I Was There! - How I Escaped as a Belgian Refugee

The War Illustrated, Volume 2, No. 43, Page 701, June 28, 1940.

An R.A.F. Fighter Command pilot who rejoined his squadron on June 5 had been posted as missing for nearly a fortnight. After his Hurricane fighter was shot down he made his way across Belgium disguised as a refugee. His story is here told in his own words.

The pilot found a Belgian who was willing to lend him some clothes. They were the clothes in which he returned to his home station a battered old cap, pipe-like trousers nearly six inches too short for him, a dirty grey jacket and an ancient light-grey overcoat. He kept his regulation blue shirt, but put on an old collar with his black tie.

Once he borrowed a motor-car to drive Belgian refugees through the German lines. The car was held up by German soldiers when they had gone only a few miles. They took the car, and his pilgrimage continued.

"I got a lot of food from German soldiers on the way", he said. "I lived for days on boiled eggs, coffee and water. Occasionally I called at a farmhouse or cottage for shelter.

"Most of the Belgians with whom I travelled guessed that I was English, but they did not give me away. I was advised to talk as little as possible when Germans appeared, for they told me that my French had a terrible English accent.

"When I found the Belgians moving back towards Belgium, I tagged myself on to parties of French peasants.

"Incidentally, I owe my final escape to the Royal Air Force. I was on the outskirts of Dunkirk, and I had to pass through the German patrolled area at the back of the town. Every few hundred yards the Germans had sentries posted along the roads, so that it was impossible for anyone to get by. But one day there was a terrific aerial battle. I could see Hurricanes and Messerschmitts and Heinkels and Spitfires doing their stuff. It was a thrilling show, and the sentries thought so too. They were looking skywards when I slipped through.

"When I reached the canal I called across to a group of French soldiers, and crossed the canal in a small boat.

"I was, of course, arrested by the French on suspicion. The guard passed me on to the Lieutenant, and the Lieutenant to a Major, and so, up the scale, until I was put before a General. I told him who I was, and where I came from, and eventually I was passed on to the British authorities in Dunkirk.

"There again I was suspected, though I was treated extremely well. A naval commander took charge of me, and I was technically under arrest until I had been brought to England in a motor torpedo boat, and questioned at the Admiralty and Air Ministry, where my identity was finally established."

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