Former Flight Lieutenant Charles Clarke was 20 years old when he was shot down over enemy territory serving in Bomber Command. He was captured whilst trying to flee to safety in Switzerland and imprisoned in Stalag Luft III during the time of the Great Escape. Charles shares his recollections of life in the RAF and as a PoW in Stalag Luft III.
"I watched the early bombing of London, which obliterated or destroyed many of the buildings that we all knew so well and it was every boy's ambition to join the Air Force.
"I volunteered at Oxford and I remember being put overnight in a cinema with lots of camp beds and the man in the bed next to me was an air gunner and he was telling me of the great loss rate and I thought, 'Well, am I doing the right thing joining the Air Force?' About a week later I saw a film called Target for Tonight and then I was almost convinced that I'd made a great mistake!
"But anyway, I joined. We were given a number and enrolled into the volunteer reserve because there was no regular Air Force at the time. We were examined educationally, physically and probably mentally.
"We were given our uniform and inoculated so many times. I'm sure they used the same needle for everyone. I had about three hair cuts in two days because they kept insisting I get it shorter and shorter and shorter.
"And then after two or three weeks we were posted to an initial training wing which were usually seaside resorts because they were taking advantage of the accommodation there. I went to Scarborough.
"We learned Morse, navigation; we used to practice along the seafront. We then went to a flying station for training. Then at the end of that I was commissioned, at that stage, to my surprise.
"I went on 18 sorties; six were to Berlin. It was certainly not the time to be in Bomber Command, it was the height of the Bomber Command offensive. Losses were high."