Tony Parsons a pilot who ditched in the North Sea to finally wind up in the same POW camp as the Voltaire survivors
First of all I apologise for getting your name wrong. I cannot think why I did that. I thought that as I had a little info on the Voltaire et al I would share it with whoever was interested and I found your website.
My great uncle Tony Parsons was the pilot of 83 Squadron RAF crew. Call sign OL-Z AE191 who ditched in the North Sea / English Channel on 8th December 1941 on the return flight from bombing Aachen in Germany.
December 7th. P/O Parsons Service No: 87063 Night Operations Aachen
Hampden P/O Jacobs Service No: 112160
AE191 Sgt Basevi Service No: 923222 MISSING
Sgt Wiscombe Service No: 922733
P/O Parsons and Sgt Wiscombe both survived four days in the dinghy and were picked up by a German convoy escort on 12th December 1941 15 miles S.W. Heligoland.
Both P/O Jacobs and Sgt Basevi died from exposure and were buried at sea.
“From Airministry Kingsway P 4 P 2668 14/1 Your son 87063 Pilot Officer Anthony Leslie Parsons was mentioned on a German broadcast 13/1/42 as a Prisoner of War wounded. This information should be accepted with reserve pending official confirmation. Any further news will be immediately communicated to you.”
Name: BASEVI, BERNARD ATHELSTAN
Initials: B A
Nationality: United Kingdom
Regiment: Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve
Unit Text: 83 Sqdn.
Date of Death: 10/12/1941
Service No: 923222
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: Panel 39.
Cemetery: RUNNYMEDE MEMORIAL
Name: JACOBS, DEREK
Nationality: United Kingdom
Rank: Pilot Officer
Regiment: Royal Air Force
Unit Text: 83 Sqdn.
Date of Death: 11/12/1941
Service No: 112160
Additional information: Son of Sydney and Ella Jacobs, of Woking, Surrey.
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: Panel 33.
Cemetery: RUNNYMEDE MEMORIAL
P/O Parsons Service No: 87063
Prisoner of War No: 39646
Sgt Wiscombe Service No: 922733
Prisoner of War No: 2478
Both survivors took similar journeys over the next few years. The following are the dates of P/O Parsons.
7-8 / 12 / 41 Shot down. Landed in sea 20 miles N.W. Ostend.
(Flying Hampden OL - Z , AE191)
12 / 12 / 41 Picked up by German convoy escort, 15 miles S.W Heligoland.
13 / 12 / 41 Taken to Naval Hospital Cruxhaven.
14 / 12 / 41 Transferred to prison camp hospital at Marlag and Milag Nord.
14 / 3 / 42 Arrived at cooler Dulag Luft.
17 / 3 / 42 Went into Camp Dulag Luft.
1 / 4 / 42 Arrived at Hoke Mark hospital Obersursal.
14 / 6 / 42 Went to Stadt Rhoda Hospital near Weimar.
17 / 8 / 42 Arrived at Egundorf Hospital near Weimar.
20 / 12 / 42 Went to Oflag 9A/2 Rottenburg near Kassel.
12 / 1 / 43 Arrived Stalag Luft III East Camp Sagan.
Memories of Tony Parsons recorded onto tape in 1991 shortly before he died:
That’s when my pleasantness ended, because on the 8th December, or the night of the 7th December ’41, I stayed that night in a dinghy, and subsequent nights until the 12th, in the North Sea, which wasn’t very… good. Picked up on the 13th, or rather the night of the 12th, and taken by ship to Cruxhaven Naval Hospital.
And it was a bit of a joke there because George Wiscombe and myself who were very very weak indeed, from being exposed for that length of time in an open dinghy, in very cold and rough weather, and both with both feet frozen so we couldn’t walk, but we were put into bed in this hospital in the same room, and there was guard in white trousers and white house coat with about a three inch black belt around him and a very very large pistol in a black holster. He sat in a chair all night and watched over us with the light full on, as if we could stir, we were very delighted to be still instead of being tossed around in the dinghy, and very delighted to be warm. We couldn’t feel our feet but nevertheless it was a comfortable room and rather amusing to see this guard trying to stay awake looking at us all night.
I was then moved on the 14th to Stalag 10b, Marlag Milag, which is a Merchant Navy Prisoner of War Camp, and we went into the sick quarters there where I stayed until the 21st March ’42 trying to recover from my frost bitten feet. The medical attention there was virtually nil, the sick quarters were occupied by about twenty men of all races, only one other British chap, and he was a gunner who’d been shot through the chest, and he was recovering. There was one chap from Malta who was a cook on a cargo boat who had lost his teeth, lost his glasses, was extremely short sighted, and he kept us amused one way or another. But it was not a very pleasant time.
Next morning we moved off and arrived at Cuxhaven at 16.00hrs. There Gestapo & Luftwaffe officers came aboard to see us, and after four agonising hours we were taken ashore 20.00hrs.
It was some relief, prisoners of war or not to feel dry land once again. We were next loaded on stretchers & carried to a motor ambulance, thence transported to a German Naval Hospital. Entering this were carried up numerous flights of stairs & along a corridor into a sort of operating theatre. There was then a conference of doctors’ assistants and sailors, swarms of them all jabbering at once. After having our legs dressed with a sort of goose fat & gauze we were carried up more stairs to a small ward with just two beds in it. By this time I was extremely hungry and managed to explain this to a German nurse, who brought me a bowl of milk broth. Friend Parsons was by this time asleep, & I shortly followed him. A naval guard was left with us all night, well armed with a revolver, why worry, we were not likely to escape!
Next thing I remember was the nurse near my bed with breakfast, coffee, biscuits, & jam. 11.00hrs on to the stretchers again, down the flights of break-neck stairs and into the ambulance, en route for Stalag XB hospital, plus two German sailors to see we did not drop out!
The journey was about 40 km, or 25 miles and took nearly two hours. I was in the top rack & managed to peep through the window and see the continental style of architecture in Cuxhaven and the brilliant colours the houses were painted. Very interesting country, flat & barren and the land around the Stalag was mostly sand dunes & almost treeless. We wee received at the Stalag hospital by the surgeon a New Zealander, Dr McDermot, it was a treat to hear good old English spoken again. The main camp consisted of British Navy & Merchant Navy seamen & officers, with the hospital roughly a mile away. All the patients & staff received us very well and all the time there we received the best that could be given. We were very reserved as we did not know exactly who we were talking with, & did not give them any “gen” until we got to know them well. Naturally they were all craving for home news & we were questioned unmercifully for days.
The ward held forty patients with a small room adjoining for the more serious cases. We had many nationalities including Maltese, Egyptian, Arab, Chinese, Malayan, Javanese, & Indian, all anxious to help all they could. Our arrival seemed to cause quite a stir, although they had heard a lot from the R.A.F. with the raids on Hamburg, Bremen & Emden and their chief question was “did the R.A.F. pilots know the position of this camp?”
Norman Bidwell a R.A.F. W.O AG was already in this hospital having been shot down in a Whitley over Hambourg (Hamburg) about three weeks before we arrived and we struck up a fine friendship with him, which as succeeding events will show was all too short.
Two crews of our aircraft were buried while at XB one consisting entirely of Canadians. The Germans pay real respect for our dead and complete military funerals were given to all our airmen.
We were in far too weak a condition one should no doubt have attended the funerals. The hospital ward was better than I expected for a prison camp, being moderately clean, well ventilated, with double windows. Heating was from two double radiators, near the doorway & at no time was it really cold although the snow lay thick on the ground outside. Our beds were in the shape of shallow boxes on which was a straw mattress & pillow, two blankets & check sheets, which if lucky were changed once a week. The whole running of the Lazarette was handled by French including cookhouse & supplies, but British doctors & s??ators, except the surgeon who was a Serb. The French were not too popular with the Navy boys, & not with us after the first raid on Paris.
On Monday we received our first Red Cross Parcel, the one joy of any “kriegie”, in fact without this we could never exist on the German food, and later I relate how we suffered when Red Cross supplies ran short. I had many interesting chats with the “boys”, many of them having had one hell of a time before and after capture. Men from the Rawalpindi, Voltaire, Gloucester & Glorious, & submarines Seal, Shark, Swordfish and Undine. Some experiences of the Voltaire would make your hair stand on end, and sad to say the hospital always seemed to have at least one of the crew of this gallant ship there, most of them suffering from shrapnel wounds. One man a Maltese, Emanuel Cutijar, looked after us like a wet nurse, not even allowing us to make our beds. A wonderful man, kind to everyone, very religious, & brave during the time Malta was being bombed so much, and his wife & only son there. Sad to say his sight was failing him, and when he followed along to Stalag VIIIB, was almost blind. One consolation, he is now probably at home having returned on the repatriation. Another off the Voltaire was Mick Hughes who kept the ward amused with his bawdy naval yarns & experiences, besides his attempts to play each & every musical instrument which came into the ward. Some evenings we had entertainment by the French and Yugo Slavs who were also working in the camp. The best was gipsy music by two of the latter, violin & piano accordion, the tunes they played were marvellous & impressed me greatly during the time I was so ill. Two French guitarists were good, one especially, a dark Spanish type, played beautifully. Usually we gave them some articles of food for their pains, or such as we could spare.
“Biddy” (Norman Bidwell) had a remarkable escape when shot down – a night fighter attacked and a ricochet bullet from the rear turret struck him in the chest on one side & was extracted the other, a remarkable escape & operation by the Serb surgeon Kamenkovitch.
In ten days my legs began to show the extent of the damage from frostbite – the tops of my big toe & next of right foot turned white & gangrene, and Kamenkovitch informed me that am amputation was necessary. On Dec 28th I was transported to the operating theatre. Kamenkovitch, before operating asked my permission to cut back as far as necessary. Naturally I could not argue with him & permission was given! God, I felt ill after the operation, and as I learnt afterwards got toxin poisoning, brought on by the gangrene. I was in a hell of a state for two days, definitely on the downward plunge, but on two occasions I sweated as never before which apparently threw off the poison, but was I weak. After a few days the dressing was removed, & the revolting sight exposed to me, with visions of no more football, tennis or games generally. My skipper had no amputation but was suffering with frostbite to arms & legs.
Xmas was spent very quietly owing to the circumstances. We had a special Red Cross Xmas parcel, with pudding & cake. A Xmas tree was brought in & decorated from the coloured packing paper of the parcels. We were unlucky not to receive any beer or spirits as we understand other camps had some. In the main part of the camp apparently they made a wine from raisins of the parcels, and potato & boot pobah!
Towards the end of January I managed to get my feet to ground & got around with the aid of crutches, although was only allowed up for a few minutes at a time. As time went on we were permitted to go out with flying coats & boots & walk around for a breath of fresh air. My skipper was struggling along very flat footed & shaky.
Soon there was a shortage of parcels and we found ourselves living (?) on German rations. Each day this constituted of one fifth of a loaf of black bread, a small amount of margarine & ersatz honey & some days a portion of most peculiar meat, (most likely horse). Mid – day a soup was brought in in pails, just like pig swill, three parts, swede & potato really the lousiest stuff I have ever had the misfortune to have to eat. Twice a week fish soup in lieu of the other, with the stench enough to make one reach, and hungry as I was, I could not face it. Mondays we had sauerkraut, but as far as I am concerned they could keep it.
Many wild & fantastic rumours were always floating around on the war situation, the result of much wishful thinking. Prophesies as to the end of the war were rampant and a favourite date was Feb 1st 1942, being forecast by an Egyptian who professed to have read the sands & was willing to take any bets on this date – I wonder how much he lost? Money for prison camp use is issued in the form of special gefangener notes, in marks & pfennigs & can only be used in the camps, when one can, if they have anything to sell, buy items from the canteen, but so rarely is there anything to sell, that the money is as good as useless.
On arrival at XB we wrote off postcards, and it was twelve weeks before I received a letter from home. Always a great event when mail comes in, we used to have two deliveries, one Monday & one Friday. By a roundabout way, visitors came to see us most afternoons & among these one day was Bill Cook of Kilmington, a chap I have played football against many times. We reminisced over many of the matches between Lyme & the team he played for, Dalwood. Another chap called Buglar whose parents run the “King of the Belgians” pub at Bridport made himself known, amazing what a small world we live in.
My feet at this time appeared to be healing, but were still as dead as doornails, only a slight feeling right in the arch of my left foot. March 16th joy of joys I received my first mail, an letter from Muriel and one from S J Wotton. What a relief to know they had news of me at home. March 28th, two more letters arrived one Muriel and one “Duckie”. By this time the German authorities were keen to get rid of us, and several visits were made by Gestapo & doctors to know when we were ready. At last the date was fixed for March 21st and I had the misfortune to catch influenza and felt like hell, and Dr McDermott was not too keen on my travelling, However I made the effort to get out of bed and prepare for the journey. At mid-day tow German Luftwaffe under officers arrived to take us away. It was a sad parting from the naval lads who had taken care of us so long, and with many handshakes, and good wishes we left them & passed out of the gates of San Bostel, (Sandbostel) the first time since Dec 14th 1941.
This photo was kept by both Tony and George. Tony is in the back row with the cross next to his head. George is 4th from right wearing his Irvin Flying jacket. I am guessing that the other RAF chap in the back row (2 to the right of Tony) is Norman Bidwell. If you know who any of these men may be please can you let me know.
I am currently in the process of moving house so am a little busy. It may be possible that I have other photos of some of the people in M&M Nord.(possibly some of the doctors) I also may have the wartime home addresses for some of the men in M&M I will have to go through both men’s wartime diaries.
Hope it does not get deleted this time! Let me know if I can be of any more help.