The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. P H Fox
Peter Hutton Fox was born in Bridlington on 23rd January 1921 and educated at Warwick Public School. He joined the RAFVR in June 1939 and began training at 26 E&RFTS, Kidlington. Called up on 1st September he was posted to 13 EFTS Fairoaks on 28th March 1940 and then moved to 10 EFTS, Yatesbury on 28th May.
Advanced training was carried out by Fox at 8 FTS Montrose after which he went to 5 OTU Aston Down to convert to Hurricanes and then joined 56 Squadron at Boscombe Down on 17th September 1940.
Fox was shot down in combat with Do17’s and Me110’s over the Portland area on 30th September. He is believed to have baled out, wounded in the leg. His Hurricane, N2434, crashed at Okeford Fitzpaine.
On 16th November Fox and P/O MR Ingle-Finch were flying to Kidlington in a Magister when they crashed near
Tidworth. Both were injured and admitted to Tidworth Hospital.
On 28th June 1941 Fox joined 234 Squadron at Warmwell. He was
shot down over France on 20th October 1941 in Spitfire Vb AD203 and captured. Freed on 16th April 1945, Fox left the RAF in 1946 as a Warrant Officer.
He died on 10th June 2005.
Peter Fox wrote the following accounts of his service:
In my log book, the last four entries have been made by a hand other than mine, and include a convoy patrol and then on the 20th October 1941 the entry: - “La Mazerie – missing – shot down by flak over La Mazerie.” It didn’t take long for whoever made that entry to make it and I have added, “three and a half years as PoW in Germany”.
It was a lovely day and I was dressed in my best with my leave chit in my pocket. All I needed now was someone to be available to take me home to Kidlington in Oxford in the squadron Magister.
No such luck because 234 Squadron was on standby and there was no other pilot available to take me there and return the Magister.
So I had to wait, with a photograph in my pocket to show my parents of the squadron transport, with 234 Squadron written in large letters on the windscreen, and a batch of pilots sitting and standing around it.
I was also carrying a small round metal tag, with Flight Lieutenant Mortimer-Rose, 234 Squadron, on one side and “Rissole” on the other. He had recently given me his dog and, as I couldn’t bring the dog, I could at least show my parents the name tag.
Just before lunch, and when the Squadron was about to be stood down the Commanding Officer, Squadron Leader HM Stephen, called out that he wanted four volunteers for a sortie. I knew perfectly well that one should never volunteer for anything, but just to be different, I did. “It won’t count off your leave” he said. “Oh no Sir, of course not” I replied.
There were two volunteers to fly as my number two and I selected an old mate of mine Sergeant Sapsed. The other pair had to strafe an airfield to the west of Cherbourg.
And so into my kite with its two 20 mm cannons and four machine guns to do the job. A good flying platform for this gunnery, the Spitfire Mk 5. Warmwell was a grass airfield from which you could only land or take off in an easterly or westerly direction according to the wind. Dispersal was at the west end of the field and in the woods.
On the day in question of course the wind direction meant we had to taxi right along the whole length of the grass field to take off into the wind and the other pair had got a bit ahead of us. The result was that I stepped on it a bit, swung my kite round for take off and a tyre burst. I jumped out and ran the length of the field, jumped into the first plane available, rejoined my number 2 and took off.
The other pair had long gone. If I had been thinking clearly I should have scrubbed going as here we would be approaching enemy territory with no revolver in my kite to “fire the aircraft” should I be forced down. And with the other pair having already crossed the coast long before us, the defences would be at “stand to”, with all land guns in the area manned.
My navigation was perfect and there was the bay I had to enter and cross and cross it I did. I think it was possibly a single machine gun and certainly only a single bullet that went straight through the oil supply to the engine. I knew this had happened because it had happened once before over England and I knew it only took a few minutes before the engine would seize up and stop. It did.
I turned round back towards the coast, knowing that I was a strong swimmer and as I had no revolver to destroy my kite I could at least drop it in the sea and swim back to captivity. No such luck, the engine went “pop,poop,pop” and stopped, leaving me gliding with virtually nil height.
Just as I was stalling I gently hit a telegraph post with my port wing, my nose went in, and my tail came gently up and then down and there I was. Now I had seen and become aware of those who had bailed out of their aircraft and then drowned, so I had invented a great idea which I had shared with others.
One drilled a small hole in the tiny lever that you pulled to inflate your dinghy on your Mae West, and then tied it to the cushion on your parachute on which you sat. If you were shot up, and managed to bale out, but then you lost consciousness, as you went into the drink and went under the cushion would try to float, pull the cord and up would blow your Mae West.
Good idea for when you went on a raid, returned to your native land and landed at your home airfield and then quickly undid the knot to the cushion and climbed out. BUT when you have crashed in enemy territory one seems to forget!
“Release your harness, then get out and run to hide from the enemy”. POOOF! Your Mae West inflates and you are stuck in your cockpit. You have to wriggle like mad to get out. I did eventually get out and ran to a crossroads of hedges and dived into the bottom, took off my Mae West, undid my escape kit, put the money and compass into my shoes, and waited.
After a time I heard voices coming closer, and I stayed still. Then a word I was to hear so many times over the next three years, “RAUS!”, and I stayed still. Suddenly an obviously agitated Frenchman’s voice in broken English, shouts out “come out boy, or they shoot you.” There were two bangs, - in the air I presume so I then thought logically, “sod that I’m coming out.” And out I came.
There were a few Frenchmen and some French women there, plus one lonely German soldier with his rifle, and I was on the farther side of the fence from them. Having been unhurt by the crash landing, 20 years of age and pretty athletic, I put my hands on the fence and did a standing arm pressure leap over the fence to their side. To add to the humour of the whole situation all the French gave me a round of applause and the German soldier grinned.
My poor kite was in the nearby field, its claxen blaring out loud and clear and I said something in my very poor schoolboy German, plus many signs, to try to convey that I had come without my revolver and I couldn’t destroy my kite. But they all seemed a bit dim so I re-explained and laid my hands on the Germans rifle, who immediately withdrew his own hand and I was standing there with my hand on the German rifle, plus an unarmed German soldier who was vainly trying to understand my poor German, when a German Officer arrived, slapped the soldier across the face, and grabbed his rifle off me.
Off I went through a small village where a German came out with his camera to take my photograph and I covered my face with my arm. Why I did that I can never guess but it probably arrived in some German local paper with the heading “Terror flieger is ashamed of his acts of aggression”.
Transport, and off to the nearby aerodrome which I knew would be Malpertus, for in my log book is the record that on the 26th August I blew up a petrol bowser with about twenty men underneath it. I decided that it was “not on” to mention this to my captors! There I was in the German dispersal hut, chatting to the German pilots and trying to talk them into letting me try out flying one of their 109’s saying that I wished to compare it to the Spitfire, which I said was the better plane. They nearly all spoke English and asked me to sing “I’m going to hang out my washing on the Siegfried line”, and I said I certainly would if only I had a good singing voice. They wouldn’t let me fly one of their 109’s as they said I would fly back home, even if some other of their kites accompanied me. I think they were correct!
Then back to their mess, where I started playing table tennis with one of the pilots. Suddenly an immaculate German officer in black uniform stamped in to the room, screamed his head off, and half a dozen of the pilots took rapid flight after Heil Hitlering a number of times. I was quickly locked away in a cell until the following morning. I had been searched earlier and all bits of paper, photos, dog discs and money had been confiscated, together with the bulky Mae West that had been recovered from the hedge. I had been asked to sign for them, and they were all parcelled up, tied up with string which was sealed with a wax seal and “Gepruft” and other German words written all over this confiscated lot, none of which had been inspected before parcelling.
Next morning a pleasant German soldier joins me and we went off by an army car to the railway station bound for Paris. On arrival we have to walk to the train and it was then that my guard decided that as he had a prisoner, he might as well carry the large and cumbersome parcel, and so I did. A taxi took us to the south of Paris, to a building from which you could see planes landing and taking off from a nearby airfield. My guard told me that he was off to get some food, leaving me and my parcel with three other guards in a room. I chatted to the guards in my schoolboy German and they were quite friendly. It was then that I turned my parcel over so that no writing was in view, and asked them for some scissors to open my parcel. I can’t remember whether they gave me them, or cut the string for me, but I was able to show them a Mae West and how it blew up. I also showed them English money and explained it as well as I could, during which time I pocketed my leave pass, my photograph and my dog's name disc.
After a time, I had a parcel with seals broken but neatly retied up and containing my Mae West. My leave pass and photograph were completely chewed up, and thrown out of the open window whilst chatting, and the dog disc was kept in my pocket with my English currency notes. Later on, whilst travelling in a taxi through Paris I dropped Rissoles disc out of the window onto the street. I and other pilots of the Squadron had been to a talk by an escaped prisoner who had got back home and he was very definite that any escape should be made way before one was locked up in a prison camp, as it was much harder to escape from a camp. So I chatted to the three guards, showed them the English money, gave them some loose change for a memento and made friends with them. I waited by a large open window – open at the bottom, where there as a drop of about 20 feet to the ground.
As the evening got closer I knew, hot though it was, that the window would be closed for the blackout. I knew I had to jump out pretty soon, get to the wire that surrounded the garden, and as the airfield appeared to be just over the nearby woods, I could hide for the night and pinch a plane in the morning. The optimism of youth!
A guard in his multi-coloured and striped sentry box was at the gates to the property, chatting up a nurse maid who had a child in her pram. His guard box was near to the start of a long building which ended up just past my window. I thought I could jump out, recover my balance and run round the near-end of this long building, and away from the guard, before the guard could take aim, and by which time I should be round the building and out of sight over the fence and in to the woods. Things sometimes do not work out how they should as I had thought and worked things out by the length of this building, but what I should have known was that it was also a very narrow building. After I jumped the quick thinking guard ran along the road and along the narrow end and away from me so by the time I was round the building I was also fully in his sights.
I fell to the ground, got kicked a few times by one guard when they came and overheard some of the guards complaining of my “friendship” and about the Mae West and the money etc. I was extremely lucky, and during the journey to the reception camp in Germany, known as Dulagluft, where all RAF prisoners started off their imprisonment my guard bought and shared grapes with me. On leaving me he quietly wished me good luck on my next escape attempt and funnily enough this attempted escape was the only one for which I received no punishment.
There were Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve Sergeants in No 1 Initial Training Wing based in the various colleges in Cambridge 1939. St John’s College was one of them, manned from the first day of the war, and I was one of the sergeants. Some of these sergeants, myself included, were straining their ears at the door of the interview room in St John’s College trying to overhear the type pf question being asked by the board of the selection committee. We were to be possibly selected as potential officers. Sgt Clive was being interviewed. “Why do you think you are the right type to be a commissioned Officer in the Royal Air Force, Sergeant Clive?” A pause, and then in a deep, heavily educated voice answers in round tones, “I do not remember having ever informed you gentlemen that I wished to be commissioned.”
End of interview and, as far as I know, Viscount Clive of India remained a sergeant.
Some of the remainder, including myself, gained white flashes in their forage caps but Warrant Officer Dolby used to spit out the word “potential” with scorn and then add the word “officer” whenever addressing us. We all got posted and as far as I know that was the end of the matter but it formed my number one botched effort to be commissioned.
A number of sergeants, including myself, had been recommended for commissions at No 8 FTS Montrose and my log book records under the appropriate column that “Duty on the 12th August 1940 - Safety Pilot.”
It was a beautiful day and one could see the golfers at Loch Tay Golf Course in Scotland were enjoying themselves for they were waving to the other Sergeant pilot and I in our Miles Master training plane. One more low sweep across the clubhouse and then off home to base. Strange…….. as we pulled upwards the airspeed indicator ceased to function. And so it was that we landed safely at an estimated airspeed on Montrose airfield only to discover that the pitot head (an attachment on the wing that records airspeed) had been twisted round backwards by some wire. During the following 'discussion' with Squadron Leader E Verdon-Roe (O/C Advanced Training Squadron) as to how the pitot head could be twisted backwards the phone rang to complain that a Miles Master (N7756) had taken away the Loch Tay golf club's telephone wires.
It was then that the words were heard “Your recommendations for Commissions will be withdrawn and neither of you can ever expect to get anywhere in the Royal Air Force”. Squadron Leader Verdon-Roe proved to be 50% correct for it was the 26th December 1946 that I retired from the RAF after three and a half years as a prisoner of war in Germany with the rank of Warrant Officer.
Sadly my associate on that day, Sergeant Neil Cameron, died some years ago (January 30th 1985) but he had achieved the rank of Marshal of the Royal Air Force, Chief of Air Staff, Chief of Defence and a Lordship, the Lord Cameron of Balhousie, KT, GCB, DSO, DFC, AE, FKC, LLD.
After a short time of service in 56 Squadron in 1940 our Commanding Officer, Squadron Leader HM Pinfold, informed me that he was recommending me for a commission. The white flashes had not been worn again since I had left Cambridge.
Fate stepped in once again for when I was returning from Kidlington (Oxford), having had lunch with my parents, I was in our squadron's Miles Magister with P/O MR Ingle-Finch. He either flew me into a haystack or, as neither of us was attending to the controls, the plane flew itself into the haystack.
I woke up in Tidworth hospital three and a half days later with a compression fracture of the spine, of numbers 6, 7, and 8 dorsals, and still no commission.
Well plastered (in medical terms) I then found myself in 1941 serving with 234 Squadron on Spitfires at Warmwell. Towards the end of October 1941 the commanding officer, Squadron Leader HM Stephen, said he 'thought it was about time I was commissioned'' and that he was recommending me for this. I thanked him. Then, very shortly afterwards, Squadron Leader Stephen informed me that he was going to withhold my recommendation until after my Flight Sergeants crown was through, as that would only be a matter of days. It seemed that this process would enable me to miss out the rank of Pilot Officer and jump to rank of Flying Officer. I was due for leave in Oxford on 20th October 1941 and have already documented above how I volunteered for a trip which cost me three and a half years imprisonment and put a stop to my commission!
By now I had a new Number, not RAFVR 754399, but Kriegsgefangener Nummer 24442.
It was 1942 and I had had my 21st birthday as a prisone, and was residing in the RAF compound in the middle of a large Army PoW camp at Lamsdorf, Stalag V111B. Sergeant Johnny Bell-Walker (another Battle of Britain pilot now sadly deceased) had accepted voluntary demotion; he became a corporal, and I, a private, both in the New Zealand Army. That is, of course, as far as our German hosts were concerned. It was much easier to escape from working parties and the Army prisoners were forced to go out on these working parties whereas the RAF prisoners, all being NCO's or higher, were all interned in the compound with no outside work allowed.
The result was that a number of us managed an internal escape into the Army camp whilst some army bods escaped, if that is the word, out of the outer Army camp into the internal RAF compound.
It was after our first escape failure that we discovered that junior NCO’s and above could choose, subject to vacancies, which working party they went on whereas private soldiers had to go where they were sent. I had had a tunnel collapse on me in the past and this episode had left me quite claustrophobic. The thought of being sent down a mine petrified me. So we went off to the German administration office to point out that on the last party I had been incorrectly listed as a private in the New Zealand Army, whereas I was indeed a Corporal, as was my colleague.
We explained that we had both been born in New Zealand and as infants had gone with our parents to England where we were educated before the war.(This accounted for our English accents to the New Zealanders but more essentially for the Germans). We had both returned to New Zealand to enlist in the Army when war seemed imminent and had been together ever since, both gaining our first stripes as Lance Corporals, both promoted to full Corporals, and both taken prisoner together. It is truly amazing how one almost believes the whole thing, both of us telling this saga in such a convincing manner. The German official was more than helpful as he didn’t like faulty workmanship and incorrect records and thanked us for telling him of the error. So off he went to an adjoining room to return with the identity card and photograph of the man I was claiming to be. Our mutual surprise at seeing a tall, red headed fellow called Patrick on the photograph encouraged the German to join in the hilarious false laughter coming from both of us. How could they have got everything wrong? Our dear German wanted to get everything right and trotted me off to have my new photograph taken, a new card issued and, of course, my correct rank of full corporal given. It was after our third failed escape attempt when we were being doled out our solitary confinement punishment that the RAF compound Unteroffitzer came in and recognised us as both being RAF personnel.
I was soon on a train to Stalagluft 3 at Sagan to replace my full corporal swapover, who thought he was a private, and Johnnie Bell-Walker was off to an officers camp as his commission had caught him up. Promotion is so much easier in Germany than in England, especially when dealing with an understanding and conscientious German!