John Lawrie was the son of Andrew Reid Lawrie and Annie Lawrie, (nee Anderson). He grew up on a farm property at Otakeho, Taranaki Province, on New Zealand's North Island, with a brother and two sisters. There was then not much point in staying at school when extra help could be used on the farm, so John left school at 13½ years of age to work on the property, and if the opportunity arose, on neighbouring farms.
When John was sixteen, war broke out in Europe, and John swore to join up and do his bit as soon as he could. He planned to return home victorious as Pilot Officer Lawrie, and with his friend, Rex, waited eagerly for the opportunity to enlist in the RNZAF. John had to wait another year, but he spent that time studying by correspondence subjects such as mathematics, wireless and anything else which seemed relevant.
On passing their entry exams, John and Rex were on their way to overseas training. In February 1943 their pilot training began at Brandon, Manitoba, Canada. From there, John continued on to flying Airspeed Oxfords in his course in England, arriving in the UK on August 13th, 1943, exactly a year before the date of his last operational flight.
Editorial note: Between about 1990 and 1995 the author was able to contact surviving members of the Lawrie crew, ex-aircrew who had known them, and John Lawrie's family, to compile a history from which the following is abridged. Other sources included crew logbooks, contemporary newspapers, correspondence with Belgian and British aviation historians, and generally available books.
The Lawrie crew was a fairly typical mixed crew in the RAF's Bomber Command in 1944, skippered by a RNZAF pilot, with a Londoner as bomb aimer, a wireless operator from near Birmingham, England, a Scotish flight engineer, and three Australians from the RAAF filling the navigator and gunners' positions.
The crew members first encountered one another at 17 Operational Training Unit, Silverstone, England, in early 1944, when gunners Bob Chester-Master and 'Sam' Burford of the RAAF shared a drafty hut with RAF wireless operators George Durland and Charlie Smallwood. The wireless operators would pile together into Wellingtons on training exercises, whilst through March and April the gunner mustering would board the same type of aircraft in groups to take turns in familiarising themselves with the turrets. They rotated among the trainee pilots, who included among their number Flight Sergeant John Lawrie. It was here that the process of 'shopping' for crew mates began.
On March 17th, Bob Chester-Master, taking a turn in a turret, saw one of the nearby aircraft begin to descend. It hit the sea, all crew being rescued but one. Around that time, George Durland's home-town friend, Charlie Smallwood, died when the aircraft he was in crashed into the sea.
Barely two weeks passed, at the end of which the tragic raid on Nuremberg took place, on 30-31 March. A Halifax limped into Silverstone on three engines, and failed to line up properly with the runway. The pilot, S/L McCreanor, radioed, "I'll try to come around again ... I'll try to..." Then his wheels clipped the fire section roof and the bomber tumbled and exploded across playing fields for two hundred yards, killing all crew except the tail gunner. All this before the new crews had even formed up.
The Lawrie crew had formed up (see photo above) and moved to 1657 HCU (Heavy Conversion Unit), operating Stirlings in a training role within 3 Group at Shepherd's Grove and Stradishall. As the trainees arrived, they saw one of the Stirlings on landing approach. Behind it was a German intruder aircraft, hunting over RAF bases. It fired on the unsuspecting bomber, and seven crew died as it plunged into a hangar, wrecking other aircraft within.
The Stirlings had by 1944 largely been retired from front-line service, although they sometimes provided 'bottom cover' for later types on operations. They were showing their age, and in one day, a Stirling flown by Lawrie burst a tyre on landing, whilst one in which Bob Chester-Master was flying developed an engine fire. Later in the day Bob was in a different Stirling whose port undercarriage failed.
On another occasion, with Sam Burford in the top turret and Tommy Young as Flight Engineer, an engine failed during take-off. Sam watched runway markers whizzing by, whilst in the cockpit, Tommy Young reminded John Lawrie, "Flaps down." "B.... the flaps," snarled John, working at the brakes which had also decided not to function. "B.... you, work, you ....s!" The huge bomber went off the end of the runway, bogging in soft soil just short of a large water tank.
Eventually the crew were sent on leave, with orders to report back to 3 LFS (Lancaster Finishing School) at Feltwell. Whilst Stradishall was a pre-war station with brick main buildings and well-worn runways not really designed for the heavy Stirlings, Feltwell was a typical wartime base with an array of large and small Nissen huts and two composition runways. The country around was as flat as a board, and condusive to heavy bomber movements. To the Australians, used to warmer climates, the huts were miserably cold and the toilets and shower blocks too far away. Rather than brave the elements to answer calls of nature, they either used a 'piss-a-phone' - a length of tubing passing through the floor - or any spare boots left carelessly unattended. The stove was usually occupied by boots drying out.
They were at Feltwell about a week, accumulating ten hours in Lancasters, in day and night circuits. During that time Hitler unleashed his new terror weapon, the V.1 flying bomb, on southern England. At the end of LFS, they were allowed leave, and Sam and George spent it at the Mount Royal hotel in London, during the bombardment. Sam remembered seeing an odd little aircraft with a flaming tail, making a noise like a motorcycle. The sound stopped, the aircraft plummetted down, and part of a nearby golf course erupted. George commented in later life, "We must have been mad."
First ops: The Lawrie crew moved on to an operational bomber squadron, 514 Sqn. at Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire. It operate not only the well-known Merlin powered Avro Lancasters but the lesser known radial-engined Lancaster Mk.II. It was base squadron for 75 (New Zealand) Squadron at Mepal, and 115 Sqn. at Witchford. 514's identification letters were 'JI' for A and B Flights and 'A2' for C Flight. 75 Sqn. carried the letters 'AA' and 115 Sqn. used 'KO' and 'A4'.
The Lawrie crew reached 514 Sqn. in July 1944 and were on the Battle Order in mid-month, two weeks after leaving Feltwell. At this time, Bomber Command's commander, Arthur Harris, had finally conceded to the use of his bombers in tactical daylight operations in suport of the ground forces. The Allies had advanced from the Normandy beach-head to the vicinity of Caen, and there they had stopped, facing a river crossing opposed by German forces on the far side of the Orne.
A thousand bombers would be launched in support of Operation Goodwood - the Orne crossing - in daylight. This would be the Lawrie crew's first operation, listed in Sam Burford's log book as; "No. 1 Operation. Target, Emieville. Troop concent. Ht. 8,000 ft. 13,000 lbs. Good results. 3 hrs." Emieville lay some six miles or so south-east of Caen. The bombers were escorted by RAF and American fighters. After the RAF and American main force had bombed, a wave of twin-engined bombers followed by an artillery barrage would finish the job. Around Emieville lay German artillery and Nebelwerfer units. Among the guns were the 88mm pieces of the III Flak Korps, some of which had been converted for anti-tank use. Northeast of the village were the remaining tanks of 21 Panzer Division. In and around a small wood were what was left of 12th SS Panzer Division's tanks and, close by, the Tiger tanks of 503 Heavy Tank Battalion.
The bombers crossed near 'Sword' beach in the early morning, stepped in waves from 3000 to 9000 feet. Ahead, Flt. Lt. Linacre of 625 (Pathfinder) Squadron, who had taken off at 0400, dropped flares and took photographs for later intelligence evaluation. During the raid, target markers were regularly replaced as the ground became obscured.
Leut. Hans Höller's Panzer Grenadiers, near Caen, were performing morning ablutions when the alarm was raised for enemy aircraft. Seeing flares, he ordered his flak crews to prepare for action. Flak guns opened fire as the bombers crossed the Orne. Not a German fighter appeared, but here and there a heavy aircraft spiralled down, trailing smoke. Leut. Höller watched as a nearby half-track with a 2 cm gun was picked up in a blast and flung twenty yards.
On the left flank of the wave, near Emieville, Werner Körtenhaus, with 21st Panzer Division, saw little dots dropping away from the aircraft above, and his first thoughts were that the RAF was dropping leaflets. "Then began the most terrifying hours of our lives. It was a bomb carpet, regularly ploughing up the ground..." Around Körtenhaus could be heard the screams of the injured or maddened. Some men killed themselves rather than wait for the next wave of explosions. A sixty-ton Tiger tank lifted upwards and came down on its turret. As the Lawrie crew turned for home, the Americans came in, higher up, and behind them the medium bombers, whose targets were now so obscured that they could not hope to bomb accurately. Then, off shore, the ships Mauritius, Roberts and Enterprise supplemented the fire from every piece of artillery the ground forces could muster.
Leut. Höller's men crawled from cover or dug themselves from the churned up mud, and began assessing their vehicles. Most had survived, but many of the guns had been jarred out of alignment. He set up one of his 75mm anti-tank guns, and opened fire on advancing Canadian tanks, until artillery from near Caen knocked the gun out. Shortly after, of Werner Körtenhaus' remaining ten Panzer IV tanks, five would be overrun and captured, and four destroyed; his own would survive, to be lost in action later at Falaise.
Back at Waterbeach, the Lawrie crew inspected their newly acquired battle scar - George found a small scratch under Martin's position in the nose of their aircraft, Lancaster Mk.II JI-U 'Uncle'. At 1600 they were called for another briefing, this time for a raid on the Aulnoye rail yards, which they would bomb from 9,000 feet, without opposition. At the same time, a raid on Revigny took staggering losses of 22% of the force.
On July 20th, the Lawrie crew flew its third operation, dropping a 13,000 pound bomb load on Homburg oil works from 20,000 feet. hough the smallest of three simultaneous raids that night, the Homburg attackers were the focus of night-fighter attention, and twenty aircraft were lost. A Messerschmitt 109 swept in on 'U-Uncle' from astern and opened fire. His shots went wide, and Bob Chester-Master's tracers whipped after him. The Lawrie crew had the advantage of 'Monica' tail warning radar, a double-edged sword, because it could also be picked up by the German defences and used to locate a bomber.
On the Homburg raid, 75 (NZ) Sqn. lost seven of its complement of 25 aircraft. 514 Sqn. lost three Lancaster Is and two Lancaster IIs. The oil plant was heavily damaged. The summer of 1944 was warm, and the crews, between operations, would swim in a nearby waterway, or visit one of many nearby pubs. Sam Burford and George Durland bought motor bikes, a BSA for Sam and a Velocette for George. Martin Carter acquired an antique of 1920s vintage and joined them occasionally, or, often, go off alone.
Other crew members went shares to purchase an old 'Standard Nine' car. Leaving Waterbeach, they would pull over and drain the petrol into a jerry-can. Then they would find an American air base, and ask if they could spare them some fuel to get them home. The answer was usually, "Sure, Aussie!", and they would be off for the night's festivities.
Martin begged George to teach him to ride a motorcycle properly, and they set of tandem, pausing at hotels to refresh themselves during one hot afternoon. Turning home in the evening, the bike's engine suddenly caught fire, and its crew baled out onto the grass verge.
They had drunk enough to be well set up for firefighting, and immediately extinguished the flames with what they had on hand, to the relief of their bladders. In good spirits, they started off again, but whilst the road made a turn, they did not. The bike was wrecked beyond repair, and Martin refused ever to ride again with George. John Lawrie's view was that the RAF bicycle was by far the safest method of travel.
On July 23rd, the Lawrie crew was scheduled to join the raid on Kiel. As they waited that afternoon, John Lawrie wrote home; "...the bunch who came over from Canada with me are all split up now. There are not 2 of us together. The rest are all stationed around this area... This afternoon I had to go before the C.O. and have an interview with regards to a commission and now have to go before some Air Commodore & then I 'might' get a flat hat."
He could not, of course, tell his family precisely what he was doing, but he continued, "I will have to cut this letter short as we are going on ops tonight. I can't tell you much about what and where we have been but any time you read in the papers or hear on the radio of great forces of Lancs going out to the Continent you can just think of us seven and our aircraft on those great raids." He was anticipating a night among the six hundred heavy bombers over Kiel; but he was obliged to turn back less than two hours from take-off, because of a small but critical electrical fault - which left them with no intercom. It earned the crew it's only log entry of 'DNCO' - Duty Not Carried Out.
Around this time, they decided to give Lancaster JI-U a name of its own, and they settled on calling it "The Swoose" , part swan, part goose, after a legendary bird recognised in song, which described it as a bird "of which we have never heard", which lived on the ground or at great heights in the sky, laying eggs of all shapes and sizes.
"The Swoose" took part in two out of three raids on the engineering city of Stuttgart late in July 1944. After flying on the 24th-25th, they rested, missing the second raid, and returned again on the third night, that of the 28th-29th. Five to six hundred bombers attacked on each occasion. Stuttgart was a long, tense trip taking around eight hours, much of it over Germany itself. The city was among a series of narrow valleys in which fog, cloud, industrial haze and artificial smoke cover conspired with terrain and defences to make it one of the least popular runs. The city was well defended by flak and fighters. On the second raid, John Lawrie dodged searchlights over the obscured target, and the log books were marked "poor effort". The city would stick in their minds as being too cloudy, too well defended and inadequately marked.
That night, a fellow New Zealander and friend of John Lawrie from training, Jim Houghton, was flying his "second dickey" operation as a supernumary on a 15 Sqn. bomber, prior to actually taking command of his own aircraft. He had been edgy before takeoff, because he had lost his lucky charm, a New Zealand "tiki" figure, that afternoon. A cannon shell killed Jim over Stuttgart.
A correspondent of the New Zealand Truth visited the squadrons during this period. He found crews returning from the long night ops "fagged out and very subdued, and not inclined to discuss anything". At Waterbeach, he was able to see the crews take off on a daylight attack and talk to them on their return. It was no doubt one of the short sorties against flying bomb sites and fuel installations in France. The Lawrie crew were among those which raided Forêt de Nieppe on August 2nd, and Bois de Cassan on the 3rd. By contrast, the crews came back in a holiday-like atmosphere. The correspondent spoke with various New Zealanders - Warrant Officer Bill Hurrey of Opotiki, F/Sgt. George Wirepa of Te Kuiti, and F/Sgt. John Lawrie of Taranaki, who referred to the sortie as "just an afternoon stooge."
A day later the crew joined the August 4th daylight raid on the oil refineries at Paullac and Bec d'Ambes, in the Girond Estuary north of Bordeaux. Their target was Bec d'Ambes, and it was an eight hour round trip. This time they flew in Merlin-powered Lancaster Mk.I, LM265. almost 300 bombers were escorted by a small force of 'Serrate' Mosquitoes from 100 Group. Not an enemy fighter was seen as they bombed from 15,000 feet and returned home with no losses.
Their August 8th night sortie against a petrol dump at Forêt-de-Lacheux was less comfortable. Officially, the "Swoose" would deliver a 9,000 lb. load from 12,000 feet. Whatever height they bombed from, either a bit of bomb shrapnel or an anti-aircraft shell splinter ripped into the aircraft's underside and opened up the hydraulic lines, spilling fluid into the wing and undercarriage bays.
John Lawrie bought LL731 back to Waterbeach with the landing gear hydraulics out, and made a landing which whipped Bob Chester-Master about in the tail turret. They all got out in one piece, but "The Swoose" was laid up for repairs. John again wrote home;-
"We have the night off today, so we are going to the pictures in Cambridge tonight - always go there when we get the chance. They have five or six theatres so there is always a change of pictures and plenty to choose from. Have done some very big trips these last few days and are now a third of our way through our tour of operations and our operational hours are piling up." His letter made no mention of whizzing shrapnel and returning home with no undercarriage hydraulics.
Last ops. With "The Swoose" out of action, the Lawrie crew drew Lancaster LL624 'B-Beer' on the night of August 11th. Their target was the railway yards at Lens, one of three rail targets struck that night by forces of Lancasters, Halifaxes and Mosquitoes. Though bombing started well enough, the rail yards were soon hidden by smoke and dust. The Lawrie crew returned safely to Waterbeach, three and a half hours after takeoff. The adjutant put log books aside on the 12th without all the entries completed. That night the RAF's heavy bombers would attack Germany for the first time in a fortnight.
It transpired that the Lawrie crew had been put up to operate as Pathfinders; but this was known only to a couple of the crew, John included. For now they were just another bomber in the stream.
The Lawrie crew found themselves assigned a Merlin-powered Lancaster Mk.I, LM-180 / JI-G 'George', to replace "The Swoose" whilst it was under repair. Below the rear fuselage it carried a bubble housing the H2S antenna. It was a radio navigation aid, but without training it was useless to them. When George Durland checked his radio station, his heart dropped into his boots. There was no "Monica" tail-warning radar set. He placed great faith in "Monica". The H2S had an accessory, "Fishpond", serving a similar purpose. Nobody on board knew how to work it.
This was no time in their career for surprises. For some of them, John included, it was their thirteenth operation. Here was an untried aircraft with all the wrong equipment. Sam seemed to recall that the G-Georges of 514 Squadron seemed to have jinxes, they were "death kites". The last "George" had been shot down over Caen on July 30th, not two weeks earlier. And the sister of this "George", LM-181, part of the same delivery, had been lost on the Homburg operation.
That night, Bomber command would fly 1167 sorties. The largest force of 297 aircraft would include the Lawrie crew in LM-180 "G-George". The target would be the Opel works at Russelsheim, near Frankfurt, believed to be making flying bomb components. And their course would be an unusually direct one, and, worse still, they would follow back along almost the same route to return home.
LM-180 was the third of 514's Lancasters away, climbing up at 2130 hours towards the Channel to form up with the main force at 7,000 feet. They would then drop to 3,000 feet, and slowly climb to a point north of Ostende, then turn southeast to 160 degrees. Suddenly, "G-George" was wrenched sideways, as a dark shape swam across its nose. Another Lancaster. Bomber streams had been condensed until mid-air collisions were at an "acceptable level". John made a regular roll-call, as he always did, checking each crew member was all right. Off to one side, an exchange of tracer showed one of the other bombers fighting off an attack, but John maintained course, denying the Luftwaffe a second easy target. The distant bomber sprouted flame from one engine and began to descend
Finally, the Rhine passed below, and searchlights and flares appeared ahead. For a while they seemed to get no nearer, then suddenly "G-George" was among them. John waited for a beam to almost touch the bomber, then turned to meet it, slipping through before it could fix onto them. Over towards Frankfurt, the flak gunners were blasting away at the Mosquitos of the diversionary force - and they would bring down two. Around Mainz, the batteries blazed at a few stragglers, putting on a brave display for the citizens. In the tail turret, Bob Chester-Master was alert, not trusting the flak to deter the night-fighters. Then the 4000-lb "Cookie" fell away with the incendiaries close behind. It was fifteen minutes into the next day, August 13th, 1944. John turned for home, nose down for a little extra speed. North of Mannheim, he made a turn right.
At around 0100 hours, George Durland waited at his radios for a group broadcast as they crossed the Meuse. Bob Chester-Master saw a sudden stream of tracer coming towards him from about 300 yards astern; Sam Burford saw them whizz past his turret and rake the wings. Bob called for a corkscrew to starboard and both gunners returned fire as a Junkers 88 night-fighter dived steeply away, the flash of impacts and a flicker of flame showing around its engine. The Lanc now swung to port. Sam called in that the starboard inner engine was on fire. Tommy Young disagreed. His instruments said it was fine. "Well come up here and have a look," responded Sam."I can see bloody great flames coming out of it!"
The engine was feathered and the extinguishers fired. Sparks still appeared from time to time. The starboard inner ran the hydraulics, but otherwise three engines were enough to fly home on. Then Sam reported he could see fuel flowing back over the port wing. Tommy Young wondered if it was perhaps coolant. Whatever it was, the engines on both wings had been hit. If it was coolant, the engines would begin to overheat. If one or both port engines failed, the remaining engine would only prolong the glide.
John called to Navigator Reg Orth to plot a new course for Manston, the nearest English airfield to the Continent. At 3000 feet, both port engines failed. John ordered parachutes on.
Back in his turret, Bob Chester-Master waited for further orders. Finally he crawled back and collected his parachute from forward of the tail spar, and clipped it on. He tried to call the skipper on the intercom, he even tried the back-up signal light, but for all the response he got, he could have been alone. He thought of returning to his turret and preparing to bale out, but that was complex and risky. He chose instead to take his chances with the side hatch. The moonlit landscape seemed very close. He rolled out of the hatch
As Martin Carter waited by the nose hatch, Tommy Young reached across to help John Lawrie attach his parachute, but the pilot shook his head. He had the control yoke right back near his chest - the impression was that all the hydraulics had gone and everything, from undercart to flaps to bomb doors, was hanging out and slowing the crippled bomber even further. If John eased off, they would drop even faster and nobody would get out.
Tommy moved forward to the escape hatch, and Reg Orth came through from his nav position, his intercom lead gone so it wouldn't snarl in his parachute. The one remaining engine was straining at full boost. He took one look at John, patted him on the knee, and moved forwards to join the other two.
Back by the tail, Sam Burford was sitting in the hatchway, feet braced against its frame. George was behind him, plugged into an intercom jack, trying to raise anyone on the flight deck for instructions. They could see the ground quite clearly. George guessed they were only at about nine hundred feet as he tried to find out whether they should abandon the Lancaster.
The fourth engine cut out, just as he got a response. George yanked out the intercom lead and booted Sam out through the hatch, following right behind him. George yanked at the ripcord and felt the nylon unravel, and his canopy snapped open to slow his descent ... all a little too late. He hit the ground very hard and almost blacked out as something snapped in his right leg.
At a village seventeen kilometres south of Ghent, young Jacques de Vos, aged 13, listened to the distant drone of aircraft and peered from his bedroom window into the night sky of southern Belgium. He caught sight of a spark among the stars. It shot by like a meteor, seeming to climb a little, and vanished. Jacques waited. Moments later the sky lit up, and he heard a tremendous explosion.
At Gavere, several people saw the flash, and the lingering glow which followed, in the direction of Bavegem. At Bavegem, shoemaker Nestor van der Heyden saw a good deal more. A deafening explosion in a field near the church shook his house, and he rushed out to find his fruit trees ablaze and whipping from the concussion. Windows had broken all over town, and debris as large as a whole engine had rebounded among buildings. Nestor shielded his face against the wave of heat from burning fuel and melting alloy. It was unapproachable. Nobody could be alive inside.
Bob Chester-Master, who had hit the ground with no more grace than had George Durland, crawled to a haystack and found his watch had been torn off, but he believed it was around 0130 hours. His ankle felt as if it was at the very least badly sprained.
Sam Burford landed in comparative safety. His parachute snarled a tree, and he released himself and dropped to the ground. He took stock and set off south, in the general direction of France and Spain, on a course which would pass through the village of Flobecq.
After jumping from around 700 feet, Tommy Young came down in a deserted area near Scheldewindeke. He reasoned that any search by the Germans would start near the crashed Lancaster, and set out to put as much distance between it and himself as he could. He moved quickly, to collapse exhausted into a ditch and an uncomfortable sleep.
Martin Carter came down quite close to Bavegem, badly shaken by the thought that he had just seen his skipper die in the burning wreck of "G-George".
Reg Orth also landed near Bavegem and made his way to some woods, where he hid his parachute and started walking. He didn't stop, though, and was still moving at five a.m. He then started knocking on doors until someone brought him in, fed him and sent for help which never came. Reg moved away into some woods and rested, removing the stripes and brevets from his RAAF uniform as he waited for night.
Jacques de Vos joined other sightseers as he cycled to Bavegem. The town was in chaos. Every house in the middle of town had a damaged roof, and windows were broken everywhere. At the end of a street was a church with a pointed steeple, and the smell of burned fuel hung in the air. Wisps of smoke rose from a huge crater, and bits of metal were everywhere.
Nestor van der Heyden watched quietly, pottering in his damaged yard. The Germans had scoured the field, and had asked him if he had seen any enemy airmen. Later, a civilian asked the same kind of questions, and got the same answers. Nestor had seen no airmen.
Earlier, he had found human remains. He quietly gathered them together and buried them in his yard. He would not tell the Nazis anything. Infiltrators were everywhere. But, as it happened, the civilian had been a member of the Belgian underground.
Afterwards Bob Chester-Master hid in his haystack until a man on a pushbike came by. The man had a dog, which quickly discovered the Australian gunner and announced his presence. Neither the cyclist nor the airman understood much of one another, but Bob guessed he was to wait in the woods for help. Around midday he hobbled to shelter among the trees. He stayed there overnight, miserable and with only a few rations and two cigarettes on him. In the morning he heard noises and whistling, and he turned towards it, ready to defend himself as best he could. Two men appeared, both with guns. One of the men was huge. He was Norbert van Herreweghe, and he had just been instructed to go into the woods near Velzeke to collect a turkey. Norbert managed to reassure Bob by surrendering their weapons to him whilst they spoke, and leaving him food and tobacco. The two Belgians returned daily with provisions. After four days they came with bicycles, and Bob moved to a farm near St. Lievens-Houtem, wearing civilian clothes his rescuers provided. He then moved to another farm, as guest of Hector and Maria de Smet. After resting his ankle, he was able to travel to Brussels, and, at 18 Rue de la Surrure, was surprised and pleased to find Martin Carter.
Martin had been sheltered first by a Dr. de Pryk; then he had moved from Bavegem to Hillegem, and after that a woman had accompanied him on bicycle to the home of Mr. Dekeyzer, in Brussels.
Tommy Young, meanwhile, had tried his schoolboy German on people leaving a church, and had picked up their suspicion of him. Pressing on, he was directed to a hiding place by a bridge operator on a canal near Gavere. There he was found by Eric de Surgeloose, Eric's father, and some other young people, fed, sheltered and given civilian clothes. Then he, too, was escorted to Ghent. He was put on a number 5 tram, next to a woman named Betty Liem. Her husband Jean watched from the boarding platform, ready to slip away and warn other underground members if anything went wrong. Reaching the house, Tante Betty told Tommy that, if questioned, he was to pose as their gardener.
12 August 1944 - raid over Russelheim, Germany, where the Opel factory was believed to be producing wings for the V1 buzz bombs. Almost 300 aircraft took part in bomber raids on that night.
The Liems were members of a very efficient resistance group, providing intelligence reports as well as sheltering evading airmen. Tommy would be sharing their house with a Belgian army captain, a Jewess named Flore, and her daughter, Susan. All three had prices on their heads.
Sam Burford was fortunate in finding, after knocking on a few doors, Remi d'Hayer. Remi took Sam to a farm near Zegelsem where he was sheltered by the Marroyen family, who already had a young Belgian resistance man, Lucien Labiau, in their care. The family discussed the risks of hiding two people on the farm, but in the end decided Sam could stay. He soon became a family friend of Mr. and Mrs. Marroyen, their sons Albert, Armand and Andre and their daughter, Maria, a few years older than Sam, who remembered him as "a very polite, quiet man of some 19-20 years old. He was extremely nice to us." But Sam became firm friends with Lucien and his fiancee, Emma.
Sam became bored after a while hiding, all the same. He begged to take part in some kind of activity with the Resistance. With reservations they consented to him joining in as they carried out an ambush of a lightly protected vehicle convoy.
They picked a section of road and the resistance people moved into a ditch on either side. Sam wondered for a moment how that would work, with both groups bobbing up and shooting across the road towards each other. He heard engine noises, and as they grew nearer, they included the occasional squeak and clank of metal. Cautiously, he looked up. There was no sign of any soft truck convoy, just a row of German tanks. He turned to the Belgians for guidance, and only then realised that the ditch was deserted. He also left, at the fastest run he ever achieved.
George Durland's ankle appeared to be broken. A local doctor decided it would need proper treatment, and George directed them to inform the Germans that they had found an allied airman. He was taken to St. Giles' Hospital, in Brussels, where his leg was tended. As he recovered, and although there were RAF men nearby, George teamed up with a Lt. Hewitt of the USAAF and planned an escape. On August 16th they began filing through a bar on a window. Next day the cast was taken off, and they were told that if the Allies should reach Brussels, the hospital patients would be left for them to collect, so they gave up their plan.
On September 3rd the allies pushed into Belgium and the hospital patients were all loaded onto trucks bound for Germany. Near a town whose name George remembered as Assent he heard aero engines. Some USAAF Thunderbolt fighter-bombers roving ahead of the advance began strafing the German convoy. George Hewitt and another American bolted in the confusion. The two Americans were soon recaptured and sent on to Germany. George his leg again injured escaped. He found a farmhouse and hid there until September 6th. Reg Orth hid in woods near Grootenberge supplied with food by a local man and his son who finally took him into their house briefly before moving him on by bicycle to Denderhoutem near Welle. There he was in the hands of the "White Army". His hosts were the Coppens family already sheltering an American NCO Ewell Riddle tail gunner on a B-17 shot down on June 23rd. Riddle thought there was something odd about the newcomer who claimed to fly with the RAF. He told the Coppenses that although Orth claimed to be Australian he understood that Australians spoke English and whatever Reg was speaking it was sure pretty screwy for English. Reg was confined to the house whilst the worried Belgians undertook a radio exchange with specialised staff at the BBC. Reg was restless and didn't wait for a conclusion. He confronted his hosts and demanded a machine gun saying he would rather fight his way to the Allied lines. They calmed him down and as word came of Allied progress they prepared him to move on. In Brussels Bob and Martin were also gathering provisions preparing to trek towards Switzerland. They walked Brussels streets in the company of two very calm girls who with their parents worked this part of the escape channel. Their departure was delayed; the roads were unsafe with Allied aircraft strafing anything which moved. Thwarted they watched as Focke-Wulfes took off from a nearby airfield against the bombers which passed daily overhead. But the advance started on September 3rd on the Franco-Belgian border and within the day elements of the 21st Army Group of Montgomery's Second Army reached the Belgian capital. Flags appeared as the Guards Armoured Division entered the city. Bob called out to a passing tank crewman for a cigarette which was instantly pounced on by someone Bob would remember as a ""cad"". He and Martin reported to Allied authorities. By September 10th they were among about 300 other Allied airmen who had been hidden by the Belgians in the vicinity. Among them they found Reg Orth. Sam remained in the Nederbrakel-Bavegem area before being taken to Brussels by Remi d'Hayer Lucien and Emma. The first Allied soldiers Sam recalled were a British tank crew possibly of 11th Armoured Brigade who sold a radio and settled down for serious drinks. He hitched a ride on a passing tank where to his surprise some Belgians spat at him thinking perhaps he was a German prisoner. Tom Young would observe that the Belgians so considerate of the strangers they sheltered could be remorseless in their reprisals against collaborators from among themselves. Sam was able to commandeer a Jeep for a quick tour of the Flemish plain before he left. In fact for a while he posed as an Australian liaison officer dropping in to American camps for rest a meal and fuel for the Jeep. Finally he was driven to Evere airfield for the flight home. As a parting gift he left his silk kerchief with its imprinted escape map with Emma Sadones. She still had it in the 1990s. George Durland the only crew member to fall into German hands was first home reaching Brussels on about September 6 and being flown to England to have his leg reset in Ely hospital. In the aftermath Reg Orth and Bob Chester-Master received commissions which had actually been confirmed before their last operation. John Lawrie's commission also came through but neither he nor his mate Rex would return home in glory. Rex died when his aircraft crashed in northern England killing all but one of the crew. John's remains were removed from Nestor van der Heyden's garden and buried at Schoonselhof Cemetery Antwerp under a headstone reading simply; ""428001 - Pilot Officer J. Lawrie Pilot Royal New Zealand Air Force 13th August 1944 Aged 21"". A monument to John Lawrie was unveiled by Bob Chester-Master in August 2004 at Bavegem." AWMM