Letters from behind the wire – John McFarland, part I

RAF ex POW Group 1945crpd

John McFarland, second row, 4th in from the left. This photograph is of a group of RAF PoW’s, though the date and location is unknown. © John Edward Lithgow McFarland

A really nice surprise this morning – David sent me 2 letters, written by his Father, John McFarland, Navigator with Henry Murray’s crew, after he was captured and interred in Stalag Luft III

By John’s own observation the decision to volunteer for the Gardening Op to Kiel on the 18th April 1943, in a Stirling was seen as a soft and easy extra trip to their tour…..Perhaps this decision can be understood – the crew had suffered 3 aborted Ops in a month and it probably felt to them as if their time at Mepal was never going to end – add to this a 10 day hiatus for conversion to Lancasters at Feltwell and the soles of their feet may well have been getting itchy…….

Based on the events of that night, it would appear that their aircraft was fired on from underneath by a ‘Schräge Musik‘ equipped aircraft. Typically, the aircrew would get no warning of the attack until it was too late – John recalls his navigators desk exploding as the cannon shells hit.

Of the 7 crew, John, Gordon Irwin the Wireless Operator and Doug Hill, the Air Bomber survived. The rest of the crew, Pilot, Henry James Murray, Flight Engineer, Hyman Chaim Mordecai Kahler, Mid Upper Gunner John Mulligan and Peter Woolam, the Rear Gunner all perished and now lay together in Gram Churchyard in Denmark.

David along with the letters supplied a brief explanation as to some aspects of the content and also, interestingly, notes that it would appear that the positions of the gunners may well have been reversed that night.

“Understandably the content is rather mundane, but they are fascinating records which may be of interest to you as unofficial archivist!   (Lithgow was my father’s third christian name and the one that was used by his family, although he would have used John – and ‘Paddy’ of course would be used by his crew.)   The reference to Margt is my aunt Margaret – I think the 11th May was her birthday, and Gordon, is the New Zealander – Gordon Irwin the wireless operator, who was also in Stalag Luft III.   His father came from Northern Ireland, hence the reference to a letter from Ireland.   Peter Woollam, rear gunner, died on the 19th when his parachute failed to open, although strangely Jack Mulligan’s body was found in the tail section so he may well have been the Rear Gunner that op, with Peter Woollam Mid Upper Gunner.   Dad’s birthday is 22nd September.   I smiled at the April Fool joke!

To put the 11th May letter in context, Dad was shot down in the early hours of the 19th April, captured on the 21st, in solitary confinement in Dulag Luft 23rd – 29th, arriving in Sagan on 1st May.”

Letter POW May 1944 A crtd

A first letter written by John and sent home to his family in May 1944. © John Edward Lithgow McFarland

Letter POW May 1944 B crtd

© John Edward Lithgow McFarland

“Dear Mother & Dad.   This finishes my quota of letters for this month but I wanted to get as many as I could write as soon as possible as some may go astray.   The weather is really lovely now and we are settling down quite well.   We find that this life is really what one makes it.   When I make up my mind I may start studying of some kind or another.   You may remember me mentioning some photos we had taken.   Well I had ordered some and paid for them and if you write to the C.O. I am sure that he will send them on.   I hope you get all my belongings safely including my watch.   If you ever want any gen about what & how to send parcels just ask the Red Cross folks and I think you can send cigarettes through any tobaccanist duty free which makes them 3d or 4d per packet.   I suppose Margt is having quite a spree today and I do hope that you will have heard the news that I am OK.   I have made many new friends and so far I can’t say I’ve felt homesick, but I suppose that will come in due course.   Well this is all like April 1st.   Remind my friends that mail is more welcome than ever in a P.O.W. camp.  

Love to all.   Lithgow”

Letter POW Sept1944 A crtd

A second letter sent in September 1944. © John Edward Lithgow McFarland

Letter POW Sept1944 B crtd

© John Edward Lithgow McFarland

The second is dated 17th September 1944 –
“Dear Mother & Dad.   As usual no news but at least I can tell you that I am in the best of health except for an annoying head cold but that doesn’t cause much trouble except for washing of hankies.   I’ve had no mail yet but my hopes are rising as Gordon had 3 a couple of days ago, one from NZ, England & Ireland.   He had one from Pete our rear gunner’s girlfriend and it’s really sad to read her letter as they are under the impression that he is still alive since they have heard that G and I are prisoners.   Well I am afraid that I am doomed to spend at least this birthday in Deutschland but the boys are baking me a cake so we can celebrate in a small way.   (CENSORED) the issue of Red Cross parcels is now half per week.   However my weight is still around 11st so the food must be good enough.   Well I do hope that my mail is reaching you OK and I shall get at least one letter soon.   Once again hoping you are all well and that I’ll see you very soon.

Your loving son.  Lithgow”

Tomorrow, 2 letters written at home………….

To read an earlier post about the Murray crew, click here.
To read John’s logbook, click here.
To read about John and his families trip to Gram (including an article by Danish TV), click here.

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