On the morning of 4th September 1939, the day after Britain declared war on Germany, a message from King George VI was read to the men of RAF 107 Squadron:
“The Royal Air Force has behind it a tradition no less inspiring than those of the older services, and in the campaign which we have now been compelled to undertake you will have to assume responsibilities far greater than those which your service had to shoulder in the last war. I can assure all ranks of the air force of my supreme confidence in their skill and courage, and in their ability to meet whatever calls may be made upon them.”
Listening to that message was Flight Sergeant George Franklin Booth. A few hours later, the 29-year old navigator from Stanhope Drive, Horsforth took up his position in the nose of Blenheim bomber N6240 as it prepared for take off from RAF Wattisham in Suffolk. The plane, piloted by Canadian Flight Sergeant Albert Prince, departed at 4pm as part of an operation bound for the German naval base at Wilhelmhaven.
The first wave of bombers, taking the Germans by surprise, made several direct hits on warships stationed at the entrance to the harbour but the secondary wave, including N6240, felt the full force of the German defences.
Booth’s Blenheim was struck hard by German flak and entered a steep dive. Sergeant Prince heroically ditched the aircraft in the harbour but was killed by the impact (thus becoming the first Canadian casualty of the war). Booth broke his foot but survived. He (together with the rear-gunner, Larry Slattery) was picked up by a German boat and thus became the first British serviceman to be taken prisoner by the Germans – as the more senior in rank, Booth would have been processed as a prisoner before Slattery.
Booth was promoted to Warrant Officer during his captivity, presumably to make life in camp a little bit easier for him as an officer (it was not unusual for prisoners to be promoted for this reason).
Booth later recalled having been held in 15 different camps throughout almost the entire duration of the war before being released 2,057 days later after Stalag 357 in Poland was liberated in April 1945.
He died in 1991, aged 81.
Click here for more tales from Horsforth’s past.
Liverpool Daily Post, 21 April 1945 (from British Newspaper Archive)