On the night of June 11/12 1943
had completed it's bombing run on Dusseldorf and had reached
point "D" on the planned route to return to Middleton St. George when they were caught in enemy searchlights.
The aircraft was soon "coned" by the whole searchlight battery with flak following shortly afterwards.
Flak burst below the Halifax and damaged the middle section of the nose and port wing, where the
outer engine caught fire. The fragments and shrapnel wounded Navigator F/O Black, B/A F/O Buck and
WAG Sgt. Chambers.
On a second bail out order Air Gunner Sgt. Gray jumped from the stricken aircraft along with others from the
crew. Only the pilot F/O Boyce and WAG Sgt. Chambers with the severe head wounds
stayed on board., Boyce made a valiant effort to land the Halifax in hopes of saving the injured Chambers who was unable to
jump from the badly damaged Halifax.
Sgt. Gray was captured by the S.S. and held in a local jail in the village of Wilhelm near Dusseldorf.
He was held in this small jail from June 11th until June 13th of 1943, when he was then transferred to the
custody of the Luftwaffe.
The Luftwaffe escorted Gray to Dulag Luft 1,which roughly translates as Transit-Camp - Air Force where
the captured airmen were brought to one location for interrogation before being sent to a Stalag Luft.
There are a large number of Dulags across Europe, only one is listed as Dulag Luft and this was located in Frankfurt.
By Boxcar to Stalag Luft VI
For F/O Gray his first of three journeys by boxcars was from Frankfurt to Koensburg
where Stalag Luft VI was located. Stalag Luft VI during the war relocated a number of times,
and so Gray found
himself again forced into crowded boxcars for transporting first to Thorn Poland and then to
Koensburg in March of 1944. and again in May from Thorn to Hamburg.
The prisoners were stuffed 80 to a car, cars which were originally designed for cattle or freight, not made for
transporting human beings. Forty would have
been too many if the square footage was taken into account. It should be remembered
that these modes of forced transportation were not modified in any way for the needs of the prisoners
held in them. Modifications were made however for guards and their comforts.
The cramped conditions made it almost impossible for the men to stretch out to avoid cramps in their legs.
Sleeping arrangements were non existent the men would take turns standing while
others could sleep in whatever small areas could be found. The lack of sleep, the shunting and swaying of
the train, the being bumped and jostled about caused
tempers to flare. Only their camaraderie and the determination not to let their captures win that small battle over
discipline and moral.
There was no food on board, only when the train stopped which was infrequently, would the men receive meals.
Which was watery soup or a type of coffee. Water while the train was moving was rationed and of questionable
There were no washroom facilities on the train, only when the train stopped would the men allowed to exit
and relief themselves. ( accounts from government records of other POWs show that sometimes these relief breaks
were in view and throwing range
of the hostile populace )
Life in Stalag Luft VI
F/O John Gray's recollection of life in the Stalag Luft was of the scarcity of food and what there was
would be deficient in the vitamins and other substance to keep healthy.
The fuel needed to keep the over crowded billets
warm was in short supply. The cold and the quality of the food caused a decline in the health of the men.
Frequent stoppage of water, light and heat supplies were also used to punish the
prisoners. The reprisals by the German guards who
held back Red Cross parcels and forced them out in winter conditions for long periods while the guards searched
the billets often destroying the prisoners belongings. Standing on the parade ground with inappropriate clothing
the prisoners lost body heat and returned to find their fuel and other items gone.
Life in Stalag 357
Gray and the other prisoners now at 357 found themselves under the control of the German Army rather then the
Here the conditions took a turn for the worst. The number of prisoners in the camp grew, food and accommodation
became even more bleak. Cuts in rations, lack of blankets, fuel and basics of daily life grew as the population
of the camps also grew.
During the winter of 1944 the number of bed boards was cut in half, the resulting sagging mattreses at first seemed of
little consequence but as the days and months went by the lack of sleep coupled with the poor heat and food
conditions were having a detrimental effect on the men.
Then their straw filled mattresses were taken away from them, so that now only the six boards and any cardboard
available made up the beds. Many simply slept on the stone floors instead, covered by the thin blankets in the
poorly or non-heated billets.
The Forced March
From Adolf Hitler's headquarters on July 19th 1944 came orders "concerning preparations for the defense of the Reich"
part of which was "preparations for moving prisoners of war to the rear" . The result of which would cause hardships both mental and
physical, starvation, injuries and death.
For F/O Gray the "Long March" or the "The March" as veterans of the ordeal call it began March 25th 1945 and ended
for him months later on May 8th. His and the others weakened by the treatment in Satlag Luft VI and 357 were now forced to march
a avergae of 15 miles a day with lack of food and proper winter clothing among other things.
His memories and what he saw during these long months, during the coldest winter in Europe in decades,
are capsulized as follows.
The issue of food rations almost stopped, except for the occasional issue of raw potatoes and turnips.
Bread was non-existent for most of those on the march. Meat very uncommon sometimes a small issue once a week,
enough for two small meals.
Also no Red Cross parcels were issued, prisoners had to forage for food for food scraps. Swindle or steal from
hostile populace. The results of the poor diet led to Diarrhea being common and other health problems. Gray himself
suffered from chilblains.
No medical attention during the forced march only the help of others who only added to their own bad health by giving this
aid. The alternative was being left behind and killed by German forces, the hostile villagers, overcome by cold and dying
while hidden from these dangers. Gray mentions a fellow prisoner from Saskatchewan pleading with the German guards
in vain about his severe stomach pains. The man fell by the roadside and died of a ruptured appendix.
Sleeping in the cold of old rat infested barns or on the cold ground near the roadway. The lack of sleep from the
weather, hunger, disease of themselves or those around them further weakened their body resistance.
The food situation became so bad that the Germans gave special permission, after much delay, to send some
prisoners for Red Cross parcels. Which eventually in Gray's case arrived just before being Liberated and in such small
quantity that five men had to share one parcel.
Death not only came from guards, disease and falling victim to the severe elements, but also from above. The Germans
failed to provide some kind of identification markers to notify Allied aircraft that this was a POW column.
As a result Allied fighters on more than one occasion attacked the long lines of POWs stung out along the roads.
Firing machine guns and rockets into the men below, as some valiantly tried to wave them off using their uniforms
and others jumped on fences ignoring the danger of the guards opening fire, so that they could wave off the attacks.
In one tragic attack at Greese the fighters killed thirty Commonwealth airmen and
soldiers. The damage by the rockets on the men they hit was so horrendous that the mental suffering by the those who
survived was to endure for the rest of their lives.
By April, Gray remembers the weather becoming warmer, there was still a scarcity of water and solid food. Men fought over
turnip scraps found in waste heaps. Sometime brewing them up into some kind of a meal. The results were cases
One of his fellow crew members Gray saw suffer through all these conditions, not naming the man
simply stating he was one of his crew. Spent two years in hospital for Tuberculosis resulting from the
state of the billets .
On May 8th 1945, John Gray's ordeal ended. He and many of the prisoner were overtaken and freed by Allied ground forces.