EPISODE 169: PART 4: THE VICTOR POPPA STORY THE POW EXPERIENCE 1944 AND 1945

EPISODE 169    PART 4  THE VICTOR POPPA STORY

NOTE:  EPISODE 170  WILL CONTAIN NEW DEVELOPMENTS IN THE VICTOR POPPA STORY…IT WILL COME LATER


PART 4:  THE VICTOR POPPA STORY:   PRISONER OF WAR


alan skeoch
DEC 30. 2019







VICTOR POPPA

So here  we are Victor.  May  I speak to you Victor even though you have died longlong ago.

I wish, Victor, that I had transcribed your edited diary back in the 1980’s when you were alive and full of
piss and vinegar.  You trusted me and believed I was a much bigger fish in the ocean life than I 
actually was in those days.   My first  priority was  my students.  I know that sounds cruel, Victor, but
it was a truth.  Each day I tried  to inject young  minds  with an ability to be introspective.  To see
themselves as  threads  in the garment of life.  That task was never easy.  Preparing lessons  sounds
like such a dull thing to do.  Boring some might say.  I laboured to avoid the tedium of repetition and
sometimes I succeeded.  Sometimes I failed Victor.  Your story, however, was always on my mind
as  Gordon  Lightfoot said in one his wonderful songs.  And  when I told your story to a class they were
always riveted…always able to put themselves  in the lonely plexiglass bubble of HX 313 as it hurtled
its to earth.  I regret that your constant sexual  adventures were never shared.  That would have got
me into trouble for sure.  Some people might consider those sexual adventures exploitive.  i.e. treating
women as only sexual objects.  I know that was  not the case with you Victor. You loved them all.

Now we have reached the final section of your story.  I would  like to pick it up at the point your
damaged body hit the ground near your target of Bourg Leopold, Belgium.  You have written some
notes for me to put the story together but those notes are not nearly as rich  as  your diary notations.
So forgive me.  I am going to try and put my feet in your shoes.  To start me off I have to take
another look at you…maybe two looks.  First, the Amused  grin of you Victor when you took me
up in that decrepit Cessna 170 over the Californian village of Lake Elsinore in 1984.  And  second
the real devilish  smile on your face the year you joined the RCAF at 22 years of  age.  

Victor, it seems to me that you knew that being tail gunner was going to be a life altering experience,
You joined he RCAF as a baby faced kid in the early years of World  War Two.   By 1945 you had grown
up and  were aware of your days living on this earth were limited.  Yet you survived.  And  for the r best
of your life you would live and  relive those Bomber Command war years

So let’s pick up the story again on that tragic night of May 27, 1943 when  the Blonde Bomber, HX 313
was on fire and plummeting to earth afire and  carrying a full bomb load.

Victor you were the only living person still on board.  Your good friend  Hank Freeman was  present
but dead.  Killed by bullets that punctured the belly of HX 313 and just stopped short of Victor’s rear   

      gunner bubble.

.








EVENTS IN VICTOR’S OWN WORDS

“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 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
Grievously.”

      




“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.”

       What happened to Hank Freeman?   “So Hank could  have been the first one out as Bill seems to remember someone going out ahead of him.  Bill may be  correct

      but I don’t think so.  I had  no  trouble hearing the clatter of bullets coming through from below and stopping just short of my position.  I think Hanks was hanging
      there. Dead.  Remember the comment that the crew passed by the upper turret and  saw feet hanging down and my smelling burnt flesh when I  was  put in
      the German truck  with the coffins  later.  But I could be  wrong.  If Hank bailed out he would  have been the first out followed by Bill, Muir, Wilf, Bob, Eric, Ken and
      finally myself.  Personally I think he  was killed  by the tremendous burst of bullets crashing through HX  313 from front to back in those few seconds.  Hank
      wasn’t the type to  bail out first.   He  would  have waited to be  sure.   I only tried to bale out after I saw a chute  go by horizontally which  was  Ken.  I was
      sure I would  go  down with HX 313…certain death.  Then fate took hold, the bubble shifted and I  fell out just in time.”


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 remained  alive worried Victor because
gunners were often trapped in their  turrets like  Victor had been.  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.

STALAG LUFT  VII

Stalag Luft 7 was a World War II Luftwaffe prisoner-of-war camp located in Bankau, SilesiaGermany (now BąkówOpole VoivodeshipPoland.


Note: OnMay 19,1984, almost 200 Canadian veterans and their wives celebrated the 50 year anniversary of 424 Squadron…the Tiger Squadron…the ‘City of Hamilton  Squadron.

Among those present were Victor Poppa and his wife Louise.  In the special Memorial  book, Victor provided  an overview of his  life as  a POW in Stalag Lutt VII.

Victor Poppa: ” After hospitalization and interrogation i Iwas sent to Stalag Luft VII at Bankau which is ten miles from the  Polish border in a straight line between Breslau and Krakau. 
At first we were given one Red Cross parcel a week plus one meal a day.  The tins  in the Red  Cross parcels were punctured to keep us from hoarding the food  for escape use.
By September 1944 the parcels only came once every two weeks and  on Christmas  day, December 25  1944, we received our last Red Cross parcel. In the new year the weather
became colder.  Since our food had been  reduced we felt the cold more. ” 

upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/02/Red_Cross_Parcel.jpg/500px-Red_Cross_Parcel.jpg 2x” data-file-width=”2848″ data-file-height=”2136″>




Note:  Other surviving POW’s described Stalag Luft VII as terrible…especially for the Russians in adjoining POW camp who were systematically starved to death.  One Canadian POW
said  they sometimes  tried to throw potato peels over the barbed wire to the Russians who  fought to get whatever they could.  Russian corpses  often had flesh wounds related to
cannibalism.  Efforts to help the Russians was nearly impossible.  No point, explained  one guard, just a waste of food  for the Russians  would soon  be dead.
Note: Victor Poppa’s description is short.  Conversations with Victor were much  more detailed but I have no detailed written account except from memory.  Victor did describe the
horrors faced by the Russians.   He also described  a Russian women’s POW camp which was  also grim.  Grim?  Wrong word.  Horrible is better.
In 1941 Hitler gave the infamous Commisar Order that permitted the wholesale murder of  Russian  POW’s and civilians.   He justified it by saying that Stalin would  do
the same to German POW’s.  The estimated numbers  of deaths by starvation or execution is mind boggling.

(“It is estimated that at least 3.3 million Soviet POWs died in Nazi custody, out of 5.7 million. This figure represents a total of 57% of all Soviet POWs and may be contrasted with 8,300 out of 231,000 British and U.S. prisoners, or 3.6%. About 5% of the Soviet prisoners who died were Jews.[5] The most deaths took place between June 1941 and January 1942, when the Germans killed an estimated 2.8 million Soviet POWs primarily through deliberate starvation,[6] exposure, and summary execution. A million at most had been released, most of whom were so-called ‘volunteers’ (Hilfswillige) for (often compulsory) auxiliary service in the Wehrmacht, 500,000 had fled or were liberated, the remaining 3.3 million had perished as POWs.”)


An improvised camp for Soviet Prisoners of war.  Thousands.  Many would starve  to death.  Allied prisonerss
like Victor Poppa were treated  better and many  survived.  


 THE LONG MARCH






“Because of the Russians advance we were ordered to march  west and  after 15days marching, with very little for, we reached  Cloberg on February 5th, 1945. We were put
into boxcars and  transformed  to Luft 3A which is about 4 miles from Potsdam.  Our rations  were cut again and we were getting concerned about our health as we  were
weaker and noticeably thinner.One morning when we awoke to the sound of gunfire in the distance there were suddenly no guards in the camp.   About noon the Russians
appeared.  We were told they had hooked  up with the Americans about 50 miles to the south of us. Carl Seeley and I decided to cut out on our own.”

Note:   See two diary descriptions of the Long March as post scripts.  Why was it necessary to march POW’s deep into the collapsing circle of German territory?
Prisoners had  negotiating value I  suppose.  One source reported that Adolph Hitler ordered  all POW’s to be shot in the event of a German surrender.  This never
happened.  The collapse of German forces  was fast and it is  doubtful that such a wide scale massacre would have happened.

“On the second day out we hooked up with nine French girls.  We did the food scrounging for all of us while the girls did the cooking.  After 14 days we reachedTorgow and the
Americans.  They agreed to pass us on to the Canadians but could  do nothing for the French girls as they were civilians.  That night we had a farewell party and after exchanging addresses we 
boarded  a  C47 for Brussels..  The next day we were flown to England and boarded  a train for Bournemouth and eventually repatriated home to Canada.  Out of our  crew of eight, five of us
managed to come home.”

“I found my map used by Seeley, myself and the French girls to reach the American sector.  Dated  Aril 10, 1945.  We walked from LUckenwalde POW camp to Juterborg, then south to 
Herzberg then SW to Torgau where the Russian and American forces met.  I am not sure how long it took…between 9 and 14days.”

Note:  This short account was written in 1984.  Too bad it is so short.  I remember Victor telling me his adventures when he and Seeley walked through the ruins of Germany
to the American lines.   At one point while scrounging for food they entered a  farmer’s house and  faced a German  officer in a bedroom.   The officer was scared as was Victor.
Nothing happened even though the German  had a Luger beneath the covers.  Victor backed out of the room.   Seeley and Poppa acted  as  protectors of the nine girls on their
14 day escape.  He told  me that chaos was too soft a  word  for the condition of Germany in those immediate post war weeks. I remember asking  Victor is they  hid at night.  Usually
in empty barns or houses he answered.  

“What did  you do in daylight?  Lots of  people with guns…Russians, Germans.”
“That was a  problem.  At first we ducked into ditches or bushes but that was risky.  Nervous trigger fingers all around.  So we decided it was best to stay exposed on the roads.  We became
part of the stream of people moving who knows where.  Actually having the nine French girls was protection for Seeley and  me.”

Note:  Other stories by liberated POW’s abound.  In the daytime they wandered through German towns taking whatever was portable.  One POW even broke into a paymaster’s office and
found  piles of various wartime currencies.  “I took some…wish I had  taken more for the money turned out to be cashable.”  Another group broke into a wine storage building filled with
fine wines from France.  One of the POW’s took a case of champagne back  to the POW camp for a  party.  Next day he thought he should get more but by then the building had
been set ablaze. “Burned to the ground.”  Most POW’s felt safer in the prison camp rather than in German towns and cities at night.  So they raided in daylight and returned to camp
at night.   Another Canadian ex  POW carefully snipped out a huge portrait of Hitler as  a  souvenir.  “Too big for the C47…you cannot take it aboard.”  What most POW’s wanted to
find  were German Lugers as there were heaps  of recently cast off German uniforms here and  there as Germans attempted to suddenly become civilians.  “I kicked one pile of German
uniforms and  a Luger slid out from the pile.  Before I could reach down, other hands  grabbed it.”   Symbols  of the Third Reich were gathered not just by POW’s but by Allied soldiers and
officers as well.  They appear now and then in auctions.  Harry T—. a good friend of mine had  a  nice oil painting hanging in his Mississauga  home that he cut from a German  frame and 
rolled up as ‘the spoils of war’.  Another friend inherited  from his paratrooper father a  whole basket full of badges including an Iron Cross along with a large Nazi flag.  “What am I  going
to do with this?”, he wondered.  

Note:   What happened to the guards?  Seems that some of them ditched their uniforms and mixed in with the refugee streams on the roads.  One group of guards had a novel reaction to
the situation.  They threw their weapons over the barbed wire fence and became prisoners of the POW’s and were photographed as such.  I  do not know if that was much  protection
against the arrival of Russian troops so  suspect those guards  were in an American sector.  Dead and near dead Russian POW’s must have enraged Russian forces.
A  long time ago, back in 1961, I read ‘Documents of the Expulsion’ which detailed  the fate of tens of  thousands  of Germans attempting to escape Russian occupation
of Poland and the Baltic States.  There is no horror that I have read since to match what happened to many of these people.  German  POW’s  captured by the Russians were shipped
by the trainload to Siberian  prisons  where many died.  Eventually, years  later, some were able to trickle back to Germany.  Some may have been Victor Poppa’s  prison guards.



 When Victor Poppa reached the American sector he was housed
briefly on a recently liberated  German  air base.  “One day a German Messerschmitt  flew in escorted by American fighter planes.  It landed and a German officer surrendered having escaped 
the eastern sector.  His girlfriend was  with him in the plane.” Both were taken away.  “I do  not know what happened to the Messerschmitt.   But I do remember looking at a  great number of aircraft on the base.
Most of them no longer airworthy.”  Did Victor Poppa bring any trophies home?  I don’t know, but he sure brought back lots of memories.  I bet he wanted that Messerscmidt for he had a deep
fascination with aircraft.  I can imagine Victor suggesting….  “I guess it would be out of the question for me to fly that Messerscmitt back  to England.  That would save
a seat in the C47 for someone else?”  (never uttered but true to Victor’s nature.)

CONCLUSION:

Those  of  you who  have read Parts  1, 2, and 3 of the Victor Poppa story must feel as I did that
a very human, very graphic, very exciting window  had been opened.   Perhaps the best way
to close that window is to let Victor do the closing.  Below is the last letter Victor Poppa sent
to me on Dec.  7, 1988.  

                                                                                      Victor Poppa
                                                                                     33535 Valencia St. R1
                                                                                    Lake Elsinore
                                                                                    California,  92330

Dear Alan, Marjorie, Kevin and  Andrew,

I was  just reviewing your letter of April 8, 1988 which seems a  very long  time ago. I regret not
answering sooner.   Thanks for your book ‘Focus on Society’ which I have read and  enjoyed.
I have a collectors’ item for you…a 12 ounce can of Budweiser Beer with no pull tab for easy
opening, the can must have slipped through inspection.  As you know I quit drinking alcohol
years ago which  must surprise anyone reading my diary of those war years.

I have not been feeling all that well this year with has hampered my letter writing. Presently
I am getting pain up my left leg from ankle to hip.  It pulsates in an arthritic way….very painful.
Louise  is  having her share of trouble as well.  To add to it she  fell off our airplane’s horizontal stabilizer
as I was trying as I was trying to get the main wheels out of  some soft earth.  I pushed down 
on the tail to get the nose wheel up and induced Louise to sit on the stabilizer. This kept
the nose wheel up.  Louise’s weight was a modest advantage.  However when Louise  changed
position the tail unit shot up and Louise fell off.  She fell about 4.5 feet landing on her left foot then
banged the back  of her head.   Louise was  groaning and crying that she was  about to die.  A
bone was broken in her foot so  Louise is now sporting a cast from toe to just below the knee.
She will be limping around the house for six more weeks.

Then a  few weeks  ago when I was  on a nocturnal visit to the refrigerator I tripped  and cracked
a rib when I hit the table top with my side.  A few weeks  earlier I tripped over the dog on a 
similar trip to the refrigerator.  That time I cracked my right knee cap I think.  There was a
loud  ‘crack’ indicating something broke.   It doesn’t hurt though.

We had  Thelma Sweatman  here for two weeks in early February.   I gave her the picture of
HX 33.  She was  happy to get it.  Thelma  asked me to send you a card from Ken’s funeral.  
He died on August 30, my birthday.  Ken has  let me with the fondest memories.  He was a
wonderful  person…cool in combat…good and  sincere…never changing.  Always a  good friend.
The world  has lost a fine person.

Alan, I should  have put in more detail describing some of  our missions in my diary.  I suppose
I can add comments now.

Have a very Merry Christmas and  a  Happy New  year.

Love from  us

Victor and  Louise Poppa

Note: I suppose This  must seem to be a strange letter .  Accidents, ailments…normal give and take
of daily life including Victor’s  ‘nocturnal raid on the refrigerator’ and  ‘tripping over the dog’.  Why
use this  letter as a  conclusion to his  escapades in Bomber Command?   Victor had not changed
much.  In 1988 he was still flying…and his description of getting his plane out of the mud has a  sort
of amusing yet concerned ring to it.  His wife Louise was  the young girl  he met in Quebec City
just before he went overseas in World  War Two.  She must have known about his  escapades
with Hank  Freeman and been amused rater than offended.

Perhaps the main reason I have included  this  letter however is his  mention of Ken  Sweatman, the
bomb aimer one HX313.   The crew bonded and kept in touch.  They became family.

Then there is the dog.  Probably the same dog that nearly killed me when Victor described a mouse
running back and  forth in the dog’s mouth between lips and teeth.  “The dog looked at me, Alan,
with a questioning dog grin as if saying ‘what do I do now?’    That caused me to laugh too hard…injest
a piece of stake that was too big for my esophagus…no air..gagging…leapt up on the restaurant
table.  Whereupon Victor, lightning speed…whirled me around  and  locked his hands below my rib
cage…pulled firmly.  And saved my life.  

I hope that this  transcription of his diary can be seen as payback.

alan skeoch
dec.  2019



  Ken Sweatman,  Bomb Aimer on HX 313.


Only image known of  HX 313, The Blonde Bomber.



Victor Poppa’s hand written map  documenting his escape from POW camp at Luckenwalde.  Victor and  his friend Terry Seeley
joined 9 French nurses in a trek across Germany to the American sector.



Victor sent this  drawing to me in 1984, saying ‘this is what the Long March  was really like’



Copy from a page in Victor Poppa’ diary.  More below.









TWO DESCRIPTIONS 

 THE LONG MARCH TO LUCKENWALDE, JANUARY, 27, 1945

       (NOT BY VICTOR POPPA )







17.1.45 Orders received to evacuate the camp because of the Russian advance towards the West. Stood by all day with, kit packed.

All Red Cross parcels withdrawn from stores. Columns of retreating Germans pass the camp. Horse drawn wagons main form of transport. Bitterly cold – sub-zero temperatures. Russian P.O.W.’s are moved into our new compound. Small issue of cigarettes to each man. 

18.1.45 Rations issued – 1/7th tin of meat, 2/3rd loaf of bread, 1/8 lb margarine. 1/4 lb honey, 2 cheeses. This to last two and a half days if we march – 4 days if transport is by train. All contents of food parcels shared amongst our combine of 18. My share – tin of cocoa, packet tea, tin sausages and some margarine.

Heavy air raid in vicinity of camp. Latest rumour – Germans leaving us here after all. Confusion in the minds of many. We may move this evening. Took to my bed at 22.00 hours. 

19.1.45 03.30 hours ordered to parade at 05.00 hours. Bitterly cold – nothing but ice and snow. Moved off at 07.00 hours – some 1500 POWs, guards, guard dogs and 2 field kitchens. 

Passed through Kreutzburg mid morning – unaware there were some three and a half thousand Red Cross parcels in the vicinity. Column moving very slowly – 5 minutes rest every 2 hours. 

Arrived Kronstaat 12.30 hours. Items of kit left by the roadside at every stop., Mainly books, musical instruments and other bulky items. Some already finding this march difficult. Those in poor shape find a place in the sick wagon at the rear of the column. 

16.00 hours – reached Winterfeld. Shelter found in barns and farm outbuildings. Spent night in hay loft. Main meal – bread and honey.

20.1.45 Expected to move at 08.00 hours but guards had us out by 04.00 hours. Moved off 06.30 hours. Bitterly cold – fingers and ears quickly numbed. 10.30 hours – arrived Karlsruhr. Refugees choking roads in all directions. Some guards disappear. Whole party accommodated in brickworks. Filthy dirty. Opportunity given to light fires and brew coffee and tea. Issue from field kitchens. Distance so far today – 12Km. At 21.30 we moved off again. Orders to cross the River Oder by 08.00 hours next day as the bridge was due to be blown. Temperature about freezing point.

21.1.45 Many observed suffering from hunger and fatigue. Reached Oder at 05.15 and crossed in single file. Rumours of rail transport soon. 07.00 hours reached Rosenfeld. No accommodation available – 7 Km. to proper barracks and then transport. 10.00 hours – Walchaven – almost exhausted. We had covered 41 Km. in some 24 hours. Shelter in Stables and cow sheds. Stench forgotten as we welcomed the warmth. Issued with 40 dog biscuits and cup of coffee (acorn). My feet are sore. 48 hours rest? Abandoned most of my kit including 1 of 2 blankets.

22.1.45 Rumour that the Russians have crossed the Oder and we must march 03.00 hours. Sick – about 40 – being left in hospital at Walchaven. Reluctant to move but a few warning shots fired around the stable area prompted a mass movement outside. Civilians in neighbourhood preparing to move as well. Women in tears. Passed through Schonfeld. Next shelter a barn at 11.00 hours. Cases of frostbite. Distance marched 21 km.

23.1.45 Food issue – half packet Knackercrot wafer, 1/8 lb margarine.
Marched from 08.45 to 11.30 hours. Germans prepared to exchange bread and cigarettes for our soup ration. Next stop Hansen (Barns) – half cup of soup. Distance today 19 km.

24.1.45 A complete day for rest. Rations – 1/7th loaf, 1/10 lb marge and 2 cups of soup.

25.1.45  Marched off 08.00 hours. 13.30 hours – Wintersdorf. Barnyard accommodation. Soup issue. Distance 21 Km. 

26.1.45 Half cup of soup. More rumours of transport provision. Sick queue extremely long.

27.1.45 Ration – 2/5th loaf, 1/10 lb marge, Marched off at 11.00 hours. Still bitterly cold. Boots frozen solid. 17.00 hours Perfindorf. Distance 21 Km. Half cup of soup.

28.1.45 04.00 hours – prepare to move off by 05.30. Reached Standorf at 12.15 hours. Half cup soup and a couple of potatoes. Unbearably cold even in the loft, Germans say we stay for 2 or 3 days and then continue by train. 

29.1.45 to 30.1.45 Food issue – 7 biscuits, 1/2 lb margarine 1/16th can meat, half cup soup. We match tonight as transport is waiting. On road at 18.30 hours. Temperature – freezing. Impossible to keep water in a bottle. 20.00 hours – issued 2 packets biscuits. Weather worsening. Marching in a blizzard. Men at breaking point. Fatal to drop out now and be left to die in this. Army vehicles snow bound. Forced to help move them. A dead German by the roadside. 05.15 we reached Javer. Still marching. 07.30 – Peterneiz. Guards in bad mood. Only barns in which to sleep. Distance during worst conditions so far – 25 Km. Change in diet – half cup porridge. 

31.1.45 Ration issue – 1/5th loaf. 1 packet biscuits 1/10 lb margarine. Two and a half cups of soup, 2/3rd cup dry oats and 2 spoonsful of coffee grounds. Report to the M.0. Septic blister on foot. Moved into the barn used as a sick bay. All sick being moved next day. Polish people with whom we came in contact showed much compassion. 2 cups of porridge and onions – a real banquet! 

1.2.45 Main column moved off at 08.00. Transport for the sick at 09.00 hours – 1 steam engine pulling 2 lorries and a trailer. So many aboard, it proved very uncomfortable. An added inconvenience – the Kommandant’s dog. 14 Km. to Prossnitz where we arrived at 13.00 hours. Main group already there and usual number of small fires burning – a cheering sight. DEFINITELY NOT MOVING until transport is provided. Rations: 2/5th loaf bread, 1/7th lb margarine, half cup porridge and 2 raw potatoes. 

2.2.45 Little improvement in condition of my foot – confined to makeshift bed. Weather improved considerably. A quick thaw – mud and slush replaces ice and snow. 2 issues of soup from field kitchen. Watches and rings bartered for bread, onions and potatoes.

3.2.45 No signs of moving. Small issue of bread and margarine also soup.

4.2.45 Information to the effect we move tomorrow as transport awaits us at Goldberg. Rations – 1/3 loaf, 1/6 lb marge, 1 spoonful sugar, 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup barley, 1/3 tin meat, 1/2 cup porridge oats. How long will this have to last? 

5.2.45 06.45. Column marched off in a slight drizzle. My foot is better but marching is a strain. How different the countryside looks now the snow has gone. 8 Km to the station – arrived 10.00 hours. What a relief to see the TRAIN. No first class – just cattle trucks. 54 men in each truck so we were very restricted. Squat or stand – cramped in one position. Doors closed,and bolted. How many days of this hell? Train moved off at noon. passed through Liegnitz. Tempers frayed – dejected and miserable. Conditions in truck becomes unbearable as men urinate, vomit and excrete in odd corners. Feeding ourselves on raw oats, porridge and flour.
As night fell we were shunted into a siding at Sagan (Stalag Luft III). No movement for hours. 

6.2.45 Moved from siding back to main line. Start, stop, start, stop. Carriage doors opened at intervals and we were allowed to stretch our legs. Buckets of water provided. Food and tempers getting short. 

7.2.45 My last slice of bread has gone. Train never seems to travel for more than an hour before grinding to a halt. Half cup coffee per man. Protests about shortage of food to Germans, 30 trains ahead of us waiting to pass through a large town ahead. Many men being taken to hospital truck. Medical Officer and Staff unable to cope. Now eating flour and oats – a sickening concoction. 

8.2.45 In a siding at Luckenwalde. The end of the line for us – confirmed by Camp Leader. A glorious morning – Spring is here. Rumours – 20,000 prisoners already in the camp. We are not expected. No food parcels. 11.30 Marched the 2 Km. to Stalag IIIA and searched as we passed through the gates. 400 of us to be housed in Barrack 9 North. No bunks – straw bales on the floor. Find a space and stake your claim. Food soon available – barley soup and potatoes and small ration of bread. All nationalities here in separate compounds. – Americans, Poles, French, Yugoslavs, Russians.

So begins life in my third camp but the end must be near.

 
Notes: marge=margarine: lb = pound weight = 454g 



ONE SOLDIERS TALE – BANKAU STALAG LUFT 7 DIARY


Diary of Sergeant Ben Couchman
P.O.W kept the following pencil written diary during the forced march from Bankau in Poland to Luckenwalde near Potsdam during January/February, 1945.
January 17th, 1945: Bankau Stalag Luft 7
Things went as usual until about 11:00am when we were given orders by the Germans to leave ahead of the Russian advance. Then the panic started. Food that was likely to be left was eaten. Headquarters, stores and the cook house were ransacked.
Rumours were plentiful:
“P.O.W’s unable to walk would be left behind.”
“During the march for every man who escaped or tried to escape, five would be shot.”
“We were outflanked by the Russians and there was no hope of the march succeeding.”
There was a roll call at 4:00pm and we were told that probably the march would commence early the next morning, at the latest mid day. During this day there had been a continuous line of trucks, wagons and carts carrying military and refugees, proceeding to the west along the road passing the camp.
About 6pm Germans ordered ‘prepare to move’ and issued marching rations: half loaf, margarine, honey and piece of sausage. At 10:30pm ordered to go to bed.
January 18th
Woke up shivering as my blankets had remained packed overnight. Soup 8:30am, roll call 9:30am. Formed into three parties and were told this would be our marching order. The roads were full of lorries, horse and cart and refugees from the Russian advance.
Latest rumour:
“We were marching to Stalag Luft 3 Sagan, which was 200kms away.”
At 4:00pm in the afternoon another roll call ordered and we were informed that the march was postponed for two of three days. Half an hour later we were ordered to parade ready to leave.
We waited for about an hour and then drifted off to the billets. The German guards were as confused as we were. Food was becoming a problem, but a further raid on the cookhouse produced some oats and treacle.
The air raid warning sounded while we were preparing the watery porridge, and the lights went out. After which all the ‘non walking’ P.O.W’s were shipped out of camp to travel with civilian refugees. We were told to parade at 4:00am the next morning, and so to bed.
January 19th
Lights on at 3:30am, paraded at 4:00am. Stood around in the cold snow until 7:00am when we trudged out. That day we walked 28kms, with the longest stop being half an hour. As we had proceeded the P.O.W’s had discarded in the roadside much of their possessions that were impossible to carry through the snow. Marching with an accordion was impossible for one P.O.W and it was tossed into the snow with a lot of other possessions. At night we were lodged in barns, I slept (?) sitting up.
January 20th
Awakened 4:00am and started marching about 6:00am Gerry said that Kreuzburg, that we went through yesterday, had fallen to the Russians and that they were now about 10kms behind us. Gunfire could be heard all day. The marching was difficult in the soft snow and the P.O.W’s threw more of their kit away. The guards picked a lot of it up.
Reached Karlsruhe shortly before noon and were put in a brick factory. Received cups of acorn coffee from field kitchen. At 7:00pm we were back on the road. The bridges over the river Oder were to be blown up by 8:00am the next morning and we were to be over the river before that time.
January 21st
We had walked all night through the snow and crossed the Oder river at dawn. We were told that there would be rest and accommodation at a village about 5kms ahead. We heard the explosions of the Oder bridges as we marched.
When we arrived at the village there was no shelter for us. We walked a further 8kms and found a refuge in barns. During the night some men dropped out due to the intense cold and fatigue. The only food we had during the past twenty four hours was three slices of bread, a spoonful of bully, a small bag of biscuits and a cup of coffee we had marched for about fourteen hours through the snow. To bed and the name of the village is Buckette.
January 22nd
Roused by Gerry at 1:30am who said we had to move quickly as the Russians had crossed the Oder north of us. There was an argument with Gerry before we marched another 20kms.
We sheltered once again in big barns. We received one biscuit between two and a pound of margarine to last five days. we dug in the frozen earth and found pieces of potatoes, carrots and peads and made ourselves a cup of soup, and then to our blankets. We had two blankets and slept fully dressed with every bit of clothing that we possessed. The village nearby was Jenkwiz.
January 23rd
We were called at 6:00am and were on the road at 8:00am promised better billets and a good meal when we arrived at our next destination. However, when we finally arrived it was more big cold barns, a cup of tea, a cup of soup, we found a few spuds then to bed.
January 24th
The village we were in was called Wansen and we were told that we could rest all day. Made a fire and roasted a few spuds. Supplied with 2 half cups of soup and quarter of bread from field kitchen.
January 25th

Wakened at 1:30am and on the road at 3:00am. Weather was warmer, but walking through the slush more difficult. We passed through Strehlen and later in the day we put up in a barn at Heidersdorf, having walked 30kms. Issued with a cup of soup and a fifth of a loaf. French P.O.W’s said that the Russians were nearer to Sagan than we were.
January 26th
Stayed all day, scrounged some spuds and beans made some stew. Issued with two half cups of soup from field kitchen and a seventh of a block of margarine. I went to bed.
January 27th
Awoke at 8:00am and as there was nothing doing stayed in blankets until 10:00am. Issued with half a loaf of bread to last two days. Started marching 11:30am Roads crammed with civilian refugees. Rested in barns after walking 20kms.
January 28th
Wakened at 3:30am and on the road at 5:00am. Walking easier as the snow had hardened. Walked 25kms many of the boys had frost bite in their feet. Arrived at the barns at 1:30pm It was very cold and no fires were allowed, so I went to bed.
January 29th and 30th
Stayed in blankets until soup was served. Other rations were seven biscuits, 1oz margarine and one tenth of a tin of bully beef. At 4:00pm ordered to prepare to move and started off at 5:30pm.
A blizzard was blowing and at times walking was tough as the snow was two to three feet thick. Transport littered the roads, stuck in drifts, and in the dark we had to walk single file to get round them. Reached our barns at 4:00am We had walked 21kms and Gerry tried to crowd us into two small barns. Then they opened up a small loft. It was 7:00am when I crawled into my bed. A tragedy hit when I had to go outside for two minutes and someone stole my blankets.
January 31st
Woke up about 7:30 but stayed in bed until about 11:00am. Roasted a few spuds I had scrounged from a Polish girl, and made a brew of tea. Gerry made us parade while he counted us, after which we marched to Goldberg where we would get transport ration from the field kitchen: half a cup of rolled oats, a little coffee, tenth of a block of margarine, and a small piece of bread. The weather was much colder, I cooked my oats and went to bed.
February 1st
Awakened at 6:00am on the road by 8:00am. The roads were clearer of refugees. It had rained during the night, melted the snow, and there were puddles everywhere. We stopped at some barns about 8kms from Goldberg. There was little room in the barn. I slept at a cowshed further down the road, after fencing off the cows and spreading straw over the dried cowdung. Gerry rations two fifths of a loaf, half ounce of margarine and half a cup of oats.
February 2nd
Awakened by chaps getting water. Cooked more oats and a couple of spuds. Cows escaped and so we turned them outside.
February 3rd
Woke up fairly late, finished off my oats and drew half a cup of barley from field kitchen. Gerry issued rations half a loaf and a quarter of a pound of margarine to last three days. Let the cows out just after dark.
February 4th
Had to get up at 8:00am to let the cows back in. Ate some bread and a cup of soup. Went to bed at 11:00pm.
February 5th
Cows broke loose at 2:00am and trampled all over our beds. We managed to get them out, but we were awakened at 4:00am and we were on the road at 6:00am. Arrived at Goldbery about 9:00am and were loaded into railway box cars which were thirty feet long and eight feet wide, thirty six men to a truck. There was not enough room for all to even sit down so we took it in turns. Travelled about 100kms and stayed the night in a siding.
February 6th
Train moved off at 6:30am and stopped about every fifteen minutes. Travelled about 100kms finished off my food.
February 7th
Hardly slept. Train moved about 5kms during the whole day. Issued with one cup of acorn coffee. Train moved about 25kms during the night.
February 8th
Everyone awake very weak and shaky. About 10:00am the train stopped and we got out. Walked very slowly about 1.5kms to the camp at Luckenwalde. We were given one cigarette each. After which we had a hot shower and a cup of soup and spuds. It was our first food for nearly three days.
Bankau to Winterfield = 30km
Winterfield to Karlsruhe = 20km
Karlsruhe to Pugwitz = 41km
Pugwitz to Grosser Jewitz = 20km
Grosser Jewitz to Wansen = 25km
Wansen to Heidersdorf = 30km
Heidersdorf to Plaffendorf = 20km
Paffendorf to Peterswitz = 21km
Peterswitz to Praunitz = 12km
Praunitz to Goldberg = 8km
Total marched = 227km

















            GEORGE ‘HANK”  FREEMAN AND GIRLFRIEND


GEORGE FREEMAN WHEN HE ENLISTED


  THIS WAS ONCE THE AIRFIELD AS SKIPTON ON SWALE, YORKSHIRE, WHERE HX 313 AND OTHER AIRCRAFT AND CREWS
OF RCAF SQUADRON 427 WAS BASED  IN 1944.



COMEMORATIVE PLAQUE IN THE VILLAGE SQUARE, SKIPTON ON SWALE, YORKSHIRE. DEDICATED 1984



WHEN MARJORIE AND I VISITED SKIPTON ON SWALE IN 1988 (?) WE FOUND SOME SURVIVING BUILDINGS BUT WE WERE
QUITE SHOCKED TO SEE THIS HUGE FIRE.    RUBBISH WAS BEING INCINERATED BUT IT SURE LOOKED LIKE
THE CRASH OF A HALIFAX BOMBER RETURNING FROM AN OPERATION .











EPISODE 168 PART 3 VICTOR POPPA STORY 1943-1945

EPISODE 168    PART 3  VICTOR POPPA STORY  1943-1945


Alan skeoch
november 2020


Begin forwarded message:


From: SKEOCH <alan.skeoch@rogers.com>
Subject: PART 3: THE VICTOR POPPA STORY
Date: November 7, 2019 at 4:56:26 PM EST







PART 3: THE VICTOR POPPA STORY

Above is a post card Victor sent me shortly before he sent his diary 

manuscript written in 1984-1985 based on the detailed  diary he kept

during World War Two.







When Victor sent me this story in 1984 I was still teaching history at Parkdale Collegiae

Institue, a Toronto downtown core high school.   Parkdale was  and remains a gritty
place 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 without 
some 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 down
but I did  not put that in its full context.  I used the voice of Vera Lynn whose
wartime singing was used to boost morale.  White Ciffs of Dover, I’ll Be Seeing

You and other songs.



I’ll be seeing you
In every lovely summer’s day
In everything that’s light and gay
I’ll always think of you that way
I’ll find you in the morning sun
And when the night is new
I’ll be looking at the moon
But I’ll be seeing you

Note:  The pop music of  World  War II has endured…


Today I think I would not be  so afraid  of using  the “F” word.  Everyone else
is using it.  Netflix uses it so often in its films that the word has no shock value
any 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 a
real  gritty, tragic, compassionate and  humorous way.
Stick with me if you can.  If you can’t just press delete.  Do not
bother to phone me.   I am on a roll.


BLESS ‘EM ALL…THE LONG AND THE SHORT AND THE TALL

alan skeoch
Nov. 2019
beginning Part 3
The 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 horrific
war.  But more likely written later.  Certainly popular in World War 2 and
made so by  George Formby and  Vera Lynn.  The laundered lyrics do
not make much sense.   Ordinary  NCO’s were very unlikely to Bless their
sergeants and  officers, especially if they ‘crawled off to their billets’
when the real fighting began…i.e. when to bombers rolled along
the taxiways…

Now take  the lyrics and substitute one word.  Suddenly the song
makes sense.  What is that word? The word is ‘Fuck’. Go ahead
sing it both ways and  you will see  what I mean.  And I bet $10 you
will be humming and singing the unlaundered tune all day.

Bless ’em all,
Bless ’em all.
The long and the short and the tall,
Bless all those Sergeants and WO1‘s,
Bless all those Corporals and their blinkin’/bleedin’ sons,
Cos’ we’re saying goodbye to ’em all.
And back to their Billets they crawl,
You’ll get no promotion this side of the ocean,
So cheer up my lads bless ’em all

NOW I just wonder if the RCAF flight crews
sand 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, 1944
Victor 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 Poppa
on 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 shoes

and 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 our
spare Navigator, Ozzie.  Ken told me later that Ozzie sharpened his  skills and we made our way accurately to target 
points 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 ou
Flights and went to our billet to light our small stove.  The coke they gave us was hard  to light so  I pulled the flare
portion out of a Very Pistol Cartridge, slipped the explosive into the bottom of the heater, lit it and that got the coke
going 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. Terrible
One of our aircraft was following the gunners’ aircraft and could not stop.  His propeller chopped  up the gunner of
the lead  plane. Eric tried to enlist me  as a pall bearer.  I refused with a strong ‘Oh, No!’  Eric  had to find someone 
else.  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 trip
there was always the problem  of urinating.  I kept a can  just outside of my turret in the fuselage.  when the urge came
upon me I just used that can and when the urine froze I threw the ice lump out my rear window which  I kept open
for better visibility.  Then Eric got the bright idea to use me as a urine volunteer.  He was given a device which 
looked like an overlarge condom.  I  was supposed to put it around my penis which was  in turn tied  around
my 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 disappeared
for a few minutes  while we were going for a briefing and I said, ‘Where did  you go?”  He said the device kept rubbing
on 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 too
late to go to Leeming to get our pay.  The  rest of the crew went to Harrogate except Hank who had a date
with 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, straightened  
ourselves  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 Schott
We trained together in Canada. Dick had been posted to an  English squadron flying Lancasters.  (Later Dick
was shot down and turned up in Stalag Luft VII with me.)  Hank and  I went to London’s Latin Quarter, boozed  
it 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 would
make him an alcoholic  if he survived the war.  When I met him in 1984 he did not drink at all…gave it
up.  Young men in their twenties often drink a lot of beer which does not mean that alcohol  consumption
is a lifetime phenomenon.   Hank and  Victor became very good friends.  Victor survived the war.  George
Hank  Freeman  did  not.   When  Victor was told of Hank’s death in HX 323, he cried.  And  the, 40 years
later , 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 his
friends 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 Valley
Hotel 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 me
first.  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’s
girl was willing to go further.  The girls  I was with was too nervous  about her surroundings and no matter
what tactics  I used my efforts  were to no avail.  A  considerable amount of time elapsed and  my girl
and I  were getting cold so she said she was staying at Hank’s girls house. “Let’s walk there and
wait for them.”  It was a  long wait.  About 3.30 a.m. they had still not arrived.   So I left and told  my
girl to tell Hank I  would  meet him at the railway staton.   Some time later Hank came storming into
the station.  Raging mad.  “Hold your breath and then tell me what happened.” It seems Hank and  his
girl were having a  great time and  thought they were in Heaven.  On one occasion they were  making
out 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 thought
the ground  was about to open up and swallow them in a grave.  Back at the girls’ house  things got
worse.  My girl  got tired of waiting outside and went into the house and was met by the father. “Where is
my daughter?  He got really angry and got the local constable.  Both looking for the daughter
in the cemetery.   Hank spotted the constable and  the girl’s father first.  Ducking from tombstone to
tombstone they managed to work their way out of the cemetery and  made a  run for it.  This  episode
brings  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  with
names, dates,  place included.    Lucky George Freemans mother, my  aunt Kitty, has died long
ago.  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 was
that deep.  “I remember  asking why Grandma was crying one day snd  Mom  said, ‘This would
have  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 were
asked if we wanted to apply  for a commission.  We  said ‘sure’ and got busy  filling in the forms
and presented  same.   We felt we could do what we  do and still be gentlemen…just need to refine
the 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 minutes

NOTE:  Interesting comment “We could do what we do and still be gentlemen.”  The great charm
of  Victor’s diary to me is its’ lack of pretence.  No phoniness.  No snobbery.  Just great joy stripped
of all caution.  Underneath, however, is constant fear.

March, 4, 1944:  We slept till noon then reported to Flights.  Did  our inspections  of “P” Peter.  Took
rest 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 and
tea.  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 do
some fighter affiliation but the aircraft was declared  unserviceable.  Back to our billet, lit the stove
with 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 marshalling
yards in France.  Seems to be an easy target but we are alert.  The  target is the town of  Trappes
which 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 beer
I  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 were 
cancelled.   Wilf went to town with his sailor-boy brother in law.  Wilf was full of alcohol before they
left the base.  

March 10, 1944:  Reported to Flights…we are ‘on’ for tonight…then a few  hours later it
was called of,  Flew out to the North Sea where a smoke float was thrown out and Hank and I
shot the float from a broadside position.  We used 2,000  rounds apiece.  Very low  flying, close
to the water.   Flying time 2 hours

March11, 1944:  We reported to Flights and were assigned “P” Peter to do complete job checking
from guns to turrets.  Then we were of to the Sam Hutton pub for beer.  Had some trouble
walking home.

March 12, 1944:  Same…assigned “P” Peter to check after which we did some “homing on our
radio beam”  and some 3 and 2 motored flying.  Later Hank  and  I did some Skeet shooting and
I 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 and
bombsight 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 intervened
and pushed me aside.  Maurice will never fit in as part of our crew.   Missions were on for 
tonight but we were not on the Battle Orders.

March 14, 1944:  Reported  to Flights.  Another air test which took 5 minutes doing evasive 
action practice.  Special equipment checks out.  Then  sent out on a Command  Bullseye, my
6th.  Took off at 2015 hours..base to Cambridge, Norwich, Lincoln, Newcastle,  Leeds,Hull, Peterborough
and  Base.  We were coned by searchlights once for 4 minutes.   The whole exercise makes
me feel good.  Took 4 hours and 10 minutes.

March15, 1944:  Operations on for tonight.  Target is  Stuttgart,  my 11t mission.  We  are sending
788 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  incendiaries
plus 2 x 250 lb bombs.  At briefing  we  are given our winds, altitudes, turning point which  is
redding, North of London.   The  wall map points out all the flak positions and the concentration
of 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 south
and make our turn over the Swiss Alps just short of the border.  The firing of  flak  guns
defines 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 above
us is dropping his bombs.  Eric quickly moves “P”Peter  as bombs pass on our side.  The
whole city of Stutgart is illuminated by our fires and their searchlights.  I can  see bombs
exploding and  new fires  starting.   Down below Hitler’s people are getting their premature
view 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  has
dropped  his bombs. Eric is  now flying straight and even until our photo flashes go of and
our camera catches our bombs bursting.  Then Eric is given his new course and  we are on
way home but everyone is alert because this mission is far from over.  We do not make it
home and have to land at a Typhoon fighter base on the south coast of England.  We pick
our 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 your
final run, touch down and park “P” Peter at a dispersal.  since this is a fighter base the dispersal
points are not too large.  We got what rest we could and in daylight found our hydraulics were
unserviceable.   We had a  hole in our flap and the bomb bay doors also had holes. The flaps
for landing are set at 90 degrees but we could  not raise the flaps hydraulically for takeoff.  Rather
than hang around for repairs we elected to push the flaps up manually into takeoff  position, leave
the 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  but
could apply to other raids. 


Note:  There were 53 raids on Stuttgart because of the heavy industrial plants. Only partly  successful
because 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 killed
35,000 to 45,000 people. The bombing created 15 million cubic metres of  rubble
and 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 be
my 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 close
to 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 this
but we knew there were our ships at sea.  Or should we return to base with our bombs  which is always a danger
especially when we had  a load of fuel.  We decided to fly around  and burn up fuel and then land.  Nobody is
happy about this situation for it means we will face another mission to make up for the aborted mission
at 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…seemed 
fine .  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 for
tonight laying mines north of Kiel in the Baltic Sea.   but mission was cancelled.   It is much easier on the nerves
to 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 again
it is cancelled.  The excuse this time is that Eric and Ken are on another course.  Eric is going on an Air Sea Rescue 
course and Ken is on a course on the Mark 14 bomb sight.  I ent over to see Mary at Dishforth for some Tender
Loving 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 pounds 
and four shillings then went over to the mess and had some gin and bitters along with beer.   Hank and  I took
Kay snd  Betty.  Betty and I have never really got along well together.    Hank decided to end his relationship with
Kay 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 sights
on York.  Caught train  from Harrogate to York and signed  in at the YMCA.  Then off we went to Betty’s Bar, an
RCAF hanout.  We got talking to P/o Fenton who asked  us to say  hello to Eric as he knew him from some other
place.  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 table
and 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 beers 
each then visiting places of interest.   Doing all the things a tourist would do.Hank and I were really enjoying our walk
 when out of the  blue this girl runs across the street and skids to a stop in front of us saying, note “I’m ‘Legs’ of
the Robin  Hood (pub) and I’ve fucked every jerk  in Sixth Group Bomber Command”  This presentation came on so
strong that we took a couple of steps back.  This appears to be a threat to this new doll.  So we said, “Well
we are the flying part of Six group and  have never heard  of you”  Meanwhile  the three of us are blocking
the sidewalk.   Hank and I are smoking with our hands  in our pockets, jackets unbuttoned, caps tucked  into
our shoulder straps, when this British Army type officer of some sort of high rank is forced to walk around  us
to get by.  Legs was using some great language and we were given  a real frosty look but we felt it was
best to say nothing.  The Robin Hood was a notorious pub in Leeds but was off limits because of  rampant
V.D.

Legs language was so raw that we  sought to escape to a local park where no one  was near. We  tried
all sorts of things to get rid of her but she just would not leave.  Hank and I were getting hungry and
since we couldn’t get rid of this Gem, we asked her to go with us.  We were getting her to the point
where  her choice of words was almost acceptable. We ordered our meal and then I asked her a
fairly simple  question. “How did  you get the name Legs?”  She promptly pulled up her skirt, way up
past her hips.   You should have seen the looks we  got from the patrons. She  really did have nice legs
however she  was not wearing underwear.   Our respectable leave was being compromised.  We finally maneuvered
Legs 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 in
the basement.  I asked  Hank to find  a table while I went to the washroom.  Returning I see Hank over
in a corner making frantic gestures.  I hurried over and  Hank  Said,  “Legs is here!” Good grief, our
darling is  right in the middle of the room where she can  Zero in on a victim..  Our beer came and
we kept as low a profile as possible.   Legs spots us and  gives us a wave, heads our way until some
unknowing 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 in 
and sat at the table Legs had vacated.  We  both happened to glance in their direction when one picked up
a cigarette and  asked for a light.  Hank started to rise  and I said, “Hank if you get up and giv her a light, our
respectable leave is as  good as  over.” Hank  said, “No don’t worry, i will just give her a light.”  Hank does this
and comes back saying they want us to join them.  “Ok, just you wait and see,” and after a few drinks  in Betty’s
Bar we all leave for another bar.  Here the girls decide to chug a lug.  Imagine that!  This raises  our eyebrows
so, what the Hell.  Our morals took a giant step backwards.  We hunted around and found a  small old hotel
where the proprietor took us  to a bedroom on the 3rd  floor that only had one 3/4 bd.   The four of us looked
at the bed with an unsaid  question.  Then the proprietor tuned into our wave length and took us to 
another room on the first floor.  The room had two full size beds and a bathroom.  But there was someone
sleeping in one of the beds.  It seems Hank and I were expected to sleep in the empty bed.  No way,  we
had other plans.  After the landlord left, Hank snd  I sped  upstairs to see Gwyn snd Ilene.  Upon entering the
room Gwyn was standing near nude with her shoes, stalkings  snd garter belt.  What a  sight.  Ilene  was
almost in the same state.  I picked  up Gwyn, clothes and  all, and  said ‘’Let’s Go!”  We  made  our way to
the first floor room, snapped on the light and awoke the guy in the other bed.  He was  startled and  did
a double take.   “Don’t interfere, she’s all mine.”  Just then the door opened and  a new guy comes in.  He asked  
what 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 upstairs
where Hank is in bed  with Ilene.  Without saying much Gwyn crawls over those two against the wall  and
get 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 floor
room, 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 room
with only one small bed, what do you expect?”  His response “I’m going to get the Specials (MP’s?) and
a constable.  We all decide to get dressed  and  leave fast.  Walked the girls to the railway station. It
was early, maybe 6 a.m. and the locals were going to work.  They gave us  some frosty looks. These
people were not dumb. The girls got the train to Leeds.  Hank and I waited for the train to Harrogate where
we 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  far 
fetched  but Victor uses such precise terms that I am not sure.   Remember Victor rewrote 
the story forty years after the fact.  Did  he improve the story?  I don’t think so.  It fits the
pattern and even provides detail that might fit other romantic  episodes mentioned in short
form earlier.  My experience is limited but I spent ten years working with men in mining 
exploration.  Their stories and  actions were similar.  Some lurid  descriptions and  some  real
events. In the 1960’s  I stayed clear of the sexual opportunities as Ken Sweatman  did in 1944 but other
events involving beer were spot on.  One event in Dawson City.  We  awoke in a dumpy room
where I was sleeping in the bathtub and other guys in the bed.  One guy,locked  out, got into the room
by 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 where
the 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 was
likely saying the truth.  Betty’s Bar was real and can be found described as a wartime
 RCAF Hangout
 on the internet.

March  28 and 29, 1944:  Nothing to report

March 30, 1944:  Ken has been asked  to fly as  a  ‘spare body’ with another crew.  I sure
hope 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 us
along to Leeming where we all had  a  party.  Hank  and  Max got rather  drunk.  I stayed sober because 
my stomach  is  in terrible shape.

April 3, 1944: Hank and I inspected  “P” Peter again.  Max must head  back  to his army units out of 
London…It was good seeing him again.





Note: Skipton Base.   Victor and his crew were assigned  one  of the quonset hut barracks
that are clustered top left.

April 4, 5, 6: 1944:  Rained heavily  for first two days.  Today, 6th of April, we checked  out the guns
on  “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 Maurice
weht 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 busy
with our end  of the airplane then had  dinner before going to the Briefing Room.  Our target will be ‘Villeneuve
St Georges’ near Paris which is a railway yard.  We  are given our route in and out at an  altitude of 6,000 
feet.  We should expect lots of  flak at that altitude we are told.  Our bomb load  is 10,000 lbs of high
explosives.  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 a
healthy situation.  One wing dropped abruptly when we were only 75 feet off the ground. Heavy load
aboard made the situation very serious.  We were just above stall speed.   Eric had enough experience to 
react 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 German
railway marshalling yards.   This must have been noticed by  German high
command who were expecting an invasion which came on June  6, 1944.
A massive deception was put in place in England. Where were  the invasion forces
going 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 we
all went to Leeming to pick  up our pay then to Thursk to a tour train.  I’m off to see my brother Max south 
of London.  Then YMCA.

April 11, 1944:  Staying in London for four days.  Went to visit Frank  Hughes but no one home so I went
to 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 talk
that 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 my
14rh mission.  Target is another railway marshalling yard called ‘Noisy le Sec’.  Near Paris. When we
work over these marshalling yards we come close to the ground.  So close that the bomb explosions 
make 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 load
is 10,000 lbs of high explosives.  This time the route is right over Paris at 12,000 feet.  The flak is heavy
The smoke from the shells permeates our oxygen masks.  The flashes and smoke pass by our bomber
really 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 to 
the anti-aircraft  shells exploding.   Ken waits for the right moment and  then drops our load.  Then we must
fly straight and level as usual so our camera can take a picture of the impact locations.  We passed over
two French towns where our air forces were working over marshalling yards. 




Limburg railway marshalling yard after a bombing in Dec. 1945

As we passed  over London on our return to Skipton we noticed  that the Luftwaffe was giving
London a pasting.   The anti-aircrsaft fire from London’s anti-iraft defences was  mind boggling.  I could
not imagine any German bomber surviving.   We flew at 13,000 feet which is quite low.  I am tired
and longing for a cigarette.  I cup the cigarette in my oxygen mask. , my cigarette flamed and  burned 
right down to my lips.  I call Maurice on the intercom and
tell him to cut off the oxygen.  He asks why?   “Never mind why, just do it!”  He cuts he oxygen and
I light another cigarette.  This was the first and last time I ever smoked on an aircraft.  We land…flying
time for this mission is  6 hours and 15 minutes. At briefing our camera  confirms that our bombs
were all cocnetrsted on the target..

Note:  German night fighters could  sometimes see the Halifax tail gunners lighting cigarettes
which gave the Germans a clear target in the dark sky.  Cigarette smoking was forbidden for this
reason.  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 Wesson
pistol 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 we 
go to briefing where the target is on a wall map including the route in and  out using
a red ribbon indicating route changes.  Again we will use Redding as the collection and 
turning point.  We will be guided to The target  by Pathfinders leading the attack.
Our target tonight is  “Lens”, another marshalling yard.  There is no doubt
in our minds that we are getting close to D-day.  158 bombers are being sent.  We have
11,000 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 contains 
two squadrons…about 100 aircraft. There are many near misses when bombers arrive
back 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, damaged
engines,  serious battle damage, injured crew.  Because of  these emergency landings
we 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 to
on missions today.

April 22,1944:  Misson # 16 for  me. Hank and I do our inspection of our guns
on “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 covered 
by a blind.  Our commanding officer enters, everyone  stands, he says ‘Gentlemen, be
seated’. The curtain is  drawn back, our target revealed…a very heavily industrialized
section of Germany  called  the ‘Ruhr Valley’…specific target is Dusseldorf. The Ruhr
Valley  is nick named  Happy Valley by bomber crews.   Today  we will send 997 heavy bombers
in a split force.  613 will bomb Dusseldorf.  384 will bomb elsewhere.  (This night we will
lose  43 aircraft and 310 aircrew.  Our squadron will lose 3 aircraft.)  We are shown
our 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 be
many night fighters.  The room becomes  very quiet as the briefing continues.
Halfway through the briefing in walks Flying Officer B. whose  crew  is already
in the room.  I never saw this pilot ever make it to a briefing on time.  (Later, he was
shot 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 off
by the propeller.

Take off is to be at 2210 hours.  We go to our lockers to pick what we will need then  
into the truck that will drop us at “P”Peter’s dispersal site.  We chat with our ground
crew while we wait to climb aboard.  It is still daylight when we take off.  Finally
darkness descends as we reach our assigned altitude and our turning point above
Redding.  By the time we approach the enemy coast I start to calm down. We are often being
shot 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 to
try 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 up
built 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 show
signs of fuel starvation.  Only then does he  switch tanks.  Eric never liked this practice
by 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 flak 
density we will soon experience.  A large  area around Dusseldorf is lit up by fires
searchlights.   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 now
in position to drop our bombs…2,000 pounds of high explosives snd 4,000 pounds
of incendiaries  Ken is giving Eric the necessary lefts and rights until he decides
to press the release switches.  Once done after the camera shot we start to get close calls
from 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 my
shot of Navy Rum and any other shots as well.  Then we go for our special bacon
and 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 last
to receive new equipment, RCAF squadrons were saddled  with under-powered
twin-engined Wellingtons longer  than  their British counterparts, and also lagged
in receiving  four-engined Halifaxes and  Lancasters.  Many Canadian squadrons 
did without Lancasters … which  were the best for bomb load, range,  ceiling and
ease of handling and lightest on casualties … until 1945.” (Roger Dentley)
One good  point about the Halifax.  It was easier to bail out of with  higher
survival 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…get
very nervous.  Most of the crews are in the briefing room when we enter.  This will  be 
Mission #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 and
345 will bomb elsewhere.   Total attack force of958 aircraft. (We will lose 32 bombers and
224  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 in

solid instrument dependent weather…pilots flying strictly by the gauges in front of them.  All of 
us hoping and praying we will not collide with another aircraft in this “soup”.  As we climb I see
a big flash of  light bursting through the ‘soup”.   Someone must have crashed  on take off.  Finally
we break through at 10,000 feet and  sure enough off to our right is another aircraft not 500 feet
from 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.  Like
looking through frosted  window glass.  One good thing.  We are no longer worried  about night
fighters under these conditions.  One worry.  We are picking up ice which is not too good.  We have
no 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  includes 
one 2000 pound high explosive and  4,000 pounds  of  incendiaries. Not much is being said on the intercom
but we are all aware of the increased  danger.  Ken is working our H2Sset , Bob passes us some
useful information  as to a  good fix on our  location but does not trust the info.  As a  result we overflew
on the right side of our target.  Bob realizes he  was wrong and gives Eric a new course to fly.We decide 
to unload our bombs  on what seems a likely target.  About 15 minutes later we fly through a hole in the
weather.   We are alone.  Our main force had finished bombing on target and had  headed for home. The
fires  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 time
was 7 hours.

 
April 25 and  26, 1944:  No time for diary notes…getting really busy

April  27, 1944   Operations  are on  for tonight.  This  will be my 18th mission.  Takeoff time is 2345 hours and
our target is  once again is railway yards, this time at “Aulnoye”.  Apparently we will not be bothered by
too much flak.  The  fighter problem remains though. The mission includes 116 heavy bombers.  We will carry 
10,000 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 does
a 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 railway
marshalling 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 do
so.  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  on 
marshalling yards.  We end  up stooging to one side for 17 minutes then there is a big rush of  aircraft
to unload and get away as  fast as  possible.   We feel the Luftwaffe must be on its way as there are many
fighter bases close by.  As a result of the disrupting the air raid is not a 100% success.  On our way back there was
a short burst of flak that hit the aircraft near us.  There was  an  explosion and bits of the aircraft 
fell  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 other
aircraft 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  90
degrees….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 a
fine 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 makes 
things  nice and cosy.  I have a  nice room upstairs.  After everyone is  in bed I hear the back stairs creaking. In comes
Ruby on her tip toes.  Everything was great in this nice soft bed, a real  delight.  This visit was pretty well standard
except for two occasions.  One afternoon while we were walking in the woods the urge arose.  We did  our thing and
only 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 were
about 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 could
see us easily from the shore.   Later upon returning the row boat the attendant gave us  a broad  smile.  This  
turned  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 a
Hawker Hurricane as  the attacking fighter.  We  have a second pilot aboard learning the tricks.  Later we
take 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 fact
about 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 chance
to wave the Mosquito off.  He does  a  barrel roll and peels  away.  What a sight seeing such a wonderful  plane
close up and doing some really great flying.  (This picture has stayed crystal clear in my mind all my life.)

May 18, 1944:  Nothing logged

May 19, 1944:  Missions are on for tonight. My 21st.   Mission it to St. Malo, a fairly easy mission mine laying in the
St. Malo harbour  Two aircraft , each carrying 4 x 1500 lob mines.  We cannot close the bomb doors  because of
the bulky mines but this is not big deal.  The mission went smoothly and both aircraft returned to base.  We were
the 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 being
stored  at our dispersals, a clear sign that D day is just around the corner.  Looks like we can expect more than
one 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 Heavy
bombers.  Two Pathfinders  lead  the way,  Banana  One and Banana Two.   There is trouble dropping the parachute
flares 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 complaint
over the radio telephone .  We  orbit for about 15 minutes when Banana Two orders  us to bomb the centre of
the green target he has  marked.   We begin our bomb run.  The 15 minutes delay gives our French  friends  time
to move away from the target.  We drop down to low level and do our bomb run then head for the coast
at the same low level.  I can clearly see towns and  even buildings…and  people flashing flashlights at us.  It
is nice to know we are being loved.   We climb to clear the French coast and the coastal guns gave us
our 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 ON
SWALE.  WE DO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED THOUGH WHICH OPENS A DIFFERENT CHAPTER IN
THE VICTOR POPPAS  STORY. BUT FIRST HERE IS WHAT HAPPENED ON THE NIGHT
OF 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 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 chatter of machine gun bullets and  cannon shells slamming  through our
aircraft.  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 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
Grievously.”

“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.


END  OF PART 3:  THE VICTOR POPPA  STORY

PART 4 WILL COVER HIS PRISONER OF WAR (POW) EXPERIENCE

alan skeoch
Nov. 16, 2019

Appendix

1) 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 Gunner
with 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 crew
sitting 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  Halifax 
was 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 favoured
RAF  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 Borg
Leopold 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 the 
crew 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 to
be the officers quarters.  This mission did not sit well  with the crew. We had already  been through some tough missions against industrial targets but
this  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  an
urge 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 sighting
as 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  the 
tanks. 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 all
were 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 and
went 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 and
straightened 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 another
eternity. 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 in
motion 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 Flight
of  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 two
that 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 came
to, 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 my
mind 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 kit
contained 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 of
the 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. Also 
you 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 can
well 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  Sweatman
would be very pleased to hear from you if  would  care to write them.”

Kikndest  Regards
Eric  L. Mallett


2) REMEMBERING GEORGE (HANK) FREEMAN

PICTURE of George Freeman and, I believe, the girl known only as  Kay.  I think
this is the woman he wanted to marry after a year of  chasing women  with his good
friend 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 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..

GEORGE FREEMAN’S LAST TWO LETTERS:  THEY WERE NEVER MAILED

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.,
R190568
RCAF
Overseas

MAY – 1944 (/)

MRS. C.W. FREEMAN,
C/O Scanons Store,
1439 Kingston Road,
Toronto 13, Ont.
Canada

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

SECOND LETTER TO ‘DOT’, A GIRLFRIEND BACK HOME IN CANADA

R190568
Sgt. Freemand,
RCAF
OVERSEAS,
30/3/43


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


CONCLUSION:  SO  MUCH  HAS NOT BEEN EXPLAINED

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

EPISODE 167 PART TWO: THE VICTOR POPPA STORY: 1943 AND 1944

EPISODE 167 


PART TWO:  THE VICTOR POPPA STORY

alan skeoch
Oct. 2019


This is Part 2 of the Victor Poppa  story

You will either like Part Two or wonder why you are reading it.  After the raids  on Hamberg  
and  the solo flight to the  submarine  pens at St. Lazar, Victor’s crew had a  layover
as they lost two pilots one due  to illness  and one shot down  on a  training mission
over German territory.   Wellington bombers were being  replaced by  larger four engined
Halifax and Lancaster aircraft which meant the crew had to be retrained.  This took many  months
 which gave  Victor and  his new  mid upper gunner, George Freeman planty of time
for romancing as many girls as  possible.  Some descriptions of their sexual activity
are quite humorous.   

But Victor knew the full horrors of air warfare.  Air crews were expected to make
20 missions.   Survival was unlikely since the  acceptable  loss on each
air raid was 5%.   Twenty missions at a  5% loss rate meant that there was 
a 100% expectation that air crews would be shot down or get into mid air collisions
or fail to land at Base  because  crippled  or be  forced to ditch in the North Sea
where it only took 3 minutes for hypothermia to kill.  Victor knew all this  and
occasionally in the following journal he makes a comment such as “a good
friend was lost”.   Most of the time Victor was cheerful.   George (Hank) Freeman
and Victor Poppa drank an immense  amount of beer as they searched  pubs
and dancehalls for women and girls willing  to roll around in haystack nests.
Te air force  provided condoms free for the taking.  Two  reasons for this.
One, the fear of general Disease spreading.  Two, the fear that airmen
with V.D. would  be to sick to fly and thereby weaken  the impact of Bomber
Command  on German civilian life.


A news clipping  Victor attached to his journal/.diary 
refers to the Hamburg raids which killed between 35,000
and 45,000 people.  Plans  to do follow up raids  on a
small bayonet factory which was surrounded by hospitals
filled with Hamburg survivors bothered Victor. The hospital
raid was cancelled.



The nature  of the bombing changed as the mid point of World War II
arrived.  Initially the targets were military and industrial  installations.
Then the bombing targets became civilian.  The  leaders of Bomber
Common, principally Bomber  Harris, nicknamed by his own air crews,
‘Butcher Harris’.    Bomb loads always carried incendiaries to set
German cities on fire.  One  highly placed British officer wondered if
whole cities could be  set afire  since many German cities had historic
ancient wooden beam construction.  (see 17the century image of
Leipzig…lots of wooden buildings preserved and admired)
“Could we set these cities on 
fire?  Could we create a firestorm that would wipe out working class
neighbourhoods and thereby reduce German ability to produce the
weapons of war?  The  answer was decidedly ‘Yes” as was  proven
in July 1943 when  the City of  Hamberg was set alight in three devastating
air raids.  Victor was the tail gunner on a Wellington bomber for these
raids.   He  could see Hamberg burning on the horizon days after
the first raid.   He must have known the  death rate  was Horrific.  Actually 
43,200 civilian were incinerated.  Many died  in air raid shelters…sufficed
as the oxygen was sucked  out to feed the firestorm.  A firestorm so
powerful that it set the asphalt streets on fire.  The superheated winds
blew people to their deaths as if they  were fallen leaves in winter wind.

If you can look beyond Victor’s womanizing you will no doubt feel the
sense  of foreboding.   There is a feeling of inevitability about Victor’s
journal/diary.  No escape.  Not quite no escape but a very tiny chance
that Victor will be able to survive  his 20 missions.  Who could
predict that his survival happened  because his aircraft, HX 313,
was  shot down, a fiery coffin plummeting to earth with Victor, the tail
gunner trapped inside.  But that story will come in Part 3 of the Victor 
Poppa story and this is only Part 2.

THE SEXUAL  ADVENTURES OF  VICTOR POPPA










Victor liked women.  Actually he  loved them and loved  them by
the  dozen.   Sometimes  in amusing situations…three in  bed on one
occasion, love making  in the grass of a  London road  median in another.
In a hay stack well used by other airmen including my cousin in another.
Here is a list I made just from Part 2 of the Victor Poppa story.
Let me make the list more personal by using  Victor’s words.

“Alan, I kept notes and  can list the names of  all the girls  we
met and  romanced….nearly all I mean.”
“What do you mean  by  ‘we’?”
“Your cousin Hank…George  Freeman to you…was with me
on many of these sexual exploits.”
“How many?”
“Well between August 1943 and February 1944 we  had a good
time withKay, Pat, Edna, Mary, Anne, Vera, Mary, Ruby, Murial,
Betty,Marg, Lily , Nancy, Rhoda, Wendy (size44), Nancy, Marg,
Queenie, Laura, Doreen, Joan, and Norma.”
“How do you remember all these girls?”
“I kept notes.”
“Did you feel no guilt?”
“No, I loved every one of them…respected them too.”
“Sounds like exploitation.”
“Our couplings were alway mutual…willing In oher wods.”
“Hard for me to believe.”
“You just had to be there to understand…since you  were not
there you will probably have trouble believing my journal. There
was nothing done in a nasty way.  I loved those girls…still do
in my mind…making love on a highway median makes me  smile
just thinking about it.””
“ALL OF THEM?
“Alan, there  are some whose  names I did not record as you
will see if you read my journal…I wrote  all this for you…really
for Hank who was  my best friend”







WHO WAS VICTOR POPPA?

Victor Poppa was born in Hamilton, Ontario on August 30, 1921.  He fell in love with airplanes when he was four years old.
By 1943, Victor was 22  years old and  a tail gunner with the RCAF Bomber Command based in Yorkshire, England.
His crew had spent many months flying Wellington twin engined bombers but that was about to change.

“Our Halifax 4 engined bombers  were not new.  Rather they were second hand planes originally used by
the Royal Air Force (RAF).  They had Rolls Royce Merlin engines and triangular fins.   Merlins  worked great for the 
Lancaster bombers  but were not as good  for the Halifax’s.  Later we were to get Halifax bombers with Bristol Hercules
motors…1650 Horsepower.These engines made the Halifax into a very superior bomber..”



SEVEN MONTHS CHASING WOMEN…WITH MUCH SUCCESS

VICTOR’S  JOURNAL  FROM AGUST 4, 1943  TO  FEBRUARY 1945

“On August 4, 1943, I reported to my flight section and was given 6 days combat leave.First thing I  went with Ken to Leeds where we went dancing.
then we parted  company and  I caught the 3.30 tran to Brightonn to visit my brother Max who was in the Canadian Army
with an anti=aircraft battery…2nd Heavy Ack, Ack, 2nd Division.  (75 mm. anti aircraft)”

“Between Leeds and London I met a real doll by the name of Kay.  It was standing room only of the train, so to kill time we kept 
ourselves occupied feeling, necking…this was after we managed to  get a spot on the floor out of everyone’s way.  Her body felt
great no matter where I touched.  I had my great coat over us during all of this activity.  We were totally oblivious to all those other souls
near us.  Now just a fond memory.”

Note:  Victor kept a journal during World War II…then in 1987, encouraged by my fascination with his wartime
experience he hand wrote an expanded version nearly 100 pages long.  All  dong in long hand.  Today, in 2019,
I  am converting his hand writing into print.

“We parted at Kings Cross Station , Took the underground to Victoria Station, then the Electric train to Brighton.  This  train did
not have any aisles.  The seats were full width facing each other with a door at each end.  Upon arrival in Brighton I was
disappointed to find that his battery  were out on maneouvers.  I stayed in Brighton overnight and caught the morning train
to London. I got put up at the Queens’ Garden  YMCA…walked around a bit, had a few beers, got lost in the blackout.
Difficult to find my way back to the YMCA but eventually did so and  went to bed. Spent the rest of my leave in London…Zoo, London
Bridge,  etc.”

“August 19, 1943, I departed  London for York, but ended  up in Darlington with a real nice girl  named Pat.  We both got into our cups
and  we ended  up with a  happy evening.   

“August 20through September 14, 1945 … uneventful days but managed to get another 6 days of combat leave.

“August 21, 1943:  Bill, our pilot had been having serious bladder problems.  As result it appeared he was going to be removed
from flying duties.  Also we were not going through our conversion to 4 motored  Halifax’s because  of  Bill’s bladder problems.
After being in combat inaction causes boredom so I put my name down as a volunteer (called flying as a spare body.)

“September 15,1943, Today  I was assigned to go on operations with Sgt. Rawlinson, this was to be  his first  operational
mission as pilot in  command  (PIC).   I had trained in Canada with his rear gunner…red  headed  and a  real  fine person.  For this
mission I was to fly  as a mid-upper gunner.  I found this  set- up very undesirable, notably Was to operate a single Vickers .303  machine gun
which  is  not much  good.  The C.O. in charge of 429 squadron, Leeming (Yorkshire),  had the mid-upper turrets removed
and  the mid-under gun installed instead. This new  set-up was to cause serious attrition  problems  for 429 squadron and any
other squadron foolish enough to adopt this method. What was really needed was a third gunner as a mid-underpin a properly 
designed mid-under  position with single  .50 calibre gun shooting down and  aft leaving the mid-upper gun turret intact as
originally designed.   Later this was incorporated  in  some variants  of Halifax’s which made survivability of aircraft and
crew much enhanced. “


“I reported for target briefing.   This time we were to raid “Mont Lucon”, a target in France  at Laititude 46 degrees 22 minutes North 
and o2degrees, 35 minutes East.   We were sending 377 aircraft.  We were to bomb the Dunlop Tire Company factory as a big
order had  just been completed and was about to be shipped out.   We  crossed the French coast without too much problem from
Flak.  Our rear gunner spotted  and took some shots at a  night fighter that was not too keen to engage us.  Our attack on the  Dunlop
Tire seemed accurate from where I was sitting.  Some huge fires were started.Our  bomb load consisted of one 2000 lb bomb and
a mix of  30  phosphorus bombs to a canister 4 magnesiums bombs with 144 to a canister.   Our total  bomb load this night was  5,300 lbs
packed aboard 377 Haifax  bombers.  We returned to base in good shape.  I was really elated.”

“Wrote to my sisters and friends saying , “If  these missions keep  being as tough  as  mission Number 5 (missions so far were 1,3,4,and5)
I did not think my survival rate was worth a damn.   Mont Lucon was a gllmpse at the end of  the tunnel.  Praise  the Lord and  pass me
my commission which in fact will, Ken, George  and myself received  May  26, 1944.  The engineer, Maurice received  his from RAF on alternate.”

NOTE:  May 26, 1944 was a very significant and tragic day for HX 313 and its crew.  The next night they were shot down
over  Bourg Leopold and the young  upper gunner, my cousin, was  killed  in his turret we think.  On May 26, the boys got
their commission  and the next day  they were either killed  or taken Prisoner.  Their Halifax bomber 313 was a pile of smoking
debris on a  Belgian farm field.  But that story is yet to come.  Victor may  sound cheerful in his  journal  but readers should
note he  had become  well aware that his chances of survival were slim.

NOTE:  This journal  could  not have been written in 1943 and1944.  And  it wasn’t.  It was written in 1987 … transcribed  from
Victor Poppa’s war diary.  That diary would have been found  among his personal affects  at the Squadron 424 base at Skipton
on Swale…packaged up and sent to his  home in  Hamilton.   Retrieved when  he walked  out of  his  POW camp  in Germany
and  made his way to the American  sector in 1945.  That is conjecture.

“This flight to Mont Lucon took 7 hours and 40 minutes.  We  had  no sleep and after de briefing and breakfast, I found  I was to
fly again with Sgt. Rawlinson.  Mission #7 for me.  We were to go and bomb the entrance to a  train  tunnel that connected
France and Italy.  We were to plug the French end. At briefing  we were told that Leeming would be  socked in after we  left
and  our alternative airfield  would  be an  American airfield at Thurleigh.   There were 420 aircraft on this  raid.  We  would
be  carrying a 5,000 lb load of  high explosive bombs.  Our ‘Gee’ set quit and our navigator decided it was a  ‘no go’ situation
so we flew out over the North Sea and jettisoned our bombs. Then we got lost and after much figuring and 4 hours and 25
minutes we found Thurleigh.”

“The Americans, as  always, were the perfect hosts treating us very well and giving us the run of the base.  NCO’s were invited
to eat in the Officers’ mess.    I got into crap  game  and won a point.  Crap  games were not forbidden in the Officers’ mess.
And I was given  a  tour inside  of a  B17 ‘fortress’ and even given a  look at their famous ’Norden’ bombsight.  Later these were 
scattered all over Germany.  During the morning of the 17th the rest of  Squadron 429 landed.   The C.O. of 429 gave  us a 
briefing saying the weather at Base had  a  ceiling of only 500 feet with tops of clouds at 8,000 feet,  For those that did not feel
comfortable with this type of weather then they could wait it out but our C.O. was going to fly to Leeming using instruments.
Our hero pilot elected to fly under these conditions as did most of the other crews.  It took us 2 hours form take off  to landing.  
The Tower let us descend from on top of  the clouds via a method that was caliled ‘QGH’.  Thismeant that each aircraft in turn was  
given a 500 foot descent spread and the lowest aircraft allowed drop  500 feet followed by the next lowest and so on with
only one command from the Tower.   There were no accidents and I was very happy when we broke through into the clear
and landed.

“Attrition was very high in 429 Squadron because  of the missing mid  upper turret.   Sgt. Rawlinson was  given
a commission as  a Pilot Officer and was acting as a  Flight Lieutenant (captain).  He and  his crew were shot down  later
 on their 30th and last mission.  Later  I met Rawlinson’s navigator at a POW transit camp just north of  Frankfurt on  Main.
I cannot recall their Target that night.   The navigator was the only survivor.  the fortunes  of  war.”

“I am now going to Skipton off  and  on.  Flying as a spare  body.  On  Sept. 23, 1943, I was  briefed  for a bombing raid
to Mannheim but the mission was cancelled.  Pilot was  again Sgt. Rawlinson

“Sept, 25, 1943,  I am briefed  for a raid to Kiel.  This  mission was also cancelled.  Pilot is warrant officer Smith, DFM.”

“September 27m 1943:  This one is for Hanover and  W.O. Smith DFM is again our pilot.  On this  mission  there were 708 
aircraft .  For me it was  Mission #8.   We were just nicely underway  when our port outer motor’s propeller ran amok. On this 
flight we were taking a new Sgt. pilot with us.  He was a  twin, his brother also was on 429’s roster.   This fellow must
have been barley  past his 20th birthday.   W. O. Smith instructed him to feather our port outer engine  propeller.   Instead
the 2nd pilot feathered  the port inner propeller.  W.O. Smith was  very skilled and managed  to save the situation.   For some reason
we could not return to Leeming and  were forced  to land  at Topcliffe.  Upon touching down W. O.  Smith found our
brakes would not function.  So we had to go back  to Leemng by truck.  There was only about 15 mlles between these
two airports.  This aborted  mission took 3 hours  and15 minutes flying time.”

“Oct. 1,1943:  I’m still volunteering for missions.  This  time we are briefed for Stuttgart and again the mission was cancelled.

“Oct 5, 1943: I am  temporarily posted to Leconfield and went on a  fight with w.o. Butler using a Whitley aircraft built by
 Armstrong Siddley.  The Whitley appeared ancient. The Navigator/Bombardier’s position looked lkie  a Victorian drawing room with
floor and  sides  covered with green mohair rug like material.  The Whitley has Rolls Royce Merlins.  The wing has an
extremely thick air foil.  It was  a very slow flying machine.   When the Whitley flew straight and  level it looked like
it was  in a shallow dive which  confused  observers.  This was an advantage since enemy fighters often
misjudged thinking the Whitley was  in a dive.   On this first flight, I was using a camera  gun.”

“October 6, 1943: I went on another spare body flight, this time with flight sergeant O’Neil who failed to find  our
drogue training airplane so we returned  to Leconfield.   Again on Oct 6, we searched and found  our  Drogue
airplane and completed the exercise.”

“October7, 1943: with flight sergeant O’Neil we completed another exercise this  time I was using a camera gun.

“October 8, 1943: Flew  with W.  O. Butler on an air to air exercise.  I had a runaway gun.  The only  way to stop this  gun 
from firing ws to flip up the breech cover.  In my eagerness  to do  this  the cocking stud hit my thumbnail…hurt.
but only slight damage.  I used up  1,000 rounds against the drogue.   My flying time for Leconfield is  6 hours and 35 minutes
and managed to score quite well.

“October 1, 1943:   I returned, sleeping with
 the guys on my regular crew.  Ken had been on
a raid to Nuremburg where our airforce lost 95 aircraft.  Ken  thought his time was up.  He, like myself, had volunteered
to fly as a spare body Bombardier.  Our losses that night must have been close to 15 
%…extremely high.   Losses like this could  put us out of business.”


Nurenberg, Oct.  1

“We  were informed that since we lost Bill, our pilot, we were going to be  parcelled out to other crews.   We had been a  5 man
crew with Bill.  Now it was Bob, Ken,  Wilf and myself.  We  talked to the adjutant and requested the we for be kept together.  We 
were then told we  would be posted to Croft, #1664 Conversion  Unit where a pilot and flight engineer were waiting to crew us with 
us.  We were still short a mid-upper gunner.   However we were told that Air gunners were in transit to #1664 C.U. Croft and 
should complete our crew.  The four of us departed for Croft Oct. 14, 1943.”

“I left all my females behind but I also  knew I was heading into new pastures.  married men in the air crew were supposed
to be celibate.   Rather than rock their boat, we single persons did  not pry into their private affairs.”

“Oct. 15, 1943:  and Oct. 16, 1943:  We took it easy then on Oct. 16 we woke at 7.30 to meet out new  pilot flight officer 
Desmond  Short, an ex flight instructor.  Expect he will speed things up.  Croft was a wartime flying field with plenty of  mud.”

“That night I  met and took out Edna. The evening was  just great except she was  having a problem women have
from time to time.”

“October 17, 1943: Des brought our Flight Engineer with him, an English man  named  Maurice Muir.  He seemed to be
having a problem with acne.  We were still short a  mid-upper  gunner. Ken,  Wilf and  I went to Bob’s  room where we ate
the best part of his food supply and returned  to our quarters where I  read  a few pages from a book then went to bed.”


GEORGE (HANK) FREEMAN CREW, OCT. 18,1943



George (Hank) Freeman looked so young  when he volunteered.   By 1944 he
had certainly matured.  I think the picture  below is Kay who he planned to marry.
She  was an English NCO assigned  to Skipton on Swale airbase as a driver
at 60 cents  a  day.  Not much money.


“October 18,1943:  I reported  to my section and  talked  to one of the new air gunners.   This  fellow introduced  himself
as “Hank” Freeman. We chatted for a while.  He sure sounded like an  easy going guy.  He said his full name was George
Francis Freeman but preferred to be called Hank.  He had  not yet joined a crew.   “Our crew needs  a mid upper gunner,
are you interested?”  He said  “sure” and we went looking for the rest of   the crew.  Hank’s easy going way made him
fit in easy with the guys.   We were all Canadians with the exception the flight engineer.”

october 19 to November 7, 1943: All that time was spent taking lectures,  test flights … learning all we could
about our aircraft, the Handley Page Halifax.  the models we would  fly had the Rolls Royce  Merlin motors  which were 
not that great.   The Halifax  did not have the big bomb bay of  the Lancaster, however, this was  partly  compensated
by 3 bomb bays in the wing either side of the fuselage between the two inboard  motors.  Nor did the Halifax carry as
heavy  a load  as the Lancaster.  None the less it did have some good qualities which were corrected when the Bristol
Hercules motors were installed.  “

Note:  One of the good qualities was the odds of survival if the crew had to use escape hatches.  Halifax crews
had higher survival rates  than Lancaster crews  This fact would  be helpful on May 27/28  when 5 of the 8 man
crew actually survived.

“Along with our studies  we had our evenings free for fun and  games. Hank really shone here and managed very well
with the girls. No grass was going to grow oder his feet.  A man after my own heart.”

“Oct. 28, 1943: I went into Darlington  and ran into two fellows I  trained with in Canada.   We had a great  time at the YMCA 
where  there was no shortage of  girls.”

“October  31,  1943:  I  was selected  to  do guard  duty for an NCO what had beaten the daylight out of an officer in 
a bar.  He  was awaiting a court martial and  confined to barracks except for meals.  I was given a holster and
a .38 Smith and Weson pistol to carry out this  duty.  I’m glad he did not try anything  while I was guarding him.  
If he had tried  to run away I could not picture myself shooting him.  Anyway he  was peaceful and nothing
happened while he was in my charge.”

“Nov. 1, 1943:  I met a  girl named Mary who lived in Middlesborough and wanted to go home that night. Mothers’ orders.
I was feeling  good so took the train  home with her.  Later I made my way back  to the railway station and on the 
way a fog set in. I nearly killed  myself by walking right off the loading dock onto the tracks.  Thick fog. To make matters
worse there were no trans back to Croft until morning.  Spent the night in the station. Sitting up…awake.  Then at 7 a.m.
caught train back to Croft where I was surprised to discover that the train did not make a full stop so I had to jump.
Love sure causes troubles.  Boy, was I fired..”








NOTE:  These are NOT the crew of HX 313.  I chose these pictures 

from the Memory Project collection (Rudyard  Griffiths) …chosen

because the picture sows  how YOUNG the airmen were.  Average
age 21 years…many  of them just 19, fresh out of high school.



“November 3, 1943: My brother Max came to Croft as he had a 7 day leave so we went out and had  a  great time drinking.
Max is a quiet soul.  You could leave your daughter  with Max overnight and she would still be a  virgin in  the morning..”

“November 4, 1943:  Max’s visit coincided with visit from the daughter of my mother’s friend who moved
back to England from Canada just prior to World  War II .   Her husband died  in England.  Young Anne, when I knew
her  in Canada was  not a great beauty.  Her pictures as a  young lady were different…very pretty. She  had  joined
the British Women’s Army and was presently stationed  in Scotland.  Max and I went to the staton to fetch  Ann.
She looked even prettier than  her photos and I was delighted.  The  three  of us went dancing at the YMCA and
along with a few  drinks really enjoyed ourselves.  This was one time I wished Max had  not been visiting me.
I fixed it with our WAAR sergeant to billet Anne that night.”

“November 5, 1943: Anne  left to visit with her mom in Atherton, Manchester, escorted by Max as far as Edinburgh
then  on to her  base outside of Glasgow.  Later  Ann and I were to get together in a more personal manner.”

“November 6, 1943: Won five pounds in a crap game, had a few  beers and then off to bed.”

“November 7, 1943: Today was our first time  flying with Des as a crew. We had not flown for 24 days so we
sent the day doing takeoffs, circuits and landings…”Circuits and Bumps” then we  went to the movies.”

“Nove.8, 1943: The  weather turned sour.  No flying.  Max showed up again after a few  days in Edinburgh.
He had mismanaged his funds.  He was broke so  I gave him two pounds ($8.90) and he left for Catenham where he
was stationed just south of  London.”

“Nov.  9, 1943:  Today we did more practise flights and landings.  Some of Des’s landings are nothing to brag about.
We went into town in the evening where Wilf, Bob and  Ken went to the movies while I decided to go to a favourite bar.
There was a girl there who did not look so hot but after a few drinks her proportions were looking more desirable
so I threw  caution to the wind and took her on.  The evening turned out just fine.  Before I left she siad her
name  was Vera.  I said they call me Victor.”

“We had  another crash on base today.”

“November 1, 1943:  I reported to my flight section but there will be no flying today.  I don’t know why but Ken and  I
were given shovels and ordered  to do some digging.  I think the reason was  to give us something to do.  Boy,
were we tired.”

“November 11, 1943: More circuits and  landings  today…we then practised  2 and 3 motor flying.  In the air for
1 hour and 25 minutes.   Our instructor for Des this time was Squadron Leader Boogey.  Took off  in early afternoon
and this  time Des was the pilot in command as we did some flying the Beam… instrument flying.

“November 12, 1943:  Our flying  activity is increasing as this morning we went on an air to sea firing practice for Hank
and  I.  3 hours and  25 minutes.  And we are now getting night flight practise. Des is given dual cirucuits  and landings
at night.  Our instructor is again S/L Boozey (or  is it Boogey?).  It seems Des has been  cleared as pilot in command.”

“I had  a date with Mary for the evening but flying came first.  Hope she  understands.”

“November 13, 1943:  We flew today climbing to 20,000 feet and practised fake bombing Strensal.  But we could  not
find  the target because Des  did not fly the course Bob gave him, hence no target.  Des is a bit of a problem yet he
is our pilot so we can do little about it.

 
“November 15, 1943:  Things picked  up  today.  Since the  weather is too bad for flying someone started a crap game
and  I ended  up with 16 pounds more than I started  with.  Hank won 8 pounds so we went out and had fun.
In the evening we Des practised  night flying and landings with instructor S/L Boozey who cleared Des as ready
to be Pilot in Charge (PIC) then we  did two hours of  circuits and landings with no  mishap.”

“November 16, 1943:  Today we did a cross country flight as a daylight exercise.  The  weather was murky and this
time Des paid attention to Bob’s navigation. Ken got int his bomb practise at Stensall this time.

NOTE:  IN 1943 the  officers in charge  of Bomber Command were aware of the sad fact that new bomber
crews  were very likely to be shot down  while veteran crews were not.  Why?  Perhaps active  bomber 
crews  were put into action  too early.  They needed to be skilled … ready  for  evasive action, ready to  fly
a crippled plane with only two or three engines  functioning, ready to make a  night landing with a damaged
aircraft.   That is why Victor’s crew  are spending so much time training.  The change from  a two engined
Wellington to a four engined Halifax…different airplanes, handling  differently.  Training could not last much
longer.

“November 17, 1943: Flying  today twice with Spitfires simulating German  fighter attacks.  Hank and  I had a very
important role.  If we saw a  hostile fighter,  our first act was  to warn Des using the command  “Go!” which  meant take
immediate evasive action.  This early warning role was critical.  We were spotters first, gunners second.
2 hours and 30 minutes flying time today.

“Mary was mad  at me when we went out for tea but later all was forgiven.”

“November 18,1943: We  were called in for a briefing concerning a missing aircraft down somewhere in the North Sea.
We were shown where to search, doing a ‘square search’.  But it turned out to be fruitless.  Wilf received a radio message  
that a dingy from the downed  plane had  been sighted.  It was empty.  A mute testimony.  Flying time was 4 ours.

“November 19, 1943:  Tonight we are to fly what is called a ‘Command  Bullseye’ to practice simulated  bombing
around England. At the same time test Britain’s  air defences. We  were coned by searchlights on the English  South
Coast for 15 minutes and again at Northampton for 10 minutes.  This is my 4th Bullseye fight.   Des does not follow
instructions  too well.  We would’ve been shot down if this  Bullseye had been the real thing.  The same thing would  have
happened when  we were on  our higher affiliation exercise on November 17th.  Shot down…shot full of  holes and killed.
Des  may  have been  a  great instructor but as  an active bomber pilot he was not much good.  The next day Bob, Ken,
Hank and I … with Wilf looking on…had a pow-wow about Des as our bomber pilot.  He  was given a thumbs down.
We  felt we would  not last long on bomber missions. Our decision was to give Des the benefit of the doubt for a couple
of missions hoping he  would clean  up his act. If he  did not then he would  get no cooperation.  He would  have no crew.
Bombing missions were tough on good crews.  If  we were to risk  our lives then that was to be expected.  But to throw
our lives  away…we would  not do  that.  flying time to date 105 hours and  55 minutes day flying and  111minutes and 
25 minutes night flying.  Total flying time 227 hours  and 30 minutes.

NOTE:  This sounds like mutiny.  What consequences would  the crew face if they refused to fly with Des?
Court Martial perhaps.

“November 20, 1943:  An air firing exercise was scrubbed today.”

“November 21, 1043:  No flying today.  I waited until 6p.m. then went to Mary’s  quarters.   We went for a  walk to
our favourite hay stack.   Love making with Mary was always tender.  She is  a  very sweet person.”

“November 22, 1943: We were told that tomorrow is moving day.  We were reposted to Tholthorpe, 431 Squadron, a few
miles down the road from Croft.  I went with Mary for our usual walk.  Mary is very  easy to talk with.  She speaks
of  many interesting things.  I’ve  spoken with her about my girl  friend Louise who lives back in Canada.   Mary
accepts  this information.   Hank, Bob, Ken and Wilf all go into town and got stoned.”

“November 24, 1943: We  reported to our new adjutant who gave  us a nice  welcome and extended the rest of the
day  off.  After lunch, we  caught the bus into York and went to a movie to kill time and then headed for Betty’s Bar.
We drank enough  to be in a partying mood so went dancing.  Then caught the last bus  back to the base.”

“November 25, 1943:  After Breakfast we reported to the Flights  and  were introduced to our new Wing Commander.
Then we managed to get 9 days of combat leave starting tomorrow.”
 Des. our pilot, was obligated to go on a mission to Stuttgart as a 2nd pilot.  This was mandatory
since he had no combat experience as a PIC (Pilot in Command).  After Des’s briefing and the Squadron departure 
to Stuttgart a big party was planned on  the base. Hank and I were having a good time and started looking around
for the rest of the crew but lost track  of them.  I  headed for sargent of the Women’s A.A.F.  She looked thin but
as I got closer I could see she was more skeleton than thin.  They say  nearer the bone, the sweeter the meat 
so I thought What the heck, give  it a try.  After a brief conversation I assumed we were both on the same wave
length and we headed for an air raid shelter.  It was a cold and damp place and the seat was made of cement.
After much maneuvering and  giving it our best, we  gave up.  There was  no other spot nearby so we called it
a night.”

“November 26, 1943:  We had been paid the day before and I had 18 pounds and was anxious to start our leave but
we waited around to see Des return from the Stuttgart Mission but gave  up and caught a ride into York. 
 We  would call the adjutant from York and ask
about Des.  Bob called and was informed  that Des was ‘missing in action’ along with the whole crew that
flew to Stuttgart.  We all had  more than a  few drinks.   Shocked.  Hank was going  north with me and  the rest were
going south.  Hank and  I got into a train compartment and I fell asleep.  After a bit, Hank woke me up.   Opening my
eyes I saw  this British  army female across from me and  as  I  lowered  my eyes to her lap, I noticed  she  had
two high top, size 10 boots on her lap and my feet were in those boots.  It seems I was trying to make myself as
comfortable as possible.  She  was given an apology and  Hank  explained  about Des being missing in action.  Our
pilot gone.  We finally arrived in Edinburgh where we stayed the night.  I planned to carry on to Glasgow 
and  then on to Alexandria where Ann was stationed.  Found a hotel there and next day looked up  Ann at her
base.  That evening we went to her friends house. Her name was Ruby.  We  decided  to pay  visit to Ann’s mother
at Atherton Manchester.  Ann managed  to get a 72 hour pass so the three of us were  on our way.The  train  was
packed.  Even though we had a first class coach at first we transferred out and found we had to stand up for
the rest of  the way.   Her mother had the graveyard shift at work unfortunately so the three of u s went to
a pub then back to the house  where  I slept in my assigned  room and the two girls to theirs.  After a while  I
thought this is not right so I got up and went into the girls room and got between these two lovelies and
got busy  warming up under the covers.  Big decision, which one first?  I chose Ruby, saving Ann for dessert.
Later Ann confided to me that she  was hurt because I chose  Ann first.  I explained  she  washy dessert and that pacified
her though she seemed skeptical.  In the morning Ann’s mother arrived.   We left.  i had to get back to
Tholthorpe and the girls back to Scotland.”

“December 2, 1943:  The  tran trip was  uneventful.  I picked  up my mail and my parcels…2,600 cigarettes from various sources.
Hank and  I pooled our cigarettes stuffing the lot in a large suitcase.  Hank and I never sold cigarettes.  We
gave them away to our WAAF friends in the mess and when  the girls went on  leave we would lend them
money and  not expect any repayment.   These girls were real nice types and their meagre pay was  about 60 cents
(Canadian) a day.   We never ran short of cigarettes thanks to kind  Canadians back  home.”

“December 3 and  4, 1943:  I spent the day answering letters…14 of them.

“December 5, 1943:  By  noon hour our crew was back  together. Bob and  Wilf  had been on  one long booze up.  
Hank managed  to get himself rolled  for 7 pounds and was  he ever mad.  Wilf went right to bed sick from too much.
Bob must be more experienced.  (sex? I assume?)  Maurice got himself  married to a  WAAF he  knew  from  the past.
He showed  us the wedding pictures of his new bride.  (Victor’s comment was not flattering).  We heard from Bill, our
previous pilot who was doing very well over at Dalton.  He was assigned to help the adjutant..

Decemer 6, 1943:  Bob woke us up this morning.  Wilf, Ken and Hank decided to go to York. Bob, Maurice and  I
decided to stay on  base and read.  The day is very cold  and foggy and  damp.

“December 7, 1943: I went over to Clothing Stores and managed to get some warmer clothes. I met Murial and
tried my best to get some  action but got nowhere.  Later Hank and I went to our local pub in Tholthorpe and
left feeling  quite good..”

“December 8, 1943:  Today is pay day for 431 squadron.  Not much  doing today.  We are wishing for a posting
to a conversion unit.”

“December 9, 1943:  The gods heard  us.   We are being posted to 1659 Conversion Unit at Topclifffe,  today.

December 10, 1943:  I met a WAAF sergeant from Eastmoor at the sergeants dance but did not get anywhere with
her.Hank loaded  up quite well this evening.

December 11, 1943:  Went to the movies to see “Victory Through Air Power”, a Walt Disney film.  Then Hank and
I went to the Saint Georges Hotel, had a few drinks then went dancing.

“December 12, 1943:  Hank and I hung  around the YMCA for a  while.  We met two nice girls, Betty and Marg,,,
real sweet things.  Stayed in Harrogate until 2 a.m.

“December 13, 1943:  Hank and I  decided to go to the air crews mess for a few beers when this Flight Lieutenant Pilot
came over and introduced  himself as  Eric  Mallet.  He asked  if  he could sit with us for a  few minutes. We  told
him about Des getting shot down on his first mission as a 2nd  Pilot on a raid  to Stuttgart.  “So we’ve been shipped
out to topciffe  to get a new pilot.”.  Eric in the meantime was filling  us in on his background.  He had been a flight
instructor in Canada and  had asked  for an  overseas posting.  Eric  was rushed through an Operational Training unit
(OTU) and from there to 1659 Conversion Unit at Topcliffe.  Our destinies  were meshing.     Eric said, “Do you 
think I’ll do?”  The rest of our crew  were on the base except for Moe so I asked Hank to go and get the guys as
this guy Eric looked  promising.   Over they came and a  bargain was struck.  Since it was  OK with us, Eric would
put in for us thereby making a full Bomber crew.’

“I noticed Wilf and Bob were talking quietly. The gist of their conversation was that  they would  strangle Hank and
me if Eric turned out to be another lemon .  Eric turned out to be an excellent pilot who understood our survival depended
upon that important word ‘co operation’.  We hit it off right away. It pays off when a crew  is  put together by a 
democratic  process.

“December 15, 1943: Today was Dingy Day… a practice that would come in handy if we went down in the North Sea.
Interesting to know that if we went down in the North Sea in the winter months…like now…we would have three minutes
to make peace with our maker.  That’s how quick death would  happen.  My response  was that it would  be better
to bail out over Europe.  At least then we would  last longer than three minutes..  The good news was  that we
managed all to get a four day leave.  We went from Topcliffe  to Ripon to York…which was close to Betty’s Bar thankfully
After that we  went dancing and stayed overnight at the YMCA.

“December 16, 1943: We caught the morning train to London…Ken, Wilf  and I…parted ways there as i had to visit RCAF
headquarters for some back pay as I am now Flight Sergeant.  Had a few beers and went dancing where I spotted  a nice
looking female and after a few  choice  words we went for a few  drinks at a  nearby pub.  Since I wasn’t sure of the
lay of the land it looked like the grassy median was best.  The blackout prevented us from being seen.  The  cars  drove
by with their subdued  lights.   I was a bit tired and said to her, “Would  you like maximum penetration?”  
She nodded the affirmative. I said
I’ll lie down on my back, you climb on facing me.”  Well, she got in motion with enthusiasm. She really knew  what it was all
 about and I was really  pleased.  So much so that I asked her if she wanted to do it again? She nodded her head  and  away
we went again.   When she got home she  must have had a job removing the grass stains from her knees.  Memory of
this episode always makes me smile and feel good about it.   The girls  knew what things were about and  were not
hypocrites.   I don’t make fun of these girls as it was a two way street…mutual pleasure.

“December 17, 1943:  I got up early and sent Mary a  telegram then went to a show after which we had a  few in the 
local pub  then looked up a person I trained with but noone was  home.  Later I met a girl by the name of  Lilly and
we went dancing and then to her house.

“December 18,1943:   Packed  my things and caught the 12.45 from kings Cross Station for York.  Stayed at the YMCA and
later met a girls from Ireland named Nancy.  She was some teaser.  You can’t win them all.

“December 19, 1943:  Reported  to Flights and we did some more dingy practise.  Received mail from Ann and two
letters from Ruby.

“December 20, 1943:  I received Christmas parcel from my mother.   Collected 16 pounds and 5 shillings.  What a dull day.

“December 21, 1943:   Another dull day

“December 22, 1943:  We  flew with Eric for the first time today.  A dual pilot flight,  Eric and a squadron leader named Neil
DFS.

December 24, 1943:  We flew with Eric  doing practice circles  and  landings.   Eric catches on fast.  I phoned Mary at
Dishforth and picked her up for a nice dinner in Harrogate then to a theatre.   Got her back to Dishforth on time.  Too late
to do much else.

December 25, 1943:  Christmas Dy.  Received a nice cake from Louise and cigarettes.  These always came quite often from 
various sources.  We had a nice Christmas  dinner on the base.  Then  I went over to Dishforth to see Mary and  give her
two boxes of chocolates.   I spent the night at Dishforth where we got into some heavy knocking on the sofa.  I had to 
spend the night in the Sergeant’s Lounge.

“December 26, 1043:  I managed to catch a cab back to Tiopcliffe where not much was doing so I went over to the aircrew mess
I had eight gins and later got into a crap game and lost 6 sounds.    Later I had fun with Rhoda in the games  room then
took her to her billet.

December 27, 1943:  We went flying today more dual pilot skill testing for Eric this time with flight lieutenant Rodwell as instructor
doing more circuits and  landing with overshoots.

“December 28, 1943:  received  much mail today.  Flying again today practicing landing with overshoots.  This time
no instructor with us.  Eric  has done  really well after only 6 hours and 25 minures in a Halifax.

“I took in a movie and met Wendy in the process.  Boy this  one has big breasts, twin 44’s and firm.”

“December 29,1943: We did more dual flying today only this time the instructor was flight Lieutenant Rodwell.
Three motor flying, Circuits and landings.  Eric only had 20 minus dual flying as he did not need more time.  We dropped
off  the instructor then we headed for Scarborough and out over the North Sea where  we picked up our target
towing airplane.  Hank and I took turns shooting up the drogue which was flying parallel to us.   We  had Eric adjust
his distance to a point just ahead of  the drogue where the tow line was attached.  At this point I managed  to get
my sites right on and when Hank got his on the same  spot we let fly.   Four machine guns each firing around
1200 rounds per gun per minute.  After a few  seconds  the drogue disappeared as we shot off the attach point.
We gave ourselves a cheer.  On the way back to base we had fun low flying.   Hank  and  I used up  3,000 rounds
on this exercise.

:December 30, 1943:   Reported to Flights…nolthing  on, so I took a turn on the link trainer for practice.  I saw Wendy 
in the afternoon and got in some  necking.  She has a Canadian ground crew type for a boyfriend so going
‘all the way’ was out of the  questions so I had to be satisfied with half loaf…but what a half  loaf!

“December  31, 1944: Reported flights…nothing  on today so had happy time in the aircrew mess  then went
dancing with Wendy.  i  received a letter from Mary, Louise and Christmas card  from my brother Max.

“January 1, 1943:  Went to Flights…nothing on in morning but in afternoon we did a high altitude  test to 20,500 feet
then we did some bombing at Stresall. We are to go  again this time for some night  flying.  So far Eric has no night flying 
experience on 4 motored aircraft.  Again we had F:/Lt Rodwell for an instructor.  Eric  did well.   A sweet WAAF picked
us  up at dispersal.  I made a mental note to get close to this  one.

“January 2, 1944:  We flew again with FLT/Lt Redwell.  This time  doing  2 and 3 motored flying.   At night the air
was turbulent especially near the ground. I was banged around a lot because  of it.   Tail position.

“January 3, 1944: Today we are to do fighter affiliation with a Spitfire.   Hank and I had fun with this once again.
This was a dual flight with 3 pilots…Eric Mallet #1, Sgt Tanister #2,  andSft Gustafson #3.  Then we did a solo 
flight as well.  

While  I was waiting for Eric to  warm up the airplane motors I was getting some necking in with Nancy…the cute
transport driver I met Jan. 2.  This cute young thing even repairs her own  truck.  Later I went to get my
log book signed off by the flight Lieutenant in charge of this duty. He sined  my assessment ‘A-A’ which
he told me means Above  Average.

“January 4, 1944: Wilf has come down  with hives and Eric  is in bed with tonsillitis…looks like  too much of
many things.  The  rest of us are  trying for a 5 day leave.  Hank and I took  out a couple of girls. Mine was Marg…abut of a
bag.   Hank’s was Queenie.  I took  mine to a show and Hank took his elsewhere.  Marg was having her monthly
problem so nothing happened.  Hank turned up later and  we swapped tales..   Hank struck out as well.

“January 5, 1944:  We got the 5 day leaves we were after.  Hank and I decided not to go anywhere distant.
We got to feel quite good after drinking away most of the  evening in the air crew mess.  We then went to
Harrogate for fun and what have you.  We  went to the Railway Hotel for a  beer but it was closing time…no 
beer for us.  On our way out we saw 4 people…2 airmen and  2 women.  I said  to Hank “You take the girl
on the right and  I’ll take the girl on the left/“  And  we just hooked our arms under theirs and walked  away
with them.  The two airmen must have been too surprised to act and  the girls  didn’t complain so  away we
went.  I imagine the two airmen having a post mortem and deciding  to not let that happen again. Next
time it would be ‘Watch out for the Hun in the sun’,an old WW1 saying among fliers.

The girls were not too shabby.   The one  Hank took was wearing a red  mitten. .  We  took the
girls to a restaurant and after that we split up agreeing to meet at theYMCA later;  One girl was Laura
and the  other Doreen.  My girls took me home where everything was done in comfort.  Since  I had
promised  to meet Hank at theYMCA I left Laura’s nice  warm bed around 5 a.m. to meet Hank who
had arrived ahead of  me.  We compared notes.   Hank figured  Doreen was the last virgin in Harrogate.
When  I asked him about the red mitten he said he thought the hand was artificial.  The rest of the early 
morning was  brutal as we tried to sleep in chairs with our torso’s draped over tables.

“JANUARY 6, 1944: We  rested then paid Eric a visit.   I ran across Mary and  we had a little chat.
Hank and  I spent the rest of the day trying to get over the previous evening.  We also felt we should
clean up our act a little.   The weather has been rotten,  fog right down  to the deck.

Note: The crew of HX 313 did not fly again until January 21,1944

“January 7, 1944:  Today we are going to take an  H2S course which  mean two more weeks of instruction
primarily for Ken and perhaps Wilf.   H2S is  a  radar thing of sorts.  The set sends out a signal and  bounces
back  images. These images show  city built up areas and a chart on board our aircraft is used to compare
outlines giving the navigator a  good  idea of which city is in view.  H2s also gave us an altitude and 
was  used by out Pathfinder squadrons  for some very accurate bombing.

Hank and I went to a  movie on the station and we ran into Joan and  Norma.  these two  are a real couple
of cards  and  knew some  dilly jokes.  Hank and  I managed to snuggle them to visit our billet on a
food  pretence.  we were rooked by the girls.  After eating our food,  they split.  That’s life!

“January 8, 1944: Hank and I got up at 11.30…feel better after all that sleep.  I was going to phone Mary
at Dishforth but got into a crap game instead and made  5 pounds 10.  That leaves me just 3 pounds in the 
hole.   I made up my mind to go and visit Mary but Eric turned  up and said ‘how about going to a show 
in Harrowgate. So we all went together.  Show was quite good.

NOTE:  Readers may be wondering if a war was actually being  fought since the Crew  of what would
become HX 313 are not battle bound.  It seems the training  of bomber crew was not taken lightly. 
So many crews were shot dow over Germany that those  not attached to Bomber Command wondered
about the training.   Seems that the training was intense.  Flying a four engined  Halifax bomber
on two engines required great  skill as did finding he home airport and landing safely 
in the darkness of  night.

“January 9,1944: Hank and I cleaned up our room.  Now ir looks respectable.  After dinner with
Hank and Eric in the aircrew mess I wrote some letters then Wilf arrived with a  little black dog which
we promptly named  “Nooky”.  She became our new  crew member given the rank of  Squadron Leader
especially after she peed in Bob’s  hat.

“January 10, 1944:   Everyone tired today with the exception of Bob who was still in bed with his girl
in Harrogate.   Hank and  I saw the movie ‘Casablanca’  in the evening.

Note:  Just a personal comment.   I think Victor would have been a good stand in for Humphrey Bogart.

“January 11,1944”   Did nothing then went for dinner and bed

“January 12,1944:   Weather  still bad…fog down on deck.  Eric came over to ‘shoo away” the
bad weather . did not  work.  I played poker most of the night with Hank, Eric, Wilf, Bob
and Maurice….lost 2 pounds10.

“January 13,1944:  same  bad weather.

“January 14, 1944:  Bob and Maurice  were at odds and the Group Captain was to  the matter. Fight.

“January  15, 1944:  We were supposed to fly today  but weather  closed in again. Bob
and Maurice had their say with the Group Captain.  Bob won.  Good for him.   Later Hank and  i went
out with our two charmers, Joan and Norma.  These two  are good at going just so far, and that’s it.”

“January 16, 1944:   Weather closed in again.  This weather sticks  like glue…real heavy moisture.
We all went down to the hall to do  some exercise.  That was a mistake. Now I know where my muscles are.
Hank and I went over to the mess for a few beers.  Maurice  is a real Shit.  He was never asked  to join
the crew.  He  is the residue from when  Desmond was our pilot. Maurice may  spoil tings for the 
whole crew.

“January 17, 1944:  No flying today.  Weather bad. At least this gives the ground crew a chance to catch
up on maintenance  as the aircraft at Topcliffe  are the worst the I have encountered since  being in
England.  One night we used  up 4 aircraft.  just go 1 hour of flying time.   Flight time at Topcliffe
starts when  the  wheels leave the ground  on takeoff and stops when  the  wheels touch down on
landing.   Mary is off for 48 hours. I’m peeved with Wilf and Maurice.  Solved problems though.

“January 18, 1944:  The  weather turned  bright for a short time today. One aircraft took 
off and crashed.  This was a real bad crash.  Normally this news does not get around.  Crashes
can  have negative effects on crews.  It chips away at the nervous system.   It makes  for a feeling
of depression and can be classed as battle fatigue.  Acting in a bizarre manner for instance.  Like
crying for help.  During WWI flyers behaved in the same way and some preferred to be alone.
some were real quiet.  Some were the reverse.  Some realized they were mentally fatigued and
asked to be relieved from flying.   In the trenches they called it ‘ being shell shocked’
During  WWII, if you couldn’t convince your superiors that your nerves couldn’t  take it any more
Then you were told you were displaying L.M.F. (Lack  of Moral Fibre).   

To give our crews incentive we  were told that after 20 missios we would  be puled off
operations for 6 months rest…usually sent off to be instructors for that period.  Our operations losses averaged around  
5%  which means at 20 missions we reach the 100% mark.  Our statistical chance of survival is close to  zero.

“January 19,1944:  Raining. Eric and Bob popped in for a chat.  Baker and his crew crashed today…Baker  broke
his leg .   Pierre  and his crew crashed in the side  of  a mountain.   There were no survivors.  We  wonder when 
we will get ours.   I still think  Maurice  is a Shit.

“January 20,1944:  Wearher still sour.   I made up with Maurice after all he is part of our crew.
Bob,  Wilf, Ken, Hank  and  I went into Harrogate.  This was  the first time I was to meet Kay…a little
later Bob was to marry her.   We were also introduced to Kay’s friend Mary.  Mary sure is
a living doll.

“January 21, 1944:  At last!  We flew twice today.   Flight #1 was a cross country flight and the weather 
was clear and he sky deep blue.  Base to Luton, Taunton, Liverpool and back to Base.  Flight #2 was  Base to Kings Lyn,
Lester and  back to Base.   Weather remains Beautiful.

“January 22, 1944: No mail today…I  owe Mary, Anne and Louise letters.  We flew again today.  
Cross country trip to Dundee,  Edinburgh, Douglas, Barrow, Darlington  and 
back to base.The weather was super and the food in the  mess was very good.  All of us in the crew
went to the  show in evening.

“January 23, 1944: Another cross country from  Base  to Luton, Norwich, Peterbrough and back to Base.
Eric was to do some night flying.  Needed practice.   When he came in for a landing  he forgot to
lower the landing gear and as a result damaged the Halifax.  When the Halifax landing gear  is
retracted,the  wheels are sticking out from the nacelle and  the tail wheel  on this particular Halifax
is fixed in the down  position.  As a result the  only thing damaged was the four propellers.  Eric felt bad
that landing of course and Eric got nick-named “Wheels up Mallett” by Ken.  The nick name stuck.

NOTE:  There were 6,178 Halifax Bombers  manufactured between 1939 and 1945 of which 2,627 were lost
on the war.  Bomber Command only cointed losses on operations.   Crashes in England were not counted
but many were lost in England  so real losses were 15% higher.

“January 24, 1944  Got a haircut

January 25, 1944;  Planned another cross county but airspeed indicator got stuck.  Cancelled

“January 26, 1944  Bob and I went down to the shooting range and got some firearm practice. then
to the aircrew mess and drank some beer.

“January 27, 1944:  Flew  another  cross country Base, Colne point, Neston. LundyIsland, Nottingham, and Base.
Missed dinner when we got back.  Eric  and  Moe went on an evening fight and were almost killed due to an  
engineering error.  I went to air crew mess with Hank and Ken for a few beers.

“January 28,1944  Took in a movie with Hank.  We ran  into Pat anther girlfriend, nothing fruitful with 
these two.  Eric finished  his night circuits  and  landings.  Hank and I got politely drunk.  We should
be winding things up here soon…all of this bad weather put us behind in flying.

“January 29,1944:  Night flying from Base to Bedford, Taunton,Oxford, Birmingham, Lancaser,  Stranreer,
Jurby, Douglas, and Base.  

“January 30, 1933:  Well, at last we are leaving Topcliffe.   We were supposed to go to 428 squadron for a posting.  
Eric tried  for our posting to 433 squadron at Skipton.  Instead we are posted to  424 squadron at Skipton.
Usually two squadrons were in each airfield.  All of us took in a movie.  Total  flying time at Topcliffe was
43 hours, 15 minutes (34 hours day and 9 hours 15 minutes night)

Victor kept a notebook like that below.  Especially to record  his

    time in the air   His flight book also was a  perfect place for daily notes’

“January 31, 1944: Now  Monday and we  were taken to Skipton by RAF  transport.  Skipton is a wartime
airfield, but not as muddy as  some.  All Canadian squadrons are grouped around Yorkshire in 6 Group Bomber
Command.

Later  Hank and I went on the prowl.  I met Bette and had fun with her in the local  pub.  Hank picked up
a nice girl…she was a cute one.

Feb. 1, 1944:  We are  now satellite to Leeming.  I caught the bus to Leeming and got myself signed in
and collected 7 pounds 6 shillings owed to me  by the  paymaster.  

I made the rounds to see old friends.  Attrition has taken its toll on aircrews.  Jack F., a real nice  fellow
I trained with was killed as his aircraft crossed the Dutch Coast and the flight engineer had an eye shot out.
Jack F had  been in a nice safe job and had elected to go for aircrew  at 35 years of age.  he had  a wife and  
children.  Very sad.   After returning Hank and  I visited a few pubs.

“February 2, 1944:  Reported to Flights and had 45 minutes practice on the gun turret then went and got
a parachute harness and  a Mae West  (life preserver).  Back  in our quarters I played  with Nooky, Wilf’s dog.
Then  Hank and I went pub crawling.

“February 3, 1944:  Hank and  I did  not get to bed until around 4 a.m. after all our fun with a couple of
nice girls.  We reported to Flights and attended a lecture in the morning and another in the afternoon.
Had a shower then Hank and I went back to our new haunts.

“Feb. 4, 1944: Hank and I were assigned airplane to inspect ..  Hank put in 
15 minutes of turret manipulation.  Then the two of  us went to Topclifffe  to a pub called Sam Hutton
for fun and games.  

Two  girls tried  to pick us up.  We  declined.  Back to Skipton.

“February 5, 1944:  Reported to Flights.   Hank and I inspected another  aircraft cleaned up 8 Brownings
and checked the acton.   We  are preparing to go  on operations.

Hank and I lined up a couple of girls from our Mess, Joan and Nora.  However we did not press them
for a dae.   We  then went to the St. Georges Hotel and drank a quantity of  beer.  We  were feeling
pretty good so then went dancing.  We met two  not so hot girls at the dance.   Things did not work
out too well with the girls.  So we headed  for the YMCA and spent a most uncomfortable night trying
to sleep  on chairs with our heads on the table.

“February 6, 1944: Hank and I reported  to Flights and were instructed to do  an  inspection  on “S” Sugar.
Then changed  our clothes, read our mail and reported back to Flights for a  lecture.  

Picked  up Joan and went pub crawling.  Nothing happened.  Whoever came up with that saying that,
“Candy is dandy but Liquor is Quicker!” should have added, “No all the Time!”

February 7, 1944: We  did some local  flying and then some 2 motor and  3 motor flying.

Note:   Victor and the whole crew were well  aware that practice flying with two engines
shut down was an indication what they might expect once their bombing missions were started.
Bad  times were coming.

“February 8, 1944: We  cleaned  our billet and  reported  to Flights where we were sent on  another
cross country practice run.  We  were caught up  in a jet stream that pushed  us to 370 m.p.h.  Our
return trip was  tough fighting the same jet stream.  Back at base I talked with Nora for a while then
off to bed.”

“February 9, 1944: We went to Flights and both Hank and I did another inspection of “S” Sugar, a new
model Halifax bomber.  Then went  to a very boring lecture. Later we flew  in our new Mark III Halifax, a
real nice airplane sporting all the latest modifications.  Four 1,615 H.P. Bristol hercules mottos, H2S, new  ‘D’ 
type Fins, rounded wing tips, capable of  an all up weight of 65,000 lbs which  included a 13,000 lb
bomb load, mid-upper turret sported four .303 machine guns and the  original four guns  in the rear,
the nose gun was simple  V.G.O. gas operated drum fed in neat plexiglas nose…and our latest bombsight
 was the Mark  14.”



Halifax  Mark III bomber with modifications described by Victor Poppa

“February 10, 1944: Hank and I reported to Flights the did an inspection on “U” Uncle.  No mission was on so
we went over to Topcliffe to see if we had any mail.  My brother Max  sent me a letter from his Canadian Army
base south of London.  Later we were given a talk by Group Captain Samson.  Then  I slipped into the
officers bath house and enjoyed good soaking in a real hot tub…a real  luxury.  Amen.

“February 11, 1944:  Reported  to Flights.  We went  on  another cross country that took 4 hours and 40 minutes
using”P” Peter , one  of the new Halifax Bombers.

“Hank and I dated  two girls from the mess.  I had Joan and Hank had  Kay.  Kay was later named ‘Razor Blades’ because  
she had a rather sharp nose.  Kay and Hank used to make  trips to a nearby haystack for fun  and games.  They were
not the only persons using this haystack.  The  stack  started  out at 15 feet high but within a  short time the hay was 
spread  around into a  lot of nests by  a lot of active people.  I wondered how the cows  managed with all those used
condoms thrown  about indiscriminately in the hay.  Hank and I took Joan and Kay to the roundabout where we
spent some time drinking beer and then they were invited back to the haystack.  One night in the haystack the condom
was lost internally while  Hank and  Kay were  making  out.  After some  fussing the condom re-appeared.  Hank
sweated  that one for a couple of  weeks.  He was a  little up tight about it so he  wasn’t teased.”



NOTE:  Let’s talk about condoms.  “There  was a box at the  door to the mess filled with
condoms, “Take a handful if you’re going on leave.”   Why would the RCAF get involved
in such seemingly personal matters.   Simple answer.   Use of a prostitute  cost around
$2.  Protection using a condom sold at pharmacies cost 3 for $1.  Expensive in other words
so air men might be tempted to forgo the condom and thereby come down  with a venereal 
disease that would put them  out of commission.  “We were encouraged to grab a  handful
as we went out the door,” said one veteran I know.  Were they wrapped in fancy packages
like today?  “Not at all, Made  for  ease  of use.”  Getting V.D. was also one way of
avoiding battle so someone who got V.D. regularly was always suspect as a malingerer.
Young men, like  Victor and Hank might not have even considered random and  regular
sexual activity if they were still living at home.  But wartime changes everything.
As Victor noted when he ran into a boy he knew from high school.  “He seemed a lot
older than I expected.  I wonder  if  I seem that way to others.”

Condoms were sometimes rolled over the end of gun barrels to keep moisture out.
 
Unwrapped  condoms were  best because a person in the heat of sexual activity
might tear the package with his teeth and thereby put a hole in the condom.
Amusing i hope.

    Venereal Disease (V.D.) was a major concern of military leaders because treatments

for both Gonorrhea and  Syphilis put airmen (and soldiers) in hospitals. Syphilis treatment
could involve as  much as  6 months.  Why did Victor ignore this danger?  Because he
was not cavorting with prostitutes.  His  romancing was  far less dangerous.  That’s why
I decided his activities  are more amusing than dangerous.   The same applies to Hank, my
cousin.  Actually I am sure that Kay was the girl he  planned to marry when war ended.
 What must be  remembered is that many of these airmen were barely 19 years old.
The average age was  21.  They may have joined  the air force because flying sounded
exciting but they soon learned that their deaths were likely.  So they tried  to live life
to the fullest.  The Fires of Spring comes to mine when I think of these fellows.  Also
I think of the American General  George Patton when inspecting American pilots lined
up in front of their planes.

“How old are you son?”
“18, sir.”
“And  you fly that goddamn thing?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Well, I’ll be a son of a bitch.”
(words from my memory)


“February 12, 1944:  Today we are to practice fighter affiliation with a  Spitfire.  This time Eric had  another pilot with
him,  First Lieutenant Compton. He is an American who joined the RCAF.  

Note from Victor n 1985: ” Compton later joined the United States Army  Air Force (USAAF). 
During our 424 squadron 1985 reunion at Trenton, Ontario, I met Mel Compton in person. I was really pleased
that he survived  the war, not many  of us did.  We were photographed and a crew picture taken.”

‘Hank and  I took Kay  and Joan dancing where Joan drank too much and made a scene that was hard  to handle.
Eventually we got her home to her billet.  Tomorrow is post mortem day for Joan.”

“I almost forgot.   We  almost had a mid-air collision with another  Halifax. It was really close so we were lucky.”

“February 13, 2019: Reported to Flights then went to Intelligence and read over the latest ‘Aeroplane’ and  ‘Flight’
magazines .  Weekly magazines that are always interesting. 

“Hank andI went to dinner.  Hank picked up ‘Razor Blades’, Kay, and I asked Joan out. The squadron is on operations
tonight but only Eric from our  crew is going.  He will go as a second pilot. Eric  has  no battle experience  so  must
go with another  crew on one  mission.  Next time he will take the whole crew with him in his own plane.  Later,
operations were cancelled so Hank and  I had a few beers with the girls.  Nice evening.

“February 14, 1944:  Reported to Flights.  Hank and  I were told to check  out “P”Peter again.  

“Joan, Kay and  six  other girls invited  Had and I to play Basket Ball with them.  Hank and  I make
all kinds of mistakes touching and rubbing our hands on the girls  ‘don’t touch spots’.  Sometimes
the  word ‘don’t’  does not apply.  The  girls were very sporting about this  and seemed to enjoy
thisattention.”

“Operatons are on again tonight and Eric is to be 2nd pilot again.  But Operations  were cancelled again.
Poor Eric.   I can imagine how he  felt to get all keyed up to go on a  mission and  then not go.  This kind of thing
really tears at your guts.  I’ve been briefed at least 25 times to go on missions that were cancelled.  Oh! My poor
intestines.”



This is a shot of an air crew and ground crew in front of  a Halifax Bomber

    …not Victor’s crew.



The air crew of a Halifax bomber with the ground  crew preparing the bomber 

for flight.  Usually 7 men.  Loaded down with Mae  West life  jackets, parachutes,

big fleece  lined boots and jacket .  These  flights were freezing cold.


“February 15, 1944:  reported to Flights.  For once Hank and I are on time for roll call.  Operations  are on again
tonight only this time the  planes  will take off  from Leeming air base. Eric goes there for his 2nd pilot duty.
Eric was elated.   427 squadron flew to Berlin which has become  a very hot target.  When I was  with 429 squadron 
I must have been briefed at least 8 times but never went.  Berlin is a  nice one to have in my log book.

“February 16, 1944:  I received mail today from Louise.

NOTE:  Victor and Louise  were married  once he returned to Canada after walking  out of his POW 
concentration camp.  Marjorie and I met the Poppa family several times in the  1980’s and it seemed
that Louise was well aware of Victor’s wartime 
adventures.   Both Victor and Louise had  a wonderfull sense of  humour.  He met her while training
near Quebec City.  Victor did not speak French.  Louise did not speak English fluently.  Yet they got 
along very well.  Wonder why?

“February 17, 1944: Hank and I did an inspection of “R” Robert.  Later we got our pay, then went to clothing
stores for some new flying equipment.  Then we went to Sam Hutton (pub) where we had a few.

FIRST BOMBING MISSION FOR VICTOR IN MONTHS

“February  18,1944: Hank and I were assigned to inspect “D”Dog, “T” Tommy, and”Q” Queen.  A mission
was planned for tonight then scrubbed  at the last minute, another gut wrencher.

“February  19, 1944: Reported to Flights.   We are to go on operations tonight using  one of the new  Halifax Bombers,
“C” Charlie. Hercules Motors.  Tension is building as we go through the day.  Wonder where we are to go?
We  have our last meal so to speak.  There is not much being said.  Our  thoughts? Will tis be  our  last

    flight?  Shot down?  Later we find

the bombing target is Leipzig.  We go to our briefing and find that Bob had reported sick so we  are assigned
a navigator with no  experience by the name of Ozzie, must be a nickname.  He is commissioned.  Bob’s
new  wife  must have banged on his ear since his reason  for not going is just a cold.  Our briefing covers the weatrher, what 
to expect in wind, types of cloud and other niceties.  We are shown by a red ribbon the route  and are  told
what height to fly at both going and coming  home.  All  of this is interesting to Ozzie who makes notes.  Our turning point 
to start the flight to Germany is Reading just north of London.  From this point we set our ETA (Estimated  Time of
Arrival) to the target.

“OUR BOMB LOAD

Image 8

Bombs ranged in size from small 40 lb  incendiaries to immense ‘Grand Slam
bombs weighing 22,000 lbs.  The Handley Page Halifax bombers could
not carry the huge bombs which were reserved for the Lancaster.
(Public Achives photo #213 867)


“Our bomb load is 4000 pounds of  incendiaries.   Ken makes  notes.  Tonight there will be 852 aircraft,  Lancasters
and  Halifax’s. By the time the raid  is over we will have lost 75 aircraft and 553 aircrew.  We  are told  where the heavy flak is
located and what the chances are of running into night fighters and we are also told to watch out for our own Mosqutioes, two
engined fighter bombers sent in the lead  of the bomber stream to mark the targets with coloured flare bombs.  “Look before
you shoot.”   There are  also searchlights to be considered.  These  coning lights cannot shoot us down  but being caught in
the cone of  a master searchlight and then pinpointed  by other smaller starlights can  get us all sorts of  unwanted  attention
from both flak  and  night fighters.

“Our takeoff time is to be 2345 hours. (11.45 pm)  The squadrons  crews  are loaded into busses and trucks.   Then dropped  off
at our assigned aircraft dispersal point.   We are greeted  by our ground crew who have  laboured all day to get “C” Charlie 
set for operations.  Hard work for  sure.  In no time we are rolling around  the perimeter track following other aircraft.  Then
we reach the end of  our assigned  runway.  We slowly taxi into position and hold until the preceding aircraft has
become  airborne.   Eric is given a green light.  Flaps have been set, Throttles advanced to their stops.
There is a powerful surge, a feeling of  real power being exerted.  A feeing  of confidence settles us down.  We  are building up speed
fast.  In no time at all the tail has lifted.   Eric uses a little rudder to count torque  from the our motors.  We are now off the
runway and flying.  Eric raises  the landing gear and raises the flaps.  We  are on our way.

“Hank and I cock our guns , and turn on our reflector sights.  “C” Charlie is climbing steadily to our assigned 
altitude.  Soon we  reach  our turning point at Reading and Ozzie gives Eric  a new course to fly and an airspeed  to maintain
so that we will arrive at Leipzig as scheduled.  We  are now crossing the enemy coast and I can see  searchlight here 
and there and flak burst that are distant and nothing to worry about.

“I start to relax.  My nerves are  less jumpy   Hank and I keep  our talking to a minimum even though the intercom is
mostly ours to use.  Wilf is working his radio set while Ozzie calculates our course using the and directions given to
him at briefing.  Then major trouble is discovered. The  wind directions Ozzie was given are all wrong  and our entire
bomber force becomes scattered over 50 miles wide  and 200 miles deep instead of 5 miles wide and150 mlles  long.

“TheLuftwaffe are  up in force using their Heinkels as their flare  droppers lighting up the night sky.  I spot 2 aircraft 1000 feet 
 to our aircrafts’ right.   These  two are silhouetted against their own searchlights which  gives me  a rare  opportunity.
The enemy fighter furthest right is an  FW190 (Foch Wolf 190) sporting  50 calibre machine guns.  The other
fighter is  a twin motored  ME110 (messerschmit 110)   The ME110 fires two rockets that miss our aircraft on the left.
The ME110 wanted us to turn right so as to give the FW190 a perfect deflection shot.  Or so I figured.  I told  Eric to “Dive
left when I say  GO!” then pull right in a climb.  I told Hank to keep an  eye on the FW190 as we are now diving with
the rockets coming for us.  Now the only way for the FW190 to get shot at us is to turn sharply to his left and get a 
deflection shot from this new  direction.  When I see the  rockets are now  very close I yell “Go!”.  Eric slams his wheel 
over and pulled  up.  Just then I  see the whole underside of  the FW190.  He  is so  close that I can see even in the dark
the that whole of the FW190 has a full-length streak  of blackout along the underside of his fuselage.  We are only about
50 feet apart at this point.

If I had not said GO when I did , the German night fighter would have flown right into my turret then forward to Eric’s
turret chewing  though our oxygen  tanks to Maurice, our flight engineer, then  Eric,Wilf and Ozzie and Ken would
be enveloped in one gigantic explosion.  When the  FW190  went by my face he was really moving.  His motor has
a lot of mass and energy.  I am sure the FW190  pilot must have  lost us briefly with his night vision.  No one in his
right mind would want to press in that close  for a kill at the expense  of his own  life.

“Hank, you were to keep ypur eye on the FW190, what happened?”  “Sorry I watched the rockets.”  Nothing was said.

    Hank had made a serious error and knew it.  The FW 190 also made an error and lost his chance to fire.

If a new person can get through his first mission he becomes that much wiser.  I was  having trouble with 
my oxygen mask which  kept freezing up.  Then I had a short circuit in my right foot electric  slipper and  the sole
of my foot was gettng burned.  I kept switching the  suit heater off  and on.  Ambient temperature was minus 50 degrees
Fahrenheit.   The target began to appear off in the distance which meant we would have to fly through more flak and
searchlights.  Off and on since  we crossed the  enemy coast  we  were getting  our share of the flak which shakes us up
when exploding close by.  The black puffs look dirty as they whiz by and the smell of  cordite permeated  our
oxygen  masks.  We had five  more encounters with night fighters but none were near as stimulating  as  our first attack from
the ME11  and  FW190.”

This mission was so rough that I thought we would never make  it back to  England.  Ken  started making preparations  to 
drop your incendiaries…all 4,000 pounds of them. On our run in on target we were coned by searchlights.  Ken  trips
the bomb release and  then we fly straight and level while the camera takes pictures of  where our load lands.  After this
we head for England.  Our mission is now half over.

The  trip back was  not too bad and I  was happy when we crossed the English coast.  The sineibe asked Ozzie, “Do you
know  where we are?” “No!” he responded. So  we had to start calling ‘Darky’ which is a short range transmitter
with a range of ten miles.  All the  air bases in England had a Dark set up. Short range to rescue lost pilots yet 

   avoid giving German bombers a signal  They could use to destroy English bases.


“Hello Darky, Hello Darky, This is Nemo”
“Hello  Darky, Hello Darky, This is Nemo.”

This was kept up  until someone answered.

“Hello Nemo.”
‘Switch  your outer circle lights on and off, please.”

In this case we wherever touched down atrgw
Downham Market, an air force  base used for towing gliders.  Eric overshot the field, skimmed over the Tower
and made  it around the second time which was a good thing as we had very little fuel left.  After we had parked
I went around to cover my gun muzzles to keep out the moisture.  Just as I finished this chore, I heard  a “bang”
and a bullet whizzed over my head and went “Whing” as it ricocheted off into space. Hank came out and said,

“I was trying  to get the bullet out to deactivate the guns when  the breech block slipped.”

Hence  the bullet over my head.  We were either a bad luck crew or a good luck crew.  Take your choice.
We  were de-briefed at Downham Market and given a place to rest.

“February  20, 1944: In the morning we were fuelled and took off for Skipton.  Upon arrIval  I  
wrote my report of what happened  at my end of he airplane on our raid to Leipzig .  I also filled in my log book
then went to breakfast .  I managed 4 hours  sleep.”




German Foch Wolf 190

Wellington 

   German citizens searching for survivors in the rubble of Leipzig


THE LEIPZIG MISSION

The Leipzig air raid was not exactly a success.  823 aircraft were sent 78 of which were shot down (8.6%).  420 air crew  were killed.  131 successfully
bailed our and became Prisoners of War. This was the most disastrous Bomber  Command mission to this point in the war.   The older  Halifax Bombers
were pulled from missions after the raid.  Victor Poppa and crew  used a new  model  Halifax lucky for them since 34 others were shot down.
But, on the other hand, a great swath of Leipzig was flattened and incendiary bombs kindle fires in the medieval city making it a ruin.

 Leipzig as imagined in an 17th century engraving.  It was a wooden city … wooden

cities burn as was  proven over and over again by Bomber Command  incendiary shells.


END OF  PART 2 OF VICTOR POPPA STORY
(PART 3 AND CONCLUSION WILL COME  NEXT IN A COUPLE OF  WEEKS)

alan skeoch
November 2019



EPISODE 166 VICTOR POPPA RECONSIDERED NOV. 13, 2020 (Part 1)

EPISODE 166    VICTOR POPPA RECONSIDERED


alan skeoch
Nov 13, 2020

VICTOR POPPA is a familiar name to some of you.  To others, Victor Poppa is a stranger.
In the next Five episodes I will re-tell  his story and then tie the story fragments together
using two startling events that came to me via the Internet. 

 One story came from Belgium
where I was  surprised to find out that the crash of HX 313, The Blonde Bomber, has been
recently memorialized.   HX 313 was a Halifax Bomber crewed by Canadians as  part of Bomber 
Command in World War II.  Victor was the Tail
gunner.  The mid upper gunner was my cousin George Freeman, a young  man I would
never meet. He was killed  in the crash on the evening of May 27, 1944.  Up until his
death he and Victor tried to cram a lifetime into a few months for they were both sure
they would soon be dead.

The second story arrived in my email yesterday,  Nov 12, 2020. A note sent to me by
Victor Poppa’s grandson, ADAM GARNIER, born in 1982 and fascinated  by the fragments of
Victors life he was able to assemble. Victor was never boring.  Adam was two years old
when Victor wrote his journal.  Now he is trying to piece his grandfathers life together.
It is  one massive jigsaw puzzle.

Victor Poppa lived his life intensely.  He was a gregarious person full of piss and vinegar.
His life was one long adventure.  His war years diary was sent to me 40 years ago…amusing, 
profane,  terrifying, earthy, freewheeling.   For some reason I decided to transcribe his
diary in the fall of 2019.   Several months before our world  was turned upside down
by the Covid 19 Pandemic.  

NOTE:  Victor’s story was the beginning of a whole series  of  diverse stories sent to friends at 
the rate of one story every day beginning when we all went into semi and total isolation
lest the virus kill us.  Victors Story was not initially numbered but is now numbered
Episodes 166, 167, 168, 169, 170.

To understand the life of  Victor Poppa I suggest you read my beginning Episode #166
which is included  below.  If you have already read these stories you might enjoy
re-reading them.

alan skeoch
Nov. 13,2020



Begin forwarded message:


From: SKEOCH <alan.skeoch@rogers.com>
Subject: PART 1: VICTOR POPPA STORY…YOU WILL LAUGH, CRY OR BE OFFENDED
Date: October 25, 2019 at 2:49:39 PM EDT
To: Marjorie Skeoch <marjorieskeoch@gmail.com>






EPISODE 164 SCRABBLE TOURNAMENT – HAS GONE ON FOR MONTHS

EPISODE 164   SCRABBLE TOURNAMENT -GONE ON FOR MONTHS (result?  Same as US election…narrow victory…for Marjorie)


alan skeoch
Nov.  2020

We had never played Scrabble until the forced  isolation  of  Covid 19.  Our Scrabble Tournament
is as near to a  draw as the Biden/Trump U.S. election.   Notably absent is the sore loser syndrome 
though.  We have been having a great time with the game by playing twice a day and seeing who
will win in groups of ten games per tournament.

The results  are sometimes too close to call.  Marjorie has won games by a single point.  I have
done the same.  A very good natured  competition.   Sometimes sitting in the sun.  At others
sitting in the cold.  

When  the tension in the U.S. election reached  a  fever point on the Tuesday,  election day, we got
so nervous  that we turned to Scrabble to settle our nerves.  

 We now have Scrabble games set
up in two locations.  Sometimes we stop one game midway through…take s  break…and
come back.  Super relaxing game folks.  

Occasionally Marjorie makes up a  non existent word.  And I do the same.  All words  can be
checked on the Internet.

Since it looks like this Covid thing will last until Christmas or longer, I suggest you buy a Scrabble
game.   We found our second Scrabble game at the Salvation Army thrift store in the Children’s
games section.  Cheap.  It was brand new…I think the owners had trouble with spelling…or maybe
they took the game too seriously.  Too seriously?  Yes,  just like that EX PRESIDENT TRUMP the
original owners of the game could not stand the thought of losing.  

If you happen to be reading this Episode Donald (Trump) I would like to inform you that
you lost the 2020 election.   You  are a loser.  If you had the guts to admit it you might
find yourself in good company.  Winning and  Losing is part of  life.   Your daddy never
told you that.   When you get bored  sitting around in Florida sneak up here and play
Scrabble with us.



“How about another Scrabble game, Marjorie?  I think I am on a roll.”





Nice  warm day  in the house.

Nice cold day on the back porch.


I had to check this Scrabble board to make sure there were no cuss words…or sexy words…or misspelled words.
We accept all words…even ‘damn’ and other impolite words.

Sometimes Marjorie wins.  Actually often she comes up with bigger words and  when
that happens I try to tack an “S” on the end…that way  I cancel out her points.
It hurts my ego to see Marjorie making up bigger words than i do.  But my ego
is not like Trumps…I can lose with a smile.  Most of the time.


BB4827FA-8AF3-4C5A-87EE-1875DAD073F0@phub.net.cable.rogers.com>” alt=”IMG_7835.jpg” class=”Apple-web-attachment Singleton” apple-inline=”yes” src=”http://alanskeoch.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/BB4827FA-8AF3-4C5A-87EE-1875DAD073F0.jpeg”>

alan  skeoch
Nov. 2020

P.S.  On second thought , Donald, do not come up here to Canada.  Our border is closed.

EPISODE 165 MARY FIX PARK…HOLD YOUR BREATH….FEAR OR GRASP CHANGE

EPISODE 165    MARY FIX PARK…HOLD YOUR BREATHE…FEAR OR GRASP  CHANGE


alan skeoch
Nov.  2020

Most parks are manicured.   They are perfect places … trees are limbed, grass is  mown, flower beds are edged, picnic benches are in place, 
baseball fields are designated, etc.  And that is all well and good.  We need these parks.  

But we also  need  wilderness parks.  Places where trees grow, thrive, die,  fall down and are allowed to disintegrate snd  return to the earth.  Wilderness
parks where wild animals can  hide…dig holes to rear their young…patches so secluded that no human foot can tread.    Our city, Mississauga, is well aware
of the need for both kinds of  parks because we are fortunate to have a major river, the Credit River, weaving its wild way right through the centre of our city.
And that long piece of parkland is also all well and good.

But today I would like to make  plea for another wilderness park.  A fragment tucked into the southwest corner of Hurontario and the Queen Elizabeth Way…two
major transportation highways.  Mary Fix Park was given to the City of Mississauga decades ago … willed to the City by Mary Fix, a lawyer, councillor, activist
and conservationist.   The park has been untouched for more than half a century.  As a result Mary Fix park allows my mind to slip back deep into he past 
when the Mississauga First Nations walked  the trails.  A native grave was found  somewhere near or in the park…dating back  hundreds of  years I was told.
Never confirmed.

The park has its  own magic in other words.  

The one sure thing in life is change.  And  change is  coming to Mary Fix Park.  I hope and pray the change is not too drastic.  Mary Fix  did not want
a manicured  park as her legacy.   The city of Mississauga is about to “improve” the park with a nature trail so that more people can enjoy the
part.  And that also is  all well and good.    But please do not make the changes too  drastic. Leave the fallen trees for little creatures to disintegrate.
Leave the remote corners hidden so larger creatures can raise their families.


Mary Fix Creek weaves its way through the park

Here is  the way the park looks now.  Nov. 12, 2020.  Be true to the park’s wilderness

 

Windfalls  have been deliberately allowed to disintegrate naturally.  This has been policy of our parks managers.  Let’s keep it that way.




There is one main pathway through the park. That will remain and ‘be improved’.   New signage will also be put in place urging
the public  to stay on the trail and not damage the wilderness.  Hopefully those signs will be effective.


alan skeoch
Nov. 2020

EPISODE 162 WOODY AND THE COYOTES

EPISODE 162    WOODY AND THE COYOTES


alan skeoch
Nov.  2020


Woody is really  worried.  Not because he is afraid he will get bitten by a coyote  He wonders why I am on the other side of the fence.



Our lot was  once part of the Mississauga First Nation land.  As a  result it is
very unusual…deep…400 feet deep.   In addition long ago  Mary Fix donated
her lots and  forested lands to the City of Mississauga.  A creek in her name,
Mary Fix Creek weaves its way through those lands and  continues at the back
of  our lot.  All these lands are a natural wilderness where dead  logs and
underbrush are allowed to exist as if no human foot had ever tread the
ground.

A perfect habitat for wild things.  When we first moved  in back  in 1968 we had
visits from pheasants and deer and almost too many raccoons.  Today, 2020,
we get regular visits by a family of coyotes. Their colours and their movements
are not easy to see due to the verdant backdrop.

But Woody sees them.  He is not a barking dog.  Saves his voice  for 
coyote spotting.  Then he begins to holler.  This noisy habit may  have been
caused by a surprise he got while meeting a coyote last spring..
He is a very social dog   Loves others.  The coyote was not so loving and
sliced Woody on he bum.   Woody could not believe it had happened.  He  fled
and sought my protection.  I wondered why.  A neighbour saw the event and
reported Woody’s  flight.

So now we keep him fenced in the front part of  our lot and  let the coyotes
have the back part of the lot.  We coexist.  And that is OK with Woody. He
can bark an alert but the fence stops him from getting a  sliced
bum.

The coyotes successfully raised a family and we think the young coyotes
really just wanted to play with Woody.  But we cannot be sure of that.
We all manage  to get along in peace.  I hope the City of  Mississauga
sees the Mary Fix Park wilderness the same way we do.  We need some
wild  lands.   



Our garage and workshop was once  a mink house long, long ago.   For a few  years we raised  endangered chickens here…beautiful
Silver Laced Wyandottes.   One  easter the chickens even laid  coloured eggs…at least we believed that was so until Mr. Donovan, our
neighbour fessed  up.   I even made the mistake of  believing chickens and roosters should be  kept in equal numbers.  When the light
of the rising sun  hit our chicken coop those roosters made more noise than kids  at recess.  Eventually we only kept one rooster…Big
Red, a New Hampshire who serviced the whole coop.  Those  days are gone.


Our lot…looking towards the little hidden creek at the back.  I have spotted the coyotes here occasionally but have
to stare and stare and stare.


Looking towards  our house from the midway point of the wild  part of  the lot


Here is  Woody  at the fence.  He looks concerned, does  he not.  He fears a coyote is going to take a  slice of my bum.  He is
trying to warn me.


Bought this  old dump rake at the auction sale of Robin and Betty Craig who once farm the housing development on Highway 10 (Hurontario)




alan skeoch
Nov. 2020

Fwd: EPISODE 161 A TIME TO HEAL



Begin forwarded message:


From: ALAN SKEOCH <alan.skeoch@rogers.com>
Subject: EPISODE 161 A TIME TO HEAL
Date: November 7, 2020 at 10:12:42 PM EST
To: Marjorie Skeoch <marjorieskeoch@gmail.com>


EPISODE 161   A TIME TO HEAL


alan skeoch
Nov. 7, 2020




Words can be  strung  together in so many ways.  Sometimes these word combinatons
are like fine music.  They warm my soul.   I know…I know…the concept of a soul
is nonsense.  As expressed in the Atheist’s prayer . “ Save my soul, if I have a soul.”

Tonight is not a  night for cynicism.  Tonight is Joe Biden’s night.   The  words  he
managed to string together were what we all wanted  to hear…words of  hope.
The last four years  have been very dark  and for a while last Tuesday it looked like
we would be facing another four years  featuring words strung together badly.

As with most accomplish speakers Joe Biden,  now President Joseph Biden, used
familiar words.  What leapt out to me and to many others was  his
appeal to the fifty percent of  Americans who voted the Trump ticket.
As the Bible says,  Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8…”to everything there is a season”
President Biden reached out to Former President Trump’s followers
to  say these next few  years must be a ‘time to heal’.  

Almost immediately…in microseconds…President Biden’s worlds were
entered into the  Internet.  They are words of hope. You can find them with ease.
 The full quote from Ecclesiastes was not used.  It is  
less hopeful.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
(New King James Version)
To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born, And a time to die;
A time to plant, And a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill, And a time to heal;
A time to break down, And a time to build up;
A time to weep, And a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, And a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, And a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace, And a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to gain, And a time to lose;
A time to keep, And a time to throw away;
A time to tear, And a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, And a time to speak;
A time to love, And a time to hate;
A time of war, And a time of peace.

I hope and pray that the season in which we are entering
will be a season of healing.  The alternative is frightening

WE CAN  ALL BREATHE A SIGH OF RELIEF…WE CAN
ALL FLY ON EAGLE’S  WINGS THIS  DAY.


I hesitated to include the lyric’s below because they put
an incredible load  on the shoulders of joe Biden and
Kamala Harris.  But these words  do express the overwhelming
feeling of relief that so many of us in Canada feel now that
the American election is clear.  Yes,  the words are religious
but they can also be seen in a secular way.  We need these
words today.


And He will raise you up on eagle’s wings
Bear you on the breath of dawn
Make you to shine like the sun
And hold you in the palm of His Hand

[Verse 2]
You need not fear the terror of the night
Nor the arrow that flies by day
Under his wings your refuge
His faithfulness your shield
For to His angels He’s given a command
To guard you in all of your ways
Upon their hands they will bear you up
Lest you dash your foot against a stone

[Refrain]
And He will raise you up on eagle’s wings
Bear you on the breath of dawn
Make you to shine like the sun
And hold you in the palm of His Hand

SO HERE WE HAVE SOME

WORDS STRUNG TOGETHER … WORDS OF HOPE


alan skeoch
Nov. 7, 2020


EPISODE 160 “DON’T BUY ANY GREEN BANANAS” … ADVICE TO THE TRUMP TEAM

EPISODE  160   “DON’T BUY ANY GREEN BANANAS” … ADVICE TO THE TRUMP TEAM IN PENNSYLVANIA


alan skeoch
Nov. 7, 2020



“What advice would you give the Trump team in Pennsylvania”, asked the commentator
“My advice is very simple, they should not BUY ANY GREEN BANANAS.” responded the Democratic
Lt. Gov. of Pennsylvania this sunny November morning.

That image is worth some thought.  Really quite funny but the leader  of the Trump team…the big
leader…the man in the White House at the moment…lacks a sense of humour.  His response would
be anger and worse.

And the Lt. Governor had some further advice in same dark humour.  “Trump should give the ‘U rent it’
truck a call.”

My response to the comments is summed  up in one word…relief.  Today I am going 
out to buy a big bunch  of green bananas.

alan skeoch
Nov. 7, 2020

p.s. Today my Episode should be cheerful … relaxing.  Certainly not serious. I am  thinking
about a walk  through the wilderness beyond our back yard.  A neighbour says he saw
a beaver at work back there.  Good image.  Let’s get back  to work…back to normal.

EPISODE 158 GRANDMA WRAPPED HOT BRICKS … ADDITIONAL COMMENT

EPISODE 158 GRANDMA WRAPPED HOT BRICKS…ADDITIONAL COMMENT
alan skeoch Nov. 6, 2020
What a day this will be…what a grand and wonderful day. What a day that has emerged from the long dark night. Briden will win the presidency and then I firmly believe all things are possible.
My story about a frail woman, wracked with Parkinson’s disease…old… yet as strong as steel is not irrelevant. Grandma Louisa Bufton Freeman triumphed over the adversities of life. Triumphed. As I believe the American democracy has done by a razor thin victory.
Triumphed… with Joe Biden.
There will be dark days ahead but the sun is rising.
alan skeoch
p.s. When I taught history. Especially when I taught the more philosophical aspects of human history… political systems…I noted just how fragile democracy can be using this comment. “Democracy is a troubled spirit whose dream, if it dream, presents only visions of hell.” Those visions of hell have been present, have they not? Well those visions have been relieved on this day…Nov. 6, 2020.
P.P.S. Grandma wrapped the hot bricks in newspaper…thin, fragile newspaper. Today we have wrapped a very hot brick in a very thin layer of hope…newspaper thin. The hot brick remains. I know that. But it can be contained in time…the brick will cool.