Tale of survival from a World War II veteran

Tale of survival from a World War II veteran

Pat Hickton has been selling poppies for 60 years, and he was a first-hand witness to the sacrifices made by service people during World War II.

Mr Hickton flew with the bomber squadrons over occupied France and Germany.

Trained as a radio operator, Mr Hickton was called up to help fill a shortage of tail-gunners.

The job was in demand because vacancies were opening fast. It was one of the most dangerous you could have.

He says tail-gunners were expected to last just 9 hours in the job.

While returning from a mission in Germany, Mr Hickton thought his time was up.

An anti-aircraft shell hit his plane, damaging one of the engines. The plane made it to occupied France before the propeller came off -- 20,000ft in the air.

The crew survived the crash, but were captured and sent to a prison camp.

Mr Hickton recalls harrowing conditions.

"When I did solitary confinement I was 72kg, and when I came out after 60 days, I was 42kg."

He escaped by wading through rat-infested sewerage.

He made it back to Britain with the help of the resistance and Nancy Wake, the famous White Mouse.

Mr Hickton says he doesn't regret what he's been through.

"It was something to do for freedom, where you can talk to anybody, go out and have a couple of beers. That’s what life is all about."

On April 15, Poppy Day, Mr Hickton can be found at Palmerston North's Pak n Save, supporting the veterans and reflecting on the efforts of New Zealand's service people.

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