‘Original WW2 hero’ survived two crashes

James William Crouch.
James William Crouch.

An ‘original hero’ of World War Two, who survived two plane crashes and escaped from a prisoner of war camp, has died at the age of 92.

James William Crouch was a tail gunner on Halifax bombers and made a total of 29 flights, which was said to have been an “incredible” achievement as most tail gunners usually survived an average of five missions. He made all his flights out of Pocklington airfield with the RAF’s 102 Squadron.

After lying about his age to join up and being shot down over Germany aged only 18, Mr Crouch was taken prisoner in a Nazi ‘Stalag’ camp where he was made to think he was blind as a form of psychological torture.

But along with a fellow prisoner he escaped during a forced march and ended up in a field next to where a division of German tanks were retreating, under fire from the Allies.

“Then came the German bombardment aimed at the allied forces before they came across the Americans and an American accent declared ‘who goes there,’” said Jim’s son Roy.

He added: “My father was one of the original war heroes but he never boasted about it. He kept his mouth shut. It was incredible to have survived 29 missions as a rear gunner.”

After the war, Mr Crouch worked as a tool maker in East Finchley, London, which is where he lived.

Roy took him back to Pocklington a couple of years ago, and to the Yorkshire Air Museum in Elvington, where he was able to get close to Halifax bombers again and, despite being 90, climbed inside it through a little hatch.

Roy said: “He was gob-smacked just to see and feel and smell the planes again.”

Mr Crouch leaves behind his wife Joan along with three children, two grandchildren, and two step-grandchildren. A great-grandchild is “on the way” in the USA.

He has been buried at East Finchley Cemetery.