Bernard ‘Bill’ Allen, Mid Upper Gunner – Bonisch crew

Bonisch crew photograph

The Bonisch crew.
F/S James Stuart Millar (Air Bomber), F/O Henry Herbert Marsh (Wireless Operator), F/S James Murdoch Thomas McKenzie (Navigator), Sgt. William Thomas Reaveley (Flight Engineer), Sgt. Frank William Cousins (Rear Gunner) and P/O Lester Lascelles Bonisch (Pilot).
Photograph from the Wartime Log of Bill Allen
© Air Force Museum New Zealand.

On the 10th of June 1944, having just bombed it’s target at Dreux in France, ME702, AA-Q was hit twice by flak, before breaking up in the air. All the crew was killed, except for Bernard ‘Bill’ Allen, the crew’s Mid Upper Gunner.

Bills catepillar club card crpd

The Caterpillar Club membership card of Sgt Bernard ‘Bill’ Allen, sole survivor of the Bonisch crew
© Katherine Walker.

Bill, was captured and made a Prisoner of War, until he was liberated by the Russian Army on the 22nd of April 1945.

In many cases this is all we have for the death of a crew and the survival and imprisonment of an Airman. I must therefore thank Bill’s Niece, Katherine for making contact and passing on the astonishing record of Bill’s time, first on the run in France and his subsequent interment and experiences on the Long March from January to February 1945.

Initially provided as a type transcription of the journal, which I retyped, I am pleased to say that Katherine has managed to secure a digital version of the journal form the Air Force Museum in New Zealand – who now holds the original document.

Ultimately, the entire document and transcribed notes will be added to the Bonisch crew page, but in order to allow a bite size approach to what is a lengthy, but fascinating record of Bill’s experiences, I have broken it down into 16 parts which I will post every other day through September

Without further ado, over to Bill………

Wartime Log of F/Sgt Bill Allen – Part 1

A piece of cake…….

R.A.F. Station.
10.6.44.

“At seven o’clock on the evening of this date, my Crew in company with others were briefed for a bombing raid on railway marshaling yards at Drex in Northern France. The briefing was no different from any other occasion, and after looking at the target, and listening to the Intelligence Officer’s account of the defenses in the area, one was inclined to discuss the target with contempt and express the opinion that the ‘Op’ was a ‘piece of cake’ to quote R.A.F. slang expression. However, this was not to be the case, at least for myself and the Crew, as this story goes on to relate.

I, on this particular evening, feeling not quite so happy as usual. I had one of those hunches which are not easy to explain, and not being of a superstitious nature, I tried to banish the feeling from my mind, but found this very difficult to do, especially during the time that elapsed before “take off” when another incident, or should I say misunderstanding between my skipper occurred with the ground crew Sgt. in charge of our aircraft. The Sgt. remarked “ bring it back tonight will you?”, to which my skipper replied “I always do bring it back, only the mugs get shot down”. However, this was not the Sgt’s meaning, he meant bring it back to the correct dispersal, and not from the Op as my skipper thought. The reason for the Sgt’s remark, was that on the two previous op’s we had left the aircraft on the perimeter track and the ground crew had had to tow it into the dispersal in the morning. This was additional work for the ground crew who were already very much overworked. This incident did much to add to the uncomfortable frame of mind that I was already in.

“Take off” was on time, and we, along with all the other aircraft got off without mishap. The journey out was fairly quiet, we met with little or no flak over the French coast, and the sky seemed devoid of enemy fighters until we came to the “run up” on the target, where it began to get a little hot, though by no means as hot as the German targets were. The bomb aimer directed the plane on to the target, and gave the words “bombs gone” to the skipper, to which the skipper replied “bomb doors closing”. No sooner had he got the words from his mouth than there was a terrific crash, me seat collapsed, my intercom went dead, I felt terrific pain in my left leg, and the aircraft was filled with flame and smoke. I scrambled for my parachute which was lying near the main entrance of the aircraft, up this end the smoke and flames were most dense. At first I couldn’t find my chute in the smoke, my eyes were running and sore, and the aircraft was swinging from side to side so that I fell to the floor and had to claw my way along by clutching at the hydraulic pipes along the sides of the fuselage. I got to my chute and hooked it on, simultaneously there was another crash, the plane gave a lurch and the next thing I knew I was sailing through space. I grabbed the rip cord and pulled it, the chute opened quite easily and I floated down to earth wondering what had happened, and listening to the second wave of Lanc’s bombing the target.

I then looked at the ground and to my horror, I appeared to be descending into the centre of a canal, so I immediately opened the hydrogen bottle by pulling down the lever, and by so doing inflated the “Mae West”. A few moments later I het the ground, and imagine my surprise when I discovered that the ‘canal’ was not water at all, but an aerodrome runway.

The next thing I did was to check up on my limbs for breaks etc., and found much to my relief that I had no worse injury than a badly bruised left leg. Next I gathered up my chute, and set off across the ‘drome to the nearest side of the perimeter. On the way I came up to a M.E.109 fighter plane. I looked round cautiously for a guard, and finding none, proceeded to examine the fighter with a view to pinching it and flying it to England. However, I could not make head or tail of the controls or instruments as all the instructions were in German and I unfortunately did not understand a word of German. After ten minutes I gave up the idea, and proceeded to find my way out of the ‘drome, this I did by climbing over the barbed wire fence. I decided then that my next move was to get as far away from the area altogether, in case I had been seen coming down. I set off in a westerly direction and kept walking across corn fields from about 2.30 when I had hit the ground, until dawn which was about five o’clock. In that time I covered about four to five miles and in the process my boots had become waterlogged and they were extremely uncomfortable so I then decided to hide up in a wood at the edge of a corn field until I could more or less get my bearings and to let my boots and socks get dry again.

From this moment my adventures in France were to start, little did I know what was before me……….”

 

See the Bonisch cew page here.

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