It’s been pointed out to me that I’ve got ‘Johnny’ Travis’s nationality wrong… so I’m putting the record straight here. He was known as ‘The Dapper Rhodesian’ by most people in his unit and later in Stalag Luft III.
His full name was Frank St. John Travis and he was born in England, originally, in the Edmonton area of Middlesex on 24 Sep 1915. At the age of 11 he and the family moved to Rhodesia, not South Africa. It was from here, at the outbreak of war, that he ‘joined up’ by travelling back to England and enlisting with the RAF.
So, after being shot down on 7 June 1942 Johnny went to Stalag Luft III along with Bill and the others – although whilst some were moved on to other camps he stayed and became an important member of the ‘Escape Committee’ although he declined to actually take part in the actual escape. A wise decision in hindsight. He and others made a variety of items to aid the escapers – compasses out of old Bakelite gramophone records, for example. He had, apparently been a mining engineer before the war, and possibly was able to contribute to the tunnelling in terms of advice.
Post- war he was an estate agent for a while, then a car dealer, later he opened a luggage shop that he ran with his wife. He died in Weymouth, Dorset in 1978.
His son, Peter, wrote:
“Before the war my father had trophies for Rifle shooting and body building which were all left all packed away in Rhodesia when he went back to England and he never went back for them.
After the war my father started a Real Estate business in Essex with my uncle, but because of his interest in motor cars became a car salesman in London, later we moved to Exeter in Devon and he became manager of a prestige car company before buying a luggage shop that he ran with my mother until his death at age 63.”
I don’t suppose that my father knew that Johnny was living back in the UK after the war…if he had known I’m sure that he would have made contact with him.
In these days of the internet tracking down people is relatively simple…back in the 60s, 70s and 80s this wasn’t so easy. By the time my father was was writing his memoirs in the 90s he was just about getting to grips with a laptop rather than a typewriter and the internet wasn’t something he used comfortably.
Such a shame… I think I’d like to have ‘met’ the other crew-members, in the flesh or via the internet, because I’m sure they would have all had good tales to tell about their lives and their connection through 7 Squadron, the Short Stirling W.7471 MG-J and Stalag Luft III!