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At First Sight

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At First Sight
The Hard Way Back To Base - Peter Walker

On the night of 2 December 1943 Mosquito DZ479 'F' of 627 Squadron crewed by  Leslie (Doggie) Simpson, pilot and myself, navigator, took off from RAF Oakington at 18.38hrs bound for Berlin. After flying with 139 Squadron this was our first operation with 627.

Before leaving the English coast it was found that the GEE set was unserviceable but it was decided to carry on using Dead Reckoning navigation with forecast winds. This proved to be highly dangerous as, instead of Southerly winds, it was later reported that the winds had veered to the North and strengthened.

Apart from the occasional burst of flak nothing amiss happened until, some one hundred miles from Berlin, in the region of Magdeburg, a predicted burst of flak took out the starboard engine. Doggie Simpson decided to carry on to the target on one engine.

At a much reduced height and twenty minutes late on target Berlin was bombed and the aircraft turned for the journey home. Unfortunately there was no way of obtaining a visual pinpoint and those unreliable winds were used.

At approximately 23.59hrs a terrific barrage of flak was encountered during which time the aircraft was continuously hit. The aircraft was then at a very low altitude with a considerable number of pieces missing from the airframe.

After passing through this area, later presumed to be the Ruhr, we continued for a further fifty minutes when at 00.50hrs the aircraft was abandoned.

'F' Freddie had flown 2hrs 10mins with both engines functioning and 4hrs 02mins single engine, a total of 6hrs 12mins, The approximate fuel consumption was 70 gallons per hour.

After a rough parachute descent I landed in a tree, smoked a cigarette. climbed down, buried my parachute and started to walk. During the next hour I continually had to jump into the ditch to avoid German cars and motor cycles rushing to the scene of the burning aircraft.

I eventually came across a small farmhouse and, taking a risk, I knocked at the door. The farmer and his wife confronted me and seeing my Mae West heavily stained. with blood, quickly ushered me in. I was handed a large pitcher of cider and some bread and cheese and, using my schoolboy French, I learned that I had landed near le Beny Bocage in the Calvados region of France.

This couple, knowing the risks they were taking, hurriedly saw me to the door and directed me to the road to the coast. I had not walked far when I saw in a layby, a large van. Without thinking, I jumped into the back and within minutes, probably due to the cider, I was asleep.

Before dawn I awoke and climbed out only to see that on the side of the vehicle was the German insignia. Probably one of my very few mistakes whilst on the run. Within a mile I came across another small farm but this time I was greeted at the door by a middle aged lady who, seeing my state, did all she could to help. I lived in her barn for five days, being fed and watered at regular intervals.

Resistance workers from the area had been contacted and at the end of my stay in the barn I was taken by them to Caen where false documents were produced. My name was Pierre Andre and I was a hairdresser by trade. Of course, by this time, I was suitably attired in civilian clothes.

>From Caen I travelled by train to Paris, where I had my first encounter with the SS. From Paris I was escorted on a train to Lyons where the local Resistance arranged for my transfer to the Maquis in the mountainous district of Savoie. Life with the Maquis was very rough and I had many frightening experiences including my involvement in preparing "plastique’, for blowing up a party of Germans.

During January an SOE agent paid a visit to the barn in which we were domiciled and said that there was no possibility of crossing into Spain. That decision left only one choice: Switzerland, which was only 50 miles away. To walk to the frontier took nearly a fortnight and was crossed on the night of 24 February.

On being interviewed by the British Consul in Berne it was made clear that evaders entering in civilian clothes were not interned and, having possession of emergency passports, were allowed freedom of travel within the Swiss borders. Until April 1 stayed at an hotel in Arosa and then went to Montreux.

Shortly after “D” Day I spent a short holiday in Zurich where, with the aid of a very attractive young woman, I made arrangements with members of the French Resistance to return to France. In July l attempted to cross the Franco-Swiss frontier at Annemasse but, unfortunately, I was caught climbing the wire. I was committed to Geneva prison for trying to leave the country illegally.

On the day following my release, however, I planned my second attempt, this time in a much more uninhabited area in the mountains and successfully crossed the frontier at 2235metres. I rejoined the Maquis at Abondance and with them went via Annecy and Chambery to cross through the fighting lines just north of Grenoble, where I met the United States forces.

Although in civilian clothes, I was allowed by the Americans to travel reasonably freely and was able to make plans to complete my return to the UK, which was done quickly, by going to St. Maxime in Provence from whence I obtained a passage aboard a Liberty ship to Naples, then a flight to Casablanca via Tunis and finally another trip by US aircraft to St. Mawgan, Cornwall.

I returned to 627 Squadron, still in civilian clothes and wearing a very nice line in brogue shoes, courtesy of the Swiss.

Copyright 1943-2012 627 Squadron in Retirement or as credited