The Pat O'Leary Line
This is the draft of a chapter from my proposed book about the Pat O'Leary line
Winskill and Party
On the afternoon of 14 August 1941, F/Lt Archibald L Winskill (600) took off from Tangmere in 41 Sqn Spitfire W3447 to provide high level cover for Blenheims bombing in the Lille-Saint-Omer area. He was at about 25.000 feet when he was attacked by two Me109s, shooting down one enemy fighter before being shot down himself. With his aircraft in a slow spin, and controls not responding, Winskill held on until about 1,000 feet before baling out and landing in a stubble-field near Sainte-Marie-Kerque, south of Saint-Folquin (Nord-Pas-de-Calais), about 20 kilometres south-east of Calais.
Winskill says that he was slightly stunned on landing, and when he came to, a local farmer named Auguste Caron-Scote was asking if he wanted help. Winskill asked him to hide his parachute, and M. Caron told him to hide in a nearby drainage ditch. A few minutes later, M. Caron returned with his wife to take him back to their house in Sainte-Marie-Kerque but then two German soldiers arrived by car to inspect his crashed aircraft, and Winskill hid himself in a cornfield for the rest of the day. That evening, the M. Caron's son Felix and another small boy, crept up to Winskill and took him back to the house where food had been prepared for him but half an hour later, another boy arrived to tell them that the Germans were searching for him, and Winskill returned to the cornfield until they left. By the time he returned to the house, the doors and windows were barred, and Winskill spent the rest of the night in a barn. M. Caron found him there next morning, and moved him into the loft, and had food brought to him during the day. The following evening, Winskill was taken to M. Caron 's daughter-in-law's house (her husband was a POW in Germany) on the edge of the field where his aircraft had crashed.
On 17 August, M. Caron's young son cycled with Winskill to Saint-Folquin (between Calais and Dunkirk), where he was sheltered by Gaston Bayart for two days before being taken about 20 kilometres south of Calais to Boursin (sic) to be sheltered by Edouard Bown.

Edouard Sydney Bown, wine merchant, born March 1898 in Guines, and his wife Denise Yvonne Marguerite Aline, of Hermelinghen, were both denounced and arrested in June 1942. Edouard was shot on 6 January 1944 at Fort de Bondues.

On 4 September, after other villagers became suspicious of his presence, Winskill was moved to a farm outside the village belonging to François Coquerelle-Daquin and his wife. Two days later, on 6 September, he and Sgt Pilot L M McKee (608) were taken by bicycle to Colonne-Ricouart (Winskill says Marles-les-Mines) where they were sheltered for two nights by Marc Coffre , his wife and daughter at 49 rue d'Artois. On 8 September, the two airmen were taken to an estiminet in Bourecq, where they were sheltered by Louis Vandomme until 13 September, when they were moved to Burbure to stay with Marcel Rousseau-Decroix, being joined there by Dvr J Strachan (661) - who says that he joined them on 22 September (presumably at Lillers railway station) when they were all taken to Bethune.
Having taken off from the Tangmere satellite station of Westhampnett on 14 August at the same time as Winskill, I am presuming that Sgt Pilot L M McKee (608) was on the same Sweep sortie. McKee gives no reason for baling out of 616 Sqn Spitfire W3514 but he landed between Sainte-Marie-Kerque and Nortkerkque. After leaving his parachute, Mae West and dinghy "on the ground”, he hid in a ditch until nightfall, when he went to a farm. As the farm had already been searched by the Germans, the occupants let him stay the night; they also gave him some civilian clothes and a pair of leather-soled boots before he left the following morning. Later that same day, he asked directions from a Frenchman who took him back to his house where they collected two bicycles, and the man took McKee into Calais.
McKee was sheltered in Calais (no details given) until 5 September when he met Winskill (who was being sheltered outside Boursin), and they went together (via Marles-les-Mines according to Winskill) to Bourecq. McKee says they stayed at Bourecq from 6 to 13 September, and then at Burbure until 22 September before crossing the Somme at Abbeville, along with Dvr J Strachan RASC (who he left at Gibraltar), two other soldeirs [Heather and Fryer] (who they left at Marseille) and a guide. They crossed the demarcation line some miles east of Tours on 24 September , and McKee says that his story is the same as Winskill's.
Dvr John Strachan (661), a fish merchant from Maybole in Ayrshire, was serving with No 9 Sub-Park Ammunition Column RASC when his unit was ordered to surrender at Saint-Valery-en-Caux on 12 June 1940. Like most of the prisoners taken that day, Strachan was marched across the country towards Belgium and the POW camps of Germany. It took nearly two and half weeks for the prisoners to pass Bethune to an area that Strachan knew well from having been stationed there for six months during the so-called “phoney war”. Next day, as they approached the little village of Fourens-en-Weppes, north of La Bassée and just 10 kms from their next overnight stop at Lille, Strachan, along with L/Bdr Edward Dimes (662) and Gnr John Clapham (678), slipped out of the long marching column.
Clapham was helped by a French girl who took him to the barn where Dimes and Strachan were hiding, and once the column had passed, the owner of barn came over to give them clothes and money. He also treated them to a meal in the local café where they were sheltered for the night. In the morning, they were taken to the neighbouring village of Wicres and again given food and shelter for the night. Next day, Clapham made for Calais while Strachan and Dimes headed for the coast at Gravelines where they hoped to find transport across the Channel, only to find that escape by sea was virtually impossible. After this disappointment the two men returned inland to more familiar territory at Laventie where they were sheltered in an old pillbox, and supplied with food each day by a local farmer. They stayed at Laventie for three weeks before trying to reach the coast once more but by then German security was much stricter and they were forced to return inland again, this time to Saint-Omer where they hid in a garden shed until brought into the family home and moved to the attic at the end of July.
Strachan stayed with the unnamed family at Saint-Omer until 25 July 1941 when a friend of the family who had contacted the Organisation, took Strachan to stay on a farm near Nortbecourt. On the morning of 15 August, the farmer took Strachan to an estaminet in Zaudausques, where he rejoined Dimes and Clapham, and at lunch-time, the three soldiers were taken by van to Lillers. Strachan was sheltered with an unnamed woman until being taken to Bethune on 22 September, while Dimes and Clapham were sheltered at various addresses until leaving for Marseille at the end of October - see next chapter.
L/Bdr John Heather (659) from Pulborough in Sussex, and Gnr H Fryer (660) from Malsbury in Wiltshire, were serving with 17 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery in an emplacement in Ochancourt, west of Abbeville, on 5 June 1940 when they found themselves surrounded by German troops. The two men hid in a barn for three days until the Germans moved on, and then made their way across the fields (south-west) toward the sound of gunfire. They were hoping to join other British units but on reaching Beauchamps, they found the bridge over the river Bresle was guarded and so took shelter in an empty house for three weeks until the owners (Gaston Jumel (born April 1903) and family) returned. The family gave them food, cigarettes and money but refused to let them stay, so the two soldiers crossed the river to Incheville, where they stopped for three days before going on to the coast in the hope of finding a boat. This proved to be impossible, and they returned inland, staying under cover for about four weeks before arriving at Maisnières, where a Polish family (Maria Wlazlik (born 1893) and her son Stefan of rue de Buigny, Hameau du Hamelet, Maisnières) gave them food and civilian clothes, and hid them in a stable for a week. When German cavalry patrols arrived in the village, the two soldiers moved to Vismes-au-Val, where a Frenchwoman took them into her house and sheltered them until 13 August 1941.
“While we were there, a lodger made enquiries as to the possibility of our escape, and brought a friend to see us who suggested, some time in Mar 41, that escape by plane was possible. He also brought us books and cigarettes. The matter was dropped about a fortnight later as this man was questioned, along with many others, by the Germans in Abbeville. In June, another man came to see us, and took all our particulars. We understand that this man was later picked up by the enemy. Early in August, the man whom we had seen in March, again visited us, and on 13 August, he called for us and took us to Abbeville, where, after being provided with the necessary passes and identity cards, we were taken across the bridge into the Zone Interdite. We stayed at this man's house overnight, and he provided us with new civilian clothes and identity cards, the others having been returned after we crossed the bridge.” (TNA file WO208-3307-659/660 Heather & Fryer)
On 14 August, Heather and Fryer were taken to Leers, near Roubaix, where they stayed with Edmond and Marie Delecourt of 9 Sentier du Dépot until 21 September, when two girls took them into Lille. The following morning, they were taken to Bethune where they joined Winskill, McKee and Strachan.
The Frenchwoman who sheltered Heather and Fryer in Vismes-au-Val was Mme Charlotte Lecointe. Charlotte was married to Marcel, and Marcel Lecointe's mother, Simone (née Lenne) was divorced from Marcel's father and living with a M. Tavernier in the house next door. During the war, Simone met a German soldier of Dutch origin and ended up telling him the story of the two soldiers (and two airmen) sheltered by her son and daughter-in-law. When Simone was arrested, she denounced Marcel, Charlotte and M. Tavernier, along with Edmond and Marie Delecourt. (information from files at the Archives de la Somme and SHD Vincennes courtesy of Jean Michel Dozier).
“I remained in Lillers until 22 Sep, when I was taken to Bethune with F/Lt Winskill and Sgt Pilot McKee. Here we were joined by Gnr Fryer and L/Bdr Heather, and all of us went by train to Abbeville. In Abbeville we were given passes and correspoding identity cards to cross out of the Zone Interdit, which we did by walking across the bridge separately. There was only one sentry, and passes were not carefully checked. The passes and identity cards were collected and returned by our guide. We went on by train to Paris and spent the night in a small hotel in the Chatelet district. On 23 Sep we went by train to Tours, changed there to a local train, went four or five stations eastward, walked five or six kilomtres south-east, and took cover in a ditch near a bridge that was under repair. After dark another guide joined the party and conducted all except F/Lt Winskill (who went by boat) across the bridge and across fields to a station, where we took a train to Marseilles, via Chateauroux and Toulouse. We reached Marseilles on 24 Sep, Heather and Fryer leaving us here and the rest of the party continuing to Canet-Plage, where we stayed from 25 Sep until 5 Oct.” (TNA file WO208-3307-661 Strachan)
What none of the reports mention is that their guides from Bethune were Roland Lepers and Madeleine Damerment; and what none of them knew was that they were taking the same route used by another party, who left on 1 September (see previous chapter), led by Lepers and Harold Cole, and would be followed by a third group, Lepers and Cole's last to Marseille (see next chapter), at the end of October.
When Winskill, McKee and Strachan arrived at Canet Plage on 25 September, they joined Sgt Pilot Adolf Pietrasiak (642) who had stayed on in Marseille when the rest of his party (see previous chapter) had gone on to Perpignan on 5 September, and Neuryey Gasior , who had joined Pietrasiak at Canet Plage, and on 5 October, all five men were taken to Ax-les-Thermes, to cross first into Andorra, and then to Spain. They reached Berga on (about) 11 October, and were taken on to the British Consulate in Barcelona. A few days later they were taken to the British Embassy in Madrid, where they stayed until 4 November when they left for a two-day drive to Gibraltar, along with most of Pietrasiak's original party, newly released from Miranda. Winskill left Gibraltar by overnight flight to Pembroke Dock on 22 November, and McKee on 17 December for Mount Batten.
Heather and Fryer stayed on in Marseille (no details given) until 30 September when they were taken by train to Perpignan, and next day, by bus to Prats-de-Mollo. Two days later, they were guided to the Spanish border where their guide left them to make their own way. They were arrested near Gerona on 7 October, and after a week in the local gaol, moved to Figueras for three days before transfer to a prison in Barcelona. From there it was Reus then Saragossa, and on about 24 October, to spend two months at Miranda del Ebro. Heather and Fryer finally left Gibraltar by sea for Gourock on 30 December, along with so many others, including Strachan and Pietrasiak.