POW (09/43)


Lancaster JA 708 was shot down over and crashed into the “Palatinate Forest,” Germany’s largest forest. Wally’s parachute landed him in an area of the German forest that consisted of an uninhabited, heavily wooded mountainous terrain.  Traveling westward it took Wally four days before he emerged from the forest.

British aircrews were issued with ‘survival kits’ to help them evade capture or escape imprisonment should they be shot down over hostile territory. These kits were packed into a small oilskin pouch and typically included a small saw blade, needle, and thread, currency, phrase cards, a tiny compass the size of a thumbnail and, most crucially, a silk map.

R.A.F. Aircrew were outfitted with flying boots that consisted of a black leather laced “Oxford” style walking shoe with black suede zip-up sheepskin-lined leggings.  Inside a concealed pocket in the right boot was a small knife that Wally would have used to remove the leggings to make his footwear less conspicuous and more comfortable for travel.

Leaving the forest behind Wally traveled at night navigating with a compass and his escape map.   Having parachuted into Germany Wally realized that there was no possible help from the locals or the Resistance.   He was forced to live off the land eating blackberries and turnips and other root crops he found in the fields.  During the day he rested and slept in barns or stands of trees.

He committing “friendly burglaries” for food and clothing walking boldly into a house and taking a coat and a hat from a hat rack.   A mile further down the road on his westward trek he liberated an overcoat from a scarecrow in order to cover up his battle dress.

An example of an escape map as carried by Bomber Command aircrew.   Made of silk they could be opened noiselessly,  could be stuffed into pockets and got wet without damage.  This edition covers Holland, Belgium, France, and Germany.   The 1943 series of escape maps issued to Allied  Aircrews are noticeable for their vivid colours.   The maps of the European Theater of Operations were printed in eight colours by  John Waddington  Ltd.  The two-sided maps were produced on a scale of 1.1,000,000 in a series of ten sheets which if laid out together would provide a complete map of Europe.   

    A button on an airman’s battle dress housed a compass.


After evading for 10 days, a hungry, exhausted and unkempt Wally was eventually stopped near a village by an armed German soldier just East of Nancy France. He had covered about 110 miles in his westward trek.

Asked in German for his identity Wally impersonated the mannerisms of a deaf-mute but to no avail.  With his rifle pointed at Wally’s midriff the soldier opened his coat and found his escape map and the battle dress he was wearing beneath the stolen scarecrows overcoat.

Imprisoned overnight in a Wehrmacht jail a German guard repeatedly asked Wally “Essen?”  to which Wally replied “No!”  The guard was, of course, asking him if he wanted to eat, and Wally in his ignorance of the German language thought he was referring to the bombing of the town of Essen!

The following morning Wally was transferred to Dulag Luft Prisoner Of War Camp at Oberursel near Frankfurt where he officially became a “Kriegsgefangener” or Kriegie.

The Luftwaffe-run Dulag Luft was the initial P.O.W. collection and interrogation center for newly captured aircrew and consisted of three compounds, a hospital at Hohemark, an interrogation center at Oberursel and a transit camp at Wetzlar.

The function of Dulag Luft was that of an Interrogation Centre the purpose of which was to gain information of an operational nature from captured aircrew, despite the fact that under the Geneva Convention prisoners of war were only obliged to give name rank and serial number.

Dulag Luft camp consisted of approximately 200 cells housed in a building constructed from timber. Most of the cells were on the ground floor with a few basement cells for prisoners on detention. Measuring 9’9’’ long, 6 feet wide and 9’2” high each cell had a 9.5 square foot sealed double window.  Furniture provided in each cell consisted of a small table, a chair, and a bed that was usually vermin filled.

The flooring consisted of 1” thick board timber. The cell’s walls were made from ½” thick fiber boarding that covered up to 4” of insulating material. The entrance door was 4” thick and extremely tight-fitting.

Each cell had a 1.5-kilowatt heating unit fixed by brackets on the wall beneath the window.   The electrical heating element was enclosed in a metal tube that was surrounded by vanes that help distribute the heated air.  The three-position heater controlling switch that supplied three different ranges of heat was located in the corridor outside the cell and was only accessible to the guards.

These heaters  (that post-war investigation by British authorities ascertained could produce temperatures up to 129F. (53C.)) were used by the investigators to heat the cells for periods of up to 5 hours in an effort to weaken the prisoners resolve.

On arrival at Dulag Luft Wally was stripped of his clothing.  A thorough search was then made of his body and his clothing for compasses, maps, files, money, keys and anything else that could be used to facilitate an escape, he was then locked up in solitary confinement.  The Germans had concluded that they would get better results if they isolated newly captured airmen before and during interrogation.

After a period of time, Wally Layne was visited in his cell by the “Reception Officer.”  This officer’s duty was to access the prisoner character from general conversations with them, determine whether they were frightened or belligerent, etc. and how he might react to future interrogation.  His findings were then forwarded to the main interrogator Major Junge who would then decide which interrogator was best suited to question a particular prisoner.

The Reception Officer’s questioning of Wally consisted of him producing a form that he claimed was a Red Cross document.  After asking for and receiving Wally’s name rank and serial number he attempted to gain from him information of a military nature.  Allied aircrews had been briefed about this tactic during their time of training and consequently were prepared for it and in Wally’s case, no further information was provided.  Wally was then left to contemplate his position.

For the next two days and nights, Wally was confined to his cell in solitary confinement.  During this time he was subjected to the excessive heat treatment after being taken, twice daily, to the office of one of  Dulag Luft’s interrogation officers.   This routine was interrupted each morning and evening, by a guard bringing him a cup of acorn coffee and a piece of black bread.

At the time of his imprisonment  Otto Boehringer,  Gustav Bauer-Schlightergroll, Heinrich Eberhardt and Hans Scharff were the chief interrogators.  These members of the Luftwaffe held the rank of Leutnant.  They reported their findings to Major Heinz Junge, the chief interrogator and the camp’s second in command.

Junge had himself been a prisoner of war of the British in the First World War and he reported to the camp Kommandant Oberstleutnant Erich Killinger the senior German officer of Dulag Luft who too had been a prisoner in the First World War of both the Russians and the British.

These Luftwaffe officers who spoke impeccable English questioned Wally about his squadron, aircraft, targets, etc. to which Wally duly replied with name rank and service number as per the Geneva Convention.

Due to his uncooperative nature and his refusal to divulge anything but name, rank and serial number, coupled with the fact that when captured he was wearing civilian clothing that he had acquired when he was evading, Wally was threatened with being handed over to the Gestapo as a suspected saboteur.  Wally was told, “You are to be shot!”

This was a psychological ploy used by his captors to unsettle him and make him talk, although it did not work!

During his time languishing in solitary confinement, Wally was visited by a friendly young man dressed in civilian clothing who claimed he had been injured when flying for the Luftwaffe.  He stated to Wally that he was now representing the Red Cross.

He then proceeded to ask questions of a military nature telling Wally that answering his questions would help facilitate the Red Cross in contacting his family.  However, this was a ruse used to extract information from unsuspecting flyers who had been shot down. Again Wally did not cooperate with the questionnaire giving just the obligatory name, rank and serial number.

His interrogator was, in fact,  Raymond Hughes who was an R.A.F. Aircrew member who himself had been shot down on the Peenemunde raid and was collaborating with the enemy by masquerading as a Red Cross official.  More about Hughes can be read at the following link.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raymond_Davies_Hughes.

After two days of interrogation, one of the Luftwaffe officers came into Wally’s cell and threw a brown folder on his bed.  Wally was amazed to see 97 on the front of it, the squadron he flew with when he was shot down. Opening the folder the German officer then showed Wally the squadron’s crew lists, all 20 of them.  He then proceeded to show Wally the squadron’s latest promotions list and named 97 Squadron’s commanding officer and Flight leaders.

Also produced were photographs of  97 Squadrons home airfield of Bourn.  These photographs had been taken by the Luftwaffe from a great height and pictured the runway extensions that had been undertaken just a month previously.

The Luftwaffe officer then explained that all he needed was Wally’s name to know all about him and to find his squadron and airfield.  He then ordered Wally out of solitary confinement and sent to the transit camp at Wetzlar to await transportation with other prisoners to a permanent camp.

Transfer to Stalag Luft VI, Lithuania (6th October 1943)

On 6th October 1943, Wally and the newly captured airman were  marched to the station at Oberursel and  loaded into boxcars to be transported from Dulag Luft 1,000 miles by rail across Germany, Poland, and East Prussia to their permanent  camp, Stalag Luft VI, Heydekrug (present-day Lithuania.)  This was the most northerly of the German POW camps and were built to accommodate N.C.O.’s.

They were carried in boxcars that were  20.5 feet long and 8.5 feet wide and were labeled  “40 Hommes et 8 Chevaux ” which meant they could carry 40 men or 8 horses although the Germans routinely ignored this suggestion and packed the prisoners in standing room only.

The prisoners were crammed into two cages, one at each end of the boxcar.  In the middle of the boxcar, the width of the sliding doors was where the 6 guards sat.  The prisoners endured inhumane and unsanitary conditions they shared a communal pail for water and a small pail or a hole cut in the floor for their ablutions.

Early in their rail journey, they passed through Frankfurt.  An R.A.F. raid on Frankfurt the previous evening had caused extensive damage to the city.  The main railway station was packed with people trying to flee the area.   On seeing the prisoners the citizens of Frankfurt gesticulated spat and shouted “Terror Flieger” and “Luftgangster” at them.  Wally and his fellow captives were convinced that had the guards not been there they would have been killed.

The journey to Heydekrug took four days with frequent stops for the prisoners to relieve themselves and less frequent stops to refuel the railway engine.

An example of a “40 Hommes et 8 Chevaux ” boxcar used to transport prisoners

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