Jack Bell and Harvey Bawden.


TWO former airmen met in Bendigo this week when they attended an Anzac ceremony at Bendigo South East College.

They had some common experiences during World War II, both were air crew, both wore air gunner flying badges, and both were shot down and became prisoners of war.

Jack Bell is now 100, but in January 1942 he was a wireless operator/air gunner in 216 transport squadron, flying in Bristol Bombays in North Africa.

“On January 23 we were flying to a town called Msus with medical staff and supplies. Trouble was, British intelligence was two days behind, and the Germans had taken it,” Mr Bell said.

“We were only flying at a 1000 feet and members of a Panzer division shot us down. We were not issued with parachutes.

“I was wounded in the crash, the pilot was wounded, the second pilot was not touched, but my friend navigator Tony Carter was killed. I had trained with him. We sat within six feet (two metres) of each other.”

Mr Bell spent the next three years as a prisoner of war, after five months in hospital.

“The Afrika Corps (German desert troops) were just like us, they were not Nazis. I was treated well in the hospital.”

Harvey Bawden was an air gunner in 150 squadron flying Lancasters as part of Bomber Command in Europe.

“I was shot down on my 29th trip (March 24, 1945). The aircraft was hit by flak and the pilot gave the order for us to bale out near Dortmund,” Mr Bawden said.

“I went out the rear door, but hit the tailplane. I broke my femur.”

Mr Bawden spent time in hospital in before being repatriated to the UK, and finally back to Australia.

Of his crew of seven, only one other survived being shot down.

The others are buried in Germany. They were murdered after parachuting. Those responsible faced war crime trials after the war.

– Steve Kendall