- Contributed by
- People in story:
- John Cann, Ron Storey, Bob Drongeson, Reg Feveyear, Bernard Taylor, Nik Zuk, Hugh Hill
- Location of story:
- RAF Kirmington, UK, and Auxerre, France
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 16 June 2005
The crew and ground staff of AZB (B649)
The aircraft AZ (B649), flown by Plt Off. John Cann and crew took off from Kirmington at 2120 hours. It was their 29th Operation and as they climbed away into the night sky they were thinking that after tonight, they only had one more trip to do.
Sadly, it was not to be. Their bacon and egg breakfast would go uncooked and it would be 45 days of excitement, danger and hardship before they set foot in England again, but they would be better off than many others as they would survive.
They were about an hour from the target when Reg Feveyear, the Rear Gunner noticed a series of small fires burning on the ground. They were spaced at fairly regular intervals on either side of their track. It suddenly dawned on him that they must be 'fighter flares' marking the flight path of the bomber stream to guide the enemy night fighters onto the bombers.
He reached up to switch on his microphone to warn the pilot and out of the night sky, cannon and machine gun tracer came streaming at him from dead astern. In the flashes from the fighter's guns, he could see the radial engine of a FW190. The tracers streamed passed his turret striking the aircraft further forward. Reg instinctively lined up his sights on the fighter and opened fire with his four machine guns. His tracers indicated that some of his fire was going into the FW190's radial engine.
The fighter sheared off and Reg raked his underside with another burst of fire. He then switched on his microphone to warn the pilot. His mike was dead, but he could hear the rest of the crew discussing the damage and speculating on how he had fared.
The damage was quite extensive. One engine was on fire; the undercarriage had dropped down on one side making the aircraft completely unstable. They could not open the bomb doors to jettison the bombs. The flames were streaming back down the full length of the fuselage and they knew that the aircraft could not remain in the air for much longer.
John Cann gave the order to bale out. They had, in the meantime ascertained that the Rear Gunner was unharmed. The Flt Engineer, Sgt Bob Drongeson, the Bombaimer, Sgt Bernard Taylor, Navigator, Warrant Officer Nik Zuk, Wireless Operator, Flt Sgt Ron Storey and the Mid Upper Gunner, Hugh Hill left the aircraft by the front escape hatch.
Reg Feveyear, Rear Gunner
The Rear Gunner climbed out of his rear turret, clipped on his parachute pack and tried to open the rear door, but for some reason it would not move. As he turned, he noticed to his horror that bright green smoke was pouring from the flare chute. The photoflash, which was still in the chute, was being baked by the flames from the burning wing and at any moment could explode. It did not occur to him that the bombs in the bomb bay must have also been getting quite hot too.
The Rear Gunner made his way forward. The pilot looked down and pointed to the front escape hatch. The Rear Gunner dropped down into the nose, sat on the edge of the opening with his feet in space and rolled forward out of the aircraft. He does not remember pulling his ripcord. The first indication he got that all was well, a sudden jerk as the parachute canopy opened.
It was a moonlit night so he could see the ground long before he reached it. He drifted over some trees and then made an almost perfect landing in a field. As he rolled forward his parachute canopy collapsed in front of him.
He bundled up his parachute and Mae West and hid them in a ditch and then made his way to a small wood about two miles away. The time was 0030 hours. He concealed himself in the undergrowth and went to sleep. It was daylight when he awoke, so he made his way to some houses, which turned out to be the village of LAINSECQ, On the way he met a farmer who took him to his house and gave him some bread and wine.
Later a Priest came and took him to meet his Mid Upper Gunner, Hugh Hill, who was hiding in a house nearby. He returned to the farmhouse and later that evening, a Captain of Maquis came and took them both to a Maquis Camp near ETAIS where they met up with three more members of their crew John Cann (pilot), Bob Drongeson (Flt Engineer) and Ron Storey (Wireless Op). This left only two crewmembers still unaccounted for.
John Cann, Pilot
John Cann, who was the last to bale out, landed in a field two miles north of THURY France unharmed, apart from the fact that he had lost his flying boots on the way down. Notwithstanding this handicap, he hid his parachute and Mae West and started walking north. After walking for about three-quarters of an hour, his feet became very sore so he lay down under a hedge and slept until daybreak.
He then began to walk in a southeasterly direction. In the afternoon, a man on a bicycle came up to him and asked him if he was RAF. He told him to wait as he cycled off. Soon, he returned with a Maquis Officer who took him on his bicycle to their camp in the forest near ETAIS where later he met up with four member of his crew.
Bernard Taylor, Bombaimer
The Bombaimer, Bernard Taylor, had landed in a field near ETAIS, hid his parachute, Mae West and flying suit under a thick hedge and started walking in a Southerly direction continuing till dawn. He then hid in a small wood and at dusk set off again, still heading South. The following day 27th of July, he again hid in a wood walking at night keeping to forest tracks.
To quell pangs of hunger, he ate berries from the trees and food from his escape kit. He continued like this for another day and a night, making no contacts and on the 29th of July, he was able to establish his position as 8kms West of VARZY and the following day he passed 1km West of CHAMPLEMY. On the 1st of August he called at a farmhouse where he received food and drink.
That evening he continued south and on the following morning had reached a position 2kms West of PREMERY. At 1700 hours when crossing the Route National from PREMERY to NEVERS, he was approached by five FFI men who offered him help. They took him to their camp near NOLAY.
On the 6th of August he was taken to another Maquis Camp, North of CHATEAU CHINION. The following morning a Maquis Officer took him by car, to the 1st SAS camp at OUROUX. On the evening of the 7th of August, the SAS took him by road to their HQs at CHALAUX. It was here that he met up with the rest of the crew.
Nik Zuk, Navigator
One of the remaining members of the crew, still unaccounted for, was the Navigator Warrant Officer, Nik Zuk RCAF. Nik baled out and landed in a field South of ST SAUVEUR (France). He hid his parachute and Mae West in a stook of corn and headed off in Westerly direction.
He walked all that day, except between dawn and noon when he hid and slept. When he woke up, he noticed two men working in the field close by and now as he was feeling very hungry, he decided to approach the two men. They turned out to be the farmer and son.
Nik explained who he was, with the help of his phrase list, and was taken to the farmhouse and given a good meal and they filled his escape kit water bottle with wine.
At 2100 hours, he set off again walking until 0200 hours when he hid in a wood and slept until dawn. He walked again until 1500 hours when he met a Frenchman sitting on the river bank fishing. This was northeast of LAVAU. At 1800 hours, a man and a woman arrived in a horse and buggy to collect the fisherman. After some discussion, it was decided that it would be safer for Nik Zuk to change clothes with the fisherman and travel back to the village of BONNY in the buggy with the man and woman, and the fisherman would cycle back to Bonny by the back lanes.
The French couple fed and hid him for the night. They sent a message to the local Maquis who, on the following morning 28th of July took him to their camp near LAVAU where he stayed until the 3rd of August when he was taken to the SAS HQs at CHALAUX. Here he was reunited with the rest of the crew.
Bob Drongeson, Flight Engineer
Sgt Bob Drongeson the Flight Engineer landed in a field near the village of LAINSECQ. After hiding his Parachute and Mae West in the wood he hid there till the next night. When it became dark he started to walk towards the village. For the rest of that night and the following day he hid in a barn. When it became dark, he set off in the direction of ST SAUVEUR. It started to rain so he took shelter in a wood until the following morning the 28th of July when he set off again.
About midday he stopped a boy on a bicycle, explained who he was and asked for help. The boy took him to a house in ST SAUVEUR where he was given food. Later a man called to tell him that John Cann, Ron Story, Hugh Hill and Reg Feveyear were safe and in a Maquis camp.
Bob Drongeson stayed the night in the house and next morning was given some civilian clothes and taken by car to the Maquis camp to join his four comrades.
Hugh Hill, Mid Upper Gunner
Hugh Hill, the Mid Upper Gunner, baled out and landed in a field behind a farmhouse at LAINSECQ. During the attack he had been hit in the face by flying splinters and although the wounds were superficial they were bleeding quite profusely, so he lost no time in asking for help from the farmer. After they had bathed and dressed his wounds, the farmer took him back to the field to collect his parachute and Mae West which he had hidden under a hedge.
The farmer and his wife put him to bed and later that night the Maquis Captain brought the Rear Gunner Reg Feveyear to see him. Later that night the Maquis Captain took them both into the forest to the safety of the Maquis Camp where he met up with the four members of the crew.
Ron Storey, Wireless Operator
Flt Sgt Ron Storey, the Wireless Operator baled out and landed in a cornfield North of the village of THURY. After hiding his parachute in a hedgerow, he set off in a southwesterly direction. He had not walked very far when he saw a barn. It was unlocked so he bedded down and slept till dawn. In the Escape and Evasion Lectures at the Squadron, he had been told that most French farmers were willing to help shot down Allied Airmen, so he went across the yard to the farmhouse and knocked on the door. When he explained who he was to the farmer, he was taken in and given food and drink.
The farmer contacted a member of the local Maquis who came and took him to another farm where he stayed for a few hours until another member came for him and took him to the Maquis camp at ETAIS. Here he was united with four members of the crew.
While at ETAIS, John Cann the pilot, received a message from a Captain Guthrie of the SAS suggesting that John and his other four members of his crew join him at the 1st SAS camp. Shortly after dark on the 30th of July a car came to take them to the SAS HQ at CHALUX. All five were given arms in case they were unfortunate enough to encounter any German patrols. When they arrived at CHALAUX, they were overjoyed to meet up with their Navigator, Nik Zuk and Bombaimer Bernard Taylor.
On Wednesday the 6th of September, John Cann and his crew left CHALAUX accompanied by the members of the 1st SAS who were returning to England. On the 8th of September, John Cann and his complete crew took off from ORLEANS and landed at RAF Middle Wallop later that day.
This must have been a Squadron record, if not a 1 Group record, that a Bomber crew can be shot down, all the crew successfully evade capture and return to England as a complete crew 45 days later.
Of course, none of this would have been possible without the unselfish help of the extraordinary brave French people. They faced certain death if caught helping an Allied Airman to evade capture and this applied to the whole family, but still they did it. Their innate bravery was beyond comprehension.
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