"So we got out of there and arrived at Stalag III. Now, that was a real Sunday school compared with Buchenwald."
See below for Mr. Smith's entire testimony.
Please be advised that Memory Project primary sources may deal with personal testimony that reflect the speaker’s recollections and interpretations of events. Individual testimony does not necessarily reflect the views of the Memory Project and Historica Canada.
We had been raiding the rail yard south of Paris, and successfully dropped our bombs and were on the way home. And on the way, of course, we were hit head on with a Junkers [Ju] 88 night fighter. And our aircraft was shot up quite badly and the port inner engine was on fire. All the crew bailed out successfully, and I found myself hanging in my parachute, floating over occupied France.
I hit the ground very gently and hid my chute under some underbrushes and I got rid of my sidearm, a Smith and Wesson pistol. And I took off into the unknown. I didn’t have a clue where I was going. I knew I was in the neighbourhood of Chartres. And during the second day, wandering around, I made contact with the French resistance. And the resistance hid me out in the small village of Berchères-la-Maingot and I stayed with a French family until July the 15th.
I spent my nights in a cupboard, along with a huge big spider, and it was either him or me. Anyway, after two weeks almost with the French family, their name was LeGrande, I met one of the spies that were dropped in, a radio operator, code named Janette, and I did some coding for her and also fixed up her radio, which I was quite happy to do. About that time, it was starting to heat up in the area and people were coming to their door and inquiring if a British officer was staying with them. So they decided, look, I’d better move and they made arrangements that I would go to Spain, over the Pyrenees [mountains].
I was picked up in a car, along with a Belgian traitor and his red-headed girlfriend. The time was July the 15th, and I was on my way to Paris, supposedly to have false identity papers made. And on the way, we picked up another of the crew members of 419 Squadron, one of my sister crews, sergeant Dave High, who was the wireless operator, plus another officer by the name of Bastaville. So we spent the night in Paris and during the night, we begin to feel that we’d been had.
The next morning, we were picked up and we raced through Paris in a car. I remember passing the Eiffel Tower and all of a sudden, we ran into a roadblock, the German field police. They pulled us right out of the vehicle. They knew we were coming and they didn’t treat us too friendly. So, they put two guards with us and resumed, told the driver to keep on going and after a short trip, we arrived at Fresnes Prison. It was a nasty piece of business. A four storey building, containing over 1500 cells. And it was called the Gateway to the Concentration Camps. A filthy place. Rampant with fleas and all kinds of bugs. Executions were carried out regularly and screams could be heard all night long, along with the rifle shots of the executions.
On August the 15th, the prison was evacuated and including 168 airmen. We were put on a train that would hold 40 men or eight horses. And of course, the Germans couldn’t talk too well and put hundreds of us in each boxcar. And it was five days of living hell. We were in Buchenwald concentration camp [in Germany], and that was a nasty place. And thousands of people have been executed. Actually, it wasn’t an extermination camp like Dachau and Auschwitz, it was a labour camp. There was a couple of factories there, and it was a camp that they worked the people to death. And of course, there was a lot of executions. When we were there, there was 35 or so French and British spies executed and they were executing 400 Russians a day, and they were going up in smoke. And we were really getting scared.
We left concentration camp Buchenwald on October the 20th, 1944, for Stalag [Luft] III. [A Luftwaffe Prisoner of War camp near Zagan, Poland] And let me tell you that it was quite dicey because we were to be executed on October the 21st. And thank God it didn’t come off. Anyway, the Luftwaffe got us out of there. Somehow, one of the Luftwaffe officers visited the camp hospital and we had one of our people in hospital and the Luftwaffe doctor asked how did he get in there. So I guess he reported it to the Luftwaffe in Berlin and some of the higher ups, we think maybe it was Goering [Hermann Goering,commander of the German air force], that stopped the execution.
So we got out of there and arrived at Stalag III. Now, that was a real Sunday school compared with Buchenwald.