Jon Hommes

Jon Hommes

  • 320 (Dutch) Squadron RAF
  • Mitchells
  • Supporting airborne troops – Arnhem
  • Attacking SS Panzer Battalions
  • Halting the German Ardennes offensive
  • 59 operations

Jon Hommes completed his escapes and evasions prior to joining the RAF!

When the Germans invaded Holland in May 1940, Jon was a medical student in his second year at Leiden University. With two close friends, he hatched a plan to escape from Holland to England to join the RAF. Unable to steal a boat, or get aboard a ship, the men decided to cycle the complete route, about 1800 miles from Holland to Gibraltar.

In June 1941, they set off towards the border with Belgium, unaware that any help was available to them. Their first luck arrived in Brussels where they were accommodated and fed, then provided with a contact to take them to the border with France. Once in France they lived rough and headed for Paris.

The crossing of the River Somme proved problematic, as all the bridges had been destroyed with the exception of one that was guarded by Germans. They laid low for some while, observing the procedures at the bridge, then took their chance by crossing at the same time as a German patrol, when checking of civilians took lower precedence than military matters.

A Swiss banker housed the group for the night and suggested they took the night-train from Paris to Bordeaux then cross into Spain. They hoisted their bicycles onto the train and mingled and chatted with German soldiers on board. Their audacity worked – the ticket collector ignored them and the Germans shared their rations.

From Bordeaux, they cycled on to Biarritz with a plan to cross the border at Irun. Unfortunately the area was swarming with Germans. A change of direction took them to St Pied de Port then, heading south, they found a small bridge, guarded by only one German, to take them into Spain, but without papers they were turned back. So they continued along the frontier, laid up until dark, and crossed the border and waded the stream during the moonless night.

Once in the mountains they and their bikes hitched a lift on a lorry – which unhelpfully delivered them to the Guadia Civil in Pamploma, where their belongings were confiscated and they were locked up! Later they were taken to the Provincial Prison, their hair was shaved off, and all personal items taken. With food and water in short supply Jon became very weak. Spanish companions were released and promised to get information to the Dutch Consulate in Madrid. After nearly four months, John was moved back to the border town of Irun and placed in a dungeon with criminals and cut-throats, life had become worse. By overpowering a guard Jon and a friend escaped but were apprehended by Spanish locals and handed back to the guards. This resulted in shackles and moving to Miranda del Ebro concentration camp.

With nothing heard from the Dutch Consul, approaches were made to the British Embassy. In June 1942, Jon and his friend were met by the British Military Attaché, who took them to Madrid, and then Bilbao. They then sailed via the West Indies and South America to New York, then by train to Canada, and finally by the Queen Mary to Liverpool, England.

Through the Free Dutch Army, Jon joined the RAF. He trained in Canada as a Navigator and was posted to 320 (Dutch) Squadron RAF where he flew with Mitchells on operations over northern Europe.

Jon received the Dutch Distinguished Service Cross for his escape, and was awarded the DFC for his wartime service.


Eric Milner

Eric Milner

  • 1 Air Landing Brigade
  • Glider
  • 17 September 1944
  • Following Pathfinders 21 Ind Para Coy
  • ‘S’ DZ – Between Arnhem/Utrecht Road & Railway NNE Arnhem
  • Role: Seize and hold road bridge over Rhine at Arnhem

From the moment of landing on the DZ, the guns were in constant action. The fighting was fierce, often hand-to-hand, taking on 50ton Tiger tanks with light weapons. The Arnhem Bridge was held for three days and, rather than the expected 48 hours, they held a defensive position north of the river for nine days against two SS Panzer Divisions. When all hope of victory had been lost the battery continued to fight on, hopelessly out gunned with many, including Eric, wounded. They regrouped and fought on as infantry.

Out of ammunition, Eric and others were taken prisoner. During a search, a stick of chewing gum was found in the pocket of Eric’s trousers; fortunately he got it back, as inside the stick was a hacksaw blade.

At a Med Aid Post Eric spotted an opportunity to escape and rejoined the battle. He was wounded again and taken to hospital where the wound was dressed although the bullets not extracted. Later he was moved to the Airborne hospital at Appledoorn, which was overflowing with wounded and had few medical supplies left. Again Eric became a prisoner. This time he hid a knife under his bandages. He was then moved on to Germany and Stalag 12a, Limburg, where he had his first taste of being a POW.

Eric was moved on again, transported across Germany in total darkness, by rail in a cattle truck. Fortunately a medical officer checking on the wounded, saw that Eric’s wound was serious and had him removed from the train and transferred to Cologne hospital where he was operated on – without anaesthetic! Next stop was to the harsh conditions and brutal treatment of Stalag 4B at Maulberg-on Elbe and a group plan was hatched, to escape using a forged key.

The men escaped into deep snow and, after walking for several days, approached a farm where they were given food. Later, on encountering a working party of French POWs, Eric and his companions took shelter with them in their billet for a few days. When moving on some of the French joined them and they headed for the Allied Lines.

There were many encounters along the way: with Russian guns attacking the village where they sheltered; passing unintentionally through German lines; with mounted Cossacks wearing German uniforms; with a guarded column of walking concentration camp victims; and finally with German engineers preparing to blow the bridge between them and the Allied side of the river – they took a chance and charged, unchallenged, across the bridge minutes before the explosion.

The group thought it safer to approach the Allied lines in daylight so sheltered in a farm house. On leaving a wood at first light they were challenged by two GIs who took them to the main force. The CO of the American unit informed the group that they were the first escapers to pass through the lines. Eric was allowed a two week recovery period then taken to an airport at Nuremburg, flown to Reims in France and then onwards to England where his welcome was a dousing in anti-louse powder!


Albert de Bruin

Albert de Bruin

  • 630 Sqn – East Kirby
  • Lancaster – pilot Gordon Maxwell
  • Mid upper gunner
  • 18 July 1944
  • Target Caen
  • Bomb run – hit by flak
  • Bailed out – landed in field by River Marne


A young man suddenly appeared, wearing an FFI armband and pointing a pistol at Albert, who was instructed to ‘walk on’. The man took him to a Resistance group; amongst whom was a British Army Sergeant, who asked for proof of identity. Once cleared, Albert continued into the forest and came across a large fortified farmhouse; after watching it for nearly two days he approached an old man outside who was chopping wood. Albert explained he was RAF and needed water. The farmer nodded towards the house where two men appeared, M. Gillete and M. Bernier. The men questioned Albert, and asked for his name, rank and number. They were very cautious as the Gestapo had been planting bogus aircrew into the area to catch people hiding evaders. Many had been executed. Albert waited outside the farmhouse for a long time. This time he was treated differently. A message was transmitted to England, and the reply confirmed he was RAF aircrew.

A visitor arrived at the farm; a M. Schmit, who had worked as a chef in London. Many more questions were asked to prove Albert’s identity. Once satisfied, a bottle of wine was produced and a toast made. On 3 August 44, Albert was moved from the farm to the village of Robert-Espagne. There he was given a large coat and told to follow behind a Gendarme, but not, on any account, to speak. Germans were now moving into the area in great numbers. Albert was taken to the safe-house of M. and Mme Evrard, and told he would remain there until he could be moved on. On one occasion he was taken back to the farm to identify his rear gunner, Sgt Leary. Later the farm was attacked, and all the men inside shot.

Sitting down to eat one day, the Evrard family were startled by banging on the door. Albert and his Gendarme guide were ushered to the bedroom where they were hidden in the cellar under a hidden trap door. A while later Mme Evrard appeared and instructed the men to leave the house as the Germans had set it alight. Climbing out into the garden the men headed into the woods. All houses in the village were attacked with grenades and looted.

The next day Albert and his guide approached the village with caution; they learned that Mme Evrard had taken shelter away from the village and that the Germans were due to return, so they resumed their hiding place the woods. On re-entering the village, the Germans lined up 57 men and executed them, including the safe-house keeper M Evrard.

Later, following the sound of heavy gunfire, a man ran into the wood loudly shouting Albert’s name. The men tried to silence him for fear of being detected, but the man had actually brought good news – the Americans had arrived in the village!

Albert returned to the village of Robert-Espagne on many occasions after the war to lay wreaths on the graves of four of his crew members whose bodies had been collected by local people and buried in the churchyard. He also laid wreaths on the graves of the Resistance men executed by the SS.


Owain Williams

Owain Williams

  • 11th September 1944
  • Sgt – Flt Engineer
  • HALIFAX lll LL584 LK-E
  • 578 Sqn – RAF Burn, Nr Selby
  • Target: Oil refineries at Gelsenkirken

At 1549 Halifax LL584 left RAF Burn en route for the oil refineries at Gelsenkirken in Germany. The Ack Ack had other ideas and the aircraft lost two engines and was badly damaged. The order was given to bale out over North Belgium – Williams wished his two air gunners a happy landing and jumped.

The mid-upper gunner had the misfortune to almost land on top of a lorry full of German soldiers and was taken captive. All the rest of the crew landed safely and successfully evaded. Owain landed in a small clearing in a forest and quickly hid his parachute and divested himself of the last of his English money, then laid low to take stock of his situation.

Voices approached and grew louder until the clearing was full of people; men, women, and children; all wearing clogs. Owain listened intently to try to define their language, without success. A man found the parachute and disappeared with it under his arm – no cry to the enemy of his find. Next, a young man approached within a few yards of Owain’s hiding place. Owain remained motionless and was unseen. Then everyone departed leaving him undetected. He waited until dusk, then moved into the forest. As darkness began to fall, the stars appeared, and he sought the Plough and North Star and headed East.

Coming across a cottage, Owain knocked tentatively – no sign of life, so he went in. Footsteps, and a blonde young woman appeared. Owain said ‘Englishman, parachute’. The room suddenly filled with people. Owain recognised the man who had picked up his chute. They seemed very friendly. An English speaker was brought in and an interrogation followed. Owain was then dressed in peasant clothes and taken to a Resistance group hiding in the forest.

A barn in a clearing contained 21 German prisoners – and Barney, Owain’s Aussie Navigator, who proceeded to recount the fates of the rest of the crew. Whilst with the Resistance group Owain and Barney participated in many skirmishes against the Germans and, for good measure, discovered their rear gunner, also hiding up.

In an attempt by two German patrols searching a village to seek out the Resistance group, the German prisoners were mistaken for the Resistance and fired on by their own men, killing them all.

While hiding up, word arrived that the Allies, who had failed to relieve the Arnhem lads via Eindhoven, were on the way [the group had actually witnessed that huge armada of aircraft and gliders whilst hiding from a German search in the forest]. The Resistance took Owain to the local butcher’s house on the main street. He was asked to stay awake through the night in order to hand the Allies plans of the mined roads ahead. Nothing occurred during the night. Next morning, Sunday, there were cheers, flags and shouts of ‘The Allies are coming’. Owain went out into the street, but saw no army vehicles, so he had to kiss all the children and shake hands with everyone – then fight his way back into the house because there were snipers in the village! Later, more cheers, louder this time, and there they were! The Allies in column, advancing towards them. Owain hailed the first vehicle carrying a soldier wearing a French helmet and asked ‘Do you speak English?’ Suddenly up popped another head. ‘I hope so man’, was the reply. Owain handed him the plans. A great celebration followed. Then he hitch-hiked back to Antwerp, and later on to Brussels, for interrogation and home.