We’re going to finish the Jossa Family Story in more modern times with the story of John Charles Jossa, who was John Felix Jossa’s son, and Jacqueline Jossa’s Grandfather.
A large part of this post is based on stories about his Father posted by John Jossa, Jacqueline’s Father. I hope I have done it justice.
A Plumstead Boy
John was born in 1921 a few years after his Father returned from living in New York USA, and three years after his father and mother married. John grew up with his parents and at 93 Durham Rise Plumstead, with his two younger brothers and two younger sisters.
The Woolwich Arsenal continued to provide direct and indirect work for the whole Woolwich and Plumstead areas and John worked as an Electrical Tester and Inspector, up until the start of WW2. The picture above from 1939 shows the Thames on the left, looking down River towards Kent, Woolwich Arsenal is marked out by the triangular shape next to it, and Plumstead is to the right.
Having a good background in Electrical Engineer, John was a good bet for the most technical of the armed services, the Royal Airforce, and we pick his story up with him in 1941 when he volunteered for the Royal Airforce in and was sent for initial training to Padgate in Cheshire (where his brother Anthony Martin Jossa would follow him to do his RAF National Service in 1950). John’s sister Elizabeth Mary would also join the RAF in 1941 in the Women’s Auxiliary Royal Airforce. It is likely that John may also have been shipped across the Atlantic to carry out flight training in Canada, a much safer environment than the UK.
John showed great ability and rose through the ranks to become a Flight Sergeant Navigator in 101 Squadron flying in Lancaster Bomber DV268 operating out of Ludford Magna, deep in the Lincolnshire Countryside. 101 Squadron was a specialist experimental Squadron, and only took the best of the best initially, so this speaks highly of John’s abilities.
Soon after the camp was occupied by the Bomber crews it was renamed “Mudford Magna” because of the appalling state of most of it after any rain and heavy vehicles traversing it, the low lying Lincolnshire Fenland quickly reverting to marsh like conditions. The Village itself was tiny, only about 200 inhabitants, and outside of the main village street, the surrounding farms and hamlets had no electricity, gas, mains water or mains sewerage, and although these facilities were laid on for the RAF base, the surrounding villagers would not get these services until after the base was closed down, and the various services were redirected to include the civilian population.
Bomber crews lived a bizarre life, on the one hand, whilst they were on the ground in England they could live an almost normal social life, eating regular meals, listening to the Radio, going to pubs in Ludford either the White Hart Inn Hotel run by William Bowen (still open in the Village) or the Black Horse with its Landlady Selina Gilbert at the other end of the main Road through the Village (all of 30 yards apart) socialising with the local girls, in relative comfort.
On the other hand, every time they climbed aboard their planes for an operation over enemy territory they stood a high chance (over 44%) of not coming back, and if their plane was hit there was often little or nothing they could do about surviving, it would mostly be down to good or bad luck, even between members of the same crew. More members of Bomber Crews were killed in WW2 than civilians in the Blitz on London, or civilians that died in the British bombing of Dresden and Hamburg, and Bomber Crews had a higher chance of being killed in action than Infantry Officers did in WW1. As controversial as the bombing of German Cities by the RAF may be viewed by modern commentators, the bravery of the Airmen involved in destroying the Nazi menace in Europe can’t be understated.
So aircrews’ lives consisted of periods of normality interrupted by concentrated periods of extreme danger during which the crews had to remain outwardly absolutely calm. On the one hand the crews were well fed and could go to the local Towns and Villages to drink in the local pub s, on the other whole plane loads of men would disappear the following day, shot down, never to be seen again.
The mental strain of living under such conditions must have been unique. Some bomber crews described the experience as the equivalent of living inside a murder mystery play where, on the one hand life appeared normal, but on the other, you could never tell who would disappear and wind up dead next. Of 101 Squadron Airmen 740 were killed, and of those 96 have no known graves.
The RAF being the most technology dependant of the Armed services very quickly started changing from a very socially hierarchical service like the Army, Navy, and indeed civilian life in the UK, into a technical meritocracy. It was important on a heavy Bomber that the crew were technically competent, calm, and able to work under pressure (i.e. whilst under fire from the ground and fighter planes) the days of the aristocratic Tally-Ho! adventurers was long gone. John Jossa fitted this new meritocracy.
Lancaster bombers could be manned (operational front line bombing crews were 100% men) entirely by Sergeants (minimum rank to be part of aircrew) or by a mixture of Sergeants and Officers. Whatever the ranks of the various crew members, the Pilot always had the final say irrespective of his rank compared to other crew members. On DV268 all of the crew with John were Sergeants. By the time John Jossa was flying in Lancasters each crew member had a single role, the seven crew were formed of Pilot (Paul Rudolph Zanchi) 19 from Southend, Flight Engineer (Leonard Arthur Crooks) 20 from Grays in Essex, Navigator (John Jossa) 22 from Plumstead Kent, Wireless Operator (Henry Stuart Waller), Bomb Aimer (William Rowand) 23 from Lambeth, Mid Gunner (Dennis William Timms), and Rear Gunner (Alan George Lovesay). Conditions on bombers were “snug” but not as cramped as in fighter planes, as can be seen from the photo of another crew below, John Jossa as Navigator (on the right) would sit just along from the Wireless Operator Harry Waller (on the left).
101 Squadron was a particular target for German attack as a number of planes in that Squadron carried the ABC jamming system. This was a top secret radio system called AirBorne Cigar (ABC). It seems it may have got its name from a codename of “Corona” for Ground based jamming and disruption systems, that morphed to “Cigar” (Corona being one of the biggest manufacturers of Cigars) and went from Ground Cigar, to Airborne Cigar once mounted in Lancaster Bombers, and from there to ABC in official documents.
The system work by discovering the frequency the German Ground Controllers were using to guide the German Night Fighters into position to attack the British Bombers. Once found the German transmissions would be jammed by send a white noise type signal so that the German Night Fighters had to fly blind, and by the later addition of transmitting in German on the same frequency to send the German Fighters to the wrong places, which lead to some heated and bad tempered exchanges between German Ground Controllers, German Night Fighter Pilots, and British Radio Operators swearing at each other in fluent German whilst spreading confusion and misdirection. This role would be taken up by an eighth member of the crew specifically to operate the ABC. Giving that not only fluent German, but colloquial German was needed for this role, these operators were sometimes from German Jewish Families now living in Britain, having fled the Nazis, taking a huge risk if they had to bail out over German held Territory.
The Last Mission
At 5.18 on the afternoon of Friday November 26th 1943 DV268 took off from Ludford Magna Airfield, with its crew of Zanchi, Crooks, Jossa, Waller, Rowand, Timms, and Lovesay. Seven men aged from 19 to 23, little more than boys, with a 19 year old flying the plane. Look at a group of boys/men of those ages now and decide if you think they would have the maturity and courage to risk their lives every week to fight to save Democracy. These men were giants when compared to today’s standards.
They flew from Lincolnshire in darkness, and heded across occupied Europe to the Nazi Heart of Darkness – Berlin. They reached the target unscathed and successfully unloaded their bombs into the heart of the Dark Empire. It must be remembered that at this stage in the war, the tables had turned on the Germans to a high degree, they were on the defensive on many fronts, and having sowed the seeds of terror with the Blitz on London, were now reaping the whirlwind of vengeance from the RAF for all the civilian deaths they had caused. Unfortunately for German civilians this was paid back with interest against them in Berlin and other German Cities, and their Night Fighter crews were equally dogged in their defence of their cities.
As they were leaving Berlin returning from the raid, and despite the ABC in use by planes from 101 Squadron, some German Night Fighters managed to use new radar mounted in the noses of their aircraft to locate 101 Squadron, and went in for the attack. One night fighter cut DV 268 out from the Squadron and went on the attack. Now at night a Lancaster Bomber had some chance of fighting back and taking evasive manoeuvres to keep clear of any attacking faster and more agile German Night Fighters, but there was a high degree of luck involved, and needed the Bomber to evade the fighter long enough for the fighter to need to turn back and refuel or go after an easier target. In trying to shake the Night Fighter off their tail with machine gun fire and evasive action DV268 became separated from the rest of the Bomber Stream.
The pair of Planes, the big and muscular Lancaster DV268 and the smaller agile German Night Fighter flew on across Germany, Sergeant Lovesay exchanging fire as they went, tracer bullets from Lovesay’s heavy machine guns sent long streaks of light past the pursuing plane, but the German was not for turning, and avoiding the incoming fire, used his speed to avoid the tracers from Lovesay’s guns and opened up with his own machine guns and cannon, firing high calibre rounds. Lovesay’s gun compartment was obliterated killing the brave young gunner in the process. Now flying with little sight to the rear of the plane Zanchi put the plane into a “corkscrew” manoeuvre pulling extreme G forces as he plummeted the big plane down in a gut-wrenchingspiralling fall, temporarily losing the German Fighter in the confusion and darkness, a Lancaster being hard to see from above in the dark against the darkness of the blacked out landscape below. They lost sight of the Night Fighter, and relaxed just a little as the manoeuvre seemed to have worked.
As navigator John Jossa now had to work out where they were, having plummeted down to perhaps as low as 1,000 feet, and miles off course, John would now have to recommend a course. John realised that they were low on fuel, and could see exploding German Anti-Aircraft “Flak” being fired at the main Bomber Stream between Cologne and Essen and advised that they head directly for the area taking Flak and rejoin the main Bomber Stream. Paul Zanchi was loath to cross an area taking anti-aircraft fire, but John argued, that on their own they would be a sitting duck for any German Night Fighters or, if spotted, random anti-aircraft guns, and that if they took a longer route to around the Flak, they would not have enough fuel to get back to Britain and would have to ditch in the sea or over occupied territory. A brief but intense discussion took place between the 23 year old Navigator and the 19 year old Pilot, on the best way to get out of their dangerous situation, and perhaps reluctantly, the Pilot turned the Lancaster towards the Bomber stream and the Flak. Ultimately the Pilot’s decision would be final, but in an aircraft where life or death can hang on the slightest error, it is incumbent upon men to speak their mind plainly, irrespective of rank.
Reunited with their Foe
While the discussion on which course to take was taking place in the Lancaster, their deadly foe in the Night Fighter had not given up looking for them. The German Pilot was, for all the fact that he was fighting for the Nazis, a brave and skilful pilot. Having located the DV268, he quietly slipped his camouflaged aircraft a few dozen yards beneath the wounded bomber. In this position his aircraft was invisible to the Bomber crew, by site and shielded from its radar. But the German Pilot could now see the Lancaster fully silhouetted against the starry sky above.
This manoeuvre, although dangerous was a deliberate one. The British had their AirBorne Cigars but some Germans Night Fighters had “Jazz Music”. “Schrage Musik” was the German nickname for Jazz, or “oblique/skewed” Music; in this context it referred to a set of upward facing guns at an oblique angle mounted behind the cockpit of some German Night Fighters. These required the Fighter Pilot get his plane unseen under an enemy aircraft, then fire upwards. This was an effective tactic, but if successful, the Bomber above him could quickly disintegrate into an inferno of falling wings and airframe weighing several tons a-piece, enough to reduce the Night Fighter to a burning splintered wreck if it wasn’t quick enough to get out of the way.
AftermathThe first the crew of DV268 knew about it was a terrific thump that rattled the aircraft as shells from the German Fighter tore through the bottom of the fuselage and out through the top. Paul Zanchi was killed instantly, and the badly damaged Lancaster plunged out of the sky. The last thing John Jossa remembered was thinking that they were all going to die, and looking across to see if his friend from South London, William Rowand the Bomb Aimer was OK, then he blacked out in the tumbling chaos of the falling plane. The picture below from Wingleader magazine (see link) is the best representation of such an encounter that I can find.
Aftermath, Heaven or Hell?
The next time John Jossa opened his eyes, he saw a blurry image of white wing shapes floating above him, he thought he was dead and seeing angels in heaven, until Dad knew was waking up seeing white wing shapes above him. He thought he was in heaven seeing angels, then he heard the angels speaking German, he remembered feeling strangely disappointed.
When the Angels came into focus they turned out to be German Catholic Nuns wearing large white “winged” headdresses (Cornettes similar to the picture below), the height of fashion in Mediaeval times, but now adorning the heads of angels of mercy, acting as nurses. John had been unconscious for three weeks. Instead of waking up in heaven he awoke to the hell of pain. Hiss head injuries had caused his coma, his back was compressed and broken, his skull was fractured in three places, he had a broken jaw, and his tongue was split right down its length. Most of the rest of the major bones in his body were broken.
John Jossa’s son would, many years later, try to work out what had happened between the German Night Fighter blasting DV268 with its Schrage Musik Guns, and the Germans finding John Jossa some distance away from the wreckage on the ground a short time later.
The conclusion arrived at was that John’s seatbelt was wrenched out of its fittings, the momentum of the falling spinning plane then threw him through the Cockpit Canopy, snagging his parachute pack, which burst open, snagged on the wrecked plane, bringing John’s exit to an abrupt halt but causing a number of injuries, before the cords snapped, hurling him away from the stricken plane on impact with the ground.
An irony of his time in hospital was that whilst recovering in there he met and spoke with a German Luftwaffe Night Fighter Pilot, who had had his leg broken during aerial combat. Like often happens in these situations when two men have both put their lives on the line in deadly combat, there was no animosity between the two, and John Jossa described the Night Fighter Pilot as “A nice bloke” just like the men he knew in the RAF. John believed that he may have been the Pilot that shot down DV268.
Dulag Luft Wetzlar
Slowly bringing him back to health the German Doctors, gave him the bad news that he would never walk again.
Once John was well enough to be moved, he was shipped out to Dulag Luft Wetzlar near Frankfurt. This was a new Camp built to house the flood of Allied airmen whose planes were being blown out of the sky every night by the Luftwaffe and German ground defences, in their increasingly desperate defence of their Fatherland. It was set up to interrogate airmen and surreptitiously gather intelligence, and although there were some allegations of torture and mistreatment of airmen, it seems that generally the regime was not unduly cruel.
There were a few Prisoners who were permanent “Staff” in the camp to show the new arrivals the ropes, and keep things running smoothly, but the vast majority of prisoners were just transitioning through, undergoing interrogation before being shipped out to other Prisoner of War Camps. John would have been in good company and waqs preceded in the camp by men such as Guy Bushell (of “The Great Escape” fame) and also Douglas Bader, the famous Fighter Pilot who flew despite having two “Tin Legs” (artificial legs).
The German Staff at Dulag Luft soon realised that threats and physical intimidation didn’t get them very far in eliciting information from British Prisoners, and John still being in recovery from his serious and extensive injuries wouldn’t have been subject to any physical interrogation, rather the Germans had a reputation for using subtlety in Dulag Luft, befriending and engaging prisoners in conversation to see what they could get out of them, before passing them through to other camps. The greatest exponent of this approach in Dulag Luft was Hans Scharff. Only a Corporal, and therefore referred to as “Mr” and in civilian clothes to hide his lowly rank, Scharff used his engaging personality and intelligence to ring many airmen dry of what they knew. The Germans at Wetzlar rarely used physical violence, but would use the threat of handing the airmen over for torture and execution by the Gestapo if they didn’t share with him some secrets such as where their bases were, or technical details of equipment, aircraft, and allied tactics. The Allied Airmen were lead to believe that this was their only hope of avoiding the Gestapo. This behaviour was in breach of the Geneva Convention as it states “ No pressure shall be exerted on prisoners to obtain information regarding the situation of their armed forces or their country.”
Despite this many allied airmen, especially Americans, struck up friendships with various interrogators especially Scharff. The difference between the Americans and British was that the Americans were late into the War, so hadn’t had to stand alone against the might of the Nazis, had not had their home towns and civilian families bombed by the Germans, and therefore had less personal animosity towards the Germans. Scharff was picked up the Americans after the German surrender, and was used to train the American Secret Services on his interrogation techniques, allowed to settle in the States, and retired from Intelligence work to create Mosaics, including the Cinderella Story in Cinderella Castle in Walt Disney World Orlando Florida.
It is not clear if John was transferred to another camp, although most prisoners were transferred after interrogation. Being badly injured he may have stayed in the Frankfurt area, and it is entirely possible that he would have been visited by Scharff in Hospital, as Hanns Scharff made a point of visiting injured airmen for his “chats” to see what he could get out of them.
After the War
John was repatriated to Liverpool in England aboard the SS Arundel Castle on 6th February 1945. Although glad to be back, the prognosis for him was not good given his injuries. The Germans had told him he would never work again, and now British Doctors told him that he would never have children.
John was a fighter, regained the ability to walk, and married Eugenie Rebecca O’Brien and had six children. Eugenie was descended from two Irish Families, the O’Briens and McAlisters, her two Grandfathers having served in various capacities in the British Armed Forces in the Artillery, Marines, and Military Police. The Families One of her Grandfathers had been born in Malta a Major British Army and Naval Base, an Aunt had been born in Cairo Egypt, and she had connections to Canada with many relations living there. Her immediate family came together in Alverstoke and Gosport in Hampshire, an area full of Military and Naval Bases, before much of the Family moved to Woolwich to work in the Royal Arsenal there. The Families were very close, those that stayed in the Woolwich area lived together at 37a Tormount Road Plumstead.
John Jossa never complained about his injuries, and as his son John (Jacqueline Jossa’s Dad) says he was typical of the determination and courage of that generation.