This article was first published in the GCC London October Newsletter. You can access it at the following link http://www.gcclondon.ca/images/October-2014-GCC-Newsletter.pdf
Charles Roberts will be honoured at our 8 October 2014 Garrison Community Council noon meeting through the GCC’s Honouring Veterans Initiative. The Honouring Veterans initiative of the Garrison Community Council (London and Region) acknowledges the service of individual Canadian Forces (CF) and RCMP veterans. As well the initiative celebrates our rich military heritage, both past and present, while continuing our traditions of Remembrance. The Honouring Veterans initiative supports the GCC’s mission to focus on building a greater understanding of the Canadian Forces within the civilian community. A summary of Charles Roberts’ service is noted below.
In January, 1943, Flight Sergeant Charles Roberts was shot down over Berlin, taken prisoner of war and survived a winter “death march” across Europe.
As background, in May 1938 at the age of 16 Charles Roberts joined the Non-Permanent Active Militia at the London Armouries on Dundas Street and enlisted with the Canadian Fusiliers (Machine Gun) City of London Regiment. At the age of 18 he joined the Royal Canadian Airforce and in January 1941 was posted to No. 1 Wireless School in Montreal to train as a wireless operator. In 1941 he graduated as a Leading Aircraftsman (LAC) and was posted to Fingal (near St. Thomas ON) to No. 4 Bombing and Gunnery School. He received his wings as a Wireless Air Gunner (WAG) and was promoted to Sergeant. Charles Roberts went overseas and in 1942 met his first air crew at Operational Training Unit (OTU) Lichfield in England where he was the rear gunner. He flew 26 missions and in January 1943, he was shot down over Germany. The aircraft was initially hit by direct ground flak, then over the target area (Berlin) another hit on the inner port engine caused it to burst into flames and the Captain ordered the crew to “bail out”. Luftwaffe military police eventually detained Roberts who was later taken to Stalag VIIb prisoner of war camp.
After two years in Stalag VIIb, orders were received that Allied prisoners of war would be used to form a human wall against the advances of the Russians and Americans. “Hitler’s Death March” began in January 1945 and lasted three months with tens of thousands of Allied prisoners of war marching from Poland to Berlin without adequate food or shelter. Fewer than 300 survived the journey.
As Roberts was departing the camp he noticed that a German soldier was having difficulty lowering the camp’s Nazi flag so Roberts went to assist. Once the flag was lowered Roberts was told by the flustered guard to take the flag over to a truck. The guard did not follow Roberts’ actions so Roberts just shoved the flag into his jacket and walked off, joining the others on the road. Roberts was kept warm that winter by the woollen flag as they walked 25 to 30 kilometers each day, arriving in Berlin in about April. Roberts still has the flag, not as a trophy or as spoils of war, but rather a reminder of the many good souls who did not survive the March. He has written a book, “Tail End Charlie: A Survivor of Stalag VIIB and Hitler’s Death March” to tell his story.
After the war Roberts returned to London (ON) and completed his education including a Master’s Degree and also re-mustered from the Air Force Reserve to the Royal Canadian Artillery where he served as adjutant. During his career in education he had many roles including vice principal, principal, and school inspector. He retired as an Area Superintendent in 1978.