This postcard from RCAF prisoner of war Sgt. Brian Hodkinson appeared 75 years ago this month in the March 1942 issue of CKY’s program guide, Manitoba Calling. Prior to the war, Hodkinson was an announcer at the Winnipeg station. With the outbreak of war, he enlisted in the air force, and on one of his first missions over France, he was shot down and held prisoner for the duration of the war.
This card was sent to a friend in WInnipeg, Dr. John Toole, and reports that the Germans were treating him well. He requested “cigs. & chocolate, etc.” via the Canadian Red Cross. Dr. Toole shared the card with the radio station.
Hodgkinson spoke little of the war years, but after much prodding by friends, he did put his memoirs on paper. After the war, Hodgkinson moved to the United States and was for many years a newscaster and commentator at WHK, WERE, and WDOK in Cleveland.
After his death, a manuscript for a book was found. It was published in Canada in 2000 as Spitfire Down.
The book is a fascinating look not only at Hodgkinson’s time as a POW, but also at his training. The RCAF had to get pilots in the air as fast as possible, and the training was intense. Hodgkinson recounts that he got lost on his first solo cross country flight, which was supposed to be from Ottawa to Kingston. He got lost, and finally spotted an airport, which turned out to be Montreal. Low on fuel and daylight, he landed and called his base for instructions. After some discussion, he was told to return to Ottawa the next day. He got lost again, and once again he landed at an unfamiliar airport. When a friendly airport worker came out to meet the plane, he asked where he was, and was told that he had landed in Ogdenburg, New York.
Since the United States was still neutral, Hodgkinson realized that his navigation blunder would result in his spending the duration of the war in an American internment camp. So he asked which way it was to Ottawa, and promptly flew north.
Despite these false starts, Hodgkinson was quickly sent to England, and on one of his first missions over France, he was shot down. Most of the book recounts his experiences in a hospital in France, and then in prison camps in Germany.
One feature that stood out was the fluent English speakers that Hodgkinson encountered. While he and his other prisoners in the hospital in France noted that before long they would be speaking a mixture of three languages, there were English speakers among his captors. The first that he encountered was the doctor who oversaw the treatment of his injuries, Dr. Rudy Meinhoff. Hodgkinson was surprised to hear the doctor address him with a clearly American accent. It had turned out that the German doctor had practiced in Milwaukee before the war, and had even attended a medical conference in Winnipeg.
And upon his transfer to the German prison camp, Hodgkinson’s interrogator was Wehrmacht intelligence officer Col. Gustave Metterling, who also surprised Hodgkinson with an American accented English. Before the war, Metterling had lived in New York, where he made a career of selling forged oil paintings, often made to order by wealthy buyers.
The book is not available in the United States, but used copies are available at a reasonable price on Amazon. In Canada, it’s also available at Amazon.ca.
The book is a fascinating look at the war by one who had to sit most of it out. According to Worldcat, relatively few libraries, American or Canadian, have a copy. But it is apparently still in print from its Canadian publisher, and reasonably priced copies are available on Amazon. It’s definitely worth seeking out.