207 SQUADRON ROYAL AIR FORCE HISTORY
The Solly Crew EM-M LL973
Eddie Chapman bales out
The Solly crew were shot down, it is believed by a Schräge Musik fighter, inbound to Wesseling on 21/22 June 1944. Eddie Chapman was the Bomb Aimer. A retired farmer, he now lives in New Zealand.
With his wife and daughter joined a 207 Squadron RAF Association visit to Belgium in May 2005 as part of the commemoration of the ending of WW2. Also on the visit was Frank Haslam snr and his wife and son, (the editor).
This is a transcript of what Eddie told those on the visit of his recollection of being shot down and captured. The group had just visited the crash site of his aircraft near Dorne, Belgium.
You may remember the story of the Prodigal Son, well that's me. After the war I trained at Agricultural College and then went out to New Zealand, where I met and married Jill, who was from Birmingham! I believe I have returned home less of a Prodigal than when I left. I think that's due to my wife -she and Jayne my daughter, who are with me, they will confirm if I have behaved myself since.
Going back to that night of 21st/22nd of June 1944 - I was the Bomb Aimer, lying in the nose. We were pushing out Window, the metallic strips which upset the German radar, although I believe it was not having the effect at that time that it had earlier on. They had found methods of combatting it. The first indication that we were in trouble was when I heard a lot of clunk, clunk, clunk and that obviously was the fighter firing into the fuel tanks (on the port side).
Then I heard a lot of commotion and Arthur [Barton] the engineer, was sitting alongside the pilot, working out the feathering of the port engines. At one time it appeared from the conversation that the port outer [fire] had been put out, but that they were having trouble with the port inner. Then I think the fire progressed more and flared up in the port outer again. That's where all the hydraulics are controlled, the Germans always knew where to be most deadly.
We continued on for a while, didn't seem to be any panic or anything, and then I heard the command from Mike to say "Jump, Jump, good luck." Of course me being in the nose it was my duty to get the escape hatch open and the others [at the front] to follow me. I put on my parachute, which was just beside me and made a point of finding where the [ripcord] handle was first, because I had heard stories of chappies coming down thinking that the handle was to the right, so that they could use their right hand but they had put it on incorrectly and died without pulling the ripcord.
Once I was out I was a bit paralysed about looking to the left or right. My head remained upright after I realised I was floating, after the canopy opened. I was being as sick as a dog, but I was also saying the Lord's Prayer continually. I was panicking a bit because I was not happy anywhere that there was water. I though I was drifting out towards the sea! You couldn't measure any distance because we were above a layer of cloud. Gradually I was coming down and once I got through this cloud, within a few seconds I had come through the trees ... as you must remember, looking at all that area today, it's far different from what it was - it was trees of different ages.
I came down - I couldn't have landed in a better spot - the canopy was stuck on the top of these trees which were probably about 8-10 years old, so there was no hanging in branches, I came straight through, but I couldn't get the canopy off the trees, they were too high and it was all caught up, so I just had to abandon that.
There was a Fieseler-Storch [German spotter aircraft], it came over the next day and obviously he'd seen it - if they sent people to look for me in that area I never saw them. Anyway, there I remained that night, but I was so peeved because prior to take off we had had 'Housey' in the Mess and I was laden with silver, it was bulging in my pockets - I rather think we shouldn't have carried it.
Also the planes started to come back after an hour or two, going back home. I could hear them going back home and I thought, by God! Within a couple of hours of leaving the Mess I was on enemy territory. I was wondering about the rest of the crew as well, what might be their situation.
For the first day I thought I should get a bit further inland before I made any contact with any of the Belgian people. I had a hazy idea that the closer you were to Germany the more the people might be influenced [to be unfriendly] - maybe I was over cautious. However it wasn't to be.
I went on for a day or two by night and got somewhere near As (where we have just come through on this coach). Around the 21st/22nd June was the longest day and the moon was full bright, and not a breath of fresh air. When you walk in a wood or a forest like that and you put your foot on a little twig, it cracks and resonates right through the area. I was partly in the forest and partly near a road.
I was, I suppose, a bit slap-happy, taking a chance, being so near a road. I heard voices and I stopped in my tracks and waited for a couple of minutes or more and heard no more, so I started to move on. I heard these voices again and stopped. They appeared to fade but the next moment I moved on I was surrounded by three or four bods. I'm not certain who they were, they were not very efficient soldiers as I thought, perhaps they were some Home Guard. There was a German in charge of them
They took me up above what I thought might have been a Post Office, in some room where they held me. The kids in the village came to see this airman and I remember throwing out all my silver to these kids, who really enjoyed receiving it. I was held there for a while, then I was taken on a motor cycle, sitting in the side car, with German with a machine gun at the back.
I was taken to Hasselt and it was a Sunday and with the crowds in the streets we had difficulty getting through at times. I did think at one time I'll jump out and make a dash for it, but then I weakened at the knees on that - I envisaged that I might run away and the machine gun would open up and perhaps hit some of the population - anyway I didn't do it.
Then I was moved on to Brussels. In either Brussels or Hasselt, I'm not too sure, looking in the cell I noticed "Peter Loakes has been here", of course that's typical of Peter, our Rear Gunner, he always wanted to demonstrate his prowess! So I knew that at least he was safe.
Then on to Dulag Luft where I got interrogated again, but they seemed to know about 207, they told me who the crew was. After that for about 10 days, we were taken by rail, by three or four older German soldiers, who were 'good types' as we say - they played everything by the book - stuck to the Geneva Convention to the letter. It was the younger ones with the Gestapo type of mind who were the trouble. It was a bit tough going through some of these main stations and getting off and changing, and being held in the area were the passengers were. We felt not too comfortable at times, we 'Gefangeners', if there had been a raid. The German soldiers' duty was to guard the prisoners and they did it pretty efficiently.
We ended up in the last prison camp to be built, Luft VII, which is the farthest out in Poland, my number there was 252. There we remained until the Russian Army started to get close and the Germans decided to move us towards the West. They thought they would get better treatment if they took us to the Americans or British. Once across the River Oder, the Russians really started to move. We went through Luft III (of the Great Escape) and then we were marching at night in terrible conditions, many degrees below zero.
There was tragedy all along the line - although most of us were young chappies in the prison camp, there were some older men brought along who had been in for four years and included some who had been in the Army before the war. They had suffered pretty much in some of the camps before getting to us, as far as lack of food. They were the ones that had far more physical weakness than we had, we were young bucks of 21 and after several months we were still living on our own fat of being well fed in the Mess with two or three extra eggs, bacon which civilians didn't get, when we took off and our treat when getting back.
© CE Chapman 2005
last update 30 Jul 05