LANCASTER ME789

Of the 7 crew on board of 106 Squadron Lancaster ME789 all managed to survive.

F/O G.S.Mathers (RCAF) (POW),

Sgt L.T.Lucas (POW),

F/O D.A.Evans (RCAF) (evd),

F/O J.S.Kingston (RCAF) (POW),

F/S W.Stewart (POW),

Sgt J.Crawford (RCAF) (POW),

Sgt W.A.Waldram (RCAF) (POW).

Mr. John Lucas

Having been put in contact with Mr. John Lucas, we have corresponded and below is his story:

"I was flight engineer on ZN-B of 106 Squadron and although we were shot down on the second raid, i don't think that our experience was very unusual and could perhaps de described as "one of the many". However, I will set down thoughts and what I can remember of the event of 1944.

At our breif we learned that the Germans were using the caves at Saint Leu d'Esserent to asseble their V1 weapons before delivery to the launch sites to be fired on London. These missiles had stabilised controls but no guidance system and simply flew on a fixed heading until their fuel ran out. Nowhere in London was safe and there was great urgency to stop them coming. Hence the two raids on 4/5 July and 7/8 July 44.

The tactics used on both raids were basically the same. Briefly, the plan was for 'Oboe' Mosquitoes to lay target proximity markers followed by Lancasters dropping flares to illuminate the area. More Mosquitoes would then dive down to visually drop red and green target markers for the main force aiming points. Wing Commander Cheshire in his Mustang was the coordinating controller on the first raid and Wing Commander Porter on the second. The main force Lancasters were from 5 group with 'Obe' Mosquitoes from 8 Group.

The caves at Saint Leu, being a Key site, were heavily defended and on our first trip we were twice approached by fighters but successfully evaded them. Our tactic was to shoot first and they veered away from the tracers and disappeared.

On the second mission we arrived in the target area without incident but as we were making our final run to the target markers, the controller ordered us to cease bombing. I remember taht the code word for this was 'Moonshine'. We circled and waited for the order to resume. It came and we completed our bombing successfully. As always this was an anxious time and we were feeling relieved to be heading home away from the turmoil over the target. Then suddenly, within minutes, the rear gunner yelled, " Corkscrew Port Go". We dived and climbed in our attempt to escape -- but not this time. The fighter came in fast and a salvo of canon shells ripped through the aircraft from end to end. The rear turret was hit, wounding the gunner and starting a fire. The H2S scanner was blow away and a stream of silver tracers flashed through between the fuselage and the starboard inner engine. Within inches of my head! The engine burst into flames. I cut off its fuel and feathered the propeller but the fire persisted and I had to use the extinguisher. The starboard outer engine ran wild and would not respond to the controls. It had gone into fine pitch. The effect was the same as putting your car into first gear at motorway speed. I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned around. The blackout curtain had been drawn aside and I could see back into the fuselage over the centre section. It was glowing white like the inside of a fluorescent tube. The W/O was waving the hand held extinguisher hopelessly. At that moment something 'went' and the plane began to nose dive. The skipper immediately ordered , "bale out" -- without control he had no choice.

My first deed was to check the pilot"s parachute harness for security. The second was to pass one ot the two chutes stowed behind the pilot's seat to the bomb aimer waiting in the nose. I clipped the other chute on myself and noticed that some of the canopy was showing. I put my arm across it to hold it in and dropped out of the plane through the hatch in the nose. There was a flash of light as the plane slid over me and when I opened my eyes I could see the plane's fiery trail as long as the plane itself. The end of the flames were flickering.

I released my hold on my chute and it all burst out at once but deployed perfectly. I quickly lost sight of the plane itself but I could see the flames going down vertically and I watched them until they went out and were replaced by a spak that quickly grew intoa deep red mushroom which peaked and hesitated for a few seconds before collapsing and going out. And then there was nothing - no plane- no friends - no enemy, just me and the moon with endless space in all directions.

It was all over in a matter of minutes and although my story may seem like an orderly sequence of events, it didn't happen that way. The attack came with great suddeness and frightening ferocity. Everything seemed to be happening at once and there was no time gaps for considered decisions. We reacted automatically as we were trained. There was no panic, just urgency driven by surging adrenaline. Thinking about these event now, I realise just how lucky we were.

106 Squadron lost 7 aircraft on these two raids, a third of its strength. In two of the aircraft, ZN-R and my own ZN-B, all the crew escaped. In the two others, ZN-P and ZN-X none of their crew got out and they all perished. In the other three aircraft, 11 memebers of their crews were killed. The French people interred their remains with honour and dignity in cemeteries across the region. There were aslo many casualties among the civilian popultaion of Saint Leu d'Esserent which was particularly tragic at taht time with Liberation only a few weeks away.

All the crew landed safely, but three of them, the pilot, bomb aimer and W/O were captured immediately. The two gunners and myself had several weeks of freedom before we were caught and the navigator remained in hiding until the army arrived.

When the war finished we all returned to our homes. Five headed across the Atlantic to destinations scattered over the American continent and W/O returned to Scotland. With all the difficulties of travel and finance at that time it wasn't possible for us to get together then, but in 1994, John and Bill, the two gunners came to Britain to visit their family connections and also stayed with me for several days. We made a very nostalgic visit to our old wartime airfield at Metheringham which has a small museum in an old RAF hut. Later in 2003, the son of the pilot from Nassau, visited the airfield and had a brass plaque, mounted on a stone base, placed in the memorial garden."

Yours Sincerely,

John Lucas

John Lucas (left) 7th June 1994
John Lucas 1944

... I was lucky enough not to be spotted as I landed somewhere to the west of Gournay-en-Bray. Exactly where I don't know. In the ensuing three weeks there were a couple of incidents involving the German forces but nothing very momentous.

The first came shortly after I landed and still in my uniform. I was searching for water in the middle of the night and was surprised by a German sentry guarding a remote installation. It was bright moonlight and we stood looking at each other for a moment and then, on impulse, I said "Pardon Monsieur", and he let me walk away. Those were the only two French words that I knew.

I decided that I needed help and approached a farm on what is now the N31, I was accepted by the farmer and her family with much excitement and an English speaking teacher was fetched from the local school. He brought his son with him. I exchanged my uniform for civilian clothes and I learned that I must get to Serifontaine to contact the Resistance. While we were talking, three soldiers came to the farm and the officer enterd the house. I hid under the bed in an adjoining room. As night came I volunteered to sleep in the barn for security reasons, but the farmer's daughter wouldn't hear of it, she insisted that I use her bed. Where she slept I don't know. They were very kind and very brave people.

Early next morning I set off for Serifontaine in my civilian clothes keeping mainly to the cart tracks that seemed to everywhere. I entered Hebecourt and there were quite a lot of people in the street but I felt confident in my civilian clothes and carried on walking. However, I didn't deceive everyone because a lady called out in a loud voice, "English boy, follow me". I did, of course and when it was safe she stopped and turned around. She had a big smile and I demanded, "how did you know that I was English?" Still laughing, she made a sweeping gesture with her hand across the front of me, saying "look at you - your clothes - your hair - you look more English like that than you did in your uniform".

She then led me to a safe house where I was again warmly received and given a change of clothes. I completed the journey to Serifontaine with the husband in his lively horse and cart. On the way we came up to a German patrol in a very narrow street. The patrol divided to let us pass through, but the horse misbehaved, prancing about and scattering the soldiers - a moment I will always remember. We survived and I succeeded in making contact with the Resistance in Serifontaine.

After a good meal and a rest, a young lady took me to another safe house in the little village of Noyer. There were some American airmen there when I arrived but they moved on. A few days later an RAF plane crashed nearby and the three surviving members of its crew joined me (possibly 76 Squadron Halifax MZ524). In all 22 allied airmen passed through this house during 1943/44.

Two weeks later I too was moved on. Two gendarmes took me to the Seine in the back of their van and I crossed in the little ferry boat with other French passengers. On the other side of the river I was picked up and driven to Paris in a low Citroen. I believed that I was on my way to Spain or maybe to a lift home in a Lysander, but the next morning, in Paris, I was arrested at gun point.

John Lucas

The sketch if from my P.O.W log book (John Lucas)

Sources:

Mr. Allard, Mr. John Lucas, Mr. Marcel Mavre.