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Archive Report: Allied Forces

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.


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103 Squadron badge
05/06.09.1943 No. 103 Squadron Lancaster I ED751 PM-S W/O. Cant Aircraft loss

Operation: Mannheim

Date: 05/06th September 1943 (Sunday/Monday)

Squadron: No.103 Squadron

Type: Lancaster I

Serial: ED751

Code: PM-S

Base: RAF Elsham Wolds, Lincolnshire.

Location: Saint-Miheil, France

Pilot: W/O. Robert Bramley Cant 1433098 RAFVR - evaded capture (1)

Fl/Eng: Fl/Sgt. Eric Donald Dickson 572272 RAFVR - evaded capture (2)

Nav: Sgt. George F. Thomas 1319272 RAFVR PoW No: 267188. Camp: 4B. Fresnes Buchenwald. (3)

Air/Bmr: Sgt. Thomas Denys Gordon Teare 14338430 RAFVR - evaded capture (4)

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Sydney Horton 1035423 RAFVR - evaded capture (5)

Air/Gnr: Sgt. William "Bill" R. Milburn 1536321 RAFVR - evaded capture (6)

Air/Gnr: Sgt. Robert "Bob" Parkinson 994280 RAFVR - evaded capture (7)


Mr. Roy Wilcock has researched this loss extensively and has advised us of much further information that we have included in this amended loss report.


REASON FOR LOSS:

Took off from RAF Elsham Wolds 19.38 hrs (8) on an operation to Mannheim. The aircraft developed engine failure after being hit by flak shortly after crossing the coast of France. However, it did continue to bomb the target.

The Lancaster crashed in the area of Saint-Miheil, France at 01.00 hrs. All the crew baled out successfully.

Crew left to right: Sgt. Sydney Horton, Sgt. Denys Teare, W/O. Robert Cant, Sgt. Robert Parkinson, Sgt. George Thomas, Sgt. William Milburn, Fl/Sgt. Eric Dickson.

It is reported that Sgt Thomas was captured in the Pyrenees region during December 1943. Two, Sgt Horton and Sgt Parkinson escaped to England by fishing boat, while Sgt Teare fought alongside a French resistance unit for the best part of a year before being liberated. The others made their way to Switzerland.

In November 2014 Aircrew Remembered was contacted by Roy Wilcock who sent us the escape and evasion report of Bob Parkinson and Sydney Horton:

'One engine was damaged by flak on the way to the target but after dropping their bombs two more engines gave out and the fourth began to fire irregularly. Ordered to bale out they landed close to each other buried their parachutes and set off in a south westerly direction. Two hours later they were taken prisoner by two German soldiers who took them to a guard house where they were handed over to two young soldiers (17 or 18 years old) and told to go with them by the corporal in charge. The two guards were very casual and after 10 minutes or so near a ditch, Parkinson asked if he and Horton could smoke. They gave permission and Bob asked for a light. At this time Bob hit one of them whilst Syd knocked the other one over. They then pushed the guards into the swampy ditch and ran for the woods.

After many hours walking through woodland having only seen and dodged two woodmen collecting logs they emerged from the wood on to a road signposted Sampigny-Rupt-St.Mihiel. They were south west of St Mihiel and very exhausted. After resting they struck out for Rupt-St. Mihiel. Soon they heard and saw mechanics repairing a car and lay low until they had finished, during which time a gendarme cycled by but did not see them. Continuing on their way, but keeping just off the road they encountered an elderly farmer who after giving them bread and water soon made off apparently not wanting to be seen with them. On reaching Rupt-St. Mihiel they came across a French lad walking with a horse and cart and beckoned to him. Being still in battle dress and flying boots he obviously recognised them as RAF and told them to lie low as there was a working party nearby whose supervisor would give them away if he saw them. The boy with the horse and cart left and they eventually heard the supervisor leave on his motorcycle but stayed where they were for a while.

Soon a young French couple with two children appeared apparently having learned about them from the lad with the horse and cart. Using signs the couple asked if they were hungry then told them to stay where they were until dark. The young man and an older man returned after dark with food and took them to a house where they received a cooked meal and beer. They were given civilian clothes and a haversack containing hard boiled eggs, bread, butter, sugar and milk in their own water bottle.

About midnight on the 6th September Bob and Syd set out alone towards Bar-le-Duc. About 02.00hrs on the 7th they stopped at Villotte-Sur-Aire where they slept on top of a haystack that night and much of the following day the 8th September. At 21.00hrs on the 8th they decided to move on and walked to Bar-le-Duc . They did not see anybody along the way and lay low until daylight (the 9th) when they went into the town intending to catch a train to Paris. Seeing a German guard at the station they withdrew to their hiding place just outside the town.

Safely back at their hiding place they later saw a cyclist who when beckoned stopped and after enquiring if they were ‘Engleesch’ agreed to get them tickets to Paris for which they gave him French francs from their purses. An hour later he was back with not just tickets but shaving kit, fruit and wine. He came back again later in a car driven by a well dressed man and brought them civilian shoes into which they changed before being driven to the station in Bar-Le-Duc.

At the station they were introduced to the station master, ticket collector and signalman as being English. The train was not due until 02.20 hrs the following morning so they were hidden in the control room of the signal box where they slept until 01.20 hrs. With their haversacks having been filled with fruit they were taken by a porter to a carriage in which there were some French civilians to whom he seemed to explain their identities.

The train went straight through to Paris which they reached at 09.00hrs on 10th September. They left the station with no difficulty and, as taught in their lectures, attempted to reach the suburbs. They walked, lost the streets of Paris, until finally at about 06.00hrs in an area near a large race course, saw and approached a Roman Catholic priest. Luck was certainly with them as the priest took them to what seemed like a sort of school and after fetching another priest who could speak English inspected their identity discs and verified they were indeed British.'

The rest of their story is not documented in the report except to say that their homeward journey from here on was arranged for them.

Denys Teare’s book confirms that they travelled across France to Quimper in Brittany and hidden beneath the deck of a small fishing boat sailed out of the harbour under the noses of the German forces and after three days at sea reached Falmouth. Denys Teare also says that both men were subsequently ‘mentioned in dispatches’.

According to the website 'France Crashes 1939-1945' the fishing boat on which Bob and Syd sailed was the ‘Ar-Voualc’h’. This was under the operation code name Dahlia. (I believe this operation was organised by Yves Le Henaff)

They arrived in the UK on the 18th September 1943 a mere 13 days after leaving Elsham Wolds. Not bad considering what they had been through, I wonder if it might be a record of some sort of record?

In July 2014 we were contacted by Mr. Phil Howard, relative of the Rear Gunner, Bob Parkinson:

"My grandfather Harold Parkinson would often invite Uncle Bob round to talk about his experience. In fact Bob would regularly travel every year to the Isle of Man where I understand that the entire crew would meet to discuss their separate adventures. (I recall that Sgt George Thomas lost a lung whilst a PoW after being captured within sight of the Spanish border in the Pyrenees. He felt a tap on his shoulder as he was about to take his final route downhill. It was unfortunately, a German Patrol. George was the one member of the crew who travelled alone as I recall until he met up with a group of civilians trying to escape from occupied France. He had a terrible time and would never talk about his experience according to Bob. After his capture he was accused of being a spy and ended up in Buchenwald concentration camp. Bob and Syd ended up blackening their uniforms and took a similar risk.

I had many recordings of our meetings and eventually did a radio play for the Hospital Radio in Wigan in which I described Bob's RAF experience. It is from memory of this, that I recall the following story (as the recordings are long since lost after the death of my grandfather)

I asked Bob why he ended up being a rear gunner and was he not scared! He told me that he volunteered and went on to describe the power of the rear gun and told me that no fighter would dare take him on!

The Lancaster was hit by flak during a raid on Mannheim and one engine after another began to fail. Bob told me that he need to detonate an explosive charge in order to turn the rear turret in order to escape from the aircraft, Bob fainted before he hit the ground. In fact he was hanging in a tree when he came round. He remembers it being very quiet and calm.

Shortly after landing, he saw a German motorcycle approaching, that had obviously seen parachutes but it did not search for very long and soon disappeared. Next followed a cyclist who spotted Bob and shouted "Aviator Angleterre" but in a non -threatening way as I recall. Bob had been taught a special whistle that would be useful to contact fellow crew members in such a situation. After a few attempts, he received a whistled reply very nearby. The whistle had come from flight engineer, Syd Horton.

After meeting up with Syd, Bob described opening his "emergency" food pack and searching for a cigarette! To his extreme frustration, the tobacco fell out of the paper and onto the floor! They carefully started to walk alongside a road in order to get a clue to their location. They soon spotted a bus stop that indicated they were in a village called Bar-le-Duc.

Further down the road they spotted a Public House and believe it or not, decided to go in for a drink!! The bar maid served them but seemed to get increasingly agitated with the two aircrew! It was when she started to speak in German, that they decided to drink up and find shelter for the night. This they did in an old barn within a farm yard. The barn was home to some cattle and they managed to get some well needed sleep without any further disturbance.

When they awoke, they could see no sign of German troops or anyone watching the farm and so they decided to take a risk and knock on the door of the farm house. Whatever happened, they obviously needed to find food and water.

Their next action changed the whole dynamics of the situation however! The farm was home to a French husband and wife (I cannot recall if their were any children?) The woman was generally more supportive than the husband who was terrified that the German "guard" who regularly kept an eye on the farm, would end up discovering what was going on. Despite these fears, they helped Bob and Syd to "blacken" their RAF uniforms!

I cannot recall just how many days and weeks it took before Bob and Syd reached Paris? I know that they were provided with more safe accommodation food and clothing, by French resistance along the way and that the husband and wife were not always of similar opinion about the risks they were taking! It was on their approach to Paris, that they had to hide behind some greenhouses as they first saw sight of a significant German military presence!

They had obtained railway tickets to Brittany from Paris and it was an extremely nerve wracking few minutes as they boarded the train. They eventually arrived in Quimper in Brittany, where they were hidden beneath the deck (and amongst some fish I am told!) of a small fishing boat. The boat was inspected by a German guard before it was allowed to set sail and Bob describes hearing the boots of the German above his head as they both held their breath!

After a day or two in the water, they heard an aircraft and instinctively dived for cover! It was however, a Hawker Hurricane (I am sure Bob told me it was a Hurricane) and it seemed to be expecting the fishing boat!? Upon sighting them, it immediately performed a "victory roll" and headed back home. I assume that the Royal Navy were subsequently alerted as I know that they were eventually escorted into Falmouth by the Royal Navy to a hero's welcome!"

(1) W/O. Robert Bramley Cant - born Mansfield 29th September 1921, died Mansfield in 2001.
(2) Fl/Sgt. Eric Donald Dickson - born Kings Norton 1921, died at Cheltenham in 2004.
(3) Sgt. George F. Thomas - Denys Teare in his book tells us that Thomas was one of the famous 168 Allied airmen transferred to Buchenwald on 15 August 1944 with instructions that they were not to go to any other camp. This instruction was countermanded by the Luftwaffe who had them transferred to Stalag Luft 4B in October 1944.
(4) Sgt. Thomas Denys Gordon Teare - although he was brought up in Liverpool he is an Essex boy, born Rochford 22nd December 1921. After the war Denys Teare wrote a book - “Evader” about his time with the French resistance and as an evader. The book was first published in 1954, with reprints in 1966 and 2008. Denys Teare later retired to the Isle of Man. Happy to supply readers with information where this can be purchased. ISBN No: 9 780907579489. Published by Crecy Publishing Ltd.
(5) Sgt. Sydney Horton - born Wigan 3rd April 1921, died Rotherham South Yorkshire. Lived at 12 Vine Street, Whelley, Wigan and was a General Labourer before joining the RAF on 11th August 1941. He trained with 27 OTU, 30 OTU and 1662 Conversion Unit.
(6) Sgt. William "Bill" R. Milburn - born 1921, died Whitehaven 1983.
(7) Sgt. Robert "Bob" Parkinson - born Wigan 15th October 1913, died Wigan 1990. By far the oldest crew member ‘Bob’ Parkinson lived at 27 Ratcliffe Road, Aspull, Wigan and was a General Labourer before joining the RAF on 24th April 1940. He trained with 30 OTU, 27 OTU and 1662 Conversion Unit.
(8) Take off time according to Bill Chorley is stated as 19.38 hrs, the escape and evasion report states 21.30 hrs and Thomas Teare describes it as 21.00 hrs)

Left: "Evader" by the Air Bomber of ED751 Sgt. Denys Teare

After the war Denys Teare wrote a book - “Evader” about his time with the French resistance and as an evader. The book was first published in 1954, with reprints in 1966 and 2008. Denys Teare later retired to the Isle of Man. Happy to supply readers with information where this can be purchased. ISBN No: 9 780907579489. Published by Crecy Publishing Ltd.

Researched by Aircrew Remembered, researcher and specialist genealogist Linda Ibrom and also by Kelvin Youngs after meeting the step-brother of the pilot, Robert Cant. To Roy Wilcock who researched this loss extensively. Thanks also go to Mrs. Gwen Atherton - relative of the flight engineer, Fl/Sgt. Eric Dickson for additional information. The page is dedicated to the relatives of all this crew.

Acknowledgements: Sources used by us in compiling Archive Reports include: Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vols. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vols. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries', Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tom Kracker - Kracker Luftwaffe Archives and Fred Paradie - Paradie Archive (both on this site), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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