Peter During, a SAAF Spitfire Pilot during World War II, was shot down early 1945 and taken POW.. Only he convinced his captors to become his Prisoners!
Peter’s service began in July 1942, when he joined the South African Air Force (SAAF) and was sent to No. 75 Air School, Lyttleton for ground and armoured cars training. Almost a year later he was sent to No. 3 Air School at Wonderboom for Elementary Flying Training with the Havilland Tiger Moth aircraft and two months later he would start his Advanced Flying Training in No. 23 Air School at Waterkloof with the North American T-6 Texan ‘Harvard’. He completed his Flying Training and qualified as Fighter Pilot in Mid-1944, after he spent several months flying with various Operational Training Units (OTU).
In June 1944, after he learned to fly with the P-40 Kittyhawk and the Spitfire Mk. I in various OTU’s, Peter was sent to the No. 10 Squadron SAAF. This squadron was just earlier in May 1944, relocated to the Middle East and reformed as a fighter squadron at Almaza, Egypt, before moving to Minnick, Syria where the pilots were converted onto the Spitfire Mk V. The unit was removed to Idku, Egypt to take over the duties from the 336. (Hellenic) Squadron and performed convoy escorts and patrols. In August 1944 they were re-equipped with the Spitfire Mk. IX and were moved to Savoia, Libya, a month later. The unit was disbanded in October-November 1944.
After the unit had disbanded, Peter was transferred over to No. 7 Squadron SAAF in Forli, Italy, where the unit flew escort sorties for reconnaissance and bomber aircraft; dive-bombing and strafing missions. However, in April 1945, just before World War II ended in Europe, Peter was shot down by soldiers of a FlaK (“Flugabwehrkanone” meaning anti-aircraft gun) unit. [According to Peter During they belonged to a “Hermann Göring” Regiment]. After his aircraft got hit, he crash landed behind enemy lines and was captured immediately by a searching party of the FlaK unit.
Peter was then taken to their CO (Commanding officer), a Major, who spoke reasonably good English. After a few questions, he was brought to another building where he would spent the night. The next morning he was again interrogated, then taken out and put into a windowless peddle van in order to take him to a POW (Prisoner of War) Camp accompanied by 4 guards.
Peter recalled: “I didn’t fancy this because we were travelling by day and I knew there were aircraft around just looking for something moving to shoot up and I was locked up inside this thing.”
After travelling for some hours they stopped near the evening and they let him out. They afterwards wanted to put him back in but Peter refused. The German soldiers replied if he wouldn’t escape during the night, they would let him stay out. They found an empty farm house, where both Peter and his captors would spend the night before traveling further the next day. Along the trip the friendship grew between Peter and the guards. During one of their chats, Peter asked his guards what they would be going to do? Since the war was near its end.
Incredibly Peter managed to convince his captors not to take him to a POW-Camp but to Allied lines. If so, he would personally give them a good recommendation to Allied authorities. The German soldiers agreed and both settled an agreement. Furthermore since they were still in enemy territory both Peter and his prisoners (who were just before his guards) needed protection. They arranged if they spotted partisans, Peter would carry the MP40 and tell them the German soldiers were his prisoners. At the same time, if they spotted German soldiers Peter would hand over the MP40 back to former guards, so the German soldiers could say Peter was their prisoner.
A day later, they saw a populated farm house and asked the inhabitants whether they may spend the night. The family thought it was fine and next to a place to sleep, they also provided the soldiers with food and wine. This extraordinary moment was photographed by one of the German soldiers. Not long after, and spending in total 5 days travelling, they reached Allied lines and Peter handed them over to Canadian troops.
He kept his promise and provided the soldiers a good recommendation. Just before the German soldiers were made POW, one of them handed over his camera for safe keeping.
This camera is still in Peter’s possession, bearing these amazing photographs from an extraordinary moment in April 1945. Peter During tried numerous times to find the German soldiers, who were once his captors, his prisoners and for-a-while wartime friends. Unable to trace them or hand back the camera to the original owner, he developed the film. Years after, together with his memories and photographs, he was able to melt them both this into a formidable moment of history.
Find Peter During’s dedicated website here. Anyone that may know more or is able to provide further information to these photographs (and unit of the German soldiers), please contact us. Be sure to watch the interview with Peter During in the video above!
German soldier (1) bears the rank of Stabsfeldwebel and wears a Flakkampfabzeichen
German soldier (2) bears the rank of Gefreiter
German soldier (3) unknown (photographer)
German soldier (4) bears the rank of Unteroffizier, wears a Flakkampfabzeichen and Tätigkeitsabzeichen der Flakartillerie