Lutton Marsh farmer’s life in the skies

Arthur Edgley was a smallholder from his early 20s, but his heart has always been in the skies.

Being shot down in 1943 – which resulted in him being interrogated by the Gestapo, accused of being a spy, and then locked up in a camp for almost two years – left his love of flying undimmed.

Arthur Edgeley (94) with the picture of him flying a plane last year. Photo: SG100615-127TW

Arthur Edgeley (94) with the picture of him flying a plane last year. Photo: SG100615-127TW

Arthur doesn’t regret returning from war and taking on the Lutton Marsh smallholding, but he has taken every opportunity to fly over the years. In fact, the last time the 94-year-old took to the skies was just last year.

His interest in joining the RAF began as a boy when his family lived at Gedney Drove End close to the bombing range.

He was 19 when he finally joined up in 1940, and would have joined sooner had his farm work not been regarded as a reserved occupation.

On his fifth attempt Arthur was taken on and began training as a pilot. His first solo flight left him feeling “a big man” and soon after he and the other recruits sailed to Canada to train on Tiger Moths.

A record from Arthur's time of being shot down and taken as a prisoner of war. Photo: SG100615-132TW

A record from Arthur's time of being shot down and taken as a prisoner of war. Photo: SG100615-132TW

It was at that point it was decided there were too many pilots, and Arthur was switched to being a rear gunner.

He was acting as rear gunner in May 1943 when the Short Stirling he was in was shot over Germany. The 21-year-old pilot continued flying on two engines, eventually crashing or “gradually coming down from 12,000 feet” in a corn field in Holland.

Arthur says: “We hit the floor and smashed up and I never had a scratch.”

Two of them walked out, another bailed out and two of the crew were killed.

Arthur Edgeleyas a young airman (far right). Photo: SG100615-130TW

Arthur Edgeleyas a young airman (far right). Photo: SG100615-130TW

Thanks to his pilot training, Arthur was able to lead the survivors away from the crash site, navigating by the stars.

They were free for six weeks, during which time Dutch families helped them as they made their way on foot towards France.

Finally, they were betrayed and a train journey supposedly to Spain and from there to freedom ended up with them being captured by the Germans.

They were taken to one of the most notorious jails in the world, in Paris, and Arthur’s strongest memory of this time is one of hunger. However, it was while they were there that the men were interrogated by the Gestapo twice and told they would be shot as spies.

Arthur says when they were told they would go to a prison camp instead, it was “the best news I have heard in my life.”

Arthur spent the next 20 months in Stalag IV-B in Germany, before being liberated by the Russians in 1945.

Before he left the camp, Arthur managed to get his hands on his own prison record, just one of the fascinating historic artefacts from his time at war.