Bill Evan's veteran story

Bill Evans enlisted in Adelaide on 15 August 1942. After training in Australia, he was sent to England. Initially, he served in No 166 Squadron, RAF, then transferred to No 625 Squadron, RAF.

Bill was commissioned as a wireless operator on 1 March 1944. He flew in Wellington and Lancaster bombers and participated in 17 operational flights.

Returning from a mission over Vierzon in France on the evening of 30 June 1944, the Lancaster in which Bill was flying was attacked by a night fighter. The enemy plane made three attacks and the Lancaster's wings caught fire. Bill remembered the fire spreading rapidly. The crew was ordered to bail out at about 2000 feet (609m). Bill recalled the tail gunner and mid-upper gunner as not being able to escape, but the captain and four other crew managed to get out.

Bill parachuted into a forest. After walking some distance, he came into contact with French civilians who contacted the Resistance. He was collected by the Resistance and remained with them for over a month, along with other lost airmen, until the Americans liberated the area. He recalled not being able to provide much in the way of intelligence when debriefed as he had seen no enemy movements while in hiding.

Bill was discharged on 20 August 1945.

World War II veterans (RAAF)

Transcript

Motivation for enlistment

Bill: I wanted to defend my country, period, you know. My Australia was being threatened up the North there. This was in 1942 and I just felt that it was my duty to do it. Yeah. Apart from the fact that I liked flying, you know, but my main reason was to defend my country of course.

Phil: Well I'm quite small and I didn't want to get in among those rough blokes and I looked at all the army, navy and air force and I didn't want to get dirty so I joined the air force. That was the biggest mistake I made.

Bill: Did you get a shock?

Phil: Yes

Bill: I bet you did.

Phil: A big one. Particularly unarmed training at Brickley Bay.

Bill: Unarmed training? What's that all about?

Phil: Unarmed. You had to crawl along a muddy track which by this time was mud and barbed wire over our head and they're firing shots over you. I didn't know they were expert shots but it frightened the Hell out of me. You couldn't put your backside up, you got caught on the wire but when you got to the end you dived out and you ran to a creek and there was a rope hanging up and you said 'Okay', grab the rope and swing across the creek but everybody would fall in, the rope was covered with mud and you'd slip right down. It wasn't a very pleasant experience, believe me.

Flimsy 'Wimpy's' and flak

Phil: The first time was on Campagne and one of the gunners said 'Oh, look skipper, there's flak. Let's get closer and see what it's like.' So we did and one burst alongside us and ripped all the fabric off the side. Gee it was cold but we never deliberately went near the flak after that.

Bill: Yeah, they were flimsy weren't they, those Wimpy's, you know, it was just fabric, it wasn't armoured plated steel.

Phil: The framework was that…They were very strong really. The trouble was that when you went over 10,000 feet you had to have the oxygen and in the winter you had to go and pump oil every half hour. You used to carry a bottle of oxygen with you. If you dropped it you were in trouble.

Discomfort for the crew

Bill: I'm a bit of a coward, I suppose. I had a lovely little chair in the wireless operators' seats. There was the pilot, the navigator, then us and we had a little compartment with a window which was wonderful and you could look out, you know, and if things got a bit rough down there, you know, and if it looked horrible I just pull the curtain. Would you do that? Or did you look out all the time?

Phil: I got up in the astrodome and have a good view.

Bill: Oh no. I was on the radio to see if there was any urgent message.

Phil: It was dead cold up there. We had the heat coming off the port engine but it came right in alongside of me and, well, it was boiling on that side and freezing on that side, you know.

Bill: So, what did you do?

Phil: Shift[ed my] bum.

Bill: You'd turn it down and the poor pilot up the front would complain. He wasn't getting any heat.

Phil: The poor gunners there, they didn't have heat. They…

Bill: They'd plug into…

Phil: They had like electric blankets in their suits.

He was only nineteen

Phil: There was, up near Flushing Island, opposite Antwerp, and it's below sea level, and around it there was a big dyke and on the dyke there was a German gun emplacement and they were shelling Antwerp and we had to go and put an end to it.

There were twenty-five planes, we were the leading plane and the instructions given to the bomber was if the flak was not too bad, he was to drop a sighting bomb for accuracy.

Anyhow, he dropped it and that woke all the Germans up and they start firing. So the other twenty-four planes dropped their load and got the Hell out of it.

We had to go round in a big circle and come in again, well I was up in the astrodome and you could see the fire coming closer and closer and at last it hit the tail and knocked half the tail off and knocked the gunner as well, took all the hydraulics and that and the wheels were hanging down and the flaps were down and the pilot, Bill, he nursed that plane right back there.

We were nearly an hour late getting back and when you get back to England there's only two places you can cross the coast and you have to have a code to get in.

Well we were so late that the code had changed and they wouldn't let us in and they sent up two fighters and escorted us in so that's how still got back but we lost a little English bloke. He was dreamy and he was a lovely little fella and he was only nineteen. So it was, you know, terrible, but anyhow, that was what happened.

Death of rear gunner

Bill: On our twelfth trip, the first time I'd been to Germany, we went to a place called Gelsenkirchen, and very successfully, we thought, we dropped our bombs and coming home, two, no, one JU88s attacked us.

Our rear gunner carried out his job beautifully.

He told us to dive to port and to dive for starboard and corkscrew and doing all this and anyhow we got rid of this plane and it didn't get us and so we were all uptight, I suppose, the fact that it was the first time we'd seen an enemy aircraft so close and anyway we landed or we were about to land and we hit the ground with the two front wheels and the back one, I don't know what happened but the tail wheel came off or something and the plane just went, doing, in halves on the runway and of course the poor old rear gunner, I think he was so excited at having done so good a job, got out of his or was getting out of his turret as we landed and his head hit the handles and killed him.

ME262: The first jet plane

Phil: The first time I ever saw a jet plane was in Germany near Berlin and we thought it was a plane with its tail on fire because a big sheet of flame used to come out. Anyhow it was coming straight at us. Bill and the engineer pushed forward and we dived and we were floating. Then they tried to pull it out because we still had a big load on. The navigator, ah, the engineer and the pilot both eventually got it out. We continued on and dropped our bombs. It was terribly windy and we couldn't... and the engineer pulled down the navigator's curtain, they had a black out curtain and he was sitting on that and at last he stood up and said his bum was cold and as he stood up he said 'Hey skipper.' He said 'I'm outside.' 'What do you mean outside?' We'd blown the top off the thing. We were getting the full draught right the way through.

Bill: You lost the canopy did you? Or the ceiling.

Phil: Oh gee it was cold.

Landing in fog

Phil: It was always hard to land those planes. They were only bomb carriers, nothing else, you know, they were a remarkable plane.

Bill: But what you say, it was very clever of the pilot to get that plane down wasn't it ay.

Phil: When you come in to fog trying to land, you couldn't see and the only thing that would shine up was the fires, the kerosene flares that, right down, you couldn't see those but just the glow and you tried to come down and the heat the kerosene used to send you up so you'd come down.

Bill: You probably don't understand that but this kerosene was a light on the side of the runway and cause if fog was there or something and you couldn't see. In order to mark out the runway these lights would come on, kerosene flares, weren't they?

Phil: They used to send up a heat and it's pushing you up.

D-Day support and diversion

Bill: We must have had 14.000 pounds of bombs on board including a big one, I guess, and we couldn't see a ruddy thing. All we could see on the radar was lots of little blips and these were ships, boats, anything on the water showed up, you see, and it was a mess, an absolute mess. We had pathfinders. They were the men who came in first, dropped their markers, and they would tell the rest of the bombers to bomb a certain coloured light and we would do that. Anyway we dropped our bombs on these lights which we were told to do. We couldn't see what was below and it wasn't until we were coming home that, across the channel, we saw visually all the blips and they were boats, you see an when we got back we were told we were the first to bomb on D-Day and that was quite interesting and then again, that night, we went on another one and did the same thing.

Phil: We had to go on diversionary plans up North of D-Day and made ourselves as nuisance as we could to draw all the fighters and Germans away from what was happening. We were quite excited by the whole thing. From the air we could see in the distance all the water craft there. It was amazing and then there was a 1050 planes went over.

Bill: That must have been a sight. Of course you'd seen them before but not that numbers.

Phil: It took them hours to go through. All the planes and then these huge gliders. They'd carry a couple of hundred men, about three tanks. They used to let them go and where they landed that was it. I wouldn't have liked to be in them. They were only made of plywood.

Bill: They tell me on the continent there, you know, as the troops were assembling and going along, there were hundreds of these just left there, you know, and they were strange things. If they were lucky enough to land at a drome then of course they would come in and stop, no running along. It looked very strange.

Bailing out

On our twentieth trip we went to a place right on the far eastern side of France on the German border and coming back we, out of the blue, came two fighters, apparently, which we didn't see and they came from underneath up front I guess because none of our gunners could see them.

Next thing as far as I was concerned, I was sitting there waiting for a message and there was this awful noise and I could see bullet holes next to me and there was flame and we carried a thing called, a target indicator I think it was called, about that size, and it issued smoke and it was for dropping and the navigator would take a bearing from the smoke.

Well that got hit in the plane and it was just a mess, you know. Next thing, next thing the pilot said, you know, abandon and anyway I could see our rear gunner, our upper gunner there and I tried to get him out but couldn't. He must have been hit.

We had several attacks and there was no response from the rear gunner so we thought he must have got hit too.

The plane was on fire and a very fast fire it seemed because we had no engines at all because on the first attack we lost two engines and on the second we lost the other two.

So, he we are with four engines on fire. What does one do? Well the pilot said 'Abandon ship' and so we did and that was it.

I jumped out and lost a shoe on the way down and just landed in a forest in the middle of France.

The French Resistance, part 1

Bill: I was shot down and during the night or day I just stayed in this forest or walked a short distance from it.

There were fields all around and a couple tracks which crossed and I saw some men riding their bicycles along one track and they looked like farm workers and I took a chance.

I said 'Yes. They're farm workers.'

So I walked along the track and they were met by more farm workers who were coming on another track which crossed and there we were in a bunch down here, about ten of us I suppose and I just said 'Ou et les Pyrenees?' I thought I'd walk to the Pyrenees.

I said 'Which way? This way, this way, this way?'

They said 'No. No.'

I said 'How many kilometres the Pyrenees?'

They said 'Six-hundred.'

And I said 'Thank you very much.'

And nobody offered any assistance.

So I said 'Merci. Thank you. Bon voyage.'

And off I went. 600Ks to the Pyrenees.

Well I suppose I went about one kilometre, this is out in the country, way out in the country and suddenly I met two ladies. They were at a farm and I went in, they said 'Come in'. I took a chance, I really did.

They were friendly, you know, because sometimes we had, what do you call those people?

Informers out there, all over France, you know, there were spies and things but anyway I took a chance and they said 'Come in'.

I stayed there, they put me in a loft and they said 'We'll get some assistance.' So they did some homework and rang and carried on and they said 'A bloke will come here and take you to a forest which is safe and the plane will come from England and take you back.' I thought, fair enough.

This sounds really good and anyway during the night a bloke arrived on a cycle, he said 'Follow me.'

I haven't told you yet, did I tell you about my shoe? I lost a shoe on the way down and they got me this big size 19 or whatever it was and I put it on and had to walk and, of course, I got cramp in the groin but that was alright. I had to walk all night and they were taking me to this place where you're going to get help and they took me to this castle where I met the underground people, the Resistance. The Resistance.

Yeah. And oh the blood thirsty looking men. They were dreadful, really. Beards and swords and everything. Anyway I was a bit scared but they gave us something to eat and there was another guy there and he said 'Come on. I'm taking you to safety.'

The French Resistance, part 2

Bill: Two members of my crew had been rescued by the Resistance and they came to this castle too and this bloke said 'Look, I will go ahead on my bicycle and you three come along.'

The three of us went along and fortunately my other two friends helped me because I couldn't walk and we didn't see anyone. Oh, we saw two soldiers, that's right, and we just passed them, sort of said 'How do you do?'

This is out in the country, you know. Very strange. And they said they were going to take us to safety.

Oh, it's marvellous. Anyway, they took us to a railway station, a little railway station, Fontenbleu or something and there we met a bloke who spoke English and he was sitting at a radio and he was the Resistance leader for the area and, you know, it was absolutely amazing and we couldn't get over it and he said 'Oh, it's a good camp. We've got a chef from Paris there and he does all the cooking and it's really nice and he said 'In a short time a little aircraft will come over and take you back two by two.'

Anyway we got into the centre of this forest and there we met other men who had been there for some little time and we told them what was said and they said 'Yes. Bull.'

It never happened and I was in the forest for nearly two months and we had droppages. England knew we were there, Intelligence, and they would arrange droppages from an aircraft. They would drop some food, that sort of stuff, you know, and clothes. It was very, very strange.

The first droppage we had from an aircraft was, what would you expect? I would have expected food. Remember this is from England. Lice powder. Can you imagine? Here we were waiting for a lovely meal and we get lice bloody powder. Well England expects every man to be clean and healthy, you know, what better than lice powder to keep you that way.

Liberated by Americans

We had several droppages but they were mainly just clothes, you know, because most of us were in our uniforms still and they dropped trousers and stuff like this but relief never came until the Americans came up from the south of France, in the second front, and they rescued us on 14 August I think it was, 1944, and we were taken back to the Channel ports to go back to England on trucks and things during which time there were two trucks and we were going back.

Anyway, they were driven by black men, Negroes, sorry, and they drive very fast and they went around a bend, the first truck, and all these men who were similar to me, you know, evaders, were thrown out, every one of them.

They finished up in a paddock and one bloke had his bottle of champagne and it didn't break, yeah. Anyway, no one was injured, you know, it was absolutely amazing because there would have been twenty of them who all went out of this big, big truck. Anyway, we went back. Oh no, we stayed in a POW camp and I've never seen so many men in my life. There were thousands. I think there was about sixty thousand or something captured on the peninsula there.

They were all in big paddocks and all the men were here and the officers all up in a corner together which I thought was very strange.

Anyway, from there we went back to Bayeux and they sent us, or they had a Dakota and we were taken back to England and interrogated there. I couldn't give them much information, you know, and I felt dreadful. Here I was, I'd been to France and the war was going on over there and I had no helpful information about troop movements or anything. I hadn't even seen a troop, you know.


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DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) ( ), Bill Evan's veteran story, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 24 July 2024, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/stories/oral-histories/bill-evans-story
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