VOICES FROM WALES – TWENTY ONE OF FIFTY-TWO, HUGH REES D.F.C.
A Professor at Aberystwyth University, a Fellow of The Royal Society a peson, like so many others, who never talked about the war. He did, however, leave a diary, which hopefully we will look at a later date. Hugh’s family lived in Llansteffan and his father was the local policeman, P.C. Owen Rees.
I hope the film reflects the respect and gratitude that we always will have for those who fought during the Great War and especially those at Mametz Wood 103 years ago.
In the video his son, Hubert Rees, is interviewed following a lecture on his father’s diary of the war.
Hugh’s plane was shot down during a daylight raid on a synthetic oil plant near Homberg in the Ruhr Valley. All were RAF crew, except the bomb aimer F/O Westwood, who was a New Zealander. He became a good friend of Hugh’s, and was a visitor to Llansteffan in 1945, as reported in the local press at the time.
After capture, Hugh was taken to Oberursel, near Frankfurt. This was an interrogation centre for captured aircrew. He was later moved to Stalag Luft 1. The camp housed about 9,000 allied air force officers by the end of the war, mostly US aircrew (about 7,500).
His diary gives an awareness into life at the camp: food shortages, communication with home, his hobbies while held captive and the general living conditions that they endured. He also gives an insight into the relationship with his fellow American captives.
Many thanks to the following websites that have helped Hubert collect images and facts about his father’s wartime experiences. 75nzsquadron Stalag Luft
Footnote: Colonel Hub Zemke
Zemke was a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot. He established his leadership of the POWs at Stalag Luft 1, developing working relations with the German commandant and staff. He achieved some improvements in living conditions. Toward the end of the war, Zemke suspected the Germans might try to kill the POWs rather than allow them to be liberated by the advancing Russian armies. In preparation, Zemke prepared a force of commandos and stockpiled weapons, (mostly home–made grenades), in order to resist any such attempt.
As it became apparent that war was lost, the Germans became more cooperative, especially as Soviet armies approached from the east. When the prisoners of Stalag Luft I were ordered to leave the camp by the camp commandant, Zemke refused the order. Zemke and his staff negotiated an arrangement for the Germans to depart quietly at night, bearing only small arms, and turn the camp over to the Allied POW wing. To avoid conflict between POWs and guards who had been particularly brutal, Zemke's staff kept the arrangement secret until the morning after the German departure. Zemke then cultivated friendly relations with the arriving Soviets, using his fluent German and some Russian language picked up during his time with the Soviet Air Force. Ultimately, in Operation Revival, Zemke arranged for the POWs to be flown to American-held territory by U.S. B-17 bombers shortly after VE day.