The Background

On the night of November 18/19 1943, Navigator F/O Edgar Hoe took his place at the Navigators table. His screened off table isolated him from the rest of the crew as he readied himself for the operation, Halifax LW328, coded VR-L, moved to the marshalling area. The pilot F/S Sedgwick carried out am intercom check. Then VR-L rolled down the runway and was noted to have taken off at 1655 hours. Their target was Mannheim.

Within hours of leaving Middleton St. George LW328 was headed for a tragic end. A confused series of statements on the engine failures, written long after the loss, by the six survivors makes the cause of the loss unclear. The pilot F/S Arthur Louis Sedgewick stayed at the controls to steady the falling bomber while his crew fought to open jammed hatches. The Halifax was seen to catch fire and then explode with Sedgewick still aboard.
F/O Hoe became POW #1549 at Stalag Luft I, which was located 34 miles North East of Saarbrucken. The camp consisted of around 94,000 American POWs and only 1,400 British and Canadian officers.

As with many, if not all servicemen Edgar Hoe did not talk to much of his war time service after returning home. In his later years he did share with his family his recollection of the last days as a POW. The POW notebook he kept does have a two page entry that details these final few days in the camp.

It shared with them that his camp was liberated by the Russians. It tells of hearing explosions as the Germans destroyed a nearby plane-spotting school for flak operators. He mentions that there were 1000s of Red Cross parcels meant for Stalag Luft I stored at this school.

Many parcels were looted by the German civilian population after the school was destroyed. Before the POWs managed to put a stop to that. He also notes the desertion of guards, many of whom left their weapons at their posts and simply disappeared in the last few days.

In his note book it mentions that the Mayor of Barth committed suicide by poison in those last days. Also that the remaining guards, including the single remaining German Officer present, being in a perpetual state of inebriation, including during a "handover' ceremony to the Senior Allied Officer, Col. Zemke from the USAAF.

F/O Hoe made an entry dated May 1, 1945, 2215 hours noting that the Russians had arrived. Initially only two Russian's arrived, and were "met outside Stalsund by Major Braithwait, USAAF and W/C Sparks, RAF. Meeting was tricky because Russians shooting at [???]". (The last word can't be made out.)

That ends his entry. He did tell his family that there was some tense negotiations with the Russians, who wanted to ship all POWs from Stalag Luft I back East, and there was of course real concern that they would be used as political hostages in post-war negotiations.

He wrote that the Americans were having none of this, and managed to secure a radio somehow and called for planes to come get them. He and some of his fellow POWs were offered a ride and it sounded very much like "hop on if you want, or take your chances with the Russians". Hoe opted to go with the Americans and that's how he ended up back in the UK. Though the route/circumstances, other than what I noted above is not known.

Stalag Luft I was already overcrowded when POWs from other Stalag Lufts arrived as part of Long March. The Germans had forced tens of thousands of Allied POWS to march away from advancing Allied and Russian Armies. Under horrendous conditions, lack of food, proper clothing in the coldest winter reorded. F/O Hoe and his fellow POWS already had been told to prepare to be moved. Ordered to make sleds and sew together back packs to be ready to move. As it turned out, the inmates of Stalag Luft I were spared this ordeal. Other than 700 POWs who took off on their own to get to Allied lines during the confusion of the transfer of control, all othere were at Stalag Luft I until at least May 8th.