Henry Wells

The Jewish Chronicle - - OBITS -

ONE OF the last Jewish Bomber Com­mand sur­vivors of the Sec­ond World War, Flight Sergeant Henry Eric Wells, who has died aged 94, joined 101 Squadron Bomber Com­mand, in Septem­ber, 1944 as a Spe­cial Op­er­a­tor. It had the high­est ca­su­alty rates in he RAF.

Wells, whose story was pub­lished in Fight­ing Back, by Martin Su­gar­man (Valen­tine Mitchell), had com­pleted 30 mis­sions by Fe­bru­ary, 1945. The 101 Squadron Lan­cast­ers car­ried a se­cret ra­dio jam­ming de­vice which could be used only by Ger­man-speak­ing Spe­cial Op­er­a­tors like Eric, who flew as the “8th man” in a crew.

The son of Pol­ish-Jews, Heinz Erich Feld­stein and An­nie, née Kozak, Wells was bar­mitz­vah at the Turn­er­gasse Tem­ple, Vi­enna, later de­stroyed on Kristall­nacht. When Poland re­moved na­tion­al­ity from all Jews liv­ing abroad in 1938, Wells be­came “State­less”, clas­si­fied after the An­schluss as Mis­chling er­sten Grades (mon­grel first class) by the Nazis. When he was ex­pelled from his tech­ni­cal school, his fa­ther took the en­tire fam­ily out of the Jewish faith, be­com­ing kon­fes­sion­s­los — hav­ing no faith — but Quak­ers helped Eric reach Eng­land via Kin­der­trans­port in May, 1939. He trained on a farm for six months, state­less, with “J” stamped in his pass­port. Wells was not in­terned as an en­emy alien and en­listed in the RAF in Au­gust, 1943. .

He was sec­onded to a Cana­dian crew for a raid on Stuttgart. On one raid over Cologne, they lost all their oxy­gen but the skip­per de­cided to press on.

“We were badly shot up on one raid which left us with 32 holes in the air­craft and a loose bomb in the bomb bay, and we crash landed at Wood­bridge in Suf­folk,” he re­called.

On one day­light raid, he saw a Lan­caster fly­ing along­side hit by flak in front of the rear tur­ret, de­tach­ing the tur­ret from the air­craft: “I saw the rear­gun­ner scram­bling out; some­how he missed clip­ping on his para­chute, fall­ing and get­ting smaller and smaller with the para­chute fol­low­ing him un­til he dis­ap­peared.”

After com­plet­ing his tour of duty, Wells was trans­ferred to the RAF In­tel­li­gence Ser­vice and trained in Lon­don be­fore be­ing posted to the Bri­tish Army of the Rhine in Det­mold, Ger­many. He was tasked with the ap­pre­hen­sion and in­ter­ro­ga­tion of sus­pected war crim­i­nals and later the dis­man­tling of AA-Flak sites and the col­lec­tion of all cam­eras and binoc­u­lars from the may­ors of sur­round­ing towns and vil­lages. Anx­ious to dis­cover his fam­ily’s fate, he was granted a travel war­rant in Au­gust 1945 to fly to Vi­enna with the help of the US Air Force, and found his last ad­dress in 1939. His house had been de­stroyed by bomb­ing but, for­tu­nately, he recog­nised the wife of his for­mer land­lord search­ing the rub­ble for their be­long­ings. After over­com­ing the ini­tial shock of an armed Bri­tish ser­vice­man ap­proach­ing her, she recog­nised him and re­as­sured him his fam­ily was safely liv­ing at a new, nearby lo­ca­tion. “A joy­ful re­union fol­lowed,” for Wells and his fam­ily, “en­hanced by the gen­eros­ity of the RAF Quar­ter­mas­ter at the base, who thought I needed ra­tions whilst I was stay­ing in Vi­enna and loaded up the truck for me,” he said.

Wells mar­ried Mary Olivia John­son in April, 1945 and they had four chil­dren, Pe­ter, Nigel, El­friede and Pa­tri­cia. But he could not per­suade her to come out to Ger­many where he had been of­fered a highly paid com­mis­sion with the rank of Ma­jor. In­stead he ap­plied for and re­ceived a dis­charge from the RAF, on Jan 21, 1946.

He was one of only four sur­vivors of nine wartime col­leagues in 101 Squadron. His medals in­cluded the 1939/45 Star, the France & Ger­many Star, the War Medal and De­fence Medal.

Wells had to take up farm work on re­turn­ing to Eng­land. Then an ac­ci­dent on the farm re­sulted in the loss of his lit­tle fin­ger, pre­cip­i­tat­ing his re­lease from agri­cul­ture. In 1994, he and Mary moved to Oakville, On­tario, Canada and ran a restau­rant busi­ness for 12 years un­til he re­tired. After Mary’s death, he mar­ried Doris Choy and they had two sons, Charles and Ray.

He had at­tended ev­ery squadron re­union un­til 2015 when ill­ness in­ter­vened. In 2012 he was in­vited to Eng­land for the un­veil­ing of the Bomber Com­mand me­mo­rial in St James’s Park. He is sur­vived by Doris and his chil­dren. MARTIN SU­GAR­MAN (AJEX AR­CHIV­IST) Henry Eric Wells: born June 3, 1923. Died Septem­ber 2, 2017

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.