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Flight Lieutenant Tony Snell DSO

Born March 19 1922, Tunbridge Wells. Died August 4 2013 Age 93

Flight Lieutenant Tony Snell, was shot down in his Spitfire over Sicily and escaped from a German firing squad. Recaptured, he leapt from a train and finally escaped over the Alps into neutral Switzerland.


Flight Lieutenant Tony Snell 

On July 10 1943 Snell was patrolling over the beachhead after the Sicily landings when a force of Messerschmitt fighters attacked him. His Spitfire was hit and he had to make a forced landing on enemy territory. He managed to avoid capture and tried to return to the beachhead after dark, managing to convince a group of Italian soldiers that he was a Vichy Frenchman. Later he was challenged by a German patrol that ordered him to put his hands up. Without warning they rolled a hand grenade towards him but he managed to jump clear and run off, followed by more grenades.

He hid in scrub and realised that he was in a minefield, out of which he picked his way towards a track. There he blundered into a German airfield very near the battle area, and was captured. The Germans decided to execute him as a spy, marched him to an open space and ordered him to kneel down. Realising that he was about to be shot, he leapt up and ran off as the Germans fired. He was badly wounded, his right shoulder being smashed, but he managed to escape.

He tried to make the Allied lines but, owing to extreme weakness, his attempt failed. Re-captured at dawn he was again threatened with execution but managed to prove his identity. He was taken to hospital and later transferred by ship to Lucca in Tuscany, where he remained for two months being treated for his wounds.

The Germans decided to transfer him to Germany by train. Although not fully recovered, he made plans to escape en-route. In company with an American officer, he jumped from the train as it slowed at a junction and the two headed south. For the next week they had several narrow escapes before joining up with Italian partisans. With their help they reached Modena, where families sheltered them for several months. When they were fit, the two decided that they should head for the Swiss border.

They made a long and risky train journey, accompanied by their Italian friends, to a small village near the frontier where they were introduced to two guides. After a very long and steep climb over the mountains, they crossed the frontier into Switzerland. They were interned until October 1944 when the American advance from the south of France reached the Swiss border.

Snell was awarded the DSO, one of very few awarded exclusively for escaping from the enemy.

Anthony Noel Snell was educated at Cheltenham College. He joined the RAF in November 1940 and trained in the United States as a pilot under the US/UK bilateral ‘Arnold’ Scheme.

In July 1942 he joined No 242 Squadron flying Spitfires. Three months later he headed for North Africa, where the squadron covered the landings of Operation Torch. Over the next few months the squadron provided support for the First British Army as it headed eastwards to Tunis. Snell flew air interception sorties and convoy patrols. With German air activity reducing, bomber escort and ground attack strafing operations predominated until the final Axis collapse on that front in May 1943.

The squadron moved to Malta to prepare for the invasion of Sicily. As the Allies launched their amphibious and airborne landings on July 10, Snell took off to provide cover over the beachhead.

On his return to Britain, Snell spent time in hospital before returning to flying duties. He converted to the Meteor jet fighter and flew with No 504 Squadron (later re-numbered No 245), which moved to Germany just after the war finished. Snell remained with the squadron until August 1946, and was discharged from the RAF shortly after.

For 20 years afterwards Snell was an actor and songwriter. He toured a one-man show around Africa and, with his wife Jackie, travelled the United States and Mexico in a Volkswagen bus. In New York he recorded an album of his songs, Englishman Abroad, half of which were written by him, with the others by his friend, Donald Cotton, the author of early Doctor Who scripts.

In 1966 he returned to England, bought a catamaran, sailed it with his wife to Spain, and set up a business giving day charters out of Ibiza. Three years later he moved to the British Virgin Islands (BVI) and established Virgin Voyages with three boats, but this was not a success and he and his wife opened a restaurant, The Last Resort, on Jost van Dyke. After a year the restaurant was burnt down and they returned to Ibiza to sell their catamaran before heading back to BVI to reopen The Last Resort on Bellamy Cay, a tiny island in Trellis Bay, Tortola. While living on a houseboat, they built the restaurant from scratch on the ruins of a derelict building.

Snell co-owned the restaurant and bar and provided most of the entertainment, playing the guitar, the piano and the chromatic harmonica, singing songs (many of his own composition) and never fully grasping the meaning of political correctness; Jackie was chief cook.

The restaurant was just one product of a buccaneering business spirit. During their three decades in the Caribbean they also bought a large derelict hotel in New Hampshire that now houses 12 apartments, travelled to Bali to buy furniture for the hotel, bought a cottage in Sussex and an investment property in Brighton.


Above: Bellamy Cay in the British Virgin Islands where Snell and his wife ran a restaurant

Although his family eventually took over The Last Resort, Tony Snell – relentlessly energetic – was still entertaining there until just a few weeks before his death.

His wife predeceased him in 2001, and he is survived by their son and a daughter.

Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard.

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 • Last Modified: 02 July 2019, 14:36