Stories of Remembrance

Air Force, Second World War (1939-45)How Pilot Officer Dodgson joined the Caterpillar Club,

Pilot Officer Dodgson had only just got the parachute hooked on to one of the two clips of his parachute harness when the aircraft exploded, blasting him out into the night sky.
Phillip Dodgson, son

Charles Norman Roy Dodgson was born in Seddon, Victoria in September 1918. At the outbreak of the war he was a member of the Militia and was posted to the coastal artillery battery at Fort Nepean on the Mornington Peninsula where he attained the rank of a sergeant gunner. In November 1942 he was accepted into the RAAF for pilot training and reported to the RAAF training base at Somers, also on the Mornington Peninsula. His training took him from there to Western Junction in Tasmania for flying training. Then in 1943, as part of the Empire Training Scheme he sailed to Canada for further flying and navigation training. He finally arrived in England in mid 1944 to commence training on twin engine Wellington and then four engine heavy bombers. By then a Pilot Officer, it had taken almost two years of flying training before he was posted to an operational Squadron in October 1944.

Pilot Officer Dodgson was posted to RAAF 466 Squadron flying Halifax bombers from Driffield in Yorkshire. His crew was comprised of five other Australians and an English Flight Engineer. He was flying on his sixth operation on 4 November 1944 when his Squadron of 14 aircraft flew in a 749 strong force to bomb Bochum in the heavily defended Ruhr Valley. The bomber force was subjected to a ferocious attack from German night fighters and 28 of the Halifaxes and Lancasters failed to return to England. Pilot Officer Dodgson's Halifax Z-Zebra was one of these aircraft, along with another from his squadron. Some minutes into its return journey, at a height of 10,000 feet it was suddenly hit in the rear fuselage by cannon fire from a German night fighter. The night fighter then flew beneath the Halifax and fired upwards into the starboard outer engine and wing, setting it ablaze. As the fire was unable to be extinguished, Pilot Officer Dodgson ordered the crew to bale out while he kept the aircraft under control. After observing that the escape hatch was open and no crew members were visible, Pilot Officer Dodgson undid his seat straps and commenced to clip on his parachute when the burning starboard wing broke away and the aircraft spun into a dive. Pilot Officer Dodgson had only just got the parachute hooked on to one of the two clips of his parachute harness when the aircraft exploded, blasting him out into the night sky.

The aircraft plummeted into a farmhouse, setting it alight and he came down not more than 50 yards from the wreckage. As he had been suspended almost horizontally beneath the canopy he broke both his forearms on hitting the ground. A German anti-aircraft battery was positioned nearby and he was quickly captured by the soldiers manning the guns and taken to their gun emplacement. He was searched and questioned, then was kept there for a number of days without receiving any treatment for his injuries. Eventually, he was escorted by a soldier to the nearby railway station in Duren where he was transported to a military hospital in Cologne. After treatment he was sent to Dulag Luft 6B which was an interrogation camp and put in solitary confinement. Then he was finally taken before an English speaking German officer and interrogated.

Pilot Officer Dodgson asked of his crew and was told that they all died as their parachutes did not open. Pilot Officer Dodgson was then transferred to Stalag Luft 111A which was situated near Luckenwalde, south of Berlin. His Prison Camp was eventually overrun by the Russians in April 1945 who then would not let the Allied prisoners leave. However, he and some others eventually managed to escape and make their way to the nearby American lines. He was then flown back to Britain.

Pilot Officer Dodgson's family did not know for four months after his aircraft went missing if he was alive or dead. A Red Cross report received in Britain in March 1945 had confirmed that he was a POW and the family were then immediately informed of this. In June 1946 an RAF search and recovery team located the wreckage of Halifax Z- Zebra on the outskirts of Duren, Germany and the bodies of the six crew were later exhumed from a burial place in the Duren Cemetery. Their injuries were reported as being consistent with instantaneous crash trauma and were re-interred in a Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery. It appears that Pilot Officer Dodgson only escaped death himself that night by being blown out of the aircraft, whereupon he was able to operate his parachute.

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