NOTE: EPISODE 170 WILL CONTAIN NEW DEVELOPMENTS IN THE VICTOR POPPA STORY…IT WILL COME LATER
PART 4: THE VICTOR POPPA STORY: PRISONER OF WARalan skeochDEC 30. 2019VICTOR 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 ofpiss and vinegar. You trusted me and believed I was a much bigger fish in the ocean life than Iactually was in those days. My first priority was my students. I know that sounds cruel, Victor, butit was a truth. Each day I tried to inject young minds with an ability to be introspective. To seethemselves as threads in the garment of life. That task was never easy. Preparing lessons soundslike such a dull thing to do. Boring some might say. I laboured to avoid the tedium of repetition andsometimes I succeeded. Sometimes I failed Victor. Your story, however, was always on my mindas Gordon Lightfoot said in one his wonderful songs. And when I told your story to a class they werealways riveted…always able to put themselves in the lonely plexiglass bubble of HX 313 as it hurtledits to earth. I regret that your constant sexual adventures were never shared. That would have gotme into trouble for sure. Some people might consider those sexual adventures exploitive. i.e. treatingwomen 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 yourdamaged body hit the ground near your target of Bourg Leopold, Belgium. You have written somenotes 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 takeanother look at you…maybe two looks. First, the Amused grin of you Victor when you took meup in that decrepit Cessna 170 over the Californian village of Lake Elsinore in 1984. And secondthe 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 grownup and were aware of your days living on this earth were limited. Yet you survived. And for the r bestof your life you would live and relive those Bomber Command war yearsSo let’s pick up the story again on that tragic night of May 27, 1943 when the Blonde Bomber, HX 313was 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 presentbut 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 Intercombut received no answer, only static. HX 313, however, was still flying in a straight line.”“I pulled off my flying helmet, opened my turret doors, reached for my parachute and snapped it to my chest. I stayed in myposition because I saw no parachute go by the tail. Then, a few seconds later, I saw one. It was open and on its sideparallel to the ground just missing the port rudder and fin. Then I decided to go. I swung my turrets 90 degrees in thefuselage and tried to go out but couldn’t because of the fire and wind. I tried twice to no avail. By this time the groundwas appearing quite close. I could tell from the fires that to bail out from the aft fuselage exit would have entailed too muchtime and by then it would be too late anyway. So I sat there waiting for my end. The aircraft then went into a flat spin.My turret twisted free and I was flung out by the brute force. My leg, however, was stuck momentarily under my leg guard.I could feel my knee pull right out of its socket. Then my leg came free. I was falling flat on my back. I looked on mychest for my parachute and it was not there. The parachute had been pulled away for my chest by the wind force and wasnowhere feet from my face and above. Pulled on theharness and brought the parachute down close enough so I could grab the D ring and pulled. It opened with sharp snap. A painknifed through my groin, I put my arms above my head, grabbed the harness and pulled thereby relieving the pain. A fewseconds later I saw the ground coming up real fast. I felt as though I was an arrow. I hit the ground hard and collapsedwith my parachute falling on top of me. I am sure the chute had opened at less that 1,000 feet and our aircraft had beenat 11,900when we were first hit by the flak and then shot up by the JU 88.”“I managed to get onto my feet but I could not feel anything from the waist down…felt like metal bands were clamped aroundmy ankles and knees. I was standing balanced as though on stilts. Just t hen I could hear motors screaming…an aircraftin its death sieve. I Dropped flat to the ground. It is amazing how close you think you are to the ground, as if you are beingpulled down tight, pressed into the grass. This aircraft hit a few fields away and exploded.”“All of this happened at approximately 2 a.m. on the 28th of May, 1944. After the explosion I found I couldn’t walk but moved witha painful shuffle. I moved away from the area slowly. At wire fences I would put my body through and then with my hands pull my legs through.I moved along in this manner until the dawn started to glow. Then I made my way into the centre of a wheat field where I lay downand fell into a deep sleep. I awoke at noon hour with the sun shining down at me. I made my way out of the field and crawled undera tree. I took off my electric suit and found I had suffered some spinal chord damage and had torn open my left leg and buttocks.The leg was swollen twice its normal size and black and blue. I also had torn muscles and ligaments. I crawled to a farm housewhere the farmer was kind but reluctant to hide me. He gave me water and milk to drink. We were advised in England neverto impose upon these people. I they showed willingness, fine. If not, leave. If we were caught with them they would sufferGrievously.”
“My legs were starting to stiffen up and the pain was increasing. I made my way to another field where I lay down and rolled and rolledin agony. I was this way well into the afternoon. Finally I felt that I must get some assistance. On my knees I made my wayback to the farm house and indicated I would like police assistance. While waiting, a Belgian doctor gsveme an injection of some sort but it had no effect. I gave the farm woman all of my escape money and shortly two LuftwaffeNCO’s came in an automobile. I was placed in the back seat with one NCO and because I could not bend my legs I hadto lay across his body.”“I was driven to our target the previous night. There was one room left standing where I was deposited on a bed. Despite allof the killing we had done I was not mistreated. I was given a bowl of greasy stew which i could not down. Later, I was visitedby a German medical officer All he did was rant and rave at me in German. Although I Felt he was going to strike me, he did not.Three days later I was taken outside and placed in the back of a truck with four caskets. A German NCO pointed to one andsaid “Komerad Irwin. This was our navigator Bob Irwin. I gave a negative response. He then pointed to the casket on my rightand said “Kamerad Wakely”. This was the coffin of Wilf Wakely. Again I gave a negative response . I was not questioned about thethird caskrt. This one must have been George. The fourth was empty as I had moved it with my foot. At that time I did not know Georgewas dead. It wasn’t until I returned to England after the war was over that I got word from RCAF records that George had beenkilled. This left me stunned as Hank (George) and I were real close friends.”
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 correctbut 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 hangingthere. 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 inthe 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 andfinally 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. Hankwasn’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 wassure 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 hadbeen able to get out one way or another, except for George Freeman. Two who got out were killed when they hit the ground.The rest survived. George was likely killed when the JU 88 strafed the plane. One of the crew remembers George’s legs hanging downas he worked his way past the upper turret to reach the escape hatch. The nagging thought that George remained alive worried Victor becausegunners were often trapped in their turrets like Victor had been. HX 313 exploded on impact near an abandoned railway station. Eric Mallettand Ken Sweatman were escorted past a pile of melted metal that had once been The Blonde Bomber. They could not stop to lookclosely for their escorts were members of the Belgian Underground and it was imperative that they hide Ken and Eric asquickly as possible. Victor Poppa, George Elliott and Morris Muir became POW’s.
STALAG LUFT VII
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 weatherbecame 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 POWsaid 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 tocannibalism. 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 thehorrors 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 dothe 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. 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, 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 prisonersslike 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 putinto 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 wereweaker 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 Russiansappeared. 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 neverhappened. 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 theAmericans. 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 weboarded 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 usmanaged 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 toHerzberg 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 Germanyto 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 their14 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. Usuallyin 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 becamepart 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 andfound 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 withfine 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 hadbeen 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 campat 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 tofind 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 Germanuniforms 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 andofficers 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 androlled 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 goingto 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 tothe 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 protectionagainst 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 occupationof 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 shippedby 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 housedbriefly 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 escapedthe 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 deepfascination 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 savea 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 thata very human, very graphic, very exciting window had been opened. Perhaps the best wayto close that window is to let Victor do the closing. Below is the last letter Victor Poppa sentto me on Dec. 7, 1988.Victor Poppa33535 Valencia St. R1Lake ElsinoreCalifornia, 92330Dear Alan, Marjorie, Kevin and Andrew,I was just reviewing your letter of April 8, 1988 which seems a very long time ago. I regret notanswering 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 easyopening, the can must have slipped through inspection. As you know I quit drinking alcoholyears 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. PresentlyI 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 stabilizeras I was trying as I was trying to get the main wheels out of some soft earth. I pushed downon the tail to get the nose wheel up and induced Louise to sit on the stabilizer. This keptthe nose wheel up. Louise’s weight was a modest advantage. However when Louise changedposition the tail unit shot up and Louise fell off. She fell about 4.5 feet landing on her left foot thenbanged the back of her head. Louise was groaning and crying that she was about to die. Abone 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 crackeda rib when I hit the table top with my side. A few weeks earlier I tripped over the dog on asimilar trip to the refrigerator. That time I cracked my right knee cap I think. There was aloud ‘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 ofHX 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 awonderful 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 supposeI can add comments now.Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New year.Love from usVictor and Louise PoppaNote: I suppose This must seem to be a strange letter . Accidents, ailments…normal give and takeof daily life including Victor’s ‘nocturnal raid on the refrigerator’ and ‘tripping over the dog’. Whyuse this letter as a conclusion to his escapades in Bomber Command? Victor had not changedmuch. In 1988 he was still flying…and his description of getting his plane out of the mud has a sortof amusing yet concerned ring to it. His wife Louise was the young girl he met in Quebec Cityjust before he went overseas in World War Two. She must have known about his escapadeswith Hank Freeman and been amused rater than offended.Perhaps the main reason I have included this letter however is his mention of Ken Sweatman, thebomb 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 mouserunning 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…injesta piece of stake that was too big for my esophagus…no air..gagging…leapt up on the restauranttable. Whereupon Victor, lightning speed…whirled me around and locked his hands below my ribcage…pulled firmly. And saved my life.I hope that this transcription of his diary can be seen as payback.alan skeochdec. 2019Ken 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 Seeleyjoined 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 DESCRIPTIONSTHE 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
GEORGE ‘HANK” FREEMAN AND GIRLFRIENDGEORGE FREEMAN WHEN HE ENLISTEDTHIS WAS ONCE THE AIRFIELD AS SKIPTON ON SWALE, YORKSHIRE, WHERE HX 313 AND OTHER AIRCRAFT AND CREWSOF 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 WEREQUITE SHOCKED TO SEE THIS HUGE FIRE. RUBBISH WAS BEING INCINERATED BUT IT SURE LOOKED LIKETHE CRASH OF A HALIFAX BOMBER RETURNING FROM AN OPERATION .
Begin forwarded message:
From: SKEOCH <firstname.lastname@example.org>Subject: PART 3: THE VICTOR POPPA STORYDate: November 7, 2019 at 4:56:26 PM ESTTo: Alan Skeoch <email@example.com>, firstname.lastname@example.org, Marjorie Skeoch <email@example.com>
PART 3: THE VICTOR POPPA STORYAbove is a post card Victor sent me shortly before he sent his diary
manuscript written in 1984-1985 based on the detailed diary he keptduring World War Two.
When Victor sent me this story in 1984 I was still teaching history at Parkdale CollegiaeInstitue, a Toronto downtown core high school. Parkdale was and remains a grittyplace where many students have faced poverty and social dislocation.. Tough kids.Realistic kids. Nice Kids. The kind you would want as a son or daughter.Even so, I did not think they could handle the Victor Poppa story withoutsome laundering. And laundering the historical record is a very slippery slope.So I never told the full story. I told the story of the day HX 313 was shot downbut I did not put that in its full context. I used the voice of Vera Lynn whosewartime singing was used to boost morale. White Ciffs of Dover, I’ll Be Seeing
You and other songs.
Today I think I would not be so afraid of using the “F” word. Everyone elseis using it. Netflix uses it so often in its films that the word has no shock valueany more. I might explain diplomatically that ‘Bless ‘Em All’ is fake news.The real song makes a lot more sense.And, once free of inhibitions, I could tell the Victor Poppa story in areal gritty, tragic, compassionate and humorous way.Stick with me if you can. If you can’t just press delete. Do notbother to phone me. I am on a roll.
BLESS ‘EM ALL…THE LONG AND THE SHORT AND THE TALLalan skeochNov. 2019beginning Part 3The Victor Poppa Story“Bless ‘em All” is the laundered version of a very popular World War 2 song.The song’s origin is a bit misty. Maybe written in 1917 during that horrificwar. But more likely written later. Certainly popular in World War 2 andmade so by George Formby and Vera Lynn. The laundered lyrics donot make much sense. Ordinary NCO’s were very unlikely to Bless theirsergeants and officers, especially if they ‘crawled off to their billets’when the real fighting began…i.e. when to bombers rolled alongthe taxiways…Now take the lyrics and substitute one word. Suddenly the songmakes sense. What is that word? The word is ‘Fuck’. Go aheadsing it both ways and you will see what I mean. And I bet $10 youwill be humming and singing the unlaundered tune all day.Bless ’em all,
Bless ’em all.
The long and the short and the tall,NOW I just wonder if the RCAF flight crewssand this song while cursing Bomber Harris?I like to think they did.
SOME of the crew of HX 313. Ken Sweatman, Bob Muir (?), Eric Mallet, Victor Poppa. And The Blonde Bomber…HX 313, 424 squadron, RCAF, 1944Victor looks like so many of the kids I taught in high school which is a reminder that the airmen of World War Two were just recent high school graduates .The aircrew of HX 313. Hank Freeman (George) on far left, and Victor Poppaon the far right.
THE VICTOR POPPA STORY, PART 3(Feb. 21 to May 27, 1944)
“February 21, 1944: Hank and I did an inspection of “P” Peter then went to Stores to trade in my old bots for a pair of shoesand changed my damaged electrical slipper for a new one. Hank and I then gave ourselves the afternoon off. We had a bath.Hank, Ken, Wilf, Eric and I headed for town and drank it up. The crew now seems closer together for we are now fully‘blooded’ after our Leipzig experience. Leipzig was Hand’s first mission as it was for Maurice, our engineer and ourspare Navigator, Ozzie. Ken told me later that Ozzie sharpened his skills and we made our way accurately to targetpoints marked out by a Pathfinder Squadron.”“February 22, 1944: Hank and I reported to Flights and were assigned another inspection of “P” Peter. I skipped ouFlights and went to our billet to light our small stove. The coke they gave us was hard to light so I pulled the flareportion out of a Very Pistol Cartridge, slipped the explosive into the bottom of the heater, lit it and that got the cokegoing in no time at all. Must tell the crew about that trick. Later i went up to the mess and saw Joan.“Eric was always volunteering for other things than flying. One of our gunners had a misfortune and was killed. TerribleOne of our aircraft was following the gunners’ aircraft and could not stop. His propeller chopped up the gunner ofthe lead plane. Eric tried to enlist me as a pall bearer. I refused with a strong ‘Oh, No!’ Eric had to find someoneelse. Think for a moment about that accident. Grim. ““Here is another instance about Eric and his volunteering. One night we were to go on a mission. On A long tripthere was always the problem of urinating. I kept a can just outside of my turret in the fuselage. when the urge cameupon me I just used that can and when the urine froze I threw the ice lump out my rear window which I kept openfor better visibility. Then Eric got the bright idea to use me as a urine volunteer. He was given a device whichlooked like an overlarge condom. I was supposed to put it around my penis which was in turn tied aroundmy waist to prevent it from falling off. I could urinate to my hearts content just so long as the thing did not overfill.I declined this magnificent gift saying ‘why don’t you wear it yourself?’ So he did…for a while. He disappearedfor a few minutes while we were going for a briefing and I said, ‘Where did you go?” He said the device kept rubbingon his penis and as a result he had an erection that would not go down. We had a good laugh over that one.“February 23, 1944: Hank and I reported to Flights and did another inspection of “P” Peter. We find we are toolate to go to Leeming to get our pay. The rest of the crew went to Harrogate except Hank who had a datewith Kay. I stayed in the barracks.“February 24, 1944: Hank and I went to Leeming for our pay and hitch hiked a ride to Thirsk and then to Leeds.Had a few drinks then caught train to London. We arrived in our usual beat condition, straightenedourselves out at Queens Garden YMCA.“February 25, 1944: Hank and I made a snap visit to the Beaver Club and I was surprised to run into Dick SchottWe trained together in Canada. Dick had been posted to an English squadron flying Lancasters. (Later Dickwas shot down and turned up in Stalag Luft VII with me.) Hank and I went to London’s Latin Quarter, boozedit up and back to YMCA before we fell down.Note: Readers who have read Parts 1 and 2 might assume Victor’s consumption of beer so often wouldmake him an alcoholic if he survived the war. When I met him in 1984 he did not drink at all…gave itup. Young men in their twenties often drink a lot of beer which does not mean that alcohol consumptionis a lifetime phenomenon. Hank and Victor became very good friends. Victor survived the war. GeorgeHank Freeman did not. When Victor was told of Hank’s death in HX 323, he cried. And the, 40 yearslater , I sent a letter to Victor, he also cried.“February 26, 1944: Hank and I left London for Caterham to visit my brother Max. We took Max and hisfriends out boozing and then dancing. What a wild night. Met a girl and that’s rhe way she stayed.“February 27, 1944: Got up late, ate at the snack bar and went to corny movie after which revisited the ValleyHotel for a few beers then back to sleep on the floor at Max’s billet. Hardwood floor and two blankets.“February 28, 1944: I ran into a fellow I knew casually, Joe M…forget his last name. He recognized mefirst. We went out dancing again and were thrown out of the dance hall.“February 29, 1944: Hank and I left for London after saying goodbye to Max and his pals. Then on to Leeds,ate at the YMCA and went girl hunting. We met a couple of nice prospects. Pub crawling as usual.The only place for love making was in the cemetery. My girl would only venture in a few yards but Hank’sgirl was willing to go further. The girls I was with was too nervous about her surroundings and no matterwhat tactics I used my efforts were to no avail. A considerable amount of time elapsed and my girland I were getting cold so she said she was staying at Hank’s girls house. “Let’s walk there andwait for them.” It was a long wait. About 3.30 a.m. they had still not arrived. So I left and told mygirl to tell Hank I would meet him at the railway staton. Some time later Hank came storming intothe station. Raging mad. “Hold your breath and then tell me what happened.” It seems Hank and hisgirl were having a great time and thought they were in Heaven. On one occasion they were makingout with her sitting on a tombstone and the girl had her legs off the ground and around Hank’s waist.At the crucial moment the Tombstone ‘shifted’ which scared the daylights out of them. They thoughtthe ground was about to open up and swallow them in a grave. Back at the girls’ house things gotworse. My girl got tired of waiting outside and went into the house and was met by the father. “Where ismy daughter? He got really angry and got the local constable. Both looking for the daughterin the cemetery. Hank spotted the constable and the girl’s father first. Ducking from tombstone totombstone they managed to work their way out of the cemetery and made a run for it. This episodebrings a smile to my face every time I think about it. Life does have its’ beautiful moments.Note: Sounds hard to believe? But it fits. Victor’s diary has so many similar stories withnames, dates, place included. Lucky George Freemans mother, my aunt Kitty, has died longago. She might not approve of Hank’s womanizing. On the other hand ?? I was surprised to
learn that Hank was never mentioned at the Freeman home after his death. His sisters children,Doug and Christopher , did not even know George existed until they were adults. The hurt wasthat deep. “I remember asking why Grandma was crying one day snd Mom said, ‘This wouldhave been George’s birthday.” I said, “Who was George?” “My brother, killed in the war.”
“March 1, 1944: Hank and I arrived back at Skipton on the 5.18 out of Leeds. Had baths,opened letters and parcels. Nice to sleep between clesn linen sheets.:March 2, 1944: Not much doing. Practiced shooting with my .38 Smith and Wesson.Ammot for the .38 is hard to come by.March 3, 1944: Reported to flights and were assigned “Q” Quance to inspect. Hank and I wereasked if we wanted to apply for a commission. We said ‘sure’ and got busy filling in the formsand presented same. We felt we could do what we do and still be gentlemen…just need to refinethe rough edges a bit. We are going on a night Bullseye, my 5th, from Base to Redding, London,Dagenham, Sait Abbots Head, Glasgow, Catterick, Manchester, Birmingham and back to base.This trip took 6 hours and15 minutesNOTE: Interesting comment “We could do what we do and still be gentlemen.” The great charmof Victor’s diary to me is its’ lack of pretence. No phoniness. No snobbery. Just great joy strippedof all caution. Underneath, however, is constant fear.March, 4, 1944: We slept till noon then reported to Flights. Did our inspections of “P” Peter. Tookrest of the afternoon off. Went back to our billet and lit the stove with a cartridge from a Very Pistol(a flare gun) . Not too worry as I took all the precautions. Then we had toast and sausages andtea. We talked for a while. Ken is lost somewhere.March 5, 1944: Reported to Flights and were sent to inspect “H” Harry. We were supposed to dosome fighter affiliation but the aircraft was declared unserviceable. Back to our billet, lit the stovewith the help of the flare gun. Had toast then went to a movie.March 6, 1944: Reported to Flights. Operations are in for tonight. We are to bomb the marshallingyards in France. Seems to be an easy target but we are alert. The target is the town of Trappeswhich is my 1th mission. There will be 346 aircraft on the raid, all of them four engined heavy bombers.Our gross load is to be 11,500 pounds…8 x 1,000 pound bombs, 7 x 500 pound bombs,The trip went smoothly as all of our squadron made it back safely. Time was 5 hours and 50 minutes.Happy debriefing.March 7, 1944: Awoke around noon hour, had lunch, cleaned billet, then back to the mess for beerI wrote Mary a letter , read a bit and fell asleep.March 8, 1944: Hank and I went to Flights then gave ourselves the day off at our favourite pub.March 9, 1944: Hank and I inspected “Y” York. Operations were supposed to be on but werecancelled. Wilf went to town with his sailor-boy brother in law. Wilf was full of alcohol before theyleft the base.March 10, 1944: Reported to Flights…we are ‘on’ for tonight…then a few hours later itwas called of, Flew out to the North Sea where a smoke float was thrown out and Hank and Ishot the float from a broadside position. We used 2,000 rounds apiece. Very low flying, closeto the water. Flying time 2 hoursMarch11, 1944: We reported to Flights and were assigned “P” Peter to do complete job checkingfrom guns to turrets. Then we were of to the Sam Hutton pub for beer. Had some troublewalking home.March 12, 1944: Same…assigned “P” Peter to check after which we did some “homing on ourradio beam” and some 3 and 2 motored flying. Later Hank and I did some Skeet shooting andI got 14 out of 20.Today a new Mark VI Halifax landed, a new replacement.March 13, 1944: Usual routine and checked “P” Peter again. The special equipment andbombsight were declared unserviceable. Then some 3 motored flying.Maurice pissed me off and just as I was going to settle things with my fists Bob intervenedand pushed me aside. Maurice will never fit in as part of our crew. Missions were on fortonight but we were not on the Battle Orders.March 14, 1944: Reported to Flights. Another air test which took 5 minutes doing evasiveaction practice. Special equipment checks out. Then sent out on a Command Bullseye, my6th. Took off at 2015 hours..base to Cambridge, Norwich, Lincoln, Newcastle, Leeds,Hull, Peterboroughand Base. We were coned by searchlights once for 4 minutes. The whole exercise makesme feel good. Took 4 hours and 10 minutes.March15, 1944: Operations on for tonight. Target is Stuttgart, my 11t mission. We are sending788 aircraft all 4 motored heavies. Bad night for we lost 40 aircraft and 280 crewmen…some killed,some captured snd some wounded. Our bomb was 4,000 pounds of incendiariesplus 2 x 250 lb bombs. At briefing we are given our winds, altitudes, turning point which isredding, North of London. The wall map points out all the flak positions and the concentrationof their 88 mm. anti-aircraft gun. Also what potential night fighters we may meet.On the raid we did not have too much of a problem, plenty of flak though. We fly southand make our turn over the Swiss Alps just short of the border. The firing of flak gunsdefines the border for us. There is not much distance between us and the snow capped mountains.Stuttgart suburbs the worst flak. We are getting banged about.Ken is now in position getting ready to drop the bombs. Hank yells as another aircraft aboveus is dropping his bombs. Eric quickly moves “P”Peter as bombs pass on our side. Thewhole city of Stutgart is illuminated by our fires and their searchlights. I can see bombsexploding and new fires starting. Down below Hitler’s people are getting their prematureview of Hell. Shells are bursting close and we are taking some hits from Flak shrapnel.Hank and I are keeping both eyes open for night fighters. This is some night. Ken hasdropped his bombs. Eric is now flying straight and even until our photo flashes go of andour camera catches our bombs bursting. Then Eric is given his new course and we are onway home but everyone is alert because this mission is far from over. We do not make ithome and have to land at a Typhoon fighter base on the south coast of England. We pickour location to land using the ‘Nemo’ emergency call and the corresponding ‘Darky’response. As we circle the field the outer lights are in water. Is this a dummy airfield?“Darky” responds by flashing lights on and off. We spot the runway lights and make yourfinal run, touch down and park “P” Peter at a dispersal. since this is a fighter base the dispersalpoints are not too large. We got what rest we could and in daylight found our hydraulics wereunserviceable. We had a hole in our flap and the bomb bay doors also had holes. The flapsfor landing are set at 90 degrees but we could not raise the flaps hydraulically for takeoff. Ratherthan hang around for repairs we elected to push the flaps up manually into takeoff position, leavethe landing gear down and fly to base at Skipton. This worked out fine. Sttuttgart took 8 hours and 40 minutes.Each bombing raid was horrific for German civilians as seen above…the picture may have been taken after the HAmberg raids butcould apply to other raids.
Note: There were 53 raids on Stuttgart because of the heavy industrial plants. Only partly successfulbecause the city had deep valleys and heavy defences. Allies lost 300 aircraft and 2,400 crewmen.Death toll on ground was 4,950 people. Death toll lighter than the Hamburg raids that killed35,000 to 45,000 people. The bombing created 15 million cubic metres of rubbleand damaged or destroyed 39,125 buildings.March 17, 1944: Hank and I did a little Skeet shooting. I got 9 out of 10.March 18, 1944: Operation are on. Target is Frankfurt on the Main River. This will bemy 12th mission. At briefing we were told what to expect as we were given our weather, altitude ,route as well as the flak positions. This time we are carrying 4,600 pounds of explosives.There will be 719 planes, all heavies. We lost 22 aircraft and 154 men. We took off at 1850 hours,Over the English Chnnell. Our airspeed indicator quit working as did our compass.Bob does not want to continue’ We still have our magnetic compass and Eric can get Quite closeto the air speed required. Bob rofuses to navigate and the rest of the crew are pissed off at him.So Eric makes a turn to return to base. A new decision needs to be made. Should we dump our bombs….a danger below as some troops are practising for the coming invasion of Europe in. We did not know thisbut we knew there were our ships at sea. Or should we return to base with our bombs which is always a dangerespecially when we had a load of fuel. We decided to fly around and burn up fuel and then land. Nobody ishappy about this situation for it means we will face another mission to make up for the aborted missionat the end of our 29 missions.March 19, 1944: We slept until noon and then reported to Flights. I played checkers with Hank and Rennie…lost.We are giving the job of trying out “M” Mother for an acceptance test. Over the North Sea with the airplane…seemedfine . Hank and I fired off 1,000 rounds apiece at the water. silly. Landed at 1800 hours.March 20, 1944: Hank and I do our usual inspection of “P” Peter but did not finish due to rain. Mission is on fortonight laying mines north of Kiel in the Baltic Sea. but mission was cancelled. It is much easier on the nervesto go on a mission rather than plan for a mission that is then cancelled. The led down is terrible.March 21,1944: We were supposed to be on a mission tonight, again mine laying in the Baltic Sea. And againit is cancelled. The excuse this time is that Eric and Ken are on another course. Eric is going on an Air Sea Rescuecourse and Ken is on a course on the Mark 14 bomb sight. I ent over to see Mary at Dishforth for some TenderLoving Care.March 22, 1944: We flew twice today ferrying aircraft to Croft and returned with another newer Halifax Mark III.Only firing today was using the flare pistol cartridge to light our stove.March 23, 1944: Hank and I got up early to go to Leeming to get some overdue pay…my share was 11 poundsand four shillings then went over to the mess and had some gin and bitters along with beer. Hank and I tookKay snd Betty. Betty and I have never really got along well together. Hank decided to end his relationship withKay after all this time.
March 24, 1944: Hank and I are going on leave today. We decided not to visit any distant city so set our sightson York. Caught train from Harrogate to York and signed in at the YMCA. Then off we went to Betty’s Bar, anRCAF hanout. We got talking to P/o Fenton who asked us to say hello to Eric as he knew him from some otherplace. The place was full and drinking was in full swing. Later we ate at Jack’s cafe.March 25, 1944: Hank and I decided to see if we could survive a leave without getting involved with girls.We planned to spend a quiet evening drinking at Betty’s Bar but a couple of girls made their way to our tableand we chatted a while then palmed the girls off to a couple of guys we knew who were glad to hit ‘pay dirt’with no effort on their part. We went back to the YMCA and bed.March 26, 1944: A nice spring Sunday with the sun shining and all the good stuff. Hank and I had 3 beerseach then visiting places of interest. Doing all the things a tourist would do.Hank and I were really enjoying our walkwhen out of the blue this girl runs across the street and skids to a stop in front of us saying, note “I’m ‘Legs’ ofthe Robin Hood (pub) and I’ve fucked every jerk in Sixth Group Bomber Command” This presentation came on sostrong that we took a couple of steps back. This appears to be a threat to this new doll. So we said, “Wellwe are the flying part of Six group and have never heard of you” Meanwhile the three of us are blockingthe sidewalk. Hank and I are smoking with our hands in our pockets, jackets unbuttoned, caps tucked intoour shoulder straps, when this British Army type officer of some sort of high rank is forced to walk around usto get by. Legs was using some great language and we were given a real frosty look but we felt it wasbest to say nothing. The Robin Hood was a notorious pub in Leeds but was off limits because of rampantV.D.Legs language was so raw that we sought to escape to a local park where no one was near. We triedall sorts of things to get rid of her but she just would not leave. Hank and I were getting hungry andsince we couldn’t get rid of this Gem, we asked her to go with us. We were getting her to the pointwhere her choice of words was almost acceptable. We ordered our meal and then I asked her afairly simple question. “How did you get the name Legs?” She promptly pulled up her skirt, way uppast her hips. You should have seen the looks we got from the patrons. She really did have nice legshowever she was not wearing underwear. Our respectable leave was being compromised. We finally maneuveredLegs to he railway station and we thought that was the end fit all. Legs was more tenacious than we thought.We headed back to the YMCA then headed for Betty’s Bar. In we go… most of the action is inthe basement. I asked Hank to find a table while I went to the washroom. Returning I see Hank overin a corner making frantic gestures. I hurried over and Hank Said, “Legs is here!” Good grief, ourdarling is right in the middle of the room where she can Zero in on a victim.. Our beer came andwe kept as low a profile as possible. Legs spots us and gives us a wave, heads our way until someunknowing type introduced himself to Legs and our moment of terror was over.Well Legs and her new victim moved to a booth. we now felt at ease. Nor too long later two lovelies walked inand sat at the table Legs had vacated. We both happened to glance in their direction when one picked upa cigarette and asked for a light. Hank started to rise and I said, “Hank if you get up and giv her a light, ourrespectable leave is as good as over.” Hank said, “No don’t worry, i will just give her a light.” Hank does thisand comes back saying they want us to join them. “Ok, just you wait and see,” and after a few drinks in Betty’sBar we all leave for another bar. Here the girls decide to chug a lug. Imagine that! This raises our eyebrowsso, what the Hell. Our morals took a giant step backwards. We hunted around and found a small old hotelwhere the proprietor took us to a bedroom on the 3rd floor that only had one 3/4 bd. The four of us lookedat the bed with an unsaid question. Then the proprietor tuned into our wave length and took us toanother room on the first floor. The room had two full size beds and a bathroom. But there was someonesleeping in one of the beds. It seems Hank and I were expected to sleep in the empty bed. No way, wehad other plans. After the landlord left, Hank snd I sped upstairs to see Gwyn snd Ilene. Upon entering theroom Gwyn was standing near nude with her shoes, stalkings snd garter belt. What a sight. Ilene wasalmost in the same state. I picked up Gwyn, clothes and all, and said ‘’Let’s Go!” We made our way tothe first floor room, snapped on the light and awoke the guy in the other bed. He was startled and dida double take. “Don’t interfere, she’s all mine.” Just then the door opened and a new guy comes in. He askedwhat were we doing. I nodded towards the empty bed whereupon he said that bed was his.What a mess. I was carrying her clothes and Gwyn was still nearly nude. Off we go back upstairswhere Hank is in bed with Ilene. Without saying much Gwyn crawls over those two against the wall andget lodged between the two girl. Nice spot. We all have our fun and games and fall asleep.Around 5 a.m. the proprietor makes his rounds. He has figured things out. Runs upstairs to our 3rd floorroom, shakes Hank awake. Hank forgets where he is. Sleepy. He gives the proprietor a good back hand.Hank becomes fully awake then shakes me awake. We threaten him a bit, “you gave us this roomwith only one small bed, what do you expect?” His response “I’m going to get the Specials (MP’s?) anda constable. We all decide to get dressed and leave fast. Walked the girls to the railway station. Itwas early, maybe 6 a.m. and the locals were going to work. They gave us some frosty looks. Thesepeople were not dumb. The girls got the train to Leeds. Hank and I waited for the train to Harrogate wherewe took in a show, lapped up some beer and headed back to Base.We discussed the matter and decided to give the respectable leave idea another try next time.This one sure turned out to be a honey.NOTE: I don’t know whether to include this story in the Victor Poppa story or not. Sounds farfetched but Victor uses such precise terms that I am not sure. Remember Victor rewrotethe story forty years after the fact. Did he improve the story? I don’t think so. It fits thepattern and even provides detail that might fit other romantic episodes mentioned in shortform earlier. My experience is limited but I spent ten years working with men in miningexploration. Their stories and actions were similar. Some lurid descriptions and some realevents. In the 1960’s I stayed clear of the sexual opportunities as Ken Sweatman did in 1944 but otherevents involving beer were spot on. One event in Dawson City. We awoke in a dumpy roomwhere I was sleeping in the bathtub and other guys in the bed. One guy,locked out, got into the roomby crawling over the transom above the door. There were 4 or 5 of us. We paid for one person rental.We laughed a lot especially at the two people copulating drunkenly on a barroom floor wherethe bartender just rolled them out the door like one gigantic soccer ball. Believable?You will say the story is a fabrication but it is a lasting memory of mine. Victor waslikely saying the truth. Betty’s Bar was real and can be found described as a wartimeRCAF Hangouton the internet.March 28 and 29, 1944: Nothing to reportMarch 30, 1944: Ken has been asked to fly as a ‘spare body’ with another crew. I surehope nothing happens to him as he is one nice person.March 31, 1944: Did inspection of “P” Peter then drank beer in Mess with my brother Max and Hank.Max is on leave. We all went to the Sam Hutton for another wild night.’April 1, 1944: We went to Flights and Max came along. The crew like him.April 2, 1944: Hank and I went to Flight…Max slept in until noon. A bunch of 424 Squadron guys took usalong to Leeming where we all had a party. Hank and Max got rather drunk. I stayed sober becausemy stomach is in terrible shape.April 3, 1944: Hank and I inspected “P” Peter again. Max must head back to his army units out ofLondon…It was good seeing him again.
Note: Skipton Base. Victor and his crew were assigned one of the quonset hut barracksthat are clustered top left.April 4, 5, 6: 1944: Rained heavily for first two days. Today, 6th of April, we checked out the gunson “R” Romeo. Later. I borrowed a bicycle and pedalled to Thirst.April 7, 1944: Today we were supposed to go on a mission to Paris and Lille but it was cancelled.We stayed around doing nothing.April 8, 1944: Hank and I harmonized the guns on “Q” Quebec and “P” Peter. Later Hank, Eric, and Mauriceweht to our local pub to get boozed up. Ken, Wilf, and Bob have gone to Harrogate to do the same thing.I decided to write letters and then go to bed.April 9, 1944: Mission #13, Operations on for tonight. We are to use “M”Mike tonight. Hank and I got busywith our end of the airplane then had dinner before going to the Briefing Room. Our target will be ‘VilleneuveSt Georges’ near Paris which is a railway yard. We are given our route in and out at an altitude of 6,000feet. We should expect lots of flak at that altitude we are told. Our bomb load is 10,000 lbs of highexplosives. The flight was not too bad but we took our share of Flak. On takeoff from Skipton, however,we either flew into some other aircraft’s propeller washer were caught in a wind shear. This was not ahealthy situation. One wing dropped abruptly when we were only 75 feet off the ground. Heavy loadaboard made the situation very serious. We were just above stall speed. Eric had enough experience toreact fast . Eric hit on top rudder speeding up our low right wing thus creating more lift. This saved us.Anyone with less experience may not have known what to do in time.
Note: In April 1944, Bomber Command concentrated its strikes on Germanrailway marshalling yards. This must have been noticed by German highcommand who were expecting an invasion which came on June 6, 1944.A massive deception was put in place in England. Where were the invasion forcesgoing to land? Picture shows just how concentrated bombing could be.April 10, 1944: We are now on leave again. It seems everyone is going off in different directions. But weall went to Leeming to pick up our pay then to Thursk to a tour train. I’m off to see my brother Max southof London. Then YMCA.April 11, 1944: Staying in London for four days. Went to visit Frank Hughes but no one home so I wentto the movies and an entertainment centre. Visited a few pubs. Bed.April 12, 1944: Rode around London on the bus sightseeing then another movie and bar hopping.April 13, 1944: Caught the train to Caterham and found out from people who were not supposed to talkthat Max was now in Brighton, booked into the Emery Hotel.April 14, 15, 16, 1944: I had no trouble finding Max. When he was off duty we went pub crawling then dancing.Which was what we did for all three days. When my funds were used up I took the train back to Skipton.The train journey could have been better.April 17, 1944: I spent most of the day answering letters.April 18, 1944: Operations on for tonight. Hank and I did our inspection of “P” Peter. This will be my14rh mission. Target is another railway marshalling yard called ‘Noisy le Sec’. Near Paris. When wework over these marshalling yards we come close to the ground. So close that the bomb explosionsmake it seem someone is hammering under the fuseage with a telephone pole. There will be 170 heavy bombers this mission.We lost 4 of them on the mission which means another 28 aircrew will not make it home. Our bomb loadis 10,000 lbs of high explosives. This time the route is right over Paris at 12,000 feet. The flak is heavyThe smoke from the shells permeates our oxygen masks. The flashes and smoke pass by our bomberreally fast and close together. The explosions toss our aircraft all over the place but we stay on course.Ken gets into position for bombing. Our Mark 14 Bombsight compensates for our irregular flying due tothe anti-aircraft shells exploding. Ken waits for the right moment and then drops our load. Then we mustfly straight and level as usual so our camera can take a picture of the impact locations. We passed overtwo French towns where our air forces were working over marshalling yards.Limburg railway marshalling yard after a bombing in Dec. 1945As we passed over London on our return to Skipton we noticed that the Luftwaffe was givingLondon a pasting. The anti-aircrsaft fire from London’s anti-iraft defences was mind boggling. I couldnot imagine any German bomber surviving. We flew at 13,000 feet which is quite low. I am tiredand longing for a cigarette. I cup the cigarette in my oxygen mask. , my cigarette flamed and burnedright down to my lips. I call Maurice on the intercom andtell him to cut off the oxygen. He asks why? “Never mind why, just do it!” He cuts he oxygen andI light another cigarette. This was the first and last time I ever smoked on an aircraft. We land…flyingtime for this mission is 6 hours and 15 minutes. At briefing our camera confirms that our bombswere all cocnetrsted on the target..Note: German night fighters could sometimes see the Halifax tail gunners lighting cigaretteswhich gave the Germans a clear target in the dark sky. Cigarette smoking was forbidden for thisreason. Victor lit his cigarette contrary to orders but he was then over England, heading home.April 19, 1944: Slept late today then picked up our mail. Raining hard so we slacked off.Lit our stove with the pistol cartridge as usual. The stove reduces the dampness somewhat.April 20, 1944: We report to Flights and find out we will be going on a Mission tonight.We are assigned “U” Uniform which Hank and I inspect. I have been issued a .38 Smith and Wessonpistol which I keep in my boot with a flashlight in the other boot. Easy to get them if needed.Take off time is 2105 hours.Through the day each of us keep our feelings to ourselves. This is mission 15 for me. Off wego to briefing where the target is on a wall map including the route in and out usinga red ribbon indicating route changes. Again we will use Redding as the collection andturning point. We will be guided to The target by Pathfinders leading the attack.Our target tonight is “Lens”, another marshalling yard. There is no doubtin our minds that we are getting close to D-day. 158 bombers are being sent. We have11,000 lbs of high explosives. Ken has done well on this one as our camera reveals.On target.Skpton on Swale is one of 3 airfields close to each other in Yorkshire. Each airfield containstwo squadrons…about 100 aircraft. There are many near misses when bombers arriveback at Skipton as bombers take short cuts to get back to base as fast as possible.We hear a lot of anger about these pilots who make Skipton air traffic very dangerous.There are aircraft who want to get down fast for good reasons…short of fuel, damagedengines, serious battle damage, injured crew. Because of these emergency landingswe spend several minutes doing circuits around Skipton. Later a solution is found…Squadrons at each airfield will alternate landings on arriving at the airbase early.April 21, 1944: We slept until noon. Operations are on for tonight but not for us.Hank, Ken, Bob and I do not feel too well so it is just as well we are toon missions today.April 22,1944: Misson # 16 for me. Hank and I do our inspection of our gunson “P” Peter then write a few letters at our billet. Our mission today will be a real ‘gut’grinding one. After lunch we sit around the briefing room staring at a map coveredby a blind. Our commanding officer enters, everyone stands, he says ‘Gentlemen, beseated’. The curtain is drawn back, our target revealed…a very heavily industrializedsection of Germany called the ‘Ruhr Valley’…specific target is Dusseldorf. The RuhrValley is nick named Happy Valley by bomber crews. Today we will send 997 heavy bombersin a split force. 613 will bomb Dusseldorf. 384 will bomb elsewhere. (This night we willlose 43 aircraft and 310 aircrew. Our squadron will lose 3 aircraft.) We are shownour route in and out from Dusseldorf. Much of the route is over the heavily defended zones.We can expect late doses of flak going in and coming out. There will also bemany night fighters. The room becomes very quiet as the briefing continues.Halfway through the briefing in walks Flying Officer B. whose crew is alreadyin the room. I never saw this pilot ever make it to a briefing on time. (Later, he wasshot down. His crew showed up at Stalag Luft 7 where I was also a POW.Flight Officer B. survived being shot down but lost his foot on Bailing out.It seems he jumped from the hatch above his head and the foot was cut offby the propeller.Take off is to be at 2210 hours. We go to our lockers to pick what we will need theninto the truck that will drop us at “P”Peter’s dispersal site. We chat with our groundcrew while we wait to climb aboard. It is still daylight when we take off. Finallydarkness descends as we reach our assigned altitude and our turning point aboveRedding. By the time we approach the enemy coast I start to calm down. We are often beingshot at by flak and there is danger we will be coned by searchlights. But I feel alright. Anyway I am busy.Long ago it seems when Hank and I loaded our guns. All ready. The big task is totry and spot night fighters before we become a target. We try to keep conversations short.Bob has been giving Eric course directions. Ken is busy helping Bob by picking upbuilt up areas on our H2S set. Wilf is working his radios. Maurice is tending to our motors.Maurice has the habit of sucking our fuel tanks dry and waits for the motors to showsigns of fuel starvation. Only then does he switch tanks. Eric never liked this practiceby Maurice however he never says anything. We are now on our final course to Dusseldorf.The flak is getting more intense. Eric can see the target ahead and also see the flakdensity we will soon experience. A large area around Dusseldorf is lit up by firessearchlights. WE are being battered by flak burst that are too close.Hank snd I are busy scanning the skies around us for night fighters. Ken is nowin position to drop our bombs…2,000 pounds of high explosives snd 4,000 poundsof incendiaries Ken is giving Eric the necessary lefts and rights until he decidesto press the release switches. Once done after the camera shot we start to get close callsfrom the flak guns blow. Then things start to ease up as we head for home.The mission took 5 hours s and 45 minutes. We are debriefed at Skipton. I take myshot of Navy Rum and any other shots as well. Then we go for our special baconand eggs breakfast given to all returning crews And finally to bed.April 23, 1944: Too busy to make notes in my log book.Note: “Throughout the war Commonwealth squadrons were generally the lastto receive new equipment, RCAF squadrons were saddled with under-poweredtwin-engined Wellingtons longer than their British counterparts, and also laggedin receiving four-engined Halifaxes and Lancasters. Many Canadian squadronsdid without Lancasters … which were the best for bomb load, range, ceiling andease of handling and lightest on casualties … until 1945.” (Roger Dentley)One good point about the Halifax. It was easier to bail out of with highersurvival rate if being abandoned in combat according to a different source.April 24, 1944: Operations are on for tonight so Hank and I do our usual inspection of “P” Peter.We get through the early part of the day OK. Write letters…speculate on the target…getvery nervous. Most of the crews are in the briefing room when we enter. This will beMission #17 for me. The curtain is drawn and we see in an instant that the target is Karlsrue.We note the Flak stations on our route. Another split force. 613 aircraft will got Karlsruhe and345 will bomb elsewhere. Total attack force of958 aircraft. (We will lose 32 bombers and224 crew members )There is a big flash of light behind us as we leave Skipton. Some plane exploded on takeoff.The weather is not too good…overcast at 10,000 feet. Conditions worse over Europe.Our pilots will have to contend with flying using only instruments.We fear collisions. We have six Squadrons taking off from airports close to each other…all aircraft
Making a standard 360 degree turn left as we climb. There’re now 144 aircraft circling. We are insolid instrument dependent weather…pilots flying strictly by the gauges in front of them. All ofus hoping and praying we will not collide with another aircraft in this “soup”. As we climb I seea big flash of light bursting through the ‘soup”. Someone must have crashed on take off. Finallywe break through at 10,000 feet and sure enough off to our right is another aircraft not 500 feetfrom us. I wonder if there were others even closer as we circled in the soup.We continued to climb crossing the enemy coast where flak bursts light up the clouds. Likelooking through frosted window glass. One good thing. We are no longer worried about nightfighters under these conditions. One worry. We are picking up ice which is not too good. We haveno way to break up the ice. We do have a kind of paste which is smeared on our wings leading edge.Looks like grease. The weight of the ice and the big bomb load pulls us down. Bomb load includesone 2000 pound high explosive and 4,000 pounds of incendiaries. Not much is being said on the intercombut we are all aware of the increased danger. Ken is working our H2Sset , Bob passes us someuseful information as to a good fix on our location but does not trust the info. As a result we overflewon the right side of our target. Bob realizes he was wrong and gives Eric a new course to fly.We decideto unload our bombs on what seems a likely target. About 15 minutes later we fly through a hole in theweather. We are alone. Our main force had finished bombing on target and had headed for home. Thefires below had burned a hole in the clouds. Lucky no Flak. The target looks well and truly smitten.Bob gave us a new course for home. Not much more was said about our error…our’ faut pas.’ Flying timewas 7 hours.
April 25 and 26, 1944: No time for diary notes…getting really busyApril 27, 1944 Operations are on for tonight. This will be my 18th mission. Takeoff time is 2345 hours andour target is once again is railway yards, this time at “Aulnoye”. Apparently we will not be bothered bytoo much flak. The fighter problem remains though. The mission includes 116 heavy bombers. We will carry10,000 pounds of high explosives. And once again, our ‘master of ceremonies’, the Pathfinder (Mosquito bombers)will layout our target and instruct us where to lay our eggs. We are flying at 5,000 feet. Ken is busy…he doesa good job which our camera confirms later. Our time for this missions 4 ours snd 50 minutes.April 28 and 29 1944: Recently we have been getting a lot of ‘on and off’ missions which are terrible on the nerves.Especially bad when we are already in the aircraft and ready to go.April 30, 1944: Operations are on for tonight, my 19th mission. This time we are going to “Somain”, a railwaymarshalling yard in France. Our bomb load is15 x 250 pound bomb of high explosives…7,500 pounds.We will bomb from an altitude of 6,500 feet. Pathfinders were supposed to layout the target but failed to doso. While the Pathfinders were taking another try we were asked or orbit off to the left….all 143 aircraft.Flares are being dropped by parachute lighting up the target area as we have done in all attacks onmarshalling yards. We end up stooging to one side for 17 minutes then there is a big rush of aircraftto unload and get away as fast as possible. We feel the Luftwaffe must be on its way as there are manyfighter bases close by. As a result of the disrupting the air raid is not a 100% success. On our way back there wasa short burst of flak that hit the aircraft near us. There was an explosion and bits of the aircraftfell in flames. This could have been us. We took some hits from flak but not lethal hits. Flying time 6 our sand 10 minutes.My total flying time is now 317 hours snd 55 minutes.May 1, 1944: Operations again This time we are sent on a mine laying trip to ‘Brest Harbuor’ along with 5 otheraircraft all carrying 2 x 1500 pound atrial mines. Nice moonlit night. We set our course at 10,000 feet altitude.Eric and Lt. Compton were going to fly together on this moonlit cruise.When we reach 10,000 feet Eric says “Do you see Compton?” I scan the sky and say he is off to our starboard side.Eric asks again, “Where?” I repeat “Starboard”. Then Eric suddenly lays us over on our side…way over…perhaps 90degrees….so far over that it was nip and tuck whether we were going on our back or not. I yell, “Eric!”. Eric responds,“I know Vic!” Fortunately we rolled back right side up. What happened? Eric, in his eagerness to line up with Lt.Compton over controlled. (Note: Lt. Compton finished his tour, survived the war along with his crew. He was afine person.)May 2, 1944: We are on leave. Everyone takes off on his own. I decided to got to Scotland on this one to visit Ann and Ruby.On arrival I find that Ann is off visiting her mother in Manchester. I look up Ruby and am invited to stay which makesthings nice and cosy. I have a nice room upstairs. After everyone is in bed I hear the back stairs creaking. In comesRuby on her tip toes. Everything was great in this nice soft bed, a real delight. This visit was pretty well standardexcept for two occasions. One afternoon while we were walking in the woods the urge arose. We did our thing andonly afterword did we notice we had an audience of 6 young children around 10 to 12 years of age.Ruby lived very close to Loch Lomond snd one day i Rented a row best and took Ruby for a boat ride. We wereabout 200 yards from shore when the urge overtook us. Ruby layed back on the seat with her back in an arch,a strain there I should imagine but Ruby was game and we had our fun. It never occurred to us that people couldsee us easily from the shore. Later upon returning the row boat the attendant gave us a broad smile. Thisturned out to be a really delightful leave and I was well rested …ready to go back on operations.May … I have no diary entrees. We did a lot of flying.May 17, 1944: We are now using the aircraft QB-B HX313, a Halifax bomber. Someone put a big strain on“P” Peter after we used it. It never seemed to fly properly any more.May 17, 1944: We are assigned to fly twice today using QB_B HX313. First we do fighter affiliation with aHawker Hurricane as the attacking fighter. We have a second pilot aboard learning the tricks. Later wetake off again so that Ken can practice bombing over Strensall.On the way to this exercise a de Haviland Mosquito fighter bomber comes up alongside my turret…in factabout 25 feet.. close…he indicated he wanted to play. What a beautiful sight. I asked Eric if he was game snd he said yes.“Give him a run for the money Eric!” I said. After about 8 wild Corkscrews Eric is pooped out and I Get the chanceto wave the Mosquito off. He does a barrel roll and peels away. What a sight seeing such a wonderful planeclose up and doing some really great flying. (This picture has stayed crystal clear in my mind all my life.)May 18, 1944: Nothing loggedMay 19, 1944: Missions are on for tonight. My 21st. Mission it to St. Malo, a fairly easy mission mine laying in theSt. Malo harbour Two aircraft , each carrying 4 x 1500 lob mines. We cannot close the bomb doors because ofthe bulky mines but this is not big deal. The mission went smoothly and both aircraft returned to base. We werethe only planes used that night.May 22, 1944: Missions are on for tonight. This makes NO 22 for me. We notice that bombs are now beingstored at our dispersals, a clear sign that D day is just around the corner. Looks like we can expect more thanone mission per day. Today our bomb loads are 250 and 500 pound high explosives snd the target is the “Le Mans”marshalling yards. The railways are sure getting more than their share of bombs. Tonight we send 112 Heavybombers. Two Pathfinders lead the way, Banana One and Banana Two. There is trouble dropping the parachuteflares due to 40 mm anti aircraft guns below. The Apex of these shells is at our bombing height of 8,800 feet.Banana One orders us to orbit to starboard. We enter a cloud bank. Surprisingly there is not much complaintover the radio telephone . We orbit for about 15 minutes when Banana Two orders us to bomb the centre ofthe green target he has marked. We begin our bomb run. The 15 minutes delay gives our French friends timeto move away from the target. We drop down to low level and do our bomb run then head for the coastat the same low level. I can clearly see towns and even buildings…and people flashing flashlights at us. Itis nice to know we are being loved. We climb to clear the French coast and the coastal guns gave usour share of flak. This trip took 5 ours snd 50 minutes.May 23, 24, 25, 1944: Too many ‘on and off’ again missions. Is anyone aware of how these things shatter our nerves?May 26, 1944 We fly to Strensall today giving Ken some bombing practice.May 27, 1944: NO DIARY ENTRY BECAUSE VICTOR AND HX 313 NEVER CAME BACK TO SKIPTON ONSWALE. WE DO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED THOUGH WHICH OPENS A DIFFERENT CHAPTER INTHE VICTOR POPPAS STORY. BUT FIRST HERE IS WHAT HAPPENED ON THE NIGHTOF MAY 27/28, 1944 WHICH WAS THE LAST FLIGHT OF HX 313.VICTOR POPPA“Dear Alan,Your letter came to me approximately three weeks ago, and upon opening and reading the first paragraph, I could not talk.My throat constricted and I had to cry. It was 40 years ago this day (letter written May27, 1944), that we were preparing for araid on a town in Belgium…Borg Leopold. This camp contained 13,000 German troops who had been fully trainedand were to be moved out the following day. To keep these troops out of their air raid shelters and above ground ourair force planners arranged for the RAF to overfly Borg Leopold and to continue on to bomb Achen. This forceconsisted of some 200 Lancasters. The Germans at this time went into their air raid shelters. Then another force of some45 Halifax bombers were routed over our target. They then made turn and continued on to bomb Dusseldorf. Again theGermans went under to their shelters. Then we came along…Number Six Bomber Group, RCAF with 333 aircraft which included424 Squadron Halifax’s ardour aircraft Q.B. – B – Hx313. QB were the letters of our Squadron. B was our airport letter in theSquadron. HX 313 was the serial number of our aircraft.”“We were to bomb from three levels. The first level was 9,000 feet; second level was 10,900 feet; third level or wave was11,900 feet. We were the third level. Each wave consisted of 111 and each aircraft carried 18 x 500 pound bombs.The raid was to last for ten minutes. As I found out later this raid was a classic for night bombing accuracy. We killed8,500 German soldiers in ten minutes with hardly any casualties the Belgian civilian population.”Note Made 1984: At this point Victor Poppa explained the routine events of a bomber operations day from briefing toa special meal of bacon and eggs. As the day wears on the crew begin to get nervous. Some write letters. George Freemanwrote to a girlfriend (platonic by sound of it) and sounded cheerful. Faking perhaps. (see Georges’ letters later).Some even preferred to write their last wills and testaments. Not George or Victor that I could tell. As evening approachesthe crew put on their flying suits. Victor loaned his fur lined suit to Bob Irwin as his feet got freezing cold…moresothan the rest of the crew. Victor prefers the electric flying suit as it take less space in the tiny tail gunners bubble. Oneof the most moving snapshots sent was taken surreptitiously from the crew truck. It shows a corner of the truckwindshield and off in the distance silhouette against the skylines HX 313, the Blonde Bomber.“Into HX 313 we go, each to his position. Eric and our passenger Bob Elliott, co pilot; Moe, our engineer; Ken to his bombaimer’s position; Bob, our navigator; and Wilf ,our wireless operator;…all accounted for. Then George and myself to ourgunners bubbles…George as upper middle gunner and me as tail gunner. Eric goes through the check list and soon weare taxiing around the perimeter track to the main runway. In position. Eric advances the throttle and we are on our way.”Note: Liftoff is extremely dangerous as HX 313 is loaded with bombs and high octane fuel. An error can detonate the load.There would be little chance of survival. The crew knows this…they have seen it happen.“We are soon at altitude. Bob, our navigator, has given Eric a course and suggested so that we can arrive as scheduled.All of the previous aircraft have stirred things up.” (Perhaps German soldiers in Bourg Leopold will be out watchingthe bombers overflying their camp.) “Ken (bomb aimer) is now in his position for bombing as we start our run. Hegives Eric course directions…left, left, right, etc. We are now but a few miles from the target when Ken says, “Vic, there isa JU 88 below us. I stand up and try to see under our aircraft but cannot. Eric is asked to drop a wing so George cansee. He can’t see it either. Ken is asked to give Eric evasive action instructions if necessary. Just then there is ahorrible explosion in our left inside motor. HX 313 lurches up as if struck by a gigantic hammer. Flames run down ourleft side. Then a few seconds later there is the chatter of machine gun bullets and cannon shells slamming through ouraircraft. The plexiglass nose is shot out but the bombs are secure.”“Our bomber did not explode. There were fires in from front to rear. The inside of much of the plane was cherry red.My first thoughts were: ‘You have been waiting for this and now it has finally happened.’ I called on the Intercombut received no answer, only static. HX 313, however, was still flying in a straight line.”“I pulled off my flying helmet, opened my turret doors, reached for my parachute and snapped it to my chest. I stayed in myposition because I saw no parachute go by the tail. Then, a few seconds later, I saw one. It was open and on its sideparallel to the ground just missing the port rudder and fin. Then I decided to go. I swung my turrets 90 degrees in thefuselage and tried to go out but couldn’t because of the fire and wind. I tried twice to no avail. By this time the groundwas appearing quite close. I could tell from the fires that to bail out from the aft fuselage exit would have entailed too muchtime and by then it would be too late anyway. So I sat there waiting for my end. The aircraft then went into a flat spin.My turret twisted free and I was flung out by the brute force. My leg, however, was stuck momentarily under my leg guard.I could feel my knee pull right out of its socket. Then my leg came free. I was falling flat on my back. I looked on mychest for my parachute and it was not there. The parachute had been pulled away for my chest by the wind force and wasnowhere feet from my face and above. Pulled on theharness and brought the parachute down close enough so I could grab the D ring and pulled. It opened with sharp snap. A painknifed through my groin, I put my arms above my head, grabbed the harness and pulled thereby relieving the pain. A fewseconds later I saw the ground coming up real fast. I felt as though I was an arrow. I hit the ground hard and collapsedwith my parachute falling on top of me. I am sure the chute had opened at less that 1,000 feet and our aircraft had beenat 11,900when we were first hit by the flak and then shot up by the JU 88.”“I managed to get onto my feet but I could not feel anything from the waist down…felt like metal bands were clamped aroundmy ankles and knees. I was standing balanced as though on stilts. Just t hen I could hear motors screaming…an aircraftin its death sieve. I Dropped flat to the ground. It is amazing how close you think you are to the ground, as if you are beingpulled down tight, pressed into the grass. This aircraft hit a few fields away and exploded.”“All of this happened at approximately 2 a.m. on the 28th of May, 1944. After the explosion I found I couldn’t walk but moved witha painful shuffle. I moved away from the area slowly. At wire fences I would put my body through and then with my hands pull my legs through.I moved along in this manner until the dawn started to glow. Then I made my way into the centre of a wheat field where I lay downand fell into a deep sleep. I awoke at noon hour with the sun shining down at me. I made my way out of the field and crawled undera tree. I took off my electric suit and found I had suffered some spinal chord damage and had torn open my left leg and buttocks.The leg was swollen twice its normal size and black and blue. I also had torn muscles and ligaments. I crawled to a farm housewhere the farmer was kind but reluctant to hide me. He gave me water and milk to drink. We were advised in England neverto impose upon these people. I they showed willingness, fine. If not, leave. If we were caught with them they would sufferGrievously.”“My legs were starting to stiffen up and the pain was increasing. I made my way to another field where I lay down and rolled and rolledin agony. I was this way well into the afternoon. Finally I felt that I must get some assistance. On my knees I made my wayback to the farm house and indicated I would like police assistance. While waiting, a Belgian doctor gsveme an injection of some sort but it had no effect. I gave the farm woman all of my escape money and shortly two LuftwaffeNCO’s came in an automobile. I was placed in the back seat with one NCO and because I could not bend my legs I hadto lay across his body.”“I was driven to our target the previous night. There was one room left standing where I was deposited on a bed. Despite allof the killing we had done I was not mistreated. I was given a bowl of greasy stew which i could not down. Later, I was visitedby a German medical officer All he did was rant and rave at me in German. Although I Felt he was going to strike me, he did not.Three days later I was taken outside and placed in the back of a truck with four caskets. A German NCO pointed to one andsaid “Komerad Irwin. This was our navigator Bob Irwin. I gave a negative response. He then pointed to the casket on my rightand said “Kamerad Wakely”. This was the coffin of Wilf Wakely. Again I gave a negative response . I was not questioned about thethird caskrt. This one must have been George. The fourth was empty as I had moved it with my foot. At that time I did not know Georgewas dead. It wasn’t until I returned to England after the war was over that I got word from RCAF records that George had beenkilled. This left me stunned as Hank (George) and I were real close friends.”Note: Victor Poppa’s account closed the file on the last flight of HX 313. He was the last person to get out of the aircraft. All hadbeen able to get out one way or another, except for George Freeman. Two who got out were killed when they hit the ground.The rest survived. George was likely killed when the JU 88 strafed the plane. One of the crew remembers George’s legs hanging downas he worked his way past the upper turret to reach the escape hatch. The nagging thought that George was remained alive becausegunners were often trapped in their turrets like Victor Poppa. HX 313 exploded on impact near an abandoned railway station. Eric Mallettand Ken Sweatman were escorted past a pile of melted metal that had once been The Blonde Bomber. They could not stop to lookclosely for their escorts were members of the Belgian Underground and it was imperative that they hide Ken and Eric asquickly as possible. Victor Poppa, George Elliott and Morris Muir became POW’s.Victor’s adventures as a POW Had similarities to Steve MacQueen in the The Great Escape…only life was a hell of a lot lessfun. Worse for the Russian POW in he adjoining camp where abuse was more prevalent. Victor had a choice when the warended. Either to walk out of the Stalag or stay put until Russian troops took over. The German guards just disappeared onenight leaving the gate open when the sun came up. Victor and a friend decided to take their chances and start the long and potentially dangeroustrek through the Russian sector in hope he could reach the American sector. He had he good fortune of hooking up with nineFrench girls hiking their way back home from a German labour camp.Victor had been on a long march from a POW camp in Poland to another in Germany. On that trek he became aware of thehatred the German civilian population had toward air force prisoners. The bombing of Bourg Leopold killed many but theconstant bombing of German cities killed a whole lot more. Mobs tried to attack air force prisoners. “While in Kohn train station we werethreatened by a large mob. Our guards, however, kept order and we were not molested.” So he knew the risks when he walkedout of his Stalag and headed south to American lines. In one instance, at dusk, Victor and his French girls entered a German housewhich they thought had been abandoned. Instead they met a German officer who was already in bed but with a Luger under his sheetaimed right at them. They left without incident. Fear was spreading through the German civilian population in what was to becomeEast Germany. German officers and soldiers feared for their lives.END OF PART 3: THE VICTOR POPPA STORYPART 4 WILL COVER HIS PRISONER OF WAR (POW) EXPERIENCEalan skeochNov. 16, 2019Appendix1) Eric Mallet’s Description of THAT EVENING OF MAY 27/28, 1944“Dear Alan:In the first place I must you that George Freeman was never known to us as George, he was Hank. Hank carried out his duties as Mid Upper Gunnerwith great courage and at no time was overcome by fear. I am enclosing the only picture of our aircraft that I have with a member of the ground crewsitting in my seat. The ‘Blonde Bomber’ was one of the finest aircraft that I have ever flown (note: Eric was an experienced pilot) At that time the Halifaxwas the fastest heavy bomber in the world. We carried 42 tons of bombs and 21,000 gallons of100 octane gasoline, total all up weight was 85,000 pounds
Hank’sturret had four Browning machine guns capable of firing 1,250 rounds per minute.”Note from 1984: Eric Mallett’s enthusiasm for the Halifax contrasted with the opinions of military historians who regarded the Halifax heavy bomber inferior to the Lancaster.Some historians even went so far as to note that the conversion of bomber squadrons to Lancasters was done in a discriminatory manner which favouredRAF bomber squadrons. Canadian Number Six Bomber Group continued to fly Halifax bombers to the end of the war.“The member of my crew were Flight Lieutenant Bob Irwin (deceased); Wireless Operator Wilf Wakely (deceased); Vic Poppa, tail gunner; Ken Sweatman, bomb aimer;Engineer Morris Muir (English); Mid-UpperGunner George Freeman (deceased); and flying officer Elliot who was coming along on his first trip…The target was BorgLeopold in Belgium a base which the Germans were using as a rest camp for their troops from the Russian front. After leaving the briefing I mentioned to thecrew that we were being sent on a mission for the sole purpose of killing people. We carried 14,000 lbs. of anti-personnel bombs and the aiming point was tobe the officers quarters. This mission did not sit well with the crew. We had already been through some tough missions against industrial targets butthis mission made us feel uneasy.”“Strangely enough we were not able to drop our load. We were right on our bomb run when we got hit. Just a few seconds prior to being hit I had anurge to take evasive action but I did not because we had our bomb doors open and had started our run. I didn’t want to spoil the bomb aimers sightingas there was no indication of an attack other than my hunch. Suddenly there was a tremendous burst of flame and I gave the order to ‘abandon aircraft ‘immediately. Knew from past experience that we only had seconds to do so because 100 octane gasoline would blow up once the flames reached thetanks. The Navigators position was right on top of the forward escape hatch. The whole crew was supposed to go out this exit so I would know when allwere out. They did not, however, because Bob Irwin couldn’t get the hatch open. The second pilot (Elliott) and engineer (Muir) took off the rear seat andwent out of the entrance hatch. I went forward to see how Bob was doing and by good fortune he was beginning to have some luck so I went back andstraightened out the aircraft. In what seemed like an eternity I returned to the hatch in time to see someone leaving. I then, did not hesitate to follow.Upon hitting the air my flying boots left me and I then tried to find the rip chord on my parachute. I couldn’t find the ring for what seemed like anothereternity. Eventually I hooked the ring, otherwise I would not be here.”Note: Even today, Oct. 2, 2019, I can remember reading Eric Mallett’s letter. Rivetting. I could hardly believe I had set an event like this inmotion back 1984. I had an idea that this was the end of the story so I read slowly and re-read even slower. But the story of the Last Flightof HX 313 was really just beginning. Read on!“Drifting down through the nigh sky, I could see the target with the bombs landing, exploding and setting fire to the buildings. I thought for a moment or twothat I was going to land right on it. The next thing I recall was seeing the ground come up to me and then ‘Boom!’…everything was silent. When I cameto, I found myself right beside a barbed wire fence. Remembered my previous training and buried my parachute. It required much effort.“It is almost impossible to describe the feeling that overcame me. Since that day nothing has ever scored me as all I have do is recall in mymind this dreadful night and the terrible feeling that I had.”“I spent the rest of the night sitting in a cornfield taking off my rings and rank markings as well as looking at my purse and pandora. The escape kitcontained Horlicks tablets, benzedrine, German, Belgian And French currency. When daylight came I discovered that I was close to a small village.I knew that i must get some help as I had a badly cut finger and no footwear. I waited and waited to see what sort of traffic was entering or leaving the village.There seemed to be none other than that of someone tying up a goat close to where I was hiding, for quite long time I wondered what the tinkling ofthe goat’s bell was.”“Alan, I am going to sign off for now for this is only the beginning of a long, long story. Enclosed you will find your map with the location of the attack. Alsoyou will find pictures of my crew, and one of the Blonde Bomber. We were not allowed to take any pictures of our aircraft for security reasons, as you canwell understand. Also included is a picture of Hank and Vic Poppa engaged in a little horseplay outside of our flight room. Vic Poppa and Ken Sweatmanwould be very pleased to hear from you if would care to write them.”Kikndest RegardsEric L. Mallett2) REMEMBERING GEORGE (HANK) FREEMANPICTURE of George Freeman and, I believe, the girl known only as Kay. I thinkthis is the woman he wanted to marry after a year of chasing women with his goodfriend Victor Poppa.This story began as an attempt to find out what happened to George Freeman on that horrific May 27/28 evening.“At times Hank and I went on leave together where we had undisciplined fun. Hank had a real way of charming the girls in the messas well as on our trips away from he base.” As Day approached the crew of HX 313 were working together like a welloiled machine. A human machine. “On one mission it was Hank’s birthday and we arranged for Ken to say ‘Happy Birthday Hank’ insteadof ’Bombs away’. QB B HX 313 was shot down on its fourth mission. The crew had flown more than double that number. Eight missionsfor some. For others, many more missions. The death rate was high. They knew that.Both planes and men had short lives in #6 Bomber Group. The results of the steady bombing was a devastated Germany.Ciies turned into rubble. Factories flattened. Many many thousands of people maimed and killed. As allied land troops fannedout across Germany this devastation became an embarrassment to many. As a result the Bomber Groups were never givenfull recognition for their service and some felt neglected. Side lined. Overlooked.The story was assembled back in1984 and now updated in 2019. Much has happened and continues to happen.Discoveries. Take the war graves for instance. One of my colleagues, John Maize, was working in Holland in 1984and I asked him to see if he could find the grave of George Freeman. He found George and Wilf and Bob allburied side by side in a military grave in Belgium. What day do you think he visited the grave site?…John Maize arrived there on May 27, 1984…exactly 40 years to the day after the Bourg Leopold attack.And on that same day, May 27, 1984, Victor Poppa, Eric Mallett and Ken Sweatman sent the letters that made thisstory possible..GEORGE FREEMAN’S LAST TWO LETTERS: THEY WERE NEVER MAILEDWhen George Freeman’s personal things were returned aunt Kitty and Uncle Chris, there were two lettersthat George had written but never mailed. They reveal much so have been included. George was a young man…barelypast the teen age part of his life as will be apparent. Thoughts of death are not a big part of the letters but thosethoughts can be found between the lines.“Arrmed Forces Air LetterFlight Sergeant Freeman, G.F.,R190568RCAFOverseasMAY – 1944 (/)MRS. C.W. FREEMAN,C/O Scanons Store,1439 Kingston Road,Toronto 13, Ont.CanadaDearest Mom and Dad,Well dearest, here I am again. Have received a letter from you and another from Mickey (sister). It sure is swell to hear from you.We have been pretty busy of late and I’m pretty tired and would like to see the end of the war. Maybe it’ll end soon. I’mflying as a spare gunner and also as a regular member of the crew, it’s a bit risky flying every time but at least it keeps me frombeing browned off. Auntie Jean and everybody down that way are fine and send their love to you and dad. I’m sorry dad can’t get the helphe needs the golf course. (Chris was head greenskeeper at the Hunt Club Golf Course in Scarborough where George spenthis teen age years caddying.) I don’t think I told you about the visit I paid on my last leave to one of the girls parents house.The girl works in our mess and is a good girl. In fact, mom, she is a Cockney so you have an idea that what she is like.Her parents made me very welcome and I had two eggs there. Eggs area blessing when you can get them. (This ‘good girl’and George were planning marriage but her name has been lost). Frankly, mom, I like Cockneys the best of anybodyin the south of England. They don’t beat around the bush if they are going to tell you something. Gosh! I almost forgot youshould receive a Victory Bond pretty soon. I’ve paid for it so do what you want with it. Seems like there isn’t much moreto say Mom, outside of I’m fine and hope you and everybody are the same. I’ll close for now with love to all and all my loveto you and Dad and may Godbe with you.All my Love,Note: This letter had been ‘opened by the examiner’ on April 6, 1944.All personal letters were censored in case crucial information wouldcompromise the war effort.George xxxxxxxxxSECOND LETTER TO ‘DOT’, A GIRLFRIEND BACK HOME IN CANADAR190568Sgt. Freemand,RCAFOVERSEAS,30/3/43Dear Dot,This is just a couple of paragraphs to let you know I’m still kicking and that Jerry hasn’t had much success in getting rid of me. Howgoes the battle with you and are you still working as hard as ever? First, I want to thank you for the swell Valentine. It was super.How did you ever dig it up? I’m sorry I couldn’t return the favour and send you one. Guess you’ll have to settle for aChristmas card when Christmas rolls around again. Will you thank Beryll for her card and tell her as soon as I can find theaddress I will write her too. Kind of me don’t you think? Thank her for the pics as well.Things are pretty much the same as ever over here. Nothing good to eat and lots of beer. I’m still as teetotaler. The dancesare corny…always will be. This mountain music they dish out here is worse than Columbus Hall stuff. Guess I sound prettybrowned off (fed up) with things. Well I’m not too badly put out. It’s just the monotony of things. One good thing is ‘leave’which comes up pretty regularly. We do get a bit of a change in scenery, faces, etc. I saw Sam Manhood on one leave.He looks pretty fed up with everything not to mention that he has aged about 4 years. Say, I wonder if I have aged too?The next thing on my list of jazz to talk about is flying. That too is very monotonous. I have put in a few trips over Germanyand haven’t had too much trouble with Jerry although he does try to give us a scare once in awhile. The last trip over theskipper was in an excited mood at having seen his first real live fighter…F.W. 190. So he “dood it in his pants’ if you knowwhat I mean. If I ever did that I’d ask for my discharge so help me. The agony of it was that he had to sit that way forsix hours. On the whole it’s not to bad over there if you keep your eyes open. Maybe I’ll live through it. Who knows?Let’s skip that and talk about you. That picture we had taken sure was terrific. I had some time explaining to the boysthat it was purely a platonic friendship we had for each other. How goes you and the Masonic Temple. Still up there regular?Are Beryll and Freddie still on just friendly terms or has Freddie put on the old charm and made her fall for him?Well, Dot, there doesn’t seem to be much more to say outside of it’s closing time. So give my love, etc. to the gangand write soon. Love to Berryl.xxxx love xxxxxx George xxxCONCLUSION: SO MUCH HAS NOT BEEN EXPLAINEDThere is so much that needs saying about HX 313, especially the larger picture of the RCAF and 424 Squadron. Todo so , however, needs a lot of space and a lot of time
EPISODE 167PART TWO: THE VICTOR POPPA STORYalan skeochOct. 2019This is Part 2 of the Victor Poppa storyYou will either like Part Two or wonder why you are reading it. After the raids on Hambergand the solo flight to the submarine pens at St. Lazar, Victor’s crew had a layoveras they lost two pilots one due to illness and one shot down on a training missionover German territory. Wellington bombers were being replaced by larger four enginedHalifax and Lancaster aircraft which meant the crew had to be retrained. This took many monthswhich gave Victor and his new mid upper gunner, George Freeman planty of timefor romancing as many girls as possible. Some descriptions of their sexual activityare quite humorous.But Victor knew the full horrors of air warfare. Air crews were expected to make20 missions. Survival was unlikely since the acceptable loss on eachair raid was 5%. Twenty missions at a 5% loss rate meant that there wasa 100% expectation that air crews would be shot down or get into mid air collisionsor fail to land at Base because crippled or be forced to ditch in the North Seawhere it only took 3 minutes for hypothermia to kill. Victor knew all this andoccasionally in the following journal he makes a comment such as “a goodfriend was lost”. Most of the time Victor was cheerful. George (Hank) Freemanand Victor Poppa drank an immense amount of beer as they searched pubsand 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 airmenwith V.D. would be to sick to fly and thereby weaken the impact of BomberCommand on German civilian life.A news clipping Victor attached to his journal/.diaryrefers to the Hamburg raids which killed between 35,000and 45,000 people. Plans to do follow up raids on asmall bayonet factory which was surrounded by hospitalsfilled with Hamburg survivors bothered Victor. The hospitalraid was cancelled.
The nature of the bombing changed as the mid point of World War IIarrived. Initially the targets were military and industrial installations.Then the bombing targets became civilian. The leaders of BomberCommon, principally Bomber Harris, nicknamed by his own air crews,‘Butcher Harris’. Bomb loads always carried incendiaries to setGerman cities on fire. One highly placed British officer wondered ifwhole cities could be set afire since many German cities had historicancient wooden beam construction. (see 17the century image ofLeipzig…lots of wooden buildings preserved and admired)“Could we set these cities onfire? Could we create a firestorm that would wipe out working classneighbourhoods and thereby reduce German ability to produce theweapons of war? The answer was decidedly ‘Yes” as was provenin July 1943 when the City of Hamberg was set alight in three devastatingair raids. Victor was the tail gunner on a Wellington bomber for theseraids. He could see Hamberg burning on the horizon days afterthe first raid. He must have known the death rate was Horrific. Actually43,200 civilian were incinerated. Many died in air raid shelters…sufficedas the oxygen was sucked out to feed the firestorm. A firestorm sopowerful that it set the asphalt streets on fire. The superheated windsblew 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 thesense of foreboding. There is a feeling of inevitability about Victor’sjournal/diary. No escape. Not quite no escape but a very tiny chancethat Victor will be able to survive his 20 missions. Who couldpredict that his survival happened because his aircraft, HX 313,was shot down, a fiery coffin plummeting to earth with Victor, the tailgunner trapped inside. But that story will come in Part 3 of the VictorPoppa story and this is only Part 2.
THE SEXUAL ADVENTURES OF VICTOR POPPA
Victor liked women. Actually he loved them and loved them bythe dozen. Sometimes in amusing situations…three in bed on oneoccasion, 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 wemet and romanced….nearly all I mean.”“What do you mean by ‘we’?”“Your cousin Hank…George Freeman to you…was with meon many of these sexual exploits.”“How many?”“Well between August 1943 and February 1944 we had a goodtime 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 notthere you will probably have trouble believing my journal. Therewas nothing done in a nasty way. I loved those girls…still doin my mind…making love on a highway median makes me smilejust thinking about it.””“ALL OF THEM?“Alan, there are some whose names I did not record as youwill see if you read my journal…I wrote all this for you…reallyfor 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 bythe Royal Air Force (RAF). They had Rolls Royce Merlin engines and triangular fins. Merlins worked great for theLancaster bombers but were not as good for the Halifax’s. Later we were to get Halifax bombers with Bristol Herculesmotors…1650 Horsepower.These engines made the Halifax into a very superior bomber..”SEVEN MONTHS CHASING WOMEN…WITH MUCH SUCCESSVICTOR’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 Armywith 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 keptourselves occupied feeling, necking…this was after we managed to get a spot on the floor out of everyone’s way. Her body feltgreat 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 soulsnear us. Now just a fond memory.”Note: Victor kept a journal during World War II…then in 1987, encouraged by my fascination with his wartimeexperience 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 didnot have any aisles. The seats were full width facing each other with a door at each end. Upon arrival in Brighton I wasdisappointed to find that his battery were out on maneouvers. I stayed in Brighton overnight and caught the morning trainto 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, LondonBridge, 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 cupsand 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 removedfrom 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 operationalmission as pilot in command (PIC). I had trained in Canada with his rear gunner…red headed and a real fine person. For thismission 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 gunwhich is not much good. The C.O. in charge of 429 squadron, Leeming (Yorkshire), had the mid-upper turrets removedand the mid-under gun installed instead. This new set-up was to cause serious attrition problems for 429 squadron and anyother squadron foolish enough to adopt this method. What was really needed was a third gunner as a mid-underpin a properlydesigned mid-under position with single .50 calibre gun shooting down and aft leaving the mid-upper gun turret intact asoriginally designed. Later this was incorporated in some variants of Halifax’s which made survivability of aircraft andcrew 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 Northand o2degrees, 35 minutes East. We were sending 377 aircraft. We were to bomb the Dunlop Tire Company factory as a bigorder had just been completed and was about to be shipped out. We crossed the French coast without too much problem fromFlak. Our rear gunner spotted and took some shots at a night fighter that was not too keen to engage us. Our attack on the DunlopTire seemed accurate from where I was sitting. Some huge fires were started.Our bomb load consisted of one 2000 lb bomb anda 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 lbspacked 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 memy 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 downover Bourg Leopold and the young upper gunner, my cousin, was killed in his turret we think. On May 26, the boys gottheir commission and the next day they were either killed or taken Prisoner. Their Halifax bomber 313 was a pile of smokingdebris on a Belgian farm field. But that story is yet to come. Victor may sound cheerful in his journal but readers shouldnote 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 fromVictor Poppa’s war diary. That diary would have been found among his personal affects at the Squadron 424 base at Skiptonon Swale…packaged up and sent to his home in Hamilton. Retrieved when he walked out of his POW camp in Germanyand 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 tofly again with Sgt. Rawlinson. Mission #7 for me. We were to go and bomb the entrance to a train tunnel that connectedFrance and Italy. We were to plug the French end. At briefing we were told that Leeming would be socked in after we leftand our alternative airfield would be an American airfield at Thurleigh. There were 420 aircraft on this raid. We wouldbe carrying a 5,000 lb load of high explosive bombs. Our ‘Gee’ set quit and our navigator decided it was a ‘no go’ situationso we flew out over the North Sea and jettisoned our bombs. Then we got lost and after much figuring and 4 hours and 25minutes 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 invitedto 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 werescattered all over Germany. During the morning of the 17th the rest of Squadron 429 landed. The C.O. of 429 gave us abriefing 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 feelcomfortable 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 wasgiven a 500 foot descent spread and the lowest aircraft allowed drop 500 feet followed by the next lowest and so on withonly one command from the Tower. There were no accidents and I was very happy when we broke through into the clearand landed.“Attrition was very high in 429 Squadron because of the missing mid upper turret. Sgt. Rawlinson was givena commission as a Pilot Officer and was acting as a Flight Lieutenant (captain). He and his crew were shot down lateron 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 raidto 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 708aircraft . For me it was Mission #8. We were just nicely underway when our port outer motor’s propeller ran amok. On thisflight we were taking a new Sgt. pilot with us. He was a twin, his brother also was on 429’s roster. This fellow musthave been barley past his 20th birthday. W. O. Smith instructed him to feather our port outer engine propeller. Insteadthe 2nd pilot feathered the port inner propeller. W.O. Smith was very skilled and managed to save the situation. For some reasonwe could not return to Leeming and were forced to land at Topcliffe. Upon touching down W. O. Smith found ourbrakes would not function. So we had to go back to Leemng by truck. There was only about 15 mlles between thesetwo 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 byArmstrong Siddley. The Whitley appeared ancient. The Navigator/Bombardier’s position looked lkie a Victorian drawing room withfloor and sides covered with green mohair rug like material. The Whitley has Rolls Royce Merlins. The wing has anextremely thick air foil. It was a very slow flying machine. When the Whitley flew straight and level it looked likeit was in a shallow dive which confused observers. This was an advantage since enemy fighters oftenmisjudged 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 ourdrogue training airplane so we returned to Leconfield. Again on Oct 6, we searched and found our Drogueairplane 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 gunfrom 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 minutesand managed to score quite well.“October 1, 1943: I returned, sleeping withthe guys on my regular crew. Ken had been ona raid to Nuremburg where our airforce lost 95 aircraft. Ken thought his time was up. He, like myself, had volunteeredto 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 mancrew with Bill. Now it was Bob, Ken, Wilf and myself. We talked to the adjutant and requested the we for be kept together. Wewere then told we would be posted to Croft, #1664 Conversion Unit where a pilot and flight engineer were waiting to crew us withus. We were still short a mid-upper gunner. However we were told that Air gunners were in transit to #1664 C.U. Croft andshould 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 supposedto 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 officerDesmond 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 havefrom time to time.”“October 17, 1943: Des brought our Flight Engineer with him, an English man named Maurice Muir. He seemed to behaving a problem with acne. We were still short a mid-upper gunner. Ken, Wilf and I went to Bob’s room where we atethe 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. 18,1943George (Hank) Freeman looked so young when he volunteered. By 1944 hehad 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 driverat 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 himselfas “Hank” Freeman. We chatted for a while. He sure sounded like an easy going guy. He said his full name was GeorgeFrancis 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 himfit 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 couldabout our aircraft, the Handley Page Halifax. the models we would fly had the Rolls Royce Merlin motors which werenot that great. The Halifax did not have the big bomb bay of the Lancaster, however, this was partly compensatedby 3 bomb bays in the wing either side of the fuselage between the two inboard motors. Nor did the Halifax carry asheavy a load as the Lancaster. None the less it did have some good qualities which were corrected when the BristolHercules motors were installed. “Note: One of the good qualities was the odds of survival if the crew had to use escape hatches. Halifax crewshad higher survival rates than Lancaster crews This fact would be helpful on May 27/28 when 5 of the 8 mancrew actually survived.“Along with our studies we had our evenings free for fun and games. Hank really shone here and managed very wellwith 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 YMCAwhere 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 ina bar. He was awaiting a court martial and confined to barracks except for meals. I was given a holster anda .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 nothinghappened 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 theway a fog set in. I nearly killed myself by walking right off the loading dock onto the tracks. Thick fog. To make mattersworse 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) …chosenbecause the picture sows how YOUNG the airmen were. Averageage 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 movedback to England from Canada just prior to World War II . Her husband died in England. Young Anne, when I knewher in Canada was not a great beauty. Her pictures as a young lady were different…very pretty. She had joinedthe 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 andalong 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 Edinburghthen 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 wesent 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 hewas 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 desirableso I threw caution to the wind and took her on. The evening turned out just fine. Before I left she siad hername 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 Iwere 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 for1 hour and 25 minutes. Our instructor for Des this time was Squadron Leader Boogey. Took off in early afternoonand 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 Hankand I. 3 hours and 25 minutes. And we are now getting night flight practise. Des is given dual cirucuits and landingsat 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 notfind the target because Des did not fly the course Bob gave him, hence no target. Des is a bit of a problem yet heis 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 gameand 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 readyto 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 thistime 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 bombercrews were very likely to be shot down while veteran crews were not. Why? Perhaps active bombercrews were put into action too early. They needed to be skilled … ready for evasive action, ready to flya crippled plane with only two or three engines functioning, ready to make a night landing with a damagedaircraft. That is why Victor’s crew are spending so much time training. The change from a two enginedWellington to a four engined Halifax…different airplanes, handling differently. Training could not last muchlonger.“November 17, 1943: Flying today twice with Spitfires simulating German fighter attacks. Hank and I had a veryimportant role. If we saw a hostile fighter, our first act was to warn Des using the command “Go!” which meant takeimmediate 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 messagethat 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 bombingaround England. At the same time test Britain’s air defences. We were coned by searchlights on the English SouthCoast for 15 minutes and again at Northampton for 10 minutes. This is my 4th Bullseye fight. Des does not followinstructions too well. We would’ve been shot down if this Bullseye had been the real thing. The same thing would havehappened 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 coupleof 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 throwour lives away…we would not do that. flying time to date 105 hours and 55 minutes day flying and 111minutes and25 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 toour 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 fewmiles down the road from Croft. I went with Mary for our usual walk. Mary is very easy to talk with. She speaksof many interesting things. I’ve spoken with her about my girl friend Louise who lives back in Canada. Maryaccepts 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 theday 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 mandatorysince he had no combat experience as a PIC (Pilot in Command). After Des’s briefing and the Squadron departureto Stuttgart a big party was planned on the base. Hank and I were having a good time and started looking aroundfor the rest of the crew but lost track of them. I headed for sargent of the Women’s A.A.F. She looked thin butas I got closer I could see she was more skeleton than thin. They say nearer the bone, the sweeter the meatso I thought What the heck, give it a try. After a brief conversation I assumed we were both on the same wavelength 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 ita night.”“November 26, 1943: We had been paid the day before and I had 18 pounds and was anxious to start our leave butwe 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 askabout Des. Bob called and was informed that Des was ‘missing in action’ along with the whole crew thatflew to Stuttgart. We all had more than a few drinks. Shocked. Hank was going north with me and the rest weregoing south. Hank and I got into a train compartment and I fell asleep. After a bit, Hank woke me up. Opening myeyes I saw this British army female across from me and as I lowered my eyes to her lap, I noticed she hadtwo high top, size 10 boots on her lap and my feet were in those boots. It seems I was trying to make myself ascomfortable as possible. She was given an apology and Hank explained about Des being missing in action. Ourpilot gone. We finally arrived in Edinburgh where we stayed the night. I planned to carry on to Glasgowand then on to Alexandria where Ann was stationed. Found a hotel there and next day looked up Ann at herbase. That evening we went to her friends house. Her name was Ruby. We decided to pay visit to Ann’s motherat Atherton Manchester. Ann managed to get a 72 hour pass so the three of us were on our way.The train waspacked. Even though we had a first class coach at first we transferred out and found we had to stand up forthe rest of the way. Her mother had the graveyard shift at work unfortunately so the three of u s went toa pub then back to the house where I slept in my assigned room and the two girls to theirs. After a while Ithought this is not right so I got up and went into the girls room and got between these two lovelies andgot 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 pacifiedher though she seemed skeptical. In the morning Ann’s mother arrived. We left. i had to get back toTholthorpe 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. Wegave them away to our WAAF friends in the mess and when the girls went on leave we would lend themmoney 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, ourprevious 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 Idecided 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 andtried my best to get some action but got nowhere. Later Hank and I went to our local pub in Tholthorpe andleft feeling quite good..”“December 8, 1943: Today is pay day for 431 squadron. Not much doing today. We are wishing for a postingto 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 withher.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 andI 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 Pilotcame over and introduced himself as Eric Mallet. He asked if he could sit with us for a few minutes. We toldhim about Des getting shot down on his first mission as a 2nd Pilot on a raid to Stuttgart. “So we’ve been shippedout to topciffe to get a new pilot.”. Eric in the meantime was filling us in on his background. He had been a flightinstructor 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 youthink 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 asthis guy Eric looked promising. Over they came and a bargain was struck. Since it was OK with us, Eric wouldput 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 andme if Eric turned out to be another lemon . Eric turned out to be an excellent pilot who understood our survival dependedupon that important word ‘co operation’. We hit it off right away. It pays off when a crew is put together by ademocratic 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 minutesto make peace with our maker. That’s how quick death would happen. My response was that it would be betterto bail out over Europe. At least then we would last longer than three minutes.. The good news was that wemanaged all to get a four day leave. We went from Topcliffe to Ripon to York…which was close to Betty’s Bar thankfullyAfter 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 RCAFheadquarters for some back pay as I am now Flight Sergeant. Had a few beers and went dancing where I spotted a nicelooking female and after a few choice words we went for a few drinks at a nearby pub. Since I wasn’t sure of thelay of the land it looked like the grassy median was best. The blackout prevented us from being seen. The cars droveby with their subdued lights. I was a bit tired and said to her, “Would you like maximum penetration?”She nodded the affirmative. I saidI’ll lie down on my back, you climb on facing me.” Well, she got in motion with enthusiasm. She really knew what it was allabout and I was really pleased. So much so that I asked her if she wanted to do it again? She nodded her head and awaywe went again. When she got home she must have had a job removing the grass stains from her knees. Memory ofthis episode always makes me smile and feel good about it. The girls knew what things were about and were nothypocrites. 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 thelocal pub then looked up a person I trained with but noone was home. Later I met a girl by the name of Lilly andwe 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 andlater 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 twoletters 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 NeilDFS.December 24, 1943: We flew with Eric doing practice circles and landings. Eric catches on fast. I phoned Mary atDishforth and picked her up for a nice dinner in Harrogate then to a theatre. Got her back to Dishforth on time. Too lateto do much else.December 25, 1943: Christmas Dy. Received a nice cake from Louise and cigarettes. These always came quite often fromvarious sources. We had a nice Christmas dinner on the base. Then I went over to Dishforth to see Mary and give hertwo boxes of chocolates. I spent the night at Dishforth where we got into some heavy knocking on the sofa. I had tospend 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 messI had eight gins and later got into a crap game and lost 6 sounds. Later I had fun with Rhoda in the games room thentook 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 instructordoing more circuits and landing with overshoots.“December 28, 1943: received much mail today. Flying again today practicing landing with overshoots. This timeno 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 droppedoff the instructor then we headed for Scarborough and out over the North Sea where we picked up our targettowing airplane. Hank and I took turns shooting up the drogue which was flying parallel to us. We had Eric adjusthis distance to a point just ahead of the drogue where the tow line was attached. At this point I managed to getmy sites right on and when Hank got his on the same spot we let fly. Four machine guns each firing around1200 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 roundson this exercise.:December 30, 1943: Reported to Flights…nolthing on, so I took a turn on the link trainer for practice. I saw Wendyin 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 wentdancing 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 feetthen we did some bombing at Stresall. We are to go again this time for some night flying. So far Eric has no night flyingexperience on 4 motored aircraft. Again we had F:/Lt Rodwell for an instructor. Eric did well. A sweet WAAF pickedus 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 airwas 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 soloflight as well.While I was waiting for Eric to warm up the airplane motors I was getting some necking in with Nancy…the cutetransport driver I met Jan. 2. This cute young thing even repairs her own truck. Later I went to get mylog book signed off by the flight Lieutenant in charge of this duty. He sined my assessment ‘A-A’ whichhe 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 ofmany 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 abag. Hank’s was Queenie. I took mine to a show and Hank took his elsewhere. Marg was having her monthlyproblem 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 toHarrogate for fun and what have you. We went to the Railway Hotel for a beer but it was closing time…nobeer for us. On our way out we saw 4 people…2 airmen and 2 women. I said to Hank “You take the girlon the right and I’ll take the girl on the left/“ And we just hooked our arms under theirs and walked awaywith them. The two airmen must have been too surprised to act and the girls didn’t complain so away wewent. I imagine the two airmen having a post mortem and deciding to not let that happen again. Nexttime 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 thegirls to a restaurant and after that we split up agreeing to meet at theYMCA later; One girl was Lauraand the other Doreen. My girls took me home where everything was done in comfort. Since I hadpromised to meet Hank at theYMCA I left Laura’s nice warm bed around 5 a.m. to meet Hank whohad 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 earlymorning 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 shouldclean 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 instructionprimarily for Ken and perhaps Wilf. H2S is a radar thing of sorts. The set sends out a signal and bouncesback images. These images show city built up areas and a chart on board our aircraft is used to compareoutlines giving the navigator a good idea of which city is in view. H2s also gave us an altitude andwas 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 coupleof cards and knew some dilly jokes. Hank and I managed to snuggle them to visit our billet on afood 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 Maryat Dishforth but got into a crap game instead and made 5 pounds 10. That leaves me just 3 pounds in thehole. I made up my mind to go and visit Mary but Eric turned up and said ‘how about going to a showin 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 wouldbecome 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 wonderedabout the training. Seems that the training was intense. Flying a four engined Halifax bomberon two engines required great skill as did finding he home airport and landing safelyin the darkness of night.“January 9,1944: Hank and I cleaned up our room. Now ir looks respectable. After dinner withHank and Eric in the aircrew mess I wrote some letters then Wilf arrived with a little black dog whichwe promptly named “Nooky”. She became our new crew member given the rank of Squadron Leaderespecially 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 girlin 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” thebad weather . did not work. I played poker most of the night with Hank, Eric, Wilf, Boband 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. Boband Maurice had their say with the Group Captain. Bob won. Good for him. Later Hank and i wentout 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 jointhe crew. He is the residue from when Desmond was our pilot. Maurice may spoil tings for thewhole crew.“January 17, 1944: No flying today. Weather bad. At least this gives the ground crew a chance to catchup on maintenance as the aircraft at Topcliffe are the worst the I have encountered since being inEngland. One night we used up 4 aircraft. just go 1 hour of flying time. Flight time at Topcliffestarts when the wheels leave the ground on takeoff and stops when the wheels touch down onlanding. 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 tookoff and crashed. This was a real bad crash. Normally this news does not get around. Crashescan have negative effects on crews. It chips away at the nervous system. It makes for a feelingof depression and can be classed as battle fatigue. Acting in a bizarre manner for instance. Likecrying 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 andasked 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 moreThen 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 offoperations for 6 months rest…usually sent off to be instructors for that period. Our operations losses averaged around5% 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 brokehis leg . Pierre and his crew crashed in the side of a mountain. There were no survivors. We wonder whenwe 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 littlelater Bob was to marry her. We were also introduced to Kay’s friend Mary. Mary sure isa living doll.“January 21, 1944: At last! We flew twice today. Flight #1 was a cross country flight and the weatherwas 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 andback to base.The weather was super and the food in the mess was very good. All of us in the crewwent 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 tolower the landing gear and as a result damaged the Halifax. When the Halifax landing gear isretracted,the wheels are sticking out from the nacelle and the tail wheel on this particular Halifaxis fixed in the down position. As a result the only thing damaged was the four propellers. Eric felt badthat 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 loston the war. Bomber Command only cointed losses on operations. Crashes in England were not countedbut many were lost in England so real losses were 15% higher.“January 24, 1944 Got a haircutJanuary 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. thento 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 anengineering 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 withthese two. Eric finished his night circuits and landings. Hank and I got politely drunk. We shouldbe 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 was43 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 wartimeairfield, but not as muddy as some. All Canadian squadrons are grouped around Yorkshire in 6 Group BomberCommand.Later Hank and I went on the prowl. I met Bette and had fun with her in the local pub. Hank picked upa 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 inand 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 fellowI 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 andchildren. 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 gota 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 ofnice 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 in15 minutes of turret manipulation. Then the two of us went to Topclifffe to a pub called Sam Huttonfor 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 Browningsand 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 themfor a dae. We then went to the St. Georges Hotel and drank a quantity of beer. We were feelingpretty good so then went dancing. We met two not so hot girls at the dance. Things did not workout too well with the girls. So we headed for the YMCA and spent a most uncomfortable night tryingto 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 enginesshut 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 anothercross country practice run. We were caught up in a jet stream that pushed us to 370 m.p.h. Ourreturn trip was tough fighting the same jet stream. Back at base I talked with Nora for a while thenoff to bed.”“February 9, 1944: We went to Flights and both Hank and I did another inspection of “S” Sugar, a newmodel Halifax bomber. Then went to a very boring lecture. Later we flew in our new Mark III Halifax, areal 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 lbbomb 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 bombsightwas 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 sowe went over to Topcliffe to see if we had any mail. My brother Max sent me a letter from his Canadian Armybase south of London. Later we were given a talk by Group Captain Samson. Then I slipped into theofficers 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 minutesusing”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’ becauseshe had a rather sharp nose. Kay and Hank used to make trips to a nearby haystack for fun and games. They werenot the only persons using this haystack. The stack started out at 15 feet high but within a short time the hay wasspread around into a lot of nests by a lot of active people. I wondered how the cows managed with all those usedcondoms thrown about indiscriminately in the hay. Hank and I took Joan and Kay to the roundabout where wespent some time drinking beer and then they were invited back to the haystack. One night in the haystack the condomwas lost internally while Hank and Kay were making out. After some fussing the condom re-appeared. Hanksweated that one for a couple of weeks. He was a little up tight about it so he wasn’t teased.”i1.wp.com/www.mackenziekincaid.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/wwii-vdposters2.png?resize=300%2C101 300w, i1.wp.com/www.mackenziekincaid.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/wwii-vdposters2.png?resize=768%2C259 768w, i1.wp.com/www.mackenziekincaid.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/wwii-vdposters2.png?resize=1024%2C346 1024w, i1.wp.com/www.mackenziekincaid.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/wwii-vdposters2.png?resize=1170%2C395 1170w, i1.wp.com/www.mackenziekincaid.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/wwii-vdposters2.png?resize=585%2C197 585w” sizes=”(max-width: 1170px) 100vw, 1170px” data-recalc-dims=”1″>NOTE: Let’s talk about condoms. “There was a box at the door to the mess filled withcondoms, “Take a handful if you’re going on leave.” Why would the RCAF get involvedin 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 wordsso air men might be tempted to forgo the condom and thereby come down with a venerealdisease that would put them out of commission. “We were encouraged to grab a handfulas we went out the door,” said one veteran I know. Were they wrapped in fancy packageslike today? “Not at all, Made for ease of use.” Getting V.D. was also one way ofavoiding 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 regularsexual 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 lotolder 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 activitymight 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 treatmentsfor both Gonorrhea and Syphilis put airmen (and soldiers) in hospitals. Syphilis treatmentcould involve as much as 6 months. Why did Victor ignore this danger? Because hewas not cavorting with prostitutes. His romancing was far less dangerous. That’s whyI decided his activities are more amusing than dangerous. The same applies to Hank, mycousin. 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 soundedexciting but they soon learned that their deaths were likely. So they tried to live lifeto the fullest. The Fires of Spring comes to mine when I think of these fellows. AlsoI think of the American General George Patton when inspecting American pilots linedup 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 withhim, 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 pleasedthat 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 operationstonight but only Eric from our crew is going. He will go as a second pilot. Eric has no battle experience so mustgo 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 makeall kinds of mistakes touching and rubbing our hands on the girls ‘don’t touch spots’. Sometimesthe word ‘don’t’ does not apply. The girls were very sporting about this and seemed to enjoythisattention.”“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 thingreally tears at your guts. I’ve been briefed at least 25 times to go on missions that were cancelled. Oh! My poorintestines.”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 againtonight 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 squadronI 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 POWconcentration camp. Marjorie and I met the Poppa family several times in the 1980’s and it seemedthat Louise was well aware of Victor’s wartimeadventures. Both Victor and Louise had a wonderfull sense of humour. He met her while trainingnear Quebec City. Victor did not speak French. Louise did not speak English fluently. Yet they gotalong very well. Wonder why?“February 17, 1944: Hank and I did an inspection of “R” Robert. Later we got our pay, then went to clothingstores 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 missionwas 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 findthe bombing target is Leipzig. We go to our briefing and find that Bob had reported sick so we are assigneda navigator with no experience by the name of Ozzie, must be a nickname. He is commissioned. Bob’snew wife must have banged on his ear since his reason for not going is just a cold. Our briefing covers the weatrher, whatto expect in wind, types of cloud and other niceties. We are shown by a red ribbon the route and are toldwhat height to fly at both going and coming home. All of this is interesting to Ozzie who makes notes. Our turning pointto start the flight to Germany is Reading just north of London. From this point we set our ETA (Estimated Time ofArrival) to the target.“OUR BOMB LOADBombs ranged in size from small 40 lb incendiaries to immense ‘Grand Slambombs weighing 22,000 lbs. The Handley Page Halifax bombers couldnot 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, Lancastersand 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 islocated and what the chances are of running into night fighters and we are also told to watch out for our own Mosqutioes, twoengined fighter bombers sent in the lead of the bomber stream to mark the targets with coloured flare bombs. “Look beforeyou shoot.” There are also searchlights to be considered. These coning lights cannot shoot us down but being caught inthe cone of a master searchlight and then pinpointed by other smaller starlights can get us all sorts of unwanted attentionfrom 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 offat our assigned aircraft dispersal point. We are greeted by our ground crew who have laboured all day to get “C” Charlieset for operations. Hard work for sure. In no time we are rolling around the perimeter track following other aircraft. Thenwe reach the end of our assigned runway. We slowly taxi into position and hold until the preceding aircraft hasbecome 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 speedfast. 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 therunway 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 assignedaltitude. Soon we reach our turning point at Reading and Ozzie gives Eric a new course to fly and an airspeed to maintainso that we will arrive at Leipzig as scheduled. We are now crossing the enemy coast and I can see searchlight hereand 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 ismostly ours to use. Wilf is working his radio set while Ozzie calculates our course using the and directions given tohim at briefing. Then major trouble is discovered. The wind directions Ozzie was given are all wrong and our entirebomber 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 feetto 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 otherfighter 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 “Diveleft 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 withthe 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 adeflection shot from this new direction. When I see the rockets are now very close I yell “Go!”. Eric slams his wheelover and pulled up. Just then I see the whole underside of the FW190. He is so close that I can see even in the darkthe that whole of the FW190 has a full-length streak of blackout along the underside of his fuselage. We are only about50 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’sturret chewing though our oxygen tanks to Maurice, our flight engineer, then Eric,Wilf and Ozzie and Ken wouldbe enveloped in one gigantic explosion. When the FW190 went by my face he was really moving. His motor hasa lot of mass and energy. I am sure the FW190 pilot must have lost us briefly with his night vision. No one in hisright 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 withmy oxygen mask which kept freezing up. Then I had a short circuit in my right foot electric slipper and the soleof my foot was gettng burned. I kept switching the suit heater off and on. Ambient temperature was minus 50 degreesFahrenheit. The target began to appear off in the distance which meant we would have to fly through more flak andsearchlights. Off and on since we crossed the enemy coast we were getting our share of the flak which shakes us upwhen exploding close by. The black puffs look dirty as they whiz by and the smell of cordite permeated ouroxygen masks. We had five more encounters with night fighters but none were near as stimulating as our first attack fromthe ME11 and FW190.”This mission was so rough that I thought we would never make it back to England. Ken started making preparations todrop your incendiaries…all 4,000 pounds of them. On our run in on target we were coned by searchlights. Ken tripsthe bomb release and then we fly straight and level while the camera takes pictures of where our load lands. After thiswe 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 youknow where we are?” “No!” he responded. So we had to start calling ‘Darky’ which is a short range transmitterwith 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 atrgwDownham Market, an air force base used for towing gliders. Eric overshot the field, skimmed over the Towerand made it around the second time which was a good thing as we had very little fuel left. After we had parkedI 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 Iwrote my report of what happened at my end of he airplane on our raid to Leipzig . I also filled in my log bookthen went to breakfast . I managed 4 hours sleep.”
German Foch Wolf 190WellingtonGerman citizens searching for survivors in the rubble of Leipzig
THE LEIPZIG MISSIONThe 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 successfullybailed our and became Prisoners of War. This was the most disastrous Bomber Command mission to this point in the war. The older Halifax Bomberswere 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 skeochNovember 2019
Begin forwarded message:
From: ALAN SKEOCH <firstname.lastname@example.org>Subject: EPISODE 161 A TIME TO HEALDate: November 7, 2020 at 10:12:42 PM ESTTo: Marjorie Skeoch <email@example.com>
EPISODE 161 A TIME TO HEALalan skeochNov. 7, 2020
Words can be strung together in so many ways. Sometimes these word combinatonsare like fine music. They warm my soul. I know…I know…the concept of a soulis 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 hemanaged 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 likewe would be facing another four years featuring words strung together badly.As with most accomplish speakers Joe Biden, now President Joseph Biden, usedfamiliar words. What leapt out to me and to many others was hisappeal 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 followersto say these next few years must be a ‘time to heal’.Almost immediately…in microseconds…President Biden’s worlds wereentered into the Internet. They are words of hope. You can find them with ease.The full quote from Ecclesiastes was not used. It isless hopeful.
(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 enteringwill be a season of healing. The alternative is frightening
Bear you on the breath of dawn
Make you to shine like the sun
And hold you in the palm of His Hand
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
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
alan skeochNov. 7, 2020
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.
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.