I Was Shot Down in a Pair of Pink Pyjamas; World War II Veterans and Friends Tell Catherine Jones of Their Life in a German POW Camp

Article excerpt

Byline: Catherine Jones

POST-war Liverpool, and newly de-mobbed and rehabilitated wireless operator Eddie Scott Jones had started a job as an artist with city advertising firm Pagan Smith when one day a work colleague spotted his special tie pin.

"There's someone else with one of those that works here," he was told.

And miraculously, the other owner of the distinctive golden caterpillar pin turned out to be Harold 'Johnny' Johnson - a man Eddie had last seen as a fellow internee in a German prisoner of war camp.

The pair's wartime experiences helped forge a seven-decade friendship which is still going strong at the age of 91.

As for the caterpillar pin, Johnny, from Oxton, explains: "It signifies being suspended to earth on a silken thread."

The caterpillar was given to anyone who had had to parachute from their aircraft. And both men had first-hand experience of bailing out of their Halifax aircraft to save their lives - Johnny on not one but two occasions.

He still has a piece of mangled aluminium from one crash.

The Leeds-born tail gunner, who flew with 102 Squadron, recalls: "The first time, it was on the coast, Norfolk somewhere, I've forgotten the name of it now.

"We were hit. The Germans were rather nasty you know, they didn't like us!

"And the second time was over France."

It was on December 3, 1942 that Johnny's plane, piloted by 23-year-old Squadron Leader Johnny Walkington, took off from Pocklington near York.

Despite being dubbed 'golden balls' by colleagues for always returning from sorties, this time the tail gun Charlie's luck ran out and his plane was shot down from 15,000ft.

It was the bravery of its young pilot, who died in the crash, that led to Johnny's survival.

"I remember going up to the front and he turned round to me and said 'get out - and that's an order. Go!'," explains Johnny, who escaped the doomed plane only to parachute directly into the square of a German barracks.

Meanwhile Liverpool-born Eddie, who flew with the Canadian 428 Squadron from Middleton St George airfield, was on his penultimate sortie before being eligible for six months' leave when he found himself taken prisoner.

"We'd been bending some railway lines at Lens in northern France," he explains of the events of April 20 1944. "We succeeded in blowing up an ammunition train and then set course for home when were pounced on by a JU88, and it started a fire in the fuselage."

When the pilot gave the order to bail out, Eddie, the navigator, and the bomb aimer managed to prise open the escape hatch, although Eddie's parachute was accidently unfurled in the chaos.

"I bundled it all together, stuffed it back in, and then I bailed out," he says. "I had no rip cord to pull because I'd already done it. So I just took my hands away and the 'chute opened beautifully."

The bundled together parachute wasn't the only bit of unorthodox kit on the young sergeant however.

He remembers: "Being on a Canadian squadron, they used to get lovely parcels from Canada because there was no rationing there, and they shared the stuff with us.

"Anyway, I got this pair of pink pyjamas, and on my last trip, it was a late take off and I went and had a shower, came back to the Sergeants' Mess and saw these pyjamas lying on the bed.

"And I thought, well we're only going to northern France, we won't be away very long, so I'll put these pyjamas on with my flying kit over them and I'll be ready to get into bed.

"But I never got back. I finished up at a Dulag Luft (PoW transfer camp). I found a bunk for the night and as I started to undress, somebody noticed these pink pyjamas and shouted down the hall "have you brought your toothbrush with you as well?'!" Both Johnny and Eddie eventually ended up in Stalag Luft VI in what is now Lithuania - the German's northern-most PoW camp, where they lived in adjoining huts. …