The Harold Bennett story: Life as a prisoner of war

Pilot Harold Bennett, who was shot down in 1941 and described his treatment as "absolutely first cla

Pilot Harold Bennett, who was shot down in 1941 and described his treatment as "absolutely first class". Photo: David Martin. - Credit: Archant

Two weeks ago Recorder readers were introduced to fighter pilot Harold Bennett, who was shot down and captured by German soldiers in 1941.

He would later describe his experience as “absolutely first class treatment from first class fellows”.

Now David Martin, of the Fairlop Heritage Group, continues telling his astounding story.

Harold Bennett, aged 20, was a POW in Stalag VIIA until there was a Typhus scare when he was moved to Stalag 383.

Hut 7, were instrumental in making a still, the mastermind was a Scot named Ian. He managed to buy a sack of Rye and everyone contributed towards payment. They scrounged a copper urn, lengths of copper pipe and eventually produced 40 small bottles of extremely lethal hooch.

Each man had two bottles and a party started, Harold’s party had a start, but no middle or end. How he survived it he would never know.

The guard who called after dark for cigarettes eventually discovered the still. Instead of reporting it he made a daily visit for a shot of medicine for raging toothache. Harold’s second bottle was a life-saver for later on. During the Long March in 1945, over 80,000, were forced to march westwards in extreme winter conditions.

Most Read

Harold and Adrian ‘toggle’ Heath made an attempt to escape.

The shop sold beer, which arrived by truck and trailer. The trailer was left to be unloaded and then back with the empties.

Using their cigarette ration to bribe the loaders to leave a space, Harold and Adrian both with suits made from blankets by French tailors and a kitbag full of biscuits, chocolate, dried fruit, plus map and compass, crawled into the small space.

The truck arrived, coupled up and set off.

It suddenly stopped, a lot of shouting and trampling on the tarpaulin - they were discovered!

They went off like a pair of greyhounds managing to save their food, but lost their suits.

It appeared that the French had heard about the escape attempt and lined the road to watch!