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A Letter From Richard Pape

 

Richard Pape was an irrepressible red - haired Yorkshireman, who joined 609 Squadron as an Auxiliary Airman before the war. He later transferred to Bomber Command, got shot down, evaded, was captured, escaped, got tortured, escaped, before being rpatriated. He became a best - selling author and renowned adventurer after the war. Here's a short biography (in his own unbeatable words) from a letter dating back to the late 1970's.

 

Richard Pape                                                                                                                                  Address:

‘Berkeley’

6, Hyde Place.

Hughes,

Canberra,

AST 2605

Australia

Date:

5 April 1978

Mr. Charles McConnell,

Secretary,

609 Squadron Association,

6, Dorset Crescent,

HARROGATE,

Yorkshire,

Great Britain.

 

Dear Charles (Mac),

 

What a grand surprise to receive the book, “The Story of 609 Squadron – Under The White Rose’, together with your kind and interesting letter. The airmail package arrived yesterday – the delay due to a damned postal strike, which ended a few days ago. It lasted a month. Australia is perhaps worse than U.K. for strikes, militant Trade Unionists, Agitators, Communists and the rest.

 

Am a bit weary – eyed this morning having read Frank Ziegler’s splendid record of 609 …… (all through the night). Frank Zeigler is to be congratulated for a most worthy compilation which is so excellently written. A book all Yorkshire folk can be proud to have on their bookshelf, and their children’s children and so on.

 

Good old Darkie Hanson, my truest wishes to him. Sorry to learn about my old colleague of ‘Yorkshire Post’ days, Frank Appleby. He was a good chap and many an evening after a day’s work

At the newspaper we would cycle off to the river Wharfe near Collingham for a swim on summer nights. Fitzgerald (Bill) died in 1976. It was his daughter ‘Anne James’ who put me on to you, in fact. He was also employed by ‘The Yorkshire Post’.

 

Most interested to learn all about Sir Harald Peake, and Lord Lincoln (His Grace the Duke of Newcastle)…

 

Guess he’ll remember Richard Pape of yore. As a matter of fact I have often related to my Australian wife, Helen, a lawyer at the Attorney – General’s office here in Canberra about her husbands wicked action in striking a fellow airman over the head with a heavy plate containing N.A.A.F.I. bacon and eggs. It was just before I left the Squadron after getting my ‘A’ licence from Captain Worrall, at the Yeadon Aero Club. I don’t think she really believed me when I told her that I had been brought before Lord Lincoln and had told him: ‘Yessir, I did crown the bastard on the cranium with a platter’ … (referring to the fellow airman whom I had assaulted). Well, I jumped out of bed last night and awakened her after reading page 47 ….. “Now read this” … I chortled …. “Read this about crowning that bloke on the cranium with a platter of bacon and eggs)

 

I propose using the Duke’s own written words: ‘Such was the background and basis on which our astonishing Auxiliary Air Force was built – a basis of mutual respect and understanding and devotion to the cause, reflecting the mysterious power of the mad Englishman to produce a military force based on an entirely volunteer concept ….” Zeigler wrote: “How, for instance, was he, or for that matter the Auxiliary Adjutant, to impose discipline in an actual case where one Auxiliary airman who (not without some provocation) assaulted another by hitting him over the head with a plate, etc. etc. …”

The next time I hit a chap over the head with a plate of food, it happened to be a dirty big square – headed German Guard in a Polish Political Prison (Krakau) after I had been arrested after my escape from the Polish coalmine in Beuten. I refused to give details of my Polish underground helpers so the Gestapo tried to tempt me to squeal by sending in a guard (into my cell) with a thick German Army plate ladened with steaming sausages and potatoes. ‘All this nice German food fer der Englander”, he whined “Iff der Englander tells der auforities der people dat helped ‘im …”

 

I must have had a brainstorm reaction from 609 Squadron when I crowned my fellow airman over the cranium back in 1938. I took the plate of sausage and mash and crowned that big ugly Hun bastard bang on the head …. I did get my ribs stoved in and my kidneys bruised for that assault … but it was worth it. (Bet old Lord Lincoln chuckles when you relate the above)

 

And Ziegler sums up John Dundas pretty truthfully. A great fellow but an untidy bastard. Often at the ‘Yorkshire Post’ I would say to him, ‘For Gawd’s sake, John, get a new pair of trousers or cut the cuffs of the pair you are wearing…” His trouser bottoms were always frayed. Again, I often had a drink with him at an old pub off Briggate in Leeds (A Youngers Ale House). Dundas would spill beer down his front and his fingers were always mucky and terribly ink – stained ….. “Wash your bloody hands sometime” – I would rebuke him. “What’s the point”, he would reply in his distant, abstract way, “I’ll only have to wash ‘em again” …. And Dundas still owes me thirty – bob, if I remember correctly. I’ll chase him around up top when we eventually meet again for my money ….. Eh? He always seemed to be hard – up as a young up and coming journalist … But oh boy did the lasses on the staff fall for his off – handed manner …. Whow!

 

By the way, I was buying some tobacco last year at a little Greek Grocer’s shop here at Hughes, when a pretty young woman came up to me and said …. ‘You are Richard Pape’ ….. It was aircraftman Hunter’s daughter. He was in the Hawker Hind as ballast when Dundas crashed into a house at Yeadon. In 1963 I was walking along George Street in Sydney, when Hunter walked into me face on. He had migrated and was working in a Public Service job. We got blotto in a local pub and he took me home to a suburb called Liverpool. I met his family and the girl who recognised me in question. The daughter told me that her father had died the year before with a growth – cancer I believe. Hunter was very helpful to me when I left the Squadron and was flying privately in a Tiger Moth. He knew his mechanics. When I got my Air Guard wings he and I got tanked somewhat at that pub at Yeadon not far away on the main road.

 

Yes, you’ll certainly have half a dozen books when the autobiography is finally finished and published. Next year I trust. In the meantime I am sending along a copy of ‘Boldness Be My Friend’ (signed) to your address, and I’ll get the publisher to send one to Darkie Hanson (Direct from London). I only have one copy with me here in Canberra. When you receive the book from London would you kindly hand it to Darkie. It will come to your address.

 

Now about myself. Age 62, still have some of my beautiful red – hair left, but not much. I inform my wife that when it finally loses its ginger colour and turns grey, then and only then can it be said that Richard Pape has lost his temper and is pacified and peaceful. Blimme, Charles!

 

Suffer from nine pensionable war disabilities, full of arthritis, eyesight getting worse, but hope that I’ll have finished the autobiography before the surgeon removes the cataracts. One has to be just about blind before they’ll skin one’s eyeballs. Otherwise keep plodding away at home. Now retired so to speak, not able to work at a job. Quit working for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs 18 months ago. They asked me to write a book on the Australian Aboriginals when I came to live in Canberra after 91/2 years in that hot and primitive land …. Papua New Guinea.

 

I guess you’ll know all about my wartime career in the R.A.F. Being shot down after bombing Berlin (night of Sept 7, 1941) crashing in the Stirling bomber, escaping, escaping, and escaping. I finally got clear of Hitler’s bloody Europe in 1944, and was back in U.K. a year before the war ended. Crashed again and had my beauty spoiled somewhat. Should never have flown again after getting home in one piece. But as Lord Lincoln wrote : ‘Mad Englishmen (Yorkshiremen).’ Spent the best part of two years in East Grinstead R.A.F. plastic surgery hospital – Sir Archibald McIndoe, famous R.A.F. plastic surgeon did a pretty good repair job on my face. That was the end of my flying career.

 

Went to South Africa in 1946 and returned to Britain 1953 for the publication of ‘Boldness Be My Friend’ …. Couldn’t settle down so took up test – endurance driving for Austin Motors (B.M.C.) A book followed, ‘Cape Cold to Cape Hot’ ….. From Arctic North Cape to African South Cape. Nearly bought it in the stinking Sahara. Returned to U.K. Tried to settle down. Impossible. Fell in love with a ballerina and fell out of love quickly when she wanted her mother to live with us upon marriage. Joined Rootes motors and did test driving for them in America, Canada, Yukon, etc. Nearly bought it again in Alaska at 90 M.P.H. Decided I’d had enough of car racing and all that. Fell in love with a female co – driver, got married. Settled in New Zealand (She may have been a wonderful co – driver around the 48 states of the U.S.A. but she drove me up the ruddy wall otherwise) Four months after marriage decided to join the U.S.A. ‘Deep Freeze’ Operation (after Geophysical International Year) 1956 / 7. The elapsed, elongated honeymoon was causing me to have moods and itchy - feet. Left the bride for the penguins and roamed around the Great White Continent. Fell in the sea at McMurdo Sound and nearly froze to death. Returned to the neglected bride but she found me permanently cold. She nicknamed me ‘Sealskin Pape’ …. That was that, divorced her, or maybe she really wanted her freedom. Back to dear old U.K. and I visited Yorkshire, Yeadon, etc. and the ‘Yorkshire Post’ wanted me to return if I felt inclined. Didn’t …!!!.

 

Started drinking too much as a resident of the ‘Pathfinder Club’ in Berkeley Square, London and met Group Captain Leonard Cheshire, V.C., D.S.O., D.F.C. He asked me to do something useful with my life instead of trying to kill myself by taking risk after risk. I joined Cheshire V.C. and left London for Australia en route to Papua New Guinea to start up a home for mentally handicapped native children. That was in 1964. I remained in that savage land for 91/2 years rather than the intended two years. But it was for the best. On the plane to New Guinea, an old DC.3. I sat next to Helen, my future wife. She was a Lawyer and visiting New Guinea for a stint on legal work for the Australian Government. After a few weeks in that ‘Hot Land’ I was put in jail for dangerous, or squiffy driving. I remembered the lovely female lawyer and got her to get someone to bail me out. So started a romance and we married in 1966. Helen is a grand person, 8 years my junior and we are very happy. No children, of course, but we have a glorious ‘Golden Retriever called ‘Pumpkin’ ….

 

When we left Papua New Guinea the Leonard Cheshire Home was an established reality, financial and caring for a dozen mentally defective and spastic native children. So at least I did something useful and worthwhile in the long run. Cheshire came to see us twice and is a grand, reliable fellow. We are very good friends.

 

Douglas Bader is visiting Darwin in the Northern Territory in May, and I may see him. We were in the same prison camp together (Dulag Luft, nr Frankfurt) Luftwaffe Interrogation Centre. We had a tunnel going there and I was told I had to carry Douglas Bader up the mountain – side when we broke free outside the wire. I always had a good strong, Yorkshire rugger back. It didn’t come about, however, for a big German decided to stamp just above the tunnel to warm his feet (it was Winter) and big bastard came straight through the topsoil and into the tunnel. Fortunately he broke a leg. That was that! Bader was despatched to the Baltic and I was taken to the Polish border, Stalag V111B, and one hell of a place. I met up with Bader again in Breslau two years later, after I had changed my identity. He was a bit of a nuisance to the Germans, to say the least, and was sent to finish his term in Colditz. I was sent to one hell of a place on the Lithuanian border. The Russians pounded the place when they advanced in 1944 from Witebsk. Actually heard the big guns booming. It was from Luft V1 that I found my freedom. But the happiest part of the final chapter was seeing Berlin three years after I had bombed the place. I was on my way from Lithuania via Berlin to Leipzig and had to spend a night in a Berlin railway siding. Damnation, the Mosquitoes came over and dropped 4,000 pounder cookies. ‘Cripes’, I muttered as everything shook, “Hope those Mossy boys don’t come any closer ….” Berlin was a glorious site … Flattened, a massive landscape of rubble. It was good to see the Germans running, shrieking and moaning. And once clear of Berlin and on my way to Leipzig I silently thanked the R.A.F. for wreaking vengeance on my behalf and all other R.A.F. aircrew P.O.W. I got away from Lithuania just in time, but unfortunately some 30 R.A.F. aircrew were shot down by machine – gun fire from attacking planes.

 

And the first thing I did when I finally got back tom Leeds was to get drunk on Tetleys Special …. A glorious pub – crawl including Yeadon haunts (but the barmaids had changed, and one lovely little Yorkshire lass I used to wink at and take out from that top Yeadon pub had gone and married a bloody G.I.)

 

Helen and I were in Britain four years ago and I took my wife all over the Yorkshire Dales, and proudly showed the County that bred the best males in the Sacred Isles. This brings me to a point my wife raised this morning re the name of HANSON. She had read your letter and your mention of Darkie Hanson brought to her mind her mother’s father, or i.e. my wife’s maternal grandfather. Helen’s mother’s father was Dr. Hargreaves Hallys Halls Hanson, born about 1849 and died 1916. Yorkshire folk to be sure but she is not certain of the exact town or locale where the Dr. came from. Would be rather something of a coincidence if my wife’s mother’s clan happened to be linked to Darkie Hanson’s lineage. Anyway, I chose a wife with a definite and distant Yorkshire background, even if she was born in Australia.

 

Hadn’t realised the time, so anxious to get a reply off to you. Just pounded the typewriter and realised you have four pages of typescript to read. The book will be posted airmail in a couple of days hence, and the one from the publisher in London should be in your hands for ‘Darkie’ – say about two or three weeks.

 

I trust all goes well for you and yours, and Helen and I may perhaps have the pleasure of meeting you in person in Harrogate should we visit my sister in Hampshire late this year, or early next.

 

Regards to any members of the old 609 Squadron, and again I say that the story of 609 Squadron under the White Rose – is indeed a inspiration to anyone anywhere in the old country, and to Yorkshiremen, born and bred ….. Well, it just engenders a terrific glow of pride, which I find difficult to put into words.

 

I’ll certainly keep in touch. So all for now.

 

Every good wish,

 

Sincerely,

 

Richard B. Pape.

 

P.S. Just re–read your letter. I assumed when you said poor old Frank was about to die you meant Frank Appleby, Deepest sympathy to Frank Ziegler’s family

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Last modified: April 11, 2003