|Lancaster on Fire|
|Crashed Halifax - Rear Section|
|Inside a Lancaster - Wireless Operator's Position|
Looking Forward Towards the Cockpit
Bury or conceal your parachute, dispose of any secret papers, operational maps etc. and get away from the landing area immediately otherwise your liberty may not last long. Enemy patrols usually motorised, will reach the area within half to three quarters of an hour. If you’ve not been spotted already, full searches and sweeps will begin at first light.
Few aircrews had high security documents on them when they landed. Lower security items such Navigators maps and Wireless operators codebooks were left in the aircraft as most crews had little time to evacuate once the order was given. RAF and Commonwealth airmen approaching the ground at night by parachute had three immediate priorities, land safely, bury or hide their parachute, Mae West and helmet and get away from the landing area immediately. It was not always that straightforward.
F/O Ross Wiens (RCAF) baled out of his Lancaster on the night of 16/17 August 1944. As he was in a Pathfinder Squadron, the aircraft had led the rest of the Bomber stream into the port of Stettin. Flak damage eventually forced the crew to abandon aircraft an hour after turning for home. Wiens made a very good landing, dropping behind some hills. He followed his evasion training, burying his parachute, Mae west and flying helmet and removed all flying insignia from his uniform. Hurrying away from the landing site, whilst being thankful for landing safety he must have wondered what would happen once it was daylight. He was in Nazi occupied Denmark.
W/O Dennis Budd (RCAF)was a rear gunner in the same aircraft as Ross Wiens. He landed 10 kms from Tollose in Denmark and had injured his leg. Resting in a wood for a day he roughed up his uniform, removed the insignia and lived off some of the rations from his escape kit. He set out north-east for Copenhagen and the first German soldiers encountered on the road ignored him. His injuries were slowing him down and he quickly realised he would not get far without assistance and approached a farmhouse for help. The farmer ushered him into a barn, then locked it. The farmer was a collaborator and tried to telephone the local authorities, but there was a crossed line and the call somehow ended up at his neighbour’s Magnus Neilson. Neilson threatened to report his neighbour for sheltering an evader if he tried to alert report it to the Nazis. Budd was removed by the Danish resistance and placed in an isolated farmhouse whilst his identity was verified before continuing his evasion to neutral Sweden.
F/O Robert Clements (RCAF) (see last week’s post) said in his Evasion Report ‘I was second out of the aircraft and I landed in a field near Exel I hid my parachute, Mae West and helmet and made straight for the shelter of some woods, where I took out my maps and tried to ascertain my position. I thought I was in N.E. Belgium. I started walking South West by my compass, but found out later that it had been affected by the zip fastener on my gloves and also the fly-button compass which I had sewn on to my shirt cuffs, so that I was actually walking due West. About midnight I came out of some woods and saw an aircraft burning on the ground nearby. A German patrol was coming up the road towards it, so I waited until they had passed and then made my way as quickly as possible through the fields in the direction they had come from.’
The burning aircraft may have been the remains of Lancaster W4822 from which Clements and Jimmy Elliott had baled out earlier (see last week’s post). Neither airmen say in their reports that they saw the aircraft explode, only that Clements was told by locals two aircraft were seen to crash that night and another blow up in the air, spinning down to earth with the tail section landing separately to the main fuselage. Clements believed the latter aircraft was his and that the photoflash had exploded. The navigator P/O Norman Buggey corroborated this after the war. He was the third and last man out and saw the Lancaster explode. As he was injured on landing and became a POW, neither Clements nor Elliott would have been aware of this information when they were interviewed by MI9 in London in early January 44.
With both gunners probably dead and the Wireless Operator and Flight Engineer still mid aircraft trying to get back through thick smoke and fire to find their parachutes after abandoning fighting the fire, the pilot, an American, F/Lt D West stayed at the controls, holding the aircraft for as long as possible to give any remaining crew members time to reach the escape hatch. He died with the others in the explosion, sticking with his crew to the last, when he could have saved himself. Time and time again official reports and accounts from surviving aircrew show this selfless sacrifice that pilots and crew displayed. War can make ordinary people do extraordinary things and aircrew were no exception. In the air the close knit team depended on each other for survival, and so it was in the ultimate adversity, working together and following orders from the skipper.
Clements must have replayed the sequence of events countless times as walked across country. As a Second Pilot that night he was on board for a single mission to gain experience of Operations before he took his own crew out for the first time.
‘I walked until 04.00 hours when I found myself in very scrubby heath land. I could find no suitable hiding place as the country was flat and bare, so I was forced to keep on walking. At 07.00 hours I heard a bugle call and men shouting, so I hastily jumped down into a slit trench covered with heather. An hour later the Germans began their drilling about 50 yards away from where I was hiding and I was forced to remain in hiding in the trench for the whole of that day. Luckily I had been able to fill my water bottle previously and had with me my rations from my aids box, which eased the situation considerably.’ Clements was able to steal away after dark.
Navigator F/O Maurice Garlick (see last week’s post) had decided to crawl over fields towards a wood about two miles away. There was little use in his legs, only pain, which increased as some of the circulation returned. He heard and saw several farm workers, but no one on their own. He reached a small copse and managed to cut down saplings to make a rough pair of crutches and with some parachute cord made a sort of sling for his right foot. This enabled him to hobble and crawl to the wood. Using the the lid from his escape kit to catch rainwater and Horlicks tablets and chocolate he managed to keep going hobbling and crawling to the wood. It took him two days and the pain in his legs had become severe.
The trees were not as thick as he thought and after a night’s rest he knew there was no choice but to try and continue and seek an isolated farmhouse. After hiding from a patrol of passing German soldiers he hobbled and crawled for the remainder of the day and night. He had managed to eat some potatoes and wild rhubarb and during the afternoon was fixed his position by the spires of Troyes Cathedral which were now in sight.
He finally located an isolated farmhouse and hid in bushes watching the occupants. An elderly farmer came out and after watching him working for a while, Garlick decided to make an approach and hobbling up on his crutches he explained who he was.
The family took him in, bathed his legs and gave him a meal. He had a shave and was given a jacket, a pair of trousers and a penknife to replace one he had lost. The family were anxious that he left as it was too dangerous to stay overnight. Garlick left with some food and drink they had prepared for him and the family refused any payment. (Airmen would have carried a money wallet in their uniform containing various currencies including French Francs.)
He hobbled through the countryside for the next six days travelling mainly at night, hiding in woods and out of sight during the day. By 14 May he was becoming very weak and the burns on his legs were infected. Approaching a large farmhouse near Bucy, he hid and observed it until the evening when he spotted a young boy working in a nearby field.
What must have been going through Garlick’s mind when he saw the youth? Eleven days after being shot down he had crawled and hobbled for miles and was still free, but what a state the airman was in. Exhausted and dirty, weak from hunger and thirst and the pain in his infected legs, Garlick’s war was soon to change into something totally unexpected.
Sources - National Archives Files
Shot Down and on the Run - Air Commodore Graham Pitchfork
We Flew We Fell We Lived – Philip Lagrandeur
© Keith Morley