So 60 miles an hour towards this bridge. And the Germans open up. And I swear, they fired six shots about four feet to our left and you could hear the tearing of the shots as they went by.
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Jim Moffat, born in Timmins, Ontario. I was a flying officer, graduated as an officer. Joined 427 Squadron at Leeming, [North] Yorkshire [England]. On our third trip, we were shot up and lost some of the staff. I moved from the mid upper [gunner] to the tail [gunner]. And on our 13th trip, which was to Nuremburg, we had a mid-air collision with a [Avro] Lancaster. And of the 15 people, I was the only survivor.
I was fortunate enough to make contact with the [Belgian] Resistance the following day. We were on a trip to Nuremburg and we were not supposed to fly in Germany in bright moonlight. But ‘Bomber’ [Arthur] Harris, the head of Bomber Command, wanted to make one more bombing raid in Germany before he handed over control to [General Dwight D.] Eisenhower because Eisenhower wanted to start bombing the railway yards and infrastructure in preparation for the invasion. And this was in March, the end of March.
As we were coming down from Yorkshire, and it was the habit of the pilot to go to the bathroom before crossing the [English] Channel into France, and so he asked for the bottle. And a few minutes later, the wireless operator, who sits underneath the pilot, said, “I’m sorry, skipper, I think we have a leak.” And I can visualize him, we can hear each other in the aircraft, I can visualize him testing whether it was oil, and he found out that the pilot had missed the bottle and had shorted out the navigation instruments and the wireless and everything.
Fortunately, the navigator had found that the winds were 100 miles an hour instead of 50 as broadcasted, so he made the corrections in his navigation route to the target. Unfortunately, he did not correct their route back from the target. On the way there, I was to report any aircraft I saw go down. In 20 minutes, I counted 22 and the pilot said, “Stop that, Jim, just keep your bloody eyes open.” And we made it to the target. We bombed. There was only one other aircraft going across, usually there’s 40 or so going across at a time. So we must have been a little late.
And the navigator gave the course for home, using the old 50 mile an hour winds, and after about an hour, he said, “I’m sorry skipper, I have to give you a correction course.” He discovered that he’d made a mistake. We turned 45 degrees to port to get back with the other 700 aircraft. I thought we should drop down four or five thousand feet because we were driving into 700 aircraft. But the pilot said, “No, we’re staying at this level, we don’t want to be an individual and attract the fighters.” Eventually, I heard him yell, “What the hell!” And there was a big crash. And a few minutes later, I see a Lancaster drift off behind me. He seemed to be flying straight and level and we seemed to be flying straight and level. I couldn’t make any communication, so I got out of my seat, went to the door, but the door was jammed. So I got back in, plugged in my oxygen and my electric suit and the communications and thought I’d better continue doing my duty. I didn’t realize that when two aircraft, who have propellers, crash together, there are no propellers left.
Anyway, I looked to the right, everything’s fine, I look to the left, and there’s no tail fin, so I thought, I’m getting out. I got out, put my chute on, the parachute is attached to the wall by bungee cord so you wear the harness. So I attached the suit, I stood up and realized there was no top on the aircraft. So I just stepped off the side of the aircraft and I was going down, there was no sign of speed of wind at all, just like a vacant, just like standing in a room. So I realized, I must be on an inside spin with the aircraft. So I kicked against the aircraft, went out into the darkness, opened the chute, a few minutes later, hit the ground. And I was very fortunate. The engineer had bailed out, I didn’t know this until after, and he landed in the trees and badly wounded by the branches and died 20 days later in hospital.
I was fortunate that I had delayed a few minutes so that I hit open space rather than the trees. You’re supposed to hide your parachute and run. I was tired and discouraged, I realized that everybody must be dead. I just picked up the chute, I didn’t even disconnect it. I just went into the forest, rolled up and went to sleep. Woke up next morning to the sound of church bells.
The next morning I woke up and I walked down to the crossroads and found out it was Halanzy, HALANZY [Belgium], and I didn’t know where that was. Eventually walked through this village and it was starting to snow. There was no snow on the ground, but the snow was melting as it landed and it was kind of cool. And I got to the end of the village, just about out of the village and three men ran up and said, “Prisonnier, prisonnier.” I thought, oh, they’re going to turn me over to the Germans because there was a big reward. But I see a man running up behind and he said, “I’m here to get you back to England, the Germans are right behind you, get behind the bloody hedge.”
So I spent the rest of the day behind the hedge and they came at darkness, took me into their home and burnt my uniform, gave me a bottle of beer and a bacon grease sandwich. And he said, “Can you ride a bike?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Follow that man, he can’t speak English, but he’ll point out where you hide and we’ll come around midnight.” So at midnight, they came and it was Vitel Paul and his brother, Albert. Albert and another gendarme came out of the forest and they took me into Vitel’s home. I stayed overnight. Next morning, they loaded me in a car, the two gendarmes in the front seat, myself and a British airman by the name of Jones in the backseat with Cécile Paul, Albert’s wife and their little baby, Monique.
We spent the next six weeks trying to learn French. They spoke no English and we spoke no French. We had no dictionary. But after six weeks, we had a good smattering of French. The only identification, I had false identity, my name was Charles Lebrun, because I had brown hair and Jones had Jacques Lenoir because he has black hair.
The Americans liberated us and I was wearing a German jacket, so they said, “You can’t wear that, I have a spare uniform.” So I wore an American lieutenant’s uniform with the badges and so on and a steel helmet and the most beautiful 15 shot 30 calibre rifle I’ve ever seen. And we were in the back of a Jeep. There were five Jeeps and an M8 [Light Armoured Car] and we went looking for bridges that were not down, and we saw one in the distance. So there was a roadside tavern. So we said, “Go in there and find out if the Germans are there.” So I go in, they said, “Oh yeah, be careful, there’s lots of Germans on the other side of the river, the bridge is mined, and they have a gun.” So I tell the lieutenant and he said, “Oh, they’re full of it, let’s go.”
So five Jeeps and an M8 with an automatic 37 millimetre, 60 miles an hour towards this bridge. And the Germans open up. And I swear, they fired six shots about four feet to our left and you could hear the tearing of the shots as they went by. We stopped, turned around, ran back and he radioed his report and he was instructed to go to a town called Momignies [Belgium] on the border of Belgium and France. We arrived there and the bridge was down in the water and he said, “Go in and find out if the Germans are gone.” So I go in and this lady said, “Oh yes, they left this morning. But tell the lieutenant to bring some shovels and some soldiers, I’ll show them where the champagne is.” So we dug up about 20 bottles of champagne. And if you drink enough, you can walk four feet off the ground.