Tag Archives: 1944

Project ORB, 1944 COMPLETE – an amazing personal effort

Another significant milestone has been reached in the transcription of the Squadron Operational Record Book Form 540. The whole of 1944 has been completed and this is down to the single efforts of Hubert.

I know from the now relatively small amount of transcription that I have done on these documents , that to complete a month can be a trial in itself, so to manage to not only devote the time, but the energy and concentration to work through a complete set of 12 months represents a massive commitment to this activity.

Hubert, personally and behalf of all of our readers who might use these months to either search for information on a relative, or simply peruse them through interest, I thank you from the bottom of my heart – you have made a massive single contribution to this project and everybody should know that.

A thousand thanks

View March 1944, including the new additional Special Operations Annex here.
View April 1944 here.
View May 1944 here.
View June 1944 here.

Looking for Bob – part II

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A year to the day I made a post about my taxi ride in ‘Just Jane’ At East Kirby. I held it for a couple of weeks because it seemed fitting to publish it on the second anniversary of Dad’s passing. Perhaps through chance, coincidence or serendipity, I find myself on the third anniversary of Bob’s death making this post – perhaps it is the second part of a triptych, we shall have to wait till this time next year to see if that’s true, but perhaps this post is the next step of my search to understand what my Father did during the war with 75(NZ) Squadron RAF.

Airfield site plan scan tidied up and reduced

The official Air Ministry site plan for RAF Mepal – the map shows the astonishing actual size of the complete airbase – the living quarters and support buildings covering an area as large as the airfield itself. © Crown copyright/ RAF Hendon

A couple of months ago Dave passed to me a site map for RAF Mepal that he had recently obtained from RAF Hendon. What struck me instantly was the massive scale of the airfield and the degree by which its size existed beyond the airfield itself – obvious in hindsight, but as with these things, you never think about it till you see it……..

In the footsteps of Giants…….
The plan seemed simple, get some satellite maps of the area add these to the airfield plan and go for an explore –

Luckily, our expedition started off with a visit to the Memorial Garden to give us  some time with Bob. Ernie turned up and after general chit chat, the matter of our visit was discussed and straightaway I realised a mistake in our intended journey – instead of making our way from the Three Pickerals parallel to the river – it was actually the old road that we needed to take…..

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Ernie and I stood in the Memorial Garden to 75(NZ) Squadron RAF, in Mepal village.

Walking out of the village, back to the new bypass, we took the last left and began to walk up an old asphalt track, which I guess must have been the old Mepal/ Sutton road.

At this point, I think to be honest, we weren’t actually sure where we were going exactly, other than for the hope that at some point we would hit the new bypass and by default somehow be ‘in the airfield’ – simply by the fact that the ‘new’ road bisects it. As we continued up the road, we began; inevitably perhaps, to begin to wonder whether we had yet reached the airfield. I observe this simply because of the ridiculous nature of having a map and not knowing where you are – one of Bob’s amazing skills was to be able to rattle off every single road number, in order from a start point to a destination – I have no such skill – perhaps as a designer, my world is visual – take me somewhere once and I can get there again, but I do it by looking out for things. I berate my students on a regular basis for relying too quickly on ‘digital solutions’, but I must confess that after my 2 attempts to gain my map reading badge when I was a Cub Scout, I have now happily thrown my lot in with TomTom et al.

4 way comp

Obligatory holiday photos – (1) My husband is lost, but he won’t admit it. (2) Its the closest to the Tower of Piza we have. (3) Obligatory airfield selfie. (4) If I tell him to runaround like he’s a plane, he will…….

In putting this post together, I have realised the actual physical difficulty of transposing the ‘Google world’ onto the site map that Dave sent me – I am not sure if this is the basic accuracy of the site map, the distortions of perhaps years of archival copying, enlargement and reduction, or whether in deed, satellite photography itself is subject to the inevitable distortion, relative to the curve of the planet – what ever the reason, it needed Photoshop and a fair bit of patience to achieve the image below – as I have said, I am not sure what is true and what has been stretched to fit, but it at least gives a ‘relative’ impression of then and now.

Airfield site plan scan tidied up with google earth

A digital ‘squash and squeeze’ together of the Site map and a satellite view from Google Maps. © Crown Copyright/ RAF Hendon/ Google

As is always the case, no doubt based on previous bad experiences, Bev was naturally suspicious of my general movement, right up until we hit the new bypass – this not only providing confirmation that we weren’t lost, but also that there was actually a way across the road to what we could now see as the Sutton side of the airfield..

route walked

On crossing the road, I was encouraged to see a long concrete path stretching ahead of us into the field. At this point as we started walking, we assumed we were on the perimeter track and it felt good to be on the edge of the airfield with the water tower to our far left.

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The view looking down the main (No.1) runway from the A142. (view 1 on the map)

water tower

Turning to the left, the Sutton water tower – visible in so many of the pictures from the period. (view 2)

About half way down the perimeter track, the crops on our right hand side stopped and we were suddenly aware of a field to our right with what appeared to be a series of old rusted steel ‘L’ section posts – along these posts ran what seemed to be a steel cable. Returning to our folded collection of maps, it dawned on us that in fact, we were not on the perimeter track, but had actually been walking down what remained of the main runway. Completely unnecessarily furtive glances and half strolling, half running steps took us across the field and we arrived at what we now understood to be the perimeter track – looking back to the Mepal road, we could now see the raised banking of the bomb store – despite the massive area of the space, still apparently terrifyingly close to the runways.

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Now on the perimeter track, looking back at the A142. (View 3)

Now confident of where we were, we continued to walk, eventually arriving at the far end of the ‘peri track’, the No.3 runway, or what remained of it stretching out ahead of us, literally as far as the eye could see. I think certainly for me, this is the point when it struck me how bloody big this airfield was – this impression was magnified when I realised that there was still a significant portion beyond our gaze and bisected by the A142 Mepal road.

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At the far left lower corner of the airfield. (View 4)

We continued round, till we walked over what we thought to be the dispersal pans on the lower left of the field, granted nothing now remaining of them. To be honest by now, we were both getting a bit thirsty and certainly in my mind a pint at ‘The Chequers’ was becoming increasingly attractive. Finally we stumbled on what perhaps is all that remains of airfield buildings on ‘this side’ of the airfield – surrounded by concrete I first thought this was a dispersal area as well, but with the building slap bang in the middle of it, it couldn’t be. Looking at the map, I think we were stood by the 2 72,000 gallon petrol storage tanks – absurdly close to the village school…..

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What I first thought to be a dispersal pan, later to see on the site map that this was part of the fuel tank system for the airfield. (view 5)

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What remains of a small building somehow related to the fuel storage system for the airfield. (view 6)

Despite the clear description on maps, I think it took this walk to make me understand the closeness of the village of Sutton to the airfield and also the closeness of the villagers therefore to the airfield and the boys that were stationed there. Its an understood fact that the airfield was given the name ‘Mepal’ because there was already an RAF Sutton Bridge, which was the Central Gunnery School between 1942 and 1944 and also RAF Sutton on Hull, which was responsible for the Balloon Barrage defence of Kingston upon Hull and the Humber Area, later becoming the home of the RAF School of Fire Fighting and Rescue from 1943-59. I certainly don’t make this observation to in any way whatsoever question the choice of Mepal as the airfields name – but I realise the memories and fondness and respect for the Squadron is clearly split between 2 villages…….

I’d let Dave know that Bev and I would be in the area for the weekend so we arranged to meet in ‘The Chequers’. I had visited the pub last November and was keen for Bev to see it as it has a wall of photographs dedicated to 75(NZ) Squadron. In hindsight, perhaps I was a bit too casual about the visit this time – realising that as I write this post, I actually didn’t take many photographs. Dave arrived and we started talking – returning to the wall I noticed something quite astonishing. As well as the framed photographs, there was a Squadron plaque, I was momentarily speechless to realise that the name plaque on it was one I recognised – I was sure that ‘G.W. McKellow’ was ‘Mac’ McKellow – Mid Upper Gunner with Andrew MacKenzie. An email to Andrew on my return confirmed this – Andrew also said that he had many memories of drinking in ‘Chequers’ – and from what he recalled so would many of the boys of the Squadron.

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75(New Zealand) Squadron Royal Air Force plaque. The name plate identifies the original owner as ‘G.W. McKellow’. After checking it would appear that this was, as I suspected at the time, ‘Mac ‘ McKellow, Mid Upper Gunner with Andrew MacKenzie. © The Chequers – reproduced with permission from Rowland Cartwright

If this strange coincident wasn’t enough, another was about to come. Noticing the general level of interest and discussion at the picture wall, the barman suggested I take down one of the pictures and have a look on the back of it as there were ‘a few signatures’ on it. Bev stepped up to do the honours, regarding removal from the wall and to be honest when the back of the picture was turned to me, I was speechless……………………..

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“Presented to the Chequers in the village of Sutton 1st July 1983 on behalf of Dick Egglestone crew 75(NZ) Squadron” © The Chequers – reproduced with permission from Rowland Cartwright

I will say nothing more about this astonishing artefact in this post – suffice to say that I took a lot of close up images that I will stitch back together in Photoshop when I have a spare few days and it will be a post in itself…………

12 months ago in another post, I asked myself out loud whether after taking a taxi ride in a Lancaster bomber,  I had gotten any closer to Bob and his wartime experiences and I actually thought not.

In hindsight I now realise the difference between trying to experience something through proximity rather than actuality – what little of RAF Mepal that still survives is real – it was there when the Squadron was and what now remains still contains the echos of engines, tyres and footsteps.

If I ask myself again, 12 months later, I think I must confess once again no. Though, as I said a year ago, my understanding of a bigger picture had increased and now I feel this picture – on the larger scale – is a little more informed again – and that’s fine, that’s enough for me.

I am glad that the airfield is in the sate of slow natural adsorption that it is in – It’s time and function, mercifully, are gone and it should, I think, as with the majority of World War II airfields be allowed to slip back into the land from which it came.

I came looking for Bob, but found Mac McKellow and a load of the other boys, sat in a pub…….

I think the following poem now means something else to me………..

New Zealand gave a Squadron of Planes
When Britain’s need was dire
Both countries sons made up the crews
And they flew through hell and fire.

To the Pommy lads the Kiwi’s made
A gesture that was grand
They gave them honorary citizenship
Of their own beloved land.

Under New Zealand’s flag, they proudly flew
Comrades of the air
They lived and died, as side by side
Fate’s lot they chose to share.

In Wellingtons, Stirlings, then Lancasters
To the foe, they took the flight
On wings they soared through Europe’s skies
In the darkness and the light.

But a heavy price, the Squadron paid
In five long years of strife
Of those who flew with “75”
One in three, laid down their life.

On the East Coast of Old England
The crumbling airfields stand
Where aircraft once left mother earth
Tractors till the land

The era of the Bomber war
Came, paused, then passed away
But the bond between two nations sons
Unchanged, will ever stay

Ken Moore, Waterlooville. 2.3.80

A portrait of Dad, I believe taken after he was commissioned in late 1943.

A portrait of Dad, I believe taken after he was commissioned in late 1943.

F/L Robert Douglas ‘Jock’ Sommerville, D.F.C.
Air Bomber, 75(NZ) Squadron RAF

1st November 1922 – 29th August 2011

Ake Ake Kia Kaha

xx

 

 

Gram Churchyard, Denmark

Denmark 2014 211 crpd

Many thanks to David for passing on these photographs of the gravestones of the Murray crew who were killed on the 17th of April 1944. The photographs were taken on a visit to the Churchyard to commemorate the loss of the crew in April this year.

Denmark 2014 192 slightly crppd

On the 17th of April 1944 at approximately 20 minutes to nine in the evening 7 Stirling Bombers began to leave Mepal to join a total force of 168 aircraft for a large scale Gardening Op to Swinemünde, Kiel Bay,and to the Danish coast.

Stirling Mk III EH955 AA-K was shot down by a night-fighter over Denmark on the return flight to base at 14,000ft. The Navigator, John McFarland recalls his navigators desk ‘exploding in front of him’ as the cannon shells, very possibly from a Schräge Musik equipped Nacht Jagd ripped through the aircraft.

EH955 crashed at Jenning, about a mile south of Gram. The Captain, Henry Murray, Flight Engineer, Hyman Kahler, Mid Upper Gunner, John Mulligan and Peter Woolam, the Rear Gunner were killed and buried at Gram.

Tragically, the crew volunteered for this Op, believing that having just converted to Lancasters, a Gardening Op in a Stirling would be an easy extra Op for their tour.

F/O Henry James Murray RNZAF NZ415820.  Pilot. Age 26.

Sgt. Hyman Chaim Mordecai Kahler RAFVR1803280. Flight Engineer. Age 21.

Sgt. John Mulligan RCAF R.195834. Mid Upper Gunner. Age 20.

Sgt. Peter Woolam RAFVR 1890807. Rear Gunner. Age 19.

The crew’s Navigator, Air bomber and Wireless Operator all succeeded in baling out and were captured as Prisoners of War.

Sgt. John Edward Lithgow McFarland  RAFVR 1503993. Navigator.
Prisoner of War No. 4193. Prisoner of War Camps – Dulag Luft, Stalag Luft III. Promoted to F/Sgt while a Prisoner of War.

F/S Douglas John Hill RNZAF NZ415761. Air Bomber.
Doug Hill had a miraculous escape when his parachute harness, which was cut by a burst of fire from the night fighter, came off. His left foot caught in the harness and he descended hanging by his foot.
Prisoner of War No. 3550. Prisoner of War camps – Dulag Luft, Stalags Luft VI and 357. Returned to the United Kingdom 6th May 1945.

F/S Gordon James Irwin RNZAF NZ415698. Wireless Operator.
Wounded when attacked by night fighter. Prisoner of War camps Dulag Luft, Stalag Luft III. Promoted to W/O while a Prisoner of War. Returned to the United Kingdom 14th May 1945.

130,000 Views

Many thanks as always to everyone regarding the continuing support for the blog – another 10,000 milestone was crossed yesterday with the blog now having over 130,000 views – utterly fantastic!

I think what is more amazing is that this last 10,000 was achieved in only a little over 3 weeks, which shows a level of consistent visiting of a volume that the blog has never seen before – so for this alone, thank you everybody.

Still the material and contacts keep coming in – I have to admit I am still working back through emails, but slowly I am beginning to catch back up with everything.

The database is getting a bit more added to it everyday – it will still take I think, at least a year to get the basic crew information into it, but I have now at least managed to enter aircraft and pilot information right up to the last Op the Squadron flew to Bad Oldsloe on the 24th April 1945 (the database currently beginning from the start of 1943) – so this means that we have all Lancaster Ops that the Squadron flew – whilst there now has to be a secondary checking activity, regarding serial numbers and flight/ letter designators, I hope with he help of Ian and Chris to be able to add some Lancaster Op histories to the one for ND801 JN-X that I put up a couple of weeks ago (recent information suggesting that this first one needs an update as well!)

So as always, thank you all for your continuing support and encouragement.

cheers

Simon

Aircraft Database update 6th August 2014

composite aircraft image

Many thanks as always to Ian for another update to the 75(NZ) Squadron Aircraft Database. The database contains some new updates particularly relating to the Lancaster section and Ian has also added a note at the bottom relating to ‘Flight’ identification. Ian feels and I completely agree with him, that there appears to now be substantive evidence that a lot of existing sources for information on the aircraft that flew in the Squadron are in parts incorrect – there clearly seems to be errors relating to ‘C’ Flight and it would appear in some cases, aircraft have been identified as ‘AA’ (A or B Flight), simply through the ignorance that ‘C’ Flight (JN) even existed.

I suppose to this end, if anybody has the time to check through our database and is able to provided definitive evidence of particularly, Flight coding (photograph/ logbook entries etc) then please, as always contact us!

See the Wellington database here.
See the Stirling database here.
See the Lancaster database here.

4th August 1914, the centenary – ‘Lights Out’ tonight

lights out

On the 4th of August 1914, Britain declared war on Germany. Sir Edward Grey, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, said the:

“lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime”.

That war, which became known as the ‘Great War’ and later the ‘First World War’, lasted just over four years, resulting in 888,246 British and Empire fatalities. It was arguably the most devastating event of the 20th Century, affecting virtually every family in the country.

Tonight, the 4th of August 2014, a hundred years later, the nation will commemorate the start of the Great War and the loss of so many lives with the  ‘Lights Out’ campaign.

Between 10.00pm and 11.00pm (BST) tonight, turn all of your house or building lights off and light a candle to commemorate the start of World War I.

This post is not about just remembering the start of the Great War – we should never forget that the life expectancy for an airman in Bomber Command was the same as that of an infantryman in the trenches of  the First World War.

For the Fallen

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Poem by Robert Laurence Binyon (1869-1943), published in The Times newspaper on 21st September 1914.

Ake Ake Kia Kaha

Gilze-En-Rijen (Gilze) Roman Catholic Cemetery, Netherlands.

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Continuing thanks to Philip for these images of the Scot crew, now resting in Gilze-En-Rijen (Gilze) Roman Catholic Cemetery,  Holland.

In the early hours of 27th of May 1944 18 Lancasters from 75(NZ) Squadron RAF took off to join a force of 162 Lancasters and 8 Mosquitoes to carry out a raid on the Rothe Erde railway yards, East of Aachen.

On the outbound flight, a number of the aircraft were intercepted by German night-fighters. One, Lancaster Mk.III ND915 AA-A, Captained by F/L Richard Berney was engaged a number of times by a fighter over Coutrai. ND908 was able to evade the attacker, however 2 other aircraft from the Squadron were not so lucky,  Lancaster Mk.III ND908 JN-M and  and Lancaster Mk.III ND802 JN-D

ND802 JN-D was attacked by a nachtjagd from the Fliegerhorst Gilze-Rijen, 25 miles North West of Eindhoven, causing the aircraft to break up in flight then crashing near Gilze, 6 miles West of Tilsburg. Five of the crew were able to exit the aircraft, but the  Pilot, Air bomber and Wireless Operator did not survive the crash and were buried at Gilze .

F/S Francis Alexander Jack Scott RNZAF NZ421105 – Pilot. Age 28
F/S Steven Astley Cook RNZAF NZ421142 – Air Bomber. Age 21
Sgt Ronald Edward Howson RAFVR 1437112 – Wireless Operator. Age 21

The remainder of the crew survived, but either quickly, or eventually were caught and made Prisoners of War

W/O Ronald Thomas Clark RNZAF – NZ422369 – 2nd  Pilot
Prisoner of War No.770. PoW camps – Dulag Luft, Stalag Luft VII. Returned to United Kingdom 14th May 1945.

On repatriation to England W/O Clark was interrogated by MI-9 and this is a transcript of his interview regarding the shooting down of ND801 and his subsequent evasion and capture:

“We were shot down on 29 May 1944 on our way to bomb Aachen. I baled out and landed in a tree on the Dutch-Belgian border somewhere near Wasssau. I was wounded in my leg so I decided to rest a while and then head West. When I started walking I found I was cut-off by barbed-wire so I turned North with the same result. I turned East and came to more barbed-wire, and then North from there and met a road going North-West. I decided to take cover here so walked about half a mile from the barbed-wire and lay down in a wheat field. Two hours later I heard lots of Germans shouting.

I kept well covered and stayed there until midnight that night. I then headed West again and deciding to hunt for water came across a group of houses. Outside one of them I found a milk can with milk in it. I drank this and started out North again, ending up somewhere near Breda two night later. On 31 May I was seen by a civilian who spoke to me and took me to his house giving me food and drink and some wooden soled shoes. He told me to go down the Breda-Oostmalle road. So at about midnight that night I started off and reached the road next night. The following day I walked again and that night came to the border at crossed it quite easily at Strijbeck.

I spent a day hiding in a ditch by the road where I was seen by school children coming home from school. They all started shouting and pointing at me and then a little boy came up and pulled me by the hand and started running with me across a field and men came along shortly afterwards and gave me something to eat, telling me that they would go in search of someone in the Underground for me. They left the little boy and I crawled out of the ditch and hid behind some trees close-by as I was unsure of their intentions. However, half an hour later a man and a woman came back to the ditch. The woman spoke to me in English telling me that this man would hide me for one or two days and then put me in contact with the Underground. She said that she herself knew nothing about the Underground. I went along with them. The old man took me to his house where he and his wife hid me in the fowl house for two days.

On 4th June1944 he took me and hid me in a barn quite near his house. I slept there that morning and later the man returned with cycles and we cycled through some woods where we meet a woman who led us to her house. I stayed there for seven weeks trying all the time to make contact with the Underground through these people but every time something was arranged at the last moment plans had to be cancelled. Finally I decided that I must move and the next day a young man came and said he would take me to Antwerp. He took to a house of the man who was a member of the Underground and a Lieutenant in the Belgian artillery. I stayed there one week but had to leave in a hurry because the Germans were approaching.

We started wandering around Antwerp and went into a shop where I stayed that night and the next day. At about 18:00 hours that evening two German soldiers and a Gestapo agent came into the shop to hunt for me but I managed to hide in the cellars whilst they were upstairs.and then sneak out the back way. My guide was still with me and we started walking around Antwerp again for two hours when he took me back to the shop again as the Germans had disappeared by this time. I was then taken by my guide to the damaged hospital at Asheertogen where I stayed for three weeks. He then took me into Antwerp again to a shop where there were three old ladies in charge.

Next day another man came and told me that I should get over the border into France and join up with the British troops. He told me exactly how it was going to be done and that we would have to go to the park in Antwerp where we would meet a man who would make arrangements for crossing the border. We walked along to the park in Antwerp and met this man who spoke English with an American accent. He took me to an apartment house in Antwerp where I was interrogated about people who had helped me.

I thought that this suspicious and later my suspicions were confirmed as I was led into an office by this English speaking man and confronted by the Gestapo. I was taken to Antwerp Civil Prison by a couple of S.S. men where I stayed from 23rd August to 4th September. Then we were marched out of Antwerp to Rotterdam, and left there the next morning for Bocholt. I was imprisoned at Bocholt to 6th September; Dulag Luft (Frankfurt) 8th to 14th September; Bankau 20th September 1944 to 19th January 1945. I was liberated by Russian forces on 22nd April 1945.”

F/S Leslie George HIll RNZAF NZ426997 – Navigator
Prisoner of War No.170. PoW camps – Dulag Luft, Stalag Luft VII. Promoted to W/O while a PoW. Returned to United Kingdom 25th May 1945.

Sgt F Max Harris RAFVR 1850150F – Flight Engineer
Attempted to evade but was betrayed and captured in Antwerp 28th June 1944. Prisoner of War No.300. PoW camps – Dulag Luft, Stalag Luft VII.

F/S Alan Mantle RAFVR 925315 – Mid Upper Gunner
Prisoner of War No.469. PoW camps – Dulag Luft, Stalag Luft VII.

F/S Reginald Dale RAFVR 1818763 – Rear Gunner
Prisoner of War camps – Dulag Luft, Stalag Luft VII.