RAF EX POW Association

Maybe I’m showing my age but when I was a boy I used to read lots of comics and annuals, I especially liked the Warlord and the Victor. I read stories of the great wartime heroes and their exploits and I watched TV series and films of them, like The Great Escape, the Wooden Horse, The Dam Busters and Colditz.

They were my boyhood heroes, but I suppose, I never really thought that I would ever get to speak with them or even meet them.

Imagine my excitement when I had the chance to meet with members of the RAF Ex POW association many years later, and go on a Staff Ride with them hearing their stories on the very sites at which they occurred.

This was the beginning of what is one of my great passions, or as my wife would call my obsession. Since then I have spent over 10 years working with POWs on many projects across the world.

To meet these men and share in their stories is a privilege and one which I wish everyone could share, and that is why I brought the POWs to visit RAF Marham.

So on the 18th and 19th of July six members of the RAF Ex POW Association visited Marham, making visits to Squadrons and sharing their experiences with the men and women of the current RAF.

Air Commodore Charles Clarke – a Bomb Aimer with 619 Squadron flying Lancasters, was on his 18th operation on 24th February 1944 to Schweinfurt when his plane was attacked by a German Night Fighter and shot down. After his capture he was sent to Stalag Luft III.

Tom Cosby, having completed his training as a Flight Engineer served on Halifaxes with 578 Sqn but was shot down in March 1944 on his 12th Op by a German night fighter. He was eventually captured and was a POW until his liberation at the end of the War.

Warrant Officer Harry Winter a Wireless Operator and Air Gunner with 427 Sqn on Halifaxes, he was shot down by a Night Fighter on 22nd October 1943 and spent the rest of the war as a POW in Stalag Luft VII.

Henry Wagner a Navigator on No 51 Squadron, Halifaxes, was shot down on 17/18 December 1944 and after 6 days on the run became a POW in Stalag Luft VII

Peter Liddle a Gunner on 460 Sqn RAAF at Binbrook in Lincolnshire was aged just 22 when he was shot down over the Rhur in November 1943. After capture he was held at Stalag IV B Muhlberg in Lower Saxony.

Sgt David Fraser was a 20 year old rear-gunner on 115 Sqn Halifax flying from RAF Marham when he was shot down over Hamburg. After capture he was held at Stalag 357 Kupernikus.  This was the first time David had returned to RAF Marham since being shot down.

And finally, Sqn Ldr Bob Ankerson of 17 Sqn Tornado GR1 operating from Dahran AB Saudi Arabia during Gulf War I, he ejected over Ar Rumaylah air base and after capture was held in Baghdad.

There were two main events for the visit, the first being a briefing from the POWs where they gave an account of their individual experiences during operations, being shot down and life after capture.  The brief concluded with Bob Ankerson a Gulf War I POW playing a cockpit recording from his Tornado as it was shot down and an emotional account of his experiences under capture.

This was followed in the evening with an informal “fireside chat” where the POWs recounted their individual stories and answered questions on their experiences before spending the evening talking with those who attended over drinks.

Many of those who attended the event were greatly moved by the amazing and sometimes harrowing accounts given by the veterans and also by the casual and matter of fact way in which they talk of their courageous actions.

We talk and learn much about Airpower, RAF ethos and history, but we so very rarely get the chance to meet and talk to those who made that history and shaped the RAF in which we all serve.

The word hero is much used these days, but for me, a hero is an ordinary man, who does extra ordinary things in the face of outrageous circumstances and situations.  For me, these men, these few, these band of brothers, these heroes of my childhood, these are the heroes still in our midst today.

It is my privilege to call them my friends, it is my honour to serve them as their Chaplain and I am very happy to have been able to have introduced others to meet my heroes to.

Padre Neil

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