Our passion for history and collectibles was inspired by William (Bill) Thomas Jones (September 22, 1921 - March 14, 2012). Bill, fueled with a sense of patriotism, enlisted in 1940 shortly after Britain, and her possessions, declared war on Germany. After completing basic training with the Royal Canadian Air Force (R.C.A.F.) in Trenton, St. Catherines, Fengall and Vistoriaville, Bill was shipped off to Britain. Britain was suffering heavy losses of air crew at that time and airmen coming in from the Commonwealth were first used as replacements among Royal Air Force (R.A.F.) crews. Bill came over as a qualified: Air Observer Navigator and later qualified as an Air Gunner, Bombardier and Astro-Navigation on a Bristol Blenheim. He was trained on the Wellington Bomber, a twin-engine, long-range medium bomber, as a “second pilot”. Bill’s first mission was in 1941. After several training flights in England, he flew in combat. His missions consisted of a mix of: dropping propaganda leaflets, dropping sea mines and bombing runs. They were harassed by antiaircraft artillery (flak) and fighters but he always managed to make it back. He flew dozens of missions.
Bill’s final flight was on December 31, 1942. He and five boys left RAF East Wretham at 1713hr. The mission was to drop sea mines (“Gardening” is what the boys called it), intended to blow up German U-Boats, in the Bay of Biscay off the coast of La Rochelle, France (the site of a large port). Luckily this was a short flight around Brest and back to base. The crew dropped the mines without incident and turned for home. They were all excited, as this was of course New Year’s Eve and there was a party to get to! It was not to be. Without warning flak opened up on them. They took a lot of damage and the plane was heading down fast. The pilot headed towards a small island. It was pitch black. They were all afraid. Life expectancy in the cold Atlantic Ocean was not long. Regardless, life expectancy in an airplane hitting land or water at terminal velocity was worse! They all bailed out. As they floated down, they saw the plane hit the ground and the ensuing fire. They miraculously made it to the tiny island. In the dark it’s hard to know when you are going to hit the ground in a parachute. Bill hit hard breaking his ankle and could hardly walk. Somehow another member of his crew found him and they crawled under a bush to wait for the morning light and get their bearings. It began to rain. They were very cold and of course very scared. Morning came and they began to wonder what was to come. They stood up and surveyed the island. Bill’s ankle began to swell and he could hardly stop shivering in his wet uniform. They talked about the next steps and saw a French farmer hunting. The farmer was using a ferret to chase rabbits out of their dens so he could shoot them. As the farmer approached, they decided to call out. The farmer came over and saw them. He spoke no English. The farmer knew there was a plane crash and indicated it was too dangerous for him to help them. He signaled that the Germans were searching for them. Well, they decided they would not survive under the bush and they had to get shelter and have Bill’s ankle attended to. They decided to try to get to the water where they might find some shelter and food and maybe even find a transport. They decided to go for it but somehow needed to look like a local. In their uniform they stuck out like a sore thumb. They could not discard them because if they were captured, they could be shot as spies, so they decided to turn them inside out. Bill found a stick to help him walk and they headed for the coast. They started down a path a couple German soldiers soon caught up with them. They could not run so they kept walking. The Germans called out in French for them to stop. They did not know French and did not stop. The soldiers then shouted in German “Halten!” (Stop!). They were done.
The Germans brought them to the local jail where they were kept apart but they did see the rest of their crew. A doctor came and set Bills’ ankle and they got some hot food. They were cold, tired and hungry. There was much anxiety about what would come next. In a few days a kind German investigator came and visited. He offered British cigarettes and already seemed to know much about them. They only would share the minimum information and not confirm or deny any details. They were later transferred to an interrogation center on the French mainland. Bill was eventually transferred to Stalag VIII-B Lamsdorf in Poland. Bill served out the remainder of the war in the camp (Dog Tag Nr: 27312). Things progressively got worse for them and the situation for the Germans deteriorated. Food became very scarce. They were given one loaf of bread per day between seven men, and one piece of pork per week, on a Thursday. They managed to survive by trading with the German guards, sometimes a potato for cigarettes etc. I asked him about the guards wondering if they were cruel. He would say yes, some were cruel, some not so much and some downright kind. Bill spent 28 months as a POW.
In the final stages of the war, the Soviets began to encroach on Lamsdorf and one evening they were told by their captors they would be leaving on foot in the morning. So began the “Death March” a 29 day long forced march into the center of Germany in 1945. Most didn’t make it. Here Bill saw the best and the worst of people. He told of some locals on the way who brought out a bucket and ladle with water and put it along the side of the road for the POWs to drink from. A guard came along and kicked it over. Each day was a struggle but he stayed with his buddies, one day helping them and another day they would help him. Finally, one day they were all herded into a barn and the doors closed. They were nervous thinking: Were they going to be killed? Where they going to set the barn aflame? Morning came and the guards were gone. They wondered are they just waiting for them to exit the barn and get shot for escaping? Eventually a few brave ones peeked out. When they realized the guards had truly fled, they exited.
Ninth U.S. Army came into town in jeeps on April 12, 1945 (U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt died), well they guys went nuts! Can you imagine what these guys looked and smelled like after such a crazy time? Well, the POW’s came running towards them in the jeep. When the POWs got there, they started hugging and kissing them they were so happy. The GI’s freaked out, put the jeep in gear and drove over some guys to get away! A couple days later the Red Cross arrived with food and medical care. After recovering in England for a few months Bill arrived home in Peterborough, Canada on June 13, 1945.They went to the nearest village and started pounding on doors demanding food. If the homeowner refused, they threatened to send American GI’s. They were fed. Many actually were very sick from over eating. After a day or two, the
After the war, Bill received his back pay from his time in service. He always said it was the hardest money he had ever earned and he did not want to waste it. So, he decided to go to Business College for 2 years. He was an entrepreneur with; investments in real-estate (three multi-unit buildings), owned investment shares in Jones Brothers Electric and owned and operated Jones Brothers Fuel Oil (coke and coal) with his brother Bernie. He married Mary Irene Jones (Primeau) and fathered 10 children. He was an active member, Vice President and President of the RCAF Association (Wing 428). He retired at the age of 53 in 1974 and lived to the age of 91. Bill was good to share with anyone who asked about his war experiences. He spoke on Rememberance / Veteran’s Day to groups of school children educating about the horrors of war. He was always a huge fan of our business, providing encouragement and advice.Rank & Squadron:
|Leslie William Hickman, 1190611
|Coventry, West Midlands, England
|Stalag Luft L3 Sagan and Belaria
|William Thomas Jones, (R/93413)
|Peterborough, Ontario, Canada
|Stalag 344 Lamsdorf
|Donald McKay, (R/102092)
|Swift Current, Saskatchewan, Canada
|Stalag 2D Stargard
|William Douglas Victor Pearce, (R/85983)
|Toronto, Ontario, Canada
|Stalag 344 Lamsdorf
|Samuel William Walmsley, (R/87948)
|Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada
|Stalag 344 Lamsdorf