On a cold clear November night Mk 111 Lancaster
JB303 lumbered into the air from her home airfield of Oakington.
The target for the night was the German capital Berlin.
Amongst those aboard were the Navigator Sgt William Meek RAFVR from Newtongrange and Pilot OfficerTed Ansfield, the Observer. This was their 16th mission and the 5th time they had attacked Berlin. This would prove to be their last flight together, William would not see a new dawn.
At 20.12, three hours into the flight they were attacked by a Me110 piloted by Oberleutnant Albert Walter of Gruppe Nachtjadgeschwader 6. Making a text book attack he came from nowhere and blazed his cannons over the engines and fuel tanks. The aircraft became a fireball and the order was given to Bail Out.
What happened next is described in the words of the aircraft's radar operater, Pilot Officer Ted Ansfield:
"The order to ‘bale out’ was given and a few seconds later there was a blinding flash and I knew no more until I woke up in a forest almost one and a half hours later numb with cold. My parachute lay open beside me. It must have either been blasted open or I had subconsciously pulled the ripcord whilst falling. Apart from a severe head pain I appeared to be in one piece. I hid my parachute and Mae West and struck off in a southwesterly direction.
After a few hours I collapsed and revived at 06.00 stiff with cold. The ground was frozen. When I got up and looked around I was surprised to see a parachute draped over a bush about 100 yards away. I went to investigate and found the body of my engineer.(Sgt Denys Ashworth aged 19 from Burnley)I covered him with his parachute and after checking my escape map continued walking. I had turned my electrically heated waistcoat inside out so that it appeared to be more like a civilian jacket.
Towards nightfall it started to rain which turned into a continuous downpour. I had to lay up under bushes, as it was impossible to make any progress in the extreme dark and now boggy conditions. The following day was no better; it just continued to rain and prevented me making any progress. I found that I was having difficulty in orientating myself; unbeknown to me I had sustained a fractured skull.
For a while I laid up in an abandoned quarry hoping the rain would abate, but it didn’t. Later in the day I made a further attempt at cross-country walking but the fields were now flooded. I had a narrow escape when a Fieseler Storch passed overhead at treetop height apparently searching for escaping airmen. From the cover of bushes I could see someone scanning the countryside through binoculars. I eventually reached a river, presumably the Lahn. It was in full flood and the only available bridge was carrying an unhealthy volume of traffic so I hid up until darkness fell.
I remained on the roadway which helped to speed up my progress
By the fourth day I had almost worn through my flying boots which was making walking even more difficult. The rain never ceased and I was suffering from severe head pains. As it grew darker I came across a wooded slope. I had climbed about half way up when the ground gave way beneath me and I slid down into an abandoned quarry some 20 – 30 ft deep. Shaken by the fall I decided to stay there until daylight. I awoke some hours later to a strange warmth. The rain had turned to snow and I was almost buried. I was now beginning to feel weak and ill and realized that the snow had further reduced my chances of evasion.
I had hopes of getting to Paris where I had contacts with persons connected with the ‘Resistance’ who would give me every assistance. I pressed on and eventually came to a railway, which appeared to be going in the right direction. I followed the tracks for about a mile when I came to a railway station. Avoiding railway workers I hid up and awaited a train going in the right direction. After a while I was rewarded, a freight train was approaching and slowing down. I crossed the tracks and as it got to me I stood up and leaped at one of the wagons. I found a handhold, was dragged off my feet, but before I could haul myself on board my strength gave out and I almost fell under the wheels. My best chance had gone.
The five killed crew members were initially buried at the local cemetery. However all were later transferred to the British War Graves Cemetery in Hanover.
Beaumont, Palmer and Wilson were found in the district of Winkels, they found Meek between Winkels and Probbach.
Their parachutes hadn’t opened.
Ashworth was discovered in the district of Barig-Selbenhausen with an open parachute.
Through the falling snow I followed the tracks for a few miles and collapsed beside them, not waking until dawn. I left the tracks and picked up a road running parallel. It took me to a small town. In all of my six days as a fugitive I had never dared to come into close contact with people. I now became incautious, wrapped my scarf around my head to cover my growth of beard and entered the little town. In the main street I noticed a policeman talking to a man in a long leather coat and felt hat. I watched their reflections in a shop window and noticed that one was pointing in my direction. I casually sauntered down the street and out of the corner of my eye I could see that I was being followed.
I came to what appeared to be a small cinema, the doors were open so I quicklydarted inside, ran down the aisle between the seats and out of the rear exit and back into the countryside. On a hillside above the town I again collapsed. I was exhausted and terribly weak. I could only be a few miles from the Rhine. A burly farmer driving a horse and cart spotted me and challenged me. He jumped down from his cart and helped me to my feet. This was the end; it was 2nd December 1943. He took me back to his home where his wife gave me a cup of ersatz coffee and a piece of bread. The police arrived and I was force-marched to the police station where I was thrown into a stinking dungeon.
I lay down on a filthy bunk and fell fast asleep only to be wakened after a very short time. I was dragged from this filthy hole into the police station where a female interpreter commenced to question me in the presence of the police chief and my escort.
I would only give my name, rank and service number. My escort threw me to the floor and said in a strong broken American accent “ Smart guy eh, vot vud you say if ve hang you”? I burst out laughing and told him, politely, that under those circumstances I could say a damned sight less.
He realized his error and just as he was about to put his rifle butt into my ribs in walked a Luftwaffe Lieutenant who stepped smartly between us and floored the guard. He helped me to my feet and apologised. For me this part of the war was over. My escort to captivity had arrived."
Ted survived the war and left the RAF in 1947 with the rank of Flight Lieutenant. He settled in the Isle of Man and with his wife Ethel and raised a son and a daughter. Ted died in the year 2000. The only other survivor of the crash was rear gunner Flt Sgt A C Turner RNZAF.
JB 303 crashed between Winkels and Mengerskrchen a small town 20 km north north east of Limburg. Shortly before Ted's death he was sent a large box of parts of JB303 recovered from the ground by Belgian researcher Philippe Dufrasne and German researcher Marion Isack. They were treasured mementoes.
The lads that died that night are buried in Hanover War Cemtery, they are
F/O. G A. Beaumont ,Sgt. D. Ashworth ,Sgt. W A. Meek ,F/S. D. Wilson and Sgt. P J. Palmer.
I am grateful to Stalag Luft One online who graciously permit others to use their research. Please visit their website.
Sgt William Meek RAFVR is not commemorated on Newtongrange WarMemorial, I along with many others believe he should be.
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