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VE Day - A Moment in Time

Category: AirTanker Released: 08 May 2020

Today we celebrate 75 years since the end of the Second World War. We are delighted to have spent some time with Peter ‘Andy’ Andrews, a former No.10 Squadron Flight Sergeant who has shared with us his story of when he served in the RAF during World War II. 

 

There were no fewer than 99 RAF Squadrons involved in protecting Britain and taking the fight to Nazi controlled Germany during the Second World War, many of these have since disbanded. One squadron that is still very much present is No. 10 Squadron, based at RAF Brize Norton, and is one of two squadrons who make up the Voyager Force operating the RAF’s A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft.

8 May 1945 marks Victory in Europe Day, also known as VE Day, and represents the surrender of Germany’s armed forces, which subsequently ended the Second World War for Britain.

No. 10 Squadron played an integral role during the Second World War being the first unit equipped with the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley, a twin-engine, front-line bomber that participated in the first RAF sorties over Germany in 1939. We were lucky enough to spend some time with Peter ‘Andy’ Andrews this week, the day after his 96th birthday. Andy was a Flight Sergeant on No. 10 Squadron during the Second World War and he told us what it was like to be a young boy in service and a Prisoner of War in Nazi Germany.

 

Andy started his career in the Air Training Corps (ATC). With a passion for aircraft and flying, Andy snapped up the opportunity in 1942 and joined the RAF, just 17 years old. Andy was younger than those who were enlisting and was first posted to RAF Lossiemouth where, after a short while, they were asked to form their own crews who would fly together during upcoming operations. The first crew that Andy flew with was made up of a navigator, a pilot, two gunners and himself and for a short while they flew Wellington Bombers.

From Lossiemouth, Andy went to No. 10 Squadron who were based in Melbourne, just outside of York, where they moved onto Halifax Bombers which required a crew of seven, with the addition of an engineer and bomb aimer.

Andy said, “…the bomb aimer decided that he could not face going to war and he was posted elsewhere on medical grounds, recognised at the time as Lack of Moral Fibre (LMF) by those in the military but we needed a replacement quickly.”

They were joined by Stan Chaderton, a docker from Liverpool who had previously flown Wellington bombers. Little did Andy know, Stan would not just be the crew’s bomb aimer but he would also become a lifeline for Andy when they were prisoners of war together.

The crew of seven flew the Halifax for over 20 operations during the war, bombing all over Germany and laying mines off the coast of Denmark. On 14 February 1945, during an operation over the Danish mainland, they were attacked by a night fighter and the aircraft caught fire at 18,000 feet. Three of the crew managed to bail out through the main escape hatch, Andy said, “Myself, the bomb aimer, pilot and navigator remained in the aircraft at this point. However, the aircraft blew-up and unfortunately the navigator and pilot were killed. Stan and I were blown out of the gap as the aircraft separated.”

 

The load section separated from the main fuselage and Andy and Stan began to descend at around 120mph. Andy describes the moment, “I remember falling, very fast, I noticed my chute wasn’t open, I pulled the ripcord seconds from the deck and the next thing I knew I was coming round from being knocked unconscious. It was silent and I had done quite a bit of damage to my body during the fall”.

 

When asked what his parent’s knew of his disappearance on 14 February, he said, “My parents were sent a telegram, the day after the crash.”

The Telegram read:

11:37 On His Majesty’s Service PRIORITY

For Mr Andrews, 48 Priory Road, Tonbridge, Kent

Deeply regret to inform you that your son, Flight Sergeant Peter Frederick Andrews failed to return last night from night operations — letter follows — Please accept my profound sympathy — further information will be wired you immediately — pending receipt of written confirmation from Air Ministry. No information should be given to the press — from the Adjutant 10th Squadron, Melbourne.

 

The telegram that every mother and father would dread, but little did they know that Andy had successfully landed around 30 miles west of Copenhagen and was still alive.

As he came round from the fall, he remembers being surrounded by small houses with people stood outside who seemed unwilling to help. This was because of the unknown repercussions of what German soldiers would do to them if they were to be found helping British military personnel. The onlookers signposted Andy to a house where he would receive basic treatment for his wounds. He would then soon be collected by a civil ambulance and treated by doctors for his injuries.

When Andy arrived at the hospital he saw Stan who was in a horrific state, but the wounds were superficial and so he was patched up. The men received a visit from a Danish doctor who claimed to be part of an underground resistance. The Dane told the two of them that if they can walk in the morning they can leave, however someone blew the whistle on the two stranded airmen. In the morning Andy and Stan were taken away by the secret police of Nazi Germany, also known as the Gestapo, thrown into a dungeon, and became Prisoners of War (POW). They then had to endure a twenty four hour stay and interrogation by the Gestapo.   

Following their harrowing ordeal, the men were transferred to the control of the German Air Force, the Luftwaffe, where they were treated well and received much needed medical treatment. Over the coming weeks, the two men were transported across the Baltic to Lubeck, through Germany, Hamburg and Frankfurt where they were put in solitary confinement at the Dulag Luft.

Andy said, “the Dulag Luft was the interrogation centre for all allied air crew. They shaved our heads, shoved us into solitary confinement and practised the art of sleep deprivation by turning radiators on and off through the night. They realised that they knew more about us than we did and we were released into a larger compound.”

From Frankfurt the men went to Nuremburg. On that same day, Hitler’s successor announced that Germany would surrender.  Andy said, “if Hitler hadn’t gone, and Germany surrendered, I dread to think what would have happened to us, I don’t think we would be here now. I know Stan saved my life, he was older and wiser than me and without him I would not be here today.”

Following the surrender of Germany and the official end of the Second World War, Andy and Stan were marched by the German’s on the tail end of the ‘death march’, with over 110,000 others from camps from all over the Third Reich. They reached an airfield where they flew from Dakota to Rheims in France and would later be collected by Lancaster Bombers and finally begin their journey home.

Andy spent a total of four months as a Prisoner of War, and like many of those who enlisted, in 1947 he concluded his service in the RAF. Still passionate about aircraft and flying, Andy continues to be an active member of his local flying club and was involved in the publishing of ‘The Crash - The story of seven RAF-flyers' by Dan Charley Christiansen, a book based on his and the six others’ experience on board the Halifax on that fateful day.

 

On 4 May 2005 Andy was invited to Denmark for the unveiling of a stone which marks where part of the aircraft had come down in 1945. Andy said, “the stone was inscribed with the date, the aircraft type and the names of those who were involved in the crash, myself included.” Andy later met the Queen of Denmark in 2015.

 

He went on to marry, has two sons and has spent his life working in an upholstery business, which is still trading today. Andy is also a public speaker about the Second World War and speaks at events across the UK, projecting his passion and sharing his memories. Andy dined with the members of RAF Brize Norton’s Officers Mess in 2019 where he spoke vividly about his wartime experiences.

Wing Commander, Al Scott of the current No.10 Squadron said

“10 Squadron are fortunate in having such a strong link with the pivotal events of the Second World War and the outstanding role our members played. Today, 10 Squadron forms an essential part of the RAF’s strategic Air Transport and Air to Air Refuelling capability with its aircraft, crews and support personnel flying, or on standby, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in the United Kingdom and at deployed locations overseas. All Squadron members will be reflecting today on the events of 75 years ago.”

Image credits: The Crash by Dan Christiansen, RAF Brize Norton Station Photographer, Peter Andrews, Mike Westwood
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