Francis Edward McGregor, Williams crew 1943 – an amazing story.

crew and Frank composite

Left hand image: The Williams crew – back row middle Gordon Williams – Pilot, front row left Frank McGregor – Air Bomber. Right hand image: Sgt. Frank Edward McGregor.
© Estate of FE McGregor

Many thanks to Pete for letting me share with you the amazing story of his father and his crew, who flew with 75(NZ) Squadron in 1943. I originally came across a post Pete had made on his blog about the incredible story of his father’s escape through Denmark after being shot down on the 4th of November 1943, only to be handed over to the Germans, resulting in his incarceration in Stalag IV-B. The post of the story is here

Pete describes the events of that night as follows;
On the night of 4 November 1943, four Stirling bombers from 75 Squadron took off from an RAF airbase at Mepal in England on a mission to lay mines in the Baltic Sea. Near Kallerup in Denmark a German JU88 night fighter piloted by Leutnant Karl Rechberger attacked Stirling BF461. Some of the fighter’s fire hit home, but Rechberger was wounded in the thigh by return fire from the bomber. Despite the injury he landed safely.

The Stirling wasn’t so lucky. The exact nature of the damage will never be known, but it was sufficient to cripple the bomber. Unable to control the doomed plane, pilot Gordon Williams gave the command to bail out.

On hearing the order, the front gunner spun his turret to align it so he could climb back into the bulkhead to retrieve his parachute. Unfortunately, he misaligned the turret; the wind caught and wrenched it and strained the hinges and he found himself trapped in the turret. Fighting panic, he ripped off his helmet and managed to squeeze his head and shoulders through the gap. Suddenly, the plane lurched and he was thrown through the gap into the bulkhead. He reached for his parachute and tried to clip it on, but by now his fingers were numb and he couldn’t tell if the clips had buckled securely. Time was running out. He opened the hatch and lowered his legs into space, then, with a terrific effort of will, released his hold and tumbled into the night sky, away from the crippled bomber. He waited several seconds, free-falling through the night until he was sure his parachute would clear the plane, then pulled the ripcord. A moment later he felt the impact as the parachute opened. The clips were secure.

With help from local Danes he evaded capture for two days but was finally turned over to the Germans. He spent the remainder of World War II as a Prisoner of War in the huge Stalag IV-B at Mühlburg, about 50 km north of Dresden.

He was my father.”

The crew arrived from 1657 Conversion Unit at RAF Stradishall on the 10th July 1943 – a day before my Father and his crew. On the 24th of July Gordon Williams flew a ‘2nd dickie’ op with Squadron Leader Jack Joll’s crew, as was normal practice for a new pilot arriving for operational duty. The crew then began their tour – strangely, they seem to complete only a relatively short number before arriving and being shot down on the 4/5th of November………

25/7/43 Essen Stirling Mk.III BF461 AA-B
27/7/43 Hamburg Stirling Mk.III BF461 AA-B
29/7/43 Hamburg Stirling Mk.III BF461 AA-B
30/7/43 Remscheld Stirling Mk.III BF461 AA-B
2/8/43 Hamburg Stirling Mk.III EH936 JN-W
15/9/43 Montlucon Stirling Mk.III BF461 AA-B. F/S Willian Kell replaces William Champion as Wop.
16/9/43 Modene Stirling Mk.III BF461 AA-B. F/S Willian Kell replaces William Champion as Wop.
22/9/43 Hanover Stirling Mk.III BF461 AA-B. F/S Willian Kell replaces William Champion as Wop.
23/9/43 Mannheim Stirling Mk.III EF512 AA-A. F/S Willian Kell replaces William Champion as Wop.
4/11/43 Mining in Baltic Sea Stirling Mk.III BF461 AA-B. William Champion returns to the crew as Wop. Failed to Return

Like many of the aircraft BF-461 encountered German night fighters over Denmark, in this instance two Ju.88’s. The damage caused to the Stirling in the ensuing confrontation forced it to jettison its mines and attempt to return early to base. The Stirling crashed at Kallerup in Jutland, Denmark. P/O Champion’s body was found and taken to the German morgue, the Nordre Mole, in Fredrikshavn by a German lorry. Official German documents record the death ‘from burns’. However in a report compiled by a Danish policeman a Danish undertaker questioned this verdict. If Pilot Officer Champion died had died from burns the body would have been taken to the undertaker in a coffin. As this was not the case it may be that P/O Champion was killed in the crash. P/O Champion was buried at Fredrikshavn on 13th November, together with seven other British airmen. No military honours were given and the ceremony was performed by a German field padre. A group of Danes attending the funeral and laid wreaths and flowers on each of the coffins, at done at other funerals.

Frank McGregor’s story of that night can be read here as the first of 2 viewable, or downloadable pdf files. The story is incredibly detailed and covers the period from take off, literally to his liberation by Russian soldiers (part 2 here) in 1945.

The remaining members of the crew were taken prisoner. Five of them were sent to Germany, but F/S Morice was sent to hospital at Thisyten for treatment for damaged ankles after a heavy parachute landing. Whilst at the hospital, his captors, thinking he was immobilized because of a feigned broken leg,  left him unguarded. He escaped and walked for 5 days before making contact with the Danish Underground Movement. He returned to England via Sweden being commissioned for outstanding bravery and awarded a Mention in Despatches, On his return to England MI-9 recorded:

I was a member of the crew of a Stirling aircraft which took off from Ely about 1600 hrs on 4 November 1943 on mining operations in t Skagerrack. About 1916 hrs we were attacked by night fighters over Denmark and we were ordered to bale out. I was the first to leave the aircraft. I came down in the neighbourhood of Hundborg in marshy ground. I hid my parachute, mae west and harness in the swamp, along with a wallet I had been carrying. I had my wallet with me as we were returning to Lossiemouth and expected to be there for a week before going back to our station. I began immediately to walk away from the aircraft which was burning furiously about two miles away. I do not know which direction I took as there were no stars and I had lost my aids box and purse which I had inside by battle-dress before leaving the aircraft, Before starting to walk I removed all the badges from my uniform. I had sprained both ankles in landing and thought my right ankle might be broken. I kept on walking all that night (4-5 Nov) making slow progress as my right leg was almost useless. At dawn I rested for two hours and continue walking, this time East by the sun as I decided to make for the East coast. At 1100 hrs I was unable to carry on and sought shelter in a farm in the Hundborg area where I was given food and rested, At 1300 hrs, however, a Danish policeman arrived with an ambulance and explained I was to be taken to a Danish hospital at Tisted and that I would then have to be handed to the Germans. The farmer, though friendly, must have informed the police, probably being afraid of the German search. Wepassed many German search parties looking for me on the road. The Danish policeman was very anxious that they should not see me. He was also very friendly. At the hospital in Tisted the doctors treated my ankles, x-rayed my right foot and then said that there has been two British machines crashed, many had been captured, four more were dead (of this they were not certain and thought that I was the only one at large). They said that Flying Officer Black had been at the hospital with an injure foot. He had been captured by the Danish police and the Germans had taken him away from the hospital. Three Danish policemen arrived. I asked them to let me go, but they refused saying it was impossible to get to Sweden and that the Germans would recapture me. At 1600 hrs I was left in a ground floor room in the hospital by myself for a few minutes, but a porter came in and with his assistance I escaped through a window and made my way out of the town, dressed in battledress and flying boots. I walked East by the stars all night, along the shores of the lake (Tisted Bredning). It was bitterly cold, so I could not rest. I crossed a dike in the vicinity of Hovsor. About 1000 hrs on Saturday. 6th May, I was stopped on a track by a Danish peasant who saw I was in pretty bad condition. He took me to his house, gave me food and allowed me to rest until midday. An English-speaking Dane came in and gave me a map, an old map, and an old cap and showed me the main road to Aalborg. This road follows the railway line. He also said that it was impossible to get out of Denmark, but the people would help me. He advised me to avoid Pjersitslev, as there were many German soldiers there. I continued walking to 1900 hrs when I went to a farm where I was given food and a bed for the night. They spoke no English but managed to understand they were not to tell the police about me. I was given a better map which showed I was at Vust. On Sunday, 7 Nov, I was awaken at 0500 hrs and given food. I then set out along the road. About 0600 hrs I was stopped at a crossroads by two German guards but seeing my hat and coat they allowed me to pass. I did not speak a word. I walked all that day along that road passing several Germans. I was limping badly and my flying boots made walking a torture. At 1800 hrs I stopped at a farm near Birkekse. The people took me into a house, the owner of which, his wife and nephew all spoke English. They welcomed me with open arms, said they would help me, but were very pessimistic as to my chances, as the Germans were on the watch for me everywhere and many people were stopped on the roads. My host said he would try to put me in touch with an underground organization. I stayed there that night. On Monday. Nov 8, I rested all day at this hose and was treated very well. After making several plans my host decided to send me next morning to a friend at Birsted. I was given trousers and boots, retaining only my underclothes, socks and sweater from which I had removed all tabs. Next day (Tuesday 9 Nov) I was taken to Birsted where I was put in touch with an organization which arranged my journey to Sweden.”

He was repatriated to Britain in accordance with the Geneva Convention.

The crew of BF461 AA-B on the 4th of November 1943 were;
P/O Gordon Kenneth Williams RNZAF. (NZ401796) Pilot
PoW # 1454. PoW camps – Stalag Luft I. Promoted to F/Lt while a PoW. Safe UK – 12 May 1945.

F/Sgt Walter Frank Morice RNZAF. (NZ415708) Navigator.
evaded capture. Mentioned in Despatches: 8 Jun 1944:
“In recognition of distinguished service and devotion to duty’ 

Sgt Francis Edward McGregor RNZAF. (NZ415338) Air Bomber.
PoW # 263492, PoW Camps – Dulag Luft, Stalags Luft III, IVB and IVG. Promoted to W/O while a PoW. Safe U.K 31 May 1945.

Plt Off. William James Champion RAFVR. (624043, 53774) Wireless Operator.
Died Thursday 4th November 1943, age 25, during a mine-laying sortie to the Baltic Sea. Buried Frederickshavn Cemetery, Denmark.

Sgt Horace N Moffat RAFVR (1682621) Flight Engineer.
PoW #261523, PoW Camps – Dulag Luft and Stalag IVB. Safe U.K. NK.

F/O John Arthur Black RAAF. (AUS.425420), Mid Upper Gunner.
PoW# 1766. PoW camps – Dulag Luft, Stalags Luft 1 and Luft III. Safe UK NK.

Sgt Reginald Ingrey RAFVR (1504520) Rear Gunner.
PoW # 261509. PoW camps – Dulag Luft, Stalag IVB. Safe UK NK.

Having read  Frank’s account, I think its safe to say that H.Moffat, nicknamed Horay, might well be Horace and Reggie, pretty obviously Reginald Ingrey – so we can perhaps add a little more to the Nominal Roll information as a much belated result of this incredible story

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