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The War Log of Bill Allen – part 9

Paris…..

“We were again interrogated at Chartres, and were given food which we were very glad of. After three days our party grew to thirty-five, and we were taken out at three o’clock on the morning of the 11th of July, and taken by coach to Paris.

This Journey was a very interesting one, and in the interest of our surroundings we could almost forget that we were prisoners. Our journey took us past the aerodromes on which I had landed by parachute nearly three weeks previously, and which now appeared to have had a severe bombing since that occasion F.W. 190’s and M.E. 109’s were however, still operating and I could see in three hangers a number of M.E. 210’s, that I had not suspected were in the area. A few miles farther and we entered Versailles. The coach took us right up the centre of the city, past the Palace and, to a large group of grey buildings that were the French School of Aeronautics. We were only there for a few minutes and then we proceeded on our way to Paris. The most notable thing about the journey from Versailles to Paris was that we were passing through built up areas all the time and we never really knew when we were out of one town and into the other.

One amusing incident I forgot to mention, was in the front of the Palace of Versailles. An old lady not knowing that we were prisoners and thinking we were tourists came up to the coach trying to sell us postcards with views of the City on them.

Another notable feature of the journey through the streets was almost every third shop was a café, with dozens of tables and chairs out on the pavement, and a gaudy coloured awning over the top. One of the sights I had the pleasure of seeing the Eiffel Tower, I would have preferred to see it under happier circumstances, but it was still very impressive, especially as we crossed the River Seine with the Tower in view all the time, it was a marvelous sight.

We drove around Paris until we arrived at the Gare du Nord which is the main Railway Station in Paris, and is right in the centre of the town. Here we drew up outside the entrance whilst the Ober Feltwebel (Sergeant) in charge went into the canteen on the Platform to try to obtain food for us. After a few minutes he came out and took myself and three others into the Canteen which was being run by the German Red Cross girls. It was a strange sight to see German soldiers, sailors and airmen sitting around reading magazines and newspapers and drinking ersatz tea without sugar or milk, two items which are almost unobtainable in both France and Germany.

In one corner of the Canteen were three French girls selling silk stockings, handkerchiefs etc. We went through into the kitchen where we received bread and cheese, also macaroni soup for the thirty-five of us. As we came out onto the platform again, we passed a young fellow very smartly dressed in a brown suit, wearing no hat, and, with his hands stuck in his pockets, was apparently interested only in the trains but as I drew level with him he said “hard luck mate”, in perfectly good English, so I suppose he was just one of the many Englishmen in Paris waiting for the British to take the town so they could get home again.

We ate the soup incidentally, sitting on the pavement, this naturally aroused the interest of the French people in the vicinity. At first these people had appeared not to be interested in us, obviously afraid of the guards, but as their numbers grew they started to give us a sly wink now and again. By the time we were ready to move off, terrific crowds had collected around us, and all along the streets away from the station. As we drove away German soldiers had to push back the crowd with rifles, they were by this time openly cheering us and giving us the ‘V’ sign. We drove round to the back of the station into the Goods Yard, and there we were directed to a wagon where we were to stay until twelve o’clock when we were transferred to a coach and taken across France into Frankfurt, Germany. As it was only six o’clock we had quite a long wait in this truck, se we asked the guard to let us walk up and down the yard, this he agreed to but only five of us at a time with two guards. A little amusement was provided about eight o’clock by two sailors and a soldier rolling along the line of trucks almost blind drunk, and each with a bottle of brandy in his hand. Every time one of them staggered my heart missed a beat in fear he dropped the bottle of brandy. They came up to our party, and drunkenly insisted that the Feltwebel have a drink, he did so and then told the soldier to give me a drink. The Ober Feltwebel by the way, had shown signs of friendliness towards me all through the journey, no doubt the reason being because I was of the same rank as himself. This he pointed out to the soldier who came as smartly to attention as he could, and saluting me, he offered me the bottle, needless to say, I had a good drink. At twelve o’clock we were transferred to the coach, and were on our way to Germany…..”

The War Log of Bill Allen – part 8

A first taste of captivity……

“In this, my first personal contact with the Germans, I noticed how strong was the discipline, even in these front line troops. After my experiences with the First lieutenant I visualized all sorts of tortures at the hands of the big noise, but when I was called in to see him, before asking me a single question about myself, he asked me when I had last eaten, on hearing my reply that I had not eaten for 2 days, he immediately ordered his batman to get me some breakfast, which he brought to me in the form of three large biscuits covered in butter and jam and a glass of milk. After I had finished the food, the Commandant whom I learned was a Hauptman (Captain) asked me a few questions about my whereabouts when shot down, the number of my Squadron and it’s base, also various other items of military information, all of which I refused to give to him.

I was beginning to fear the worst, but finally he stood up and said “I see it is a waste of my time trying to get information from you, so I will now stop questioning you, you are a good soldier”.

I was ordered to take up my position outside of the coach again, this I did, and was there until about twelve o’clock when a car drove up, and the driver, a Sgt. ordered me into the back whilst the Commandant himself came and sat in the front by the driver. We left the front line H.Q. and set off to a small town called Dozule, there I was again taken into a coach and interrogated by three German Officers. I again refused them information, and within an hour was back on the road, this time with a young driver of about twenty years of age, and a young guard who told me his age was eighteen. They were both very friendly, and on the way to the temporary prison camp which was my destination, we stopped in a village and they took me into a small café where people gave me a drink and some bread and meat. After I had finished my meal, they gave me a further loaf of bread to take along with me.

The remainder of the journey was spent by the young guard showing me photographs of his family and self.

We arrived at our destination which was an old brickyard which the Hun had commandeered. Here I was placed in a room with about twelve other chaps, mainly paratroopers. Our bed was a heap of straw on the floor. The date incidentally was 24th of June, exactly fourteen days after I was shot down.

I was in the brickyard about eight days, during which time our number grew to forty, including two fighter pilots, one Aussie and one Canadian, also two Yankee Aircrew boys from a marauder crew. The remainder were either paratroopers or commandos. On the last day we were there, a Sgt/ Mjr Commando and one of the Yanks made a break but were caught at eleven o’clock the same night and shot. The remainder of us were put into a van and taken to a large prison camp at a place called Alenon. This place was full of Americans and British, but only about thirty aircrew. We only stayed there until lunch-time, and we were then placed in an open lorry and the thirty of us were taken to a town called Chartres about fifty miles from Paris. Here we were handed over to the Luftwaffe and taken from the original in Cartres where we had been first taken and which contained about a thousand Moroccans captured in the Libyan campaign, to a large college in the centre of the town that had been converted into a temporary prison camp. This college was three or four stories high, and contained a science laboratory still fully equipped, numerous other classrooms, and a beautiful little Catholic Chapel. The Chapel with it’s seats and benches all piled up on the latter, was to be our prison for a short while, and our beds once again a heap of straw on the floor. Our guards were very young and did not look at all safe with the Schmeisers and rifles with which they were armed. One lad, aged eighteen, could speak a little English and we used to spend the time kidding him about their losing the War. He was a typical young Nazi and still firmly believed they were winning the war, but by the time we have finished with him he was feeling quite depressed…..”

The War Log of Bill Allen – part 7

Capture…..

“The following night we settled down about ten o’clock as usual, but we were awakened by the sound of German voices all around the ditch in which we were concealed. This was naturally a great shock as we never expected the Germans to start digging in anywhere within a mile of us. This situation then called for an immediate decision on our port, so after a whispered counsel of war we decided to get out as quickly and quietly as possible and make our way back to a hiding place that the paratroopers had previously used. We gathered together what few items of it we had, and then in single file we started out from the ditch. About twenty yards from the ditch we struck the main path or outlet from the marshes, and about ten yards down this path we saw, much to our horror, a number of Germans walking towards us in a single file with full pack on their backs as though they were just reporting to that area. The first three went past us without seeing us in the darkness, but the forth man spotted us and let out a shout, at the same time he started taking his rifle from his shoulder where it was slung on his equipment. The next minute our chaps and the Huns opened up at one another from close range, and the next few moments were like a nightmare. I was unarmed, and in the centre of the two parties, bullets were humming past my ears like bees, how I was not hit remains a miracle. On top of the shooting, all the Germans were shouting at the top of their voices, and others were answering them from a distance, it was pandemonium for about two to three minutes. I don’t know whether anyone was hit, and I did not wait to see, I took a header over this hedge and into the marshes out of the line of fire. I stayed quite still until all the noise and firing had subsided, and then started to crawl out of the marsh, but here again my troubles started. The reeds in the marsh had dried on the surface with the hot sun that had been on them for days, and every time I made a move they cracked like dry twigs in a forest. My nerves by this time were pretty ragged, what with the aircraft being shot down, and them all incidents following it, so that each crack of the reeds to me sounded like pistol shots, and in the silence which followed the shooting they echoed all over the place. To make matters worse, every time I made a sound, some Hun let fire with a rifle across the marsh, and although he could not see me, he was getting very close and I was getting a sweat on. After a few shots I decided to stay still and wait for a while, in the hope that the Germans would sheer off and then make another attempt to get out. I waited about an hour, but by this time it was getting fairly light as dawn was fast approaching. I decided to move again, this time a little recklessly, and as a result made a terrific noise, but strangely enough got out into a small patch between high rushes that led to the main path out of the marches. I started along this path quite nonchalantly, hoping to brazen my way past any Germans that I may have the misfortune to encounter; but at this stage my luck had completely left me and I walked bang into a the arms of a couple of Hun corporals and my freedom in France was at an end.

They searched me, and finding my escape map and compass accused me of being a saboteur, I was very lucky not to be shot on the spot. I showed my R.A.F. identity disc and when I realised the game was up I tried to make them understand that I was in the R.A.F. but they seemed very reluctant to believe me so I was marched off to the Commandant. The Commandant’s H.Q. was a large coach, very well camouflaged, and hidden under a large tree. As it was only half past four in the morning when I was caught, I was placed under guard at the foot of the tree until the commandant awoke, this was about nine o’clock. In the meantime, I was questioned by a First Lieutenant who could speak fairly good English. I gave him my number and rank only as I had been instructed by our Intelligence Officers, I refused to give him any information about my Squadron or anything else of military import. The Officer began to get annoyed, and he was going to have me shot as a spy, but I stuck to my guns, hoping he was bluffing, as this luckily proved to be the case, nevertheless I was getting a little hot under the collar, and wondering if the little information I could give them was worth getting shot for. A few moments later there were sounds of movement in the coach, and all the Bosches started dashing around, all obviously scared of the Commandant……”

The War Log of Bill Allen – part 6

Shoot first…..

“We crossed the line and entered the field. On our right was a belt of trees which concealed a German heavy gun battery which included a rocket gun. These were all firing shells into our lines at the Northern end of the cornfields at the rate of about a dozen per minute. We could see them bursting amongst the trees less than a mile away, we were so near to our own men, and yet so far. The strangest thing about the whole business was that we could not see a single Hun in the whole area.

The two of us began to feel very elated, and we set off to walk in the direction of the lines. After walking for about half a mile through the cornfields, we received our first shock of the day. A section of the corn began to move, and to our surprise, we came upon a Hun outpost with about eight men in it, all very cleverly camouflaged with the corn. One of the men stood up and called to us to go over, we were about thirty yards away at this time. When the Hun stood up we stopped and turned in another direction as though we had not seen him. He was not to be fooled however, and started to walk towards us, at the same time brandishing a Schmeiser sub-machine gun, so we decided to stop. He came up to us, and asked in very good French for our papers (identification), I produced my identity card, the one that I had got from the French civilian who had given me the civvie clothes. The Hun, a Corporal, examined my card then asked the lieutenant for his but of course he had not got one. I was just wondering what he would do when he started fumbling in his pocket as though for his papers, but he produced a Browning automatic pistol instead and sticking it in the German’s chest he fired and shot him through the heart. I grabbed my identity card from the German’s hand just as he was falling to the ground, and then, realizing that it was useless carrying on set off running back the way we had come, at each step expecting a volley of bullets from the remaining Huns in the outpost. However, much to our surprise, and great relief, not a shot was fired. We made for a ditch and decided to hide up in it whilst we made up our minds whether to make a second attempt to get through the lines after dark or return to the other fellows in the marshes at st. Paire. After an hour or so we decided to go back to the other chaps, which was now almost as dangerous as trying to get through the lines, where we had casually strolled past Germans, we had now to strictly avoid them. This was not so easy as there were Germans all around us, and to go past the first batch we had to climb a wall about eleven feet high, drop over the other side, and then make our way across some grounds that contained a group of buildings which appeared to be German H.Q. of some sort. As the Lieutenant slid down the other side of the wall, half of the wall fell down after him with a roar like thunder, or so it seemed to me, but strangely enough no one seemed to have heard the row, so we started across the grounds. About two-thirds of the way over we came to a small river which we had to cross by means of a log, there being no bridge. I got over O.K. but the Lieutenant slipped off and got a wetting, but we had to carry on. At the other side of the grounds we had to climb the wall again, but this time we did it more quietly.

The next stage of the journey included the Park containing the tanks and trucks which I mentioned passing on the way out. This was not so easy so we decoded to go across a field of wheat on out knees and then through the row of vehicles on our stomachs, this took us between two Guards who were posted ten yards apart. We got through without incident, and regained the road which we proceeded along in our stockinged feet. The rest of the journey was without incident except that we got a bit off track, and eventually arrived back in the marshes just as dawn was breaking; the chaps were very glad to see us safe as they thought that we must have been caught, or even worse killed…..”

The War Log of Bill Allen – part 5

Too close for comfort…..

“By this time, my feet were blistered and sore, and on the next day I could hardly walk at all. I went to a cottage kept by a very old couple to try and obtain a drink, and the old man took me on to the next village in a small cart drawn by a horse. This ride was very welcome, and took me almost as far as I could go by day, so I started looking round for somewhere to hide up with a view to letting the Germans come past me in their retreat. I walked though the town of Troarn, which at that time was infested with Germans, and was the centre of activities. Every minute a salvo of shells from the British guns came over, and burst among the buildings; I had one or two very narrow escapes. On one occasion I went into a large barn to sleep, at about ten o’clock in the evening, but I had no sooner entered the place than a flight of Typhoons came over and dive bombed the place, so I moved out of there very quickly, especially when the roof started falling in on top of me. I was very surprised that by this time I had never been challenged by the Bosche. Once I thought my time was up, as I was walking along the main road through Troarn. Both side of the roads were lined with Bosche, all manning machine guns or mortars; about half way down the road a German corporal stepped out of a gun post and walked up to me, my heart almost stopped beating, but he only asked me for a light for his cigarette. I was able to supply him with one from a box of matches supplied by the R.A.F. in my escape kit. Luckily he spoke French and I was able to understand him.

Shortly after this incident I came to a barn which appeared to be very conveniently situated in the centre of the German lines but not particularly near to any of the troops.

I stayed in there for four days and nights, but there was no sign of the Bosche coming back, and by this time I was very hungry as I had not eaten for five days. I was so weak from lack of food and exercise that I decided to come out of the barn and find a place to hide up nearer the village where I could get food.

The nearest village was called St. Paire, about three kilometers from Troarn, and about seven miles from Caen. As I passed through St. Paire I came upon a small café standing a little way from the road, and as I was by that time a little desperate for food I decided to go in and try my luck at obtaining some from them. I walked inside and the only other occupant was a young fellow who appeared to be the proprietor; I asked for food and drink, but was told that they could not give me any food as the Huns had been and taken what they had for that day. I had a glass of wine which cost me thirty francs. (I forgot to mention that I had two thousand francs in my escape kit, and it was from this supply that I was able to pay for the wine). After about 10 minutes, I had weighed up the young Frenchman, and decided to tell him who I was. The result was rather startling, he took me through into the private parlour, and introduced me to his mother who asked me to sit down to lunch with them. They gave me a very good meal accompanied by the almost inevitable wine, which appears to be included in all French meals. In the room also, were two girls, whom I learned were the sisters of the young fellow, and were twins, their age they told me was eighteen, the boy was 22. After lunch the boy came in with an old Farmer, and they took me on an old hay cart along a path into some marsh land, and imagine my surprise, when an English Officer (1st Lt.) of the 9th Airborne Infantry Division, and eight ‘other ranks’ including a glider plot, emerged from a very well camouflaged ditch. It was a very pleasant surprise to see Englishmen again. They told me that the glider in which they had been flying had been released about fifteen miles from rendezvous and as a result, they were cut off from the remainder of the Division and were hiding up in the hope that our invading armies would get them out. They had been three days in the hide out, and the French Café Proprietor and the Farmer were bringing them food three times a day. I stayed with them for three days. On the second day, the Lieut. And myself went out on a reconnaissance to try and find a weak point in the lines through which we might reach our men. We were both in civvies, and set off at about eleven o’clock in the morning, our objectives was a long stretch of cornfields between Troarn and Caen. On reaching the cornfields we had to pass a German Divisional H.Q. and two large concentrations of vehicles i.e. tanks, supply trucks, motor cycles, etc. that were parked on the edge of the racecourse, and under a belt of trees, naturally these were well guarded. However, we strolled casually past these, and the Bosche never even gave a glance. Next we came to the railway line from Troarn to Caen and we had to cross this at a small signal box that was now deserted as the line had been well and truly wrecked by R.A.F. and U.S.A.A.F. Beyond the Railway line was the stretch of cornfields that we had planned, with the aid of maps and photographs to investigate…..”

The War Log of Bill Allen – part 4

Approaching the line…..

“The next three or four days were uneventful except that I borrowed a bicycle in one village that I passed through, but after travelling for about forty miles on it I went into a ditch and buckled the front wheel, so I left it there and continued walking. By this time I was starting to see more German troops, and consequently took precautions to avoid them, this naturally meant that I had to walk more on minor roads and to strictly avoid the towns, although I was dressed in civvies. It did not pay to take too many risks.

About twenty miles from the lines I came to a small village Croecy devoid of Germans but on this occasion, was full of evacuees from Caen and Troarn. By this time my food was gone so I approached a small café where I obtained wine and after I had explained my identity, some food. In the café was a girl of fifteen who could speak a little English, having been taught the language in school in Paris. The girl with her Mother had been evacuated from Paris because of R.A.F. bombing, but they bore no malice over this. They let me bathe my feet, and then gave me more comfortable shoes to wear on the remainder of my journey. I left the village again, the name of which O forgot to mention was Courey, and set off again on the final stages of my one hundred and thirty mile trip across France, or I should say over Normandy.

I should mention that up till now, I had not seen or heard of any of my Crew, and I am very much afraid they were all killed. There is a slight possibility that some of them baled out as the aircraft was a few moments before it blew up.

As I walked along I could hear the British and Germans guns getting much louder and nearer so I guessed that I was getting pretty close to the front lines. I should at this stage have found some place to hide up in and await the advance of the British and American forces, but I was a little too eager to get back to my Squadron and home, so I kept on.

I stayed that night at a farm about fifteen miles from the lines. There were some young French people there who had been bombed out of their homes in Rouen and at first they were loathe to help me, in fact, one young fellow wanted to hand me over to the Hun, however, they calmed down and we were soon on very friendly terms, the same young man spoke English fluently. The Farmer was a nice old chap and he gave me a good supper, and then bought me coffee in the morning before I left the barn where they had fixed up a bed for me, not having any room in the small farm house due to the crowd of evacuees living there.

The next few days were full of excitement, and considerably nerve-racking. As I progressed towards the front I encountered more and more Germans and less civilians. One of the villages I passed through, had in the centre of it a magnificent cathedral, much the largest I have ever seen. It was built of white chalky stones, and was obviously very old, it was designed in the form of a great square with the chapel at one end, and the other three sides containing many leaded windows. It had the appearance of a monastery which I believe now that it must have been. I forgot to mention before, but in every village and small town that I passed through the only church was Catholic. I went into many of them, and although they were all very old, they were very beautiful inside, especially the altars and the statues. The priests in their spare time were, strangely enough, either farmers or gardeners. I spoke to a number of them but only one could speak English and he, only a little. I walked into a church in a small town, very close to the lines, at half past six in the morning. As I arrived inside, a service was just starting, and the Church was packed, I think everyone in the village was there. I believe from my experiences in France, that ninety-nine per cent of the French people are Catholics. I stopped to the end of the service which was exactly the same as our own in England, and then proceeded on the last stage of my journey, and ultimate capture…..”

The War Log of Bill Allen – part 3

If the shoe fits…..

“I was awakened by the boys at six o’clock which I considered to be the middle of the night, but was apparently quite normal for them. They were all dressed ready for work, in very poor clothes I noted. With them was another man, obviously older than the others, and decidedly more cautious. He asked me to produce papers or some means of identification – I produced my discs and these along with my uniform more or less satisfied him. After the interrogation, we all trooped out of the cowshed, and walked very silently through the village until we came to a wood with a narrow pathway running through it. We walked along here for about 500 yards, and came out into a small glade with a shed in one corner. The older of the boys, whom, I had learned the evening before, had been evacuated along with the other boys from Paris, indicated by signs and the aid of my watch, that he wished me to stay in the shed until 9 o’clock that evening. I did not relish waiting all that time alone but I had placed myself in their hands and naturally I abided by their arrangements. One of the boys produced four French loaves, a piece of cooked veal, and a bottle of wine, these they gave to me and then left to go to work.

That day the sun was very hot, and I lay outside the shed sunbathing, but the time dragged very slowly. I was getting a little impatient to move on, and was very worried as I thought of the shock my Mother was to receive that morning when she received notification of my plane failing to return.

The greater part of the afternoon I spent planning my course, and the routes I was to take to make my escape. Luckily on bailing out of the plane I had managed to retain my escape kit complete with maps and money, so with the aid of these I decided to make my way to the lines, and try to reach the British troops at a place called Troarn.

The evening passed slower than the rest of the day, but at last the boys came at half past nine, and with them bought a suit of clothes, a shirt and a pair of shoes, also a bag containing food and more wine.

I took off my uniform and put on the civilian suit which strangely enough fitted me almost perfectly, the shoes were a bit large but were better for walking in than my heavy flying boots. The clothes incidentally, were better than those the boys themselves were wearing so I offered to pay for them but they wouldn’t hear of my doing so. After shaking hands and saying goodbye, I set off walking in the direction of the battlefront. I walked through the night and the next day averaging about twenty miles. The following night I slept in a barn, rather fatigued, and then set off again early in the morning and kept walking until eight o’clock the next morning. In the course of my walking, I had not seen any Germans except for a few cars and lorries that were going towards the front. On the morning of the fourth day I came to a small town by the name of Mileobois. In the centre of the town was a large chateau situated in it’s own park. I approached the chateau with a view to getting food and probably sleep. I received a very pleasant surprise on reaching the door, for it was opened by a young man, who, after I had explained who I was answered in perfect English, and invited me inside. The house was very large and must have contained at least 80 rooms, to one of these the Frenchman directed me and later brought me food and wine. I slept the whole of that day, and in the evening, I took a hot bath which was very welcome, then I was introduced to the Frenchman’s Father and Mother, who much to my great delight could also speak fluent English. We had dinner, and then a very interesting conversation, during which I learnt that the son had spent three years in a Gestapo prison in Germany. Hence their eagerness to help me. He had been an officer in the French Artillery until the fall of France. About ten o’clock the same evening I prepared to leave these very good people and proceeded on my way to the front line. The lady of the house packed me some more food and wine so that I would not have to ask for any for at least three days…..”