Saturday, 10 November 2012
UNCLE'S WORLD WAR II
He was assigned to RAF 408 Squadron where he was put to work as a navigator on Lancaster bombers. They flew night bombing raids, many of them ranging as far in as Berlin. Missions like those lasted over seven hours in duration and conditions were grueling at best. Sometimes they returned minus as many as thirty planes and crews, and once the loss was over fifty. Often assigned as Lead Navigator the twenty-six year old flight sergeant guided the crews to the target every time, only once making an error that allowed them to drift a mile off course. Fortunately he was able to make the corrections early enough so that they didn't lose any time.
Furloughs were few and far between but Elwood was able to take full advantage of his time away, even managing to meet and marry the woman he would have as his companion for over forty years.
On June 28, 1944 things would change for some time though. Elwood, now promoted to the commissioned rank of Flying Officer, was sent with his squadron to bomb Doodlebug (unmanned V-1 rocket) assembly/launching points and marshalling yards in the north of France. German resistance was heavy and a lucky burst from the cannons of an FW 190 fighter set off the incendiaries in the Lanc's bomb bay. In no time fire raged through the entire ship and the order was given to abandon the plane. All those who could bailed out.
They would find out later that the bombardier had perished in the plane as he was in the process of arming the bombs when they were hit.
Elwood made it safely down and landed in a field of barley. He had to lay low during the day and travel by night because the German patrols were intent on finding any survivors. He eventually made it to a farm where the farmer cautiously hid him in a shed. Elwood thought he would be turned over to the French underground and sent back to England but two days later, the shed door opened and there stood the farmer, along with two German soldiers.
Uncle Elwood spent the rest of the war as a POW in the far eastern reaches of Germany. His self-assigned job in camp was to keep the other prisoners in his barracks in line and try to keep morale up as despair could be overwhelming at times. He was allowed to send letters out but wasn't sure that they even reached their destinations for several months. However, his hope never faded. The Red Cross packages actually showed up with a lot more regularity than would've been expected and the prisoners were always glad when they did, as they always contained cigarettes which at that time were considered a necessity. They were also good for barter as the German guards found cigarettes in short supply and were eager to trade favors for smokes.
Elwood would remain a prisoner until hostilities ended in Europe in 1945. After approximately a year of incarceration the gates were opened and the prisoners were told they could leave. In reality the guards themselves were anxious to leave as they found out that the Russian army was making its way rapidly across Germany and they wanted to put as much distance between them and the Russians as possible. Needless to say, they kept up a fast pace.
By the end of that summer Elwood was reunited with his beloved Gabrielle who also introduced him to his firstborn son, whom he had no idea was even on the way at the time he was shot down.
All but one of Elwood's flight crew survived the crash and all of those, except Elwood, were able to make it back to England to eventually fight again. The bombardier never had a chance.
Elwood's contribution to the war may have been small compared to some, but in the time of war, the efforts of everyone were needed and appreciated no matter the size. He attended reunions of his squadron including numerous trips back to England over the next forty years. He often talked about how things had changed so quickly after the war was over. In as little as twenty years it was as if there had never been a base there at all.
408 Squadron and its flight crew members dwindled over the years with Elwood, whom I understand to be the last member of his crew, passing on in the summer of 2011 at the age of 93. I've found it rather unsettling that despite Uncle Elwood being a native of Southern Alberta and a veteran of WWII, I've never seen his name or picture on the special veterans' edition of the local newspaper but his family knows that he served with distinction and did his job to the fullest. And as I do each year at this time, I remember Flight Sergeant/Flying Officer Elwood W. Stringam and all those who served with him. And I thank them for the sacrifices they made.
LET US NEVER FORGET. TODAY IS REMEMBRANCE DAY/VETERANS' DAY. WE WILL ALWAYS BE INDEBTED TO THOSE WHO SERVED.