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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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RAF Crest
19/20.01.1942 OADU Wellington II Z8504 F/O. Lloyd George, RAF Portreath, Cornwall

Operation: Delivery Flight

Date: 19/20 January 1942 (Monday/Tuesday)

Unit: Overseas Air Despatch Unit (OADU)

Type: Wellington II

Serial: Z8504

Code: Not known

Base: RAF Portreath, Cornwall

Location: Off the coast of Ouillis, near Mostaganem, Algeria.

Pilot: F/O. Lloyd George 406355 RAAF Age 23 - Killed (1)

2nd Pilot: Sgt. John Donald "Don" Shanahan R/78324 later J16166 RCAF Age 29 - Interned (2)

Nav: P/O. Julius Bergson 106531 RAFVR Age 31 - Killed (3)

W/Op/Air/Gnr: P/O. John George Stratford (Johnny) Gardiner 106116 RAFVR Age 21 - Killed (4)

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Lewis John (Lou) Rymal R/67575 later J1600 RCAF (5) - Interned

Air/Gnr: Sgt. Thomas Henry Webb 1382258 RAFVR Age 20 (6) - Interned


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REASON FOR LOSS:

Took off from RAF Portreath, Cornwall for delivery to Malta stopping en route at Gibraltar. After leaving Gibraltar on the night of 19/20 January, according to No. 5 Missing Research and Enquiry Unit, RAF, dated 2 January 1948,

"Wellington Z8504 crashed at sea off the coast of Ouillis, Cassaigne near Mostaganem (approximately 45 miles east of Oran) Algeria. P/O. Bergson was killed in the aircraft. F/O. Shanahan, F/O. Rymal, P/O. Gardiner and Sgt. Webb survived and landed by dinghy on the coast of Algeria on 26.1.42. P/O. George voluntarily left the dinghy after two days at sea and P/O. Gardiner died of hunger and exposure shortly after reaching the shore. He was buried by the French (with full military honours) in grave 23, Kostagenen [sic] Cemetery".

The ranks given above for Don Shanahan and Lou Rymal were their later ultimate ranks; they were both sergeants at the time of the crash.

The date of death of F/O. George is a matter of some confusion. The above report states that he left the dinghy after two days at sea i.e. 21/22 January 1942 but according to information given to the RAF by Sgt. Shanahan he died at 7pm on 23 January 1942. This latter date was accepted by the RAF authorities as the date of his presumed death and is thereby given as his date of death in CWGC records. Sgt. Webb also stated that F/O. George left the dinghy on the fourth day at sea i.e. 23 January.

The three surviving crew members, Don Shanahan, Lou Rymal and Thomas Webb, suffering from shock, exposure and weight loss were hospitalised at Mostaganem and later interned in a prison camp run by the Vichy French at Laghouat about 200 miles south of Algiers. Living conditions in general and the food in particular were very bad. Don Shanahan said that during the time he spent in the camp he suffered at least six bouts of diarrhoea/dysentery lasting from 2 days and two weeks and he lost 60lbs in weight.

Following the allied landings in North Africa the prisoners were released by United States Forces on 15 November 1942 and the three crew members of Z8504 were subsequently repatriated to the UK.

The cause of the crash is alternatively stated to have been due to adverse weather conditions/storm and/or engine failure but Sgt. Shanahan avers in at least two statements that the aircraft was "shot down" and furthermore, in a Macleans magazine article of 15 June 1944 (see transcription below), he is reported as saying that the aircraft was shot down by Ju88s. The feature, stated as having been written by co-authors Don Shanahan and journalist Geoffrey Hewelcke is an account of the crash and the ensuing events.

The article contains several anomalies not least the incident of the dogfight and ensuing shooting down of Z8504 by Ju88s; this being unsubstantiated by any known official document in which bad weather and/or engine failure are consistently cited as having caused the crash.

But perhaps most baffling of all is not just the implications that Don Shanahan was the Captain of the aircraft but the assertions that he was in fact the Captain i.e."I say my crew because although I was only a sergeant at the time, I was in charge of the Wellington bomber" and later "There was George, the Australian. He was a pilot officer, superior to me in rank, but nonetheless serving as second pilot".


RAF and RAAF documentation and correspondence clearly state that Flying Officer Lloyd George RAAF was the Captain and First Pilot of Wellington Z8504.

As Don Shanahan was sadly killed on 2 April 1944 more than three months before publication of the article it is unlikely that he was involved in the final editing of the story.

However the magazine feature remains the only known detailed account of the 8 day ordeal of the crew and as such apart from the two anomalies already referred to, must be accepted as a true account of events.

It remains incomprehensible that none of the crew was deemed worthy of the award of a Gallantry Medal.



DITCHED

The epic story of two Canadian airmen’s nine-day struggle for survival after crashing in "The Med"

John D. Shanahan June 15 1944

DITCHED!

John D. Shanahan

Geoffrey Hewelcke


We regret to advise our readers that in the interval between the writing and the publication of this article its co-author, Flying Officer Don Shanahan, RCAF, was killed in the crash of a Flying Fortress mail plane in Scotland.—The Editors.



STAND BY!" I shouted. "We’re going to ditch her."

I reminded the second pilot not to release the dinghy until after we’d pranged. Then I pulled the throttle back and cut the switches. I also pressed the button to full feather our one remaining prop so’s it would stop turning before we hit the water.

I had time to put on my landing light, pull the lever for the escape hatches overhead and then pull back on the wheel, trying to pancake her in.

But it just didn’t work that way. We knifed into the water with one wing slightly low. The wing tore off and most of the boys were spilled out through the hole it made in the fuselage. But the navigator and I and the Wimpy kept on travelling straight down to Davy Jones.

The safety straps kept my face from bashing the remains of my instrument board, and then water rushed clean over my head.

How far down we went I didn’t know but my ears were sore from the water pressure for a couple of days.

I managed to release the safety straps and get out of my seat. I made for the escape hatch above. But bobbing around between me and the hatch was a body. It was the navigator. The only way out for me was to shove him up first. I straightened him out and away he shot, his Mae West taking him up.

I needed a breath of air pretty badly at this time. Still I managed to shove myself up to the escape hatch and through it. Then — I was stuck! My foot had somehow jammed! I reached down, with my ears popping, and tore the laces off my boot. That freed my foot and I took off for the surface.

It seemed an awful long way up. I remember I had time to pull the release on my Mae West and the compressed air cartridge shot it full of air. I rose in a hurry then, but my lungs were bursting by this time and I breathed in a mixture of water and air as I shot up into the night like a porpoise.

For a while I coughed and spat and knew that I was, at any rate, still alive. Then a feeling of loneliness came over me.

"Lord, where are the rest of the guys?" I thought . . .

This is about as good a time as any to introduce my crew. I say my crew because although I was only a sergeant at the time, I was in charge of the Wellington bomber that we were ferrying from England, via Gibraltar, to Bengasi to help the Eighth Army push back Rommel.

But luck was against us and after we had knocked down one Junkers 88 in a dogfight over the sea we ran into a swarm of ’em. Our machine guns wore no match for their cannon. We took an awful beating and when the starboard motor caught fire I decided to hit the deck. The deck in this case was the cold, black Mediterranean.

We were a six-man crew. Me, I’m Don Shanahan from Toronto. The other Canadian was Lou [Lewis] Rymal from Leamington, Ont. He was front gunner. At the time both of us were serving with the RAF.

Now I run into a spot of difficulty. The other members of the crew were not Canadians. Three were members of the RAF and one belonged to the Royal Australian Air Force. Hence I don’t know that I have the right to mention their family names.

This much I can do, I’m pretty sure. I can use their first names. There was George, [F/O. Lloyd George] the Australian. He was a pilot officer, superior to me in rank, but nonetheless serving as second pilot.

My navigator was another pilot officer. His first name was Jules [P/O. Julius Bergson from Bradford, Yorkshire] a dark heavy-set Jewish boy from somewhere in the south of England.

The wireless air gunner was the third pilot officer. His first name was Johnny [P/O. John Gardiner from Co. Durham]. He was a Welshman.

The last man of the crew, quite literally, was Tim [Sgt. Thomas Webb]. He was a sergeant rear gunner. Tim was a young Cockney.

Now, as I said before, we were all floundering around in the dark waters of the Mediterranean. I had no idea where the others were. Then I heard the most welcome sound in the world: it was a steady hissing — the dinghy filling with air from its cylinders. If I’d seen George just then I could have kissed him for doing such a good job of releasing it.

The moon popped out of the clouds again and there, not two feet from me, was Jules. I looked at him and saw trickles of blood running down from his ears and spreading on the wetness of his cheeks.

My own ears felt funny, too, and for a moment I wondered if I was kidding myself about that hissing noise from the dinghy. Then I spoke to Jules. I told him that I’d get the dinghy because I was a good swimmer.

And so I set out for the rubber boat, which was beginning to drift away before a 20-mile wind. I kicked off my other shoe and within 50 yards I'd caught the dinghy, hauled myself in and unlashed the paddles.

I'd started paddling toward Jules when I suddenly realized that the other boys would be unable to see me if the moon dodged behind the clouds again. So I tossed a flare into the sea. It was one of those automatic things. You strip off some surgical tape and as soon as the flare touches water it burns with a bright white light.

Within that circle of light I saw a Mae West with somebody’s arms waving around helplessly. I paddled up and found it was Tim. He hadn’t ditched his parachute harness, which was extra weight, and had forgotten to tie his Mae West properly down. The result was that the life jacket had got up over his ears and he was shipping water.

I managed to unbuckle his parachute harness and grab his arms. I lifted his arms over his head and then shoved him under water and pulled up. Up he popped like a cork and I grabbed him and had him over the side of the dinghy.

Then I saw George, he seemed to be hurt. He wasn’t unconscious — simply dopey. He was floating there in his Mae West and apparently didn’t know what was going on and couldn't help himself. Later we discovered he had been seriously hurt internally when the Wimpy pranged the sea. I pulled him in next.

That flare was good. It burned for five minutes or more and lit up at least 100 yards around the dinghy . . .

Next I saw Lou Rymal. He was bobbing along in a swell as calm and placid as could be.

"You all right, Lou?" I called.

"Sure," he said. "What’s all the excitement about?"

So I pulled him in and he took another paddle—things like huge web-fingered gloves that you had to use while bending way over the inflated side of the dinghy.

We paddled against the wind, looking for Jules. Presently the flare burned out and we used our little signalling flashlights and called his name. But we didn’t have any luck. We never found him. He was a good guy . . .

But we did find Johnny, the wireless op. He was bleeding like a stuck pig. Tim fixed him up with the first-aid kit in the dinghy. We’d all got roughed up considerably in the crash. Lou developed a couple of the nicest black eyes I’ve ever seen. George, of course, was the one who’d got it worst.

We bailed the dinghy dry and took stock of the situation. Right away we could see it was a rum go. For instance, we had no provisions. The leather boxes which were supposed to contain a week’s grub for each man had been torn away. We had four rubber hot-water bottles that were supposed to hold drinking water. But they had been punctured and the water had leaked out.

Lou had a pint flask half full of water in his pocket. That was the only water we had.

We tried to figure our position and decided we were about 300 miles east of Gibraltar and about 60 miles off the Spanish coast.


Wet and Chilled

That first night we spent in misery. It was cold. There was a nasty swell and the wind freshened to nearly gale force. We were all wet and chilled. Also we were crowded. There were five of us in the dinghy and we had to sit with our legs drawn up.

At daylight we had another confab. Chances of being rescued by any aircraft looking for us were pretty thin. Still there always was a possibility. So we tossed overboard two of the water markers that would leave a yellow trail behind the raft for rescue aircraft to follow. We also put on the yellow hats they keep in the Mae Wests so that we’d be more easily seen. Then we unshipped the air pump and used it until the dinghy walls were firm and hard again.

The first day we had a look at Lou Rymal’s flask. We decided we’d better not touch it until we absolutely had to. So that day we didn’t drink. Nor the day after — not until the third day.

Prevailing winds in that part of the Mediterranean were usually east and west. But by a break we had a wind that blew us due north, toward Spain. Our Mae Wests had yard long wide collars that were bright yellow. They were supposed to float on the water if you were in the drink and so make you more conspicuous. We sat with our backs to the wind and held these collars up like sails until our arms ached.

But before long we got a rough awakening about the nature of the Mediterranean. The wind was getting stronger all the time and now the seas were getting wicked — it’s a lot of baloney about the Med being lovely and blue and tranquil. It can be dirty — very, very dirty.

During the first two days we were capsized six times and it was a shaky do each time because the lightened craft would drift away in the high wind so fast that we had a tough time catching it.

This is what used to happen. We would be riding along all nicely and then the first of a series of great seas would overtake us. We found that they always came in threes. It would tower up over us, maybe 30 or 40 feet high, and the dinghy would start riding the wall of water. We’d ship a lot of water and usually the third wave would tip our waterlogged craft right over.

Lou and I had both played around with sailboats on the Great Lakes before the war and we decided we’d better do something. We took apart a short rope ladder in the dinghy. We tied the four corners of my leather flying jacket to it and made a sea anchor, which we let drag about 10 feet behind the dinghy. That slowed down our speed before the wind a lot — but it kept us right side up.

That storm kept up the whole nine days we were at sea. Sometimes the wind velocity must have got up to 50 or 60 miles an hour. You couldn’t hear yourself speak. The words would be torn right from your lips and hurled away and smothered in the crashing roar of the breaking seas. Never once was the sun out for more than an hour in a single day. Clouds tore along low in the sky and we wished they’d give —we wanted water so much. But they never did.

On the other hand we never were dry. Constantly soaked in salt water our skins bagged and shrivelled like a scrub woman’s hands.


Land Ahead!

The storm blew us north for the first three days and we tried to help the dinghy along with the paddles, figuring it was best to keep busy. All of us took turns at the paddles except poor George, who was hurt badly inside and could move only with great pain.

About 6 p.m. of the third day Lou and I sighted cliffs ahead. We knew it was the coast of Spain. We got within a mile and a half of the shore. Then the wind died down and promptly switched to offshore. We started paddling like mad then. At first we made a little gain. Then Lou and I jumped overboard and tried to tow the dinghy with the rope from the sea anchor. But we were a lot weaker than we thought and had to give up after half an hour.

By this time we had forced our way within a mile of the shore. We could see movement on the cliff’s, but couldn’t be certain whether we saw people or cattle. There weren’t any fishing craft in sight. Nor was there any house or village.

Four hours had passed since we had first sighted the coast and the wind was getting so strong that we gave up battling against it. So we decided to set off a marine distress rocket. It shot up stars like a Roman candle 13 of them, red, yellow and green. Then the rocket itself glowed red for 15 minutes. We got out our little signalling torches and flashed SOS at the dark cliffs. Nothing happened.

The whole of that night the wind blew strongly, carrying us in a southeasterly direction, away from Gibraltar and away from the Spanish coast toward the centre of the Mediterranean.


Dinghy Starts to Leak

Then the dinghy started to leak air. This was due to the jerking of the sea anchor and we finally posted a man, kneeling, in the stern, facing the storm, with the rope twisted about his hands. We all took turns playing shock absorber for the sea anchor while the rest of us took spells at the pump. Also, we had to contribute more clothes to the sea anchor because they kept on tearing loose.Each time a dangerously big sea came along the man at the stern would jerk the sea anchor toward him to allow some slack. Then he’d grab the gunwale rope at the stern and bend the rear of the dinghy up so that the top of the sea would not surge over it.

At the same time the rest of us would lean well toward the bow to help him raise the stern as much as possible and when he yelled we’d scramble aft just as the crest of the sea passed under the dinghy.

During the worst weather we had to do this every two minutes for hours at a stretch—and then grab the pump and try to keep the dinghy walls inflated between seas. It was grim work.

None of us had had any sleep from the time we pranged into the deck and we were getting so tired we were dopey. It took every ounce of will power to stay awake. Actually, during the entire nine days there were only about six hours when we could relax—and four of these we spent in paddling furiously while trying to reach the coast of Spain.

Finally the boys would drop asleep for a few seconds at a time, waking up when their heads jerked down. Then they’d ask me what time it was. My watch kept on going and I must have given the time thousands of times during those nine days.

Johnny was not doing too badly. Either the first-aid bandages or the salt water had stopped the bleeding. George, however, was in really bad shape. Also he suffered more from the cold than the rest of us because he couldn’t keep himself warm by working.

On the third day we’d given the injured men a mouthful of water each from Lou’s flask. Lou and I stuck it out until the fourth day and then took a mouthful each. Then we gave the rest of the water to the lads who had been hurt.

The evening of the fourth day, however, Lou and I were pretty thirsty. We’d read that if you soaked yourself in sea water you wouldn’t die of thirst and we also wanted to see whether we could fix up some of the leaks on the under-side of the dinghy. The wind dropped for about an hour just before sunset and nearly all of us went overboard to float in the sea. We fixed the worst leak in the dinghy. One of the boys had chewed gum from his escape kit until it was all tacky. He used this with some Cellophane from a packet of cigarettes to make something like a blowout patch, which we crammed into the crack at the joint. It made a pretty good repair job.

Being in the water relieved our thirst to some extent, but it seemed to leave us awfully weak. At sunset we climbed back into the dinghy and wrung out our wet clothes, trying to get them moderately dry for the night, working in a dopey daze because we were so exhausted.

Suddenly Johnny lifted a hand over his eyes and stared at the horizon.

"I'm beginning to see things," he said. "That ship's duff gen, isn’t it?"

Lou glanced up.

"Holy smoke, no!" he said. "That’s pukka gen!"

A small freighter was poking across the horizon. It would come fairly close to us, we thought.

Immediately our exhaustion vanished. We started paddling on a course that we thought would intercept it. But presently we could see that the freighter would pass at least a mile off.

We built a human pyramid on the raft, with two of us below and one man on top waving a shirt. But the sun was setting directly behind us and we must have been hard to see. Next we lit a red flare—but that was also killed by the sunset. We really ran into tough luck with that ship. We had helio mirrors to flash, but with the sun sinking directly behind us we couldn’t bring the reflection to bear on the freighter.

One or two of the boys absolutely refused to believe that the lookouts had not spotted us. They thought that the ship’s skipper wasn’t having any part of us because German submarines have used lifeboats and all kinds of other traps to lure ships within gun or torpedo range.

Finally the freighter crossed the horizon and night fell. With darkness the wind came again. Along came the big seas once more.

A couple of the boys lost heart now. George was the most affected. He’d been badly hurt and had a concussion besides. Johnny didn’t feel any too good either. Both of them started to talk about their mothers and how they were going to pull through for their sakes. But they’d lost their fighting spirit.


Pray For Rescue

The next morning we prayed to God for rescue. Before that we’d only cursed our luck. Prayer helped. We were all of different denominations, but we’d all join in the Lord’s Prayer. It got to be a regular thing to pray in the morning and again at nightfall. We’d recite the Lord’s Prayer and then each of us would add a prayer of his own.

On the fifth day George wouldn’t brighten up at all. He was in terrible pain and despondent as well. Lou Rymal’s flask of fresh water was empty by now and we saw George sneaking little drinks of sea water.

Suddenly he handed me his escape kit with money and maps in it. Up to that time he’d had it in his tunic pocket.

"This bothers me," he said. "Look after it, will you?"

Then he said that he hoped the boys would get through all right.

I threw the kit back at him and told him not to be stupid. We’d all get through together.

He seemed to quieten down after that but some hours later methodically took off his Mae West and his leather flying jacket. He said he wanted to dry off. After a while he put his jacket on again and said he wanted to sit on the stern gunwale and stretch his legs a bit. Suddenly he heaved himself overboard.

We made a wild grab for him but he kicked himself free. I threw him my Mae West but he just waved to us and inside 30 seconds we lost sight of him.

This was a bad day. Now Johnny started getting delirious. We tried to keep an eye on him to prevent him following George but it was terribly difficult because we were so played out.

There were only three of us strong enough to do any work now: Lou and Tim and I. We tried to fix a schedule. One of us would pump for 10 minutes. Another would hold the sea anchor and the third would try to get a 10 minute nap.

In one of these I was dreaming of Niagara Falls — all beautiful fresh water — suddenly I wakened with my mouth full of something. It was wet! It was salt water! I spat. I looked. Tim had gone to sleep at the pump and Lou, holding the sea-anchor rope, with his back to him, hadn’t noticed it. The dinghy had leaked so much air in less than 10 minutes that it was barely afloat.

Lou and I started pumping and bailing like mad until the gunwales rounded out again. Tim was apologetic. We knew that be was pretty far gone and suspected he had been drinking sea water.

The night was really terrible. It seemed so long and cold and dark. Johnny mumbled and moaned to himself all night long. He talked baby talk and became delirious. He flung himself about wildly. The dinghy by now was braced together with a harness of ropes and neckties and was in a really precarious condition. But Johnny kicked at the ropes and lashings in his delirium and we couldn’t stop him.

The sixth day dawned. We held our prayers and then looked at the compasses. The wind had turned again and now was sweeping us toward the African coast. We thought we could keep afloat for quite a while yet and had a good chance of making a landing if the wind kept up. So we started talking about what we might run into. Our chief worry was that we’d be washed up against a rocky cliff coast because North Africa is pretty mountainous. But mostly our talk was wishful thinking; trying to encourage ourselves to live; trying to give our minds something to chew on; to take them off our thirst and hunger.

The seventh day was wicked. It was still storming and we were being pitched up and down. I felt very low that day. I kept thinking of home and of mother and of everything that was swell back in Toronto. Then I realized I that I was going the way Johnny and George had gone and that I’d better snap out of it.

By this time all the clothing I had left consisted of my under pants, vest and my service shirt. But despite the hotter temperatures, despite the wind and spray I never caught cold, never once sneezed or coughed or had a sniffle. I shivered often. Lordy, how I shivered! I’d shake all over and my teeth would chatter like castanets — and then I’d get over my shivering and be almost comfortable for a little while. Later on doctors told me that I probably shivered so much and so hard that I warmed myself up as if I’d run half a mile.

On the eighth day neither Lou nor I could swallow the hard black chocolate left in our escape kit. We could grind it to powder between our molars but couldn’t get it down. The inside of my mouth was as dry as an old shoe. In desperation, I dropped a chlorine water-disinfecting tablet into some of my urine, let it dissolve and then took a sip of it to wash the chocolate dust down my throat.

Tim and Johnny were barely alive — nothing more. We did our best to keep their heads out of the water washing about in the half-filled dinghy. We were too weak now to do any bailing.

On the ninth night Lou and I decided that we were too weak to paddle. We were too weak, also, to take spells acting as shock absorbers for the sea anchor. Besides our wrists were torn to ribbons from the rope. So we tried a new system. We tied the rope around our ankles and lay down in the water in the dinghy. Our leg muscles were still strong enough to take the drag from the sea anchor, even if our arms and wrists were not.


Hope Revived

Gradually, that evening, the waves changed in nature. They became a huge rolling swell. Then we saw sea gulls. Soon after that Lou made a grab overboard at something floating in the water and came up with a handful of seaweed. We knew then we were nearing shore.

Around 10 that night I saw a light on the horizon. For a while I looked at it steadily and kept on pumping, thinking that it was a planet just coming over the horizon. Then I saw another light. This was too good to keep to myself. So I shook Lou and pointed.

"Lights," I said.

Lou was still half-asleep. He’d been dreaming that he was coming back from a raid on Germany. He looked up dopily, first at me and then at the lights.

"You’re a lousy navigator if that’s the best airport you can find," he grumbled. Then he dropped off to sleep. I shook Lou again and again. I got real mad at him. Finally he snapped out of his sleep and looked at the lights with intelligence in his eyes.

"Land," I shouted.

"Well, I’ll be . . .," said Lou slowly. "You’re right!"

We set to work then. We blew up all the Mae Wests and lashed them low on ourselves and the invalids in case we had to swim for it. We pulled up the sea anchor and scudded as fast as we could before the wind.

It was getting on to 11 p.m. now. We kept staring at the lights, wondering what they were. Later we found they were markers for the port of Mostaganem, a bit east of Oran in Algeria, and later used by the Americans as one of the landing ports for the invasion of North Africa.

But at the time the lights put the wind up us. We figured, rightly enough, that where there were lighthouses there must be a bad coast. Actually the coast was dangerous, huge rocks and cliffs. But for once our luck held. We hit a spot that was not too foul.

At the time we didn’t know our luck. All we knew was that surf was breaking all around us. The white water started to break over into the dinghy. We had to bail like mad and pump at the same time. We tried to rouse Tim and Johnny to help us or at least to keep their heads out of the water by themselves.

But Tim was cold and stiff — and so was Johnny. We couldn’t get a movement out of either of them.

That was about the worst part of the trip. The suspense was terrific because we were certain the dinghy would be bashed into the rocks or against a cliff. We bailed and pumped and just when we thought we had things under control a big comber suddenly flipped the dinghy up and almost over. Lou was thrown overboard. I grabbed him and caught a handful of hair. When the next wave lifted his side of the dinghy I jerked forward and brought him into the boat. Lou splashed face down into the water and rolled over till his face was clear.


Crash Landing

In about 10 minutes more we were on shore. By a miracle the dinghy made a crash landing on a bit of sandy beach. Lou and I got out and tried to stand. We fell flat on our faces. We crawled to the dinghy and the next wave helped us to push it farther up the beach. Then we collapsed in the sand.

Presently I looked at my watch again. It was four o’clock in the morning. Over to the east there was a faint greyness in the sky.

Then Lou and I tried to haul Tim and Johnny out of the dinghy. But we soon gave up that effort. They were stiff. In the uncertain light their faces and hands looked bluish. We knew then that they were dead; that they had probably been dead for hours.

About this time a crazy delusion overpowered me. I was certain, somehow, that we were in the Bay of Fundy, where there are the highest tides in the world. Above us there was a 300-foot cliff. I had the feeling that we had to get to the top of this cliff before the tide came in and trapped us. It was all a lot of nonsense, actually, because at that point in the Mediterranean the tide is only about a foot.

But I suddenly started hounding Lou to climb that cliff. I felt the tide was lapping right at our heels. Lou, I guess, climbed just to humor me. But we were woefully weak, and it wasn’t until six hours later that we stood on the top of the cliff.

It was broad daylight now and out of the shelter of the cliff we noticed that there was a strong wind blowing. Lou turned to face it.

"It’s changed," he croaked. "It’s blowing offshore now!"


EDITOR’S NOTE: The two Canadian survivors stumbled into a nearby settlement where they were befriended by a priest. A doctor called in to attend them turned the airmen over to the Vichy French authorities. Shanahan and Rymal were interned in a desert prisoners-of-war camp and were not released until some months later when the Allied invasion of French North Africa took place. Eventually they returned to Canada.


AIRCREW REMEMBERED WOULD LIKE TO THANK MARY ANN CARSS FOR PROVIDING THE FOREGOING COPY OF THE MACLEANS MAGAZINE ARTICLE "DITCHED".



BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS OF THE CREW


(1) F/O. Lloyd George was born on 10 June 1918 at Broken Hill, New South Wales, Australia the son of Lionel Bert George and Emma Sara George. The family later lived at Harris Street Cannington, a suburb of Perth, Western Australia. Lloyd was employed as a Clerk in a Chartered Accountants' office. When he enlisted at Perth on 11 Novemer 1940 he was 5'8" tall weighing 148lbs with a sallow complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. After training at No. 5 Initial Training School, RAAF Pearce, No. 9 Elementary Flying Training School at RAAF Cunderdin and No. 4 Service Flying Training School, RAAF Geraldton all bases in Western Australia, he was awarded his Flying Badge on 2 May 1941. On 1 July he was commissioned as a Pilot Officer and on the 17th embarked for the UK. On 26 September he was posted to No. 23 Operational Training Unit at RAF Pershore, Worcestershire and on 4 January 1942 to No. 15 Operational Training Unit at RAF Harwell, Berkshire. He was promoted to Flying Officer on 1 January 1942.

He is commemorated on the Australian War Memorial at Canberra on Panel 122 and the Perth War Memorial.

(2) F/O. John Donald "Don" Shanahan was born on 14 November 1912 at Swansea a neighbourhood of Toronto, Canada the son of John Malone Ira Shanahan (a Wholesaler) and Gladys Mary Shanahan nee Hunter.

He had two bothers and four sisters and the family lived at 274 Ellis Avenue, Swansea, Toronto. Educated at St. Vincent de Paul School, Toronto (1918-1925) and Runnymede College, Toronto (1926-1930) he later became a professional Canadian Football lineman with the Toronto Argonauts. During the summer he worked as a Life Guard. He had also worked as a Timekeeper, a Surveyor and for the eight months prior to enlisting, a Gold Mill Operator. When he enlisted at Toronto on 19 October 1940 he was described at the time as being 5' 1¾" tall weighing 175lbs of medium complexion, with blue eyes and brown hair.

A keen athlete he played football and rugby and competed at swimming, boxing, wrestling, track and field, sailing and sweep oars. His interest in all things athletic even extended to him taking a correspondence course in physiotherapy.

His RCAF medical report stated that he had "an excellent physique" an attribute together with his outstanding overall fitness which after the ditching, gave him the strength to literally man-handle the crew into the dinghy and to endure the tremendous exertions of the ensuing eight days adrift.

After Initial Training School, Toronto, No. 13 Elementary Flying Training School, RCAF St. Eugene, Ontario and No.6 Service Flying Training School, RCAF Dunnville, Ontario he was awarded his Flying Badge and promoted to Sergeant on 27 July 1941. He embarked for the UK on 14 August 1941 and on arrival was posted first to No. 3 Personnel Reception Centre at Bournemouth, then to No. 21 Operational Training Unit (OTU) at RAF Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire for training on the Vickers Wellington on 4 October and to No. 15 OTU at RAF Harwell, Berkshire on 4 January 1942.

During his internment Don Shanahan was promoted, first to Flight Sergeant on 27 January 1942 and then to Warrant Officer 2nd Class on 27 July 1942. Shortly after his release he was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on 26 November 1942.

His release from internment and subsequent return to Canada in early December 1942 apparently began well but his ordeal after the ditching and poor treatment in Algeria had taken its toll on his health. After contracting a cold consisting of a sore throat and nasal discharge he then developed a distressing cough which gradually increased in severity and he was eventually admitted to Christie Street Hospital, Toronto on 1 January 1943 suffering from pneumonia. He was released from hospital three weeks later and remained on sick leave whilst recovering.

He married his American fiancée Alice Holt Horsfield at Toronto on 6 April 1943 and on 26 May 1943 he was promoted to Flying Officer.

He returned to his base, RAF Rockcliffe, Ottawa and was posted onto a Flying Refresher Course. However he became ill again and was admitted to Ottawa Civic Hospital on 1 June 1943 with a recurrence of the dysentery picked up in Algeria. He was not finally discharged until 12 August when he returned to his unit.

On 28 October 1943 he was posted to 168 Squadron RCAF, a heavy transport (H.T.) squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force (unrelated to No. 168 Squadron RAF) which formed at Rockcliffe, Ontario in October 1943. Up to this time, mail had been sent by ships but due to the high losses at sea and the importance of mail to service personnel, the decision was made to switch the method of transport to aircraft. The Squadron’s primary role was to deliver mail to Europe, initially using six, surplus B-17 Flying Fortresses aircraft acquired from the US. Many modifications had to be made to these aircraft to make them both serviceable and useful in their role including new engines, removal of guns and other structural changes.

After a series of internal flights to Moncton, Toronto, Edmonton and Winnipeg, Don's crew made a trip to the UK on 5 January 1944 returning just over three weeks later on 30 January. A second trip to the UK was made on 21 February returning on 11 March and two weeks later on 23 March they were back to the UK again.

On 2 April 1944 Flying Fortress III 9207 took off from RAF Prestwick for Canada. Shortly after take-off the aircraft was observed to climb steeply, stall and spinning to the ground under full power crashed and burst into flames. Rescue attempts were thwarted by the fire and all five crew members died in the crash. No official cause of the crash was found, but a report theorised that the cargo shifted in flight shortly after take-off. The aircraft did not have the latest version of RCAF mail restraints installed.

Don Shanahan was the co-pilot of the aircraft, the other four RCAF crew members were

F/O. Norman Carrell Cathcart (Pilot) F/O. Hugh Charles McFadden (Navigator) F/O. Gordon Thomas Gaunt (Wireless Operator/Air Gunner) and Corporal Elmer Ivan Lavergne (Aero Engine Mechanic)

All five crew members were buried at Monkton and Prestwick Cemetery, Ayrshire, Scotland.

The memory of Flying Officer John Donald Shanahan was honoured by the Province of Ontario in 1960 with the naming Shanahan Island at Parry Sound, Ontario. (Details kindly supplied by our Colin Bamford)




(3) P/O. Julius Bergson was born in 1910 at Bradford, West Riding of Yorkshire the son of Russian born parents Philip Bergson (a Tailor) and Leah Bergson. Philip and Leah Bergson were naturalised British subject as of 18 February 1909 and Julius was the youngest of the couple's 13 children, all born in Bradford. In 1911 the family lived in a seven roomed property at 6 Coleridge Place.

1065787 LAC Julius Bergson was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) on 7 September 1941 (London Gazette 14 October 1941)

(4) P/O. John George Stratford (Johnny) Gardiner was born in 1920 at South Shields, Co. Durham the son of George Gardiner and Jane Pow Gardiner nee Stratford. He had two brothers, George Gardiner born 1923 and Ellis W. Gardiner born 1926.

LAC 947535 J.G.S. Gardiner was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) on 12 September 1941 (London Gazette 28 October 1941)

(5) Sgt. Lewis John (Lou) Rymal the son of Mrs. E. Rymal of 2 Hazelton Street Leamington, Ontario, Canada.

(6) Sgt. Thomas Henry Webb was born in 1921 Stepney, London the son of Thomas Henry Webb and Emma Webb nee Sheppard. Sgt. Webb was killed on 3 April 1943 whilst a member of the crew of Halifax JB845 of 78 Squadron which crashed at Nederweert, Holland during an operation to bomb Essen. All the crew were killed and are buried at Eindhoven (Woensel) General Cemetery.


BURIAL, EPITAPH AND MEMORIAL DETAILS

F/O. Lloyd George - Having no known grave he is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial - Panel 109.

P/O. Julius Bergson - Having no known grave he is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial - Panel 68

Julius is also remembered in an inscription added to the Family Gravestone at Scholemore Cemetery Hebrew Section, Necropolis Rd Lidget Green, Bradford, West Riding of Yorkshire. The inscription (in Hebrew Text) reads:

In Memoriam

Pilot Officer Julius Bergson RAF

Who died in action 19 January 1942

Sadly missed by his family and friends.

"Sweet be his sleep

In his unknown resting place"

P/O. John George Stratford Gardiner was buried at the Mostaganem Civil Cemetery near Oran, Algeria - Plot 23. Row. 2 Grave 3.

His epitaph reads

God takes our loved ones

From our homes

But never from our hearts.


Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for all the relatives and friends of the members of this crew - November 2016

With thanks to the sources quoted below.

RW 19.11.2016

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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