Account of crash of Wellington W5421 and Flt Lt Roy Langlois's crew and Belgian Comet escape line



Account of crash of Wellington W5421 and Flt Lt Roy Langlois's crew and Belgian Comet escape line


Includes photographs of twelve squadron officers, the crashed aircraft, some of the crew, Jack and Mary Newton and Sgt R D Porteous. Recounts the last sortie of the crew to Aachen when they had to jettison their bombs, an engine caught fire and they crash landed the aircraft near Antwerp. Crew escaped after setting aircraft on fire and made contact with the Belgian Beaver-Baton escape line. They split into two groups of three. Reports then list the subsequent fate of all the crew, Jack Newton being the only one to get safely home to England - the other two in his subgroup were captured. The other three were sent on by the escape line to Vichy France but report does not say their eventual fate.



Two page printed document with eight b/w photographs


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[black and white photograph of 12 Squadron officers at RAF Binbrook Officers Mess in 1942]
Wellington W5421 and F/Lt. Roy Langlois’s crew and the Belgian Comet Escape Line
On the 5th August 1941 at 22.25 hour a Vickers Wellington II bomber W5421 PH-G of 12 Squadron took off from RAF Binbrook bound with 12 other Wellingtons for a raid on the railway marshalling yards in the German city of Aachen. The crew of the aircraft were twenty-four year old pilot F/Lt. Roy Brouard Langlois D.F.C., F/Sgt. Richard Alfred Copley the radio operator age 21, Sgt. Jack Lamport Newton the front gunner, Sgt. John Warren McLarnon the second pilot, Sgt. Harold Joseph Edwin Burrell the navigator, and Sgt. R. D. Porteous RNZAF, the rear gunner.
[black and white photograph of crashed Wellington aircraft]
The Wellington had engine trouble just south of Aachen and was unable to bomb the target. The crew then jettisoned their bombs 15 to 20 miles from the target and turned for home. Over Antwerp the starboard engine caught fire and they began to lose height to 800 feet and they realised they could not reach England.
At first they thought they would ditch in the sea off the Belgian coast but after being caught by searchlights and forced to take evasive action they realised they would have to crash-land. Newton in the front turret saw what he thought in the moonlight was two rivers but in fact was the Antwerp-Deurne airfield in occupied Belgium. The plane did a wheels down landing at 02.19 on the 6th August.
The Germans at the time were under cover in shelters, as other bombers unable to reach Antwerp by their deadline were jettisoning their bombs near the airfield. That gave the crew nearly half an hour to destroy the aircraft to prevent it falling into enemy hands and escape, Newton firing 12 emergency flares into the fuselage before a German fire-tender arrived. The Germans probably believed the crew had been trapped in the burning aircraft and only in the morning light realised that there were no bodies in the plane. This gave the crew valuable time to climb the barbed wire and escape. After climbing the fence they split into two groups of three. The second pilot, observer, and rear gunner going one way, and Roy Langlois, Richard Copley, and Jack Newton, another.
[four black and white photographs of the aircrew (1) Roy Langlois while evading. (2) Jack Newton. (3) Richard Copley. (4) Langlois & Copley in Brussels]
[page break]
The second group evaded capture and eventually made contact with the Belgian BEAVER-BATON escape line. F/Lt Roy Brouard Langlois (nicknamed Daddy Long Legs) was later captured and finished up as a POW in Stalag Luft III at Sagan. He took part in ‘The Great Escape’ on March 24th 1944 but was recaptured and returned to Sagan. He earned a Distinguished Flying Cross and attained the rank of Wing Commander before retiring from the RAF in 1962. He died in 1993 aged 76.
F/Sgt. Richard Copley. Around the 1st October 1941 a red headed English or Irish infiltrator was spotted outside Vandenhove’s house where Roy Langlois, Richard Copley, and a Scottish solder named Ahearn were hiding. On the morning of the next day there was a terrific thumping on the door, the men looked out and saw three cars, the Geheime Feldpolizei were raiding the house. As the door was smashed in the three Brits grabbed their clothes and rushed down to the basement. Vandenhove had built a tunnel from the kitchen to the main sewer in the street. Two days previously he had checked that the exit from the sewer through a manhole in the street was free but when the three evaders tried to lift the manhole they were unable to move it. They were forced to stay in the sewer. Meanwhile back in the house Vandenhove had already been arrested. The evaders’ hiding place was given away by the family dog they had befriended. The Germans shot the dog and the airmen and soldier were trapped in the sewer for seven hours before they had to return to the kitchen and give themselves up. Richard Copley returned to England on April 26, 1945 after nearly four years in German prisoner of war camps.
[black and white photograph of Jack and Mary Newton]
Sgt. Jack Newton was the first British airman to be helped by the Belgian Comète escape line. He had been found two days after the crash by a member of the Belgian resistance. The leader of his helpers was a twenty four year old girl called Dedee who took Jack and two other airmen across France to the Spanish border on public transport dressed as peasants. They were met by a Spanish Basque guide who took them on foot across the Pyrenees to San Sebastian. Safely in Spain but not safe from arrest, Newton was covertly driven in the British ambassador’s personal car to the Madrid embassy where he was interned in the Embassy chapel until he could be smuggled out of Spain into Gibraltar on January 4th 1942. On arrival he was handed a £1 note, a cheese sandwich, and told to make his way to London for interrogation.
He received no recognition or awards for escaping enemy territory but was promoted to Pilot Officer on September 1st 1942.
He and Mary went on to have a long, happy marriage blessed with three children and ten grand-children. After the war Jack Newton’s adventures were related in a book – Evader: The Epic Story of the First British Airman to Be Rescued by the Comete Escape Line in World War II by Derek Shuff.
In that book is a dedication by Jack – To flight Lieutenant Roy Langlois DFC; who saved my life; to Countess A. de Jongh (Deedee), who gave me those extra years of freedom. And to my wife, Mary, who never gave up hope.
The other three crewmen from Wellington W5421 were Sgt. John Warren McLarnon the second pilot, Sgt. Harold Joseph Edwin Burrell the navigator, and Sgt. R.D. Porteous RNZAF, the rear gunner.
[black and white headshot photograph of Sergeant R. D. Porteous, of Dunedin, missing on operations]
After splitting off from Langlois, Copley and Newton, the three airmen knocked at the door of a farmhouse at Lierre near Antwerp. The farmers daughter and some other people on the farm hid them for the night and gave them overalls to wear. The next day they were taken to Antwerp and were hidden in a house in Geulincxstraat until the 9th September. During this time false papers were prepared and arrangements made to get them to Lisbon.
On the 9th September they left Antwerp by train and were met in Brussels by a Mrs Harris who told them she originated from Birmingham. She took them to the Rue Washington where they stayed 2 nights with Jean Vandenhove. (the house where Langlois and Copley were later captured on October 2nd).
On the night of the 11th they were taken to the station by Mrs Harris and left Brussels guided by a Major Du Normand bound for Besancon. On arrival at Besancon they went by bus to St. Laurent near Lake Geneva where they stayed the night. The three crossed into Vichy France at 3pm on the 13th September 1941. They were to rendezvous at a cafe a few kilometers outside St. Laurent, taken by taxi to St. Claude and then by train to Toulouse.


“Account of crash of Wellington W5421 and Flt Lt Roy Langlois's crew and Belgian Comet escape line,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 24, 2024,

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