Lest We Forget Continued (page 15)
After being involved in fierce fighting in France he found himself in Arnhem bringing up supplies to the front-line batteries. At Arnhem he was cut off for 48 hours until a gap was opened. At Nijmagen the men were hoping to spend Christmas with Dutch families who had befriended them, but just five days before Christmas they were moved to Luxembourg in the American sector. The American forces were moving up quickly and needed assistance to keep up their supplies. After a time he was moved into Germany and at Hanover was lucky enough to meet up with two other Highworth men. Stan People who was serving with the RAMC and Reg Midwinter who was with the RAF. Frank spent six weeks at Belsen concentration camp, where earlier British troops had found 40,000 prisoners, many already beyond help. After this experience Frank was given three weeks leave in Lubeck before a final six week spell at Belsen, during which time the last of the huts were burned. He was then moved to Ghent in Belgium. The British 3rd Infantry Division was reformed and Frank was then attached to Field Dressing Station. They were told that they would be sent to Kentucky in the USA to prepare for the invasion of Japan, but the atomic bomb led to their being diverted to the Middle East, and after a spell in Egypt and Palestine, Frank Miles was finally demobbed on 27th March 1947 and returned home to live in Highworth.
Desmond G. JEEVES joined the Royal Air Force on the 8th March 1943. He then reported to Padgate for Aircrew medical and to come before the selection board. About ten days later he travelled with other Aircrew personnel to Aircrew receiving centre at Lord’s Cricket Ground. Afterwards he stayed for about a month in Regents Park for “Bull and Square-Bashing”. He was sent to number 4 or 6 Initial Training Wing at Torquay in May and June 1943 and whilst there Desmond witnessed low level straffing and bombing by Fock Wulf 190’s.
About twenty Sunday school children with their teacher were killed at Babbington Church, also a cadet killed sitting next to his wife against the Promenade. His wife was unhurt. Several bombs were dropped in the town centre. He was then posted to RAF St Athan in South Wales for Flight-Engineer training until mid-February 1944. Posted to 16663 Heavy Conversion Unit, RAF Rufforth, Yorkshire, No 4 Group. Received training on Halifax Mk 2’s and 4’s with rank of Sergeant. In Mid-March 1944 posted to No 466 Squadron RAAF. as “Spare-body” Light Engineer. Training carried out on Halifax 111’s which was a much better aircraft with Bristol Hercules 1600 horse power radial engines.
Two Operations done 11-13th May, then posted to 1652 Heavy Conversion Unit, Marston Moor to pick up crew. Trained with new crew; the pilot was Wing Commander J.L. Young. Crew were then posted to No 76 Squadron at Holme-on-Spalding Moor for one month training as Squadron Commander of No 78 Squadron at Breighton, near Selby, 4 Group. Completed tour of 38 operations (19 day and 19 night raids) on 25 th March 1946. After leave and Re-allocation Centre at Catterick, posted to No 3 AFU South Cerney as Assistant Adjutant to the Flying Training Wing. Did the odd passenger trip.
In mid May 1946, Unit posted to Fetwell, Norfolk and became No 3 Elementary Training School, Class B. Released in October 1946 with the rank of Flying Officer. Desmond Jeeves is now retired after over fifty years of farming on the family farm at Stanton Fitzwarren. He is a keen photographer, an artist and a lover of MG sports cars.
Peter HICKS of Westrop, Highworth had joined the RAF and, after a period of training, had become a Flight Engineer in Lancaster bombers. It was during a bombing raid from Lincoln, England, on Stettin in North Germany that the Lancaster bomber Peter was in was shot down with the loss of six aircrew, leaving Peter the only survivor. After managing to bail out he came down in several feet of snow, which broke his fall, otherwise his chance of survival would have been greatly reduced owing to the frost-hard ground. It had been on the 5/6th January 1944 when 344 Lancaster and 10 Halifax bombers had made a raid on Stettin in North Germany. This was the first large raid on this target since September 1941. During the raid the central districts of Stettin suffered heavily from fire, many houses and industrial buildings were destroyed and eight ships were sunk in the harbour. Fourteen Lancasters and two Halifax bombers were lost during the raid. Eventually Peter was picked up by the Germans and taken to the small town of Oberursel near Frankfurt where the authorities had established, in a small barbed wire enclosure, a central Air Force Interrogation Centre, commonly known as Dulag Luft.
It was here that Peter‘s luck was in again. The German officer who was in charge of interrogating him knew Highworth well. Apparently, before the war, on several occasions, he had stayed at the Saracen’s Head Hotel in the High Street and knew the landlord John Roberts and his mother very well. He enquired after their health and mentioned other things about Highworth. As a result Peter‘s interrogation was remarkably light compared to some of the other prisoners of war.
In the German prisoner of war camps Allied prisoners were caught up in Germany’s growing internal dislocation. Rations sank to a new low, supplies of precious Red Cross parcels were badly disrupted, guards were nervous and unsure, and men were forced out in terrible marches in the bitterest of winters. The Germans major difficulties began with Allied successes in Eastern Europe. As the Russian armour rolled onwards the Germans began to withdraw camps westward into the Reich.
In July 1944 prisoners in Stalag Luft V1 at Heydekrug , the most far flung prison camp in East Prussia, were hurriedly transferred by train and boat to two other camps; Stalag Luft 1V at Gross Tychow in Pomerania or Stalag 357 at Thorn in Eastern Poland. About 3,000 RAF prisoners were taken to Stalag 357 at Oerbke, near Fallingbostel. During the early months of 1945 the movement of prisoners was to be a very different matter. Men were forced out in appalling weather conditions. From mid-December 1944 until the end of January 1945 temperatures regularly dropped to minus fourteen degrees centigrade, with daytime temperatures rarely rising above freezing. The prisoners who left their camps were totally unfit for any kind of travel. Above them the Allies ruled supreme and anything that moved by day was liable to sudden and devastating attack.
Peter Hicks, along with about 600 other RAF prisoners of war, left camp and struggled through deep snow and icy winds to Gorlitze arriving on 3rd February. Having moved on again on their long trek into Germany, on the 16th April 1945 the POWs received some Red Cross parcels which were immediately opened. It was during this time, while they were stopped eagerly eating the contents, they heard the sound of aircraft. It turned out to be a group of seven RAF Hawker Typhoons wheeling overhead. The seven fighters started pouring rockets and anti-personnel bombs into the POWs. An eighth, its pilot realizing the mistake they had made, climbed away on full throttle. Over thirty prisoners had died with many more seriously wounded. Many of those who had been shot up were RAF and Naval prisoners. Peter Hicks who had been on the forced march was lucky enough to survive this bombing.
By March 1945 there were roughly 240,000 British, American and Commonwealth POWs on the move. About 60,000 of them were drifting westwards through central Germany, around Berlin, Dresden and Leipzig. Eventually, along with many more POWs, Flight Engineer Peter Hicks was released on the 8th May 1945 by soldiers of the Wiltshire Regiment.
The following are Stalags that Peter was sent to during his time as a prisoner of war: Heyderrug, Thorn, Falling Bostel, Leipzig and Frankfurt.