The most memorable person I interviewed during my time as a newspaper journalist in Lincolnshire, England, was a war veteran who had me sitting on the edge of my seat as he spoke of his miraculous escape from a plane that was shot down over Berlin in the 1940s.
In his late 80s, he was charismatic, charming and funny.
But behind the beaming smile were poignant wartime memories that were still horrifically played out in his nightmares. He was visibly anguished when recollecting the time a friend died in his arms after being shot during an operation.
Although some 70 years had passed by, these events still haunted him.
Surviving a Luftwaffe Attack
After numerous flights, he nearly lost his life in 1944. He was a Lancaster crew member on a mission over Berlin which came under attack by the Germans and was shot down. The pilot was killed and the plane began spiralling towards the ground, well alight.
As he prepared to escape, he lost grip of his parachute and it fell out of reach. Somehow he managed to get hold of it again and made the jump at the last minute. But his ordeal was far from over.
He was heading towards enemy territory and would be landing in the area of Berlin that was burning after being bombed. He was at risk of being killed on the spot by the Nazis as soon as he landed.
Although he wasn’t caught straight away, he was later captured and placed in a prisoner of war camp for several months. He’d taught himself a small amount of German, which he used to befriend a prison officer who supplied extra food and eventually helped him to escape by turning a blind eye during a forced march.
Before being able to get back to Britain safely, when the war ended, he spent some tense time hiding out in haystacks as Nazi officers surveyed the area.
RAF history in Lincolnshire
If you are interested in Royal Air Force heritage, there are a number of sites to visit in Lincolnshire. Here are some of them:
- The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, RAF Coningsby
- Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre, East Kirkby
- The Petwood Hotel, Woodhall Spa (the former officers’ mess of the 617 Dambusters Squadron )
- Woodhall Spa Cottage Museum
- RAF Scampton Museum
- Metheringham Airfield Visitor Centre
- Thorpe Camp Visitor Centre
You can also visit a vintage cinema in Woodhall Spa called Kinema in the Woods that was frequented by servicemen during the Second World War.