died : 19th January 1992
|Fred 'Toby' Turner|
Like many thousands of other young men Dad was captured as a prisoner of war. He joined up with the 1st Battalion Kings Royal Rifle Corps (the Rangers) in 1939. In 1941, as Corporal, he was the only officer who survived an air attack by the Germans on the island of Crete - and took it upon himself to lead the rest of the men to safety - unfortunately they were captured and interred as POWs. Based originally at a prison camp in Austria, many of the men were moved elsewhere, and during the transfer volunteers were sought to change their identity. Dad went into the transport train as Corp., F.R. Turner and left it as Flt. Lt. Rex Reynolds, a fighter pilot, an identity he kept until the Russians freed the prison on April 22nd 1945. (The switches were needed because officers did not go outside the camp on the labour rosters - the ordinary men did, so as Fred Turner, the real Rex Reynolds had a chance to attempt escape - which he did on many occasions.)
Dad could not risk writing to his parents at their home address in London, so wrote to his fiancee - Iris, (my Mum) instead, saying he had lost his address book and would she pass the letter on, and signed it as 'Rex'.
Mum took a while to cotton on, but eventually went to the War Office, where the change of identity was authenticated and explained.
Meanwhile, Dad, as Rex Reynolds, had been transferred to Stalag Luft 3 near the Polish border, where he became involved with the famous 'Wooden Horse' escape attempt... the one where they concealed the entrance to tunnels beneath wooden vaulting horses and scattered the earth that was removed by drawstring bags hidden down their trouser legs ... except prior to this they hid bags full of earth in the rafters of their accommodation huts ... with the result being one of my Dad's sketched drawings that he had in his diary...
|Christmas Day 1943|
|A water colour painting, by Dad, of the US airforce |
bombing the area around the prison camp
prior to the release of prisoners.
Dad rarely mentioned his wartime experiences, all I recall as a child is being puzzled about why he would never eat brown bread. (I later discovered that it reminded him of the coarse stuff they had in the camp).
Of course, it goes without saying that had Dad been found out he would have been shot.
* * *
For myself and that 'saving my life' episode, after the war Dad joined the Royal Marines Voluntary Reserve and I vaguely remember him in his uniform. We moved to Chingford, which was, then, in Essex, (now a part of the London Borough of Waltham Forest) in the summer of 1956 and our house was at the top of a steep hill overlooking the Lee Valley. It was a very hot afternoon, I was about five years old. We must have been going to a Royal Marine 'do', perhaps a summer fete, or party or something, for Dad was wearing full uniform. He was getting ready indoors, I was waiting in the car - a green Morris Minor. I was on the back seat playing with either a plastic telescope or recorder (I think the former,) when suddenly the car started rolling. Down the hill. I remember being terrified and leaning out the window and screaming while bashing the plastic toy on the door. The car got faster - Dad was indoors upstairs, saw what was happening and raced down, vaulted the gate and ran... the car had those old fashioned running boards on the outside, he managed to jump on, lean through the window and steer the car into the kerb.
What happened after that I have no idea - except Dad had severely sprained his ankle. Had he not been able to stop the car... well, like I said, it was a steep hill with several parked cars lower down the road and a busy main road at the bottom. If Dad hadn't stopped the car I very much doubt that I would be sitting here now writing this.
There is a lot more information here:
https://www.helenhollick.co.uk/h2uitem24.html on my website, including an audio interview that Dad made for the Imperial War Museum, London, archives. I have never listened beyond the first few sentences as, well, I can't, it's too upsetting for me.
There are also page copies of his diary and other memorabilia ... you are more than welcome to browse or to use the information for research purposes, but please mention
www.helenhollick.net WWII F.R.Turner M.M.
The last time I saw my Dad alive was on January 18th 1992 in A & E at Whipps Cross Hospital, NE London, where he had been taken by ambulance with a suspected heart attack. I was waiting outside (what I assume was the triage room?) the door opened, he saw me and we smiled and waved to each other. I never saw him alive again.
He passed away in the early hours of the 19th.
I miss you, Dad.