World War II prisoner of war camp - Stalag Luft I


World War II - Prisoners of War - Stalag Luft I 

A collection of stories, photos, art and information on Stalag Luft I


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F/O George H. Gill - RCAF navigator and POW at Stalag Luft I F/O George H. Gill
Navigator - RCAF
433 Sqn. #6 Bomber Command

Shot down over Denmark on August 16, 1944.
Luft I POW - South Compound - Barracks 10 - Room 9

Click here to email his family.

From his YMCA Log Book


George Henry Gill RCAF Stalag Luft I POW World War II Stalag Luft I Dog tags of George Gill WWII POW sketch - Don't get around much anymore.  POW drawing pencil sketch of Guard Tower at Stalag Luft I  
Stalag Luft I ID Card Stalag Luft I Dog Tags Don't get around much anymore Guard Tower at Stalag Luft I  
pencil sketch of a Kregie still at Stalag Luft I Christmas menu at Stalag Luft I Map of South Compound at Stalag Luft I Block 10 room 9 South compound at Stalag Luft I  
Kriegie still Christmas 1944 menu for
Block 10 Room 9
South Compound at Stalag Luft I Block 10 Room 9 layout  
Soccer at the POW camp kriegie sports English ruggar Kriegie Baseball at Stalag Luft I Food writings in diary  
Kriegie Soccer English Ruggar Kriegie Baseball Food writings  


Russian writing
Do you know what this says?





The following study is of Flight Lieutenant George Henry Gill, Officer Identification J 24553, Stalag Luft I Prisoner of War (POW) 5284, and his involvement in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in the Second World War.  The information for this study has been culled from a variety of letters, telegrams, log books, journals, and other like sources from Mr. Gill’s private collection now in the ownership of his son, John Gill.  It is important to make note of the relationship of the author of this study to the subject.  George Gill was my grandfather.  My intended purpose is to write an objective account of his wartime experience with the existing documents.  It is hoped that this is not an attempt to either exonerate my grandfather’s involvement due to the sometimes fashionable criticism of the Allied Bomber Command’s role in the war, nor is it an effort to lionize his deeds as a participant.  This objectivity will be difficult to maintain as I do share the belief of many that the Second World War was perhaps the first, and last, just war in recent historical memory, and thus, all those who opposed Hitler’s Third Reich may very well be viewed as heroes no matter how grand or seemingly insignificant their involvement was.  My grandfather himself clearly expressed that he never did doubt the “goodness” or justice of this war.  Quite simply, the Nazi regime was viewed as evil, and thus, should be brought down.  These are indeed my intentions for this study, and it truly is my hope that the research and writing of this study will do justice to its subject.

Mike Gill


            George Henry Gill was born on August 16th, 1916 in Toronto.  George was the second son of Frank and Florence Gill, immigrants from Leeds, England in 1910.  His elder brother, Frank Jr., was born in 1911, and would later serve in the merchant marine during the war.  Frank Sr. found work in Canada first for the T. Eaton Company, and later as a driver for Borden’s Dairy.  The Gills were staunch Roman Catholics, but also fiercely imperialist.[i]  George achieved a Grade 12 education but later struggled for work in the Depression.  He found some work as a bellboy at a Muskoka resort on Lake Rosseau, and more permanently as a butcher; employment he would hold until his enlistment in 1942.  In the mid-thirties George met Ruth Partridge and the two later married on October 12, 1940, honeymooning in Muskoka.[ii]

            My grandfather enlisted with the RCAF in April of 1942 and was posted for training at Manning Pool on the CNE Grounds in Toronto.[iii]  He initially wished to be a pilot, but did not meet the eyesight requirements of the RCAF, thus he later began his training as a navigator.  His enlistment in the RCAF was provoked by a sense of loyalty and of adventure.  He also felt that the casualty rate would be considerably lower than that of the Army, a drastic misconception perhaps influenced by the memory of the trenches of the First World War.  The basic training in Canada was somewhat routine; future crewmate, Phil Marchildon, reflects: “we spent most of our time marching, and when we weren’t marching, we were taught such vital lessons as how to give the proper military salute and the correct procedure for making a bunk.  Doctors were forever poking needles into our arms.”[iv]  Amongst my grandfather’s collection are several small novels and guides with titles such as ABC’s of the RAF, a plethora of detailed information on everything imaginably relevant to a member of the air force.  Others were novellas such as The Greatest People in the World, by “Flying Officer X,” or Pilot-Officer Prune’s Progress.  Such books were either overtly romantic or extremely lighthearted.  They obviously were morale boosters, but are difficult to take seriously.  In September 1942, George was sent to the Old Normal School on Church St. (he indicates in his narrative that this school is related to Ryerson) for further academic training.[v] 

November 1942 saw my grandfather traveling to the #9 Air Observer School at St. John’s, Quebec, to begin his training as a navigator.  His time in Quebec would also be his “introduction to flying itself.”[vi]  Navigators trained at St. John’s were schooled on Anson aircraft, a machine that played a dominant role in the training of many Commonwealth airmen.  Overflowing notebooks from this period include the study of meteorology, map and compass, instrument reading, European geography (cities were learned by their industrial importance), reconnaissance, signals, codes and radio, armament and ammunition, and physics, amongst other subjects.  My grandfather’s observational logbooks from this period indicate that his first flight was on March 6th, 1942, and hundreds of navigational readings and observations follow.  Marking charts in the logbook include virtually all the subjects covered in the notebooks, and navigators were evaluated on the practical use of this education.  The logbook indicates 67 hours of daylight flight, and over 34 hours at night.  George passed his navigational course with a mark of 1549 out of 2000, or 77.4%.[vii]  Further observation flights were conducted on Ossignton aircraft, and six flights were carried out on Wellingtons.  Graduation from the navigational course was March 19th, 1943; also the day that George received his commission as a Pilot Officer.  The graduation parade included 22 other navigators and 17 bomb-aimers.  The program from the parade indicates that the graduates were from all corners of the empire: Montreal and Toronto were well represented, as was Flin Flon, Ottawa, Edinburgh, Ireland, Australia, and even one officer from the “Argentine Republic.”[viii]  A brief leave was granted to my grandfather following graduation after which he was posted to the RAF Reception Centre in Bournemouth, England.

Swamped with military personnel from all over the world, England was relatively receptive to Canadians, seeing them as “colonials” of the empire as opposed to Americans who were, “overpaid, oversexed, and over here.”[ix]  P/O Gill was posted from Bournemouth to #3 AFV RAF Station at Holdpenny Green (Halfpenny Green in other documents) in August 1943.[x]  There he would receive further navigational training on Anson aircraft, and later, two-engine Wellingtons.  While in England, George corresponded regularly with my grandmother, Ruth.  A letter dated August 10th, 1943 was sent in anticipation of their October 12th anniversary.  The letter indicates that he may be too late in sending it, which is indicative of the priority given to, and speed of, the mail service during wartime.  Along with the letter, a gift of Chinese cloth was sent.  Other letters from August 15th and 16th indicate that other antique gifts had been sent, which suggests that perhaps he had recently been on leave and had done some shopping. A photo collection from his time in England clearly indicates that a great deal of site-seeing was done while on leave.  Photos include trips to Shakespeare’s home as well as Ann Hathaway’s. Pictures of the Tower and Westminster Abbey also indicate trips to London, though London being a full day away by train, most passes were spent in nearby either York or Thirsk.  Other photos are merely of relaxation with crew and friends; playing croquet, sailing, hiking, or enjoying a few drinks on picnics.  George also took the time to visit remaining relatives in England.  One group of photos was taken of the 22 Dragoons on training with their tanks.

October 1943 found my grandfather on the move again, this time to #82 OTU RAF Station in Ossington for the finalization of a crew, and intense training on Wellingtons.  The crew that he was to serve with consisted of Wynn Morgan from Winnipeg in the pilot’s seat, a strict, but fair man who took his role seriously.  Scotty Moffat, the “quiet, serious,” top-gunner from Toronto.  As mentioned, George was the navigator, of whom Marchildon says, “another soft-spoken Torontonian….Next to the skipper, he was probably the most important member of the team.  George always hit our target and then got us home through even the thickest English fog.”[xi] Courtney Stewart of North Bay was the crew’s wireless operator.  Bob Young, a “personable Englishman on loan from the RAF,” was the Flight Engineer.[xii]  Marchildon himself was the rear gunner.  From Penetanguishene, Marchildon was the top pitcher for the bottom-dwelling Philadelphia Athletics, and a celebrity of sorts.  Given his status, Marchildon had other choices available in lieu of active combat, but he saw such options as an insult to his integrity:

I could have stayed in the Army and remained safe in Canada on Home Defence for at

least a couple of years, and maybe for the duration of the war.  But once I joined the

RCAF, an all-volunteer force, they could send me wherever they wanted and give me

their choice of duty.  Call me crazy, but that was exactly the way I wanted it.  I didn’t

want people saying that Phil Marchildon the big-shot ballplayer, had taken the easy way

out.  For the same reason, I later turned down the opportunity to become a fitness

instructor and stay in Canada playing baseball for Air Force squads.  I figured if I had to

be in I might as well be in all the way.[xiii]


Rounding out the crew was bomb-aimer Jacques Oliver Clerc, a Swiss born, trilingual Associate Professor in the Department of Political Economy at the University of Saskatchewan.  From an intellectual family, Clerc’s father was also a professor, of French Literature, and his brother a priest in Neuchatel, Switzerland.[xiv]  While able to gain an exemption from service, letters found on Clerc’s body after his death “indicate he saw little value in economics when young men were dying in a war that was supposed to be saving the world’s civilization.  It was this feeling that made Clerc leave his university job and enlist.”[xv] 

            The crew finalized, they were posted to the RCAF station at Tapcliffe in March of 1944 for heavy training on four-engine Halifax bombers before final posting to a squadron one month later.  The crew was assigned to 433 “Porcupine” Squadron in April of 1944.  Part of 6 Group Bomber Command, 433 Squadron was formed on September 25th, 1943 and almost exclusively flew the Halifax MK III.[xvi]  In 28 operational months, 6 Group’s 14 squadrons would drop 126 122 tons of bombs and mines during 40 822 sorties over 271 981 hours.[xvii]  433 Squadron was based at Skipton-on-Swale just north of York in northeastern England.  By this time, both George and Marchildon had become Flight Officers, a rank which permitted them to semi-private rooms and batmen for “laundry and other chores.”[xviii]  While nothing in my grandfather’s materials suggests that he had a batman to take care of his chores, it is noted that he became roommates with, and a close friend to pilot Wynn Morgan.  This was a logical pairing, the navigator and pilot respectively, as the two men were perhaps the most important for the operation of the aircraft.  The new rank also granted the men the privilege of admittance to the officer’s mess. The promotion must have come at some point closely before February 9th, 1944, as that is the date of issue on my grandfather’s membership card to the mess itself.[xix]

            The first “Ops” mission for the crew came on the night of January 25/26, 1944, “a short hop over France to drop leaflets, a routine test given most new crews.”[xx]  George’s logbook records that the flight commenced at 0010 on a Wellington, #V-HE748.  The drop point was at Cambrai, about 100kms southwest of Brussels.  Marchildon records that German shore batteries were active that night, and the logbook concurs with the comment, “little flak.”[xxi]  No further missions would be carried out until May, though the logbook indicates that several bombing and air-firing training runs were conducted in the meantime.  When operations did re-commence in May, the first few were “softening up” strikes on German transportation targets in France in preparation for Operation Overlord.[xxii]  Targets included Le Clipon (May 19 and May 27), Le Mans (May 22, comments in logbook include: “Bang on! 4 runs over ▲ flak hit rudder (return)), Le Havre (May 28), and Av Fevre (May 31, “stormy trip”).  These missions were often carried out at night and lasted on average from three to five hours.[xxiii]  Two missions to Dunkirk are recorded on June 2 and 3, both as mining missions.  Often called “Gardening,” mining was meant as much to destroy enemy ships as it was to tie up the German navy on mine clearing and countermeasures.[xxiv]  These missions to Dunkirk may have been carried out as diversions to the real target – Normandy.

            The D-Day invasion was a massive flurry of activity for all arms of the military, Bomber Command being no exception.  My grandfather’s crew flew two missions over a 24 hour period on the day of the invasion.  The first was actually on the day prior to the invasion, as the massive fleet was assembled.  A bombing run was carried out to Houlgate to soften the enemy defences, comments in the logbook merely state: “‘D’ Day – invasion is on.  Good trip.” He later described the scene as a 401 traffic jam at rush hour.  Marchildon’s comments are similar: “I don’t think anyone has ever seen a more awesome sight.  There were so many transports, destroyers, battleships, barges, corvettes, and other ships that you almost couldn’t see the water between them.”[xxv]  The next mission during the invasion came at 2310 hours on June 6, to Conde for a bomb run.  Comments for that mission state: “good trip – behind invasion lines.”[xxvi] 

From that point, missions indicate that Bomber Command was working more closely with the troops on the ground to attack German positions.  Missions coincided with battles at Arras (June 12, “good trip – exciting!”), and Caen (July 18, “opened Allied offensive, nice view of battlefield”) where Marchildon notes: “my flying log estimated there were two hundred searchlights on the ground…getting zoned by one of those giant beams was our worst nightmare.  Some of the searchlights were radar controlled.”[xxvii]  Caen was a daylight raid involving nearly 800 bombers and 5000 tons of explosives.  Marchildon notes that daylight gave them the privilege (or horror) of actually seeing what was happening around them.  From his rear turret he witnessed the slicing of a plane by a bomb dropped from a plane at higher altitude, he comments that “flying in the dark, we had no way of knowing how many losses were the result of our own errors rather than enemy fighters and flak.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.”[xxviii]  Over 30 shrapnel holes were counted after the mission including a large gash through one wing just inches from the gas tanks. 

Other targets were more focused on the German industrial machine.  A June 16 mission to Sautecort at 0110 hours was a massive drop on one of the V-1 launching sites, and a July 18 mission found the crew over Wesseling in the heavily industrialized Ruhr Valley.  Other missions in cooperation with the army were on August 14 over the Falaise Gap (comments: “lost a motor, shot-up, army co-op”) and the continuation of the utter destruction of Hamburg on July 28.  George’s logbook indicates that Hamburg was “just as hairy as they said it would be – 22 lost,” and he had written “Hamburg” in shaky lettering to illustrate this point.  The Hamburg mission, with 22 planes lost, would indeed be ranked as one of the worst for losses in 6 Group’s history.[xxix] 

August 14th was the 25th mission for the crew, who must all have been hoping just to make it to thirty safely as that was a complete tour of operations and a ticket home.  The raid was over the battlefield of Caen-Falaise during the battle for the Falaise Gap.  Marchildon recalls that Canadian soldiers on the ground set off signal flares to indicate their position.  Tragically, some bomb-aimers took the flares for exploding bombs and proceeded to release their own loads.  The catastrophe would leave 65 Canadian soldiers dead, and more than 300 wounded.  Marchildon notes that Clerc wisely did not release his bombs, instead, following proper procedure, Clerc used his stop-watch to time the approach and only dropped his load at the assigned time.[xxx] 

Throughout this entire period George had been sending home brief telegrams to Ruth.  In all, 11 between May 7, 1943 and June 29, 1944 have been saved, though they say little more than that all is fine and good, and he sends his love.[xxxi]  While there is no evidence of anything more, I believe that letter writing between husband and wife must also have existed, as it is hard to imagine that they would limit themselves to two-line telegrams for over a year, when postal services were available.  However, scant evidence of such correspondence exists.

On August 16th, the crew left for their 26th mission at 2127 hours.  The mission was to be another “gardening” expedition to plant “vegetables” at the entrance of Kiel harbour in northern Germany.  The mines planted by the RCAF were battery-operated and designed to sit upon the seabed and await activation by either the acoustic or magnetic waves of passing ships.  This particular mission seemed to the crew to be safer than most, as a full-out, 200 plane bomb drop was planned for the city of Kiel itself, thus, most enemy flak and fighter power should focus on the city, not the harbour.[xxxii]  Every flight would now be wrought with tension as the crew approached the magical number of 30 sorties.  Marchildon claims that only a third of RCAF Bomber Command airmen saw their 30, and states that, “you avoided developing friendships outside your crew because when they didn’t come back it was a painful reminder of how slim your own chances were.”[xxxiii]  Indeed, over the course of its existence, 433 Squadron would lose 40 aircraft and 247 men were killed, missing, or taken prisoner.  In the entire war, 41.4% of all Halifax aircraft would be lost.[xxxiv]  On an even larger scale, the RCAF suffered a total of 13 498 fatal battle casualties during the war, no less than 9 919, or nearly 75%, were from Bomber Command.[xxxv] Clearly, the air force was not the service branch to join in order to avoid becoming a statistic. 

My grandfather’s crew was one of 14 sent on the Kiel Harbour Ops.  En route to their target, some 50 miles out by Marchildon’s estimate, the plane was hit while over the Danish island of Fyn.  Up until midnight, George claims that “our flight had been a more or less routine operation.”[xxxvi]  It is here that accounts differ; Marchildon claims that the bomber was struck by a stray fighter and supports this claim by stating that he saw tracer fire approach the plane.[xxxvii]  Contrarily, my grandfather, in a letter to pilot Wynn Morgan’s father written on June 26th, 1945, states that they were “hit quite hard on our port wing by flak.”[xxxviii]  Marchildon’s hypothesis perhaps carries more weight, as his position in the plane would allow an exterior view; my grandfather, on the other hand, would not always have had access to an out-side view, and thus, without further confirmation, his flak suggestion should be treated as speculation.  George would later revise his account in 1996, agreeing with Marchildon that the plane had been hit by a fighter; perhaps he had been influenced by Marchildon’s published autobiography.  Regardless of the cause, both men agree that first an engine, and then likely a fuel tank caught fire.  Marchildon states that Morgan immediately called on the radio, to “prepare to bail out,”[xxxix] and my grandfather reports that “no sooner had we got our parachutes on when he gave his final order,”[xl] to bail out.  The intercom then went dead.  Both Marchildon and Gill report that the plane was at an altitude of somewhere between 17 000 and 18 000 feet while carrying a speed of 180 to 190 miles per hour.[xli]  Both men left the plane at Morgan’s final order to bail out.  My grandfather writes to Morgan’s father that, “I left by the front escape hatch which is beneath my seat in the nose of the aircraft.  Phil left by way of his rear turret.”[xlii]  Marchildon recalls that both his hat and boots were immediately blown off by the wind.  He also recalls seeing only one parachute beneath, likely George.  George himself has no memory of the descent from the burning plane, as the rip-cord caught him on the chin, knocking him out immediately.  Given his knowledge as a navigator, and the estimate of 17 000 to 18 000 feet elevation, he suggests that the fall would have lasted 15 to 20 minutes.

Not knowing whether they would touch water or land, George was brought to upon his splash down into the Baltic Sea.  The two men, who landed at a distance from each other, would now struggle with both their parachutes and their heavy flight gear to lighten their load in the water.  Flying gear for Bomber Command airmen included a regular uniform, then an insulated outer layer, followed by the parachute harness, a “Mae West” life preserver, and oxygen and interphone equipment, heavy gloves, and lined boots.  While cumbersome in the water, all this equipment would have been extremely vital in the plane which could reach temperatures of -20 to -30 Fahrenheit at an altitude of 15 000 feet.[xliii]  After removing his parachute and heavy outer layer, Marchildon immediately heard a voice no more than a couple of hundred feet away.  The voice turned out to be that of my grandfather, a little groggy from the rip-cord blow, but in one piece.  George would write to Morgan’s father that “Phil is sure everyone had time to get out OK,”[xliv] but due to the elevation and speed of the plane, the crew could be scattered across a wide stretch of land and water.  For the time, the two men – who could not reach each other, but could communicate – were the only two in their area.  Marchildon recalls, “I knew George couldn’t swim, so I told him to try to relax and let the life-jacket do the work, to concentrate on keeping his head back to avoid swallowing salt water.  George has always said that by helping him stay calm I saved his life.”[xlv]  Such a claim was unreservedly confirmed by my grandfather in later years. 

The two bail-outs now tried to swim towards the shore, but a heavy current prevented them from making much progress.  Different sources suggest different timelines, but a general estimate of two and a half to three hours was spent in the water before being rescued by several Danish men in a small trawler.  Marchildon reports that they gave them cigarettes and the assurance in broken English that, “we are friends.”[xlvi]  They later found out that they had been only a half mile out from the shore but were held back by the current.  No other crew were found that night, but that did not yet conclusively signify anything. 

A flurry of letter writing after the war reveals much more about the crash, the rescuers, and their search effort.  The search itself was not without its difficulties.  The voices of Marchildon and George could be heard clearly from a point of land above the sea, but the sound was lost from the beach.[xlvii]  A letter sent to wireless operator Courtney Stewart’s wife Edna on September 25th 1945 from the A. Kien, a pastor in Sonderby, Denmark, tells of the struggle involved in the rescue: “it was very dark and a stiff breeze was blowing and the boats were small and not very sea-worthy.”[xlviii]  A February 7th, 1946 letter to my grandfather from Carlo Conradsen, a Danish policeman who was in the rescue boat, states that they were aided somewhat by the headlights of cars parked on the nearby beach, and by the blowing of a rescue whistle (Marchildon states this was himself).  Conradsen states that Marchildon was picked up first and then my grandfather.  Both men were clearly suffering from the lengthy exposure to the cold.  Conradsen also notes that they would have continued the search a while longer, but Germans were firing machine guns from the shore and they also feared German fighter planes, or even a collision with the wreck of the plane.[xlix]  Marchildon writes that he took several adrenaline pills in the event of having to make a run, but Germans were awaiting their arrival at the pier in Assens.  The men were taken to the local hospital where dry clothes, a quick inspection, and a shot of alcohol were all provided.  In front of German guards, a smiling doctor proclaimed in English, that “We hate these bastards as much as you do.  We’ll get word back to England that you’re safe.”[l]  The men were then taken to a jail for what remained of the night. 

A December 5th, 1945 letter to my grandfather from one Else Frantnen Petersen states that another rescuer was Jørgen Hansen, a fishmonger from Assens.  Petersen states that Jørgen was quite interested in hearing my grandfather’s story, as was a Martin Ashfield of the post office, who was an underground worker that passed information along to the English regarding downed airmen.[li]  Conradsen confirms this and adds that the boat also contained Kaj and Harry Nielsen of the Air Defence Service, and Henry Sørensen.  At 11:45 pm that night “we observed a streak of fire resembling a comet parting in two and falling to the ground.”[lii]  The boat departed at 1:30 am and picked up the men at approximately 2:15, which puts Marchildon and George in the water for roughly two and a half hours.  In a February 12th, 1946 letter, Jørgen Hansen, owner and pilot of the boat, states: “The Germans forbade me to sail out but I did it in spite of that.  If I wished to sail the Germans wanted to go with me they told me, but I would not have that [illegible] on board in my boat when I was able to cheat them.”[liii]  This perhaps explains why the Germans would have fired upon the rescuers – frustration at the presumed insolence.  The letter to Edna Stewart, Courtney’s wife, from Pastor Kien also confirms the shooting.  Kien claims that the Germans were present during the rescue, but “they did nothing.  Eye witnesses even say that the Germans shot at some of the boats.”  Kien goes on to explain that further cries for help could be heard in the water, thus other crew members did survive the initial crash, but these cries ceased as day broke.[liv]

Jørgen Hansen wrote several letters in early 1946 further explaining the events of the night.  In these letters he reveals that it was not the intention of the rescuers to take the airmen to Assens harbour, as they knew that the Germans would be awaiting them there.  However, due to concerns of exposure and my grandfather’s grogginess from being knocked out, they felt it best to try their luck in getting them to a hospital.  The original plan had been to take the men to an isolated island “where in ordinary life no people appear.”[lv]  A February 14th, 1946 letter from Bent Aage Martensen confirms the underground involvement.  Rescuer Henry Sørensen, a member of the Statens Civile Luftvoorn was connected to the underground and had made preparations for the escape: “his auto was staing ready, and he would disappeared with you.  But when he came back to Assens, ‘our protectors’ were staing on the port, and Officiant Sørensen was verry sorry that his project was failed.”[lvi]  The Germans initially hesitated at the idea of taking the men to the hospital, but the rescuers insisted and succeeded.  Hansen expresses great regret in his letters at having to hand the men over to the Germans: “We have been so sorry to know that we had to give up you and your comrade to the Germans.”[lvii]  The rescuers were obviously sympathetic to Allied airmen and repulsed by the Germans; Hansen describes another plane crash where the crew bailed out in daylight and were murdered by the Germans with machine guns while they fell from the sky.

Sørensen would file a report with the Red Cross on June 12th 1945, following V-E Day.  A copy of the report found its way into my grandfather’s hands – perhaps sent by Hansen or Conradsen who also included in his letter several maps with markings regarding the site of the crash, the retrieval of the men, and the beach on which the other crew members were found.  The report simply states the already known facts, but is interesting nonetheless.  A phone call was placed to Hansen at 1:00 am after cries were heard: “if they peoble who was laying in the mere schould be saved there had to be act in a hurry.”  The report explains that Sørensen had to beg his police sergeant, N. Nissen, for permission to become personally involved, and it seems that he was the one who contacted Hansen, knowing he had a small vessel.  The rescuers sailed for three-quarters of an hour before Sørensen, “after one sudden impulse,” begged Hansen to slow down.  Cries were immediately heard and a man was discovered 15 meters in front of the boat.  Marchildon was then hauled in, and my grandfather was found some ten minutes later.  The search continued without success and they turned towards shore.  The report continues that “the port policeman was rather bully against the 2 airmen and he required them delivered, but I said no, and went away in spite of the germans protest the 2 airmen to the hospital.”  It seems that Sørensen stalled as long as possible before having to give Marchildon and George up.[lviii]  Pastor Kien would write of the rescuers:

I have spoken to some of the men who that night fought to save these young men, and they were very downhearted about not having been able to save them; perhaps they could have done more had they been experienced seamen, but they were all farmers and not very much acquainted with boating.  But I can speak for them all; it was men that would do everything they could to save the unfortunate flyers; yes, it can even be said of three of them that they would dare their lives in the attempt.[lix]


            The next morning Marchildon and George were put on a train for the Luftwaffe Interrogation Centre in Obereusel, outside of Frankfurt, where they would be “processed.”[lx]  On the way through the war-torn country, the two men got to see first hand the destructive effects Bomber Command was having on Germany.    The prisoners were required to sit on the platform at the Hamburg train station, and were warned by their guards: “these people hate you.  Don’t say or do anything to attract attention.  If you do, I cannot guarantee your safety.”[lxi]  Most people merely passed by, some cursed quietly at them, while one old man stopped and began shouting at the airmen.  A crowd formed, and fearing an outbreak, the guard had to roughly move them on.  The risk to prisoners, particularly those in the air services, was considerable at this time.  As early as 1943, SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler stipulated that police should not stop civilians from dispensing their own “volksjustiz,” people’s justice, by lynching downed airmen.[lxii]  Despite witnessing the destruction, and the animosity of the people, Marchildon remains sure of his role:

The morality of the massive bombing raids on Dresden, Hamburg, Berlin and other large German cities has been questioned in recent years….Like most veterans, I haven’t lost any sleep over the issue.  I feel sorry for the Germans who died, but worse for all the civilians in England, France, Holland, Russia and several other countries who were killed by Luftwaffe bombs.  Looking out at the ruins of Hamburg as we slowly made our way through the city, I thought the Germans had gotten what they deserved for starting the war in the first place.[lxiii]


I do not know if my grandfather shared these feelings as I did not find any such observations in his writings, nor did he ever verbally express it.  However, he never questioned the just cause of the war or his role in it, thus I feel that he may have echoed Marchildon’s sympathy for those in Germany, but even more so for those in Allied nations. 

            Taken to Dulag Luft, the interrogation centre, the two men were briefly questioned before being sent on to prison camps.  Marchildon reports that he and my grandfather were immediately separated at the centre.  Marchildon had a Stuka pilot assigned to him in order to prepare him for the interrogation.  The pilot had already completed 180 missions and was awaiting re-assignment: “For them there was no such thing as a completed tour.  Having the bad luck to be on the losing side, they had to keep flying to the usually bitter end.”[lxiv]  Marchildon’s interrogation was conducted alone in a room with the pilot behind him, an officer in front at a desk and a Luger on the desk.  Army and Navy prisoners were not as well prepared for the circumstances of capture and internment as air crews were.  RCAF members underwent training on the process, including their right to only give name, rank, and serial number: “because every member of a crew could look forward to a tough interrogation at Dulag Luft…the RCAF could give air crews a reasonably good idea of what to expect…even down to a physical description of the German officer who would try to pass himself off as a representative of the Red Cross.”[lxv]  The only question asked inquired about the serial number of the downed plane.  Marchildon had no idea, as they had sometimes used a different plane.  The response was incredulous: “You mean to say the Allies have so many aircraft you use a different one each time?”[lxvi]  This response is indicative of the losing material battle the German military was waging.  This was also the end of the interrogation.  As he left no indication of his own questioning, I can only assume that my grandfather’s experience at Dulag Luft was similar.  Marchildon was sent on to Stalag Luft III in Sagan, Poland, site of the “Great Escape,” and my grandfather was sent to Stalag Luft I in Barth, northern Germany, rather close to Denmark and the crash site.  Marchildon would have the “honour” of being the first Major League player to be held POW.[lxvii]  The two men would not meet again for 10 years under more comfortable circumstances in Toronto. 

            Both men left the interrogation centre for their respective camps with no knowledge of the outcome of their crewmates.  Due to their own separation, they speculated that the other members might also be at separate camps.  News of my grandfather’s fate was slow reaching those at home in Canada.  A newspaper clipping exists reporting him Missing in Action, obviously clipped by my grandmother Ruth, but unfortunately no paper name or date exist on the clip.  An August 21, 1944 telegram to Ruth from the RCAF Casualties Officer states only that George had gone MIA.[lxviii]  Though no other information was yet known, the telegram is quite cold and to the point, and must have been received like a punch to the stomach.  I do not intend to criticize the officer as he himself knew no more, and his task required him to be brief, but one can only imagine the effect such telegrams would have on mothers, wives, and other loved ones across the country.  A letter was composed by the Officer in Command of 433 Squadron, A.J. Lewington on the same day, August 21st, though it may have taken weeks to arrive.  The letter gives the details of the mission – departure time, proposed return time, but nothing else.  It does express the hope that George is a POW, but that written hope alludes to the unwritten fear that he may have been killed.  Lewington continues:

George had proven himself to be a most capable Navigator, and was a great asset to the Squadron….George had made a number of friends on the Squadron and the loss is indeed felt by his comrades….[we] hope that this heart rending blow will be somewhat eased by the pride we share in the gallant sacrifice your husband has made, and his heroic crew, in the cause of freedom and justice and in the service of their Country.[lxix]


Lewington also asks that Ruth reveal none of these details to the press as it “might give valuable information to the enemy.”

            More letters reached my grandmother.  W.M. Wismer, the Casualty Officer from the telegram, sent a letter on August 24th, 1944 expressing regret of the missing report, and also offers scant details of the mission.  Wismer emphasizes that “missing,” does not necessarily mean killed, but it can be assumed that Ruth had already clung to that hope.  Wismer also informs her that further enquiries on George’s status were being made through the International Red Cross.  Ruth was also now given permission to inform the press of the “missing” report, but she was still not to give details.  On August 29th, a letter was sent from the RCAF Benevolent Fund also expressing sympathy, and offering financial service to those who relied on their husband’s pay.  Ruth was surrounded by family in Toronto and thus it is not likely that she was inclined to accept the offer, though there is no evidence of either case.[lxx]

            A happier telegram was received on September 10th from the Casualties Office informing Ruth that George was indeed a POW.[lxxi]  Further sympathy was sent in the form of a single-sided card from the Minister of National Defence for Air, Charles Power, on September 11th.  George meanwhile was taking up new residence in the prison, and was allowed on September 4th to sign and send one “Kriegsgefangenenpost Postkarte.”  The prepared card has but one statement: “I have been taken prisoner of war in Germany.  I am in good health – slightly wounded (cancel accordingly).”  Being in relatively decent health and not wounded, George blocked out “slightly wounded,” and was allowed to write down his name, rank, and detachment.[lxxii]

            Stalag Luft I had a reputation as being a relatively good camp.  The facilities were in fair shape, and morale was generally good considering the circumstances, though a severe food shortage ensued in the last six weeks of the war.[lxxiii]  The period of my grandfather’s internment saw two different Kommandants; Oberst Scherer ran the camp from October 1942 until December 1944, and Oberst Warnstedt from January 1945 until the end of the war.  Scherer was removed for “leniency” in 1944 when Himmler took control of the camp situation in September 1944 as the Generalinspekteur des Kriegsgefangenenwesens (General Inspector of the POW Administration).[lxxiv]  Scherer was generally considered a fair man.  A musician and family man (he wrote his wife as often as three times daily), Scherer was only saved from a firing squad by the end of the war.[lxxv]

            The prisoners called themselves “Kriegies,” short for Kriegsgefangen, German for POW.  Depending on the camp, some were allowed one shower a week, though not all bothered.  The prisoners themselves had their own intelligence and interrogation network set up to spot any spies planted by the Germans: “If a new Kriegie said he was from Saskatoon, then he’d better know where the downtown streets met and maybe even the name of his Grade Ten math teacher.”[lxxvi]  Marchildon was able to bypass such scrutiny, owing to his celebrity as a ball player.  The guards were nicknamed “goons,” and watched from the “goon towers.”  “Goon baiting” was sport for some, and “goon up” warned of approaching guards.  The guards ranged the full spectrum from sympathetic collaborators to the thoroughly indoctrinated and vengeful.[lxxvii] 

Food rations were minimalist and the prisoners relied heavily on weekly Red Cross parcels for sustenance.  Each nation’s Red Cross sent their own variation of the parcel, but it was the Canadian parcel that won top marks for being the most generous: “Indeed, the Red Cross food parcel has become the symbol of Canada’s relief effort in aid of POW’s.”[lxxviii]  The issue of food was one that never left the mind of a Kriegie: “One has only to look at the diary of a POW, with pages of ration scales, recipes, imaginary banquet menus, and exhausted lists of foodstuffs received from home, to see where his priorities lay.”[lxxix]  This description fits my grandfather’s camp journal to a tee.  The daily ration list for both summer and winter was written out to the last measurable gram, with the comment on the rations that “as time went on, these decreased.  Bread, margarine came in the best regularity.  Most other food issues were spotty.”  A vegetable ration was allotted, but he later recalled that this was almost always turnip, which he would despise to his dying day.[lxxx]  Pages are devoted to listing the entire contents, complete with measurements when available, of American (regular and Christmas), English, and Canadian Red Cross parcels.  Another page is devoted entirely to the camp monetary system.  The available “merchandise” is virtually all Red Cross food items, each with its trading value in cigarettes, the only currency available to the men.  Different foods went for different prices naturally.  Canadian butter, for example went for 90 cigarettes, whereas American went for 40-60, and British for 25.[lxxxi]  Lastly, my grandfather did have one such “banquet menu,” a Christmas dinner menu with elaborate drawings (considering the setting) on an envelope transformed into a card.  The “guest-list” was 16 men long and included those from the RCAF, RAF, RNZAF, and British Air Division – all good colonials.  The menu is a clever combination of rations and parcel items, and the back of the menu genuinely thanks those corporations who helped contribute to the day: Kraft, Hershey’s, Kellogg’s, Player’s and others.

            George was eventually able to send brief, non-descript, examined letters home to Ruth.  While the existence of the letters themselves is quite interesting, the content is not.  Limited by examiners at both ends of the postal service the most he could do is remark on his health, daily activities like reading, sports, board and card games, or even the odd bit of theatre, but little else.  Any report on the conditions of the camp would likely have been censored, so to would any inquiries on the status of the war.  Accepting these conditions, virtually no passages of his letters have been blacked out by the censors.  A practical man, my grandfather would have realized that to write anything else would have been a waste of space.  He does repeatedly praise the Red Cross and their essential aid: “Believe me, the Red Cross render POW’s a grand service.”[lxxxii] 

In return, Ruth was able to write and send letters, but their delivery was sporadic and inconstant.  A November 28th, 1944, letter was not received until April 14th, 1945.  What is amazing is that the Germans were still concerned with delivering mail by April 14th.  Ruth’s letters are likewise sparse.  She mostly gives little daily details like having gone to see a film or visited a friend, but larger news related items would have been out of the question.  Several letters do imply that she had also been in touch with the relatives of some of the other crew-mates, particularly with Mrs. Moffat whose son Scotty was still declared MIA in December.  My grandfather also received letters from his mother, though not as often as from Ruth.  Several letters from both Ruth and my great-grandmother indicate that parcels with clothing and chocolate (the only food item allowed sent by Canada Post)[lxxxiii] were on the way, but return letters indicate that he never received any of the parcels.  Other letters pass along recent Toronto Maple Leaf hockey scores.  An April 19th letter from his mother recalls a 2-1 game over the Detroit Red Wings.  Sadly, the same letter also notes that none of George’s letters had yet reached home.  What is clear in Ruth’s letters is how tight her inner circle of family and friends closed around her.  While she does not say so outright, it is clear that those around her kept her close company.  There are constant references to friends and family taking her out to lunches, dinners, movies, shopping, country picnics and such.  It seems that at least three to four days of the week someone was spending time with her.  Indeed, she even remarks in a December 23rd, 1944 letter to George that a friend had sent her a dozen roses in his name, something that initially startled her, but was in the end thoroughly appreciated.

Daily life at the camp was naturally long and tedious.  Time was spent by those with energy on sports; others worked in gardens if they could sustain them, but generally, time was hard to pass: “POWs became obsessed with what might seem to be trivialities…some men became compulsive autograph hunters, and pursued fellow prisoners to sign their diaries or log books.  Others read ceaselessly, filling their diary pages with the titles of books they had finished.”[lxxxiv]  Both statements are true of my grandfather.  A list of books in his journal range from theology to travel literature, history, and Zane Grey westerns.  Many signatures of other Kriegies are also in the journal.  The usual cities of Canada, America, and England are represented, but some of the more interesting ones are from Wellington, New Zealand; Cairo; Cape Province in South Africa; and Jamaica, “Brit. West Indies.”  Clearly the reaches of the empire were represented.  The journal is also full of many sketches, showing an artistic side that I did not realize my grandfather possessed.  Naturally the navigator in him required that he reproduce a map of Europe, but other sketches are of planes, sports played at the camp, and a fairly precise looking, though comical, representation of a Kriegie still.  Plans of the camp and of his room were also drawn.  The German song “Lili Marleen” was written out in the proper German, and a poem, “Ode to a Kriegie (Time Wasting)” is written down.  It is unclear whether he wrote the poem himself or copied it down.  The prisoners also put on stage shows, as is mentioned both in his letters home, and evidenced by an existing ticket stub to one such play.[lxxxv]  Further exploring the cultural side, an orchestra of 30 instruments also put on performances.  Programs were even printed with a full layout of the instruments and their players, as well as the musical selections, which were rather interesting choices.  Two pieces on a night of eight were Grieg’s “Death of Åse (Peer Gynt)” and Tchaikovsky’s “Marche Slave.”[lxxxvi]

As the war progressed into 1945 and toward the eventual victory of the Allies, the Germans began emptying the POW camps onto forced marches away from either approaching front.  Prisoners, weakened by months and years in the camps, struggled through the marches, many succumbing to exposure in the harsh winter, or to starvation.  As the end of the war became imminent and undeniable in late April, the Kommandant of Stalag Luft I, Oberst Warnstedt, approached the Senior American Officer, Colonel H. Zemke, to announce the order to evacuate the camp.  Zemke, having heard news of the destruction of the marches refused to comply, arguing that though the POWs had only rudimentary weapons, his nearly 10 000 men would easily overpower the less than 200 Germans in the camp3.[lxxxvii]  Realizing the pointlessness of pursuing the issue, Warnstedt informed Zemke around midnight of April 29/30 that he and his guards had evacuated the camp.  The prisoners awoke in the morning to a camp deserted by the Germans.  Zemke wisely had prepared a “Field Force (FF)” to maintain order.  The FF actually manned the guard towers and Zemke insisted that no man, for his own safety, was to leave the camp.[lxxxviii]  It goes without saying how dismayed and angered some of the prisoners were over this proclamation. 

Zemke then sent out two scouting parties, one to the east, and one to the west, in search of the approaching Allied armies which had been heard for days now.  The parties did not have to go far before finding the 2nd White Russian Front under General Marozil who entered and liberated the camp on May 1st, 1945.  Zemke was ordered (at gunpoint it is rumoured) by the Russians to tear down the fence and the guard towers were happily burnt by the prisoners.[lxxxix]  The Russians, as described by POW Gordon Hemmings were “Cossack types on horseback, mostly armed with Tommy guns and mostly drunk.”[xc]  My grandfather once gave a similar description and even noted that some prisoners were not sure if the Russian liberators should be feared more than the German captors had been.  However, the prisoners were treated with respect and care. Noting the starvation of the prisoners, the Russian soldiers rounded up several hundred cattle and the prisoners slaughtered them for food.  The Russians then moved into the town of Barth where they were considerably less friendly.  The mayor of Barth committed suicide by poison before the Russians reached the city and others in the town draped windows in large red or white flags.[xci]  Schnapps was drunk by some of the senior staff in the German quarters and glasses were gleefully smashed on Hitler’s portrait.  A general fear pervaded the town that the prisoners would have their revenge: “but mayhem did not materialize.  Wine, not blood, flowed the streets.  We got drunk!”[xcii]  On the night of May 2nd, 1945, in the presence of British and American officers, the surviving town officials signed an unconditional surrender to the Red Army.[xciii]

The question of evacuation naturally became the predominant one in prisoner’s minds.  Many prisoners liberated by the Russians were actually routed through Odessa before moving on to England, and the news circulated the camp with depressing results.  There was a fear amongst the Western Allied powers that the Russians would make use of American and Commonwealth prisoners as bargaining chips.[xciv]  Historian Patricia Wadley suggests that this is precisely the case with the Barth prisoners.  Citing confidential U.S. government documents, she suggests that the Russians were eager to recover one General Andrei Vlasov who had defected to the Germans in 1942 and led a 50 000 man strong division against his home country.  Vlasov was now in the custody of the Americans and Stalin was eager to line him up against a wall, so eager, in fact, that he was willing to trade the 10 000 American and Commonwealth prisoners of Stalag Luft I.  Wadley states that “Vlasov was handed over at 2:30 p.m. on May 12.  U.S. bombers, which had been circling the Barth airfield, were allowed to land at 3:30 p.m.”[xcv]  Vlasov was executed immediately upon his arrival in Moscow.  This hypothesis is plausible.  In any case, the POWs were evacuated to Bournemouth on May 12th.  My grandfather’s logbook indicated that he was flown out of Barth airfield at 1830 hours on a B-17 Flying Fortress.[xcvi]

Back in England, my grandfather sent off a telegram to Ruth informing her that he was safely back on friendly ground.  A letter follows on May 14th, where he again heralds the Red Cross: “I, like nearly all Kriegies owe our well being to the Red Cross.”  He also informs my grandmother that he first received mail from home on March 7th, and never received a parcel.  Coincidently, Ruth had also written a letter the same day knowing he is now safe, informing him that “our V-Day will be when you walk in the door, then I’ll be convinced it’s really true…So many people keep asking me from day to day that I’m getting a little tired of saying no, so how about it dear…I’m still as disgustingly healthy as ever…it makes me feel rather mean thinking only of myself and your home coming dear.  There are so many that won’t be back.”  This is an exasperated letter written by a wife who has thoroughly tired of war.  Upon their arrival in England POWs were informed of their pay and leave provisions, medical and mail services, and advice on eating and drinking to regain their health.  Access was granted to the Red Cross, Knights of Columbus and the Canadian Legion.  Prisoners were also given a 21 page pamphlet on “Canada in the Last Five Years,” to bring them up to speed.[xcvii]  In total, the transition back to life while in England was handled well under the circumstances, though it was not without its rougher moments.  In several letters home, George refers to not being able to settle down, or being very excitable.  A May 23rd letter indicates he was particularly frustrated.  Complications arose in getting him home soon.  It seems that he had a buildup of leave and was required to take it.  The sightseeing that entertained him before the crash now irritated him beyond belief.  His only desire is to return home: “I’ve never been so lonesome in my life.”[xcviii]  He did take the time to visit family and a few friends and even spent a weekend in Aberdeen, Scotland for the wedding of a fellow Kriegie.  But all of these inadequate diversions only seemed to annoy him further.

A telegram reached my grandmother on May 18th from the RCAF stating what she already knew, that George had been liberated and was in England.  A letter dated May 30th was also sent to her by the RCAF Roman Catholic Chief Chaplain to congratulate her on the safe return of George to the U.K.  A sincere letter, the Chaplain expresses joy at what he feels is great news for her. 

Neither George nor Marchildon knew yet the fate of their crewmates following the crash.  Marchildon states that he inquired with an RCAF records officer while in Bournemouth, and was informed four of the crew drowned after bailing out, while the body of Bob Young was found in the aircraft: “Bob was deathly afraid of the water.  When the time came he probably couldn’t force himself out of the plane.”[xcix]  My grandfather also made similar inquiries and wrote to Ruth on May 22nd: “Yesterday I found out about my boys.  Unfortunately it was the worst, as I have long feared.  I still can’t believe it somehow.  I’m not looking forward to my painful duties of seeing their folks.  There’s so very little I can tell them.  Still I must do it.”  The bodies of four of the men drifted ashore on the 17th of August, 1944 and were buried by the Germans in the Sonderby Churchyard. The bomber with Young’s body still in it was pulled out of the water on August 25th.  Pastor Kien wrote to Courtney Stewart’s wife Edna that the five men were buried in a place of honour beside 25 Danish soldiers who fell in war with Germany in 1864.  He also writes that he held a service on the 18th and “asked for God’s peace over our dead friends and their last resting place.” After the capitulation of the Germans in 1945, Kien held yet another service with 300 in attendance, where “we could now freely express the thanks for what had been done, also for Denmark, to free everybody from the German domination.”  He solemnly promises to always care for the graves, and Mrs. Stewart is allowed to send money for flowers to be placed on the grave, but is not to send money for the upkeep of the grave, as “it will be a matter of honour and duty for us to keep it in order.”  Kien closes the letter with these kind words: “And now Mrs. Stewart, your husband died in a good cause.  German brutality was frightful.  We thank you for all what you have offered.  Your offer was not in vain.  God bless you.” [c]

Letters from other crewmate’s families began to arrive both during and after the war as they each learned the fate of their loved ones.  Charly Clerc, father of Jacques Clerc, wrote to my grandmother on January 13, 1945, thanking her for a letter sent in September.  Clerc is aware of his son’s death, but pleads with Ruth to pass on any contact information for George.  Clerc is desperate to have news of his son’s final days, and he vows to “do everything in my power to be of use to him [George] in his captivity.”[ci]  Several days later, on 16th of January, Clerc was informed of my grandfather’s camp by the Red Cross, and instantly sent off a letter: “Please, dear George Gill, to give us something to know over the last weeks with our son, from the last raid with him…we know very little over his last times in the crew and nothing over the moment and circumstances of his death.  We request you to say to us what you know….the sendings are today so difficult.”  The man is clearly destroyed by the death of his son, and is desperate for some scrap of information regarding him.  By October of 1945, George had clearly responded, as is indicated by a return letter of Clerc’s.  He thanks George for his friendship to Jacques, which seems to have been close, and for his kind words, which Clerc reproduces: “Fighting to the very end, justifying his own principles.”  Clerc also sent photos of a memorial stone and plaque that he had laid for his son on their property in Switzerland, and underlines his final statement, that “without the victory of the Allies which was started by your Empire RAF, our country too, would have been lost.”[cii]

George was also in contact with the mother of Courtney Stewart, and with Wynn Morgan’s father.  Mrs. Stewart’s letter is also difficult.  She apologizes that her husband had not written, but stated that he could not as “our hearts are broken.”  Courtney was their only son.  She does express some satisfaction that Courtney had been buried alongside his crewmates, a sentiment that Charly Clerc would echo.  Mrs. Stewart also attached a newspaper clipping about her son from a North Bay newspaper.[ciii]  George’s correspondence with A.J.D. Morgan, Wynn’s father, seems to have been on-going, though only one letter from Mr. Morgan and one from my grandfather survive today.  The letter to Mr. Morgan was written immediately after the war, and due to the closeness of Wynn and George – they had been roommates – the letter is packed with emotion.  George writes: “I never did think that I should have to write such a letter.  The loss of Wynn’s friendship is a great blow to say nothing of your great loss….You may feel extremely proud of your son who gave his life for the greatest cause of mankind.  He did so doing the job he loved without regret.”  My grandfather also seems to have felt a touch of what we would now call “survivor’s guilt.”  In the letter he questions the seemingly random selection of survivors and victims: “Just why we two were so fortunate to be rescued and not your Wynn and the other boys is something I cannot answer.”[civ]  Lastly, a letter, seeming to come from out of nowhere, was sent on February 6th, 1946 from one Professor L. Riese at Victoria College at the University of Toronto.  Riese identifies himself as a family friend of the Clercs and is writing merely to express the thanks in English that Charly Clerc felt he was inadequate to do.  Riese also notes that the elder Clerc had fallen quite sick: “a heavy strain in the heart…caused by the shock of the death of his son.”  Riese also writes that Clerc wished to persevere and make a pilgrimage to Denmark in the spring (1947).  It is unknown if Clerc made his journey.[cv]

My grandfather also received numerous letters from those involved in the rescue in Denmark.  Many of them give the aforementioned details of the rescue night itself, but others, like that of Carlo Conradsen, ask for pictures of Marchildon and George in order to “satisfy our curiosity” and for souvenirs.  Conradsen’s letter is probably the single most detailed letter, though my grandfather would receive numerous letters from Jørgen Hansen.  Conradsen writes: “I ask you to accept this letter as part of my duty.  I wanted to write your family right after the close of the war but hesitated for fear of ripping open the sorrow of your family in case you hadn’t survived from imprisonment in Germany.”[cvi]  Others also express the same sense of duty and are hesitant to accept my grandfather’s thanks for their rescue of him.  These men felt it was the very least that could be done.  Hansen wrote on February 12th, 1946, that they were thrilled upon hearing Allied planes: “The planes route went over here, and you may be sure we were proud of you and your comrades hearing you….we could not see you, but hear you, it was a very nice sound.”  Hansen writes of the oppression of living under the Germans.  As a fishmonger, the Germans bore him a strong grudge for refusing to sell his fish to them: “I would not have Judas money, then I would prefer to starve and my wife said that too.” In return, the letters allude that George sent several parcels of food to the fishmonger, as Denmark suffered heavily.  Hansen remarks: “We are not used to articles of luxury in our little Denmark, such things we have not seen for six years; our children asked how rice and raisins looked.”  Ironically, it seems that one such parcel erroneously contained tined fish.  Another surprising letter was sent from Snipe Lake, Saskatchewan on March 5th, 1946, by Hans Trielsen.  It appeared that Trielsen’s niece was Hansen’s wife, and Trielsen was relaying a Danish news clipping written about Hansen and the rescue.  Trielsen also writes that Hansen may be decorated by the Canadian Government for his role in the rescue, though there is no further evidence to confirm or deny that this took place.[cvii]

A telegram from George to Ruth, unfortunately with no date on it, was sent from Halifax likely sometime in June alerting Ruth he was back in Canada.[cviii]  The transition home was difficult for many service men.  George’s letters from England suggest that he was somewhat shook up; he describes a sort of post-traumatic stress syndrome.  Marchildon felt the same: “I’d been on edge since my return.  Sometimes I felt like picking up a brick and heaving it through a window….My hands shook as if I had palsy and I was constantly on edge.  My biggest struggle was overcoming the left-over fear that something terrible was about to happen.”[cix]  Lavish parties and receptions were thrown for some of the returning men, but the thought of all the attention was abhorred  by them.  One soldier who received such a reception recalls: “the whole prospect appalled me.  My only desire was to crawl into a hole like a groundhog and close out the human race.”[cx]  Another wrote home, anticipating such attention, warning his family: “no parties, please, and no fuss, and please don’t meet us at the station.  Let us find you at home among familiar things, as we remember you.”[cxi]  On the whole, people ignored these pleas.  No record exists of my grandfather’s personal return experience, but many others found the transition to a normal, working life difficult.  On top of it all, there was nearly no system in place to help these men cope mentally and physically.  The only advice that one soldier received for his psychological struggles from his doctor, was “to find the nearest tavern and tie one on.”[cxii]  Many did just that, attempting to erase their memories with alcohol.  Here that it could be argued that the support structure in place by the military and the government greatly failed the returning service men.

My grandfather was awarded several service medals for his time in a theatre of war.  He received the 1939-45 Star; the France and Germany Star; the Defence Medal; the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal with Maple Leaf Emblem Clasp; and the War Medal 1939-45.  A handbook on the Veteran’s Land Act also exists, giving the details of available financial assistance for returning soldiers hoping to re-establish either a home or a farm.  As he continued to live in Toronto following the war, it seems that my grandfather did not make use of this assistance.

George was officially struck off strength on August 4th, 1945, “by reason of Retirement on completion of a term of voluntary service during an emergency.”[cxiii]  He was also granted a set of Operation Wings in recognition of a completed tour of operational duty against the enemy on October 3, 1945.[cxiv]  His war experience over, my grandfather returned home to reunite with his wife, and like many others, start a family.  Their first child, Gerald, was born in 1946, John and George, Jr., would follow.  He initially found work at Christie’s bakery until 1947, and then worked with Kellogg’s until 1977.  It is perhaps not a coincidence that this former POW would spend the next 30 years of his life in the food industry. 

Reflecting on the war, he openly claimed that it was one of those tremendous experiences that he would not trade, but would never wish to go through again.  The loss of his five crew mates affected him deeply, as he referred at times to the strong sense of camaraderie that a crew of seven men felt for each other.  He kept in sporadic touch with Marchildon until the ballplayer’s death in 1997.  He remained relatively private regarding his experience, as many men did, but he did share some of the details with his family.  Says my father: “he freely shared his thoughts and experiences with me and my brothers.  He was proud of what he did but did not brag.  He did not join the Canadian Legion.  He saw the Legion as a place where beer had too much influence on the story telling.”[cxv]  George was likewise quiet with his grandchildren, though, upon my enrolment in the Royal Canadian Air Cadets in 1995, he began to tell just enough stories to pique my interest before his death in 1999.

While my grandfather did make known a skeleton of specifics to me in his last few years, it rarely went beyond the facts.  I knew of his involvement as a navigator, that he was shot down, that he spent time in a Prisoner of War camp, and that one man he served with would become one of the first inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.  It was not until after his death, and even until this research, that much of the story became fully aware to myself and our family.  While I believe that he did not consciously presume to hide the experience from his family, it was not always first on his list of conversation topics.  For example, while I knew from him of the crash and subsequent rescue, I had no idea of the extent of the rescue – the hours spent in the water, the Germans firing upon the Danes.  In fact, the overwhelmingly large number of documents perused for this study remained unknown to my father and me until after his death.  To say that this study has painted a larger picture would be an understatement.  And more continues to arise.  While conducting this research, I was able to contact the nephew of pilot Wynn Morgan, also named Wynn, and the sharing of information has just begun.  One can only imagine what could possibly be turned up by the family members of the many rescuers in Denmark.  This is hardly a conclusion to this study, but an introduction. 

My grandfather’s involvement in the war still amazes me, as does his often simplistic attitude towards his role.  He was never awarded or commended for bravery or other such acts, yet to enlist at age 26 – an age close to my own – for a service with a vicious casualty rate; to participate in such a deadly task, is in itself an immensely courageous act.  He was a volunteer for a war that some have dubbed Europe’s “civil war.”  He was not required to participate, yet he did.  While there may have been some unconscious sentiments of “King and Country,” inherited from his English parents, his letters show that he simply felt it was the only morally correct thing one could do.  Hitler, and Nazi Germany, were evil, and thus must be removed.  Wars today rarely, if ever, exude such morally just feelings from its participants.  Instead, modern war seems stained by politics, making it difficult to even understand the motivations to participate that men felt during the Second World War.  To say that I am proud of my grandfather and his involvement would be an understatement, but that is not my purpose here.  I have only just begun to learn the full story of what transpired in this period of his life, and this, hopefully, will not be the end of this research, but a beginning.  There is much left to discover.



[i]               John Gill, Personal Narrative, March 10, 2005.

[ii]               Ibid.

[iii]              George Gill, Personal Narrative, March 2, 1996.

[iv]              Phil Marchildon and Brian Kendall, Ace, Phil Marchildon: Canada’s Pitching Sensation & Wartime Hero (Toronto: Penguin Books, 1993), 109.

[v]               G. Gill, PN.

[vi]              Ibid.

[vii]             George Gill, personal collection, Navigator Observation Log Book.

[viii]             G. Gill, PC, Graduation Program, March 19th, 1943.

[ix]              Marchildon and Kendall, 115.

[x]               G. Gill, PN.

[xi]              Marchildon and Kendall, 113.

[xii]             Ibid., 114.

[xiii]             Ibid., 108.  Marchildon later had the privilege of being game #46 on Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hits record.  DiMaggio settled for no less than a home run off of the Canuck.

[xiv]             Eric O. Burt, “Saskatoon war victim remembered in Denmark,”  Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, 15 December 1990, Prism section, 4.

[xv]             Ibid., 4.

[xvi]             Larry Milberry, Canada’s Air Force at War, Volume II  (Toronto: CANAV Books, 2000), 42.

[xvii]            Carl Christie, “On the wings of time,” Legion Magazine, March/April 1999, 8.

[xviii]           Marchildon and Kendall, 114.

[xix]             G. Gill, PC, Wing’s Club Membership Card, issued February 9, 1944.

[xx]             Marchildon and Kendall, 114.

[xxi]             G. Gill, PC, Logbook.

[xxii]            Marchildon and Kendall, 115.

[xxiii]           G. Gill, PC, Logbook.

[xxiv]           Milberry, 43.

[xxv]            Marchildon and Kendall, 117.

[xxvi]           G. Gill, PC, Logbook.

[xxvii]           Marchildon and Kendall, 117.

[xxviii]          Ibid., 120-121.

[xxix]           Milberry, 54.

[xxx]            Marchildon and Kendall, 122-123.

[xxxi]           G. Gill, PC, various telegrams to Ruth Gill.

[xxxii]           Marchildon and Kendall, 125-126

[xxxiii]          Ibid., 120.

[xxxiv]          Milberry, 127.  6178 built, 2558 lost.

[xxxv]           Christie, 9.

[xxxvi]          G. Gill, PN.  The expedition was to be escorted by a small number of fighters, but they had been diverted to other action, likely to assist in the drop at the city of Kiel.

[xxxvii]         Marchildon and Kendall, 125.

[xxxviii]         G. Gill, PC.  A copy of the letter was returned to my grandfather by J. Wynn Morgan, nephew of the pilot, in a letter sent February 24, 1994.

[xxxix]          Marchildon and Kendall, 127.

[xl]              G. Gill, PC, Morgan letter.

[xli]             Marchildon and Kendall, 127; G. Gill, PN.

[xlii]             G. Gill, PC, Morgan letter.

[xliii]            Milberry, 41.

[xliv]            G. Gill, PC, Morgan letter.

[xlv]             Marchildon and Kendall, 128.

[xlvi]            Ibid., 129.

[xlvii]           Burt, 4.

[xlviii]           G. Gill, PC, letter to Edna Stewart from Pastor A. Kien.  Several copies of this letter surfaced during his research.  It seems to have been well circulated amongst the friends and families of the crew.  A photo of the boat can be found in the appendix.

[xlix]            Ibid., PC, Carlo Conradsen letter, February, 7, 1946.

[l]               Marchildon and Kendall, 130.

[li]               G. Gill, PC, Else Frantnen Petersen letter, December 5, 1945.

[lii]              Ibid., Conradsen letter.

[liii]             Ibid., Jørgen Hansen letter, February 12, 1946.

[liv]             Ibid., E. Stewart letter.

[lv]              Ibid., Hansen letter, February 12, 1946.

[lvi]             Ibid., Bent Aage Martensen letter, February 14, 1946.

[lvii]             Ibid., Jorgen Hansen letter, January 28, 1946.

[lviii]            Ibid., PC, Official Report, Dansk Røde Kors, June 12, 1945.

[lix]             Ibid., E. Stewart letter.

[lx]              G. Gill, PN.

[lxi]             Marchildon and Kendall, 132.

[lxii]             Jonathan F. Vance, Objects of Concern: Canadian Prisoners of War through the twentieth century, (Vancouver, UBC Press, 1994), 128.

[lxiii]            Marchildon and Kendall, 132.

[lxiv]            Ibid., 132.

[lxv]             Vance, 100-101.

[lxvi]            Ibid., 134.  While this was not quite the case, my grandfather’s crew did the bulk of their missions on Hal III “P” Peter, they did rotate planes from time to time.


[lxviii]           G. Gill, PC, Telegram to Ruth from RCAF Casualties Officer, August 21, 1944.

[lxix]            Ibid., A.J. Lewington letter to Ruth Gill, August 21, 1944.

[lxx]             Ibid., RCAF Benevolent Fund letter to Ruth Gill, August 29, 1944.

[lxxi]            Ibid., Telegram from RCAF Casualties Office to Ruth Gill, September 10, 1944

[lxxii]           Ibid., POW “Postkarte,” September 4, 1944.

[lxxiii]           John Nichol and Tony Rennell, The Last Escape: The untold story of Allied Prisoners of War in Europe 1944-1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2002), 248.



[lxxvi]           Marchildon and Kendall, 135.


[lxxviii]         Vance, 149.

[lxxix]           Ibid., 145.

[lxxx]           J. Gill, PN.

[lxxxi]           G. Gill, PC, POW journal.  See Appendix for these charts.

[lxxxii]          Ibid., letter to Ruth Gill, September 9th, 1944.

[lxxxiii]         Vance, 147.

[lxxxiv]         Ibid., 145

[lxxxv]          G. Gill, PC, POW journal.  Copies of sketches and the ticket stub can be found in the appendix.

[lxxxvi]         Ibid., Orchestra program.

[lxxxvii]         Nichol and Rennell, 248-249.


[lxxxix]         Ibid.

[xc]             Nichol and Rennell, 249.

[xci]             G. Gill, PC, “Barth Hard Times: Vol 1 No. 1 Last 1 Saturday May 5th, 1945 Price: 1 D-Bar,” a one volume camp newspaper printed by the prisoners with the headline “Russky Come!”

[xcii]            Ibid.


[xciv]           Nichol and Rennell, 52-53.

[xcv]            Ibid., 249-250.

[xcvi]           G. Gill, PC, Logbook.

[xcvii]           Vance, 222.

[xcviii]          G. Gill, PC, letter to Ruth Gill, May 23, 1945.

[xcix]           Marchildon and Kendall, 150-151.

[c]               G. Gill, PC, Edna Stewart letter.

[ci]              Ibid., Clerc letter.

[cii]             Ibid., Charly Clerc letter, October 11, 1945.

[ciii]             Ibid., Mrs. Stewart letter, postmarked October 21, 1945.

[civ]             Ibid., letter to Morgan, June 26, 1945.

[cv]             Ibid., Riese letter, February 6, 1946.

[cvi]             Ibid., Conradsen letter.

[cvii]            Ibid., Hans Trielsen letter, March 5, 1946.

[cviii]           Ibid.., telegram from G. Gill to Ruth Gill.

[cix]             Marchildon and Kendall, 2-3, 155.

[cx]             Vance, 223.

[cxi]             Ibid., 223.

[cxii]            Ibid., 223-224.

[cxiii]           G. Gill, PC, discharge paper.

[cxiv]           Ibid., See copy in appendix.

[cxv]            J. Gill, PN.



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