Preparation
  Warrant Officer Donald Smedley - 35 Squadron  
 

Warrant Officer Donald Smedley - RAFVR

 
 Warrant Officer Donald Smedley was serving as Wireless Operator on board Halifax Mk. III HX324 coded TL-B during an operation to Magdeberg on January 21, 1944. The aircraft was intercepted by a night-fighter and shot down near Hannover, killing four of the crew. The remaining crewmembers, including W/O Donald Smedley, escaped the aircraft and became prisoners of war.

The crew consisted of:

Name

Service

Trade

S/L John  Jagger

RAFVR

Pilot

F/Sgt William Percival

RAFVR

Flight Engineer

F/Sgt J. Humberstone - POW

RAFVR

Navigator

F/L T. McGarry - POW

RAFVR

Bomb Aimer

W/O D. Smedley - POW

RAFVR

Wireless Operator

F/Sgt Nelson Rapere

RAFVR

Air Gunner

F/Sgt Eric Hie

RAFVR

Air Gunner

 Warrant Officer Donald Smedley RAFVR was born on the 22nd September 1921 in Matlock, Derbyshire. He left school at fourteen to work in a local shop, ”Marsden’s General Drapers & Gentleman’s Outfitters” where he met his future wife, Lillian who he married on July 28th 1943. His daughter, Margaret, was born in July of 1944 while he was a prisoner of war.

 On 3rd February 1939 he left to enlist in the RAF ,training outside Bedford  and doing his Wireless Operator training at Yatesbury, Wiltshire. On November the 9th 1941, he sailed from Plymouth to Malta on “ HMS Newcastle” with another 200 RAF personnel. After sailing to Alexandria and Johannesburg, he was transferred to Bulawayo, Rhodesia for Air Gunner training  before  embarking for Bournemouth. Between 30.11.1942 and 2.3.1943 he was at 10 OTU, followed by 1658 HCU (15.4.1943 to 5.5.1943) and  posting to 76 Squadron on the 12th of May 1943. He joined 35 squadron  on the 7th of July 1943.

 On being shot down and captured, Don recounts:

“I was last out and landed in the trees. I wandered around for about 48 hours before being captured and taken to Frankfurt on Maine for interrogation and debriefing. I was then taken to Stalag Luft 6. by train. Here I met “Joe” Trevithick (shot down in 426 squadron on the 27/28th January 1944). We had about six months in Luft 6 where conditions were pretty terrible. The red cross food parcels were not getting through at this stage so our food was reduced to a thin soup with some potatoes in it. A treat for Christmas was a little meat included. Some of the prisoners had cigarettes which they  were able to use for bartering.

 We were given wooden boards to sleep on, later half of them were taken away, maybe to prevent the shoring of escape tunnels. The Russians were now moving in and myself and Joe, and our fellow prisoners were moved to Thorn for a short time before marching on the 9th August to Fallingbostel, twenty miles north of Hamburg ,arriving on the 11th August 1944.The March from Fallingbostel was a huge amount of miles going round in circles. Conditions were very primitive, food almost non existent with no latrines or washing facilities and it was extremely overcrowded.

 Our group of pow’s was shot at by Mosquito’s and we took refuge in the ditch along the side of the road. One of the Mosquito’s got too low and ran into some electric wires. We finished up at a farmhouse somewhere, and realized that something had happened when the German guards disappeared. Myself and another man did a tour of the area asking in German for any bread but there was none forthcoming. When we returned to the farmhouse, one of the group, who was an ex bus driver had found a large vehicle which he “Liberated”. Quite a few of the men jumped in and he drove towards a river. On reaching the river it was discovered that the bridges had been blown up but a Bailey bridge had been established. The pow’s weren’t permitted to cross it as the British were getting in supplies from the other direction. The allied forces arranged a lift back to town where  myself and Joe asked an on duty policeman if there was any chance of a lift back towards the coast. The policeman stopped a small vehicle and asked the driver to take us. The driver took one look at the motley array of clothing that we were wearing (just what we had been able to get from the camps) and said “What are they?”. On arriving in Brussels we were de loused twice and then repatriated by Dakotas to England where we spent a couple of weeks in a camp being acclimatized before being sent home “.

.

Don Smedley & 'Taffy' Davis of 79 Sqdn in Malta

 

Fallingbostel was a vast prisoner of war complex with prisoners from other pow Camps including Thorn, where W/O Smedley was a prisoner  and Stalag3 where his crew mate John Humberstone was  also a prisoner. Heavily overcrowded with appalling conditions and a severe lack of food, many of the prisoners resorted to what little food could be found in vegetable peelings, rats, birds and anything that was edible. Pleurisy and dysentery were rife and with many men suffering from malnutrition with terrible weight loss and the severe weather conditions ,many were to die before they could be liberated. Boredom was also an everyday part of life and coupled with the uncertainty of any signs of liberation, morale was extremely low. After receiving the news that  they were to be marched out, the prisoners dressed in as many clothes as possible and carried their meagre rations of food. They had been told by their German guards that any attempt to escape and evade would result in them being shot.

Lieutenant McGarry’s parachute failed to open but he survived when he landed in a tree and was hospitalised before being taken to Camp#L1.While P/O Humberstone was taken to Camp L3.

T.”Joe” Trevithick passed away in Portugal a few years ago.

With the eighteen months of captivity as a pow and having also lost four stone in weight, as for most pow’s there was a period of adjustment on returning home. Don re-trained as a policeman but emigrated to Australia with his family to work for the Victorian railways on August 4th 1950. His daughter, Anne was born a few months after arriving. Don Smedley now lives with his wife in Melbourne, Australia.

 

 
  Photos courtesy of Don Smedley, Margaret Tempest & Anne Etheridge, research by Linda Ibrom.