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Fields of Fire
by Eric Brown

Eric Brown (born 1923 in Vancouver, currently residing in Vancouver)

I enlisted in the Air Force in 1940. The following year, I was sent overseas to bomber command in Bournemouth for basic English Air Force training.

In 1943, I was transferred to a squadron in Yorkshire. We started flying into enemy territory. I flew twenty-eight missions in total-from Denmark down to the south of France.

One of our missions took us to St. Nazaire. Our target was pig pens. The German submarine pens were located under huge concrete basins and weren't bothered by bombs. We were ordered to mine tin cans: we had to drop sea mines from a height of 3,000 feet on either end of the island so any sub trying to get out of the pen would, in theory, get hit. When we were over St. Nazaire, we got combed by search lights-first a white, then a blue. Once the blue light hit the plane, the anti-aircraft guns started shooting. I thought, I'm not sticking around here. I went down to 500 feet and waved and curved to get rid of the blue light. I managed to get out into the English Channel, flying on two engines. Poole Harbour was loaded with anti-aircraft guns to protect the British. The intelligence officer was supposed to tell you what the flare of the day or night was, but none of us could remember. We had candlestick flares and started firing off every one of them, while the Brits kept shooting at us. Luckily, we didn't get knocked down. That was May 1944, just before D-Day.

We did get shot down on June 28, 1944 while on a mission to bomb Metz, a huge marshalling area for the Germans. We were trying to prevent the German military from bringing in the reserves. We were on a run-in to the target indicators when we were hit by a night-fighter, a JU 88. My starboard inner engine caught on fire. I couldn't put it out.

Four of the crew escaped. Two got captured in, shall we say, a house of ill repute. I was taken in by the underground. I had landed in one of the farmer's fields. My leg was badly injured. I lit fire to the parachute and the field. Some French farmers came out and loaded me onto a pélias, which is a cart for transporting hay. I woke up in the basement of a farmhouse. I couldn't remember my high-school French. I kept asking for l'eau. They kept giving me wine. Eventually, I passed out. Since they couldn't stop the bleeding, they had to take me to the hospital where I was turned over to the Gestapo. The Gestapo guys treated me okay.

After General Patten's army went through France in September 1944, of the crew members who managed to escape, one was found working in a bakery selling bread to the Germans. Another, Harry the Scotsman, couldn't be let out because of his accent; he spent the time in a basement of the Underground making Molotov cocktails. My navigator, who had been caught in the brothel, ended up in Dachau.

I got back to England that September. The others had to wait until December or the New Year. But we all survived.

The crew-mates were very close, like family. We lived and died together, and we had many, many parties.

One of the positive things about the war was that I met my wife of fifty-five years while I was stationed in England. That was 1942. I was taking the train up to see an older brother who had been shot down. She was working with military intelligence in Oxford. I offered her a chocolate bar and silk stockings. When I was transferred to Oxford, I phoned her up and she agreed to go out to dinner. We were married in January 1944. My son was born a week after I got out of the prison hospital camp. 


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