Interview with Gordon Mellor. One


Interview with Gordon Mellor. One


Gordon Mellor grew up in London and was interested in aviation. He volunteered for the Air Force and trained as a navigator in Canada. On his return to the UK he and his crew were posted to 103 Squadron. Returning from an operation they were attacked by a night fighter and shot down. Gordon baled out and landed in a tree. When he freed himself and landed on the ground, he set off to walk and by tracking the North Star, set off towards the general direction of Spain. He hid in a number of places during the daylight until after a few days he was inspired to knock on a door. He found he was in Belgium with friendly people who started the process that would lead to him being escorted through an escape line from Belgium to Paris and eventually home.




Temporal Coverage




01:54:50 audio recording

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AS: This is Andrew Sadler interviewing Gordon Mellor in his home in Wembley on Tuesday the 6th of October 2015 for the Bomber Command Centre.
GM: Yes.
AS: Thank you. Thank you for allowing me to interview you, Gordon. Can I start off by asking you where and when you were born?
GM: Oh yes. I was born in Wembley. The other side of Wembley. A place called Alperton. And this was in 1919. November. November the 1st actually. And I lived there with my parents. I went to school locally until I was thirteen. Then I went to the Acton Technical College so that I had an education which was a little different to the ordinary standard county school level. I stayed there. My father died in 1939, in the beginning of the year and I stayed there until my calling up papers came. The reason why I waited until then was that I applied in 1938 to join the Volunteer Reserve. I’d been doing four and five nights a week at evening school during the preceding months and I was a bit below standard as far as health was concerned. Anyhow, during the period in which I was improving my level of health which was during Christmas ‘38 up until the war was declared in September I used to go out for a run early morning, half past six or thereabouts and do about three, three and a half miles and come back. Have breakfast. Dress appropriately and go off to central London to work. On the commencement of hostilities between Germany in September ‘39 the Air Ministry sent back all the, I suppose it was all of them, certainly my papers came back with a general advice to make another application. Well, it wasn’t long before my call up number came so I applied in the appropriate form and I was accepted to go into the air force as a navigator. I don’t know why I particularly chose that from being a pilot but it held a fascination for me. This happened early 1940 and from thence on, after initial working during the day as a, as an ordinary airman. AC2 as we were called. Aircraftsman second class. I improved my health no doubt and no end and eventually we were taken off just what was ground defence. There being such a rush of people joining the air force that they had to farm us out onto other duties for the first few months. We then entered the regular course to become navigators. The first amount of work was common to all trades, flying trades, in the air force, to get us all up to a general standard of education. And after that we then became part of the Empire Air Scheme I suppose you would call it and I was posted to an ITW which was an Initial Training Wing for basic education on navigation. It wasn’t very detailed at all but it got us into the right sort of preparation level. And after some twelve — twelve to fourteen weeks, I suppose it would be. We were all told to pack up and we were then en-trained and taken up to Scotland, put onto a boat and we went to Iceland. And from there we got on to an armed merchant cruiser, I think it was and we were taken over to Canada where we were trained for the particular trades that we’d been allocated. Mine being the navigation and associated items. We trained at various stations around Canada. The planes we flew there of course was the Avro Anson and the training crew were the captain of the aircraft. He had a wireless operator as his regular crewman and had two trainee navigators — which I became, with another man. And we went through the whole course of navigation training which I think was something like three months. And we then had a certain amount of leave and we were then taken on for another four weeks on training particularly with reference to the stars and sites and the like. And then we were posted to another aerodrome entirely which was, in this case, run by the Canadian Air Force and had a bombing and gunnery course thrown in of some weeks so that by the time we came out we were known as observers rather than just navigators. And, as such, having completed the bomb aiming course and the like we then were en-trained back to the east coast of Canada and brought back to the UK. I’m not sure whether it was called UK in those days but we came back and landed at Liverpool and were immediately transferred down to the south coast where we were at a reception centre. Now, do you want me to further on that line?
AS: Yes, please but can I ask you first why did you join the RAF?
GM: Ah. Well, I suppose we had Hendon Aerodrome which was only a few miles away from us as I live in Wembley. The other side it would be from now but there was a little group of us all living in the same road and we all went to the same school. And aeroplanes were buzzing around the Hendon area a fair bit of the time and I suppose we recognised the various makes and patterns and we became interested in the flying and we used to, on a Saturday morning quite often we used to cycle over to Hendon. And there was also another aerodrome called Stag Lane I think it was and we used to stand around the edge of the airfield. Behind a hedge I expect. Not on the actual field itself. And used to watch the planes taking off with the owner pilots there. For an entertaining day I suppose. But certainly, we enjoyed watching the planes and we did gain a fair bit of knowledge about them. Even as youngsters. From, yes, eleven twelve onwards.
AS: Was your father in the First World War?
GM: Not as such. He was in the building trade. He used to be in charge of the whole site and all the work that was going on. I suppose you would call him a foreman or a general foreman. But certainly, it was one which required considerable skill. He had to familiar with all the various trades and I, perhaps got my interest in surveying from him. I can’t say. It just happened.
AS: So, you’d been trained in, mostly in Canada, and you’re now back on the south coast at a reception centre and you’ve trained to be an observer.
GM: Yes.
AS: So, you can do the job of map —
GM: As a navigator.
AS: Navigator.
GM: Yeah. And bomb aimer and also, we had some experience on using firearms. Also, in the form of the turret in the aircraft. They were rather primitive in the beginning but they did improve no end during the war.
AS: Ok. Please carry on.
GM: Well, having got back from Canada I was then posted to an aerodrome in the Midlands and I’m trying to think of the name. Lichfield. That was it. and we were then, we were there to become experienced in flying in the weather conditions which we could expect in this country and in Europe. In Canada we were much further south and the weather was much warmer and more pleasant. But we had to get used to flying in winter. And at the OTU the Operational Training Unit was there purely to bring us up to speed in the conditions in which we would be expected to fly in over Europe. After quite some weeks. It could be six. Six to eight weeks. Perhaps a little bit more. One was then posted to a squadron. And during that training period in this country then of course you met pilots, air gunners, bomb aimers and the like and you formed up in crews so that as we were flying Wellingtons at that time then the number in the crew was five. Or if you had two pilots — one a second pilot then of course it would be six. And I was posted to 103 Squadron with the rest of my crew which was in Lincolnshire. Rather north. And after a fortnight or so of familiarisation with the area and the conditions in, we started as a crew on our operations. First of all, with an experienced operational pilot and our own captain, as we referred to him, played second fiddle to a certain extent. He was the one who was getting the most instruction. And the navigator as well. The gunners had a certain amount of additional training but there was nothing other than the targets being towed by other aircraft as their object of firing at. Anyhow, we got through the early days and started operating against some targets in Germany. That went on until, let’s see, wait a minute [pause] I must have gone to the squadron somewhere around about April or May and strangely enough we were flying Wellingtons there as well as we had done on the, at the training. And then there was a change in the aircraft. The Wellington 1Cs were withdrawn and we were fitted up with Halifax which were Halifax 2s. I think they were. They were four-engined aircraft. More sophisticated in the equipment which we had to learn about. We started coming across the Gee box and all other bits and pieces which were more modern than we had been experiencing. Then we continued after a brief period of training to operate on the, with the new aircraft. Four-engined aircraft. And this did not last very long. About two or three months. Perhaps. Let’s see. It would be [pause] about four months. And we were on the first thousand bomber raids which took place in the middle of 1942. And we survived those ok and went on operating and when I got to somewhere about ten or eleven we were then transferred, as I say, on to the four-engined aircraft. They were, they were ok for flying. They probably weren’t quite the standard of the Lancaster in performance but they certainly were very effective. And that was Ok for a while until we were sent out on one particular raid. This would be the [pause] about the 4th of October 1942 and we hit trouble having bombed the target and making our way from it. A JU110 latched onto our tail and we had a little conversation as a crew. Shall we open fire on him? He seemed to be just following us rather closely at the back and I imagine he was waiting for us to get away from the town and when we got to open country he would probably let us have it. Anyhow, we opened fire on him. Whether we did any damage or not I’ve no idea but certainly we had ammunition flying all around us and we were set on fire in the two inboard engines of the aircraft. And the pilot had done his best to manoeuvre out of the stream of fire but the chap who was firing at us in the German plane obviously was well experienced and he just sank down out of the sight of the mid upper gunner. The rear gunner had a view of him but he was hurt in the initial opening fire from the German plane and it rather put him out of action. And as I say we, we had three or four attempts at shooting at us by the German plane. The fires in the two engines just, just got worse. There was nothing that could be done about it so it was a just a question of baling out which we had a procedure for which we followed and one after the other, I was one of the first so I don’t know exactly what happened to all the others but from visits and talks with the three survivors other than myself I rather gather that it was a disastrous period. The plane was going down fast and it was for everybody to get out of their particular position. More or less following the order in which we’d had dummy runs on. So, having got out of the target area the plane was going down towards the ground at a fair speed and we crossed the target just over ten thousand feet which had been quite low but it was suitable for the occasion. We were under two thousand feet I think when we started to bale out and I was fortunate. I came out of the hole in the floor of the plane, in the nose, because I was sitting on top of it and having lifted the seat there was just this hole there so I went out of there straight away. I didn’t want to hold anybody else up. And I pulled the cord on the parachute and I was one of the lucky ones. It opened and I soon found myself heading towards the ground at a very modest pace with the parachute up above me and swinging about a bit. But the strange thing was that having been in the noise of the four engines of the aircraft for some hours previously and then get the noise of the enemy fire coming through the fuselage around us it was amazing that nobody other than the rear gunner had been hit. But anyhow, as I say, having jumped then I lost contact with all the other members of the crew. The plane carried on going down. Losing height quite quickly . In quite a short time I saw the trees sort of rushing towards me. Which really was an exaggeration because the parachute was open. And I crashed in to the top of trees and I sort of went down through the branches and the canopy of the parachute of course got caught up amongst on all the tops of the tree. It turned out that I had landed in an orchard of some considerable size. The trees must have been fairly old because they were tall. And I came to a sudden halt in the harness. The canopy of the parachute spread over the tops of the trees and we were swinging and in the darkness, I had no idea how high I was above the ground. It could be inches. It could be feet. Anyhow, I sort of gathered my thoughts and I thought — I tried feeling about with my feet, swinging a bit but it did no good. The only thing to do is just to press the lock on the parachute harness and see what happens. So, I did and I fell. About twelve inches fortunately. It could have been several feet but certainly I was very lucky and as I say I fell about twelve inches and landed on my feet quite comfortably. The harness was left swinging in the breeze there and the instructions are to pull the parachute and its accoutrements to the ground and bury it if you can. Well, there were dogs barking close by so I thought — I tried and pulled it and of course the noise of the branches breaking and crackling and what have you set them off barking so I thought well this is no good. So, I stopped that and they stopped barking. Anyhow, I tried again a moment or two later to do it rather quietly but it was no good. They heard it and they barked again. So, I thought I’d leave it. So, I gathered myself together and thought, ‘Right. Let’s get away from here.’ So, do you want me to go on in the same vein? Ok. I was in what appeared to be an orchard hence some of the trees and I saw that I was next to a hedge at the edge of the orchard so I went through it into a field which ran down hill to a degree. Yeah. It was a comfortable slope down and I got out of the orchard and the adjoining field and I became aware, with dogs barking, there was a farmhouse close by. So, I thought, well I’d keep away from there, for some reason or other. I didn’t know where I was even though I was the navigator we had made so many change in course in the battle with the German fighter that I couldn’t be sure to within ten miles where we were. Perhaps even more. And down the slope and through a hedge and there was a road which also ran further on downhill so that’s what I took naturally rather than climbing. And having sort of gone past a building, a house of some sort on my left as I was going down the road with five or six people standing there looking towards the target area which was a bright light in the sky. I just walked past them and nobody said anything and I then realised, having gone another hundred yards or so that I was walking north. I thought, is this a good thing? And I was resolved that if I was going to go north I’d got a coastline up there and how the hell was I going to get over that? All I could go to would be Denmark which I could walk around to I suppose — which wasn’t going to be any help. And I couldn’t get to a neutral country that way so it was, the alternative was to go to either Switzerland or Spain. They were both south of me and I didn’t think that it was going to be much good going to Switzerland because you would then be interned. And so I set off on my walk and crossed country largely and that night I suppose the shooting down had taken place somewhere around about half past ten, 11 o’clock at night and so I was in the early hours of the morning and I had time to get away from the place where the parachute would eventually be found and also, with the plane going down it was going to hit the ground before long. And I got myself on to a track which rose slightly and when I got to the top I could see a fire about a mile and a half or two miles away from me which was obviously was our plane which had hit the ground and already being alight it set the whole thing on fire. So, I couldn’t guess what had happened to the other people in the crew. I had no means of contact. So, I thought, ‘Right. This is it.’ And fortunately, the sky was clear less and I could pick out the North Star. From the North Star I could get myself an angle of somewhat south westerly direction and I thought, ‘Right. This is the way to go.’ So, I picked up my marks and started walking. Strangely enough I hadn’t gone very far when I heard somebody else rustling around in the field. They’d got some sort of crop. I don’t know what the crop was but it certainly had shrubbery about knee level so it could have been cabbages. It could have been anything else. Anyhow, having heard somebody else moving in amongst it I stopped and knelt down so that I wouldn’t have a, anybody wouldn’t, sort of looking up wouldn’t see me so I knelt down and the other person walking, they stopped too. And I thought, ‘That’s strange.’ Anyhow, it was all quiet for a minute or two so I thought, ‘Right. Try again.’ So I started my walk again which was in a general south westerly direction across country and I heard the other person start walking again. I thought well, I don’t know. I wonder if it’s a border guard or something like that that’s on a lookout. Anyhow, I just knelt down again and I stood out and the other person got fed up and I heard him walk away through the shrubbery or whatever the crop was. I never did find out for sure that it was another member of the crew. It could have been. But I didn’t think from the way the plane had been heading at the time that it was likely to be so but perhaps it was. I never did find out. And I continued walking and eventually I came to a roads. So I started to walk along the roads rather than stay on fields and what have you. It was easier walking and you got along much quickly. More quickly. At that time of the night there was nobody else about so I walked down the road. Always taking the direction of sort of south westerly. I had just the one thought in mind. Get to Spain. So, whatever came in between was just luck and we’d deal with it as we came. Got along. So, I continued in that. Walking along roads and what have you the rest of that night and then it started to get light. This is, I have to do something about this. I was on a road and there were some houses intermittently along the plots in between which were built on. Anyhow, I thought, well the thing is not to be out in the open view when it gets light. I was very fortunate. I went between two houses to the fields behind and I found several hedges and the like and there in one of them was a copse of trees on a bank sort of arrangement. And so, I thought, ‘Yeah that looks alright.’ So, I got in to the, under the trees. There was a lot of shrubbery at ground level so I found that if I sort of sat down on the ground then I was well hidden and what else was around me I didn’t know. All I knew I was out of sight to a degree. It was getting just that little bit lighter so I sort of sat down and I must have gone off to sleep. This was October and I suppose it was getting light around about 7 o’clock or thereabouts or perhaps a little bit earlier. Anyhow, I went off to sleep and I came to life again and I could hear traffic, to a degree. And I sort of poked my head up from my hideaway there and I could see that just beyond me there was what apparently was a farm road and it was being used by the workers to get to the farm or come away and go into the various fields. I was fortunate that I had this cover. I stayed there all the hours of daylight. I saw the goings on of the farm and it’s, I suppose somewhere around about sixish or a bit later it got dark and I thought, ‘Oh well, now’s the time to move,’ so I set off on my second night of travel. And this became the rule of thumb, so to speak, for the next two or three days. I did have some emergency rations with me and they were sort of supplied in an escape tin I think they used to call them. They had concentrated foods like chocolates and the like in there. There was a nothing that was superfluous. It was all good stuff and so I carried on walking at night for probably four nights after the initial one by which time I had got a fair way. I don’t know how much or how far I travelled at night. I wasn’t a rapid walker. I used a fairly steady pace but I kept out of sight during the daylight hours. It was always a problem just before dawn to find somewhere to hide for the next twelve or fourteen hours. And I was lucky. In one place I found a cave I suppose you’d call it. A digging anyhow in a bank. It was a cut-out area I could sort of get into and sit there and it was also protected by shrubs and bushes and what have you. So that was a lucky find and I did manage to keep going as far as the food was concerned by having the odd biscuit or what have you. Because I had additional items like that in my pocket. I had anticipated, I don’t know why or anything like that that this sort of event would happen. So I tended when we were on ops to put extra bits and pieces in my pockets and the like. Such as a few biscuits and what have you but it certainly was nowhere near enough. Anyhow, this went on until my last stay over daylight hours. After that initial part of my movements was in a town or certainly a large village centre and I’d spotted a house which had been bombed. It looked as if it had got fire bomb damage. The windows were blown out and the like. And I saw that as I was passing through this village. And then I hadn’t got too far, having got beyond that point and it started to rain and I found myself getting fairly wet so I thought right. I’ll go back to this bombed house. I went in there and it seemed to me it smelled rather as if it was dry and went upstairs and it certainly was. There was no windows in there but the roof was sufficient to keep the inside of the house dry. So again, as had been my practice then I did get a bit of sleep and when I woke up I found the village had come to life as other places had come to life and I sort of looked out of the, one of the window openings and I could see that I was what was obviously the centre road of a small town. There were shops and people going shopping there. And I thought to myself, ‘My goodness me. I wonder where I am.’ Anyhow, I made sure that I didn’t display myself at all but I stayed up on the first floor of that bombed house during the day. At lunchtime it got a bit dodgy because children came out of school and a couple of boys were having a little game down below on the ground floor. Anyhow, they got tired of that and they went off. Much to my relief. They didn’t, as far as I could tell, attempt to come up the stairs where I was on the first floor. As happened nobody else came in. It dried up during the day having rained during the previous night and when it got dark I went off. Most people had, the shops had closed by then, it was fairly dark. There was no lights or anything on display of course and I managed to get out of the small town without being picked up or noticed particularly because I was still in uniform and the only difference were that I had taken the badges of rank. I was a flight sergeant at the time and there was nothing else except my battle dress which I flew in. I had discarded the harness and what have you of the parachute as I previously mentioned and I went on out of town. Anyhow, I sort of ran in to the rain problem again and this time I got wet so, considerably so. This is no good. I’m short of food. I’m not performing too well and I’m wet and cold and dispirited. Anyhow, I turned around and I thought, ‘Well I’ll go back to the bombed-out house and dry off. And tomorrow is another day.’ Well, it didn’t work out like that. On the way back it dried up to a certain extent. I don’t suppose I’d actually gone much more than a mile. Two miles away from my hiding place and so I was heading back there. I went through another small village and I saw a house. It was houses on both sides of the road and I saw a house and I saw a chink of light up on the first floor which would obviously, would be a bedroom. And I thought, ‘Well there are people there. I wonder —’ I pondered the pros and cons of knocking and see if I could get some help and I didn’t know at all whether they were hostile or whether they would be friendly.
AS: At this stage you were in France.
GM: No. I was still in Belgium.
AS: In Belgium.
GM: Yes. And so, I was just on the right side of the Belgian Holland border so I didn’t have to get, get across the border there. So, I was still in Belgium. And –
AS: Did you have a compass?
GM: Oh yeah. Oh yes. Yeah, I had one. Yes. I had a button as a compass.
AS: They had — didn’t you have two buttons that were compasses?
GM: Well, I had one.
AS: One.
GM: Certainly, I had one but it was — no. it couldn’t have been a shirt button. It must have been the battledress button. Anyhow, I had one. It was part of a general sort of hand-outs of escape gear that we were issued with and I largely used the stars to make an initial assessment of where I was going. Certainly, where one gets sufficient light then the compass was a help and I got a feeling I might have had two. One was a fluorescent. I’m a bit hazy on that but there we are. So — oh yes. I was pondering as to whether to knock on this house or not. Anyhow, I came to a decision. It was still fairly early in the evening. It was dark. Blackout was being imposed and, in any case, so I went across the road and I banged on the door with the knocker. What have you. And this was completely unexpected by the people because the window above swung open and a man’s head poked out, ‘Qui est la?’ So I responded as best I could. My French never was very good. And I heard him grunt and the window closed with a slam and I heard him coming down stairs [knocking noise] like that with footsteps. The door swung open and there was this rather short man, pretty much the height that I am now I suppose [laughs] and he looked at me and I showed him my battledress and I showed him my wings and he didn’t say anything he just beckoned me in. And I followed him and he took me into their sitting room or whatever it was, where there was a fire in the room. It was a grate sort of arrangement. You know, a slow burning one which is on all the time and he spoke to me in French. I had sufficient to tell him that I was RAF and I could show him my wings and badges of rank and he seemed to be quite delighted. He pointed to a chair. And his wife came down and she sort of grasped the situation pretty quickly and they immediately fed me which after a fun five days was very acceptable. And I must admit with the warmth of the room and the food I dropped off to sleep. I don’t think it was very long but it was just enough to take the edge off of the tiredness. Probably half an hour or so. In the meantime, they had been busy and they got in touch with the local priest and I’d woken up and made myself as presentable as I could and there was a knock on the door. And they obviously were expecting him because the local priest did come in and he came up, beaming all over his face, put his hand out and said, ‘Goodbye.’ So I thought, ‘Crikey I’ve had my chips this time.’ Anyhow, he was very pleasant and we did get on. He had a fair bit of English and I had a certain amount French and we sat there and he sort of found out who I was and what I was which he was entitled to do of course and he said, ‘Tonight you come with me.’ I said, ‘Ok.’ I was in their hands. I had sort of appealed for help from them and he was the help. So we said goodbye to the man and his wife and I understood they had a boy, a son, who was about, somewhere around about the age of ten asleep upstairs and he was already in bed and asleep by the time I called on them. So, he wasn’t a complication. I don’t know what they would have done if he’d woken up and come down and seen me there. It would have been a very difficult situation for them. So, anyhow, it didn’t happen but I was aware that it could have done. And the priest and I went off and he came from another village so we set off at 11 o’clock, 11:30 at night during the hours when you’re not supposed to be about. Except that he, being the local priest, he had permission to attend his parishioners at any time when other people were supposed to be off the road. And we went out of the village, along some lanes and then came into another village and lo and behold there was the church. And he said, ‘This way,’ or words to that effect and we crossed over from the front of the church, about fifty sixty yards perhaps. I’m not sure. I wasn’t very good at guessing distances. And he took me into his home and despite the late hour his housekeeper was still up and she came and welcomed me there. I thought, ‘Crikey. They’re taking a chance.’ But it was alright and I’d already had something to eat and I’d had a drink and they now made sure I had some sleep. They took me upstairs. There was the bed. One of these typical continental beds which were all sort of like, ballooned. Puffed up. Anyhow, it was very comfortable and I got rid of most of my clothes and there we are. I slept on a bed for the rest of that night which was probably midnight or thereabouts when it started. And I was, I was awake moderately early but when I sort of got up the priest was already out on his rounds so I must have overslept a fair bit. And the housekeeper had me downstairs and gave me some breakfast which was nectar. There was nothing, nothing I could do other at that time. I just couldn’t go on out in broad daylight. I was in battledress. And eventually he came back, the priest came back and he had done his round. Whatever it was and he said, ‘You’ll be moving on tonight.’ Or words to that effect. And I said, ‘Oh that’s great.’ And we, yes, we spent a bit of time getting to know each other. He was a very pleasant man and we had some lunch. He said, ‘I’ve got other duties to perform so, ‘I’ll leave you but we have a visitor to come and see you,’ and he went off out. Where he went to or what he did I’ve no idea but shortly after he left then there was a bang on the door and a lady walked in. About forty I would say she was. Very attractive and her English was excellent. It really was. And so, the housekeeper brought, I think she brought us some tea in, I think. Something like that. We had a drink in anyhow. She then chatted to me for an hour, an hour and a half and it wasn’t just a chat just to pass the time. It certainly was, the intention was to find out I was on the level and not a plant of any sort. So I learned a certain amount about them and she certainly found out more about me. Anyhow, she said, ‘Well, nice to have met you. I’ll be off now to my family.’ And by 4 o’clock or so she was gone. She hadn’t been gone long and the priest turned up again. And I thought, ‘Ah they’ve passed me. They think I’m on the level. That I’m not a plant of any sort.’ And he said, ‘I’ve got a man coming to pick you up to take you into town.’ Or words to that effect. And so, we passed the time of day getting to know each other a bit more. [unclear] I seem to remember the name was. And sure, enough a man came in carrying a coat and he said, ‘The coat is for you.’ I thought, ‘Yeah that’ll cover my uniform up.’ And so we made our, said our goodbyes and we didn’t know when we would ever see each other again if ever but it was very amicable and I went off with this stranger. A little man. He was insignificant in attracting public attention and I hoped I was the same. And we went down. The bus came. We got on. And we’d arranged that he would get on on the front. I would then get on and stand at the back and he would be in the front and when we got to our destination he would get off and I would then follow him but getting off the bus on my own it didn’t — so nobody realised that we were together. So, yes, I was on the back of the bus standing up and we went about half a mile and we stopped outside some barracks and there was a group of, a small group of officers and there was, obviously one was the senior. I don’t know what rank he was. He looked as if he might be a captain or a major or something like that. Equivalent to that but the others all sort of stood to attention and saluted as he got on the bus which I thought was rather amusing. Anyhow, there was one or two other people got on the bus as well of ordinary soldier rank because they had moved away when the officer got on. And we started off. We stopped a few times. The bus got more crowded and we got more crushed up between each other in the back, top end of the bus. Back end of the bus. And there was I. I was surrounded by German soldiers and there was several officers amongst them. Anyhow, eventually we kept going into town and which was obviously a much bigger place than I’d been staying in that night. That was only a bit of a suburb. And I saw my guide, companion, get up. He didn’t look in my direction or anything like that. He just got up at the stop and got off so I did the same. I had to push my way through the Germans to get to the front of the bus, get off and he was waiting for me. And we just sort of nodded and we started walking off together and the bus went on its way with all of its people in it. We walked up a road which was adjoining the bus stop. You know, it went up. It was hilly but it wasn’t particularly steep and we stopped at the front of a house. There was, both sides of the road had houses down them and they were in — they were what we would call terraces. A terraced road. Terraced road. Perhaps dozens all in one continuous building — and rang the bell. The door swung open. There was a lady there and she looked at us and I’m certain she knew the guide. He’d done it before. Nothing was said. We just went in and she pointed us to go down the corridor and the man went away having collected the coat that I was wearing. They’d obviously got a use for it again sometime. So I was then back down to battledress. The ordinary grey one. And the lady said, ‘Come with me.’ She was quite good on English and she led me upstairs and pointed me to go into a room and there was a bloke standing in there in civvies. I looked at him. He looked at me and he said, ‘My God. Another one.’ And I then sussed from that that he was ex-RAF too which so it proved. Except that he was, he’d been a prisoner of war and he’d got away when he was sent out to a farm and apparently, he’d made no promises about not trying to get away or anything like that. They just sent him out and he went and he saw the opportunity and left. And I was now meeting him in somebody’s upstairs bedroom in a family house. And in actual fact the village which, the town which I was now in was Liege in Belgium. And it was quite busy. A lot of people. A lot of houses and what have you. And so, I stayed with this lady and it turned out she had a sister and the two, two ladies were part of an escape route operation and I’d struck oil. I really had. The man’s name. He was a sergeant or a flight sergeant. I’m not sure. He should have been a flight sergeant but he was already in civilian clothes so I didn’t find out for sure. Michael Joyce. And he was Irish and he was a regular in the RAF and he had done a runner from a prisoner of war situation and he’d got as far as this particular house and he was on the same jaunt as I was. Trying to get back to the UK. We travelled together right back to the UK. How much further do you want me to go?
AS: Carry on. It’s fascinating. Do you want to have a break for a minute?
GM: Just for a minute. Yeah. Yeah.
[recording paused]
AS: I’ve started so we’re now re-starting after a break.
GM: Yes.
AS: Ok. This is part — part two.
GM: Two.
AS: Yeah.
GM: Yes.
AS: Ok. Do, do carry on, Gordon.
GM: Yeah. I was saying it’s difficult to remember some names but perhaps they’ll come to mind. Anyhow, the two ladies, the sisters, lived in this house where I met Michael Joyce and we stayed there two or three days at the most. I have a vision of, on the first of the three days that I had there of going somewhere. I’m not sure whether I went somewhere or whether somebody came to me. Anyhow [pause] no, they came. They came to me and we went out in to the back, sort of a, you couldn’t call it a garden. It was a yard, I suppose, at the back of a house and he took some photographs of me and I understood that these were to be for the, an identity card which was necessary to have if you were travelling. And it didn’t take many minutes but he obviously did it as prescribed and I stayed there at that particular house two and a half days or thereabouts and in the meantime they prepared an identity card of sorts with my photographs on it. Ausweis or something like that I seem to remember they called it. And they had up to date pictures of me and I had, yes, another, something on. I wasn’t in the standard battledress uniform at the time. I must have put a coat of some sort on. This man went off and he said the photos would be ready shortly and so, it proved. They produced a document. An identity card, to my mind and sure enough there was my photograph like this, on this particular card. And so that was given to me so that if we were investigated at any time it would be there to support me. And we stayed on and we didn’t go out. We stayed in the house. Except perhaps we went out in the garden at the back. I say garden. It was little more than a yard but it was open air and then suddenly one of the ladies said, ‘You’re off today.’ And, ‘Oh. Right.’ She said, ‘After lunch.’ And that was it. This is what happened. We hadn’t got any accessories to carry. We just were there. I had, in the meanwhile, been fitted up with a suit which I kept for many years after that and eventually it was then passed on to somebody in the family. One of the youngsters who was growing up fast and he would be able to wear it for a short while and then he’d be too big for it but — which was rather strange because I was standing nearly six foot two at that time. Anyhow, it fitted well enough. And so, we came lunchtime on this day of departure from the safe house and we had some lunch and then there was a bang on the door and a youngish lady turned up. A mature lady to some extent. Forties I would say. It seemed to be about the working age of many of the helpers that we saw eventually. And we got our bits and pieces together. Michael — Michael Joyce and myself, we went downstairs and out in to the street and we had this lady with us and we just, in our borrowed clothes, ambled down as if we had got not a care in the world which, in actual fact, I don’t think we really did have. If we got picked up then we would be POWs. Prisoners of war. If a guide was with us the most likely thing that would happen would be — shot. So the danger really rested on the shoulders of the person that we were accompanying. Anyhow, we went down and to the bus stop. Waited for a bus. And we went off and eventually we came to a railway station. I used to be able to put a name to it. It’s gone at the moment. Anyhow, we found that when we got there that the train that we were expecting to catch had already gone. So, we went into the waiting room, sat down and we waited for the next train which was some little time. During that time then other people, passengers came and caught whatever trains they were expecting to catch. And then we started to fill up with soldiers. German soldiers of course. A couple of officers came into the waiting room where we were sitting and they were being a bit officious I thought. Perhaps they were on duty with the other ranks that had also arrived so that when the train came in then there was quite a large number of German soldiers waiting for it. We had a few moments in which we weren’t over happy with the closeness of the opposition so to speak but we acted like some, just ordinary civilians waiting for a train. And as I say, it pulled in and we went up and walked up along the platform a bit and got away from the military reserved section and got into the carriage and there was already some people in the compartment. And Mike and I got in and sat down and the lady sat between us and the other people in the compartment and the train pulled off and away we went. And it was to be, yeah, a period of some speculation in which we sort of had periods in our own, each of us in our own minds we thought well, are we going to make it on here or aren’t we? Because this was our first venture of travelling any space or any length of time with other passengers. There was, I was sitting next to the — on the side of the compartment and opposite me was a lady. My vision of her now is very slim but she was well, she was probably in her late forties, fifties and she had a basket or bag with her and after the train had been going for some short time she then started to unpack her bag and she produced a meal for herself. Bread and cheese and sort of stuff like that that she offered around. And I just refused with signs more or less. ‘Non. Merci.’ Mike did the same and I’m not sure what the other passengers did but I don’t think she had any takers. Anyhow, she sat there and enjoyed her meal and there was no conversation between us and them or between themselves — the Belgian people, at all. Eventually some of them got off and some of them stayed on and we started to run into Brussels. And [pause] now, I’m getting a bit hazy about that. I think we ran straight in. Yes, that’s right, it was and slowed down and made one or two stops until we came to the terminus and obviously that was — which was in Brussels. And we then, of course, had to get out. We just followed the lady to the pedestrian precinct which adjoined the station itself and we had to wait.
GM: Now, I haven’t thought about this for a long time.
GM: I’m sorry about this. Yes, we came out. Eventually we came out of the station. The lady and Mike and me. So where did we go? Can you switch off for a minute?
AS: Yes. I will. And I’ll, I’d like to change the battery on the machine as well.
GM: Yes, whatever you –
[recording paused]
GM: Let’s make a start then.
AS: Ok. So, part — part three then.
GM: Yeah.
AS: Yeah. Ok. Do carry on.
GM: Right. And so, we arrived in Brussels but having got off the train we found that there was nobody waiting for we had missed the earlier train when we started the day’s journey. And we were now in Brussels and we had to take alternative action with nobody at the station. Our lady, who was conducting us said, ‘Wait here and I will telephone through,’ which she did and she said, ‘It’s alright. We now have got a short journey to make,’ which meant that we — Mike and I and the lady in question got ourselves to the right stop to pick up a bus. Which we did. Outside the station in Brussels. We didn’t go very far but certainly it could well have been as much as a mile and we — the bus pulled up and the lady conducting us got off and we followed distantly so that we didn’t implicate her more than necessary. We crossed the road and she said, ‘It’s alright. We are now on our way.’ And sure enough, within quite a after a short walk we came to one of the roads with houses on both sides again as they were, most of them were in the town and she knocked on the front door of what was a flat or a type of accommodation. As is in most cases there the sleeping compartments were on the floor above. Like in a mini house. And the, having rung the bell, the door swung open and a young girl came and looked out and she looked somewhat as if she’d got no idea who we were which was quite right. She didn’t. But she spotted the lady with us and she said, ‘Oh hello auntie. Here you are.’ And we were then ushered into this house and we met the girl’s, she was practically a young lady by then, met the parents and we were well and truly welcomed. There was other members of the family there as well. We gathered that we were expected to stay there just as a temporary measure for the rest of the afternoon and early evening and that we would be moving on before it was bedtime. So, we settled down to a very pleasant sort of social event. And eventually we were told that it was time for us to move on and somebody else came and picked us, picked us up. I can’t remember for sure who it was but certainly we had a guide accompanying us. And we left the family regretfully because they had been good company to have us at such short notice. We get on a bus again and we turned towards the centre of the city and having reached what was obviously going to be our destination we got off and a short step away from the bus stop we turned sharply into an apartment block. And we had a lift to take us up. I’m not sure what floor we were on but I’ve a feeling it was the second floor up rather than the first. It wasn’t right down on the ground, certainly. But yes, I think it was that one. And we didn’t know what we were coming to but the gentleman who was with us — was it a man? Yes, now I’ve got a feeling we’d had an exchange. We reached a door. He put the key in and let us and sure enough this was a letted property and we were on an upper floor. And as we walked in to the flat he said, ‘Please don’t make any noise. We do have Gestapo people living just on the same floor here.’ Whether that was true or just to warn us not to not make much noise I’ve no idea but it certainly had the effect. And he said, ‘Right. Well you’re here for the night,’ and what have you. Breakfast and the like and I’ll see you then and with that he left us and Mike and I had the flat to ourselves. And yes we made use of it as directed and we, we spent the night there. At a reasonable hour then the following day then we got up and washed and shaved and dressed and by that time our guide who’d been with us the previous evening again arrived and he said, ‘Well, we have a little way to go.’ So, we hadn’t got any luggage with us as far as I can recall except for just necessary pieces of equipment for a shave and a wash and those sort of early morning preparations. And we went down and again we were on a bus. Just the three of us. That’s Mike and myself and the guide and we did get across a fair bit of Brussels towards a railway station and when we got there we found that we had plenty of time so we had a little while to, sort of, look around us and try and behave in the manner as the other people who were travelling and not to stand out. Eventually we were [pause] that’s right, when we got off the bus we then had a walk up a hill in a road which was divided to get one or two lanes. Wide lanes in each case and with a series of plants and trees down between them. So, it was like a two separate roads in the event as indeed it was because they were going in opposite directions to each other. And we went to a particular house. It was one in a whole row and going uphill so it was quite a pleasant road of changing levels. And we didn’t go very far before he, again we found ourselves knocking on the front door of a property. Here we were welcomed in and within a short time we were being introduced to the lady of the property. The name escapes me entirely at the moment but certainly it was a well to do establishment and we were taken upstairs and right to the top where there was almost an individual flat in which we could — certainly was set up for us. For two or three people to stay for a short period. And so we were then in quarters which certainly were very pleasant. We didn’t get out whilst we were there. We were in the premises all the time and the meals came and we found it very pleasant indeed despite the fact that we were in Belgium and it was occupied and it was a danger to the other people to have us there. But when the evening came we were very pleased to be invited downstairs to the lady that owned the property and lived in the property and we found that a meal had been prepared and we were having, what you might say, dinner. But it certainly was straightforward food such as was available for everybody there and we had a very pleasant evening. We even, in the latter part of the evening, had the radio on with the British tuned in, British radio tuned in and we heard the 9 o’clock news. What the news was I really can’t tell you. But certainly, we sat and listened to that just as if we were sitting at home and listening to it on the radio. We then had a very comfortable bed facing us and we were much pleased and appreciative of the owner’s entertainment. Not only food but radio and yeah, we swapped news and opinions for quite some little time. It was — it was in actual fact quite an enjoyable evening and undoubtedly we should at some time find the opposite but it was much appreciated. The next, the next day we were within the premises and I seem to think it wasn’t until the second day that we had the news that we were again moving on and in this case it was another train journey and we — our destination would be Paris which was quite a distance for us to take on in one hop, so to speak. Anyhow, they arrived and we had a very early breakfast and we left the house quite early morning and walked down to the international station. And we were accompanied by men we’d already met and we went on time. I seem to recall that it was still, it was still subdued light. I don’t think it was particularly dark but it certainly was not a bright, bright daylight. It was in between. Anyhow, so we got down to the departure station and took the train. There appeared to be — yes, an arrangement. The tickets were all organised for us and all we had to do was just be there. So we got on the train and whatever the time was, it probably was about 8 o’clock in the morning I would imagine or thereabouts the train pulled out of Brussels station and we headed with the end of that particular part of the journey was to be in Paris. This obviously was going to involve us in getting across the border between the two countries. The train was pretty well full and we did keep ourselves fairly quiet. There was a few undertone comments between Mike and myself and the time passed. And eventually the train slowed down and came to a halt and we did what everybody else did. We got off the train and it was — until it was empty. You got your baggage such as it was and we then followed the general flow of people down the length of the platform into a controlled area where we had to pass through the normal customs and border procedure. Mike and I were split up. He went through. And our guide, he went through. He more or less showed us to behave and what was necessary by example. Not by being particularly close to us but we kept an — I kept an eye on Mike and this bloke and Mike kept an eye on him for his own purpose. I was rather, sort of taken aback by having got through the first stage and turned in to a large room in which there was a number of customs officers. I think they were seated. And that was alright because I could see what other people were doing and I sort of followed the same procedures and I was taken aback by the presence of the German army with machine guns held at a ready — ready position. Not just slung over their shoulder or anything like that. But it was, they certainly were there for a purpose. Anyhow, I took my turn with the customs officer sitting down. He asked me a couple of questions. I’m not sure what they are now. In fact, I don’t remember for sure at all. And I must have been satisfactory. I nodded when it was appropriate and he sort of looked me up and down. He did his part of the job. I got my papers back and passed on. And I was asked if I’d got anything to declare and well, I hadn’t got anything other than what I was dressed up in really and with a, ‘No,’ they waved me on. And with a sigh of relief I walked out of that part of the building into the open air where there more soldiers but they were not interested in me and certainly I was fast wanting to get away from them. So we, Mike was up ahead of me and we were following and he was following the guide so I followed them and when we got back to the right carriage on the train which had pulled through from Belgium into France we then found our seats and sat there waiting until everybody had got reloaded onto the train and we set off. It was a little bit of conversation on the train but I sort of, I don’t think Mike expressed any sort of interest in what was being said and so we had a comparatively easy trip through France to Paris and which, we sort of pulled in and, of course, everybody wanted to move out at the same time so it was no good wanting to get on your way or get out and be unnoticed but just behave normally like everybody else was and take your time going through the station. All we had to do was sort of carry what little luggage or coats or anything like that that we had which was minimal as far as I was concerned. I got quite a reasonable suit on. And our guide eventually went up to a group of people and we just ambled along, one behind the other so to speak and joined, joined the group. There was the usual sort of semblance of greetings and the like. It was here that we were split up. Mike was associated with another person to me and I was to be the guest of a very pleasant man. Was it Monsieur — Monsieur [unclear]? Anyhow, we immediately struck up a sort of accord and he was a typical Parisian and before long Mike had gone off with his particular new partner and I with mine. We went down into the Underground and he did the necessary purchasing of the tickets and what have you and I think we were [pause] we got off the, the Metro at a place known as Sevres Babylone and eventually got up to ground level and we then were in one of the main parts of Paris and we went through a number of streets and he said, ‘Here we are.’ The gentleman I was with had good English really and certainly better than my French which was handy and we came to an open sort of window. Near the front door and sitting at the window which was open, it being quite a nice day anyhow, was a lady and she recognising my companion and nodded. Looked at me. ‘Bonjour.’ We passed through the front door into the block of flats and there was a lift close by and we were way off up to the top very quickly where, having got out, and just a short step and we were in one of the flats at the top of the house and I was being introduced to Madame [unclear] and who was the wife of my leader, so to speak. And I stayed there with them for a couple of nights. Perhaps it was three. I’m not sure off-hand at the moment. I would have to perhaps see if I’d got a record of the days spent there. They were a charming Parisienne couple and I was [pause] the only thing was that they didn’t have two bedrooms so that I spent the one or two evenings I had with them I slept on a long sort of chaise longue piece of furniture in the sitting room. So that, they’d got quite decent accommodation but certainly not a second bedroom because they didn’t normally use one but certainly, during the war, they had quite a number of people who stayed there like me. They slept on the couch and it was very, very pleasant indeed. And I seemed to remember that the gentleman was an insurance agent as a means of being a family and earning a living because there was quite a number of callers who came. Obviously, they were all known to Monsieur [unclear]. And they didn’t hide the fact that I was there and with, one or two of them spoke with me during the, during the short business visit. So it wasn’t kept a secret. And on one particular day Monsieur [unclear] and I went out after breakfast and we were going to a circular walk I suppose you would call it. Whatever. Anyhow, we left the house and we did visit various places in Paris. Even some of the well-known high spots or historical spots. And the churches as well. On the way around we had to cross the Seine and we got nearly half way across when we met, coming towards us, a priest and it so happened that Monsieur [unclear] had some connection with this priest in the work of the church and so, we stood on the bridge over the river and chatted to him for a few minutes. And the priest was left in no doubt as to my identity and we finally shook hands and he went on to the south and we went on across the river up to the Arc de Triomphe and we went down the main road from there for quite some way. The Champs Elysee. And when we got to the appropriate point we turned off to the left, back over the river and back to what I can now, would now call lodgings and it was a half day, sort of outing which was most unexpected and most, most interesting. Whilst I was staying with them I did meet a number of other people and on a couple of occasions on different days then I was taken around the corner in the road there and into another block of flats and there up on to one of the upper floors and was introduced to the lady of the house and she had Mike as her guest and so that we did maintain contact. Mostly when we were in Paris. It was very pleasant meeting these people and they seemed to enjoy bucking the German presence there by really taking on quite a risky job of having escaped RAF people pass through their premises and through their lives.
AS: Can I, can I suggest that —



Andrew Sadler, “Interview with Gordon Mellor. One,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 5, 2024,

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