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June 2018

A Slice of Life in a POW camp.

WW2 RAF mapsHanover is in the middle of the right hand side of this picture.

On 18th October 1943 a Lancaster Bomber on a bombing mission to Hanover in Germany was shot down by a night-fighter. The pilot was Warrant Officer Geoff Taylor, and Piece of Cake is his story.

The whole crew of seven survived, but were all captured and became prisoners of war. Geoff Taylor remained a POW until he was liberated by the Russians in 1945.

Piece of cake close upGeoff as a POW, I suppose.

This book is full of vivid descriptions of what it’s like to be in a Lancaster on a bombing mission, and about the lives of prisoners of war struggling to keep their minds and bodies intact in Stalag IVb, 33 miles North West of Dresden in the East of Germany:

        “We had corkscrewed into our evasive action really fast and this time I thought we’d never pull out of the dive. Heavy with her bomb-load, “Z-Zebra” had her nose well down. I grabbed the stick with both hands, applied sheer brute force. She was really wound-up. Slowly at first, as I strained, and then almost too suddenly the nose came up.

      “Hello, gunners, climbing port,” I called. Then, “Rolling.” Pause, “Climbing starboard.” Floating, harness straps biting into my shoulders, “Diving starboard.” Over we go, “Rolling.” Then again, “Diving port.” Over and over again I called the litany. On a black night the weaving and corkscrewing of a bomber, if it didn’t confuse the attacker, certainly disoriented the defending gunners.

  Lancaster bomberWe all know what this is, don't we children?

(In the POW camp)

       “Potato peelings are saved and boiled up again as soup for an evening meal. From the two slices of black bread which, with half a dozen rotting potatoes and a mug of turnip or millet soup, is your ration each for twenty-four hours of sub-zero cold, you cut the crusts and shred them into crumbs.

      The precious crumbs are accumulated for a week in a tin can no bigger than a saucepan in which you would boil a couple of eggs.

      Mixed with water and a hoarded spoonful of ersatz German jam made from turnips, the crumb pudding is a weekly treat.”

      (and)

      “There are, of course, fleas and bed-bugs and lice”

After the war Geoff Taylor went back to Australia and became a journalist. I have quite a few of these wartime memoirs, and this is one of the two very best ones. I bought this book at The Ryde Bookshop, on the Isle of Wight. In 1972, his book Return Ticket was published, in which he goes back to Germany and Stalag IVb to attempt to retrace his steps. On the strength of Piece of Cake, I’m going to buy a copy.

Geoff Taylor  Piece of cakeThe man himself, in about 1957

Piece of Cake by Geoff Taylor, this edition 1957.