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Flying Officer Fred Dyer in Brussels, October 1944

Flying Officer Frederick Stephen William Dyer

 

Unit : 233 Squadron, 46 Group

Service No. : 417820

 

Flying Officer Fred Dyer was the Royal Australian Air Force navigator aboard Dakota KG-399, which was shot down on Thursday 21st September 1944. The subsequent crash resulted in the deaths of the pilot and co-pilot, Flying Officer Mike Ades and Flight Sergeant Ken Dorville, but Flying Officer Dyer, Flight Sergeant Jack Hickey AFM (Wireless Operator) and the RASC despatchers; Lance-Corporals A. North and R. Scott, and Drivers J. Warner and G. Woodcock, all survived.

 

The following is Flying Officer's Dyer's account of his experiences of that flight and the weeks that followed. My thanks to Steve Dyer for his permission to use it on the site.

 

Evasion in Holland 1944

 

We were engaged on a Resupply operation to Arnhem on September 21st, with a load of oil and mortar bombs in 16 panniers. We had 4 Army men aboard to put the load out when we reached the Dropping Zone (D.Z.) , so there were 8 men aboard, Mike Ades and Ken Dorville (pilots), myself (navigator), and Jack Hickey (wireless operator). Everything went O.K. until we reached the D.Z. at 4.06 p.m., where we had to run through a lot of light flak. I think we were hit, but not seriously, and we began the return trip. About 10 minutes after leaving Arnhem, at 5,000 ft., we received several hits from an Oerlikon gun on the ground, being hit in the port wing and in the fuselage, one shot came through the floor just in front of Mike's feet, and out through the top of the cabin.

 

Several minutes later, the army men drew attention to flames coming through the floor, and after telling Mike, I tried to put them out with the fire Extinguisher, but they had a firm hold by that time and I had to abandon the extinguisher. Mike decided to try to reach the British lines before crash landing, and when we were down to 2,000 ft. told me to get the Army chaps into crash-landing positions. Before going aft to do so, I clipped my parachute pack onto my harness.

 

I went back to the aft door, where Jack was standing reassuring the Army men, and told them we were going to crash-land. They said it was too late, and pointed over my shoulder. I turned, and saw that in the last few seconds the forward part of the fuselage had been enveloped in flame and smoke. Jack and I decided the time had come to abandon aircraft, and told the Army men to Jump with us. I went out, and Jack followed, but the others failed to do so. [Years later I discovered that the Army men did jump, and became P.O.W.s] The pilots were trapped by the flames, and died of burns near the crash.

 

By the time we jumped, we were only at about 800 ft., and so it only took us about 20 seconds to reach the ground. Just as we left the aircraft, it was engaged by heavy machine-gun fire from a position about half a mile away from us, and when the aircraft drew out of range, they fired a few bursts at us, but did not hit either of us.

 

We hit the ground at 4.40 p.m. about 50 yards apart, in a small clearing in a large forest, both landing unhurt. We hid our parachutes and Mae Wests in a ditch, and ran off in a westerly direction in order to get away from our landing position as quickly as possible. We heard rifle shots from the direction of the machine gun, and heard a couple of hits in the trees near us, but after about an hour things quietened down, and we hid in some thick undergrowth to work out a plan.

 

We decided that we must first contact a friendly farmer [as briefed], and moved through the woods until we came to a large barn. We found that it was part of a farm of about 400 acres, surrounded by woods, and seemed quite secluded, which was what we wanted. Several people were digging potatoes at the southern end, and as twilight gathered they walked northwards, and would have passed about a hundred yards away. As they came near, we showed ourselves, and when we saw that we had been observed, walked towards them.

 

They were Dutch people, and one of them spoke a very little English, so we were able to gather that we were in Holland, and about 30 miles from the British Army Front Line. They took us to the barn, and after about 15 minutes, we went across to the house, which was in the northwest of the clearing. The whole family held a conference, and finally motioned us into the house, and gave us a meal of bacon and eggs. After this, we were returned to the barn for the night, and hid in the straw. As I had been working in my shirt-sleeves, my jacket was left in the aircraft, so the eldest daughter gave me a pair of old overalls, and a red woollen scarf. We spent a very chilly night, but slept fairly well as we had had a busy day.

 

During the next day, a man, who spoke English, came to see us from the "Common Office", and told us we must remain in hiding, as there were many Germans around, about 200 Supply Personnel being stationed the village of Hooge Mierde, 5 kilometres away.

 

We stayed in the barn most of the next twelve days, and were fed by the family, whose name, we found, was Valckx. The family consisted of 11 children from about 12 to 25. Three days were fine enough and safe enough for -us to sit in the woods, about 100 yards from the house, and were thus able to have a change of surroundings, as well as the slight exercise gained in the brisk walks to and from the barn, as the barn was too full to make exercise practical. One night we decided to stay in the woods, as there was brisk fighting in the woods to the south, and the barn promised good cover and observation positions if the fighting came north. However, it died out next day, and after drying ourselves in the kitchen, (it rained all night), we returned to the barn.

 

After the first three nights, when it became obvious that the Allied Armies lightning advance from Normandy must have been stopped, we hollowed out a deep shelter in the straw, and it enabled us to lie about four feet below the surface; besides giving us a feeling of greater safety, it was much warmer at night. We descended into our pit at dark (about 7 p.m.) and came up in the mornings when the farmers gave us the "all clear". The fine pieces of straw working beneath our clothing, irritated us constantly, the stiff straws were forever poking our faces, ears and noses.

 

From an opening in one end of the barn we could see the Church steeple of Hooge Mierde, and beyond it the steeple of Laage Mierde, and we spent most of our time gazing at them. We slept a lot during the first few days, but we soon weren't tired enough to sleep in the daytime, and just lay in the straw looking out at the 2 steeples. The food was nourishing, mainly hot potatoes and milk for dinner, and cheese and half-cured ham sandwiches for breakfast and tea.

 

The number of Germans in the vicinity varied; at one time there were 1,000 in the village, with mechanised forces and artillery dispersed in the woods, and at other times there were only a few dozen.

 

On the 23rd we saw another Resupply operation go north to Arnhem. Night and day the air was almost unceasingly humming with aircraft engines (all Allied). We saw several big Fortress and Liberator forces go over, and heard quite a few night bomber forces. We also saw a lot of medium bomber forces, and occasionally a roving band of Spitfires passed overhead. We saw 2 Spitfires diving and cannon-firing near Hooge Mierde.

 

During our last four days in the barn we heard artillery firing and shells bursting to the east, north and south, the nearest was about a mile away. One night we heard an explosion which shook the barn; we subsequently found out that it was the blowing of a vital bridge by the Germans.

 

On October 1st a Squadron of Spitfires strafed the artillery positions south of us for 20 minutes.

 

On October 3rd we decided to try and walk through to the British lines, and borrowed overalls, scarf, can and overcoat for disguise. Jerard, our main guardian, and the English-speaking man from the village, started out to guide us, but we had only got as far as the village, when we saw an armored car patrol from the Welsh Division. After returning our disguise, we rode back with them to Reusal, 8 kilometres to the east, where heavy fighting had been in progress for the last four days. We were stupefied when we heard that Arnhem was evacuated. From there we went in a jeep to Divisional Headquarters, where we had tea, and I got an issue of Jacket and greatcoat. The Divisional Provost Marshal sent us to Diest in his personal car, and next day we went by truck to Brussels. We spent two days there and were then flown to Croydon.

 

Since the above was written, I have heard from our Dutch friends that our aircraft crashed about two miles from Hooge Mierde. The two pilots were found by the Belgians, who tried to give them first aid and a drink, but "it was not permitted", apparently the Germans also found them. The British Liberation Army found their bodies by the aircraft on September 25th, and a Padre buried them nearby. Since then they have been - moved to a British War Cemetery. No mention was made of the four Amy chaps, so it appears that they also bailed out.

 

Veterans Ads - Fred Dyer was shot down by ground fire on a resupply sortie with 233 Squadron on 21 September 1944.As his biography on this site shows, his Dakota crashed near the Dutch-Belgian border.I am seeking further details about the location and whether he was shot down by ground fire or by fighter aircraft. ss.dyer@hotmail.com

 

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