At Beaunay Par Auffay
Group Captain Wandzilak's
I described how I was shot down over occupied France, whilst strafing a column
of German vehicles on August 26th
1944 in my article ‘The Fifth Anniversary’. It was 55
years ago and details of that day, especially after touching the ground on my
parachute are rather blurred.
was the end of my fourth operational sortie of that day and I was very tired.
I think that before I touched the ground I
heard the explosion of my crashing aircraft, but did not see it. Later, after
the liberation of France~ I revisited the place of the crash and collected a
piece of the Spitfire which I still have in my possession to this day.
As I was
descending to an open field, men and women who were working there ran towards
me. I detached myself from the parachute harness immediately and asked them to
take and hide the white silky canopy of my parachute. I do not recall what I did
with my Mae West, but obviously I must have given it to them as well.
My French was reasonable and I was able to
tell them to return to work as before. I asked a very young man (or boy) to help
me to hide quickly at the nearby farm. Fortunately the crashed aircraft was at
some reasonable distance and I assumed that the Germans would go to it first
before starting to search for me.
The people in
the field resumed working and the young man, I think called Marcel, ran with me
to the farm. He told me to climb a ladder in the hay barn and squeeze in between
the inside of the roof and the hay. He then took the ladder away and ran into
the field to rejoin the workers there. Within a short time a German car with
three or four soldiers drove into the farmyard. I could see them well through a
small opening between the slates on the roof. A very old woman came out from the
house to meet the Germans. I am sure that she did not know that I was in the
barn. By the movement of her hands, her behavior and her expression I could tell
that she did not know what was going on. After a while the Germans went away. I
felt a great sense of relief.
Chateau de Beaunay
I had been shot down in the latter part of
the afternoon and as the evening closed in Marcel came to me again and I told
him that I would like a cigarette and a drink of strong alcohol. He returned
with a packet of Gauloises and some brandy in a small bottle which smelled
strongly of Chanel perfume. I came down from hiding and enjoyed
immensely the smoke but not as much the brandy with its strong smell of perfume.
The evening soon descended and from
nowhere came a horse drawn line field cart driven by an old gentlemen, Monsieur
Wemaere; who spoke fluent English. He was accompanied by a middle aged gentleman
Monsieur Brenot and another man who was holding the horse (probably Leonard,
whom I never formally met).
The two gentlemen drove me to the Chateau of Monsieur Wemaere
with whom I was left alone. We entered the Chateau which was unlit and empty.
Monsieur Wemaere lit up a candle and led me to the kitchen. He told me that his
wife Mine Noeni Wemaere was at hospital with a minor wound on her thigh which
she had received from the piano in the reception room earlier that day. He
explained that officers of the Wermacht had stopped at the chateau for lunch and
left their military cars in front. Soon afterwards RAF spitfires dived at the
cars and fired upon them. One of the rounds came in through the window and
shattered the piano miraculously only causing Mine Wemaere a slight wound. In
the darkness of the kitchen, except for the candlelight, Monsieur Wemaere said
that all he could give me was bread and butter and a glass of wine. I could see
that he was very tired by the day’s events. Seeing him cutting the bread I
felt suddenly exhausted and my mind began to loose touch with reality. I do not
remember how he showed me to a guest bedroom nor how I managed to undress; I
fell into a deep sleep.
When I opened my eyes in the late morning
I saw a charming elderly lady with a cup of coffee who said to me; "Bonjour
mon capitain "It was Mine Wemaere who had earlier that day returned from
Although I began
to feel better I do not recall exactly the happenings of the next four days. I
was kept away from the outside world and probably even form the servants. I
talked to the Wemaeres a lot and learned that their son was in England with
Degaul’s parachute unit. They were greatly concerned about his future. Wemaere
knew Britain well and had visited there many times before the war and often
played golf in Scotland. We discussed the current situation in Normandy and they
knew from the reports on the radio that the Germans had been defeated at
Flllaise and were retreating in chaos eastwards, because of this it was thought
best for me to stay where I was.
The back of the card with the picture of the chateau.
evening before we saw the allied forces, Canadians and Poles, Monsieur Wemaere
gave me some civilian clothes and took me to the village. I saw there some
unarmed German soldiers standing depressed and dejected. I think that they had
decided not to flee eastwards but to
surrender and become prisoner of war rather than head for the Fatherland and
risk being sent to the front against the Soviet armies. The next day the area
slowly became no mans land, when the main body of German troops moved to the
east and our forces had yet to arrive. I dressed myself in my tropical suit
which I had been wearing when I was shot down because the end of August was
extremely hot. It was against the accepted regulations and I do not know why I
had disregarded them. On the jacket I had my RAF wings which were the only
indication of who I was. I then decided to go outside of the village towards the
expected allied armies. The Wemaeres and Monsieur Brenot gave me a very warm
goodbye with best wishes (as is written on the card with the chateau). As I
walked through the village the news spread around that an RAF pilot had been
hidden by the Wemaeres who had exposed themselves to a great risk, especially
considering their age. Everyone
around was overtaken by joy because it was ‘liberation’ on the first of
September 1944 on the fifth anniversary of the war.
that moment about a dozen German soldiers came out of hiding with their arms
held high and surrendered themselves to me. With difficulty they gave me to
understand that they believed that they were safe with me because I would obey
the Geneva Convention about prisoners of war.
They were also afraid of the French Maquis. I collected from
them a few souvenirs like cap badges and photographs. With this horde of POWs I
walked to the west of the village where a group of Canadians approached us in a
jeep. I explained to them my situation but was told that they had no time for me
and my POWs. As I walked further a jeep with a red cross upon it stopped and
took care of me especially when they noticed that my left knee was in a bandage.
I had hurt it a little when I bailed from my aircraft.
I cannot now remember
much except that by the evening I found myself in a mobile field hospital under
a tent. I was very tired from the emotional events of the day and I only
remember falling asleep to the sounds of moaning of a wounded.
Left: "Achtung Tiefflieger". G/C Gabszewicz,
F/Lt Wandzilak, P/O Jododijo (with sign), S/Ldr Retinger, Army liaison officer
and S/Ldr Gejsztoft IO.
Right: F/Lt Wandzialk pin-pointing the relevant area.
next day in no time I was taken to the HQ of 84 Group near an airfield in
Normandy. there I met my good friend Kazio
Krzeminski, who was about to fly to England on leave. With him I drank a lot of
Calvados Vodka and got terribly drunk. I was interrogated by an Army
intelligence officer and I had to sign a form stating that I would not tell
anyone where and whom I was helped by.
I telephoned the
sector at B 10 airfield where my squadron was staying. The telephone was
answered by W. Gnys who was shot down near Elbeuf a day before me; we both began
to argue that we should not be here. I remember having difficulty in speaking
with him as I was drunk. I just told him to tell the sector commander, G/C Gapszewicz that I was back.
Then I had some food
and had managed to sober up a little by the time I was driven to B10, an
airfield south of Caen. There I was
greeted with joy by everyone. As it had become very cold I was given my fur
flying jacket which was normally used only for high altitude flying.
I was photographed
several times with Gapszewicz, Retinger (my squadron commander) Jododio (the
adjutant), Geysztoft (the intelligence officer) and others. In one photograph
they held above my head German sign "A chtung Tiefliger", which the
Germans used to place on the French roads to Normandy to warn their transports
of the low flying aircraft. I was back with my squadron. It
was September 2nd.