The Memory Project - Allan Smith, Stories of survival WWII

’I spent my nights in a cupboard, along with a huge spider’
The Memory Project - Allan Smith, Stories of survival WWII | Courtesy of The Memory Project
Telegram to Allan Smith's Father, Allan Smith after his arrival at Stalag Luft III | Courtesy of The Memory Project

Click play to hear Allan Smiths’ complete audio story

Forced to bail out after his aircraft was “shot up quite badly,” Allan Smith, a bomb aimer with the Royal Canadian Air Force, found himself drifting toward occupied France in 1944.

I hit the ground very gently and hid my chute under some underbrush and got rid of my sidearm, a Smith & Wesson pistol. I took off into the unknown. I knew I was in the neighbourhood of Chartres. During the second day of wandering around, I made contact with the French resistance. The resistance hid me out in the small village of Berchères-la-Maingot, and I stayed with a French family.

I spent my nights in a cupboard, along with a huge spider. After almost two weeks with the French family—their name was LeGrande—it was starting to heat up in the area and people were coming to their door and inquiring if a British officer was staying with them. So they decided I’d better move and made arrangements that I would go to Spain, over the Pyrenees [mountains].

I was picked up in a car, along with a Belgian traitor and his red-headed girlfriend. I was on my way to Paris, supposedly to have false identity papers made. On the way, we picked up another of the crew members of 419 Squadron, plus another officer. We spent the night in Paris and began to feel that we’d been had.

The next morning, we were picked up and raced through Paris in a car. I remember passing the Eiffel Tower and all of a sudden we ran into a roadblock, the German field police. They pulled us right out of the vehicle. They knew we were coming and they didn’t treat us too friendly. They put two guards with us and told the driver to keep going. After a short trip, we arrived at Fresnes prison. It was a nasty piece of business. A four-storey building containing over 1,500 cells. And it was called the “gateway to the concentration camps.” A filthy place. Rampant with fleas. Screams could be heard all night long, along with the rifle shots of the executions.

On Aug. 15, the prison was evacuated. We were put on a train that would hold 40 men. The Germans put hundreds of us in each boxcar. It was five days of living hell. We were in Buchenwald concentration camp [in Germany]. That was a nasty place. It wasn’t an extermination camp like Dachau and Auschwitz, it was a labour camp. It was a camp where they worked people to death. And of course, there were a lot of executions. They were executing 400 Russians a day—they were going up in smoke.

We left Buchenwald on Oct. 20, 1944, for Stalag Luft III. We were to be executed on Oct. 21. We had one of our people in hospital and the Luftwaffe doctor asked how he got in there. I guess he reported it to the Luftwaffe in Berlin and some of the higher-ups, maybe Hermann Göring [commander of the German air force], stopped the execution. So we got out of there and arrived at Stalag III. That was a real Sunday school compared with Buchenwald.