|Sergeant John Tweed - Mrs J Tweed|
Sergeant John Tweed took off from RAF Tempsford at 22.35 on 12 May 1943 in an eight man crew on board Halifax BB313 NF-M. Operation Roach which included supplies drops to the French Resistance was another SOE mission for RAF 138 (Special Duties Squadron). Homebound the aircraft was hit by light flak and a fire quickly spread on board. The pilot gave the order to abandon aircraft, and it crash landed in open country south west of Troyes in France before some of the crew could bale out.
Those left in the aircraft had no time to prepare themselves and were badly thrown around before the aircraft came to a stop. Some were in worse shape than others. Tweed had sprained his ankles, injured a hand and he had a deep gash in his leg. The crew immediately faced the same problems as any airmen making a forced landing in enemy territory. They had to destroy anything of importance inside the aircraft and if physically able, get away from the crash area immediately.
|Crashed Halifax Bomber|
Fire continued to burn through the aircraft and Tweed managed to help free the injured from the wreckage. No one had been killed, and it was time for anyone fit enough to leave. He limped slowly across the countryside, every step was agony and progress desperately slow. A nearby field of corn would keep him out of view for the night, but he knew the burning aircraft was still too close. The choices had been made for him. He was in no fit state to go any further. Searches would begin at first light, so his best chance was to rest up and make a decision then.
The dawn came. All remained quiet through the morning. Passing foot and occasional motor traffic looked routine. There was no sign of military vehicles arriving, enemy soldiers with dogs or discovery by the locals. Tweed decided to gamble on remaining undiscovered if he stayed put. His injuries must have been the deciding factor in arriving at this decision. His ankles and leg were not up to walking and an injured man limping painfully about in daylight was a sure way to attract attention.
One thing did occur to him. Although it was not a welcome thought, it might inadvertently help him. Halifax BB313 NF-M carried a crew of eight instead of the usual seven. If the remaining men had been captured, the Germans would be likely to cease search operations in the crash area. Tweed resolved to hide in the field until after dark, then attempt to stand up and find help.
Once night fell, it became clear that walking even short distances would remain a problem. He would almost certainly be picked up if he wasn’t sheltered quickly. He knew some key choices had to be made, as becoming a POW without doing everything possible to evade was simply not an option.
Tweed chewed a caffeine tablet from his escape kit to give himself a lift and struggled off towards the nearest village which was just visible. Pommereau merged into the blackout, but there was one house showing a light, so he stayed in the shadows and hobbled towards it. He edged along a wall to a window where the light was showing and heard the call of an ‘Ici Londres’ radio broadcast. Listening to this station was strictly forbidden, as it came from the Free French in London and the news contained coded messages.
A house not properly observing blackout might be a good starting point to seek help, although in the countryside of Southern France, there were isolated lapses which did not automatically signify anti German attitudes.
Monsieur Charton was the husband of the woman answering the door. The couple ran a farm and set about attending to
The routine remained unchanged until a had week passed, then a villager arrived to ask a series of detailed questions (see last week’s post The Questions). The next day his injuries were treated by the local doctor and Tweed was left to rest up. During this time, the information he had given was thoroughly examined to ensure that he was not a German ‘plant.’ Unknown to Tweed he was right in the middle of the local Goelette Resistance Group who were controlling each move of his shelter, right down to the doctor visiting. Primary or secondary radio contact with London would be a virtual certainty and when Tweed’s identity details were verified via radio, the Resistance would decide on the validity of the rest of the information.
Three further weeks passed before Tweed began his journey. He was moved to a safe house in the town of Troyes where a photograph was taken for his false identity card. That evening further questioning took place. An Englishman arrived (unknown to Tweed, a member of SOE supporting the local Resistance movement) and he drilled down to find out more about Tweed before letting him move on to another safe house for the night. The next afternoon Pierre Malsant, the leader of the Goelette Resistance Group took him to a café in a small village west of Troyes to await the next part of the plan. He stayed in an upstairs room for three weeks apart from being allowed downstairs for a time in the evenings to exercise, courtesy of the café’s owners Monsieur and Madame Bourgeois.
Whilst in hiding, Tweed was visited by a young Frenchman attempting to escape to England. The pair decided they could reach the Pyrenees via Biarritz and the Frenchman would reconnoitre the route. Unfortunately he was arrested by the Geheime Feldpolizei ruling out any further attempts that way.
The Resistance decided to route Tweed via Paris. Although Malsant fronted the operation, it is likely SOE had a hand in the new strategy. French guide Sam Chevalier escorted the airman to the capital and gave Tweed shelter for two days before taking him to the home of Monsieur Henri Boucher and his wife where the airman hid for eight weeks.
For the evader placed in this situation, it paid to remain vigilant, although as per their training, they were expected to follow instructions given to them by the Resistance. It is unlikely that Tweed knew the full extent of who he was involved with the details of what would happen until the last moment. It made sense to work on a ‘need to know’ basis in exactly the same way as the escape lines and other resistance organisations.
It may have come as no surprise that ‘The Englishman’ Tweed had met in Troyes, turned up at the safe house address. What may have surprised him was the hour deadline to prepare for the next move in his evasion.
‘The Englishman’ took Tweed to a café where the handover to Pierre Piot took place. Piot worked for the Swiss Red Cross which provided an ideal blind for carrying out work helping evaders. He was able to shelter Tweed in his flat in Rue Montmartre for a week before a sudden move instigated by ‘the Englishman’ came early in the morning of 17 September. The pair travelled out of Paris by train and arrived at a country station near Angers and met their contact who advised that ‘the reception’ would be that evening. The two men were escorted to a farm where four other travellers were waiting.
|Captain Ben Cowburn - SOE|
‘The Englishman’ revealed his identity as Captain Ben Cowburn, leader of the SOE ‘Tinker Circuit’ supporting the Resistance in the Troyes area of France. A rendezvous with an aircraft would take place that night. The group set off just after twelve and waited in a field under cover of darkness.
|Lysander - Caz Caswell|
At the sound of an aircraft engine, the recognition signal was flashed by torch and a Lysander guided in by two lines of torches. In typical style for this kind of operation, the engine on the aircraft remained running whilst three passengers got out, messages and parcels were exchanged and three members of the party who had bicycled to the location somehow jammed themselves into rear cockpit which was designed to take one person. As soon as the aircraft became airborne another Lysander came in and Tweed and two others were soon on their way back to RAF Tangmere. It had taken him four months and five days to get home. From the crew of eight in the Halifax, Sergeants W Marshal and J T Hutchinson also managed to evade capture and make it back, the rest became POWs.
Shot Down and On The Run - Air Commodore Graham Pitchfork
Bomber Command Losses 1943 - W R Chorley