Sidney Witham recalls:
I was born at Old Whittington, Chesterfield on the 22nd April 1922 and lived with my parents Ada and Fred Witham, and siblings Ada, Fred, Lillian and Ernest. We lived on Holland Road.
After leaving school I worked as a welder for Sheepbridge Coal and Iron Company.
I was 20 years old when I joined te RAF, I had to go to Sheffield to enrol. I remember having a medical and then I was posted to 166 squadron of the Lancaster bombers. Here I found a mixture of working boys like me and also university graduates, but we all rolled along together...
I think we did our training in Wales, we had lessons in a classroom showing us how to operate the aircraft and also lessons in the aircraft itself.
The first time I flew an aircraft I was terrified. But you soon get on with it.
You would know if you were going on a long flight because they would say you have 2,154 gallons in which meant that you could fly for eleven hours. At night we slept in the barracks.
We were told to 'get crewed up' which meant to put a crew together, there were seven to a crew and mine consisted of me - Sidney Witham, Hugh Wagg, there were 2 gunners Lou and Buzz, our navigator was a Canadian airman, I also forget the name of our bomb aim, but he was a little snooty to the rest of us, lastly our wireless operator was Joe Butler.
On 3rd August 1944, we were in the Pay Parade and the paying officer said "will all operational crew report to briefing immediately".
At the briefing we were told we were going to Northern France on a bombing raid, we were to leave at a quarter to two in the afternoon. This was unusual in itself as the Lancaster bombers were night bombers.
The raid should have been carried out by the Americans 5 group.
When we went on raids the pardre used to give us 2 wakey wakey pills to keep us awake and he would say "may you live long, die happy but may you be in heaven 10 days before the devil knows you are there. God Bless you"
When we got to France we manoevered our planes into a line to start bombing, I said to Hugh Wagg who was the pilot with me, "look at this lot up here" there were some of our aircraft positioned above us and they should have not been there. Next to us was a Lancaster Flight Lieutenant Johnson. Our bomb doors were open and the order was given to drop our bombs.
The bomber above us dropped his bombs, one knocked our wing and engine off and hit Flight Lieutenant Johnson on the middle upper gunner, they flew for another ten minutes and then were taken prisoner by the Germans as they crash landed in France.
Back in our aircraft Wagg was in trouble, the control column had jammed and we couldn't move, Wagg was fast in and couldn't get out so I went down to the bomb aimers compartment and opened the escape hatch. A terrific wind came in and he shouted I am free and came running down the steps, he bailed out and I followed him to the ground, even with a parachute the ground was coming up pretty fast, we were met in the air by enemy gunshot and the other five crew members unfortunately did not make it......
Down on the ground, Wagg was in quite a bad way, his parachute was torn to shreds but I was aware that the Germans would be hot on our heels so I decided to make a run for it, the Germans came along and took him back to a POW camp.
It was tough being in a strange country without any supplies, we had landed in a large forest not far from Paris and I walked for four days without water or food.
I eventally came out of the forest and saw a teenage girl mowing a field, I whistled her and got out my phrase book which was issued to soldiers in such an event. After some difficulty, she eventually indicated that she understood and would go and fetch help.
Some time later she returned with two men and two women, they told me to strip off all of my clothes so that I could not be recognised as an English airman. They brought me some old clothes and a pair of old shoes. Being six foot two you can imagine how ridiculous I looked in clothes meant for a much smaller Frenchman, the trousers were almost up to my knees and the shoes crippled my feet.
I was taken to a safe house in the forest and was given water to drink.
The next day I went to Chantilly to another safe house, I was to follow a teenage girl from one safe house to the other, although at a short distance. She walked in front of me flaunting herself, moving in and out of doorways until we reached our destination which was a bungalow owned by a lovely lady called Yvonne Fournier.
Yvonne looked after me very well, I was given food and drink and very relieved to be there.
The French Resistance came and said they were sending to Switzerland. Later that same day another bloke came who spoke perfect English, I said "what tribe do you come from" but all he said was you are not going to Switzerland, a guide will take you over the Pyranees to Spain and a representative will meet you there.
I made the long and arduous journey over into Spain and as I got down to Salou in Spain we got word that the war had ended.
I made my way back to Chantilly and when I got there pulled up a Yank in a jeep and asked him to take me to Paris to his HQ, he gave me some wonderful food and drink and said "hang on a minute I will just ring up the airport" he came back and said "we can't get you back to England today as someone has sabotaged the landing lights".
He took me to Limoges Airport, whilst I was walking outside an English soldier came up to me and said "can you help me? I have been in a POW camp at St Dennis for the last 5 years and need to get home" I said "I need help myself but if I can't help you no one can"
We both travelled back to England together on the same plane, whilst aboard, the pilot came back to us to introduce himself, he told the soldier that he could go to the cockpit and have a look. The soldier said "who is flying the plane?" and he replied "George" and the worried soldier replied "well I can't see George so can you go back and fly the plane please?"
When we got back we went to the Air Ministry. They sent me to Ennersley Gardens Hotel which was run by the RAF. When I got there a female corporal came up to me and said "you look scruffy" and I suppose I did as I had not had a bath for months. An officer came out of his room and played hell with her he said "have you just come out?" and I said "just".
I borrowed some money off another bloke and rang Wraggs Coal Merchants on Holland Road that was a few doors away from my parents house, Cissie Wragg the daughter answered the telephone and I said that it was Sid Witham and that I was alright and to let my family, including my wife Kathleen with our young son John that I was OK. She replied "Sorry but Sid is missing in action" and put the phone down!
Nevertheless I did manange to get the message through eventually and finally after many many months return home..........