These notes were originally written in May of 1994 by my Mother, Nell Dunn and are based upon the reminiscences
of Frank Dunn, who is the subject of this story from World War II. I have left the material as transcribed
from hand written notes. Corrections, comments as well as some of my own memories,
I have included in Italics. – Alan Dunn, son of Nell & Frank.
Frank Dunn was born on 24th of February 1907 and died on 17th of March 2001 at the age of 94. -AMFD
I volunteered for service in the RCAF at the beginning of World War II and expected to be called up immediately,
but after many months of waiting, I eventually went to the Enlistment Office to enquire why my application form
had not been processed. No trace of the form was found but, I was asked if I would be prepared to join up at
once. My reply was - today. And 24 hours later I was a member of the RCAF and posted to Brandon, Manitoba.
My tenure there was most successful. The indoctrination was very interesting and as a member of teams of
hockey, basket-ball and tennis, and also as part of a 100 man drill team, many interesting experiences were
in store for me.
When basic training was completed my posting was to RCAF Technical Training School, St Thomas, Ontario, where
I become qualified as an Aero Engine mechanic.
Frank was posted overseas as ground crew. His first posting was with a Bristol Beaufighter squadron flying
night fighter duties. I believe that this was 410 Squadron based mostly in Aryes Scotland. The Beaufighter
was a slow, obsolete twin-engine aeroplane that would not fly on one engine. Its success as a night fighter
was not impressive. Frank hated this situation. The Brits resented the Canadians as they would later resent
He recalled being told by his sergeant to remove the Pesco from an aeroplane. When he admitted
that he didn’t understand this bit of RAF jargon, he got the sarcastic rejoinder in broad Cockney.
“Oh you Canadians. Well you cannot very well take it off if you don’t know what it is.”
The Brits were very fond of using trade names for items. Pesco was the make of a vacuum pump.
In a later incident, he was working on the wing of an aircraft when his cigarette lighter slipped out of his
coveralls and into the open filler neck of the fuel tank. Of course it would be impossible to fish out
without dismantling the wing. He spent hours studying the drawings of the tank and fuel distribution
system before deciding that it likely wouldn’t do any harm. The aeroplane was later lost and with it
the lighter and any possible repercussions of this incident.
He once said that it was while scraping paint off an aeroplane outside in the cold wind that made
up his mind to remuster to aircrew. It was not through patriotism or a sense of adventure.
It was to enjoy the better food and conditions that aircrew had that made him sign up.
In 1942, I volunteered for Air Crew and was sent overseas, and stationed at Middleton St George, Yorkshire,
England as Flight Engineer on a Halifax Bomber, a member of 419 Moose Squadron. And one of a crew of seven.
Bomber operations continued non-stop at the stage of the war, so the station was active 24 hours each day,
with planes coming and going all the time - some did not return and loss of personnel and equipment
was very high.
My crew consisted of:
Pilot - Arthur Green
Gunner - Bob Dowling
Gunner - Jacques Prieur
Gunner - Sgt Therrien
Flt Engineer - Frank Dunn
Wireless Operator -
Bomb Aimer -
After a number of successful bombing missions over Germany, the Halifax crash-landed on home airstrip.
The wheels failed to come down prior to landing and the aircraft was heavily damaged. There were injuries
to the crew, but no loss of life. The plane was a write-off.
Unusual thing happened on several bombing missions. On one occasion we were flying at 20000 ft -
a bright moonlit night - when the pilot reported that we were losing altitude. I decided that
ice must be forming in the carburettors, although we had been told by the meteorological department
that such things never happened at that altitude. A quick decision was very necessary and I told the
pilot that I was going to blow hot air from the engine radiators and there would be further loss of altitude.
This episode relates to the use of carburettor heat. Ice can build up in the carburettors of aircraft
engines due to the refrigeration effect of the evaporating gasoline. This causes degradation in carburettor
performance, ie, loss of power. For years, these engines have been fitted with a device that bypasses
the normal induction system and takes air from a heated source, usually a jacket on the exhaust stacks.
The use of this heated air, however, results in a significant loss of power and therefore,
in the case of overloaded military aircraft, a loss of altitude. In theory, there should be very
little water vapour at high altitudes and therefore “carb heat” should be neither necessary nor useful.
The decision to use carb heat is therefore a thorny one: to lose power temporarily but immediately by using it,
or not to use it and risk a future and maybe permanent power loss.
After 2 minutes, the engines fully recovered after being restored to their previous condition. When we returned
safely to base, the engineering department insisted that icing of the carburettors was impossible under those
conditions, nevertheless my experiment was completely successful and afterwards, I wondered how many planes
must have been lost because of similar conditions.
We continued on our mission after this experience and
struck the target in Germany with a full load of bombs. We carried 250 lb photo flash bombs so we were
able to take pictures of the bombs striking their targets.
The second plane crash occurred at Downham Market in the south of England. We had successfully bombed our
target in Germany and were homeward bound when we were attacked by Junkers 88 night fighters. The enemy
had chased us all over the sky and because of was these manoeuvres we were running out of fuel.
I had drained all the fuel tanks to keep the two main tanks supplied. This was insufficient to fly
the plane to Middleton St George, so on my advice the pilot landed the Halifax on a small grass strip
at Downham Market. The runway was without lights and landing was very rough with wing damage and
an engine fire that the crew put out with fire extinguishers.
The following morning, it was found on examination that not a single drop of fuel remained in the tanks
and if an attempt had been made to reach base, we would have crashed with fatal results. The crew returned
by train to Yorkshire.
A new aircraft was provided for us and we proceeded with our raids over enemy territory. Once again,
we had a crisis on our hands. One of the four engines on the bomber suddenly accelerated at
tremendous speed over Germany with a full load of bombs on the plane. After a few very anxious
moments, we succeeded in feathering the propeller and shutting the engine off. It was racing at
a speed of 3750 rpm before feathering took place. The oil had leaked out of the engine and without
feathering the propeller; the engine would have disintegrated destroying the plane and those within it.
We continued on our mission and once again scored a bullseye on the target - a munitions factory.
The engineering staff were incredulous and refused to believe that such an operation had taken
place, but checked out the engine, pronounced it 100% and sent it off on another mission with
a different crew. The plane never returned.
Twelfth Operation May 24/ 1943
The destination was Dortmund with a mixed load of high explosives and incendiary bombs. Halfway to Dortmund
one engine failed. We decided to continue on our mission on three engines. The bombs were dropped on target
and on our return journey we were "coned" by searchlights, so the pilot decided to drop to a very low altitude
of 1500 ft to avoid the cone. Unfortunately we were heavily shot-up with cannons and machine gun fire and two
of our 3 engines caught fire. I advised the pilot of the conditions and he suggested I should bale out if
possible, but we were so low that such action was impossible.
Seconds later the plane exploded and I was knocked unconscious and came to, on my back in the centre of the
plane with burning oil dropping on my face. At first I thought we were still airborne, then I noticed a tuft
of rye grass sticking through a hole in the fuselage. The plane was a ball of fire with flames 100 ft high
and it was then that I realised that the burning plane was on the ground. I tried to open the door but it
would not move so I crawled out of the hole where the grass appeared. I got out and found I was blazing
like a torch, so I rolled around on the ground, to put out the flames and looked around for survivors
without success. My clothes burst into flames again so once again I had to roll around in the dirt.
I went to the rear of the plane and
saw that the tail turret and gunner were missing and no sign of life anywhere and the whole plane was
ablaze. I left the area immediately as the ammunition began to explode in the heat. I walked about
2 miles until the first streaks of daylight appeared and found I was in a farmer' field with bundles
of grain stacked around. I found a pole and vaulted onto the top of a stack, threw the pole as far
away as possible and dug myself into the stack to wait until nightfall. During the day the Gestapo
came searching for survivors. They were armed with pitchforks, which they jabbed into the bales
of grain missing me by inches. The following night I left my hide out and headed for the coast guided
by the stars.
I travelled each night in a S direction and hid in wooded areas during the day. One day, I hid under
a pile of hay in a farmyard. There were no trees around to afford cover and as daylight was approaching
and it was the only place to hide. This was a poor choice of refuge for a group of small children played
on top of the hay all day. It was a miracle that I was not discovered.
Although I was spotted by people on several occasions, I managed to avoid capture by diving into houses,
by the front door and escaping out of the back door.
I had no food for 10 days and the only water I had was from ruts in the roads, so I was severely dehydrated
and was weakened by lack of sustenance. My aim was to reach the Dutch border and I nearly made it but owing
to a jog in the border, I landed back in Germany where I came face to face with a rifle-toting soldier who
recognised me as one of the enemy. He pushed his rifle into my back and ordered me to put my hands up and
marched me to a nearby command post and called an officer who gave me a drink of water at my request and
began to interrogate me. He had very limited English so he gave up soon and I was put in a cell and given
a slice of black bread and a cup of ersatz coffee and I was closely watched every hour.
At the interrogating centre the Red Cross informed me that the other 6 members of my crew were killed in the
crash. Later I learned that according to the official German report, there were no survivors. I was
presumed killed and when this was confirmed my parents were notified first that I was missing in action
and presumed dead and later this was confirmed. My name appeared in the obituary column, memorial
services were held and my name added to the Roll of Honour. The plane crash occurred on May 24/43
and the first knowledge that I was alive were cards I sent to my parents and Nell from prison comp
and received on Oct 1st 1943 - five months after my capture - rumours of my decease had been greatly
Crew of Halifax JB862
On the day following my capture I was marched through several villages and displayed as a "devil flyer"
and now a POW - I was closely followed by two rifle-bearing German soldiers. Eventually, I was put into
a small cell in a local jail and at noon, a little girl came into the cell and gave me a bowl of soup -
her father, the local policeman, watched the whole procedure with a loaded revolver! He must have
considered me harmless for he took me into his house and into the kitchen where his wife and child sat.
A Luftwaffe corporal arrived and took me to an interrogation centre.
The interrogating officer was a German who had lived in Australia and spoke English - all I gave was my
name and serial number! I was shown many pictures of air strips in England, but I gave no information.
I was returned to my cell and was fed a spartan diet of two slices of black bread and two cups of black
coffee (ersatz) per day. I was then transferred to a POW camp in East Prussia, HYDEKRUG, by train -
the journey was slow and uncomfortable and I slept on a parcel rack!
I was at HYDEKRUG for 1 1/2 years and managed to survive on the diet of soup made from horse bones,
the occasional slice of black bread and sauerkraut! Keeping active was necessary for mental and physical
health, so I occupied my time with sports and learning the German language.
The POW's dug tunnels in the sandy soil as an escape route - we did all the digging at night and carried out
the dirt in our pockets and by dint of application, made a tunnel which extended beyond the barbed wire fencing
around the camp and on one occasion 35 escapees made it through the tunnel, but unfortunately all were captured
and returned to prison. To prevent further attempts at escape, the Germans ran all over the area with steam
rollers causing the tunnels to cave in, but in spite of this the activity continued and by reducing the
number of escapees at one time a few men made it back to England.
Some diehards attempted to dash across the compound at night and climb the barbed wire fencing, but the
next morning their bodies were seen hanging on the wire and riddled with bullet-holes. Doberman Pinschers
were let loose at dusk to patrol the camp and they were trained to kill and were a real deterrent to anyone
planning to escape!
We were rounded up very morning and a head count was taken, and on one occasion the German commanding officer
came out to tell us that they had discovered another tunnel and the commandant said gleefully in broken English
"You people think we Germans are stupid and we know fuck nothing, but we are smart and know fuck all."
- 10,000 POW's burst into fits of laughter which puzzled the CO tremendously.
There was a good deal of tension when it was announced that as a reprisal for German POW's in Africa having
to sleep on the ground, all prisoners in HYDEKRUG would have only a straw sack and one blanket for bedding
- this was during severe winter weather. The soldiers surrounded the POW's congregated outside and guarded
us with machine guns while our mattresses were dragged outside and burned in a huge bonfire.
The Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Team sent out complete equipment for a hockey team, and the Germans built an
outdoor rink as they were anxious to see the game played - it was a great diversion for us, although in our
weakened condition through lack of food our performances were somewhat poorer than we wished.
After 18 months the entire camp was moved in freight cars to TORUN, Poland - we had to walk about 5 miles to
get to the railway station and as I had an injured knee caused by the final crash, walking was very painful
and left my knee permanently damaged. The journey took 4 days, we had no food provided and were allowed a
"pit stop" once a day for water and toilet needs - the freight cars were marked "40 men or 20 horses" and
that is the way we travelled - on one occasion, the Hitler Youth Movement lined the tracks and remained
perfectly quiet observing us as we got on the train after our brief stop for water and necessities.
They were handsome, well-dressed and well behaved young fellows.
My stay in Poland was the first time I saw a Red Cross parcel, - at Hydekrug the British racketeers in the
kitchens had commandeered all Red Cross Parcels for their own use and while we prisoners were just skin and bones,
these monsters all weighed about 200 lbs.
I was in Poland for 30 days and was in charge of a party of 30 POWs who went to the forest every day and dug
out tree stumps which was our only source of fuel in a bitterly cold winter. The next move was to Fallingbostel
- thousands of POWs walking for a week on a Death March - they were so weak that very slow progress was made
and many dropped dead in their tracks from starvation and exhaustion - British allied intruders were shooting
up the lines. At Fallingbostel, the Russian guns were so close that it was decided to move us further from
The evacuation of Army and Air Force POWs from Stanalger 357 began on April 6th/1945. On the day we left we
were issued one Red Cross invalid parcel between every 8 men and 70 cigarettes. My partner Rex Sargent, at
once suggested that although we were weak from undernourishment we should plan to escape during the march.
Our food consisted of 1/2 tin nestles milk, 2 oz Oatmeal, a few spoonfuls of sugar, 1 loaf of Rye Bread
and 2lbs of margarine - rations for a week and issued as we were counted out of the gate and formed into
parties of 500 men! 50 guards armed with machine guns, tommy guns and rifles - a two wheeled wagon drawn
by prisoners and many trained police dogs on leash completed the column, with guards marching along each
side about 10 yards apart.
We felt that the British lines were only about 40 miles away. Rain had fallen
daily all winter and the woods were drenched. At 9pm when darkness began fall, Rex and I worked our way
to the head of the column and watched closely for likely spot to slip away. A halt was called at 9.30 and
as the column moved noisily to the right of the road with a clatter of equipment, we crawled into a ditch
- one guard sat at the end of the ditch and smoked a cigarette - we stopped breathing and hoped ;
no headlights came along; presently the order to start was given and during the ensuing noise and
confusion we crept into the woods and headed south by the stars into terrain almost impassable in
darkness due to ditches, craters made by mortar explosions and tree stumps
- we heard some one approaching and 6 RAF kriegies from the march come into view - we made ourselves known to them
and then both parties headed south in separate groups. W travelled about 3 miles, then bedded
down soaking wet for the night. Aircraft zoomed overhead, flares were dropped and explosions could
heard so sleep was very limited.
Saturday April 7th/45
Everything seemed fairly quiet so we camouflaged a suitable spot for a hide-out and made a fire with
ice-coated twigs and boiled some of our very small supply of tea in water we had found in a wagon rut,
notched our two loaves of bread into 6 days rations at 3 slices per day and had breakfast
- tea with
very little milk and sugar and a slice of bread an margarine. We had not had matches for weeks previously,
but as we left the prison camp I happened to see a Czech in the German Army. I immediately attempted to
buy matches from him with the cigarettes we had been issued and to my surprise he gave me 2 boxes -
a priceless treasure! We lay low because there was heavy mortar and machine gun fire everywhere and
occasionally rifle shots which were an unpleasant reminder that the SS had warned that all escaped
prisoners would be shot on sight!
Sunday April 8th
Two RAF and a solder turned up at our camp, but were very nervous in our camp and decided to start on a
daylight march south, saying that the area was now evacuated.
Monday April 9th
We left our camp at 9pm and crossed open country, hiding when vehicles were heard approaching and saw
wagon trains carrying ammunition and gun carriers. We followed these for several miles making good use
of the cover supplied by their heavy wheels and shod horses.
We had left the heavier parts of our kit at Camp 1 but we were very tired and had to rest every hour`
we took our boots off and walked in sock feet for half a mile as we could hear voices and transport
in the distance
- we found a stream
where we drank our fill an I filled my dixie. It was now 5 am and we had been walking all night and
were exhausted. We searched for an hour looking for a hide out, eventually choosing a lone spruce
with very low branches which we augmented with limbs from other trees, and bracken made to 'grow'
in necessary spots then we retired for the night to sleep, watch Focke/Wolfe fighters zoom about
and listen to the gunfire. According to our calculations we had walked out 10 miles that day.
Tuesday April 10th
Left our lone tree which we called camp II and started walking and eventually landed in a swamp -
heavy mortar and artillery fire - aircraft dropping flares and tracer bullets roaring into the sky constantly
- we decided to take cover and were joined by two RCAF escapees - George Fielding and David Ferguson both
airmen - they decided to stay with us. The flack was so bad that we had to stay put and we dug a trench
and put heavy logs over it and crawled into it twice when things got really hot - we were there 3 days.
Friday April 13th
Rex climbed a tree and reported normal traffic and we realised we were in a flack and Panzer school so
planned to leave at dark. Spitfires flew around and 3 Typhoons roaring over our heads, pouring cannon
shells and rockets close to our shelter about 6 pm more Typhoons came over and bedlam broke loose -
one burst of cannon shells set fire to the grass only 20 yards from our camp and fearing discovery
if people came to extinguish the fire we discarded all kit and greatcoats, excepting toilet articles
and two blankets each, one of which we cut a hole in the centre and wore them like a cape hoping they
would sufficiently resemble German Army capes to pass inspection at a distance.
Leaving campIII burning
merrily, we travelled a short distance and under sparse cover and saw 2 Germans and a concealed gun
spewing tracers at spitfires, directly in front of us - we lay down , covered ourselves grass and
leaves and hoped the sun would set before the grass fire reached us - it was a dead heat and we
tramped due east under cover of smoke and falling darkness.
Heading south we were forced to rest
frequently, not having eaten for 2 days - we smoked our last cigarette butts rolled in toilet tissue
and finally found a road where we met a German officer who fired rapid questions to us in German.
he was looking for some comrades with an auto
- with shaking knees and a sinking heart,
I told him briefly in German, that there was a lot of shooting down the road, but we had seen no one.
He gave my companions a short command in German to follow him - the officer continued on his way
and we lost no time in striking out through a swamp and making ourselves scarce. Travel in the
swamp was very difficult and we soon camped on a grassy ridge. Finding a patch of nettles we
camped for the day, boiled and ate nettles twice, which helped a great deal.
Sat April 14
Having spotted farms we decided to head in that direction so left Camp IIII and after an hour's stealthy
travel we approached what looked like a haystack in the hope of finding a potato or turnip pit - no luck.
It was a shelter full of soldiers. Much pleased at hearing the voices in time, I turned back and
continued on our way and came to a house and barns - we crept into the garden and while Rex held a
sack he had found, I cut rhubarb to fill it. Before we had finished, George came back and reported
a nice fat calf in one of the barns - I offered to go in and strangle it but I didn't have the strength
so had to abandon the attempt.
Seeing lights in the house we left abruptly and ate the rhubarb as
we walked along. Later on, George and Dave entered a huge barn and returned with a brown hen and 19 eggs.
We moved away rapidly and when we eventually stopped only 11 eggs remained unbroken. The sky was
glowing with fires and smoke and roaring with flack, aircraft, artillery and a long hissing sound
suggested a rocket launching site.
At 12 pm we found a stream and being very weak and tired and slept until daylight,
then found a thicket where we boiled the half hatched eggs, removed the chickens and ate the yokes
and remaining whites, which had the consistency of rubber!
Dave and I picked the hen which Dave
had expertly dispatched, cleaned, cut-up and stewed the hen, which we all enjoyed very much indeed.
After resting all day we decided to move on, and proceeded with utmost caution as I expected to
walk into a concealed gun position at any moment. Presently we saw a litter of papers on the
road and George, on spying a German helmet in the ditch insisted on examining the spot -
we found about a dozen helmets and a loaf of bread immediately, and all forgetful of possible
booby traps, we searched the area quietly and collected more rye bread, cheese, marge and
1 1/2 pkts of tobacco.
Much elated we returned to our hide out and after a bite to eat lay down
and waited for enough light to comb the place thoroughly for more food and information.
Monday April 16th Camp V
With the first streaks of daylight we combed the German camp and found hidden shelter for about 100 men
and much personal equipment scattered about as though they had left in a great hurry. We collected 5
loaves of brad, 2 pounds of sausage, cheese and tobacco - we selected a ruck sack each, 23 cigarettes,
a mirror, socks and as many bits and pieces as we had use for and returned to camp and prepared breakfast.
During the day, Spitfires flew overhead without drawing any fire, but there was smoke everywhere and
we expected to be driven out by a forest fire, but nothing happened and I suggested staying another
night - the others readily agreed, as all were suffering from stomach trouble and diarrhoea, probably
caused by drinking unboiled swamp water.
We left Cap V at 8 pm and discovered that our corner was the only unburned forest for miles.
Working our way over the burnt over woods we reached a paved
road and Rex picked up a copy of the Daily Mirror, an English newspaper and the wrapper from an
English can of beans, so we felt encouraged. We sat by the road and ate the last of our bread
and continued west.
By midnight we were tired of walking and came upon a damaged house hoping
to spend the night there but the German occupants had returned to their home - they gave me water
and we learned that the nearest British HQ was in Schwarnstadt 10 kilometres West, so we continued
on and saw wrecked tanks, trucks and houses - the bridge across the river Aller was wrecked so
we turned back after trying to cross it and filling a canteen - we also drank from the river
which we later learned was badly contaminated with typhoid, as was the town.
We walked back
1/2 a mile and spent the rest of the night in cramped discomfort in an abandoned Daimler-Benz.
At daylight I checked the car and got it ready to start while the others collected tins of food
that were scattered around.
April 18/ 45
At 7 am a truck came along containing Sgt Joyce and Gunner Leatherland of the British Royal Engineers,
who took us to the village where they were stationed - forced the Germans to give them ham and eggs for
our breakfast and later drove us by transport to Celle, where the Army Catering Corps were operating a
receiving depot for released prisoners. Yesterday we had a shower, were issued clothing cigarettes and
toilet articles and have pleasant rooms in barrack buildings, the food is very good, and our stomachs
are slowly recovering.
More escaped POWs are coming in every hour - dining room queues take 3/4 hour - one party had 17 shot
who fell out of the marching column - the SS shot everyone on sight in restricted areas.
Sat April 21
About 1000 escaped and released POWs left Celle and were moved by Army Transport to Nienstadt,
a 3 hour journey where we are billeted. There are piles of burned autos and other equipment abandoned
and POWs picked up German ruck sacks, caps, bayonets and blankets. My stomach is giving me lots of
trouble and I look very white and thin. We left Heinstadt on April 24 and rode in an army fro 6 hours
- I was very sick with chills and fever and pains.
One transport crashed into a tree, killing the driver and injuring ex POWs.
Billeted in a German school, I lay all day on a straw sack too miserable to even wash my face or
get a drink of water. At 3:30 pm I was driven to the airport and took off for England in a Dakota.
Driven to Army receiving centre at Aylesbury - ate little and shivered all night on a comfortable cot
in a Nissan hut.
Inspections, pay etc. A neat hospital camp everyone very prompt and kind. Left by train for London and
was met an taken to a hotel. I was painfully ill so was taken to hospital with fierce pains in the
abdomen, chills and vomiting.
Monday April 30 /45
Walked outside today and feel much better. Met Peter Elko who was horrified at my awful appearance -
weight 143 lbs! No luck in getting new uniform yet. Try again tomorrow