Parachute Story



Parachute Story


Recounts that piece of parachute silk is a memento of Colin Fraser's Lancaster being shot down during an attack on Gestapo barracks at Berchtesgaden on 25 April 1945. Describes crew bale out and skilful crash landing by pilot Flying Officer Harry Payne. Goes on to describe capture and incarceration as prisoner of war. Describes how parachute was used for various purpose and a piece of it became a memento which was discovered in 1997.

Temporal Coverage




One page printed document


IBCC Digital Archive


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This piece of parachute silk is a war time memento, which came to light in 1997, 52 years after its creation. It commemorates a gallant act by West Australian Pilot, Flying Officer Harry “Lofty” Payne, which lead to the survival of all the crew.

The target was the GESTAPO BARRACKS, in Adolph Hitler’s mountain retreat just south of Berchtesgaden, near Salzburg. Twenty crews from 460 R.A.A.F SQDN Binbrook participate in this daylight raid on April 25, 1945. Although the flak was relatively light, Lancaster “M” Mike was hit just after dropping the bomb load at approximately 0952 hours.

Colin Fraser, the Navigator, had moved forward from his navigator’s seat to get a view of the target scene. He was fortunate because when he returned there was a gaping hole where his feet would normally have been.
With three engines knocked out, two on fire, Harry turned to the North in the hope of getting to American occupied territory about 40 miles away. The fourth engine died and fuel from severed fuel lines was flooding into the fuselage.
Contemplating a potentially disastrous conflagration at any moment, the Skipper gave the inevitable order to bale out.
Danny Lynch, the Bomb Aimer recalls the Flight Engineer Rick Thorpe protesting “We can’t jump here, we’re still over Germany!”
When he thought the crew had all gone, Harry started to remove his safety harness but he was confronted by the rear gunner H.R. “Shorty” Connochie, who, in moving from the rear of the plane to the forward escape hatch, had accidentally opened his parachute.

A quick check revealed that the spare chute was not where it should have been. Harry then settled back to glide the burning Lancaster to a crash landing 15,000 ft down.

After skilfully negotiating some high voltage power lines Harry belly landed the plane in a convenient wheat field. he and Shorty were apprehended by some very young Hitler youth members.

For some minutes it looked as though Harry’s skill and gallantry would come to nought as the captors debated whether they should shoot the airmen on the spot. Fortunately some older members of the German “Home Guard” arrived and took over.

With the exception of Danny Lynch who landed further South and was taken to Stalag 18C Markt Pongau Austria, the crew finished up together in Stalag VIIA Moosburg.

In the course of their transport to the Stalag and to an interrogation centre at Mainburg, the Flight Engineer’s parachute served various purposes.

As a cushion support for Colin Fraser’s injured ankle, as a quilt to keep them warm while they slept in the truck and (with a large red cross painted on it) as a protection against allied fighters. Finally the small portion exhibited here was used with an indelible pencil to record the event.

The European war ended on 8th May, 1945 so the crew’s stay as POW’s was short. In fact the camp was liberated by American troops before the end. An American War Correspondent took a Last and First photograph of Harry with some unfortunate English soldier who had spent the whole of the war as a POW.

In his book “Strick and Return” Peter Firkins says this of Harry Payne “…his tremendous courage and selfless devotion to duty on this his 7th operation was never rewarded in the manner it so richly deserved.”

In 1997, Mr Kerry Abercrombie of Forster NSW discovered the memento in his fathers memorabilia and wrote to Wings, the Official Organ of the R.A.A.F Association seeking to know its background. Surviving members of the crew were quickly able to provide Kerry with the story. The probable explanation of how it came into his father’s possession is that it was passed from his uncle, Bill Abercrombie who was in the R.A.A.F and was a P.O.W in Germany. It is now on display in the Air Force Association Museum in Perth.



“Parachute Story,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 2, 2022,

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