The final installment of Bill’s memoirs is told by his sister, it seems clear that the loss of his crew, the privations and pressures, fears and anxieties were simply too much. Upon returning home, despite his promise to finish his record, it never was – perhaps like all that went through similar experiences, the thought to revisit it, was simply too much – it was best forgotten perhaps…….
‘When my brother Bill arrived home I was very thrilled when he gave me his Diary inscribed on the cover “Dedicated to my Sister”. He explained that now he was safely home, he would finish writing it up for me, but as time went on he seemed less inclined to even want to talk about it so it remained unfinished.
However, on his first evening at home he did tell me what happened when the Russians reached the camp he was then in at a place called Luckenwalde just a few miles outside of Berlin. This was the camp to which they had been force marched by the Germans from the POW camp in Silesia, Poland (about 800 miles) when they were retreating from the Russians. Many of the POW’s died on the way, Bill was one of the lucky ones.
This is the final chapter as Bill told it to me:’
“The Joy they felt when the Russians broke into the camp was very short lived and after a few hours freedom, they were very securely back in their huts and the camp had more armed guards around it than when it was in German hands. Bill did say that when the Russians stormed in they (the POW’s) ran out into the town but when they saw the very dreadful behavior of the Russians they felt sick and went back into the camp. The following day they were delighted to see a convoy of American Army trucks surround the camp and they cheered and shouted expecting to be released but their excitement turned to horror when they saw the American Officers in charge being escorted back to their armoured cars and all the convoy moved off again. The POW’s couldn’t believe their eyes and the Russians wouldn’t tell them anything and treated them very badly. This happened again on each of the next three days and on the third day Bill managed to squeeze through trees and bushes and up to the barbed wire where he got the attention of a black American truck driver parked just outside. He told Bill they had come to take the POW’s to freedom but the Russians wouldn’t part with them. The driver after talking to Bill for a while said he didn’t like the look of things and if any of them wanted to take a chance and ‘run for it’ he would back during the night and help them because he didn’t trust the Russians and said he himself wouldn’t like to be in their hands and his officers were very worried about the POW’s. Bill told him he would like to risk it so it was arranged that the driver would come back at an arranged time during the night and bring what was necessary to cut the wire.
He told Bill his truck could carry 20 but not one more so it was up to Bill to arrange it with the POW’s. Enough of them gave their names to Bill to make up this number and when it was time to go he went quietly to each one to tell them but only 5 of them came with him. The others had decoded they may be released the next day so they didn’t want to risk it.
The driver was there with his truck and had cut a considerable hole in the wire for them to crawl through and they were on their way. It was a very tricky journey because it meant crossing the River Elbe to get to where the Americans were stationed and when he went to the first crossing (held by the Russians) they told him be could cross but he had to leave his passengers behind. He told them what to do and put his foot down to get to the next crossing but the same thing happened again and eventually they crossed over via a pontoon bridge put down by the Americans. They were very good to them but said if their mothers saw the condition they were in they would have heart attacks. So they put them in their sick bay for a few days and then laid them out on mattresses’ in the hot sunshine for two days before passing them on to the British.”
‘Bill says he owes his life to the American truck driver – he was a hero. He came on extended leave but some months later he had to report to London to be officially demobbed. He met a former POW from his hut who told him the Russians treated them worse every day and three of them had been shot dead trying to escape. It was a further three weeks before the Russians would release them so Bill was pleased he had taken his chance and gone with the black American driver who risked his neck for them.’
Many thanks to Katherine , the Niece of Bill Allen and Christina , whose Great Uncle was BIll Reaveley for supplying this additional material on the Bonisch crew.
The gathered material is a moving collection of material that spans the extremes between death and survival. Fragments of memories remember a crew who clearly were close and had more than a mutual respect for each other. The presence of 3 “Bills’ in the crew shows a touching method of differentiation – William Reaveley, Frank William Cousins and Bernard ‘Bill’ Allen became known as ‘Uncle Bill’, ‘Brother Bill’ and ‘Cousin Bill’ respectively.
The updated Bonisch crew Ops page can be read here.