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From: SKEOCH <firstname.lastname@example.org>Subject: PART 3: THE VICTOR POPPA STORYDate: November 7, 2019 at 4:56:26 PM ESTTo: Alan Skeoch <email@example.com>, firstname.lastname@example.org, Marjorie Skeoch <email@example.com>
PART 3: THE VICTOR POPPA STORYAbove is a post card Victor sent me shortly before he sent his diary
manuscript written in 1984-1985 based on the detailed diary he keptduring World War Two.
When Victor sent me this story in 1984 I was still teaching history at Parkdale CollegiaeInstitue, a Toronto downtown core high school. Parkdale was and remains a grittyplace where many students have faced poverty and social dislocation.. Tough kids.Realistic kids. Nice Kids. The kind you would want as a son or daughter.Even so, I did not think they could handle the Victor Poppa story withoutsome laundering. And laundering the historical record is a very slippery slope.So I never told the full story. I told the story of the day HX 313 was shot downbut I did not put that in its full context. I used the voice of Vera Lynn whosewartime singing was used to boost morale. White Ciffs of Dover, I’ll Be Seeing
You and other songs.
Today I think I would not be so afraid of using the “F” word. Everyone elseis using it. Netflix uses it so often in its films that the word has no shock valueany more. I might explain diplomatically that ‘Bless ‘Em All’ is fake news.The real song makes a lot more sense.And, once free of inhibitions, I could tell the Victor Poppa story in areal gritty, tragic, compassionate and humorous way.Stick with me if you can. If you can’t just press delete. Do notbother to phone me. I am on a roll.
BLESS ‘EM ALL…THE LONG AND THE SHORT AND THE TALLalan skeochNov. 2019beginning Part 3The Victor Poppa Story“Bless ‘em All” is the laundered version of a very popular World War 2 song.The song’s origin is a bit misty. Maybe written in 1917 during that horrificwar. But more likely written later. Certainly popular in World War 2 andmade so by George Formby and Vera Lynn. The laundered lyrics donot make much sense. Ordinary NCO’s were very unlikely to Bless theirsergeants and officers, especially if they ‘crawled off to their billets’when the real fighting began…i.e. when to bombers rolled alongthe taxiways…Now take the lyrics and substitute one word. Suddenly the songmakes sense. What is that word? The word is ‘Fuck’. Go aheadsing it both ways and you will see what I mean. And I bet $10 youwill be humming and singing the unlaundered tune all day.Bless ’em all,
Bless ’em all.
The long and the short and the tall,NOW I just wonder if the RCAF flight crewssand this song while cursing Bomber Harris?I like to think they did.
SOME of the crew of HX 313. Ken Sweatman, Bob Muir (?), Eric Mallet, Victor Poppa. And The Blonde Bomber…HX 313, 424 squadron, RCAF, 1944Victor looks like so many of the kids I taught in high school which is a reminder that the airmen of World War Two were just recent high school graduates .The aircrew of HX 313. Hank Freeman (George) on far left, and Victor Poppaon the far right.
THE VICTOR POPPA STORY, PART 3(Feb. 21 to May 27, 1944)
“February 21, 1944: Hank and I did an inspection of “P” Peter then went to Stores to trade in my old bots for a pair of shoesand changed my damaged electrical slipper for a new one. Hank and I then gave ourselves the afternoon off. We had a bath.Hank, Ken, Wilf, Eric and I headed for town and drank it up. The crew now seems closer together for we are now fully‘blooded’ after our Leipzig experience. Leipzig was Hand’s first mission as it was for Maurice, our engineer and ourspare Navigator, Ozzie. Ken told me later that Ozzie sharpened his skills and we made our way accurately to targetpoints marked out by a Pathfinder Squadron.”“February 22, 1944: Hank and I reported to Flights and were assigned another inspection of “P” Peter. I skipped ouFlights and went to our billet to light our small stove. The coke they gave us was hard to light so I pulled the flareportion out of a Very Pistol Cartridge, slipped the explosive into the bottom of the heater, lit it and that got the cokegoing in no time at all. Must tell the crew about that trick. Later i went up to the mess and saw Joan.“Eric was always volunteering for other things than flying. One of our gunners had a misfortune and was killed. TerribleOne of our aircraft was following the gunners’ aircraft and could not stop. His propeller chopped up the gunner ofthe lead plane. Eric tried to enlist me as a pall bearer. I refused with a strong ‘Oh, No!’ Eric had to find someoneelse. Think for a moment about that accident. Grim. ““Here is another instance about Eric and his volunteering. One night we were to go on a mission. On A long tripthere was always the problem of urinating. I kept a can just outside of my turret in the fuselage. when the urge cameupon me I just used that can and when the urine froze I threw the ice lump out my rear window which I kept openfor better visibility. Then Eric got the bright idea to use me as a urine volunteer. He was given a device whichlooked like an overlarge condom. I was supposed to put it around my penis which was in turn tied aroundmy waist to prevent it from falling off. I could urinate to my hearts content just so long as the thing did not overfill.I declined this magnificent gift saying ‘why don’t you wear it yourself?’ So he did…for a while. He disappearedfor a few minutes while we were going for a briefing and I said, ‘Where did you go?” He said the device kept rubbingon his penis and as a result he had an erection that would not go down. We had a good laugh over that one.“February 23, 1944: Hank and I reported to Flights and did another inspection of “P” Peter. We find we are toolate to go to Leeming to get our pay. The rest of the crew went to Harrogate except Hank who had a datewith Kay. I stayed in the barracks.“February 24, 1944: Hank and I went to Leeming for our pay and hitch hiked a ride to Thirsk and then to Leeds.Had a few drinks then caught train to London. We arrived in our usual beat condition, straightenedourselves out at Queens Garden YMCA.“February 25, 1944: Hank and I made a snap visit to the Beaver Club and I was surprised to run into Dick SchottWe trained together in Canada. Dick had been posted to an English squadron flying Lancasters. (Later Dickwas shot down and turned up in Stalag Luft VII with me.) Hank and I went to London’s Latin Quarter, boozedit up and back to YMCA before we fell down.Note: Readers who have read Parts 1 and 2 might assume Victor’s consumption of beer so often wouldmake him an alcoholic if he survived the war. When I met him in 1984 he did not drink at all…gave itup. Young men in their twenties often drink a lot of beer which does not mean that alcohol consumptionis a lifetime phenomenon. Hank and Victor became very good friends. Victor survived the war. GeorgeHank Freeman did not. When Victor was told of Hank’s death in HX 323, he cried. And the, 40 yearslater , I sent a letter to Victor, he also cried.“February 26, 1944: Hank and I left London for Caterham to visit my brother Max. We took Max and hisfriends out boozing and then dancing. What a wild night. Met a girl and that’s rhe way she stayed.“February 27, 1944: Got up late, ate at the snack bar and went to corny movie after which revisited the ValleyHotel for a few beers then back to sleep on the floor at Max’s billet. Hardwood floor and two blankets.“February 28, 1944: I ran into a fellow I knew casually, Joe M…forget his last name. He recognized mefirst. We went out dancing again and were thrown out of the dance hall.“February 29, 1944: Hank and I left for London after saying goodbye to Max and his pals. Then on to Leeds,ate at the YMCA and went girl hunting. We met a couple of nice prospects. Pub crawling as usual.The only place for love making was in the cemetery. My girl would only venture in a few yards but Hank’sgirl was willing to go further. The girls I was with was too nervous about her surroundings and no matterwhat tactics I used my efforts were to no avail. A considerable amount of time elapsed and my girland I were getting cold so she said she was staying at Hank’s girls house. “Let’s walk there andwait for them.” It was a long wait. About 3.30 a.m. they had still not arrived. So I left and told mygirl to tell Hank I would meet him at the railway staton. Some time later Hank came storming intothe station. Raging mad. “Hold your breath and then tell me what happened.” It seems Hank and hisgirl were having a great time and thought they were in Heaven. On one occasion they were makingout with her sitting on a tombstone and the girl had her legs off the ground and around Hank’s waist.At the crucial moment the Tombstone ‘shifted’ which scared the daylights out of them. They thoughtthe ground was about to open up and swallow them in a grave. Back at the girls’ house things gotworse. My girl got tired of waiting outside and went into the house and was met by the father. “Where ismy daughter? He got really angry and got the local constable. Both looking for the daughterin the cemetery. Hank spotted the constable and the girl’s father first. Ducking from tombstone totombstone they managed to work their way out of the cemetery and made a run for it. This episodebrings a smile to my face every time I think about it. Life does have its’ beautiful moments.Note: Sounds hard to believe? But it fits. Victor’s diary has so many similar stories withnames, dates, place included. Lucky George Freemans mother, my aunt Kitty, has died longago. She might not approve of Hank’s womanizing. On the other hand ?? I was surprised to
learn that Hank was never mentioned at the Freeman home after his death. His sisters children,Doug and Christopher , did not even know George existed until they were adults. The hurt wasthat deep. “I remember asking why Grandma was crying one day snd Mom said, ‘This wouldhave been George’s birthday.” I said, “Who was George?” “My brother, killed in the war.”
“March 1, 1944: Hank and I arrived back at Skipton on the 5.18 out of Leeds. Had baths,opened letters and parcels. Nice to sleep between clesn linen sheets.:March 2, 1944: Not much doing. Practiced shooting with my .38 Smith and Wesson.Ammot for the .38 is hard to come by.March 3, 1944: Reported to flights and were assigned “Q” Quance to inspect. Hank and I wereasked if we wanted to apply for a commission. We said ‘sure’ and got busy filling in the formsand presented same. We felt we could do what we do and still be gentlemen…just need to refinethe rough edges a bit. We are going on a night Bullseye, my 5th, from Base to Redding, London,Dagenham, Sait Abbots Head, Glasgow, Catterick, Manchester, Birmingham and back to base.This trip took 6 hours and15 minutesNOTE: Interesting comment “We could do what we do and still be gentlemen.” The great charmof Victor’s diary to me is its’ lack of pretence. No phoniness. No snobbery. Just great joy strippedof all caution. Underneath, however, is constant fear.March, 4, 1944: We slept till noon then reported to Flights. Did our inspections of “P” Peter. Tookrest of the afternoon off. Went back to our billet and lit the stove with a cartridge from a Very Pistol(a flare gun) . Not too worry as I took all the precautions. Then we had toast and sausages andtea. We talked for a while. Ken is lost somewhere.March 5, 1944: Reported to Flights and were sent to inspect “H” Harry. We were supposed to dosome fighter affiliation but the aircraft was declared unserviceable. Back to our billet, lit the stovewith the help of the flare gun. Had toast then went to a movie.March 6, 1944: Reported to Flights. Operations are in for tonight. We are to bomb the marshallingyards in France. Seems to be an easy target but we are alert. The target is the town of Trappeswhich is my 1th mission. There will be 346 aircraft on the raid, all of them four engined heavy bombers.Our gross load is to be 11,500 pounds…8 x 1,000 pound bombs, 7 x 500 pound bombs,The trip went smoothly as all of our squadron made it back safely. Time was 5 hours and 50 minutes.Happy debriefing.March 7, 1944: Awoke around noon hour, had lunch, cleaned billet, then back to the mess for beerI wrote Mary a letter , read a bit and fell asleep.March 8, 1944: Hank and I went to Flights then gave ourselves the day off at our favourite pub.March 9, 1944: Hank and I inspected “Y” York. Operations were supposed to be on but werecancelled. Wilf went to town with his sailor-boy brother in law. Wilf was full of alcohol before theyleft the base.March 10, 1944: Reported to Flights…we are ‘on’ for tonight…then a few hours later itwas called of, Flew out to the North Sea where a smoke float was thrown out and Hank and Ishot the float from a broadside position. We used 2,000 rounds apiece. Very low flying, closeto the water. Flying time 2 hoursMarch11, 1944: We reported to Flights and were assigned “P” Peter to do complete job checkingfrom guns to turrets. Then we were of to the Sam Hutton pub for beer. Had some troublewalking home.March 12, 1944: Same…assigned “P” Peter to check after which we did some “homing on ourradio beam” and some 3 and 2 motored flying. Later Hank and I did some Skeet shooting andI got 14 out of 20.Today a new Mark VI Halifax landed, a new replacement.March 13, 1944: Usual routine and checked “P” Peter again. The special equipment andbombsight were declared unserviceable. Then some 3 motored flying.Maurice pissed me off and just as I was going to settle things with my fists Bob intervenedand pushed me aside. Maurice will never fit in as part of our crew. Missions were on fortonight but we were not on the Battle Orders.March 14, 1944: Reported to Flights. Another air test which took 5 minutes doing evasiveaction practice. Special equipment checks out. Then sent out on a Command Bullseye, my6th. Took off at 2015 hours..base to Cambridge, Norwich, Lincoln, Newcastle, Leeds,Hull, Peterboroughand Base. We were coned by searchlights once for 4 minutes. The whole exercise makesme feel good. Took 4 hours and 10 minutes.March15, 1944: Operations on for tonight. Target is Stuttgart, my 11t mission. We are sending788 aircraft all 4 motored heavies. Bad night for we lost 40 aircraft and 280 crewmen…some killed,some captured snd some wounded. Our bomb was 4,000 pounds of incendiariesplus 2 x 250 lb bombs. At briefing we are given our winds, altitudes, turning point which isredding, North of London. The wall map points out all the flak positions and the concentrationof their 88 mm. anti-aircraft gun. Also what potential night fighters we may meet.On the raid we did not have too much of a problem, plenty of flak though. We fly southand make our turn over the Swiss Alps just short of the border. The firing of flak gunsdefines the border for us. There is not much distance between us and the snow capped mountains.Stuttgart suburbs the worst flak. We are getting banged about.Ken is now in position getting ready to drop the bombs. Hank yells as another aircraft aboveus is dropping his bombs. Eric quickly moves “P”Peter as bombs pass on our side. Thewhole city of Stutgart is illuminated by our fires and their searchlights. I can see bombsexploding and new fires starting. Down below Hitler’s people are getting their prematureview of Hell. Shells are bursting close and we are taking some hits from Flak shrapnel.Hank and I are keeping both eyes open for night fighters. This is some night. Ken hasdropped his bombs. Eric is now flying straight and even until our photo flashes go of andour camera catches our bombs bursting. Then Eric is given his new course and we are onway home but everyone is alert because this mission is far from over. We do not make ithome and have to land at a Typhoon fighter base on the south coast of England. We pickour location to land using the ‘Nemo’ emergency call and the corresponding ‘Darky’response. As we circle the field the outer lights are in water. Is this a dummy airfield?“Darky” responds by flashing lights on and off. We spot the runway lights and make yourfinal run, touch down and park “P” Peter at a dispersal. since this is a fighter base the dispersalpoints are not too large. We got what rest we could and in daylight found our hydraulics wereunserviceable. We had a hole in our flap and the bomb bay doors also had holes. The flapsfor landing are set at 90 degrees but we could not raise the flaps hydraulically for takeoff. Ratherthan hang around for repairs we elected to push the flaps up manually into takeoff position, leavethe landing gear down and fly to base at Skipton. This worked out fine. Sttuttgart took 8 hours and 40 minutes.Each bombing raid was horrific for German civilians as seen above…the picture may have been taken after the HAmberg raids butcould apply to other raids.
Note: There were 53 raids on Stuttgart because of the heavy industrial plants. Only partly successfulbecause the city had deep valleys and heavy defences. Allies lost 300 aircraft and 2,400 crewmen.Death toll on ground was 4,950 people. Death toll lighter than the Hamburg raids that killed35,000 to 45,000 people. The bombing created 15 million cubic metres of rubbleand damaged or destroyed 39,125 buildings.March 17, 1944: Hank and I did a little Skeet shooting. I got 9 out of 10.March 18, 1944: Operation are on. Target is Frankfurt on the Main River. This will bemy 12th mission. At briefing we were told what to expect as we were given our weather, altitude ,route as well as the flak positions. This time we are carrying 4,600 pounds of explosives.There will be 719 planes, all heavies. We lost 22 aircraft and 154 men. We took off at 1850 hours,Over the English Chnnell. Our airspeed indicator quit working as did our compass.Bob does not want to continue’ We still have our magnetic compass and Eric can get Quite closeto the air speed required. Bob rofuses to navigate and the rest of the crew are pissed off at him.So Eric makes a turn to return to base. A new decision needs to be made. Should we dump our bombs….a danger below as some troops are practising for the coming invasion of Europe in. We did not know thisbut we knew there were our ships at sea. Or should we return to base with our bombs which is always a dangerespecially when we had a load of fuel. We decided to fly around and burn up fuel and then land. Nobody ishappy about this situation for it means we will face another mission to make up for the aborted missionat the end of our 29 missions.March 19, 1944: We slept until noon and then reported to Flights. I played checkers with Hank and Rennie…lost.We are giving the job of trying out “M” Mother for an acceptance test. Over the North Sea with the airplane…seemedfine . Hank and I fired off 1,000 rounds apiece at the water. silly. Landed at 1800 hours.March 20, 1944: Hank and I do our usual inspection of “P” Peter but did not finish due to rain. Mission is on fortonight laying mines north of Kiel in the Baltic Sea. but mission was cancelled. It is much easier on the nervesto go on a mission rather than plan for a mission that is then cancelled. The led down is terrible.March 21,1944: We were supposed to be on a mission tonight, again mine laying in the Baltic Sea. And againit is cancelled. The excuse this time is that Eric and Ken are on another course. Eric is going on an Air Sea Rescuecourse and Ken is on a course on the Mark 14 bomb sight. I ent over to see Mary at Dishforth for some TenderLoving Care.March 22, 1944: We flew twice today ferrying aircraft to Croft and returned with another newer Halifax Mark III.Only firing today was using the flare pistol cartridge to light our stove.March 23, 1944: Hank and I got up early to go to Leeming to get some overdue pay…my share was 11 poundsand four shillings then went over to the mess and had some gin and bitters along with beer. Hank and I tookKay snd Betty. Betty and I have never really got along well together. Hank decided to end his relationship withKay after all this time.
March 24, 1944: Hank and I are going on leave today. We decided not to visit any distant city so set our sightson York. Caught train from Harrogate to York and signed in at the YMCA. Then off we went to Betty’s Bar, anRCAF hanout. We got talking to P/o Fenton who asked us to say hello to Eric as he knew him from some otherplace. The place was full and drinking was in full swing. Later we ate at Jack’s cafe.March 25, 1944: Hank and I decided to see if we could survive a leave without getting involved with girls.We planned to spend a quiet evening drinking at Betty’s Bar but a couple of girls made their way to our tableand we chatted a while then palmed the girls off to a couple of guys we knew who were glad to hit ‘pay dirt’with no effort on their part. We went back to the YMCA and bed.March 26, 1944: A nice spring Sunday with the sun shining and all the good stuff. Hank and I had 3 beerseach then visiting places of interest. Doing all the things a tourist would do.Hank and I were really enjoying our walkwhen out of the blue this girl runs across the street and skids to a stop in front of us saying, note “I’m ‘Legs’ ofthe Robin Hood (pub) and I’ve fucked every jerk in Sixth Group Bomber Command” This presentation came on sostrong that we took a couple of steps back. This appears to be a threat to this new doll. So we said, “Wellwe are the flying part of Six group and have never heard of you” Meanwhile the three of us are blockingthe sidewalk. Hank and I are smoking with our hands in our pockets, jackets unbuttoned, caps tucked intoour shoulder straps, when this British Army type officer of some sort of high rank is forced to walk around usto get by. Legs was using some great language and we were given a real frosty look but we felt it wasbest to say nothing. The Robin Hood was a notorious pub in Leeds but was off limits because of rampantV.D.Legs language was so raw that we sought to escape to a local park where no one was near. We triedall sorts of things to get rid of her but she just would not leave. Hank and I were getting hungry andsince we couldn’t get rid of this Gem, we asked her to go with us. We were getting her to the pointwhere her choice of words was almost acceptable. We ordered our meal and then I asked her afairly simple question. “How did you get the name Legs?” She promptly pulled up her skirt, way uppast her hips. You should have seen the looks we got from the patrons. She really did have nice legshowever she was not wearing underwear. Our respectable leave was being compromised. We finally maneuveredLegs to he railway station and we thought that was the end fit all. Legs was more tenacious than we thought.We headed back to the YMCA then headed for Betty’s Bar. In we go… most of the action is inthe basement. I asked Hank to find a table while I went to the washroom. Returning I see Hank overin a corner making frantic gestures. I hurried over and Hank Said, “Legs is here!” Good grief, ourdarling is right in the middle of the room where she can Zero in on a victim.. Our beer came andwe kept as low a profile as possible. Legs spots us and gives us a wave, heads our way until someunknowing type introduced himself to Legs and our moment of terror was over.Well Legs and her new victim moved to a booth. we now felt at ease. Nor too long later two lovelies walked inand sat at the table Legs had vacated. We both happened to glance in their direction when one picked upa cigarette and asked for a light. Hank started to rise and I said, “Hank if you get up and giv her a light, ourrespectable leave is as good as over.” Hank said, “No don’t worry, i will just give her a light.” Hank does thisand comes back saying they want us to join them. “Ok, just you wait and see,” and after a few drinks in Betty’sBar we all leave for another bar. Here the girls decide to chug a lug. Imagine that! This raises our eyebrowsso, what the Hell. Our morals took a giant step backwards. We hunted around and found a small old hotelwhere the proprietor took us to a bedroom on the 3rd floor that only had one 3/4 bd. The four of us lookedat the bed with an unsaid question. Then the proprietor tuned into our wave length and took us toanother room on the first floor. The room had two full size beds and a bathroom. But there was someonesleeping in one of the beds. It seems Hank and I were expected to sleep in the empty bed. No way, wehad other plans. After the landlord left, Hank snd I sped upstairs to see Gwyn snd Ilene. Upon entering theroom Gwyn was standing near nude with her shoes, stalkings snd garter belt. What a sight. Ilene wasalmost in the same state. I picked up Gwyn, clothes and all, and said ‘’Let’s Go!” We made our way tothe first floor room, snapped on the light and awoke the guy in the other bed. He was startled and dida double take. “Don’t interfere, she’s all mine.” Just then the door opened and a new guy comes in. He askedwhat were we doing. I nodded towards the empty bed whereupon he said that bed was his.What a mess. I was carrying her clothes and Gwyn was still nearly nude. Off we go back upstairswhere Hank is in bed with Ilene. Without saying much Gwyn crawls over those two against the wall andget lodged between the two girl. Nice spot. We all have our fun and games and fall asleep.Around 5 a.m. the proprietor makes his rounds. He has figured things out. Runs upstairs to our 3rd floorroom, shakes Hank awake. Hank forgets where he is. Sleepy. He gives the proprietor a good back hand.Hank becomes fully awake then shakes me awake. We threaten him a bit, “you gave us this roomwith only one small bed, what do you expect?” His response “I’m going to get the Specials (MP’s?) anda constable. We all decide to get dressed and leave fast. Walked the girls to the railway station. Itwas early, maybe 6 a.m. and the locals were going to work. They gave us some frosty looks. Thesepeople were not dumb. The girls got the train to Leeds. Hank and I waited for the train to Harrogate wherewe took in a show, lapped up some beer and headed back to Base.We discussed the matter and decided to give the respectable leave idea another try next time.This one sure turned out to be a honey.NOTE: I don’t know whether to include this story in the Victor Poppa story or not. Sounds farfetched but Victor uses such precise terms that I am not sure. Remember Victor rewrotethe story forty years after the fact. Did he improve the story? I don’t think so. It fits thepattern and even provides detail that might fit other romantic episodes mentioned in shortform earlier. My experience is limited but I spent ten years working with men in miningexploration. Their stories and actions were similar. Some lurid descriptions and some realevents. In the 1960’s I stayed clear of the sexual opportunities as Ken Sweatman did in 1944 but otherevents involving beer were spot on. One event in Dawson City. We awoke in a dumpy roomwhere I was sleeping in the bathtub and other guys in the bed. One guy,locked out, got into the roomby crawling over the transom above the door. There were 4 or 5 of us. We paid for one person rental.We laughed a lot especially at the two people copulating drunkenly on a barroom floor wherethe bartender just rolled them out the door like one gigantic soccer ball. Believable?You will say the story is a fabrication but it is a lasting memory of mine. Victor waslikely saying the truth. Betty’s Bar was real and can be found described as a wartimeRCAF Hangouton the internet.March 28 and 29, 1944: Nothing to reportMarch 30, 1944: Ken has been asked to fly as a ‘spare body’ with another crew. I surehope nothing happens to him as he is one nice person.March 31, 1944: Did inspection of “P” Peter then drank beer in Mess with my brother Max and Hank.Max is on leave. We all went to the Sam Hutton for another wild night.’April 1, 1944: We went to Flights and Max came along. The crew like him.April 2, 1944: Hank and I went to Flight…Max slept in until noon. A bunch of 424 Squadron guys took usalong to Leeming where we all had a party. Hank and Max got rather drunk. I stayed sober becausemy stomach is in terrible shape.April 3, 1944: Hank and I inspected “P” Peter again. Max must head back to his army units out ofLondon…It was good seeing him again.
Note: Skipton Base. Victor and his crew were assigned one of the quonset hut barracksthat are clustered top left.April 4, 5, 6: 1944: Rained heavily for first two days. Today, 6th of April, we checked out the gunson “R” Romeo. Later. I borrowed a bicycle and pedalled to Thirst.April 7, 1944: Today we were supposed to go on a mission to Paris and Lille but it was cancelled.We stayed around doing nothing.April 8, 1944: Hank and I harmonized the guns on “Q” Quebec and “P” Peter. Later Hank, Eric, and Mauriceweht to our local pub to get boozed up. Ken, Wilf, and Bob have gone to Harrogate to do the same thing.I decided to write letters and then go to bed.April 9, 1944: Mission #13, Operations on for tonight. We are to use “M”Mike tonight. Hank and I got busywith our end of the airplane then had dinner before going to the Briefing Room. Our target will be ‘VilleneuveSt Georges’ near Paris which is a railway yard. We are given our route in and out at an altitude of 6,000feet. We should expect lots of flak at that altitude we are told. Our bomb load is 10,000 lbs of highexplosives. The flight was not too bad but we took our share of Flak. On takeoff from Skipton, however,we either flew into some other aircraft’s propeller washer were caught in a wind shear. This was not ahealthy situation. One wing dropped abruptly when we were only 75 feet off the ground. Heavy loadaboard made the situation very serious. We were just above stall speed. Eric had enough experience toreact fast . Eric hit on top rudder speeding up our low right wing thus creating more lift. This saved us.Anyone with less experience may not have known what to do in time.
Note: In April 1944, Bomber Command concentrated its strikes on Germanrailway marshalling yards. This must have been noticed by German highcommand who were expecting an invasion which came on June 6, 1944.A massive deception was put in place in England. Where were the invasion forcesgoing to land? Picture shows just how concentrated bombing could be.April 10, 1944: We are now on leave again. It seems everyone is going off in different directions. But weall went to Leeming to pick up our pay then to Thursk to a tour train. I’m off to see my brother Max southof London. Then YMCA.April 11, 1944: Staying in London for four days. Went to visit Frank Hughes but no one home so I wentto the movies and an entertainment centre. Visited a few pubs. Bed.April 12, 1944: Rode around London on the bus sightseeing then another movie and bar hopping.April 13, 1944: Caught the train to Caterham and found out from people who were not supposed to talkthat Max was now in Brighton, booked into the Emery Hotel.April 14, 15, 16, 1944: I had no trouble finding Max. When he was off duty we went pub crawling then dancing.Which was what we did for all three days. When my funds were used up I took the train back to Skipton.The train journey could have been better.April 17, 1944: I spent most of the day answering letters.April 18, 1944: Operations on for tonight. Hank and I did our inspection of “P” Peter. This will be my14rh mission. Target is another railway marshalling yard called ‘Noisy le Sec’. Near Paris. When wework over these marshalling yards we come close to the ground. So close that the bomb explosionsmake it seem someone is hammering under the fuseage with a telephone pole. There will be 170 heavy bombers this mission.We lost 4 of them on the mission which means another 28 aircrew will not make it home. Our bomb loadis 10,000 lbs of high explosives. This time the route is right over Paris at 12,000 feet. The flak is heavyThe smoke from the shells permeates our oxygen masks. The flashes and smoke pass by our bomberreally fast and close together. The explosions toss our aircraft all over the place but we stay on course.Ken gets into position for bombing. Our Mark 14 Bombsight compensates for our irregular flying due tothe anti-aircraft shells exploding. Ken waits for the right moment and then drops our load. Then we mustfly straight and level as usual so our camera can take a picture of the impact locations. We passed overtwo French towns where our air forces were working over marshalling yards.Limburg railway marshalling yard after a bombing in Dec. 1945As we passed over London on our return to Skipton we noticed that the Luftwaffe was givingLondon a pasting. The anti-aircrsaft fire from London’s anti-iraft defences was mind boggling. I couldnot imagine any German bomber surviving. We flew at 13,000 feet which is quite low. I am tiredand longing for a cigarette. I cup the cigarette in my oxygen mask. , my cigarette flamed and burnedright down to my lips. I call Maurice on the intercom andtell him to cut off the oxygen. He asks why? “Never mind why, just do it!” He cuts he oxygen andI light another cigarette. This was the first and last time I ever smoked on an aircraft. We land…flyingtime for this mission is 6 hours and 15 minutes. At briefing our camera confirms that our bombswere all cocnetrsted on the target..Note: German night fighters could sometimes see the Halifax tail gunners lighting cigaretteswhich gave the Germans a clear target in the dark sky. Cigarette smoking was forbidden for thisreason. Victor lit his cigarette contrary to orders but he was then over England, heading home.April 19, 1944: Slept late today then picked up our mail. Raining hard so we slacked off.Lit our stove with the pistol cartridge as usual. The stove reduces the dampness somewhat.April 20, 1944: We report to Flights and find out we will be going on a Mission tonight.We are assigned “U” Uniform which Hank and I inspect. I have been issued a .38 Smith and Wessonpistol which I keep in my boot with a flashlight in the other boot. Easy to get them if needed.Take off time is 2105 hours.Through the day each of us keep our feelings to ourselves. This is mission 15 for me. Off wego to briefing where the target is on a wall map including the route in and out usinga red ribbon indicating route changes. Again we will use Redding as the collection andturning point. We will be guided to The target by Pathfinders leading the attack.Our target tonight is “Lens”, another marshalling yard. There is no doubtin our minds that we are getting close to D-day. 158 bombers are being sent. We have11,000 lbs of high explosives. Ken has done well on this one as our camera reveals.On target.Skpton on Swale is one of 3 airfields close to each other in Yorkshire. Each airfield containstwo squadrons…about 100 aircraft. There are many near misses when bombers arriveback at Skipton as bombers take short cuts to get back to base as fast as possible.We hear a lot of anger about these pilots who make Skipton air traffic very dangerous.There are aircraft who want to get down fast for good reasons…short of fuel, damagedengines, serious battle damage, injured crew. Because of these emergency landingswe spend several minutes doing circuits around Skipton. Later a solution is found…Squadrons at each airfield will alternate landings on arriving at the airbase early.April 21, 1944: We slept until noon. Operations are on for tonight but not for us.Hank, Ken, Bob and I do not feel too well so it is just as well we are toon missions today.April 22,1944: Misson # 16 for me. Hank and I do our inspection of our gunson “P” Peter then write a few letters at our billet. Our mission today will be a real ‘gut’grinding one. After lunch we sit around the briefing room staring at a map coveredby a blind. Our commanding officer enters, everyone stands, he says ‘Gentlemen, beseated’. The curtain is drawn back, our target revealed…a very heavily industrializedsection of Germany called the ‘Ruhr Valley’…specific target is Dusseldorf. The RuhrValley is nick named Happy Valley by bomber crews. Today we will send 997 heavy bombersin a split force. 613 will bomb Dusseldorf. 384 will bomb elsewhere. (This night we willlose 43 aircraft and 310 aircrew. Our squadron will lose 3 aircraft.) We are shownour route in and out from Dusseldorf. Much of the route is over the heavily defended zones.We can expect late doses of flak going in and coming out. There will also bemany night fighters. The room becomes very quiet as the briefing continues.Halfway through the briefing in walks Flying Officer B. whose crew is alreadyin the room. I never saw this pilot ever make it to a briefing on time. (Later, he wasshot down. His crew showed up at Stalag Luft 7 where I was also a POW.Flight Officer B. survived being shot down but lost his foot on Bailing out.It seems he jumped from the hatch above his head and the foot was cut offby the propeller.Take off is to be at 2210 hours. We go to our lockers to pick what we will need theninto the truck that will drop us at “P”Peter’s dispersal site. We chat with our groundcrew while we wait to climb aboard. It is still daylight when we take off. Finallydarkness descends as we reach our assigned altitude and our turning point aboveRedding. By the time we approach the enemy coast I start to calm down. We are often beingshot at by flak and there is danger we will be coned by searchlights. But I feel alright. Anyway I am busy.Long ago it seems when Hank and I loaded our guns. All ready. The big task is totry and spot night fighters before we become a target. We try to keep conversations short.Bob has been giving Eric course directions. Ken is busy helping Bob by picking upbuilt up areas on our H2S set. Wilf is working his radios. Maurice is tending to our motors.Maurice has the habit of sucking our fuel tanks dry and waits for the motors to showsigns of fuel starvation. Only then does he switch tanks. Eric never liked this practiceby Maurice however he never says anything. We are now on our final course to Dusseldorf.The flak is getting more intense. Eric can see the target ahead and also see the flakdensity we will soon experience. A large area around Dusseldorf is lit up by firessearchlights. WE are being battered by flak burst that are too close.Hank snd I are busy scanning the skies around us for night fighters. Ken is nowin position to drop our bombs…2,000 pounds of high explosives snd 4,000 poundsof incendiaries Ken is giving Eric the necessary lefts and rights until he decidesto press the release switches. Once done after the camera shot we start to get close callsfrom the flak guns blow. Then things start to ease up as we head for home.The mission took 5 hours s and 45 minutes. We are debriefed at Skipton. I take myshot of Navy Rum and any other shots as well. Then we go for our special baconand eggs breakfast given to all returning crews And finally to bed.April 23, 1944: Too busy to make notes in my log book.Note: “Throughout the war Commonwealth squadrons were generally the lastto receive new equipment, RCAF squadrons were saddled with under-poweredtwin-engined Wellingtons longer than their British counterparts, and also laggedin receiving four-engined Halifaxes and Lancasters. Many Canadian squadronsdid without Lancasters … which were the best for bomb load, range, ceiling andease of handling and lightest on casualties … until 1945.” (Roger Dentley)One good point about the Halifax. It was easier to bail out of with highersurvival rate if being abandoned in combat according to a different source.April 24, 1944: Operations are on for tonight so Hank and I do our usual inspection of “P” Peter.We get through the early part of the day OK. Write letters…speculate on the target…getvery nervous. Most of the crews are in the briefing room when we enter. This will beMission #17 for me. The curtain is drawn and we see in an instant that the target is Karlsrue.We note the Flak stations on our route. Another split force. 613 aircraft will got Karlsruhe and345 will bomb elsewhere. Total attack force of958 aircraft. (We will lose 32 bombers and224 crew members )There is a big flash of light behind us as we leave Skipton. Some plane exploded on takeoff.The weather is not too good…overcast at 10,000 feet. Conditions worse over Europe.Our pilots will have to contend with flying using only instruments.We fear collisions. We have six Squadrons taking off from airports close to each other…all aircraft
Making a standard 360 degree turn left as we climb. There’re now 144 aircraft circling. We are insolid instrument dependent weather…pilots flying strictly by the gauges in front of them. All ofus hoping and praying we will not collide with another aircraft in this “soup”. As we climb I seea big flash of light bursting through the ‘soup”. Someone must have crashed on take off. Finallywe break through at 10,000 feet and sure enough off to our right is another aircraft not 500 feetfrom us. I wonder if there were others even closer as we circled in the soup.We continued to climb crossing the enemy coast where flak bursts light up the clouds. Likelooking through frosted window glass. One good thing. We are no longer worried about nightfighters under these conditions. One worry. We are picking up ice which is not too good. We haveno way to break up the ice. We do have a kind of paste which is smeared on our wings leading edge.Looks like grease. The weight of the ice and the big bomb load pulls us down. Bomb load includesone 2000 pound high explosive and 4,000 pounds of incendiaries. Not much is being said on the intercombut we are all aware of the increased danger. Ken is working our H2Sset , Bob passes us someuseful information as to a good fix on our location but does not trust the info. As a result we overflewon the right side of our target. Bob realizes he was wrong and gives Eric a new course to fly.We decideto unload our bombs on what seems a likely target. About 15 minutes later we fly through a hole in theweather. We are alone. Our main force had finished bombing on target and had headed for home. Thefires below had burned a hole in the clouds. Lucky no Flak. The target looks well and truly smitten.Bob gave us a new course for home. Not much more was said about our error…our’ faut pas.’ Flying timewas 7 hours.
April 25 and 26, 1944: No time for diary notes…getting really busyApril 27, 1944 Operations are on for tonight. This will be my 18th mission. Takeoff time is 2345 hours andour target is once again is railway yards, this time at “Aulnoye”. Apparently we will not be bothered bytoo much flak. The fighter problem remains though. The mission includes 116 heavy bombers. We will carry10,000 pounds of high explosives. And once again, our ‘master of ceremonies’, the Pathfinder (Mosquito bombers)will layout our target and instruct us where to lay our eggs. We are flying at 5,000 feet. Ken is busy…he doesa good job which our camera confirms later. Our time for this missions 4 ours snd 50 minutes.April 28 and 29 1944: Recently we have been getting a lot of ‘on and off’ missions which are terrible on the nerves.Especially bad when we are already in the aircraft and ready to go.April 30, 1944: Operations are on for tonight, my 19th mission. This time we are going to “Somain”, a railwaymarshalling yard in France. Our bomb load is15 x 250 pound bomb of high explosives…7,500 pounds.We will bomb from an altitude of 6,500 feet. Pathfinders were supposed to layout the target but failed to doso. While the Pathfinders were taking another try we were asked or orbit off to the left….all 143 aircraft.Flares are being dropped by parachute lighting up the target area as we have done in all attacks onmarshalling yards. We end up stooging to one side for 17 minutes then there is a big rush of aircraftto unload and get away as fast as possible. We feel the Luftwaffe must be on its way as there are manyfighter bases close by. As a result of the disrupting the air raid is not a 100% success. On our way back there wasa short burst of flak that hit the aircraft near us. There was an explosion and bits of the aircraftfell in flames. This could have been us. We took some hits from flak but not lethal hits. Flying time 6 our sand 10 minutes.My total flying time is now 317 hours snd 55 minutes.May 1, 1944: Operations again This time we are sent on a mine laying trip to ‘Brest Harbuor’ along with 5 otheraircraft all carrying 2 x 1500 pound atrial mines. Nice moonlit night. We set our course at 10,000 feet altitude.Eric and Lt. Compton were going to fly together on this moonlit cruise.When we reach 10,000 feet Eric says “Do you see Compton?” I scan the sky and say he is off to our starboard side.Eric asks again, “Where?” I repeat “Starboard”. Then Eric suddenly lays us over on our side…way over…perhaps 90degrees….so far over that it was nip and tuck whether we were going on our back or not. I yell, “Eric!”. Eric responds,“I know Vic!” Fortunately we rolled back right side up. What happened? Eric, in his eagerness to line up with Lt.Compton over controlled. (Note: Lt. Compton finished his tour, survived the war along with his crew. He was afine person.)May 2, 1944: We are on leave. Everyone takes off on his own. I decided to got to Scotland on this one to visit Ann and Ruby.On arrival I find that Ann is off visiting her mother in Manchester. I look up Ruby and am invited to stay which makesthings nice and cosy. I have a nice room upstairs. After everyone is in bed I hear the back stairs creaking. In comesRuby on her tip toes. Everything was great in this nice soft bed, a real delight. This visit was pretty well standardexcept for two occasions. One afternoon while we were walking in the woods the urge arose. We did our thing andonly afterword did we notice we had an audience of 6 young children around 10 to 12 years of age.Ruby lived very close to Loch Lomond snd one day i Rented a row best and took Ruby for a boat ride. We wereabout 200 yards from shore when the urge overtook us. Ruby layed back on the seat with her back in an arch,a strain there I should imagine but Ruby was game and we had our fun. It never occurred to us that people couldsee us easily from the shore. Later upon returning the row boat the attendant gave us a broad smile. Thisturned out to be a really delightful leave and I was well rested …ready to go back on operations.May … I have no diary entrees. We did a lot of flying.May 17, 1944: We are now using the aircraft QB-B HX313, a Halifax bomber. Someone put a big strain on“P” Peter after we used it. It never seemed to fly properly any more.May 17, 1944: We are assigned to fly twice today using QB_B HX313. First we do fighter affiliation with aHawker Hurricane as the attacking fighter. We have a second pilot aboard learning the tricks. Later wetake off again so that Ken can practice bombing over Strensall.On the way to this exercise a de Haviland Mosquito fighter bomber comes up alongside my turret…in factabout 25 feet.. close…he indicated he wanted to play. What a beautiful sight. I asked Eric if he was game snd he said yes.“Give him a run for the money Eric!” I said. After about 8 wild Corkscrews Eric is pooped out and I Get the chanceto wave the Mosquito off. He does a barrel roll and peels away. What a sight seeing such a wonderful planeclose up and doing some really great flying. (This picture has stayed crystal clear in my mind all my life.)May 18, 1944: Nothing loggedMay 19, 1944: Missions are on for tonight. My 21st. Mission it to St. Malo, a fairly easy mission mine laying in theSt. Malo harbour Two aircraft , each carrying 4 x 1500 lob mines. We cannot close the bomb doors because ofthe bulky mines but this is not big deal. The mission went smoothly and both aircraft returned to base. We werethe only planes used that night.May 22, 1944: Missions are on for tonight. This makes NO 22 for me. We notice that bombs are now beingstored at our dispersals, a clear sign that D day is just around the corner. Looks like we can expect more thanone mission per day. Today our bomb loads are 250 and 500 pound high explosives snd the target is the “Le Mans”marshalling yards. The railways are sure getting more than their share of bombs. Tonight we send 112 Heavybombers. Two Pathfinders lead the way, Banana One and Banana Two. There is trouble dropping the parachuteflares due to 40 mm anti aircraft guns below. The Apex of these shells is at our bombing height of 8,800 feet.Banana One orders us to orbit to starboard. We enter a cloud bank. Surprisingly there is not much complaintover the radio telephone . We orbit for about 15 minutes when Banana Two orders us to bomb the centre ofthe green target he has marked. We begin our bomb run. The 15 minutes delay gives our French friends timeto move away from the target. We drop down to low level and do our bomb run then head for the coastat the same low level. I can clearly see towns and even buildings…and people flashing flashlights at us. Itis nice to know we are being loved. We climb to clear the French coast and the coastal guns gave usour share of flak. This trip took 5 ours snd 50 minutes.May 23, 24, 25, 1944: Too many ‘on and off’ again missions. Is anyone aware of how these things shatter our nerves?May 26, 1944 We fly to Strensall today giving Ken some bombing practice.May 27, 1944: NO DIARY ENTRY BECAUSE VICTOR AND HX 313 NEVER CAME BACK TO SKIPTON ONSWALE. WE DO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED THOUGH WHICH OPENS A DIFFERENT CHAPTER INTHE VICTOR POPPAS STORY. BUT FIRST HERE IS WHAT HAPPENED ON THE NIGHTOF MAY 27/28, 1944 WHICH WAS THE LAST FLIGHT OF HX 313.VICTOR POPPA“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 araid on a town in Belgium…Borg Leopold. This camp contained 13,000 German troops who had been fully trainedand were to be moved out the following day. To keep these troops out of their air raid shelters and above ground ourair force planners arranged for the RAF to overfly Borg Leopold and to continue on to bomb Achen. This forceconsisted of some 200 Lancasters. The Germans at this time went into their air raid shelters. Then another force of some45 Halifax bombers were routed over our target. They then made turn and continued on to bomb Dusseldorf. Again theGermans went under to their shelters. Then we came along…Number Six Bomber Group, RCAF with 333 aircraft which included424 Squadron Halifax’s ardour aircraft Q.B. – B – Hx313. QB were the letters of our Squadron. B was our airport letter in theSquadron. 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 was11,900 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 killed8,500 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 toa special meal of bacon and eggs. As the day wears on the crew begin to get nervous. Some write letters. George Freemanwrote 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 approachesthe crew put on their flying suits. Victor loaned his fur lined suit to Bob Irwin as his feet got freezing cold…moresothan the rest of the crew. Victor prefers the electric flying suit as it take less space in the tiny tail gunners bubble. Oneof the most moving snapshots sent was taken surreptitiously from the crew truck. It shows a corner of the truckwindshield 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 bombaimer’s position; Bob, our navigator; and Wilf ,our wireless operator;…all accounted for. Then George and myself to ourgunners bubbles…George as upper middle gunner and me as tail gunner. Eric goes through the check list and soon weare 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 watchingthe bombers overflying their camp.) “Ken (bomb aimer) is now in his position for bombing as we start our run. Hegives Eric course directions…left, left, right, etc. We are now but a few miles from the target when Ken says, “Vic, there isa 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 cansee. He can’t see it either. Ken is asked to give Eric evasive action instructions if necessary. Just then there is ahorrible explosion in our left inside motor. HX 313 lurches up as if struck by a gigantic hammer. Flames run down ourleft side. Then a few seconds later there is the chatter of machine gun bullets and cannon shells slamming through ouraircraft. The plexiglass nose is shot out but the bombs are secure.”“Our bomber 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 Intercombut 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 myposition because I saw no parachute go by the tail. Then, a few seconds later, I saw one. It was open and on its sideparallel to the ground just missing the port rudder and fin. Then I decided to go. I swung my turrets 90 degrees in thefuselage and tried to go out but couldn’t because of the fire and wind. I tried twice to no avail. By this time the groundwas appearing quite close. I could tell from the fires that to bail out from the aft fuselage exit would have entailed too muchtime 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 mychest for my parachute and it was not there. The parachute had been pulled away for my chest by the wind force and wasnowhere feet from my face and above. Pulled on theharness and brought the parachute down close enough so I could grab the D ring and pulled. It opened with sharp snap. A painknifed through my groin, I put my arms above my head, grabbed the harness and pulled thereby relieving the pain. A fewseconds later I saw the ground coming up real fast. I felt as though I was an arrow. I hit the ground hard and collapsedwith my parachute falling on top of me. I am sure the chute had opened at less that 1,000 feet and our aircraft had beenat 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 aroundmy ankles and knees. I was standing balanced as though on stilts. Just t hen I could hear motors screaming…an aircraftin 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 beingpulled 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 witha 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 downand 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 undera 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 housewhere the farmer was kind but reluctant to hide me. He gave me water and milk to drink. We were advised in England neverto impose upon these people. I they showed willingness, fine. If not, leave. If we were caught with them they would sufferGrievously.”“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 rolledin agony. I was this way well into the afternoon. Finally I felt that I must get some assistance. On my knees I made my wayback to the farm house and indicated I would like police assistance. While waiting, a Belgian doctor gsveme an injection of some sort but it had no effect. I gave the farm woman all of my escape money and shortly two LuftwaffeNCO’s came in an automobile. I was placed in the back seat with one NCO and because I could not bend my legs I hadto 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 allof 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 visitedby 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 andsaid “Komerad Irwin. This was our navigator Bob Irwin. I gave a negative response. He then pointed to the casket on my rightand said “Kamerad Wakely”. This was the coffin of Wilf Wakely. Again I gave a negative response . I was not questioned about thethird 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 Georgewas dead. It wasn’t until I returned to England after the war was over that I got word from RCAF records that George had beenkilled. 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 hadbeen 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 downas he worked his way past the upper turret to reach the escape hatch. The nagging thought that George was remained alive becausegunners were often trapped in their turrets like Victor Poppa. HX 313 exploded on impact near an abandoned railway station. Eric Mallettand Ken Sweatman were escorted past a pile of melted metal that had once been The Blonde Bomber. They could not stop to lookclosely for their escorts were members of the Belgian Underground and it was imperative that they hide Ken and Eric asquickly 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 lessfun. Worse for the Russian POW in he adjoining camp where abuse was more prevalent. Victor had a choice when the warended. Either to walk out of the Stalag or stay put until Russian troops took over. The German guards just disappeared onenight leaving the gate open when the sun came up. Victor and a friend decided to take their chances and start the long and potentially dangeroustrek through the Russian sector in hope he could reach the American sector. He had he good fortune of hooking up with nineFrench 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 thehatred the German civilian population had toward air force prisoners. The bombing of Bourg Leopold killed many but theconstant bombing of German cities killed a whole lot more. Mobs tried to attack air force prisoners. “While in Kohn train station we werethreatened by a large mob. Our guards, however, kept order and we were not molested.” So he knew the risks when he walkedout of his Stalag and headed south to American lines. In one instance, at dusk, Victor and his French girls entered a German housewhich they thought had been abandoned. Instead they met a German officer who was already in bed but with a Luger under his sheetaimed right at them. They left without incident. Fear was spreading through the German civilian population in what was to becomeEast Germany. German officers and soldiers feared for their lives.END OF PART 3: THE VICTOR POPPA STORYPART 4 WILL COVER HIS PRISONER OF WAR (POW) EXPERIENCEalan skeochNov. 16, 2019Appendix1) Eric Mallet’s Description of THAT EVENING OF MAY 27/28, 1944“Dear Alan:In the first place I must you that George Freeman was never known to us as George, he was Hank. Hank carried out his duties as Mid Upper Gunnerwith great courage and at no time was overcome by fear. I am enclosing the only picture of our aircraft that I have with a member of the ground crewsitting in my seat. The ‘Blonde Bomber’ was one of the finest aircraft that I have ever flown (note: Eric was an experienced pilot) At that time the Halifaxwas the fastest heavy bomber in the world. We carried 42 tons of bombs and 21,000 gallons of100 octane gasoline, total all up weight was 85,000 pounds
Hank’sturret had four Browning machine guns capable of firing 1,250 rounds per minute.”Note from 1984: Eric Mallett’s enthusiasm for the Halifax contrasted with the opinions of military historians who regarded the Halifax heavy bomber inferior to the Lancaster.Some historians even went so far as to note that the conversion of bomber squadrons to Lancasters was done in a discriminatory manner which favouredRAF bomber squadrons. Canadian Number Six Bomber Group continued to fly Halifax bombers to the end of the war.“The member of my crew were Flight Lieutenant Bob Irwin (deceased); Wireless Operator Wilf Wakely (deceased); Vic Poppa, tail gunner; Ken Sweatman, bomb aimer;Engineer Morris Muir (English); Mid-UpperGunner George Freeman (deceased); and flying officer Elliot who was coming along on his first trip…The target was BorgLeopold in Belgium a base which the Germans were using as a rest camp for their troops from the Russian front. After leaving the briefing I mentioned to thecrew that we were being sent on a mission for the sole purpose of killing people. We carried 14,000 lbs. of anti-personnel bombs and the aiming point was tobe the officers quarters. This mission did not sit well with the crew. We had already been through some tough missions against industrial targets butthis mission made us feel uneasy.”“Strangely enough we were not able to drop our load. We were right on our bomb run when we got hit. Just a few seconds prior to being hit I had anurge to take evasive action but I did not because we had our bomb doors open and had started our run. I didn’t want to spoil the bomb aimers sightingas there was no indication of an attack other than my hunch. Suddenly there was a tremendous burst of flame and I gave the order to ‘abandon aircraft ‘immediately. Knew from past experience that we only had seconds to do so because 100 octane gasoline would blow up once the flames reached thetanks. The Navigators position was right on top of the forward escape hatch. The whole crew was supposed to go out this exit so I would know when allwere out. They did not, however, because Bob Irwin couldn’t get the hatch open. The second pilot (Elliott) and engineer (Muir) took off the rear seat andwent out of the entrance hatch. I went forward to see how Bob was doing and by good fortune he was beginning to have some luck so I went back andstraightened out the aircraft. In what seemed like an eternity I returned to the hatch in time to see someone leaving. I then, did not hesitate to follow.Upon hitting the air my flying boots left me and I then tried to find the rip chord on my parachute. I couldn’t find the ring for what seemed like anothereternity. Eventually I hooked the ring, otherwise I would not be here.”Note: Even today, Oct. 2, 2019, I can remember reading Eric Mallett’s letter. Rivetting. I could hardly believe I had set an event like this inmotion back 1984. I had an idea that this was the end of the story so I read slowly and re-read even slower. But the story of the Last Flightof HX 313 was really just beginning. Read on!“Drifting down through the nigh sky, I could see the target with the bombs landing, exploding and setting fire to the buildings. I thought for a moment or twothat I was going to land right on it. The next thing I recall was seeing the ground come up to me and then ‘Boom!’…everything was silent. When I cameto, I found myself right beside a barbed wire fence. Remembered my previous training and buried my parachute. It required much effort.“It is almost impossible to describe the feeling that overcame me. Since that day nothing has ever scored me as all I have do is recall in mymind this dreadful night and the terrible feeling that I had.”“I spent the rest of the night sitting in a cornfield taking off my rings and rank markings as well as looking at my purse and pandora. The escape kitcontained Horlicks tablets, benzedrine, German, Belgian And French currency. When daylight came I discovered that I was close to a small village.I knew that i must get some help as I had a badly cut finger and no footwear. I waited and waited to see what sort of traffic was entering or leaving the village.There seemed to be none other than that of someone tying up a goat close to where I was hiding, for quite long time I wondered what the tinkling ofthe goat’s bell was.”“Alan, I am going to sign off for now for this is only the beginning of a long, long story. Enclosed you will find your map with the location of the attack. Alsoyou will find pictures of my crew, and one of the Blonde Bomber. We were not allowed to take any pictures of our aircraft for security reasons, as you canwell understand. Also included is a picture of Hank and Vic Poppa engaged in a little horseplay outside of our flight room. Vic Poppa and Ken Sweatmanwould be very pleased to hear from you if would care to write them.”Kikndest RegardsEric L. Mallett2) REMEMBERING GEORGE (HANK) FREEMANPICTURE of George Freeman and, I believe, the girl known only as Kay. I thinkthis is the woman he wanted to marry after a year of chasing women with his goodfriend Victor Poppa.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 messas well as on our trips away from he base.” As Day approached the crew of HX 313 were working together like a welloiled machine. A human machine. “On one mission it was Hank’s birthday and we arranged for Ken to say ‘Happy Birthday Hank’ insteadof ’Bombs away’. QB B HX 313 was shot down on its fourth mission. The crew had flown more than double that number. Eight missionsfor 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 fannedout across Germany this devastation became an embarrassment to many. As a result the Bomber Groups were never givenfull 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 1984and I asked him to see if he could find the grave of George Freeman. He found George and Wilf and Bob allburied 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 thisstory possible..GEORGE FREEMAN’S LAST TWO LETTERS: THEY WERE NEVER MAILEDWhen George Freeman’s personal things were returned aunt Kitty and Uncle Chris, there were two lettersthat George had written but never mailed. They reveal much so have been included. George was a young man…barelypast the teen age part of his life as will be apparent. Thoughts of death are not a big part of the letters but thosethoughts can be found between the lines.“Arrmed Forces Air LetterFlight Sergeant Freeman, G.F.,R190568RCAFOverseasMAY – 1944 (/)MRS. C.W. FREEMAN,C/O Scanons Store,1439 Kingston Road,Toronto 13, Ont.CanadaDearest 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’mflying 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 frombeing 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 helphe needs the golf course. (Chris was head greenskeeper at the Hunt Club Golf Course in Scarborough where George spenthis 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 anybodyin the south of England. They don’t beat around the bush if they are going to tell you something. Gosh! I almost forgot youshould receive a Victory Bond pretty soon. I’ve paid for it so do what you want with it. Seems like there isn’t much moreto 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 loveto you and Dad and may Godbe 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 wouldcompromise the war effort.George xxxxxxxxxSECOND LETTER TO ‘DOT’, A GIRLFRIEND BACK HOME IN CANADAR190568Sgt. Freemand,RCAFOVERSEAS,30/3/43Dear 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. Howgoes 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 aChristmas card when Christmas rolls around again. Will you thank Beryll for her card and tell her as soon as I can find theaddress 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 dancesare corny…always will be. This mountain music they dish out here is worse than Columbus Hall stuff. Guess I sound prettybrowned 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 Germanyand haven’t had too much trouble with Jerry although he does try to give us a scare once in awhile. The last trip over theskipper 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 knowwhat 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 forsix 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 boysthat 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 gangand write soon. Love to Berryl.xxxx love xxxxxx George xxxCONCLUSION: SO MUCH HAS NOT BEEN EXPLAINEDThere is so much that needs saying about HX 313, especially the larger picture of the RCAF and 424 Squadron. Todo so , however, needs a lot of space and a lot of time
EPISODE 168 PART 3 VICTOR POPPA STORY 1943-1945