on one the tables myself and again I began to wonder what was going to happen to me. I still felt no pain. Could my wound be so serious that I would be put ahead of all those I saw outside lying in the sun? A doctor came over to my table and had an orderly remove my shirt bandage. He then cut away the torn parts of my pant leg to get a better look at how bad the situation was. It looked bad to me. All I saw was torn flesh and white parts of a bone . I closed my eyes and looked away.

The doctor asked me if I spoke German. I told him: "Nein" He had noticed the "Canada" patch on my shirt and asked me in French: "Parlez-vous Francais?" "Oui" I answered, glad now that we would at least be able to converse. "Your wound is very bad" he said in French, "and it is very high on your leg. It has also been covered with sand and flies for some time. There is a very good chance for an infection. It would be my suggestion that we remove the leg now before gangrene sets in, because if that happens, we possibly could not save your life." I must have paled at that suggestion. I could not imagine myself without a leg. "No" I said. "Please leave the leg and do what you can without taking it off. I will take my chances with an infection". He shrugged his shoulders and said "Well, it's up to you, I am too busy to argue about it"

With that he ordered me to be given a sedative, which put me to sleep for a short time. When I awoke, I was still on the table, but my leg had been cleaned of all loose flesh and they had dusted it heavily with sulfur powder. They then put a dry bandage over the wound and wrapped it loosely with a gauze tape. The orderlies then went about other business and I did not see the doctor again. Before I was removed from the hospital tent, a German officer accompanied by two NCOs came up to me and introduced themselves. They asked me if I knew of Hauptmann Joachim Marseille. I said that I did not. They then told me that he had been killed when my aircraft had collided with his. I offered my condolences and they went away. It was not until I had reported this incident to the authorities in the prison camp that I learned that he was one of the Luftwaffe's leading aces with more than 150 victories to his credit. It was later reported by the German press that Marseille had been killed when his aircraft caught fire in the air and his parachute had failed to open. The real truth will probably never be known. But I think it was strange that a German officer with two of his men would have taken the time to come and report this to me when they must have had many more important things to do.

By four o'clock in the afternoon I had been put into the back of another truck and was headed down the same road that we had been strafing every day . At one point we were attacked and the Germans helped me off the truck and into a roadside trench as I watched my own squadron go by at about a hundred feet above the road. I wish I could have hitched a ride home. Instead, I was put back into the truck and taken to the dock area of the town of Mersa Matruh. From there I was put aboard a Red Cross hospital ship and taken to a hospital in Athens, Greece, to begin my time as a prisoner of war. As they said: "For me the war was over!"

Chapter Twenty - The War Is Not Over Yet

Less than one day had passed when it began to dawn on me that my road of life was to take a considerable detour. I was lying on a stretcher aboard a Greek hospital ship which was moored in the harbor of Mersa Matruh. Only yesterday morning I had been strafing the road between Mersa Matruh and El Alamein, when I had the misfortune of colliding with an attacking Me 109, and after successfully baling out I had been taken prisoner by the same German troops I had been trying to destroy. Rommel's panzer division was now in full retreat and the town of Mersa Matruh had been liberated by the British eighth army. From my position on the deck of this red cross vessel I could see British "Tommies" walking along the docks of the harbor. Unfortunately for me and a few others in my predicament they made no effort to "Rescue" us as it was a violation of the Geneva convention to attack any vehicle or ship bearing the identification of the red cross. As a result, shortly after daybreak we sailed quietly out of the harbor away from the battle area and for me away from my freedom for the next three years.

The hospital ship was manned by Greek sailors although they were under the command of officers of the German navy.. Most of the patients were wounded German troops who occupied the hospital beds available. For myself and a few other British POWs, we had to be content with a spot on the open deck. We had not been given any food since our capture the day before. Although food was not uppermost in our minds at that time, I had begun to feel hungry by midday and wondered what our first meal in captivity would be like. It turned out the Germans had no plans to feed us until we arrived in Athens early the following morning. Sometime during the night I was nudged awake by the foot of one of the Greek sailors who I saw was standing beside my stretcher with his back towards me. He had his hands clasped behind his back in a nonchalant manner as he appeared to be gazing out to sea and the starry night sky. When he was sure it was safe, his hands opened and a peeled hard boiled egg fell onto my blanket. I quickly snatched it and drew it under the blanket so that it would not be seen by a passing German guard. Pulling the blanket over my head I those Greek sailors who risked severe punishment by smuggling food to us when they knew we were hungry.

We were transported through Athens in open transport trucks escorted by a contingent of German guards. In a short time I found myself established in a semi private room which I shared with a private from the 5th New Zealand division who had been wounded and captured about the same time as I had been. At last we began to receive some more civil treatment. We were bathed and had our wounds checked by the Greek medical staff and then we had our first meal in two days. The date was the 5th of November 1942. I was to be there until sometime in the middle of February before my leg had healed enough for me to travel.

As my roommate and I became better acquainted, he told me one day that he thought we had met before. He said that my face looked familiar to him. I could not think of any time when our paths might have crossed. He asked me if I was familiar with the fifth New Zealand division of which he was a member. I said that my only contact with them had been on another occasion when I had baled out over the battle area and had been rescued by that group and taken to their leader who was Brigadier General Kippenberger. My friend threw up his hands and said: "Hell, man, I was driving the half track that came out and picked you up!" It's a small world after all

My stay at the hospital was fairly comfortable. I was well treated by the Greek staff, who after all, were prisoners themselves since their country had been occupied by the German army. A cute nurse would occasionally kiss my cheek to awaken me for my morning bath. That stopped when I waited for her one morning feigning sleep and threw my arm around her neck as she bent over me. She no longer would come within arms reach of me. I begged her forgiveness to no avail. A barber would come in every two weeks and cut our hair. He and I became good friends and denounced the German "Pigs of War" whenever it was safe to talk about them.

My leg healed slowly, as there had been a great deal of flesh torn away by the antenna wire as I baled out of my disabled aircraft. After about a month I was allowed to walk on crutches. and earned some freedom to walk about the hospital. The German guards paid little attention to us as there was a Red Cross representative at the hospital at all times to see that we received proper treatment and care. In the middle of February I was told that I would be leaving for a regular prison camp. I was not told where that would be, but I expected I would be taken to Germany.

On the evening before I was to leave the hospital, my barber came to say good bye and he gave me a handful of paper money;. twenty-five thousand Drachmas. I thought it must be his entire fortune and he decided to make me a millionaire. I seemed to recall somewhere in my past that a drachma was worth about .25 cents If that were true he had given me more than $6000. I thanked him profusely and put the money in a safe place in my clothing. The next morning I was ushered into a staff car and along with a personal guard who would be with me until we reached the prison camp, we were taken to the train station and put aboard a special train loaded with German troops and a few walking wounded such as myself.. While we waited for the train to leave the station, an apple vendor came along the station platform sell his wares. Since I now felt very rich I asked my guard if I would be allowed to buy some of the apples and give them to some of our fellow travellers. He agreed that I could. so I leaned out the window and stopped the vendor asking him to hand me a hatful of his apples. This he did, and when I offered to pay him I was surprised to see that he wanted all of my drachmas and he also wanted half of his apples returned. Oh well, so much for being a millionaire in a country torn by inflation and worthless paper money.

Our journey to Germany took several days but they were basically uneventful. We travelled up the Danube valley and passed through many well known capital cities like Sophia and Budapest. When our stops at stations were long enough, my guard would escort me into the station for a meal. Generally it was bread and cheese chased down by a glass of local beer. Finally we arrived in the town of Magdeburg, Germany. The February night was bitter cold and I had no coat. At the station I was handed over to two other guards. I was taken to a truck where there were several other Air Force prisoners and more guards. My situation took a turn for the worse. These guards (Goons as we later called them) were not friendly. They hurried us along with yells of " Schnell! Schnell!" and prodded us in the back with their rifle butts. I was learning what prisoner life was going to be like. We were taken in the dark to a camp known as Dulag Luft, an interrogation camp for allied Air Force prisoners. We were given no information or hint of what was going to happen to us. We were herded down a dark passageway in one of the buildings. There were cell doors on each side of the center hall. Each door contained a small six by eight inch barred window which I noted were all closed. When I came to what would be my "Room" the door was opened and I was roughly pushed into it and the door slammed shut with a clang of metal against metal. I was in a dark room with no light except for what was a small barred window at the top of the outside wall of the cell. In the shadows I could make out a small cot which took up more than half of the space in the room. I lay down and covered myself with the single blanket that was provided and willed myself to fall asleep so that I could escape for a while the situation which had befallen me.

Chapter Twenty One - Dulag Luft

Dulag Luft was the term the Germans gave to the interrogation camp they reserved for allied Airforce prisoners of war. Every allied officer who had the misfortune to fall into German hands was taken to this camp for his initial interrogation. The camp consisted of the German compound which held the administration and interrogation offices. These buildings were one storey wooden barracks type buildings. The prisoner compound was a concrete block building divided into four foot by eight foot solitary confinement cells. The cells had four concrete walls with a small six inch by twelve inch barred window on the outside wall and a heavy steel door which opened onto a center hall. The door also had a small window which could be opened or closed from the outside only. Mostly it was kept closed. Inside the room was a single cot covered by a straw mattress and a pillow of the same material. The only other items in the cell were a blanket and a pail to be used for emergencies only

For our comfort we were taken three or four times a day to the latrine. Usually after each meal and again before bedtime. Our meals were brought to our cells room service style. In the morning, a bowl of barley porridge, and coffee. Lunch, a lentil type soup and a slice of black bread and for supper a dish of boiled potatoes and sauerkraut. YUK! We were never to have contact with any of the other prisoners either by sound or by sign and we were always kept separated when we might be in the same room such as the latrine.

Fortunately, Dulag Luft was a transient camp and no one stayed there more than a few days. Of course you have no way of knowing that when you are taken there so you begin to wonder if this is where you are going to spend the rest of the war. As for myself, I was escorted to the interrogation office the morning after I had arrived. I was invited to sit in a chair in front of a modest desk and await the arrival of the interrogation officer. Lieutenant Piebert (Not his real name) came into the room carrying a file folder which he layed on the desk. as he seated himself behind the desk facing me. "Good morning ,Mr. Gilboe" he said in perfect English with an American accent. "I hope you had a comfortable night. Would you like a cigarette?" he continued as he offered me one from a pack of an American brand. I politely refused, since I did not smoke at the time, so he continued with our business.

"I see by your file " which he had now opened, "That you have been our guest for nearly four months. The war has changed very much in the area from which you came" Actually the Germans had been driven out of Africa by the time I reached the Dulag Luft. "I am sure that there is nothing you can tell us that would be of any value to us". He continued to thumb through the nine or ten pages of my file.

"You are from Windsor, Ontario" he said, "I know the town very well. You see I lived in Chicago for many years and when I visited Detroit, I often crossed the river to have dinner in Windsor". This was probably true, as many Americans used to visit the Canadian restaurants in those days to have one of the traditional roadhouse dinners that were served there. " I see also " he continued , "that your parents still live there with your two younger brothers. I'm sure that you are anxious to let them know that your are safe now and where you are located. You will be given paper and pencil to write to them soon"

And so the interview went on for another thirty minutes. I said very little, but I was surprised that the Germans would have bothered to collect so much information regarding my home life. All the information they had in the folder could have been obtained from public records and the local newspaper. He told me that they kept a file on all allied aircrew because of the good chance that some day they would be shot down and captured. He also told me that he would arrange to have me sent to a prison camp where other members of my squadron were being held. They knew my squadron number from examining the wreckage of my aircraft.

Finally, he asked me if there was anything I needed. I had been given a battle dress uniform ( similar to an Eisenhower jacket ) while I was in Greece. But now in the middle of the cold German winter I needed something warmer. I asked for an overcoat and some kind of headwear. He said he would take care of it, and he did. The lieutenant stood up and offered me his hand. He wished me good luck and hoped that the war would be over soon so that I could go home and that he too could return to his home in Chicago.

I was returned to my cell after that interview and later that day I was escorted to another building where I was outfitted with the heavier clothing I would need for the trip I would be taking early the next morning.

Chapter Twenty Two - Schubin

We boarded the train in Magdeburg sometime in the early morning hours before daybreak. The morning was cold and still with about an inch of new fallen snow covering the ground making everything look bright and clean. Six of us were RAF officers along with an equal number of German guards. We had left the Dulag compound in the back of a covered stake truck. No one told us where we were going nor how long we would be in getting there,. and although no one had told us we could not speak, everyone was quiet and seemed to be wrapped up in his own thoughts.

The train was a regular passenger train in which we took up two compartments. there being three officers and three guards in each compartment. The platform was crowded with German servicemen and civilians, none of whom paid us any attention, for which we were very grateful. Daylight bombing of German cities had not begun in earnest at this time. Had it been a year later we would have had reason to fear the civilian population who by then were wanting to vent their rage on any allied prisoner they could get their hands on.

Finally, everyone was aboard and we began to move slowly out of the station. The sun had begun to shed its daylight on the snow covered roofs of the houses that we were passing and after a while we deduced that since the sun was rising ahead of us , we had to be going east. And east it was, all that day and into the following night.. We never seemed to be going very fast and we made many stops along the way. Occasionally, one of the guards would get off at a station stop and bring us bread and cheese and some "Ersatz" (imitation) coffee. We thought the coffee was made from ground up acorns. I never knew where it came from, only that it was hot and tasted terrible.

In the afternoon of the next day, we arrived in Schubin in the western part of German occupied Poland. This was our destination. All the time on the train, very few words had been spoken. None of the RAF officers knew each other and none of the guards admitted to speaking English, although I was sure that if anything was said between us that would be of value to the German intelligence it would reach them from the next station stop. Now that we were getting ready to detrain we began wondering aloud to each other what kind of a place we would be going to. All we had seen in passing during the last few hours were field after field of frozen countryside.

Again we were put into trucks and we started off down some narrow country roads. In about an hour the truck slowed and came to a stop. A different guard came around to the back of the truck and told us politely to follow him. We had arrived at Oflag XXIB, a small camp for British prisoners of war. Our first stop was in the German orderly room where we were individually photographed and a thumb print was placed on what was to be our identification card. The German commandant reminded us of the rules to which we were to adhere while we were his guests. No attempts at escaping would be tolerated. To be outside the barracks after dark invited instant death, and we were expected to be prompt at all roll calls and follow German orders implicitly. If we agreed to all these stipulations we would be allowed to join our friends in the prison compound. We eagerly agreed.

When a representative of the Senior British Officer came to escort us into the prison compound, I felt a great wave of relief, and although we were still very definitely prisoners of war, there was a sense of freedom in being away from the enemy's direct control, and being back among friends again. We were introduced to the SBO and then taken separately to rooms where we were mildly interrogated by small committees of our own people. What squadron were we with? How were we captured? Did we know of anyone who might now be a POW? It generally was not hard to prove to this inquisitive group that you really were who you said you were. They were taking care that we had no infiltration of German spies into our camp. The next step was to arrange for a hot shower as most of us had not had a real bath for some time and we must have smelled terrible. The Germans allowed about forty prisoners at a time to leave the compound and have a hot shower about once a month. Occasionally, someone would try to escape from the shower patrol and we would then lose that privilege until the commandant felt we had been punished enough. Cold showers were available in the camp, and felt good on a hot summer day, but in the bitter cold of the Polish winter, a great value was placed on the availability of hot water.

We then went through the procedures of being assigned a room which we could share with seven other men and what was to become the real day to day life of being a POW began at that time. The barracks, which we called huts, were a center hall plan with doors to the outside located at each end. They were built entirely of wood, and had five rooms on each side of the hall. Each room was sixteen feet square and was furnished with four double bunks made of wood with wooden slats and the usual straw mattress and pillow Everyone was issued a blanket and a towel for his personal use. In the middle of the room was a picnic like table and benches on each side to seat the eight roomies. In one corner of the room was a small coal stove for which we were issued three coal briquettes a day. The only other furniture in the room was a cupboard where dishes and community food was kept. Each man had a small locker in the center hall for his personal belongings. These arrangements were common to nearly all the allied prison camps in Germany.

Other buildings in the camp were a kitchen where hot water was available before each meal with which we could prepare food or make tea. There was another building which housed the barber shop , the library and a couple of empty rooms which were used for study or teaching. I tell you all this so that you will have some conception of what life was like on a daily basis. On a typical day, after an early morning roll call on the parade square, one of us would go to the kitchen early in the morning and stand in line for up to an hour to bring back about a gallon of hot water so that we could make our breakfast tea. He would also bring back a smaller container of barley goo which if we didn't use it for breakfast, we used later in the day disguised as something else. Breakfast usually consisted of one thin slice of heavy black bread spread with oleo and jam and a cup of tea. Lunch would be the same except that the bread would be spread with sardines from a Red Cross package if they were available. Dinner would be a sumptuous meal of barley goo and a slice of Spam (Also from the Red Cross), and another slice of black bread and dessert might be barley goo with cocoa mixed into it. to make a sort of pudding.

The day was spent by walking around the outside perimeter of the camp at least twice a day for exercise. It was at this time that escape plans were discussed, since the walk path was secure from guards who might otherwise be listening from under the floors or even in the next room. After our walks we had to amuse ourselves. We were not allowed to work by the rules of the Geneva Convention, so we busied ourselves reading, studying or playing sports when the weather permitted. The days could be long or short depending on how adaptable you were at finding things to do.

On the subject of escape we were told that it was our duty to try even though the chances were slim that we would be successful. However, before an escape could be attempted, permission had to be obtained from the X committee. This group of experienced escapers would evaluate your plan, help you if it had merit, deny you if it had none, and make sure that you did not interfere with someone else's plan which might be in progress at the same time as yours. It wasn't long before a new found friend and I had devised a way to get out. We were convinced that we would try it.

Chapter Twenty Three - Escape

Before we can discuss the possibility of escape from this camp, it will be necessary to understand how the Germans attempted to make it secure. First, they enclosed the entire camp with a double row of ten foot high wire fencing, topped by coils of barbed wire. The two rows of fence were separated by a space of about ten feet which was filled from the ground up to the top with more coils of barbed wire piled one upon the other. This made cutting a hole through the fence almost impossible, hence most POW escapes were through tunnels dug underneath the wire. To be sure that we did not inspect the fence too closely, a trip wire, so called because it was a single strand of wire set on small posts about knee level, was placed about twenty feet inside the main fence, That area outside the trip wire was out of bounds and was protected by sentries who manned twenty foot high towers about every hundred feet along the main fence line. They had orders to shoot anyone who ventured into this prohibited area. Even if we had a ball or other sporting equipment find its way into this area we could not retrieve it until we had discussed the problem with the security guard on duty and received specific instructions on how to enter the area and how and where to exit again. Even at that it was sometimes questionable as to how safe you would be even with permission.

There was only one entrance gate to the camp from outside the compound, and though it was only a simple gate much like a farmer would use for his livestock, it was guarded at all times by a sentry who inspected everyone's papers of authority as they went in and out of the camp. Inside the camp there were German guards patrolling at all times looking for signs of possible tunnels being dug. We called these guards " ferrets " as they were often under the huts probing the ground with long steel rods or listening for underground sounds with listening devices. The German guards became known to us as "goons" and when one of them entered one of the huts, there would be several loud calls from some of our own guards who would yell "Goon in the block'" in order to warn anyone who might be working on some escape material. After dark each night the hut doors were locked from the outside and the same ferrets patrolled through the night only at that time they used dogs to help them locate errant POWs who might be hiding in some dark corner of the camp. We were allowed to open our room windows if we wished but there could be no lights showing as the entire camp was blacked out as was all of Germany at that time.

So there you have it. A thumbnail sketch of what the potential escapee had to contend with. Even so, there were many attempts made that had little or no chance of succeeding. But, the attempt meant that more Germans would be required to guard the prison camps and even more if they had to search the surrounding countryside if one of us actually got out. The more men used for this purpose meant fewer men available for the front lines.

We saw many strange and amusing methods of escape tried over the years. To mention a few, a couple got outside the camp once by climbing inside the "honey wagon" that came in regularly to empty our septic tanks. Very distasteful., I thought. Another, dressed in a made up German guard's uniform, marched forty prisoners out of the gate as if he was taking them to the hot showers. They never got out of the German compound, but it was good for a laugh.. There was the time when a large bunch of the prisoners started a sham free for all fight at one end of the camp. When all the guards rushed there to stop the fight, a small group at the other end of the camp was throwing a specially made three piece ladder over the top of the main fence, hoping to climb up and over the wire before they were noticed. That didn't work either. I think that though the commandant fumed outwardly over some of these silly and unsuccessful attempts, he was inwardly proud that the attempts had been foiled before they got started. In nearly all unsuccessful escape attempts, the guilty parties were put in the cooler (solitary confinement in a cell similar to those at Dulag Luft) for a period not to exceed thirty days. First offenses usually got ten days in the cooler.

A friend and I decided that there was a possibility that we could cut a hole in the entrance gate, since it was only one layer of fencing, if there was a time that the sentry left his post for even a few minutes. It was known that he would walk down the fence line once in a while during the middle of the night, to talk to the sentry who was on duty in the "Goon tower" which was about fifty or sixty feet away. There happened to be a two storey hospital building within a few feet of the entrance and it had a stairwell entrance to a basement door within easy reach of the entrance gate. It was very dark in the stairwell at night so we thought that this might be a good place from which we could observe what the sentry's habits were.

This would be a risky operation but we decided to try it. We had made a fairly efficient pair of wire cutters out of a pair of ice skate blades.. We hoped that while the guard was walking with his back to us one of us could quickly dart out from the stairwell and cut one or two strands of wire at a time. We would have to do this several times in order to make a hole large enough for us to slide through into the German compound. If we got that far the rest would be easy.

At about two o'clock one moonless morning, two of us slipped out of the window and darting in the shadows of the barracks huts we managed to avoid the search lights and made it to the bottom of the stairwell without being seen nor heard. The gate sentry walked back and forth in front of the entrance gate showing no signs of leaving his post. We were still and watched for at least an hour and nothing happened to encourage us. It was then that we heard a voice approaching as one of the ferrets was calling for the guard's attention. Since neither of us was proficient in the German language at that time, we could not understand what was being said. It appeared that the ferret was just letting the sentry know that he was in the vicinity so that there would be no surprises. What was traumatic to the two of us in the stairwell was, that the ferret had a dog with him which fortunately was on a leash.

The ferret went to the sentry and the two of them had a discussion for about five minutes while the dog laid down to rest. When they had finished their talk the ferret and his dog walked back toward the stairwell. I don't know to this day why he never stopped to inspect the well nor why the dog never gave any sign of alarm. I guess the two of us had temporarily turned to rigid stone and could not be detected by any odor. However; the ferret and the dog went on their way to check the camp for tunnels. At the first opportunity, the two of us slipped out of the stairwell and made or way back to the security of our room. Needless to say we never slept the rest of that night just thinking about what might have been.

After that night I promised myself that I would never do anything so foolish again, and I never attempted another escape. I often worked to help others with their plans to get out and for the "Great Escape" from Stalag Luft 3, which was made famous by the Steve McQueen movie, I made twenty or more caps from blanket material so that the escapees could dress as European civilians. In that escape which was made through a three hundred foot long tunnel, eighty-five men got out of the camp before the tunnel was accidentally discovered. Three made it back to England while fifty were taken into a forest and murdered after they were recaptured. The rest of them were brought safely back to the camp and went unpunished.

Oflag XXIB was a camp for allied officers of all services. Since an increasing number of Airforce officers were coming into captivity, the Germans built Stalag Luft 3 to hold only Allied Airforce officers. It was located in a pine forest near the small German town of Sagan, about sixty miles southeast of Berlin. When that camp was ready to be occupied, all the Airforce officers in our camp were transferred to the new camp. It would become the most notorious POW camp in Germany for attempted escapes.

Chapter Twenty Four - Stalag Luft 3

It should be noted, as mentioned in an earlier chapter, that it was deemed to be a POW's duty to attempt to escape. This philosophy was probably established by someone who had never been in a prisoner of war compound. Certainly, there were many who adhered to this policy and they were considered to be a part of the " X " organization. They worked at advising potential escapees on the best methods for success. They enlisted forgers to prepare fake working papers and ID cards. They were the tunnellers who dug long shafts which were only two feet by two feet square and three hundred feet long, a scary place to be if you suffered from claustrophobia. They seldom succeeded in getting anyone home, but they did manage to disrupt the peaceful activities of the camp and even caused several prisoners to be shot in addition to the fifty that were murdered as a result of the "Great Escape".

On the other hand there was a group you might have called the "Y" group. They questioned the wisdom of making futile escape attempts which only ended in the entire camp being punished and losing hard won privileges. This "Y" group spent their energies in trying to make survival of both body and mind their prime objective. They enlisted "tin bashers" who with the help of a mallet made from a broken baseball bat, and a solid tree stump, could transform an empty tin can into a flat piece of steel and eventually into pots and pans and other utensils that were sorely needed in order to prepare what little food we had. There were others who spent their time teaching those who wanted to learn, college courses in math and the arts, and some of the men actually earned their degrees while they were held in captive.

In my own case I guess I'd have to say that I supported both factions to a degree. I stopped wanting to escape after my first abortive attempt, but I was willing to do my best in any way that I could to help others to try if that was their desire. I would never go down into the tunnels and dig, but I dispersed many cubic feet of sand that came out of the tunnels and had to be spread unnoticed around the compound.. I also worked in the camp library for many months, and later when Red Cross packing crates became available I helped in making wooden furniture from the plywood and frame lumber that could be salvaged.

I found that, as did many others. the real secret to survival lay in keeping physically busy and keeping the mind occupied as much as possible during most of my waking hours.

Prison camp was never a playground, and I hope that I don't give that impression, but there were times when we laughed and enjoyed the moment. I recall one incident when a German general happened to be travelling through the area and he decided to stop and pay the camp an unscheduled visit. He was met by the commandant, and the two of them entered the compound in the general's staff car. They were then met by our senior officer and the adjutant and the four of them proceeded to make an inspection of the camp on foot while leaving the staff car in charge of the general's driver. It wasn't long before a few of our super salesmen were able to talk the driver into coming into the nearest hut for a cup of real coffee and an American cigarette. In the three or four minutes he was away from his car, a group had been able to find the lug wrench in the car's tool box and removed all the wheels from the vehicle leaving the chassis lying flat on the ground. When the driver returned to find the car in this dismantled state, he panicked and began to yell for the guards. By the time guards had arrived, all the prisoners had disappeared into their huts, leaving the driver trying to explain what had happened to his car.

I'm sure the poor devil must have been thinking that he would most certainly be posted to the East front after having made such a serious mistake as leaving his vehicle unattended for even a moment. Fortunately, the general had a sense of humor, and after it had been arranged for some guards to replace the wheels on the auto, he was satisfied that no harm had been done and was willing to overlook the incident as a boyish prank. Not so, the embarrassed commandant. He ordered an immediate roll call of the entire camp on the parade square. While the guards were counting their blocks of prisoners, the commandant was lodging a formal complaint to the Senior British Officer who was promising to find those responsible and see that they were punished.

Meanwhile, the general was taking the opportunity to talk to the prisoners individually, and question them as to the treatment they were receiving and consoling them for having to wait out such a long war in these circumstances. When all the counting was done , there was an unusually long conference taking place between the Germans and our senior officers. Then the SBO stepped out of the group and announced that their would be no reprisals if the person who had found the general's Iron Cross would return it to him immediately. At this, one of the prisoners stepped out of ranks and returned the prized medal to the German officer. Apparently someone had picked it off the general's chest while he was being interviewed. The general was then pleased to leave the camp, I am sure promising himself never to inspect a prisoner of war camp again. We never heard what might have happened to the driver, but I think the general would have been happy to forget the entire incident. It was some time before our commandant was to forget it.

We lived from day to day, each year hoping that we would be home by the next Christmas. Christmas would come and go three times before the war ended for me and I was able to come home. Germany was losing the war on the East front and by D-Day in June of 1944, the Russians were advancing into Poland and the East European occupied countries. In January of 1945, we in Stalag Luft 3 were beginning to hear the sounds of distant artillery as the Russian forces neared Germany's eastern borders. A decision was going to have to be made. Would we be taken back with the German forces when they retreated to the west, or would we be left to the mercy of our Russian "Allies". Or perhaps our fate would be even worse! We had no way of knowing what was in store for us.

Chapter Twenty Five - March To Freedom

It was 2:00 am on the morning of January 28th, 1945, a day I will forever remember. It was a cold wintry morning with the temperatures well below zero and the wind in our faces was mingled with driving snow. We were leaving Stalag Luft III on foot and would walk to the railroad yard at Spremberg some 75 kilometers to the west.

In the weeks before, we had begun to hear rumors of the camp being evacuated in the face of the advancing Russian army. The sounds of their guns and the flashes of artillery fire had been filling the night skies to the east. We also heard of the atrocities that the Russian troops were committing on the Polish civilians they were "liberating." There was no question in our minds, if the Germans decided to flee to the west, we would go with them. We had been planning on such a contingency for many months. We increased our laps around the perimeter walk to increase our strength and stamina. We saved what high energy food we could acquire, such as chocolate bars and raisins, along with some extra Nescafe to make hot coffee. When the time came to leave, we would be ready.

By the 24th of January all regular activity in the camp ceased. There was no mail, no food distribution and not even roll calls. Rumors abounded that we were to evacuate the camp on the next day. Beds were dismantled and the wood was used to make sleds to carry our few belongings. Veteran Canadian woodsmen taught us how to make packing boards to carry backpacks which we made of kit bags. Backpacks and kit bags were packed and repacked dozens of times in an effort to decide what was important to take along and what needed to be abandoned. Blankets were made into a form of shawl which could be worn over your other clothes in an effort to keep out the bone chilling cold. The camp became a shambles of destroyed furniture and discarded belongings. Even cigarettes were strewn loosely in the hallways so as to be trampled into a mass of useless paper and tobacco. We tried to leave nothing behind that the enemy would find useful, whoever that enemy might be.

Finally, at 2:00 am on the morning of January 28th, our compound received orders to abandon the camp. There were 2000 of us in the north compound of the Stalag. There were 10,000 POWs in the entire camp. Many of the other prisoners had already started down the road to Spremberg earlier on the day before. There was evidence of their march all along the road. Broken and discarded sleds, cardboard boxes that had become too heavy and too cumbersome to carry. Pots and pans of every description, and the litter increased as we made our own way down the road.

We had not rested the day before we were ordered to leave. There was too much confusion amid the hundreds of rumors that were being circulated. The Russian guns were very close now, and air activity had increased also as both Russian and German aircraft attacked the enemy ground forces. When the order finally came to evacuate, we dressed in as much clothes as we could wear and picked up what belongings we had planned on taking and then after falling into a loose formation inside the camp, we headed out of the gates and onto the road that would take us to freedom.

We were a rag tag group in our shawl covered overcoats and balaclavas to protect our faces from the wintery blast. Some had blanket material tied around their shoes to help keep their feet warm. They walked with pots and pans tied around their waists with cords salvaged from Red Cross packages. Everyone trudged through the frozen snow quietly engrossed in his own thoughts and saying very little to anyone. We only knew one thing for sure; it was very cold and we hoped we would survive.

Dawn finally came and as the day began to brighten we took stock of our surroundings. It was the first time many of us had been outside a prison camp environment for many years. The road ahead was a mass of disheveled humanity. We had already begun to shed some of the superfluous cargo we were trying to carry. Where a man started with a box under each arm, he now stopped and repacked taking only one box and leaving the rest to add to the already littered roadside. We passed through small hamlets along the way, but we saw no German citizens. Many must have already left their homes and also fled to the west to escape the Russians.

When daylight came we stopped for a much needed rest. No food was distributed but we had brought some of our own for just such an emergency. Some built small fires from their broken sleds and we were able to heat enough water to have a cup of warm Nescafe. A slice of black bread and a piece of chocolate completed our breakfast. It was too cold to stop for very long , so after about 30 minutes the order came to move on. We walked all that day and into the night, stopping only occasionally to rest and have a bite of something to eat. Finally, a short time after dark the Germans found a place where we could spend the night. We had come to a farm where there were several outbuildings which would offer shelter from the cold. Everyone had to find a spot of his own. By the time the small group I had attached myself to reached the barnyard all the buildings had been filled to overflowing and there was no room inside. In desperation, I found a soft spot in a frozen manure pile. I dug a nest for myself and before I knew it I was fast asleep. I could not remember ever being so tired. We had reached the village of Priebus, a distance of 35 kilometers from our starting point.

Day 2: The camp began stirring back to life at dawn. There had been a dramatic change in the weather during the night. When we had gone to sleep it was freezing cold and a light snow was falling. Now the temperature had reached a level above freezing and the snow had turned into a light drizzle of rain. Small camp fires were springing up everywhere as men tried to warm water for coffee. There were rumors that some of the farm animals had been butchered on the day before and had been used to provide food for the German guards and some of the prisoners. None of our group ever had any roast pork or barbequed chicken. We still subsisted on our own bread, chocolate, and raisins. Soon it was time to get back on the road. Our bodies ached from the eighteen hours we had walked the day before. But now the situation had changed. Those who had pulled sleds over the snow now had to contend with the rain and mud that was being created by the melting snow. Sleds were discarded as were most of the contents they carried. Everything seemed to be getting heavier as the day wore on. A small box I carried had letters and pictures from home that I had wanted to save. The small weight of that box became too big a burden and I stopped in a small hamlet to ask a woman if she would keep it for me and send it to me after the war. I had written my name and address on the box for her convenience. I never heard from her nor did I ever see the box again. I now carried only some spare clothing and a rolled up blanket in my backpack. I prayed that I would not have to surrender those to my fatigue.

After trudging all day through the mud and rain, we arrived at a town called Muskau where we would stop for the night. This day we had walked only 17 kilometers, but we were tired when we had started out so it was a relief when we were told we would be stopping for the night. This night, my group was lodged in a working glass factory. We welcomed the warmth of the furnaces as we shed our wet clothing and spread it out to dry. There was also a distribution of hot lentil soup available, which we eagerly devoured since by this time we were showing definite signs of hunger. The bread and chocolate had run out for most of us. We curled up on the warm brick floor and soon we fell into a restful sleep. In the morning we awoke refreshed and dry again. The Germans again provided some barley goo for us, and soon we were on our way to the railhead at Spremberg, which was only 15 kilometers distant. The weather had warmed and the rain had stopped so we had what could be called a delightful day, relatively speaking that is.

We arrived at the rail siding in mid afternoon. A train of boxcars was being loaded when we got there. The boxcars were the small European variety with a sign painted on the side: "Eight horses or forty men." The Germans were herding forty men into each car and then locking the door from the outside leaving an opening of about 12 inches through which we were supposed to relieve ourselves After our group filled some containers with water from the tender, we climbed aboard and allowed ourselves to be locked in as were the others.

Chapter Twenty Six - Westward Ho!

On the march from Sagan to the rail head at Spremberg, our guards were under as much stress as we were. Most of them were much older and not in the best physical shape. Also, they were not provided with food for the entire three days of the march, and would have been in serious trouble if we had not shared some of what we had with them. As a result of our kind attitude toward them they also were very liberal with us in allowing us to leave the column whenever we wished, in order to beg water from some farm wife, or perhaps to relieve ourselves with some degree of privacy. But now that we were on the train, their attitudes changed and they again became the gruff and threatening "Goons" we had come to know.

There was much yelling of "Rouse!" [Raus!]meaning "Hurry up!", and more than a few prods with rifle butts to get us loaded into the boxcars. After we were all secured the guards took up their posts along the train, and soon we were on our way. No one had given us the courtesy to tell us where we were going. Perhaps, at that time they didn't know themselves. The allied forces were advancing quickly on both sides of Germany, and we were glad to be heading west. At least that was the way home.

Conditions in all the boxcars were atrocious, although we thought that ours must be worse than the others. There was not room for all of us to lay down at the same time so we took turns standing near the open door where a cold wind and rain blew in as the train slowly inched its way along the tracks. A few had contracted dysentery and were becoming weaker by the hour. We covered them with blankets to keep them warm, and someone found a cooking pot large enough to allow them to relieve themselves when it became necessary. We were given no food for the entire day, although when the train stopped for long enough we were allowed to get out and walk around for a few minutes of exercise. No one tried to escape. We were in no condition to try on our own and besides the train was heading in the direction we wanted to go. At the end of the day, the train would stop and the guards brought soup made from potatoes and various vegetables which they poured into our containers for our evening meal. Water was brought from the tender and tasted of live steam and iron but it sufficed.

We rode for three days and three nights on the slow moving train. Finally, on the afternoon of February 5th, we arrived at Tarmstedt. Someone who seemed to know said that we were between Bremen and Hamburg in northwestern Germany. Surely the British troops must be close by, we thought. Looking out through the cracks in the sides of our boxcar we saw our Luftwaffe guards leave and they were replaced by new guards who appeared to be Marines by the look of their uniforms. We were to come under the jurisdiction of the German Navy. And even though there was a drizzling rain, we were anxious to leave the restrictive confines of our boxcar and form up for a march to the Navy camp.

After a two hour walk we arrived at the camp and were stopped at the gate. The drizzle had become a downpour and like herded cattle we turned our backs to the wind and rain and waited to enter our new home. We wondered what the delay was and word filtered back that each man's possessions had to be searched and a new ID card had to be made out for him before he would be allowed to enter the camp. Hours went by as some men collapsed from the cold and rain and had to be carried to the front for medical treatment. It would be six hours before the group I was with would reach the gates and be inspected for entry. After a cursory inspection, and filling in an ID form, we walked into the compound and found a room for ourselves in one of the huts. There was no furniture of any kind but there was, at least, a large pile of wood shavings in the corner of the room. Since it was now near midnight we spread out the shavings and six of us layed down in our wet clothes and went to sleep.

By morning everyone had been assigned a room and though not very comfortable at least it was dry. There were 2000 of us here, mostly from the North compound of Stalag Luft 3. We had our first roll call about eight o'clock and more than 100 reported sick and stayed in the huts. Yesterday's rain continued on this morning and any drying that we had accomplished on our clothes during the night, was negated by the continuing downpour. Before noon we had acquired a wood stove for our room and a few pieces of wet firewood. After setting up the stove , we used some of the wood shavings and trim from the walls to start a fire. It felt good to have a small amount of heat in the room, and a chance to change into dry underwear again. The afternoon roll call was cancelled giving us even more chance to dry out our outer clothing.

The camp had previously been occupied by allied Navy and Merchant Marines. When they had been evacuated they stripped the camp of all that was useful, thinking that the camp would be occupied by German troops. As a result we had to begin from scratch to collect tables and seats on which to eat. We were given large burlap bags and bales of wood shavings with which we made mattresses and slept on them on the floor. Food was scarce, but we were provided with two meals a day of barley goo and potato soup. We learned too, that the Russians were within forty miles of Berlin and the Americans had crossed the Siegfried line on their thrust into Germany. Could freedom be far away?

When the rain stopped after a few days and the sun came out, our morale began to noticeably improve. We could see literally hundreds of our aircraft overhead at any one time. On a couple of occasions we were strafed by British fighter pilots who must have thought they had come upon an enemy camp. Fortunately no one was hurt on these occasions and we cursed the pilots who could not recognize the large POW signs that we had layed on the parade ground. The Germans had found a supply of Red Cross parcels which they distributed to us. This and the improving weather encouraged us to try and improve our lot. We made simple furniture by stripping the walls of boards, and with our increased diet we went back to exercising by walking around the compound again. The month of February saw the Allies continue their advance into Germany, and by the middle of March we heard rumors that we would have to move again. Not only were the British and Canadian armies getting close to us, but we were running out of food. Transportation on both rail and highway had come to a standstill. RAF Typhoons and Mosquitoes flew overhead all day now and no vehicle or train was able to move without risk of being destroyed. By the middle of March, the German commandant had surrendered to our Senior officer, who was a Canadian, Group Captain Larry Wray. G/C Wray took over all the responsibilities of the camp including the security of all the men including the German guards. We could not go long without food. Word came that there were 50,000 Red Cross food parcels in a warehouse in Lübeck, some fifty kilometers to the east on the other side of the Elbe River. Since there was no way to get that food to us by truck, we would go to it. Orders came to prepare for another walk.

Chapter Twenty Seven - The British Are Coming! The British Are Coming!

Group Captain Wray took his motley crew of POWs, along with those German guards who would join us, and we headed back east again toward Lübeck where we hoped to find some food. To have headed toward the front lines could have been dangerous if we had accidentally run into a pitched battle or even some disgruntled retreating German troops. In the interest of our safety, the G/C forbid any of us to try to escape and he gave orders to the guards that they were to protect us from any civilian threats. We had saved enough food from our meager supplies that we would be able to feed ourselves for a week or more if we found nothing along the way. We would not be in a hurry to reach our destination for this time by walking slowly, we could be overrun by the advancing British Eighth Army which was only a few kilometers north of Bremen and headed our way.

We left Tarmstedt and Marlag M at 9:15 on the morning of April 10th. Although there was a hint of spring in the air it was still quite cold with a drizzle of rain falling. This march was much different from the one we had had to make in January. Now we had no snow or blizzard to contend with, and we stopped when we felt we needed to in order to rest. Also we began leaving the ranks and visiting with the civilians we met along the way. We began to barter for fresh food such as eggs and sausage meats. One cigarette would produce one egg and chocolate or Nescafe would bring a wealth of fresh meat from a farmer or his wife. We stopped and made fires to cook the eggs and meat. Then, after a filling meal we hurried to catch up with our group. Two thousand of us were spread over five kilometers along the road. Twice we took cover as British fighters strafed some unseen target in the fields near us. We walked only about five kilometers a day and spent the night in any shelter we could find. Most of us found room in farmers' barns and other outbuildings. Where spring vegetables had started to appear in the gardens and hot houses, we helped ourselves to what was available. I recall seeing a field of rhubarb disappear as if locusts had swarmed in to devour it.

It took us five days to reach the river Elbe which was about 30 kilometers from where we had started. When we arrived at the river, word came back to us that there would be a delay to cross. There was only one ferry boat available and it could only accommodate about seventy persons and their gear at a time.

Our day's march on the 15th of April ended at the small village of Cranz, on the shores of the river. Here we used the village square to make camp and await our turn to board the ferry. We used the town pump to obtain water for washing and cooking. The villagers seemed very friendly and willing to trade almost anything they had for our cigarettes and chocolate. The weather had warmed a bit now and we were quite comfortable sleeping outdoors in our greatcoats and covered by a blanket.

On the next morning we embarked on the twenty minute ferry ride across the river. Any fears we had about the possibility of being strafed while crossing turned out to be groundless, and we all got safely across. The weather had turned quite warm now and the heavy clothing we carried became burdensome, so some of it had to be discarded. G/C Wray decided that we should take a day of rest to give the sick and lame a chance to recuperate. Those who were unable to continue were taken by horse and cart to Lübeck which was still some twenty kilometers to the east. For the rest of us that would be at least four more days of walking. We still thought we might be cut off by the British before we reached our destination. Finally, weary of being on the road, we reached the camp which had been a POW camp for French and other allied personnel. It was now the 24th of April and we heard about the death of President Roosevelt. We all felt bad that he would not be here to celebrate a victory he had fought so hard to win. We found that the camp was crowded with prisoners from a dozen other camps who had heard the same rumors about the food as we had. Unfortunately, there was no truth to the rumors and no Red Cross food parcels were to be had. G/C Wray made a decision that we would get back on the road and walk towards the troops we knew we now advancing on Lübeck from the south. Again we slept in haystacks and barns and ate off the land when we could find gardens. We found a farm that we could easily adapt into a permanent base and decided we would stay there and wait rather than risk being involved in the artillery fire that we could hear very plainly now. On the 2nd of May we had accepted the surrender of many hundreds of German troops and put them in a pasture where we told them to stay in order to be safe. The German soldiers told us that the "Desert Rats" of General Montgomery's eighth army had taken Lübeck this morning.

5:30 PM: A lone British tank rolled into the driveway of the farm we had inhabited for the last few days. The turret top opened and a British "Tommy " stuck his head out to survey the situation. We greeted him with a tremendous cheer. WE WERE FREE AT LAST!


The next day, May 3rd, were transported by truck to the nearest landing field and put aboard DC-3's normally used for paratroops. From there we landed near Bournemouth, England, and when we disembarked we walked into a hangar where we were attacked by men with hoses who shoved them up our pant legs and down our shirt fronts and blew delousing dust over every part of our body. None of us were infected with lice but they were taking no chances. We then signed in: name, rank, and serial number. They set us each on a scale - I weighed 135 pounds, and then we were sat at a table and fed a huge meal which none of us, with our shrunken stomachs, could eat. From there to a hot shower to remove the louse dust, then on to the clothing store to be re-outfitted with temporary uniforms. After a good sleep on a real bed, the next morning we were paid in English money and sent on two weeks leave. For me, the war was REALLY over!


December 2, 1997
A modeling friend passes on.

Born April 28, 1922 Windsor Ontario, Canada, Died Dec 2, 1997 Westland, MI, USA Canadian Fighter Pilot who downed Germany's Top Ace (Hauptmann Hans Joachim Marseille, credited with 158 victories) in WWII

1942 - Assigned to duty in North Africa flying RCAF P40F
He had two kills to his credit when his P-40 mid-aired Germany's top ace flying an ME109 , killing Hans Joachim Marseille and bailing out with minor injuries to himself. He was officially credited with 3 enemy planes include Marseille. Gilboe was 19 years old at the time.

The action against Marseille took place in Nov. about the 3rd (the German report of September is inaccurate; also Marseille's ME109 exploded, so the German report of the ace's parachute failing to open, is true in the respect that Marseille never had a chance to pull the rip-cord.)

Nelson Gilboe was immediately captured by Italians and turned over to the German Infantry. He was imprisoned in Stalag Luft III, about 60 miles southeast of Berlin. He was liberated at Lübeck, Germany by the advancing British troops in May 1945.

In later years he penned this poem.

    The Ace

    Five plane destroyed, shot down in flames,
    He'd never know the pilots' names
    Nor would he see how mothers cried
    When they were told their sons had died.

    He'd wear a medal on his chest
    proclaiming him to be the best.
    While he was young, it brought him fame
    And everyone would know his name.

    But now he's old and been forgot,
    He thinks about the tears he brought
    To families he had never known
    And feels a sorrow of his own.

    He thinks in time there'll come a day
    When he will also have to pay.
    What right had he to take a life,
    And cause so many others strife?

    It's sad to think what war can bring,
    First the thrill and then the sting.
    I pray my son will never face
    The chance in life to be an ace.

N. E. Gilboe F/Lt, RCAF

And that's the kind of "hero" he was.

Nelson's uniform is now enshrined in the R.C.A.F Memorial Museum - Trenton, Ontario Canada.

He was an active member of the Flying Gators in Gainesville, Florida before moving back to Detroit in the fall of 1996. Bette, his wife of 51 years, his mother, brother and a son survive him.

His stories kept us entertained during hangar sessions and at our encouragement he finally chronicled his flying and POW experiences from 1940 to 1945. Copies of this sometimes humorous and sometimes poignant 100-page book were given to a number of his closest flying friends. I was honored to be the recipient of one of them, a treasure that will be passed on to our children.

Red Scholefield, Flying Gators - Gainesville, FL

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This page was created in December 2003