As shoots go, Friday was similar to many I have been on. A tired but dedicated crew, an early start, a long set-up, lots of eating, things going wrong, things being fixed: all together, a long but productive day.
But what we were filming was a little unusual for me. Throughout my working life, I’ve been fortunate to work on many projects that I have liked, on subject matters that interest me, something you absolutely can’t bank on when you’re working in this industry. I’ve often worked in fiction, though often based on reality. Rarely, however, have I had a chance to meet and interview people whose lives are so memorable, touching and dramatic.
Our two interviews for the day were with bomber radio operator, Bob Cash, and fighter pilot, Bob Winters. Both men were eloquent, humble, gracious and vividly remember the events that happened to them over 65 years ago. And no wonder. Bob Cash’s story in particular is remarkable and harrowing. He was the only man – think of a group of 10 of your good friends – of his crew that survived a bombing raid to Politz, Germany in 1944. And he barely survived. His quick thinking, training, luck and bravery got him out of a plane on fire from head to tail, going down over the sea. With horror, he had to look into the eyes of his friend, who had died moments before, forced to leave him behind, having promised to never do so. But that was all he could do as his instincts kicked in and he was falling head first, with one strap attached to a two strap parachute, into the ocean. The parachute was knocked into his severely burnt face and he was going in and out of consciousness. As he entered the water, because he wasn’t hooked to his parachute properly, he was dragged under the water. He somehow had enough state of mind to release himself and came to the surface, hearing the sound of a boat coming towards him. He was dragged, rope through burnt hands, to the enemy boat and there saw a friendly face – a fellow bomber from another crew, Milton Goodridge. What that must have felt like, neither he nor I can put into words.
But his story doesn’t end there. Bob then went on to tell us about the way the Germans cared for his wounds in hospital “I was amazed I would get that kind of treatment”, how he was then found to have Scarlet Fever and was put in isolation, how he was ‘shown the sights’ of Allied bombings in Berlin by his captors on the way to his interrogation. After a short interrogation – they knew everything already – he was sent to several POW camps. He tells of being moved around in small cattle cars, 35-40 men in each, with no water or food for 8 days, while the trains were being bombed by the British. On one raid they lost 12 men. When they finally reached their destination in Poland, they were escorted by guards with chains and dogs who attacked the often injured men as they walked the mile to the camp. Even then, that wasn’t the worst. The men were put on a forced march. In over 90 days, these hurt, starved, weary young men walked 800 miles. At night they dug a trench and hoped they would be alive in the morning. They had a old German hay-wagon for those who couldn’t walk which they pushed and pulled for those 800 miles. As Bob says, “if you had a buddy on board, you pushed the wagon“, and he did. He goes on to tell of his liberation, his return to the UK and eventually to the US, where he met his wife of now 63 years.
I have great friends. People I know would do – and have done – so much for me. But these young men – Bob was 19 at the time – had a level of friendship I don’t think I will ever know. They endured more than I hope I will ever know. The scenes he talks about are ones that I can only imagine in movies or see in characters that are made fun of in ‘Allo ‘Allo. As he told us of these events, I can’t help but think of my wee man, coming as we do from my husband’s military family, and pray that he never has to deal with events such as this. That no one would have to. But they have and unfortunately some will again.
One of the hopes of our film, Crew 713 is to remember the events of this awful time and retell them in a way that is relevant to a new generation. Learn more about the film at http://www.crew713.com/