06/07.08.1943 No 620 Squadron Stirling III BK690 QS-G F/O. John A. Rogers
Operation: Gardening - Gironde Estuary
Date: 06/07th August 1943 (Friday/Saturday)
Unit: No 620 Squadron
Type: Stirling III
Base: RAF Chedburgh, Suffolk
Location: Nantes, France.
Pilot: F/O. John Arthur Rogers 120595 RAFVR Killed (1)
Fl/Eng: Sgt. Jack Lee 1089783 RAFVR Age 21. Evaded capture (2)
Nav: P/O. Dixon David Donkin 138397 RAFVR Killed (3)
Air/Bmr: Sgt. Robert (Ronnie) Baird 1562177 RAFVR Killed (4)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Colin Edward Rashley 1336152 RAFVR Killed (5)
Air/Gnr: Sgt. David Frederick Robert OBrart 1265865 RAFVR Evaded capture (6)
Air/Gnr: Sgt. John Richard Smith 1296265 RAFVR PoW No: 1338 Camp: Stalag Luft Heydekrug (7)
REASON FOR LOSS:
Took off at 21:57hrs from RAF Chedburgh on a mine laying (gardening) mission to the Gironde River (Estuary) in South West France. This aircraft was armed with 2 x F. 618 Mines and 2 x A. 108 Mines
Route according to RAF Loss Card:
Base - Halton - Selsey Bill
4923N 0053W - 4722N 0100W
4625N 0140W - Garden - Return same
Target ETA 0050 - 0100
F/O. John Arthur Rogers had flown two previous operational missions as second pilot, but for the other six crew members this was their maiden operational mission.
After dropping its mines the aircraft set out on the homeward journey. Flying at 3000’ the Navigator (according to Sgt. Obrart) ‘appeared to be lost and asked for a pin-point on the coast’. They ‘proceeded along the coast and picked up a pin-point and the Navigator gave the Pilot a course to steer’. The Navigator later ‘reported the aircraft was passing over Nantes considerably west of the correct course’. At about 02.20hrs guns opened fire and scored hits on the aircraft. The wireless set was hit and blown across the cabin, the number 7 fuel tank was also hit and set on fire and the port spar was burning rapidly but the engines, stated the Flight Engineer were not damaged. About 02.30hrs the Pilot gave the order to bale out and just afterwards a shell burst immediately above the aircraft’s nose. The Flight Engineer thought that the Pilot and Bomb aimer ‘may both have been killed by it’.
Sgt. Obrart baled out and when his parachute opened he ‘could already see that the aircraft had crashed in flames’ and he was ‘practically certain that the pilot and bomb aimer had not been able to get out’. He also believed that the aircraft would have been ‘completely gutted’.
In his Escape and Evasion Report (3315/1464) Flight Engineer Sgt.. Jack Lee described his experiences after baling out.
He came down in a field near Nantes possibly NE of Carquefou. He landed on one side of a hedge whilst his parachute fell on the other. Wearing his battle dress and shoes he hid his Mae West and helmet in a ditch then was about to go through an opening in the hedge to get his parachute when he saw a German A.A. gun on the other side of the hedge. Though he did not see any Germans he heard a good many dogs barking and so decided to get away at once.
After leaving the field he walked South West judging his direction by the wind which he knew to be blowing from the North East. After about 20 minutes he stopped to check his direction using the compass in his purse. Continuing over fields for about an hour and about 0330hrs he hid in some brushwood about 100yds from the main Nantes-Angers road.
At about 06.30hrs an old Frenchman appeared. He indicated to him to keep hidden and said there were German soldiers in the vicinity. The old man returned about 11.00 hrs bringing him two boiled eggs and a small bottle of wine which he appeared to have got from a German mess nearby where he worked. He promised to return about 21.30hrs.
When the old Frenchman had not returned by 23.30 hrs Sgt. Lee retraced his steps and eventually got down to the river Loire. Here he heard someone shouting and saw the light from a torch. He stopped then proceeded and was challenged by a young German soldier armed with rifle and bayonet but who looked not much more than about 15 years old. He shone his torch on Sgt.. Lee and asked for his identity papers and though he was still wearing his battle dress complete with badges the German still did not recognise him as a British airman. Sgt.. Lee pointed as though he intended to go back in the direction in which he had come but the German said ‘Passez’ and waved him on. He walked past him in the direction of Nantes.
Following the river he walked right into Nantes and after passing a railway station walked along a road parallel to the railway track, unable to cross the track because of goods wagons. Hearing someone working on the trucks he walked over to them only to discover it was a German soldier. Turning away he heard someone say in broken English ‘He’s too high up for us’. He never discovered who this was. He walked along another railway track that eventually led into a dockyard. Crossing railings and the railway track he got onto a road along which he continued to the west side of the town.
He walked as far as the village of St Herblain and about 05.30hrs (8 Aug) got into a barn inside a farm yard. About 07.30hrs a Frenchman came out but when Sgt.. Lee showed himself he took no interest in him. In fact when Sgt.. Lee told him who he was and asked for food the Frenchman appeared not to realise what he was and merely pointed to a nearby cafe.
Sgt. Lee entered the cafe and was put in touch with a man who knew of an organisation and from that point his journey was arranged for him.
After crossing into Spain on the morning of 10th September Sgt. Lee along with two Americans and Sgt. McMillan *(SPG 3315/1457) decided that the party was making very slow progress across country. They got onto the main road from Andorra and walked along it to Seo de Urgel, where a Spanish lady tried unsuccessfully to get in touch with the Consulate-General in Barcelona by telephone. From Seo de Urgel they continued along the main road receiving no help along the way, until they reached Pons at about 23.30 hrs on 12th September. They had not been stopped on the way and had walked day and night resting for only brief periods. In Pons however they were stopped by two civil guards one of whom wanted to let them go on but the other insisted on taking them to the police station. At the police station they were searched, two members of the party having their pocket knives confiscated and Sgt. Lee having his file (from his purse) taken. They were then removed to prison and the next morning (13th Sept) questioned in English. They gave their personal details but said they had escaped from a Stalag near Danzig. They were then sent by bus to Lerida and a Spanish representative of the Consulate interviewed them in prison there. They were released from prison immediately and spent the next 11 days in a hotel in Lerida.
Sgt. Lee left Lerida on the 24th September in a party under the charge of a Spanish Air Force officer. After one night in Saragossa he was sent to Alhama de Aragon where he was interned in a hotel from 25th Septemer till 6th October. He spent one night in Madrid after his release from interment and was then sent to Gibraltar (8th Oct). He left Gibralter on the 10th October and arrived in UK on the 11th October 1943.
*(This was Sgt. David Basil McMillan RCAF R84436 Rear Gunner of Lancaster ED480 WS-U crashed Le Cateau, North East France, 10th July 1943)
In his Escape and Evasion Report Mid Upper Gunner Sgt. David F.R. Obrart (3315/1411) recounts his experiences after landing in France.
Sgt. Obrart landed outside Nantes and just off the Nantes-Carguefou Road. Hearing German voices nearby he took off his harness and pushed it under a wall then stood back against another wall. His parachute was caught in a tree in a garden on the other side of the wall. Whilst standing back in the shadow of the wall two German soldiers passed within five or six yards of him but did not see him. After they had gone he attempted unsuccessfully to release his parachute from the tree his efforts creating so much noise that the woman owner of the garden came out to investigate. At this point Obrart thought it best to make himself scarce.
He walked down the main road towards Carquefou and taking the right hand fork proceeded three or four miles. He then buried his Mae West and flying kit in a field where he lay down and stayed until dawn. He took off his chevrons and “wings” and checked his maps and compass to get his bearings. Having done so, he set off in a southerly direction towards Spain, knowing by his map that he would have to cross the river Loire.
Shortly he passed some French people who were very friendly and shook hands with him. This was near a butcher’s shop and he tried to persuade the butcher to exchange his flying boots for shoes. The butcher was not very helpful but after Obrart walked away he followed him on a bicycle with another man who was able to speak a little English. They told him to wait where he was and left.
He waited for an hour and a half but they did not return. Walking back a short way he met a baker who was serving two or three women with bread from a bread box on two wheels and attached to his bicycle. He showed great excitement that Obrart was with the RAF and motioned to the women to keep silent whilst indicating that Obrart should follow him. He led him to a lane where he was given to understand that he should get into the bread box. The box contained only three loaves and Obrart managed to squeeze in and holding the lid down from the inside was conveyed by the baker to the centre of Nantes to his bakery. Here he was given breakfast and where he stayed till the next day (8 Aug). That afternoon the baker’s wife went out and returned with a note which said in English “A lady will come to meet you tomorrow. Cheer up. Good Luck.”
From this point his journey was arranged for him.
Sgt. Obrart left Gibralter on the 20th September 1943 - Arriving at RAF Lyneham the following day.
Sgt. Lee and Sgt. Obrart were both helped to escape to Andorra by Georges Broussines’ Bourgogne Escape Line.
(1) F/O. John Arthur Rogers - buried at Nantes (Pont-Du-Cens) Communal Cemetery. Plot L, Row C, Grave 17. Also commemorated on the Roll of Honour of King George V School, Southport, Lancashire. Next of kin details not available - are you able to assist?
(2) Sgt. Jack Lee - born Sheffield 16 April 1922, died Sheffield 1978 (probably). Lived at 46 The Greenway, Greenhall near Sheffield. Peacetime Profession: Butcher. RAF Service: Since 4 February 1941. No 1651 Conversion Unit.
(3) P/O. Dixon David Donkin - buried Nantes (Pont-Du-Cens) communal Cemetery. Plot L, Row C, Grave 15. Next of kin details not available - are you able to assist?
(4) Sgt. Robert (Ronnie) Baird - born Scotland c1922 the son of William and Catherine Baird of Camelon, Falkirk, Stirlingshire. Buried at Nantes (Pont-Du-Cens) Communal Cemetery. Plot L, Row C, Grave 16. Sgt. Baird is commemorated on the Camelon War Memorial (as Ronald Baird) and the Scottish National War Memorial (as Robert Baird)
(5) Sgt. Colin Edward Rashley - born Isle of Wight 1922 the son of Edwin Colin and Winifred Lilian Rashley. Of Cowes, had lived at Newport Isle of Wight. Buried at Nantes (Pont-Du-Cens) Communal Cemetery. Plot L, Row C, Grave No 17. Commemorated on the Cowes War Memorial, Isle of Wight and the Book of Remembrance of Newport Grammar School, Isle of Wight.
(6) Sgt. David Frederic Robert Obrart (mid upper gunner) - born 15 October 1912 in Canada - the son Fred (Isaac) and Rachell Obrart (née Feast) of London - but of Polish descent from Warsaw. Died Southend on Sea Essex 1996. Lived at Copper Beach, Ellington Road. Taplow, Bucks. Peacetime Profession: Fish restaurant owner. RAF Service: Since 14 September 1940. No 26 OTU (Wing)
(7) Sgt. John Richard Smith (rear gunner) - further information received in October 2017 from his daughter, Mrs. Avrina Milton. “He was not told to bale out and he was alone in the plane. Managed to get to the escape hatch but it crashed on his feet trapping them. He had new flying boots which were far too big and he slipped out of them but after this his feet were badly swollen and he could not walk. A French farmer found him. He asked for the resistance but he brought the Gestapo. Taken to Fresnes prison Paris for interrogation as they accused him of being spy. Not a good time for him. he rarely talked about it but he did say that he wanted them to finish the job. John Smith ended up at Stalag Luft 6. One of the 900 British RAF to go on the 'Long March'. He was shackled to his friend at one time who had 40 bayonet wounds and my father had 1. Sadly he passed away in 1994”.
Notes: There is a discrepancy regarding the serial number of Sgt. Rashley. The Commonwealth Graves Records give his number as 1336152 whereas the RAF Loss Card gives it as 1336142 and in the narrative as 1336162. The Loss Card and Commonwealth Graves records agree the number for Sgt. Donkin as 138397 but in the narrative his number is given as 1513467.
Researched by Roy Wilcock for Aircrew Remembered in January 2015. He quotes his sources as - RAF Loss Card, Escape and Evasion Reports of Sgt. Jack Lee SPG 3315/1464 and Sgt. David Frederick Robert Obrart SPG 3315/1411, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Isle of Wight Family History Society, The Scottish National War Memorial, Camelon War Memorial, Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland. The Old Georgians Association King George V School and College, Southport, Lancashire.