What a coincidence! Or a lovely piece of serendipity. One of the chaps I am looking at for my Stalag Luft III research is Charles Lark, formerly of 460 Squadron. I picked up Charlie's memoir A Lark on the Wing this morning to read it again. At the beginning of the book, he wrote: ‘At the ripe old age of 83, I realise how lucky I am to be alive. Like the cat with nine lives, it often seems to me that I’m living on borrowed time. Roughly 58 years ago I was the sole survivor of a Wellington bomber shot down over Germany by a Messerschmitt 110 night fighter. Our plane was burning furiously from nose to tail, and plunging out of control towards the ground. No trace of the aircraft or the bodies of my four comrades have been found.’ And then I turned to the page where he describes his last operational trip with his all-Australian crew. It was on 2 July 1942.
Charlie really was lucky to be alive. He was badly injured and was eventually repatriated back to Australia.Before he embarked on the long journey home in October 1943, he had an encounter with recent arrival in East Compound, Group Captain Douglas Wilson who later replaced Group Captain Massey as Senior British Officer, after Massey’s repatriation. As Charlie tells it, ‘The lads from our room invited him in for a cup of tea, and somebody produced a bar of chocolate. This was like gold to a Kriegie, and we were all horrified as he downed the lot. But we were all too polite, and nobody said a word.’
It seems Group Captain Wilson developed a reputation for being a bit on the tooth. As Ross Breheny recalled, ‘He used to come up to our room every afternoon and eat all our bloody biscuits’. As far as Ross was concerned at least, Wilson was forgiven for scoffing the bikkies because ‘he was a very interesting man to talk to’ and would regale them with all sorts of RAAF service stories that never made the public record.
A handsome Charlie Lark lift from his memoir.
Charlie Lark recalled the tea and coffee that was served with the ‘shared’ tea table treats. ‘The ersatz tea was carried back to the huts in dustbins. We understood it consisted of hot water poured over chopped twigs and leaves, flavoured with mint essence. Ersatz coffee, made from acorns, was available at certain times.’ Doesn’t sound overly attractive does it? And it certainly didn’t look it either, as these samples attest. Looks like some of the dust from the dust bins is mixed up with the leaves!
Some of Charlie Lark's story is at http://www.australiansatwar.gov.au/stories/stories_ID=173_war=W2.html