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Archive Report: Allied Forces

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.


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174 Squadron Crest
14.02.1944 No. 174 Squadron Typhoon Ib JP548 F/O. Basil F. Proddow

Operation: Ranger Patrol

Date: 14th February 1944 (Monday)

Unit: No. 174 Squadron

Type: Typhoon Ib

Serial: JP548

Code: Not known

Base: RAF Westhampnett, Sussex

Location: Chouzy-sur-Cisse, France

Pilot: F/O. Basil Francis Proddow 119143 RAF Age 23 Evaded capture


Relatives of the pilot welcome contact from others who may have served with their father - please contact us and your details will be forwarded.


REASON FOR LOSS:

The son of the pilot, Julian Proddow, submitted the events to Aircrew Remembered in March 2017, proud to reproduce it here:

"I have been asked to tell you about my experiences with the French underground movement after I was forced to land my aircraft in enemy territory early in 1944. But, before I begin my story:

I wish to emphasise to you the part played by those gallant people who befriended me and enabled me to evade capture.

There is one point which I particularly want to stress. An airman captured by the enemy, whether posing as a civilian or not, has the right to claim the protection offered by the Geneva Convention, provided he can identify himself as a member of the Armed Forces. But the persons who assisted Allied airmen were exposed to the most severe consequences. Normally, if discovered, they faced a firing squad, or at least a term of imprisonment.

I am only one of a few hundred aircrew who had similar experiences - some of them certainly more enthralling than my own - but I am sure that all will agree that it is impossible to praise sufficiently the courage and resourcefulness of those men and women who helped us in our time of need.

Immediately after breakfast on 14th February we had received orders to report to the briefing room, where the Rhodesian Wing-Commander who was to lead the operation, carefully gave us our instructions. We were to be fighters on this trip, temporarily forsaking our more usual role of fighter-bomber. The operation was to consist of a long-range sweep into the heart of German ­occupied France.

We dashed out to our powerful, Sabre-engined Typhoons and climbed in, fixing the parachute harness and the cockpit straps, plugging in the radio and connecting the rubber tubing of the oxygen mask. Under each wing, in place of the bombs which we usually carried against Hitler's advanced aerodromes and V-bomb sites, a sausage-shaped auxiliary fuel-tank hung.

The Wing-Commander's engine coughed into life. This was the signal for the rest of us to "press tits" and fifteen engines started almost simultaneously. But as we taxied out for the take-off a Flight-Sergeant appeared from the dispersal hut waving his arms. The take-off had been postponed. The weather had clamped down.

We did not receive further instructions to take off until that afternoon. As soon as we were airborne, that peculiar sensation in the pit of the stomach, which afflicts most airmen before they go into combat, vanished. We formed up and skimmed across the roofs of the old market-town of Chichester, where people were shopping and going about their daily tasks. Grazing the grey waters of the Channel, we neared the coast of France and started to climb to avoid the enemy anti-aircraft defences. Then at 8,000 feet, with the coast behind us, we went into a long dive until we were flying just above the tree-tops. French people working in the fields waved to us, but we caught only a fleeting glimpse of them as we struggled to hold formation.

We had been airborne about an hour, and so far there appeared to be no enemy reaction. We swung on to a new course, hoping to surprise some unsuspecting German aircraft in the vicinity of Tours. Meanwhile, we had to jettison our fuel-tanks, which were nearly empty. I switched over to "Main Tanks," then pulled the lever marked “Jettison" and my tanks were released. I knew they had dropped as I could no longer see the markers behind the trailing edge of the wings. As I did so, I noticed that one of the aircraft ahead of me was having trouble with its starboard tank, but it came away suddenly and fell spinning downward.

An instant later my engine spluttered and stopped - I knew what that must mean, an airlock in the petrol system. I pushed frantically on the petrol booster-pump, but there was no pressure.

Nothing else for it but to look for a field - that big green field to starboard - not much height to manoeuvre, but just enough to make a turn without losing too much airspeed; then down, under­carriage still retracted, towards that welcome patch of green. The end of the field seemed to rush up towards me - this was it - I pulled back on the stick - then I felt the belly of the aircraft touch the ground, tearing its way to a standstill in a cloud of dust.

So far so good. I was quite unhurt. I looked around and saw some high-tension cables - I hadn’t missed them by much. Only fifty yards away was a road where people had begun to congregate. They stared at me from a distance. I hadn't time to destroy my aircraft. My ground crew must have forgotten to supply the usual fire-bomb for that purpose, and although I pulled out some folds of silk from my parachute pack, turned the oxygen supply fully on and lit a match, it didn't seem to produce the required effect. I had no time to waste and decided to make myself scarce. This, it turned out, was just as well, as German troops were guarding the railway station only a quarter-of-a-mile away.

A stream ran down one side of the field. I threw my Mae West into the water. Then I squatted down behind a convenient mound of earth, cutting off the tops of my flying boots with the special knife provided. Next I removed my brevet and the shoulder straps of my battledress bearing my rank. Without close scrutiny I might pass as a French civilian in blue dungarees. Then I made off in the opposite direction to the road with its crowd of curious onlookers, keeping below the bank of the stream until I reached a small bridge.

As I started across the bridge a horse and cart came towards me. I could have sworn that the driver waved to me and yelled "Vite! Dans le bois!” pointing to the woods behind him. I entered the woods and walked briskly along a little-used path for about a mile until I reached a-railway track, which I crossed cautiously. Further on I came upon a steep embankment. It was a main road. I heard a truck career past. Then, stealthily climbing the bank, I looked across the road and spotted a broad, shallow river.

I re-entered the wood, found some undergrowth and settled down to examine the aerial map which I had with me. I reckoned that I was between Onzain (where I must have come down) and Chouzy-sur-Cisse. There was little doubt that I had just come upon the River Loire, the little stream I had previously followed being the Cisse. I cut out the portion of the map which was of interest to me, burying the remainder.

Above - during training at Tyrell, Texas, USA.

It was a beautiful afternoon, warm for the time of year. I lay in the bushes and examined my escape kit. It contained some French currency, a silk map, a file, a compass, some Benzedrine and water-purifying tablets, a rubber water-bottle and several odd items, all of which I hid in my pockets.

I decided to reconnoitre the area. In a clearing on the north-west fringe of the wood I noticed a man in charge of a flock of sheep. Then on the western extremity of the wood I spotted a farmhouse, typically French, grey and dilapidated, the buildings arranged in the form of a square. I made up my mind at once. I would watch the farm for any sign of German troops. When dusk fell, all being well, I would enter the farmhouse and ask for help.

There was little activity and the time seemed to hang heavily. It was turning cold now. The railway track was not far off and I amused myself by watching the frequent trains, drawn by immensely powerful-looking electric locomotives. Eventually the man I had seen at the edge of the wood drove the sheep into the farmyard.

It was dusk. All was quiet again. I moved across the field which separated the wood from the farmhouse and carefully circled the buildings. I could see no one inside the farmyard. I walked through the main entrance and straight up to the door of the farmhouse. A light was showing under the door. I knocked softly and entered.

There were two people in the stone-flagged parlour-the farmer's wife and a little man with long, untidy hair, who looked more like a gnome than a human being. Later I found out that his name was "Miser" and that he slept from preference in the cowshed. Apparently, if he had guessed who I was he would not have hesitated to sell me to the Germans. He had just stoked up the fire and he went out through the door by which I had entered. The farmer's wife was stirring a saucepan of soup upon the stove when I broke the silence in my schoolboy French: "Madame, je suis pilote anglais".

She didn't seem surprised. She called out: "Henri, il y a quelqu'un". Her husband entered from an adjoining room; he looked a good, steady type. He asked me to identify myself, and I handed him my Identity discs, my brevet, and the portion of map I still carried. I showed him where I had been forced to land. He seemed satisfied with my explanation, asked me a few more questions, then his face relaxed and he smiled reassuringly.

He beckoned me into the adjoining room, leaving me for a moment and returning with an ancient blue suit which had obviously not been made for me. He grinned as he told me that it had belonged originally to his father.

In my new disguise I returned to the parlour for supper. Half-a-dozen farm workers arrived and sat down at a long table. The farmer must have passed me off as a friend or relation. There was little conversation and fortunately nobody paid much attention to me. When they did speak, they spoke too rapidly for me to understand. I wondered what I would do if one of them asked me a question.

I was feeling very tired. I think I managed to swallow some soup, chicken, and cheese washed down by a glass of red wine. I was glad when I was shown to a large comfortable bed, into which I crawled without undressing. In a few minutes I was asleep.

I do not know how long I slept-probably not very long. Suddenly the light was switched on and I heard the farmer saying: “You will have to hide in the barn. The Boches are looking for you. They are searching the houses." I followed him out of the house in the pitch darkness. In the barn he handed me some sacks and cunningly concealed me amongst some bales of straw. Then he left me, announcing that he would call me in the morning. It was bitterly cold and the sacks did not keep me very warm. It was use unpleasant to hear the sound of rats moving about. I slept fitfully.

True to his word, the farmer called me at 6 o'clock. He was wheeling two bicycles. He motioned to me to mount one of them. My hands were so cold I could hardly grip the handlebars. But, as soon as I started to pedal, my circulation improved and I felt much better as I followed the farmer across the fields towards the village of Chouzy.

My disguise had now been completed by the addition of a black beret - a precaution which seemed unnecessary, as the village was deserted. The farmer knocked on the door of a house on the outskirts of the village. A man in a white night-cap thrust his head out of an upstairs window. He looked rather scared. He talked excitedly for a few minutes. Obviously he wanted nothing to do with the farmer's scheme.

We remounted our bicycles and rode towards the centre of the village, stopping at a house which the farmer explained belonged to his father and mother. When they saw us they looked worried, but they invited us in. There were handshakes all round; then I was shown to a ground-floor bedroom with blinds tightly drawn. They brought me some food and a cut-throat razor with which I gave myself a very close shave!

Part 2: Continuing the War Experiences:

Monsieur S. had heard rumours that some members of the French militia were to be billeted in Chouzy, possibly in his house. So, on the evening of 8th March, the farmer returned with the two bicycles and we set off to complete the fifteen or so kilometres to Blois. Luck was with us and we were not challenged by a German patrol.

We were greeted warmly by a grey-hatred spinster and her ancient mother, who had suffered at German hands in three wars. She had some interesting names for the Boches, which were a welcome addition to my limited vocabulary. Mademoiselle owned a small grocer's shop which stood on the "quai" overlooking the Loire.

On the following morning, from the window of the bedroom which Mademoiselle had vacated in my honour, I was privileged to see my first German soldier - an officer clad in the green uniform of the Wehrmacht. He walked into the shop and demanded some cigarettes. Apparently he was billeted in a neighbouring house and was a regular customer. Mademoiselle informed me that he was not “mechant”.

That evening I was introduced to Mademoiselle's sister, Madame C., who owned a "brasserie" on the south bank of the Loire in the suburb called Vienne. It was a depot for the bottling and sale of beer brewed at Tours. Mme. C. was a widow with two children-Claude (later severely wounded in Indo-China), aged 17 years, and Francine, aged 14 years. Cousin Robert also lived with them; he had been a sergeant-pilot In the French Air Force, but was now a "refractaire” having failed to report for a spell of forced labour in Germany.

The difficulty was to reach the brewery, as it was necessary to cross the Loire by the ancient stone bridge near the centre of the town, where sentries usually carried out a routine check of identity cards. We might have to bluff our way through, as I had no papers. So Mme. C. put her arm through mine; Francine clung to my other arm. I was "Papa" and I was to feign drunk. A policeman friend walked ahead to create a diversion if an emergency should arise. But there was no guttural cry of “Papiere”. Indeed, the only member of the Heerenvolk we encountered was a little, wizened soldier, who slouched by, carrying a rifle which seemed to dwarf him. We arrived at the brewery just before the curfew, after which a person needed special permission to be in the streets.

A few days later our policeman friend was marched away by a military escort. They took him to the notorious house occupied by the Gestapo. He was questioned about local resistance activities. He was tortured. He refused to speak. Finally, they released him. He showed me his hands shortly afterwards - they were not a pretty sight.

I spent six months at the brewery - a life interspersed with periods of intense excitement and extreme monotony, of which I can only give a brief description.

An attic room was set aside for me. No one except the family ever visited this room. It was the children's playroom and was to be left undisturbed. The "femme de menage" had specific orders not to set foot on the second floor. At the end of the first month she gave notice, which allowed me a larger degree of freedom about the house. I would go downstairs, taking every precaution not to be seen by strangers. Sometimes I was forced to retreat hurriedly into an inner room or even into a cupboard! We trusted only those persons we knew to be reliable; there were too many loose tongues. The "compatable" who looked after the brewery accounts, was a gossip, but although she worked in an office at the foot of the staircase, she was unaware of my presence in the house.

Of the several workmen employed at the brewery, the foreman alone was considered trustworthy enough to be introduced to me. It was a tragedy that his young son Lucien was killed by Allied bombing. A few minutes after he had received the sad news the foreman gripped me firmly by the hand, indicating that he bore me no grudge.

As the Spring came, aerial activity began to increase daily. By day and night it heartened me to hear our heavy bombers on their way to their targets. Blois was only worried by nuisance raiders.

It had experienced its share of bombing from the Italians in 1940. The centre of the town was in ruins.

During the dark evenings, after the employees had left, I was able to walk up and down in the courtyard, enclosed at one end by the bottling plant and at the other by an ice-manufacturing plant.

There was a wall along one side of the yard against which thousands of empty bottles were stacked; on the other side there was only a wire fence. Mme. C., realising that when the evenings became light I would be unable to take my daily exercise without being observed by the neighbours, ordered the construction of a prefabricated concrete wall about seven feet high and fifty yards in length.

Several times a week German motor vehicles or horse-drawn carts arrived to fetch the beer ration for the local garrison. Robert would cadge cigarettes from the drivers and pass them to me surreptitiously behind the lace curtains. We also "requisitioned" for our own consumption a goodly measure of “eau-de-vie" which the poor Boches had left with us for safekeeping. They had purchased it from a farmer - at a price, no doubt and against military regulations.

I was cared for in every possible way. Two charming old ladies who had lived in England during the First World War brought me some English books; the local barber called to give me a haircut; and the dressmaker made me a shirt out of a linen bed sheet. The food situation was very difficult in the town, but some good friends used to bring extra rations from the neighbouring villages. On Week-days our diet was simple, mainly eggs and vegetables. We looked forward to Sundays, when we sat down to a seven-course luncheon with wines from Madame C’s well-stocked cellar.

Above: as described, as taken from the scrap book of Basil Proddow.

Every Allied victory was an excuse for a bottle of champagne, and now there were victories to celebrate almost every day. On 5th June the BBC proclaimed the fall of Rome, and early the next morning the Allied invasion was announced. I was woken from my sleep and a glass of sparkling wine was thrust into my hand. I jumped out of bed dressed in my night-shirt (pyjamas being unobtainable) and hastily executed a war dance to mark this special occasion.

The time began to pass a little more quickly. We listened to the BBC communiques (always ready to silence the radio at a moment's notice) and marked the daily progress of the Allied armies on a series of maps pinned to the walls of my room. We embroidered armbands for the French Forces of the Interior and made flags of all the Allied nations for display on Liberation Day. We hid the flags in a barrel in the cellar.

Some Spitfires dropped bombs on Blois Bridge, but only damaged the parapet and blew an unfortunate motorist into the river. Mosquitos shot up some German transport along the “quai" one moonlit night. American heavy bombers destroyed a railway bridge a few miles away. We had a grandstand view from the attic. R.A.F. bombers blew up a train laden with munitions and provided a firework display. The aerial war was at its peak.

Then came the break-through on the Normandy front. German Tiger tanks rattled through the narrow, cobbled street past the brewery, their wicked 88 millimetre guns pointing at us as we peeped through the shutters. A German soldier flung a grenade into a house a few blocks away. The Boches were getting panicky.

One afternoon about forty soldiers stationed themselves just below Claude's bedroom window.

They were trying without success to start up an ancient French car which they had commandeered.

Some of them decided to visit the cafe opposite, while four adventurous types climbed over the brewery wall. Mme. C. went out to meet them, told them the brewery had been closed down for a week, and that there was no beer. They did not believe her. One of them swore viciously and thrusting a revolver in her back, ordered her to show them over the premises. Francine and I had difficulty in restraining Claude and Robert from rushing to her assistance; such headstrong action might have produced disastrous consequences. By chance, Mme. C. caught sight of four bottles of mineral water standing forgotten on a ledge at the back of the bottling plant. She presented them ceremoniously to the four Boches, who, thirst and honour apparently satisfied, left quietly through the “portiere".

On another occasion soldiers patrolled the street all night, pacing up and down below our bedroom windows. Next morning we learned that they had arrested a man involved in "black market" activities. In every situation of this kind Mme. C. acted with a composure that was an example to us all. I never wish to see a braver lady.

By 15th August the Allied armies were speeding across France. The US Third Army, making a lightning thrust towards the German frontier, left Blois and the surrounding country to the mercy of the FFI. The German garrison blew up Blois Bridge and withdrew to the South bank of the Loire.

We moved out of the house into the cellars under the brewery. Friends from neighbouring houses joined us, so that our party numbered a dozen. The Germans set up their mortar batteries on some land quite close to the brewery and lobbed shells into Blois, damaging its lovely Chateau. Rifle and machine-gun fire crackled spasmodically in all directions.

One afternoon, during a lull in the battle, two young German soldiers, their stick-grenades wedged in the tops of their jack-boots, entered the brewery. We were sitting in deck-chairs on the platform used in normal times for the loading and off-loading of crates of beer. I had no time to hide, so I followed the example of my French companions, smilingly shaking hands with the enemy, who eventually departed well contented with this unexpected camaraderie.

Paris had fallen to the Allies on 25th August, but still we had not been liberated. But at midnight on 31st August the Germans set fire to some temporary wooden shops which they had been occupying.

We watched the spectacular fire outlined against the sky; then we retired to bed. When we awoke the next morning not a single German remained in the town. They had withdrawn a distance of about 30 kilometres to new positions to the south. Later in this sector 20,000 German troops were to surrender to a party of 24 Americans riding in jeeps and displaying a white flag.

We crossed the river by a hastily-organised ferry service and discovered an American colonel already in residence at the Hotel de France. He promised to put a vehicle at my disposal as soon as possible.

I returned to the brewery for three days, visited all the people who had helped me, bidding them "merci" and "aurevoir". The colonel kept his promise. I was driven by jeep to Vendôme, where I hitched a ride with a Paris-bound American negro transport unit as far as Châteaudun.

At the airfield I contacted a British Army liaison officer, who, after thrusting a huge mug of neat gin into my hand, arranged that I should be flown in an American aircraft to Laval, where I would find a rear echelon of SHAEF.

I left for Northolt on 5th September in an Air-Marshal's Anson. He was pleased to share his aircraft with me, on one condition - that I should nurse a box of eggs on my knees. The eggs were destined for his wife and I am glad to record that they arrived safely at their destination.

That same evening, after reporting to the Air Ministry, I took a train out of Paddington Station for home. Fortunately, I had taken the precaution to despatch a telegram to my parents, who had received no news of me, apart from the original report of my forced landing.

Three weeks later I was flying a Typhoon again and re-joined my squadron in Holland. On 24th February, 1945, almost a year after my forced landing In France, I was shot down on the Dutch-German frontier after a rocket attack on an enemy supply train. I finished the war as a prisoner. But that is another story . . . . . "

Basil Proddow.

Note: It is recorded that the Typhoon was repaired and flown by the Luftwaffe under T9+GK (shown above), only to crash and kill the German pilot, Fdw. Gold on the 29th July 1944. Another pilot from the squadron was also shot down, Sq/Ldr. William Winder McConnell DFC and Bar 81643 RAFVR flying Typhoon Ib MM962 - survived and taken PoW.

Webmaster Notes: On Saturday the 24th February 1945 Fl/Lt. Basil Proddow was flying Typhoon Ib RB632 was thought to have been hit by anti-aircraft fire, but relatives understand that it was due to a fuel problem coming down near Emmerich. Also lost on this operation from the squadron 21 year old, P/O. Ronald Bertram Thomas Adams 185793 RAFVR - flying Typhoon Ib MN977 from Luton, Bedfordshire - sadly killed.

On the 50th anniversary of the D Day landings a plaque was placed at the old farm where he first sheltered, which is now the Golf Club at Chouzy-sur-Cisse, France, The “Coquelicots” commemoration honoured the pilot as well as the others lost during the war in this area.

Les Coquelicots
Au Champ De France Les Coquelicots Se Sément Au Gré
Du Vent Entre Les Pures Croix Blanches,
Pour Nos Amis Anglais,
Nous Sommes Toujours Lä Avec
Vous En Toute Saison,
En Été Nous Fleurissons Rouge Et Noir Pour Rappeler
Vos Sacrifices Sur La Terre De France Pour Avoir
Donner L'espérance Pour Un Monde Meilleur
Dormez Nos Amis En Paix Car Les Coquelicots De France
Veillent Sur Votre Éternel Sommeil.
John C. Rodgers 
V.F.W.

Translation:

The Poppies 

In Fields Of France The Poppies Are Sown
On The 

Wind Between Pure White Crosses,


For Our Friends English


We Are Always With You In All Seasons


In Summer We Blossom Red And Black To Remember


Your Sacrifice On Earth To Give France


Hope For A Better World


Sleep In Peace Our Friends Because The Poppies Of France


Ensure Your Eternal Sleep.

He had two brothers, Stuart, his older brother who was injured serving with the British Army at Casino, his younger brother Nigel was too young to have served. One story told to Julian by his Uncle Nigel was that once Basil Proddow made a barrel roll over their house during the war. Sadly Nigel passed away on the 18th February 2017.

Burial details:

None - Basil survived the war. Emigrated to Montreal, Canada. Sadly he died very early at the age of 44 from a brain tumour - survived by his wife, Sheila and three children

Researched with the assistance of Julian Proddow (son of the pilot) and dedicated to the relatives of this pilot as well as the wonderful French people who aided his evasion. Also thanks to some of the sources as quoted below:

KTY - 05.03.2017

Acknowledgements: Sources used by us in compiling Archive Reports include: Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vols. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vols. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries', Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tom Kracker - Kracker Luftwaffe Archives and Fred Paradie - Paradie Archive (both on this site), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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