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"Tally Ho" [Painting from the Frank Harding Collection]
depicting one of the missions of Ken Watts & Wally Hogg over Yugoslavia
on 13 March 1943, when they shot down a German Ju52 transport.
Memories after 50 years - especially with aircrew of World War 2 - cover short vivid snatches between involuntary 'switch-offs'. "Kriegies" [Prisoners of War] often retain residual humour whilst wiping the painful memories, but all recall the hunger periods.
Seemingly, personal contacts mainly trigger recall. Wal Hogg from Bowral, having met his old CO and formation-leader Ken Watts 50 years later, called to query my 1994-published "Tales from the Sagan Woods".
Wal had "switched-off" and his family knew little more than that he went overseas and came back as the first liberated RAAF PoW from Europe. I made no notes from his and his wife Audrey's visit, so after his sudden death last year, I decided to rope in the facts of both Wal's and Ken's untold "line-shoots".
My thanks go to Wal's great friend from schooldays, Ted Archer; his squadron colleague Bruce Burchfield; his fellow kriegie at Belaria, Eric Stephenson; his Mittagong golfer friend Alan Reid (who had wrung some facts at the 19th hole) and Padre Fred McKay.
Wal Hogg in the Cockpit of his Kittyhawk. [Painting by Dennis Adams. AWM ART23462.]
On 27 March 1944, the 12 Kittyhawks of 3 Squadron RAAF, left their Italian base at Cutella, NE of Cassino for a strike against the Luftwaffe airfield at Forli. The only casualty that day was Wal, hit by flak he had no option but to bale out.
Baling out at not a great height, he had no chance to direct his descent and his chute was caught in a tree. Released by two Germans armed with machine pistols, he was then shut in a nearby farmhouse.
Left alone, with his Mae West's escape kit and his chute ripcord, he found a door and escaped to start his near six weeks evasion. He was 280km from the front near Cassino, but walked nearly 600km, in peasant clothing, to Sulmona barely 20km from the front line at Cassino. On the way he mainly stole or was given some food by Italians. He was well aware of the fear Italians had of their own Fascists and the Germans.
Meeting up with a Yugoslav student who had been trying to reach the Allied lines for three months, both stumbled on a seven-man German patrol on the only path over a 7000ft mountain. They were pushed into a lice-infested goal - here the Gestapo reigned!
With no identification except his chute ripcord, he was interrogated 16 times between 12 May and 7 June 1944; however the Luftwaffe learned of his capture and, just before their retreat, Wal joined a group of recaptured PoWs who were loaded into cattle trucks going north.
Curiously a French jail clerk smuggled him a pencil and paper. Wal wrote a letter to his mother in Sydney, given later to Captain Gordon of the Household Cavalry, and this letter is still readable today.
With Indians, British and Americans, Wal arrived at Dulag Luft and then sent to Belaria (part of Stalag Luft 3 about 350km SE of Berlin) in late June 1944.
Still in peasants clothing, Wal was "put in Coventry" for seven days, until a clandestine message from the North compound said other 3 Squadron types knew of a Wal Hogg.
Hauled before kriegies for an impromptu hearing: "Where do you come from? Rose Bay. "What street? - Struth my parents know yours!" Accepted.
Like the East and North compounds, Belaria's kriegies started their snow march in late January 1945, arriving at a disgusting camp at Luckenwalde, SW of Berlin. The camp was overrun by the Russians on April 21. But they were still prisoners until the Americans were allowed to retrieve the US and British aircrew in mid-May.
Wal only two days earlier had escaped from that chaos of Central Europe, and reached the river Elbe, swam it, and was in England thanks to the US troops.
In England, Wal learned that his mother was terminally ill, so Ted Archer in Australia ("manpowered" as a vital hydraulics engineer) used the last of his petrol coupons to drive to Canberra and succeeded in getting the then Prime Minister Ben Chifley to bless air transport with the USAAF so Wal became the first liberated RAAF kriegie to arrive home in June 1945, before his mother died.
I learned that Wal had suffered nightmares for 50 years of married life that stopped after Audrey rang my wife to say that, "a miracle had occurred - Wal has not a single nightmare since he had talked to you both" !
Eric Stephenson's comment, "To me every Air Force PoW would suffer from PTSD after going through the rigours of being shot down, but I am convinced our community spirit in Belaria at least provided its own cure."
Wal's flight leader on that fateful day in March, FLTLT Ken WATTS DFC, was now a SQNLDR and the CO of 112 Sqn. RAF.
On an early-morning flight he was hit by flak after a strafing run and crashed landed near Todi some 50km north of Rome.
Bursting through bushes to a cleared paddock, he destroyed all identification, swapped into Italian ill-fitting peasant clothing and hat and set off - helped with food and water by scared locals.
He was surrounded by Fascist and German troops in a creek bank after two days evading. Held in a field police post, he then joined a dozen well-armed Germans in a truck to Florence. Thence a train via Bologna to Verona near the Swiss border. Here there were none of Shakespeare's "gentlemen", but the dreaded Gestapo.
In a cell nearby was a badly-burned US P38 pilot.
Ken was brutally beaten up by SS guards. He was only saved by the Luftwaffe turning up and claiming custody. The skull fractures years later caused brain tumours and were to limit Ken's normal physical movements but they never stripped him of his will to "keep on keeping on" ... one of his favourite expressions.
He and the American safely arrived at Dulag Luft where the interrogators told him most of his service history. Shortly after he was sent by cattle truck to Stalag Luft I, Barth, on the Baltic coast near the Island of Rugen.
Here he met SQNLDR A. I. McRitchie DFC from Whyalla and together they organised transport with the USAAF nearly a month after the Russians had 'liberated' the camp. Half a century later he learned that Wal Hogg had survived.
Ken Watts, in a wheelchair, told of his experiences to his friend, Gordon Holland, AIF and War Correspondent. It resulted in a small book being published just before he died. The book is titled "One Airman's War" and, when Wal Hogg visited Ken in Melbourne, he won a copy as did a few ex-members of 3 Squadron.
IDKU, EGYPT, 1943. PILOT OFFICER J. K. "KIRK" BANN AND "KEN" WATTS, OF 451 SQUADRON RAAF, POSE AGAINST THE SQUADRON'S SPECIAL
SUPERMARINE SPITFIRE AIRCRAFT, WHICH MADE A RECORD ALTITUDE OF 49,000 FEET OVER ALEXANDRIA IN 1943. (Donor: J. S. ARCHBOLD.)
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