The Forest Of Freteval
Liberation At Hand
Ian Ronald Murray was born in Mildura on
10th December, 1923. He enlisted in the R.A.A.F on the 10th
December, 1941(his eighteenth birthday), but was not
called in for duty immediately.
In March, 1942, he was called up to the C.M.F. and served until
June, 1942, in the 112th Light Anti-aircraft Regiment, stationed
at the Werribee Racecourse.
His transfer to the R.A.A.F was processed on the 17th June, 1942.
17th June, 1942, 1 I.T.S. (Initial Training School.), Somers,
15th October, 1942, 2 A.O.S. (Air Observer School), Mt
Gambier, South Australia.
7th January, 1943, 2 B.A.G.S. (Bombing & Gunnery School), Port
Pirie, South Australia. (Fairy Battle).
8th March, 1943, 2 A.N.S. (Astro Navigation School), Nhill, Victoria. (Avro
7th July, 1943, Arrived in England.
24th August ,1943, 4 A.F.U. (Advanced Flying Unit), West Freugh, Scotland. (Anson).
28th September, 1943, 28 O.T.U. (Operational Training Unit), Wymeswold, England.
At Wymeswold, Pilots, Navigators, and Bomb-aimers were
assembled in a hangar and told to ‘sort yourselves out’
into crews. Here Ian Murray (Bomb-aimer) with Ted Greatz
(Navigator) from Mildura and Dudley Ibbotson (Pilot) from
Perth, got together. Four Englishmen, Ken Andrews (Wireless Operator), Frank
Wells (Rear Gunner),
Tom Whitehand (Mid-Gunner), and Ray
Worrall (Engineer), complete the crew.
29th November, 1943, First operation over enemy territory.
Leaflet drop over Paris.
30th December, 1943, 51 Base, England Conversion Units.
16th February, 1944, 1661 Conversion Unit (Stirling).
31st March, 1944, 5 LFS, Syerston (Lancaster.)
11th April, 1944, 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron, Operational Squadron,
Dunholm Lodge, Lincolnshire (Lancaster).
26th April, 1944, 1st operation over Germany. Target Schweinfurt.
April to July, 1944, Operations over Germany and France.
24th July, 1944, 25th operation Target Stuttgart.
25th July, 1944, 26th operation Target Stuttgart.
Extract from Operations Record Book – No. 44 (Rhodesia)
Aircraft Crew Duty Time- Up Down.
24th July, 1944.
Lancaster ME.694.L. Ibbotson D.T. Bombing 2148 0506.
Details of Sortie: STUTTGART attacked at 0154 hrs from 20,000
ft. 127 degrees T. IAS.170 Knots. 8/10ths S.Cu. at 8000 ft. Good
Vision above. Target identified by Wanganui – green – yellow
stars on ETA and H2S confirmation. Centre of three Wanganui
flares in bombsight. There appeared to be a fair concentration
of photoflashes around Wanganui but fires below cloud appeared
scattered. Pilot’s remarks: Route good, but fighters very
active S. of Paris.
I am positive that fighters now are
attacking directly from beneath as majority of tracer seen was
vertical. I think that his tactics are to find the stream,
throttle back until fighter gets visual above.
25th July, 1944.
Lancaster ME.694.L. took off at 2110 hrs to attack
Aircraft and crew reported missing without trace.
Written by Ian R. Murray and recorded for the RAAF, 1945
Year Book ”Victory Roll".
Crew of Lancaster ME.694.L in May, 1944.
Tom Whitehand, English Mid-upper Gunner. Killed in action
Frank Wells, English Rear Gunner
Ken Andrews, English Wireless Operator
Ted Greatz, Australian Navigator
Dud Ibbotson, Australian Pilot
Ray Worrall, English Engineer
Ian Murray, Australian Bomb-Aimer
25th July, 1944, 2200 hours. Our Lancaster, L for Lily, droned
steadily on into the night. The seven members of our crew
worked in silent co-operation. We were a mixed crew – the
skipper, navigator and bomb-aimer were Australian; the
engineer, wireless operator, and rear and mid-upper gunners were
English. Our Target was Stuttgart. We had been there the night
before, but we wanted to make sure of destroying the factories
and marshalling yards before the moon became too bright. As we
crossed the English Channel, navigation lights winked and went
out, and further ahead the Ack-Ack open fired. Once over the
French coast, we ignored the flak and all eyes were peeled for
enemy fighters. The occasional bump of a slipstream told us
that we still had the company of friendly bombers.
We entered a cloud at 12,000 feet, and the navigator quietly
remarked that freezing level was 11,000 feet. Hoping to elude
this danger we lost height, and with a pleased grunt from the
skipper, broke cloud at 10,000 feet. By midnight we were about
100 miles south west of Paris and were approaching the main
enemy fighter belt as experienced the night before.
Suddenly, a burst of green tracer streaked across the sky on
our port beam. Simultaneously, a long burst of red spat from
the attacked aircraft. But it was too late – a small red
glow appeared, and as it grew, the aircraft dropped lower and
lower and finally exploded with terrific force on impact. I
was reminded then of the ‘cookie’ (4000 pounder bomb) in our
own bomb bay. Instinctively, the skipper turned away from the
glow, but now the enemy fighters were among our bombers and in
a few minutes there were four burning aircraft on the ground.
Suddenly, I felt the nose of our Lancaster dip, and thinking it
was another slipstream, I took no notice until the skipper
tersely called the engineer to help him with the ‘stick’.
Immediately, the skipper gave the order “Prepare to abandon
aircraft”, and the whole crew went mechanically into the
well-practiced routine. In a matter of seconds, all escape
hatches were open and the crew was waiting for the order to
jump, and hoping that it would not come.
But come it did, for the aircraft had gone into a dive and
would respond only to the ailerons. We learned later from the
rear gunner that the whole of the port rudder fin and tail of
the plane had been carried away by the jettisoned bombs from
one of our stricken aircraft above. As Bomb-Aimer, my position
was over the forward escape hatch, so I was first to leave the
aircraft. We were about 7,000 feet up when I ‘hit the silk’,
and it seemed an eternity before I could see the ground by the
faint moonlight. I was still about 4,000 feet up and dropping
fast in the semi-darkness, when our aircraft smashed into the
ground. The explosion
lit up the countryside showing me what I thought to be a wood,
directly below. As I got nearer the ground, I realized that I
was being carried along backwards by a ten miles per hour
breeze. Thinking that my legs would be caught in the branches
of the trees I doubled them up, and the next instant, to my
intense surprise, I was tumbling head over heels in black
The excitement of the jump left me breathless and it was a few
seconds before I remembered what I had to do. “Hide the ‘chute
and Mae West” is the first thing and then “get away from
the aircraft” was what our intelligence officer had
instructed. I judged that the aircraft had crashed about 5
miles south of where I landed, so taking out the little
compass from my escape kit, I headed north.
I calculated that the Normandy beachhead was about 200 miles
away and it would take twenty days if I were to walk all the
way. I smiled grimly and set out.
As I was walking down a narrow lane, I heard someone whistling. I flung myself into a ditch, and lay
there with the wind knocked out of me till a German passed by.
On another occasion, I had to climb a high hedge to get out of
a field, and dropping to the other side, fell into a
three-foot ditch. Not only was the wind knocked out of me, but
also I tore my finger on a thorn. It did not worry me at the
time, but when my hand went numb later on, I thought it was
poisoned. My spirits sank, only to rise again, when I loosened
my battle-jacket sleeve and my blood circulated again.
By 0230 hours I was thinking very much about sleep, so I
kept a weather eye out for a good deep ditch. Twenty minutes
later I found one that was to my satisfaction; sheltered by
a hedge. I soon fell asleep, but I was awakened shivering about 0430 by the Lancasters
droning their way homeward. How lonely I felt then! The sky
was clear now and, securing my course from Polaris, I resumed
my journey. At sunrise I was walking in a field behind a small
farmhouse. A haystack was close by so I decided to wait until
someone appeared. Soon smoke poured from the chimney, and I
crept cautiously around the side of the stack to see if I
could see anyone. It was then I noticed the telephone wires,
and remembering the potential menace of the telephone, I
turned and walked on through the field, looking for a lonelier
I walked for another half an hour and came upon another
farmhouse that had been hidden from view by a hedge. Peering
through the hedge, I saw several men and girls herding cows in
preparation for milking. Several cows were grazing in the
field where I was hidden, so I waited until someone came to
fetch them. Presently a girl came and I approached her and
whispered, “RAF” She smiled and spoke in French and I
managed to catch the words “Mon pere a la maison”. She
pointed towards the house, so I walked up the muddy lane;
feeling many curious and, I thought, suspicious eyes upon me.
Seeing a small man with a bushy moustache and several days’
growth of beard, I approached him and said. “Royal Air Force”.
He said, “Huh?” So I repeated what I had said. Suddenly he
understood, and grabbing my right hand in both his, he pumped
it up and down and cried, “Bon camarade!” Then he led me
into his humble kitchen and sat me down while his wife bustled
around the stove frying eggs and making coffee.
After filling myself with good food, I spread the silk maps
from my escape kit on the table and endeavoured to find out
where I was. This I managed by seeing the name of the nearby
town on the local newspaper – which consisted of one page
about six inches by twelve inches. I tried to make them
understand that I wanted to get to the British Army
Headquarters at Bayeux, but my schoolboy French was not good
enough. I sat down and tried to think but I found myself
nodding off, and seeing this the old farmer took me up to his
hayloft where I slept soundly.
I was awakened about seven that evening and food was brought
up to me. I stayed there for three days, coming down only in
the evenings for a short time to stretch my legs.
On the morning of the third day, I was brought down to the
kitchen where a pretty young girl introduced herself as the
local schoolteacher. She could read a little English but could
not speak it very well. We conversed on paper for some time
and I told her what I wanted to do. She said that she could
get me a bicycle and some civilian clothes, which gave me a
Next day she brought her husband, who was a member of the “marquis”
or “the resistance boys” as the young schoolteacher called
them. He did not think it advisable for me to try to get to
Normandy, as there were too many Germans to pass. He offered
to take me to a farm where I could stay till the Allies came
down and liberated the country. He was quite sure that it
would only be a few weeks, and finally, I was convinced that it
was the best thing to do. He promised to call for me in a
truck the next day.
That evening, while I was eating supper with the family in the
kitchen, the dogs began to bark. The farmer jumped up and
pointing towards a small storeroom, cried, “Voila, tout de
suite!” He bolted the door behind me and I was left in
darkness. For minutes I hardly dared breathe. Suddenly the
door flew open, and standing in the doorway was not the Nazi I
expected, but a young-smiling Frenchman. He introduced himself
as Georges. His fiancée was a schoolteacher in a neighbouring
village and he had a note from her saying that they had found
our navigator. On reading this I jumped up and took his hand
and we were both laughing.
Georges showed me some “souvenirs” that the navigator had
given him and among them I saw something that wiped the smile
from my face. It was a small compass that I knew was given to
the navigator by a girl in England, and I was sure that he
would never part with it. The only thing that I could think of
was that he had been captured and robbed and this was a trap
to ‘get’ me. Realizing that it would be best to find out
where he was, I asked to be taken to him. I changed my uniform
for overalls and shirt, pulling the trousers down over my
flying boots. I did not want to cut them off as they were
designed to do, as they were warm at night.
We set out, walking down narrow lanes and across fields for
about five miles, when we came to a small village. Sneaking
down back lanes, we entered the backyard of a blacksmith’s
shop. Two knocks on the door brought someone with a candle.
The door opened cautiously and we quickly stepped inside and
closed the door. Georges took a candle and showed me upstairs.
Halfway up he stopped and removed two boards from the side
wall of the stairs, and said I was to hide there if the
Germans came. I asked, “But where is my navigator?” to
which Georges replied, “Tomorrow,” and went on up the
stairs. I followed with a heart of lead.
The bedroom was very pleasant with a big double bed and clean
sheets. A big window faced the street, which was very quiet.
Georges said that German convoys passed every night heading
east and I was not to be alarmed if I heard German voices. I
was certain by this time that our navigator was dead or in
prison. The sheets were very soft and cool, and I was asleep
as soon as my head touched the pillow.
Suddenly, I was awake and listening. Underneath the window a
truck had stopped and I could hear German voices. It seemed
hours before I heard the motor rev and the truck move on. I
lay awake breathing quickly for many minutes while truck after
truck went by. I wanted to go to the window and look out but I
was afraid to move lest someone hear me. At last everything
was quiet and I slept, only to dream of our navigator being
tortured by the Nazis, but not saying a word.
Next morning, Georges brought me a steak for breakfast, which
I strongly suspected of being horseflesh. However it tasted
all right and I did not remark on it. After breakfast, Georges
showed me some photos of his fiancée, and told me that the
Germans had locked him up for nine months because he would not
work for them. Later he told me that a doctor would come in a
car that afternoon and take me to my navigator. This I only
half believed, but it raised my hopes a little. At four o’clock,
I heard a car pull up, and a few minutes later a man and a
woman came into the room.
The woman spoke first, in good English, and told me that they
were going to take me to a camp where I would meet several
others of my crew. I immediately thought of concentration camp
and was not too happy about it. During the half-hour trip in
the car, the doctor’s wife told me they had a permit to use
the car and she could go along with her husband ‘to help
with the patients’. Now they were taking me to see a
Scottish lady who had not spoken to an Englishman since 1938.
Knowing that the doctor was working with the ‘underground’,
she had asked him to bring an airman for her to speak to. She
was a lovely lady with blonde hair and blue eyes, and she was
so thrilled to see me that she could hardly speak. I told her
that London was not a mass of flames as she had heard, and
that the robot bombs were called ‘buzz bombs’ in England.
She had friends in England and she was very pleased when I was
able to assure that their town had not been bombed. After an
hour’s chat we said “au revoir” and I promised to come
back one day if I could.
We drove another few miles to another village and there
another family took me in. A boy about fifteen and a charming
little girl about eight were trying very hard to learn English
and kept me smiling. It was here that I learned a little about
the amazing camp to which I was being taken. It contained
about 120 men who had been found by the ‘underground’ and
brought there to wait for the Allies. It had been organized
some time earlier by a Belgian wing commander in the RAF. He
had parachuted into France in May 1944 to start the camp. He
lived in a nearby village where he kept in contact with London
by a secret radio channel. He was told to expect the Allies
about June 20, but it was now July 30 and they were still
being held up in Normandy. By this time the camp had grown so
much that another had to be organized in another part of the
forest about 5 miles from the first camp. The ‘camp
commanders’ were English Airforce Officers who joined the
camp soon after D-day.
The Forest Of
Next day I was taken by bicycle to the edge of a wood, where
we hid our machines and waited. Presently a voice called, “Come
this way” so I left my friends and followed into the thick
wood. The woods were so thick that I could not see more than
five yards through the foliage and we had to stoop as we
walked along the narrow path. The entrance was invisible from
the road outside the woods, and even after I had been there a
few days I still had difficulty in finding it.
There was dead silence as we walked, but soon we came to a
small clearing in the centre of the woods. Several tents were
erected and about fifty men were sitting and lounging around,
talking quietly or playing cards. One or two were whittling
sticks with pocket-knives. Most of them were dressed in
tattered civilian clothes, but a few wore RAF battle dress and
flying boots. Suddenly one in battle dress gave a cry and
sprang up. It was my skipper. At once three others rushed over
and we were all hugging each other and laughing until someone
warned us that we were making too much noise. The other three
were our navigator, engineer and wireless operator. I was
never so pleased to see anyone – except my family when I
My navigator explained that he had given Georges his compass
in his excitement at meeting friends. His worry now was how to
explain it to the girl in England. They all told me their
experiences, which were similar to mine, except the skipper’s.
He had landed about one hundred yards from the camp, and so
was able to keep his parachute, which made excellent cover for
ten men at night. Then I realized that the two gunners were
missing. We spent the next days anxiously awaiting their
One day we heard that an airman who had been shot through the
foot was coming in, and next day we welcomed our rear gunner.
He had been accidentally shot when two ‘resistance boys’
were showing him their revolvers. But still there was no sign
of our mid-upper gunner. Every day we asked the chief when he
came to the camp with the news from London, whether he had
heard of any other airmen coming in, but the answer was always
Life in the camp was mixed. We had guards posted all around
our part of the forest, which was about 300 yards square, but
all they could do was to warn us to keep quiet when anyone
came near, as we had only one revolver and six rounds of
ammunition between the lot of us.
An aircraft had dropped supplies of clothing and some knives
about a week before I arrived in camp, and the latter proved
very useful in whittling away the hours. We could have started
a good business in carved walking sticks after a few weeks.
The food situation was acute. Occasionally a friendly farmer
would bring a few vegetables or a leg of veal, and then we
would have a royal feast. In the meantime we had nothing but
beans, and only one meal a day. The usual menu was two pieces
of black bread for breakfast, beans for lunch, and two pieces
of bread and a mug of ground barley coffee for supper. During
the three weeks I was in camp I lost one stone in weight. A
lot of time was spent sunbathing in a little clearing at the
edge of the woods. A notice on an improvised notice board said
‘No sunbathing on Sundays’. The reason was that the
Germans took their girl friends walking on Sundays, and being
‘caught with one’s pants down’ was a thing that would
not have been appreciated.
The most looked-forward-to part of the day was when the chief
(Lucien) came with the news. We had been surveying a nearby
field with the idea that it could be used as a landing ground
for transport planes with which we could be flown out. The
chief had been trying to get this idea through to London, but
each day he reported failure. Then came the report that
another aircraft was to be sent with more supplies. Tobacco
was very scarce so that and food were given priority on the
The night the aircraft was due, every man in both camps was
out listening. About 1 a.m. we heard it coming. A Halifax
flying at about 500 feet. We all muttered a kind of prayer,
because we knew there was an Ack-Ack battery only a few miles
away. The aircraft thundered overhead towards the dropping
zone, and we soon heard him returning. Everyone slept well
after that. Next morning we awaited the arrival of the chief
with great anticipation. He was a little later than usual and
he did not look very happy when he did come. Our hearts sank
when he told us the aircraft had gone to the wrong field. As
there were no recognition signals, it had returned to base
with its precious cargo. Three days later the wireless
operator received a message that the new field was to have
been used. One explanation for the delay in the receipt of
this message was that the Germans had intercepted it.
Several days later our interest was re-awakened by the news
that the Americans had taken Cherbourg and were pushing down
towards Brittany. Then the news came of their 200-mile dash in
a single day and our morale soared. Every night now we could
hear the Germans in full retreat. On several occasions
horse-drawn vehicles parked alongside our wood and we hardly
dared breathe till they had gone by. During the day Allied
fighter-bombers strafed and dive-bombed fleeing conveys and we
were careful to camouflage our tents with green branches lest
we were strafed also.
The day after the news of the advance, a jeep arrived with the
chief, a British Intelligence Officer and two British
paratroopers armed with sub-machine guns. They had driven 200
miles through enemy lines to give us the news. We welcomed
them like heroes. The I.O. earnestly apologised because the
British were not up to schedule, but said that the Yanks were
coming. We wanted him to stay with us, but he said he had
always wanted to see Paris, so he changed clothes with one of
our men and went off to Paris with his two paratroopers. He
left the jeep with us, and we used it to break camp and return
borrowed equipment to the French people.
It was Saturday night and our bag of beans was empty. The
Germans seemed much quieter, so we split up into groups of
three or four and went out in search of food. The six members
of our crew, each one conscious of the missing member of our
crew, walked slowly down the dusty road towards the village.
We entered a small wine shop and sat down. It was not long
before Frank, the rear gunner, was in earnest conversation with a
pretty girl. She spoke fairly good English and took pleasure
in plying us with red wine. There was no food in the shop, and
seeing that we were hungry, the girl went out and soon
returned with some eggs that she cooked for us. They helped
considerably to soothe our aching stomachs.
Realizing at last that the good people wanted to turn in, we
left to seek a place to sleep. In our search we wandered to
the next village and found another wine shop, and also a baker
from whom we bought white bread at black-market prices. Having
acquired more eggs, we enjoyed another feast in the wine shop
which was by then was full of jabbering French-men, all
anxious to pat us on the back and shake our hands.
After some time, we managed to convey the idea that we would
like somewhere to sleep, so an old farmer took us to his barn.
We soon fell asleep in the sweet-smelling hay, though we had a
little trouble with the rear gunner who wanted to sleep with
the engineer’s bottle of wine.
Early in the morning, we were awakened by heavy footsteps on
the cobbled courtyard. We all froze while the navigator peeped
through the door. At that moment the skipper decided to be
violently ill, and despite harsh whispers to be quiet, not
only continued to be sick, but also provided a low moaning
accompaniment. The footsteps suddenly stopped – and we
stopped breathing. Even the skipper managed it for a few
seconds. Then the footsteps started again and moved out of our
hearing. We breathed again and the skipper resumed.
The farmer woke us just before dawn and after dipping our
heads under the village pump, we set off slowly towards our
camp. Why we went that way we did not know because it was
hardly a camp any more. Just as the sun broke the horizon, a
motorcycle hurled itself over the hill behind us. We instantly
fell into Indian file and walked on not looking back. As the
motorbike came alongside, the rider stood on the brakes and
called in a Southern American drawl, “Any of you bastards
speak English?” In an instant we were all over him and ‘pinching’
his last pack of cigarettes. He told us that a light armoured
car out on reconnaissance had met a bunch of our boys, and had
signalled back for a convoy that was now on the way to the
camp to pick us up. We ran as fast as we could, gathered what
few belongings we had – including the skipper’s parachute
– and jumped aboard the last truck. With an escort of armed
jeeps and M-20 armoured cars led by two motorcycles, we set
out for London, via Le Mans, Livre, Bayeux and the English
As we flew over the Normandy beachhead towards comfort and
security, there were six minds with a single thought, “One
of our crew is missing.”
We arrived back in England on August 22, 1944.