462 Squadron.com

A tribute to the Crew of Halifax III, NA-240, Z5-V

© Assoc. Crest ©
Home Crew 59
NA240 Z5-V
Crash Details
NA240 Z5-V
Halifax III Locations Squadron Crews Site updated
06 Feb 2024
Site Map Other Personnel Memorials Acknowledgements Contact Terms of Use;
Privacy; About Site
Latest News
Rear Gunner – Flight Sergeant Maxwell James Hibberd, 435342, RAAF, PoW Experiences

Please refer to the F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd RAAF Service History page for details of his service as an ATC Cadet, his enlistment in the RAAF and training as Air Gunner in Australia, embarkation to the UK, training in the UK, posting to 462 Squadron in 100 Group, Missing in Action in Germany, ex-PoW in UK, repatriation to Australia and demobilisation, and Honours & Awards.
Photos may be seen at Hibberd Photos, also 27 OTU Lichfield (Church Brougham), 1652 HCU Marston Moor, and 462 Squadron Foulsham.

Photos of some of the memorabilia mentioned in these PoW Experiences will be added at a later date. (Comments & corrections in italics.)

PoW Experience from Official Records The section of F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd's PoW experiences with documented dates has been extracted from official records M.J.Hibberd’s RAAF Service File (original 1946 version) and May 1979 FOI copy (which contains some transcription errors), MJH’s RAAF Casualty File (some dates differ by one day between records), and his RAAF Flying Log Book. Additional information has been supplied by the Delitzsch Archivist, the Colditz Archivist, and from general WW2 history references.

PoW Experience from Official Ex-PoW Interviews 4 recorded interviews 2 in the UK, 1 on the ship prior to disembarkation in Sydney, and 1 during his posting to No 3 BMU (Brisbane Medical Unit) Greenslopes, Brisbane, Queensland.

PoW Experience not on official records but verifiable This section is extracted from F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd's personal documents; dated letters and 'dated' war memorabilia.

PoW Experience from anecdotal records This section is extracted from F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd's personal documents; war mementos kept by MJH; family letters; and interviews with members of his family, friends, fellow post-war College students, and former RAAF associates. Much of this cannot be dated conclusively.

PoW injuries and effects on his health This section is extracted from F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd's post war medical files; and interviews with members of his family, friends, fellow post-war College students, and former RAAF associates.

PoW Experience from Official Records.

10/04/45          Log Book – Ops No 5 – Halifax III Z5-V, Pilot F/O Ball, Special Duties Operation Leipzig. Baled Out.

10/04/45          Halifax III NA240 Z5-V was hit by anti-aircraft fire and crashed near Zaasch at about 10.00pm. MJH baled out and parachuted to the ground, probably losing consciousness before, during or after landing. Zaasch is north-west of Delitzsch, and north of the night's target, the Wahren Rail-yards at Leipzig.

11/04/45          Reported missing with Aircraft NA240 Z5-V and all crew, air operation – Target Leipzig Germany – Rank Flight Sergeant.
11/04/45          Posted to W.C.A.D. (War Casualty Accounts Department).

11/04/45          MJH awakened or regained consciousness at dawn, about 5:00 to 5:30am, and hid in a haystack for one day.
11/04/45          Due to his injuries, MJH sought help at farmhouse. He was arrested at about 2300 hrs and taken to Delitzsch.

12/04/45          PoW, Germany. PoW number (if any) not on record.

13/04/45          MJH marched to Delitzsch aerodrome (Luftwaffe training airbase at Spröda, which was east-north-east of Delitzsch.)

14/04/45          Telegram dated 13/04/45 informing that MJH was ‘Missing in Action’, received by his Father Max Henry Hibberd at home in Brookfield, via Brisbane.

14/04/45          MJH and a group of PoWs were marched to Colditz Castle Oflag IV-C, and stayed overnight. The PoW group slept in the prisoner's courtyard.
14/04/45          Destruction of Oflag IV-C records started on orders from German Hierarchy (refer Colditz Castle Archivist).

15/04/45          MJH and PoW group marched from Colditz to Oschatz (HQ) in the north-east. MJH was interrogated at Stalag IV-G at Oschatz over the following 3 days & nights. Heavy artillery fire from the US Army advancing from the west could be heard by MJH as the PoW group departed Colditz to the east.
15/04/45          Airfield at Spröda near Delitzsch dynamited by Germans to prevent its use by the approaching Allied Forces (refer Delitzsch Archivist).

16/04/45          Liberation of Colditz Oflag IV-C by US Army.

16/04/45          MJH interrogated at Oschatz (HQ), Stalag IV-G.

17/04/45          MJH interrogated at Oschatz (HQ), Stalag IV-G.

18/04/45          MJH interrogated at Oschatz (HQ), Stalag IV-G.

18/04/45          US Army 9th Div., 2nd Infantry Div., arrived in Leipzig, and stayed until 30 July 1945 when the City was relinquished to the Russians.

19/04/45          MJH & PoW group marched away from Oschatz (HQ), Stalag IV-G. From this day onwards, the German Guards marched MJH & the PoW group in various directions in the vicinity of the Elbe River. This was in an attempt to avoid US Troops approaching from the west, and Russian Troops approaching from the east. MJH remained with the PoW group as part of this multi-directional movement until about the 7, 8, or 9 May 1945. According to troop movement maps at the time, the remaining German Forces & PoWs would have moved south.

21/04/45          Liberation of Delitzsch by US Army.

23/04/45          Liberation of Stalag IV-B at Mühlberg by Russians (Mühlberg is north-east of Oschatz, but on the eastern side of the Elbe River. Oschatz is about 15km to the west of the Elbe River.)

25/04/45          US and Russian Armies met at Torgau on the Elbe River.

26/04/45          Oschatz surrendered to US Forces to prevent destruction of historical buildings.

07/05/45          or 08/05/45 or 09/05/45 – MJH and 5 others escaped from the main PoW Group. They later made contact with US Troops, who informed them that the War was already over. (Location of this meeting, and the Identity of the US Troops as yet unknown.)
(A copy of that cable is included in each of the Casualty Files for the 5 deceased RAAF members of crew, Ball, Evans, Frank, Tait and Taylor.)

??/05/45          MJH transported to Brussels, but actual date and method of transport as yet unknown. This was sometime on or after the 8 May 1945, arriving in Brussels by 10/05/45.

10/05/45          Known to be safe in Brussels (memento scarf autographed and dated 10/05/45).

11/05/45          Safe in Brussels, Belgium (Armed Forces Air Letter to Family, written in Brussels, dated 11/05/45, stamped "Ex-PoW" and postmarked "1 Canadian A.B.P.O. 12 May 45").

11/05/45          Flown to UK as part of Operation Exodus.
11/05/45          Reported safe in UK.
11/05/45          Posted to No 11 PDRC Brighton (Personnel Despatch & Reception Centre).

For the details of MJH's experiences as an ex-PoW in the UK, followed by repatriation to Australia and later demobilisation, please return to the F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd RAAF Service History page.
Return to top of page.

PoW Experience from Official Ex-PoW Interviews – The following information is taken from MJH’s 4 official interviews regarding his PoW experience.
1. On 12/05/45 Brighton UK (printed questionnaire, with handwritten answers in spaces provided).
2. On 15/06/45 UK (printed questionnaire, with handwritten answers in spaces provided).
3. On 28/07/45 with Investigating Officers before disembarking from the Ship 'Andes' in Sydney Aust. (Verbal Statement transcribed to typed format. After the July 1945 interview in Sydney Australia, he was ordered not to talk about his experiences, nor of the fate of the rest of the crew).
4. On 30/08/45 while posted to No 3 BMU (Brisbane Medical Unit) in Greenslopes Repatriation Hospital, Brisbane Australia. (Written Statement by MJH, with attached covering letter from Interrogation Officer, also dated 30/08/45. MJH was again ordered not to speak further of his experiences. This order was never officially revoked.)

  • Plane crash recorded as N.E. Leipzig (but now known to be at Zaasch, NNW of Delitzsch, north of Leipzig).

  • Plane hit by anti aircraft fire (described as ‘flak’ in 2 reports) in starboard wing, amidships, and just outside the rear turret, all hits within a few seconds of each other. Saw the flash of the rear turret hit – recorded as about 10:00 pm, at about 14000 ft and plane tossing about.

  • Recorded as not remembering baling out but somehow did, probably via rear turret. (This also entailed grabbing the parachute from inside the fuselage of the plane, and clipping it on. There was insufficient space in the gun turret to wear the parachute strapped on.)

  • Landed in wheat field and awoke at dawn between 5:00 and 5:30 am on 11/04/45, with parachute still attached and streaming out behind him.

  • Hid in haystack until evening for 1 day.

  • Then started walking, could hardly walk on one leg and was suffering from loss of blood from head injuries. Had only 1 boot, was wounded, and suffering from concussion, loss of blood, and thigh and ankle damage.

  • Sought help from farm house but they informed ‘Police’ (? or other persons of Authority), who came and took him to the Officers of the SS in Delitch (sic) at about 2300 hrs on the 11/04/45. ('Delitch' is the phonetic spelling of Delitzsch).

  • Was then marched to Delitch (sic) Aerodrome, for 1 day 13/04/45. Questioned as to whether he was fighter crew or bomber crew. (Delitzsch aerodrome probably the Luftwaffe training airbase nearby at Spröda.)

  • Marched to Colditz Castle – stayed night of 14/04/45. (This date had erroneously been recorded as 14/05/45, however he was safe back in the UK at Brighton on 11/05/45.)

  • Marched to SS Headquarters at Auschatz (sic) Town Hall and interrogated for 3 days – then to English section of Stalag VII-G (sic) from 15 to 18/04/45. (‘Auschatz’ was the phonetic spelling of the name Oschatz. These dates were similarly and erroneously recorded as 15 to 18/05/45 – however by that time MJH was already safe in the UK. Location is believed to be Stalag IV-G Oschatz which could be marched in one day from Colditz. All of the camps in that area of Germany were in Wehrkreis Group IV. Camps in the Wehrkreis Group VII were located in a different region entirely. There was no listing for any Stalag or Stalag Luft or Oflag with the number VII-G. Ref. O.Clutton-Brock.)

  • From the 18 April, was marched with other PoWs in the vicinity of the Elbe River for the rest of his PoW time, in various directions depending on the Russian and American troop locations.

  • Loaned pair of boots by another PoW.

  • Listed rations as being poor quality, and poor quantity.

  • Washing under back yard pump.

  • Listed German Staff as being reasonable.

  • Listed that no treatment was received for flak injuries.

  • Only other Australian POW named as being seen was Flying Officer Sullivan (This Officer has not yet been further identified by Squadron. No Sullivan or O’Sullivan is listed in O.Clutton-Brock’s book on Bomber Command PoWs, nor was he in any of the 10 crews shot down during the day and night raids on 10 April 1945.)

  • Recorded as released by Americans, but no record of date, time, location or which US group. (However personal anecdotal evidence from MJH was that he & others escaped & located American troops. This escape is also referred to in an official cable dated 28 June 1945 from RAAF HQ Melbourne to Overseas HQ RAAF Kingsway requesting statement and details of his escape – see comments in previous section.)

  • Sections for PoW number is marked 'Not recorded'.

  • All other 7 crew members – fate unknown but believed to have been killed in the air, or during crash near target area.

  • MJH recorded as seeing undamaged identity cards of Pilot, Bomb Aimer and Wireless Operator on table in 'SS HQ at Delitch' (sic, this is the phonetic spelling of Delitzsch).

  • Recorded as seeing undamaged identity disc of Navigator on table in 'SS HQ at Delitch' (sic, this is the phonetic spelling of Delitzsch).

Return to top of page.

PoW Experience not on official records but verifiable This section is extracted from F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd's personal documents; dated letters and 'dated' war memorabilia.

From Commonwealth War Graves Commission information, it is now known that the 7 other members of the Crew who died were originally buried in a communal grave in Zaasch, Germany, Friedhof at map reference (GSGS) 4416 1/100.000 SH Q6 MR 147.378.  This map is held at the Map Library of the British Library, and a copy was received in April 2005. The Crew were exhumed and later re-buried in Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery on 2nd October 1947, Graves 4.Z.7 to 4.Z.13. The original communal grave at Zaasch was near to the crash site. This then correlates with the assumption that 'Delitch' where MJH was taken as PoW, was actually Delitzsch which is close to Zaasch.

10 May 1945 – From Belgium MJH had brought home a souvenir silk scarf. On it is a map of the UK, and a coat-of-arms with Lion and Unicorn Crest with Motto. This silk scarf had been autographed and dated – “Brussels 10 May 1945, M.M.Ferguson”. His family were aware that he had obtained it in Brussels, so one could probably assume that he was in Brussels on that date. (The scarf is still with MJH’s family. It is not known who M.M.Ferguson was. Possibly this was the female NAAFI officer who met MJH’s father, Sgt. Max Henry Hibberd when he served in the Australian Army Occupation Forces in Japan until 1948. This female NAAFI officer in Japan mentioned to him that she had met his son MJH as an ex-PoW prior to her going to Japan, but did not say where that meeting occurred. MJH's Widow has always believed that the female NAAFI officer had been in Brussels.)

11 May 1945 – MJH wrote a letter to his sister-in-law in UK from Brussels. The letter is an official Armed Forces Air Letter, dated 11/05/45, stamped “ex. PoW" and postmarked 12/05/45 at “1 Canadian ABPO”.  Quote from this letter “I have no idea where the rest of the crew are but sincerely hope that they got out alive and are now safe like myself. What a nightmare but I guess war is war and after that damage was done they certainly hate us”. (In Brussels, to get word to his family that he was now 'safe', he had decided to write to Muriel, the English wife of his older brother, Flying Officer Noel Victor Hibberd. Muriel lived in Stamford, Lincolnshire, and Noel had been expecting to leave the UK for the Pacific War Zone. In this letter MJH deliberately made light of his condition and experiences as he wanted to reassure his family at home. He also asked “Is Noel on his way yet?” F/O N.V.Hibberd had actually embarked from the UK on the 11 April 1945, the same day his brother MJH was reported missing. Several of MJH’s short leave breaks had been spent at the Allen’s farm at Witham-on-the-Hill, Stamford, which was the home of his sister-in-law Muriel and her family. MJH was welcome to stay at the farm anytime. Muriel and Noel had married on 10 February 1945, with MJH as Best Man – wedding photos at N.V.Hibberd page.)

11 May 1945 – His Service File records MJH’s safe arrival in Brighton UK, with his posting to 11 PDRC on the same day. (This was also the same date on the letter he had written in Brussels, and indicates that he most likely departed Brussels soon after posting it.)

13 May 1945 – Issued with ‘ex-PoW Open Travel Ticket 09039C" by HQ, No 11 PDRC.

15 May 1945 – MJH was issued with a "Repatriated P.O.W." Ministry of Food Medical Certificate, valid for 4 weeks, which allowed him extra rations due to his "Suffering from Malnutrition". (MJH lost nearly 4 stone, or about one third of his body weight, while he was a PoW in the month between 10/04/45 (crash date) and 11/05/45 (safe in UK). At enlistment on 22 April 1943 his height was 5’9½” (176.5cm) and his weight 9st.10lb. (61.7kg). By 18 June 1944 when he received his English driving licence, his height had increased to 5’11” (180.3cm), a growth of 1.5” (3.8cm) since enlistment. No doubt there had been a similar increase in weight.)

31 May 1945 – MJH was issued with a green coloured "R.A.A.F. Ex. P.O.W. Canteen Ration Card" for the month ending 30 June 1945. This card allowed him issues of chocolate, biscuits, tinned fruit, confectionary, jam, special tinned goods, toilet soap, sunlight soap and Rinso, cigarettes, matches (all of which were marked as collected), as well as sugar, butter and milk (which were apparently not collected). He embarked from the UK on 29 June 1945. MJH had given the card to Gunner R.B.Hetherington in February 1946 after they met up prior to their demobilisation. RBH had kept the card with his own personal WW2 memorabilia since then and returned it to MJH's daughter in 2009.

28 July 1945 – At the 3rd ex-PoW interview in Sydney Australia, he was ordered not to talk about his experiences nor of the fate of the rest of the crew.

30 Aug 1945 – At the 4th ex-PoW interview in Greenslopes Hospital, Brisbane, he was again ordered not to mention allegations of the fate of the Crew to the Crew’s next-of-kin or others. (Those orders were never revoked by the RAAF and he adhered to them until he died in 1988. He rarely spoke of anything to do with the War to his immediate family, although he rarely missed attending ANZAC Day, including the Dawn Service until ill-heath prevented this. In later years, he had to travel by jeep instead of marching in the ANZAC Day Parade. To these events, he proudly wore his original RAAF uniform, War Service Medals and Caterpillar Badge. The Caterpillar Badge was also worn on most formal functions that he attended throughout his life after the war, and it can be seen many family photos in use as a tie-pin.)

15 Feb 1982 – In a personal letter to a family member who was building a model of a Halifax III, MJH gave additional information which was not on his official records, and had not ever been related elsewhere. In relation to the loss of Halifax NA240 Z5-V on 10 April 1945, the target for this Halifax and Crew had been the Wahren Railway Yards at Leipzig. Following are some quotes from this letter .....
"This last trip was supposed to be a quiet picnic ......... into Leipzig ..."
"... 250 heavy kites went over ..."
"We were the third kite in the lead and we were the third kite to be blown to bits."
"Next thing our kite was on fire up front, then the starboard wing fell off then I copped one ...."
"I later was interrogated by SS in Auschatz (sic) I think, and then spent time in Stallag VIIG (sic) and Colditz."
"The Yanks rescued us except that six of us shot through from a forced march and found Yanks in front of us a few miles".
He finished by writing "I've said a lot more than I intended, and usually say nothing ..."
It appears that NA240 was one of 53 RCM sorties for the night, and their particular stream of 250 heavy bombers was part of the main force to Leipzig, those to Plauen branching off beforehand.

Squadron ORB, 10 April 1945 – "Of the 10 Aircraft from 462 Squadron which had been required for the night's Operations, TWO aircraft – NA.240 and PN.426 operated with No. 5 Group in the Main BOMBER Stream on RADAR COUNTER MEASURES." (The other 7 aircraft from 462 Squadron were tasked with a Spoof raid to Plauen – please see details on the M.J.Hibberd Service Files.)

Ref: Bomber Command War Diaries, Middlebrook & Everitt, pg 694 .....
There were 594 sorties in the immediate area on the night of 10/11 April 1945 –
PLAUEN (Railway Yards): 307 Lancasters and 8 Mosquitoes of 1 and 8 Groups.
LEIPZIG (Wahren Railway Yards): 76 Lancasters and 19 Mosquitoes of 5 and 8 Groups.
MINOR OPERATIONS: 77 Mosquitoes to Berlin, 21 to Chemnitz, 7 to Bayreuth, 53 RCM sorties, 26 Mosquito Patrols.

Return to top of page.

PoW Experiences from anecdotal records but not in official records – information contributed by the Widow of MJH, other family members, friends and acquaintances. MJH never told these snippets of information as one continuous story – parts were told at different times, until he would become emotional and stop talking. The dates and locations of these events are not known exactly so the following are not in any particular order.

Some RAAF Crews were rather superstitious. MJH and the others in the Crew reckoned their time was coming up as they were spilling their cups of tea down their fronts, having shaky hands due to nerves.

The plane was on fire. MJH was wounded and left the plane somehow with parachute on. Weather conditions were very cold, with snow, ice, sleet & fog.

MJH had what he called a ‘near-death’ experience while parachuting – he floated down, then became ‘aware’, then suddenly seemed to float upwards. He lost consciousness, later "came to" in the rain in a wheat field and hid in a haystack. This was also mentioned in the letter to a family member from MJH on 15 Feb 1982 – he floated upwards "to the ‘Old Bloke’ at the Pearly Gates who told me to go back, that he didn’t want me. I told him I couldn’t go back in the rain, I’d only get wet, and that was when I had a waking moment and it was raining."

After hiding in the haystack for the day and part of the evening, MJH had to take off one flying boot because his foot and ankle/leg was badly swollen and painful. This contributed to his difficulty in walking with injured legs, so he could not walk westwards to meet the Allies i.e. Americans, as he had intended. Injured, wearing only one boot, and due to the intense cold, he decided to seek help at a farm house. He was from a close-knit farming community in Australia, who would always help a stranger in trouble, so he may have expected similar treatment even though he was in enemy territory. (In flight, the Aircrew wore flying suits and warm 'flying jackets' with sheepskin lining, knee length flying boots, caps, and gloves. The Air Gunners also wore electrically heated flying suits because it was so cold in the gun turrets. It is not known if he was wearing his flying suit when he went to the farmhouse for help – he may have already removed and hidden it, along with the parachute.)

The farmer and his daughter gave his wounds basic treatment only, in the form of a paper bandage on his ankle. He also received some black bread and ersatz coffee, before the farmer’s daughter was sent by bicycle to call authorities. (We now know they took a huge risk, because the penalty for assisting the enemy was death.)

The Authority Figure who arrested him was in uniform and arrived shouting and brandishing a hand-gun, so that MJH feared for his life. (It is not known whether this person was local Police, Military, SS, Volkssturm, or other. It would most likely have been local Police or Volkssturm, because according to the Delitzsch Archives there were no SS or Military Units stationed in the local area). MJH was taken to Delitzsch (at about 2300hrs according to his ex-PoW interviews) and then to the nearby aerodrome (now thought to be the Luftwaffe Training Air Base at Spröda, because it was the only nearby aerodrome at that time – ref: Delitzsch Archivist).

While being interrogated at "Delitch" (sic, Delitzsch) MJH saw 3 identity cards (of Pilot, Bomb Aimer and Wireless Operator) and 1 identity disc (of Navigator) belonging to his crew. He also thought he saw 2 of the crew at a distance with guards, and later heard what sounded like shot. He had believed that several crew members had been murdered and had reported this at his ex-PoW interviews. During interrogation, his other boot was taken.

The PoW group marched into Colditz Castle Oflag IV-C in dense fog. They met Douglas Bader (famous British legless Fighter Pilot) in Colditz. As a Senior PoW, Bader was allowed to speak to their PoW group and he wanted to hear of the progress of the War. The PoW group slept in the inner (prisoner’s) courtyard for 1 night before marching on to Oschatz. It was only when they departed the next morning that they realised they had entered over a high narrow bridge. As they left Colditz, they could hear heavy gun-fire from the Yank Army approaching from the west. (They arrived on 14 April 1945, the same day that destruction of Oflag IV-C records commenced on orders from the German Hierarchy, and because of this their arrival and departure was not recorded ref: Colditz Castle Archivist. They left on 15 April and Colditz Oflag IV-C was liberated by the US Army on 16 April.)

During 3 days interrogation at Oschatz, MJH was beaten severely, including on his wounds, feet and genitals. A typical action of the interrogator was to place the heel of his boot on MJH’s injured foot, then twist his foot pressing down hard at the same time to cause pain. MJH’s description to his wife was that he had been beaten “with a waddy” and that he had been in a "sweat box".. MJH also told family that his RAF uniform caused problems in the interrogation. (The normal number in a crew for Halifax Bomber's was 7 – the crew MJH was in had eight. The 8th was the German Speaking Special Duties Operator, F/O John Heggarty, who operated the Top Secret Special Equipment on board the Aircraft. Therefore when MJH was captured, his live presence may have confused the German Officers because they probably would have expected only 7 men in the crew. Additionally S.D.O. F/O Heggarty was previously an Air Gunner, so of the 7 bodies already recovered from among the Aircraft wreckage, there would have been 2 bodies with Air Gunner’s badges. A live third Air Gunner may have caused further confusion. The RAAF uniform was dark blue serge. The RAF uniform was a lighter grey/blue but of similar style. MJH would only give Name, Rank, and Service Number as RAAF, but would have looked like RAF, thus causing problems for his interrogators. MJH may have been recorded as a RAF PoW, not RAAF.)

There were 2 guards in charge of the PoW group – one was an "Older Guard" who had been a PoW of the British during World War I, and had been treated correctly. This Older Guard looked after his Prisoners according to the rules of the Geneva Convention, but he had to "keep in line" the younger, more aggressive Guard who was "arrogant and nasty" (names of Guards and their Unit unknown). The PoWs had to walk through all towns and villages in the gutters, being stoned and hit. On one occasion it really got out of control until the "Older Guard" used his hand gun to protect his prisoners who were being attacked by some angry Civilians who had been incited by local Nazi leaders. MJH always considered that this "Older Guard" had saved his life.

MJH could not speak German. To allow communication between the Guards & the PoWs, possibly one or more of the PoWs must have understood or spoken some German. It was also possibly the Older Guard could speak basic English as the result of his having been a PoW of the British in WW1.

Because of his injuries, MJH could not walk and was pulled along with the PoWs in a handcart at first. He later walked with the assistance of a stick after he had been given a pair of boots by another PoW – Scotsman Charlie Dunn (Dun or Dunn or Dunne, spelling unknown). The source of the boots is unknown, but thought to have been scavenged from a bombed factory.

PoW Charlie Dunn was from the British Army, a Scot who had served before WW2 in the North-West Frontier of India. He was very helpful towards MJH and to all of the PoW group. Charlie seemed to get along well with the "Older Guard", so apparently they were able to converse somehow. Charlie had told the story (perhaps jokingly) of having been a poor crofter back in Scotland. His wife had been concerned that he had not collected sufficient wood for their approaching winter. After some argument, he set off to collect more wood – then decided to keep walking and join the army! (Investigations were carried out on the possible identification of Charlie Dunn, and a page for him was created for the site update on 6 June 2013.)

In that part of Germany it was a very cold "late" winter, with fog, snow, sleet and rain. The Group camped out in the open, and sheltered where they could.  MJH was issued with only a small “ersatz” woollen blanket (about 5ft square) for warmth. The men were also infested with lice. On one occasion the "Older Guard" allowed them to scrounge for clothing in a bombed out factory – MJH brought back to Australia an outsized Milanese woman’s singlet which he had taken from this factory. This also may have been where the previously mentioned boots were obtained.

At some stage MJH obtained a hood-like covering for his head & shoulders but when he received it and where it came from is unknown. (It has been identified by Australian War Museum staff on a Brisbane visit as being "head protection for a German fire-fighter".)

Food on the march was a thin soup ‘like dishwater’, and rye bread which had been stored for a period of time. On one occasion they shared one poultry hen between all of the PoWs in the group. The hen had been plucked but not cleaned of entrails before being eaten. While the group was on the march in an eastern area, the "Older Guard" requisitioned a young pig from a woman on a farm. She initially objected and pleaded with him not to take it. However the "Older Guard" told her that he needed it for his men as they were starving, and that the Russians were coming so she would lose it anyway. At that time they could hear the Russians Guns, and turned to march towards the west again. The only meat the PoW group had for the whole time MJH was PoW was the one hen & the one piglet.

During MJH's time as PoW, the PoW Group only received one "Red Cross issue" package, the contents of which are unknown but it was shared by the whole group.

MJH was on a train in Germany at some stage and the woman sitting opposite them gave him a cigarette – MJH was surprised by this as he was a POW. (It is not known when or where this occurred, and if he was still a PoW, or an escapee, or if it was after meeting the US troops and perhaps on his way to Brussels. During the late stages of the war, fuel was in short supply, railways were being bombed by the Allied Forces and Germany was in chaos. It would have been unlikely that PoWs were transported in passenger trains, particularly sharing a carriage with civilians including women. PoWs in other times and places were packed into freight wagons, not passenger carriages.)

At some stage, a group of women prisoners were also being marched in similar areas. The women's group and the PoW group passed each other on more than one occasion. MJH was shocked at their condition – skinny, ragged and starving – and at the treatment they were receiving from their own people. The women prisoners were in worse condition than the PoW group of men, and they snatched at any items within reach as the 2 groups passed each other. MJH had been told that they were German political, religious and University leaders, who had dared to speak against Nazism.

MJH and 5 other PoWs escaped by diving into a drain beside the road, when marching through dense fog. This was described in a letter to a family member 15 Feb 1982 as "six of us shot through from a forced march and found Yanks in front of us a few miles". The name of one of the escapees was Holt, but no other identifying information is known. (Investigations were carried out on the possible identification of Holt, and a page for him was created for the site update on 6 June 2013.)

When the 6 escapees caught up with the American Forces they were told the War was already over – so this meeting must have been some time on or after 8 May but before or by 10 May when he was known to be in Brussels. MJH was told later that the main PoW group had apparently made contact with the Americans 2 days before the 6 escapees did. (This does not match with his personal letter of 15 Feb 1982 in which he said they found the Yanks a few miles ahead of them. However the escapees may have hidden for some time after they escaped, and because they were in such poor physical condition, progress may have been so slow that it did take them 2 days.)

MJH returned from Germany with 2 watches which he had apparently retrieved from a German. His only response to a question from his wife about where he got them was a very terse “off a German”. MJH refused to discuss anything further about them. One watch is RAF issue, rather battered looking, and is believed to have belonged to a fellow crew member. The other watch is a good quality wrist watch with gold lettering, and according to Chronographic Valuers was not available in Australia until after WW2 but was already available in the USA and Canada by the end of the war. The second watch may also have belonged to a fellow crew member who had trained in Canada.

MJH also brought back several souvenirs from his PoW experience – these were never explained and most remain as yet unidentified. Examples are the hood with head & shoulder covering as mentioned previously, German badges, a German helmet, and German and Belgian bank notes of that era (Belgian 100 Frank/20 Belgas note, as well as a much used German 20 Reichsmark note). The money was probably obtained in Brussels on 10 or 11 May 1945. Each Airman had an escape kit including compass, map on handkerchief, metal signalling mirror, local currency, etc. but this was usually confiscated during interrogation, However two signalling mirrors (1 in good condition & 1 in poor condition) are still the MJH war memorabilia, but their source is unknown.

As an ex-PoW and we assume when with US Red Cross in Brussels, MJH was issued with a white towel and a warm woollen dressing gown, both of which are still in family possession. The towel is marked along its length in blue lettering “U.S. Army Air Corps”. This may have been the US Army Group he first made contact with, or perhaps it was just surplus stock that was most readily available in Brussels. He also received a new blue/grey striped pyjama suit, commonly known as "Belsen" pyjamas. These were obviously from Germany’s stockpiles and such as had been worn by the prisoners in the "death camps". In the two years after the war when he was a War Rehab student at Gatton College, MJH used the striped pyjamas until they were worn-out. MJH also brought home a Red Cross issue wallet marked ‘Gift of American Red Cross” which a sewing kit. There is also two other small sewing kits in small calico rolls but these appear to be either standard issue or from the Australian Comforts Fund.

In Brussels it was a warm sunny day (10 or 11 May 1945) and MJH was rather amused that the local Belgians were taking advantage of the sunshine by ‘nude sunbathing’. Also strawberries were growing at Brussels during his short stopover. (Back in Australia, and at the first local dance he (and his brother Noel, and Noel's English wife Muriel) attended after the war at Upper Brookfield – MJH said to a local farmer – “I had to leave Belgium before the strawberries were ripe.” After the dance, MJH was sent a pack of strawberries picked from the farmer's home garden. At that time, the farmer did not know that 4 years later, MJH would become his son-in-law!)

While posted to 11PDRC Brighton after his return from Germany, MJH travelled to London in civilian clothes to visit his bank (possibly on 29 May 1945 – ref pay book entry OHQ London, and using his "ex-PoW Open Travel Ticket 09039C" issued with by HQ, No 11 PDRC on 13 May 1945 ). As he entered the bank a woman presented him with a “White Feather”. This was the method used by some people to confront alleged "cowards" who had not gone to war. He threw it back at her and his blunt and pithy comments to her are not on record. He had travelled half way around the world to help defend the ‘Mother Country’, had been shot down, had lost 7 other members of his crew, had suffered injuries, had been captured, and had experienced PoW life. Being given the “White Feather” would have been a devastating experience to a 20 year old who had done his bit for the war.

Return to top of page.

PoW injuries and effects on his health This section is extracted from F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd's post war medical files; and interviews with members of his family, friends, fellow post-war College students, and former RAAF associates.

MJH was injured during the air attack on the Halifax. After he escaped the rear turret, he later lost consciousness while he was parachuting and was probably injured further when he hit the ground unconscious. The injuries were probably exacerbated by the beatings he received during interrogations in the week after he was taken as PoW. He did not receive any medical treatment while a PoW, and only received this a month later when he was safe back in the UK. After repatriation back to Australia, he was under medical care from August 1945 until mid-February 1946, when he was demobbed. The injuries were – 2 teeth knocked out by flak during the initial air attack, leaving a permanent small scar beside his mouth; another small scar on his right eyebrow; concussion; ear trouble with his hearing affected; damage to right shoulder, both legs, and back. The injuries to his legs left him with a slight limp later in life, but this was not normally noticeable unless he was tired. Early after his arrival back home after the war, he normally could not walk far, and at district old-time dances he could not manage more than 3 dances a night before he then had to sit and watch. Flak was still present in his body in the 1980s – this showed up in an x-ray, so that Doctors queried if he had been in a motor vehicle crash. Injury to his right shoulder meant he could no longer bowl over-arm for cricket, so later in life he missed out on back-yard cricket with his children. He was also no longer able to swim with an over-arm action, whereas he had been a good swimmer as a child and as a student at Gatton College. Untreated back injuries left him with Scoliosis. There is a marked difference in his stance when comparing early Hibberd photos (e.g. at 3 WAGS Maryborough, 11 PDRC Brighton, brother F/O N.V.Hibberd's wedding ) with the photo taken in February 1946 at Hervey Bay with the Hetherington brothers. The effect was still noticeable in his photo taken at Clermont on ANZAC Day 1963.

When Gunners MJH and R.B.Hetherington (mentioned in the previous paragraph) had last seen each other at 11 PDRC Brighton UK in May 1944, they had both been Sergeants. R.B.Hetherington had gone on to serve in Coastal Command, flying in Sunderlands with 461 Squadron based at Pembroke Dock, Wales. By 1946 both had been been promoted to Warrant Officers. In early 1946, they met up again just prior to their demobilisation when they were both posted to No 3 PD (Personnel Depot) Sandgate, Queensland. RBH related that when he first saw MJH again, he thought he was seeing a ghost, as he had been told back in the UK that MJH's whole crew had been lost. They celebrated the fact that he was actually still alive by having a beer together. RBH also recalled that one night they were billeted in adjacent rooms, and that MJH had a bad night. RBH could hear him shouting and screaming out during his physical nightmare, with the only coherent words being "Johnny, Johnny, look out, look out". This obviously relates back to the initial air attack on Halifax NA240 Z5-V on the night of 10 April 1945. MJH's ex-Pow interviews report "Plane hit by anti aircraft fire in starboard wing, amidships, and just outside the rear turret, all hits within a few seconds of each other." The Johnny in the nightmare was F/Sgt John Mickle Tait, Mid-Upper Gunner, and the warning was no doubt shouted when the flak hit "amidships", where Johnny was located. (RBH is now deceased.)

After the war MJH continued to be subject to frequent nightmares, so that physically he was thrashing about in bed. There was no verbalising but yelling as though fighting someone off. Nightmares were most vivid during his 2 years as War Rehab student at Gatton College (1946-1947). His college room-mate often had to call the College Matron during the night because of the physical effects on MJH. The nightmares lessened over the years but were always worse after ANZAC Day and war-related Reunions or meetings (e.g. Returned Servicemen's League, ex-RAAF Assoc., ex-PoW Assoc., and Caterpillar Club). To his wife, his nightmares seemed to be associated with his PoW interrogations and beatings, and also with episodes when as a PoW when he apparently had to “fight for life” on three occasions. This was only revealed during a bout of severe ill-health in June/July 1978 when he uncharacteristically became very emotional.

In the late 1980's, MJH was being treated in hospital by a Doctor who was also treating Vietnam War Veterans. This doctor said that MJH was suffering the same "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder" which the Vietnam Vets were finally being treated for. MJH had never been counselled for "War Neuroses" but had in fact been ordered by British Officers not to talk about his PoW experiences, and not to have any contact with any relatives of his former crew. He therefore kept it all in his head for over 40 years and suffered with heart disease and mental stress because of it. In the few years before his death in 1988, any mention of the war would bring on severe angina attacks. Later in life, he also suffered from functional headaches, nervous digestive problems, skin rashes, sudden changes of mood, and recurring flashbacks and nightmares. During his final years, he needed warning as someone entered the room. If "surprised" he would jump up to face the person with fists raised ready to attack.

Return to top of page.

grey back button to Crew page.

Copyright © E. M. A. Hibberd 2010 - 2024
Terms of use .......... Privacy Policy .......... Site Map .......... About