06/07.12.1940 49 Squadron Hampden I P4404 Sgt. John C. Shaw MiD
Operation: Aerodromes, Northern France
Date: 6th/7th December 1940 (Friday/Saturday)
Unit No: 49 Squadron
Type: Hampden I
Base: RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire, England
Location: L’Aigle, France
Pilot: Sgt. John Cecil Shaw 742749 MiD RAFVR Age 24. PoW */Killed (1)
2nd Pilot: Plt Off. Brian Herbert Evans MiD 42745 RAF Age 24. PoW No. 456 **/Murdered (3)
WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. William Kyran O’Leary 649491 RAFVR Age 29. PoW No 444 *** (2)
WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. David Young 745910 RAFVR Age? PoW No. 454 ****
* Stalag Luft 1, Barth-Vogelsang, today situated in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany.
** Stalag Luft 3, Sagan-Silesia, Germany, now Żagań in Poland. (Moved to Nuremberg-Langwasser, Bavaria).
*** Stalag 35,7 Kopernikus at Thorn (Toruń) in Poland. Moved in September 1944. The camp was commonly referred to as Stalag 357 Fallingbostel, however, it was officially designated as Stalag 357 Oerbke
**** Stalag Luft 6, Heydekrug, Memelland (now Šilutė in Lithuania).
REASON FOR LOSS:
P4404 took off from RAF Scampton at 01:16 hrs along with nine other aircraft from the Squadron on operations against enemy occupied aerodromes in Northern France. P4404 was one of two aircraft missing from this operation. A third aircraft crashed at Welton in Lincolnshire.
P4404 was hit by flak and crashed near L’Aigle in France at 07:00 hrs (Nachtjagd War Diaries Volume 1 (September 1939 - March 1944) - Dr Theo E.W. Boiten)
The second aircraft was Hampden I X3050 captained by Sgt. Stuart Gordon Greeves 740008, RAFVR. The aircraft was hit by flak of II.Flakkorps and crashed in the sea off Oostende Belgium. There were no survivors and the crew are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial. (Nachtjagd War Diaries Volume 1 (September 1939 - March 1944) - Dr Theo E.W. Boiten)
The third aircraft was Hampden I X3038 captained by Sgt. J.A. Barrier, 741469 RAFVR. He survived badly injured but his crew perished.
All of the crew safely bailed out of the aircraft and became PoWs.
(1) Sgt. Shaw was eventually sent to Stalag Luft 1. On the night of the 4th January 1942 Sgt. Shaw with a fellow escaper was cutting through the wire when a guard surprised them. He surrendered immediately, but for some reason which was unclear the guard shot and killed him. He was the first RAF airman to die while attempting to escape. He was initially buried in the Barth-Vogelsang City Cemetery with full military honours. The German military authorities apparently held an inquiry into the incident but its conclusions are not recorded. (Ref. 2 p.55, Ref. 3 p.46).
(2) An injured Sgt. O’Leary was captured on the same day. He was transported to the Reserve Lazarett (hospital) for Dulag Luft in Hohemark arriving there on the 10th December 1940.
He was discharged on the 10th January 1941 and transported to Dulag Luft, Oberursel where he remained until the 15th February 1941.
He was then transferred to Stalag Luft 1, Barth-Vogelsang where he remained until April of 1942. From here he was transferred to Stalag Luft 3, Sagan-Silesia where he remained until June 1943.
It appears that upon being promoted to Warrant Officer (WO) he was transferred to Stalag Luft 6, Heydekrug, Memelland where he remained until July 1944. Stalag Luft 6 was the closest to the Russian advance. In July 1944 the PoWs were transported to Stalag 20A by train. It was estimated that 100,000 PoWs took the northern route of force-marches. The route went to Stalag Luft 4 at Gross Tychow, Pomerania then via Stettin to Stalag 9B and Stalag 357 at Fallingbostel. Some prisoners were marched from here at the end of the war towards Lübeck, however, for most, Fallingbostel was their final destination.
He remained at Stalag 357, Fallingbostal (Oerbke) until the camp was liberated on the 16th April 1945 by British troops from "B" Squadron 11th Hussars and the Reconnaissance Troop of the 8th Hussars. They were met at the main gate of Stalag 357 by a guard of Airborne troops, impeccably attired and led by RSM Lord.
He was Interviewed on the 26th April 1945.
William Kyran O’Leary enlisted in the RAF on the 28th June 1939.
(3) Flt Lt. Evans was eventually sent to Stalag Luft 3. As a regular tunneller and a trained surveyor this earned himself an early position in the line of the two hundred hoping to escape from the north compound of Stalag Luft 3.
On the night of the 24th-25th March 1944, 76 officers escaped from the north compound of Stalag Luft 3 which, at that time, held between 1000 and 1500 RAF PoWs. The escape was made by the means of a tunnel. At about 05:00 hrs on the 25th March the 77th PoW was spotted by guards as he emerged from the tunnel.
An overview of the German response to the escape and the subsequent British prosecution of those responsible for the murder of fifty of the escapees is summarised in the report entitled “The Fifty - The Great Escape”.
It was reported that Flt Lt. Evans had been captured near Halbau (Iłowa), in Poland. He and a number of recaptured officers were gathered together in Görlitz prison in Germany which was under the control of the Gestapo. Gradually the numbers of recaptured officers grew until thirty-five were held there.
On the 31st March two of the surviving officers witnessed a number of Gestapo agents collected the following ten officers and take them away; Flt Lt. C.P. Hall, Ft Lt. Birkland, Flt Lt. B. Evans, Flt Lt. G.E. McGill, Flt Lt. E.S. Humphreys, Flt Lt. P.W. Langford, Flt Lt. C.D. Swain, Fg Off. R.C. Stewart, Flt Lt. E. Valenta and Fg Off. A.D. Kolanowski. None of these men were seen alive again.
It was alleged that a Gestapo agent by the name of Lux selected and commanded the death-squad that carried out the order to execute selected prisoners.
Believed to be Kriminalobersekretär (Chief Detective) Walter Lux who was reported to have been killed in the Siege of Breslau in 1945.
No one was formally charged with the actual murder of Flt Lt. Birkland or for the other fifteen officers killed by Lux and his death-squad. The bodies of this group were cremated at Liegnitz (Legnica) in Poland and their urns returned to Stalag Luft 3.
Memorial to “The Fifty” near to Żagań (Credit: CSvBibra - Own work, Public Domain)
Above: Grave marker for Sgt. Shaw (Credit: Uwe Jenrich-FindAGrave)
Sgt. John Cecil Shaw MiD. Reinterred at the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery 8.L.30. Inscription reads: "JUST ONE OF "THE FEW" WHO WERE THERE IN OUR HOUR OF NEED". Born on the 22nd November 1918 in Brighton. Son of John and Elizabeth Caroline Shaw, of Hayes, Middlesex, England
He was posthumously MiD which was promulgated in the London Gazette on the 2nd June 1943.
Above: Flt Lt. Brian H. Evans. (Credit: WW2 Talk website)
Flt Lt. Brian Herbert Evans MiD. Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery 7.C.6. Inscription reads: "A DEARLY LOVED SON, RESTING IN GOD'S CARE”. Born on the 14th February 1920 in Newton Abbot, Devon. Son of Herbert John and Dorothy May (née Fletcher) Evans, of Manly, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.
He was granted a short service commission as acting Plt Off. on probation for 4 years on the active list with effect 9th October 1939 (London Gazette 27th October 1939). He was then granted a temporary commission as a Plt Off. on being employed by the RAF with effect 4th May 1940. (London Gazette 11th June 1940). Whilst he was a PoW he was promoted to Fg Off. with effect 4th May 1941 (London Gazette 6th June 1941) and then to Flt Lt. with effect 4th May 1942, (London Gazette 24th July 1942).
Flt Lt. Evans was Mentioned in Despatches (MiD) recognizing his conspicuous bravery as a PoW because none of the other relevant decorations then available could be awarded posthumously. Promulgated in the London Gazette on the 8th June 1944.
Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with additional thanks to Traugott for his work on the 'VitzArchive'. Update to narrative and links (Aug 2022). Update to include PoW narrative (Sept 2023).
Other sources listed below:
1. Stalag Luft III - An official history of the ‘Great Escape’ PoW Camp - Published by Frontline Books - ISBN: 978-1-47388-305-5.
2. The Great Escape - Anton Gill - ISBN: 978-1-7201-5488-4.
3. Footprints on the Sands of Time: RAF Bomber Command PoWs in Germany 1939-1945 - Oliver Clutton-Brock – ISBN: 10-190401035