I Was There! - How We Got to Egypt with Our 'Planes

The War Illustrated, Volume 3, No. 52, Page 221, August 30, 1940.

In addition to the French airmen who escaped to England after the armistice to continue the fight under General de Gaulle, others flew their 'planes from Syria to Egypt and joined up with the R.A.F. The escapade of one such party of "deserters" is described here by their leader.

A number of French airmen joined the British forces as soon as possible after the armistice, and many more would have done so had their machines not been put out of action on orders by the Pétain Government. Usually this was done by cutting the rudder wires or removing engine parts. In spite of this, many French men managed to escape and are continuing the fight.

The leader of a party of airmen who reached Egypt from Syria said:

All the boys of the section under my command volunteered to fight on with the British, but the undertaking was not without its risks. I was still thinking what to do when, in the course of a chat with a superior officer, he said, "If I were you, having good 'planes at my disposal, I wouldn't be here." He added, "Besides, I won't be in camp tomorrow."

"Thanks, monsieur, I get it", I replied, and immediately prepared my plans with my comrades. We knew the magnetos of the engines were disconnected, but we could manage to fix that, so we decided that zero hour should be three o'clock in the morning. Before departing I left a letter to my colonel saying that we were convinced we were no more bound to obey a Government under the control of the enemy.

In one way and another the news of our intention became known. We had to turn down, with regret, at least fifty chaps willing to join us. Another obstacle had to be overcome, as it was announced that a platoon, with two machine-guns, had been placed near the hangars and ordered to shoot any approaching silhouette.

Some of us wavered, but I decided that as leader I should be the first silhouette. I came up to the sergeant, whom I knew, and explained to him that my section had received orders to fly to a neighbouring base immediately. He replied, "Come on, you can't fool me. I know you are crossing to the British. But look – I am going with you." I could not but agree, although we were overladed with stolen equipment, including several machine-guns and boxes of ammunition.

We taxied as silently as possible away from the barracks, and when in the middle of the ground we opened the throttle fully and went off. So overloaded were the 'planes that they left the ground only after a run of about 800 yards instead of the usual run of 400 yards. We steered a course for Egypt, where we were greeted in the most friendly fashion. Here we are now ready for the fight.

Although we are technically war-time deserters, sentenced to death, I have a hunch that I and all who acted as I did will have the opportunity to parade once again at the Arc de Triomphe in a free France. – British United Press.

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