My father's escape party included three fighter pilots
784763 Sgt Pilot Adolf Pietrasiak of 308 Squadron RAF was known as 'Archie' to my father. On 19 August 1941 his Spitfire IIB P8318 was scheduled for CIRCUS 82 as escort cover for Blenheims attacking Lille. When the bombers failed to make the rendezvous, fighters from 306, 308 and 315 Polish Squadrons went on a SWEEP mission instead and Pietrasiak was shot down by AA fire after claiming one Me109F destroyed south of Dunkirk. Rescued by French civilians he was then driven to St Omer by "the organisation" before being taken by train to Lille where he stayed until 1 September.
When the rest of the party went on to Spain, Archie stayed in Marseilles to have his leg, which had been injured whilst landing and aggravated during the forced march to Loches, treated by Dr Rodocanichi. He eventually joined another party (see Other Evaders - Strachan) and crossed into Andorra. He was taken to the British Consulate in Barcelona and then on to Madrid by car where he rejoined the original group.
For details of his journey to Marseilles see Article.
'Archie' returned to 308 Squadron 10 September 1943 but on 29 November Pilot Officer Pietrasiak DFC, with eight kills to his name, was brought down during operation RAMROD 339 over Dunkirk and ditched in the sea - his body was not recovered. This was just twelve days after his twenty-sixth birthday.
Photo courtesy of Greg in Poland
787437 Sgt Rudolf Ptacek RAFVR of 222 Czech Squadron RAF was known to my father as 'John Love' and described as 'the life and soul of the party'. His Spitfire IIA P8244 "Wigan and District" was also taking part in CIRCUS 82 when he was shot down the evening of 19 August 1941 north-east St Omer by the Bf 109 of Oberleutnant Johannes Schmid, one of the 'Abbeville boys' from Adolf Galland's JG 26 claiming his 24th victory. Ptacek force-landed wheels up in a field and made a run for it. He was rescued by French civilians and taken to St Omer. From there he went alone to "an address which I had received in the Squadron", a safehouse shop in Lille, where he stayed until 31 October "when a member of the organisation" arrived.
On 28 March 1942 W/O Rudolf Ptacek was flying a Spitfire VB from 602 Squadron on a RODEO fighter sweep over enemy territory when he was reported missing, presumed shot down near Calais. His name is inscribed on Panel 73 of the Runnymede Memorial.
Photo courtesy of Jaroslav Popelka - for more information about Rudolf Ptacek see Article
The address Ptacek was given was No 1 rue de Turenne, La Madeleine, a hairdressing salon owned by Jeannine Voglimacci with a flat over it that was used by Harold 'Paul' Cole as a safehouse. This was the same address that Larry Robillard had when he was shot down 2 July 1941. Squadron Leader EPP Gibbs concluded his September 1941 debrief "Sgt Phillips, RAF, who gave a lecture at Tangmere in June 41 told his audience [they] should apply for help to No 1 Rue Tourraine (sic) Lille. I was told in France that this info got across to the Germans who promptly rounded up the inhabitants at this address and took them away." Phillips (who on 24 March 1940 had the distinction of 4 confirmed and one probable Me109 kill in a single day) had escaped from a hospital in Lille disguised as a nun and been sheltered at the Voglimacci flat in early 1941.
Despite this appalling security breach I can find no evidence that the address did reach the Germans and Mme Voglimacci was certainly not arrested. She was also one of the few people in the north not betrayed (sic) by Harold Cole. Ironically she later played a major role is his exposure as a traitor by approaching one of the gaolers at Loos prison and obtaining a written indictment of Cole's apparant treachery from the Abbe Pierre Carpentier.
78274 F/Lt Denis Crowley-Milling was flying his second mission of the day on 21 August 1941, escorting Stirling bombers to Lille, when his 610 Sqn Spitfire VB W3455 was shot down (probably by 4/JG 26-1) south-west of St Omer. Rescued by French civilians he was taken first to Hucqueliers and then to Renty where he stayed with Norbert Fillerin and "put in touch with the organisation" before being driven to St Omer by Désiré Didry and taking the train to Lille. He stayed either at Madeleine Deram's house or the flat of Jeannine Voglimacci in La Madeleine where he first met Harold Cole and Rudolf Ptacek, until 1 September.
From Miranda, when the rest of the party went on to Gibraltar, Crowley-Milling was in hospital in Madrid with typhus. He was later repatriated via Gibraltar and flown home by Sunderland on 2 Dec 1941. On his return to the UK C-M resumed command of E Flight of 610 Squadron and in September 1942 received his first squadron command flying Typhoons for ground attack. He became Wing Commander the following summer until eyesight problems took him off war-time flying. That autumn he joined the USAAF HQ to co-ordinate fighters with B-17 bombers on their daylight missions. He retired from the RAF in 1975 as Air Marshall Sir Denis Crowley-Milling, KCB,CBE, DSO, DFC and Vice President of the RAF Escaping Society. He was appointed Controller of the RAF Benevolent Fund and also took over the Bader Foundation after Bader's death in 1982. C-M died in 1996.