A WEARSIDE flying hero who baled out in his stockinged feet after being shot down over Germany during the Second World War has passed away at the age of 89.
Ted Eastwood, a former wireless operator for the RAF, was surrounded by his family when he died in his sleep. A service of remembrance is to be held in his honour on May 9.
“He was a gentleman, a hero and will be sadly missed by many,” said Arthur Lockyear, organiser of Sunderland’s annual Remembrance Parade. “I’m proud to have known him.”
Yorkshire-born Ted, who made Wearside his home after marrying a local girl, joined the RAF when war broke out. After training, he was attached to the Canadian 431 Iroquois Squadron.
All went well until the night of January 28, 1944, when his Halifax bomber set off for a raid on Hamburg – and was shot down. Ted found himself hurtling to earth in his stockinged feet.
“I put my feet out of the escape hatch and the slipstream caught my boots. When I bent over to grab them, my parachute caught on the hatch,” he later recalled in an Echo interview.
“The next thing I can remember is hurtling through space. I remembered to pull the ripcord on my parachute and, as I came down, I could see fires from the other planes shot down.
“In our plane, the rear gunner and the pilot, Jack Harris, were killed, but the other five of us survived. I landed in a ditch and couldn’t really do anything, because I just had socks on.”
Ted was captured almost immediately and spent the night in a detention centre.
After being interrogated by the Gestapo, he was sent to Stalag Luft 7, a prison camp on the Polish border.
“At the interrogation centre, the officer knew more about the squadron than I did,” recalled Ted.
“He knew the names of people who just joined, people I’d never met. I was amazed.”
Stalg Luft 7 proved a bleak experience. The barbed-wire fortress housed 1,600 prisoners of different nationalities – each with their own cramped quarters and yard. There was no mixing.
Soup formed the mainstay of the miserable menu, as Ted vividly remembered: “We got the tops of the carrots and the turnips, the greenery and the bits you wouldn’t normally eat.”
Then, in the bitter cold of January 1945, came a 240-kilometre “walk of horror.”
More than 1,500 prisoners were marched at gunpoint for three weeks through the snow to Luckenwalde.
“We were always being threatened with being shot,” said Ted.
“On the forced march to the new camp we were warned that for every man who fell out of column, five would be shot.”
After being starved, frozen and walked almost to death, the relative luxury of Stalag Luft 3 awaited those who survived.
Straw beds and one blanket per prisoner – six to a little hut.
Just a few months later, the camp was liberated by the Russians. Returning home, however, took longer – with the British prisoners even ordered off a rescue lorry at gunpoint one day.
Eventually, Ted made it back to Blighty – and always remembered the first Red Cross meal he received in England, as well as the free pint of beer he and his comrades enjoyed in a pub.
“I was able to send a telegram to my family, telling them I was safe,” he said.
“It was the first they had heard from me, though I had written and I’d never got any of their letters either.”
Ted went on to marry his sweetheart, Joyce Gauden, in 1946.
They moved to the North East three years later, after Ted stepped down from the RAF, with Lumley being their final home.
“She never doubted I’d come back,” said Ted, who worked as a maintenance man for the National Coal Board before starting his own jobbing business.
l The memorial service for Ted will be held at Finchale Priory Masonic Lodge at Chester-le-Street, where he was Master of the Lodge. It is open only to Freemasons.