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Loss Telegram

POW Notification from 156 Sqn

Official POW Notification

 

 

Fowler

Chase

Thomas

Webb

 

 

 
Warrant Officer A. J. HIGGS and Crew
 

Crew of ND 349 on last mission:
(Click on Service No. to display crew member details)

Service No. Rank Initials Surname Unit Disposition
1334188 W/O A.J. HIGGS RAF POW
1623556 Sgt M. FOWLER RAF Killed
175174 F/Sgt D.J. CHASE RAF Killed
415697 W/O A.E. THOMAS RAAF Killed
NotKnown F/Sgt W.A. PARISSIEN RAF POW
962733 Sgt G.F. WOODHEAD RAF POW
1890518 Sgt W.A. WEBB RAF Killed


According to the 156 Squadron Operations Record Book (ORB), W/O Higgs and crew flew their first mission with Squadron on 15/03/1944 to Stuttgart. Having previously served with 626 Squadron. In the following month they completed another four missions

Their sixth and final mission was to Dusseldorf, on the 22/04/1944. T/o 2120 from Upwood. Hit by flak while flying at 19,000 feet and crashed in the target area. Those who died are buried in the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. F/S Chase was a member of the Pharmaceutical Society. (details from Chorley's Bomber Command Losses)

Sgt George Frederick Woodhead had previously served with 626 Squadron, and we hopefully will have details of his time spent there shortly.

George met his future wife during flying training at Ayr Scotland.They married in Jan 44 in Scotland and she moved to his parents house in Gainsborough which was around 20 miles from Wickenby. Within 2 months the crew moved to Upwood. In between her duties in the Land Army and his operations she managed to see him a couple of times before he was shot down.

Below is an entry from Sgt. George Frederick Woodhead's Diary

Ray Keating the bomb aimer went sick, (subsequently KIA 21/5/44)  and we had to find a spare bomb aimer. A New Zealander (Australian actually) A.E. Thomas joined us and although not happy at the change of crew, we were keen for Ops as we had been rested for two weeks, most crews had been on the French Operations. But each one only counted a third of an OP and was not in favour.

We were on our way to the final turning point, when everything went wrong. The excellent co-ordination between Navigator and bomb aimer was lacking in the new team and the turning point was overshot by a considerable margin, due to an error in the H2S reading. Once again we had to turn on to a track which took us over the hostile Ruhr Defences and, all alone, we did not have the safety the bomber stream gave.

We could see the raid in progress whilst still some considerable distance away. Searchlight beams probed the sky around us and eventually a radar predicted blue light fastened on to us. To be followed immediately by the blinding light of ordinary searchlights. Flak was bursting all around us, but the skipper kept on flying straight and level towards the bombing run. Suddenly a terrific explosion and the aircraft shook. We had been hit by a flak shell, in the rear of the fuselage. Within seconds the whole of the rear fuselage was a blazing torch, streaming out behind the aircraft. Billís turret was completely engulfed, and I received no reply to anxious shouts over the intercom. I reported to the skipper who acknowledged, and immediately ordered bomb doors open and dropped the bombs. Before any other action could be taken an ME110 appeared diving to port. I immediately ordered corkscrew and began firing. The EA dived below us and I lost sight of him. The skipper was just about to deal with the fire problem when we were again hit by flak in the port wing. Within seconds it too was a mass of flames, we were now over the target, still in the grip of blinding searchlights, the skipper ordered us to bale out.

I lost no time evacuating the turret, I grabbed my chute clipping it on to the harness. The rear exit which I had arranged would be my exit point was blocked by fire, which had such a hold and was nearly up to the turret. I quickly climbed the bomb bay steps and started to make my way forward this proved very difficult with the aircraft in a spiral dive. I struggled along the bomb bay floor. But the exertion of my efforts above oxygen height caused a temporary black out. We must have reached oxygen height quickly for I donít think I was out many seconds. Again I struggled forward eventually reaching the main spar. I could not climb over in the normal way, so resorted to grabbing hold of a tubular upright at the WOPís position and pulling myself headfirst over. Reaching the cabin it was deserted and so brightly lit from the fire in the wing which now covered the whole area of the wing with the flames, licking the Perspex cabin. I reached the nose of the aircraft and saw the gaping hole of the way of escape, and lost no time in plunging feet first. An exit which was not the correct way to bale out, but out I got and counting three, as instructed - what a long time it seemed - I pulled the rip cord and with a terrific jerk my headlong plunge into space was changed to a gentle floating in the dark sky. After the continuous roar of four Merlins it seemed so quiet and eerie. Looking down, the ground over a large area was a sea of flames, with black smoke rising into the sky. My first thoughts were that I had luckily escaped one fire and now seemed likely to land in another. I remember pulling on the chute rigging lines in an effort to escape the flames. I wore a silk scarf when flying it had worked loose and was now flapping in my face, in desperation I tore it away and let it float into space. My next problem was the smoke cloud, reaching them I was soon coughing and choking, my eyes smarting and running, making it difficult to see, in fact I had to close my eyes. Again after what seemed an awfully long time I opened them to find I was through the smoke cloud and drifting away from the fires below. Suddenly the outline of buildings and trees appeared. I looked to be heading for the roof of what looked like a bungalow, but but at the last moment swung away. I had only just time to prepare myself for the landing when I struck the ground with such force I collapsed in a heap.

Not the way we had been taught a landing should be made. Quickly I released the chute and harness and attempted to stand, but I fell down again with a searing pain in my ankle when I put weight on it. Before I could contemplate my next move I heard shouting and knew that my descent had been seen.

I could not hope to escape, so I just waited for the voiceís to reach me, looking around I could see I had landed on a road, a short distance away buildings were on both sides of the road. The Bungalow I had just missed stood on its own. Although it was a dark night the distant glow of the fires at the target Dusseldorf lit up the area. The voices came nearer and then I found that a torch I usually carried stuffed in my flying boot had switched itself on showing my position to the approaching captors. I was surrounded by civilians all talking in German, until one elderly individual came to me and said in English, for you the war is over. I gathered he had been a prisoner of ours in The Great War. I was eventually taken into one of the houses skirting the road, I was immediately surrounded by men, women and children, all pointing and talking excitedly in German.

I was first searched for arms, then told to remove my flying suit, this and the escape kit I had not been able to discard were examined and most probably spirited away, for I did not see them again. The chocolate and sweets I carried as flying rations would most probably have gone the same way, so I threw them to the kids crowding around me. I was allowed a cigarette, but my case full of twenty was taken, so too was the coins I carried.

After about an hour there was a commotion at the door, and a German Soldier in uniform and armed, pushed his way into the room. After talking with the English speaking German who then translated the soldiers instruction, that if I attempted to escape I would be shot, I was then led out of the room to a waiting car with a civilian driver. I was put in the passenger seat next to the driver with the soldier sitting in the rear.

We drove towards the fires, and it looked from a distance that a way through was impossible. We never gave much thought to what conditions would be like in a target attacked by a force of five hundred bombers. So long as we saw plenty of fires and they were concentrated, it was a good prang. We gave little thought to the consequences and rarely discussed the horrific outcome of a raid.

We reached the outskirts and lining the road were lines of fire fighting vehicles, making no effort to tackle the fires. Most probably under orders not to risk valuable equipment until the raid was over. We entered the town at a walking pace, proceeding along streets covered with debris, and fires on both sides threatening to merge. Some streets were blocked and we had to turn or reverse and find an alternative route. In many streets great gaps which must have been hit by a cookie, fires were increasing in number and intensity as we proceeded through the city. The heat was terrific and the air thick with dust and smoke. Occasionally we stopped and the driver and guard held a conversation with much gesticulating. I gathered they were lost, eventually we arrived at a cross roads in the city centre, again a consultation and whilst this was going on I had a chance to see one of the awesome effects of a raid. A large building at the corner of the cross roads most probably an hotel or flats had received a direct hit, and was blazing furiously. Crowds of rescue workers and police were dashing in and out of the building carrying injured and dead, who were laid out on the road. I saw no ambulances or medical attention, and of course no attempt to tackle the fires. On we proceeded until we came to a road following the railway line, we came to a sudden stop, to be confronted by a steam engine lying on its side in the road. It had been blown off the line above. Again a detour, until we finally arrived at a part of the city on the edge of the aiming point that was not damaged. Proceeding along a road lit by the many fires I could see that one side of the road was lined with railings, most probably a park. On the other side large houses with no garden and steps up to the doors.

We eventually stopped at one of these houses, and I was taken inside, and down into the basement which had been converted into a police control room. Girls manned telephones on one side of the room.

At other tables, the occupant most probably in charge. After a considerable wait with personnel dashing in and out, suddenly one of the newcomers, covered in dust and blood, saw me, and after shouting and gesticulating, he flew at me knocking me to the ground, with his hands round by throat. The officer at the table I had been standing at, jumped up and pulled the officer away, who after a further outburst disappeared from the room. Only now do I realise how lucky I was to escape with my life, as later, in prison camp I learned many aircrew had been killed by the civilian population, when they landed in the target area. Later I also found this was the fate of three members of my crew. I was eventually taken upstairs and after having been searched yet again, and my flying boots taken, was put into a small room on the ground floor. The time was about 0300, but although exhausted by the hair raising events of the past few hours found it difficult to sleep. Daylight arrived but the view from the small window was not very impressive, just the back of a block of houses, with smoke still rising over the roofs.

Around lunch time I was taken out of the room, given back my flying boots and handed over to a Luftwaffe Officer. He could speak English and told me I was now in the hands of the Luftwaffe. Leaving the building I could see the iron railings across the road did in fact surround a park. Again I was escorted to a car, this time sitting in the back with the officer, it was a Luftwaffe vehicle with a uniformed driver. We proceeded through streets covered in rubble but a way through had and was being cleared. Fires were still burning, but now the fire appliances were winning there battle.

We stopped eventually half way down a street in the residential area, even here most houses showed damage. The Officer pointed to a house across the road with a tarpaulin sheet covering the roof, and said this was his house. Leaving me with the driver, he went into the house, again I had time to look around, it appeared a good class area on the outskirts of the city, but most houses had boarded up windows and sheets covering the roofs. Some were so badly damaged they appeared derelict. After a short while the Officer re-appeared and we resumed our journey, eventually arriving at a Luftwaffe Airfield on the outskirts of Dusseldorf. I was taken to a large Admin Block which appeared deserted, after waiting another period in the drivers charge, and NCO appeared and I was escorted from the building towards the main gate - entering a guard room just inside.  

Here I was in for a great surprise, for I was put in a cell already occupied by non other than Reg our W.O.P. We had to endure four days and nights in the cell, food consisted of some evil smelling and looking soup, which although hungry I cold not eat. Reg scoffed the lot, the drink too was horrible, later I was to find out it was made from roasted acorns. What a vile concoction with no milk or sugar. We were visited by the Medical Officer next day, but he was not interested in such a minor injury as a sprained ankle. Reg was OK. He had come down in the glare of a searchlight which followed his descent into the very field the searchlight battery was operating from.

Other aircrew could be heard in the adjoining cell, and later, during an exercise half hour in the courtyard we met I think another five or six aircrew. On the fourth day of captivity we were taken from the cells and ordered into a covered lorry, followed by twelve armed guards. We proceeded out of the airfield towards Dusseldorf. Once again we entered the city, only this time in daylight. The effects of the raid were to be seen down every road, but a way through the debris had been made by piling it on each side of the road enabling a single track to be made, finally we arrived at the railway station. It had taken only four days to repair and make serviceable, some feat, for it had really taken a pasting. We climbed out of the lorry and surrounded by the twelve guards made our way through a propped up tunnel to a platform above. Here we were soon surrounded by a very hostile crowd of civilians, one in particular shouting and making an effort to get at us. It was only after being threatened by the guards, that be backed away, still demonstrating his anger at us. We were, of course, now fully aware of the hostility of people in the target areaís. Later Reg and I discussing the facts of our escape, realised that Thomas - Derek - Maurice who had baled out first must have landed in the target area and could have fallen victims in the hands of hostile raid victims. I landed about ten miles from the target, Reg landed about four miles. And later we found the skipper had landed about six miles from the target. I donít think three chutes would fail to open, and although dropping on a blazing target, could have been responsible the lack of information leads me to believe they suffered in the hands of the public. 

 Interrogation Camp

  After a long wait in an explosive atmosphere a train at last steamed into the station and we were hustled into a carriage with wooden slatted seats. Our journey was only to Cologne. Here we alighted and had another long wait. Cologne too had taken a severe beating, all around the station was desolate. The only building still standing was the Cathedral. No buildings at all at the station, but the line was open and many trains passed in both directions. At last our train arrived, but no carriages this time, we had to put up with an uncomfortable journey in the guards van. Some parts of the journey followed the Rhine, most probably a very picturesque journey in times of peace. My only recollection was seeing a castle perched on a hill overlooking the Rhine valley.

Our next stop was Frankfurt another city that had been visited by bomber command, here again the station was considerable damaged but the trains still ran.

We changed to a local tram for the short journey to Dulag-Luft, the air crew interrogation centre at Oberusel. We entered the vorlager (Luftwaffe camp) and entered a large wooden single storey building. This was divided into cells on each side of a passage way. I was put in one of these cells, a bare room 7íx5í approx, with a barred window at one end, a wooden bench down one side, with just one blanket, under the window a Radiator. By now I was feeling pretty hungry, the only food in four days was two slices of horrible tasting bread and jam, also a drink of ersatz coffee. The food was to be no better for the six days I spent in the cooler. Breakfast a mug of coffee (no milk or sugar) 1 slice of bread and margarine, Dinner consisted of a bowl of veg soup, Tea consisted of a mug of coffee, one slice of bread and jam.

On the fourth day, I was visited by an English speaking Officer, who handed me a Red Cross Form and requested I fill in the details, so that the Red X would be notified of my capture. I filled in Name, Rank and Number, but refused to fill in details of sqd. number, bomb load etc., the Interrogation Officer shouted that I must fill in all the questions or the Red X would not be notified of my capture. Again I refused, so the Interrogation Officer snatched the paper from me and after banging on the door for the guard, left without another word. 
 

Arrival in POW Camp. 

I managed to see Reg once during my stay in the cooler. We were allowed out for toilet morning and night which was at the end of the building, and on one of these visits Reg passed me.

The following day, I was taken down the corridor to the Luftwaffe Offices in the Interrogation Block. Entering a lavishly furnished office, the first thing to strike me was the huge map of England covering the whole wall, with airfields marked clearly, so that when I was invited to sit down facing the map, I could see Upwood and Wickenby and many other bomber airfields marked very clearly. I was offered a cigarette from a packet of players on the desk. Know doubt stolen from P.O.W. Parcels.)

The Interrogation began with questions I had refused to fill in on the Red X form. I replied I was only allowed to give my rank, name, and number. He then started to give me information about R.A.F Bomber Stations I had been with. 12 and 626 sqd at Wickenby, and on the night I was shot down I was with 156 sqd Upwood. Pointing to the map on the wall he indicated these airfields, he then proceeded to give me information which I did not know. So I could not tell how accurate his information was. He told me the bomb load, the wing commanders name and that he had a daughter. After giving me this information, he asked if it was correct, if not I must be a spy. I thought it better to admit the information was correct. I had not given any information, only confirmed what he had said was correct, some of it could have been made up, so he would not be any wiser.

The interrogation over I was taken back to the cell or cooler as it became known. The reason for this name stems from the action the Germanís took to make life more difficult. The radiator already mentioned was not to keep the cell nice and warm. Most of the time, warm or cold it was off. But at night just when we had dozed off it would be switched on and in so small a place, the heat soon became unbearable. We had to strip to get some relief and after dozing off again would wake up shivering. The radiator was switched off, and the temperature plummeted. We had to spend most of the night pacing up and down the cooler to keep our circulation going. On the sixth day of this treatment and feeling pretty hungry and depressed, the cooler door was opened and my flying boots thrown in as was usual. (They were taken from me every night). And fully expecting the usual trip to the toilets, was surprised to be told I was leaving for the main camp. I joined other aircrew from the cooler, Reg was with them, and together we were taken out of the building, across the compound to the camp, a barb wire enclosed area, with sentry boxes at each corner occupied by a guard with machine gun. Long Lon Barracks were set in a barren enclosure, and after the guards had escorted us through the barb wire gate we now joined a hundred or so aircrew in what was known as a transit camp, where prisoners after interrogation were assembled, prior to being moved to the various Prisoner Of War Camps. All ranks including Officers assembled here. We were met at the gate by a P.O.W. who acting on behalf of the committee of P.O.W.íS running the camp, took us in charge explaining the rules and regulations and warning us to be extra careful in the barracks he was taking us too. After so long in solitary confinement, conversation was essential, this the Germans knew. And they had hidden microphones all over the camp. Taking us into one of the barracks, a fairly large room lined with three tier wooden bunks. Over fifty kreigies, (the name now given to all P.O.WíS) occupied this sombre, dark, airless room. We were allocated a bunk, myself in a middle one, Reg on the bottom, it was just a simple wooden structure - the base being laths of wood on two long rails. On top of the boards was a ersatz sacks filled with wood shavings, and one blanket. We were then given a meal, which although not up to R.A.F. Standard, was a big improvement on the rubbish I had existed on for the past week. For this we had to thank the Red X, this organisation provided us with essential food, that no doubt kept us alive and sane during our captivity. We were also given cigarettes from the same source.

 

 

    Stalag Luft 6 The main camp for Air Force NCOíS lay about two miles south-east of the small town of Heydekrug, about halfway between Tilsit and Memel and close to the Lithuanian Frontier. The Camp was built on sand. The surrounding country was flat, swampy and wooded. The majority of roads being cart tracks and the principal means of communication - the single track railway between Tilsit and Memel.

The above diary entry and photos were provided by (and copyright of) Maurice Woodhead, son of George Frederick Woodhead.

Grave photos  from my own collection.