Underground Contact




Underground Contact
Bailing Out
The Forest Of Freteval
Liberation At Hand


Ian Ronald Murray was born in Mildura on 10th December, 1923. He enlisted in the R.A.A.F on the 10th December, 1941(his eighteenth birthday), but was not called in for duty immediately.
In March, 1942, he was called up to the C.M.F. and served until June, 1942, in the 112th Light Anti-aircraft Regiment, stationed at the Werribee Racecourse.
His transfer to the R.A.A.F was processed on the 17th June, 1942.

17th June, 1942, 1 I.T.S. (Initial Training School.), Somers, Victoria.
15th October, 1942, 2 A.O.S. (Air Observer School), Mt Gambier, South Australia. (Avro Anson).
7th January, 1943, 2 B.A.G.S. (Bombing & Gunnery School), Port Pirie, South Australia. (Fairy Battle).
8th March, 1943, 2 A.N.S. (Astro Navigation School), Nhill, Victoria. (Avro Anson).
7th July, 1943, Arrived in England.
24th August ,1943, 4 A.F.U. (Advanced Flying Unit), West Freugh, Scotland. (Anson).
28th September, 1943, 28 O.T.U. (Operational Training Unit), Wymeswold, England. (Wellington).

 At Wymeswold, Pilots, Navigators, and Bomb-aimers were assembled in a hangar and told to ‘sort yourselves out’ into crews. Here Ian Murray (Bomb-aimer) with Ted Greatz (Navigator) from Mildura and Dudley Ibbotson (Pilot) from Perth, got together. Four Englishmen, Ken Andrews (Wireless Operator), Frank Wells (Rear Gunner),
Tom Whitehand (Mid-Gunner), and Ray Worrall (Engineer), complete the crew.

29th November, 1943, First operation over enemy territory. Leaflet drop over Paris.
30th December, 1943, 51 Base, England Conversion Units.
16th February, 1944, 1661 Conversion Unit (Stirling).
31st March, 1944, 5 LFS, Syerston (Lancaster.)
11th April, 1944, 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron, Operational Squadron, Dunholm Lodge, Lincolnshire (Lancaster).
26th April, 1944, 1st operation over Germany. Target Schweinfurt.
April to July, 1944, Operations over Germany and France.
24th July, 1944, 25th operation Target Stuttgart.
25th July, 1944, 26th operation Target Stuttgart.

Extract from Operations Record Book – No. 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron.
Aircraft Crew Duty Time- Up Down.

24th July, 1944.
Lancaster ME.694.L. Ibbotson D.T. Bombing 2148 0506.
Details of Sortie: STUTTGART attacked at 0154 hrs from 20,000 ft. 127 degrees T. IAS.170 Knots. 8/10ths S.Cu. at 8000 ft. Good Vision above. Target identified by Wanganui – green – yellow stars on ETA and H2S confirmation. Centre of three Wanganui flares in bombsight. There appeared to be a fair concentration of photoflashes around Wanganui but fires below cloud appeared scattered. Pilot’s remarks: Route good, but fighters very active S. of Paris.
I am positive that fighters now are attacking directly from beneath as majority of tracer seen was vertical. I think that his tactics are to find the stream, throttle back until fighter gets visual above.

25th July, 1944.
Lancaster ME.694.L. took off at 2110 hrs to attack STUTTGART.
Aircraft and crew reported missing without trace.

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Underground Contact

Written by Ian R. Murray and recorded for the RAAF, 1945 Year Book ”Victory Roll".


Crew of Lancaster ME.694.L in May, 1944.
From left:
Tom Whitehand, English Mid-upper Gunner. Killed in action 26/04/1944
Frank Wells, English Rear Gunner
Ken Andrews, English Wireless Operator
Ted Greatz, Australian Navigator
Dud Ibbotson, Australian Pilot
Ray Worrall, English Engineer
Ian Murray, Australian Bomb-Aimer


Bailing Out 

 25th July, 1944, 2200 hours. Our Lancaster, L for Lily, droned steadily on into the night. The seven members of our crew worked in silent co-operation. We were a mixed crew – the skipper, navigator and bomb-aimer were Australian; the engineer, wireless operator, and rear and mid-upper gunners were English. Our Target was Stuttgart. We had been there the night before, but we wanted to make sure of destroying the factories and marshalling yards before the moon became too bright. As we crossed the English Channel, navigation lights winked and went out, and further ahead the Ack-Ack open fired. Once over the French coast, we ignored the flak and all eyes were peeled for enemy fighters. The occasional bump of a slipstream told us that we still had the company of friendly bombers.

 We entered a cloud at 12,000 feet, and the navigator quietly remarked that freezing level was 11,000 feet. Hoping to elude this danger we lost height, and with a pleased grunt from the skipper, broke cloud at 10,000 feet. By midnight we were about 100 miles south west of Paris and were approaching the main enemy fighter belt as experienced the night before.

 Suddenly, a burst of green tracer streaked across the sky on our port beam. Simultaneously, a long burst of red spat from the attacked aircraft. But it was too late – a small red glow appeared, and as it grew, the aircraft dropped lower and lower and finally exploded with terrific force on impact. I was reminded then of the ‘cookie’ (4000 pounder bomb) in our own bomb bay. Instinctively, the skipper turned away from the glow, but now the enemy fighters were among our bombers and in a few minutes there were four burning aircraft on the ground.

 Suddenly, I felt the nose of our Lancaster dip, and thinking it was another slipstream, I took no notice until the skipper tersely called the engineer to help him with the ‘stick’. Immediately, the skipper gave the order “Prepare to abandon aircraft”, and the whole crew went mechanically into the well-practiced routine. In a matter of seconds, all escape hatches were open and the crew was waiting for the order to jump, and hoping that it would not come. But come it did, for the aircraft had gone into a dive and would respond only to the ailerons. We learned later from the rear gunner that the whole of the port rudder fin and tail of the plane had been carried away by the jettisoned bombs from one of our stricken aircraft above. As Bomb-Aimer, my position was over the forward escape hatch, so I was first to leave the aircraft. We were about 7,000 feet up when I ‘hit the silk’, and it seemed an eternity before I could see the ground by the faint moonlight. I was still about 4,000 feet up and dropping fast in the semi-darkness, when our aircraft smashed into the ground. The explosion lit up the countryside showing me what I thought to be a wood, directly below. As I got nearer the ground, I realized that I was being carried along backwards by a ten miles per hour breeze. Thinking that my legs would be caught in the branches of the trees I doubled them up, and the next instant, to my intense surprise, I was tumbling head over heels in black grass.

 The excitement of the jump left me breathless and it was a few seconds before I remembered what I had to do. “Hide the ‘chute and Mae West” is the first thing and then “get away from the aircraft” was what our intelligence officer had instructed. I judged that the aircraft had crashed about 5 miles south of where I landed, so taking out the little compass from my escape kit, I headed north.

I calculated that the Normandy beachhead was about 200 miles away and it would take twenty days if I were to walk all the way. I smiled grimly and set out.

As I was walking down a narrow lane, I heard someone whistling. I flung myself into a ditch, and lay there with the wind knocked out of me till a German passed by. On another occasion, I had to climb a high hedge to get out of a field, and dropping to the other side, fell into a three-foot ditch. Not only was the wind knocked out of me, but also I tore my finger on a thorn. It did not worry me at the time, but when my hand went numb later on, I thought it was poisoned. My spirits sank, only to rise again, when I loosened my battle-jacket sleeve and my blood circulated again.

By 0230 hours I was thinking very much about sleep, so I kept a weather eye out for a good deep ditch. Twenty minutes later I found one that was to my satisfaction; sheltered by a hedge. I soon fell asleep, but I was awakened shivering about 0430 by the Lancasters droning their way homeward. How lonely I felt then! The sky was clear now and, securing my course from Polaris, I resumed my journey. At sunrise I was walking in a field behind a small farmhouse. A haystack was close by so I decided to wait until someone appeared. Soon smoke poured from the chimney, and I crept cautiously around the side of the stack to see if I could see anyone. It was then I noticed the telephone wires, and remembering the potential menace of the telephone, I turned and walked on through the field, looking for a lonelier neighbourhood.

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 I walked for another half an hour and came upon another farmhouse that had been hidden from view by a hedge. Peering through the hedge, I saw several men and girls herding cows in preparation for milking. Several cows were grazing in the field where I was hidden, so I waited until someone came to fetch them. Presently a girl came and I approached her and whispered, “RAF” She smiled and spoke in French and I managed to catch the words “Mon pere a la maison”. She pointed towards the house, so I walked up the muddy lane; feeling many curious and, I thought, suspicious eyes upon me. Seeing a small man with a bushy moustache and several days’ growth of beard, I approached him and said. “Royal Air Force”. He said, “Huh?” So I repeated what I had said. Suddenly he understood, and grabbing my right hand in both his, he pumped it up and down and cried, “Bon camarade!” Then he led me into his humble kitchen and sat me down while his wife bustled around the stove frying eggs and making coffee.

 After filling myself with good food, I spread the silk maps from my escape kit on the table and endeavoured to find out where I was. This I managed by seeing the name of the nearby town on the local newspaper – which consisted of one page about six inches by twelve inches. I tried to make them understand that I wanted to get to the British Army Headquarters at Bayeux, but my schoolboy French was not good enough. I sat down and tried to think but I found myself nodding off, and seeing this the old farmer took me up to his hayloft where I slept soundly.

I was awakened about seven that evening and food was brought up to me. I stayed there for three days, coming down only in the evenings for a short time to stretch my legs.

On the morning of the third day, I was brought down to the kitchen where a pretty young girl introduced herself as the local schoolteacher. She could read a little English but could not speak it very well. We conversed on paper for some time and I told her what I wanted to do. She said that she could get me a bicycle and some civilian clothes, which gave me a little hope.

 Next day she brought her husband, who was a member of the “marquis” or “the resistance boys” as the young schoolteacher called them. He did not think it advisable for me to try to get to Normandy, as there were too many Germans to pass. He offered to take me to a farm where I could stay till the Allies came down and liberated the country. He was quite sure that it would only be a few weeks, and finally, I was convinced that it was the best thing to do. He promised to call for me in a truck the next day.

 That evening, while I was eating supper with the family in the kitchen, the dogs began to bark. The farmer jumped up and pointing towards a small storeroom, cried, “Voila, tout de suite!” He bolted the door behind me and I was left in darkness. For minutes I hardly dared breathe. Suddenly the door flew open, and standing in the doorway was not the Nazi I expected, but a young-smiling Frenchman. He introduced himself as Georges. His fiancée was a schoolteacher in a neighbouring village and he had a note from her saying that they had found our navigator. On reading this I jumped up and took his hand and we were both laughing.

Georges showed me some “souvenirs” that the navigator had given him and among them I saw something that wiped the smile from my face. It was a small compass that I knew was given to the navigator by a girl in England, and I was sure that he would never part with it. The only thing that I could think of was that he had been captured and robbed and this was a trap to ‘get’ me. Realizing that it would be best to find out where he was, I asked to be taken to him. I changed my uniform for overalls and shirt, pulling the trousers down over my flying boots. I did not want to cut them off as they were designed to do, as they were warm at night.

We set out, walking down narrow lanes and across fields for about five miles, when we came to a small village. Sneaking down back lanes, we entered the backyard of a blacksmith’s shop. Two knocks on the door brought someone with a candle. The door opened cautiously and we quickly stepped inside and closed the door. Georges took a candle and showed me upstairs. Halfway up he stopped and removed two boards from the side wall of the stairs, and said I was to hide there if the Germans came. I asked, “But where is my navigator?” to which Georges replied, “Tomorrow,” and went on up the stairs. I followed with a heart of lead.

The bedroom was very pleasant with a big double bed and clean sheets. A big window faced the street, which was very quiet. Georges said that German convoys passed every night heading east and I was not to be alarmed if I heard German voices. I was certain by this time that our navigator was dead or in prison. The sheets were very soft and cool, and I was asleep as soon as my head touched the pillow.

Suddenly, I was awake and listening. Underneath the window a truck had stopped and I could hear German voices. It seemed hours before I heard the motor rev and the truck move on. I lay awake breathing quickly for many minutes while truck after truck went by. I wanted to go to the window and look out but I was afraid to move lest someone hear me. At last everything was quiet and I slept, only to dream of our navigator being tortured by the Nazis, but not saying a word.

Next morning, Georges brought me a steak for breakfast, which I strongly suspected of being horseflesh. However it tasted all right and I did not remark on it. After breakfast, Georges showed me some photos of his fiancée, and told me that the Germans had locked him up for nine months because he would not work for them. Later he told me that a doctor would come in a car that afternoon and take me to my navigator. This I only half believed, but it raised my hopes a little. At four o’clock, I heard a car pull up, and a few minutes later a man and a woman came into the room.

The woman spoke first, in good English, and told me that they were going to take me to a camp where I would meet several others of my crew. I immediately thought of concentration camp and was not too happy about it. During the half-hour trip in the car, the doctor’s wife told me they had a permit to use the car and she could go along with her husband ‘to help with the patients’. Now they were taking me to see a Scottish lady who had not spoken to an Englishman since 1938.

Knowing that the doctor was working with the ‘underground’, she had asked him to bring an airman for her to speak to. She was a lovely lady with blonde hair and blue eyes, and she was so thrilled to see me that she could hardly speak. I told her that London was not a mass of flames as she had heard, and that the robot bombs were called ‘buzz bombs’ in England. She had friends in England and she was very pleased when I was able to assure that their town had not been bombed. After an hour’s chat we said “au revoir” and I promised to come back one day if I could.

We drove another few miles to another village and there another family took me in. A boy about fifteen and a charming little girl about eight were trying very hard to learn English and kept me smiling. It was here that I learned a little about the amazing camp to which I was being taken. It contained about 120 men who had been found by the ‘underground’ and brought there to wait for the Allies. It had been organized some time earlier by a Belgian wing commander in the RAF. He had parachuted into France in May 1944 to start the camp. He lived in a nearby village where he kept in contact with London by a secret radio channel. He was told to expect the Allies about June 20, but it was now July 30 and they were still being held up in Normandy. By this time the camp had grown so much that another had to be organized in another part of the forest about 5 miles from the first camp. The ‘camp commanders’ were English Airforce Officers who joined the camp soon after D-day.

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The Forest Of Freteval 

 Next day I was taken by bicycle to the edge of a wood, where we hid our machines and waited. Presently a voice called, “Come this way” so I left my friends and followed into the thick wood. The woods were so thick that I could not see more than five yards through the foliage and we had to stoop as we walked along the narrow path. The entrance was invisible from the road outside the woods, and even after I had been there a few days I still had difficulty in finding it.

There was dead silence as we walked, but soon we came to a small clearing in the centre of the woods. Several tents were erected and about fifty men were sitting and lounging around, talking quietly or playing cards. One or two were whittling sticks with pocket-knives. Most of them were dressed in tattered civilian clothes, but a few wore RAF battle dress and flying boots. Suddenly one in battle dress gave a cry and sprang up. It was my skipper. At once three others rushed over and we were all hugging each other and laughing until someone warned us that we were making too much noise. The other three were our navigator, engineer and wireless operator. I was never so pleased to see anyone – except my family when I arrived home.

My navigator explained that he had given Georges his compass in his excitement at meeting friends. His worry now was how to explain it to the girl in England. They all told me their experiences, which were similar to mine, except the skipper’s. He had landed about one hundred yards from the camp, and so was able to keep his parachute, which made excellent cover for ten men at night. Then I realized that the two gunners were missing. We spent the next days anxiously awaiting their arrival.

One day we heard that an airman who had been shot through the foot was coming in, and next day we welcomed our rear gunner. He had been accidentally shot when two ‘resistance boys’ were showing him their revolvers. But still there was no sign of our mid-upper gunner. Every day we asked the chief when he came to the camp with the news from London, whether he had heard of any other airmen coming in, but the answer was always “Not yet.”

Life in the camp was mixed. We had guards posted all around our part of the forest, which was about 300 yards square, but all they could do was to warn us to keep quiet when anyone came near, as we had only one revolver and six rounds of ammunition between the lot of us.

An aircraft had dropped supplies of clothing and some knives about a week before I arrived in camp, and the latter proved very useful in whittling away the hours. We could have started a good business in carved walking sticks after a few weeks.

The food situation was acute. Occasionally a friendly farmer would bring a few vegetables or a leg of veal, and then we would have a royal feast. In the meantime we had nothing but beans, and only one meal a day. The usual menu was two pieces of black bread for breakfast, beans for lunch, and two pieces of bread and a mug of ground barley coffee for supper. During the three weeks I was in camp I lost one stone in weight. A lot of time was spent sunbathing in a little clearing at the edge of the woods. A notice on an improvised notice board said ‘No sunbathing on Sundays’. The reason was that the Germans took their girl friends walking on Sundays, and being ‘caught with one’s pants down’ was a thing that would not have been appreciated.

The most looked-forward-to part of the day was when the chief (Lucien) came with the news. We had been surveying a nearby field with the idea that it could be used as a landing ground for transport planes with which we could be flown out. The chief had been trying to get this idea through to London, but each day he reported failure. Then came the report that another aircraft was to be sent with more supplies. Tobacco was very scarce so that and food were given priority on the load.

The night the aircraft was due, every man in both camps was out listening. About 1 a.m. we heard it coming. A Halifax flying at about 500 feet. We all muttered a kind of prayer, because we knew there was an Ack-Ack battery only a few miles away. The aircraft thundered overhead towards the dropping zone, and we soon heard him returning. Everyone slept well after that. Next morning we awaited the arrival of the chief with great anticipation. He was a little later than usual and he did not look very happy when he did come. Our hearts sank when he told us the aircraft had gone to the wrong field. As there were no recognition signals, it had returned to base with its precious cargo. Three days later the wireless operator received a message that the new field was to have been used. One explanation for the delay in the receipt of this message was that the Germans had intercepted it.

Several days later our interest was re-awakened by the news that the Americans had taken Cherbourg and were pushing down towards Brittany. Then the news came of their 200-mile dash in a single day and our morale soared. Every night now we could hear the Germans in full retreat. On several occasions horse-drawn vehicles parked alongside our wood and we hardly dared breathe till they had gone by. During the day Allied fighter-bombers strafed and dive-bombed fleeing conveys and we were careful to camouflage our tents with green branches lest we were strafed also.

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Liberation At Hand

 The day after the news of the advance, a jeep arrived with the chief, a British Intelligence Officer and two British paratroopers armed with sub-machine guns. They had driven 200 miles through enemy lines to give us the news. We welcomed them like heroes. The I.O. earnestly apologised because the British were not up to schedule, but said that the Yanks were coming. We wanted him to stay with us, but he said he had always wanted to see Paris, so he changed clothes with one of our men and went off to Paris with his two paratroopers. He left the jeep with us, and we used it to break camp and return borrowed equipment to the French people.

It was Saturday night and our bag of beans was empty. The Germans seemed much quieter, so we split up into groups of three or four and went out in search of food. The six members of our crew, each one conscious of the missing member of our crew, walked slowly down the dusty road towards the village.

We entered a small wine shop and sat down. It was not long before Frank, the rear gunner, was in earnest conversation with a pretty girl. She spoke fairly good English and took pleasure in plying us with red wine. There was no food in the shop, and seeing that we were hungry, the girl went out and soon returned with some eggs that she cooked for us. They helped considerably to soothe our aching stomachs.
Realizing at last that the good people wanted to turn in, we left to seek a place to sleep. In our search we wandered to the next village and found another wine shop, and also a baker from whom we bought white bread at black-market prices. Having acquired more eggs, we enjoyed another feast in the wine shop which was by then was full of jabbering French-men, all anxious to pat us on the back and shake our hands.

After some time, we managed to convey the idea that we would like somewhere to sleep, so an old farmer took us to his barn. We soon fell asleep in the sweet-smelling hay, though we had a little trouble with the rear gunner who wanted to sleep with the engineer’s bottle of wine.

Early in the morning, we were awakened by heavy footsteps on the cobbled courtyard. We all froze while the navigator peeped through the door. At that moment the skipper decided to be violently ill, and despite harsh whispers to be quiet, not only continued to be sick, but also provided a low moaning accompaniment. The footsteps suddenly stopped – and we stopped breathing. Even the skipper managed it for a few seconds. Then the footsteps started again and moved out of our hearing. We breathed again and the skipper resumed.

The farmer woke us just before dawn and after dipping our heads under the village pump, we set off slowly towards our camp. Why we went that way we did not know because it was hardly a camp any more. Just as the sun broke the horizon, a motorcycle hurled itself over the hill behind us. We instantly fell into Indian file and walked on not looking back. As the motorbike came alongside, the rider stood on the brakes and called in a Southern American drawl, “Any of you bastards speak English?” In an instant we were all over him and ‘pinching’ his last pack of cigarettes. He told us that a light armoured car out on reconnaissance had met a bunch of our boys, and had signalled back for a convoy that was now on the way to the camp to pick us up. We ran as fast as we could, gathered what few belongings we had – including the skipper’s parachute – and jumped aboard the last truck. With an escort of armed jeeps and M-20 armoured cars led by two motorcycles, we set out for London, via Le Mans, Livre, Bayeux and the English Channel.

As we flew over the Normandy beachhead towards comfort and security, there were six minds with a single thought, “One of our crew is missing.”

We arrived back in England on August 22, 1944.

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