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RAF veteran Stanley Booker celebrates his 102nd birthday – a true British hero

SHOT down over France three days before the D-Day landings, betrayed to the Gestapo then sent to a German slave labour camp, forced to endure months locked up while suffering regular beatings and being starved of food, all the time living in constant fear of being executed as a spy.

And just when WWII RAF navigator Stanley Booker thought he’d been saved, he ended up as a hostage of the Soviet Army, held as a political prisoner until he was liberated by US forces, before being flown back to Britain.

 

(Stanley Booker - 📸 SSAFA)

It was the summer of 1945 and the war was over, but if you thought Stanley, who celebrates his 102nd birthday this week, would have sat with his feet up for a time to get his head around what had happened to him you’d be wrong; instead, he was soon seeking special Government permission to return to France to successfully search for the graves of his deceased colleagues, and to thank the members of the Resistance who’d helped him.

Stanley was later a navigator during the Berlin airlift, delivering humanitarian aid to Germans who a few years’ earlier he’d considered ‘the enemy’, a role he saw as cathartic, before being recruited by British Intelligence in 1950 by which time he’d lived the equivalent of several people’s lives.

But there was more to come, and he was betrayed a second time by notorious Russian spy George Blake in the 1960s, whose treachery compromised Stanley’s work in Berlin at the height of the Cold War, a few years’ later receiving an MBE from the Queen for his work in the intelligence field.

As a gift for Stanley's 102nd birthday Four Prop were asked to create a timeline showing his amazing RAF career. For more information on how to get your RAF career timeline click here

In his later life, Stanley devoted his time to discovering the truth about how and why he and other airmen were betrayed, and the reasons behind their transferral to Buchenwald Camp, one of 168 Allied aviators treated as spies rather than POWs, meaning their rights under the Geneva Convention were not respected. He led a lifelong campaign to gain recognition for Allied airmen tortured and illegally incarcerated, and at 98 he was awarded the Legion D’Honneur – the highest French order of military merit.

As part of his investigations into the Allied POWs who ended up at Buchenwald, Stanley gained recognition for the 37 members of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) who were in the notorious German slave labour camp with him, 31 of whom were murdered by the SS, a memorial created to recognise their bravery and loyalty in the cellar of the crematorium where they were murdered.

Speaking about his experiences, Stanley said recently: “I have experienced the best and worst of mankind; the generosity of a loving wife and family, the comradeship of fellow airmen during combat and imprisonment; the small kindnesses given by fellow prisoners incarcerated with me in the notorious Buchenwald Concentration Camp.

“The bravery displayed by the SOE (Special Operations Executive) and Allied special agents, who were murdered at Buchenwald in September and October 1944, has haunted me – it was a death sentence that I managed to escape by just two days.”

Stanley was born in Gillingham in Kent and became an apprentice airman at the age of 17, training as an observer in Wales before joining No. 10 Squadron as a navigator on Halifax Bombers. Late on June 2, 1944, aged 22, his aircraft was dispatched from RAF Melbourne in Yorkshire on a mission over northern France when it was shot down near Dreux, shortly after 0100 hours on June 3; the pilot and wireless operator were killed – Flying Officer ‘Sandy’ Murray and Warrant Officer ‘Taffy’ Williams – with Stanley and the other crew members escaping by parachute, eventually finding refuge with the French Resistance.

(A 10 Squadron Handley Page Halifax)

But he was later betrayed and captured on July 1, 1944, brutally treated by both the SS and Gestapo as they failed to ‘persuade’ him to reveal the identity of the Resistance members who’d helped him avoid capture for a month, ending up in the Napoleonic Fresnes prison in Paris before being shipped on a cattle train from Gare de l’Est to Germany, just five days before the French capital was liberated.

A week later he found himself at Buchenwald, Stanley and the other Allied airmen all treated as “Terror Fliegers”, or terror flyers, Allied airman imprisoned as criminals and spies rather than POWs. They were beaten, starved, some were killed, two died of severe infections and neglect, and others were used as human guinea pigs, injected with experimental drugs by SS doctors. When the Luftwaffe discovered that Allied airmen were being treated in such a way, they demanded their release from Buchenwald, Stanley among those sent to Stalag Luft III in Poland, just two days before they were due to be executed.

A few months later, the rapid advance of the Red Army from the East saw the prisoners of Stalag Luft III turned out of the camp on January 28, 1945, and forced to march back towards Germany. But there was to be no happy ending just yet, Stanley becoming a hostage of the Soviet Army before he was finally liberated by US forces, flying back to Britain on May 29, 1945. 

On his return to Britain, while Stanley wanted to find out more about why he and his fellow prisoners were treated so abysmally, and their POW status was ignored, he was effectively told to ‘move on and get on with it’.

However, his sacrifices during the war and his work post-war has been recognised more in recent years, and on the 55th anniversary of VE Day, he was honoured by flypast from a Spitfire over his home at Bracknell in Berkshire; the added poignancy being that he himself was still being held as a political prisoner by the Russians on VE Day in 1945. 

And in October 2021, the villagers of Illiers l’Eveque in France turned out in force to commemorate their liberation by the Allies, and remember the crew of Handley Page Halifax MZ630, Stanley’s aircraft that was shot down on June 3, 1944 – a plaque to the airmen unveiled at the War Memorial in the village churchyard.

Four Prop had the honour of being asked to create a special wall plaque that was presented to Illiers l'Eveque. More information on how to order wall plaques can be found by clicking this link

Speaking about that commemoration, Stanley said: “My thanks and appreciation goes to M. Jean-Pierre Curato of Illiers l’Eveque, who co-ordinated the memorial event and his enthusiasm for local history brought the local community and representatives from Allied Embassies together in friendship and celebration. This commemoration was an honour which has provided me with a profound sense of peace.

“My personal belief and actions have echoed the words on the KZ Buchenwald memorial: ‘It is the duty of the living, to honour the dead’.”

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1 comment

  • I’m confused is this a book or just an article?

    Michael Brigg

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