S/L George Robert Carpenter RAFVR 103 Sqn
Edited version of the excellent report by Jon Eagar from South Africa concerning George Carpenter (Pictured Below) With acknowledgements to the Brazil family in Newfoundland, Canada and also Ad van Zantvoort in the Netherlands
Little of Carpenter’s background in the prewar or postwar eras is known. Although thought of as being a South African it seems as though Carpenter was born in England about 1900 and was still living here in 1911. At some stage he has moved to South Africa with his family. He certainly had an elder brother called Albert Nelson Carpenter who was his next of kin and lived in South Africa during the war.
According to Nelson his brother George was something of a free spirit with a talent for getting into scrapes and adventures. Nelson confirmed in correspondence to other next of kin that his brother was actually 39 when he volunteered for RAF aircrew. The story goes that he was turned down because of his age but subsequently accepted when he faked his birth certificate.
His 103 Squadron crew thought he was South African and he is described in some material as a “South African Regular Officer who seems to have right wing links in South Africa”, but according to other records, he was a British national.
If he had spent many years in South Africa from a young age he could have confused his crew with a pronounced South African accent. Right wing links in South Africa were however improbable as the right wing “Ossewabrandwag” in WW2 South Africa, did not embrace English speakers.
Whilst a prisoner of war he apparently spoke to other inmates about his considerable wealth, his motorcars and his influential friends in South Africa, including Sir Abe Bailey. His friendship with the influential and distinguished Bailey is thought unlikely however.
George Carpenter returned to South Arica in 1947 and is believed to have died on the 24th February 1978 in Durban. His older brother Nelson died in 1963 in South Africa
Flight Lieutenant G R Carpenter was posted to 103 Squadron with his crew from 1662 Heavy Conversion Unit on June 14th 1943. He was at least 20 years older than the youngest member of his crew and well over the average Lancaster crew age of 22 . His rank suggests he may have been deployed elsewhere before he joined 103 Squadron.
Carpenter’s crew flew eight operational sorties and were shot down on their 9th to Essen on the 25th July 1943.
On this flight they had an eighth crew member, Flight Sgt Archer, who was on his “second dickey” trip. P/O Cooper an Australian, stood in for the crew`s regular navigator, “Lefty” Legge, another Australian who was ill with flu.
The crew members are listed below;
RAFVR Squadron Leader G R Carpenter, (Pilot)
RAFVR Flt Sgt K Archer, (2nd Pilot)
RAF Sgt KC Tate, (Flight Engineer)
RAAF P/O J A B Cooper, (Navigator)
RAFVR Sgt J M Bucklitsch, (Air Bomber)
RAFVR Sgt J L Brazil, (Wireless Air Gunner)
RAFVR Sgt J H Thornton (Mid Upper Gunner)
RAFVR Sgt G H Newbolt, (Rear Gunner)
Carpenter’s Lancaster JA 855, had been airborne for 2 hours 49 minutes when it was shot down at 22 000 feet at 0046 on July 26th by a night fighter pilot, Major Werner Streib who was a very successful Luftwaffe night fighter pilot and holder of the Knights Cross.
Sgt Brazil later recalled “The rear gunner and the mid upper must have been killed by the first attack as nothing was heard from them after. The incendiaries burnt through the aluminium floor and the plane was filled by choking fumes. Those who were able lined up at the forward escape hatch which was located on the nose in the floor.
We lined up in this order: Bucklitsch, Carpenter, Archer, Cooper and myself. There was some difficulty getting the hatch open as the framework of the plane had become warped and the hatch jammed. Bucklitsch used an axe which was there for that purpose and just as I was breathing what I figured was my last gasp, the fresh air drifted into the plane at the same time fanning the flames.
Before jumping I looked back to see if any of the other three were in sight and I saw one figure struggling forward all afire. I assume this was Tate, the engineer, as it was very unlikely it was either of the gunners because if they were not killed they were certainly wounded, and in that condition it was just about impossible for them to get out of their turrets.
As I reached back to help the struggling figure, I was sucked out of the plane into thin dark air. This took place at a quarter to one on the morning of July 26th.” Only Carpenter, Bucklitsch and Brazil survived.
On the Run
Sgt Bucklitsch was betrayed to the Germans by Dutch locals for 10 Guilders. With the help of the Dutch Underground Carpenter and Brazil evaded and later met up again at Tilburg. They were moved to a safe house in Brussels run by Prosper de Zitter. This man was subsequently discovered to be a notorious traitor who betrayed hundreds of Allied airmen and resistance workers to the Germans for money.
There are conflicting accounts of Carpenter and Brazil`s stay in the safe house including one of Carpenter being physically attacked by Brazil because he abandoned his aircraft before most the crew. Sgt Brazil`s own account however does not mention this.
Brazil left Brussels with another evader, Paddy Croft, and both were subsequently captured in Paris and after harsh interrogation spent the rest of the war as POWs.
Carpenter was captured whilst in Brussels and spent some time in St Gilles prison and then on to Germany.
Carpenter spent about 3 weeks at the Dulag Luft interrogation centre at Frankfurt. During this time he was known to an RAF POW collaborator, a Welsh Air Gunner by the name of Flt Sgt R D Hughes ,who posed as a German and was used by them to obtain the Red Cross forms from newly arrived prisoners.
In early October 1943 Carpenter was moved to Berlin reportedly in civilian clothing under the name of Herr Carter with Flt Lt J K Zuromski, a Polish fighter pilot. Hughes was also sent to Berlin at the end of the October 43
The English speaking collaborators/traitors in Berlin at various stages during 1943 appeared to fit into two categories; they were either connected with propaganda broadcasts or the embryonic British Free Corps (the British Unit of the Waffen SS) and the two were not mutually exclusive.
Although Carpenter allegedly met Hughes on several occasions in Berlin, Hughes could not have been his only contact. Carpenter was in Berlin three weeks before Hughes and if his Berlin minders were connected to the German Foreign Office, Carpenter may well have had contact with the likes of Roy Purdy, Norman Baillie Stewart, William Joyce, James R. Clark, John Amery, BR Freeman, Jane Andersen or any of the “British Free Corps Big Six", Cooper, MacLardy, Courlander, Maton, Minchin and Wilson.
Whereas Carpenter, according to Hughes, assisted him with some broadcast material, his activities and role under is assumed name of “Herr Carter” in Berlin are not clear.
In his post war trial, Hughes was quoted as saying; “I met Squadron-Leader Carpenter by appointment and I told him all about my role. He told me I was making a good show and that I must get into the Free Corps, but be careful I did not sign any papers.”
Carpenter seems to have had some connection with the British Nazi Roy Walter Purdy who made propaganda broadcasts for William Joyce - Lord Haw Haw. However there is no suggestion that Carpenter himself made broadcasts
Although Carpenter`s activities and role as “Herr Carter” in Berlin are vague the obvious implications are that he worked with or for the Germans in some significant and useful role in exchange for his “freedom” in Berlin.
Prisoner of War
In Jan/Feb 1944 Carpenter was moved by the Germans to the Stalag IIId POW camp. This may well have been due to shoplifting and other minor criminal offences by Carpenter. It seems by now the Germans had given up on him as no longer worth the effort.
Whilst as a POW he was viewed with considerable suspicion by the other POWs who were told by their camp hierarchy under no circumstances to reveal anything re escapes or other sensitive matters to Carpenter. Most fellow prisoners refused to have anything to do with Carpenter at all.
After the war Squadron Leader Carpenter and an Australian Group Captain called Wilson were singled out for special investigation by the Judge Advocate General and the RAF`s Special Investigation Branch in November and July 1945 respectively.
No further action was taken in either instance which, certainly in Carpenter’s case, seems very strange. Hughes was tried for treason, found guilty and sentenced to five years hard labour reduced to two. He died in 1999 after a successful business career. Purdy was tried and sentenced to death which was commuted to life. He was released in 1954 and died in 1982.
John Amery went to the gallows on the 19th December 1945 and Lord Haw Haw William Joyce was hung on the 3rd January 1946.
Prosper De Zitter the Belgian traitor who betrayed so many and caused so much suffering was executed by firing squad on the 17th September 1948. Carpenter returned to South Africa and seems to have disappeared into obscurity. He is thought to have died in Durban in 1978.