Wednesday, 11 April 2012

The Journey

        Paris (Andre Zucca) 


  Max Roger & 'Tante Go' with 2 evaders  (Reseau Comete - Col Remy ) 

Evaders and escapers were often faced with huge distances to travel in order to reach safety. If the stark reality of their task had been fully digested many would have quickly given up, but the human instinct to survive is considerable. The evader would immediately see themselves as still free and the thought of captivity in a POW camp was a spur enough to keep going. For the escaper, the instant rush of freedom and desire to flee would have overridden anything else. 

For some fugitives it became necessary after receiving help from patriots to journey away from the natural direction of safety back to key places e.g. Paris and Brussels where they could join an organised escape line. This method of travel is important for writers in the plot and structure of their own writing journeys to keep the reader interested. A journey that goes from a logical A to B with little deviation is unlikely to keep followers on board, and as with the fugitives, if changes of direction are handled with care, the strategy will result in a better journey and end result.    

 Flt Lt Jimmy Kennedy a Canadian in RAF 24 Operational Training Unit baled out of a Whitley with engine trouble on a leaflet drop and had to travel north back to Paris. The distance was not huge, but it must have been a strange sensation to be heading in the wrong direction.

Canadian John Dix landed by parachute in Luxembourg. His chances of getting out were slim and geographically the way out was south west into France towards the Pyrenees or west across to Paris and the hope of help there. But travelling in this direction in occupied territory for any length of time was not feasible. Transport had to be used, which brought with it a new set of problems, scrutiny and searches, correct identity papers, checkpoints and the risk of suspicion from fellow travellers.

With two other members of his crew Dix was eventually hidden by the resistance under sacks of grain in the back of a lorry. They survived checkpoint searches and crossed the frontier on foot into Arlon Belgium. Pursued by the Gestapo they journeyed North West by train back towards Brussels where the train was stopped and searched at Namur. Dix’s two crew members were arrested, but he survived. A man totally unconnected with the airmen had been shot dead outside on the track. The Gestapo were looking for three men, logic and the need to move the train on, meant that the train was released and by the time they realised, Dix had left the station at Brussels and been hidden by the Comete Escape Line.

Dix went on to travel by, tram, train, Metro, bicycle and on foot through France and Spain, eventually reaching Gibraltar. In addition other escapers and evaders used horse and cart, lorry, car, ferry or boat, a few were even taken out under darkness by Lysander aircraft after an agent drop. The airman in my book finished his journey hidden near the anchor chain in the hold of a British freighter transporting bitter oranges from Seville to Gibraltar. He was shut in a tiny space for days with three others.

Writers must make use of whatever ‘transport’ they can when travelling through their story arc, writing that non fiction book or travel piece. Whatever genre, it is, the reading, research, knowledge, listening and learning that they pick up on the journey and utilise is key; along with their core skills packed and ready in suitcases. But they should never forget that even with all of this, it can be the ability to see something and use it in a totally different way that can finally make the difference.

Flt Lt Harold Burton was the first officer to successfully escape from a German POW camp in World War 2 and make a ‘Home Run’. Having got out of Stalag Luft 1 at Barth he reached the coast on 30 May 1941 and discovered a ferry would leave for neutral Sweden at 16.30 hours. It looked impossible to get on board without detection and then he noticed some trucks were being loaded and pulled on to the ferry. He worked out that if he sneaked on the blind side at a specific moment, climbed underneath and hung on to the axle he might get away with it. He did, concealing himself under the truck for the four hour crossing and then disembarking by hanging on to the axle again the same way.  

© Keith Morley



  1. What an excellent blog. Will keep reading on. Can't wait for the book. Top work, Keith L

  2. Wow, what stories from brave men and women. Strangers risking their lives to help others - the younger generations need to know this.

  3. Agree with Sally that the younger generation need to know about these things which is why your book will further this. There is no end to how ingenious man/woman can be when faced with the alternatives. The instinct to survive is strong. Another interesting blog Keith.
    'Whoever saves one life saves the World entire.'
    ('Schindler's Ark'.)

  4. Am enjoying your blog, Keith. Well written and full of fascinating facts. The photos are a great bonus.

  5. You can't imagine what must have been going through the minds of these men and women.
    I agree with Sally, these stories need to be kept alive for the younger generations. Good post.

  6. Thanks everyone for your comments. There's so much more to post. I will 'Press on Regardless' (463 Squadron RAAF) motto.

  7. Having listened to so much of your fascinating account which you describe so vividly, seeing the actual photographs brings it even more to life. A super blog, Keith.