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Taxi Charity card offers fond memories for WWII veteran

Each month, over one hundred veterans receive a card from the Taxi Charity. One earlier this year, featuring a Lancaster, evoked memories for WWII veteran, Ken Hay MBE.

"Your card showing the business end of a Lancaster brought back some happy memories for me.

Our group of approximately 250 POWs had worked in the coal mine from September, 1944. We’d left earlier that year, on what turned out to be the Long March to Freedom, on 23rd January from the outskirts of Katowice, Poland. We trudged, with a rest period every five or six days, through snow and ice until spring came, by which time we were in a farm in a forest in Bavaria.

During the night of Friday, 20th April, we heard gunfire coming from the west and knew it had to be Brits or Americans. So, at roll call and through our interpreters, we informed the Officer that the war had finished. He wouldn't accept this but compromised by saying we could have a rest and march tomorrow, which we agreed. That Saturday night, gunfire was much closer. On Sunday morning, the Germans accepted that it was over. I estimated we covered 1,600 km (990 miles) and was later confirmed. We waited. And at about 4pm on Sunday two American tanks arrived at the farm gate. We were freed and our guards taken prisoner.

As so many were being liberated in the area, we had to be patient. Eventually, we were taken by Dakotas to the Theatre of Arts in Rheims, Northern France. Our clothes were taken from us and burnt on a bonfire. We had a shower (you've no idea how good that was!) and then, as it was an American camp, kitted out as Yanks.

After several days, we were informed that we were moving out the following day. And, sure enough, on the morning of Friday, 4th May, 1945, a fleet of U.S. army lorries arrived and, 25 men to a lorry, we were driven to a much bigger airfield than when we had arrived. There was the most magnificent sight awaiting us, I can still picture it as I write this. Looking down the airfield Apron, as far as the eye could see, was a line of Lancaster bombers, all facing inwards and with their respective crews stood in front of each aircraft.

As we alighted, we were greeted by the plane's captain, who introduced his crew whom we shook hands with. We were given a box (akin to a kitchen matchbox) that contained flying rations and a sick bag before boarding the plane. I was on a walking stick due to infected feet so was the last to board. There were no seats, of course, and we just sat on the floor of the fuselage. I was immediately below the mid-upper gunner who, as the war was technically still happening, had to keep swivelling his hatch to ensure there were no rogue German planes looking for an easy kill.

Back in the tail of the aircraft was a bin to use as a toilet and, when I went back to do so, I saw there was a square tube going downwards and pointing backwards. I realised that this was a flare chute which had to point behind otherwise the airspeed would have blown it straight back up.

I could see a glimpse of the sky through the gunner's turret as we made our way west. A piece of paper was passed back, apparently from the pilot or navigator, which said ‘FRENCH COAST AHEAD’. A little later, another made its way down, saying ‘OVER THE ENGLISH CHANNEL’ and a third and final one that simply said ‘ENGLAND’.

As I was the last man to receive these notes, how I wished I’d kept them, particularly the final one. What I did do was crawl to the back of the plane to look down the chute to see our homeland. But, forgetting for a moment that the chute was pointing backwards, all I could see was water. I waited and then, at the end of the bluish water, a white line of the surf breaking, a yellowish strip of sandy beach, then a glimpse of white cliff quickly followed the beauty of English green grass. I still see those colours, and later thought that they seemed like a medal ribbon.

We landed at Dunsfold to a warm greeting by WAAFs and nurses, and I was home just in time to join the family in going to Mass on Sunday, 6th May, and, of course, in time for VE Day two days later.

Some years later, my wife, Doris, and I went to a charity fair where one of the stalls was a gun turret from a Lancaster, with a chap charging 50p to sit inside. I joined the queue and, when it was my turn, as the chap took my money, I said that in 1945 I’d come home in one. He promptly gave my money back and that l had earned a free Ken Hay MBE speaking to WWII go. Such is fame!"


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