World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                           Alec Taylor

Two Left Boots

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: sgt Alec Taylor, F/S J Hanby, P/O F J Williams, sgt Roland Maund, F/S Frank Windmill, sgt H Edlin, sgt C Anderton.
Location of story: Pocklington, North Yorkshire; Hannover, Germany
Unit name: 102 Squadron
Background to story: Royal Air Force

 

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Norman Wigley of the BBC Radio Sheffield Action Desk on behalf of Mr Alec Taylor.

I went into Goldsmiths College in 1939 and after I had done 14 months training, I was called up into the RAF. This was in 1941. I was sent to Blackpool for training. I was given a number which was 1209307. I left Blackpool for Yatesbury and then to Derby in September 1941. I was there until 1942. From there I went to Morpeth and then to Madely. At Madely I was on a flying course then I went to Pembrey to complete my gunnery course. I went to Harwell to pick up a crew and then to Marston Moor in a Halifax where we picked up another two crew members, a Flight Engineer and a Mid-upper Gunner.

We were then posted to Pocklington in Yorkshire joining 102 Squadron, Bomber Command, flying Halifaxes – my life at squadron level then began. My skipper went on two trips and then we started operating as a crew. By the time we had done at least 10 operations, a new operating system had come to the station. We were to be one of those crews to be taken off immediate operations until we knew where we were going.

I am now going to write about my 13th operation which was unlucky! Our aircraft was HX154, squadron serial letter “K” crewed by F/S J Hanby (P), P/O F J Williams (Nav), myself Sgt A Taylor (W/Op), Sgt R Maund (A/G), F/S F Windmill (A/G), Sgt H Edlin (Eng), and Sgt C Anderton (Bom). Our target was Hannover. The date was 22 September 1943.

We were flying over Hannover when we were coned by searchlights. The pilot took vigorous evasive action but the starboard inner engine over-revved. There was a big bang and everything went black. The propeller had detached and had sliced through the nose of the aircraft knocking out the main fuse box and all the electrics in the process. I then noticed a fire in one of the engines. This was about 9.30 pm on the 22nd.

My skipper ordered me to bale out and suggested I should tell the other members of the crew to do the same. We were at 13000 feet and it seemed a long time to land. It felt like jumping off a ten foot wall when I landed in a field. I was on my own and I had lost my right flying boot. I struggled out of my parachute and hid it in a ditch. ( for all I know it is still there!) It was dark and I had no idea where I was. I carefully managed to travel to a hedge where I had a sleep.

I slept during the day and the next evening I moved on. I had nothing to eat except some blackberries. When I heard some bulls I went in another field. There was a hill and I could see some trees so I went towards them and went to sleep. I was on the run for four days. I was asleep when a farmer found me.

He took me to a house which was occupied by German soldiers. They told me that my aircraft was nearby. There was one body by the plane. It was one of our crew. I was sure it was my pilot but when I was interrogated it was my rear gunner whose name was Roland Maund. Roland was the only member of the crew not to survive but I didn’t know where the others were. It was here that I found another boot that I was to wear for the rest of my time in Germany. Unfortunately it was another left one!

I was taken to another airport where I was kept the whole weekend. The next place I went was Dulag Luft prison near Frankfurt where I met up with my other friend Frank Windmill. We boarded a train and we made our way to Heydekrug under guard. It took us five days to get there. We stayed a while there – about ten months. Next we went to Thorne in Poland where we stayed one month.

During the last five months we were at a place called Fallingbostle. The food we had there was awful. One loaf of bread between seven of us, jam coloured with beetroot, turnip soup, potatoes, horse meat. There were 80 of us in one hut, men from all walks of life. We spent our days walking around the camp and wishing our time would go quickly so we could go home. I was a POW for one year and ten months and in that time I never saw a woman! We got letters from home about every two months. Sometimes I got a Red Cross parcel and I was pleased with the contents.

The German guards were showing signs of strain and somebody near to me handed some cigarettes to a guard whereupon a guard turned his back on me and I ran to another hut to tell some friends what had happened. We realised that the end was coming to our imprisonment and not before time.

We were marched out of the camp in one of the last parties. We walked many miles until we came to a barn where we stayed the night. We set off again next morning. Having had nothing to eat we were hungry and tired. We were on the march for four days and when it came to the end of it a guard told us we were going back to where we had set off. We only had a bit of food. We eventually had a rest.

When we got back to camp we asked if we could have a rest in bed. We were told we could rest on the toilet floor. We stayed in camp for eight days and then a lorry arrived to take us to the airport at Deipholst. We arrived home at Luton. It was nice to be back. It was 11 April 1945.

On the Hannover raid 711 aircraft went out – 28 including mine did not return.

I am a member of the Caterpillar Club. Membership is awarded to those whose lives have been saved by parachute.

Since the war I have never been back to Germany and have no wish to. I have only ever had contact with one of my former crew-mates. This was Frank Windmill who was traced by the Australian veterans organisation. He has since died. I do not know what happened to the other crew members who survived. I wish I did.