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‘You are a spy!’


I was a shade surprised at this, as I felt they must know that even the stupid British were unlikely to parachute their spies into a Ruhr city on a bright spring afternoon in broad daylight, complete with RAF uniform, badges of rank, and nothing else. I told them so in as few words as I could. They were not amused and again they said ‘You are spy! You have no identity card!’


I really had nothing more I could say and I stood there at their desk, trying to return their hostile stares with as much equanimity as I could muster. The senior officer spoke again in German, this time to the two guards armed with rifles who throughout this unpleasantness had been standing behind me just by the door through which I had entered. They were given an order, the order being obviously to take me away. I thought they had been told to take me out and shoot me and for the third time in recent hours I felt more than a pang of fear. Shoot me or not, I thought, they are only going to get name, rank and number. The interrogators had certainly given up trying to pry any information out of me and were writing me off in one way or the other, I hoped not too literally.


It was not a long walk, but, thank God, it was only to the establishment’s guard room down by the entrance gate. I was roughly pushed into a tiny room at the back, complete with a single trestle bed and a smelly blanket – nothing else. The door was closed and for the first time I felt like a real prisoner. It was now dark, but I had no serviceable watch and could only guess the time. The guards did come in within the next hour and said ‘Essen.’


I concluded they were telling me where I was, for Bottrop was indeed close to the city of Essen. But in fact it was a question – they wanted to know if I would like something to eat. I did, but it was scarcely worth it. They brought me some bread and what they used for coffee. The coffee had nothing going for it and this was my first taste of wartime German bread. Those of us who were fed on it in the coming weeks were agreed about one thing – anything at all you did to German bread would improve its flavour, even, it was said, kicking it about the floor for a time. There were other unmentionable things we claimed you could do to it and still improve it.


I got some sleep in the guardroom cell that night, in spite of the sour smell of the blanket I was given which, fortunately, was at least free of other inhabitants. In the morning I was awakened and taken by road a few miles, to find myself ushered unceremoniously down a flight of stone steps in the buildings of what I later learned was the Essen-Mulheim Airport. Then I was introduced to a prison cell-like door on the other side of which I was happy to find four members of the crew, Jimmy, Henry, Ken and Paddy. They were lying on a straw-strewn floor, having obviously spent the night in at least as much discomfort as I had.


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