Working in conjunction with Jim Copus, Graham Read has written an account of Jim's experiences, both of being shot down and of being a prisoner of war. The following extract tells of Jim's initial experiences as a prisoner of war, which are a reminder of the violent hostility that aircrew faced if they survived being shot down over Germany.
The extract begins just after Jim has landed, unhurt, in a snowy ploughed field.
A PRISONER OF WAR
The field in which I had landed was only yards away from a row of houses. Their occupants were on me immediately I landed and I was dragged into one of the houses amid much shouting and bravado. It was widely known that German civilians were not exactly welcoming towards aircrew who fell into their hands and I was very nervous about the whole situation. They shoved me into one corner of a room. My 'chute had been gathered into an untidy bundle and was dumped beside me. In the other corner were grouped a cross-section of the neighbourhood. They were gesticulating and shouting at me in unintelligible German. Some of the shouting, however, needed no translation! In the circumstances I did not feel at all like a "Terrorflieger" as the Nazis called R.A.F. bomber crews. Some young wide-eyed children were among the crowd. As a gesture of goodwill I took some chocolate from my flying-suit pocket and offered it to them. They recoiled hastily, either not knowing what it was or suspecting it was poisoned perhaps. To prove it was safe I ate a little myself and returned the rest to my pocket but the atmosphere was tense and I hoped that some sort of authority had been alerted and would remove me before something unpleasant happened.
Fortunately, the civil police (they were referred to as 'gendarmes') arrived promptly and I was hauled off on foot to the local police station where I was thrown unceremoniously, without food or water, into a damp cell in which the only piece of furniture was a bed. There was not even a blanket. I attempted to sleep but it was extremely cold. In an attempt to keep my feet from freezing I managed to squeeze both into one flying boot.
At some point during the night I was dragged out of the cell and upstairs to an office where I was confronted by the local Bürgermeister (Mayor). There were, he told me, the bodies of several aircrew in the mortuary. If I would tell him the names of my crew he would let me know if any of them were among the dead. I felt unable to cooperate in this 'kind offer' which was, of course, a fairly transparent ruse to get more information out of me. My response was perhaps equally transparent but served well enough to show that I knew what he was up to. The crew I had been flying with, I told him, were completely unknown to me. My presence on the aircraft had been a last minute arrangement as a substitute. However, I added helpfully, I would be prepared to go to the mortuary and point out anyone I recognised. This offer was refused and I was returned promptly to my cell.
In the morning, after an extremely uncomfortable night, I was brought a cup of ersatz coffee and something unidentifiable to eat. Shortly afterwards I was dragged out of the cell and outside where a horse and cart was waiting. Surprisingly my 'chute was returned to me and as I flung it into the cart saw Lund, the bomb -aimer, already aboard. He had a leg wound. As I started to climb up into the cart with him, I was pulled back and told that I must walk along behind thus presenting the entire populace who had turned out to watch, with another opportunity to shout and scream abuse as we plodded slowly through the town.