alan skeoch
Oct. 2019

This was  HX 313, The Blonde Bomber, 424 Tiger Squadron, RCAF
Bomber Command, Skipton on Swale, Yorkshire, England

Each of the survivors in HX 313  had his own  struggle  with death on the night of May  27,1944.
The most detailed account was sent to me  by  Victor   Poppa who was George Freeman’s
best friend and a fellow air gunner.

This  is  Victor Poppa, 22 year old  tail gunner in HX 313.
I was able to interview  him several times between 1984 and  1987.
He figured  he was a dead  man when HX 313 was heading
to the earth ablaze and  pilotless.  Survived. Eventually Victor sent
me  his diary of his  war experience.  Long and detailed with
many humourous sexual experiences.  It will take  some  time
to convert to digital but I will do it.  Victor was George  Freeman’s
best friend through  1943 snd 1944.  Victor cried when he was
told of George’s death in 1945.  Five of the  eight man crew of
HX 313 bailed out and  survived.   Three did not.  George was
one of the three who died.


“Dear Alan,

Your letter came  to me approximately three weeks ago, and upon opening  and reading the first paragraph, I could not talk.
My throat constricted  and  I  had to cry.   It was 40 years ago this day (letter written May27, 1944), that we  were preparing for a
raid on a town in  Belgium…Borg Leopold.  This camp contained 13,000 German troops who had  been fully trained
and were to be moved  out the following  day.  To keep these  troops out of their air raid shelters and  above ground our
air force  planners arranged for the RAF to overfly Borg Leopold and  to continue on to  bomb Achen.  This force 
consisted  of  some 200 Lancasters. The Germans at this time went into their air raid shelters.  Then another force of some
45 Halifax bombers were routed  over our target.  They then made turn and continued on to bomb  Dusseldorf.  Again the
Germans went under to their shelters.  Then we came along…Number Six Bomber Group, RCAF with 333 aircraft which  included
424 Squadron Halifax’s ardour aircraft Q.B. – B – Hx313.  QB were the letters of our Squadron.  B was our  airport letter in the 
Squadron.  HX 313 was the serial number of our aircraft.”

“We were to bomb  from three levels.  The first level was  9,000 feet; second level was 10,900 feet; third level or wave was
11,900 feet.  We  were the third level.  Each wave consisted of 111 and each aircraft carried 18 x  500 pound bombs.
The  raid was to last for ten minutes.  As I  found  out later this raid was a classic for night bombing accuracy.  We  killed
8,500 German  soldiers in ten minutes with hardly any casualties the Belgian civilian  population.”

Note Made 1984: At this point Victor Poppa explained the routine events  of a  bomber operations day  from briefing to
a special meal of bacon and eggs.  As the day wears on the crew begin  to get nervous.  Some write  letters.  George  Freeman
wrote to a girlfriend  (platonic by sound of it) and  sounded  cheerful.  Faking perhaps.  (see Georges’ letters later). 
Some even preferred to write their last wills and  testaments.  Not George  or Victor that I could tell. As evening approaches
the crew put on their flying suits.  Victor loaned  his fur lined  suit to Bob Irwin as his feet got freezing cold…moreso
than the rest of the crew. Victor prefers the electric  flying suit as it take less space in the tiny tail gunners bubble. One 
of the most moving snapshots sent was taken surreptitiously from the crew truck.  It shows a corner of the truck
windshield and  off in the distance silhouette  against the skylines HX 313, the Blonde Bomber.

“Into HX 313 we go, each to his position.   Eric and our passenger  Bob Elliott, co pilot;  Moe, our engineer; Ken to his bomb
aimer’s position;  Bob, our navigator; and Wilf ,our wireless  operator;…all accounted for. Then George  and  myself  to our 
gunners bubbles…George as  upper middle gunner and me as tail gunner.  Eric  goes through the check  list and soon we
are taxiing around the perimeter track to the main runway.  In  position. Eric advances the throttle and we are on our way.”

Note:  Liftoff is  extremely dangerous  as HX 313 is loaded with bombs  and  high  octane fuel.  An error can detonate the load.
There would  be little chance of survival.  The crew knows this…they have seen  it happen.

“We are soon at altitude. Bob, our  navigator, has given Eric  a course and suggested so that we can arrive as scheduled.
All of the previous aircraft have stirred things up.”  (Perhaps German soldiers in Bourg Leopold will be  out watching
the bombers overflying their camp.) “Ken  (bomb aimer) is now in  his position for  bombing as we start our run.  He 
gives Eric  course directions…left, left, right, etc.  We  are  now but a few miles from the  target when Ken says, “Vic, there  is
a JU 88 below us.  I stand  up and try to see under our aircraft but cannot.   Eric  is asked  to  drop a wing so  George can
see.   He can’t see it either.  Ken is asked to give Eric evasive  action  instructions if necessary.  Just then there is  a
horrible explosion in our left inside motor.  HX 313 lurches  up as if struck  by a gigantic hammer.  Flames  run down  our
left side.  Then a few seconds later there is the clatter of machine gun bullets and  cannon shells slamming  through our
aircraft.  The plexiglass nose is shot out but the bombs are secure.”

“Our bombe did not explode.  There were  fires in from front to rear.  The inside  of much  of the plane was cherry red.
My first thoughts were: ‘You have been waiting for this and now  it has finally happened.’ I called on the Intercom
but received  no answer, only static.  HX 313, however, was still flying in a straight line.”

“I pulled off my flying helmet, opened my turret doors, reached for my parachute and snapped it to my chest. I stayed in my
position because  I saw  no parachute go by the tail.   Then,  a few seconds later, I saw  one.  It was open and  on its side
parallel to the ground  just missing the  port rudder and fin. Then I decided to go.  I swung my turrets 90 degrees in the
fuselage and tried to go  out but couldn’t because of the fire and wind.  I tried twice to no avail.   By this time the ground
was appearing quite close.  I could tell from  the fires that to bail out from the aft fuselage exit would have entailed too much 
time and  by then it would be too late anyway.  So I sat there waiting for my end.  The aircraft then went into a  flat spin.
My turret twisted  free and I was flung out by the brute force.  My leg, however, was stuck momentarily under my leg guard.
I could feel my knee pull right out of its socket.   Then my leg came free.  I was falling flat on my back.  I looked on my
chest for my parachute  and it was not there.  The parachute had been pulled away for my chest by the wind force and was
 nowhere feet from my face and above.  Pulled on the
harness  and brought the parachute down close enough so I could  grab  the D ring and pulled. It opened with sharp snap.  A pain
knifed through my groin, I put my arms above my head, grabbed the harness and  pulled thereby  relieving the pain.  A few
seconds later I saw  the ground coming up real fast. I felt as though  I was an arrow.  I hit the ground hard  and collapsed
with my parachute falling on top of me.  I am  sure the chute had  opened  at less that 1,000 feet and our aircraft had been
at 11,900when we were first hit by the flak and  then shot up  by the JU 88.”

“I managed to get onto my feet but I could not feel  anything  from the waist down…felt like metal bands were clamped around
my ankles and knees.   I was standing balanced as though on stilts.  Just t hen I could hear motors screaming…an aircraft
in its death sieve.  I Dropped flat to the ground.  It is amazing how close you think you are to the ground, as  if you are being
pulled down tight, pressed into the grass.  This aircraft hit a few fields away and  exploded.”

“All of this happened at approximately 2 a.m. on the 28th of May, 1944.  After the explosion I found I couldn’t walk but moved with
a painful shuffle.  I moved away from the area slowly.   At wire fences I would put my body through and  then with my hands pull my legs  through.
I moved along in this manner until the dawn started to glow.  Then I made my way  into the centre  of a wheat field where  I  lay down
and fell into a deep  sleep. I awoke at noon hour with the sun shining down at me.   I made my way out of the field and crawled  under
a tree.  I took off my electric suit and found I  had suffered some  spinal chord damage and had torn open my left leg and buttocks.
The  leg was swollen twice its normal  size and black  and blue.  I also had torn muscles and  ligaments.  I crawled  to  a farm house
where the farmer  was kind but reluctant  to hide  me.   He gave  me water and milk to drink.  We were advised in England never
to impose upon these people.   I they showed willingness, fine.   If not, leave.  If we were caught with them they would suffer

“My legs were starting to stiffen up and  the pain was increasing.  I made  my way to another field where I lay down and rolled and rolled
in agony.   I was this way well into the afternoon.   Finally I felt that I must get  some assistance.  On my knees I made my way  
back to the  farm house and indicated I  would like police assistance.  While waiting, a Belgian doctor gsve
me an injection of some sort but it had no effect.  I gave the farm woman all of my escape  money and shortly two Luftwaffe
NCO’s came  in an automobile.  I was placed in the  back seat with one  NCO and because I  could not bend my  legs I had
to lay across his body.”

“I was driven to our target the previous night.  There was one room left standing where I was deposited on a  bed.   Despite all
of the  killing we had done I was not mistreated.  I was given a bowl of greasy stew which i could not down.  Later, I was visited
by a German medical officer   All he did was rant and rave  at me in German.   Although I Felt he was going to strike me, he did not.
Three days later I was taken outside and placed in the back of a truck with four caskets.  A German NCO pointed to one and
said “Komerad  Irwin. This was our navigator Bob Irwin.  I gave a negative response.  He then pointed  to the casket on my right
and said “Kamerad Wakely”.  This was the coffin of Wilf Wakely.  Again I gave a negative response .  I was not questioned about the 
third caskrt. This one must have been George. The fourth  was empty as I had moved it with my foot.  At that  time I did not know George
was dead.   It wasn’t until I returned to England after the war  was over that I got word from RCAF records that George had  been
killed.  This left me stunned as  Hank (George)  and I were real close friends.”

Note:  Victor  Poppa’s account closed the file on the  last flight of HX 313.   He was the last person to get out of the aircraft.  All had
been able to get out one way or  another, except for George Freeman.  Two who got out were killed when they  hit the ground.
The rest survived. George was  likely killed  when  the JU 88 strafed the plane.  One of the crew remembers George’s legs hanging down
as he worked his way past the upper turret to reach the escape hatch.   The nagging thought that George was remained  alive because
gunners were often trapped in their  turrets like  Victor Poppa.  HX 313 exploded on impact near an abandoned railway station.   Eric  Mallett
and Ken  Sweatman were escorted  past a pile of melted metal that had once been The Blonde  Bomber.  They could not stop to look
closely for their  escorts were members of the Belgian Underground and it was imperative that they hide Ken and Eric as 
quickly as possible.   Victor Poppa, George Elliott and Morris Muir became POW’s.

Victor’s adventures as a POW Had similarities to Steve MacQueen in the The Great Escape…only life was a hell of a lot less
fun.  Worse  for the Russian POW in he adjoining camp where abuse was more prevalent.   Victor had a  choice  when  the war
ended.  Either to walk out of the Stalag or  stay put until Russian troops took over.  The German guards  just disappeared one
night leaving the gate  open when the sun came up. Victor and a friend decided  to take their chances  and  start the long and potentially dangerous
trek through the  Russian sector in hope he could reach the American sector.  He had he good fortune of  hooking up with nine
French  girls hiking their  way  back  home from a German labour  camp.  

Victor had been  on a long march  from a  POW camp in Poland to another in Germany.  On that trek he became aware of the
hatred the German civilian population had toward  air force prisoners.   The bombing of  Bourg Leopold killed  many but the 
constant bombing of German cities killed  a whole lot more.  Mobs tried  to attack air force prisoners. “While in Kohn train station we   were
threatened by a large mob.  Our guards, however, kept order and we were not molested.”   So he knew the risks when  he walked
out of his Stalag and  headed south to American  lines.   In one instance, at dusk, Victor and  his French girls entered a German house
which they thought had been abandoned.   Instead they met a  German officer who was already in bed  but with a  Luger under his sheet
aimed right at them.  They left without incident.  Fear was spreading through the German civilian population in what was to become
East Germany. German  officers and soldiers feared for their lives.


This story began as an attempt to find out what happened to George Freeman  on that horrific May 27/28 evening.
“At times  Hank and  I went on leave together where we  had undisciplined fun.  Hank had a real way of charming the girls in the mess
as well as on our trips  away from he base.”  As Day approached the crew of  HX 313 were working together  like  a well
oiled machine.  A human machine.  “On one mission it was Hank’s birthday and we  arranged for Ken  to say  ‘Happy Birthday Hank’ instead
of ’Bombs away’.  QB B HX 313 was shot down on its  fourth mission.   The  crew had  flown more than double that number.  Eight missions
for some.  For others, many more missions.  The death rate was high.  They knew  that.
Both planes and men  had short lives in  #6 Bomber Group.   The results of the  steady bombing  was a devastated  Germany.
Ciies turned into rubble.  Factories flattened.  Many many thousands of people maimed and killed.  As allied land troops fanned
out across Germany this devastation became an  embarrassment to many.  As a result  the  Bomber  Groups were never  given
full recognition for their service and some  felt neglected.  Side  lined.  Overlooked.  

The  story was assembled back in1984 and now updated in 2019.  Much has happened and continues to happen.
Discoveries.  Take the war graves for instance.  One of my colleagues, John Maize, was working in Holland in 1984
and I asked him to see  if he could find the grave  of George Freeman.  He found George and Wilf and Bob all
buried side  by side in a military grave in Belgium.   What day do you think he visited the grave site? 
…John Maize arrived  there  on May 27, 1984…exactly 40 years to the day after the Bourg Leopold attack.
And on that same day, May 27, 1984, Victor Poppa, Eric Mallett and Ken Sweatman sent the letters that made this
story possible..


When George Freeman’s personal things  were returned aunt Kitty and Uncle Chris, there were two letters
that George had written but never mailed.  They reveal much so have been included.  George was a young man…barely
past the teen age part of his  life as  will be apparent.  Thoughts  of death are not a big part of the letters but those
thoughts  can be found between the lines.

“Arrmed Forces Air Letter
Flight Sergeant Freeman, G.F.,

MAY – 1944 (/)

C/O Scanons Store,
1439 Kingston Road,
Toronto 13, Ont.

Dearest Mom and Dad,

Well dearest, here I  am again.  Have received a letter from you and another from Mickey (sister).  It sure is swell to hear from you.
We have been pretty busy of late and  I’m pretty tired and would like to see the end  of the war.  Maybe it’ll end soon.  I’m
flying as a  spare gunner and  also as  a  regular member of the crew, it’s a bit risky flying every time but at least it keeps  me from 
being browned off.  Auntie Jean and everybody down that way are fine and send  their love  to you and dad.  I’m sorry dad can’t get the help 
he needs the golf  course. (Chris was  head greenskeeper at the Hunt Club Golf Course in Scarborough where George spent
his teen age years  caddying.) I don’t think I told  you about the visit I paid  on my last leave to one  of the girls parents house.
The girl works in our mess  and is  a good girl.  In fact, mom, she is a Cockney so you have an idea that what she is  like.
Her parents made me very welcome and  I had two eggs there.  Eggs area blessing when you can get  them.  (This  ‘good girl’
and George were planning marriage but her name has been lost).  Frankly,  mom, I like Cockneys the best of anybody
in the south of England.   They don’t beat around  the bush if they are going to tell you something.  Gosh!  I almost forgot you
should receive a Victory Bond  pretty soon.  I’ve paid  for it so do what you want with it.  Seems  like there isn’t much more
to say Mom, outside of I’m fine and  hope you and  everybody are the same.  I’ll close for now with love to all  and  all my love
 to you and Dad and may God
be with you.

All my Love, 

Note: This letter had been ‘opened by the examiner’  on April 6, 1944.
All personal letters were censored in case crucial information would
compromise the war effort.

George   xxxxxxxxx


Sgt. Freemand,

Dear Dot,

This is just a couple of paragraphs to let you know I’m still kicking and  that Jerry hasn’t had much  success in getting rid  of me.  How 
goes the battle with you and are you still working as hard as ever?  First, I want to thank you for the swell Valentine.  It was super.
How did  you ever dig it up?  I’m sorry I couldn’t return the favour and send  you  one.  Guess  you’ll have to settle for a  
Christmas card when Christmas rolls  around  again.  Will you thank Beryll for her card and tell her as  soon as I can find  the 
address I will write her too. Kind of me don’t you think?  Thank her for the pics  as well.

Things  are pretty much the same as ever over here.  Nothing good to eat and lots of beer.  I’m still as teetotaler.  The dances 
are corny…always  will be.  This mountain music they dish out here is worse than Columbus  Hall  stuff.  Guess  I sound pretty 
browned  off (fed  up) with things. Well I’m not too  badly put out.  It’s just the monotony of things.  One good thing is ‘leave’
which comes up pretty regularly.  We do get a  bit of a change in scenery, faces,  etc. I saw Sam Manhood on one leave.  
He looks  pretty fed up with everything not to mention that he has  aged  about 4 years.  Say, I wonder if I have aged  too?

The next thing on my list of jazz to talk about is flying.  That too is very monotonous.   I have put in a few trips  over Germany
and haven’t had too  much trouble with Jerry although he does try to give us a scare once in awhile.  The last trip over the 
skipper was in an excited mood at having seen his first real live fighter…F.W. 190.  So  he “dood it in his pants’ if you know
what I  mean.   If  I ever did that I’d ask  for my discharge  so  help me.  The agony of  it was that he had to sit that way for 
six hours.  On the whole it’s not to bad over  there if you keep your eyes open.  Maybe I’ll live through it.  Who knows?

Let’s skip that and talk about you.  That picture we had taken sure was terrific.  I had some time explaining to the boys
that it was  purely a platonic  friendship we had for each other.  How goes you and the Masonic Temple.  Still up there regular?
Are Beryll and  Freddie still on just friendly terms or has Freddie put on the old charm and  made her fall for him?

Well, Dot, there doesn’t seem to be much  more to say outside of it’s closing time.   So give my love, etc.  to the gang
and write soon.  Love to Berryl.

xxxx love xxx
xxx George xxx


There is so  much that needs saying about HX 313, especially the larger picture of the RCAF and 424 Squadron.  To
do so , however, needs a lot of space and a lot of time.  Even a discussion of the gunners and their guns needs 
to be explained.  Why were the guns of limited  use?  Why did many gunners see their role as  spotters more
than gunners?   Why, also, were  the guns useless when  the pilot of HX 313 took evasive action?  Who was
bomber Harris?  Why did the streets of  Hamburg start to burn after the bomber raids?  How many German
civilians were killed and maimed by Bomber Command?   Were phosphorus bombs inhumane?  How  many young
Canadian airmen died?  How  were the thousand bomber air raids organized? What did air crews  do on leave?

Fortunately I  have Victor Poppa’s diary.   If time allows I will transcribe it in the next few emails.  I should 
warn you however, that it includes sexual exploits.  Readers who find sex distasteful  have now been  forewarned.

alan skeoch
Oct. 10, 2019

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