The end

There was no news of Doug’s fate, but the boys now had nine days leave.

Jack Pauling and Gerry headed down to London and spent the next days staying at the Fernleaf Club, visiting the New Zealand Forces Club in Charing Cross Road, and enjoying the many sights and entertainments of London.

Friday 6 April 1945.

Up at ten & cleaned up & packed for leave. Caught the 1.50 bus for Cambridge where we had lunch. Jack & I caught the 3.30 for London & booked in at the “Fernleaf Club” at 6. 
Met Ossie Harrison* & strolled along to the Hammersmith dance. Met a girl who asked Jack & I to a party at her place.
Party finished at 4.30 am. & as the tube had stopped running we stayed until breakfast time.

* Probably Osmond Harrison RNZAF, Wireless Operator on 75 (NZ) Squadron with the Williams crew (Oct 44 – Mar 45).

Tuesday 10 April 1945.

Stayed in & enjoyed a good bed until 10.30. Had lunch at the “Fernleaf Club”.  Went around to the N.Z. Club in Charing Cross Rd with Jack & Nick. Nick flies Mustangs & I find that he has escorted us on a few targets (more celebrating required). Took Hilda to the Covent Garden dance.

Wednesday 11 April 1945.

I intended to go to Brighton today, but decided to stay in London. Nick & I went out to the Regent Park Zoo & looked the animals, reptiles & females over. Not a bad collection (animals & reptiles). Went to the Crosby show “Here Come the Waves”*. Pretty fair. Got a great kick out of watching the Picadilly Commandos** at work. A pretty tough lot believe me.

* Here Come the Waves (1944) – movie with Bing Crosby, Betty Hutton, Sonny Tufts, Ann Doran. 

“Ac-centuate the positive, e-liminate the negative …”

** Picadilly Commandos – the prostitutes and good-time girls who frequented the US servicemen’s clubs around Picadilly Circus and Mayfair.

Friday 13 April 1945.

Seeing more of the town today & found out that the tour of op’s has been put down to 35. Still no news of our Engineer Jock who fell out of the kite on April 4th.
In bed by 12.

Saturday 14 April 1945.

Up at 10.30 & had a snack & stayed in the Club for lunch. Caught the 2.20 train from Liverpool St for Ely. Arrived in by 4.10. Had a light snack there & came out to the camp had another snack. Found six letters waiting for me. Light rain this afternoon the first in 9 days.
The boys took off early this evening for a trip.
Stayed in the hut. None of the crew have put in an appearance yet.

Sunday 15 April 1945.

Surprised myself by making breakfast at 8. Called at the Flight & found that the Orderly Room has been looking for me for 9 days. Saw the Adjutant with what remain of the crew. Told to write a report on the disappearance of Jock our Engineer who fell out of the kite over Merseburg. Saw the Group Captain in connection with my commission at 2.30. Stayed in during the evening after doing my first spot of sunbathing for the season. Wrote some letters.

Monday 16 April 1945.

Nothing doing during the morning except sit in the section & talk. Did a spot of sunbathing in the afternoon. 
Went to the camp cinema in the evening. On the Battle Order for tomorrow.

Tuesday 17 April 1945.

Tour Expired on 75 (NZ) Squadron

Briefed at 10 am. & then waited around & had an early lunch. 2nd briefing at 12.30 & the trip was cancelled.
Called into the Winco’s office & told that we were tour expired. Two other crews also finished. Sunbathed in the afternoon.
Will get my allowances tomorrow although I’ll have to see the A.O.C.* before I go on leave. Had a session in the Brook with the crew.

* AOC – Air Officer Commanding, No. 3 Group, Air Vice-Marshal Richard Harrison, CB, CBE, DFC, AFC.

Expecting perhaps three more op’s before they were finished, this must have been fantastic news for the boys.

Their war was over and they had all completed what was generally accepted as a full tour of thirty or more op’s over four months, totalling roughly 180 operational hours; 110 hours daylight and 70 hours night.

They had attacked multiple industrial complexes on the Ruhr, bombed rail marshaling yards to disrupt communications, supported the Army in its advances across Europe and made long-range trips to attack some of Bomber Command’s most difficult and dangerous targets. And they had led their squadron off on the most infamous and controversial bombing raid of the war.

The targets that Johnny Wood and his crew visited, Dec 44 to April 45

They must have received the news with a deep sense of satisfaction, knowing that they had “done their bit”, and great relief at having made it out the other end, even if only by the skin of their teeth.

Johnny and Jack had been treated for their injuries and Jim was in the safe care of the burns people at Ely Hospital. There was only one lingering concern – what had happened to Doug?

Doug’s adventure

Unharmed in the fire, his collapse over the main spar and subsequent “fall” through the gun emplacement hole, Doug had parachuted safely into eastern Germany, about 35 miles north west of Merseburg:

“I was hanging in the air, and all I could see was a great white canopy above me. It was complete darkness and utter silence except for the gentle rippling of the parachute canopy. “

“It was not blood on my face but de-icing fluid. I must have been drenched with the stuff, and it was as well that I had not remained where I was or I would have been burnt to a crisp. “

“Meanwhile, Muggins, dangling in his harness in utter darkness, had no idea where the ground was until I heard a voice some distance below me shout, “Parachutist!”
Very soon after, I landed in some soft earth, and quickly released my harness.“

– The Nazi & The Luftgangster, by D. B. Williamson and Lutz Dille.

Landing in what appeared to be an allotment garden, Doug hid behind a fence from the local who had seen him come down and who then called out “Englander!“. Once the man had gone, perhaps concerned that the Englander might be armed, Doug made his way across country in the dark, and hid in a haystack before daylight arrived, sleeping there all day.

That night he headed west again by starlight and spent the second day sleeping in long grass in a small copse.

On the third night he headed off again, and could see flashes in the sky, presumably from gunfire at the battlefront. At one point a man in a long overcoat carrying a suitcase spotted him at the side of the road, but appeared to be more interested in his own welfare and pointed Doug in the direction he had come from. At dawn he decided to shelter in what turned out to be a rifle range, but after a German soldier passed nearby, he thought it best to move on.

Travelling in daylight was far more risky however, and Doug was eventually spotted by two surprised farmers as he crept from tree-to-tree across an open hillside.

He gave himself up and they led him off to a nearby farmhouse, rather sheepishly stopping a while later to check if Doug had a gun! From the farmhouse he was collected by a soldier who delivered him to a brief interrogation and a cell in the local police station.

There he spent four cold, miserable nights before the sound of gunfire and explosions heralded the arrival of the frontline. It turned out he was in Eislaben, a small village south-west of Liepzig, which was now being liberated by American troops. After being handed over by the Station Commandant, Doug was taken by the Americans in a lorry to an airfield near Liege and the next day flown back to England.

He had spent three days evading and five days in captivity, and was back in England before the month had ended!

He was processed with groups of returning POWs, and eventually given two week’s leave. It was during processing that he found out that the rest of the crew had made it back safely, much to his relief.

Failed To Return

Dougie has kept a set of original letters and telegrams that his parents received when he was reported missing over Germany on the night of the 4th/5th of April 1945. They had been kept by his mother and passed down to Doug’s sister and then back to Dougie by a nephew in 2012.   

They form a remarkable record of the efforts by the authorities to contact and inform the family when an airman went missing, and they are testimony to the level of administration and detail involved in this sad job.  Reading them is also a reminder of how the families must have dreaded the prospect of receiving this kind of news.  

The first communication was a telegram from RAF Mepal, sent on the 5th of April, the same day that Doug failed to return from the Merseburg op’, addressed to his father. It must have been a terrible shock:

Telegram from “Aeronautics Meral” (Mepal) to Doug’s father, 5 April 1945.
– Douglas Williamson collection.

The letter referred to in the telegram was sent the following day, the 6th of April, by 75(NZ) Squadron’s Commanding Officer, Wing Commander C.H. “Mac” Baigent DFC and Bar:

Letter from W/C “Mac” Baigent to Doug’s father, 6 April 1945.
– Douglas Williamson collection.

The Williamson family next received a hand-written letter from the squadron’s Chaplain, Squadron Leader Reverend J.C. Harkus mid.:

Letter from Chaplain S/L Rev. J.C. Harkus to Doug’s father, 16 April 1945.
– Douglas Williamson collection.

Next was a letter from the Air Ministry Casualty Branch, dated the 19th of April, with some more detail about the incident:

Letter from the Air Ministry to Doug’s father, 19 April 1945.
– Douglas Williamson collection.

Then, on the 24th of April, less than three weeks after he went missing, the good news was delivered – Doug was safe!

Telegram from the office of the Under Secretary of State to Doug’s father, 24 April 1945.
– Douglas Williamson collection.

And last, and best of all for his parents, a telegram from Dougie himself:

Telegram from Doug to his father, 28? April 1945.
– Douglas Williamson collection.

After POW processing and offered two weeks’ leave, it was suggested that he should go home and see his family, which is what he did.

They must have been very pleased to see him! 

Peace at last

Wednesday 18 April 1945.

Took it pretty easy this morning & didn’t rise very early. Procured my clearance papers & collected a few signatures. The boys can’t believe they’re finished. Went up to Percy’s & had a good supper. Percy puts on a supper for all the boys when they finish.

Thursday 19 April 1945.

Still taking life pretty easy. Obtained a few more signatures & did a bit more sunbathing. Stayed in during the evening as I have to get up pretty early in the morning.

Friday 20 April 1945.

Got up at 6.45 & put on my blues. Had breakfast & caught the transport for Waterbeach where I saw the Base Commander about a commission. He didn’t seem to have any particular faults to find with me.
Secured a few more signatures & received my pay. Clearances all OK now. All I’m waiting for is my laundry. Skip got the D.F.C. today & Jack the Nav got a D.F.M.

Saturday 21 April 1945.

Took my luggage in to the station at 2 after taking all morning to get it packed & straightened out. Came back to camp & found that the laundry won’t be back until Tuesday.
Left again at 5.30 by taxi & caught the 6.40 for London after seeing Jim in Ely Hospital.

Arrived at the “Fernleaf” Club at 9.30. 

Sunday 22 April 1945.

Met Johnny, Cash & Sparrow & strolled through the park for most of the afternoon. Went to Covent Garden & had a pretty fair time.

Monday 23 April 1945.

Still staying at the “Fernleaf Club” & doing the usual turns around town. Went to the Hammersmith Palais dance & had a pretty fair time. The place wasn’t quite as crowded.

Tuesday 24 April 1945.

Up at the Charing Cross Rd. N.Z. Club most of the morning & spent the afternoon with Stan Worthington & a couple of Aussies.  

75 (NZ) Squadron flew its final operational bombing sortie on 24th April 1945, when 19 Lancasters took part in a daylight G-H attack on rail marshalling yards at Bad Oldesloe. All returned safely.

A week later, Gerry received a telegram instructing him to return to Mepal.

Wednesday 2 May 1945.

Took the 11.40 to Ely & met Roy Akehurst* who also has a recall.  Arrived in camp at 2. & the Adj** informed us that we are on a signals attachment effort. We have to go to Waterbeach tomorrow & get the lowdown from the Base Signals Officer.

* F/Sgt Roy Akehurst, RAF, Wireless Operator with the Egglestone crew.

** RAF Mepal Base Adjutant, F/Lt Charles Bewsher

Thursday 3 May 1945.

Caught the transport at 8 for Waterbeach. The Signals Off informs us that we are (to be) posted to Germany on a flying control job while the Allied prisoners are being flown back. We are to have a portable R/T set & two mechanics to maintain it. I am to see the Base C.O. tomorrow morning.

Friday 4 May 1945.

Saw the Base C.O. & collected a leave pass & pay. On indefinite leave until required. The war is supposed to finish today according to a bet I made with with the crew several weeks ago.
Left for London & stayed in town for the night.

Saturday 5 May 1945.

Collected my laundry at long last to find it in pretty poor shape after a long time in the post. Stayed at the Loftus Hotel in Earls Court.
Acute tension & much drinking in town as everybody thinks peace will be announced any moment.

Inside the back cover of his Diary, Gerry wrote his crewmates’ addresses.
– Gerry Newey collection, thanks to Phil & Bruce Newey.

Six of the crew were officially posted out of 75(NZ) Squadron RAF on the 5th of May 1945, although this date must be retrospective, as they were still on call.

Johnny stayed on but Doug was never posted back to the squadron.

Gerry’s “indefinite leave” didn’t last long – he was recalled within 48 hours:

Sunday 6 May 1945.

Caught the 11.20 train for Northampton. Arrived at 1.30. Walked to bus depot & caught the Wellingborough bus.
Arrived at Buckleys at 3 where I found Mr Buckley & two Aussies pretty pickled as they thought that I had been killed.
Received a telegram at 6.30 instructing me to return to camp.
Went to a pretty fair party.

Monday 7 May 1945.

Left on the 9.57 for London where I arrived at 11.45. Met Jack at the Club. He has to go to Catterick air crew centre*.
Caught the 2.20 for Ely. On camp by 5 PM.

Took Betty to the camp show. Peace will be declared tomorrow at 3 PM. by Winston Churchill. The boys had flares going until about 2 AM.

* Air Crew Allocation Centre (ACAC) at RAF Catterick, Yorkshire. Holding and processing of airmen for repatriation to New Zealand.

Ralph was posted out on this date, to the RCAF ‘R’ Depot in Houghton Green, Yorkshire, for repatriation.

Tuesday 8 May 1945 – VE Day.

Went up and reported to the movements office & they inform me that my trip to Germany is off as no Dominion personnel will be taken on the job. Got a travel warrant to Catterick instead.
Caught a taxi for Ely at 2.45. Left Ely on 3.40 for Leeds. Flags all along the line. Big celebrations in Leeds where I arrived at 8.45. People just about going crazy at the sight of the street lights which are very nice to see although they seem out of place.

Wednesday 9 May 1945.

Stayed in the Y.M.C.A. last night after joining in with the folks of Leeds in a mighty peace celebration.
Got up at 9 & went down town for breakfast. Caught the 11.30 train for Catterick, passing through York on the way. There are thousands of flags in every town although it’s hard to realize that the war is over. Reached Catterick at 2.20 & caught the transport to the camp.

Gerry and Jack Pauling were on their way. From Catterick, they would be posted to PDRC in Brighton to go on the waiting list to catch a ship back to New Zealand. Sadly they would miss Johnny’s wedding.

Jack Cash and Ralph were also into the repatriation process and Ralph would be back in Canada within a month.

Jim was still recuperating from his injuries, but would be fit enough to attend Johnny’s wedding and do the honours as Best Man.

Doug’s next posting in the RAF was to Negumbo, Sri Lanka!

Johnny’s skills as an experienced pilot were no doubt seen as valuable, with the squadron’s participation in Tiger Force, training all-Kiwi crews for the planned long-range bombing offensive against Japan. He stayed with 75(NZ) Squadron until 17 July.

Ake ake kia kaha