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LIBERATED AIRMAN

EXPERIENCES IN REICH

NEARLY LYNCHED BY-CROWD

(Special P.A. Correspondent.)

LONDON, April 9. Shot down in flames, nearly lynched by a German crowd, left two days and nights in a cell unable to see. because of his burned face, but eventually liberated by the advancing Americans, Squadron Leader Keith Thiele, D.5.0., D.F.C. and Bar, of Christchurch, has returned to England, the first R.N.Z.A.F, prisoner of war to get back safely since the Allied advance into Germany began. Squadron Leader Thiele won his decorations as a bomber pilot, and twice reverted to flight lieutenant in order to return to operations. He was commanding a Tempest squadron based in Holland when he was captured on March 10. He had won an equally fine reputation as a fighter pilot, destroying several planes in the air and two more on the ground, and had made many successful attacks on trains and other ground targets. On the day he was . shot down Squadron Leader Thiele was leading eight Tempests in attacks against trains in the Munster-Paderborn area. They had already shot up 10 trains and were returning to base when he saw another train north of Dortmund. He had little ammunition left, but nevertheless he immediately went d°wn to the attack.? He had used up all his ammunition and had begun to climb when flak hit his engine, which instantly caught fire. Within seconds he saw flames licking round his boots and the rudder bar. There was nothing for it but to jump. The Tempest was at about 2000 feet, so he jettisoned his hood. A gust of wind immediately fanned the flames into a small furnace, badly burning his face, but this he did not notice at the time. , He jumped and the parachute opened perfectly, which was fortunate, as he hit the ground almost immediately afterwards. About 100 yards away was a railway station on which there were many German civilians, who were waiting for the very train he had just attacked. Near it was a mobile flak battery. MENACED BY GERMANS. He was no sooner on his feet than he was surrounded by about 30 German soldiers. They searched him and took his revolver, and began to take him over to the flak battery. To reach it they had to go to the platform where the crowd of passengers was waiting, and it was very soon obvious that he was by no means popular. - They bei gan to shout at him and gesticulate, while the stationmaster went further and tried to kick him in the stomach, and a soldier tried to hit him with a rifle butt. He was protected by the guard, however, but at that moment a goods train began to rumble past and the crowd began to surge towards him, 'with the intention of pushing him under its wheels. Again the guards and his own efforts prevented them, while the shouting continued. There seemed to be Nazi uniforms everywhere.

Eventually he reached the flak battery, where his welcome was quite •different, and a sergeant enthused over shooting him down! He told Thiele that he waited till he had attacked the train and pulled out, and then he opened fire, securing a direct hit. As a result the sergeant was expecting 10 days' leave. « About an hour later two policemen arrived and took Thiele to the police station in a car, but immediately marched him to a cell, where they left him for two days and nights, with no food and only a little water. By now Thiele's badly-burned face was paining him. and it was so swollen that he could hardly see out of his eyes. He asked for a doctor and medical attention, but received only a mechanical "Ja, Ja" for an answer. COMPANY IN PRISON. It was a bitterly miserable period, but at long last he was taken to Dortmund airfield, where he was given medical attention at the sick quarters. Then another cell was found for him. He stayed, there . five, days, being fed on only a little bread,-jam, and water. He longed for a cigarette, and, fortunately in the next cell there was a German who was under punishment and who exchanged a cigarette for bread. This German was something of an individualist, for he blithely sang "We'll Hang Out Our Washing On the Siegfried Line," lustily supported by the New Zealander, to the intense irritation of the guards. Later a Canadian Typhoon pilot who had been shot down arrived, and he and Thiele were put on the train for Frankfurt, but such was the disruption of the railway system due to bombing that all transport eventually came to a full stop. Getting out of the train, they found about 20 American prisoners, and with them Thiele and the Canadian stood out in the road in the best of humour trying to thumb a ride to Frankfurt.

Eventually their guard got the two pilots into a horse cart driven by a Frenchman who had been a prisoner for about five years. He insisted that they sit in front with him, so with the German guard bundled in the back they continued their journey to Frankfurt.

There Thiele underwent a long interrogation. A German major tried all sorts of threats of handing* him over to the Gestapo if he did not talk. Eventually, peeved by Thiele's wooden slience, the major shrugged and said: "Well, we have got it all, anyway," and showed him a map. On it Thiele saw his group and every unit indicated, even to the names of the squadron commanders. For the next 10 days Thiele went to hospital, where he received excellent treatment by British and American medical orderlies, many of whom were captured on D Day, and others at Arnhem. SURRENDER OF PRISON GUARDS. Then he was put on a train and sent to Wetzlar prison camp. He arrived there with a very sore throat, and the Germans, suspecting that he might have diphtheria, put him in an isolation ward. This had much to do with his liberation, for, as the Americans began to draw near, the Germans started to move the prisoners towards the centre of Germany. But Thiele remained behind, aided by an English captain who crossed his name'off the list of those to be removed.

Shellfire was heard that night It came from American tanks by-passing the town, and next morning the German guards threw down their arms and gave themselves up to the remaining prisoners. Two days later American infantry arrived, and Thiele learaed that it would be at least a fortnight before he could expect to be moved. This was too long for his impatience, and with the Englishman, he decided to move off independently. They got two bicycles, which they later exchanged for a motor-bike. They crossed the pontoon bridge at Remagen and continued towards Cologne, getting their oetrol from passing jeeps or lorries. Cologne was a desert of ruins. Eventually they found a R.A.F. unit, and then drove in a jeep up to Holland and Thiele's own squadron.. Dirty and unshaven,, his face still showing marks "of burns, his hair matted. Squadron Leader Thiele walked into the bar of his own squadron at 7 p.m. A suitable celebration" followed.

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Permanent link to this item

https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/EP19450410.2.92

Bibliographic details

LIBERATED AIRMAN, Evening Post, Volume CXXXIX, Issue 84, 10 April 1945

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1,206

LIBERATED AIRMAN Evening Post, Volume CXXXIX, Issue 84, 10 April 1945

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