20/21.12.1943 No. 408 Squadron Lancaster II DS704 EQ-W P/O. Morrison
Date: 20/21st December 1943 (Monday/Tuesday)
Unit: No. 408 Squadron (R.C.A.F.)
Type: Lancaster II
Base: R.A.F. Linton-On-Ouse, Yorkshire
Location: Tessenderlo, Belgium
Pilot:P/O.Leslie Caryle Morrison AUS/413648 RAAF Age 22. Evaded capture
Fl/Eng: Sgt. Tom R. Reynolds 1807833 RAFVR. Age 19. Evaded capture
Nav: P/O. Allen French Wright 159087 RAFVR Age 28. Killed
Air/Bmr:Fl/Sgt. Clayton Dougal MacLachlan R/130948 RCAF Age 22. Evaded capture
W/Op/Air/Gnr: P/O. Alex G. Dumbrell 159001 RAFVR Evaded capture
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Roy 'Bill' William Heaton 1494685 RAFVR Age 21. Killed
Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Edward 'Sammy' A. Salmon R/188012 RCAF Age 20. PoW No: 3602 Camp: Stalag Kopernikus
REASON FOR LOSS:
The story is best told in the words of one of the survivors and submitted to Aircrew Remembered April 2013 by his sons.
The day had passed in much the same manner as others when a night bombing operation was planned. Our morning daily inspections of aircraft, were more meticulous than average. The slightly tense, respectful air of ground crews noticeable on 'ops' days was evident.
Checking my radio equipment, spare head-sets, contacting station signals and a local direction finding centre to obtain a verification of our D/F aerial accuracy. Making certain all fuses being my responsibility were O.K. and finally the entire inter-communicalion system inside the plane from each crew position was in working order, I relate and made my way to the Mess for a drink and chat. This would be about 11.30 a.m.
The ground crews maintaining our Lancasters were magnificent. Not only did they work unceasingly for many hours upon end but often they sufferers as we did; the cancellation of an operation which meant that their work had been in vain. Briefing that particular afternoon told us that the target for the night was Frankfurt. Sighs of relief all round for we had flown four times to Berlin out of the last five raids.
After our 'flying' supper in the Mess we made our way to the hangers where we always dressed for the trip. We busied ourselves, donning a wide variety of clothing, not always of a regulation style, clothes worn by 408 Squadron were no less wild than others.
Scarves coloured to delight or shock the eye. Sweaters knitted by Mums and wives, girl friends or sweethearts. Even a silk stocking around one pilot's neck - a gift? Or a battle honour of a different kind?
Muddled thoughts tip-toed through my mind as I prepared my gear. Usual ones about wife, family, home and, always nearly the last whether to pay a final, final visit to the toilets. Strange combination, but there you are. We were but human.
From outside someone shouted, ''Lets have you then'', and we filed out carrying an assortment of clothes and equipment lo board the buses or trucks which look the crews to their different aircraft, dispersed widely around 1he airfield. The inside of the bus, or truck, was always thick with cigarette smoke and ribald remarks. The smoke, and rude comments cheerfully called, follow us as we climbed out in front of 'W-Willie', Lancaster DS7O4, on the far side of Linton-on-ouse field near York. (aircraft shown 'W-Willie')
Black, huge, silent and deadly looking, the new Mark II Lancaster. Stood there waiting for us to bring it to life. With the four, very big radial engines from the Bristol Aircraft Co, each developing more than 1750 H.P., the machine gave us something which could carry 12,000 lbs. of bombs to Berlin and out manoeuvre many other aircraft.
We walked towards starboard wing and under it, to stand alongside the fuselage by the entrance door. The short ladder in place for us to climb aboard.
An Australian appeared from within, followed by a couple of Aussie army types. Flying Officer Gibbons, the only other Australian at Linton, besides our own pilot Les Morrison, he was a signals chap now grounded after flying many hours.
Introductions were made and we learned that the Aussies had never seen a Lancaster before. They seemed overawed by their viewing, especially so by the great yawning open bomb bay, with its 8,000 lb. bomb and 4000 lbs. of mixed incendiaries. (The bomb doors were left open at this stage for examination) '' Off to kill a few more women and kids?' This remarkable question came from Gibbons. He knew the story of 1he female who had stood in the middle of a York restaurant, screaming and raving at our crew, calling us murderers of women and children.
We had remained dumb with astonishment at her violent verbal attack. Stunned with the truth of it also perhaps. It was an awful episode - had it happened in Germany of course! she would have been signing her own death warrant after probable Immediate arrest - The Aussie army chaps looked embarrassed at Gibbon's remark.
Someone gave a little laugh, 'Chipper' I believe. I began to dislike Gibbons. He was a good type but I thought the comment at that time was bloody awful.
Les quietly exchanged Australian news with the others while the rest of us enjoyed a final cigarette before entering 'W-Willie'. A few natural thoughts came and disappeared. 'Wonder if we'll make it this time? - 'When did I last write home? - 'Frankfurt should be a ''piece of cake'' this trip'.
Les looked as his wrist watch. '' Come on, let's go" He picked up his 'chute, said a few words to Gibbons which brought a wink and a grin in return. The soldiers gave us thumbs up and we climbed into the fuselage. Moving forward inside, I seated myself in my wireless operators cabin just behind 'Smokeys'. His cabin, 1he navigator's, was between me and the cockpit where Les and Tommy began to busy themselves. Mac went down into the nose to make a last minute check of bomb sights and other gear. Soon he would appear beside 'Smokey' where he stayed until airborne. The nose was the last place to be during a take-off or landing.
When we first flew Halifax bombers, I had been in an R.A.F. hospital when a couple of chaps were wheeled in, very badly injured. They, the bomb aimer, navigator and wireless operator had stayed in the nose section during practice landings. One had gone wrong and they crashed heavily. (The crew positions in a Halifax were quite different than the Lanc)
In my cabin, I lodged 'Enery' on top of the transmitter.
'Enery' was a doll dressed In R.A.F. uniform, given to us as a lucky mascot. I never had the heart to tell all the well wishers who had given mascots and charms etc. that it was never possible to take even half of them.
Slowly, 'W-Willie' came to life. The many voices of the Lancaster began whispering. Switches, levers, instruments all lit by fading daylight outside and low red lights inside. The lights were enough to see but yet invisible to the unfriendly.
Checking the inter-communication system, Les spoke to all of us in turn. To me he said ''Did you get my spare 'mike' fixed''.
''Yes'' I answered, and scrounged another one. "good-o''.
One by one the engines fired and ran smoothly. With Tommy carefully verifying all the instruments such as pressure gauges, fuel flow indicators, temperatures, engine speeds, to name but a few, A signal to the ground crew from Les indicated that he was about to run them up. A surge of power as the aircraft fought against the brakes and wheel chocks. Slow now as Les waved the chocks away and we moved gently forward on to the perimeter track. The tail swung first one way then the other as Les nursed the mass of heavily laden Lancaster towards the end of the main runway.
There was 1he usual queue of aircraft lined up each side of the runway waiting their turn to swing round in front of the control caravan, carry out a cockpit drill, wail for a 'green' from the man standing by the caravans then off with a thunderous roar.
I looked down at the usual crowd of lads and lassies in Air Force Blue, all waving and giving the thumbs up sign. I recall a never to be forgotten scene witnessed at R.A.F. Leering when we flew Halifaxes.
Left: P/O. Alex G. Dumbrell - writer of this article
An aircraft stood in front of the caravan, everyone on the ground waving, when suddenly something very odd happened.
As though a starting pistol had been fired, all except the 'man with the lamp' did an about turn and ran. W.A.A.P.S with skirts up, blokes with heads down, ran as though their lives depended upon their speed. They did! Unseen by us until it appeared in view, rolling towards the side of the runway, was a 4,000 lb. bomb which had detached itself from the bomb bay and forced open the bomb doors of the Halifax aircraft!
The Corporal who still stood there with his Aldis lamp in hand was either an extremely brave man or a very knowledgeable fellow. Bombs were fused electrically in the air at an agreed time even so, no one really knew if the then new bombs had any strange habits. Seeing it drop some 9 or 10 feet lo the ground in front of you was rather frightening. It was no surprise that the crowd waving had galloped away like the light cavalry in a full charge! He made what must have been our very fastest cockpit check and take off ever, with the bomb still laying there from the aircraft ahead of us which had taxied away down the runway and turned off at the first inter-section immediately the pilot realised they had shed their 'cookie'. I'm sure all other crews had thoughts such as ours passing through their minds. ' Will we lose ours at the wrong time '?
There were no further reports. It must have been an unfortunate isolated incident. Very, very funny to look back upon. Unnerving to say the least, when an unwilling witness.
Back to December l9th 1943. - This time things were smooth. With the deep roar from the four engines, we moved, slowly at first as if reluctant to move. In the gathering dusk, gaining speed, we headed down the runway with the early evening shadows upon the grass at each side flowing away behind us more and more rapidly. The aircraft tail lifted. Les held 'W-Willie' down on the two main wheels until the very last moment, making certain maximum speed was obtained before lifting off, nursing the aircraft into the free air beautifully.
The butterflies inside me stopped their movement as I relaxed.
Taking off at dusk, especially in cloudy conditions, revealed such wonders of colours and quickly changing moods of scenery that often I looked out upon the world below and cried silently - This is War?. There was a regular drill followed after laking off because there were so many aircraft in the sky. Aircraft gained height slowly, orbiting in wisp circles. Clouds would blot out the remaining light until they thinned into nothing by the propellers and 'pop', as we flew into the brightest of blue and clear clean sunlight.
Catching up on past hours in a magical way because as we rose towards the height at which we were to level out, we left the approaching night on the ground and reached for the setting sun. Usually I stood looking out of the astro-dome above my cabin. Beneath would be an unending grey white undulating and billowing carpet of cloud through which as one's eyes swept the skies, other bombers would appear as we had until the area filled with distant black moths, large and menacing if near small and very small as the whole force assembled. The sheer beauty of it defies any description from me.
The flopping up and climbing circles ends; when, as though a thunderous voice said, "Now''. The aircraft were suddenly all heading in the same direction.
Crossing the Belgian coast, things followed the recognised pattern.
Plenty of flak all around, filling the quickly darkening night sky with anger. Strange how it all seemed remote until you found yourself the centre piece of a firework display right out of hell. - A display of mans progress. It took only half the time to be killed in a hundred new ways.
Clearing the enemy coastal defences, our course was now generally east-south east between Antwerp and Bruxelles. Just after 'smokey' gave Les a new course to steer I disconnected myself from the inter-com. to listen out for another Group broadcast. This new course to steer was the last one according lo the flight plan and should take us right to Frankfurt, the target.
With a speed which left me gasping, 1he end of 'W-Willie' commenced with some slight weaving, the usual indication that enemy fighters had been sighted. Switching myself back into the system, I heard Sammy say, 'Can't be sure skipper it looks like a twin engined job''. - that explained the weaving action taken by Les.
Then, as I stood up to peer around through Gastro-dome the aircraft gave a long convulsive shudder under a hail of bullets or shells.
They came from in front, bits of my transmitter and receiver close to the port side shattered. 'Thank Christ I'd been standing' if It looks like a bloody Lancaster '' yelled Mac from the nose.
It is a Lanc, shouted Tommy furiously.
Mac, stringing swearwords together at the aircraft in front - quite close enough for us to identify it as a Mark I. - opened fire upon the fool of a rear gunner without taking aim, merely swinging the two Browning guns around in a small hose-piping circle as a warning.
Tongues of fire began to leap from the trailing edge of the port wing and both port engines which faltered, picked up again hesitantly until Les slowed them completely and feathered the propellers and asked Tommy to try 1he fire extinguishers installed in each engine. It was useless flames vomited from the port wing and engines in increasing length. (The Lancaster which fired upon us was not German controlled as has been suggested lo me. We had allowed this machine and together with a number or others , had kept visible contact for ages) 'This isn't funny' I thought as my stomach tightened in fear.
"Everyone O.K.''? This was Les on the inter-com.
All answered and Les immediately asked. 'Smokey' where we were exactly. 'Without hesitation, he replied that we were about 15 miles north of Louvain.
'' Thanks navigator '' . Formal now that danger threatened, Les faced an enormous problem. All this took seconds and a cry from Tommy drew attention to the guilty aircraft in front .
'' He' s failing away to starboard, looks out of control '' He was yelling about the other Lancaster which had. apparently attacked us.
How the engines Tommy?
''Both port outer and inner on fire. Oil temperatures and pressures dangerous. Losing fuel too.''
My heart sank as I looked down the fuselage towards the rear turret, my eyes taking in the rest position behind my cabin, the bottom of the mid-upper turret. Smoke lots of it was filling the aircraft. Grabbing a fire extinguisher from its rack I called, "Skipper, wireless op. here. Going back to have a look round"
I struggled over 1he main spar, reached 1he mid-upper turret, 'chipper's legs, giving him a thumbs up as he looked down.
No time for a portable oxygen bottle and lungs were soon straining.
The photo-flood was still in position in the flare chute. Capable of destroying the aircraft if it detonated, I jettisoned it. Looking for 1he source of the smoke which was thickening all the time, I stooped down and peered through the inspection window into 1he bomb-bay. It was alight. Shaking now? I plugged into the nearest Jack point and rather breathlessly said, '' Skipper, the bomb bay, its alight.
'' O.K., we'll drop 'em, watch them away All"
'' Standing by'', I answered.
Mac had been listening and had come in with a quiet ''Bomb aimer standing by '''Bomb doors open from Les. A statement followed immediately by Mac saying, Bombs gone.
I gulped as the slip stream of air rushed into 1he bomb bay, swirling the smoke and flames around. I wailed, watching intently for any 'hang ups. No they had all gone although the smoke and flames remained licking at the sides of 1he bay.
All bombs away Les ''
'O.K. All, you'd better come forward again if you want to do anything about the fire.''
'' Will do, there's nothing I can do Les, sorry I can't see what's burning, could be fuel or electrics By now, we were not far from 1he German frontier. As I made my way forward, I saw flames licking the fuselage and the starboard wing rapidly becoming enveloped, so with little surprise I heard Les say,' Sorry lads but this is it, abandon aircraft, abandon aircraft ''
Each of us, according to the book, answered in turn. (Les's last words to us inside our doomed W-Willie' were a simple, ''Good luck.
Near the beginning of my tale I gave the order of baling out from a Lancaster. Rear gunner from his turret, Bomb aimer, Engineer, Navigator, Wireless operator, mid-upper gunner (unless he had used risky) finally, when everyone was clear, the Pilot followed the rest via the escape hatch in the bomb-aimer's compartment. Such a small hatch too, which was the cause of much loss of life.
Daring the excitement, everyone had forgotten the twin engined aircraft spotted by Sammy. No British twin engined aircraft were flying that night so the chances were naturally pointed towards it being German. Only in later years did I wonder whether it had been a Junkers night fighter fitted with fixed upward firing twin 20 mm. cannon, it used lo manoeuvre under the Bomber, its blind spot, and then blast the two guns upward to the belly of the aircraft above.
Perhaps the rear gunner of the Lancaster which had definitely fired back at us had panicked slightly. Seeing our aircraft weaving from side to side, he may have thought we were about to attack him.
Or, he had also spotted the enemy fighter and had fired without thought of direction. - As a crew we learned quickly that you only opened fire upon enemy aircraft as a last resort. - If they knew you had them spotted, generally they knew we had all the advantage because with limited visibility they had to bring their aircraft close and became a target for at least four, and often six Browning machine guns all firing an average of 1100 rounds per minute each.
We'll never know whether the German also joined in although in t946 when my wife and I went to Belgium to find a certain cemetery, alongside my two comrades' graves were seven air crew from another Lancaster which fell at the same time and reasonably close on Belgium soil. If it was a German with the 'Schrage Musik' guns. Who knows? - As we attempted to bale out, what followed took only a couple of minutes or less.
Tommy had disappeared into the night after Mac, I stood by Les's side in the cockpit watching quite calmly down towards 'Smokey' who had assisted Tommy's leaving with a well placed foot upon his shoulder.
The escape hatch was situated at the bottom of a couple of steps leading down from the cockpit to the bomb aimer's compartment.
I leaned down and forward, holding on to the under edge of the instrument panel as I waited my turn - at this precise moment, 'Smokey' blocks; my entire view of the escape hatch although, by his attitude I knew he was about to ease himself out, facing the rear, the correct procedure so that one's legs did not get pinned back momentarily by the force.of air flow beneath the fuselage.
The aircraft gave an enormous shudder. I stood up, still clutching the underneath of the panel. Les struck me upon the back.
I turned and Les appeared to slump forward on the control column - Had he tried lo warn me of danger? Or hurry me lo get out ? He could not see into the bomb aimer's compartment from his position so had no idea of the slight delays occurring.
controlling 'W-Willie upon a level keel evolved into a nightmare of flame framed action.
My mind raced, how high were we? What's happening all this as the Lancaster dropped from the sky like a stone, diving and gradually turning while the flames licked around all over the port wing and threatened the whole airframe, filling the cockpit and fuselage with smoke. My right am took a violent, suddenly applied strain as we fell. The movement spun me around slightly and from the corner of an eye I caught a glimpse of 'Chipper' hurtling backwards from
1he navigator's cabin where he had waited patiently for his turn to abandon aircraft.
(Both he and 'Smokey' were to die, trapped. One in the main body of the fuselage and the other in the bomb aimers compartment.)
I'm fairly certain that my first thought to step out of all the bewildering mixture of fear, worry about 'chipper' and 'smokey' and Les was wounded, not said anything, and collapsed while trying lo warn me putting the plane into a near vertical dive.' (years later I learnt that Les had tried desperately to hold on to a flight attitude which would enable all his crew to leave without further danger. There was little or no hope for him anyway but that was typical of the man, alas, the damage sustained proved too much for the maintenance of altitude and without warning, 'W-Willie' 'stalled,then as Les went to ease the slick' forward lo lose height and gain enough speed to level out again, there was no power left and the aircraft became uncontrollable)
I dragged myself towards the pilot's seat, reached up and jettisoned the hatch above his head with a crazy notion of pushing Les up and out, grabbing his parachute release ring as he went, knowing that he and I would be battered by the fixed aerials, and any other bits protruding from above the aircrafts but not caring. The forces applied to our bodies made it impossible to do anything else.
Les seemed to move as I tried to squeeze in beside him God knows how I straighten our terrible dive into a level position.
It was mad, yet my action may have saved our lives. Trying to ease the control column back - was Les conscious? he did seem to be taking over again - I, or we, overdid things and with a frightening roar of noise the machine flipped over and over throwing me heavily against The starboard side of the cockpit where I remained pinned like a fly on sticky paper with the centrifugal forces applied from our sickening spiral to earth. The din mixed with fire playing and leaping everywhere was appalling. I stared, horrified at Les.
''This is definitely it '' I thought. '' Crash, damn you''. It was ages before a thunderous noise accompanied by what I can only describe as a blinding flash of light. A noise such as I never want to hear again complete with scorching heat ending in absolute nothingness.
Trees and something down there my silent body floated again nothing, small flames on my harness - brush them out. Trees again and the something were all brighter now. Long fingers of brilliant light criss-crossed below me. Below me?
This dying business is so bloody easy'. ' Why is everything turning slowly beneath me Peace, no feeling, a softness enveloping me, calming, soothing.
' Bigger trees now ' Gone What goes on? christ, I'm fallings - I spoke these words. But I'm dead' my thoughts told me. Hands moving, sticky. ''Christ, my head hurts'' - more talk, actual words What the hell goes on the 'D' ring of my 'chute came to hand. I'm not dead'!
l'm falling. Wrenching the ring to my right was an action I do remember. This was followed by a grabbing pain to shoulders and groins. Almost immediately I hit a solid object and was vaguely aware of being dragged. ' The ground it really wasn't registering the truth. Seconds, - days, - years passed and I suddenly I knew.
I knew that somehow I was alive and sprawled out upon soft earth.
Dirt, blood, pain and more fear than I like to admit to, all mixed up.
I was crawling it seemed. '' Let me through ''.'' For Christ sake let me through ''. I was crying now, unable to pass whatever it was stopped alt movement. Everywhere, lights. ( I had fallen close to the remains of 'W-Witlie' which still burned. Also the Germans, sticking to a normal practice, ha: laid searchlights across the area illuminating the scene which served also to silhouette any other Bombers to German night fighters lurking above.) A voice in a hoarse whisper. Hands pulling me, lifting. No comprehension from me. A light and a room. 'God, how I hurt '.
Slowly I felt the chair I sat propped up in and aching eyes took in a huge fire place and surround of an old fashioned high style with strong, solid sides reaching up to a heavy mantlepiece. No noise now.
Absolute silence. Movement brought my vision to a man. Small, dark with strong eye-brows above the intense face. Working clothes of a farmer. Cap still on? crowning all I could see of him. Staring eyes.
Another movement within the room, couldn't understand a word. Quickly I felt control returning. There were two in the room. A man and a woman. They looked so frightened. Both sets of eyes a mixture of compassion and fear. The woman stretched out a hand towards me, hesitated, staring at my face. The man looked to my face. 'What the hell are they looking at, my face I must see it. Pulling myself, falling forward from the effort, I grabbed the mantlepiece to look in the mirror above it. Stared at the reflection of an advert for a very nasty accident. Blackened, dirty, bloody, indeed, sooty.
Falling back into the chair I began to assess the damage.
My right leg wouldn't support me. See to that later I thought.
I was scorched a bit and certainly cut about, plus an extra large lump slicking out from above my right ear such as one sees in comic papers after a character has been clubbed. It was a beauty. I grinned at the two good people, not that it helped.
Yet, after my quick self examination I knew generally I was O.K. Without thinkings I asked for water, in English. This broke The spell and words played between the man and woman like a ping-pong ball as they excitedly discussed me, The rather upsetting looking individual leaning back in the chair looking for all The world like an injured chimney sweep. Alarmed I realised they spoke German. Or was it Flemish? My education, limited to basics and cricket, never extended to this.
So, I said, ''R.A.F., Englander ''. At this, happiness lit their faces and 1he woman scurried off. A bowl clanged, water noises, splashing into the bowls brought back a tide of wonderful normality. The woman returned quickly with the bowl I had heard and some clean cloths. By now I had started to recover and lo reassure them that I had no intention of being a corpse, I soaked a cloth with water, heaved myself on to my feet and clinging to the large, substantial mantlepiece, I began to wipe away the muck covering my faced revealing the real me. Compassionately they assisted me back, to sit again, while they continued to wash my face, hands and legs.
The worst thing I had to deal with was a fairly deep cut about one and a half inches long upon my right cheek, just below the eye.
My right leg had ha; a nasty wallop from something. The skin was already discoloured although not really cut, more like a solid, well distribute; abrasion, right behind the knee. As for 1he rest, very minor burns, small cuts and bruises in different places, all taken care of by my field first aid pack carried in the battle dress.
The small problem of my cut cheek disappears; when I carefully pulled it together and by using a couple of pieces of surgical taper as a replacement for maybe a surgical stitch or two! It was possible to smile again. Producing a bar of chocolate and packets of Australian 'Old Gold' cigarettes to their delighted astonishment things seemed comfortable. While Madame Vanderweyer fineshed attending to my bumps they spoke rapidly between themselves enviously. I guessed it was about myself, the Germans and their own position. ( I only learned their names in 1946 when Anne and I returns; to meet them and thank them) Bernard Vanderweyer moved quickly towards 1he door, throwing words over his shoulder. His wife called something, fearfully.
In no lime he re-appeared, hardly visible under 1he mass of my parachute and harness. He signalled me to follow as he made his way to what I think was the kitchen and the back of the house.
I hobbled behind, through the house and a barn like building. Opening up bales of straw and rapidly cutting up my chute and harness, he hid them carefully., then stowed the bales right at the back of the centre of the stack. He worked feverishly talking to me with face and hands. Finally making me understand that I was being hidden too. Madame Vanderweyer appeared with my Mae-West' life jacket, puzzled at its shape and purpose. In a pantomime of signs, I explained 1he torch attached was a floating one and then triggered off 1he Co2 bottle to inflate 1he jacket. They nodded, recognising their uses. I deflated the jacket and Bernard brew that in with the parachute etc.
A weariness came over me and I swayed. Damn it surely I wasn't going to add to their problems by passing out. Still talking Bernard placed a ladder against a wall, climbed up, disappearing in the shadows. Bernard's wife mashed me up the ladder,
and I pulled myself upwards. I sweated with effort. Reaching 1he top, ,' gratefully fell into lovely dry straw, disturbing some indignant pigeons. I was a 'lodger' in their loft I We shook hands - the Vanderweyers and me, not the pigeons - and husband and wife left me to sleep. The trap door I had not noticed before was pulled to after them.
Sleep did not come immediately. My head ached and snatches of instructions given at escape lectures back in England filled my Thoughts. ' Do not endanger other lives unnecessarily' ' It is your duty to remain free, or escape if caught '
'Remember, if caught while being sheltered, you will become a prisoner of war finally. Those helping you will be shot, or worse '. ' Your escape 'outfit' contains maps, money, concentrated foods, compass, water purifying tablets, 'Wakey-Wakey' pills, etc. etc. ' You must remain free, free, free...... I slept.
The pigeons woke me. Daylight. They entered and left the Loft through small holes from which the light came. Laying face downwards, I could see some countryside, and German troops in small groups looking about them in rather a disinterested way. The nearest was only about 2O0 yards away. That they didn't find me was a little miracle.
Later, back in the house, we could only guess that the aircraft had crashed so close that the Germans presume; no one would be stupid enough to hide there. Another factor was that they had found two bodies and were certainly unaware that I had made a very delayed parachute drop, bringing me so close lo W-Willie's' remained. The troops no doubt were searching for other bodies and debris within a decided area.
The night events ad flooded my mind. How had I escaped from the aircraft I could only surmise that the shell which had blown W-Willle apart, or, which was more feasible, subjected to strains and damage far in excess for the fuselage to withstand, our Lancaster had disintegrated and I, perhaps also Les had been thrown more or less clear out of the cockpit, through the long, perplex and aluminium framed canopy.
A faint recollection of the port wing breaking off amid fierce flames as we erie; to level out, remained tucked in a corner of memory - ( Years later, this was proved so, and, as I will relate, Les was saved in a similar fashion as myself.
Amazingly, he remembered everything, the stalling, followed by our plunge earthwards, turning into a dreadful, violent spin when all control was lost. He remembered the 'big bang' which we had both thought was contact with the ground and our last contact with life, after which, he found himself floating and made a reasonably orthodox parachute descent Incredible and almost beyond belief that one person should escape, but two Why? How? Who knows?
Various aches and pains combined with a thirst for a drink made me stir. Pigeons fluttered uneasily nearby. Hazily, I felt the comedy of sharing a 'room' with so many birds - of the winged variety.
Sounds filtered through. Voices I strained to identify. One seemed familiar. Gradually I became more awake. My wrist watch -in fact it was Mac's own personal watch, my navigational R.A.F one been left behind in England accidentally. - still ticked away and I just made out the time. 9.30 a.m. 'Hope I get a drink soon'.
During the morning, Bernard's head appeared through the trap-door. He beckoned me to follow, indicating 1he need for silence.
My leg had stiffened but did not hurl quite so much. Moving brought on some annoying aches and slinging sensations not noticed until then.
Reaching the floor of the barn I could see it was larger than I had thought. Bales of straw stacked neatly. Loose hay in one corner.
A cow in a stall. Bernard moved towards a large door and opened it quite carelessly I thought. Silent apologies from me when I saw the small yard surrounded by a hefty, high brick wall, screening any actions we might take. What I could see of the house surprised me with its smallness. Across the muddy and straw strewn paving and we entered 1he clean, welcoming stone floored kitchen with homely smells outdoing the obvious poverty.
Madame Vanderweyer welcomed me quietly, I knew they were both extremely worried and who could blame them. Seating me at the lovely, bare, well scrubbed table built to last a thousand years, they bid me drink and eat. A coffee of sorts I gulped down gratefully.
A refill appeared instantly. A big bowl of some milky soup together with a rough tasting bread followed. I ate with pleasure yet noticing the small pieces of potato in the 'soup' illustrated their spartan life style. They were good people.
P/O. Allen French Wright. Heverlee War Cemetery. Grave 5.E.1. Son of Ernest H. and Edith M. Wright, of Doncaster, Yorkshire; husband of Dorothy Wright, of Doncaster, England.
Sgt. Roy 'Bill' William Heaton. Heverlee War Cemetery. Grave 5.E.2. Son of Ernest and Florence Heaton, of Sale, Cheshire, England.
Dedicated to relatives of the crew and the many brave people who assisted their escape and indeed many others. With thanks to the very detailed information written by Alex Dumbrell and sent into Aircrew Remembered by his sons Derek and Terry Dumbrell.