Widow of RAF hero who survived two Nazi ‘death marches’ as a PoW after leaping from burning Lancaster bomber shot down over Berlin sells his wartime archive 76 years on
- RAF Sergeant John Morton bailed out of a burning Lancaster bomber over Berlin
- He was captured and taken to prisoner of war camp in Nazi-controlled Lithuania
- The hero airman survived two hellish ‘death marches’ towards camp in Hamburg
- Returning to Britain after the war he retrained as a graphic artist and died in 1997
- His widow Valerie, 83, has now sold his poignant wartime archives for £1,100
The widow of an RAF hero who survived two Nazi ‘death marches’ has sold his poignant wartime archive 76 years later.
Sergeant John Morton was captured after he jumped out of a blazing Lancaster bomber as it was shot down in a raid over Berlin.
He was taken to a PoW camp in Lithuania but was forced to march hundreds of miles west in appalling conditions as Russian allies advanced from the east.
Many of the PoWs were weak and starving and were bayoneted or shot because they could not sustain the hellish pace.
The widow of an RAF hero Sergeant John Morton, who survived two Nazi ‘death marches’, has sold his poignant wartime archive 76 years after his plane was shot down over Berlin
Morton was captured after he jumped out of a blazing Lancaster bomber as it was shot down in a raid over Berlin. But after being taken to a PoW camp in Lithuania, he survived two gruelling ‘death marches’ back towards Germany
Having survived the first long march, Sgt Morton was faced with an even more gruelling one in January 1945 during the coldest winter in 50 years.
The men trekked over 500 miles in 60 days to the camp near Hamburg, with the constant threat of being executed by tyrannical German guards.
It is believed that about 3,500 Allied PoW’s lost their lives during the long marches.
Sgt Morton survived but was so starved he spent a month in hospital in Britain upon his return home at the end of the war.
He recovered and subsequently worked as a graphic artist and was a talented painter whose work was showcased at the Royal Academy.
Pictured: The medal set awarded to Leading Aircraftsman John Morton, comprising of a 1939-1945 Star with Bomber Command clasp, Air Crew Europe Star, War and Defence Medals
Sgt Morton survived the marches but was so starved he spent a month in hospital in Britain upon his return home at the end of the war. Pictured: The letter sent to Leading Aircraftsman John Morton’s family informing them that he was missing
Sgt Morton died aged 76 in 1997 and now his prized possessions have been sold at auctioneers Dominic Winter, of Cirencester, Gloucestershire.
His wife Valerie Morton, 83, from Weybridge, Surrey, sold the archive as she wanted it to go to a home where it would ‘truly be appreciated’.
It fetched £1,100 including fees.
She said: ‘My late husband did not like to talk about the war but I know his plane was on fire when he parachuted out of it.
‘During his years as a PoW, he started drawing and found he had an exceptional talent.
‘This was encouraged, not just by his friends in the camp but also by his commanding officer.
His wife Valerie Morton (pictured left together), 83, from Weybridge, Surrey, sold the archive as she wanted it to go to a home where it would ‘truly be appreciated’.
Sgt Morton (pictured) died aged 76 in 1997 and now his prized possessions have been sold at auctioneers Dominic Winter, of Cirencester, Gloucestershire
‘At the end of the war, when on the long march, due to his deteriorating health, he was unable to carry his artwork and threw it all into a hand cart.
‘Had he fallen behind he would have been shot.
‘Unfortunately it got lost on the march and he was never able to retrieve his work.
‘He died in 1997 and I’ve kept hold of these items since then but I’d like them to go to a home where they will be truly appreciated.’
The archive includes his campaign medals, RAF log books, photos and a Caterpillar Club badge he was awarded for successfully bailing out of a downed aircraft.
Also sold were his cigarette lighter which is engraved ‘John Morton, Stalag Luft VI Heydekrug Deutschland’ and his RAF officer’s service dress hat.
A Dominic Winter spokesperson said: ‘It was a difficult decision for the family to sell this emotive archive but we are delighted to have had the opportunity to assist them in placing the collection in the hands of someone who will also appreciate it.’ Pictured: Morton’s flight logbook for the month of January 1944
In February 1944 his Lancaster was shot down by a Junkers 88 aircraft over Erfurt. His flight logbook shows his last flight recorded on February 15 where he is marked ‘missing’
A Dominic Winter spokesperson said: ‘It was a difficult decision for the family to sell this emotive archive but we are delighted to have had the opportunity to assist them in placing the collection in the hands of someone who will also appreciate it.’
Sgt Morton joined the RAF aged 20 in September 1941.
He trained in Ontario, Canada, before qualifying as an air bomber in December 1942.
He served in 626 Squadron based out of RAF Wickenby, Lincs, and flew in 11 bombing operations.
In February 1944 his Lancaster was shot down by a Junkers 88 aircraft over Erfurt.
All seven men of the crew bailed out of the bomber but the co-pilot was critically injured and dies several days later.
His medal group consists of a 1939-45 Star with Bomber Command clasp, Air Crew Europe Star, War and Defence Medals.
What was Bomber Command? RAF body oversaw Britain’s strategic bombing from pre-WWII in 1936 into the Cold Wars years until 1968
The RAF Bomber Command controlled the RAF’s bomber forces from 1936 to 1968, including Squadron XV, and was responsible for the strategic bombing of Germany during the Second World War.
When the command was founded in 1936 it was only intended to be a deterrent, but the reality when war broke out three years later was very different.
Bomber command crews suffered incredibly high casualty rates. A total of 55,573 died out of 125,000 (44.4 per cent mortality rate), 8,403 were injured and 9,838 became prisoners of war.
Most who flew were very young and the vast majority were still in their late teens. Crews came from across the globe – from the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and all corners of the Commonwealth, as well as from occupied nations including Poland, France and Czechoslovakia.
It took astonishing courage to endure the conditions they faced. Flying at night over occupied Europe, running the gauntlet of German night fighters, anti-aircraft fire and mid-air collisions.
The RAF Bomber Command controlled the RAF’s bomber forces from 1936 to 1968 and was responsible for the strategic bombing of Germany during the Second World War
But it was not until 1942 that the Bomber Command gained a real sense of direction, with the introduction of Air Marshal Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris.
Harris was appointed as commander in chief of Bomber Command in February 1942, with instructions to start attacking German industry, much of which was located in large cities.
His objective was to destroy Germany’s industrial might and create a collapse in the morale of the civilian workforce, breaking Germany’s will to fight on.
Times were hard. Victory seemed distant, and chivalric notions of war fighting had been burned away in the fire of the Blitz. U-Boats were roaming the Atlantic, sinking merchant shipping in an effort to starve Britain into submission.
The prospects of success were uncertain. Morale among British workers had largely held firm in the teeth of prolonged attacks by the German Air Force.
Harris, however, firmly believed that through a combination of improved aircraft like the Lancaster and Halifax, better training and navigational aids, and a ruthless will to press the attack, Bomber Command could knock Germany out of the war.
Bomber command crews suffered incredibly high casualty rates. A total of 55,573 died out of 125,000 (44.4 per cent mortality rate), 8,403 were injured and 9,838 became prisoners of war. Pictured: Wellington Bomber air crew who took part in the raid on Heligoland
In May 1942, Harris launched his first ‘thousand bomber raid’ against Cologne.
The scale of the attacks shocked Germany, but the country continued to fight. Further attacks did have a devastating effect on the Nazi war economy.
Albert Speer, the German armaments minister, believed that a series of raids like that on Hamburg in August 1943, repeated in quick succession, might well have compelled Germany to surrender. But that wasn’t the case.
Other more specialised operations also took place. The famous ‘Dam Busters’ raid of May 1943 shocked the world with its audacity, as Guy Gibson’s 617 Squadron launched a daring raid on the dams surrounding the Ruhr Valley.
Other attacks, like that on the battleship Tirpitz the following year, eliminated the German navy’s last major surface ship.
Raids in 1944 and 1945 against German ‘V weapon’ launch sites were also a crucial defensive measure, helping to limit attacks from flying bombs and rockets on British cities.
Bomber Command switched its attentions to tactical objectives in early 1944, helping to pave the way for D-Day, the allied invasion of occupied Europe.
It played a vital and highly effective role attacking infrastructure around the invasion beaches. Attacking railways, roads and other transport links created chaos behind German lines, preventing the defending forces from massing to repel the landings.
The closing months of the war saw arguably the most controversial operations, such as the raid on Dresden in February 1945.
In four huge raids by the RAF and United States Army Air Force, a firestorm destroyed the city centre and killed thousands of civilians.
It took astonishing courage to endure the conditions they faced. Flying at night over occupied Europe, running the gauntlet of German night fighters, anti-aircraft fire and mid-air collisions. Pictured: Bomber Command crews prepare for the raid on Heligoland
The planners of the raid argued the city was a vital communications hub and needed to be targeted. The critics said that Germany was well beaten and the bombing was needless.
The truth is that it was a time of total war, and ideas about the boundaries of conflict were very different than those we have today.
Bomber Command did not win the Second World War independently – but the war could not have been won without their efforts.
The RAF’s attacks forced Germany to divert invaluable men, guns, aircraft and equipment to defend its airspace, effectively opening a second front long before D-Day.
The young men of Bomber Command faced dangers that today we can barely imagine, all in defence of our freedom. Their sacrifice and extraordinary courage should never be forgotten.
Source: Bomber Command Memorial
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