100 Squadron RAF – Escape from Denmark
This is a shortened version of Arthur White’s personal account of his evasion in Denmark following the ‘downing’ of his plane in 1944. If you would like a copy of the complete story please contact ELMS.
On the night of 9th/10th April, 1944, at 2125hrs, the crew of Avro Lancaster Mk 111, ND 675 boarded their aircraft at Waltham (Grimsby), Lincs. Their operation was to mine Danzig Bay. With a preliminary cough, the first engine started up followed by the others in rapid succession; as the aircraft taxied past the control tower two WAAF’s waved from the tower. With a full load of fuel, and laden with mines, the aircraft started climbing slowly and steadily. Crossing the Danish coast, the gunners were warned to be more vigilant. Suddenly, the Rear Gunner reported a Lancaster in flames behind them, the enemy had drawn first blood. Flying on across the Baltic in a cloudless sky, the crew reached the target area and released their mines, the plane leaping a little each time a mine was released. The mines gone, the crew headed for home, taking rapid action to avoid another Lancaster. The crew reported that no searchlights, shipping or flak had been spotted, but within half an hour, everything opened up on the main force now over the target area. Altering course over the Baltic, and westward across Denmark, Arthur then took a final bearing back to base.
As the aircraft straightened out on a new course there was a sudden explosion in the bomb bay shaking the whole aircraft. Everything happened at once. Evasive action was taken by the pilot, and down the fuselage went all Arthur’s maps, charts and logs. Small holes appeared in the floor, and flames were raging in the bomb bay. The skipper, Flt Lt Alec Dickie (RCAF), ordered the crew to put on their parachutes. After taking evasive action, he was trying to level out the plane, but it kept diving down in a series of gigantic swoops, and turning at the same time. When it was obvious that it could not be held for much longer, and the rubber soles on the crew’s flying boots were scorching, he ordered ‘abandon aircraft’. The engineer, Bill Banks, was having difficulty getting the escape hatch open, and when it did open, it was difficult to throw the cover out as the slip-stream had caught it. Finally Bill was through the escape hatch, followed by Ray Lambe and Arthur.
Conscious of a tremendous roaring from the slipstream, and the heat from the flames belching out of the aircraft belly, Arthur was aware that his head and ears were clamped by the two straps rising from his shoulders to the opened canopy, and that he was swinging violently. Gradually correcting himself, he tried to take stock of the situation, not knowing, in the darkness, whether he would hit the sea or the land, although he thought he could hear a dog barking.
Trying to keep his boots on – they had nearly been pulled off by the slip stream – Arthur attempted to raise his legs to try to hold on to them. A roar of engines got steadily louder, and with a snarl, his aircraft passed overhead, so close that he felt the slip stream, before it exploded in mid-air. While distracted by watching the blaze below him, Arthur hit the ground unexpectedly, and fell onto his back. After fumbling about in the dark, the release box was undone, and the canopy rolled up [after cutting off the rigging and removing three panels to make it unusable again!]. Arthur hid the ‘chute among pine trees, before searching for a similar hide for his Mae West.
He assessed his position: a river on one side, a marsh on another, and a farm in the other direction, in what appeared to be a triangle of open ground. Being a non-swimmer, one of the directions was ruled out already; the farm had the dog; so, it was in the direction of the marsh area that he headed. Missing out wooded areas, or anything that would be marked on a map or was big enough to be searched, Arthur found a dip in the ground, and at 0400 fell asleep until 0730. He was woken by German voices singing, so waited until they had died away and then took stock of the situation. Opening his battledress blouse, he found that he still had his escape and emergency food packs, nylon parachute cord, and three triangular pieces of nylon from the canopy. Arthur emerged from his hide into rain. On reaching a steep river bank he sat down between two fir trees to work out a plan of action. The most important objective was to get away from the crash site, but this could not be done until dark. Now thoroughly soaked through, with his flying boots becoming extremely uncomfortable, Arthur considered ways of obtaining new footwear. Food was his next concern; few root crops or other vegetables were available at this time of year, but chicken houses could provide some eggs, and milk might be obtainable. Trying to move at night and hide all day, unshaven, dirty and untidy, Arthur appeared ‘a very suspicious character’.
As he headed in a north-east direction, Arthur came across a newspaper bearing the name of ‘Brande’, the town where it was printed, a probable indication of the area that he was travelling through. A concrete road, heading north, made for easier navigation and walking in the darkness but, on turning a bend, Arthur spotted houses on the sky-line and, what appeared to be, troops patrolling. So he once more took to the fields to skirt around the village of Blahoj. On encountering a small group of houses and the village church it occurred to Arthur that help may be forthcoming through the local clergyman, but although he waited patiently inside the church for a considerable time no-one appeared, so he resumed his trek along the dark road. The countryside became very flat, bare, and desolate; by now Arthur’s feet were very painful and his calves were sore from the continual chafing of his flying boots. Finally, on finding shelter in an isolated barn in Vorslunde, Arthur attempted to sleep for what was left of the night.
He was woken by the loud barking of a dog that had found his hiding place. He remained still. The barking dog was joined by male voices which then, thankfully, departed so Arthur risked climbing down from his shelter in the hay-loft – only to find Herr Jacob Jorgensen waiting at the bottom! Fortunately he smiled, shook Arthur’s hand explaining that he was ‘a friend’, and led him towards the farm house for a welcome ‘feast’ of porridge and eggs and bacon, washed down with hot milky coffee. Jacob explained that as his neighbour had alerted the police it was necessary for Arthur to move on, so he provided directions and wished him luck.
After the war Arthur discovered that the Police Officer, Quitzal Dreyer, who had received the call from the neighbour, delayed his response for five hours in order to give time for him to escape. Also, when he did finally respond, he was ‘assisted in his search’ by Ivan Sahlertz of Give – a local member of the Resistance! Of course, as they had not located the evader, it was the duty of the police to report the incident to the Germans – which they duly did, ten hours later, and sent them searching in the wrong direction!
By this time the roads appeared to be busy with weary people walking, cycling or pushing hand-carts and Arthur’s unkempt appearance did not attract much attention. However, late one day a group of workmen stopped in a side road just as a German sidecar patrol approached. They must have sensed Arthur’s dilemma as they formed a human screen between Arthur and the Germans. The patrol passed, the men all shook hands and gave Arthur some money and warned him to clear the area as soon as possible because of German troops in the wood behind them.
As he continued on the road alone, Arthur spotted a cyclist approaching so in an attempt to appear nonchalant, and to hide his face, he sat down and started to light a cigarette. The cyclist stopped, pulled out a cigarette and asked for a light just as the German motorcycle came in to view again. Arthur was pushed into the bushes; the cyclist rode off; the patrol passed by. Arthur ran deeper into the woods for cover.
The cyclist, Soren Pedersen, returned promising help, then left. A couple of hours later he returned again with sandwiches, and promptly left yet again. Midnight passed, and Arthur was becoming a little worried about his new found friend, when he heard whistling and saw Soren with a quart size bottle of milk. The men then walked for several miles over rough country before reaching a farm at Farre, where Arthur was taken to a barn and introduced to the hayloft that was to be his home for the next eight days. One night Soren arrived with a list of typed questions. Only answering the questions covered by the Geneva Convention, necessitated Arthur being visited again by Soren, but this time with a bearded gentleman who asked even more questions. After about four days in the loft, Arthur was informed by the farmer who brought his food that he was to move on. The following afternoon, while lying on his stomach peering through the eaves, Arthur was startled to see an armed motorcycle and side-car with two Germans, pull into the farmyard. Fortunately they were only a patrol looking for food; in this case unsuccessfully.
After eight days at the farm, a Doctor Gullestrop (Arthur’s bearded acquaintance of a few days earlier) drove into the farmyard, handed him a raincoat and hat, and after farewells to the farmer and his son, drove Arthur to his home at Give – the only house in the area not occupied by Germans! There he was given a hot bath and dinner and introduced to his courier, Ivan Sahlertz, who would take him on the next leg of his journey. A civilian suit was provided but unfortunately the trousers were several inches too short and had to lengthened by Oda, Ivan’s wife, who turned down the ‘turn-ups’ making them appear a little more reasonable.
The Doctor took the two men to the station, and provided them with tickets to Odense. The men walked along the platform avoiding the station master, who was a Nazi sympathiser. Arthur followed Ivan onto the train and they stood in the corridor to avoid being drawn into conversation. At Veile they changed trains for Fredericia, where the Doctor’s brother, Herr Gullestrup Nielsen became Arthur’s new courier. Following at a discrete distance Arthur boarded the train to Odense – in the company of twenty German soldiers! The two men exchanged tickets, Arthur taking possession of the return half of Herr Nielson’s ticket to imply that he had already passed through control barriers.
On leaving the train at Odense the men headed for a park, crossed a road, and waited by a lamp for the next courier, Herr Tyrstner, who explained that Arthur was to meet Mr and Mrs Thygge Hansen, who ran a safe-house in Odense. They were collected by taxi and taken to the house where Arthur was introduced to an army officer who worked for the underground movement. The next day he was moved to the officer’s house and questioned by British agent, Peter Carlsen, to confirm his aircrew status. At eleven that night Aalf Willumsen, another agent, arrived and all three men bade farewell to their hosts and set off for the coast. After about two hours, they arrived at a large hospital where they joined a gathering of the local Resistance Group and were passed on to a Russian courier. Following a few hours of sleep, the men were greeted, at 0430, with breakfast prepared by the Russian’s daughter.
There was no-one to be seen during the cold, dark walk to the docks where the men searched along the quayside for the boat to take them to Zealand. A soft call in the darkness alerted them to a man on the deck of a small fishing vessel. Once aboard they were ushered onto the tiny bridge, the engines fired, and in the stillness of the night the little boat chugged out towards the open sea. The skipper was confident that it was unlikely they would be intercepted by German patrol boats because the area had been mined, courtesy of the RAF. A distant red light indicated their approach to Korsor and the men were sent to the cabin below while they entered the harbour; then they brazenly disembarked ‘under the nose’ of a German guard a mere four yards away, and walked into the town to be met again with their two agents.
A gas taxi took them onwards to Copenhagen – stopping three times for the driver to refill with water and charcoal. Leaving the taxi in the centre of Copenhagen, the men walked for a while before taking another taxi to the suburbs and a safe-house in a block of flats, which belonged to the brother of Peter Carlsen. Arthur was reluctant to sign the visitors’ book but when it was pointed out to him that the Gestapo Chief for Denmark had also signed the book, a suitable comment was written!
The next morning Arthur was due to be collected by another courier, who at the last minute was compromised and had to leave his home and ‘go underground’. Therefore a substitute courier took Arthur by taxi to Bagsvaerd, on the fringe of the city, to a mansion beside a large lake. The men were welcomed by Herr Duelund and his wife Alma. The courier departed and Arthur spent a very pleasant existence in the mansion for nearly a week; then the courier returned and took him to a small flat overlooking the shipyards, where he joined two American aircrew.
During the night the small group were entertained by their Resistance hosts with the story of how, in order to avoid a German search of the area, a previous group of evaders had been hidden for several hours in the back of a wagon parked right outside the Gestapo Headquarters!
While still dark, Arthur and his two companions were collected by car and taken to the boat yard, where, concealed alongside a fence, they waited to be taken aboard a small boat, one at a time. The group joined three other evaders already aboard, and all were hidden under a large tarpaulin.
Just before dawn the boat set off; as it became light the other evaders were revealed to be civilians, one a woman. She had recently been released after torture by the Gestapo, and her husband was a bundle of nerves. The other man was a renowned Resistance leader being chased by the Gestapo.
The journey to Malmo took about two hours. Two Swedish policemen took the fugitives to the police station, and after a medical, interrogation and food, gave them permits to travel the three hundred miles to their respective embassies in Stockholm. At the Embassy the Air Attaché congratulated Arthur on his escape and arranged accommodation for him in a hotel. He completed the final leg of his ‘home run’, flying the three hour journey from Bromma Airport to RAF Leuchars, in the bomb bay of a Mosquito. Six weeks leave followed, to recover from malnutrition and exposure – three of those weeks on double rations.