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Recently, Paul Furiga, son of 384th Bomb Group Bombardier/Navigator Frank Furiga, shared a page from his father’s World War II diary with me. The particular page described Frank’s journey from the US to the UK when he and his fellow USAAF service members ferried a group of B-17’s from Kearney, Nebraska to the European Theater of Operations (ETO). They were on the final leg of their journey into combat duty with the 8th Army Air Forces.
Frank Furiga left his last training base at Admore, Oklahoma in the same group of servicemen as my dad, George Edwin Farrar. Both Dad and Frank ended up at the same air base in Grafton Underwood, England, flying missions in heavy bombers, B-17’s.
I have written previously about my dad’s journey from Oklahoma to England, but today I am going to combine the information in my dad’s letters home with Frank Furiga’s diary entries to get a better picture of where they stopped along the way and on what dates. So here goes…
Dad illustrated his trip across the Atlantic on a map in a world atlas.
And then he explained where he was and when in several letters to his mother up to the point he left the United States.
June 22, 1944 [Farrar Letter]
Dad wrote a letter to his Mother that they would be leaving Ardmore, Oklahoma. They were heading to Kearney, Nebraska to pick up their plane which he thought would take from three to seven days. They likely left Ardmore, probably by troop train, somewhere between June 23 and June 25. Today, driving the 540 miles between Ardmore and Kearney takes eight to nine hours. The letter was postmarked Ardmore on June 23.
June 25, 1944 [Farrar Letter]
Dad’s next letter was written from Kearney, Nebraska on June 25 and postmarked Kearney the same day. He wrote, “We will only be here four days.” They had been assigned their plane to ferry overseas.
June 26, 1944 [Farrar Letter]
The next day, still in Kearney, Dad wrote, “One more day in this place and we will be going.”
June 28, 1944 [Farrar Letter]
Two days later, they were still in Kearney. Dad wrote, “In just a little while we will be on our way. We will stay once more in the States. This is one of the best places I have been in some time, and I hate to leave it without going to town once more.” This letter was postmarked Kearney on June 29.
I think Dad liked Kearney so much he had this photo made to send home to his mother. I can’t be certain this is Kearney, but it looks very similar to a photo of Central Avenue in Kearney on page 7 of an article, “Kearney, Nebraska, and the Kearney Army Air Field in World War II” by Todd L. Peterson.
Kearney must have been a nice place even during wartime. Today, the “Visit Kearney” website tells me that Kearney is pronounced (car + knee), it is a colorful and exciting city situated in the heart of the Heartland, and it is the Sandhill Crane Capital of the World.
Now I’ll turn the next leg of the journey over to Frank Furiga and his diary entries.
June 29, 1944 [Furiga Diary]
Left Kearney, Neb. June 29.
Arrived Grenier Field, New Hampshire June 29 in morning.
Grenier Field was located in Manchester, New Hampshire.
June 30, 1944 [Furiga Diary]
Left June 30th.
Arrived Goose Bay, Labrador June 30th in evening.
July 1, 1944 [Furiga Diary]
Left there (Goose Bay, Labrador) July 1st evening.
July 2, 1944 [Furiga Diary]
Arrived Meeks Field, Iceland on A.M. of July 2nd.
July 4, 1944 [Furiga Diary]
Left Meeks July 4th A.M.
Arrived Nutts Corner, Ireland on July 4th (or 5th).
Nutts Corner was a Royal Air Force (RAF) Station located 2.7 miles (4.3 km) east of Crumlin, County Antrim, Northern Ireland and 9.2 miles (14.8 km) north west of Belfast. During the Second World War it became an important RAF Coastal Command station and was also used as a transport hub for aircraft arriving from the United States.
Station #2, European Wing, Air Transport Command was activated 24 September 1943 at Nutts Corner using personnel from detachments of the 69th Transport Squadron and 1149th Military Police Company (Aviation) [per General Orders 21, EWATC, 24 September 1943] and operated as a transport hub until it was redesignated 18 July 1944.
July 5, 1944 [Furiga Diary]
Went from there (Nutts Corner, Ireland) on 5th by boat to Scotland.
From there in train to Stone in Staffordshire a few miles south of Stoke-on-Trent.
AAF Station 518 (VIII AF Service Command) was in Stone.
From this point, I can only follow their path through the orders sending both men and their crews to Grafton Underwood, just days apart. What they did between July 5 and the third week of July, I can’t say, but it may have involved some additional training time. Or perhaps just sitting around waiting for their assignments.
July 22, 1944 [USAAF Special Orders #144]
George Edwin Farrar was assigned to the 544th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), per AAF Station 106 Special Orders #144 dated 22 July 1944. Orders stated,
The following Officers and Enlisted Men having been assigned to the 384th Bomb Group from ACU & attached to 1st Replacement and Training Squadron (B), per par 2 SO #202, Hq AAF Station 112, dated 20 July, 1944, are further assigned to organization as indicated, effective 21 July, 1944.
Hq AAF Station 112 was identified in “Army Air Force Stations” as
- AAF Number: 112
- Name: Bovingdon
- Location: Hertfordshire
- Principal Unit(s) Assigned: 11 Cmbt (Combat) Crew Replacement Ctr (Center)
“Army Air Force Stations” is subtitled “A Guide to the Stations Where U .S . Army Air Forces Personnel Served in the United Kingdom During World War II” and was written by Captain Barry J. Anderson, USAF of the Research Division of the USAF Historical Research Center at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama and published 31 January 1985.
July 26, 1944 [USAAF Special Orders #148]
Frank Dominic Furiga was assigned to the 547th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), per AAF Station 106 Special Orders #148 dated 26 July 1944. Orders stated,
The following Officers and Enlisted Men having been assigned to the 384th Bomb Group from ACU & attached to 1st Replacement and Training Squadron (B), per par 1 SO #206, Hq AAF Station 112, dated 24 July, 1944, are further assigned to organization as indicated, effective 25 July, 1944.
From the letters and diary entries, I believe I can trace the path of George Edwin Farrar and Frank Dominic Furiga and the other servicemen they were traveling with as:
June 22, 1944: In Ardmore, Oklahoma.
June 23 – 25, 1944: Left Ardmore, Oklahoma. Arrived Kearney, Nebraska.
June 29, 1944: Left Kearney, Nebraska. Arrived Grenier Field, Manchester, New Hampshire.
June 30, 1944: Left Grenier Field, New Hampshire. Arrived Goose Bay, Labrador.
July 1, 1944: Left Goose Bay, Labrador.
July 2, 1944: Arrived Meeks Field, Iceland.
July 4, 1944: Left Meeks Field, Iceland. Arrived Nutts Corner, Ireland.
July 5, 1944: Left Nutts Corner, Ireland. Boarded boat for Scotland. Continued by train to Stone in Staffordshire, England.
Unknown date, July, 1944: Continued to Combat Crew Replacement Center at AAF Station 112 Bovingdon in Hertfordshire.
July 22, 1944: George Edwin Farrar was assigned to the 384th Bomb Group in Grafton Underwood, Northamptonshire, England.
July 26, 1944: Frank Dominic Furiga was assigned to the 384th Bomb Group in Grafton Underwood, Northamptonshire, England.
Thank you Paul Furiga for sharing your dad’s diary entries.
Previous post: From the US to the UK and Beyond
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2021
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
The last seven days my dad, George Edwin Farrar, spent at the 384th Bomb Group’s Grafton Underwood air base were pretty busy, although the previous week, he only flew one mission (number 196), targeting the railroad marshalling yards in Hamm Germany.
He spent the weekend of September 23 and 24, 1944 enjoying the 384th Bomb Group’s 200th Mission Celebration.
Saturday, September 23 events included an award banquet in the Officers’ Mess with guest speaker Brigadier General Robert F. Travis, dancing in Hangar #1 for the enlisted men with music by George Elrick & his BBC Orchestra and other entertainers, dancing in the Officers’ Club for the officers with music by the Flying Yanks Orchestra, and dancing in the Zebra Club for Zebra Club members with music by the Stratton-Audley G.I. Band.
Transportation to the party was provided from several locations (Northampon, Kettering, Woodford, Corby, Brigstock, Lilford, Newport Pagnell, Finedon, and Geddington) for civilian guests.
Sunday, September 24 was a day of “novelty events,” including a sack race, a three-legged race, a relay race, a piggy-back race, a wheelbarrow race, and a slow bike race. Also on the schedule were a bicycle derby, a baseball game – Station 106 vs. 8th AF All Stars, Scotch bagpipe band & Highland dancers, and a U-S-O stage show at the Station Theater featuring an all-American cast including MC & comedian Artie Conray, comedy act Drohan & Dupree, and accordionist Ferne Downes.
The 200th Mission Celebration weekend was in advance of the actual 200th mission date, and in fact, occurred between Mission 197 to the railroad marshalling yards in Mainz, Germany on September 21 and Mission 198 to the railroad marshalling yards in Frankfurt am Main, Germany on September 25. Daddy flew Mission 198, but then missed Mission 199 on September 26 to a steelworks factory in Osnabrück, Germany.
Mission 200 finally arrived on September 27, targeting the railroad marshalling yards in Köln (Cologne), Germany. Dad flew that one and that was the last mission on which he returned to Grafton Underwood.
The next day, on September 28, 1944, Mission 201, targeting a steelworks factory in Magdeburg, Germany, would be his last, cut short by a mid-air collision between his and another of the groups B-17’s. His next stop, after interrogation and a hospital stay, would be the Stalag Luft IV POW camp in Gross-Tychow (now Tychowo), Poland, and then the long walk home, a five-hundred mile, eighty-six day march across Germany to liberation.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019
On Sunday, June 2, 2019, the children of the waist gunners of both ships involved in the 384th Bomb Group’s mid-air collision of September 28, 1944 over Magdeburg, Germany met for the first time.
That’s me, Cindy Farrar Bryan, daughter of George Edwin Farrar of the Buslee crew, on the left and Harry Liniger, Jr., son of Harry Allen Liniger, Sr. of the Brodie crew, on the right. Harry is pointing to his dad’s name on a plaque in the garden of the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum in Savannah, GA. The plaque is dedicated to the James Brodie crew of the 545th Bomb Squad of the 384th Bomb Group.
On September 28, 1944, the 384th Bomb Group flew their Mission 201 to Magdeburg, Germany. Coming off the target, two B-17’s collided, the Buslee crew’s 43-37822 and the Brodie crew’s 42-31222 (also known as “Lazy Daisy.”)
The only survivors of the Brodie crew were navigator George Hawkins, tail gunner Wilfred Miller, and waist gunner Harry Liniger.
The front section of the nose of the Brodie crew’s “Lazy Daisy” was carried away, and with it, the togglier. Hawkins managed to break out of the right side of the nose just behind the right nose gun. Waist gunner Harry Liniger was attempting to escape through the waist door when an explosion threw him from the ship. The explosion also severed the tail of the ship and tail gunner Wilfred Miller rode the tail assembly down and later chuted from the tail section.
The only survivor of the Buslee crew was waist gunner George Edwin Farrar, my dad. He believed that the other ship must have hit right in the center of their ship, as they were knocked half in-to. At the time they were struck, Dad was knocked unconscious and fell about 25,000 feet, before he knew he was even out of the ship.
Both Liniger and Farrar (and also Miller) were confined as POWs in Stalag Luft IV and survived the 500-mile, 86-day Black March across Germany to their liberation in May 1945. Hawkins was so severely injured in the collision that he was confined to the hospital during the whole of his time as a prisoner of war.
Now that Harry and I have finally met, we’d like one day to meet the children of George Hawkins and Wilfred Miller, the only other survivors of the September 28, 1944 mid-air collision over Magdeburg. To those children, if you feel the same, please contact me.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019
In the September 28, 1944 mid-air collision between two of the 384th Bomb Group’s B-17s with the Buslee crew (my dad’s crew) aboard 43-37822 and the Brodie crew aboard 42-31222 (aka Lazy Daisy), fourteen airmen died, but four survived. My dad, waist gunner George Edwin Farrar of the Buslee crew, was the only survivor on his fortress. He was seriously injured and required hospitalization for almost two months.
Aboard Lazy Daisy, waist gunner Harry Allen Liniger and tail gunner Wilfred Frank Miller survived without serious injury, but navigator George Marshall Hawkins, Jr. sustained extremely serious injuries due to the collision. I don’t intend to cover the extent of Hawkins’ injuries now. At this time, I want to only identify the hospitals at which my dad and Hawkins were treated as POW’s.
During WWII, the following German Lazaretts (Hospitals) held American POWs,
Lazarett IV A Elsterhorst (Hohnstein, Czechoslovakia)
Lazarett IV G (Leipzig, Germany)
Lazarett V B (Rottenmunster, Germany)
Lazarett VI C (Lingen, Germany)
Lazarett VI G (Gerresheim, Germany)
Lazarett VI J (Dusseldorf, Germany)
Lazarett VII A (Freising, Germany)
Lazarett IX B (Bad Soden/Salmunster, Germany)
Lazarett IX C (a) (Obermassfeld, Germany)
Lazarett IX C (b) (Meiningen, Germany)
Lazarett IX C (c) (Hildburghausen, Germany)
Lazarett X A (Schleswig, Germany)
Lazarett X B (Sandbostel, Germany)
Lazarett XIII D (Nurnberg-Langwasser, Germany)
Lazarett XVIII A/Z (Spittal/Drau, Austria)
Marine Lazarett (Cuxhaven, Germany)
Luftwaffen Lazarett 4/11 (Wismar, Germany)
Reserve Lazarett II Vienna (Vienna, Austria)
Reserve Lazarett Graz (Graz, Austria)
Reserve Lazarett Bilin (Bilin, Czechoslovakia)
Reserve Lazarett Wollstein (Wollstein, Poland)
Reserve Lazarett II Stargard (Stargard, Germany)
Reserve Lazarett Schmorkau (Schmorkau, Germany)
Reserve Lazarett Konigswartha (Konigswartha, Germany)
Reserve Lazarett Ebelsbach (Ebelsbach, Germany)
The above list is noted to be as of December 31, 1944 and was found on the website of the National Museum of the US Air Force.
The 384th Bomb Group website notes that George Hawkins was treated at POW Camp: Obermassfeld Hospital #1249 (Serves Stalag 9-C) Obermassfeld Thuringia, Germany. In addition, Hawkins’ WWII records, which I found at the NPRC during a visit to St. Louis for an 8th AF Historical Society reunion noted he was treated at these hospitals:
- A hospital in Magdeburg, Germany for 3 1/2 months (not noted on the above list)
- A hospital in Obermassfeld, Germany for 1 week (according to above list, Lazarett IX C (a))
- A hospital in Meiningen, Germany for 2 3/4 months (according to above list, Lazarett IX C (b))
According to an entry on Wikipedia about Stalag IX C and its associated hospitals, the camp was for Allied soldiers during WWII, rather than airmen. A large hospital, Reserve-Lazaret IX C(a), and a smaller hospital, Reserve-Lazaret IX C(b), were under Stalag IX C administration.
Hawkins spent a week at the large hospital in Obermassfeld, which was a three-story stone building and was operated by British, Canandian, and New Zealand medical staff. But it was the smaller hospital in Meiningen where Hawkins would spend the remainder of his captivity during the war.
I can only guess that my father was taken to the same hospital in Magdeburg where Hawkins was first treated and after two months of treatment was transferred to the Stalag Luft IV prison camp. I don’t believe he would have been transferred to either the hospital in Obermassfeld or Meiningen, but he may have been transferred elsewhere before being placed in the general population of Stalag Luft IV.
My assumption may not be correct, but I do not know of a particular hospital that was associated with Stalag Luft IV. Unlike George Hawkins’ records at the NPRC, my father’s records only consist of recreated documents supplied by my mother after his file at the NPRC was destroyed in the fire of 1973.
Until I learn differently, I will assume that Dad was treated in the same hospital in Magdeburg as George Hawkins, but my percentage of certainty about that is pretty low. If anyone knows of any other resources to help me find information about POW hospitals in Germany, please comment or e-mail me.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019
Seventy-four years ago, near the end of WWII, with Allied forces advancing from the west and the Soviet Red Army advancing from the east, the Nazis began a series of forced marches of prisoners out of their prisoner of war camps. There is no definitive answer as to why the prisoners were marched from the camps or what the Nazis planned for them in the end. One theory is that the prisoners were marched out of the camps simply to delay their liberation.
By the end of January 1945, the plan to march allied prisoners out of Stalag Luft IV and away from liberation by the Soviet Red Army was ready to begin. The winter of 1945 was one of Germany’s coldest on record with blizzard conditions. The prisoners of Stalag Luft IV, the POW camp in which Dad was held prisoner, were ill-equipped for a march in such weather. They had been underfed and were not clothed properly for the conditions.
On February 6, 1945 the march out of Stalag Luft IV began. With just a few hours notice to prepare to march out of the camp, the prisoners scrambled to gather what they could.
The prisoners did not know where they were going or how long they would be on the road. The march out of Stalag Luft IV has been given many names – the Death March, the Black March, and even the Shoe Leather Express. Most of those that survived just called it “The March”. My dad, George Edwin Farrar, usually called it the “Forced March” when he told me stories of sleeping in the hay and stealing a chicken for food.
Many books have been written about the 86-day 500-mile march of Stalag Luft IV prisoners. The best book on the subject is the original The Shoe Leather Express by Joseph P. O’Donnell. Joe was Stalag Luft IV POW 1414 and experienced the prison camp and the march firsthand. Joe wrote a series of six books on the subject of POWs, with the first book of the Shoe Leather Express series subtitled The Evacuation of Kriegsgefangenen Lager Stalag Luft IV Deutschland Germany.
The complete list of the Shoe Leather Express books is as follows:
- Book 1: The Shoe Leather Express, The Evacuation of Kriegsgefangenen Lager Stalag Luft IV Deutschland Germany
- Book 2: The Shoe Leather Express Book II, Luftgangsters Marching Across Germany, A Potpourri of Prisoner of War Experiences in Nazi Germany During World War II
- Book 3: The Pangs of the Thorn, Book III of The Shoe Leather Express, A Collection of True Stories of Prisoners of War in Japan and Nazi Germany WWII
- Book 4: A History of Stalag Luft IV, May 1944 – February 1945, Book IV of The Shoe Leather Express
- Book 5: And Then We Came Upon A Time of Great Rewarding, A Time of Remembrance, A Collection of Prayers and Poems for and by Prisoners of War
- Book 6: Talent Behind Barbed Wire, A Collection of Sketches and Cartoons of Prisoner of War Life
The harsh conditions of the march from Stalag Luft IV and treatment of the POWs is not well known. The march itself is rarely a topic of discussion in the subject of WWII history. But that needs to change. February 6, 2020 will mark the 75th Anniversary of the start of the Black March, and this event from history should be recognized and remembered.
The 50th Anniversary of the Forced March was commemorated in the Congressional Record. On May 8, 1995, in the First Session of the 104th Congress, John William Warner entered the commemoration into the 141st Congressional Record (S6237). It may be read here in one of my past posts.
As for Joseph O’Donnell’s Shoe Leather Express books, they are out of print and hard to find through used book sources, but the preface and first two chapters of the original Book I may be read online courtesy of Joseph O’Donnell and Gregory Hatton here.
Candy Kyler Brown, daughter of Stalag Luft IV POW John R. Kyler kindly provided me with the titles of all the books in Joseph O’Donnell’s The Shoe Leather Express series. Candy began researching her father’s WWII and POW experiences long before I began researching mine and has produced both a website and book with must-read information for anyone interested in learning more about the WWII POW experience.
Candy’s book, What I Never Told You: A Daughter Traces The Wartime Imprisonment Of Her Father, is available on Amazon.
Candy’s website, Remember History, offers a wealth of information about her father and about her friend, Joseph O’Donnell, and his POW experiences.
As Candy and I and other sons and daughters of Stalag Luft IV POWs have learned, it all starts with an inquisitive mind and a desire to know the truth about our fathers’ captivity during WWII. Don’t let this important part of our country’s history and your family’s history be lost to the past.
Learn everything you can by reading published books and personal accounts published online. Search for your own family WWII-era letters and photos long packed away.
If you’re lucky enough to have a living father, grandfather, or uncle in his mid-90’s, ask him if he served in WWII. Ask about his war service and learn everything you can from him. If he is a former prisoner of war, find out everything you can about his POW experience. Record it. Share it with the world or just share it with future generations of your family.
We must not forget their service and we must not forget their sacrifice. Remember and make these men proud.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019
Question: Why did the caterpillar cross the pond?
Answer: To save the lives of airmen who were forced to bail out of disabled aircraft, like George Edwin Farrar of the 384th Bomb Group of the USAAF 8th Army Air Forces and Lawrence Edgar Newbold of the RAF 50 Squadron in WWII.
I recently wrote about Lawrence Newbold here. Lawrence was forced to bail out of his Avro Lancaster on March 18, 1944 on a mission to Frankfurt. Six months later, my dad, George Farrar, was thrown from his disabled B-17 on September 28, 1944 on a mission to Magdeburg. Dad and Lawrence were assigned as fellow POWs in Room 12 of the Stalag Luft IV prison camp.
I even more recently was able to connect with Lawrence Newbold’s family in England and his grandson Paul Newbold kindly shared a photo of Lawrence’s Caterpillar Club certificate and pin with me.
Seeing Lawrence’s Caterpillar Club certificate and pin jogged my memory of how important a wonderful invention – the parachute – was to the airmen of WWII and specifically to my dad and to me. If my dad hadn’t been wearing his in his midair collision of September 28, 1944, he would not have survived, married my mother, and had me or my sister.
During WWII, several companies manufactured and sold parachutes to both the American and British military. The Irvin Air Chute Company was one of them, as was the Switlik Parachute Company.
In 1919, Leslie Irvin, a stuntman from California, borrowed a sewing machine and made the first “free drop” parachute, which he demonstrated himself to flying safety experts. He so impressed them that the American and British Air Forces adopted the parachute as standard equipment. Irvin established his first American factory in Buffalo, New York that year and his first European factory in Letchworth, England in 1926. The Irvin Letchworth factory produced a peak of nearly 1,500 parachutes a week during the height of WWII.
Both the Irvin and Switlik companies began Caterpillar Clubs which awarded certificates and pins as testimony to the life saving ability of the parachute. The requirement for each was that the applicant must have bailed out of a disabled or flaming aircraft under emergency conditions.
The name of the club came about because in the early days of the parachute, they were made from pure silk. The clubs used the symbol of the silk worm caterpillar, which descends slowly by spinning a silk thread to hang from.
By WWII, silk could no longer be imported from Japan and the parachutes used by American and British airmen were primarily made of nylon. Regardless of the material used in the construction of their parachutes, after the end of WWII, by late 1945, there were 34,000 members of Irvin’s Caterpillar Club.
Airmen serving in WWII did not receive any training for bailing out or using their chutes other than a set of instructions. Though the Parachute Instructions (full instructions at the end of this article) suggest “It is advisable to have one side of the parachute pack snapped to the harness when in immediate danger,” most airmen didn’t strap them on until they heard an alarm or instructions from their pilot to bail out. Chutes were uncomfortable to wear and got in the way of an airman’s duties.
My dad must have been wearing his chute, which was a chest chute, or at least had one side of the pack strapped on, because I don’t think he would have had time to grab it when, and if, he saw another B-17 in his formation heading straight for him.
In the stories he told me when I was a child of the collision and his time as a prisoner of war, he said the reason he was the only survivor aboard his flying fortress was because he was the only one who “still had on his chute” after dropping the bombs on their target. He was knocked unconscious in the collision and awoke in free fall 5,000 feet from the ground to the sound of his mother’s voice calling his name. After hooking up his chute and taking in the view of the countryside below him, he lost consciousness again and didn’t awaken until he lay injured on the ground, being beaten by an older German woman.
On his parachute ride down, he did not see the B-17 from which he had been thrown burning and spinning into the clouds. He did not see the ball turret knocked from the ship with the helpless gunner inside falling to Earth. The ball turret was too small for most gunners to wear their chutes inside the capsule. Even if my dad’s crew mates had been wearing their chutes, the centrifugal force of the spinning ship likely would have pinned them inside and prevented them from bailing out. They also may have been knocked unconscious in the horrific collision 25,000 feet above the ground, unable to find and strap on their parachutes.
But like Lawrence Newbold, my dad survived, thanks to his parachute, to also become a member of the Caterpillar Club. Dad joined both Irvin’s and Switlik’s clubs.
From the Irvin Air Chute Company…
From the Switlik Parachute Company…
George Farrar and Lawrence Newbold endured Stalag Luft IV together, they survived the Black March together, and both became lifetime members of one of the most exclusive clubs in which no one wants to have to face the first requirement to become a member, having to bail out of a disabled aircraft in an emergency to save one’s life.
Parachute Instructions for B-17 Crews as presented at Stalag Luft I Online (link below)
- Handle the parachute pack gently and do not allow it to get wet or greasy.
- It is advisable to have one side of the parachute pack snapped to the harness when in immediate danger.
- Jumping Suggestions
- Make delayed jumps.
- Dampen oscillation.
- Face downwind.
- Keep feet together.
- Unhook snaps during descent if over water.
- Use static lines to bail out wounded personnel.
- Three short rings on alarm signal indicates “Prepare to bail out.” One long ring is the signal for “Bail Out.”
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018
I have previously written several articles about the WWII Black March, the march of prisoners of war of Stalag Luft IV across Germany in the winter of 1945. Today, I want to explain a very important aspect of that march, the Combine.
But first, as a refresher to the Black March itself, please refer to this previous post. It is the proclamation entered into the Congressional Record on May 8, 1995 by WWII veteran, Congressman John William Warner.
Congressman Warner was approached by three WWII veterans who were on the march and who brought this piece of WWII history to his attention – Cpl. Bob McVicker of Alexandria, Virginia; S. Sgt. Ralph Pippens of Alexandria, Louisiana; and Sgt. Arthur Duchesneau of Daytona Beach, Florida. Rep. Warner wanted to tell their story and raise awareness of what the Stalag Luft IV prisoners endured on this little-known march in pursuit of freedom.
The proclamation explains that McVicker, Pippens, and Duchesneau each survived, “mostly because of the efforts of the other two – American crewmates compassionately and selflessly helping buddies in need.” This statement is the definition of a Black March “Combine.”
In WWII, my dad, George Edwin Farrar, was a waist gunner in the 384th Bomb Group based in Grafton Underwood, England. His B-17 went down on September 28, 1944 and after a lengthy hospital stay, he was put in Stalag Luft IV. On February 6, 1945, he was one of the prisoners from Stalag Luft IV who were marched out of the camp in several columns accompanied by German guards armed with rifles, and guard dogs. For Dad, the Black March lasted the full eighty-six days, covering approximately five-hundred miles.
From an old letter, I determined that the two men closest to my dad in the prison camp and on the Black March were the author of the letter, British airman Laurie Newbold, and American airman Cecil McWhorter.
Newbold’s letter adds much to what I know about who shared my father’s WWII experiences, especially these two sentences.
Have you ever come across any more of Room 12. Old Mac Whorter lives down south at East Bernstadt, N London, Kentucky but I forgot that your states are as big as England.
In my research of my father during WWII, it is not enough to know who the members of my father’s air crew were. Although Dad’s WWII experience was shared with the other men of the John Buslee crew, 544th Bomb Squad, and the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force, he had a connection that went beyond the usual military camaraderie of an air crew. He had a connection with two men with whom he had not served in the 384th, Laurie Newbold and Cecil McWhorter, on whom his life depended in that eighty-six day span of time he called “The March.”
Joseph O’Donnell, another Stalag Luft IV prisoner on the Black March, wrote a book about the march. In The Shoe Leather Express, O’Donnell explains how the prisoners joined forces in small groups in order to help each other survive. These small groups of two to four Kriegies (short for Kriegesgefangenen, which is the German word for prisoner of war) were created out of necessity, for survival. Joe wrote:
A combine usually consisted of three Kriegies, sometimes two, sometimes four, but the most logical number combination was three. Further explanation will confirm the logic of three men versus two or four men. Of all the reasons for a three man combine, there is no one reason to justify this combination, there are many reasons. As stated before, we each had two blankets, and with a combination of three Kriegies this gave us six blankets. After our arrival at a barn we would stake a claim to an area in the barn according to our arrival. First-in claimed the advantageous areas, usually near an exit.
Since we shared our food, it was imperative that we should stick together; but we usually marched in columns of fours and it always presented a problem at the end of a [day’s] march, when the guards would count off 150 or 200 Kriegies for one barn. This would usually split a combine. One hell of a lot of shuffling went on to get the combine together again. When trading, bartering or stealing detail; the other two would construct our bed of straw for the night. Our bed of straw was covered with the three German blankets, two lengthwise and one across the bottom and tucked in. The three GI blankets would cover us along with our GI overcoats.
The mention of trading, bartering, and stealing references the fact that the men had very little food and clean water on the road. They often attempted to supplement their meager rations by trading items like the watch my father traded for a loaf of bread, or stealing potatoes or chickens from the farmers in whose barns they slept.
The combines walked together, all day, every day, sometimes as far as twenty miles in one day. They shared food and ate together. They slept together and shared body heat in the unheated barns and under the stars in the sub-freezing temperatures of the winter of 1945. When one felt weak, the others helped him put one foot in front of the other, to take one more step, to keep up with the column. Falling behind the group meant the risk of being shot and left for dead beside the road as the group trudged forward. The combine gave the men someone to lean on in more ways than one.
How many men died on the march is not known. It is truly a miracle that any of them survived. They were covered in lice, were afflicted with dysentery and other diseases, and were close to the point of starvation. They have been described as walking skeletons. Thoughts of home and the support of each other must have kept them going.
But when it was all over, when Liberation Day came, the combines were split apart for good. Each man went his separate way, returning to his country and his family, to pick up with life as though his eighty-six day struggle for survival was all a bad dream. Laurie Newbold wrote:
I never saw you again after the day we were liberated. I understand that nearly all your boys stopped the first night at Boizenburg but most of the RAF went straight on to Luneburg & I got there that night. From there I went to Emsdetten near Holland & then flew to England in a Lanc [possible abbreviation for Lancaster bomber].
Well George I expect I could write all night about the past but most of that’s best forgotten, don’t you think.
Is the past and that piece of history best forgotten? When I read pages from Joe O’Donnell’s Shoe Leather Express and read Laurie Newbold’s letter, their words trouble me. They unsettle me. It disturbs me deeply to know these things that my father endured. Things that he himself could not or would not tell me. I understand, at least I think I do, why he wouldn’t divulge these things. I was too young. I was too innocent. He did not want to burden me or anyone else with this horrible knowledge.
My father was right in not telling me. I should not know these things because as I’ve learned, now that I know them, I cannot un-know them. They rattle around in my head and pop to the surface at unexpected moments. These things that were a part of him, they are now a part of me. Not to the extent they were for him, of course, because he actually lived them and I only learned them. I cannot imagine the way the horrific memories crashed upon his shore of existence every single moment of every single day of the remainder of his life.
These are things that no being should ever have to endure. But at that time in history there were people who looked much like the rest of us, who underneath that layer of human-like skin were not human at all, but monsters.
When I was young, monsters lived under my bed and in my closet. I had to take a long-jump into and out of bed so the monster wouldn’t grab my feet and pull me under into a certain horrible death. I had to jump back when I opened the closet door so the monster inside couldn’t grab me and drag me in.
My monsters vanished over time. They probably tired of not being able to catch me and moved on to the bed and closet of another child. But my father’s monsters never left. He died thirty-seven years after his time in the prison camp and Black March were over. Dying was the only way to end the war for him and banish his monsters.
Joe O’Donnell inadvertently used the word “concubine” to define the groups of marching prisoners in the text of The Shoe Leather Express rather than the word “combine.” I have published Joe’s passages substituting the word “combine,” which Joe points out in a correction at the top of the Table of Contents page. He states: “CORRECTION. The word ‘concubine’ was misused, it should be ‘combine.’
The Preface and first two chapters of Joseph O’Donnell’s The Shoe Leather Express may be read courtesy of Joseph O’Donnell and Gregory Hatton here.
To be continued with more information about Cecil McWhorter and Laurie Newbold and my search for their relatives…
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018
A few weeks ago, in an article about the B-17 Lead Banana, I published a poem about that Flying Fortress by Lawrence Vallo, radio operator of the Paul Norton crew of the 384th Bomb Group. Vallo was a Native American airman and you can read much more about him in that previous post. I immediately recognized the Vallo name when I read the poem and that got me to thinking about some Norton crew photos I had in my collection.
There is a connection between the Paul Norton crew and the John Buslee crew of which my dad, George Edwin Farrar, was the waist gunner. The Buslee crew arrived at their air base in Grafton Underwood, England about seven weeks after the Norton crew. They were both part of the 544th Bomb Squadron and therefore lived in the same area of the airbase.
Note the circled 544th SQDN in the bottom right corner of the map of the Grafton Underwood airbase. I speculate that the enlisted men of the Buslee crew may have even shared living quarters with the enlisted men of the Norton crew. Among my dad’s photos from Grafton Underwood are several of the enlisted men of the Norton crew, which I share below with further descriptions. I believe all of these casual photos may have been taken in the same time period as this one of my dad and some of his Buslee enlisted crewmates.
The Buslee crew’s first mission with the 384th Bomb Group was on August 4, 1944. It was a training mission for crew pilot John Buslee. With Buslee in the co-pilot seat and Arthur Shwery showing him the ropes, that didn’t leave a spot in the cockpit for Buslee’s co-pilot David Albrecht. So Albrecht got in some training himself flying as co-pilot with the Paul Norton crew.
I think the photo (above) is of the Buslee crew’s David Albrecht on the left and the Norton crew’s Carl Guinn on the right. Carl was the Norton crew’s engineer/top turret gunner and his position in the aircraft was directly behind the pilot’s compartment. The engineer interacted with and assisted the pilot and co-pilot and was in charge of interpreting the instrument readings during flight. A good engineer knew what the combination of instrument readings meant as far as condition of the engines, etc.
I believe the photo, and most of the others included here, were taken after the completion of the August 4, 1944 mission. The next photo will explain why.
Notice the flight jacket in the above photo. The man holding it was Norton crew waist gunner turned togglier Clarence Bigley. Bigley decorated the back of his jacket with the crew’s nickname Frigham Young and twenty bombs. I don’t believe it was coincidence that the August 4, 1944 mission was Bigley’s twentieth. As for the name Frigham Young, it was a play on words on the name of Mormon leader Brigham Young as the crew’s commander, pilot Paul Norton, was reportedly a Mormon.
Also appearing in the above photo are Norton crew tail gunner John Bregant, engineer/top turret gunner Carl Guinn, and ball turret gunner Lester Noble. In the crew photo of the entire Norton crew, I cannot identify Bregant. However, I have managed to find a few school yearbook photos of him, and his thick mass of hair gives him away. I am quite certain that it is Bregant in the above photo.
The man standing on the right in the above flight jacket photo has Les painted on the front of his flight jacket. He must be Norton crew ball turret gunner Lester Noble.
It took me years to identify Carl Guinn in the photo, but with the help of his relatives on Facebook, we made a positive ID about a year ago. I could never make out the name on the front of his flight jacket, but Carl’s daughter Tracie was able to clear up that mystery. The name painted on the front of her dad’s flight jacket is Jelly. Carl was a southern boy, born in Mississippi and was living in Louisiana when he enlisted in June of 1942. At the Grafton Underwood enlisted mess breakfasts, the other men would tease Carl about his southern accent when he asked “would y’all pass the jelly.”
All four of these men of the Paul Norton crew were on the August 4, 1944 initiation flight of Buslee co-pilot David Albrecht aboard the B-17 Little Kenny. The poet of the crew, Lawrence Vallo, was aboard, too, and so was Thomas Everitt, the Norton crew’s waist gunner.
Thomas Everitt and Carl Guinn…
and Native American airman Lawrence Vallo…
who later wrote a book, Tales of a Pueblo Boy, about his life growing up in an Indian Pueblo, which can still be found on used book sites and Amazon.com.
Remember the tents in the background of the photo of my dad and three of his crewmates at the beginning of this article? The tents in that photo look to be the same tents that Carl Guinn and John Bregant are standing in front of in this photo.
Also, in both photos, Carl Guinn and Lenard Bryant are both wearing the same type of coveralls. Carl was the top turret gunner for the Norton crew, and after the Buslee crew’s top turret gunner, Clarence Seeley, was injured on the August 5, 1944 mission, Lenard, previously trained as a waist gunner, took over that position. I believe it was Carl who gave Lenard some pointers as to what tasks a B-17 engineer/top turret gunner performed.
Lenard attended radio school for a while during his training in the states, and was familiar with reading switches and settings, so probably was a quick study for the requirements of adapting to the position of engineer/top turret gunner for the Buslee crew. From his first mission on August 4 as a waist gunner, Lenard had only five days to figure out his new job as top turret gunner on the August 9 mission, not much time for any kind of formal training.
All members of the Frigham Young crew, including pilot Paul Norton, navigator John Lezenby, and original bombardier Hugh Green completed their tours with the 384th Bomb Group with the exception of one. Co-pilot Robert C. Barnes was killed while flying with a different crew on November 16, 1944.
I must conclude, considering that my dad had these photos of the enlisted men of the Norton crew in his collection, that though most men didn’t make a lot of friends outside of their own crew, the enlisted men of the Buslee crew and Norton crew must have been friends and may have even shared living quarters in the 544th Bomb Squadron enlisted housing.
I’d even like to go a bit further in thinking that my dad, from Georgia, and Lenard, from Texas, took a liking to Carl because he was a fellow Southerner. Living so far from their families in America, hearing “y’all” from a fellow airman in England probably helped them feel at home.
Wouldn’t our dads be amazed to know that their children had “met” through a Facebook group because of some long-forgotten photos saved from their time in WWII? Long after my dad, George Edwin Farrar, and Tracie and Debbie’s dad, Carl Guinn, served in that great war, we were able to find each other and make a new connection in the 384th Bomb Group NexGen family.
I have made many such connections over the years of researching my dad’s time in the war and I know I will make many more as my journey to learn more about the 384th Bomb Group and Grafton Underwood continues…
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018
In WWII, airmen were equipped with an escape and evasion kit to help them in the event that they had to bail out of a crippled plane. Once on the ground, if they were not immediately captured, they would have a few tools to help them evade capture.
For those airmen in the European theater, the kit may have contained banknotes from several countries, multilingual language cards, silk maps, a knife, a small amount of rations, first aid supplies, and photos in civilian clothing for false papers.
An airman forced to bail out over France or Belgium had a better chance of evasion than an airman forced to bail out over Germany. One who bailed out over Germany was much more likely to be found quickly by German soldiers and much less likely to be found by someone sympathetic to his predicament.
When my father, George Edwin Farrar, landed on German soil, he was severely injured. He was unable to walk and never had a chance to attempt to evade capture.
I found these photos in my dad’s wartime things along with two silk maps which he never had the chance to use.
Edouard Renière has written a nice piece on the items the airmen may have been given before their missions which you can read here.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018