The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. J I B Walker
James Ian Bradley Walker was born in New Plymouth on 20th February 1920. He volunteered for aircrew duties at the outbreak of war and was accepted as a trainee Air Gunner.
He reported to the Ground Training School at Weraroa on 15th January 1940, moved to the Air Observers School Ohakea for a gunnery course in February and sailed for the UK on 23rd March in the SS Akaroa.
He arrived in the UK on 9th May 1940 and went to No. 1 RAF Depot Uxbridge to wait for a posting.
On 3rd June Walker was posted to 264 Squadron at Duxford for further training. He did no flying with 264 and was posted to 5 OTU Aston Down at the end of the month. After nine hours on Blenheims he was awarded his air gunners badge, promoted to Sergeant and joined 600 Squadron at Manston on 10th July 1940.
In September the squadron began to convert to Beaufighters and by the end of the year the air gunners were doing little flying. In early 1941 Walker asked for a transfer to Bomber Command and on 6th February he was posted to 11 OTU Bassingbourn.
After crewing-up and converting to Wellingtons, Walker was posted to 115 Squadron at Marham in mid-April. He flew his first operation on the 25th, as rear gunner on a seven hour flight to raid Wilhelmshaven. On 3rd May he escaped unhurt when his Wellington crashed at Oakington.
On the night of 5th August 1941 Walker's crew was detailed to attack Cologne. On the way back, the Wellington was caught in searchlights and one engine put out of action by flak. This caused Walker's turret to be inoperable, with guns unable to fire. The aircraft lost height and when the second engine failed, it crashed into a wood near Louvain, Belgium.
Walker's leg was broken below the knee. The crew were taken to a village by Belgians where they were taken into custody by the Germans. Walker spent three months in hospital in Louvain, Brussels and Antwerp. After a month in Frankfurt for interrogation, he was sent to a PoW camp, the first of several he was to be in during his captivity.
In 1942, at a time when his leg looked extremely unsightly, Walker was seen by Swiss medical observers from the International Red Cross and recommended for repatriation.
Having heard nothing by mid-1943, Walker escaped with another prisoner and they were at liberty for eight days before being caught and returned to the camp. After being threatened with a firing squad they got off with a sentence of fourteen days solitary confinement.
In August 1943 his repatriation came through. The repatriates went on a train to Marseilles, then in an Italian ship to Barcelona, where the man-for-man exchange of prisoners took place on the wharf.
Walker went to Alexandria and a month later boarded a Dutch hospital ship at Port Tewfik. The voyage to New Zealand was made via Australia and Walker landed at Wellington on 13th December 1943.
He took the option of release from the RNZAF and was discharged on 15th March 1944 as a Warrant Officer.
Walker died in 2009.