John Bell, known as Jack to his friends, joined the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in May 1940.
After undertaking training as a wireless operator/air gunner, Jack embarked for Egypt, arriving in March 1941.
Jack joined No. 216 Squadron, Royal Air Force (RAF), in August 1941 and flew support missions in Libya in the somewhat antiquated Bristol Bombay medium bomber aircraft.
On 23 January 1942, Jack was shot down south of Msus, Libya. His best friend, Tony Carter, was killed in the crash and Jack was severely wounded. He credits his survival to the skills of a Harley Street specialist who was serving in the German Army. The surgeon operated on him in the German field hospital in Antelat.
As a prisoner of war (POW), Jack spent 5 months in hospitals in Libya and Italy. He remembers one particularly kind Italian nurse who dressed his wounds and made him specially stewed quinces to help him keep food down.
During his time as a POW, Jack was transferred to a different camps, including PG 57 near Udine in Northern Italy and Stalag IVB, north-east of Mühlberg in Germany.
Jack recalled his liberation by the Russians as being little different to being imprisoned by the Germans. Given the miserly rations on offer, Jack and 4 mates decided to escape from the camp and headed west to the River Elbe. Helped by Russian soldiers, the men eventually made contact with United States troops and were flown to Brussels. Jack reached England in May 1945.
Returning to civilian life in Australia, Jack worked in the textiles industry until his retirement. Jack is an active member of the RSL and Ex-Prisoners of War & Relatives Association, the Odd Bods UK Association, and the Air Force Association, and serves as Patron of the Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome.