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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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21 Squadron Crest
14.06.1940 No. 21 Squadron Blenheim IV R3742 P/O. William A. Saunders

Operation: Merville Airfield

Date: 14th June 1940 (Friday)

Unit: No.  21 Squadron

Type:  Blenheim IV

Serial: R3742

Base: RAF Watton, Norfolk

Location: Ardres, France

Pilot: P/O. William Anthony Saunders 40756 Age 20. Missing

Obs: Sgt. William Harry Eden 580404 RAFVR PoW No: 87 Camp:  Stalag Luft Barth Vogelsang, Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria, Stalag Kopernikus (1)

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Clifford Webb 540410 RAFVR Age 24. PoW No: 76 Camps: Stalag Luft Barth Vogelsang, Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria, Stalag Luft Heydekrug, Stalag Kopernikus (2)

The relatives of Sgt. Webb would very much like to hear from anyone who has further details or from the relatives of the other crew members. Please contact us in the first instance.

On this day, 14th June 1940 - German troops enter Paris - France requests assistance from the United States.


Taking off from RAF Watton in Norfolk to bomb the airfield at Merville. Intercepted by Me109’s and  understood to have been attacked, crash landing at Ardres. They then made their way overland to Wissant on the coast of France (About 35 km.) 

Above: Sgt. Clifford Webb before and after war (courtesy Michaela Webb)

Provided with a small rowing boat by locals they decided to row back to England. They were poorly equipped for the journey, with a boat in a similar condition. After 3 days at sea, with no food or water, no dry clothes they finally reached a point around 10 miles from England when one of the oars broke. They were then caught in currents and drifted back to France. During the day the pilot, P/O. William Saunders had been suffering from hallucinations  but finally went to sleep, as did the other two. During the night he disappeared, leaving his tunic behind. It is thought that he had drunk seawater

When the remaining crew were washed up on the shores of France they were exhausted and spent a couple of days recovering. They then decided to try and make for Le Havre but decided against it as it was probably closely watched. They started to go up the coast but were then arrested by the Germans and sent to PoW camps.

Sgt Webb managed to escape in a packing case but was discovered at Rugen and then returned. He also escaped from a working party , remaining free for three days. Finally in April 1945 he broke away again, joining the Allies.

(1) Canadian, Sgt. William Harry Eden Joined the RAF in January 1939 - remained a PoW until the end of the war. Later promoted to W/O. then commissioned in 1947 as a P/O. 204297. Retired in 1973 as a Wing Commander, died July 1982 in Camberley, Surrey, England. Received MiD for his actions as a PoW.
(2) Sgt. (Later W/O) Clifford Webb - Received the MBE for his actions whilst a PoW. Served from 1937 - 1950. Died very young at 59 in 1975. From Woodside, Homer, Much Wenlock, Shropshire.

Above: W/O. Clifford Webb taken after war end - anyone know where the photo was taken? (courtesy Michaela Webb)

Above: W/O. Clifford Webb in Germany 1946 - anyone recognise the others? (courtesy Michaela Webb)

Burial details:

P/O. William Anthony Saunders. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 10. Son of Lionel Ralph Stanley Saunders and Dorothy Margaret Saunders, of Reading, Berkshire, England.

Right: Runnymede Memorial panels (Air-rem archives)

Researched and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to Michaela Webb (daughter of Sgt. Clifford Webb) Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Runnymede Memorial Database. Oliver Clutton-Brock - 'Footprints On The Sands Of Time'. Graham Warner - 'The Bristol Blenheim’. Bomber Command Database


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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, Michel Beckers, Major Fred Paradie (RCAF) and MWO François Dutil (RCAF) - Paradie Archive (on this site), Jean Schadskaje, Major Jack O'Connor USAF (Retd.), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Archiwum - Polish Air Force Archive (on this site), Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Franek Grabowski, Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Stan D. Bishop, John A. Hey MBE, Gerrie Franken and Maco Cillessen - Losses of the US 8th and 9th Air Forces, Vols 1-6, Dr. Theo E.W. Boiton - Nachtjagd Combat Archives, Vols 1-13. Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of CWGC, UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, New Zealand National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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