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Notes on Use of Signal Magazine by Allied Airmen
The 6000 Allied airmen shot down over northwestern Europe during World War II who successfully evaded capture and made their way back to England owed their success to many things, sometimes even a copy of Signal magazine. With most of the escape routes requiring travel through the Low Countries and France in order to reach Spain, train travel was a necessity, even though risky. Not only was there the danger of identity checks by police, but other passengers sharing the same train compartment might be an airman's undoing if they tried to engage him in conversation. To keep the airman occupied and discourage unwanted talk, what better than a copy of Signal? Even if he was unable to read the language, he could pretend to and the other passengers might take him to be a collaborator or a German and leave him alone. Here are three examples.
2. Sgt. George Duffee, RAF, co-pilot of the Halifax EY-S, was on his first flight, 22 June 1943, when he was shot down near Berlicum east of 's-Hertogenbosch. For several weeks he was hidden at several locations in that region, including a monastery near Nijmegen, where he pretended to be a deafmute French soldier. At the end of August he was taken to the local train station for a trip to Tilburg. While waiting on the platform, a German soldier came up and asked from which platform the 12:07 train was to leave. With the little Dutch he had learned at the monastery, Duffee managed to say, "Platform 8." As Duffee described it later,
From then on, helped by the same escape lines as Lt. Applewhite, Duffee reached Gibraltar and was back in England four months after being shot down.
3. James Elliott, a Scotsman and a bomb aimer on a Lancaster, bailed out on 3 November 1943 near the city of Overpelt east of Antwerp. The family in the first house he approached gave him a warm welcome once he said "RAF." Placed on a workers' train to Antwerp, Elliott would write years later that,
Elliott reached Gibraltar just in time for New Year's Ball and was back in England on 2 January 1944.
Our thanks to Bruce Bolinger for compiling and submitting these anecdotes. Mr. Bolinger has researched the experiences of Allied airmen in Europe, particularly the story of 2nd Lt. Tom Applewhite, and gives talks on his research. He lives in Nevada City, California.