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At First Sight
The Long Way Home  - W. A. “Bill” Barnett. RNZAF

You will already have read the story of the survival of the crew of the Squadron first operational loss – 'F' Freddie, by Peter Walker. By strange coincidence the Squadron’s last operational loss was again an “F” Freddie and there follows the full story of the survival of the Pilot of this aircraft.

27-3-45

F – DZ599

F/O W. A. Barnett RNZAF
F/S J.A. Day RAAF
Target: Elbe River.
Load 1 x F640. 1 x F638. 1 Wang. This aircraft called up Marker Leader at 22.01hrs to say it was ditching. No position given.

This story starts on the night of 27 March 1945 with an operation that required some sophisticated mines in the channel of the River Elbe close to the port of Hamberg. They had to be dropped from a height of 100ft and at 100 knots (120mph) and only in the middle of the channel??

All went well; the first mine was away and I turned round a bend of the river for the other mine and, having released it and operated the camera to confirm point of release, found a flak ship waiting. Well, it gave us a rough time as I endeavoured to dodge and as I commenced to climb away, found the port engine on fire.

After the usual panic stopped and the fire went out we were, by this time, near the coast and I commenced to climb on course for home. At just over 600 feet and somewhere off Heligoland the starboard engine just stopped and there we were, at 600 odd feet and no power.

After calling to advise our situation I set about for ditching the aircraft. Fortunately it was full moon and I could see a moon path on the water, which I used as a landing path. This helped me to level off just above the water and raise the nose of the Mossie just before we hit. The tail of the aircraft struck first and we evidently bounced some 300-400 yards before hitting the water again. I was not aware of anything after feeling the tail section hit, until I regained consciousness in the cockpit, which was nose down about 60 degrees – 70 degrees and the water was up to my face, in fact, I must have swallowed some as I came to coughing and spluttering.

I had trouble seeing until I realised that blood was in my eyes from what, I found later, were two large gashes in my forehead. My navigator had gone and the emergency hatch was out so I started trying to get out. but with parachute and dinghy attached it tools some time and I eventually fell out only to sink with the weight of evetything and I could not get my Mae West to inflate, but after several descents and surfacing I got the Mae West inflated.

The next problem was removing the parachute and then to inflate the K type dinghy. Lots of panic but eventually the dinghy inflated and I climbed in. The aircraft dinghy was not released due to the automatic release being disconnected some days previously and the manual control, by the time I tried to reach it, was some two feet underwater and out of reach. Johnny, my navigator had got out much earlier but had left his dinghy in the nose of the aircraft and he was sitting up on the trailing edge of the wing and engine nacelle when I managed to sort myself out.

After some discussion I tried to support both of us on my dinghy but it was no use, so he got back onto the remains of the aircraft. He was feeling very cold but there was nothing we could do.

At some time I must have lapsed into unconsciousness as the next thing I knew it was daylight and I was in my dinghy which was full of water and just buoyant, floating in a rough sea with nothing in sight.

The next days and nights passed without sight of anything, but the dinghy kept capsizing and filling with water. I opened my survival pack and wished that I had some water. The few biscuits in the pack were marvellous, even when soaked in salt water. Well, I just drifted on, climbing back into the dinghy at frequent intervals, getting weaker each time and took to lying flat in the dinghy, but it filled with water too often and I swallowed some on a number of occasions, just as well, as I had no water.

Then I awoke the fourth morning to find myself bouncing on a rock and close to a rock wall about 6 to 8 feet high. I immediately tried to climb it but could not, so opened the survival pack and took a Benzedrine tablet. After this I felt a lot better so I had another go and, after considerable effort, reached the top of the wall, which was the level of the land. This turned out to be Hallig Hooge in the North Friesian Islands.

Getting free of the dinghy I found I could not stand and, having seen what appeared to be a farmhouse some 100 to 150 yards away, I crawled on hands and knees to it, banged on the door to the best of my ability, as there was no one in sight, it still being very early in the morning.

Eventually an elderly lady opened the door, took one look at me, screamed and slammed the door. I continued banging and the door was opened again with two ladies. I was asking for water, but language problems proved difficult. Fortunately for me the German for water is “waser”. Anyhow, I was brought a little and the door closed on me again. I realised later that I must have been a sight - four days beard - blood all over my forehead and everything, including me, a deep yellow from the fluorescene in the Mae West life jacket.

Some time later some men arrived, arguing, language problems, but they carried me off to another house which I eventually established was that of the Schoolmaster, Herr Micklesen. Well, Herr Micklesen and his family certainly did their best for me and this is described in a post-war letter from Herr Micklesen to me and which is reproduced at the end of this chapter.

What they did not know was that, after leaving Hooge, the boat went aground during the night and I really thought that this was going to be the end as I was in a bunk totally immobile and with water filling up the cabin. This had reached the level of the brink when somehow the boat was refloated and limped into Hursum. Here I was taken to a guardhouse and had my first experience of the SS. All along I had trouble trying to tell people I could not eat and just wanted drinks and this caused trouble with the SS guard who produced a meal at about 2am only to have me refuse it. This got rather hectic until an SS doctor arrived and sorted things out. Later that day I was put on a two wheeled cart and taken to the railway station where I was left lying head down and feet in the sky - nice people. Here I was loaded into the guards van of the train and eventually set off to arrive, I was to rind out later, at Schleswig.

At Schleswig I found myself in a POW hospital and again the language problem, as the prisoners were Polish, Jugo Slav, French, Belgium and Dutch - what a problem! There were no English but the doctor was a French surgeon from Lyon who, at least, could understand me. I had a Belgian orderly named Alfie, or that’s what he got called by me - what a lad - he used to go out through the window in my room to meet his Polski girl friend in the town and come back in the early hours of the morning.

My big problem in the hospital was the crepe paper bandages which they bound me in from waist down to prevent infection of the mass of suppurating salt water sores. The liquid turned the bandages into papier mache which then dried and I eventually lost all the hair from the waist to the knees - very uncomfortable.

After some two weeks I was discharged to the camp and more problems, as this was Stalag 20B with no facilities for Officer prisoners. The Commandant was sorry and made the concession of giving me sheets - quite a luxury.

As soon as I was mobile I was made Officer in Charge of Camp and around the 5th May the Commandant had me in his office and said he and his guards were leaving and I was responsible for the camp. They then handed over all keys and weapons. Great when you are still having language problems, but the Poles and Serbs were marvellous and gave great support, especially Jugos, I think that was his name. He was responsible for the Red Cross parcels when I arrived but also had been Personal Aide to King Peter and could cope with my English/German vocale. He and several of the Poles gave me great support - and I really needed it to control the French who were very difficult.

In this period I had the problem of finding food supplies for the camp but fortunately, early on, I was able to get transport down to Flensberg where the British troops were camped on the Kiel Canal and they gave me a car, one Horsa Sports and from then on our problems eased. Fuel was no problem as we found a full tanker of aviation fuel just outside Schleswig which I confiscated and then went down and got more ears from the Army.

We managed to liberate enough food but no one would come north of the Kiel Canal and the Allied Commission sent a document appointing me Commander for the area between the Danish border and Kiel Canal. What a problem - there were some five thousand SS troops in the area but we sorted it out, including the airfield outside Schleswig with its five hundred odd aircraft. A lot of these were FW190s coming in from the Eastem Front with two and sometimes three pilots in each single seat aircraft. How did they fly them?

After some weeks I started to want to get home as I was aware that nobody knew that I was alive, so I eventually decided to make my way to Hamberg. I drove there in my trusty Horsa and when reaching the city was picked up by an army patrol from 7th Armoured Corps who eventually took me to their Officers Mess where I spent the night. On the following day I drove to Lunehurg Heath where my Horsa was confiscated by the army and I found myself back in hospital (Field). Next day I was loaded onto a Dakota and flown to Lyneham.

After a session with the medics in base hospital I eventually managed to telephone RAF Little Rissington and speak to my wife - a hit of a shock finding she still had a husband as No. 2 Group had started paying her a widow’s pension. We were united next day and so I came home from my trip to Germany.

Postscript: Since those days I have maintained contact with Elke (Elsie Micklesen) Lund and though we have never met again we, at least, once yearly telephone and write to each other. Recently the son, who does not remember me, sent me a number of postcards of Hooge which have cleared by mind on several points. Both he and Elke now live in Vancouver and, hopefully, we will all meet sometime.

Letter written by Herr Micklesen in 1946 and translated into “immaculate” English by Elke Micklesen. It would, I feel, spoil it to make any corrections (Comp)

It was on a cold rainy morning in the March when you landed on Hallig Hooge. Near the isle Helgoland you had to left your airoplane and your camerad also. But you had fortune and you could save yourself in a gum “boat of gum” (so it is called in German), while your camerad drowned near your eyes in the cold easy waves of the Northsea. After driving four days fortunately you reached the coast of the little isle Hooge. But you had no strong and you (needed) are cold and hungry. Not alone your clothes were wet, you were very sick. On this morning, on which you were saved, you left the boat of gum and climbed up on the beach of Hooge. Alone (we) you reached, without the help of any people, you reached the first houses and came to a kindly family. You knocked at the door, which was shut. But the people were awoken just. The woman, who opened the door, at first was angry. You were led into their house and there you became hot tea. The father of my wife who was (at) the first by the “Zoll” drived you in a boat in his house, because you couldn’t go. The other soldiers would bring you into the bay, but we dared it not. You came into the bed, but you were not hungry only you had thurst, thurst. You could not enough drink. Your clothes were dried on the ....... You were very sick and surely you had many pains. When my wife saw your hurt body, she didn’t know to do. The doctor could not come because there was a storm and the seas high. How could she help you? She thought on her husband and on her son, both were in the war in a foreign land. Perhaps they were lying hurt anywhere in a strange country and need the help of other people. The father of my wife called to the doctor in the telephone and demanded him, what to do. She powdered your hurt and lay the binds round your body. She called the nurse to help you, but she wouldn’t help you, because you are her enemy, but when she you saw, she greeted “Heil Hitler” and went off. You were asked “will German win the war?” but you answered “No!” You told from your wife and from New Zealand. My wife could bad understand you, because she could not speak English and you not German. She fetched a buddle of rum, at first you wouldn’t drink but when my woman’s father had drunk a bit, you did it an nearly the half buddle.

How glad are you when my daughter Ellse you greeted into English. Surely you thought to meet an English child? But it was sorry that she could not speak enough. On the afternoon came a ship from Hursum with which you would drive into the hospital. You would, better stay in the house, in which you were. Soon the German soldiers came. They would  take you up you clothes which you had put on from my wife’s father. But he promised it not, because you are the same man, who we were all and it is the duty of every man to help a person in danger. Your clothes were not all dry. At last my wife bound you your cloth round your head and said “Now you are English Miss”. In the ship were you brought to Hursum in a Lazeirett. My wife demanded after a few days in Hursum how did you do but because you are the enemy she became no answer. After a few weeks we heard that you were in Lubeck and that you were very sick. That was all what we heard. After the war my wife had to find of your address, because the “Nazis” incriminated her. I was only a year in prison of war in France. On the thirty of September 1945 I came at home.





Copyright 1943-2012 627 Squadron in Retirement or as credited