During WWII, my dad, George Edwin Farrar, was a waist gunner on a B-17 crew of the 384th Bomb Group of the United States Army Air Forces’ (USAAF) 8th Air Force. The 384th was based in Grafton Underwood, England. Dad was “Ed” to family, but in the Army Air Forces, he was known as “George.”
During the war, Lawrence Newbold was a wireless operator on an Avro Lancaster crew of the 50 Squadron of the British Royal Air Force (RAF). The 50 Squadron was based in Skellingthorpe, England. He was also known as “Lawrie” and signed a letter to my father as such (although I originally read it as “Laurie.”)
While the British Royal Air Force flew night bombing missions over Germany during WWII, the US Army Air Forces flew daytime missions. The result was constant, continuous bombardment against the Nazis in the European Theater.
On the night of March 18, 1944, Lawrence Newbold’s 50 Squadron took part in a mission to Frankfurt, Germany. In the course of the mission, his Lancaster was shot down and Lawrence bailed out over Germany. After interrogation, he was likely first confined to the Stalag Luft VI prison camp near the town of Heydekrug, Memelland (now Šilutė in Lithuania), although I am not certain that was his original camp.
In July 1944, the POW’s of Stalag Luft VI were moved to the Stalag Luft IV prison camp in Gross Tychow, Pomerania (now Tychowo, Poland), which had opened in May. Whether Lawrence was one of the prisoners who endured the dreadful transfer from Stalag Luft VI to IV, via crammed railroad boxcars, the dismal hold of a ship, and the torturous “run up the road” (also known as the “Heydekrug Run” – more on this subject at a later date), I do not know, but I do know at the time he was captured, Stalag Luft IV was not yet open and he was transferred there sometime on or after the opening in May 1944.
On the morning of September 28, 1944, George Farrar’s 384th Bomb Group took part in a mission to Magdeburg, Germany. Coming off the target, another of the group’s B-17’s collided with George’s. George, who was luckily wearing his parachute, was thrown from the aircraft which had split in two in the collision. After interrogation and a lengthy hospital stay, he was confined to Stalag Luft IV in late November, around Thanksgiving.
Lawrence and George were assigned to Room 12 of an unknown barracks and lager of Stalag Luft IV. Within weeks the newfound roommates would spend Christmas 1944 together. Lawrence undoubtedly would like to have been home to spend Christmas with his wife Marjorie and their son Michael, and George was likely dreaming of Christmas with his parents and eight siblings.
In a Christmas POW postcard to his mother, George wrote,
Hope everyone had a nice Christmas. We had as good as can be expected here.
I often think of how alone and scared my dad must have been at Christmas 1944 in a prison camp with no family to comfort him. But this year I have a new perspective. This Christmas is the 75th anniversary of the Christmas Dad spent in Stalag Luft IV and I will think of it as the Christmas Dad spent with Lawrence Newbold and his POW family of “Room 12.”
This year is special because Stephen Newbold, the son of Lawrence Newbold, and I, the daughter of George Farrar, met for the first time. When I was in England for the 384th Bomb Group reunion in September, Steve and his son, Paul, and I met in the village of Grafton Underwood, where Dad’s 384th Bomb Group’s airbase was located.
Dad would never have believed that seventy-five years after he and Lawrence Newbold endured the horrors of imprisonment in Stalag Luft IV and the 86-day 500-mile march to liberation during WWII, their descendants would have the opportunity to meet. At our meeting, the connection was instantaneous. I predict our friendship will be long lasting and I look forward to a future visit to England which must include meeting more of Lawrence Newbold’s descendants.
Even though George and Lawrence are both gone now, our pride in the sacrifices they made for us seventy-five years ago will live on through their children, grandchildren, and many generations to come.
On this 75th anniversary of the Christmas George and Lawrence spent together in 1944, to my newfound friends, Steve and Paul Newbold, and the Newbold family members I have yet to meet, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019