A new search has provided me with some new information regarding my dad George Edwin Farrar, one of the original waist gunners of the John Oliver Buslee crew of the 544th Bomb Squadron of the 384th Bomb Group in World War II.
To view my original post and other information about George Edwin Farrar, please see the links at the end of this post.
This part will cover George Edwin Farrar as MIA (Missing in Action) and as a POW (Prisoner of War).
The Mid-air Collision
On 28 September 1944, the B-17’s of the John Buslee crew and the James Brodie crew collided over Magdeburg, Germany. Rather than repeat the story of the collision, I will direct those who would like to read it to 384th Bomb Group pilot Wallace Storey’s account of the collision here.
Missing in Action
Morning Reports of the 384th Bombardment Group note the following for George Edwin Farrar: On 28 September 1944, on Mission 201 to Magdeburg, Germany (Target was Industry, Steelworks), George Edwin Farrar, flying with the John Oliver Buslee crew, went from duty to MIA (Missing in Action).
George Farrar and the other airmen involved in the collision would remain missing until some word was heard, typically relayed from the Red Cross to the military, and from the military to the families, or next of kin, of the missing. Word did not travel quickly outside of wartime Germany to families waiting to learn the fate of their loved ones.
George Edwin Farrar’s missing in action status was reported in his hometown newspaper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, date unknown, but likely in early- or mid-October 1944.
This particular article noted George received his wings at Kingman, Arizona, and mentioned he was a gunnery instructor at Kingman before going overseas for combat duty. It also looks like, at the time, his older brother Carroll was stationed in Greensboro, North Carolina with the Army Air Corps and his younger brother Robert (Bob) was stationed in the Pacific with the Navy.
During WWII, Greensboro was the only city to have a military base inside its city limits. In 1944, Greensboro’s Army Air Force base’s role was as an ORD, an “Overseas Replacement Depot.” It processed, reassigned and shipped out soldiers. It is likely that Carroll had finished one tour and was being reassigned there at the time.
At that same time, Robert (Bob), the youngest of the trio of Farrar brothers in WWII, was serving on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific, the USS Intrepid.
Prisoner of War
In the mid-air collision, George Edwin Farrar was thrown unconscious from his B-17. He awakened long enough to deploy his chest chute before losing consciousness again. He next awoke on the ground, received a beating from German civilians, but was soon rescued by Nazi military.
He was unable to walk and was carried to a house. He received medical attention and was interrogated, but I don’t know the details other than he traveled by train and remembered that his German guards were kind to him and allowed him to ride in one of their bunks.
George likely wrote his card from the hospital. Considering his condition, his report that he was “in good health” was certainly not accurate. And he was not transported to another camp “within the next few days.”
POW mail could take several months to arrive at its destination. Fellow POW, Brodie crew waist gunner Harry Liniger, wrote his post card on 3 October and his mother received it on 20 December 1944.
George Farrar’s postcard, written two days later, could have been received in late December, too, but I think it is equally likely that it was not received until after the first of the new year. In late December, the Farrar family had not yet heard any official word about the fate of their son from the U.S. government.
Hospital and Prison Camp
George Edwin Farrar was severely injured in the mid-air collision and was hospitalized at an unknown location. Unable to walk, he remained hospitalized until shortly before Thanksgiving 1944, at which time he was moved to a barracks in the Stalag Luft IV POW camp.
Aside from George Farrar of the John Oliver Buslee crew, the only airmen of the two crews to survive the mid-air collision were George Hawkins, Wilfred Miller, and Harry Liniger of the James Joseph Brodie crew.
The only surviving officer, Brodie crew navigator George Marshall Hawkins, was seriously injured and served his entire POW internment in a POW hospital. All three gunners, Farrar, Miller, and Liniger, were all held in the Stalag Luft IV POW camp for enlisted airmen.
George Farrar and Wilfred Miller appear on the same camp roster, a Stalag Luft IV Lager D roster, placing both of them in the same Lager of the camp. I believe Harry Liniger may have been held in the same lager even though his name does not appear on the roster, which could be incomplete.
George Edwin Farrar’s POW number was #3885. He was held in Stalag Luft IV, Lager D, Barracks 4, Room 12. This I know from two POW Lager D rosters, one for American airmen and one for British airmen, from Gregory Hatton’s website, Kriegsgefangen Lagar Der Luft VI and VI.
The Farrar family received official word on New Year’s Eve, 31 December 1944, that their son was alive and a prisoner of war. More than three months had passed since the mid-air collision between the Buslee and Brodie crews’ B-17’s before George Edwin Farrar’s parents and siblings would officially learn he had survived.
Subsequent newspaper articles reported George’s status as a prisoner of war. None of these articles are dated, but are likely from early January 1945. Two of the articles were very similar, but provided slightly different details.
Both articles refer to my father as “Edwin” Farrar, the name he was called by family, rather than “George” Farrar, as he was known in the service. Both also mention his duty as a B-17 gunner, his Air Medal, and note he was a gunnery instructor, with one article adding the location detail of Albuquerque, New Mexico (rather than Kingman, Arizona as in the previous MIA article) and Ardmore, Oklahoma.
Both articles also mention brothers Carroll and Robert (Bob). Both identify Carroll as a Staff Sergeant with one noting his branch of service as Army Air Corps. Both identify Bob’s branch of service as the U.S. Navy with the additional detail of his duty as Watertender, and his rank of Third Class in one article. (Watertender is defined as “a crewman aboard a steam-powered ship who is responsible for tending to the fires and boilers in the ship’s engine room.”)
The news of Ed Farrar’s POW status even made the Susanville, California newspaper. His oldest sister Geraldine, “Gerry,” must have reported the story to her local paper after learning the wonderful news from home.
I must assume that Ed Farrar’s POW postcard had been received by this time also as the telegram did not mention his condition. The postcard, with its report that he was in “good health” (and with “slightly wounded” canceled out) must have led Ed’s family to believe he was uninjured. And at this point, it is clear that the assumption was that his plane was shot down rather than being involved in a mid-air collision.
George Edwin Farrar’s sister Gerry (Mrs. W.C. Mass) also reported to her local paper that her brother had written to her and said, “With the things the Red Cross gives us we get plenty to eat.” If that was so, why would he have written to his mother on 24 October 1944 that, “I hope you will have plenty chicken when I get there. I think I could eat a couple all alone.”
I believe prisoners in the German hospitals may have been fed more and better than the prisoners in the POW camps, but still of insufficient calories and nutrients.
It was not that the Red Cross wasn’t providing. It was that the Germans were not distributing the packages to the prisoners – at least the enlisted POW’s, but letting them slowly starve instead. With the Americans and British bombing the railways, many Red Cross packages did not get to their intended destinations. But many packages did and were hoarded by the Nazi POW camp leaders instead of distributing them to the prisoners.
While Wilfred Miller was evacuated by train from Stalag Luft IV to Stalag Luft I in Barth, Germany in late January 1945, George Farrar and Harry Liniger remained in Stalag Luft IV until the majority of the POW camp’s prisoners were marched out of the gates of the camp on 6 February 1945.
They did not know where they were going or how long they would be on the road, but it would be the start of an 86-day 500-mile march of prisoners across Germany.
I have previously written about the march and how little the men were fed, how poorly they were clothed, how sick and exhausted they became, and how they were housed in barns or slept out in the open all across Germany. I have written about how the winter of 1945 was so brutally cold. But as I learn more details about the march from many of the survivors who wrote about it, I will have more information to share in future articles.
George Edwin Farrar was liberated by the British Royal Dragoons on 2 May 1945. He and his marching companion Lawrence Newbold, an RAF Lancaster wireless operator, were still on the road when they were freed.
As a prisoner of war, George Farrar had been hospitalized for almost two months, had been held in a POW camp for over two more months, and had been on the road marching across Germany for almost three more.
Once he was liberated, George was again hospitalized, but not until twelve days after he gained his freedom. According to a U.S. World War II Hospital Admission Card, on 14 May 1945, George E. Farrar was hospitalized for ten days in a field hospital with a diagnosis of acute Tonsillitis. The record does not give any other indication of his weight or overall condition at the time of his hospitalization. I believe he was cared for in multiple hospitals before returning home, including a hospital in England, remaining overseas until early July 1945.
More about George Edwin Farrar’s return home, release from military service, and post-WWII life in my next post…
Thank you to the 384th Bomb Group and especially Fred Preller and Keith Ellefson for their research and obtaining and presenting records of the servicemen of the Group.
Previous post, George Edwin Farrar, Growing Up in Atlanta, Georgia
Previous post, Stalag Luft IV, Lager D, Barracks 4, Room 12
George Edwin Farrar’s Personnel Record courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group
George Edwin Farrar’s Enlistment Record in the online National Archives
George Farrar’s POW record in the online National Archives
Stalag Luft IV Lager D roster
Missing Air Crew Report 9366 for the Brodie crew on 28 September 1944 courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group
Missing Air Crew Report 9753 for the Buslee crew on 28 September 1944, courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022