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Those who Served
Sgt. Richard Henry James Brace . Royal Air Force 99 Squadron from Oldbury-on-Severn )
(d.14 Dec 1939)
Daphne Olga Bradbrook . Land Army from Clacton)
i would like to know if anyone remembers my mother during second world war.Daphne was stationed at boxted nr colchester in the land army.
F/Lt. David Ronald Bradley DFM.. Royal Air Force 35 Squadron from New Maldon, Surrey)
The Pink Tape, by David Bradley
This is a true story of a happening over 50 years ago, and even today I remember it as if it were yesterday.
I dedicate this book to Squadron Leader Wyndham Owen D.F.C. my pilot, who to me was one of the finest pilots of Bomber Command and a man of cool nerve and great courage.
Not forgetting my fellow crew members:
I recall a description of the Crews of Bomber Command as 'Gentlemen of the dusk, minions of the Moon'. They were so young, so brave.
- Flying Officer Jock Cruickshank navigator (killed)
- Flight Sergeant Bill Martin R.C.A.F. Bomb Aimer (killed)
- Flight Sergeant Billy Young mid upper gunner (killed)
- Flight Sergeant Freddie Bourne rear gunner (killed)
- Flight Sergeant Bill Allen D.F.M. flight engineer, my fellow evader (later killed in a Mosquito in 1944).
It was in the May of 1942 that I arrived at No.19 Operational Training Unit, Kinloss, Morayshire, having completed my Wireless Operator/Air Gunner course and sporting the chevrons of Sergeant on each arm. That course had taken place at Eveton on the Moray Firth and upon completion and with brevets awarded, posting to Kinloss followed. I was to form part of a crew that would commence operations with Bomber Command against Germany. I was twenty years of age and fulfilling an ambition to fly against the Germans who had been instrumental in starting this dreadful war against England. Like so many others, I gave not a thought to death or being maimed, it was just a matter of flying against the enemy and having a fairly exciting time. Both my elder brothers, Wilfred and Victor, called to the colours at the outbreak of hostilities, had been in the London Scottish Territorials before the war.
After completing arrival formalities at Kinloss instructions followed to attend a meeting held in a large room adjoining a hanger situated on the edge of the airfield. There were about fifty aircrew already in the room. Pilots, navigators, bomb aimers and air gunners, some already commissioned and the others of Senior NCO status. All were in their early to mid-twenties. Soon small groups of acquaintances formed chatting gaily. The main door opened and the order "Attention" rang out. Into the room stalked a Wing Commander, heavily built with a large black moustache, he also sported pilot's wings and the ribbon of the Distinguished Flying Cross.
"Gentlemen, I am Wing Commander Robinson - officer commanding this training unit. It is my task to group you into crews of six and, when that has happened, you will commence a four week training course. Upon successful completion of that course you will be ready to join an operational squadron. I will state, however, that no crew will leave here until I feel completely satisfied that they fulfill all operational requirements."
"This is just an initial talk to outline what will happen to you at Kinloss. For the first three days you will attend lectures. Following the lectures you will carry out daylight flying for one week and then a period of night flying. This entire course should take about three months, but Bomber Command is short of crews and your training has to be concentrated into a much shorter period."
"The aircraft available to you are ex-operational Whitleys. They are in very short supply and must therefore be treated with respect and not pushed too hard. I shall come down very heavily on any crew member who disregards this warning. You will be pleased to hear however that operational squadrons are now receiving deliveries of Lancasters and Halifaxes. You will not, of course, be able to familiarise yourselves with four-engined bombers until you join such squadrons. In the meanwhile you will learn to operate as crews on the twin-engined machines available."
"It is not my intention to form you into crews myself but rather to let you talk among yourselves and see if you can crew-up without outside help. You have one day in which to complete this very important task and, tomorrow when we meet again, I shall expect to find you seated in groups of six. Thank you Gentlemen."
I looked around the room. There were air gunners and wireless operators that I recognized from the gunnery school, so perhaps, there would be no difficulty in finding one or two to crew-up with, but, that would be only part of the team.
"Excuse me, but I am looking for a WOP/AG, have you crewed-up yet?" I turned to find myself confronted by a tall grey eyed Pilot Officer wearing the wings of a pilot.
"Good morning Sir" I replied, "No, I'm not fixed up yet and was just wondering how to go about it." The pilot held out his hand.
"I'm Wyn Owen by name and, if you are agreeable, that makes two of us with four more to find." Pleased to have found a billet, I immediately agreed.
"I'm David Bradley, do you mind if I call you Wyn?" The pilot smiled,
"That's fine by me David, perhaps we should find out a little more about each other. For my part there is very little to tell. I was at University until war broke out and, although already half way through my studies and twenty years of age, I decided that I would much rather be a pilot. So here I am !" I found myself immediately liking my new found skipper and supplied my own brief history.
"Tell you what Wyn, why don't I try to find some more members over a lunch-time drink in the Sergeant's Mess. I've a pretty good idea who we shall need and, if I'm successful I could bring them back after lunch for you to vet." Wyn thought that this would be a sound way of approaching the matter and set off for lunch leaving me to see what I could do. Leaving for the Mess I caught up with another air gunner by the name of Freddie Bourne who had been with me at the gunnery school.
"Fixed up yet Freddie?" Freddie shook his head.
"No, how about you?" I outlined what had happened so far and explained the arrangement with my new skipper. "Well, how about me then David, can I join?" I already knew Freddie fairly well and quite liked him. He was of slim build, also in his early twenties, engaged to be married and lived on the eastern outskirts of London. I quickly decided,
"It's alright with me Freddie but of course the skipper has the final say." Freddie agreed that of course this was so and was quite happy to wait and see.
"Tell you what David, I met a bomb aimer on the train coming here, a Canadian and quite a likeable type. If we happen to find him in the Mess I'll introduce him and you can see what you think." The bar did not open until mid-day and we sat in the ante-room in parched anticipation. Men passed in and out but no familiar faces until Freddie called out
"Hey Bill, Bill Martin, over here."
"Hello Freddie, nice to see you again, I was beginning to think that I would never see a friendly face among all these strangers." Freddie introduced me and explained that we hoped to be in the same crew. Bill had recently completed his training in Canada and was just off the ship. There was something about his manner that appealed to me and, after all I was looking for a bomb aimer.
"Tell me Bill, have you crewed-up yet ? If not, why not come over and meet the skipper after lunch?" This idea appealed to Bill who suggested that they get better acquainted over a drink at the bar. Having managed to reach the bar through the thirsty crowd we obtained our drinks and settled down to talk about the service and flying.
Time passed quickly and, after lunch, we made our way back to the crewing-up room. There were still many men in the room but they were now in smaller groups. Crewing-up was obviously going ahead successfully. Looking around the room I eventually located Wyn Owen who was standing talking to a Flight Sergeant Air Gunner/Wireless Operator who wore the ribbon of the Distinguished Flying Medal. Indicating that Freddie and Bill should follow, I led the way across to where Wyn was standing.
"Ah, there you are David, this is Flight Sergeant Hoggins, I have asked him to join us as wireless operator." I was completely taken aback, I had expected to fill that position myself. "Flight Sergeant Hoggins has only ten more trips to do to complete his tour. If you have no real objection to flying as mid-upper gunner for our first ten trips, when he has completed his tour you then take over as wireless operator and we get a new gunner for the mid-upper turret." This suggestion was quite reasonable, and I could find no good reason to object, after all, we were getting a seasoned crew member who would obviously be very useful during their 'shaking down' period. Agreeing to this arrangement I introduced Freddie and Bill. While Wyn was talking to the newcomers I got into conversation with the Flight Sergeant who, asking to be called 'Oggie', explained that he had completed fifty bomber trips and would shortly be grounded. Just as 'Oggie' was apologising for taking the wireless operators position Wyn turned back to us and said,
"I'd like you to meet our navigator, Jock Cruickshank". Jock was a short young Sergeant. There was only one member missing, the Flight Engineer and he apparently, would join us at the conversion unit on the squadron.
The weeks that followed passed in lecture rooms and on day and night flying. The crew got on well together and it became obvious that Wyn Owen could handle plane and men equally well. During training the emergency procedures we were taught included parachute drill, crash landing drill and ditching procedures. The course lasted for nine weeks and on the last day the crews gathered for a final talk by Wing Commander Robinson. He was, he said, satisfied with the results attained and wished us all well for the future. In parting he stressed that flying over Germany was not a simple task - the enemy was tough and ruthless. Attacks should be pressed home to the best of our ability and no crew should ever relax until their aircraft was safe back on the ground.
The following day Wyn Owen was able to tell us that after two weeks leave we were to meet up again at Linton-On-Ouse in Yorkshire where we were to join No.35 Squadron. I spent my leave at my parent's home in New Malden, Surrey and, with all my friends away, I quickly became bored. Saying farewell to my parents was not easy, they knew what I was about to do and in those days, losses over Germany were heavy.
Arriving at Linton-On-Ouse to join 35 Squadron and allocated a room in the Sergeants Mess I then made my way to the ante-room where Jock Cruickshank and Freddie Bourne were waiting. Greetings exchanged, each was anxious to be first in telling the others that the station was Halifax equipped. Just as we were enthusing over the four-engined machines a dark haired Sergeant of about twenty-eight approached us and said
"Either of you blokes Jock Cruickshank or David Bradley?" I made the necessary introductions and the newcomer replied "Oh good, I'm Bill Allen, I met Wyn yesterday and he told me to make myself known, I'm to be flight engineer on your crew."
Naturally we spent the remainder of the evening in the Mess bar and gradually the other members of the crew arrived. There were many operational crews in the bar that night and several wore DFM ribbons. From some of these, I learned that we were to begin our conversion onto Halifaxes the very next day.
The conversion to Halifaxes lasted nearly throughout the month of August and the crew became very impressed with the aircraft that was almost twice the size of the Whitleys we had become used to. The first week of conversion consisted mainly of take-offs and landings that became all very monotonous and boring, during the second week however, a little excitement broke the monotony. All aircrews assembled in the briefing room for a very special announcement. Rumour was rife. The squadron was to be posted to the Middle East, from being on night bombing they were to change to special daylight operational duties, and many more. In all, there were about eighteen crews assembled in the briefing room when Wing Commander Marks DFC entered. He was a very impressive handsome man well over six feet tall.
"Please sit Gentlemen. Before I make any announcement I must impress upon you all the importance of what I am about to say, and stress the necessity for complete secrecy. Any person found discussing this matter off the station will be in very serious trouble. Need I say more." There was a complete hush in the room.
"The air war over Germany is gaining momentum and Bomber Command is becoming a very formidable force. Headquarters consider that we are not making the best use of the weapons to hand. Examination of photographs taken on bombing missions reveals that too many bombs fail to hit their targets. To overcome this a special corps d'elite is to be formed and will be known as 'The Pathfinders'."
"This group will consist of four heavy bomber squadrons chosen because of the very high results they have achieved during the past year. It pleases me to say that 35 Squadron is one squadron selected and this is complimentary to those of you who have already flown with the squadron in an operational capacity. The four squadrons will be based approximately fifteen miles north of Cambridge, one unit to an airfield. Group Captain Bennett DSO will be overall commander of this group."
"Every member of every crew will be more highly proficient than the average. On completion of ten trips he will take an examination on his subject and, on passing will be upgraded by one rank. He also will qualify to wear the Pathfinder wings. This emblem will be worn on the left breast pocket lapel, and will be the same eagle worn by officers on their sidecaps and will signify that the wearer is a member of the Pathfinder force."
"The task will be to light up the target area and mark it out by the aid of flares, these flares must be placed accurately as the main force following will rely on them completely. Failure by Pathfinders will cause any mission to be abortive. You now realise how important your new task is to be. Bombs will not be carried, only pyrotechnics. You must realise of course that having to lay out an aiming point in the sky is an extremely hazardous task and will attract that much higher degree of danger." He paused. "On this aspect of extra danger, added to an already dangerous job, I am only calling for volunteers. I want pilots to discuss this with their crews and advise me tomorrow if they wish to be members of this force. Any crew not willing will be posted to another ordinary heavy bomber squadron and shall not be thought of any the lesser. That for the moment is all the news I have for you, except that tonight, there will be no operations. I shall see you here again tomorrow morning at 1000 hours." They all stood to attention as he left the room and, immediately the door closed, the talking began.
"Wyn, do you think that we will be acceptable seeing that we haven't done any ops yet?"
"Well, we haven't put it to the vote yet and there's no point in talking further until we get that settled, so let me have your opinions." All were in favour immediately except 'Oggie', who pondered awhile before answering.
"Well" he said, "I've risked my neck fifty times already so I suppose another ten won't make all that difference to me. O.K., count me in." Wyn smiled.
"Well, as I happen to be keen on it as well, that makes it unanimous and, whether we will be acceptable or not, I'll put it to the Wing Commander at lunchtime and let you know later."
The crew made their way back to the Sergeants Mess discussing this new scheme. Their conversation continued in the bar, right through lunch and well into the afternoon. The over-riding query was - Would we be accepted? The topic finally dropped when Bill and myself went into York for a few pints at Betty's Bar. York was full of aircrew indulging in their favourite pastime of emptying pint glasses.
As instructed the crews assembled again the following morning where Wyn told us that we were acceptable for the Pathfinder force. Wing Commander Marks announced that every crew had volunteered and that the result delighted him. "I did not have all the available details yesterday Gentlemen, but I am now able to confirm one important aspect concerning the number of operations you will do with the Pathfinders. As you are aware, on a normal bomber squadron, you complete thirty operations and then you go on rest for six months. This followed by a further thirty operations after which you retire for good."
"With the Pathfinders the rules will be different. Owing to the very hazardous element involved, and the high degree of efficiency you will need to obtain and maintain, the requirement will be forty-five trips right off and then finish completely." This to me was a reasonable requirement. There would be fifteen fewer trips to do, to allow for the added danger but, of course, no interim rest period. "We shall be moving the squadron to Graveley in exactly two weeks time and, meanwhile, operations will be carried out normally. Please take great heed of my warning over secrecy."
Wyn and the crew flew the training Halifax on short, two to three hourly trips over England and became accustomed to handling the aircraft. Each crew member needed to become fully conversant with the machine and trained how to hold it on course and go through the rudiments of a landing. Wyn insisted on this so that, should anything happen to him, someone would stand a chance of getting the aeroplane down in some sort of fashion.
During the following two weeks the squadron carried out four operations with the loss of two crews. Rarely were losses mentioned as each crew convinced themselves that 'going missing' was something that only happened to others, not to them. Finally the day for moving to Graveley arrived.
Wyn and the crew had 'P' for Peter allocated as our machine. Brand new and our very own. As I remarked to Wyn while admiring the aircraft,
"I don't suppose it will be long before we have some bombs painted on the side of this kite, do you?" I was right, we were scheduled to be on the first operation to be carried out by the squadron from Graveley. Within a week the squadron had settled at our new station. Gravely was a 'satellite' station, its parent being the station at Wyton. It did not have the comfort of Linton, like Wyton built before the war. At Linton the Sergeants living quarters formed part of the main Mess, whereas at Graveley everything was dispersed. The sleeping quarters, sited a quarter of a mile from the main Mess and the briefing room a further half mile on from that. The supply of Royal Air Force bicycles became greatly appreciated by the crews. Naturally, the crews soon explored the area for entertainment. The village of Graveley was very small with a Post Office and one public house called 'The Eight Bells', that was very small with an old stone floor. 'The George' was also soon located, in Huntingdon. Once we found 'The Baron Of Beef' in Cambridge, twelve miles due south, we felt that we had settled in.
While converting to Halifaxes I learned from my parents that both my brothers had applied for, and been accepted, for transfer to the Royal Air Force as bomb aimers. I was not at all happy about this, with three brothers flying with Bomber Command, the odds were that something would happen to at least one of us!
On September 2nd 1942, the tannoy ordered all crews to report to the briefing room at 1000 hours that morning. "This is it!" We said. All the crews assembled well on time, anxious to hear what the target for that night was to be. The Wing Commander entered and instructed a Corporal to draw the curtains; a security measure to ensure that no person outside the building could look in and identify the target for that night. With the curtains drawn and the lights switched on the Meteorological Officer drew aside curtains covering a map of Europe.
"There is a provisional target for tonight Gentlemen, and there it is." He pointed to a spot on the map, "Saarbrucken, Carry on Intelligence." The Intelligence Officer took the stand and said that the industrial area of Saarbrucken was to receive attention. It was an important military target, not bombed for some time.
"The flak defences are heaviest in the eastern part of the area so you will be routed in from a southerly direction. As you can see, the route takes you directly over Norwich and then in a straight line to a point twenty-five miles south of the target area. You then change course in a northerly direction and should be over the target area at 0235 hours. Your flares are to be released at 18,000 feet, set to go off at 1,500 feet. The main bomber stream is timed to arrive exactly three minutes after dropping of the first identification flare. Further details will be given at this afternoon's briefing." Then followed a rather sketchy meteorological report followed by short talks by the leading Gunnery Officer, Signals Officer and finally the Navigation Officer. Wing Commander Marks stood up.
"Remember Gentlemen, we are still learning methods of lighting up targets and still have a long way to go. 'Accuracy' is the operative word. Under no circumstances drop your flares unless you are absolutely certain that you are over the target area. It is unusual to name the target at the first preliminary briefing but this one has been planned for some time. More details will be available at the briefing this afternoon. Thank you."
"By the way, will Pilot Officer Owen and his crew please remain behind."
"Now, Gentlemen" he began, "This is your first trip and I have given instructions for you not to carry flares on your first operation. You will be with the main bomber stream and carry high explosives. I want you to do the very best you can and may I personally wish you all the best of luck." When the Wing Commander had departed Wyn said
"Well lads, here we go at last" to which we remarked that it was not before time.
Parachutes collected, we rode out to 'P' for Peter to do a quick air test. Sergeant Russell and his ground crew were waiting for us. "Good morning Russ" said Wyn, "How's she looking?"
"Spot on Sir, absolutely in prime condition." Sergeant Russell was proud of the job he was doing. Climbing aboard, each crew member checked his equipment. Engines revved up and 'P' for Peter taxied to the take off point at the beginning of the runway. Standing beside Wyn was Bill Martin the Bomb Aimer. With sufficient height achieved it was his job to pull the throttles back and set the engines at cruising speed. It took both hands of a pilot to hold a Halifax on take off. Wyn checked out every member of the crew and with a "Here we go!" Pushed all four throttles forward, released the brakes and set the aircraft roaring off down the runway.
Once airborne and at 500 feet he ordered "Twenty six fifty," this meant that Bill Martin had to ease back the throttles so that two thousand six hundred and fifty revolutions per minute were showing on the throttle gauges. The aircraft seemed to ease back and settle. After about twenty minutes and with all equipment checked, 'P' for Peter came into land and taxied to her dispersal point. The airfield was a hive of activity, pyrotechnics being taken out to the waiting aircraft and armourers topping up the ammunition for the Browning guns. There were not going to be many crews in Cambridge that night.
The others and I went to the Sergeants Mess for a non-alcoholic lunch and. We were not due to report for briefing until about one and a half hours before take off, so decided to spend the afternoon in our quarters. Only Jock, as navigator needed to attend the afternoon briefing with Wyn. Our sleeping quarters were in a large hut that we shared with the non-commissioned crews of two other aircraft. I kicked my boots off, lit a cigarette and stretched out on the bed. Turning onto my side I faced Bill Allen on the next bed. "Well, this is it Bill, our first operation at last, how do you feel about it now?"
"Bloody well scared," was the short reply.
"Quite frankly, so do I, here we are after all these months of training, ready for 'the off'."
Bill grunted, "Well, no good brooding over it, I'm going to try to get some sleep." He pulled a blanket over himself, settled down and I did not bother him further. He was the only married man in the crew Stubbing out my cigarette, I lay back, thoughts drifting through my mind. How would we make out on this first operation? Would we be hit by flak? Would we be attacked by a night fighter? Would we get back to base? Forcing these fears from my mind I eventually slipped into a fitful sleep. Waking around tea-time, I quickly washed and made my way to the Mess. It was a late summer's day, the trees just taking on early autumn tints, it just didn't seem possible that there was so much killing going on not so far away and, indeed over this beautiful country. In the Mess, I met Jock.
"From what I can gather," said Jock, "This target is a fairly easy one compared to some nasties, so I suppose that we should be grateful to get this one as our first operation." Freddie Bourne joined us.
"What time is take- off Jock?"
"Ten minutes past midnight and, if all goes well, we should be back at base about 0500 hours. Last briefing is at 2230." From tea-time until around 2200 hours seemed like an eternity and we spent the time playing cards. 'Oggie' who had joined the card game eventually suggested that we move off to the briefing room. "Come on lads, I know how you feel, it's nearly eighteen months since I did my first trip and was I scared!" Somehow this statement gave the others a little more comfort. At least one of us had been through it many times before and was still around to talk about it.
We cycled to the briefing room and made for our flying kit lockers. "Right" said 'Oggie', "Check everything carefully, parachute pack and harness, Mae Wests, gloves, helmet and flying boots. Take your time, if you hurry it you will be sure to forget something." Thoughts now concentrated on the job in hand, fears temporarily banished. Satisfied that we were equipped we made our way into the briefing room where Wyn awaited us.
"Hello chaps, come and sit over here. Nothing much to worry about, this target is a doddle." As each crew member sat he was issued with pandoras and a purse. Should we be shot down, these were part of the escape equipment. They contained silk maps, compass, a miniature box of matches, water purifying tablets, concentrated food pills and certain quantities of continental currency. The squadron commander entered the room.
"Gentlemen, the operation tonight is definitely on. There was some small doubt this afternoon concerning the weather, but this now has apparently resolved itself. I now want to introduce Group Captain Bennett who, as you know, is overall Pathfinder Commander." A medium built dark haired officer wearing the ribbon of the Distinguished Service Order moved forward.
"Gentlemen, I have not had the pleasure of meeting you before although I have already met the crews of the other three squadrons. Tonight is your first Pathfinder show and I'll say little more at this stage. We will await results and see if this idea is really going to work. I am fully confident that it will. Our reputation stands or falls on the extent of your accuracy. Good luck to you all, and have a good trip." The briefing continued with the latest weather and intelligence reports and finished at 2300 hours. Take off time was to be at ten minutes after midnight.
Assembling our gear, the crews moved outside to await the coaches that would take us to our aircraft. Everyone was heavily laden, especially the navigators with their large green navigator bags and sextants beside their other flying gear. The coaches arrived, crews climbed aboard and were carried away to the awaiting aircraft. We arrived at the aircraft and were met by Sergeant Russell who reported that everything was in order and ready to go.
"Get your gear on board chaps" said Wyn, "Then come outside until ready for take off." Gear stowed aboard, we re-emerged and stood around talking and smoking. The ground crew arrived with tea. I left mine, my stomach not being very receptive. The station commander drove up and chatted briefly with the crews.
"Everything alright Gentlemen?" Yes, everything was alright. "Well, have a good trip chaps and I'll see you when you get back." As Bill Allen remarked, anyone would think that they were going on a bloody trip to Margate. When it was time to get aboard I had great difficulty in climbing into the mid-upper turret. With Mae West and parachute harness worn over a thick Irving type flying jacket, there wasn't very much room. I hoped to hell that I would never have to get out in a hurried exit - I didn't exactly fancy my chances.
Engines burst into life and Wyn commenced his magneto check on all four engines. This completed, he checked out every crew member over the intercom to ensure that we were all plugged in and that there were no faults in the system. Aircraft after aircraft taxied out onto the perimeter track. 'P' for Peter finally reached the end of the runway and awaited take off.
"O.K. chaps, here we go, good luck." Said Wyn. With a roar we hurtled down the runway precisely at the scheduled take-off time. With a full bomb load we climbed slowly until, at 500 feet Wyn gave the order, "Twenty six fifty." Bill Martin eased back the throttles.
"Give me a course please Jock."
"Zero nine eight." As we climbed slowly, lights extinguished, I began to think over all the training I had been through, the people I had met, all leading to this, my first operation. I felt very scared indeed! It was a reasonably clear night with just a few cloudy patches as we crossed the coastline and made our way over the North Sea. Half way across Wyn ordered a brief test of gunfire. Turning the turret to one side, I pressed the trigger. The two Brownings burst into life. Freddie also fired his four Brownings. "Rear gunner reports all guns firing and O.K."
"Mid-upper gunner reports all guns firing and O.K." The smell of cordite was very noticeable.
"We are approaching ten thousand feet, put on oxygen masks now." Masks incorporating microphones were clipped on. "Enemy coast ahead. We should cross it at eleven thousand feet. There is some flak out over on the port side, everyone take a look so that you will recognize it in future."
"Crossing the enemy coast now. Everyone keep their eyes open for night fighters." We had already been warned that the main fighter belt was eight to ten miles inland from the coast. "Levelling off at eighteen thousand now."
We flew on, alone it seemed, with no other aircraft in the enormous black sky. It became very cold and I felt it particularly for, unlike the others in the forward part of the aircraft, I did not have the advantage of heating. There was some consolation in the fact however that Freddie, in the rear turret would be even colder. Poor fellow, out there on a limb, entirely on his own. A change of course was made and we flew on until Bill Allen called out "Target area ahead." In his position on the flight engineers deck just behind the pilot he had the use of the astrodome just above him, and a complete view encompassing three hundred and sixty degrees. Bill Martin went down into the nose to prepare for the run in.
"My God, Wyn, look at those flares and fires below" called out Bill Allen.
"Bill, I can see them very well thank you, now, no unnecessary talk please." Wyn spoke in quietly composed tones. The target had been clearly identified by the flares. Estimated time of arrival over target - one minute. "I'll follow your instructions now Bill" said Wyn. Bill Martin guided us in. Bill Allen reported flak close on the port side. "Target in sight now and bomb door open."
"Bombs gone." The mighty aircraft, relieved of its burden, rose into the air. "Bomb doors closed." As Jock gave Wyn the course for home, we could see Saarbrucken below us clearly lit by numerous fires and by the flares in the sky, now burning out. The target area slowly disappeared behind us, w were on our way home to a warm briefing room, hot tea, a good breakfast and to bed. It was no time to be complacent. "Everybody keep their eyes open, we've still a long way to go and the bastards will be looking for us." Wyn was taking no unnecessary chances. Luck had it that the return journey was completely uneventful. Gradually we lost height and crossed the English coast at seven thousand feet. Hot coffee was handed around and we all felt elated; we were on our way home, the first operation completed. We landed at 0530 hours and taxied to the dispersal point and Sergeant Russell. Engine covers were placed over the nacelles and the crew bus took us back for de-briefing.
Many questions were asked concerning flak, sightings of aircraft, both British and German, and about the weather conditions. All this took about half an hour. The large blackboard that showed landing times of aircraft revealed two blank spaces. De-briefing over, we walked back to the Mess and the eagerly awaited post operational breakfast - bacon and eggs! Everyone who had noticed, thought silently about those two blank spaces on the blackboard. Breakfast over, I and the rest of the crew made our way to our sleeping quarters and, despite the excitement of the first trip, soon fell asleep. To me, it seemed that only minutes later I was awaken by a light shaking of his shoulder.
"Sergeant Bradley" the intruder said, "There are operations today and you have to report to the briefing room at 1100 hours." I sat up and looked around the room. As I had feared, there were six empty beds. They had gone missing. The subject of the vacant beds was not raised as we made our way across to the Mess, although there was a great deal of talk about the previous nights mission. Entering the Mess we noticed a few new crews, all young men like ourselves. From the general talk there seemed to be a bit of a flap on.
A second breakfast was disposed of before reporting to the briefing room. On arrival we were informed that there would be a further operation that night and that aircraft should now be air tested. The air test completed, Bill Allen and myself strolled down to Graveley village and the pub. We both admitted that we had been scared the previous night and Bill stated frankly that he could not see us completing forty-five trips, the law of averages being that, after seven trips you were on borrowed time. Though I tried to reassure him I could not but help feeling disturbed within myself. In my own mind I was sure that all would go well but nevertheless, there were forty-four more dangerous trips to complete! This gave me considerable food for thought on the way back to the airfield. The afternoon preliminary briefing was held and, as soon as Jock returned to the Mess, we collared him.
"Right, where are we going this time?"
"Karlsruhe, and it should be a fairly easy trip. Take off is at approximately 2300 hours." The rest of the day was occupied as before and, as drinking was forbidden, the time dragged by. At briefing we were told that this was to be a maximum effort involving eighteen crews. The previous night mission had been a success and Group Captain Bennett was delighted with the results, This could definitely lead to new bombing tactics.
Once again 'P' for Peter carried high explosive and, although there was little opposition over the target, two aircraft did not return to base. At the end of two weeks, Wyn and the crew had completed seven operations and began to regard ourselves as veterans. Losses continued to occur, even veteran crews. Replacements arrived promptly; new faces and new personalities. Operations were always accepted without much grumbling, but there was always an underlying tension until the target was announced. We all became quickly accustomed to seeing flak and gave it very little thought as we approached the target, although it was so thick at times that passing through it unscathed seemed an impossibility. Often shells burst nearby and shrapnel could be heard hitting the side of the aircraft. When this happened nobody panicked, we were becoming a good crew and worked in complete harmony with each other. On the ground we were inseparable, and this seemed to be general with most crews.
In the early October we took part in a raid on Aachen, a round trip of just under five hours. Over the North Sea we encountered heavy electrical storms and, at times, especially when descending through heavy cloud, it seemed as though the lightning had picked us out for special attention. 'P' for Peter again returned intact but three other crews went missing. We first encountered a German night fighter in the middle of October on an operation over Kiel.
Shortly after setting course from the target, Freddie in the rear turret called out, "Skipper, enemy fighter approaching dead astern." Immediately Wyn took evasive action, throwing the aircraft from side to side. Freddie opened fire with his Brownings and, as the fighter came up on the port side, it opened fire hitting the port outer engine which caught fire. At this stage I commenced firing but neither of us appeared to score any hits. Wyn activated the extinguisher and feathered the propeller, thus adjusting the angle of the blades to cause the minimum amount of drag on the wing. The fire was promptly extinguished and everybody kept a sharp look-out for the rest of the journey The return on three engines took us longer than normal but we landed safely and taxied to where an anxious Russ was waiting. He inspected the damage and told us not to worry as he would have it all ready by the time we returned from leave. Only one crew went missing on this operation.
The following day a maximum effort against Cologne was scheduled and we were asked to delay our leave by one day to take part. Cologne, in the Ruhr, with its heavy concentration of anti-aircraft batteries was not considered a favourite target by the crews. The only thing in its favour was that it was a comparatively short trip of about four hours. Take off was at 1900 hours and we got away on time. Crossing the North Sea our intercommunication failed and we had no alternative but to turn back. This abortive trip lasted just over two hours and did not count as an operation, but nobody was really disappointed at the early return. We hung about the briefing room to welcome back the returning crews and the opinion was that it was a very tough target. Three more crews were missing.
The following day with Bill Allen and Freddie Bourne I travelled down to London on my way to my parents home in New Malden. The leave again was dull, my friends were still away and my brothers still in training to become bomb aimers. There was little to do and even my parents remarked upon my agitation. Being completely bored I returned to Graveley a day early. While I had been away, three more crews had gone missing.
Our tenth operation was over Hamburg, and Oggie's last trip. "Looking forward to it Oggie?" we asked.
"You bet" he replied, "It's getting too hot for me." By this time we were dropping flares and were among the first over the target area. The dropping point identified and marked out, we saw an aircraft coned by about eight searchlights. This was a most unenviable position to be in and the anti-aircraft guns pumped everything they had into the area of coning. The aircraft went up in a ball of flame. An easy return was made from the target and, after de-briefing, Wing Commander Marks approached us.
"Well gentlemen, you have now finished your first ten operations and perhaps in the next day or two you can have your individual tests. On passing you will be qualified to wear the Pathfinder wings." He then congratulated 'Oggie' on completing his second and final tour. The following day 'Oggie' left to go on leave and then on to a training station as an instructor. I did not really envy him as I thought that he would probably miss the excitement of an operational squadron and would have to settle down to a much more disciplined routine.
My new role was that of wireless operator and the thought of being in a warmer part of the aircraft appealed to me, nor would I have to wear the heavy flying jacket and trousers so necessary in the mid-upper turret. Our new gunner was named Bill Young and to avoid confusion with the other two Bills we decided to call him Billy. He was of short stature, came from Bedford and seemed quite a likeable character. He had no operational experience.
Our next target was a surprise, Turin. A complete change from Germany and, apart from a trip of about seven hours, mainly over France, it was regarded as easy. The most eye-catching part of the trip was flying over the Swiss Alps at 16,000 feet with Mount Blanc covered in snow and gleaming in the moonlight. After crossing the Alps we dropped down to 8,000 feet to lay our flares. The opposition was very light indeed and caused us no problems. On this operation Wing Commander Marks and his crew went missing.
The following day we took our Pathfinder tests. The new squadron commander was Wing Commander Robinson from Kinloss. On our twelfth operation we again raided Turin. I was now enjoying being at the radio desk and, when over the target, Wyn allowed me to stand up beside him and get a much better view of what was going on.
Operation thirteen was Turin again. On this particular operation Wing Commander Robinson 'borrowed' a crew from one of the captains. While making the run to lay flares they caught fire and, thinking that they were completely on fire, he gave the crew orders to bale out. This they did. However before the Wing Commander left the aircraft, the fire died out. He climbed back into the pilot's seat and took the aircraft back to base, an incredible achievement as he had to navigate and also, at intervals, change the petrol in the tanks. The skipper of this crew was not very pleased when he learned what had happened to them.
A few days later, I and the others but excluding Billy, were advised that we had passed the tests and were qualified to wear the Pathfinder wings. Also Wyn was promoted to Flying Officer and the Sergeants to Flight Sergeant. Jock Cruickshank applied for a commission.
Back to Germany again and this time Frankfurt. A long flying trip of over six hours and a very tough target. Several aircraft were shot down over the target area. Sometimes news was received of crews that had been reported missing. Some had become prisoners of war and this was a prospect that I dreaded. I felt that I just would not be able to adapt to such an existence. We had recently attended a lecture given by a Flight Lieutenant who had been shot down near the Ruhr and had made his way back to England via France, Spain and Gibralter. From that time on I decided that, should Ie ever be shot down, I would make every endeavour to avoid capture.
Operations followed against Mannheim, Turin and Duisburg. After the Duisburg trip 'P' for Peter had nineteen bombs painted on its fuselage. Christmas 1942 came and went and, due to bad weather conditions there was a lull in operations until the middle of January 1943 when a raid was made on the submarine base at Lorient. Twenty trips had now been completed.
Further operations were carried out against Hamburg, Turin and Lorient. Over Hamburg we were coned by searchlights and the interior of the aircraft was lit up like daylight. After about six minutes of climbing, diving, twisting and turning we managed to escape. On the way back from Turin we were engaged by a night fighter that put out the inner starboard engine before turning away. The damage to the engine caused a loss of fuel and, on making an emergency landing at Beaulieu, only enough petrol for a further five minutes flying remained in the tanks.
We were then taken off operations to adapt ourselves to new radar equipment that had been supplied. At this stage, we also lost 'P' for Peter which was now due for retirement. We had completed twenty-three operations in this aircraft and were sorry to lose her.
On the twenty-seventh of March we were placed back on operations and issued with a new aircraft - 'X' for X-Ray. Two days later we took part in a raid on the 'big one' - Berlin. Take off was at 2330 hours with an all round trip of about seven and a half hours. Over the target it seemed that all hell had been let loose; the flak was devastating! Within two minutes we saw our old friend Sergeant Wilks' aircraft explode in a ball of flame. The two crews had been firm friends for a very long time. They would be sadly missed. There were very heavy losses that night and I myself saw nine aircraft shot out of the sky. Twenty-four operations completed and half way through the tour.
There were no more operations until the fourth of April during which time Jock Cruickshank received his commission and Wing Commander Robinson was awarded a bar to his D.F.C. and promoted to Group Captain. Operations were carried out on Stuttgart and Mannheim and, with twenty-six operations completed, We were regarded as the old lags of the squadron. Wyn was very careful to constantly remind us against complacency; there was still a long way to go.
A few days leave was granted and it was then that I was reunited with my two brothers who were about to commence operations. I was still very unhappy at the thought of three brothers being operational in the same command. My eldest brother, Wilfred, seemed somehow to envy me for the number of operations that I had completed and bemoaned the fact that he had joined what appeared to be, an unhappy crew. This I knew, was a very bad start.
"Look Wilfred, it is very important that you all pull together and set aside your differences; you must act in complete harmony as one unit."
"Yes, I'm aware that this is true David and I suppose that somehow we shall manage to muddle through." This attitude disturbed me to a great degree and it was with some relief that I learned from my other brother, Victor, that he had more confidence in his fellow crew members and was looking forward to commencing operations. For once, I enjoyed my leave with my two brothers and did not return early to the squadron. This was to be the last time that we would all be together.
On return to the squadron I noticed new faces in the Mess and the absence of others. There had been further losses! Despite this reminder of what could lie ahead, I was pleased to be back. This was the life I had chosen and was more exciting than anything I had ever done before. With only another eighteen trips to go nothing could happen to us now - or so I thought. A few days passed without operations and the normal squadron life went its usual way, relax as much as possible during the day with a few drinks in Cambridge of an evening.
Then, one day, the call for all crews to report to the briefing room. The general wish was for a quick one like Lorient so that we could get back into our stride. Anything but that bastard target Berlin. The Skoda Works at Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, had been selected, a long trip of about ten hours. Take off was scheduled for 2120 hours and there would be a full moon, ideal for night fighter pilots. While removing my flying clothes from the locker, I noticed the sealed letter addressed to my parents, this was the last thing I always noticed before closing the door. With any luck it would still be there at the end of the forty-fifth operation. Somehow, on this occasion, I had my doubts. The usual routine was carried out. Coach to the aircraft, best wishes from the C.O., then all aboard. "Good luck Dave" and "See you tomorrow Russ, don't worry, we'll look after your plane for you."
Right on time we climbed away into the clear moonlight. Everyone settled down as normal. The only difference was that we did not like 'X' for X-Ray, it just didn't handle as well as the old machine. Enemy coast crossed and a course for Pilsen set, Wyn levelled off at fourteen thousand feet and engaged the automatic pilot. I pulled aside the curtain from my window, the night was bathed in brilliant moonlight with not a cloud in sight. "Damn that bloody moon," I muttered. France lay below as we flew on. Suddenly, a tremendous explosion. The aircraft bucked high into the air and fire blossomed on the starboard wing.
"I think we have been hit in the starboard outer engine" said Bill in a very calm voice.
"O.K. Bill, I have pressed the extinguisher button," - this from Wyn. Another explosion and the aircraft rolled over and onto its back. "All crew bale out" called Wyn, "We have lost almost the whole of the starboard wing. - Good luck." I had already clipped on my parachute and as dust and dirt fell from the floor, I was pinned in my seat. The aircraft went into a rapid spin and began to drop. There was nothing I could do. "So I'm going to die after all" I thought. As I awaited death the aircraft righted itself and went into a dive. Suddenly Bill was beside me. Pushing aside the navigators seat he wrenched open the escape hatch door in the floor. The cold night air rushed in.
"Quick Dave - out!" Grabbing me by the arm he pushed me through the hatch and followed so quickly himself that we appeared to leave the aircraft pick-a-back. Knowing that a tremendous amount of height had already been lost, I quickly pulled the rip-cord of my parachute. Almost immediately I felt a jolt and, looking up, saw the huge white silken canopy open above me. As the cold air rushed by my face I watched 'X' for X-Ray go into a steeper dive and crash with a tremendous explosion. The ground rushed up. Luckily for me the ground was grassy and relatively soft. I rolled over and over until I thought that I would never stop. When my head stopped spinning, I stood up and unhooked the parachute. Relief flooded through me. I was still alive.
"Is that you Dave?" It was Bill Owen who had landed a short distance away. "You O.K.?" I patted myself gingerly and agreed that I was indeed O.K. There I was, at about eleven in the evening, standing in the middle of a field in German occupied France, having fallen God knows how far through the air, and feeling perfectly and unbelievably calm.
"Look Bill, there is no point in looking for the others, let's get rid of our 'chutes and harness and get the hell out of here as soon as possible." We rolled up our parachutes and hid them under some bushes in a small copse at the edge of the field. Just to make sure that we were not carrying anything that might incriminate us, we emptied our pockets. I found an old railway ticket, and Bill, two letters. These we buried. We were wearing identical uniforms. Battledress, thick roll neck jerseys and flying boots. In addition we had our escape kits. Quickly we agreed to move as fast as possible away from the area, running for twenty paces and then walking twenty. In our estimation, Paris was about twenty miles due West, and there we should be able to obtain help. Remembering points from the escape lecture we set off, keeping clear of roads and into the moonlit French countryside. "God" I thought, "I wonder what lies ahead?"
Keeping mainly to the hedgerows, we walked and ran. We felt quite calm and hardly spoke. There wasn't very much to say. We both knew what we wanted and that was to get as far away as possible from the scene of the crash before dawn broke.
"See that village up ahead Bill, I think that is the best place to head for. We must get under cover shortly and, anyway, I'm just about all in." There was no sign of life as we entered the village. We were walking now at an easy pace keeping close to the walls and buildings. Just ahead, we saw a small church. "How about in there?" I asked. Bill agreed that it seemed the most likely spot and cautiously we entered the graveyard and made for the church door. Gently I turned the handle - it was locked. "Blast! Let's get into that corner of the graveyard out of sight and wait awhile." We made our way quietly to the corner and settled down. Our clothes were soaking wet.
"What do you think happened to the rest of the lads Dave? I didn't see any other parachutes come out of the plane. Billy and Freddie could have baled out because Freddie could turn his rear turret and roll out and Billy could have got out of the entrance door quite easily." This to me, appeared to be a reasonable assumption and I went on to speculate on the chances of Wyn and the others. The early morning chill struck through our wet clothing. The first light of dawn appeared and we began to hear footsteps in the street outside. Hidden as we were by the high churchyard wall, we could not see out into the street, nor could we be seen ourselves. Feeling secure in our present position we dozed off until the sound of a passing vehicle bought us back to reality.
Bill looked at his watch. "Hell Dave, it's nine o'clock." People were now walking and talking in the street. Suddenly an elderly woman appeared on the footpath from the main gate. Slowly she walked, looking neither right nor left until she reached a grave. She stood for a moment looking at the stone oblivious to her surroundings and then knelt down and began to tend the grave. As I spoke French, I decided that I would approach her. Bill crossed his fingers. So as not to alarm her unduly, I approached her in a half circle, the dew covered grass soaking my boots. As I crossed her line of vision she stood up, fear slowly dilating her eyes.
"Good morning Madame, I wonder if you can help me?"
"You are R.A.F." She replied, seemingly horrified.
"Yes, my friend and I were shot down last night and we need help." Quickly for her age, she bent down and started collecting the small tools she had been using. "You must go away from here, there are many Germans stationed in this village. It is very dangerous for you." Hastily she packed away her tools.
"Please, you must help us." I pleaded.
"No, no, there are many, many Germans, I can do nothing for you. I can only promise that I shall not tell anyone that I have seen you." She scurried away leaving me before I could utter another word. Bill was not at all happy.
"She'll shop us, I know it." I thought about this and said, "No, I don't think so, not from the way that she spoke. She was just frightened, that's all." For a while we remained crouching in the corner unsure what to do next. After what appeared to be an age, a figure, who appeared to be the local priest, entered the yard and approached the church door keys in hand. After our recent rebuff, we were reluctant to make a move, although by now, we were both weary and hungry.
"We'll wait a few moments and then go in" I decided. Slowly, we made our way to the now open church door. At first sight the church was empty. "This way Bill, to the vestry." I led the way, gave a gentle tap on the door and, without hesitating, walked in. The priest turned round and looked at me seemingly unperturbed. I cleared my throat nervously. "Good morning Father" I said, "I speak French a little and I will be able to understand you if you speak to me slowly." The priest approached hand outstretched.
"Monsieur, I see that you are both of the R.A.F. and, as you are now in the house of God, for the time being you are safe." Gently, in turn, he embraced both of us. I recounted the happenings of the previous night and told him about the woman in the churchyard. He apparently knew of her and was able to assure us that their was no possibility of her informing the Germans. "However," he said, "It is too dangerous for you to stay here too long, there will be search parties out and I, myself have seen many R.A.F. taken by the Germans in this area. As it is, you are both wet and cold, I will leave you now and lock the door. Within one hour I will return with blankets and food. You may rest here all day but tonight you must depart." He bade us farewell for the moment and went out locking the door behind him. The sun streamed strongly through the heavily leaded windows making the tiny room uncomfortably warm. We two fugitives removed all our clothing and placed them where the sun could dry them.
As promised, within an hour the priest returned, again locking the door behind him. "All is quiet in the village, but please keep your voices down." From one suitcase he provided blankets and from another, bottles of red wine, bread, cheese and cold chicken. "Eat now and rest my children. When I depart I will take all your clothing and dry them at home in front of the fire.
"Thank you Father, you are very kind" I said. The priest departed once more taking our clothing with him. From him we had learned that the village was 'Villiers-au-Tours' and that, when he returned in the evening he would give us directions for our next move. Warmly wrapped in blankets and replete with good food and wine, tiredness soon overcame us. I dozed fitfully, between snatches of sleep I could not help thinking of my parents receiving the telegram telling them that I was missing. Also I thought of other members of the crew and wondered how they had fared. Afternoon turned to evening, evening to dusk. Unable to sleep further, we discussed our chances and agreed that, provided we were careful, there was a good chance of succeeding. Closing the curtains tightly we lit an oil lamp and checked the escape kits. Everything that should be there was, indeed there, much to our delight and surprise. Carefully we examined the silk map of France and found our present location. Paris was, approximately, twenty miles away. We formulated a plan. We would make for Paris and hope to meet the resistance along the way. We would travel by night and sleep by day. We would avoid roads and use fields as much as possible. At the moment we would have the moon to light their way. At almost eleven o'clock the door was again unlocked and we moved quickly behind it. Again it was the priest, this time accompanied by a very much younger man.
"Good evening gentlemen, this is Pierre who has kindly helped me carry these parcels." The parcels contained our clothing, now completely dry. We quickly changed into our uniforms and awaited instructions. The newcomer spoke.
"English gentlemen, the Father here has been of very great assistance to you but, he is an old man and very frightened. There has been a German army search party in the village today but they have now departed. I regret that it is very necessary that you leave here as soon as possible. I have here a bottle of wine for each of you, also cheese and bread. That is all we have been able to manage." I thanked him.
"You both have been very kind and it would be unfair of us to continue to be a danger to you, naturally we shall leave as soon as you wish." I then showed him the map and asked for his suggestions as to our next move. Pierre studied the map intently. Pointing with his finger he said,
"Here is the village of 'La Mal Maison', there is no German garrison there and it is possible that you may be able to meet up with the resistance. Unfortunately I have no contacts in that place." He then requested that we leave at midnight and pleaded that should we be caught, we would not divulge who had helped us. Assuring him that he need have no fears in that direction, we departed with the request that all doors be closed on leaving and them expressing their hopes that all would go well for the rest of the journey. I was never to see them again.
Checking the map we found that 'La Mal Maison' was about nine miles away and we decided to move out at a walking pace in fifteen minutes time. Having rechecked our belongings, at the appointed time we turned out the oil lamp and passed into the church. Before leaving I made my way to the altar and gave thanks to God for having spared our lives and asked for strength to face what may lie ahead. We walked out of the church into a night of uncertainty.
The moon shone brightly and, following the directions given by Pierre, we soon found ourselves out on the country road. As we could see so far ahead we decided against our earlier decision and kept to the road. On and on we walked, stopping for about five minutes at the end of each hour. By four o'clock we were tired, thirsty and hungry. We decided to give it another hour and, if by then we had not reached 'La Mal Maison', we would admit defeat and rest up for the remainder of the day. On we trudged for another hour and, in the first light of dawn, saw a wood about one mile off the road. Crossing two fields we entered the wood and selected a spot where there was a commanding view of the road. Gathering bracken we made makeshift beds, drank some wine and hungrily attacked the bread and cheese. The inner man satisfied, we stretched out and rested. Our rest was shortly disturbed however by the sight of a German troop carrier containing six soldiers moving slowly down the road. It did not stop but it was a disturbing thought that it was the hunter and we the quarry.
There could be no sleep for us for the rest of that day and, with the food demolished, we had to make do with concentrated food tablets. These tablets made us feel as though we had partaken of a substantial meal. We surveyed the situation.
"We'll have to get some help soon Bill" I said, "I feel so bloody tired and stiff." Bill agreed and, while idly viewing the scenery, suddenly was sure that he could see a large village about two miles away. We agreed to move out again at midnight, hide near the village until daylight, and then ask for help. At midnight we moved slowly off in the direction of the village. After about forty-five minutes we reached the outskirts and, just off the road, saw a farmyard with a Dutch barn. Quietly we entered the farm and into the barn. Inside we were delighted to find a large quantity of hay into which we climbed and covered ourselves. The gentle warmth enfolded us and we were soon asleep.
Bill nudged me. "Wake up David, believe it or not we are still alive." I peered out from the hay, it was dawn. "Let's hope it's 'La Mal Maison'" I said. We finished the remainder of the wine. I decided to call at the farmhouse. It was a chance I just had to take.
"If I'm carted off Bill, you are on your own old son." Bill ruefully agreed that this was so and crossed the fingers on both hands. Wearily climbing out of the hay, I crossed the farmyard and up to the house. Gently I knocked on the door. From inside, footsteps approached and the door opened. On the threshold stood a very elderly and obviously surprised man. I hesitated. "Good morning Monsieur, I am an R.A.F. flyer who was shot down two nights ago." It was a brief, bald statement, but I could think of nothing further to say. The man's face lit up with a beaming smile. Very suprisingly flinging his arms around me he said,
"You are among friends dear boy, please do come in." I was led into the farm kitchen where, before a large glowing fire, sat an elderly lady in an upright chair. "This is Madame Pondin" said the man by way of introduction. I offered my hand. Taking my hand, the lady drew me towards her and gently kissed my cheek. "I know that you are Royal Air Force and that God has sent you to the right and safe place; you are amongst friends." I explained that my friend was still in the barn and was promptly sent to fetch him in for something to eat. Bill was greatly relieved that all was well and uncrossed his fingers.
Once back inside the house we were told that there were no Germans in the village and only about once a week did they have a routine army patrol. The Pondins explained that both their sons had been in the French Air Force and were at present undergoing forced labour in Belgium. After a substantial breakfast of hot coffee, white bread and fried eggs we were invited to wash, shave and then sleep for as long as we wished. I had to constantly tell Bill what was being said. We could not believe our good luck Monsieur Pondin explained that they had many friends in the village who would help us on our way, but he could not be sure at that time how long we would be staying before arrangements could be made to move us on. Having washed in warm water we were shown an enormous bed with a large quilt awaiting us. In no time we were fast asleep.
It was dark when I awoke. I gently shook Bill and asked him the time. Bill went to the window to look at his watch. It was ten o'clock at night, we had slept for twelve hours. Deciding that we were hungry, I went downstairs and, hearing voices behind the kitchen door, knocked gently. The door was opened by Monsieur Pondin.
"Good evening David, have you and your friend slept soundly?" I replied that we had indeed and asked for permission for Bill and myself to join them. Permission was readily given and soap, towels and hot water together with new dry clothes were taken up to our room. We were also told that all was well and that there was nothing to worry about. Our uniform pockets had been emptied and the contents were safe downstairs. The uniforms had been burnt during the day. Shortly Madame Pondin arrived carrying a small bottle in which, she explained was a liniment which, when well rubbed in, would ease away any remaining stiffness. She, and her husband then returned downstairs telling us to follow when they were ready. Having washed, rubbed in the liniment and donned the new trousers, shirts and socks, we felt very much better. We went downstairs and entered the kitchen. There were other visitors, two elderly men who were introduced merely as Gavin and Lubeck. As introductions were being made Madame Pondin arrived with food. An enormous omelette, a large dish of mashed potatoes, bread, butter, cheese and wine were placed upon the table. We needed very little urging before heaping our plates. Whilst we were eating, I was asked to recount our story so far. I talked for about an hour without interruption. The story told, Monsieur Pondin said, "You have told that well David, now I will tell you of our plans. Tonight a few trusted friends will join us and we will have a little party to celebrate your arrival. It will make a change for us and I still have some decent Champagne left."
I explained to Bill that there was to be a party with Champagne in our honour and he was delighted, although he was just a little disappointed that no firm details had yet been given for our next move. People started to arrive, they were of various age groups but all pleased at meeting us. Corks popped and the wine flowed, everyone was in a party mood. I needed to frequently lubricate my throat as it was thirsty work talking in French and then repeating everything again in English for Bill's benefit. The party went on gaily until about two in the morning by which time I began, unwillingly, to yawn. Madame Pondin noticed this and suggested that, if we wished, we should retire. With handshakes all round we made our apologies and retired.
When we awoke the next morning the sunshine was streaming through the windows and, to our delight, their stiffness was gone - the liniment had worked. Only problem was - we both had dreadful hangovers! Wincing, I knocked hard on the bedroom floor and, within minutes Madame Pondin arrived with two very large cups of steaming coffee. She tilted her head and eyed us smilingly.
"I imagine your heads are a little sore this morning, yes?" Like two small schoolboys caught committing a minor misdemeanour, we agreed that this was so. She nodded understandingly and told us not to worry, the coffee would soon pick us up. As I said, "She ought to know - she was right about the liniment!" After washing we both went down to a huge 'English' breakfast of bacon, eggs, home made bread and butter. With raging thirsts we drank cup after cup of coffee.
As she cleared up the debris, Madame Pondin warned us only to go outside to the toilet and, on no account, wander about. We continued to sit at the table and talked of our good fortune so far. Suddenly the door burst open and Monsieur Pondin with a man from the previous night's party rushed in.
"Quick David, you and Bill must follow me, we must hide you outside. There is going to be a search of the village." We leapt to our feet and followed him outside. Madame, quick for her years, moved swiftly up the stairs to remove all traces of occupancy from the bedroom. Monsieur Pondin led the way to a large wood about a mile and a half away. For his age he was very agile. We moved well into the trees and to a position where we could keep watch on the road. There we stood, backs bent, hands on knees, panting and coughing. Monsieur Pondin straightened and looked about him.
"You will be safe here, but you may have to stay for a few hours yet. If you have to stay longer I will have food bought to you." He jerked his head in the direction of the village. "Back there the local Gendarme told me that a large German patrol is on its way to search the village, house by house. We will keep a watch on their movements and, if necessary, we will move you again." Cautioning us to stay exactly where we were, he moved off back in the direction of the village.
We sat down, knees drawn up to chins, to watch the road. This we agreed was our first fright since we had arrived in France and that we should get used to the idea that it could happen again. From time to time villagers arrived to keep us company. They told us that the patrol had arrived and were searching the houses for two British airmen. This puzzled me. "Bill, why only two?" Bill shrugged. "The others must have been caught." For the first time I began to have doubts about the safety of the other crew members. Whatever happened, I had no intention of being taken prisoner. The idea of being caged up was abhorrent to me.
It was not until dusk that we were taken back to the village, this time to a house of a man called Derso. We were not to see the Pondins again. Derso spoke very little, but appeared to be full of quick efficiency. He told us to rest well as we were to leave the following morning. In the morning after breakfast, bicycles and two suitcases were produced. The cases contained soap, razors and spare clothing. In addition we still had our pandoras and escape kits. Our only instruction was to take the bicycles and cases and follow our guide. The parting was brief, Derso merely slapped us each on the shoulder and grunted "Bon chance."
For nearly two hours we cycled through the spring sunshine until arriving at a village, German soldiers were strolling about the main street enjoying the spring air. The guide wheeled over to a small house opposite the railway station and dismounted. Beckoning us to follow him, he walked round to the back of the house and in through an open door.
"Monsieur David, you are in good hands, this is the home of Monsieur Constant." Constant was a short man of about forty with very dark hair. His greeting was warm and emotional. Placing his arms about us, tears in his eyes, he said.
"You are very welcome in this house. This village has a German garrison but your safety is guaranteed, you see the German Commandant, Major Uttner, is a friend of mine and often calls here. If he calls I shall introduce you and you will have no need to be nervous, he is anti-hitler and anti-this war." I translated this disturbing statement to Bill and we agreed that there had no choice but to trust our new host. Our stay proved quite enjoyable, we each had our own bedroom and, after breakfast, would sit at the front window and watch the train arrivals and departures. We even formulated nicknames for the German soldiers who regularly passed by. We were pleased to see only army personal and no Gestapo. By this time my French had improved immensely and could understand everything said to me without further clarification.
After only two days, Paul Constant announced that the German Major was to pay a visit. Again he told us not to worry, everything would be alright. We had a good supply of strong French cigarettes and this announcement caused us to smoke incessantly. That evening a chauffeur driven car drew up outside and quite shortly after Paul entered the room with a uniformed German army officer.
"Gentlemen, may I introduce Major von Uttner?" We both stood up. The Major, hat under armpit clicked his heels and said in perfect English,
"Good evening gentlemen, what are your names please?" I introduced myself and Bill as Bradley and Allen. The Major nodded. "Delighted, I know about you both but you have no need to fear me. I believe that it is only a matter of time before that madman Hitler destroys Germany and all of us with it. Please rest assured that your presence here is in no way an embarrassment to me. However, at all times you must avoid the Gestapo. If they catch you in those clothes you will be questioned and shot, so be very careful. It transpired that the Major had been educated in England and had a degree from Oxford. The Major's command of the English language was impeccable and it was a great relief to me not to have to speak French all of the time. As for Bill, he was delighted - at last he had someone to talk to! Red wine was served and von Uttner told us something of his life. He had joined the German army as an Officer Cadet in 1937 and had taken part in the invasion of Poland, from there he had joined the occupation forces in Holland and later, France. He was convinced that Germany should have invaded England after the fall of France when there was virtually no opposition and blamed their failure to do so on Hitler. England would have been beaten but no, Hitler preferred to wait and then made the colossal blunder of invading Russia. Von Uttner confessed to being completely disillusioned about the whole business. He emphasised that he had never committed atrocities nor would he allow troops under his command to do so.
Bill had listened to all of this in complete silence. Then as the Major prepared to enlarge on military conduct in general, he leaned forward and said, "Maybe so, Major but how would you have behaved awhile back had you been in an occupation army in England?" The Major's faced flushed and he stood as though to leave.
"I am an aristocrat and an officer of the German army. My behaviour would always have been that of a gentleman." I stepped in to defuse this new situation.
"Major, I accept all that you say" I said, "Now may we please discuss with you our present situation?" The Major refused to be drawn although he did resume his seat. He stated emphatically that he could be of no assistance but reassured us that their meeting with him would have no effect on our future safety. He wished us the best of luck and quickly reminded us never to mention the fact that they had met. From that moment the war was quickly forgotten and, as the wine flowed, conversation turned to other topics. The Major finally bade us farewell in the early hours of the morning.
The following day Paul told us that he had to go out to keep an appointment. After he had left and having nothing better to do, we took up their regular vigil at the window and watched the world, and the trains, go by. Shortly before mid-day, Paul returned and told us to pack at once as he was going to take us by bus to Laon.
"On the bus I will pay your fares but do not speak to me. If, for any reason the bus is stopped, do not ask questions, just ignore me. When we arrive in Laon follow me at a close distance and I shall lead you to a doorway. Once there, go in and up the stairs. At the top of the stairs you will find a door marked 'B'. Knock on the door and someone will let you in. I shall bid you farewell here and wish you good luck on your journey to England. When you are there, please tell them how we are trying to help." Swiftly we packed our meagre belongings and returned to Paul who gave us a final embrace, again with tears in his eyes.
Past the station we walked, Paul slightly ahead, until coming upon a stationary single decker bus. We entered, sat down and pretended to sleep. The road was bumpy and the journey seemed endless. Eventually we entered the outskirts of what seemed to be a sizeable town. Everywhere there were German troops and it looked as though it might be a garrison town. The bus stopped and Paul rose from his seat, myself and Bill quickly behind him. After a short walk we came to a building and a doorway at which Paul stopped. We knew that there would be no further farewells. Paul just smiled, nodded, and walked away.
Bill led the way in and up a rickety stairway. At the top was a door marked 'B'. He tapped quietly on the door. No answer. He tapped again. No answer. We felt an icy feeling of fear; supposing no one answered, what would we do here in a foreign town with no friends or contacts and no papers. There was nothing to do but wait. Just as I was going to speak, the door slowly opened and a disembodied voice from within said in English, "Enter". Slowly we edged into a sparsely furnished room equipped with only a table, four chairs and a threadbare carpet. A middle aged man stood holding the door handle with one hand and a revolver in the other. He closed the door quietly and addressed us in halting English.
"Your names please?"
"David Bradley and Bill Allen. Who are you?" He gave a gesture of impatience.
"I am asking the questions, give me the name of the man who bought you here?"
"Paul." "What was the name of the village before you came to Paul?"
"La Mal Maison."
He smiled and placed the revolver in his pocket. "My greetings to you both. Just call me Seraglio. Please excuse my bad manners but we have to be very careful. You will eat here now and later you will be taken by car to another place. We must keep you moving all the time. Ask no questions, just do as I tell you and you will be safe. Now please sit at the table." Food and wine was produced from another room. A sparse meal of coarse bread, cheese and raw eggs, which we sucked. At least there was no shortage of wine and emptied glasses were constantly replenished. Seraglio explained. "Someone will be calling for you quite soon, his name is Manser and is quite privileged, many think that he is a collaborator but he is one of us. He does not speak English. His car will not be stopped as he has a special pass issued by the occupation authority." We were beginning to accept the situation. We were to be constantly on the move and in the hands of strangers on whom we would have to rely completely, even with our lives. Although there was constant danger, it had an added spice of excitement.
There was a knock on the door. "Who is it?" Called Seraglio. "Manser" came the equally short reply. Seraglio opened the door. There entered a short squat man aged about sixty who greeted Seraglio but only nodded at us. There was a rapid exchange of dialogue over a glass of wine. Glasses drained, Seraglio turned to us and, with a pat on the shoulder, bade us farewell. Down the rickety stairs again and into the back of a battered Renault parked outside.
No one spoke as we left the town and entered the countryside. Manser was quite relaxed and smoked incessantly. Suddenly, he peered ahead and started to slow down. Turning his head slightly he told us in French to get onto the floor as low as we could. There was a German staff car stationary just up ahead. We both lay flat on the floor our hearts thudding. The car stopped, the engine was switched off and Manser got out and walked away. Shortly, in the distance, we could hear the murmur of voices. Footsteps approached and we tried to get even lower on the floor. There was a squeal as the boot lid was opened and the sound of something being moved. Footsteps moved away again. We crouched on the floor for another fifteen minutes listening to the sound of voices in the near distance. Then the sound of footsteps approaching again, a thud as something was tossed into the boot and a loud clang as the lid was closed. The driver's door opened and was slammed shut, the engine started and we moved away.
After a few moments Manser started laughing. "Alright you two, you can get up now, that was the local German Commandant's car, he wanted to borrow a tyre pump, that was all. Were you frightened?" We agreed that we had been very frightened indeed. Manser laughed again. "Never mind, I'm sure that there will be other instances of that nature before you reach England." We drove on in silence, then Manser said, "We will shortly arrive at a small railway station where you will catch a train. I will obtain your tickets and you will be led onto the train by a woman wearing a red hat. Sit in the same compartment but do not speak to her. When she leaves the train just follow her, that is all you have to do."
At the station Manser left us for a few moments and then returned with our tickets which he gave to us individually. On the platform there stood a young woman wearing a red hat, Manser nodded in her direction and with a "Bon chance" was gone. During the twenty minutes we waited on the platform the woman never looked at us once. Eventually the train pulled in and I glanced at my ticket. It said Rheims. 'Red Hat' entered the last carriage and sat down in a corner seat. We entered and sat opposite her but towards the middle of the compartment. We smoked while waiting for the train to leave and I studied our new guide. She was not exactly unattractive but had a scar running down her right cheek that her hair failed to hide. The train moved out and kept stopping at small stations along the way, a few passengers got on and off but there did not appear to be very many people travelling, it now being the middle of the afternoon. At the fifth stop the corridor entrance opened and a tall German officer entered. His uniform was black with silver accoutrements - Gestapo! He sat stiffly upright opposite 'Red Hat'.
I was terrified and hid behind a newspaper that Paul had given me, Bill feigned sleep. The Gestapo officer began to fumble in his pocket until he found a cigarette. Placing this in his mouth he began to fumble again in another pocket, obviously trying to find a light. He looked across at 'Red Hat'.
"Mademoiselle, do you have a match please?"
"No, I'm afraid I do not smoke." He turned to me.
"Monsieur?" I reached into my pocket, "Yes, one moment." I produced the matches and handed them over. The officer took the box, lit the cigarette and returned the matches with muttered thanks. He then stretched out and placed his large black jackboots on the seat alongside 'Red Hat'. I returned the matches to my pocket and pretended to try to sleep. The train continued into the early evening and the Gestapo officer struck up a conversation with 'Red Hat'. When the train reached Rheims the officer stood up and left the compartment without a word. 'Red Hat' also stood up, smiled at me but did not speak. We followed her off the train and past the ticket collector to the station main entrance. Suddenly she stopped and beckoned us. Placing a hand self consciously over the scar on her face she said,
"I am called Rene, although that is not my real name." She pointed, "You see that man over there, his name is Mento, he will look after you now, au revoir and bon chance". The man was standing about twelve feet away. A typical Frenchman, black beret, small black moustache and a pot belly; he was looking towards us and smiling. He beckoned us and we approached him in trepidation. We did not like the look of him at all. As we approached, he turned on his heel and walked out of the station, Bill and myself took up position about twenty paces behind him and looked about us. There was plenty of traffic about which seemed to belie the expected shortage of fuel, although many private cars were gas driven, as the bags on the roofs showed. Single decker buses towed trailers that obviously contained the fuel supply. German troops were all around strolling casually in the manner that soldiers have when bored and out of barracks.
Mento led on at an easy pace, turning away from the main traffic area and into the back streets until he stopped at a rather tatty looking bistro. Beckoning to us, he moved inside and sauntered to a table in the far corner and sat down. On joining him, I asked if I might sit with my back to the wall so that I could watch the entrance. Mento agreed that this was a sensible precaution and changed seats. Introductions were made and Mento outlined the situation.
"There are many German troops in this town but they are well behaved and you have nothing to fear from them. However, watch out for the Gestapo, they are the danger. Some operate in plain clothes but those in uniform are easy to identify with their black uniforms and silver emblems. I translated for Bill's benefit and then, thinking to make things easier on myself, asked Mento if he spoke any English. Mento regretted that he did not. Again Bill remarked to me that he still did not like the look of this fellow and that he was worried. I found that I was forced to agree but again, we had no choice but to trust him. If he informed on us it would just be our bad luck. A man came from behind the counter and whispered in Mento's ear, each hand holding a bottle of wine.
"David, Bill, this is a friend, Georges, he will join us while we drink some wine, after that I must depart," While the wine was being consumed Mento and Georges carried out their conversation with no attempt at lowering their voices. It was obviously a safe place for the room was fairly crowded yet no one looked in our direction. The wine began to ease the tension that I had been feeling and I began to relax and enjoy myself. When the second bottle was finished, Mento and Georges rose to their feet and asked to be excused for about an hour as they had business to discuss upstairs. Another bottle of wine would be provided and we were to remain where we were for the time being. Bill lifted the third bottle and poured generously.
"You know Dave, I'm beginning to enjoy this." He raised his glass high, "Here's to those who have helped us this far - it's even better than Gravely; it's open all afternoon." He sighed and drank deeply. "Look at all these buggers drinking the day away, there must be at least fifteen of them and they're all at it." Now slightly alarmed, I admonished Bill to keep his voice down. Several people were looking in our direction. At the next table sat three men, one of whom rose from his chair and approached us. We made ready for flight and eased our chairs away from the table. Our fears were groundless. The man on reaching their table, held out his hand and said:
"Hello there, I know that you are both R.A.F., my name is Raoul. We are all friends here, join us at our table for a drink, don't worry about Georges and Mento, we are all in the same movement." By now the others at the adjoining table were standing up in welcome and we were steered towards them. Introductions were made and Raoul decided that enough cheap wine had been drunk and that a good cognac was now called for. As Raoul was the only one who spoke English, he and Bill soon got into conversation. I was delighted to hear from the others that already about thirteen or fourteen R.A.F. escapees had passed through this bistro in the past year. We were now in the hands of an experienced escape movement such as we had heard about from lectures at home. Mento returned with Georges, telling us that he now had to leave, wishing us the best of luck and reminding us once again to avoid the Gestapo at all costs.
Georges told us that we were to stay the night and depart the following day. More cognac was poured and a large meal served with still more wine. Our French friends seemed elated at our presence and asked many questions about Bomber Command and the Free French movement in England. By this time the cognac, wine and food were taking their toll and we both began to show signs of needing to retire. Georges noticed this and suggested that we go upstairs for a rest. He led the way up two flights of stairs to a well appointed bedroom and showed us the bathroom and toilet. We were to wash if we wished, then rest. He would call us later. Without bothering about washing we collapsed onto the twin beds and into oblivion.
I was dragged from a heavy cognac and wine induced sleep by Georges shaking my shoulder. I rubbed my eyes and shook my head painfully. I felt terrible. Georges produced remedial hot black coffee and suggested that, as soon as we felt able, we should dress and go downstairs where he would be waiting for us. I shook Bill gently. He groaned and blearily opened his eyes. He also felt terrible and said so in no uncertain tone, telling me exactly where I could go. Slowly we drank the scalding hot coffee, then washed and dressed. Taking stock, we both had two spare shirts, three spare pairs of socks, one spare set of underwear, razor, towel and soap. We were not too badly equipped. Our suits were presentable and our outward appearance would not draw attention. Our escape kits were still intact and we each had about the equivalent of ten pounds in French francs. Feeling that things could be much worse, we descended the stairs and rejoined Georges at a table in the bistro. Georges inquired politely about our state of health and, on being assured that we were still alive - just, produced a bottle of wine.
"Here we go again" said Bill raising his glass, "Just think, we are still being paid for doing this." The bistro kept open late and we sat smoking and drinking. The regular customers all seemed to know who the newcomers were but made little or no comment. Another meal was provided that helped soak up the wine and I again felt safe and relaxed. At one stage, two German soldiers arrived and partook of a meal. I must have looked concerned, for Georges told me not to worry about them, many German soldiers had meals there and were always perfectly well behaved. In the early hours we retired and slept soundly.
Breakfast was typically French with hot rolls, butter and coffee. Georges suggested that wey should take the opportunity of having a hot bath, there would be plenty of hot water and who could tell when we would get the next chance. He then gave us the news that we had been waiting for. At about two o'clock that day we would be leaving for Paris. After our baths we could sit outside the bistro until mid-day when lunch would be served. We were delighted at the thought of moving to Paris, it was nearer to home and the chances of being spotted in a large city were less. Or so we thought.
Refreshed after a hot bath, we sat at a table outside the bistro, drinking coffee in the warm sunshine and watching the passers-by. Once, during the morning, three German soldiers sat down at the table next to us and ordered wine. One of them put a cigarette in his mouth and looked around for a match. I, who was smoking, decided to take the initiative. Looking straight at the soldier I said,
"Allumette Monsieur?" The German nodded, I rose, struck a match, and lit the man's cigarette. I felt quite calm and cocky about this and would have liked to have engaged the soldier in conversation, instead, I returned to my seat and picked up my newspaper. Over the top I winked at Bill and then continued reading. Bill leaned forward,
"Cheeky bastard aren't you" he said in a low voice. I grinned. After the soldiers had gone, I told Georges about the German and the match.
"That is good David, that sort of action will give you more confidence. After all, your French is good, and as they are foreigners themselves, they will not notice your slight accent." A substantial lunch of soup, chicken, potatoes and mixed vegetables was served - a meal that, in England, would be considered a Sunday luxury meal, yet this was wartime occupied France. When the meal was finished, Georges asked us to return to our room as someone would shortly call to collect us.
Shortly after two o'clock there was a knock on our door and Georges entered accompanied by a short, middle aged woman with Eton cropped hair. She walked briskly forward, hands outstretched. Taking us each by the hand she said:
"Good afternoon gentlemen, my name is Leslie and you are going with me to Paris today. There will be no trouble along the way, so don't worry. It is my responsibility to see that you get to England safely." She spoke in rapid perfect English. I introduced myself and Bill and, after a few pleasantries Leslie said that we must be on our way. Although she had asked Georges for the bill, he had refused saying that he had enjoyed our company and was very sorry to see us leave. Taking our cases, we followed our new guide downstairs where Georges was waiting, visibly moved to tears.
"My friends, you are both very brave men, go now, but please come and see me when the war is over." We both felt an emotional tightening of our throats and made our farewells before it showed. In contrast to our previous walks, this time Leslie walked between us. She told us that we would be travelling first class and must speak to no one, not even her. We were to treat her as a complete stranger and just follow where she led. The journey was completely uneventful although with many stops. Then, in the evening, the Eiffel Tower appeared in the distance. I had read much about Paris but had never before had the chance of a visit. I most certainly never expected to arrive there under such strange circumstances.
On alighting from the train, we carried out the usual routine with Leslie now walking a few paces ahead. We followed her through the ticket barrier and down into the metro. There were German troops everywhere as was only to be expected at a busy main line station and everywhere was the hustle of civilization and the big city. At the Metro office Leslie bought tickets and led us onto a platform where a train was just gliding in. The doors rattled open and we followed her in, sitting directly opposite from where we could see her easily. The train made many stops, then, as it slowed on the approach to another station, Leslie got up and gave a slight nod. As we pulled in alongside the platform, I noticed the sign - Montmartre. Out again we entered a large square, not unlike Eaton Square in London. From there we walked for about ten minutes until coming to a small block of flats, Leslie entered with myself and Bill close behind. Not a word was spoken as we made our way up a flight of stairs to the first floor and it was not until she finally inserted her key in a door that she spoke to bid us enter. Inside the flat she smiled and said,
"That wasn't too bad, was it?" We agreed that it had been quite a pleasant journey. "Now you must meet the Countess." She led us along a narrow hallway and into a very elegantly furnished lounge. There, before the fireplace, stood a beautifully dressed, smiling woman of about fifty years of age. Leslie made the introductions. "Mimi, this is David and this is Bill, please meet the Countess de Bizien." In perfect English the Countess bade us welcome and told us that we would be completely safe at her flat. On being told by Leslie that I spoke very good French, she insisted that, in future, we would converse in French only as it was necessary that my French be as perfect as possible so as to avoid trouble.
Over cognac it was again required that I recount our activities in France and when I mentioned Major von Uttner, I was surprised to learn that Mimi knew of him. He had, apparently, been of some assistance to the movement from time to time and was considered a very brave man. She told us that, although we would not be able to leave the flat, we would be made as comfortable as possible during our stay. Mimi showed us to a luxuriously furnished bedroom and stated that we were expected to join her for dinner in twenty minutes. We were in raptures over being landed in such wonderful and luxurious surroundings, but, even so, we still looked forward to news of our next move.
Dinner was a meal to remember with Mimi an excellent hostess. During the meal she explained that she had many influential friends among the civil authorities and some good contacts within the German army. Again she stressed the need for me to perfect my French and that she had decided that I would have four hours study each day, two hours of a morning and two in the afternoon. It was her intention to give me a Parisian accent. Bill was to get off more lightly, there were plenty of English books for him to read. On bidding us goodnight the countess said: "Tomorrow I hope that you will be able to meet a senior English Air Force officer, but now, you must be very tired and probably should like to retire. Tomorrow you will have your first French lesson David and I am looking forward to it. In the morning, my maid Tiana, will bring you breakfast, do not worry about her, she is to be trusted."
That night we slept very well and did not wake until nearly ten the following morning. Tiana arrived with breakfast. She was very pretty, courteous and always smiling. She was also only about sixteen years of age. At eleven o'clock the Countess set to work on improving my French. She made me repeat words constantly until she was satisfied. I found it very taxing, but I had no choice. Luckily, the senior Air Force officer was due to call that afternoon and I greeted with glee the announcement that in view of this, the afternoon's lessons would be cancelled. My face fell when told that they would take place in the evening instead.
Leslie arrived shortly after lunch accompanied by a man aged about thirty-five. He was tall with a dark moustache and I recognized him immediately. It was Group Captain Whitley, former station commander of Linton-On-Ouse, our first operational station in Yorkshire. I introduced myself and Bill and the Group Captain said how pleased he was to meet a couple of Englishmen again. Apparently he was expecting to be on the move himself very shortly and was quite confident of getting to England safely. His stay was unfortunately short and I expected recommencement of lessons at any moment.
The stay at the flat was very pleasant and lasted for three weeks, during which time the Countess pursued me through my French lessons relentlessly. However she appeared to be pleased with the progress made. One day Leslie arrived to escort us to our new hide-out. Very sad farewells were made with the Countess and we were reluctant to leave her. Fate was to have it however that she and I were to meet again.
Leslie led the way to a street called the Boulevard Haussmann and to another apartment owned by a Dr Tinel. The doctor and his wife had a son Paul, who spoke English well and was aged about twenty-five. Boulevard Haussmann was a main street leading up the Arc de Triomphe and, from the windows, we were able to observe many different army groups marching to and fro. Paul was able to explain the difference in uniforms and rank badges. Any and all information could be useful. False papers had to be arranged for us. First a photographer arrived and took the necessary photographs, then, four days later, a young woman named Platisse called and explained at great length what the different papers were for. If we were asked to produce them it would be best that we hand them over and say as little as possible. When everything was completely understood she left to have a word with Madame Tinel. After a few moments she returned and said:
"Your French is very good David and I have suggested to Madame Tinel that you should go out every day into the fresh air and get some exercise. However if you are caught, you must not give any details of those who have helped you. We are all taking a great risk in hiding you."
We were elated at the thought of going out and obtained permission to take our first adventurous steps that very afternoon. To start, we only took a short walk in the immediate vicinity and, by prior arrangement, walked on opposite sides of the street. If one was caught, the other was to move away as quickly as possible. Walking along the Seine bank in the warm sunshine was a delight after being cooped up for so long. I felt certain that, should I be stopped and questioned, there would be no trouble as I knew the details of my papers by heart. If, by chance, it happened to Bill, that would be another matter.
That evening Dr Tinel announced that Paul was to take us out to a bistro as it would be good experience to have German soldiers around us. If we behaved naturally, there should be no trouble. At eight o'clock we set off with Paul to the centre of Paris. There he pointed out the former British Embassy in the Rue Faubourg St. Honore that was now a German officers club. I was disappointed to note that many Germans were accompanied by young French women. Nearly an hour was spent drinking wine in a pleasant little bistro and I began to really enjoy the experience of being a fugitive in an enemy occupied city.
As time went by, we became more adventurous and made longer journeys using the Metro system. We were given a good cash allowance that allowed us to drink copiously and even enjoy some night life. On occasions I spoke to German officers who found nothing suspicious about my accent and, when this happened, I gave silent thanks to the Countess for all the time she had spent giving me lessons.
One evening we returned to the apartment to be told by Madame Tinel that two R.A.F. aircrew had been bought there by Platisse to meet us. They were both Sergeants who had been shot down in their Lancaster near Calais. Their names were Robin and Bernard. Within two hours of baling out they had been collected by the underground movement, which was fortunate, for neither could speak French. They had only been in France for two weeks and said that they were to be collected by a submarine in three days time. This seemed strange to me for, to my certain knowledge, the underground never divulged to those they were helping, what their plans were.
"Any news of your leaving Paris yet David?" Asked Bernard.
"No, Bernard, nothing yet. We are quite happy to leave the arrangements in the hands of those who are helping us, they will tell us what we need to know as and when we need to know it."
"Well I've no doubt that we shall be back in England long before you two, in fact we should be drinking lovely large pints of bitter by the weekend." Bill and myself silently formed the opinion that we did not care very much for this pair, and were not exactly sorry when Platisse said that it was time for them to leave.
It was to be another week before we left Paris and, during that time we were to have our first brush with the Gestapo. We were now using the Metro extensively and had been warned that occasionally, the Gestapo made snap checks at the barriers. In case this should happen, I made a practice of walking ahead of Bill so that if a check was being made, I would try to engage the checker in conversation and thereby, perhaps, allow the next two or three people to pass through without being questioned. One evening as we alighted from our train, we noticed that a check was being carried out at the barrier and papers being shown. I turned back to Bill and said, "Quick, go and hide in the toilet, they won't be here for ever." Bill swung to his left and walked un-hurriedly towards the end of the platform.
At the barrier a uniformed Gestapo officer demanded my papers. Carefully and without haste, he looked at them. After what seemed an age, he carefully refolded them and handed them back apparently satisfied. I made my way outside and moved to a spot a short way from the exit where I could watch for Bill. Twenty minutes went by before the Gestapo appeared, got into their car, and drove away. I waited awhile but there was no sign of Bill and, thinking that perhaps he was still hiding in the toilet, I returned to the station, bought a ticket and went to investigate. The toilet was empty. I called Bill's name but there was no answer - what could possibly have happened to him? There was only one course of action to take. I returned to the Tinel apartment. The news that Bill was missing was received in uneasy silence. All we could do, was wait and hope. A tense and silent two hours passed, then a soft knock at the door. Madame Tinel hesitated; then another soft knock. Madame shrugged and sighed softly before moving to the door. Sliding the bolt aside she opened the door a fraction and peered out. Then another sigh only this time a violent explosion of suppressed breath, the door was opened wide and in walked Bill.
"Where the hell have you been?" I asked.
"Well, when you told me to hide in the toilet, we were obviously overheard by a French chap because, as I walked up the platform, he grabbed hold of my arm and hauled me into another train saying that there were Gestapo in the toilet as well. Anyway, he spoke pretty fair English that was a help, and we got out again at the next station where he paid the excess fare for me and took me for a drink. Then he asked me where I was staying I only told him the name of the road and we parted company about two hundred yards away."
The Tinels were very concerned and asked Bill if he could be absolutely sure that he had not been followed. In this, he was able to reassure them explaining how he had turned down side streets, retraced his steps and crossed and recrossed roads until he was certain that he was not being followed. Dr Tinel felt that perhaps un-necessary risks were being taken and asked us not to use the metro in future. This we agreed to readily, and further excursions were confined to bistros in the immediate area. Many afternoons were spent sitting on the stone balustrade of the Place de la Concorde or walking in the gardens of the Louvre where at one end, was situated German Army Headquarters with its numerous swastika flags billowing in the breeze.
One day news of our impending departure was given by Platisse, we would leave soon and without much warning. This being so we decided to forego further outdoor activities so as to be ready when the summons arrived. Shortly after dinner one evening, Paul rushed in and told us to pack our belongings immediately.
"There has been a sudden change of plan. You are to go on a long train journey and we must get to the station straight away." We packed our meagre belongings swiftly, said grateful thanks and sad farewells to the Tinels and rushed off with Paul to the station. There, Paul pointed to a man on the concourse, "That is Pierre, he has your tickets and will give you further instructions." Then with a "Good luck" he quickly left us.
Our new guide appeared to be in his mid-twenties and was carrying a small suitcase. We approached him and stopped within whispering distance. "Good evening, I am Pierre." He spoke very quietly in hesitant English. "Here are your tickets, we are going to Toulouse. The train is already very crowded and you must stand in the corridor, but do not worry I shall never be far away. Now, follow me and no talking please." We followed him through the ticket barrier and into a carriage near the middle of the train. Every compartment was fully occupied but we managed to find a space at the end of a corridor fairly close to Pierre. After a short wait the train began to move out. We were leaving Paris behind on another stage of our journey.
The corridor was full of people of all ages and even a few German soldiers. We sat on our suitcases close against the wooden partition, so leaving plenty of room for others to pass without complaint. Slowly the train travelled on and, realising that Toulouse was in southern France and that there was a long journey ahead of us, we tried to sleep. On into the night we went, the corridor quiet with people trying to rest. I was awakened by a steady tap on my shoulder, it was Pierre who handed me a small parcel and a bottle of wine. Nodding my thanks to Pierre who silently departed, I opened the package and found some welcome bread and cheese. This we ate, slowly washed down by the coarse wine.
At Orleans the train halted and I peered out through the grimy glass. It was a large station and, to my dismay there were several Gestapo officers to be seen pacing the platform. I nudged Bill in silent warning and jerked my head in the direction of the black clad figures outside. Bill gulped convulsively and nodded his understanding. Harsh voices asking questions and meek voices replying, indicated that a spot check was being carried out in the next carriage. It was obvious that papers were being demanded and soon it would be our turn. There was no escape this time and I became very concerned for Bill's safety.
"Stand close behind me when I show my papers Bill and, whatever you do say nothing." A tall Gestapo officer pushed his way through the door from the next carriage, torch in hand. I was first in line. The German seemed to look straight through me.
"Votre papiers Monsieur," he demanded, hand outstretched. Heart thudding rapidly, I reached into my inner pocket and withdrew them casually. As the papers were taken from me the German raised his other hand and shone his torch full in my face. I blinked rapidly and half turned my head aside. The papers were then thoroughly scrutinised, particularly the photograph. Then came the questions in quick succession.
"Name, age, address, occupation, why are you travelling to Toulouse?" I was able to answer each question in easy fashion. With a satisfied grunt, the German refolded the papers and handed them back. As I returned them to my pocket, in an attempt to hold the Germans attention a little longer, asked if I could now take a stroll on the platform. The officer hesitated and then gave a quick nod in assent, then turned to Bill and held out his hand. I stayed rooted to the spot as Bill handed them over. As he received them, the German checked his wrist-watch and muttered with annoyance. If he had a girlfriend waiting somewhere, it was lucky for Bill, for he merely compared the photograph with Bill's face, refolded the papers, and handed them back without a word. Greatly relieved, we descended onto the platform, leaving our cases in the corridor. Pierre followed us and we stood in a loose group, breathing in the warm night air, too choked to speak. Others, it seemed, were less fortunate, for about thirty to forty people were removed from the train under escort.
After a wait of about an hour, the train and platform officials showed signs of movement, so we reboarded the train and settled down once more. Through the night and into the early dawn we chugged on, stopping only at infrequent intervals. In the early light the countryside paraded its dewy freshness and I had to mentally remind myself that I was still in occupied territory and not to get too complacent. Shortly after ten in the morning Pierre beckoned us into a compartment that, apart from one elderly woman, was now vacant. Placing our cases on the rack we sat down on the hard seats and tried to sleep. The hardness of the seats was relative compared to the night spent sitting on our suitcases and we sighed with contentment. In the late afternoon I awoke to find the old woman gone and Bill and Pierre chatting quietly.
"Ah, you have slept well David?" Pierre enquired. "Good, here is some more food and wine. Now, in about three hours time we will arrive at Toulouse, once there just follow me. We shall walk for about one kilometre to a boat on the river and there you will stay until your next move. You will find it quite pleasant and completely safe."
As we ate our food and drank the wine, Pierre explained the reasons for the check at Orleans. It was apparently the demarcation line between German occupied and Vichy France. All trains passing through were checked but Pierre had purposely not mentioned it as he had not wanted us to be prematurely worried. After the food and drink and further conservation, we all slept until the train eased into, and stopped at, a large station - Toulouse. Carrying our cases, we followed Pierre from the train and through the ticket barrier. There was a complete visual absence of Germans and the cobbled streets were almost silent. We were a little stiff after the nineteen hour train journey and were pleased when we came upon the houseboat lined banks of a river. Pierre searched for and found a houseboat named 'Maison Cher', walked up the gangplank and through a doorway. We were right behind him.
"Pierre" a hearty voice called out. "Henri, bonjour," the two men embraced and pummelled each others shoulders in obvious delight at meeting again. Henri was about sixty, powerfully built, bronzed and with snowy white hair. It did not appear that he was expecting guests as Pierre was talking rapidly and gesturing towards us as though in explanation of their presence. Our new host cut the explanations off with a sharp movement of his hand and approached us beaming broadly. Placing strong muscle corded arms about us, he dug work-hardened fingers into our shoulders and said:
"You stay with Henri, I have plenty good food and much wine. We have plenty good times and, in the evenings we go out and meet my friends. I think you enjoy very much Toulouse." To our great relief, he eased the pressure of his fingers and went on, "Here there is no German garrison, for this part of France is not occupied. However when we go outside we must be careful. We know for a fact that there are plain clothes Gestapo in Toulouse."
Soon we were sitting down to an enormous meal prepared by Henri who gaily filled our glasses almost as soon as there was sufficient room beneath the rim. Pierre, who was to leave the following morning, told us to eat, drink and be merry as he did not know how long we would stay in Toulouse nor where we would be going next. That evening, several of Henri's friends dropped in and a party developed. It was not until after midnight that I felt that I could decently ask to be excused. Henri was full of apologies and showed us to a small cabin with two single bunks. On departing Henri wished us goodnight and said, "As tomorrow is Sunday, I shall go to eight o'clock Mass, when I return we shall have breakfast." Myself, although not a Roman Catholic, thought that I would also like to go to church and said.
"Henri, I am a member of the Church of England but, all the same, would it be alright if I came with you tomorrow morning?" Henri seemed quite pleased at the idea and said that he would call me in good time.
Just after seven the next morning Henri tapped on the cabin door and told me it was time to get up if I still wanted to go to church. I washed and shaved and. Feeling heady from all the wine of the night before, was glad that I did not, at that hour, have to face breakfast. Toilet completed, I joined Henri and we strolled along the peaceful river bank with only the tolling of church bells to break the early morning stillness. Soon we came upon a small church. I explained that I had never been confirmed and had no knowledge of the Roman Catholic order of service. Henri replied that it would be quite alright for me to just sit and, if I wished, pray in my own way.
This was the first time that I had ever been in a Roman Catholic church and was immediately impressed by the magnificent altar. There were only about twenty people in the congregation and the atmosphere was one of complete tranquillity. As soon as the Mass began, I knelt on the stone floor and became completely lost in my own prayers. I thanked God for our safe deliverance and prayed for the safety of the other members of the crew. I also prayed for those still on operations from Graveley. I requested peace of mind for my parents who would be going through mental anguish not knowing whether I were dead or alive. When the Mass was ended, Henri indicated that we should sit and wait. As the congregation departed Henri said:
"Now David, come and meet the priest." He led the way towards the altar where the priest was waiting. Henri and the priest exchanged greetings then Henri said. "Father, this is David, he is of the Royal Air Force and has come a long way. He is on his way back to England and, for the moment, is staying with me." The priest was a small, pale, elderly man with a small white beard. He took my hands and said simply,
"I am Father Gelne." I explained that I was not a Roman Catholic but had come to the church in need of prayer. The priest wished me a safe return home and, placing his hands over my head, gave me his blessing. Touched by the gentleness of the priest and by the tranquillity of the little church, I felt that this was a morning that I would always remember with gratitude for the peace of mind it had bestowed upon me.
Bill was shaving when we arrived back at the houseboat. Henri rummaged through a chest and bought out a pair of woollen swimming trunks.
"David, why not have a swim in the river before breakfast?" He suggested seriously.
I laughed, "Don't you think I have been cleansed enough already by Father Gelne this morning?"
Henri joined in the laughter, "Yes, your soul perhaps, but not your body." The swimming trunks fitted where they touched and I suggested that Bill might also like a dip. To my surprise, Bill told me somewhat touchily that he could not swim. I had been a keen swimmer ever since my school-days and enjoyed the cold, swift moving water. The current was strong and, in a forty yard swim to the opposite bank, found that I had been carried about twenty yards downstream. Back on board, completely refreshed, my taste buds were activated by the delightful aroma of fresh coffee, and sizzling bacon.
Breakfast was excellent. Rashers of crisp bacon, duck eggs, brown bread and butter and coffee. Replete with good food and coffee we took our bedding up on deck to air. Henri was obviously delighted to have company and anticipated our every wish. As he said.
"Why not stay until the war is over?" I sunbathed on deck, still in my swimming trunks until Henri appeared with a welcome suggestion. "I realise that, being Sunday, every good Englishman goes out for a mid-day drink, so off you go David and change out of those trunks. Lunch is already prepared and we have time on our hands."
Soon we were walking along the river bank towards a small bistro. As we went in Bill remarked, "Here we go, we're at it again." I reminded him to keep his voice down. The wine began to flow and many people were introduced to us. So much cognac was sent over to that we began to feel like guests of honour. Bill, who was thoroughly enjoying himself once again, remarked that he intended to make the most of it as he was sure that rough times were ahead. He was to remember those words. The wine and cognac had made itself felt, we literally staggered back to the houseboat. Just before reaching the boat Bill bent to pick up a stone to throw into the river. As he stood up he staggered back a few paces and disappeared over the bank.
"Henri, quick, he can't swim." I was panic stricken. Henri was doubled up laughing.
"Don't worry David, the water is very shallow here." We looked over the bank. Bill was sitting in water up to his waist and enjoying every moment of it. His attempts to climb back up had us convulsed with laughter. He'd get halfway up the bank before losing balance and tumbling back into the water. At one time he nearly made it but slipped and slid belly downwards into the water again. This went on for about twenty minutes and Henri and myself, legs dangling over the bank, were weak with laughter. Suddenly we heard a sharp voice from behind us.
"Henri, what is going on here?" It was a gendarme. The smile froze on my face.
"Ah, Marcel" said Henri, tears of merriment brimming his eyes. "Come and meet my friends." Introductions were made and the gendarme decided that the circus did not come to town every day and sat down to enjoy the fun. Marcel had a big fat stomach that shook like a jelly every time he laughed. His stomach got much exercise that afternoon while he watched Bill performing. Finally the joke wore a little thin and we helped Bill out. Marcel joined up with us and we returned to the houseboat for a much needed drink. Marcel proved to be a good companion and drank more than his share of the wine that Henri provided. He had no liking for the Vichy government and was prepared to help the allied cause whenever he got the opportunity. He was delighted to be asked to stay for a meal and did not depart until the early evening.
Later that evening I asked Henri for a map of France and, when this was provided, asked if he had any idea where we might be taken next. Henri pondered the question and decided that we might end up at St. Jean de Luz which was a town on the west coast and just inside France. Apparently the previous three escapees through Toulouse had gone there, but there were many routes over the border into Spain and it just happened that St. Jean de Luz was the easiest.
"The most difficult route is through Andorra in the middle of the Pyrenees" said Henri. He pointed to the neutral state on the map that was about the size of the Isle of Wight and governed jointly by France and Spain. It appeared to be surrounded by tall mountains. Later, in retrospect, I was to consider that of all the places in which we were given refuge, the houseboat 'Maison Cher' was by far the happiest. The food was excellent and Henri was such wonderful company. Also it was the only place that allowed a swim before breakfast. The weather was idyllic with beautiful sunshine every day and I was able to cultivate a lovely tan.
All too soon the sojourn in Toulouse came to an end. Returning from a shopping trip at the market, Henri announced that we were to leave on the following day. He did not know who would collect us but whoever it was would arrive around mid-day. He made this statement sadly and it was obvious that he did not want us to go. We were very depressed at the thought of leaving, although it meant a step nearer home. Henri was such a wonderful character.
The following morning, shortly after breakfast, a middle aged man arrived on board. He introduced himself as Maurice and said that he was to take us on the next part of our journey. Henri appeared and greeted Maurice and we all went below. Conversation in rapid French then took place between the two Frenchmen and then Maurice said in English, "I am aware of everything that has happened to you since you were shot down. You have travelled a long way but I must warn you that, despite the absence of German troops in this part of France, the next few days are going to be most dangerous for you both."
"Today we will travel by train to Foix and should arrive there by six in the evening. There I shall hand you over to a Spaniard who will lead you into the mountains. There may be others with you, I do not know. I do know however that the mountains are difficult to climb and I must obtain boots for you both. At all times you will have to keep pace with your guide for, if you fall behind, he will not wait for you. Eventually you will reach Andorra but, after that I have no idea where you will go."
"Remember, you must do exactly as you are told without question. Do you understand?" We assured Maurice that we understood completely. He nodded in satisfaction and proceeded to measure our feet for climbing boots. Having obtained the required measurements he departed saying that he would return shortly. Henri explained that he himself had once been to Andorra and that it was a very difficult climb indeed. Luckily we were in very good health and would need to be if we were to make it. In a short while Maurice returned and took from his haversack two pairs of heavy well made boots. They were a perfect fit and he told us to pack the boots in our cases and not wear them until told to do so. He suggested that if Henri could provide an early meal we would depart shortly after mid-day. This Henri was able to do and the meal was consumed in almost total silence. The time to depart came all too soon and we were near to tears as we said our goodbyes. Henri stood on the deck as we walked away and he was still waving when we turned away from the river, his white hair blowing in the breeze.
Through the cobbled streets we walked following Maurice until finally, we arrived at the railway station. There he bought tickets and sat on a long bench, beckoning us to join him. He handed us our tickets and said that there would be plenty of room on the train. We would board the train in about ten minutes and he would sit in the next compartment to us. The station was very quiet with hardly anyone about. Maurice stood up and walked towards the ticket barrier. As he passed through we stood up and followed with our suitcases that were now heavier with the added weight of the boots.
A train was standing at the platform so, following Maurice, we climbed aboard and settled into a compartment by ourselves. The train moved out travelling in a southerly direction making several and frequent stops. Very few people appeared to be travelling. About four in the afternoon I noticed a range of mountains - the Pyrenees. Both Bill and myself were awed by the great mass and size. We remembered Henri's words. As we were gazing out of the window the compartment door opened to reveal a gendarme.
"Papiers s'il vous plait" he demanded in an accent that I could not identify. I handed over my papers and started to engage him in conversation hoping to distract his attention away from Bill.
"What time do we arrive in Foix?" I asked.
"About half past six" was the reply. "You do not come from this part of France Monsieur" he continued more as a statement rather than a question.
"No, I come from Paris" I said. The gendarme nodded wisely,
"Ah yes, I recognize the accent now." He turned to Bill and asked for his papers. As Bill handed them over I spoke again.
"Is the weather always like this down here?" The gendarme said that it was, at least up to September. He turned his attention to Bill.
"Do you go to Foix Monsieur?" Bill must have guessed the question for he merely glanced up and said "Oui." The gendarme departed. I looked at Bill in amazement.
"How the hell did you know what he was asking?" Bill grinned,
"I didn't, but he mentioned Foix so I guessed he was asking if that was where I was getting off." He grinned again, "And I was right, wasn't I?" He asked cockily.
"O.K., but supposing he had asked you something to which the answer should have been non, what then?"
"Well he didn't, and if he had I expect you would have found a way out of it." I considered that we had just had a narrow escape and hoped that no one would address a direct question to Bill again. The countryside rolled by and the mountains grew nearer. Soon we were in Foix, a town of white buildings and cobbled streets. On leaving the train we followed Maurice to a small hotel where he led us through the main hallway and directly into a ground floor bedroom.
"Wait here a moment" he said, and departed. He returned within minutes accompanied by a tall man with dark hair, greying at the temples. "Meet Moulin" he said, "He is the owner of this hotel and does not speak English." He spoke quickly to Moulin and handed over some paper money.
"I regret that there is only this double bed that you will have to share. Moulin will bring us a meal shortly and then I will have to go out again. Stay in this room. Do not go out at all. That is very important." We assured him that we would carry out his instructions implicitly. "I do not know how long you will stay here but, when you leave you will not be able to take any luggage with you. You have a strenuous journey ahead of you and you can do without any unnecessary weight. Your guide will provide you with food along the way. Rest all you can tonight and during the time you have here. You must build up your strength for what lies ahead."
The meal was served by Moulin in an adjacent room and, when it was finished, Maurice departed saying that he would return in about two hours. We returned to our bedroom and took stock of our surroundings. The room was sparsely furnished with the double bed, one chair, a cupboard and a wash-stand that supported a huge bowl and a large jug half filled with water. We sat side by side on the bed and talked over what had happened to us so far and about our hopes for the future. We were getting closer to home but the most difficult part of our journey we still had to face.
As we sat smoking the last packet of Players that Henri had provided, the door burst open to reveal a rather gaunt looking man with a Hitler style moustache. He was wearing an off-white suit and spoke with a northern accent.
"I am an officer of Vichy France. Your presence on the train this afternoon was reported to me by the gendarme who examined your papers. It is my duty to satisfy myself that, being so near the Spanish border, anyone who arrives here has a good reason for doing so. Now, why are you here?" My heart raced. This was totally unexpected.
"We have been working in a factory just outside Paris for the past year and have come for a holiday" I improvised.
"All this way for a holiday Monsieur?" He sneered, "Let me see your papers." I handed over my papers and Bill placed his on the bed beside him. The official examined them closely. Turning to Bill he quickly asked his name. Bill, not knowing what had been asked and unable to reply anyway, remained silent. I was seized with cold panic.
"Why do you not answer?" Asked the official, glaring at Bill. We were trapped. Bill's inability to reply to questions dictated the course to be taken. Attempts at further bluff would be useless. I took a deep breath and replied:
"We are Royal Air Force and are attempting to get into Spain." The gaunt frame stiffened.
"Very well. As an official of the Vichy government it is my duty to inform you that you are both under arrest. You will accompany me to police headquarters." He reached inside his jacket and produced a revolver. I turned to face Bill and said,
"This one is trouble, we'll have to play along awhile and see what happens." The Frenchman rapped out an instruction that only French would be spoken and only to him. Stalling for time, and hoping that Maurice would quickly show up, I said: "Monsieur, we will accompany you and cause no trouble. However, may I wash and, while you wait, please help yourself to one of my cigarettes." I removed the packet of Players from a trouser pocket and handed them over. Opening the packet, the official removed a cigarette, placed it in the corner of his mouth gangsterwise, lit it and inhaled deeply. He exhaled a cloud of smoke in deep satisfaction. I walked to the wash-stand and said to Bill openly, "I'm going to belt him one in a moment, be ready." The Frenchman snarled an order to speak in French. "My apologies Monsieur, I was just telling my friend to make ready to leave." Satisfied the official relaxed, sat on the edge of the bed and studied the glowing tip of his cigarette in deep concentration. Picking up the jug and filling the wash-bowl, I noticed that the wash-stand top was of marble with sharp edges. Having filled the bowl I turned to the official, judging the distance between us, and said, jug in hand: "Do you like English tobacco Monsieur?" The Frenchman took another deep drag and replied that it was excellent. He was completely at ease, while Bill, still tensed up, stood edgily in the corner. If there was to be any chance at all, this was it!
In one swift motion, I turned and violently smashed the jug against the corner of the wash-stand. Then, turning again, I sprang at the startled official, grabbed him by the hair and slashed at his jugular vein with the jagged jug handle. The man fell back on the bed, blood pumping richly from the deep wound. To make doubly sure, Bill grabbed the revolver and smashed the butt into his face. It was all over. Panting with frenzied excitement, I felt the official's pulse - nothing. He was dead.
Bill shuddered and turned away. "God Dave, what a mess!" Gradually regaining control of myself, I studied the limp bloody form.
"Yes, I'm afraid it is. This has really put the cat amongst the pigeons, look at all that blood." Blood was everywhere. On the bed and splattered on both Bill and myself. "Well one thing is certain, we can't just stand here looking at that - give me a hand to push it under the bed." We heaved the corpse onto the floor and slid it out of sight. In mitigation of the act we reassured each other that no other choice had been left open to us. We were now so close to freedom that even murder was justified, after all, people were getting killed all over the place in the name of freedom. I held out my hands, face upwards. "Before I do anything else I must wash this blood from my hands." Bill grimaced, "It's not just your hands, look in the mirror, you look like Count Dracula after a heavy night." Blood had splashed my face as well as my shirt. We both cleaned up as well as we could and tidied the room. The blood soaked quilt was pushed out of sight to join the cadaver under the bed. Lighting cigarettes, we reviewed the situation in the light of recent events. I massaged my face with spread fingers as if to wipe away the memory of the awful deed we had so recently committed. "One thing is certain Bill, we must not be caught now, if we are taken we face a murder charge and, in this country, that means the guillotine!" Bill jerked round, his face filled with horror.
"The guillotine, surely they don't still use that!"
I nodded sadly, "Oh yes they do." Bill stared into space, face ashen.
"Well that's out for a start, the sooner we move the better" he said. The door opened and Maurice came in accompanied by Moulin. He looked cautiously around the room.
"David, where is the policeman who came here?" Moulin overheard the conversation and rushed out to find me. I gestured towards the floor and under the bed. Maurice paled, got onto his knees and took a quick look. As he rose to his feet, Moulin took a look and said:
"Mon Dieu, you must leave here right away, there is not a moment to lose. Change into your boots and leave everything else. I have no doubt that you had to kill him and, luckily I am a friend of the Chief of Police. Perhaps I can square things somehow. Anyway, hurry now." Quickly we changed shoes for heavy boots and removed soap and razors from our suitcases. Equipped now for climbing, Maurice took us to a barn in the corner of a field and told us to keep quiet. "I shall return shortly with your Spanish guide. Now stay here and do not even smoke."
In deathly silence we awaited his return. Maurice returned about an hour later. Outlined by the moonlight doorway we noticed his companion, a man of approximately their own height and build. He had a large pack on his back. "This is Juan, your new guide, he speaks only a little French but I guess you will manage. Go with him now and may God go with you." Juan beckoned us urgently and we followed him onto the roadway.
As we plodded along at a steady pace Juan explained that we would follow the road until about four o'clock in the morning. His French was poor but I was able to understand him well enough. No other human was in sight and we pressed on silently listening to the cicadas shrilling night music. On and on we walked until at about one o'clock we stopped for refreshment. Juan produced a wine filled goatskin container with a fine nozzle. Knowing that, without demonstration, we would make a mess and waste the wine, Juan indicated that we should watch him. Holding the skin high and away from his mouth, he squeezed and sent a fine jet of wine directly into the back of his wide open mouth. Bill tried and got the wine all over his face. I did no better and, laughingly, Juan produced a cup from his haversack for our use. Refreshed by the wine, we rested awhile and then continued on our way. Spurred on by the need to get as far away from Foix as quickly as possible, we gave not a thought to fatigue and were able to walk on quite happily until, in the early dawn, Juan led us down a rough track to a small farmhouse. Leading us into a barn, he said that he would contact the owners as soon as they showed signs of life, which should be about six o'clock. He suggested that we remove our boots and socks and get into the straw and try to sleep. We were to stay there all day and travel again at night. Food would be provided later in the day and it was possible that in the evening, we would be joined by three other fellow travellers. Settled down in the warm straw, we were soon asleep, the terrible events of the previous evening temporarily forgotten.
At about two o'clock in the afternoon I awoke and lay quietly again thinking over the events of the previous day. Although I could not help but feel some remorse over killing another human being in cold blood, I calmed my troubled thoughts by reasoning that I had no real choice. The man was armed, had we overpowered him and rushed out into the streets we may well have been shot. Also we would have lost contact with our guide and could well have been caught. My thoughts were interrupted by Bill stirring and sitting up.
Bill grinned, "Hello you bloody murderer" he said. I flared into sudden anger.
"Cut it out Bill, I didn't exactly enjoy it you know." The grin died on Bill's face. "Sorry David, I was only joking. Really, I don't know what I would have done without you and I shall never forget it." Shamefaced, he turned aside and settled down again. Shortly, Juan appeared with a large towel and our socks that had been washed and dried. Food would soon be ready in the farmhouse but we were not to speak to either himself or the farm owners. The thought of food urged us into spontaneous activity and we went into the yard and washed under the cold water pump.
An old man and woman nodded silent greetings as we entered the farmhouse and soon we were sitting down to a meal of omelette and mashed potatoes, a meal that reminded us sharply of our first days in France. On leaving the farm house and reentering the yard, Juan reminded us that a long arduous climb was ahead and that we should rest as much as possible. This we were glad to do, although sleep eluded us. Around midnight Juan went out and shortly returned with three other people who appeared to be in their late thirties to early forties. None of them spoke English, but one of them who said his name was Andre, said that he and his companions were leaving France to join the Free French movement in England. I explained this to Bill who said:
"Ask them why it's taken them so long to make up their minds. I bet they have been waiting to see which way the wind was blowing." I agreed that this was probably so but decided not to cause animosity at this stage.
We were to move off. Juan spoke slowly in order to be understood. There would be no talking, no smoking, and no drinking water without his permission. We would keep up a steady pace and anyone who fell behind would be left. Those with suitcases were to leave them behind. This bought immediate protests from the newcomers that were quickly countered by Juan with the comment that they could take them if they wished but that they would be on their own. The protests died away and bits and pieces were transferred from cases into pockets.
Off into the night we went, not on roads anymore but across grassy terrain and then rock, always steadily climbing. Without the bright moonlight this would have been most difficult, if not downright impossible. Bill and myself kept close up with Juan. On and on we trudged to the sound of the cicadas until about two in the morning when Juan announced a rest and refreshment. Out came the goatskin bag and cup, we drank the wine gratefully. As the Frenchmen drank their share, Andre complained that his feet were hurting after the walk over rocks. I looked down and saw that he was wearing only light shoes and pointed this out to Juan. The guide nodded.
"He and the others will suffer before we are finished. They should have strong boots like you and Bill. It is unfortunate but, if they cannot keep up, they will be left behind." Onwards and ever upwards we climbed, constantly over rock. Despite the cold night air, perspiration streamed out of us. We kept on until the dawn light showed a small mountain stream at which we stopped. Juan decided that it was a good place to stay for the rest of the day, there being no farmhouse or other shelter nearby. He told us that we could drink the water but not after five o'clock, water being heavy and therefore that much more to carry. Also he advised us to shield our hands and necks from the strong sunshine.
Andre and one of his companions approached Juan and again complained about foot trouble. The other man whose name was Faubert, pointed to his shoes that had split causing his feet to bleed. He appeared to be in great discomfort. Juan told him to remove his ruined shoes and bathe his feet in the stream. Bill and I were also advised to wash our socks and do so every day. Bread and cheese without wine was the only food available. At eight o'clock that evening we prepared to set off again. This was to be the second and last night of travel. After that we could move during daylight. Juan provided Faubert with a pair of souliers, a type of light sandal, to replace the now impossible shoes. His feet were blistered and still bleeding. We had a twelve hour climb ahead.
After about three hours of climbing over rocky ground, Faubert who was well behind cried out that he could not continue. "Look at my feet" he wailed. Juan and myself went back to him. He removed his sandals to show cut and bleeding feet. We could not understand how he had managed to get so far with feet in that sorry condition. "Please do not leave me" he cried. Juan turned away, "We must go on" he said abruptly and moved off. Faubert began weeping openly and we all felt terribly sorry for him. He was left to his fate.
Gradually we appeared to descend into a rock filled valley. The going down was as difficult as it had been to climb. The going was very rough and the two remaining Frenchmen began to lag behind. The pace did not slacken and no one looked back at them. As dawn broke, Juan called a brief halt and gave Bill and myself a drink of wine that was much appreciated. As we were about to move off again, the two Frenchmen joined us, Juan gave them some wine and started to move off again. Andre pleaded with him to wait a short while, but to no avail. Down into the valley we went and up the other side which was very steep. The going was harder than ever and sweat poured from us. At the top, and in now broad daylight, Juan pointed to a farmhouse about six miles away and said that we would rest there for the remainder of the day and night. Surprisingly we were ahead of schedule and so decided to wait for the other two.
They were so far behind and moving so slowly that it took them half an hour to catch up. Their shoes were now in the same condition as those of the deserted Faubert and they were in great pain. Juan pointed out the farmhouse and told them to follow at their own pace. As they pressed on Bill looked back at the tired Frenchmen and said: "Those poor bastards Dave, did you see their feet?" I nodded, "Yes it's a shame but there is nothing we can do to help. Thank God Maurice provided us with boots."
Arriving at the farmhouse, Juan went inside. After a short while he returned and directed us to a barn reminding us once again to see to our socks. Half an hour later Andre and his friend arrived hobbling badly. It was obvious that a day's rest would not solve their problem and it would be futile for them to continue. From Juan's expression it was obvious that this was his opinion also. A similar meal to that of the previous day was partaken of in the farmhouse followed by a rest until the evening meal. Juan discussed the plight of the two Frenchmen with the owner of the farm and gave him some money. I was unable to overhear what was said. However, Juan later explained that as it was impossible for the two to go any further at that stage, he had paid the farm people to look after them until they recovered and then guide them back the way they had come. Both Frenchmen were crest-fallen but realised that they had no choice.
Setting off the following morning, we bade farewell to the two, now barefooted Frenchmen and began to climb towards the snow-line that we had previously seen in the distance. Being at about seven to eight thousand feet we were beginning to pant quite heavily due to the rarefied atmosphere. On and on we went, up one side and down another, then up again, the snow increasing all the time. Silently we blessed our superb physical condition that had enabled us to get so far. Another farmhouse and another rest. In the evening and studying a map, Juan said: "Tomorrow morning we will leave at seven and walk until seven in the evening. It will be your hardest day so far but, after that, it will be much easier and, in two days time we will cross the border into Andorra.
I translated this for a delighted Bill who said that he didn't give a damn how tough it was going to be - we were nearly there. Juan seemed to catch the drift of this and warned us that, even in Andorra we would not be entirely safe as there were Gestapo agents there and we would have to continue to take care.
After a good night's sleep we set off into a day that was to prove a nightmare. Juan, from the first, set a faster pace than previously but we felt it unwise to complain. During the mid-afternoon I felt that I had pushed this body to the limits of its endurance and collapsed in the snow. Struggling up onto one elbow I called out to Bill. "Bill, one moment, I'm finished, I can't move another step, I just want to sleep. You go on." Bill worked his way back thoroughly alarmed.
"Come on now, get up, come on, on your feet." He took a handful of snow and rubbed my face with it. Grabbing me by an arm and smacking my face, got me onto my feet and alternately pushed and cajoled me into motion. "You haven't come all this way to drop dead now my lad" he shouted, keeping me moving. "Go on, move." My feet picking up rhythm again, I started to feel better and my breathing improved until I began to feel ashamed that I had been prepared to give in. Two hours later Bill sank to his knees in the snow and knelt swaying with exhaustion. This time it was my turn to bully until Bill was on his feet again and moving. By the time we reached the next farmhouse, we were both at the end of our physical resources and were greatly relieved when Juan told us that, as we had done so well, we could rest up for two days. After that, one full day of travel and we would be in Andorra.
Two days of rest and good food completely restored us and we washed our clothes and ourselves and relaxed. We were buoyant at the thought that the worst was behind us. We could not possibly fail now! The sky was overcast as we set off for our final trek before Andorra. Juan remarked that it looked as if a storm was coming up but that it would make no difference to us. As we walked along the foot of a valley, Juan pointed upwards and simply said; "Andorra."
After a climb of about five hundred feet we reached the top and Juan pointed to a cairn of rocks about one hundred yards away and led us to it. This was the marker. We were now in Andorra. Bill and myself jumped about, hugging each other.
"Andorra, we've made it, we've made it!" Our delight knew no bounds. Juan reached for his haversack and the wine which he poured into the cup.
"I drink to you both. You have done very well. I have taken you over the most difficult route but you have always been cheerful and never complained. Many have tried and failed." He drained the cup in one draught and refilled it. We drank in turn and thanked him for being such a wonderful guide. A gentle slope led all the way to the town of Andorra la Vella in which we arrived about seven o'clock in the evening. As we approached, it started to rain, then thunder and lightning, we didn't care, with rain streaming down our faces, we laughed all the way.
As we entered the town the rain continued to fall heavily, almost like a tropical storm. The thunder rolled around the hills unceasingly and we were soaked through. Our boots squelched as we walked and slid on the sodden ground. Juan was delighted with the storm, it was keeping people off the streets. That meant that we could enter the hotel by the rear entrance unseen.
Turning into a side street and then into an alleyway, Juan led us into a building and then into what appeared to be a large kitchen. Removing his haversack, Juan spoke to a young girl who was working at a sink. She quickly disappeared and shortly returned with a middle aged Spanish gentleman. Juan introduced him as Senor Perez. The Spaniard, who did not speak English, beckoned to us to follow and led us up a flight of stairs and into a bedroom, all the while carrying out a conversation with Juan. Once in the room Juan pointed out the bathroom and another across the hallway and suggested that we bathe. Our clothing would be taken away and an attempt made at replacing it.
For a long time we wallowed in the hot water and felt our aches and pains eased away. It was sheer luxury. Rejoining Bill in the bedroom, I found a pile of fresh clothing on one of the beds. Underwear, trousers and roll neck pullovers. Finding garments of reasonable fit, I quickly dressed and, with Bill, waited for Juan to return. Eventually Juan reappeared and handed us cigarettes and matches. He had obviously bathed and changed and had news for us.
"There are two Gestapo agents in the hotel at the moment but they are waiting for the rain to stop before going on by car to Spain. Do not worry, they have no idea that you are here." Having imparted this information he led us into an adjoining room and dinner. The meal, of several courses was delicious, and we lingered over it for about two hours. Over dinner, Juan explained that we would remain at the hotel for two to three days and were to stay in our room. The next part of the journey would be at night and he would accompany us over the frontier and into Spain. We would travel in the company of some smugglers with whom he was connected.
We slept deeply that night safe in the knowledge that we were secure in a neutral country and on the final leg of our journey to freedom. It was mid-day before we awoke and were pleased to note that the storm had gone, giving way to clear skies again. Shortly, Juan arrived to join us for rolls and coffee. Taking a sip of his hot coffee he said:
"David, I want you to write a letter to the British Consul in Barcelona explaining exactly who you both are and why you are here. Also tell him that you will be leaving here tomorrow. I will get a pen and ink for you in a few moments." A Juan left to get the necessary materials, I told Bill that Barcelona seemed to be our destination. Bill was happy at the thought and gave out with a couple of loud "Ole's."
Armed with writing materials, I wrote to the Consul giving precise details of ourselves together with the date and time of our unexpected and uninvited arrival on French soil. When completed, Juan took the letter to post and said that it should reach Barcelona within three days. On departing he remarked that we would be leaving on the following evening and, although he would not be able to get us more clothing, our boots had been specially greased and would be returned to us. This indicated more walking and we gave vent to heartfelt groans. There being nothing to do, and being cooped up in our room, time passed slowly. In this way however, we learned things about each other that had never been mentioned before. We talked about our families and about the sort of life we had on the squadron. But we never mentioned, or speculated upon, the fate of our fellow crew members.
On the following evening we bade farewell to Senor Perez and walked out into the night. Heading away from the road and into the hills again we were joined by two men carrying enormous packs on their backs; genuine twentieth century smugglers. Wordlessly they smiled their greeting and I felt that there was something reassuring about them and welcomed their company. Through the night over steeply undulating country we walked, amazed at the agility of the smugglers. One of them was at least sixty but moved like a man carrying half his years.
At dawn we lay up in a little wood on a hillside. Juan pointed ahead and said: "Carasonna, you are now in Spain." We looked at the large village just a short distance away and watched the early morning sun rise to throw light and shadows on the quiet buildings. Juan broke our quiet contemplation, "There is no danger of Gestapo around here but we must not be seen by the Spanish border patrol. You have no passports and would be imprisoned for illegal entry." It wasn't safe even now. From now on, Juan said, we would walk only at night. It would be easy and we should reach Barcelona in about three days time. Bill pondered the thought of Barcelona and expressed his fear that we might be kept there until the end of the war. On the other hand, he reasoned, anything would be better than the climbing we had recently, and painfully, experienced. Plenty of food was available and we munched happily, watching the distant field workers tending their crops. As we ate, the smugglers departed. Word came from Carasonna that there were no patrols in the immediate vicinity and Bill and myself, relieved of any lingering tension, speculated on our hopes for the future.
"Bill, when we get back to England, what do you want to do?" Bill's puzzled expression prompted me to continue. "I mean, do you want to go back on operations?"
Shaking his head in rejection, Bill replied: "Not bloody likely. That would be just asking for trouble and I don't believe in tempting fate. Look, we escaped from that plane by the skin of our teeth and we've been on the run ever since in constant fear of being caught. I think we've done enough and I personally want no more of it." Seeing the sense of this I agreed.
"Well, seeing as you put it that way. I must agree that I shall not exactly volunteer to clamber into another bomber and go over Germany slinging bombs out again. On the other hand I don't relish the idea of ending up on a training station, that would be just too dull for words." Bill couldn't exactly agree and said that the nice peaceful life on a non-operational station until the end of the war would suit him just fine. On one thing we had to agree. Since being shot down, our hot flame of patriotism had diminished to a degree.
During the last night of our journey Bill stumbled badly and injured his ankle. He was in great pain and it was decided that a rest period was necessary before we could continue. As luck would have it, a farmhouse was nearby, Juan and myself supported him on either side until it was reached. Once at the house, the situation was explained to the occupants who examined the now badly swollen ankle and applied a most evil smelling concoction, before wrapping the ankle in a thick layer of bandages. We stayed at the farmhouse for three days until Bill was again able to move about without pain. During this time I took advantage of the warm sunshine to deepen the tan I had acquired at 'Maison Cher'. On setting out for our final night's walk we found that although Bill still had a slight limp, he was able to keep up without complaint. At about two in the morning we came to yet another farmhouse and sank gratefully onto the straw covered ground and succumbed to sleep. During the night I awoke to feel something moving on my chest and, feeling cautiously with my hand, was horrified to touch the furry back of a rat. The automatic upward jerk of my body displaced the animal which scampered off rapidly. Shuddering with revulsion, I woke Bill and advised him of my unpleasant experience. We slept not another wink that night with the sounds of rats all around us.
Dawn came and the rats left. Juan bought food and drink and asked that we eat as quickly as possible and then wash at the pump. We were to catch the morning train to Barcelona. On the way to the station, Juan said that the train was certain to be crowded but that he would arrange to be always close by. On arrival at Barcelona we would leave the station and cross the road to a cafe and that, as far as he was concerned, would be the end of the journey. After a short wait on the platform the train arrived. As Juan had predicted, it was crowded, and there was no chance of getting a seat. I elbowed my way into a corridor and made room for Bill who stood throughout the journey like a stork, placing all his weight on his sound foot. It was a somewhat interesting run and rather smelly. Interesting in the variety of people and smelly because of the numerous chickens in coops and other animals including piglets being transported alongside their owners. The noise was indescribable.
At about eleven o'clock we entered Barcelona. By this time we felt that we had endured quite enough. The sun had risen high in the sky and the heat in the corridor was suffocating. The smell had been increased by the animals evacuating their bowels at frequent periods along the way and the air was wreathed in cheap cigar smoke. There had been absolutely no let up in the noise during the entire journey, with everyone and his neighbour talking and shouting at the tops of their voices. I felt physically sick! With great relief we descended to the platform and sucked in great gulps of air. It wasn't exactly fresh but still a great improvement on what we had been forced to inhale before. That journey I decided to inter in the graveyard of my memory.
Leaving the station, we crossed the road to the cafe where Juan, being slightly ahead, was already seated at a table with three cognacs lined up before him. Pushing drinks towards us he said:
"Now this is the last time you will ever see me. Do not be concerned for me, I shall be paid for your return by the Consul. All you have to do now is take a taxi to the Consulate and ask for a Miss Harrison. Here is the address on this piece of paper and money for the fare and tip. Show the taxi driver the piece of paper and, once you are at the Consulate, give him the money." As we thanked him for looking after us so well during our difficult journey he cut us short by a gesture of his hand and raised his untouched glass. "Here is a toast to you both. The journey has been hard and we were forced to leave three Frenchmen behind. They were not as fit and as well equipped as yourselves and that is to be regretted. However, the French do not pay as well as the British so at least I am pleased to have conducted the most valuable consignment to safety." We clinked glasses on high and swallowed the smooth mellow cognac in unison. "Now I will get you a taxi and say goodbye." As he stood up he handed me a small bundle of greasy banknotes for the fare. Juan quickly found a cruising taxi and we piled in shouting our farewells. I handed the driver the slip of paper and we rattled off along the cobbled streets eagerly pointing out to each other unusual sights and exotic fruits freely on sale that had disappeared from war torn England a long time ago.
It was a short journey to the Consulate and, to our relief the taxi driver was highly delighted with the amount that I handed to him. We stood on the pavement and appraised the building, high above us, the Union Jack flapping gently in the breeze. This was the moment we had been waiting for and curious glances were cast our way as we shook hands and slapped each other's shoulders.
Entering the building we were greeted in Spanish by a young girl on duty at the ground floor reception counter. I asked to see Miss Harrison to which the girl nodded politely and disappeared through a nearby doorway. After a wait of about ten minutes the girl returned with a middle aged woman. The girl returned to her post and the woman came forward.
"Mr Bradley and Mr Allen?" She enquired with a slight sideways tilt of her head. I made the introductions. "How very nice to see you both" she said, "You are three days overdue and I was beginning to become worried about you." She shook hands with us both and asked that we follow her. She led us up a stairway and into a well appointed office and asked us to be seated. "Now I'm sure you would both like a cup of tea and perhaps a cigarette." Pushing a box towards us she lifted a telephone receiver and spoke in rapid Spanish for a few moments. "Well now gentlemen" she began, "Welcome to Barcelona, while you are here I shall be responsible for your welfare. Now, are you both in good health and do you have any complaints to make?"
Bill replied that he personally had never felt better and, although he had injured his ankle awhile back, even that seemed to be well again. I confirmed that I felt perfectly well also. "Excellent" she said, "I must say you both look very fit and, with your suntans you could almost pass for Spaniards. Now I do not require to hear details of your journey, you will be questioned thoroughly later on but your safety here is my concern. As you know, Spain is a neutral country, a country that you have entered illegally. It is therefore most important that you avoid getting into trouble for, should you be arrested, you would be thrown into prison and have your hair shaved off. Needless to say, Spanish prisons are far from pleasant and we would have quite a task in getting you released." She paused to let this penetrate. She continued, "I do not know how long you will be with us, but we will make every effort to expedite your return to England." There was a knock on the door and a maid entered carrying a tray of tea. "Please help yourselves gentlemen." I poured and we savoured the aromatic brew with intense enjoyment. After weeks of coffee, cognac and various wines it made a wonderful change.
Miss Harrison continued. "Shortly you will be collected by our chauffeur Dominic, and you will stay with him and his wife at their apartment until tomorrow. They both speak perfect English. Tomorrow Senor Rodriguez of the Consulate will take you to have your photographs taken and then on to police headquarters. You need have no fear, he will do all the talking and you will be issued with temporary papers to cover you while you are in Spain. From police headquarters you will be taken out shopping to select new clothing and, after that, back here where I shall arrange hotel accommodation for you. After that you may do as you wish. Be careful to behave well and, just so that we know that everything is all right, report here once a day at ten o'clock. All expenses at the hotel will, of course, be paid by the Consulate and, tomorrow, I will issue you with pocket money."
Feeling delighted at being looked after so well, we were profuse in our thanks. Miss Harrison however, took the view that, having had such a rough time, we were entitled to all we could get. Bill then asked the question that had been on our minds since our arrival. Was it possible for our next of kin to be notified of our safe arrival in Barcelona? "No, I am very sorry, it is not possible from here, but I do believe that facilities exist at the Embassy in Madrid and I regret that you will have to wait a little longer." While we drank more tea and smoked her cigarettes, Miss Harrison left the room for a short while. After about five minutes she returned and introduced the chauffeur, Dominic.
He was a cheerful fellow of about thirty-five and kept a running commentary on places of interest during the ride to his apartment. It was a pleasant run in brilliant sunshine over cobbled roads and we stared in open-eyed wonder at the shops full of luxury items. The war seemed a million miles away. At the apartment we were introduced to Dominic's beautiful young wife Carmalita. Soon we were on first name terms and felt completely at ease with the charming couple. An English style meal was produced and Dominic, suspecting that we were not averse to alcohol, produced a bottle of brandy. We encouraged our hosts to talk about Spain, and a pleasant evening was spent over the excellent food and drink. The following morning, after a huge breakfast of bacon and eggs, we bade farewell to Carmalita and followed Dominic out of the apartment and into the car.
"Our first call is to Senor Rodriguez and then the photographer. After that, police headquarters. There will be no problem, the Senor will take care of everything." Senor Rodriguez was a handsome man who greeted us warmly.
"We should have you back at the Consulate by one o'clock" he said, "Don't worry, everything will turn out just fine." The taking of photographs occupied only a few minutes and we were soon on our way to police headquarters. Rodriguez knew the place well and led us directly to a door, knocked and entered. Behind a huge desk sat a fierce looking official with a large black moustache. He appeared to be extremely pleased to see Rodriguez and chairs were quickly produced. Rodriguez seemed to do all the talking with the official occasionally nodding in agreement. He even smiled once in awhile. Conversation, although one sided, was eventually concluded and the policeman stood up, walked over to us and shook our hands. We were, at the same time, astonished and relieved. Photographs and a large envelope were handed over by Rodriguez, and the policeman left the room. Rodriguez smiled. "You have been cleared gentlemen and shortly you will receive your police pass. When we leave here we will see what can be done to get you some more presentable clothing."
In little less than half an hour the police official returned and handed to Rodriguez a medium sized envelope, shook his hand and graciously waved towards the door. Dominic was waiting with the car.
"Everything all right Bill?" Bill nodded cheerfully,
"Yes, it was quite painless really." Within a short while we were being escorted around a large department store with Rodriguez and Dominic going to great lengths to assist us in selecting suitable clothing. I chose a dark brown lightweight suit and Bill, a light grey. Several fittings were tried until the wearers and the expert advisers were satisfied. A complete range of other items were then purchased to complete our ensembles. Excited as little boys being presented with their first pair of long trousers, we dived into the cubicles to change. Leaving the cubicles we were required to parade up and down before the critical eyes of Rodriguez and Dominic who appeared to be enjoying the experience as much, if not more so, than the principals of the show.
Dominic felt that something was lacking or out of place and quickly spotted it. We both badly needed haircuts. At the barbers, deep discussion took place before comb and scissors were allowed to be applied. Both Rodriguez and Dominic instructed the barber at length just what was expected of him. Back at the Consulate we were paraded before Miss Harrison for final inspection. I felt that it was very much like a passing out parade at a basic training camp. However, Miss Harrison seemed well pleased at our turn-out and complimented us accordingly. Inspection over, we received final instructions.
"I have booked you into the Hotel Majestic and Dominic will take you there shortly. You may order what you wish at the hotel and I am sure that you will not take undue advantage of the generosity of the Consulate. Carry your police pass at all times and take great care not to lose it. Here is some Spanish currency, you will receive an allowance of £2 per day spending money that I am sure you will find is ample for your needs. Also I have a razor and blades that I will give to Dominic to put in your joint suitcase. Please report to me every morning when I shall give you your daily cash allowance. Now before you leave will you please follow me, there are two more R.A.F. arrivals I should like you to meet. They only arrived this morning and had difficulty in entering Spain." She led them down a corridor and into another office where I received the surprise of my life. There, sitting forlorn and looking utterly dejected, were Robin and Bernard, the boasters we had met in Paris. Both looked thin and weak, their heads were shaven and their clothes were in rags. Unable to contain himself, Bill burst out laughing.
"I thought you said that you would be polishing off pints of bitter in England within a few days of leaving us in Paris." They glared at Bill seemingly not amused.
"You know each other then?" said Miss Harrison totally surprised. I explained how we had met in Paris. Apparently Robin and Bernard, being escorted via St. Jean de Luz were picked up by a border patrol and imprisoned. The food was appalling and sanitation practically non-existent. Beds were of straw on a stone floor. I found it most difficult to keep a straight face remembering their cocky attitude towards myself and Bill at their last meeting. Bill's face was a picture of wicked delight.
"Did you collect any mates in prison then" he asked with a chuckle.
"What do you mean - mates?"
"Bugs or lice" replied Bill cuttingly. I thought that it had gone far enough. They were not exactly likeable types but they had experienced a rough time.
"O.K. Bill, that's enough now." Bill quietened,
"Yes, fair enough Dave." Then, perking up again he said, "Well cheerio chaps, David and I are off to the Majestic for aperitifs and a nice long lunch, see you in England." He was still laughing as we left the room.
At the hotel, Dominic accompanied us to our room and was impressed by the comfort. Settled in we asked Dominic to join us in a drink, an invitation that was quickly accepted. Dominic obtained a map from the reception desk and pointed out their location of the hotel and other useful points of interest. A sudden thought struck me and I asked Dominic if it was possible to see a bull fight. He replied that it was certainly possible as there was one that very Sunday but he could not be sure that we would enjoy it. "Please Dominic" I said, "I only want to go once." Dominic said that he would ask the Consulate and he did not expect that they would refuse permission.
The remainder of the day was spent quietly. After a light lunch we joined in the Spanish sport of siesta and in the evening visited a few pavement cafes and drank a popular and, to us, appalling beer. The evening meal we took late in the hotel. As the days went by we became more adventurous and visited Roman baths, churches and cathedrals. We were impressed by the culture of old Spain. Dominic would sometimes accompany us and was able to confirm that we would see the bull fight that coming Sunday.
He called for us in the Consulate car and drove to the enormous arena. Perhaps through influence he was able to obtain seats that allowed an excellent view and we settled down in anticipation of a new experience. The stadium was packed with almost equal numbers of men and women. The air was full of excitement. Trumpets blared and the parade commenced. Led by a man on a beautiful black horse there followed matadors, toreadors, picadors and a host of others connected with the event. Colour and pageantry was there together with an ear blasting music. Only the bulls were missing. A complete circuit was made before the parade passed from view. Silence reigned. Suddenly, a full throated cheer. A magnificent black bull trotted into the arena, head held high, a coloured ribbon trailing from its neck. Dominic explained that the ribbon was fastened by the insertion of a long pin - the initial cruelty. Into the arena came the toreadors to ginger the bull in to activity. For a quarter of an hour they teased the animal until it showed signs of agitation. Then the banderilleros with their steel pointed sticks. The bull selected one and charged. Swaying slightly the man leaned over the horns and placed the small lances into the bull's neck. Blood seeped and, as additional lances were thrust home, I began to sicken of the sight and wished myself elsewhere.
Into the arena rode a man on horseback, the picador, one side of his horse thickly padded. Keeping the padded side towards the centre of the arena he rode along one side. The toreadors tormented the bull into charging the padded and blinkered horse which recoiled at the sudden smell of blood. Horns prodded into the padding, sometimes so violently that the horse was lifted off balance. The crowd roared with derision as the picador prodded the neck of the bull with his steel tipped lance. Now entered the 'star' of this horrendous exhibition - the matador, whose task it was to finish the torment of the once noble beast. He approached the bull with his cape covered sword and waited. As the bull charged, he led it past by use of the cape. Never moving his feet he made five passes in identical manner to the feverish delight of the crowd.
The bull slowed to a halt, head held low in a state of near exhaustion. The matador approached and leaning forward, plunged his swords to the hilt in the bull's neck. The so-called 'moment of truth'. Mortally wounded but not yet dead, the bull lay on its stomach unable to rise. Finally an arena official ended the beast's misery with the aid of a humane killer. To the cheers of the flower and hat throwing crowd, the matador removed his hat and bowed from the blood stained arena whilst, as a final indignity, the carcass of the bull was dragged by ropes attached to two horses away from sight, but not from memory. I was appalled and disgusted at what I had just witnessed and turned to look at Bill. Needlessly I asked:
"Well Bill, what do you think of that?" His pale features were an answer in themselves,
"Bloody dreadful Dave, how can human beings torment a poor animal in that way, and how can the spectators derive pleasure from it?" He shuddered, "Inhuman bastards, let's get out of here."
"Dominic, would you mind if we left now?" I asked.
"Yes of course, I understand how you feel."
Back at the hotel our only topic of conversation was the events of the afternoon. After all the operations we had been involved in and the carnage we had witnessed, we were hardly soft and sensitive men, yet we felt that we had never before witnessed such diabolical and senseless cruelty.
The following day at the Consulate, we were relating to Miss Harrison the unforgettable events of the previous afternoon when she interrupted to say:
"Oh, while I remember it, you are both invited to a Verbena this evening if you wish to go." I looked puzzled.
"What is a Verbena Miss Harrison?"
"Oh, I'm sorry. It's a sort of late night cocktail party that is being given by the Consul at a place on the outskirts of Barcelona. There will be plenty of food and several English speaking guests. Dominic will collect you at the hotel at ten o'clock and then he has to return to the Consul for night duty. If you go, he has asked that you both escort Senora Castonella to the party." I looked puzzled and asked:
"Who pray is Senora Castonella?"
"Dominic's wife, Carmalita."
"In that case we will be more than delighted," I said emphatically. Bill nodded with enthusiasm - it had been a long time since either of us had escorted a pretty girl anywhere.
Dominic and Carmalita arrived exactly at ten o'clock and I thought how beautiful she looked in a long white evening gown, gold Iberian jewellery and a red rose in her shining dark hair. Furthermore I said so with as much unaccustomed gallantry as I could muster.
"Well thank you David. I feel honoured to be escorted by two such gallant gentlemen this evening," she chuckled, "It will make a nice change from my husband." It proved to be a fantastic party. Drink flowed continuously and the food was varied and delicious. The hundred or so guests danced or listened to an excellent Spanish orchestra while chandeliers blazed brilliantly causing jewellery and decorations to glint and sparkle with reflected light. After severely rationed and blacked-out Britain, I could hardly believe that I was in the same world. Enjoying ourselves immensely, we were taken aback when Dominic arrived to collect us, and even more surprised at the time. It was nearly dawn. In view of the late hour, Miss Harrison excused us from the normal ten o'clock parade and told us that Dominic would call for us at eight o'clock that evening to take us to catch the nine o'clock train for Madrid. She thanked us for attending the party and said that we would meet again at the station.
As it was our last day in Barcelona, we decided to visit the Ramblas district in the older and southern part of the city. The little residential back-streets were medieval, the houses facing close to each other. Sunlight never penetrated these streets of abject poverty. Grime streaked, bare footed urchins abounded, whilst the lame and the blind begged with irritating persistence. It seemed as though a giant broom had swept the otherwise beautiful city of Barcelona and deposited the dirt and refuse in an unseen corner and called it - Ramblas.
During the afternoon I decided to forego the siesta and instead, visited a church that I had noticed nearby. The church was empty and peaceful and, seated midway down the aisle, I was soon lost in deep contemplation and finally prayer. Leaving the church, I paused by an offertory box. Taking the remaining Spanish notes and coins from my pocket I dropped them slowly into the box and, deep in thought, walked slowly out into the bright afternoon sunshine. That evening, packed and ready to go, we retreated to the hotel bar and waited for Dominic. As usual he arrived exactly on time and joined us for a drink. To each of us he gave an engraved ring as a present from Carmalita, which we thought, on such short acquaintance, was extremely sweet of her.
At the station the train and Miss Harrison were waiting. Everything was organised. Guiding us to a first class compartment she indicated where we should put the suitcase and a large packet of food that she had with her. A train official had been briefed to look after us during the journey and a large red label had been affixed to the suitcase so that we would be recognized by an embassy official at Madrid station. Nothing was left to chance. There was still half an hour left before the train was due to depart so, with Miss Harrison, we adjourned to the station bar where she ordered a double litre of white wine. Cork drawn and glasses filled we engaged in small talk until it was time to join the train. Slowly we walked down the platform to our compartment and reluctantly said our farewells. Miss Harrison and Dominic were in the process of becoming valued friends and we realised that we were not likely to ever meet again. Before emotion revealed itself we climbed aboard and settled down in our compartment. As the train moved slowly out of the station Bill said:
"Do you realise Dave, every time we make a move nearer to home, we actually go further in the opposite direction?" I had not considered this before but it was perfectly true, we were certainly going the long way round.
Just before darkness fell, the train official entered the compartment and said in adequate English: "Good evening, the whole of this compartment has been reserved for just the two of you and I have been instructed to obtain anything that you require. I know the lady very well and payment has been taken care of." I said that a bottle of red wine would be appreciated and the official left saying that he believed that there were glasses packed in the food parcel. Indeed there were glasses and also sandwiches, fruit, bread, cheese, butter and a cold chicken. More than sufficient for a day of travel. It transpired that perhaps this was intentional for, when the official returned with the wine, he said: "Senors, when you arrive in Madrid you may leave the remains of the parcel with me. It is a normal arrangement that the lady and I have." Drinking the wine we speculated on how we would leave Spain. There appeared to be only two alternatives, to fly direct from Madrid or to pass through Gibralter. As the train roared into the night we decided that either way would suit us, we were on our way home. The official returned with blankets and, removing jackets and shoes, we settled down for the night.
On waking at about six in the morning, I could not help mentally comparing their present situation with previous travelling arrangements, especially the long run from Paris to Toulouse and the Gestapo check. Now we had no need to fear sudden spot checks and were travelling first class with good food and wine and with the prospect of Madrid before us. The official arrived with hot coffee and, bidding us good morning, showed us where to wash and shave. Bill remarked that he had just been mentally comparing this journey with the one from Paris, I stopped him in mid-flow by telling him that "Obviously great minds think alike." Shortly, the official returned with two more bottles of wine and told us that we would be in Madrid at eleven o'clock. As he helped us empty the bottles I handed over the remainder of the food and thanked him for all his help. Just on eleven o'clock we entered Madrid and took our time about leaving the train as we did not want to leave the platform in the midst of a mass of people and so miss our contact. Making sure that the red label on our case was in full view, we set off down the platform and through the barrier.
A tall man of about fifty wearing a white suit and matching hat approached us and, touching the brim of his hat enquired if we were Mr Allen and Mr Bradley. It was the man from the Embassy, Mr Richard Bartholomew. Shaking us by the hand he enquired after our health and then led us to the Embassy car. During the ten minute journey I was very impressed with the cleanliness of the city and shortly, the elegance of the British Embassy and its surroundings. Entering a single storey building we were conducted along a corridor with numerous doors on each side. We were shown our own rooms that were next to each other and told that all toilet facilities were at the far end. It was not unlike the sleeping quarters in a Sergeants' Mess. The rooms were comfortable and I dropped in on Bill to collect my spare clothing.
"Not too bad here is it Bill?"
"No, but I don't like that snotty buggers' attitude, I suspect that we are going to be kept in close confinement here." I thought that perhaps Bill was being a little unfair to Bartholomew, after all we had only just met him and maybe it was his usual manner to be a little stiff.
"Never mind Bill, we are on British soil and each step is one more nearer home." Bill agreed and suggested that we go out for a decent drink that night. I reminded him that he would have to pay as I had donated all my money to the church. Within the hour, Bartholomew returned to explain the rules and regulations.
"You will not be allowed outside into Madrid. There are others here in the same situation as yourselves and you will meet them shortly. You will all take your meals together in the Mess and may retire any time you wish. Now follow me please." As he led us along the corridor I could see that Bill was fuming. Bartholomew really did have an unfortunate manner. Out of the building we were led to another single storey structure and, entering, found ourselves in a large lounge where about ten men were reading or playing cards.
"Oh, Mr Charrington" Bartholomew called out. A man of about twenty-eight came forward hand out-stretched. "Flight Sergeants Allen and Bradley, this is Squadron Leader Charrington who will tell you all you need to know." Charrington's eyes followed Bartholomew leave the room and then said:
"Welcome to Madrid chaps, pay no attention to that bloody fool. My names Frank, and yours?" On being told, he said: "Good, no rank here. Did that twit tell you that you are not allowed out?" Ruefully we admitted that he had. "Never mind, we're a happy bunch here, come and meet the other blokes." He took us round and introduced everybody by Christian names only. Sitting down Frank asked us how we had got on and Bill started from the beginning. "No, no, we take it in turns to tell our stories, one story every night after dinner, I merely wanted to hear that you haven't had too bad a time getting here." He then went on, "I've been here five days now and expect to leave in two days time." I was immediately interested and asked where he expected to go to. "We all go to Gibralter from here old boy" he said, "And you can expect to be out of here within a week". I digested this welcome news and asked the next important question on my mind.
"Is there a bar here?"
"Yes it's open at one o'clock and, although the drinks are rationed, they are also free. Don't let the rationing worry you, it's quite generous and luckily we have four teetotallers among our number and we share their ration books between us. Incidentally, do you have any money?" I replied that Bill had and Frank went on: "Well we pool our money here to pay for extra drinks as we are unable to go out and, as it so happens, I am treasurer." Bill handed his small amount over which Frank added to the quite large wad already in his possession. Bartholomew returned bearing paper and pen.
"Right gentlemen, you may write one letter each to your next of kin. These letters will be sent through the diplomatic mail and should reach England in about six days time. Give your letters to the barman and he will pass them on to me this afternoon. Regarding the bar, I imagine that Squadron Leader Charrington has told you all about that and these are your ration books. I trust that your stay here will be a pleasant one and we hope to be able to move you on in about one weeks time. Cheerio."
When Bartholomew had left the room, Frank grimaced and said with feeling, "Bloody fool." Suddenly the room was full of motion and someone shouted: "Come on then, the bar's open." We all moved in the same direction. The only difference that we could see between this bar and that of an Air Force Mess was that there were no uniforms and the main drink was not beer, in all other respects, and in particular the atmosphere, we might well have been back at Graveley. The temporary inmates seemed a cheerful bunch and soon included us in the general conversation. I was surprised to learn that not all of them were R.A.F., there were two civilians, some soldiers and a naval Lieutenant.
Meal times were posted on the notice board, four meals a day, breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner. Lunch this day was cold beef and salad followed by a sweet and coffee. Returning to the lounge I picked up an English newspaper and noted the date; July 12th.
"Frank, how old are these papers?" I asked.
"Two days, not bad really." I was astonished. It was almost three months to the day since we were shot down. In the early evening we were taken to meet the Air Attache. He was not at all interested in the details of our escape and only asked squadron number, service number, ranks and full names. We would be fully questioned by Intelligence in Gibralter. On being asked if it would be possible to obtain news of the other members of the crew, he replied that we would have to wait until we were back in England, which would be in about nine days time. We left his office depressed but there was nothing for it but to wait until we were home.
That evening at dinner, Frank who sat in the place of honour at the head of the table, announced that it was Cecil's turn to tell his story. It appeared that Frank kept a list and stories were told in strict rotation. Dinner finished, cigarettes lit and glasses recharged, the audience waited for Cecil's tale to unfold. Cecil, a naval Lieutenant, had been in command of a motor torpedo boat that, six months previously, had been strafed by a German aircraft. The enemy only made one attacking run scoring a direct hit and causing an enormous explosion that hurled Cecil into the sea and sank the boat immediately. Cecil, floating about two miles off the Dutch coast, looked about and sadly realised that he was the only survivor. With the assistance of a friendly tide, he swam ashore and, under the cover of approaching darkness dragged himself up the beach to collapse with exhaustion. After an hour of rest and somewhat recovered, he left the beach and searched until he found a lonely farmhouse and knocked on the door. The owners were terrified when they learned who their visitor was, but nevertheless bade him enter. Having handed over his uniform and life-jacket, he was given towels to dry himself and a blanket to cover his nakedness. The man of the house disappeared from the room and out into the night, thereby causing Cecil to feel some alarm as he had no way of knowing if he was to be trusted. As Cecil sat in front of the open fire drinking hot soup, the door opened and the owner entered with another man. He was sure that this was a Gestapo agent.
"You are English Navy?" The man asked in good English. Cecil admitted that he was and that his boat had been sunk earlier that evening leaving him the only survivor. The man nodded sympathetically and told him that he was safe at the farm and would be looked after by the owners who were friendly and to be trusted. His stay at the farmhouse lasted two weeks and, being issued with new clothes but no papers, was smuggled to Rotterdam, then Brussels and all the way South to the French naval port of Toulon, walking most of the time with a guide. Eventually he crossed the French - Spanish border at the eastern end of the Pyrenees having spent two days in the mountains. Arriving in Spain he was driven all the way to the consulate in Barcelona. He had been fortunate in not being questioned at any time by the enemy but emphasised the utter loneliness he had felt at never being able to converse with anyone during the whole of the journey. A round of applause greeted the end of his story and many questions were asked. Later Bill confessed to me that he thought it had been a rather tame story and that Cecil had been rather lucky.
Although I slept well that night, I awoke with a nagging fear for the safety of my two brothers. Previously in Barcelona and the day before in Madrid, I had listened to the B.B.C. news and had heard of the mounting raids on Germany and the losses involved, sometimes forty to fifty in a night. I had all the more reason to want to reach England quickly, until then the fear would always be with me.
That day, Frank suggested that, as there was so much money in the communal fund, we should invite the officials of the Embassy to a cocktail party. As the ration tickets would not be involved, the suggestion was greeted with enthusiasm. Unable to think of a way round it, Frank admitted sad faced that Bartholomew would have to be included in the invitation and hoped that he was a slow and infrequent drinker. As arranged, the party was held that very evening and eight of the officials turned up. Bartholomew was in great drinking form and swallowed brandy as though he had learned that there was to be a world shortage. Frank and myself were talking when he weaved his way over to them.
"Great party Squadron Leader" he said, "You must have gone very carefully with your tickets to save up for this." Frank assured him that he had his connections and nobody had gone short at any time. "You are very honest Squadron Leader" he said, "As a matter of fact, the barman gave me a sum of money this afternoon knowing that I was going into town, and asked me to buy some drink, supplying me with a list. I guessed what it was in aid of and decided to organise a whip-round amongst the staff to boost the order. They almost trebled the original sum and even the Ambassador chipped in with quite a generous amount, it will not be necessary for you chaps to use your tickets for sometime to come." Frank listened to all this with growing astonishment and finally said:
"Mr Bartholomew, may I call you Richard?"
"By all means old boy, yours is Frank is it not?"
"Yes, that's right."
"Well Frank. Thanks for a nice party." Frank watched him make for the bar.
"You know" he said, "That's a damned nice bloke - damned nice!" Bill and myself turned away, faces red with concealed mirth. The party ended just before dinner, the guests well lubricated and profuse in their thanks. No story was told that night and most retired to bed early.
The following day I picked up a copy of 'Flight' and studied the back pages that contained the R.A.F. casualty lists. I was relieved not to find any names I knew but the lists were longer than they had been when I had last seen a copy at Graveley.
After dinner that night, Roland, a secret service agent, was called upon to tell his story. It had been revealed to the authorities that a Gestapo officer by the name of Rosseler had developed the habit of torturing R.A.F. crews brought before him for interrogation. A fully trained and competent killer, fluent in German, Dutch and French, it was Roland's task to seek out and assassinate the torturer. This was to be a solo mission and, fully briefed, he was parachuted into an area twenty miles from The Hague and the headquarters of his intended victim. Met by members of the Dutch resistance, his equipment was stored away and plans were made to study Rosseler's habits and movements at first hand. The Gestapo Officer's movements were not at all consistent. The only regular journey made, was a Saturday night trip from his quarters on the outskirts of the city to an officers' club close to his headquarters. Promptly at midnight he would leave the club and take the same homeward route. Times were checked between various points with little or no variation and it was decided that the assassination attempt should take place mid-way between club and quarters on the return journey. Just to make sure, a dummy run was carried out at the selected location, a bridge crossing a canal. From under the bridge they watched the big car approach and pass over at seventeen minutes past midnight. Again the timing was correct and plans were formulated to carry out the operation on the following Saturday.
During the following week, Roland constantly reviewed his plan and decided that, if possible, the car should be stopped whilst on the bridge. The means to stop the car had to be as simple and as natural as possible, it was decided that a bicycle should be propped up against the wall and a dummy body placed on the ground beside it. Provided that the chauffeur was human and reacted normally, the car should stop. On the Saturday night in question, Roland and two Dutchmen arrived at the bridge thirty minutes before the action was to take place. All were armed with sub-machine guns and they had the bicycle and dummy with them. Under the bridge they hid until fifteen minutes after midnight when they placed the bicycle against the bridge wall and sprawled the dummy across the road. Back under the bridge again they awaited the sounds of an approaching car. Several minutes later and becoming restless with anxiety, they heard a car moving fast towards the bridge from the direction of the city centre. With a screech of hastily applied brakes, the huge Mercedes stopped, only a few feet from the dummy. The three assassins rushed from under the bridge and covered the car from both sides. Roland made directly for the rear and as Rosseler wrenched open the door, Roland recognizing the passenger, fired three short bursts into his body before he could bring his own pistol to bear. The chauffeur suffered a similar fate at the hands of one of the Dutchmen. Satisfying himself that both of the car's occupants were dead, Roland urged his compatriots on their way and within ten minutes, was discussing the successful mission with them in a safe house on the outskirts of the city.
The following day, dressed in the uniform of a German army Captain, Roland was on a train for Paris. Then through Perpignan and over the Pyrenees, he made his uneventful way direct to Madrid and the British Embassy. His story told the audience congratulated him, but he appeared to consider that it wasn't such a feat and was obviously prepared to repeat the order at short notice.
Myself, feeling that the night was still young, went to the bar and, on the general account, ordered a further round of drinks. Sitting around chatting and sipping the new drinks, the assembled company decided that time was indeed getting short and, as we might be called upon to depart at very short notice, a further story should be told. A vote was taken and a young army officer was called upon to recount his tale. Captain Hugh Merrett was a twenty-seven year old graduate of a well known and expensive public school and a product of Sandhurst. He had been commissioned into a county regiment and sent with the B.E.F. to France at the outbreak of hostilities. During the rapid German advance into that country he saw a great deal of action until eventually being evacuated to England through Dunkirk, an experience he was certain he would never forget. Wedged in an overcrowded fishing boat manned by its normal crew of volunteers, he eventually arrived at Dover, seasick, but otherwise unscathed.
At this time in its perilous history, Great Britain was scraping the barrel for specialists and Hugh's records came under scrutiny. From early years spent in Belgium, he had become fluent in French, German and Flemish and this, the authorities decided, could be put to good use in German occupied territory, provided that the young man could be persuaded to volunteer. Early in 1942 he commenced training with a special unit formed entirely of volunteers who were eager to learn every aspect of espionage. The course lasted for nine months, it was rigorous and only the fittest and most determined men survived to complete the programme. Every form of sabotage was dealt with; from the simple and speedy methods of immobilising vehicles, to heavy demolition work. Every man became wireless operator, marksman and unarmed combat expert. Cliffs were scaled and torrents crossed and, when they thought that they knew it all, the terrors of parachuting were introduced.
During the December of 1942, Hugh parachuted into Belgium near the French border and was collected by a team from the underground movement who were not only to see to him, but also the arms and supplies dropped with him. Quickly the 'chutes were collected up and disposed of before heading for a 'safe house', a cellar in a farmhouse, some distance away. His stay in this particular area was active and the living conditions pleasant. He regretted however the absence of female companionship but felt that, under the circumstances, he couldn't very well complain. The members of this particular underground movement were eager to use the explosives and arms and ammunition supplied to them, and they soon had Hugh working with them. First they destroyed a German army fuel storage dump in such an efficient manner that even the Germans could not be sure how it had happened. On another occasion they infiltrated a records office at night and borrowed documents that detailed the strength returns of German units throughout Belgium. These details were photographed by Hugh and the documents returned to source before morning.
Often he was stopped and asked for his papers, but this never worried him as they were in good order and his French or Flemish too good for any German to detect as not coming from a native Belgian. One evening however while walking along a lonely country road, he was struck from behind by a German staff car. He received only a glancing blow and was soon back on his feet and dusting himself down. The German officer occupant was, however, a curious type and ordered his driver to pull into the roadside while he investigated matters. At first, he seemed merely concerned that no harm had been caused to Hugh, but slowly his attitude hardened. Perhaps Hugh's off-hand manner annoyed him. Suddenly he demanded to know how far Hugh had to walk until he reached home.
"Four kilometres" replied Hugh. The German smiled and ordered him to remove his shoes and socks and place them in the front of the car. He could walk home on his bare feet. This instruction caused the driver, who was now standing by the bonnet of the car, to double up with laughter. If the driver had managed to contain his mirth a little he would have saved them all some bother but, as he did not, or could not, things got a little out of hand. Infuriated by the idiotic laughter, Hugh bent down as though to carry out the German's command.
Loosening his laces he judged the distance between the driver and himself and, in one blurring motion, straightened and slashed stiff armed with the hard edge of his hand at the driver's throat. The driver's mirth choked off into a strangled gurgle as, with bulging eyes, he toppled backwards into a drainage ditch. The officer, startled at this unexpected development, reached swiftly for his holstered revolver. He was a fraction too slow. A swift kick to the groin doubled him up, and a two-handed chop to the back of his neck smashed him into unconscious to the ground. Hauling him by his highly polished boots, Hugh deposited him with the driver in the ditch. Something had to be done about the staff car. On the deserted country road it stood out like a sore thumb. Looking about him, Hugh noted a gate a few yards away, leading to an empty field that was hidden from view by a tall hedge. A perfect hiding place. Getting behind the wheel he started up and drove slowly to the open gate and through onto the uneven pasture. Hiding the car close behind the hedge was an easy matter and a quick check from the road confirmed that it was well and truly out of sight. A further check also proved that the two bodies could not be seen from the road.
Hands in pockets and whistling a popular German marching tune, Hugh strolled off casually in the direction of the 'safe house'. At the farm he happily recounted his adventures to the farmer and the members of the team. They were extremely alarmed especially as he could not confirm for certain that the two Germans were, in fact, dead. The unanimous decision was that Captain Hugh Merrett must make tracks. And fast! That night under cover of darkness, he left.
The journey, much to his relief, was uneventful. By road, and later by train, he arrived at the French naval base of Toulon. A quick viewing of the back streets soon revealed a suitable, quiet hotel in which he registered with a view to lying low for a few days. A few nights later, during a chance conversation with the proprietor, he learned that the local people were very pro-British and that, on several occasions, allied escapees had been sheltered nearby and later, aided on their way to freedom. Hugh thought that the hotel owner was taking a bit of a chance in making this revelation to a stranger, but encouraged him further by stating that he, himself was very pro-British and asked if there were any escapees hiding in the vicinity at that time and, if so, could he help? The Frenchmen pondered this question and, with a typical Gallic shrug, admitted that at that an English Squadron Leader was at that very moment being sheltered in the hotel. Hugh decided that this was the time to declare himself and, in no time, was in the company of the R.A.F. officer in a small room at the back of the building.
Squadron Leader Aldrich had been the only survivor from a Lancaster shot down in a raid on Lorient during February 1943. He had sustained some injuries on his exit from the doomed aircraft but, with skilled nursing from the French, was well on the road to recovery. He now eagerly awaited news of the move that would take him into Spain. For three weeks they waited. Several people visited and questioned them during this time, but no promises were made. Then, at last, they were told to be ready to move within twenty-four hours. For several days they travelled in a southerly direction, keeping the coast in view. Means of transport varied and were changed frequently without questions asked or explanations given. At no time, much to their relief, were they asked to show their papers. Overnight accommodation also varied considerably; sometimes they slept in barns in rough and uncomfortable conditions, on other occasions, in small, comfortable hotels or pensions.
One evening at about ten o'clock, they were told to prepare to move off on the final stage of their journey through France. A car collected them and they drove through the darkness for about ten miles until the ground appeared to become rough and upward sloping. Obviously they had turned from the main road and on to some sort of hilly track. The driver pulled up and told them that this was as far as he could take them, would they please alight and be prepared for a nice long walk.
Once out of the car, they noticed two shadowy figures awaiting them and they stiffened with apprehension. Was this a trap or were they just new guides? A soft yet friendly greeting between these strangers and the driver of the car dispelled their anxiety however, and soon they were climbing slowly upwards over mountainous terrain. Throughout the night they trudged following their guides closely. Not a word was spoken and change of direction from time to time was indicated by silent gesture. In the early hours of the morning, lights appeared in the near distance. One of the guides patted them on the shoulders, pointed towards the lights and, for the first time spoke. "Spain," he said. From the time of their arrival in Spain and being placed in the care of new hands, events took place in swift succession. First a short trip by road to a small town that boasted a railway station. Then tickets and a small amount of Spanish currency was handed to them before boarding a train for Barcelona. At Barcelona the regular system swung into action and they were placed in a taxi that took them into the welcoming embrace of the British Consulate. After a few days delay, Hugh was sent on to Madrid while Aldrich was kept behind for further formalities. They were, most probably, never to meet again. As Hugh wondered.
"Was Aldrich all that he appeared to be?" The story was met with the usual acclaim and questions asked and answered. Soon yawns indicated the time and the party broke up and headed to quarters and bed.
The following morning Bartholomew announced that we were all to leave the next day.
"That's fine chaps" said Frank, "Tonight we will hear Bill and David's story." A wonderful evening emerged with all in great spirits, the bar doing wonderfully well with accumulated ration tickets. After dinner, Bill and myself collaborated in telling our story that was well received and discussed at length over coffee and brandy. At nine o'clock the following morning we all left by coach and, later in the day, stopped at a mediocre hotel for the night. Late the next morning the unforgettable mass of Gibralter hove into sight which set the coach party chattering away like so many excited children going on a school outing. The chatter was short-lived however as Bartholomew was required to make an announcement.
"Gentlemen, your attention please. We shall shortly arrive at the Spanish customs post where you will alight from the coach and await further orders. Please do not make a lot of noise, but do as I direct. We shall have to walk the distance between the two sets of customs, about half a mile in all. Please make ready now." The coach stopped outside a building on the border and Bartholomew disappeared inside. After about ten minutes he reappeared and told us all to follow him. The long arm of the barrier lifted slowly and we passed through silently on their way to the British border. It was a long half mile in strong sunlight with a gentle breeze blowing from the sea. I almost counted the steps to freedom. Finally we arrived and gaped at the wonderful sight of a uniformed English 'Bobby' complete with helmet, standing the other side of the barrier. Still following Bartholomew, we passed through the barrier and onto British soil. Nobody actually flung themselves down to kiss the soil but I did the next best thing and, rushing forward, flung my arms around the policeman and did a little jig. In typical style the astonished constable said,
"'ere, 'ere, what's all this then?" Still hanging on to him, I explained that I was an escapee and had been on the run for about four months and that it was the sight of his uniform, which reminded me of home, that had caused my untypical behaviour. The constable listened to all this and said that there was no need to apologise, he quite understood.
Gradually, cars and jeeps arrived to take us away. Bill and myself got into a car that already, apart from the driver, contained a Flight Lieutenant. As we drove away, the officer introduced himself as Henderson and said that they were being taken to the Sergeants' Mess for a beer and lunch and that he would collect us later. We eyed Gibralter with amazement. Soldiers and sailors crammed the pavements and the harbour was full of naval and merchant shipping. It was, to our minds, a scene of intense and purposeful activity such as we had never witnessed before. Henderson warned us not to give details of our exploits to anyone in the Mess, only rank and name if required. Later we would be fitted out with uniforms that would enable us to blend into the background more easily and avoid awkward questions.
At the Sergeants' Mess, Henderson ushered us inside and placed us in the care of a Warrant Officer who appeared to know the reason for our presence. Henderson left saying that he would return for us after lunch. The Warrant Officer introduced himself as Brown and led us towards the bar as though it was the obvious place to go. As we walked he said,
"Well lads, I've been here for two years now and can guess why you are wearing those clothes so I'll only ask you one question and you can please yourselves whether you answer it or not." He smiled and rubbed his hands together, "Would you, or would you not like a pint of genuine English bitter with a decent head on it?" It was lucky for Mr Brown that he was paying otherwise he might just have got trampled in the stampede for the bar.
I lifted the foaming glass and sank the contents in smooth practiced fashion followed by a drawn out sigh of bliss. Mr Brown had obviously seen all this before and had two more pints lined up and waiting. From the bar we followed Brown into the dining room and, over lunch, it was explained that we would be issued that afternoon with khaki drill uniforms. After lunch Henderson returned to take us to the stores and Brown said that he would meet us again that evening in the bar. Uniforms were tried on and left to the care of a tailor who would make alterations and sew on badges of rank and emblems. Leaving the stores, Henderson told us that we were going to see a Major Parkinson of Intelligence who would weary us with endless questions.
Arriving at a tall building, we entered and took the lift to the fourth floor and a door marked 'Strictly Private M.4Q'. Henderson knocked once and ushered us through. Facing the door stood a very tall army officer wearing the ribbon of the Military Cross.
"Do come in gentlemen" he said, then, turning to Henderson, "No need for you to hang about Albert, come back and pick them up at about five thirty." Henderson left and the Major locked the door. Chairs were arranged around a desk and the Major produced his cigarettes. "Well, Flight Sergeants Allen and Bradley" he commenced, "I have a pretty fair idea what you've been up to, but now we must go through the whole story with emphasis on names and places. That is very important and you must try to be accurate as it may help others in the future and bring our records up to date. Now, before you start I would like to congratulate you on the wonderful efforts you have made in order to escape and on your very fit appearance. Most of the chaps who arrive here under similar circumstances are usually ready for a convalescent home.
Pad of foolscap in front of him and pen poised, he asked us to begin. For about one and a half hours we recounted events, reminding each other when memory failed or faltered. Eventually the Major flexed his wrist and called a halt for tea. It was at this time that I asked if we might communicate with our next of kin by faster means than letter as we feared that we might reach home before our communication from Madrid. The Major pressed a button on his desk, then went to the door and unlocked it to admit a young R.A.F. Sergeant. Paper and pencils were handed out with the assurance that telegrams would be sent off within the hour. I merely wrote 'Fit and well. Home soon. David'. The Sergeant collected the messages and left. The Major relocked the door.
"Right gentlemen, down to business again." The story continued with the Major asking many questions and taking us back over parts that he wanted clarified. Finally we finished at about five thirty and the major suggested that it was gin and tonic time. As he poured the drinks, there was a knock on the door.
"That'll be Henderson" he said, "Nothing brings him faster than the opening of a bottle or the drawing of a cork." He unlocked the door and waved Henderson in, drawing his attention to the bottles and asking him to spare some for later. As we were drinking and talking, Henderson suddenly remembered our uniforms and asked permission to make a telephone call. While he was on the telephone the Major remarked that we would probably fly out the following evening, but would receive more definite news the next morning. His telephone call complete, Henderson took us away to the stores to collect our uniforms and then on to our quarters. Reminding us not to get too drunk that night he left saying that he would collect us the following morning at ten o'clock.
Once in our rooms we removed our civilian clothes and changed into the khaki drill. The fit was quite reasonable and even the Pathfinder wings had been obtained and fixed in position. It was now time to renew acquaintanceship with the Mess bar and, as I passed out of my room and into the hallway, I looked carefully to my left and right.
"What the hell are you looking for?" Asked Bill. I looked at Bill rather sheepishly and admitted that I was just making certain that there were no Gestapo about. Safe in the territory of the bar, Warrant Officer Brown approached and handed each of us an addressed envelope. On opening mine, I found five one pound notes and a small card that read: 'My compliments to Flight Sergeant Bradley. The attached, is a little something from the Escape Fund'. It was signed by Major Parkinson. Brown was smiling broadly, obviously aware of the contents. Being in funds, I was now able to buy a round and we started on first name terms, Brown's being Roger. The evening wore on, mostly in the bar, and on many occasions Bill and myself were asked to explain the Pathfinder wings. These were something new to most members of the Gibralter Mess and many questions were asked about operations over Germany. We supplied answers to most questions but had to parry those concerned with the night of April 15th and thereafter. At a very late hour we left the Mess and returned to our sleeping quarters. As we were entering the building, Bill gave a cry and fell onto the paving. He had tripped and hurt his 'Andorra' ankle. I helped him to his feet and upstairs to bed.
The following morning, both with hangovers and Bill with a swollen and painful ankle in addition, we made our way to breakfast. Bill explained to Roger Brown that he had hurt his ankle and the latter left the dining room saying that he would get on to sick quarters. Later Flight Lieutenant Henderson arrived at the Mess with the welcome news that we were to fly out that night and that he would straightway drive Bill to sick quarters. I sat around the ante-room until Bill returned with the good news that his ankle had only sustained a wrench and had been bound up and he was fairly comfortable. He was also able to advise me that Henderson would collect us at eight thirty that evening to take us down to the aircraft. The rest of the day being ours, we decided to look at Gibralter and I suggested that, as we only had one suitcase, I would buy a grip to carry my own things.
That evening we had a farewell drink with Roger Brown and then left in Henderson's car for the airfield and a waiting Dakota. Passes and baggage in hand, we bade farewell to Flight Lieutenant Henderson and boarded the aircraft. Moments later we were joined by the crew and nine other passengers. From a crew member we learned that their destination was Hendon.
Slowly we taxied to the head of the runway and, with rapidly increasing speed were soon airborne. At about five hundred feet and with myself beginning to think of home, there was a muffled explosion followed by a slight lurch to port. I peered out. The port engine had failed. Bill and myself exchanged glances, there was nothing to be said, but I thought:
"Oh no, I'm not going to be killed now after all I've been through!" The plane made a wide arc with additional power from the starboard engine and went straight in to land. Within minutes we were back to our original starting point. The pilot came out from the cabin and, in a bored voice, announced the engine failure and a forthcoming short delay. The passengers waited around outside smoking and talking while mechanics worked on the engine. Eventually we were recalled to the aircraft and took off again with the minimum of delay. As the aircraft sped westwards at about two thousand feet the interior became chilly but, with the throb of the engines in our ears, we soon succumbed to sleep.
The aircraft flew on into the gathering dawn and, when I awoke, the sun was lighting up the few wisps of cloud in the sky. At five o'clock we crossed the English coast and, at six-fifteen, landed at Hendon. The long journey, fraught with danger was over. Alighting from the Dakota we realised that we had been away for fourteen weeks. It seemed like a lifetime. A civilian approached us.
"Flight Sergeants Bradley and Allen?" He queried, solemn faced. "I am from the Air Ministry, will you follow me please." It was more of an order than a question. We followed him to an office door marked 'Private'. Inside he asked us to wait while he organised breakfast for us and left, leaving us standing in the middle of the floor. As he closed the door there was a faint 'click'. Bill moved swiftly to the door and tried the handle.
"The bastards' locked us in" he said in amazement. I was a little disturbed by this but was too happy at being home again to dwell on it at any great length. The man returned accompanied by a young lady carrying a tray of breakfast things. He did not trouble to mention the locking of the door and we mentally allowed the matter to drop. I turned to the man from the Ministry and asked if I might know his name.
"My name is of no importance, now kindly get on with your breakfast." He sounded as though he were addressing a juvenile delinquent. Bill rounded on him.
"I do not much care for your attitude" he said aggrieved. The man eyed him coolly and replied:
"My attitude is of no importance either." Trying to cool the situation, I asked if we might telephone our next of kin and this was met with a blunt "No". Getting nowhere we tackled the breakfast. Two soya bean sausages each, tea and margarine spread toast. Bill remarked that the sausages must be a new British weapon. The sparse and unpleasant breakfast dealt with, the civil servant removed the dirty cutlery and crockery and left the room, locking it behind him. Within five minutes he returned and told Bill to accompany him, I was to remain in the room. This was a strange kind of treatment to deal out to returning escapees. It was almost as though we had committed some sort of crime in coming back. A further five minutes passed before another man in civilian clothes entered and said:
"Your name is David Bradley, is it not?" If I had been blessed with hackles at birth, they would have risen as I snapped back with my full name, rank and number. The man raised an eyebrow and said: "Bradley, there is no need to become irate with me, I am merely here to question you." I did not like the man's way of disregarding my rank and the brusque 'Bradley' made me feel like a Victorian downstairs servant. The questioning began. All manner of things were asked. The names of my grandparents, my schools, where I was born, names of brothers and sisters. On and on, for three hours! Eventually the inquisitor smiled and asked to see my upper left arm. I rolled up my sleeve. "According to the records you should have a birthmark just there," he jabbed with a forefinger to a spot near the shoulder. The mark was where he expected to see it. "Excellent Flight Sergeant" he said, "I am completely satisfied and ask you to accept my necessary, but perhaps unpleasant, manner during the questioning. It is necessary that we screen everyone arriving from abroad to ascertain that they are exactly who they say they are. I'm sure you understand." I refused to be mollified and berated the little man unmercifully until the pent up emotion had left my system and I began to feel hoarse. The man fled from the room before worse befell him.
Shortly after, Bill returned accompanied by the first civilian. He too, had been put through the third degree and was also in a thoroughly bad temper. This time, civilian number one became the target and he too scuttled hurriedly towards the door saying that a car would call for us shortly. Within minutes a Corporal driver collected us, scrounged a cigarette and led us to the car. All the way to the Air Ministry Bill and myself fumed over the treatment that we had received at Hendon and became determined that heads would roll if we had anything to do with it. Outside of the building in Kingsway, the Corporal took our luggage and led us up to the third floor and a door marked 'Air Commodore Hastings. He knocked and entered.
"Good morning Flight Sergeants Bradley and Allen, I am Air Commodore Hastings. I am very pleased to see you both and I can imagine that you are pleased to be back. Before proceeding further, I would like to apologise if you feel that you were badly treated at Hendon. It was a very necessary matter of security and I am glad to say that the screening has cleared you both. Now please sit down." Bill and myself felt absolutely deflated. We had just been about to complain and he had taken the wind completely out of our sails. Hiding my disappointment at being outflanked, I said that I completely understood and that we had no complaint to make. This pleased the Air Commodore who then led us into telling a brief history of our activities since being shot down and was particularly interested in the actual time of attack and the manner of bailing out. I now asked the question that had been plaguing my mind for so long. What had happened to the rest of the crew? The Air Commodore seemed surprised that we had not received news before and left the room to obtain full details. After about half an hour he returned, his face expressionless.
"Gentlemen, I shall be brief. Your pilot, Flying Officer Owen, is a prisoner of war. Apart from yourselves of course, the remainder of the crew perished with the aircraft." Three survivors! Bill and myself looked at each other completely numbed. The Air Commodore turned away and looked out of the window. Bill placed a hand on my shoulder and said simply:
"Well, at least we know." I nodded but could not speak. Only the ticking of a clock broke the silence of the big room. Slowly the Air Commodore turned and said:
"I appreciate that you are very distressed and I only wish that I could have had better news for you. Now we must get you to your homes." Taking note of our destinations and instructing us to report again at ten the following morning, he lifted a telephone receiver and ordered transport.
The same Corporal arrived and led us out of the building. There was a car for each of us and I was to go with the Corporal. Bill and myself shook hands, there was little to be said or, perhaps, just too much to be said and we were to meet on the morrow anyway. Through the West End and along the north river bank, over Putney Bridge and on to Wimbledon Common, the Kingston By-Pass and then New Malden. All in silence, still chilled by the news that we had received that day. Soon we were at my house where I alighted and the Corporal drove off. As I was about to knock at the door, a voice behind me said:
"Excuse me Sir - telegram." A postman handed me an envelope and continued on his way. It was addressed to my parents. I knocked at the door, envelope in hand. Footsteps sounded in the hallway and the door opened. It was my mother. We gazed at each other for a few seconds before I said gently:
"Hello mother." No sooner had I spoken than I realised that my mother was on the verge of fainting; I dropped my case, caught her in my arms and carried her into the lounge where my father was sitting. A joyous family reunion followed. My parents had been through a harrowing time. First, I had been reported missing. Then seven weeks later, they had received a letter from the Red Cross stating that the burnt out wreckage of the aircraft had been located with five unidentified bodies in it, the pilot was a prisoner of war and one person was missing. Subsequently they received a letter from the Air Ministry informing them that, in fact, there had been four bodies in the wreckage, leaving two persons missing. The final information was in my hand; the telegram that I had sent from Gibralter had arrived at its destination at exactly the same time as did its sender. The reunion was now marred by the news that my eldest brother, Wilfred, had been reported missing six weeks previously on his very first operation and nothing further had been heard. My other brother, Victor was on operations and had completed eleven trips.
Bill and myself met again the following morning at the Air Ministry and were interviewed by several high ranking officers who congratulated us on our safe return. Again we were questioned by Intelligence, this time by a courteous and helpful Captain Frazer who recorded every detail of the escape. Finally a Group Captain asked us what kind of work we would prefer after we had completed four weeks leave, and we both agreed that we would like to continue with flying and not be relegated to desk work. We were then asked if we had considered applying for commissions. This was something that we had never thought about previously, and completed the necessary application forms on the spot.
After the excitement of the escape, leave was something of an anti-climax and the time dragged. We reported to R.A.F. Uxbridge to collect our personal belongings and to be fitted out with new uniforms and we decided to pay a visit to Graveley on the following day.
At Graveley we were recognized by the Adjutant who introduced them to the new Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Dean. I remembered him from when he was a Flight Lieutenant. Having congratulated us on our escape, he questioned us on the behaviour of the crew at the time of being shot down and seemed particularly interested in the actions of Wyn Owen. Both Bill and myself praised him highly and said that we both owed our lives to his cool judgement and handling of the aircraft. We were also quick to point out that just because he was a prisoner of war did not in any way mean that he had deserted his aircraft and crew. He had only bailed out when there was nothing further he could do.
Around mid-day we went to the Sergeants' Mess and met Russ who was very upset to hear about the fate of the rest of the crew. Apart from the fact that there were only about seven aircrew left that we knew, operations were on that night and so we were left to drink on our own. We agreed that it had been a mistake to revisit the station and were soon back on the train to London. In London we said our farewells and promised to keep in touch.
I was posted to the Central Navigation School at Cranage in Cheshire where I was not impressed by the attitude of the majority of the flying staff there who had never been on operations and who loudly voiced the fact that they had no intention of doing so if it could be avoided. Two weeks later I received a telegram from Air Chief Marshal Harris, C-in-C of Bomber Command, congratulating me on the award of the Distinguished Flying Medal. That evening I rang to tell my parents the news and was shattered to be told that my brother, Wilfred, was confirmed as dead with the rest of his crew, and buried in Holland. What I had always feared had finally happened.
A few days later my Commission came through and I went to London to meet Bill who was also now commissioned and had received the same decoration as myself. We were now both Pilot Officers D.F.M. My parents were, of course delighted with both my decoration and Commission. Naturally, however, their joy was somewhat overshadowed by the tragic death of their eldest son and their fears for their other son, Victor, who had now completed sixteen trips.
In the January of 1944 I was promoted to Flying Officer and was scheduled to fly to Colombo and back in a Wellington on a special navigation exercise. Two days before departure I received news that my brother, Victor, had been reported missing on an operation over Dusseldorf. This distressed me considerably, but I decided not to ask to be excused the trip. The flight commenced on the 13th January and ended back in England on 6th April, during which time I was able to see a large part of the world whilst continually worrying about my brother.
Back in England I immediately rang my parents. The first news was not good, yet not entirely bad, Victor was reported uninjured but a prisoner of war. I gave a sigh of relief. The second item of news I would never forget. Bill Allen had recently been killed in an air crash! I replaced the telephone and walked dejectedly back to my room. Bill had been the best friend that I had ever had. We had gone through so much together and now this had happened. I would never see Bill again.
Weeks turned into months and finally I was summoned to Buckingham Palace to receive my medal. It was a moving ceremony with about fifty R.A.F. personnel waiting to be decorated. My parents sat in the first row of guests and relatives. King George VI shook my hand and commented upon my escape. When told of Bill's death, His Majesty appeared to be very moved. A party was held at my home after the ceremony and I was asked to make a speech. I was still saddened at Bill's death and could only say that the award had been earned by seven men and I just happened to be the only one alive and in England able to receive it.
Some weeks later, my mother telephoned to say that the Countess de Bizien and Leslie had arrived in England. I was granted special leave to meet them at my parent's home. They had left Paris and France quickly having been informed upon and had made their way via St. Jean de Luz and Madrid to Gibralter. Platisse had been caught by the Gestapo and shot. 'That poor brave girl' I thought. It was pleasant to meet the Countess and Leslie again and I and my parents were able to repay a little hospitality.
Promotion to Flight Lieutenant followed with duty in Vancouver and the Bahamas and my last R.A.F. station was to be St. Mawgan in Cornwall from where I was able to make several trips to Paris. On my first visit I walked to the Place de la Concorde and sat on the stone balustrade where Bill and myself had sat over three years before. It bought back many memories and I felt very sad and lonely. A visit was made to Dr and Madame Tinel who were both very well and again was told about the fate of Platisse. Their own son, Paul had been caught with Henri aboard the 'Maison Cher' in Toulouse by the Gestapo and had not been heard of since. Two more brave friends I would never see again.
My last flight in the R.A.F. was on the twenty-fourth of October 1946 when I flew as a passenger in an Anson to Hendon. Hendon again and memories of Bill. Demobilized the same month, my total flying time was two thousand, one hundred and sixty-three hours which included over five hundred on night flying.
It took me some time to settle down to civilian life. On a fine summer's day in 1962 I decided to visit Graveley once more. With my wife Ena, I drove to the little pub in Graveley. It was very quiet and, looking at the dart-board, I could almost hear the laughter and chatter of those absent, but not forgotten aircrews of years gone by, as they threw their darts and drank their pints. From the pub we drove to the deserted airfield. We walked across to the briefing room with its broken windows and missing door. Again the faint voices echoed in my ears, shadowy faces passed before my eyes; Bill Allen, Jock Cruickshank, Freddie Bourne, Billy Young, Bill Martin and Wyn Owen. I looked to the far end of the room and recalled the large map of Europe and the pink tape used to indicate the target for the night when operations were on. Silently I looked. Silently I remembered. A gentle hand on my shoulder recalled me to reality as my wife said:
"Come on David, I think we should go now." We walked away.
After many years of searching Wyn Owen contacted me at my home in Brighton He informed me that in the August of 1992 there was to be a Pathfinder reunion celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the force's formation. It was an emotional meeting and gathering of the remaining Pathfinders at the R.A.F. station at Wyton, the parent station of Gravely. Wyn Owen had remained in the Royal Air Force for fifteen years attaining the rank of Squadron Leader and having been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. There are now only two of us left from the original crew of seven who flew in 'X' for X-Ray on that fateful night in April 1943.
Pilot Officer F J Bradley . RAF
Sgt. William Leslie Bradley . RAF(VR) pilot 103 Sqd. from Selby, Yorkshire.)
(d.20th Feb 1944)
PFC. John W. " " Bradshaw Purple Heart. US Army 415th Infantry Regiment from McPherson County, Kansas)
(d.25th Feb 1945)
I actually know little about John W. Bradshaw of the 415th Infantry Regiment, 104th Infantry Division. I have recently adopted his grave at the Henri-Chapelle cemetery in Belgium and I am trying to learn about this lost hero.
Little is known about him since his records were lost in the NARA fire of '73 but I am doing my best to find all I can about his life. I added him here, to this site, because I want his name to be recorded. He was "just" a soldier in the Second World War, but I think that alone is a reason to remember him. He was one of many that came to a country he had probably never heard of to fight for the freedom of its inhabitants. And I am forever grateful for the sacrifice that he, and many others like him, made.
Kenneth Thomas Bradshaw . British Navy HMS Nigeria from Bolton)
Neville Rollinson Bradshaw . Royal Air Force 103 Squadron (d.29th July 1944)
Neville Rollinson Bradshaw was my cousin, my last memory of him was at my Mother's house just before he went off on his last trip, when I was be two. I have found today a letter from his sister who has now passed away, saying that he was on a bombing raid to Stuttgart. They went over the target, were still airbourne, but loosing altitude and hoped to reach home, unfortunately they didn't clear the mountains and hit a power line over the Vosche Mountains and the plane blow up. They are buried in a mass grave in the village of Vosche (hope that is how you spell it). My cousin was told that it was tendered by the village.
It was their last trip of the tour and Neville was to be best man at the Bomb aimer's wedding. The poor bride was all dressed up when the telegram arrived.
The crew were:
They are buried at Charmes (Vosges) in the town's Essegney Military cemetery.
- F/O J.B.Moss
- Sgt R.R.Hardey
- F/O M.R.F.Harvey
- F/S S.J.Honour
- Sgt N.Bradshaw
- Sgt C.B.Osborne
- Sgt A.W.Crooke
P/O Reginald Eric Bradshaw . Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve air bomber 10th Squadron (d.1943-06-29)
Able Sea. Francis James Brady . Royal Navy SS Paulus Potter from Liverpool)
Frank Brady, served on Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships, including the SS Paulus Potter, on the PQ 17 convoy in July 1942. He survived the air and u-boat attack, and ended in an open boat, with some survivors from the Washington, other survivors from the Bolton Castle, joined them. They finally sailed to Nova Simla.
PO. Frank Brady . Royal Navy air mechanic HMS Formidable
My Father-leading seaman promoted to Petty Officer air mechanic Frank Brady served on H M S Formidable for the bulk of WW2. He was assigned to maintain the aircraft of 895 Pursuit Squadron, the aircraft included U.S. built Grumman F4F Wildcats, known in the Royal navy as Martlets. While preparing for Operation “Torch” Frank painted U.S. white star markings over the British roundels on the fuselage and wings of the aircraft on the flight deck of the carrier and had photographs of the painting taking place at sea.
Leading Seaman Frank Brady and LACW Mary Elizabeth Needham (my mother)
My Father put together quite a photograph album of his sorties around the world, Arctic, North Atlantic, in the Med and the Pacific. Unfortunately the album was lost just before he died in 1996. I would like to hear from anyone who remembers my father or may have photographs of any of the ships company.
henry " " brady . from )
My grandfather, Henry Brady served in the Welch regiment in Palestine & Crete between 1939-45 he is still alive but in poor health.
Edward Richard Alexander Bragg . Army Royal Army Ordnance Corps
My late father, Edward Richard Alexander Bragg was a POW, administratively under Stalag 8b. However he was in an Arbeitskommandos camp I believe at or near Riehe Waltringhausen. He worked in a factory making wood wool for packaging purposes.
I am very interested in obtaining any further information about this camp. I have some documents relating to his imprisonment.
Able Seaman. F. Bragg . Royal Navy HMS Forfar
Able Seaman Bragg survived the sinking of the Forfar.
Able Seaman John George Sydney "Joe" Braggins . Royal Navy Asdic Submarine Dect HMS Sirius from Bishopstoke)
My father,John G S Braggins volunteered on Feb 4th 1942 and served at several shore bases including Collingwood Nimrod and Osprey while training as an asdic operator(Submarine Detection). He joined HMS Cormorant(Wishart)on 29th July 1942 and served aboard her, until 31st March 1944,when he was ashore at Osprey for training update. He then joined HMS Sirius and served aboard her from 24th July 1944 until 25th Feb 1946 mainly on Maltese convoys. He was shipped home aboard Hms Blenheim a submarine supply ship which was based in Malta,and was discharged at Hms Victory Portsmouth on 8th July 1946.
During his time in the Navy he detected many enemy submarines and the ships he served aboard sank two for definite. He remembers one brought to the surface and picking up a few survivors but some deliberately went down with the sub because they had been told they would be tortured and killed. It gives some insight into the minds of the german command propaganda machine.
Corporal George Braidwood . Army 75 Company Pioneer Corps (d.17th june 1940)
My grandfather, Cpl George Braidwood, 75 Coy Pioneer Corps, lost his life on the Lancastria.
George "Geordie" Braithwaite . British Army Royal Army Service Corps from Byker, Newcastle)
My father, George Braithwaite was a driver in the RASC. He was attached to the West Kents at Dunkirk. He was captured in the town of Albert after six weeks on the run from the Jerrys. He was questioned and sent into Germany by rail. Where he and many others were forced to march through Bavaria into Checeslovakia and into Poland where he was put in the camp Stalag 8b Lamsdorf. George was a bricklayer by trade so was put on a work party in the town of Gliwitz building manholes along the river side. My father was a great man and never told us of the bad times until we were a lot older and able to understand. He told me of the time he and a mate made hooch from turnips. He saved a couple of bottles. On Xmas Eve all the boys in the billet were really down, so he got out the hooch and within an hour they were all singing.
Many years later he took the family to a local caravan park for a week. My brother and I met two lads of similair age as us. George being a good father asked their names, lo and behold their dad was in the same camp as ours. The two met and a three day drinking spree took place. I don't think my dad saw Skipper Dodds again. Unfortunately my Dad had a stroke in 1998 when he was seventy. He died five years later but always said he had a good life, and he did with my Mother and his two sons.
Sgt. Ronald Arthur Bramley . Royal Air Force Navigator 150 Squadron from Borough Green, Kent)
(d.8th Nov 1941)
My Great Uncle, Ronald Arthur Bramley was a Navigator in 150 Squadron 150 during the Second World War. He was shot down over the Dutch coast on the night of the 8th of November 1941. Apparently weather conditions were terrible and many crews were lost that night. They flew from Snaith Airbase and were heading for Mannheim. Unfortunatly, he was never found but two of his crew are buried in Amsterdam. Rest in peace.
This is all the infomation I could gain from my Granddad. If anyone can help with more infomation I would be grateful. Are there any photos of 150 Squadron?
Thomas Henry Bramley . Royal Navy HMS Fidelity
Diver. Alfred Brammer . Royal Navy HMS Rorqual from Stoke-on-Trent)
Alfie Brammer was my uncle, he was a diver on HMS Rorqual and was lost when diving removing mine nets. I would love to know more about him & the exact details of his death.
ERA 3rd Class Charles Stanley Branagan . Royal Navy HMS Dorsetshire (d.5th Apr 1942)
Charles Stanley Branagan, Engine Room Artificer 3rd class was killed 5th April 1942 aboard HMS Dorsetshire. He was the son of Thomas and Nellie Branagan of New Moston, Manchester, and husband of D. Branagan.
Seaman C. B. Branch . Royal Naval Reserve HMS Forfar
C.B.Branch is listed as one of the crew members who survived the sinking of HMS Forfar in December 1940.
Flt.Sgt. Charles "Grandad" Branch . Royal Air Force Section 3 90 Squadron from Kings Norton, Birmingham)
Charles Branch joined up 8 June 1943 aged 37 and after AGS Andreas IOM 17 Sep 1943 was posted to Tuddenham 90 Squadron 1651 CU on 8 May 1944 when they were equipping with Lancaster MkIII B aircraft. He flew over 30 missions with an aircrew :
- Pilot R.F.Smith,
- Navigator C.Sharpe,
- Flight Engineer T.J.Thomas,
- Wireless Officer N.C.Piper,
- Air Bomber M.R.Stanning,
- Mid gunner (Canadian) H.G.Price (RCAF: R223574),
- Rear Gunner C. Branch.
Charles was later posted to 1445/H Gunnery School as a Gunnery Instructor. Prior to joining the RAF he was a qualified Tool Maker and Gun Assembler based in Birmingham.
Missions were flown in Lancaster MkIII LM615 B which had a picture of the pilot's Wren wife Eileen on the fuselage near the cockpit. LM615 was flown by two other crews and the missions in it with Charles Branch included 2nd July 1944 Beauvoir, 5 July Watten, 10 July Nucourt, 18 July Aulnoye, 28th July Stuttgart. Charles left the service 28 March 1946 and today is survived by his two daughters Elizabeth and Patricia.
Lt. David Brand DSC. Royal Navy HMS Nigeria from Glasgow, Scotland)
My father, Lieutenant David Brand, served in the Royal Navy during WWII on HMS Nigeria and was in Combined Operations Pilotage Party COPP's Middle East (ME) 1. He did not speak about his time during the war but as usual stories leaked out about some of his adventures.
In March 1943 he was part of a 15 man team doing sea reconnaissance. While on a "Sicily" mission David and Lieutenant Robert Smith, the expedition leader surveyed the Gela area on the south west coast. Due to a storm on completion of their mission, they missed the rendezvous with their carrier, the Royal Navy submarine P44 United. To avoid risk of capture they made an epic 75 mile trip back from Gela to their Malta base at Valetta in heavy seas and with just one paddle. After 40 hours of paddling and bailing water every few minutes from their open canoe they eventually made it back, exhausted. Brand and Smith were awarded the DSC for their courage but overall the operation was not a success. Of the 15 men that set out, 5 were captured, 5 were lost and only 5 returned to base.
Nils Wilton "Bill" Brandel . United States Army Company "G" 605th Engineer Combat Battalion from 53 Clarkson, Denver, CO)
I found a list of members with addresses for this Battalion in my father's papers. I am seeking information about Company "G". I am willing to e-mail the list to anyone who would like a copy.
B Brandon . Land Army
I joined the W.L.A. in September 1944, training at Ravensden, Beds., then to Wrest Park Lodge, Silsoe, Beds. There were about 30 girls at the hostel, 6 to a bedroom. We went out daily to various farms at 7.30 a.m. doing a variety of jobs, cleaning out cattle sheds, spreading fertilizer, fruit picking, vegetable picking, haymaking, working late in the summer months, also threshing which was back breaking and dirty work, then having to queue up for a bath when we returned to the hostel, no showers in those days.
I learned to drive while being in the L.A. we had different size vehicles, from a small Hillman van to a large Bedford lorry. I was also in a pruning gang during the winter months, it was very hard work in all weathers, but I enjoyed my 2 years and made some very good friends. I left in June 1946 to get married
Pte. John Mullin Brannan . British Army Cameron Highlanders from 39 Kinning Street, Glasgow)
My late Father John Mullin Brannan was a POW for 5 years in Stalag IXC, Bad Sulza. I have a lot of postcards that my father sent from Germany to many different relations, photographs. I don't have a lot of stories, my father never talked much about it, the only thing he used to say to us, when we would complain about being hungry, he would say you don't know what hunger is.
I would love to hear from anyone who knew my father, possible too late as he would be be 92 years old now, but perhaps family of other soldiers who served with my father may have heard him mentioned?
Pfc. Arnold Lester "Leck" Branson . US Army from Winston-Salem, NC. USA.)
Arnold Lester "Leck" Branson was in the US Army from 1943 until mid 1945. Most of the time, however, he was a POW in Stalag 7A at Moosburg, Bavaria. Like many of his generation, be spoke very little about his time in Moosburg, but he was planning on returning in the fall of 1983 before he died in February. I remember him talking about chocolate (he likened them to Hershey's Kisses) and working on the railroads bombed out by the Allies. He also was taken aback by the cleanliness of the Germans who worked on the front steeps of their homes to make them spotless. He was outspoken about his British counterparts who, prior to the capture in Holland, would have fires raging for tea while he would have to crawl inside his helmet to light a cigarette!
O.D A. H. "Donkey" Bray . Royal navy HMS Penelope (d.18 Feb 1944)
My mother had a photo of "Donkey' Bray among her memorobilia. How often she talked of this warm and caring young man. It seems he had no family and accompanied my dad on leaves home welcomed among our family in London. Cheerful and resourceful, my mother and aunt remembered him into their 90's. So I'd like to leave a remembrance of him. He went down on 'Penelope' but has left traces of his life with me.
Charles Edward Bray . United States Army 312th Hospital
My Grandfather Charles Edward Bray was born on 2nd May 1907 in Abingdon, Bristol, Virginia, USA. He joined the US Army in 1942 and at some point he came to be stationed at the 312th Hospital, Stone (Shrugborough Station Hospital) where he was a cook and baker. It is this period in his life where I would like to find out more information about him, if anyone knows of anything then I would be most grateful.
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