The Journey in Normandy of Mr Ronald H. Riding



The Journey in Normandy of Mr Ronald H. Riding


A story of Ronald's escape after being shot down.



Two printed sheets


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[underlined] THE JOURNEY IN NORMANDY OF MR. RONALD H. RIDING [/underlined]

In June year 2000 as a result of a brief ceremony of remembrance at St. Georges du Viévre I made the acquaintance of Mr. Ronald H. Riding, a veteran English airman of the R.A.F. who had passed through our region during the war in dramatic circumstances. He spent many weeks here during which time he discovered the "Belle France" to use his expression. This period was however absolutely not the most favourable time to make a visit.

Ronald was a navigator on his second tour of duty in a crew of seven airmen flying in a Lancaster aircraft of a reconnaissance squadron. It had been the duty for several weeks to fly these single night missions over occupied France in order to establish the location and movements of enemy troop concentrations.

Ronald who had volunteered for aircrew in 1941 aged 20 years had trained in Canada to be an observer/navigator. This mission which commenced during the night of the 5th/6th of June was similar to previous operations but it was however to leave a permanent mark on his life.

At 01.30 hours 6th June close to Rouen a shell from the anti-aircraft batteries hit the Lancaster in the middle of the fuselage leaving two crew dead and two wounded. The pilot navigator and rear gunner away from the point of impact were unhurt.

With the aircraft now on fire and having fixed parachutes to their wounded comrades they 'baled-out' from the doomed aircraft which crashed into a garden in La Mailleraye. The rear-gunner broke his leg on landing, was treated in hospital and became a prisoner of war. The pilot, a Canadian, was caught after a few days dressed in civilian clothes; because of this he was tortured in Le Havre by the Gestapo; transferred to Paris for further interrogation and finished the war in a prisoner of war camp in Poland.

Ronald after his jump into the darkness found himself hung up in the branches of a tree in the forest of Brotonne. He had lost his flying boots but he was alive. Before the coming of the dawn, not being able to walk far without boots he found a small forestry workers house. (1) When he knocked on the door the inhabitants chased him away. Their patriotism and help being limited at this time by fear of denouncement to the Germans; The penalty for helping allied airmen being death or minimum deportation to a concentration camp.

The next house where he asked for help was that of Madam Guégan. This brave woman hid Ronald for three or four days. Her son Jean Pierre of 16 years helped Ronald in the forest to find and bury his parachute. Whilst at her house he heard the news of a very historic event, he now understood why his mission to locate the movements of the German Panzer Divisions and observe the crossings of the River Seine were important. Ronald who knew an invasion was imminent had not been briefed and was ignorant of Operation "Overlord"; when he was escaping from his burning aircraft Allied parachutists were dropping at Ste Mère L'Eglise and Pegasus Bridge. The longest day had commenced.

After a rigorous interrogation as to his identity Ronald was taken in by the Maquis Surcouf of Pont-Aude Mer and hidden by their Chief Robert Le Blanc and Section Chief Edmond Floquet (Codename Grande Jules). Our region has preserved its "Bocage"; an area of small fields and woods protected by high hedges and criss-crossed by small roads; paths and tracks favourable for the hiding of the partisans. However it was also an area suitable for the concealment of the S.S. Division and the Gestapo hunting them. The Maquis of Pont-Aude Mer were very active in the region, their technique of Guerilla attacks depended on mobility of movement. Given information by the Gendarmes of the Division at St. Georges du Vièvre regarding the movements of the Nazis, the partisans dispersed and then regrouped to sabotage


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and harass the enemy. Consequently Ronald changed his hiding place three times. He had successive "Residents" at Le Landin near Hanville, (2) at St. Martin-St. Firmin, (3) and at St. Siméon (4) where he met another English airman, a Russian deserter, some Italians and many partisans.

On the 14th July (Liberation Day in France) a "Wartime Alert". The Nazi's commenced a concentrated series of attacks and reprisals in the region. In Pont-Aude Mer they machine-gunned and killed several civilians. In Saint Etienne L'Allier, (5) they searched several houses and arrested the inhabitants. They intercepted and annihilated a patrol of partisans. In St. Georges Du Vièvre they arrested the Gendarmes and for several days they refused under torture by the Nazis pilice to reveal the network of the Maquis. Ronald and John, the other airman succeeded in escaping from the Maquis hide-out and with others found a safe hiding place near to Epagnes. (6) However soon came the final command for a general dispersal of all the partisans so that the Nazis were not able to trace the Maquis.

After several days of evasion, tired and hungry and so far having escaped detection because of their blue workman-like clothes and wooden shoes Ronald and John arrived at the small hamlet of Le Brevédent, (7) about 10 km N.E. of Lisieux. Intrigued by the strange behaviour of these two young men Mr. Jules Joigne understanding their secret and difficulty immediately welcomed them and hid them in his small farm. Once again they had found a "safe house".

At the end of July the Maquis at Thiberville (8) decided to help. For reasons of security they were moved, hidden in a horse and cart, and escorted by two young partisans, Jean Bréhart and Jean Dufay with a senior partisan Gaston Prévost riding ahead on a bicycle to secure the route passing by Barville. (9) On arrival at Thiberville they were first hidden in the workshop of M. Prévost, and then moved to the Pork Butchers Shop of Madam Sénéchal, another brave lady. Finally Thiberville was liberated by the Allies on the 24th August and so finished Ronald's adventure in Normandy.

But the story continues. Ronald returned to England and Became an Instructor. The war was not finished, but fortunately he never again had to use his parachute.

Unfortunately his comrade John after some rest and leave returned to operational duties. During a bombing raid over Germany his aircraft was shot down and he was not given a second chance.

Since the end of the war, Ronald loves to return to Normandy, he appreciates the peace and calm. Few people of our region remember the unknown heroes who took part in the Liberation of our Country. Ronald himself does not forget his comrades in the Resistance or his "French Helpers" who risked their lives to give him shelter. Now when he returns he sees the children of those who sheltered him, they were four and five years old in 1944. They have grown up now and their parents are dead.

Ronald also wishes to remember and visits the many graves of the Allied airmen who are buried in the cemeteries of the small villages where they fell from the sky. He stands and remembers because the remains of his four comrades of the Lancaster have never been found or identified.

It was in front of the Memorial Plaque recording the sacrifice of the four Gendarmes of St. Georges in Vièvre that I met for the first time Mr. Ronald H. Riding. That day in front of the old Police Station there were no more of us than the crew of his aircraft which fell in the forest of Brotonne on "D-Day" morning 6th June 1944.



“The Journey in Normandy of Mr Ronald H. Riding,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 18, 2024,

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