|RAF Escape Kit|
|Contents of Red Cross Parcel|
|POWs at Sagan|
Once an evader had cleared his landing or crash area, thoughts would turn to using key items in his escape kit (see Post Two.) This was assuming he still had the pack, as it was sometimes lost whilst jumping from the aircraft or during an exit after a crash landing. Airmen who were forced into immediate hiding because of the location or injury would also be looking to their kit for sustenance.
Thirst usually struck first as only flasks of tea or coffee sustained airmen during operational flights. Filling the water bottle from a stream was often the priority, and then concentrated squares of chocolate and Horlicks tablets would be used sparingly. This was not always easy if an airman found he was unable to move far on his journey.
When these supplies were almost exhausted, airmen lived off the land applying field craft that had been outlined in their evasion training. (See previous posts)
Sergeant Ray De Pape was second pilot in a Halifax that was hit by flak on a raid to Cassel on 3 October. He landed in
walked for four days before reaching a town. Germany
‘During the first three days I lived on my flying rations in my escape box. I found water plentiful and made good use of the Halazone tablets and my water bottle.’
De Pape literally walked out of Germany and approached some farmers four days later. They told him he was in Belgium. His feet were in poor shape, but he had avoided capture and travelled entirely alone. He stated in his evasion that during his journey:
‘I stole apples, cabbages, turnips and any other edible fruits or vegetables I came across.’
It took him two more days before he eventually found help.
The famous three ‘Wooden Horse’ tunnel escapers from Stalug Luft 111 (Sagan) prison camp Lieutenant Richard Codner, (Royal Artillery), Flight Lieutenant Eric Williams (RAF) and Flight Lieutenant Oliver Philpott (RAF) had a form of ‘dog food’ hard cake made from dried milk, sugar, Bemax and cocoa. This had been packed into small square tins (five per man) which came from Red Cross parcels. They planned to wear these around the waist between two shirts.
There were also several small linen bags containing a dry mixture of oatmeal, raisins, sugar and milk powder, as this would help ward off hunger. One method used was to sew a bag into each armpit of a jacket as an emergency ration. Codner says in his escape report:
‘I was carrying five tins of concentrated foodstuffs prepared in the camp, also a little chocolate. It would have been better to have taken more food, particularly biscuits, as the Germans frequently order beer and coffee at a restaurant and eat food with it produced from their own pockets in paper bags. This is done in the best hotels, often by Army officers.’
Fellow escaper Flight Lieutenant Oliver Philpot employed another tactic for some of his rations:
‘I carried a small vulcanite suitcase with, primarily the means to keep looking well shaved and smart with it and secondarily, some of the camp escape food disguised as a margarine product.’ (Amongst his nine forged documents, Philpot carried a typed letter from the Margarine Verkauf’s Union, introducing him to prospective employers)
It is interesting that Philpot also comments on the consumption of escape rations on a train:.
‘I went to the lavatory, which is the Prisoner of War train traveller’s normal place to sort out his papers, maps, etc. and eat his escape food as well as clean up generally.’
He had landed near to the village of Sivry on the French/ Belgium border and commenced walking until around 6.30 am when it became too risky to continue in daylight, so he settled down in hiding. Around 1.00 pm he was disturbed by the sound of something large crashing against bushes. A cow appeared, driven from behind by a young boy. Startled and directly in the way of the animal, he stood up. The boy stopped, studying him for a moment, before putting his hand to his cap in a salute.
With a few French words, sign language and gestures the pair managed to communicate for nearly thirty minutes. The boy left and returned with some cold potatoes in a pot and a bottle of beer. Later the boy’s father and brother visited and a woman came to the hiding place with bread and cheese and two hardboiled eggs. She was a friend of the boy’s father, but was not able to make herself understood. Despite this, she shook Martin’s hand and kissed him on both cheeks before leaving.
Later the boy’s father and brother returned with travel directions to the village of Soire Le Chateau and an old grey coat and light brown cap to help Martin blend in. They gave him more food for the journey and left at 8.00pm with regrets that they were not able to assist any further.
It was fortunate that the inn was deserted and the proprietor sympathetic to the Allies. Hornsey had not only given himself away by looking and speaking out of place, he had also offered to pay for the food with a very large note and not handed over food coupons which was the usual method. Evaders rarely got second chances and once they were into an escape line, slips could jeopardise not only the evasion, but the whole line. The stakes were massive.
Evasion Reports from the British National Archives
The Pilot Walked Home by Dennis Horsey
Escaping Occupied France With the Resistance by Alfie Martin
© Keith Morley