George Neale's Prisoner of War camp.George Neale
George Neale's Goldfish Club membership card , which was given to Airmen who successfully ditched their aircraft into the sea.George Neale
George Neale's crew in front of their Halifax.George Neale
A Handley Page Halifax after a belly landing in England.George Neale
An announcement in George Neale's hometown newspaper after he went missing over Europe.George Neale
"I always had a wild streak in me and I guess that’s why, along with the other two pilots, we decided that it was too calm just going up and down the coast, so we decided we might do a sneak raid crossing the Channel on Le Havre"
One good thing about the war, I met two very fine pilots. One was from Southern Rhodesia [former British colony now Zimbabwe] and the other one was from Australia. And the one from Australia was called George Bernard Shaw, which always amused me because that’s a famous name in the poetry line. In any event, the three of us were all together flying and we were in the [Bristol] Beaufighters squadron patrolling up and down the English Channel. Now, you probably couldn’t remember about this, but that’s a very boring job for a pilot and especially one 18-19 years old, who was rather, I always had a wild streak in me and I guess that’s why, along with the other two pilots, we decided that it was too calm just going up and down the coast, so we decided we might do a sneak raid crossing the Channel on Le Havre [France]. Now that was really against all orders because when you’re with detail [meaning coastal patrol], but with a British squadron, you are not really allowed to think anything for yourself. You are supposed to do what they tell you to do. So this one thing, the three of us, the three Beaufighters, swarmed across the Channel to Le Havre, which was fully occupied by the Germans. We had a wonderful time! I call it wonderful now because I know how exhilarated I was when I saw Le Havre coming up, and we were flying very low, 200-300 feet, which managed to escape the German radar. We swept in on Le Havre and took them completely by surprise, shot everything we could see in sight, the three of us. And then after we had been there maybe ten or 15 minutes we turned and headed back to England.
On that trip back, the navigator I had in the Beaufighter, – there are two people in the Beaufighter, the pilot and the navigator – we got about 20 minutes across the Channel when the navigator said, “I’m sorry, Skipper, we must have been hit by flak over Le Havre and we are going to have to ditch in the English Channel.” That was very exciting in itself because I had never ditched before. So we went for a few more minutes then we decided there was no getting around it, we would have to ditch. We ditched and the Beaufighter had a salt water release so that the minute you hit the water, out pops your dinghy. And we pulled over and swam to the dinghy and the Beaufighter, which was a very heavy aircraft, just sank like a stone into the Channel. One good thing about it, I thought, well, nobody is going to blame us because they will never find any proof that we were over to Le Havre because everything will be at the bottom of the English Channel, which we got a silent joke out of it. Now, my other two buddies, we all had agreed that if anything happened to one of them, the other two would fly up north so that whatever we said happened, they would back it up. As a result, we were lucky that the wind was blowing north to England, so after a few minutes we decided to try and row ourselves back with the little paddle that comes in the dinghy. And we got, oh, I guess about half way across and we were all very wet and excited. I have thought afterwards, since being home after all these years, they should have a rope tied to the Beaufighter with your dinghy because, really, when the Beaufighter landed in the water and the dinghy came out, you had to swim like mad to get to the damn dinghy! So we decided that’s what we would make a point of.
Well, we got picked up by the Air-Sea Rescue and by the time we got to the squadron, it was about two weeks later, suddenly headlines in the British papers said, “Sneak crew by the RAF [Royal Air Force] on the Port of Le Havre.” Oh, everybody was all excited about this, all except my squadron. They said, “Now, we didn’t give any orders for a sneak raid on Le Havre.” So what’s going to happen? Well, they did an inquest and they found out that we had gone on our own and they were quite annoyed about this, the RAF. So they decided they were going to reduce me down from flying officer down to sergeant pilot and put me two weeks in the clinker, which is the jail! When I got out from there, I had more orders, written orders, from someone saying, “This guy is too wild to fly Beaufighters. Put him on to [Vickers] Wellingtons.” So we then transferred to a Wellington squadron. And from Wellingtons – we did a couple of raids on that – then we went to the big squadron, Halifax 419 Squadron [meaning they used the Handley Page Halifax bombers], which was called the Moose” Squadron because it was formed in Canada many years earlier. So as a result, we got transferred then to the 419 Squadron.