The Air Force Museum of New Zealand has just presented another 75(NZ) Squadron RAF related item in it’s ‘Object of the week‘ series. This time it is a set of forged identity documents that Edwin Worsdale used to escape back to the United Kingdom with after he was shot down at 00:30 on the night of the 25th October 1942.
Owing to adverse weather conditions, the crew had failed to reach the necessary height to cross the Alps and the decision was made to abort only their 5th Op as a crew and return to Mildenhall.
Whilst on their return flight over France, Edwin and crew, skippered by Howard Hugill crashed after being attacked by an ME110. Unable to maintain height, one crew member, James Barnes the Air Bomber, baled out prior to impact, but the rest crash landed, resulting in the Pilot, Sgt Howard James Hugill, RNZAF NZ414293 and Sgt. Edmund John Pete, RAF 1279494 the Observer, being killed in the crash, approximately 30 kms east of Reims.
Edwin and another crew member, Sgt. Newbold made off on foot from the site of the crash, reaching Switzerland 18 days later, having been provided assistance by French families along their 30km a day escape. Whilst in Switzerland, Edwin spent 9 months at the British Embassy in Geneva as a cipher clerk.
On the 5th of June 1944, Edwin left Switzerland for Spain, briefed by the British escape and evasion representative in Switzerland and carrying the necessary forged documents to assist in his escape – under the alias ‘Lucien Bovet’, an insurance inspector. His initial train journey took him to South Western France and in order to get to Spain he crossed the Pyrenees unassisted. On arrival in Spain, he gave himself up to the Spanish authorities and was released to the charge of the British Embassy. Edwin returned to the United Kingdom, via Gibraltar on the 11th of July 1944.
On his return to the United Kingdom Edwin was interviewed and debriefed by Intelligence School 9 (I.S.9), which had as its chief task the support and rescue of escaped POWs and Evaders (E&E’s) stranded in enemy territory in Europe. I.S.9 activities fell under M.I.9 (British Directorate of Military Intelligence Section 9), a department of the War Office during WW II.
“I was a member of the crew of a Wellington Mk III aircraft which took off from Mildenhall on the 23rd October 1942 to bomb Milan. On the outward journey we could not get the aircraft to rise above 12,500 ft whereas we required to rise to 14,000 ft when approaching the Alps. The pilot accordingly turned back. We were uncertain of our position but thought that we were well south of Paris. We then flew out of cloud and were hit at about 10,000 ft by a fighter, the rear turret being put out of action. The pilot took evasive action, diving to about 3,000 ft in the hope of being able to hedge-hop home. However, first the instruments and then the motors went out of action, and fire started in the bomb bay where we had a full load of incendiaries. We crash-landed. The bomb aimer (J G Barner) had already baled out and I learned a year later in Switzerland that he was a P/W in Germany. Before we hit the ground we jettisoned the incendiaries but the fire was pretty bad. In spite of this the pilot made a magnificent landing about midnight. We came down in a ploughed field between a wood and a village, possibly Menil- Nelles. And certainly about 20 20 west of Vouziers. The rear gunner was trapped in his turret, but I was able to push his turret from the inside and so make an opening for him to get out. I then took off all my equipment and after the rear gunner had pushed the turret round for me, I was able to get out through the same opening. We had just got clear from the aircraft when the petrol exploded. We were unable to get at the Pilot and Navigator who were still in the aircraft. We did not know at that time that the Bomb Aimer had baled out and thought he also was in the aircraft.
Newbold and I walked all night and rested all the next day (25th October). At night we set out again and early on 26th October passed through St. Souplet-sur-Py. We continued till daylight and then slept for the day on what we believe was a former battlefield. In the evening we called at a farm at Suippes where we were allowed to stay overnight, leaving before daybreak on 27th October. The weather was bad and we could not walk far before daylight. We hid in the woods till evening when we went to Somme-Suippes. Here we found shelter at a farm for the night and the next day (28th October). From the evening of 28th October when we left Somme-Suippes, till 1st November we continued walking through woods by day and on roads at night, getting food but no other help at farmhouses. On Ist November we were taken in at a farm at Villers-le-Sec and given food and civilian clothes (up to this point we had still been wearing battle dress and flying boots). We left the farm next morning (2nd November) and from then on walked by day, approaching villages only at night time for shelter and food. We decided to head for Switzerland for the following reasons (1) We thought it was too late in the year to make for Spain. (2) Neither of us could speak French. (3) We had not been able to get in touch with any organization. I do not now remember our route but we followed a compass course S.E. avoiding all the main towns. We saw only four Germans during the whole of our walk – two in a car and two on bicycles. We got very good help from French peasants in the way of food and shelter for a night at at time. On 11th November we crossed crossed the Swiss frontier at Damvant SW of Porrentuy. We had no assistance in crossing. The country is hilly and wooded and we crossed in thick fog about 1700 hrs without seeing any German guards or patrols or any frontier wire. We gave ourselves up to the Mayor of Damvant who handed us over to the Military Police. The latter took us to Porrentruy where we spent four days in prison. We were then handed over to the British Legation in Berne. For the last nine months of my stay in Switzerland I was employed in the Consulate in Geneva, having previously been in Vevey. I left Switzerland on 5th June 1944 with Lieutenant Commander Stephen and my subsequent journey is described in a separate appendix to this report.”
After returning to New Zealand and after a training course, W/O Edwin Worsdale was commisioned as a Pilot Officer, serving as a cipher clerk in the South Pacific region. Edwin received a Mention in Dispatches on the 1st of July 1945:
“In recognition of distinguished service and devotion to duty.”
Sgt Howard James Hugill, RNZAF NZ414293 – Pilot. Died age 21.
Buried Ville-Sur-Retourne Churchyard, France.
Sgt Edmund John Pete, RAFVR 1279494 – Observer. Died age 20.
Buried Ville-Sur-Retourne Churchyard France.
After baling out of the Wellington, James Barnes was captured and made a Prisoner of War. He returned to the Unitied Kingdom on the 16th May 1945 and was promoted to Warrant Officer whilst interred. James was later promoted to Pilot Officer.
Citation MBE (28 Dec 1945):
“This Warrant Officer displayed a high degree of fortitude and initiative during the time he was a prisoner of war in Germany between December 1942 and May 1945. Soon after his arrival he was elected camp leader and, although new to prison life, he rapidly gained the control and confidence of the camp. He took charge of the domestic running of the camp and was untiring in his efforts to smooth out the difficulties that inevitably occur when so many diverse nationalities are kept in the close proximity of a prison camp. Warrant Officer Barnes helped to organize all the entertainment and was entirely responsible for a very successful sports day. When the camp moved to Heydekrug, he took charge of one of the compounds there until he was moved to Stalag Luft III by the Germans and placed in a punishment cell. This Warrant Officer put in many hours of work trying to improve the living conditions of the camps he was in, and did much to help the prisoners with the own private difficulties.”