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Library Reference Number: 155

The Long Way Home - Addendum

Jack Little, Scottish Saltire Branch, ACA. April 2008

Jack Little was one of the first to contribute (Website Index No. 16) when attempts were made to record the aircrew experiences of members of Scottish Saltire Branch. This was the result of a rallying call by Branch President Bill Reid, VC, who was concerned that members' personal memories and first-hand accounts might be lost unless something was done to record and initiate a permanent collection. Since Jack Little's initial account, there has been time for reflection which has brought further details to mind. This is viewed with some interest, as although many aircrew members who were shot down were killed, taken prisoner, or were guided back to UK within a few weeks or months, Jack Little took `the long way home' covering over a year and several countries in the process. The following personal account is given by Jack, and who like others who were shot down, once again underlines the value of the French Resistance movement whose actions were vital in helping members of RAF to return to UK.

I was in the Army at the beginning of the War and in 1941 t transferred to the RAF. After basic training in England, I was sent to Canada and spent five months at No. 32 A.N.S. doing Navigator Training. After this time I returned to the U.K. for further training at A.F.U. and then to OTU at Abingdon where we were made up as crews and sent to St. Eval in Cornwall.

From there we carried out sweeps over the Bay of Biscay searching for U-boats. The arrangement was that one sweep was considered as one half an operation. In June 1943 we were posted to No. 158 Squadron flying Halifax aircrafts at Lissett in Yorkshire and were engaged in bombing missions over Europe. We started off by completing eight operations over Germany. It was considered much safer to go on bombing missions over France and on 15 July 1943 (which was a moonlit night) we took part in flying over France to bomb a motor vehicle factory at Montbeliard.

Unfortunately, when we were nearing the target our plane was attacked by a fighter and we were set on fire (at 2.30am on 16th July). Three of us managed to bale out of the plane. I landed on the outskirts of a village called Sacquenay. We were told at the briefing previous to this mission that the French people in this area were friendly. After having hidden my parachute in long grass, I decided to enter the village. The plane came down about quarter of a mile from the village and was burning fiercely. The village people were, of course, wakened up by the plane coming down and a lot of them were looking at the burning aircraft. On entering the village I approached two females who looked at me in astonishment!! They then took me to a farm building and when I went inside George the bomb aimer was sitting at a table surrounded by Frenchmen having a glass of brandy. We then produced our maps and after consultation with the Frenchmen we discovered where Sacquenay lay.

We then decided to leave the village and made our way eastwards before the Germans had arrived at the village. We had walked about a mile when we were overtaken by a girl with two men on bicycles. The girl's name was Denise with her two brothers and they lived in a farm not far from where they had made up on us. Denise was adamant that we accompanied her to the farm while the brothers were to make a detour to make sure there were no Germans in the immediate area.

We then arrived at the farm with Denise and she took us into the kitchen where her Mother was sitting - she looked at us in amazement! She made it clear to Denise that she wanted rid of us. Denise, however, took over and took us to a hay shed where we climbed up to the loft and she left us there. I spoke a "little" French and managed to communicate with Denise who advised us to stay in the hay loft meantime. After being there for a few hours she came and told us to follow her quickly as Germans were in the vicinity searching farms, etc. She guided us from the farm across fields into a wood where she told us to remain. At 8a.m. Denise returned with a Frenchman who told us he was in the Underground Movement and the first thing to do was to take our measurements to be fitted with civilian clothes. He then disappeared and returned later on in the day with trousers, shirts, pullovers, etc. which we changed into - our uniforms were taken away. Whilst he was away Denise returned, this time bringing us some food.

We stayed hidden until evening in the wood then Denise came back with an elderly man who had with him a bicycle and a fishing rod. He told us he would take us to his farm bothy and gave George the fishing rod and me the bicycle. We then said goodbye to Denise and made our way with the man. We walked on and the Frenchman kept talking, laughing and made it clear that he wanted us to respond by laughing. We walked until we came to a river where there was a bridge being guarded by Germans who were more interested in the French girls than us! The Frenchman carried on over the bridge with us talking and laughing. He then told me to cycle on and after a mite or two come back and report if it was quiet. Eventually we arrived at his bothy. We remained there for three days and learned from the Frenchman, who had disappeared for some time, that four had been killed in the aircraft and the flight engineer had been captured by the Germans. Unfortunately, he had struck a tree when landing and badly damaged his leg.

In the early hours of the third night we were told to get dressed and we left the bothy on cycles supplied by another two Frenchmen who were also on cycles. We then cycled for about quarter of an hour and we were taken to a school teacher's house where we were greeted by the school teacher and his wife.

We were there for two weeks and we were very comfortable. Obviously, we could not go outside during the day but at night the school master took us for a walk in the darkness. Being the school master the Germans made him responsible for the issue of food tokens, etc. and periodically the Germans visited him to discuss matters. We were in one room and the Germans were in the next room only separated by a door. During our stay we were visited by members of the Underground who were trying to make arrangements that we be taken through Spain to Freedom. Unfortunately, snags arose with their lines of communication and they were unable to take us as hoped.

Thus the reason for staying there for two weeks. We left in the covered rear of a lorry to an explosives factory which was partly occupied by Germans. We were smuggled into the Manager's house within the complex and we spent a fortnight there sometimes watching the Germans drilling in the courtyard below the window of the house we were in. Yet again, we were unable to go out. From there we were moved to another explosives factory where we stayed again for a few weeks.

Whilst there, we had another visit from members of the Underground who advised us that it was impossible for them to conduct us to Spain. As an alternative they suggested that they would arrange for us to be conducted to Switzerland. We agreed and, in the meantime, they returned us to the Manager's house in the other explosives factory to await developments. After a week or so, we were told that we would be moved and we were taken from the house to a small wood nearby where there was a lorry and three young Frenchmen. We got on the rear of the lorry and the three young men got into the front and off we went. We arrived after about an hour's journey in Besancon. On the way there we passed a column of Germans on the march. Our lorry overtook this group of Germans and while doing so, the three in the front were throwing orange peel at the Germans!! Later on in Besancon I asked the Frenchmen why they made their presence known to the Germans - they said the Germans knew they didn't like them and therefore were not surprised at things being thrown at them!!

In Besancon the vehicle was parked in a busy street and the three young men got out the lorry and left us! All we could do was sit and wait watching the crowds go by including quite a number of Germans in uniform. Eventually they came back and told us that they were taking us to the Swiss Border.

We then drove in the lorry to near the Swiss Border and the vehicle stopped in a quiet road. We were then handed over to an elderly man and his son. It turned out that the elderly man was a Border runner mostly with cigarettes! We waited for a few hours and then went with the two Frenchmen to nearer the Swiss Border. The elderly man left us with his son and finally came back and indicated to us to follow him towards the actual Border, which was in fact the River Doubs. Finally, we arrived at the river where Switzerland was on the opposite bank. Just as we were about to enter the river the Frenchman turned and told us to run back which we did and I hid under some leaves. Whilst there, a German appeared with a dog walking along the banks of the river. I waited where I was for some time then saw the older Frenchman walking to me. I got out from under the leaves and walked back along the side of the river with the Frenchman and George appeared. He then took us to a place on the river and shook us by the hand and pointed to the river. The older man, George and I went into the river which was about knee high and waded across and landed in Switzerland. We then walked along the path until we came to a cafe where the man told us to sit down and stay.

Whilst sitting in the cafe we were given a glass of wine but nobody spoke to us. After a while two Swiss soldiers arrived, approached us and indicated that we should go with them. We went along the river until we came to the Swiss station and we were told that we would be staying overnight there. We then entered the station and were given floor mattresses. The soldiers were very friendly. The next day two policemen arrived armed with revolvers and told us that they were taking us to Geneva. We boarded a train, arrived in Geneva and were passed over to the Swiss Air Force. I was interrogated and, in fact, I learned more from my interrogator than he did from me. He asked me about "windows". I truthfully said that I had never heard of them and then he told me what they were used for. Apparently, it was after I was shot down that "windows" were used for the first time. The Swiss interrogator then said I would be considered as an "Internee".

I was then handed over to the British Authorities in Switzerland and then George and I joined the company of internees. There were about twenty airmen who, like ourselves, had made their way to Switzerland for various reasons. The company of airmen, etc. were just being moved to Arosa and George and I were able to join them at Arosa which was well known for its skiing facilities. We were put up in a hotel and I joined in the ice skating activities and later in the sport of skiing. By this time it was the end of September 1943. At the end of the winter, we were moved to Lake Geneva. In August 1944 France was freed from the Germans and instead of waiting to be returned to Britain by the British Authorities, some of us decided to enter France and make our own way to Britain. Once over the Border we were assisted by the French to the South and I was taken to an airfield in the South of France from where I was flown to Naples in Italy. I spent a few days there and then was flown to North Africa. After being interrogated here, I eventually joined an aircraft which was going to Britain.

I landed in Cornwall in September 1944 and then travelled by train to London and was interrogated. After that I was given leave and travelled home. On taking off from Lissett in July 1943, little did I realise that it would take me over a year to return home. In May 1945, I embarked on an Empire A.N.S. Course at Shawbury. This led to my qualification as an Instructor and I completed my R.A.F. service in this capacity at No. 5 A.N.S. Jurby until December 1945.

This is a tribute to the bravery and courage of the French people who assisted in my escape.

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