Chester-le-Street Heritage Group
The Early Days.
Vincent "Bush" Parker was born Vincent Wheatley on 11th February, 1918 at 20, Co-operative Street, Chester-le-Street, to Lydia and Vincent Wheatley.
When Vincent's mother died suddenly at the age of 26, he was formally adopted by Lydia's sister Edith who was married to John Parker and hence his name changed to Vincent Parker.
Vincent's new family then emigrated to a new life in Australia, however, upon arrival, it was found that the house and place of work for John Parker had all been destroyed a few days before by a typhoon. John managed to obtain temporary work on the railways, but eventually the family settled in Purono, North Queensland when Edith became Station Mistress.
Vincent was an athletic lad, good at acrobatics and was particularly interested in magic and sleight of hand, something that he would need in the years to come. For a time he was an assistant to a magician called "The Great Levante", from whom he learnt various methods of escapology.
The War Years.
With the outbreak of World War 2, Vincent and a friend decided to join the RAF to become pilots and made their way to England. The idea being that a pilot's licence would provide well paid lucrative work upon their return to Australia.
Vincent now found himself involved in "the Battle of Britain" and was accredited with the downing of at least five German Bombers before unfortunately being shot down himself over the English Channel. After some four hours in the water, Vincent was picked up be a German "E" Boat and held as a prisoner of war in various Stalag Luft Camps, but because he was continuously involved in escape attempts, he was eventually sent to the renowned escape proof Colditz Castle.
While in Colditz, he rubbed shoulders with such notable inmates as Pat Reid (author of "The Colditz Story" later to become a film starring Sir John Mills), Giles Romilly (nephew of Sir Winston Churchill) and of course Douglas Bader, to mention just a few.
Here, Vincent as well as making at least two attempts himself, was involved in most of the other escape attempts, because of his uncanny ability to pick even the hardest lock. Vincent was able to get the other inmates into parts of the castle that the German's thought were totally inaccessible.
Finally, Vincent along with the other POW's held in Colditz, were released by the American's in May 1945. He had served some four years in captivity.
Lydia Wheatley with Vincent on her knee. -
(Photo courtesy the late Eva Wheatley).
Vincent "Bush" Parker
Vincent “Bush” Parker.
After the War
Upon returning to England, Vincent was linked with various RAF camps, eventually ending up at Milfield Airbase in north Northumberland for flight training in the Hawker Tempest V fighter plane. It was while on one of these training flights, that problems occurred and Vincent crashed to his death in a field near Felkington Farm not far from Milfield Airbase, only some eight months after being released from Colditz.
Vincent & Douglas Bader in Colditz.
(Photo courtesy Colin Burgess).
The Crash Site at Felkington Farm - photo CLS Heritage Group
Ironically, nothing was known of Vincent's story until a speculative email was received by Chester-le-Street Heritage Group from an Australian author called Colin Burgess, who had previously written about the prisoners of Colditz and had been intrigued by Vincent's life. However, Colin knew very little about Vincent's early life in Chester-le-Street, but with the aid of research carried out by the Heritage Group, a new book is to be published in late July 2007, that will at last tell the tale of the incredible life of a lad who originated from our town.
As a mark of respect, the Heritage Group is to advocate that the life of Vincent 'Bush' Parker should be recognised in the town as it has been in Australia. In North Queensland Australia, there is a park "Bushy Parker Park" named after him and specially commissioned artwork commemorating his life is permanently on display for all visitors to see.