A Daughter's Story

I'm one of the daughters of Jack McQueen, Squadron 419, and we finally have his story down on paper. He was a rear gunner on the Lancaster and the only survivor of his crew. He was a POW. It took him all these years to be able to talk about the detail of his experience. John F. McQueen, rear gunner, 419 Squadron

When he was 17 Dad wanted to enlist in the Navy but he couldn't gain enough weight to meet the requirements. He went many times to be weighed but finally decided to join the Air Force. He had to get his dad to sign for him since he was 17 and should have been 18 to join.
He started at the Brandon Manning Depot where all recruits began their first training. He went on to more specific training and when in training at Mt. Pleasant, P.E.I. he met Pat O'Hara who became dad's best friend. He was with dad right through training including O.T.U., Operations Training Centre, and they ended up in the same squadron, 419. Dad became the rear gunner of the Lancaster.
The night dad's Lancaster was shot down he remembers a small plane coming at them so fast. He called for evasive action but nothing seemed to be able to stop the small plane. He found out later it was an 18 year old pilot and the small plane had been upgraded to 50 calibre bullets and the Lancaster only had 30 calibre so the pilot was able to continually stay out of dad's range. When dad's plane was shot down, dad had his parachute on and ejected. His boot got stuck and it ripped right off. A week or so before being shot down dad had asked permission to put a seat pack (parachute) on for extra speed to avoid losing time instead of leaving it just inside the plane as standard procedure. It would save lost time in opening and closing the hatch door. He never would have been able to open the door and pull out the parachute in time.
Dad remembers landing in a tree and didn't know what he should do. He could hear dogs barking and a farmhouse was close by. His Lancaster was close enough to him that he could see it and knew no one else survived. He listened to kids getting closer so he stayed very quiet. He could see they had guns and they had gone over to look at the plane. In the morning he crawled down from the tree and over to a hedge row and tried to hide behind a bit of growth. A small dog started sniffing in the hedge and came across dad and started barking at him. Dad tried to coax it to stop barking but it wouldn't quit. A Russian prisoner, forced to work on the farm, went over with a pitch fork and found dad and motioned for him to stand up. Then a German farmer came over and yelled at the Russian who was only there to help with chores. The farmer helped dad over the fence and said he'd like to let dad go free but couldn't. It would have been too risky for him and his family. He brought dad into his house and he met his wife and 12 year old daughter. She could speak some English and went right away for a map to see where dad lived. He showed her Winnipeg and the daughter showed her father where dad lived and the farmer said "do you know my brother?", as he measured with his finger on the map from Manitoba to Illinois. Dad, of course, said no he didn't know him. The farmer said he wished he could hide dad but said it would be too dangerous. He didn't want the "kids" getting dad and said not to say anything bad to them or they would instantly kill him. He told dad he would call his friend who was the mayor of Hosfeld, the town nearby. The mayor went out to their home the next morning on his bicycle and brought a rope. He tied dad to the rope and dad walked behind him into town. He was missing a boot but the farmer had given him a pair of wooden shoes to wear. He tied dad to the rope so that the "kids" wouldn't shoot him. When they got into town the mayor tried to make arrangements for an army group to guard dad but then the commander of the "kids" got hold of dad and tore his cigarettes out of his pocket and then put dad into a cell. The "kids" took everything they could from him. Then they got a Homeguard fellow to come and guard.
In the morning a young pilot came in and he told dad he was the one who shot dad's plane down. That's when he explained the 50 calibre bullets. He took dad to a train and sat beside him the entire time. They went to a building in Frankfurt where the interrogation area was. They kept dad there for 3 weeks. He was in a boarded up room with a hanging light that never went out. The same fellow came to him each morning and yelled at him and got very mad. He was trying to break him down. Dad said he felt very numb.
After 3 weeks of interrogation he was sent to the distribution point where he was given shoes and clothing. Most everything had "U.S. Army" written on them. They were the belongings from the dead U.S. soldiers. Then they went on a train and everyone was jammed in and standing up and traveled to the first concentration camp called Stalagluft 7 at Bankau. Dad was a prisoner from October 1944 to June 1945.
When the Germans were being pushed out by the Russians and Allies they had to take the prisoners on the "forced torture walk" to get to the next POW camp. Dad has the original newspaper articles written in August 1945 by Joseph John Walkty who wrote from his diaries of the torture walk dad was on. Sgt. Walkty was the commander of dad's POW group. He was the one who negotiated the things they needed from the Germans. Dad said his account of the march is exactly what they all went through.
After the walk they ended up at Luckenwalde POW camp and stayed there until they were finally freed by the Russians. When the Russians were closing in, the German guards threw their guns to the prisoners so it would look like the Germans were the prisoners. When the tanks came in to free the prisoners they started tearing down the fencing and dad's group just started walking and in a few days were picked up by the Americans who were there to take them back. On the march the Germans had blown up every bridge they crossed so when they were walking with the Americans and came upon a blown up bridge the Americans put a cable across and everyone had to hold on tight to make it across. A few fell off and were washed away in the current never to be seen again.
They were taken to Brussels and were washed thoroughly with brushes and then sprayed and then after they had a nice shower. All of their clothes were washed and dried for them. Then they were taken to a big room for a feast and they couldn't believe how good the food smelled. When they saw so much food they started filling their plates and the women serving them said they could eat as much as they wanted but should only take small portions to begin with. Afterwards they knew why. Their stomachs had shrunk and they couldn't eat what they had hoped they could.
Dad arrived back in Winnipeg and was so happy to be home at last. He still has the original copy of the newspaper clipping saying he was missing in action, his squadron crest from his hat, his wings, a German label with a swastika emblem that a guard had given him in the POW camp, as well as pictures and original news clippings of the torture march. Kathleen McQueen had sent away for the pictures that were taken in the POW camp, which were taken at dad's camp.
Two days after arriving home he went to a dance and met mom…and they lived happily ever after!
Dad never talked about his experience all of those years because he not only wanted to leave the memories of terror behind, but he had always blamed himself for being shot down and felt guilty being the only crew member to survive.