- Contributed by
- Paul Faircloth
- People in story:
- Leslie John Faircloth
- Location of story:
- Occupied France
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 06 September 2005
Leslie Faircloth in RAF uniform (1946).
This is the story of the escape of RAF Sergeant Leslie John Faircloth from occupied France in 1944. Leslie’s escapade lasted 44 days from the take off at RAF Wickenby in Lincolnshire on 28th June to his return to Whitchurch airfield near Bristol on 10th August.
The operation was a bombing raid on the Paris/Vaires railway yard at Vaires-sur-Marne on the eastern outskirts of Paris on the night of 27/28 June 1944. This was in support of the allied advance following the D-Day landings just three weeks earlier on 6 June.
The aircraft was an Avro Lancaster III (ND242, PH-G, call sign ‘G for George’) of 12 Squadron Bomber Command based at RAF Wickenby in Lincolnshire.
This was the crew’s 17th operation and was just past the halfway point of their full tour of 30 operations. The crew of ‘G’ for George were (role, rank, name and origin).
Pilot: Pilot Officer M.A. (Mike) Guilfoyle , RAF. Jamaica, West Indies.
Flight Engineer: Sergeant H.D. (Dai) Davis, RAF. Maesteg, South Wales.
Navigator: Warrant Officer 2 J. (Joe) Sonshine, RCAF. Toronto, Canada.
Bomb Aimer: Flight Sergeant J.S.J. (John) Stephen (John). Aberdeen, Scotland.
Wireless Operator: Warrant Officer R.E. (Bobby) Yates, RAAF. Sydney, Australia.
Mid Upper Gunner: Sergeant L.J. (Les) Faircloth RAF. Thornton Heath, near Croydon, South London.
Rear Gunner: Sergeant D.F. (Dougie) Jordin, RAF.
The aircraft took off for the raid on Vaires at 00:29 on the morning of Wednesday 28 June. The planned outward route was Wickenby (5000N 0030E) - Gravesend (4918N 0218E) - Vaires (4842N 0238E) and the return route was to be Vaires (4842N 0238E) - Littlehampton (4847N 0128E) - Wickenby (5000N 0030E).
The Lancaster dropped its bombs as planned between 03:00 and 03:06 but it had suffered critical damage during the journey to the target. With only one engine remaining and losing height rapidly, the pilot gave the order to abandon aircraft. All seven crew baled out and parachuted to the ground safely to the south west of Paris. Four evaded capture and three became prisoners of war.
The Flight Engineer Sgt Dai Davies was the first evader to return to Britain. Bomb aimer John Stephen, wireless operator Bobby Yates and mid upper gunner Leslie also evaded capture and returned home safely. The pilot Mike Guilfoyle, navigator Joe Sonshine and rear gunner Dougie Jordin were captured and became prisoners of war.
Details of Leslie’s Journey:
The following journey details have been transcribed from file reference WO 208/3321 report 2321. The document was compiled by M.I.9 at Leslie’s debriefing in London on 10 August following his return from Spain. The figures in brackets are map references added by M.I.9.
The details of my take-off up to the time of baling out on 28 June are as related by my flight engineer, Sgt. DAVIES (S/P.G.(-) 2059).
I landed in a field somewhere S.W. of PARIS and after walking about 100 yards hid my parachute, harness and Mae West. I walked for about an hour in a south westerly direction, and then lay low till daylight. I continued walking West, but about mid-day changed my mind and turned due East.
At about 1800 hrs (28 Jun) I saw a man working on a small allotment. I approached him and made my identity known. I had previously removed my battle dress and was in shirtsleeves. I found I was at GIF (N.W.EUROPE 1:250,000 Sheet 7, R 8926).
The man hid me in a hut, left me, and returned an hour later with food and wine, some old overalls, and a coat. I stayed in this hut that night and the whole of the next day and night. During this time the man brought me food and some straw to sleep on from his sister-in-law’s house, which was in the neighbourhood.
On 30 Jun the man and his wife took me to PARIS by train. They took me to their own house. On 30 Jun my host took one of my escape photos, and on 1 Jul a police inspector turned up with an identity card for me (my own photograph had been used) and a “carte de travail”. He returned on 2 Jul with a young man, who brought me a bread card.
On 5 Jul, I was taken to the Gare de LYONS. My host bought me a ticket to PERPIGNAN, and at 2100 hrs I boarded the train for PERPIGNAN, without any escort. I was on this train for five days.
Our route was:- NEVERS (FRANCE 1:250,000, Sheet 22, N 62) — MOULINS (R 77). We reached MOULINS at about mid-day 6 Jul, where a German officer and three N.C.O.’s boarded the train for inspection of identity cards. Mine passed muster without any comment.
We left MOULINS at about 1300 hrs and travelled via VICHY — CLERMONT FERRAND (Sheet 26, W 58) to LANGEAC (Sheet 31, G 91), which we reached at 1700 hrs 6 Jul. Here there was a hold-up till 8 Jul. We then continued via ALES (same as ALAIS (Sheet 36, J 30) and NIMES (Sheet 37, S 67).
On the way I was spoken to by a girl who, after some questioning, spotted me as being an Englishman. She was travelling with a member of the Maquis. The girl changed trains, but the man accompanied me on the train via MONTPELLIER (Sheet 41, s 24) to BEZIERS (R 71 and NARBONNE (W 59). We did not reach NARBONNE till 10 Jul. The people in PARIS had only given me food for one day. My new helper took me to his house at NARBONNE, and I was given a meal. He then took me back to the train, and I continued to PERPIGNAN on my own. My host in PARIS had given me the address of a hotel manager at PERPIGNAN. I found the hotel, and the manager passed me on to another café, who in turn passed me on to yet another café, but nobody could help me.
I decided to try and cross the PYRENEES on my own, and on 11 Jul walked inland towards THUIR (IBERIAN PENINSULA, 1:250,000, Sheet S 0880, G 2842). Then turning South, after having slept on the night of 11 Jul in the woods, to a point between LE BOULOU (G 33) and CERET (G 22). Here I was approached by a man who asked me if I was English. Being hungry and thinking he wanted to help me I said “Yes”, and he took me to a house. He disappeared and within ten minutes I saw him returning, followed by two Germans with rifles. I immediately left by the back door for the woods. I saw the Germans enter the house and come out and search the woods behind.
I turned S.E. and after sleeping somewhere near CERET crossed the frontier on 13 Jul and continued West of LA JUNQUERA (G 41) to POINT DE MOLINS (G 40), where I was picked up by a party of Spanish militia on Patrol. I told them I was a member of the R.A.F. and they took me to their headquarters, where I stayed the night of 13 Jul. They escorted me next day to FIGUERAS (G 40), where I was taken to the fort and after a brief interrogation to the prison (14 Jul).
I remained here until the evening of 19 Jul, when I was rescued by the British Vice-Consul from GERONA.
I stayed under parole in GERONA in a hotel, and on about 20 Jul taken to BARCELONA and from here via ALHAMA (staying till 28 Jul) to MADRID (staying till 7 Aug), and then to GIBRALTER, leaving GIBRALTER on 9 Aug and arriving WHITCHURCH 10 Aug.
Leslie’s parents received two telegrams from the Air Ministry Casualty Branch. The first was dated 4 July 1944 told them he was missing in action and the second dated 28 July 1944 telling them he was safe and in a neutral country. Leslie still has these documents.
Leslie’s forged French papers identified him as Henri Lebrun aged 19 of Savigny Sur Orge (Seine et Oise). While on the train to Perpignan these papers were examined by German soldiers and ‘passed muster’ without comment. The papers may have been forged but they were from an official source - they were provided by the French Police Inspector who visited Leslie at the house in Paris.
The flight engineer Sergeant H.D. (Dai) Davies was the first to arrive back in the UK on 29 July - just a day after the raid. He may he hitched a lift home in an RAF aircraft(Lysander?) that was flying back from a covert night-time mission in France. Details are in report M.I.9/S/P.G. (-) 2059 (copy not yet requested from the National Archive).
Leslie, like all RAF flight crews was equipped with a button compass and a silk map of France to help him navigate. He was also issued French Francs to use if shot down. Leslie’s escape money was confiscated by the Spanish Militia when he was arrested in Spain.
The British Vice Consul gave Leslie some money (around £12) for essentials while in Spain waiting to get home. Some months later Leslie received a letter from HM Government asking for the ‘loan’ to be re-paid. Welcome home hero!
Only two RAF aircraft were lost during the raid on Vaires on the night of 27/28 June 1944. Leslie’s aircraft was Lancaster ND242 of 12 Squadron and the other was Lancaster ME793 AR-G2 of 460 Squadron. ME793 was lost without trace and all of the crew were killed: Israel J.L., White L G, Hunken G H, Pester L E, Beckwith F W, Rouse A E, Krynski. This aircraft had served with 460 Squadron from 24th May 1944 to 27th June 1944 and had flown a total of fifteen 460 Squadron missions. They had taken off from RAF Binbrook at 00:42. All are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial alongside the river Thames to the west of London. Their average age was just 21.
The following is an extract of crash report AIR 14/1442, 'K' report 203. This report was compiled by the Operational Research Section (B.C.) on 29 July in an interview with the flight engineer Sgt H.D. Davies who was the first of the crew to get home. Although this is the official crash report Leslie does not agree with some of the details so this may not be the complete story.
1. The aircraft took off from WICKENBY to attack VAIRES Marshalling Yards. It was a clear night and there was a half moon.
2. The attack was scheduled to take place between 0300 and 0306 hours, and about half an hour before reaching the target, while flying at about 12,000 ft. the Lancaster’s starboard outer engine began to give trouble. The oil pressure went down slowly and when it was down to about 20 lbs./sq.in., the propeller was feathered. Just before feathering the coolant temperature was about 130 degrees C and the oil temperature was high. The propeller feathered normally and the Lancaster carried on to the target, possibly losing height slowly.
3. While over the target whitish yellow flames came from the exhausts of the port outer engine. The oil pressure was normal but the propeller was feathered as the coolant temperature began to rise. At about this time the bombs were released and almost immediately the starboard outer engine became unserviceable showing symptoms of an external coolant leak. The propeller was feathered at once.
4. The Lancaster was now flying on the port inner engine only and height was lost to 7,000 ft. in about 2 minutes. As the aircraft continued to lose height rapidly the Captain gave the order to abandon aircraft.
5. The Air Bomber, Navigator and Wireless Operator went from the front hatch and it is believed that the Rear and Mid Upper gunners left safely from the entrance door.
6. After the Wireless Operator had left the Flight Engineer un-feathered the starboard outer engine so that there was a better chance of the aircraft remaining steady while the Pilot left. He then left at once from the front hatch making a successful exit. He noticed before leaving that one of the petrol tanks (he does not remember which) had lost about 50 gallons of petrol.
7. While descending on his parachute he noticed that the Pilot had left the aircraft and was coming down safely on his parachute. He landed safely in open country at about 0340 hours.
8. After all the crew had left the aircraft, it caught fire, the starboard wing dropped and it swung off to starboard. It hit the ground and then exploded and continued to burn on the ground for some time.
9. The informant was not conscious of the aircraft having been damaged by enemy action, but he thinks it must have been hit at some time prior to the failure of the port outer and starboard inner engines — especially as he noticed that some fuel had been lost from one of the tanks. He does not think that the Pilot deliberately altered course after bombing, but it seems likely that the aircraft swung to starboard as the informant is believed to have landed in the south western outskirts of Paris.
Leslie did not fly on any further bombing operations with the RAF. He and the crew had taken part in seventeen combat missions. He became gunnery instructor and travelled widely around RAF bases in the UK training future gunners.
While stationed in Lincolnshire Leslie met his future wife Megan at a dance in Scunthorpe. Megan was visiting family in Scunthorpe from her home in Wrexham. Leslie was later promoted to Warrant Officer and left the RAF in 1946.
Leslie’s Paris host monsieur Louis Cotan wrote a letter dated 20 December 1944 asking if Leslie had returned safely. He provided Leslie with food, shelter and a train ticket to Perpignan. He also provided the critical contact with the French Resistance who provided false identity papers and other documents. Leslie stayed at monsieur Cotan’s house at 21 Passage Gatbois, Paris XII. The letter was only discovered after Leslie’s mother passed away in the early 1970’s.
Leslie’s next encounter with a Lancaster was in the late 1980’s when the Battle of Britain flight visited BAe Broughton, near Chester. The aircraft were parked up prior to the flying display and Leslie was invited on board by one of the flight crew. He had forgotten how difficult it was to climb over the main spar that bisects the centre fuselage. In 1944 he had to clamber over the spar from the mid-upper gunner’s position to bale out.
As Leslie had used the Irvin parachute he applied for and became a member of the Caterpillar Club. This exclusive club was formed the founder of the US parachute company Leslie Irvin. Leslie received a letter and Caterpillar badge from Leslie Irvin dated 8 December 1944. He still has the badge.
Leslie has not met any of his former crew since that fateful night over 60 years ago. He tried to contact Joe Sonshine by sending a letter to Joe’s girlfriend in Canada but the letter was returned unopened.
Related Documents and Photographs:
Copies of the original documents and photographs are available and have been scanned and saved.
1. Letter from Air Ministry - Missing in Action.
2. Letter from Air Ministry — Arrived in a Neutral Country.
3. Letter from Leslie Irvin — Caterpillar Club Membership.
4. Letter from M. Louis Cotan to Leslie’s Parents.
5. Evader report WO 208/3321 report 2069, M.I.9/S/P.G. (-) 2069 (Sgt L.J. Faircloth).
6. Crash report AIR 14/1442, 'K' report 203.
1. Crew with American Football Jersey.
2. Crew at Tail of Lancaster.
3. Crew in the Hay.
4. Leslie Portrait.
5. Leslie at Megan’s parents house near Wrexham.
6. Crew Hitching a Lift.
7. Crew in Front of Block No. 6.
8. Megan and Leslie 1946.
9. M. Louis and Mme. Cotan.
10. Paris/Vaires Marshalling Yard Devastated.
National Archive Files:
Copies of the following documents are held by the National Archive in Kew (formerly the Public Records Office).
WO 208/3321 report 2069, M.I.9/S/P.G. (-) 2069 (Sgt L.J. Faircloth). Copy received.
WO 208/3321 report 2059, M.I.9/S/P.G. (-) 2059 (Sgt H.D. Davies) . Not yet requested.
WO 208/3321 report 2321, M.I.9/S/P.G. (-) 2321 (W/O R.E. Yates). Not yet requested.
AIR 14/1442, 'K' report 203. Copy received.
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