This is a 3 part Podcast on the WW2 flying history and prisoner of war history of Flight Lieutenant Robert Neil LINDSAY.  Neil flew with Bomber Command and after being shot down was a Prisoner of War in Germany. 

The story in the recordings by Neil Lindsay in this Podcast were told to Air Vice Marshal Peter Scully (retired) on 5th December 1996.

Neil Lindsay was born in 1917 in Melbourne.   Joining the RAAF was an enormous change for Neil as, prior to enlisting in December 1940, he had completed an agricultural degree and was working as a Jackeroo on Corona Station, north west of Longreach in Queensland.

He completed an Observers Course before embarking for Edmonton in Canada in March 1941.  Here he joined other men training under the Empire Training Scheme. 

He completed various courses as a member of No 2 Air Observers School and left Canada the following September for the United Kingdom.  He then had various postings including Number 14 Officer Training Unit and 83 Squadron before he arrived at 106 Lancaster Squadron 8th October 1942. 

At the time, Guy Gibson was the Commanding Officer.  Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson, VC, DSO & Bar, DFC & Bar was a distinguished bomber pilot in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War.

At 1859 hours on the night of 12/13 March 1943, Lancaster R5749 took off from Syerston, in Nottinghamshire, detailed to bomb Essen, Germany. Nothing was heard from the aircraft after take-off and it failed to return to base. The aircraft was shot down in the target area and six of the crew members were killed and Neil was taken prisoner.  Neil was listed as an Air Bomber for the mission. 

After his release on 15 April 1945 Neil gave a statement to authorities who were trying to piece together the experiences of POWs.   In part his statement says:

“the aircraft exploded at 20,000 feet after the bombing run was completed. It was hit by flak about 5 minutes previously when passing over Dorsten, and there were no outward signs of damage after a quick check by the Engineer and the Pilot.  I was the only one hit and that was in the legs. After the bomb run everything seemed alright then there was a bright yellow flash in my face and the next thing I can recall was that I was sailing through the air. I pulled my parachute cord and landed in Essen where I was picked up by the Germans. They told me the others had been killed in the crash.”

His records note that he was firstly at St Lambertus Krankenhaus Esson from 12 March to 27th March 1943.  It was here he was treated for his injuries.  He was subsequently moved to Dulag Frankfurt,  Luft Heydekruge,  Luft III Sagan and Marlag Milag. 

Luft III Sagan was famous for escaping activities unlike other camps where escaping was a minority activity.  In the 22 months after the camp opened, the Germans logged 262 escape attempts: most had failed.

Neil arrived at Stalag Luft III on 18 March 1944 just days before the notorious “Great Escape” on 24 March.   He was not part of the escape owing to his relative late arrival at the prison and the continuing effects from the wounds that he suffered when his Lancaster crashed.

On the night of 24 March 1944, 76 Allied prisoners of Stalag Luft III German prison camp in Sagan, 100 miles southeast of Berlin, escaped through a tunnel named "Harry."  Within days most were recaptured.  An outraged Hitler had 50 of them shot, an appalling abrogation of the Geneva Convention, to which Germany was a signatory. Twenty-three were reincarcerated. Only three made it all the way to freedom—a Dutchman and two Norwegians, all flyers with the British Royal Air Force.

Five of the murdered prisoners were nominally Australian, although only three wore RAAF uniform.   

For Neil, Christmas 1944 at Stalag Luft III was bitterly cold: 6 inches of snow fell in the night turning the camp into a white wonderland.  The men had been saving tin cans and the like and flattening them to make decorations for the huts.  The Messiah was performed by a choir of 80 with a full orchestra in the church/theatre which was situated in the centre compound.  Food for Christmas was very scarce as supplies had not been getting through and then came a miracle when a few days before Christmas a batch of Red Cross parcels arrived with canned turkey, plum pudding, cigarettes, cigars, candles.  In the western compound Santa in a red and white suit arrived to the sound of sleigh bells.  Two men were dressed as reindeers and Santa tossed bundles of mail to the POWs.  Mail had been allowed to accumulate for some time so that Santa had gifts for all.   It was one of the “not to be forgotten” days at Sagan.

All camps had talented men from musicians, Actors, Singers and those that taught classes in anything from theology, Latin to history and much more.  The men were able to sit for exams which gained many of them entry into higher education when they returned home. 

After his release in April 1945, Neil spent two weeks in hospital before boarding a ship on 8 August bound for Australia, arriving home a month later.   He was discharged from the RAAF on 7 January 1946. 

After discharge he returned to the United Kingdom.  There is a record of the questionnaire he, as with all POWs, answered after their return to Australia lodged at the National Archives of Australia.   Interesting reading.

Neil had married Joan Winifred Bardwell at Oakham, Rutland in April 1942. He and Joan came back to Australia in September 1950 travelling on the Himalaya with their two daughters, Margaret Ann and Joanna May.

Neil died in January 2001 predeceased by Joan the previous December.

His name appears on the magnificent POW Memorial at Ballarat.

In this 3-part Podcast, Neil personally relates his story.  The sound quality is a little poor.  It is a significant part of Australian history and deserves listening to.

In Part 1 of this series, Neil briefly talks about:

1.    his early adult life before joining the Australian Air Force on 6 Decenber 1940,

2.    his training days in Australia in preparation for the war against Hitler,

3.    his adventures in Canada for aircrew training, and

4.    his final very intense preparations in the UK before starting flying: 

“We went straight from our training unit to Lancasters.  I went onto 83 squadron where I did my first three operations as a navigator and bomb aimer and seemed to cope OK”.

“We went straight from our training unit to Lancasters.  I went onto 83 squadron where I did my first three operations as a navigator and bomb aimer and seemed to cope OK”.

In Part 2 of this series, Neil talks about:

Australian aircrew on RAF stations.  

83 Squadron on Lancaster Bombers

106 Squadron and operations over Europe in Lancaster Bombers.   An account of Flying with Wing Commander Guy GibsonVCDSO & BarDFC & Bar  who was best known in connection with the famous Dambusters

In Part 3 of this series, Neil talks about:

His time as a Prisoner of War in Germany

His association with the Great Escape

His forced march through Germany in bitter weather before his liberation and return home.

Listen in to Neil:  The sound is poor quality but listenable.  It is a significant part of Australian history and deserves listening to.