Pictures

Pilot Officer Maurice McHugh

Pilot Officer Maurice McHugh

The McHugh family, circa 1937

Maurice McHugh with his girlfriend, Dumell McDonald

Pilot Officer Maurice McHugh

Pilot Officer Maurice McHugh

Documents recording Pilot Officer McHugh as missing, and later killed

Pilot Officer Maurice McHugh

 

Unit : 620 Squadron, 38 Group

Service No. : 410858

 

Introduction

 

My name is Peter John McHugh. My uncle, Maurice McHugh, was an Australian Pilot Officer flying a Short Stirling Bomber with 620 squadron of the Royal Air Force in WW2. Maurice's plane was shot down by flak and he was killed in Holland on the 20 September 1944 while flying a resupply mission to British troops near Arnhem in the failed campaign called Operation Market Garden more commonly known as a "Bridge Too Far". Maurice was 21 years old and one of only 13 Australians killed in this tragic and futile battle to liberate Holland.

 

Like many families during the war it created a great deal of anguish not knowing precisely what happened to Maurice in a country so far away from home. Compelling original documents that I have recently unearthed on the internet together with a visit to Holland in 2014 to meet some of the surviving eye witnesses has enabled me to finally piece together what exactly happened to Maurice and his aircrew 70 years ago and about his extraordinary feats of bravery. This is my story of discovery…… February 2015.

 

His Early Life

 

Maurice McHugh was born in St Kilda, a suburb of Melbourne on 9 July 1923. He was one of four children to Augustus and Annie May McHugh. He had two older sisters Nancy (1919) and Kathleen (1921) as well as a younger brother John (1925). Maurice's father, Augustus McHugh, worked as a signalman for the Victorian Railways and moved about State before finally settling in Preston in a newly built family home at 34 Breffna Street in 1942 where they stayed for the reminder of their lives. Maurice was educated at South Preston Primary School and Northcote Boys High school.

 

Maurice had a girlfriend in 1941, Dumell McDonald, who also lived nearby in Preston. They wrote to each other while he was away in England during the war. Dumell is now 90 years old and lives in Queensland. Dumell kept in touch with the McHugh family long after the war. She was my mother's bridesmaid in 1948.

 

Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF)

 

Maurice joined the Air Force Reserve in October 1941. He stated his employment on his enlistment papers as a law clerk at Rigby & Fielding, 60 Market Street in Melbourne. In February 1942, when he was 18 years and 6 months old Maurice enlisted in the RAAF. His service number was 410858. He began his RAAF training with 4 Initial Training School (4 ITS) at Victor Harbour in South Australia. After initial training Maurice progressed to 11 Elementary Flying School (11 EFTS) at Benalla in June 1942 where he learned basic flying skills in DH84 tiger moths.

 

He continued his training at 6 Service Flying Training School (6 SFTS) at RAAF Station Mallala, South Australia in October 1942 where he flew Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) Wirraway trainers before converting to twin engine Avro Anson's. Maurice graduated at Mallala with his "wings" and the rank of Flight Sergeant on the 5 February 1943. Maurice had a younger brother, John McHugh, who was my father. He was also a RAAF pilot but travelled to Canada as part of the Empire Training Scheme in 1944.

 

Posted to the Royal Air Force (RAF) in England

 

Maurice's RAAF records show he embarked from Melbourne for England on the 6 March 1943 and arrived at Halifax on the 19 April 1943. In England his Air Force record lists a series of postings to training courses including 15 Advanced Flying Unit (15 AFU), 81 Operational Training School (81 OTU), then conversion to heavy bombers and glider towing operations including 1665 Heavy Conversion Unit (1665 HCU) at Tilstock in Shropshire.

 

Maurice's record received a slight blemish in July 1943 for the somewhat minor transgression of "wearing his air crew suit beyond the confines of the camp contrary to pupil's standing orders" and he received a severe reprimand. The next day he was in trouble again for insolence to Flight Lieutenant Butcher, but with no further action taken. Maurice also got into trouble in May 1944 for flying too low over the airfield. He was flying an aircraft with a horsa glider in tow across the middle of the airfield at about a 100 feet above the ground. I wonder if he buzzed the control tower too?

 

On completion of his training, on D-Day, 6 June 1944 Maurice and his aircrew were posted to 620 Squadron based in RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire flying a Short Stirling Bomber. In Dennis Williams 2008 book titled "Stirling's in Action with Airborne Forces" there is this account from Maurice's Flight Engineer, Sergeant David Evans in relation to D-Day - "Very early on D-Day we were awakened at Tilstock to be told that the invasion of Europe had started, and that we were posted to Fairford. We had only a slept an hour or two, after landing from a long cross-country flight the night before. Although tired and bleary eyed, we had a terrific feeling of elation, for our chance had come at last to pit our wits against the enemy. We got our clearance from Tilstock arranged in double time, and were on our way south and nearer to where the action was taking place." Maurice survived D-Day flying operations with 620 Squadron dropping paratroopers of the 6th Airborne Division near Caen as part of Operation Tonga.

 

Maurice resigned from the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) on 7 May 1944 to take up a commission as a Pilot Officer with the Royal Air Force (RAF). I am puzzled why this was necessary and why he wasn't able to remain as an Australian Officer. Maybe it was just the times. I noticed that on his enlistment papers in 1942 he declared himself as a "British Subject". There didn't seem an option to list as an "Australian Citizen".

 

According to another account from Sgt Evans, once Maurice became an officer he left the other crew members for the officers' mess, where one evening at a social gathering he met Air Vice-Marshal Hollinghurst, who was in command of 38 Group. "On this occasion, he invited the AOC to fly with them when we were next operational. Soon after they had completed their pre-flight checks, Air Vice-Marshal Hollinghurst arrived at the dispersal point, in a staff car, accompanied by the Station Commander. The crew formed a line and stood to attention as Maurice introduced each of in turn. The AOC made it clear that once in the aircraft the pilot would be in command and that they were to take no notice of their VIP passenger. He sat in the second pilot's seat and it was a very uneventful but successful operation. He must also have been pleased, because he flew with Maurice and his crew again later in August. On this later occasion they were diverted to another airfield on their return where he joined them in the mess for bacon and eggs, causing a hullabaloo amongst the staff serving the meal."

 

The diversion, to which David Evans referred, was early in the morning of 3 August 1944, as forty out of sixty-five aircraft from 38 Group landed away, mostly at airfields in West Wales. Out of twenty-two Fairford Stirling's returning from operations, sixteen went to either Brawdy in Pembrokeshire or Fairwood Common (now Swansea Airport) on the Gower peninsula. According to Sgt Evans log book, Maurice and his crew went on to fly about 25 secret night missions between June and September 1944 to resupply allied forces, special operations and the French resistance.

 

Operation Market Garden - "A Bridge Too Far"

 

On the first day of the Operation Market Garden, Sunday 17 September 1944, thirty eight aircraft took off from RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire flying along the northern route to Arnhem carrying 1 Parachute Brigade and 1 Air Landing Brigade.

 

Maurice and his crew of five took off at 10.50 hrs in their Short Stirling Bomber (LJ-946) towing an airspeed horsa glider loaded with 12 soldiers, a jeep and trailer carrying mortars and ammunition to the drop zone near Arnhem. There was very little enemy opposition on the opening day of Operation Market Garden and his aircraft returned safely to Fairford at 15.30 hrs. Short Stirling towing a horsa Glider at RAF Fairford On the day of invasion, thousands of allied aircraft converged near London before making their way across the English Channel to Holland. The stream of bombers, gliders, transport planes and fighter escorts stretched for over 150 km and was 5 km wide. It must have been quite a sight.

 

The objective of the soldiers in the horsa glider was to move quickly after landing to capture the bridge over the lower Rhine River at Arnhem. The landing zone was nearly 12 km west of the bridge and fierce fighting over subsequent days meant these troops never got to Arnhem but were surrounded by well organised German panzer tanks at the village of Oosterbeek.

 

Over the succeeding days Maurice and his crew flew missions to drop supplies to allied troops on the ground near Arnhem. Sadly, because of the intense house-to-house fighting and the rapidly shrinking British perimeter compounded by poor radio communications most of these supplies fell into enemy hands. The resupply flights into Arnhem were hampered for several days by cloud cover in England, which forced the postponement of follow-on drops, including Sosabowski's Polish paratroopers, leaving the British paratroopers at Arnhem especially short of water, ammunition, and much needed reinforcements

 

Shot Down and Killed - 20 September 1944

 

On the fourth day of the battle, Wednesday 20 September 1944, there was fierce fighting around the Arnhem Bridge and also further west around the village of Oosterbeek. At 10am the crews at RAF Fairford attended a briefing for their next supply operation. By this time, news had been received that the initial target drop zone, (DZ-V) had fallen into enemy hands. The drops were therefore made to a new location at Oosterbeek within the shrinking British perimeter.

 

Later in the morning, it was decided to postpone the departure time at Fairford by two hours, so it was not until 1440 hrs that the first of seventeen aircraft from 620 squadron took off along the southern route to Holland. This new information about the delay in departure was not adequately communicated so planned fighter cover for the mission did not rendezvous as planned. Maurice once again took off in his Short Stirling bomber, LK-548 (fuselage code QS-Y) with a crew of seven including two British army dispatchers from Fairford at 14.45 pm to resupply beleaguered British paratroopers on the ground at Oosterbeek that were being slowly encircled by German panzer tanks. It never returned.

 

Official reports show that flying low (1500') and slow on the run into the drop zone the plane was hit by flak and incendiary bullets and the starboard aileron caught fire but the crew continued bravely on their mission. An account by the flight engineer Sgt David Evans said "As we approached Arnhem from the southerly direction the flak appeared much heavier than the previous day. Incendiary bullets tore into the trailing edge of the starboard edge and set it alight and from my position in the astrodome I could see the flames." Later Sgt Evans said in his account "minutes later I was momentarily blinded by dust as a cannon shell pierced the wooden frame of the astrodome within an inch of my nose. I was shocked that my position was straddled by cannon fire which made very neat holes about 18 inches apart in the floor of the compartment."

 

After successfully dropping their supplies and banking out to return to England the plane was once again hit, this time by an 88mm shell that went through the main petrol tank in the starboard wing but fortunately without exploding. But this was soon followed by a fountain of high octane fuel that became a roaring jet of fire as the wing and inside the fuselage was ablaze. Struggling to maintain height, Maurice then gave the order to abandon the aircraft by which time the plane had dropped to about 800-1000' and three airmen (Evans, Gasgoyne and Hume) managed to parachute out. They sustained injuries from the jump with two being knocked unconscious. They made their way back to England via Brussels with the help of the Dutch Resistance within a few days of the crash. Significantly, it is reported by the navigator Flight Sergeant Hume, that Maurice refused a parachute that was offered to him and stayed valiantly with the controls of the stricken plane to allow others of his crew to escape.

 

Maurice continued to fly the burning plane towards home for another 50 km before crashing into a Dutch farm at Vorstenbosch. Maurice and the rest of the crew were killed. On their return to England the three survivors made official witness statements. These are held in the Australian National Archives and confirm the story that Maurice refused a parachute when it was offered to him and stayed with the plane to allow his aircrew to bail out. Two of the seventeen Stirling's from 620 squadron sent to Arnhem on 20 September failed to return and many others limped back seriously damaged. By the evening of 20 September 1944, the Battle of the Arnhem Bridge was all but lost. Of the 34000 British, American and Polish airborne troops landed in Operation Market Garden about half ended up being either killed, wounded or captured. Maurice was one of 13 Australian airmen. He was only 21 years old.

 

Finding Out What Happened

 

I have discovered a great deal about my uncle during the last few years from the internet as official WW2 documents have become progressively scanned and made available online. Like many families during the war it created a great deal of anguish not knowing exactly what happened to their son in a country so far away from home. The major breakthrough came in early 2014 when I was able to track down the coordinates of the crash site using a German internet page cataloguing lost WW2 aircraft. http://www.lostaircraft.com/database.php?e=30119&mode=viewentry

 

The red dot at the centre of the map is near the location of the crash.

 

I subsequently learned from local amateur historians in Holland and the archived documents that his aircraft was hit by flak and caught fire and crashed 7pm (local time) in a field in front of the house of Mr Verhoeven, Meuwelweg 3, near Vorstenbosch. I wrote a "cold letter" in July 2014 to the address that I had identified off the internet map with a copy translated into Dutch. I didn't really expect a reply but to my amazement I was called at home in Australia about two weeks later by the owner Mr William van der Donk. Mr van der Donk told me how the internet map was slightly incorrect and that the real crash site was just around the corner from his home. He also told me how he and the people in nearby village of Vorstenbosch knew all about Maurice and that there were even some eye witnesses from the Verhoeven family that lived in the house in 1944 that were still alive that would love to meet me. William sent me two Dutch newspaper articles and photos from December 1977 that the Verhoeven family had kept from when the wreckage was recovered from their farm. The field was being levelled for agricultural purposes and the Royal Dutch Air Force had been called to dispose of some remaining unexploded ordinance and they took the bent propeller to the local airbase Volkel.

 

The Records

 

There were eight men on board the Short Stirling Bomber aircraft when it left RAF Fairford in England at 14.45pm on 20 September 1944 for another resupply mission to Arnhem. It failed to return and they were listed as missing. Five men were killed in the crash around 7 pm local time near the small Dutch village of Vorstenbosch including:

 

        1. Pilot Officer, Maurice McHugh

        2. Wireless Operator - Flight Sergeant, Eric Arthur Bradshaw

        3. Rear Gunner- Sergeant, Thomas Vickers

        4. Dispatcher - Lance Corporal, John Waring

        5. Dispatcher - Driver, Ernest Victor Heckford.

 

Those killed were initially buried in the Nistelrode General Cemetery but were reinterred in a communal grave at the Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery after the war in 1949. Maurice was the only Australian on-board the aircraft and all others were British. Three men parachuted out safely and evaded capture including:

 

        1. Navigator - Flight Sergeant, John (Jock) Hume

        2. Flight Engineer - Sergeant, David Evans

        3. Bomb Aimer - Flight Sergeant, Nicholas Gasgoyne.

 

The plane crashed in occupied enemy territory and the German troops searched for the parachutists. The local Dutch resistance hid the injured airmen in a local church. The three men who managed to parachute out evaded capture with the help of the local Dutch resistance and returned to England via Brussels only a few days later and made official statements on Sunday 24 September 1944 at their home base at RAF Fairford. Copies of the original statements made by the three survivors are held in the Australian National Archives (ref A705, 166/26/594).

 

Sgt Evans, Flight Sergeant Hume and Flight Sergeant Gasgoyne evaded capture. In a report Flight Sergeant Hume stated: "I was the first to bail out at approx. 1000 feet. My chute opened and I saw the aircraft strike the ground at a 45 degree angle. I saw two other chutes in the air, and Dutch eye witnesses said only three chutes were seen. Pilot Officer McHugh refused a chute which was offered to him."

 

Flight Sergeant Evans in his report stated: "I was the Flight Engineer on Stirling LK548 on an operational flight to Arnhem. On the appropriate drop zone intense ack-ack was encountered at a height of about 1500 feet. The starboard aileron was set alight, but Pilot Officer McHugh kept a straight course and did his utmost to drop the supplies in the correct area and was successful. During the whole time there was intense flak. After dropping the supplies, the Captain put the aircraft into a climb turning back at the same time. The aileron was still burning, and as soon as the aircraft had turned around, the petrol tank immediately forward of the aileron received a direct hit, and the whole wing tip burst into flames. I advised Pilot Officer McHugh as to the condition of the aircraft, and he gave the abandon order. I put on a chute and took off my helmet. By now the whole starboard wing was alight, also the centre section, and the Captain was struggling hard to maintain height which was impossible. I was the second to leave the aircraft, and as I jumped I heard several explosions. The Navigator was first out and I followed, then the Air Bomber. I was knocked unconscious by the opening of the chute, and did not see the aircraft crash. I landed about 3 miles North of Uden, and met the other two. I believe the other three were in the aircraft when it crashed." Ref: Storr, Allan (ed.). (2006). Page 260. http://www.awm.gov.au/catalogue/research_centre/pdf/rc09125z008_1.pdf

 

Furthermore, in his book "Stirling's in Action with Airborne Forces" by Dennis Williams published in 2008, the flight engineer, Sergeant David Evans gives a slightly more detailed account of what happened on 20 September 1944 and of his subsequent escape back to England with the other airmen. Importantly, even after the passage of 64 years it is consistent with his original 1944 statement. According to Sgt Evans' family the injuries he sustained when parachuting out of the plane was the end of his war service in the RAF. He remained very proud of his contribution and he visited Holland and the crash site several times after the war but sadly died in 2014.

 

The Australian National Archives also show that the McHugh family received a number of letters and telegrams from authorities advising of the crash but did not confirm if Maurice was dead for some time. Because Maurice was shot down behind enemy lines he was initially listed as missing. However, one of the survivors of the crash, the Bomb Aimer, Nick Gasgoyne deserves a special mention. He wrote to the family soon after the crash and told of what happened. Sadly this letter is missing but the contents of his letter were requoted when my grandmother Annie May McHugh wrote to the Air Force on 6 May 1945 trying to find out what happened to Maurice. She uses the words from Nick Gascoyne's letter - "Maurice made his turn with the calm assurance of a veteran and we dropped our load accurately but on coming out were hit in several places and caught fire. The fire was pretty fierce and we had no hope of putting it out so the order to abandon the aircraft, in the same steady voice was given. Three of the crew managed to make it - myself being the last one. I'm sorry to say that Maurice in his attempt to keep the plane in the air until the remainder were out stayed with it till it hit the ground. I'm afraid that Maurice died struggling to gain control of the plane."

 

In February 1945 some further details of the crash were made available to the family from the air force including part of the statement for the navigator, Flight Sergeant Hume's that Maurice "refused a parachute which was offered to him." Sadly, it took nearly nine more months of uncertainty until 15 June 1945 for the family to receive official confirmation that Maurice was presumed dead. Later in March 1950 the family received official advice that Maurice had been reburied at Canadian War Cemetery at Groesbeek on the Dutch/German border.

 

Planning my Visit to the Netherlands - 2014

 

After uncovering all this new information about Maurice from the internet I wrote to the Australian Foreign Minister, The Hon. Julie Bishop in July 2014 to find out if Australia was being represented at the 70th anniversary commemorations in the Netherlands in September 2014. I firmly believed that Australia should be recognised for its small but significant contribution. I also expected that the governments of Britain, America, Netherlands and Poland would have official representations. I also imagined a large number of veterans and their families would also make the pilgrimage because many were now aged well into their 90's and this would most likely be their last visit. I eventually received a reply in late August 2014 from the Minister for Veterans Affairs via my local Federal Member of Parliament, Darren Chester, supporting my trip by giving me the contact details for the Australian Defence attaché in London, Brigadier Bill Sowry. Darren also gave me an Australian flag to take with me on my trip that I later gave to the school in Vorstenbosch.

 

For convenience of travel I signed up with a British tour group for the 70th anniversary commemorations at Arnhem and met a number of original veterans and their families. The people I met on the tour were wonderful and very interested and surprised about the Australian connection to Operation Market Garden.

 

The Smolenaer brothers, Jan (age 83) and Toin (age 82) were also eye witnesses and told me how they were working the field as young boys with their stepfather digging potatoes and saw the plane crash only a few hundred meters from where they were standing. They ran to the crashed plane but had to lie in a ditch for over an hour while the wreckage burned and the ammunition exploded. They said that German troops chased them away as they searched for the three airmen that had parachuted out. Significantly, from their vantage point they saw Maurice in the cockpit as he pulled back on the controls of the plane and it skipped over the Verhoeven house, lost airspeed and crashed into the field about 100m on the other side. They also believe that Maurice was possibly trying to "bellyland" the burning aircraft into the field. They were both adamant it was a very brave thing to do and that if the plane had hit the house it would have almost certainly killed the entire Verhoeven family of seven. This account by the two Smolenaer brothers of the aircraft pulling up at the last minute to avoid the Verhoeven house and then hitting the ground hard and catching fire is consistent with the 1944 statement of the navigator, Jock Hume, who said that after he parachuted out he "saw the aircraft hit the ground at an angle of forty-five degrees. It immediately burst into flames."

 

One of the people I met in Vorstenbosch was from the local church and she told me about Sister Emmanuel who with some other nuns took the bodies of Maurice and the other airmen from the smouldering wreckage to be buried at a small nearby town called Nistelrode. It's nice to think they were laid to rest by the nuns who would have said a prayer for them. They did this only a few hours after the plane crashed. The Smolenaer brothers and Verhoeven family saw this happen and confirmed this story with me. They also said it would have been a very dangerous thing to do in September 1944. The area was occupied by German soldiers looking for the three airmen that had parachuted out and who were being hidden by the Dutch resistance in a nearby church. There was also a strict night curfew in place. Sister Emmanuel looks pretty formidable ... I certainly wouldn't tangle with her ... so I suppose the German soldiers gave her a wide berth too.

 

I was introduced to Professor Harry van Kessel. It turned out he was a classmate of Jan Smolenaer. His father, Bert was the manager of a local cooperative mill and sexton of the St Lambertus church and was responsible for maintenance of its buildings and the surrounding graveyard so he had an exemption from the 24 hour curfew. Harry said his father Bert van Kessel was part of the Dutch resistance that hid navigator Flt Sgt Jock Hume and the bomb aimer Flt Sgt Nicholas Gascoyne in the church from the Germans. Bert brought them food during their stay and helped arranged for them to be smuggled back to England via Brussels. The airmen were attended by doctors while at the church. By this stage, collaborators were being rounded up from the area by the Dutch resistance and held at the church. Their fate is unknown. Harry said he remembers the airmen as a boy and showed me some falsified identity papers. The papers were all in Dutch and impossible for me to read and he spoke little English.

 

Meanwhile, the flight engineer, Sgt David Evans was rescued by the van Hintum family near Nistelrode after he parachuted out. He had been knocked unconscious and injured in the jump. He was taken next day on the back of a motorbike to St Lambertus church in Vorstenbosch to join up with his colleagues before returning to England.

 

A brass plaque with Maurice's name along with other RAAF airmen killed during Operation Market Garden is mounted in the cafe area of the Hartenstein Hotel at Oosterbeek which houses the Airborne Museum. This was the HQ of the British paratroops during the battle. Plaque in Arnhem. - Presented by 23 Squadron (city of Brisbane) in 1998

 

 

Attachments

 

        O.C. 295 Squadron, R.A.F., RIVENHALL.

        From 1139605 F/Sgt. Gascoyne, N.

Sir,

        I beg to submit a report regarding my late crews misfortune met at Holland on Sep. 20th, 1944 and on the presumed death of my late pilot - F/O Mc.Hugh.

        We were hit in numerous places during the bombing run but managed to reach the target and drop our load as briefed. On the run out, the starboard wing caught fire and continued to blaze for several seconds but seemed to peter out. After a further few minutes of flying the fire broke out again - this time more fierce than before, and the order to abandon aircraft was given by the skipper. I, acting as Air Bomber of the crew was in the nose and immediately donned by chute and opened the escape hatch. By this time, the Navigator was hurrying down the steps leading to the nose, followed closely by the Flight Engineer. I stood by and watched them both go. Following them as soon as the exit was clear - I was the last member to leave.

        On leaving the aircraft I was hit on the head and lost consciousness for several seconds before pulling my ripcord. Consequently I didn't witness what became of the aircraft after my hasty exit. The navigator however, watched it spin down to earth out of control in a blaze of flame. The remainder of the crew were still in it, so I can only surmise that they perished - they certainly did not bail out.

        On recovering my senses after bailing out I pulled my ripcord and sailed gently down to earth from approx. 800 ft. I discovered that I had landed about 6 miles N.N.E. of the village of UDON where I finally contacted both my Navigator and flight engineer. Here I had my head dressed by a Dutch doctor before proceeding to the Headquarters of the underground movement who organised our passage to Brussels and so back to England.

        I am, Sir, your obedient servant,

                Signed... N. Gascoyne F/Sgt.

 

 

STATEMENT MADE BY 2205525 F/SGT. EVANS, D.P. in respect of P/O M McHUGH Aus/410858 - missing

        I was Flight Engineer on Stirling aircraft No.LK.548 of 620 Squadron, which took off from R.A.F. Station Fairford on the afternoon of the 20th September 1944, on an operational flight to Arnhem. The captain of the aircraft was P/O M. McHUGH.

        On approaching the dropping zone intense flak was encountered at the height of 1500'. The starboard aileron was set alight, but P/O McHUGH kept a straight course and did his utmost to drop the supplies in the correct area and was successful. During the whole of this time intense flak was encountered.

        After dropping the supplies, the captain put the aircraft into a climb turning back at the same time. The aileron was still burning, and as soon as the aircraft had turned round, the petrol tank immediately forward of the aileron received a direct hit, and at the same time the whole wing tip burst into flame. I advise P/O McHUGH as to the condition of the aircraft, and he gave the order to abandon aircraft. I immediately put my parachute on and removed my helmet. By now the whole starboard wing was alight also the centre section, and P/O McHUGH was struggling hard trying to maintain height which was impossible. I was the second man to leave the aircraft, and as I jumped I heard several explosions. The navigator was the first out and I was followed by the bomb-aimer.

        I was knocked unconscious by the opening of the parachute and did not witness the crashing of the aircraft. Later on I enquired among the Dutch inhabitants how many persons they had seen abandoning the aircraft, and was told that only three had been seen. I then enquired if it was possible to visit the scene of the crash but was told that it was in enemy territory.

        I landed about three miles north of Uden, and I met the navigator and bomb aimer at Uden. We made enquiries, and came to the conclusion that P/O McHUGH and the remainder of the crew were in the aircraft when it crashed.

 

 

Report on crash landing of aircraft piloted by P/O. McHugh on 20th Sept. 1944.

        I F/Sgt. Hume, was Navigator of the aircraft captained by P.O. McHugh which was shot down on the above date.

        As we approached the target area we were hit by flak but as the aircraft was still under control we continued with the run-up and dropped our load. On leaving the target we were once again hit and a fire started in the starboard wingtip. After a few seconds this appeared to go out. We flew on course for approximately five minutes when the starboard wing was completely enveloped in flame. Fire also started in the fuselage. When the pilot saw this he gave the emergency jump order. I was the first to leave the aircraft, which was then approximately at 1000 feet, followed closely by the engineer and air-bomber. The pilot refused his parachute when it was offered to him.

        When my chute opened I saw the aircraft hit the ground at an angle of forty-five degrees. It immediately burst into flames. I only saw two other chutes in the sky. The Dutch people who saw us bale out confirmed the fact that only three chutes were seen to leave the aircraft. We couldn't examine the wreck because the area in which it was situated was held by the enemy.

                Signed. John S. Hume.

 

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