New information emerges….

Just when I thought that there was nothing more to be learned about the crew of dad’s plane, MG-J ‘Johnny’… I get an email out of the blue!

“It was with great interest I read your fathers war memoirs in ‘ Of Stirling’s and Stalags’.

I actually took it as a holiday read last summer, as I knew my father had also flown in Stirling’s and had been a POW. I had also taken a couple of pieces of information I had taken from the internet, but had not really checked them out.

It was to my total surprise to see my fathers name mentioned! He was F/O Harry Douglas Spry and was a part of the crew that were shot down and eventually taken to Stalag Luft 111 Sagan.

My father never spoke about the war and I have little information. I wondered if you had any further info that might be of interest since the launch of your book? It was fascinating to read and has lead me want to find out more about my family connections in World War 11.

Thank you for a very interesting read and wish you and your family well, especially during this lockdown time.”

It was a lovely email to receive and one which I answered very quickly. I hadn’t known about Linda’s existence when I was searching for Harry Spry’s family because she’d been born in South Africa.

She’d kindly replied with two photos attached… a wonderful portrait and two drawings completed by folk within the camp… I’m sure further research will ascertain who the artists were. He was sent to Luft Stalag III with the other crew members and stayed there for the duration of the war, unlike my dad who was moved on to other camps. Perhaps he can be definitely identified on other photos of the time.

We’ve got a lot to catch up on… lots of details for her to find out so that she can learn more about his wartime experiences.

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Frank Henigman’s daughter goes to Blije

Last week another family member of the crew of Short Stirling MG-J (W7471) 7 Squadron, Oakington, visited the village of Blije in northern Holland to see the place where our fathers’ plane came down after an attack by Oblt. Ludwig Becker.  In the village there is the commemorative panel erected by the good offices of the Stitchting Missing Airmen Memorial Foundation (SMAMF) who spend a great deal of time and energy researching plane crashes from WWII and erecting memorial panels in remembrance of the former airmen who fought in Bomber Command and who were brought down in Holland. Their efforts are a means of remembering and thanking those who fought and sometimes died to secure their freedom from German oppression at the time.

The commemorative panel was originally unveiled in 2016 on 7 June… the anniversary of the successful attack by Becker on 7 June 1942. Present at the unveiling were the families of crew members: William ‘Bill’ Goodman (dad), Norman ‘Buck’ Tayler, Edward ‘Ted’ Earngey and Sidney ‘Mac’ Macnamara. Sadly, at the time Maggie Henigman wasn’t able to attend.

However, just over two years later, Maggie, daughter of Clarence ‘Frank’ Henigman has now visited the site and, once again, Douwe Drijver and Alexander Tuinhout, from SMAMF, linked up with them to host their visit. Ger Boogmans, the Netherlands Bomber Command representative from Amsterdam, liaised between them to assist in their visit.

The photos below show Douwe and Alexander, the location of the original crash site, the panel itself and the town hall (former police station) at Ferwerd where dad, Mac, Jack Arnold and Harry Spry were taken and held before their trip to Amsterdam and the Dulag Luft for questioning.

The other photo is the amazing

pictorial map produced by Harry Feenstra (a local man from Blije who sometimes works with SMAMF) and who takes visitors on ‘mud walks’ along the mudflats of the coast. He told me that they still find objects from the air-war buried in the mud from time to time.

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Frank Henigman’s story…

Clarence Francis Henigman… aka ‘Frank’ was one of the crew members on dad’s plane that night….Short Stirling MG-J. He was a Canadian and was the owner of the flying helmet that dad had in his possession at the time of dad’s death. I thought it was dad’s helmet and was very proud to have it. I contacted the man who had sent it to him, Hille Oppedijk, but the bad news from Hille was that it didn’t belong to dad but to Frank Henigman!

After that I felt that I couldn’t keep it… I had to trace Frank’s family and send it back where it belonged. The RCAF and ex-RCAF helped me to locate them and, with some trepidation, I posted it off to the Henigman family in Canada. Thankfully it arrived safely and later I corresponded with his daughter, Maggie. We’re still in contact on Facebook, in fact.

Frank Henigman RCAF old photo 1 Mar10  Frank Henigman ~60yrs 1Mar10

I was happy that Maggie was able to send me some photos of Frank and to send me a link to a recording he made with the University of Victoria and that it’s available in their digital collection… a very interesting story!


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Mistaken identity… and I’m disappointed…

Some time back I posted a photo of a group of men from 7 Squadron in Stalag Luft III. I felt sure that I’d identified my father in the front standing row, in the middle with a forage cap and looking very smart. I guessed that the photo must have been taken possibly in the Spring or Summer of 1942 as dad left SLIII in August of that year. I identified a number of the servicemen in the photo and felt so pleased that I’d got one of dad during the time of his incarceration.

However, a couple of days ago I had an email from Dave Cheetham who I met for the first time in Nottingham a couple of years ago.

He has given me convincing evidence that the man I thought was dad… was in fact Johnny Travis!  To say I was disappointed for some time is an understatement…and it took some while for me to accept the truth. But… no-one dies from disappointment and I am now pleased that Travis’ family have yet another photo of Johnny.

Dave informed me that the photo was taken in 1944…and offered the following ‘proof’ of the later year.

“I attach a photograph taken in February 1944 W/C R E Young DSO DFC is seated 2nd row 12th from the left, on your photo he is at the back extreme right he was shot down on the 29th Jan 44. Also on this photo is Frank Stephenson front row 3rd right sitting he is at the back on your photo 3rd from right standing in flat cap shot down end of Feb 44 and at the back 2nd left Sqn/ldr Charles Lofthouse and next to him right is Cayford his navigator who were both shot down on 24 August 1943.So it’s all a bit of a mystery.”

So… I think you’ll agree that I was wrong and Dave was right… have a look for yourselves!

7 Sqn Group circa 1944

Dad in Luft Stalag III

I do know one thing… they were all very brave men and I’m proud that dad also gave of his best to protect our lives and freedoms back in those dark, dark days!

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International Bomber Command Centre, Lincoln, UK – vandalised!

How very sad to read of the vandals who broke in and stole property and damaged other items last weekend. It made my blood boil to think that whoever did this has such small regard for the work of others and the memories of those they work to represent… former Bomber Command personnel who often laid down their lives for the freedoms that these criminals so abused!

The centre isn’t open to the public as yet… it’s still in the process of being built but they do have fund-raising events there to keep the project in the minds of folk and continue to raise money for the project to be completed. Imagine their upset when they arrived to find that preparations that had been made for a forthcoming event had been destroyed?

The Lincolnite  Read about it here… most upsetting!



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A veritable treasure trove of items from Stalag Luft III…

Earlier this year on the Stalag Luft 3 Facebook page, I entered a competition run by Steve Martin.  The page is hosted by Ben van Drogenbroek and you may remember that Steve and Ben co-wrote the marvellous book, ‘The Camera Became My Passport Home’ which I wrote about in my previous post. The task was to identify the ‘globe’ on the bed in the background of the image.


I thought it was one of those glass lamp-shades that were often seen in offices etc back in the old days and although I should have termed it a glass globe light diffuser I was the only one who guessed right. Steve promised me a prize and, as I was in Gibraltar at the time, he kept it and sent it to my sister-in-law just before I was due back in the UK so I could collect it from her house.

Imagine my surprise and delight when I found what the packaged contained… various small artefacts that Steve himself collected from the Stalag Luft III site! Not only that but a long and interesting letter AND copies of photographs of Steve’s trip over to Poland and Germany.

Here is a photo of the artefacts with comments taken from Steve’s lovely letter:


(Numbers 1,2,3,4,6) These pottery shards were all found in Stalag Luft III. ‘There existed MANY forms of china dinnerware available to POWs over time. Incredibly, early examples could be rather elegant, yet examples of these were issued to POWs only in 1939 to very early 1941 at best. These ‘elegant’ items included full size, flat and large dinner plates (same size as of today), large tea/coffee pots, a gravy boat combo with an attached ‘over-spill’ platter mounted beneath and square bowls approx depth of 3” and 8”x 8” square.

The largest shard, dated 1940 is the partial base of a coffee/tea mug issued to VERY early POWs. The ‘swastika symbol’ is beneath a marked Luftwaffe flying eagle. Note the ‘Villeroy and Bosch’ logo and name which was a result of Germany taking over France and forcing the company to produce china ware for the Luftwaffe. It appeared, though, that the French rather sabotaged the manufacturing process as the quality was poor…. so poor that initials or numbers could be scratched on the surface.

The oldest piece (3) is dated 1939 and marked ‘Bohemia’ and the smallest (4) has a partial eagle and swastika. Both came from the Kommandandt’s area.

Numbers 5, 7 and 8 are variously part of a comb, doubtless belonging to a former POW.  There is the top of a tube of something and Steve’s best guess is that it’s from a tube of paint such as a POW artist would use. The small piece of black plastic is a fragment of a 78rpm record. Apparently, when these broke they were given to the ‘X’ organisation (those involved in the escape attempt) and they were heated up to the point of pliability and made into the casings of water-proof compasses.

The final item in the collection is a phial containing a quantity of sand from the tunnel ‘Harry’ that Steve collected from the site of the old theatre in the compound. It’s from the last 60 feet of Harry. Ex-POW Wally Floody told Steve that the spoil from the last 60 foot or so was dumped under the audience area of the theatre and Steve found the spot when he visited the site!


I was amazed, as you can imagine, when I opened the package and found the items and read Steve’s letter and I’m so pleased that not only did he send the items but also gave so much information! In my next blog entry I’ll scan some of the many, many photos he sent and post them with the information given.

Thank you, Steve, what a wonderful prize and thank you for your dedication in collecting and itemising all these things.

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A new and extraordinary book…

Last week I took delivery of a book from Holland…a book of the memoirs of Charles Boyd Woehrle written by Ben van Drogenbroek and Steve Martin. Its title is

The Camera Became My Passport Home

It’s phenomenal and a real labour of love! The wealth of detail, the range of topics covered, the volume of photographs and overall presentation is staggering. Clearly, I’ve not read it all as yet and, to be honest, it’s going to take a long time to do so. However, I wanted to give my first impressions for anyone thinking of buying a copy.

It’s a large and heavy book – well made and bound with the printing on semi matte paper – so readers might prefer to sit at a table to read it rather than have it on their knees.

Although these are memoirs of Charles there are also details and mini-biographies about other airmen as well as details about various Germans who were important to the story.

Camp life is covered in fascinating detail from the minutiae of daily life to the overt and covert activities of the camp – the theatre, for example, with photos and descriptions of the performances and actors – down to the details of the uses of Klim and sardine tins. All totally fascinating and engrossing!

Ben and Steve are to be congratulated on their dedication in collecting artifacts, photos, drawings etc and writing about them in such an informed and interesting manner. It’s going to take me a long time to read it…with over 600 pages. It has an extensive index, which is very useful and a range of footnotes to add further detail to the already detailed text.

I was also fascinated to be able to read and see the work of the forgers with ‘work in progress’ photographs of partially completed documents as well as a range of photos I’d never seen before. Seeing the exact location of the hut in which my father was living before he was sent off to Heydekrug and the way in which the camp grew over time helped me immensely to appreciate the sheer size of the place.

Finally, each copy comes with autographs of the men involved with the writing of the book and each is a numbered copy. This book, I’m sure, will also become a treasured heirloom for those who purchase it. To those whose forbears were incarcerated in Stalag Luft III for any length of time at all… this book is an absolute treasure trove of information.

To Ben and Steve who set themselves the task of writing it… well done! It’s available from Ben van Drogenbroek and if you put his name into Google you’ll be able to find him. He’s also on Facebook. It’s not cheap, it’s a privately printed book that’s worth its weight in gold, though!


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March by Moonlight – a new book

A friend of mine, Barry Love, recently had his father’s WWII memoirs published in a book titled ‘March by Moonlight’ – a volume I’ve only just finished reading.

March by Moonlight Barry Love

Click on the image for a link to Amazon books.

Jack Love, the author, was also in 7 Squadron like my dad and during an operation to Mannheim in which their Wellington was fatally damaged they had to crash-land in France. Later the author ended up in Stalag Luft III and on to Heydekrug, Thorn and Fallingbostel.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book as the author’s experiences as a POW often mirror those of my dad’s experiences in the same camps. The style is relaxed and easy but there’s a wealth of detail of his own experience. At times I laughed out loud because of some of the antics of the POWs and their efforts to disrupt the ‘Goons’ and their systems to implement various procedures just to count them! There were lots of humorous moments – as well as moments of sorrow.

What is certainly amazing is the experiences of the crew as they travelled under the light of the moon through France on their way to Switzerland – the welcome and help they received from some French families was incredible and very heart-warming.

It’s accounts like these that help us to understand the experiences and survival tactics of these brave men. The author’s son part-wrote a chapter at the end of the book explaining what happened to some of the other crew members. Well worth a read and I thoroughly recommend it.


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Johnny Travis – Wireless Operator

One of the crew members on that ‘one way journey’ to Emden was Johnny Travis and he is one I wasn’t able to find too much about initially. There aren’t too many photos of him around and those are rather blurred – a couple with the crew in Oakington and one of him on his wedding day in uniform.

He is mentioned in dad’s book but as dad didn’t stay in Luft Stalag III for more than a year he wasn’t privvy to Travis’ exploits in connection with the Great Escape. It wasn’t until recently that I realised that he’d stayed in LSIII !

However, someone on a forum on Facebook directed me to a book in which he is mentioned on more than one occasion – ‘A Gallant Company: The men of the Great Escape’ by Jonathan F. Vance


Some of the crew on MG-J Stirling shot down 7 June 1942. Back row l. to r. – Edward ‘Ted’ Earngey,  Frank St. John ‘Johnny’ Travis, Sidney ‘Mac’ Macnamara and Norman ‘Buck’ Tayler. 

Front l. to r. John ‘Jack’ Arnold and William ‘Bill’ Goodman. (So missing from this crew are: Harry Spry and Clarence Francis ‘Frank’ Henigman)

I’ve just finished reading it and was gratified to note that Travis was mentioned numerous times in connection with articles that he’d fashioned to aid the escapers. Overall, I found the book was astonishing – not just for the depth of research but also for the stories of what happened both before and after the escape which were both tragic and, in a few cases, triumphant. It’s a book that I’d recommend to anyone wishing to find out about the escape and those involved – and for me it was difficult to put down. Although it’s an emotional read especially in the last chapters – I found it gripping.

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Book about the Short Stirling W7471 and her crew on 7 June 1942 and the commemorative panel

The work of the SMAMF is special…and certainly is to the crew, posthumously, and to their families and descendants from now on. When I knew that the organisation were planning the panel I decided that I wanted to make for myself a book about it all… so I decided to use an online ‘create a book’ site and chose ‘Blurb’.

It has taken quite a while because I’ve spent time gathering together the information and the photos and building up the contents as I went along. However, I realised that if any of the other families of the crew members also want one then it’s all there online waiting to be ordered.

If anyone else is interested… here is the link so you can have a look at it.

The story of Short Stirling W.7471 MG-J and her crew

By Gill Chesney-Green

“>The Story of Short Stirling W7471 and her crew

Stirling  MG-J Winter 1941 or 1942

Mk 1 Short Stirling MG-J (W.7471) Winter 1941/2 at Oakington, home of 7 Squadron

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