Like so many former wartime aircrew, Phil Potts is at pains to point out that he deserves no special credit for having survived the war when so many of his colleagues were killed, hence the modest title of his book of wartime reminiscences.
Phil, who hails from Luton in Bedfordshire, was too young for military service when the war broke out in 1939 and had to content himself with his job at a local aircraft factory and night-time duties as an ARP warden until he was old enough to volunteer for the Royal Air Force in 1942.
He was accepted for aircrew training and, after induction at Regent’s Park Zoo Reception Centre, progressed via Brighton, Newquay, Sywell and Heaton Park, then Moncton, Bowdon and Edmonton in Canada, where he gained his navigator’s wings in 1943 before returning to the UK in November that year to join RAF Bomber Command.
His advanced training then continued at Mona, Wymeswold, Lindholme and Hemswell before he and the six-man Lancaster crew he had joined finally became operational when posted to 103 Squadron, part of 1 Group, based at RAF Elsham Wolds in Lincolnshire.
Their operational flying career was to be short-lived, however. On 18 August 1944, on only their fourth operational sortie, they were shot down whilst attacking German flying bomb installations in northern France. Three members of Phil’s crew were killed and the rest were captured and became prisoners of war, considering themselves fortunate to have survived.
After interrogation at the infamous Dulag Luft, Phil was sent to Stalag Luft 7 at Bankau, Upper Silesia, where he remained until January 1945, when he and his fellow prisoners were force-marched in freezing winter weather to Stalag Luft 3a at Luckenwalde, not far from Berlin, where they were to spend the remaining months of the war in increasingly unpleasant conditions until liberated by the Russian army in April that same year.
Phil’s matter-of-fact recollections of his experiences, told without ornament or exaggeration, provide an excellent insight not only into his training and flying activities but also into the conditions endured by the many thousands of Allied aircrew who became prisoners of war.
Phil's reminiscences are tempered by fond memories of his fellow ‘kregies’ and how they delighted in using every means at their disposal to make life difficult for their German guards.
Illustrated by some interesting memorabilia that the author has kept from his days as a prisoner of war, this book is an entertaining and illuminating historical document.