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Report on the joint meeting of Bracknell & Wokingham Branch with Abingdon Branch                                                                                                            by Bryan Pledger

A few years ago Radley History Club was given a letter sent from Colditz Castle, a prisoner of war camp during WW2, which was written by Charles Lockett to his wife Evelyn who lived in their rented home in Radley.  Stanley Baker the club’s archivist asked Christine whether she would like to research who Charles Lockett was.   

Christine discovered that Charles was born at ‘The Woodlands’ on the Welsh Road at Childer Thornton, Wirral, in Cheshire in 1910.  He joined the RAF in 1931 and married Evelyn Mason in 1933.  After the marriage they went with the RAF to Quetta in India (now Pakistan) which had a terrible earthquake in which many people were killed and injured. Friends of the couple said that Evelyn was injured at this time.  Many of the RAF aircraft were lost.                                 

Charles and Peter’s mother was Ellen Fielden who was born at Bury Knowle House in Headington, Oxford and her family were from Todmorden, one of whom brought in the Factories Act 1847 that established a ten-hour working day for women and children.

Early in WW2 Charles went to Rheims and was flying a Fairey Battle on 14th May 1940 when he was shot down and captured by the Germans.  He tried to escape on many occasions, once on a boat to Sweden.  Although the captain knew about him the rest of the crew gave him away and he was sent back to prison.  With so many attempted escapes and being an officer he was eventually sent to Colditz.  After serving in the RAF after the war with the rank of Air Commodore he retired in 1959 to Jersey.  It was evident from all the letters and from what people in Jersey said that Charles was a very likeable man who adored his wife.

An article in The Times newspaper showed that on 26th August 1966, Charles was flying two friends from Jersey to Alderney and all were killed when the plane crashed into the sea.

With all this information and more copies of his letters from various contacts Christine decided to write a book called “From Colditz to Radley”, which Radley History Club published.  After publication many readers of the book got in touch with her to share what they knew about Charles and also shared more copies of letters and photographs they owned.  She also discovered there were a few errors, mainly misunderstandings, in it.  An example of a misunderstanding was that some of the envelopes from Charles were from Colditz and others from Sagan camp (the prison camp of The Great Escape fame). She assumed that Charles had been in Sagan at some time as did many other people. However, after communicating with the curator of the Colditz Museum who put her in touch with a man in Holland she was able to discover, through a document that he possessed, that Charles had never been in Sagan.  The German High Command had issued an order ensuring that all letters for Colditz prisoners must go to Sagan first so that they could be censored.  Prior to this, letters were going to Colditz directly without censorship.                                                    

Christine showed photographs of Charles with Douglas Bader and a theatre production one with Giles Romilly, a nephew of Winston Churchill’s wife, who it is believed was kept as a bargaining chip.                                

Christine went to Colditz Castle and Sagan on holiday and while in Colditz she had a photograph taken with the Airey Neave life-sized cut out.  Airey Neave was the MP for Abingdon who was killed by an IRA bomb.  She also had pictures of the sewing machine that was claimed to be used to make theatre costumes, when actually it was also being used to make escape garments.  The photographs showed a model of the escape glider that Charles worked on.  He helped to build an area where it could be hidden.  After the war he became an Air Attaché in Warsaw and Paris and one of Christine’s photographs shows him and his wife meeting President Coty of France.                                                  

Christine visited Charles’ grave in Swettenham, near Congleton, in Cheshire when writing the first book and the stone slab had just his and his brother’s name on it. Edward S. Remington who had carved the original tombstone wrote to her after seeing the picture in the book and sent her a picture of the original tombstone which had the RAF and the Lockett coats of arms on the surface.  He had told Evelyn that the York stone that she wanted would be too soft for a gravestone if laid flat and he was proved right as there is now no sign of the original carvings.                                                   

Information about Charles and his brother Peter continued to be sent to Christine.  Three years ago she was sent photographs of Charles’ Lynx car and its logbook by its present-day proud owner.  The logbook shows Charles’ promotions from Flight Lieutenant before the war to Wing Commander in 1945 when he took over as its owner from the temporary ownership by his wife.                                                                  

Christine was able to meet Jeanetta, Charles and Peter’s half-sister who lent her a large box of letters from Peter so she set about transcribing them.  Peter was younger than Charles.  He also joined the RAF and both became prisoners within a week of one another.  Christine has a picture of the plane he crashed in and while on holiday took photographs of the prisoner huts at Sagan where Peter was eventually held.  During the great escape which this prisoner of war camp is famous for only three prisoners managed to gain their freedom, the others were captured. Hitler demanded that 50 of the recaptured escapees were shot.  Whenever Peter wore his uniform he put on a black armband to remember those that had been killed.                                                                 

With all this extra information and to put the errors right in the original book Christine wrote a new book called “From Radley to Colditz and Sagan” using 18 of Charles’ letters and the 27 from Peter which had been sent during WW2 from the prisoner of war camps.          

In about 2015 Cambridge Flying Club contacted Christine and told her that they owned the plane that Peter had flown when he was captured.  They also had copies of an Operations Record Book which showed that on 15th May 1940 Peter left Peronne with mail to deliver but hadn’t returned.  Apparently when he returned to the airfield he thought it was odd that the uniforms of the men around him were totally different and then realized that they were German so he became a prisoner.  He tried to convince them that the red marks on a map were where his girl friends were but the Germans were not convinced.  Christine was a special guest in Cambridge when the club celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Battle of France.   

More recently Christine noticed that Peter’s wartime diary was for sale by auction on eBay.  There were pictures of some of the pages in the diary on the site.  The eventual sale price of about £1,400 was something she felt she could not justify.  The pictures included a drawing of Peter’s route from capture to his various camps and the route when years later with the Russians nearly there, the inmates were forced into a 2-day 60 kilometres march in a blizzard with some of the men dragging sledges.  He eventually finished up in the north of Holland from where he was eventually repatriated.  

Peter met and married Christiane in France after the war when he was working for the RAF helping the people that had supported the resistance and the RAF escaping flyers.     

Evelyn lived in Jersey and she would not fly so was not on the plane that crashed. However, she did fly to Zimbabwe one Christmas as her brother had persuaded her to visit him.  She died there aged over 80 years. 

The book is available for £7.00 plus £1.80 p and p from www.radleyhistoryclub.org.uk.

October 2020

Sandra Barkwith

Sandra Barkwith

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