Back to Top
AR banner
Search Tips Advanced Search

Barney's Story - One Of Our Planes Is Missing.


"February 24th, 1944 is a date which is not likely to fade from my memory.

I was stationed at Coningsby, Lincolnshire, attached to the Royal Air Force, 61 Squadron.

I had completed 19 operational flights over Germany. The Signals designation for our Lancaster Bomber was "0 for Orange."

I joined the Royal Australian Air Force at Bradfield Park, Sydney on September 17th 1941 - my flying time was 500 hours. I was a member of the Empire Air Training organisation. I did most of my training in Australia, and after a rather uncomfortable 18 weeks sea voyage, via. South Africa, Brazil, West Indies and New York, I arrived in England in January, 1943.

Notwithstanding the hardening effect of my long training, and my considerable experience of night bombing, it would be idle to pretend that one contemplated a forthcoming operation over Germany without certain qualms.

Our losses up to date had been severe, probably near to the peak of the whole European war. Our squadron had sustained heavy losses - of 17 complete Crews only 2 survived to complete their "tour of operations". which at that time was 30.

Nevertheless, so far as I was concerned, I felt a measure of confidence. The only really exciting incident that I had so far experienced occurred during a night raid over Berlin when we collided with another Lancaster - 28 square feet were torn out of our starboard wing and it seemed to be touch and go whether we would get home, it was only the cool courage and skill of our skipper, Pilot Officer, Wally Einerson, DFM., that pulled us through, and for this he was awarded the DFC.

Our crew was as follows:-

Fl/Lt. Wally Einarson, DFC. DFM. Pilot (Canadian)

P/O. All Collins - Navigator Australian)

Fl/Sgt. Reg Gill - Wireless Operator (Australian)

Sgt. Maurie Worth - Flight Engineer (English)

Fl/Sgt. Phil Jones - Air Gunner (Welsh)

Fl/Sgt. Paddy Rankin, DFM. Air Gunner (Irish)

W/O. Barney Oreatrex - Bomb Aimer (Australian)

Einarson had completed no less than 49 operations. After this his 50th he was to return to Canada.

Returning then to the date on which my story opens, zero hour for us was 6.30 p.m. - our destination was Augsburg, near Munich in Southetn Germany. It was a fine evening, mild, with some light cloud. After heading south to Reading, running into heavy cloud, we decided to climb through it, and we gained a height of 19,000 feet before crossing the French coast.

I shall always remember the sun setting in the sea of cloud which covered all of Southern England that night. As was generally the case, I only saw two or three Lancasters on the way to Reading. We passed Beachy Head, a mile or two on our port.

W/O. "Barney" Greatrex managed to escape after parachuting from the aircraft. He joined and fought with the Marquis before returning to England on the 12th October 1944. He described his amazing escape and evasion story in an article he wrote (submitted to us by Richard Mort, nephew of Barney Greatrex) Born on the 09th April 1920 in Toronto, New South Wales, Australia. Left the service on the 19th April 1945 as a F/O.

Published by Hachette Australia (25 Jan. 2018) ISBN 13: 9780733637230

Curley Collins, our navigator was as cheerful and confident as ever, and he reported all O.K. except we were 4 minutes late. However, as we were in the first of three waves and there should have been three minutes between each this slight lag did not matter.

Over France there was no cloud, but a dense haze up to 21,000 feet. These conditions were ideal for enemy fighters, because it made visual observation difficult for us.

Passing over Rheims I could some street lights in the city.

We cruised on uneventfully until we were about ten minutes flying time from Nancy. Then Reg Gill, our wireless operator, reported an approaching plane on our radar instrument, at first it was only indistinct, probably due to ground interference by the Germans.

Earphones are an integral part of the flying helmet and they are connected to what we called the "inter-com". It may be imagined with what eagerness we listened for more announcements from Reg. We did not have to wait long. First it was "1,000 yards". Our two gunners reported that they could see nothing but this was not surprising, considering the thick haze which enveloped us. A few minutes (seconds?) passed , then Reg said "nine hundred", then "eight hundred", and a moment later "seven hundred".

Finally he said to Einarson our pilot, "For Christ's sake get weaving the kite's only six hundred yards to our port quarter".

These were the last words I ever heard in our plane. Immediately afterwards the plane shuddered as cannon fire hit it, both the inter-corn and light system cut out. I could now see the tracer bullets passing the plane. I also smelt burning cordite but so far everything in my bomb compartment was in order.

Events now happened with devastating rapidity. We quickly lost height in a glide and I saw through my hatch window that both starboard motors were on fire.

I should explain that the only escape forward hatch in a Lancaster bomber is in the nose of the plane, and that was my station.

I remember catching a glimpse of Maurie Worth, with his 'chute. He indicated with violent gestures that there was not a moment to lose. He went back to the body of the plane and I never saw him again.

As only the port engines were running the plane commenced to go into a corkscrew dive - I now had on my 'chute and I tried to lift up the escape hatch door, but the centrifugal force of the dive pinned me against it. I struggled desperately and just when all seemed lost, the hatch flew open. I was thrown out head first and in doing so, cut my head. I had a blackout for a few seconds but recovered in time to pull the cord.

My next impression in this nightmare experience was finding myself floating above a snow-clad pine forest. I now braced myself for the landing, and in a few moments there I was rolling over on the snow covered ground in a small clearing in the forest. My luck was simply unbelievable! I do not think the plane was more than 1,500 feet up when I fell out of it. At all events, I must have fallen with it , because when I landed I saw it had broken in two and there I was right between and about 100 yards distant from the two fiercely blazing portions. Moreover, although this was the first time I had ever used a parachute I sustained no injuries. Had I only sprained an ankle it might have changed the whole course of my adventures.

My head was bleeding from the cut I received when diving from the plane, but it did not affect me in any way, an evidently the wound was only superficial. The light from the blazing plane enabled me to gather up my 'chute.

The sky was now cloudless and I looked for the Pole star. I then scrambled over to the forest across a road, about 150 yards S.S.W. I hid in a ditch, wrapped up in my 'chute, and for the first time was able to take stock of my position. I realised now what must have been the fate of m companions. This and the shiock of all these tremendous personal events made me physically sick. I was filled with nausea and despair.

One of the mysteries which I cannot explain is what happened to the bombs which we carried on the plane. Had they Imploded in the air the plane would have disintegrated. On the other hand they certainly did nor explode on the ground.


Evading Capture:

I looked at my watch - it was 21.30 hrs. Then I heard the sound of a motor approaching. A truck arrived and out of it jumped some German soldiers, who immediately ran over to the flaming wreckage of the plane. The heat was too great for any examination and in a short time they got back into the truck, leaving behind one man on guard.

I was thoroughly aroused and alarmed when this soldier proceeded to patrol along the road between the wreckage of one portion of the plane and myself. I waited until he got to the end of his beat before climbing through a fence. I ran 100 or so yards into the forest, sat down, rolled myself in my 'chute and fell fast asleep!

At daybreak I studied the little compass which all airmen carry, picked up the 'chute and hurried away due west, thankful that I was still hidden by thick forest.

At 09.00 hrs in a clearing at the edge of the forest, where I spent the day lying out in the sun which shone all day.

At 06.30 feeling rested and refreshed, I set out again determined to get as far away as I possibly could from the plane. I thought it certain that the Germans would find that one of the crew had escaped, and that they would lose no time in scouring the neighbourhood. I walked up hill and down dale, always bearing due west. Most of the country was thickly wooded. Then I came to a rough country road - here I rested for a while in a ditch. Presently two girls came along on bicycles, chattering away in what I thought (and dearly hoped) was French. At this time I could not speak a word of any language except good Australian! I found out afterwards that the actual spot where I bailed out was some five miles from a small village called La Garde, which was just inside the German frontier in Alsace- Lorraine.

As soon as the girls had disappeared, I hopped across the road and once more pushed on in a westerly direction. I reckoned that the further I got away from the scene of the crash the better my chances of escape.

It was now bitterly cold and snowing lightly. Fortunately I could see fairly well because the moon glimmered faintly through the clouds, and such light as there was reflected on the snow. My feet were getting very sore because I was of course wearing flying boots, and they are definitely not designed for cross country walks. I had not gone far when I stumbled on a huge barrier of barbed wire, no less than seven rows! Evidently this was the Franco-German frontier - but again my luck held. Only a short distance away I found a deserted sentry box and near it was a road leading right through the barrier.

Probably it was used by the wood cutters. I walked on for another two hours until II p.m. - then feeling quite exhausted, I curled up again in my 'chute and tried to sleep; but it started to snow heavily and what with this and my anxiety as to the future, I had a very uneasy rest. At 7 a.m. I got up, nibbled at my chocolate, and continued walking. I was glad to find myself again in the forest, feeling that I was well hidden. I had not gone far when I discovered a rough looking shed or barn. I crept up cautiously but could see no sign of life, so in I walked. I was startled when in the dim light I was confronted by a boy of about 15, who smelled to high heaven.

Amongst the useful articles issued to airmen, in order to assist them in such a situation as I now found myself, was a card with phrases in French, German Spanish and Dutch. By its aid I was able to find out from the boy where I was. He told me it was 40 kilometres to Nancy, and he advised me to keep on in a westerly direction. He evinced no surprise at seeing me, and as he indicated by suitable gestures his hatred of the Germans, I hoped I would not be given away.

As I was still in thickly timbered country and could see no signs of habitation, I decided it would be safe to keep going in the daylight. About midday I reached the edge of the forest and could see that I was at the head of a small valley. A mile or two over a stream was a village consisting of a few cottages. A few hundred yards beyond I could see a road running parallel to - the village as I afterwards learned was Mouacourt, and the canal and road ran between Nancy and Strasbourg.

I now took careful stock of my situation. My emergency rations were nearly exhausted and I decided it would be impossible to maintain myself without assistance. I lit a small fire, hoping the smoke from it would not be seen, and lay down beside it in order to dry my soaking wet clothes.


I Become A Frenchman:

As soon as dusk fell I folded up my 'chute, hid it under a tree and carefully noted its position. I decided for better or for worse, I would try my luck in this village. I have already mentioned that a stream lay between me and the village. I found this was wider and deeper than it appeared to be from a distance. Moreover it was swollen by the snow and partly frozen over. I got wet through by the icy cold water in crossing, and as it was snowing heavily, I must have presented a bedraggled figure as I strode down to the village in my flying kit. Not a sole or a light was to be seen - it was an eerie moment! For all I knew to the contrary, I might be walking straight into a Gestapo post!

At dusk approaching the first house I thought it might be best to try the back door. I knocked several times but without any response. I tried the next house, but still had no luck. The third house was also empty. I began to think that the village must be deserted. I walked back into the street and cautiously examined each house, but could neither see or hear any sign of life.

Finally, and, I confess almost in despair, I came to the last house, which lay a little apart from the others and was a few minutes walk from the main road and canal. Here I found the front door ajar and a chink of light fell on the snow. With considerable trepidation, I pushed the door open and walked in. I was surprised to find the light came from an electric bulb. The room was a kitchen with a large table in the centre, on which I banged several times. The door opened and in walked a middle aged man of medium height with a large bushy moustache. He looked exactly what, in fact, he was - a typical sturdy French peasant. This was a dramatic moment, I held my breath! He was obviously startled at what must have appeared to him an apparition.

I pulled out my invaluable phrase card, and by pointing to the appropriate sentences, managed to convey to him who I was and how I came to be there. The Frenchman looked me up and down smiled broadly but said nothing. He left me abruptly and went into the adjoining room, carefully shutting the door behind him. I felt exhausted physically and mentally. I knew that my fate perhaps my life depended on what was going on behind that door.

Then, after what seemed an interminable space of time, the door opened and in walked five people - the Frenchman and his wife, a small wizened woman, another woman with a shawl over her head„ and finally Grandmother and Grandfather, both very ancient and toothless. I was taken aback and not a little touched when the woman with the shawl, who happened to be the next door neighbour of my hosts, rushed up and kissed me on both cheeks. The relief of this traditional signal of friendship was almost unbearable. The explanation was that this woman had two sons fighting with the de Gaullists in Italy. We all laughed and shook hands. I no time a meal was prepared consisting of bread, cheese, wine and coffee.

As soon as the meal was over my head was nodding and I could hardly keep awake. I was led upstairs into the spare room. The furniture consisted of nothing but an enormous bed, and to see it was the very lap of luxury. I was so exhausted that I hardly remembered they even heated the bed with a hot brick. I flung off every stitch of clothing, got into the bed and slept like a log until daybreak.

I next remember my hostess coming up with a breakfast of coffee and bread. Next Monsieur and Madame came up with their Grand parents - accompanying them was a young of very striking appearance, fair, clean-shaven and over six feet tall - with him was his father. The young man's name was Paul Bodot, and to my great joy he could speak a few words of English. He had been a pilot in the French Air Force in 1938 but had been obliged to give up flying owing to defective eyesight. He was now an engineer in charge of a section and a lock of the‘, Marne-Rhine canal.

Before the war Paul had corresponded with two girls in Canada, and because of this he said he might be able to communicate with my sister in Australia. This was in response to the hope I expressed that I might in some way or other be able to let my people in Australia know of my miraculous escape. It seemed very risky to me, but Paul said he had some underground means of sending letters through secret agents in Spain. Unfortunately, he was not able to get a letter through until the Americans had driven the Germans from France. At that time Paul did not know what had happened to me.

I mention the incident to show the kind of man Paul Bodet is. To relieve my anxiety and that of my people he was ready to take a risk which might have delivered him into the hands of the Gestapo. Paul explained that he would immediately visit the H.Q. of the Resistance Movement in Nancy and tell them about me. Meanwhile it would be safe for me to remain hidden in the cottage.

This was Monday morning. On Tuesday evening Paul returned with a forged identity card for me. To this I attached a passport photograph in civilian clothes taken in England, which the R.A.F. gave to all flying personnel just for this purpose.

One of the first things I did when I arrived was to tell my hosts where I had left my parachute, thus proving beyond a doubt that I had actually come down by a plane and thus dispelling any suspicion of a trap. This was brought in one evening, and great was the joy of the womenfolk to have this fine piece of silk. I suggested it would make excellent dresses but Monsieur slyly indicated that it would be more suitable for underwear.

It was arranged that I should remain in the cottage until Friday, and in the meantime some well wom civilian clothes were procured for me. My uniform was taken away and buried or burnt.

My name was henceforth Jaques Clapin - the surname suggested itself to me because it was my mother's maiden name. My passport described me as a mechanic and it also mentioned that I was deaf and dumb!

The five days I spent in this cottage passed slowly. Practically all the time I hid in the little room upstairs. I dared not put my nose outside the house and all I had to read was a French history of the last war. Concentrated on learning the French language and soon began to pick up enough to be able to understand and speak a little.

It was bitterly cold and snowing most of the time. My hosts were most generous in seeing that there was enough fuel to keep the fire going.

Hour after hour I sat in front of it pondering over my position. It was hard to realise, almost impossible to reconcile myself to the tragic fate which had overtaken my six companions. I wondered too, about my people in Australia. No doubt I would be posted "missing", and possibly "presumed dead". I wondered if Paul's plan to get a message through would succeed.


Joining The Maquis:

Late on Friday night, when all was quiet, Paul Bodet arrived with his father. I was all ready to go with them, dressed in my shabby ill-fitting clothes and wearing a beret. I said good-bye to my hosts and tried to express the gratitude which I felt. No hospitality could ever mean more to me than theirs did. I am sure they must have been relieved to see me go, considering the tremendous risks they ran in harbouring me. Had the Germans found out, they assuredly would have shot them and might have burned their house.

As I walked through the snow with the Bodets, I smiled as I reflected on my new personality . Here I was, Jaques Clapin, French citizen, complete with identity and ration

cards. The only relic of my old life which I retained was my wrist watch on which was engraved was my real name, and underneath it "R.A.A.F." I wore it the whole time I was in France.

The Bodets had a small house on the main road at the canal bridge. Before the war it had been a cafe - here I spent a very cold night. We rose at 5.30 next morning and had a breakfast of coffee, milk and bread. At 6 o'clock a bus started out from this little village to Nancy, a distance of about 45 miles. When BodeCP—iii'' and I got on we were the only passengers.

The bus was driven by a charcoal burner and we stopped at various villages on the way, picking up and discharging passengers. At one place, which was a small town, we stopped in front of a cafe and everybody proceeded to get out. However "mon oncle" who did not speak a word of English, succeeded in making me understand that he wanted me to remain in my place. So there I was, alone in the bus for perhaps ten minutes, hoping to Heaven that nobody would come and ask me any questions. Had anyone done so I would, of course, have played up to my role of deaf mute! Great was my relief when I saw the passengers return to the bus, but I was not so pleased when I saw a German soldier a Corporal with a wing on his tunic, amongst them.

Describing this incident later to some Maquisards, I was told that this man probably came from one of the listening posts on the mountains nearby, and possibly he was on some duty or mission in connection with our fallen plane.

When at last we reached Nancy it was pouring with rain. We left the bus on the outskirts of the city and walked for about 20 minutes until we reached the central square or place. On our way we met numerous Germans in uniform, and whenever we did we gave them as wide a berth as possible.

On reaching the Place (des Voges) we walked over to a large building exactly opposite the Hotel de Ville - this was the headquarters of the German Command in this very important city. Sentries were posted outside and there was a great deal of military activity. It was difficult to look anywhere without seeing a Swastika.

On the ground floor of the building we entered was the office of a solicitor. "Mon oncle" took me in, introduced me, and immediately left. The solicitor was a middle aged man of striking appearance. He was the third link of the chain I had to pass along before becoming a full member of the Maquis.

The fourth link was a guide, who my new friend summoned into his office. He had a French-English dictionary, and through its aid we were able to carry on some kind of conversation. The solicitor impressed on me the danger of our position, and the need for extreme care and secrecy. To emphasise his point he led me by the arm to his window, exactly opposite the Hotel de Ville which, as I mentioned before, was the German headquarters. It seemed strange that I , the erstwhile airman, should be peering through a window with two F.F.I. men, at the Nazis only a few yards away..

My new guide, the fourth link, brought me two most welcome gifts - one was an overcoat and the other was a rather less dilapidated pair of trousers than those which the Bodets had provided me with. The overcoat I was most pleased to have, not only because it hid my ill-fitting and shabby clothes, but chiefly owing to the bitter cold. At mid-day I said good-bye to the solicitor and set out for the station with my guide. The city was literally swarming with German troops. We walked straight into the station, purchased our tickets and climbed up into a corridor carriage. The train had come from Paris and was bound for Belfort via. Epinal. All the carriages were reserved for German troops except the last one, which was left for civilians. All the seats were occupied and we stood in the crowded corridor.

The train left at twelve noon , and we reached Epinal in about an hour. Here we had to change for our final destination, Geradmer, a health spa in the Voges mountains, but the train did not leave until the evening. The cold and the excitement made me feel famished, and I was pleased indeed when my guide led me into a warm and excellently appointed restaurant. The only unpleasant feature was the presence of a number of German Officers, two of whom sat at the table next to ours. No sooner were we seated, and before we had given our order, my guide said he would have to leave me for a few moments. To my horror, as soon as he had gone, the waitress came up to get her (our) order. No doubt she was busy and harassed and had to hurry to get through her work - so when, asking me for my order, she met with no response, she got very annoyed. As she raised her voice I was scared that I would attract the attention of the two officers at the next table. Once more my luck held, because at that moment my friend, the guide, re-appeared. He explained my "disabilities" to the waitress, and so this little crisis passed.

After lunch we went to a cinema, where we saw a B class musical film called "Le loi du Printemps". We also saw some excellent German war news reels and a Tyrolean sporting short. We still had an hour or two to spend, so we walked across the Moselle river, up to a chateau on a hill. On the way we passed a German sailor with a girl. From the chateau there were lovely views of the countryside, and being alone, we were able to open the dictionary, which I was given in Nancy. My new friend gave me a little lesson in French. On the way back to the town we met a German corporal exercising an Alsatian dog which he held on a leash.

We now went into a cafe, the largest in Epinal, where we sat down amongst about 300 German soldiers and French civilians which cost 6 francs a glass, and listened to the band playing American "swing" to an appreciative audience. It was now time to catch our train for Geradmer. Our fellow passengers were ideal; two French boys with their girls - they were too busy for conversation!

We arrived at Geradmer at 9.30 p.m. and immediately scrambled into a very small and ancient bus, which was packed to the doors. An hourA run brought us to a village called La Bresse, just on the Alsace frontier.


My Mountain Hide-Out:

La Bresse is a small village high up near the frontier-of Alsace. Snow lay thick on the ground the night we arrived there. The weather remained bitterly cold but I felt happy that at last I was getting to a place where the tentacles of Nazi control hardly reached. The valley leading up to La Bresse is very narrow, and in some parts the mountains rise so steeply that there is hardly room for any houses. We walked some miles up the road until we reached a little hotel. Not alight was to be seen anywhere. My guide knocked at the door - the host Monsieur Remy, opened it narrowly and peered into the darkness. A few words were exchanged and in we went. What a welcome we had! I was dazzled by the lights. A large fire warmed the room and around the bar were about twenty people. I was warmly greeted by everybody and great was the laughter at my clumsy attempts to express myself in French.

I was amazed at the fact that my real identity was made known to all these people.

Here, at least, there seemed to be no fear of treachery - had I been a Frenchman escaped from the Germans, and if this had been my native village, I could not have been more enthusiastically, I would almost say affectionately greeted. I had a marvellous meal, principally steak with lashings of wine, and to me at that time it was indeed a Lucullian banquet.

Afterwards we all sat round the fire and regaled ourselves with more wine.

Everybody talked endlessly and I struggled valiantly with my French. At 2.30 a.m. I staggered upstairs threw myself on the bed, and completely exhausted by the dramatic events of the day, slept like a log until Sunday afternoon.

Feeling thoroughly refreshed, I went downstairs and met many more of the local patriots. I also visited the village bicycle shop, the proprietor of which had a wireless set, and for the first time I was able to listen to the B.B.C. news.

That evening we had some excellent champagne especially produced for my benefit.

Everybody except the proprietor went to the cinema, so I took the opportunity of going early to bed.

On the following morning I practiced a little skiing and late in the afternoon I said good-bye to the Remys and off we went on the next stage of our journey. My companions were my guide and three young Frenchman. It took three and a half hours to reach an old abandoned farm, where 15 Maquisards were hiding. They looked exactly like pirates, but there was no doubt about the warmth of their welcome to me.

The house consisted of a kitchen and a living room, both in a state of considerable disrepair. The stove smoked into the room and we had a hurricane lamp for illumination.

The furniture consisted mostly of old packing cases.

Two of the Maquisards used to go down to La Bresse late at night to get supplies, and on their return we used to get and have a cup of wine and hear the village gossip. These sorties were our only excitement except when a friend arrived every morning with the B.B.C. news.

I was now a fully-fledged member of the Maquis with a salary of 900 francs a month! Where did this money come from? I was never quite sure, but I believe originally from North Africa via. Marseilles - later certainly from London.

Our rations were simple. Ersatz coffee, bread and cheese for breakfast, soup or stew for dinner and tea.

After we had been there for about a week we heard rumours that the Gestapo were on the move in our vicinity. What actually happened was that the leader of the Maquis in this part was a young man who was courting a girl in La Bresse. The latter had been indiscreet, boasting that her young man occupied a position of importance.

We therefor decided to disperse, and on a Saturday night I set out with four others, Bebert, Antoine, Andre and Louis for a farm in the Col du Brabant. We marched up hill and down dale in a blinding snow storm. Our first halt was at a farm owned by a man named Perrin, and his wife. He was as thin as a lath she was enormous. With them was their son, Georges, aged 19. This farm was about 3000 feet up the mountain and snow lay thick all everywhere. We stayed here for the night and dried all our clothes. Next morning we skied down a very steep slope and entered a very thick forest. Several hours walk brought us to a woodcutter's hut. This but reminded me, at least dimensionally of the one which Snow White visited! It was constructed of logs and had a leaky clapboard roof I do not think it measured more than 12 feet by 9 feet and a little over 6 feet high. We had to dig into a snow drift about 4 feet high to get into the place.

We found some old canvas in the hut, and from this and some pine saplings we constructed beds. The first night I shall not easily forget - nowhere to sleep, little food and snowing all the time. We hid here for 5 weeks until the snow melted. We were still only a few hours away from La Bresse, and twice a week Bebert would make nocturnal visits to the village to get our rations, consisting of bread, a little sugar and meat, and occasionally some butter or margarine. We also arranged with the Perrins for Georges to bring us milk, cheese and potatoes every day. We were therefor fairly well provided for so far as food was concerned, but the boredom of living week after week in that snow bound isolated hut, with nothing to do except the inevitable chores, and not daring to venture far away in daylight, was almost insupportable.

There was a never ceasing argument and discussion about the war, when if ever, the Allies would invade the Continent, and our future plans. The only benefit I derived was a quickly growing apprehension of the French language, I soon picked up enough patois to be able to join in the arguments. Situated as we were, quarrels and disagreements inevitably developed. The first result of this was that Andre decided to go home. He was a confirmed communist and he lived in Nancy.

Then there was Louis. He had been in the French Army in 1939, after the invasion, he tried to get to England via. Spain, in order to join the de Gaulle movement. He was caught by the Germans and was given the choice of joining the Legion Voluntaire Francais, a German unit fighting against the Russians, or ten years imprisonment. Personally, I could not blame him for his obvious choice, and it seemed to me that the two of his escaping from the L.V.F. should have established his bona fides.

Nevertheless, Bebert distrusted him and refused to let him carry a pistol" or a sten, which caused much bitterness and ill-will.

One day a chauffeur, whom I will call Joe joined us. This man was an Alsatian who, in 1941, had acted as an interpreter for the Germans. For this reason he also was under suspicion.

It will be realised that there was every possible reason for the utmost scrutiny of all members of our party. Had we unwittingly included a traitor we would all have been wiped out by the Gestapo. We simply could not afford to take any risks.

Every fortnight we were visited by the manager of a textile mill in Cornimod(. He was the chef of the Maquis in that district, and it was his duty to bring us our pay and generally to supervise our welfare. I remember how on one occasion, he brought us some urgently needed socks.


A Visit To The Doctor:

When I was in hiding with Bebert and Antoine. Le Bouk, the chef of our sector (Cornimont) came up on skis to leave us 900 francs each for the month of April 16th to May 16th, and incidentally some welcome underclothes he had "pinched" from the mill, of which he was the manager. He also gave me a French, English, German Travellers Aid book, consisting of phrases in the three languages. It was published at Munich in 1896. As it was obviously intended for wealthy travellers, it caused us a great deal of mirth. One section was headed: "A Car Ride" and here is some of the dialogue which followed:

We have a motor carriage.

It is very modern.

It has two wheel brakes.

Are you enjoying yourself.

I hope you are not sick.

"Bang! Bang!'

(Madame.) "What is that?"

(Chauffeur.) "We are broken down ! Now I will change the tyre. You see we have a spare one especially for that."

(Madame.) "Well, really my horse carriage is much nicer."

We were amused too by the part referring to meals in Continental hotels. I was so entirely inappropriate to our own mode of living.

M. le Chef suggested that Bebert should take me down to see the Doctor in La Bresse, who was reputed to speak English. So the following day at 7 p.m., when it was dark, we put on our skis and started off. First of all we climbed 500 feet to the crest of the mountain - Bebert used his skis but I got into great difficulties negotiating a one-in-three slope covered deeply with snow. I arrived at the top sweating profusely but with frozen feet and boots full of snow. We looked out over the valley of La Bresse, the mountain tops covered with a white mantle, but down in the valleys the snow had melted and dark green merged into black shadows. Not a glimmer of light could be seen anywhere. Bebert said it was ideal for ski-ing and away he bounded down the slope. Having only had about an hours practice, I followed with some trepidation. My method of braking is not to be recommended! All that evening the seat of my pants was wet! When we reached the snow line we left our skis behind a stone wall and walked down to the village. As we approached the first cottages Bebert turned to me and whispered dramatically, "Attention!"

The arrangement was that, from now on, I was to transform myself into the anonymity of a country bumpkin.

We cautiously made our way to the Doctor's house in the village square. Bebert knocked at the door and my heart fell when the woman who answered it said the doctor was out, but that he would be in late. What a predicament! Where would I go while Bebert did his nocturnal shopping? There was no alternative but for me to accompany him, and this was just what we wanted to avoid. However, we boldly went along to the village inn and Bebert, explaining the situation, asked Madame if she would hide me for two hours.

Madame was thoroughly scared. Already her customers were eyeing me inquisitively, wondering who I was and where I had come from.ftwas impossible to know whether there might not be collaborators amongst them. So, as she hesitated we hastily said "Bon soir," and decided to try the grocer. We knocked three times at the back door, this being the arranged signal, and were relieved to hear the answer, "Entres Messieurs."

We shook hands with Monsieur, Madame, le fils, la jeune Rile (aged 5), also Cousine Margeurite, then we walked into the shop, the front door of which was closed. We bought bread, spaghetti, salt and vinegar, also half a pound of biscuits for me. This was a great honour and concession, because biscuits were as scarce as tobacco or coffee.

Various relations came in to have a quiz at me, and they were all smiles and friendliness. As it was approaching 9 o'clock we turned on the wireless (not too loudly), and listened to that session so anxiously awaited by millions in Europe during those dark years, "Ici Londres."

As a special treat for me, believe, Madame produced a sumptuous cake, and whilst we were enjoying it and drinking wine, Bebert told them my story with all the dramatic emphasis of which a Frenchman is capable. Judging by the reactions of the listeners, their ejaculations and exclamations, I fear that Bebert must have grossly exaggerated and magnified the minor role which I played. As we slipped out the back door into the bitterly cold and dark night, Bebert once again put his finger up to his lips and whispered, "Attention."

Our next visit was to the store of the Co-Operative Society. The manager M.Claudel, was very friendly to the F.F.I. but I was merely introduced as Jaques. M.Claudel disappeared and emerged later from his store with about 12 lbs. of lump sugar. This I regarded with considerable pleasure until Bebert pulled out a haversack and I realised that I was to transport it up the mountain! I was interested to note that when Bebert paid the bill he was given a receipt. How such a transaction was kept secret I cannot imagine, as no coupons were given.

We now decided to see if the Doctor had returned home, so we walked to his house.

When he had welcomed us he said to me "I have spoken no English for 20 years. In the war I am with your troops." He and Bebert had a long discussion. He warned us that the Gestapo had become very active in the district. Bebert complained about our living conditions, and he asked what was going to happen with me. The doctor said I must remain hidden until the situation became clearer. We left him and his family of nine children at 11 p.m.

Our final job was to get some meat at M. Luduc's shop, and we then returned up the mountain. Ascending a mountain on skis is an arduous task for a novice, and I became so exhausted that we decided to break our journey at the Perrin's farm, where in spite of the late hour, they hospitably made us some coffee. They laughed when I said I was "tres fatigue." Bebert seemed quite uneffected by the journey.

We got back to our but with a week's bread, enough sugar for months and other items I have mentioned. We had to give our companions all the village gossip. Finally we gave them our copy of the local paper, "L'Espress de L'Est," which gave details of the latest R.A.F. raid on Nuremburg.

Later we heard that 9 a.m. on the very morning following our visit, the Gestapo had gone to the Doctor's house and taken him to Nancy. He was never heard of again.

A German deserter had been arrested in La Bresse after hiding there for six months.

He had been working at a local sawmill, but his identity became known. The Gestapo arrested him and they also questioned the manager of the mill. Either by blackmail or torture, probably both, they learned about the Doctor's Maquis activities.

I did not dare to visit the village again, and for about two months I remained in what I hoped would be the security of the forest. Our but was situated on the upper slopes of the Voges Mountains in a thick pine forest. As I have mentioned, it was almost completely hidden by a drift of snow. This, and the fact that we had practically no furniture and nothing to do, made our living conditions hard and uncomfortable, but I was consoled by the thought that we were well concealed from the enemy.

Apart from the supplies which, as I have said we drew from La Bresse, we were able to get rations from a farm ( the Perrin's) situated a mile or two away. These were usually brought to us by the farmer's son Georges. They consisted principally of a little butter, milk and plenty of potatoes. Georges visits provided us without sole diversion. He was very curloquacious and enjoyed giving us every detail of the local news. He also helped us to cut down some trees which provided us with fuel and timber for beds and tables, the pine timber being excellent for our purpose.

The monotony and boredom of living under these conditions can hardly be imagined. In periods of bad weather, such as snow storms, we were completely cut off from the outside world, the most important thing was to make sure that the stove remained alight, so we worked in shifts. Three would cut wood and feed the stove while the remaining two slept. The one comforting thought was that we were probably safely hidden from the enemy. It was therefor with some anxiety that we waited for the thaw. This became apparent about the beginning of April. Soon we saw the mossy green under the trees, and in no time the birds returned.

At the same time we heard sounds that we did not welcome, the woodcutters. When these approached to within a few hundred yards of our hut, we decided that we must move to some less accessible spot. So on 12th April we set out for our new hiding place. This turned out to be larger and better constructed than our log cabin. No sooner had we settled down than two woodcutters, one an Italian, started operations only a stones throw from our new home. Although Bebert, our leader, distrusted all Italians, this one proved a good friend to us. He and his mate used to come to our but and cook their mid-day meal. We took pleasure in helping them with their work felling trees and cutting them into metre logs. We loaded these onto sledges for their journey down the steep hillside. Most of the woodcutters that we met used to trap rabbits as a sideline, using a brass wire lasso. In fact they were good people to know, as they were well acquainted with all the forest paths. German officers on leave used to often hunt pheasant in the pine forest, and our friends would warn us not to light our fire if any of these "chasseurs" were reported. One Sunday morning we heard several shots only 300 yards away. We were saved by (a) the fact that the pheasants ran off in the opposite direction and (b) a heavy mist hid our but very effectively.


The Spy:

A thaw now set in, and we decided it would be wiser to get further away from civilisation. After several hours walk we found another hut, a little larger than the one we had vacated. There were now five of us and we rigged up five bunks, which, with hay made us fairly comfortable. This was to be our home for the next seven weeks.

The snow having melted, we soon heard the sound of men cutting wood, and we gradually got to know a few of the woodcutters in our vicinity. One woodcutter, an Italian, invited us to visit his family two or three miles away. Antoine, Joe and I accepted his invitation. We listened to the B.B.C. news and had an excellent meal. The only livestock our host had were six young kids. We walked back through the silent pine trees in the moonlight. In this area there were about 25 farms, of which I learned, to my surprise, some three quarters were deserted. The owners either found that they could earn more in the towns and villages, or, they had been conscripted by the Germans.

Whenever anybody visited us we took extreme care to find out exactly who he was and where he worked, also if he knew any of our friends. After we had been in the but for about six weeks one of our woodcutter friends told us he had seen and spoken to a stranger.

He described him and warned us to be on our guard should he come to our hut. We were therefor fully prepared when, one afternoon, a stranger appeared who answered to the description given to us. He was a man of about thirty-five, with a hard lined face. He hailed us warmly. His story was that he had been a prisoner in German hands after being tortured in Nancy. To prove this, he bared his arms and showed us what appeared to be recently healed scars. He said he was staying on a farm a few miles away, but that he wanted to join us. Before allowing him into the hut, Bebert made him remove his boots. This made it impossible for him to escape or rush outside and, possibly, communicate with or join any band which we thought he might have led up the mountains to our hideout. We also took his wallet and identity card.

The attitude we took was that we would probably welcome him, but we would like a few days to think it over. We advised him meanwhile to remain on his farm. That night Bebert went off to La Bresse to consult the police, who were very friendly to us, and also to consult the chief of the local Maquis. Nothing was known in the village about the man, and this fact alone made us suspicious. In his wallet were two letters from girls in Nancy, and the police told Bebert that their address was the most notorious brothel in that city.

We now waited to get a report from our friends in La Bresse. Until we did so we were on tenterhooks. we kept a close lookout day and night for any strangers.

On the following day the man returned, and we took great care not to let him have any inkling of our suspicions. I was a little puzzled and rather impressed by the ultra cautious not to say legalistic, way in which the Maquis dealt with this matter. Our position was so precarious that, I thought, the most drastic methods might have been justified.

The next morning Georges Perrin returned from his visit to the police. Their report made it clear that the man was an active member of the Vichy Militia, also that he was working for and in the pay of the Germans on a special mission. We were also notified that the Chief of the Gendarmerie, the manager of the Co-operative who was the head of the Maquis, and a local farmer who was a prominent Maquisard, would come up and see us.

On the following afternoon our three visitors arrived and the fateful conference was held. The talk went on for two hours and I found it a little difficult, with my scanty knowledge of French to follow all the arguments.

Two days later the spy, as we now knew him to be, cheerfully and unsuspectingly, strode up to our hut. We simulated an atmosphere of friendship and goodwill. Coffee was prepared and we all sat down. Conversation was lively and good humoured! A stranger coming on that scene would never have suspected the tenseness and drama which lay so near the surface. In such good spirits did everyone seem to be that I began to think that I had been mistaken in believing that our friend had, after the most careful investigation, been pronounced a spy.

On reflection, it did not seem possible that I had misunderstood the conclusions and decisions that had been arrived at. I felt disgusted at what I considered was the levity and duplicity of these Frenchmen. I strode out of the but and relieved my feelings by chopping up some wood.

I could not have been outside more than a few minutes when I heard a shuffling of feet inside the but and I concluded that the party was breaking up. Suddenly a shot rang out just in the doorway of the hut, closely followed by another. I rushed in to see what had happened, and in doing so nearly stumbled over a man's body. Blood was gushing out from the back of his head - the spy was dead.

A few minutes later one of our woodsmen friends rushed into our but shaking with fear. He had heard the shots and thought we were being attacked. Bebert swore him to secrecy and threatened to kill him if he breathed a word to a soul, of what he had seen.

Not a moment to be lost. We cleaned up the mess and carried the body outside the hut. We then set to and dug a grave - no easy matter, considering our rough tools and the fact that the ground was frozen hard just below the surface. We worked most of the night, and as soon as all signs of the drama had been cleared up, we took our cooking utensils back to Monsieur Perrin from whom we had borrowed them.

From there we went down to La Bresse, where I met a farmer, Henri Claude!, who took Bebert, Joe and me to a little farm just below the crest of a mountain called La Grosse Pierre.


La Ferme En Haut:

My new hiding place was owned by Eugene Mougel, his principal property was a farm just above the village of La Bresse. The family consisted of Mougel and his wife, his daughter Emma 24, Gaby 22, Rene 17, and Bernadette 14. They treated me just as if I was one of the family for the next two and a half months. The risks which they took in doing so were frightening, and my debt to them is immeasurable. It was about this time that we heard of the arrest of the Doctor in La Bresse by the Gestapo and this made it imperative that we remain closely hidden.

The small stone cottage nestled under the rocks which outcropped just below the highest peak in the district called La Grosse Pierre. The granite of which the mountain was composed was famous for it's hardness and good colour, and it was in great demand for tombstones and monuments. Consequently it was highly profitable to hew and quarry. It was the regular custom for the family, excluding Madame, to migrate to this mountain top for the summer months, say from May to September. Monsieur and his younger son Rene would cut out three or four ton blocks of granite. Incidentally, this was the only means of earning money which, for some reason, the Germans did not tax.

The main living room of the cottage also served as the kitchen. In one corner was a big wood burning stove. In the opposite corner was a large bed with a straw mattress. Under the window were a table and two benches. Just outside there were a few square yards of soil in which we grew vegetables. Beyond that was a drop of four feet to the rough cart track which led into the forest covering the crest of the mountain.

In addition to the living room there was a small bedroom with a bed which occupied three-quarters of the space. On the walls were a crucifix a very tattered print entitled:

"Le Sauveur du Monde," and a calendar of 1927 vintage giving the postal and telegraphic information of that era. At the foot of the bed was a trapdoor leading down to an unventilated cellar. Each morning I would go down into this cellar in order to pick out some good potatoes for our mid-day meal.

In the bedroom was a small door, through which one had to stoop, leading to what had been a fowl house, but which now contained three goats, and at the far end of which was a toilet. In wet weather the place was ankle deep in mud. One had to pass through this place in order to reach the steps which led to the hay loft, and also the room for storing wood above the kitchen.

I lived and slept in this bedroom most of the day. Gaby and I thought it would be a good idea to construct a secret exit in case we had unwelcome visitors. This consisted of a panel which, when pushed, opened into a cupboard. Behind the cupboard was another panel opening into a passage under the hay and finally a loose board which led to the outside of the house.

We completed this during the hay harvest, or what is known locally as "la premiere coupe." Two months later, in August the second cut would be taken and the grass being shorter, the hay would be more succulent, I was told.

Emma's boyfriend, Robert, was shown our escape exit, as were the rest of the family. Madame was rather unhappy when she realised it's purpose. No doubt she pictured us playing hide and seek with heavily armed members of the Gestapo! Micket, the dog was highly suspicious of our secret panels and refused to go through.

One Sunday a girl named Helene paid us a visit, accompanied by Angele, who had been Gaby's girlfriend at one time, but as Gaby was always in hiding all the time she got rather bored and so the affair was off.

I suppose I must have been rather the centre of attraction (or curiosity) at this time.

After months of this queer existence I was quite accustoned to being discussed and analysed ad. nauseum. They were always surprised that no matter how atrocious my French I could understand them. These visits broke a monotony which I found very boring. The mornings were not so bad, because I could usually find chores and jobs to do and there was normally somebody about the house. In the afternoons, however, Gaby and I were left alone. We dare not go outside. Having no plans or foreseeable prospects, the sense of boredom and frustration which I felt was almost insupportable.

Gaby had an ancient telescope and I spent hours peering through it at the valley far below. I got to know almost every farm by name, and Gaby told me all the gossip connected with all the various families. If we saw a man on the road a mile away Gaby would tell me his life history. We could see something like twenty farms from our window, and I knew exactly to what degree the family in each could be trusted.

I tried sleeping in the afternoon but I found it impossible in the daylight. My great standby was the French-English dictionary which my Maquis link friend brought to me in Nancy. Aside from this, my reading matter consisted of four French copies of the American illustrated Weekly, "Look" dated 1930 and a French mail order catalogue of the year 1933.

I can still remember being surprised at how quickly I was learning to read French.

Every evening at dusk Robert would arrive with his latest wireless news from London. He was very much in love with Emma, so that Gaby, Rene, Bernadette and I would have to put up with their courting every evening! Robert would always shake hands and say "Comment sa va?" He was solemn and slow of speech. He had been a prisoner of war in Danzig for three years and was released to help his widowed mother, who had a farm with half a dozen or so cows.

If a stranger came to the door I was hustled away upstairs. I would anxiously listen through the floor boards to ascertain whether the visitor was friend or foe!

One of the characteristic sounds by which I will always be reminded of that strange interlude was the tinkling of cowbells from the hundred or so cows that were brought up from the farms to the community pastures that surrounded our little cottage.

On the summit of a mountain only three kilometres away was a German observation post, and every night two or three German soldiers kept watch for Allied planes.

About the middle of August the R.A.F. raided Stuttgart in great strength on two successive nights, and the roar of their motors filled the air for at least three quarters of an hour. The Jerries got it well and truly I could see the glow of Stuttgart burning from my window well over 100 miles away.

One of the most profitable sidelines of farming in this part of France during the German occupation was the keeping of bees. Honey as a substitute for sugar, which was always scarce, was so much sought after that it fetched very high prices. My friends the Mougels, estimated that they cleared the equivalent of 75 pounds ($150) profit per annum from 18 hives. M. Mougel suggested that, if we moved down to the lower farm, we could occupy ourselves by making some new hives. This appealed strongly to Gaby and myself - Bebert was not so enthusiastic because he felt it would not be so safe, being only a few minutes walk from La Bresse and with farms all around us.

I thought the risk worthwhile, not only because living conditions would be so much better, but also because I longed to have some useful work to do. I felt too that I would in some small way be repaying the Mougels for the hospitality which they were giving me so ungrudgingly, and, never let it be forgotten at such terrible risk to themselves. An additional attraction was the wireless set. I was hungry for news.

It was therefor with some misgiving mixed with relief that we that we left the mountain top one night bound for the larger farm below.

Our workshop was a fair sized barn directly above the stable. The bench was set below a tiny window from which we could see the next farm up the hill and only 150 yards away. The back of the barn was stacked with hay twelve feet high.

All our tools were made by Gaby's "grandpere." Altogether we made 16 hives. Then M. Mougel announced it was time to rob the hives of their honey. He would bring the combs into the kitchen, and place them, four at a time, into a barrel which was swung horizontally between two supports. In the centre of the barrel was a wooden frame. The barrel was then turned by a handle and the centrifugal action forced the liquid honey to the outer sides of the barrel, from which it was drained into pots.

The residue of the combs was placed into basins, and at intervals the members of the family would come and suck these combs, spitting out the wax into a receptacle, to be used later for a variety of uses.

When the honey was cloudy with wax it was heated for a few hours, and after the water had been evaporated, a sweet confection was formed.

At about four o'clock every afternoon we used to assemble in the kitchen and have steamed potatoes, cheese and honey. If Madame went out for a moment, gaby would rush over to the crock and seize an extra slice of bread on which to spread honey.

When visitors came, I remained hidden in the store room behind the kitchen, on these occasions I found the honey pot quite a solace.


Je Marche:

At 8.30 on Tuesday morning, June 6th , 1944, I heard the invasion of Normandy announced over the radio from Berne, Switzerland. I rushed out and called the family, Monsieur, Madame, Gaby, Rene and Bernadette and Emma, who were busily engaged at their various chores. How thrilled we were to hear General Eisenhower's dramatic proclamation.

The broadcast over we returned to our never-ending tasks. My usual job in the morning was to clean up the kitchen and peel the potatoes for dinner. I could of course never go out in daylight.

At about 3 p.m. a neighbouring farmer rushed in, breathless with excitement, to tell us at long last the moment had arrived for the Maquis to engage in active operations.

That very night, at midnight, the Maquis of the village were to assemble at a certain farm in the mountains. Monsieur and Madame decided that this was a fitting occasion to celebrate, so we solemnly stood and charged our glasses to the day of Victory. No sooner had we sat down than a knock came at the door and in came Bebert, my current link with the underground. He was excited and tired, having walked many miles rounding up and giving instructions to members of the Maquis organization in the district. Dramatically, not knowing that we had already received them, he repeated his orders to us, and so we had another round of drinks. Madame was apprehensively watching her rationed wine stocks.

Bebert turned to me and said "Will you stay here or will you march to victory?" I like a fool replied with hand on heart: "Je marcherais avec vous." and left the house with almost nothing for clothes.

The happy circumstance that our marching orders reached us on D-Day, thus ending a period of doubt and uncertainty, induced in all of us a feeling of optimism. We were quite sure the war could not last a further three months.

Deprived of all sources of news, except that which we could glean from the wireless when a set was available, we lived generally speaking, in an atmosphere of speculation and rumour. The French people amongst whom my good fortune cast me were incorrigibly optimistic. Victory was always round the corner - defeat was unthinkable.

I gathered together my few belongings, and as soon as it was dark, Bebert and I set out on our journey. It was raining heavily, but nothing could dampen our spirits that night.

We imagined the Allies were racing across France and would be in the valley in no time!

After several hours we reached a farm, where several Maquisards were having supper. There were plentiful supplies of macaroni, bread, cheese and coffee. We were waited on by the farmer's two pretty daughters, who, I was told spurned the local lads. I noticed they actually used lipstick!

We all listened tensely to King George's broadcast, to the world that night. This was followed by a long discussion on our future plans.

In the early hours of the morning I left with Bebert and another man to join the main body of the Maquis, numbering according to Bebert, several hundreds. When we eventually arrived at the rendezvous I was surprised and disappointed to find there were just precisely four Maquisards.

The chief of this band told us that twelve Russians were hiding on a farm a few kilometres away. At once we sent a farm lad to ask them to join us and march 25 kilometres in order to join up with the main body. When our messenger returned he said that the Russians refused to come that night but that they would probably come the following day.

We talked it over and decided we would not wait. We matched for about three hours south in the direction of Belfort. Then it commenced to rain so we sheltered under some bushes.

Resuming our journey, we began to get suspicious that our guide a local lad, had lost his way. When it became light, we found ourselves in a wood and we could see no sign of human habitation.

Having hidden on farms for three months where I could get no exercise, these long walks in boots that did not fit, and with only one pair of worn-out socks, had a disastrous effect on my feet, which became so blistered that I could go no further, Bebert walked some miles to a farmhouse, where he managed to get a pair of socks for me. We had a breakfast of cheese and bread, and, our guide assuring us that he knew the way, we set out in broad daylight for the main camp.

We threw caution to the winds and crossed the Belfort-Le Thillot highway, hoping that no Juries would see us. Our luck held. An hours walk brought us to a farm on a plateau above Le Thillot, but as we approached the house we were startled by the appearance of several men armed with sten guns. They proved to be Maquisards and when we had established our identities we were permitted to pass on to their Headquarters.

Here we found about sixty men - I was introduced as an R.A.F. airman. They were all immensely interested and curious about my escape. There were abundant supplies of bread, meat and wine. It was evident that many of the men lived on neighbouring farms.

Next day a courier arrived with about twenty pairs of new boots that the Maquis had hijacked from Vichy militia stores. I was glad to get a pair that fitted me.

The twelve Russians now arrived with a Hindu soldier in British battle dress. He had escaped from a PoW camp which the Americans had bombed by mistake. He had been captured at Bardia, Libya, in 1940, and could speak a few words of English and German (but no French)

I met a parachutist here, a French Merchant Marine officer from London, who could speak good English. This was the first time I had been able to speak to anyone in my own language since I landed in France. I hoped we might be able to stay together but unfortunately he had a more or less roving commission. He and I worked together for a time teaching the Maquisards how to use the Bazooka, several of which weapons had been included amongst supplies parachuted by the R.A.F. I am afraid that it was not very effective for mountain warfare. Moreover so for we had only 31 shells.

There was much complaining amongst the Maquis that, having organised themselves into fair sized units, they got so few supplies from London. What they did not realise was that we were only one among hundreds of camps spread out behind the German line, all clamouring for weapons and ammunition.

One night I was on guard with a young French peasant named Paul. At about 3 a.m. a heavy storm came up and we decided to shelter at a farm in the area where thirteen Maquisards were billeted. We stayed here for three days and lived entirely on macaroni, until the third day, when we bought a cow from the, farmer which provided us with some very tough meat.

On an other occasion fifteen of us went out to patrol and reconnoiter a fort guarding a pass over the Voges, which had been on the frontier up until 1914. It was an immense earthwork surrounded by a moat about twenty feet wide and fifteen feet deep. All the galleries were empty and sapling pine trees covered the battlements. The only person we saw was a shepherd whose sheep were feeding in the fort.

As time went on it became impossible to feed the several hundred men now in bivouacs, and so gradually they were dispersed to smaller camps.

From time to time, the chief of the Maquis in our district would visit us for inspections and talks. I was considering whether I should ask him to get me into Switzerland having been told that this was possible. My discontent arose partly from the poor organisation of the Maquis at that time, and also because I thought it might be a very long time before the Allies reached us. The Hindu previously mentioned did leave for Switzerland later, but I never heard if he arrived there. However local enthusiasm boy'd up my hope and I decided to stay.

One midnight we received an alarm. The Gestapo had discovered our hideout and were coming up in the morning. We left at once and got lost in a thick fog. Eventually we reached a farm 20 kilometres away in the direction of Versoul. We were a motley crew - nine Frenchmen, six Russians, two French women whose husbands were in the hands of the Gestapo, two Alsatians, an Indian and myself. The Russians included some interesting types - Nicholav from Minsk, a blond lad aged twenty, had attended a Military Academy in Russia. He had been taken to Germany as a slave worker, but had escaped from the Strasbourg tobacco factory with two other workers.

Another was a peasant from Rostov. He was a shameless glutton who ate all the scraps and roared with laughter as we watched him demolish every thing eatable in sight.

Then there was a lad from Smolensk who had been captured in 1941 at the tender age of thirteen, taken to Germany and was now very homesick.

Vladimir, the leader of the group, was the strongest character. He had been a Staff Captain in the Russian Army and had graduated from the Moscow Military Academy where he took a B.E. degree. He worshipped Stalin, was an active member of the Communist German. He was captured near Leningrad in 1941. From there he was taken to Tallinn, Estonia, where 43,000 Russians were marched in the depth of winter to Halle, Central Germany. Only 2,000 survived - this is what Vladimir told me and I believe him. He and I had discussions about many things. I told him about my father's engineering business and after that he always jokingly referred to me as the "capitalist." He longed to return to his home town Vladimir. We were unable to pronounce his real name, so we used his birthplace as a nickname.

The following night we retraced our steps towards our first hiding place above La Bresse. Using a very old military map, we almost walked over the frontier into Germany, but Vladimir's good sense averted disaster. Another calamity we narrowly missed was when Bebert, our leader, dropped his wallet containing all our money 300 pounds, and hundreds of bread coupons. The latter were none the less valuable for being forged. So at 4 a.m. in the forest in a drizzle of rain we were all searching for it. Fortunately we found it before it was completely soaked.

We arrived at an abandoned farmhouse, but had no sooner done so than two men were seen walking up the road about a mile away. Fearing that they might be Gestapo, we hid in the woods until they passed.

That afternoon the local village Maquis leader visited us and said that he was in hiding as the Gestapo were very active in the district, trying to root out active resistance before the Allies approached, thereupon three of our party dumped their arms and left for home.

The Russians and I were truly in a precarious position. We though we might be betrayed by the deserters; but Bebert remained staunchly loyal, and next morning he guided us back to our original hide-out.

I was very disheveled and dirty , and I wanted to go back to the Mougels to get some fresh clothes, so I left the party and returned to the farm after an absence of eleven days. So much for my second venture with the Maquis.


The Maquis:

About mid August Bebert arrived at the farm to guide me to a recently formed Maquis camp. I said good-bye to the Mougels and did my best to express my gratitude to them for their hospitality. They must surely have been glad to see the back of a guest whom they sheltered at such fearful risk to themselves: but they gave no indication of any such thoughts. I, the foreign airman, had fought against the common enemy and that was the passport to their hearts. It was the indomitable spirit and deathless courage of people such as these, men, women and even children, which constituted the hard core of resistance to the Germans.

We walked up the mountain through the forest to the new camp consisting of three bivouac tents pitched deep amongst the trees. Only two paths led to the sight and they were skilfully hidden and guarded.

There were nineteen men at the camp and most of them came from Geradmer. My first friend was a Frenchman named Henri Oiseau. He was a jockey who had spent a year in England and therefore spoke English. He had escaped from a prison camp near Stuttgart during a raid in which I had participated only seven months previously.

We were a very happy band. The weather remained fine and we received supplies almost every night from Geradmer. Our rations had never been so good and we actually had steak for dinner every night.

One night all the Maquisards, except myself, set off for Geradmer to deal with a traitor, but no sooner had they gone than a courier arrived from the Headquarters of the Maquis in our district to warn us that planes from England were going to drop arms for us that very night. In frantic haste I despatched a farm lad to overtake the party going to Geradmer and ask them to return immediately.

At eleven o'clock that night we went in single file up the mountain. It was about an hours walk through the forest.

The clearing at the top was about 150 by 300 yards. We quickly prepared three heaps of logs and brushwood at the edges of the clearing, forming a triangle. Then we lay down in the grass to wait for the planes. Our excitement can be imagined! As well too our disappointment when the faint light in the East appeared and we knew that no planes would arrive that night.

Four nights we spent in anxious vigil. On the fifth day four of us were in a farmhouse listening to the midday B.B.C. news and immediately afterwards we heard the code signal for our sector.

On that night at 12.45 two giant planes roared overhead; we immediately lit our signal fires and ran for our lives into the forest to avoid the falling parachutes - sixteen to each plane.

The coloured 'chutes fell rapidly from a height of about 500 feet, the only sound in the still night was the plop of falling containers. The roar of the aircraft engines grew fainter and fainter.

We immediately extinguished the fires and organised parties to collect the thirty two containers, load them on to a mule waggon and take them to our secret cache.

On several succeeding nights the planes came. When a wind was blowing it caused most of the 'chutes to be carried into the forest. This complicated our task, because the pines averaged 75 to 100 feet in height, and if, as often happened, a 'chute got caught in the top branches, the only remedy was to cut down the tree. One night I found a 'chute two miles away from the clearing. The 'chutes were coloured, and if left until daylight, might easily be seen by the Germans who, we anticipated would have been on the alert after hearing the low flying planes. We tried to make as little noise as possible, but if, as often happened a full grown tree had to be felled, it was impossible to do anything about the resulting crash. I have often wondered why we were not caught red-handed by the Nazis.

On the border of the forest was a swamp, and one night two containers landed in it.

It took us hours to recover them. One night I was sheltering under a pine tree from a dropping container. It fell about thirty yards away, broke open and some grenades exploded, destroying all the contents besides making a tremendous noise in the still night.

At the end of a week we had enough weapons for about 140 men. About 20 percent of the containers were smashed on hitting the ground.

There was great competition (and jealousy) between the various Maquis organisations, and each leader strove to make his unit the largest. Perhaps that was the reason that the leaders of our camp accepted over 400 recruits. No doubt they hoped London would send further consignments.

Our position now became serious because it seemed inconceivable that our presence could remain unknown to the Germans. Nevertheless, nothing appeared to disturb the enemy down in the valley. Probably they were too much occupied with moving their troops through the passes up to their front line. From our observation posts we saw long lines of lorries and guns and military traffic moving along the roads.

The chief of our sector was M. Lucien, and he had a portable transmitter and receiving set sent to him from Britain. One night he come to tell us that Allied planes were going to drop six officers.

Great was the excitement when the night came on which these men were to arrive.

We had 250 men on the field. The planes arrived promptly at the appointed time. Our fires were lit and down came the 'chutes. We eagerly peered into the darkness to try and distinguish which was a man and which was merely a container. The 'chutes carrying a man were larger but difficult to see at night.

I was standing near one of the fires when up strode a big chap in flying togs. I shook hands with him and told him my real name. He said " I am Major Rees, U. S.Army."

It was a dramatic scene there on the mountain top with the fitful gleams of the bonfire piercing the night. A motley crowd of Maquisards stood around. Major Rees handed round innumerable packets of chewing gum and cigarettes. He spoke French like a Parisian.

Then three Frenchmen came along in British battle dress. It was 2 a.m. before we all turned in for the night, but I think most of us were too excited to get much sleep.

The following evening Lieut. Colonel Prendergast, D.S.O., arrived by parachute. He was a Tank Corps officer seconded for special duty behind the enemy lines. He had been decorated for this service in North Africa.

These men had come to organise local resistance, carrying out sabotage raids, and also to keep in communication with London.

They brought with them several battery transmitting sets, and also three W/T officers to operate them. Jean Mayngard, Roger Helory and I formed one of the wireless teams. The teams never worked together in case the Germans attacked.


The Germans Strike:

The stage now seemed set for effective action against the retreating German armies.

We devoted all our energies towards organising the Maquis into disciplined military units.

Unfortunately, there was a good deal of jealousy and rivalry amongst the Maquis in our sector, and because of this we split into two separate camps. When the Allied planes dropped us arms each camp tried to get the lion's share. It was this division of effort and failure to unite under one leader which contributed to our undoing.

On 1st August (according to you Bebert came and got you mid August didn't he before the attack on the camp? ) The Germans attacked the smaller of the two camps. The leader panicked and blew up his ammunition dump. During the action which ensued, seven Maquisards, and thirteen Germans were killed. The remaining Maquisards dispersed the camp was abandoned.

Two days after this incident a small party consisting of the Major, Three Maquisards and myself, set out on a reconnaissance through the forest up to a neighbouring mountain.

To reach our objective we had to go down a valley and across a main road along which were passing columns retreating Germans. I remember waiting hours behind a hedge near the road for a lull in the traffic. Finally we dashed across the road and climbed about 2000 feet up a mountain side until we could get a good view of Geradmer and the surrounding country now so familiar to me.

It was from this eyrie that we actually saw and heard the tragic and disastrous German attack on the larger of the two Maquis camps, the one adjoining the cleared space for the landing of the parachutes.

The Germans attacked with about 3000 men and as the Maquis could not muster more than about 400 the odds were quite hopeless. Apart from killed and wounded in the action, nearly 100 Maquisards were caught and shot by the Germans.

Amongst those missing were forty young Alsatian boys who, earlier in the war, had been carried off by the Germans from Colmar to dig fortifications in France. These boys had escaped and had only recently had they joined our Maquis. We had put them on a farm close to the 'chute field and the farm house and buildings where they were hidden were the first objectives to be destroyed when the Germans attacked.

The fact that this disaster occurred just at the time when I happened to be away from the camp seemed the very culmination of my never failing luck. At the same time we felt sad and bitter at the fate of our comrades. All our labour and plans had been brought to naught.

We stayed that night at a farm belonging to a man who was the uncle of our guide.

The family were thrilled at the sight of an American major, and they served us a wonderful meal consisting of soup, fried eggs, roast beef and wine and excellent coffee.

Later we five crept up to the barn and listened to the wireless news. The Allies had taken Epinal only 30 miles away as the crow flies.

The next morning, after a wash under the fountain and a breakfast of eggs and coffee, we set off back in the direction of the camp in order to find out exactly what had happened. We were most anxious about the fate of the Colonel and his party. We were immensely relieved to find that they had escaped.

We received this news and also the details mentioned earlier from several Maquisards who had slipped through the cordon of the Germans.

We heard that the Germans were occupying all the farms in the neighbourhood of the old camp, and we therefor decided to go back towards the rapidly advancing Allied lines. We spent the night at an abandoned farm house, and here we were joined by several escaping Maquisards, whose only plan was to get home as quickly as possible.

It was very depressing in this tumble-down farm - food was scanty and the position was rather exposed. We thought that Jerries might come at any moment from Geradmer in search of food.. So, as mist and cloud descended on the mountain, we moved off in single file, keeping behind hedges in the woods as much as possible.

After about half an hour or so we came across what looked like another abandoned farm. In accordance with our usual practice, we cautiously approached the building from three sides. On entering the barn with our weapons at the ready, the Major and I were amazed to see three Indians in British battledress. The leader, a sergeant, told us a strange story in broken English.

A month ago they had been marching back to Germany from a French prisoner of war camp threatened by the Allied advance. In the confusion of the retreat, they had escaped and were working their way back to Switzerland. When we came upon them they were almost at the end of their resources, as the German attack on our camp had blocked the only forest route from north to south.

We now settled in and prepared a meal. The Indians had some pork given them by a farmer, but even in their extremity they would not touch it. Having no such scruples ourselves, we made an excellent meal of pork and fried potatoes.

For three days we rested here, hiding in the woods during the day. It was very wet and dismal. Once or twice the mist lifted and we could see about fifteen miles down the valley. We could hear artillery fire, but it was still a long way off.

The Indians appeared to be panic stricken, and I must say we had some doubts about their reliability. The Sergeant said he knew a friendly priest, who had given them some milk and cheese, so the Major and I went with him and one of the other Indians to try our luck.

Not feeling too confident about these men, the Major carried his .45 at the ready all the time, just to show that we would not stand any monkey tricks.


A Narrow Escape:

We walked for three or four miles through a gloomy pine forest, and then came upon a farm building in a very ruinous state. I noticed that the year 1805 was carved over the door.

The major and I were still rather apprehensive of the whole business, so we arranged that one of the Indians should knock at the door and bring the farmer to meet us at a place a little away from the house. We made it plain that we would treat the Indian who remained with us as a hostage and guarantee of good faith. Meanwhile we waited tensely in a dark forest half expecting a Jerry patrol.

Our surprise may be imagined when along came the Indian with a French cure in a Black clerical robe. We introduced ourselves and it soon became plain that he was almost inarticulate with fright. However, he had some food to give us and we persuaded him to bring us two blankets the following night. These were for the Major and myself. We did not visit M. le Cure again, as we felt it was too dangerous.

Several of our former Maquis now arrived and they told us that the Colonel and his H.Q. party had crossed the valley and we were instructed to report to them. So the next evening we joined up once more with the Colonel. Our first job was to get our wireless transmitter going and we then informed London of our plight.

The heartening news was that we should disperse and hide until the Seventh Army arrived! We moved on to another abandoned farm, but towards dusk the sound of a machine gun firing in the next valley scared us, as we thought it was coming closer.

We went to a farm in an isolated sector of the mountain side. Here the Major persuaded Madame to let us in on the understanding that we would leave in the morning.

We stayed on this farm for two weeks.

We established contact with other groups of escaping Maquis, and we were the anxious spectators of exchanges between German and U.S. artillery. The whine of the shells was quite plain. On occasions, the noise of gunfire was so loud that it would shake the whole house.

With glasses we watched U.S. 155 mim guns trying to root out a German battery, a duel which continued, weather permitting about a week. Finally the Jerry position went up in smoke. German ambulances were the only sign of life on the roads which, from certain positions on the mountain side we used to scan.

We got tired of Madam's eternal potatoes and cheese, so two of our party visited a nearby farm and bought a young calf. We purchased four more in the next fortnight.

During our stay here we received word that two French spies were hiding on a farm only half a mile away. They were said to be in the pay of the Germans, and their job was to seek out information about the Maquis. The Colonel detailed a party to round up these two spies. Not long after the party left, we were startled to hear a shot followed by yells of "Merde, nom de Dieu."- and Madame came rushing in with a torrent of protests and lamentations. She said that even "les Boches' were preferable to us.

When comparative peace and quiet had been restored, we found that Georges, our young cook, had received a slight flesh wound in his leg from a bullet fired by one of his companions, who did not know his Sten was loaded! The Major and I cleaned and dressed his wound, and then we all sat around the fire awaiting the return of the party from their spy hunt.

Soon after midnight they arrived bringing back the alarming news that one spy had been shot, but the other had escaped. There was much argument and recrimination among the members of the party over the bungling which led to one spy escaping. However, the harm was done and we decided that, after a few hours sleep we would seek a new hide out.

Just before sunrise we moved off, always towards the approaching American line.

We decided to camp in a pine grove. The Colonel and I went for a little walk in order to examine the lie of the country around us. one exciting discovery was some hazel nut trees which provided some worthwhile chewing.

We sat down to a rather unappertising lunch, cold potatoes and cheese, but once more fortune smiled upon us. A local schoolmaster and a good friend of the Maquis brought us a large jar of honey. He also gave us all the latest news. American shells were falling on his school, only a mile or so away from us, and the Germans had cleared all the civilians out of the village. Even while he was talking we could hear small arms and machine gun fire ahead of us through the woods. He strongly urged us to go towards the Americans.

That night we set off in single file. Slowly we climbed to a ridge and, with machine gun fire getting nearer, we silently edged our way to our objective a tumbledown farm some 1,000 yards behind the Germans line. We all lay down in the hay to sleep.

The next morning I awoke feeling refreshed. Looking around the barn in which we lay I saw that the slats which formed the walls had in many places fallen apart, so that one could easily see outside.

No sooner had I got up from the hay on which I was sleeping, than I heard gutteral voices just outside. At the same time I saw the Major standing tensely, with his tommy gun at the ready, facing the door of the barn. The thought flashed through my mind that this was the end!

The Colonel was still asleep. I had no time to get my gun - except for the gallant Major the German patrol would have no opposition. They would just walk in and wipe us out.

Then came my last and most miraculous escape! Major Rees was 6 ft. 3ins. and built in proportion. One of the Germans possibly hearing our movements in the barn, strolled over to the door to investigate. No sooner had he entered than the floor on which the Major was standing gave way and he crashed into the cellar underneath! The Boche patrol was so alarmed at the noise that they bolted for their lives up the hill - we made off down the hill!

After going a short distance, we met our cook, who had slept at a friendly farm, and was bringing us a bucket of milk. So Germans or no Germans we stopped and had some refreshment. We were now right inside the retreating German front line, and in order to avoid capture it was vitally necessary to find a safe hiding place.

Finally we established ourselves in some very thick scrub overlooking the entrance to a valley, at the foot of which was the German rear guard. On the flat beyond the valley we were excited when we could clearly see jeeps and other American transport. At once there was talk of walking through the scrub to "Les Americains." However, on sober reflection, it was realised that "Les Boches" were still between us and safety.


Journey's End:

This was one of the thrilling episodes of my great adventure - so near and yet so far.

For two whole days and nights we lay hidden while shells whined over our heads. We were so near to the Germans that we could hear their motor truck drivers swearing as they tried to bring up supplies and ammunition over the rough mountain tracks.

On one occasion, whilst hiding a few yards from a path, a Jerry walked right past me and I could read "Afrika Corps." on his arm.

Our rations consisted of cold potatoes and cheese, two or three times a day and this gave me mild dysentery.

On our first night one young Frenchman of our party came up on all fours and whispered to the Colonel, with whom the Major and I were sitting; "Mon Colonel, je pense qui nous sommes encircle pas les Boches." Fortunately we found that the situation was not quite as bad as that, or, if we were encircled the Boche was quite unaware of the fact!

Next morning we were the uncomfortable spectators of a mortar barrage which seemed to be creeping towards us. one shell landed only fifty yards away.

I had a strong feeling that day that things were working up to a crisis, and sure enough, whilst we were having our meagre midday meal, a boy rushed up and breathlessly announced that the Americans were only fifteen minutes walk away over the hill to our right.

As the front was now very fluid, we concluded that, with care, we might be able to reach the Americans without the Germans spotting us. The Americans were now beginning to break out on the Plateau, and the Germans were steadily falling back.

We talked it over and decided to send one of our party, Roger Herlory, to try and contact the Americans. He carried a message hidden in one of his boots, warning the Americans where we proposed to cross over on the following day.

We had a very uncomfortable sleep, and at 5 a.m. the next morning we all set out with high hopes that our existence as fugitives would soon be over. We carefully moved from farm to farm. Several of us saw the Jerries on a farm 200 yards to our left but by hiding behind a hedge, we managed to avoid them.

Our guide would invariably say: "Three hundred metres," when we asked him how much further.

Dawn was breaking on the mist enshrouded plateau, and firing almost ahead of us caused me to keep very low down and have my carbine cocked. Several bullets whined over us, but this time I knew it was now or never.

We approached a tiny farm and the barking of dogs and squawking of geese brought out Monsieur, Madame and their six children. We tersely asked "Ou est le ligne Americaine?" Monsieur replied quite calmly: "Il y a un guarde Americaine cent metre a droit la." I could have kissed the whole family. We asked Madam for a white table cloth.

This was placed on a rifle and we set off in single file up the track.I shall never forget the scene! The mist was rising in patches and desultory firing could be heard all round . Then suddenly ahead of us appeared an American Infantryman covering us with his automatic rifle. The Colonel explained who we were and the American then led us back to his unit.

Soon we were all shaking hands. they were more surprised to see their countryman Major Rees, than any of us.

We were now taken down to company H.Q. There we were looked over. One American said to me: "You speak pretty good English for a Frenchman." I explained who I was and then realised that, by force of habit, my speech was still 50 percent patois.

Our party numbered seventeen and the Americans gave us enough rations for forty!

We did full justice to the generous over supply - perhaps the sweets were most appreciated.

In between mouthfuls we were interrogated and were able to pass on some valuable information as to enemy artillery positions.

After a while we moved down the track back towards Base H.Q. An hour or so's jeep ride brought us to Remiremont, Third Army Advance Headquarters.

We said good bye to our French friends, and the Colonel the Major and I were fitted out in American army uniforms.

That night I did not sleep a wink. The events of the past eight months crowded through my mind. I thought, too, of the thrill my people in far away Sydney would get when they heard of my adventures. The drama of my personal experience was emphasised by the cramps and flashes of the 155 m/m guns ten miles away.

Next morning we said good-bye to the Voges mountains. For me it was a poignant occasion.

My thoughts went back to those indomitable sturdy French peasants, by whose bravery and fortitude our band of Maquisards pulled through. I prayed that those who were still in the midst of battle would survive.

It did not take me long to reach Paris - here I had to R.A.F. Headquarters at Versailles. Few indeed of our airman who came down over France shared my miraculous good fortune.

Consequently there was no special organisation for dealing with such a case as mine. However, after consultations with London, it was decided that I should be flown home.

As luck would have it, Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris, Chief of Bomber Command, happened to be in Paris when I arrived there, and he was returning to London in his private plane. He graciously agreed that I should accompany him.

So there I was on the morning of departure, sitting in a comfortable armchair in the Chief's luxurious plane, waiting for him to arrive. I was introduced and I gave him a brief account of my adventures! It was a fitting end to my adventures.

Arriving in London, one of my first assignments was to explain to a board of experts exactly what had happened to our plane. I seized the opportunity of pointing how narrowly I missed being trapped in the plane by the jamming of the escape hatch. It was explained that the hatch must open inwards, and that the tremendous centrifugal force set up by a plane that is diving in a tail spin cannot be overcome by any known safety device. I was just very lucky.

And finally, in finishing my story, my thoughts go back to my six comrades in our ill-fated Lancaster who did not share my luck. To them, as also to the many gallant Maquisards who lost their lives, I inscribe the simple epitaph:

"MORT POUR LA PATRIE."

Pages of Outstanding Interest
History Airborne Forces •  Soviet Night Witches •  Bomber Command Memories •  Abbreviations •  Gardening Codenames
CWGC: Your Relative's Grave Explained •  USA Flygirls •  Axis Awards Descriptions •  'Lack Of Moral Fibre'
Concept of Colonial Discrimination  •  Unauthorised First Long Range Mustang Attack

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning we will remember them. - Laurence Binyon

All site material (except as noted elsewhere) is owned or managed by Aircrew Remembered and should not be used without prior permission.
© 2012 - 2021 Aircrew Remembered
Last Modified: 03 April 2021, 11:27

If you would like to comment on this page, please do so via our Helpdesk. Use the Submit a Ticket option to send your comments. After review, our Editors will publish your comment below with your first name, but not your email address.

A word from the Editor: your contribution is important. We welcome your comments and information. Thanks in advance.
Monitor Additions/Changes?Click to be informed of changes to this page. Create account for first monitor only, thereafter very fast. Click to close without creating monitor