How captured German airman ended up in south Shropshire pub

The night Jack Sargent of Ludlow captured a German pilot was the stuff of legend – or an episode of Dad's Army.

Hands up! Wartime Home Guard training taking place in south Shropshire.
Hands up! Wartime Home Guard training taking place in south Shropshire.

The story changed every time he told it, but the essence was that the German aircraft came down just south of the town and that the pilot and Jack ended up downing pints at the Wheatsheaf pub.

Gas fitter Jack Sargent was in Ludlow's wartime Home Guard and his story was told in the 1998 book "My Old Man The Gasman" written by son Mike.

One wartime night he returned from duty and told his wife: "We caught a Jerry."

Her reaction was to burst out laughing.

In the book Mike recounts the tale of how his father was armed with a shotgun and on duty with Boneyard Johnson, who was armed with a broomstick, guarding Ashford level crossing south of the town when the plane came down, hitting telephone wires by the side of the railway as it did so.

The pair decided to hide in a barn and await developments, but after a while ventured closer to investigate, and came across the German crewman by the level crossing. Assessing the situation, Boneyard decided he was waiting for a passing train – so he advised Jack to shoot him before he could get on board.

Instead, Jack told him in his local dialect: "You'd better come uth me." However, Boneyard kept poking the prisoner with the broomstick so Jack clouted Boneyard with the stock of his gun, for which he now remembered he had left the cartridges at home.

Boneyard's snapping dog had now joined the fray, and Jack and the prisoner ran off down the lane with the dog in hot pursuit until Boneyard called it off.

When things calmed down, the German handed Jack his Luger pistol which, when he returned home, his wife told him to hand in.

The German prisoner is said to have been downing pints at The Wheatsheaf Inn.

Mike writes: "But dad never gave the gun back. Instead he filled the barrel with lead and kept it in the shed.

"And that was how dad caught the German. But what happened next was even better and a touch of genius on my dad's part because the German was no ordinary German.

"This German had before the war been part of an exchange scheme changing places with a grammar school boy from the other side of Bucknell, who had lived with his family in Germany.

"He told dad this while they smoked beside the level crossing."

They stopped a car and told the driver to take them to the army camp, but he only had enough petrol to get to Ludlow.

"So they got out at the bridge and woke Mrs Rogers up at the Wheatsheaf. I'll never forget what dad said about the German: 'He weren't a bad bloke. He could sink a pint like a good 'un.'"

When the army came to collect the prisoner they had to act sober, and when the army Captain started to "shout his mouth" Bill Rogers threatened to bar him if he didn't shut up.

Mike writes: "I remembered it all, the tale and how it changed every time it was told.

"Once the story was a living thing that faded away when it wasn't told any more. So that after all those years it became a legend to the few people who knew it or had knowledge of it."

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