It was uneasy feeling that must have fallen over the crew, the normal banter and joking seemed to be noticeably absent to Sgt. Barry Wilson-Law. The crew were unusually quiet as they took their positions in the Lancaster. It was the night of June 12th 1944, six days after the “D”-Day landings and the Moose squadron were to take part in operations against the vast railroad marshalling yards at Cambrai. A vital link in the German reinforcements and supply movements to fight back the Allied invasion.
As the crew all sat with their own thoughts, listening to the Merlins starting up, one of the Port engines failed to start and it was determined to be defective and the engines already started were shut down. The crew were assigned a standby aircraft, VR-S, a veteran of thirteen operations. A fact noted by Wilson-Law as he surveyed the aircraft that was to take them to their destination and hopefully safely home again.
As Wilson-Law described the events of that night many years later, the sense of dread was lifting and a feeling of some relief was running through him as the aircraft climbed away from the target area, headed to home. The area ahead of them was heavily defended and the aircraft needed height to avoid these defenses. Within minutes of beginning this maneuver the aircraft was hit by gunfire from an attacking German night fighter, the effect of enemy gun fire was the inner port engine was now in flames and these were spreading. The fire fighting system were proving to have little effect on the blaze engulfing the wing. Diving down in an attempt to put the fire out failed and brought them down very close to the ground.
With the bail out order given the front hatch was opened and Wilson-Law dove out of the hatch following the Bomb Aimer Roy Forbes. They both fell into the night. Sgt. Wilson-Law coming to rest in the middle of a corn field. Forbes was to land else where and begin his own way home. F/O Edward Ronnie Lowe had been right behind Wilson-Law but he and the other crew members of KB731 were all killed.
Sgt. Wilson-Law started to hide his kit leaving the chute and life vest behind and heading out of the field. Making his way as far from the crash sight as he could, as he had seen VR-S crash not too far from where he himself had landed. Making his way over a stream he found himself in the garden at the back of a house, which he approached with care. Stopping when heard voices and disturbing noises such as a sentry might make. Deciding to wait until day light before continuing on, hoping the day light would help in planning which direction to proceed he headed back to the garden area. With the arrival daylight and having consumed his emergency rations he made his way back to a corn field were he found not only a railroad platform guarded by German sentries but also straw bale sleeping quarters for the sentries. Taking a daring measure in lifting one of their shaving mirrors he also timed a daring 50 yard dash to get to a building before the guards could see him out in the open.
On reaching the new set of hedges he caught sight of a man planting in a garden. Wilson-Law tried to attract the attention of the man and eventually the man indicated that he had seen him. The man then slipped from sight, which must have been a scary situation. At some point later while he was crawling through the bushes of the hedge, he was pulled through the bushes and met for the first time Pierre Gillootes. With the aide of another man the airman was taken to a hiding spot in the barn and fed. With full knowledge of the dangers he was placing himself in, Pierre provided the clothing needed and had already done away with the airman’s uniform. As if to impress the danger of the situation the German’s came to the farm door looking for the Allied airmen they suspected was in the area hiding. It was time to leave. With a small stash of provisions and directions Wilson-Law was sent on his way to Lille. Along the way he was again helped by the local farmers in keeping headed in the correct direction and with food handouts, having lost his bundle of food while making a quick exit after seeing Germans enter the area were he had stopping to eat. Taking a bold move, he approached a group of men in a field. He had been lucky they provided in the next few days a hiding place a change of clothes and transportation to another village and yet another place to hide.
It was here he met up with two other airmen, both from the USAAF and amongst themselves they decided to head to Spain and avoid the battlefields to the North. With the help of the Maquis they traveled the dangerous route to freedom. It was at this point that Sgt. Wilson-Law came down with dysentery and could not travel. He remained sidelined by the disease for several days before he could move on. It appears that the two US airmen must have stayed as well for the three continued on together until the end of the journey.
Traveling with the Maquis they would also see the side of life mostly found in novels and movies but happening for real in all the occupied countries. While holding up in a Safe house a collaborator had been found to be giving information on the very Safe House he was staying at and the Maquis were holding him captive in that house. And so Wilson-Law was present when the man was taken away at gun point by the leader of Maquis by car to never be seen again .
On his journey through to Spain he was to see the no quarter given war between the Germans and the underground forces of France. Eventually the Spanish frontier was reached and the local Basque guides guided them safely through. Now after several months of freedom he along with his two traveling airmen friends simply know as Tom and Andy were left on their own once well inside the Spanish border. At some point they were arrested by the Spanish police, something I have seen repeated in many of the escape reports from this area. It most likely was some kind of arrangement between the Spanish and the Allies to help give the impression of the Spanish not helping the Allies. The men were later handed over to the Allies.
Spirited into Gibraltar by the Allied authorities and then send to the Normandy beaches to be further transported to Britain Lancaster KB731