Tag Archives: Stalag Luft III

Reconnecting in New Zealand – a trip by David McFarland

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Graves of Murray, Kayler, Mulligan and Woolham after 70th anniversary ceremony April 2014

Many thanks to David, son of John McFarland for passing on the following record of his trip to New Zealand at the end of last year. David and his family went out to meet up with relatives of the airmen that his Father flew with in 75(NZ) Squadron RAF. The crew were posted to the Squadron in February 1944, flying their first op on the 11th February, and after conversion to Lancasters took part in the first 75 operation with Lancasters, bombing mashalling yards in Paris on 9th April.   Four of the crew are buried at Gram, Denmark – James Murray RNZAF (Pilot), Haymen Kahler RAFVR (Flight Engineer) Jack Mulligan RCAF and Peter Woolham RAFVR (Air Gunners).   Gordon Irwin RNZAF (Wireless Operator) John ‘Paddy’ McFarland RAFVR (Navigator) and Douglas Hill RNZAF (Air Bomber) became Prisoners or War.

Detail POW Log (2)

Extract from a POW notebook kept by Gordon Irwin © Marg Collins

The pilot James, “Jim”, Murray was from Pleasant Point near Timaru on South Island.   His sister, and three brothers all joined the New Zealand forces, with four serving overseas.   Sadly two brothers died, one in Crete in 1941 and the other at El Alamein in 1942.   After Jim’s death, the fourth and youngest son, then stationed in New Zealand, was not permitted to serve overseas and was discharged from military service to pervent a further loss to the Murray family.   We had the pleasure of meeting his daughter Alice, and her husband Mike Constantine, who live in Timaru.

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Memorial Library window at Timaru Boys High School (Copied by kind permission of Timaru High School Old Boys Association)

Rosewill School with Alice Constantine

(from left) Paddy’s son and granddaughter – David and Emily and Alice Constantine at the Memorial stone at Rosewill Junior School, Pleasant Point.

Plaque Rosewill School

Roll of Honour Board, Rosewill Junior School

Timaru War Memorial

Timaru War Memorial

Detail Timaru War Memorial

Detail Timaru War Memorial

Roll of Honour Airforce Museum of NZ Christchurch (2)

Roll of Honour Air Force Museum of New Zealand, Christchurch

Detail Roll of Honour AFMofNZ

Detail from Roll of Honour

Gordon Irwin returned to New Zealand after the war and married Amy, who had served as a WAAF, stationed in New Zealand.   He initially resumed the family farming business but later was a green-keeper at several golf courses on the North Island.   He died on 28th December 1994 aged 77 years.   He is buried, with his wife, at Russell Services Cemetery – a beautiful tranquil spot overlooking the Bay of Islands.   We had the pleasure of meeting his daughter Kathy Wright who lives in Russell, and were the guests of Marg Collins his other daughter at her home at Helensville, north of Auckland.   There we enjoyed a splendid meal in the company of her husband and her son and daughter in law, and with Ron Irwin, her brother and his wife.   Gordon and Paddy were particularly close as Gordon’s father had lived in Ulster before emigrating to New Zealand. Gordon had enjoyed several leave trips to Ireland in the early months of 1944.

Marg Collins and Ron Irwin

Marg Collins and Ron Irwin

Kathy Wright at Russell

David McFarland and Kathy Wright

Medals Gordon Irwin (2)

Gordon Irwin’s medals (the New Zealand War Service medal on the right)

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Russell Services Cemetery

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Memorial plaque Gordon and Amy Irwin

Postscript
In the village of Glenorchy near Queenstown on South Island we saw the local War Memorial.   Beside it was a noticeboard which helped to put details of the service of the men remembered on the Memorial.   Listed was Alistair Henry Scott 75 (NZ) Squadron.   As I was reading the detail, a lady approached and introduced herself to me as his niece, Adrienne Reid.   She lives on the east coast of South Island and was visiting Glenorchy that day.   It was a remarkable chance meeting with a member of the wider 75 family!   She told me that Alistair had a cousin piloting the Lancaster.   Sadly all the crew were lost on the 4th November 1944 on the daylight Solingem raid and are buried in Rheinberg War Cemetery in Germany.

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Glenorchy War Memorial

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Adrienne Reid, niece of F/Sgt Alistair Scott at Glenorchy War Memorial Noticeboard

Other posts about the Murray crew and more specifically John McFarland can be read here:

John McFarland, Navigator – Murray crew. 1944. here.

Letters from behind the wire – John McFarland, here.

John Edward Lithgow McFarland RAFVR 1503993 – Navigator. 1944. Logbook. here

Gram Churchyard, Denmark. here.

Gram Churchyard, Denmark – John Macfarland visits and remembers. Danish TV article. here

 

 

Letters from behind the wire – John McFarland, part I

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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.”

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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”

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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.

F/O Jack Henry Haydon RAAF AUS.408400 – Roberts Crew and the ‘Great Escape’.

I had been aware for a while that 75(NZ) Squadron had an association with the ‘Great Escape’ from Stalag Luft 3, immortalised, of course, in the film of the same name. A few weeks ago, whilst at my Mother’s 90th birthday party, I was remarking on the same fact to a relative who had asked me about the blog and research on Bob.

Incredibly, on returning home I received an email from Dianne about her father,  Jack Haydon – who had been involved in the escape from Stalag Luft III. My initial excitement about the contact  was increased when it dawned on me later that Jack was the sole survivor of the Roberts crew, who were lost on the night of the 31st August on the Berlin Raid. My interest in this crew has existed since the early days of my research when I discovered through the Squadron ORB’s that the crew had arrived at Mepal with my father and his crew from 1651 Conversion Unit. My initial investigations had led me to pictures of some of the Roberts crew, but at the time I had not been able to find anything about Jack – including his Christian name. It shames me to admit that with the time involved processing information on the other aircrews that was being sent to me that even when I received the Squadron Nominal Roll from Stewart, I didn’t think to look for Jack in the Roll.

In a return mail to Dianne, I included a group picture including dad from 1651 – I had already identified Eric Roberts, the Wireless Operator Kensington Jackson and Darcy Haub, the Rear Gunner. Dianne was unable to identify Jack in the image – but I am confident we will find him.

The Roberts Crew were;
F/Sgt Eric John Roberts RNZAF NZ417107. Pilot .
Died Tuesday 31st August 1943, age 25, during a raid on Berlin. Buried Hanover War Cemetery Germany.
24.7.43 first 2nd Dickie flight with the Whitehead crew – Hamburg.
25.7.43 second 2nd Dickie flight with the Baile crew – Essen.

F/O. Robert Gorman Rainford RAFVR 134553. Navigator.
Died Tuesday 31st August 1943, age 28, during a raid on Berlin. Buried Hanover War Cemetery Germany.

Plt Off John Cecil Giles RAFVR 138329. Air Bomber.
Died Tuesday 31st August 1943, age 19, during a raid on Berlin. Buried Hanover War Cemetery, Germany.

F/Sgt Kensington Campbell Jackson RNZAF NZ 42330. Wireless Operator.
Died Tuesday 31st August 1943, age 23, during a raid on Berlin. Buried Hanover War Cemetery, Germany.

Sgt Eric Saunders RAFVR 1605321. Flight Engineer.
Died Tuesday 31st August 1943 , age 20, during a raid on Berlin. Buried Hanover War Cemetery Germany.

F/O Jack Henry Haydon RAAF AUS.408400. Mid Upper Gunner.
Shot down night of 31st Aug 1943 during a raid on Berlin, the sole survivor of a crew of seven. PoW # 2366. PoW camps – Dulag Luft, Stalag Luft III. Safe UK NK.

F/Sgt Darcy Leslie Conrad Haub RNZAF NZ42326. Rear Gunner.
Died Wednesday 31st September 1943, age 23, during a raid on Berlin. Buried Hanover War Cemetery, Germany.

Roberts crew Operational History;
27.7.43 Hamburg EE897 AA-G
29.7.43 Hamburg EH880 AA-J
2.8.43 Hamburg BF518 AA-E
6.8.43 Mining in the Gironde Estuary EF461
16.8.43 Turin EF518
23.8.43 Berlin EE918 AA-D
27.8.43 Nuremburg EE918 AA-D
30.8.43 Munchen-Gladbach  EE918 AA-D
31.8.43 Berlin Failed to Return. EE918 AA-D

Dianne sent the following regards the event of that tragic night;
On the night of 31 August, 1943 he was mid-upper gunner  in Stirling Mk.111 EE918 AA-D and was returning home, having dropped bombs on Berlin, when the aircraft was hit by enemy fire. The aircraft sustained damage but continued to fly for possibly 10 – 15 minutes. Eric, the pilot radioed Jack (as mid upper gunner he was the closest to the rear gun turret) and requested that he go back and check on Darcy (rear gunner) because he had heard nothing from him since the attack. Jack discovered that he was dead and was returning to his position when there was an explosion which broke the plane into two pieces.

Jack, the only member of the crew not in his position, was not in his harness and therefore fell out of the plane which went down with the rest of the crew all still harnessed in. Upon landing, Jack only suffered a badly injured foot, which caused him trouble for the rest of his life. He began walking to habitation, where he was captured.

After  being given medical treatment for his , Jack was now a Prisoner of War and was first moved to Dulag Luft.

Dulag Luft was the abbreviated name given to Prisoner of War (POW) transit camps for Air Force prisoners captured by Germany during the Second World War. Their main purpose was to act as collection and interrogation centres for newly captured aircrew, before being transferred in batches to the permanent camps. Dulag Luft derives from the German Durchgangslager der Luftwaffe (Transit Camp – Air Force). Several camps where set up throughout Germany and the occupied countries, however the main centre used throughout the war was at Oberursel near Frankfurt. A satellite camp at Wetzlar was set up later in the war to help cope with the large numbers of aircrew captured as the bombing campaign intensified against Germany. Allegations of interrogation under torture have been made by numerous POWs who passed through the camps.
Wikipedia

Jack was next moved to the now (in)famous  Stalag Luft III.

Stalag Luft III (Stammlager Luft, or main camp for aircrew) was a Luftwaffe-run prisoner-of-war camp during World War II that housed captured air force servicemen. It was in the German province of Lower Silesia near the town of Sagan (now Żagań in Poland), 100 miles (160 km) southeast of Berlin. The site was selected because it would be difficult to escape by tunneling. The camp is best known for two famous prisoner escapes that took place there by tunneling, which were depicted in the films The Great Escape (1963) and The Wooden Horse (1950), and the books by former prisoners Paul Brickhill and Eric Williams from which these films were adapted.
Wikipedia

During his incarceration, Jack “celebrated” his 21st birthday and the birth of his first daughter.

One of the activities he participated in was stacking wood on the back of a truck. The instructions were to put a nail in every 5th /6th log to secure the load for travel. The prisoners placed a nail in every log so that the logs were absolutely solid wood when they came to be unloaded. Apparently, every PoW took very seriously the order to hinder the enemy in any way possible!

Jack  was involved in the preparations for the Great Escape. His skill as a cabinetmaker was useful to maintain the stability of the bunks which were depleted of wood and he also had gold fillings in his teeth which were removed to make compasses.

On the night of the escape Jack  was waiting to go when the alarm was raised. Like others, he was placed in solitary confinement for at least 3 week and on 5 days running was dragged out and actually lined up in front of a firing squad. No one knows why he was not shot, but one theory was that he was young and good-looking and as Hitler wanted a pure Aryan race he may have been spared for that. He was also given a photograph of a young, pretty blonde woman, maybe to encourage his willingness.

Towards the end of the war, when defeat was inevitable, the Germans removed the prisoners and they began “The March”.

“The March” refers to a series of forced marches during the final stages of the Second World War in Europe. From a total of 257,000 western Allied prisoners of war held in German military prison camps, over 80,000 POWs were forced to march westward across Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Germany in extreme winter conditions, over about four months between January and April 1945. This series of events has been called various names: “The Great March West”, “The Long March”, “The Long Walk”, “The Long Trek”, “The Black March”, “The Bread March”, but most survivors just called it “The March”. As the Soviet Army was advancing, German authorities decided to evacuate POW camps, to delay liberation of the prisoners. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of German civilian refugees, most of them women and children, as well as civilians of other nationalities, were also making their way westward on foot, in hazardous weather conditions.
Wikipedia

Jack Haydon was returned to England and later embarked on a ship headed for the war against Japan, but peace was declared while he was en route – Dianne does not know if he was returned to England or Australia at that stage.

On his return home he spent many weeks in rehabilitation and in truth, she believes he suffered from PTSD for the rest of his life. He apparently did manage to write to the families of at least 2 of the 3 NZ members of his crew.

Jack Henry Haydon died at the age of 48, in 1971.