John Morrison

John Morrison

  • 28th April 1942
  • Sgt RAFVR – W/Op, Air Gunner
  • 35 Sqn, RAF Kinloss
  • Halifax ll W1053
  • Target: Tirpitz, Foettenfjord, Norway

35 Squadron Operations Log recorded, ‘Nothing heard from this aircraft from time of take-off’. Halifax W1053, with 1st wireless operator/air gunner John Morrison, was one of two 35 Squadron aircraft missing that night.

Morrison’s plane had flown over their target at 150ft, and John later described the attack as ‘going into the entrance to hell’. The aircraft flew into a German smokescreen. The Halifax was fired on from Tirpitz, other ships, AA batteries on land and every weapon available, both shell and tracer. The Tirpitz turned through 90 degrees and the aircraft turned and went in for another go. This time the aircraft took many hits. The Pilot, Johnny Roe, calmly told the crew he was heading for Sweden. The mines were jettisoned as the flames increased and the crew prepared for a crash landing.

The aircraft came down east of Lake Movatnet. John staggered out and, with Navigator Reg Williams, rescued the badly injured Flight Engineer, Denis Butchart, from the flames. All three were injured. Other crew members, who had escaped through the front window, headed off towards Sweden. A man, who had witnessed the crash, appeared out of the darkness and indicated to the men that they should go to his home. The man, Ingvald Arnstad, a mechanic working for the forestry department, lived at Sormo Farm, the home of John and Anna Sormo. The Sormos sent their son Egil for an English speaker.

Concerned that the Germans would soon reach the farm, and not wishing to compromise their helpers, John requested that they got Dennis to a hospital and explained that he and Reg needed to head to Sweden. Their wounds were dressed, sandwiches provided and clothing issued to cover their uniforms. A local doctor arranged for Dennis to be taken to a shop in the town and for the Germans to be called to collect him. Later, the Germans called at the farm to question John and Anna, who failed to mention John and Reg, only the injured man who they had passed on to the Germans.

In the cold night, John and Reg walked through the deep snow. By morning they had reached a lake and found a mountain refuge hut, which they broke into. It containing beds and food and they slept for about fourteen hours. On the 30th April they set off again, leaving behind money from their escape kits to pay for the broken lock. On the 1st May they reached Vikvang Farm in Inndalen. The family, Mette and Odin Vikyang, who had ten children, were very obviously frightened, but provided food and drink for the men before their eldest son, Ola, directed the men towards Sweden. By now Reg was suffering with extreme pain from his burned hands so they decided to move to a mountain road on lower ground for easier walking. It was the wrong decision! A German patrol picked up their footprints and they were arrested six miles from Sweden.

After being held at Lavanger and Frondheim, the pair were taken to Germany. John was interned in Stalag Luft 3, 6 and Stalag 357; later John was forced to participate in the Long March from Stalag Luft 3 into Germany.

Fifty-eight years later, when John returned to thank the families at the farms, he was presented with his old flying helmet and learned that, to gain time for the flyers to escape, a farmer had sent the Germans in the wrong direction. In 2010 John accompanied a group of Yorkshire students on an educational re-enactment of the Long March from Poland into Germany.

John Morrison died in March 2012.