Day 9 – English Channel to Tournehem-sur-la-Hem

ENGLISH CHANNEL TO TOURNEHEM-SUR-LA-HEM

I was not surprised to find that the wind that had blown directly in my face all the way down the Canal de Somme continued today.
Christie was the observer in a recognisance mission over Belguim when on 11th May 1940 he was shot down.
His subsequent escape with the Pilot -PANTON and Gunner BENCE reads like a tale from a Biggles Book and took them on a train through a number of towns I will be passing through today. Boulogne, étaples and Berck Plage.
I had a fascinating conversation with the station master at  Rang du Fliers Station who explained which building were still original and what they were designated as in the 1940’s. It was at this station that Christie and Panton probably took their opportunity to escape.

Today's Route

14:15HRS.  11TH MAY 1940


6 German Messerschmitt Fighters (ME109° attack the Blenheim carrying PANTON, CHRISTIE and BENCE. Christie received a piece of shrapnel to his head and BENCE a serious leg injury. The resulting crash is credited to Leutnant Horst BRAXATOR who claims the aircraft was shot down over Overyssche (Overijse, Belgium) at 17:55. BRAXATOR was the Geschwaders first combat fatality since the outbreak of the war.

PANTON reports that they crash-landed near a large house just to the west of Hasselt, Belgium. Despite continued attacks from the ME109’s and considerable personal injury in the form of burns, PANTON managed to extricate CHRISTIE and BENCE from the aircraft. He loaded them into a Renault car that he had liberated from the nearby house and set off in the direction of Brussels in search of a hospital.


20:30HRS  11 MAY 1940


During the trip back CHRISTIE and BENCE are drifting in and out of consciousness. At one point they have to stop t let a large convoy of German troops pass.  By late afternoon they come upon a Squadron of British Army Officers, receive first aid, provide some intelligence to the OIC and continue in the direction of Leuven where they are told there is a RAMC (Royal Army Medical Corps) Casualty Clearing Station.

Without stopping they eventually join a long convoy of refugees, all heading in the direction of Brussels. At 20:30hrs the convoy is attacked by a Junkers 88 of the Luftwaffe. Eventually at 20:40 they come upon some more British Troops who tag them onto the rear of a convoy of Ambulances heading in the direction of the hospital in Brussels.

22:00 11 MAY 1940.


They eventually arrive at a civilian hospital in Brussels and despite initially being turned away they manage to get attended to. CHRISTIE and BENCE are put in a ward and eventually joined by the PANTON who falls asleep.

18TH MAY 1940


Thinking he had only closed his eyes for a few seconds PANTON awoke to find he had been asleep for 7 days. The Germans were advancing and in the late evening, they were taken to a Hospital Train to Amiens. CHRISTIE was semi-conscious, still heavily concussed and not fully aware of where he was or what he was doing. BENCE, on the other hand, was heavily sedated. PANTON had managed to put his uniform back on, CHRISTIE and BENCE were on stretchers.

The Escape Route


19TH MAY 1940


The progress of the train journey can be seen on the above Google Map.

Dawn – The train enters KORTRIJK in Belgium
Midday – Crosses the boarder into France.
Evening – Arrives in ST. OMAR

LATE MORNING 20TH MAY 1940


The train arrived near to  ÉTAPLES, the final stage of the journey as it approached Amiens. When they arrived PANTON saw an Ambulance and Crew of a Royal Army Medical Corps. He asked them to take him, CHRISTIE and BENCE to their base at BERCK PLAGE. They, of course, agreed but the commandant of the train refused to let them leave the train. Such was the tension in the situation, someone could have been shot if they had insisted.

As the train moved off PANTON saw CHRISTIE melting into the crowds. PANTON jumped from the train too, hiding in the station buildings and then making his way to the last remaining squadron base in France at CRÉCY.

PANTON never saw CHRISTIE again. he heard that he had been evacuated back to the UK and also that he was killed later in the war. In his book he describes CHRISTIE in the following words:

I liked him very much indeed. In all the long, sometimes testing hours we had spent together, he remained courteous, helpful and unruffled. There are not many like him.


BENCE had his leg amputated just below the thigh and was taken prisoner by the Germans. PANTON did meet up with BENCE again in 1982.

View from the Handlebars

ETAPLES MILITARY CEMETERY

Statistics and Route

Progress

Distance - 1099KM
Climbing 8067 metres
65 hours in the Saddle
  • Completed
  • To do

Where to Tomorrow?

The UK

Christie is believed to have returned to the UK via Dunkirk as part of Operation Dynamo

Hey - What about you?

Join the conversation.

I can thoroughly reckoned reading Six Weeks of Blenheim Summer if you want to know more about the frustration of being RAF Crew during this period of the war.
Don’t forget it’s never too late to help me help the IBCC tell stories just like this one – Just click on the DONATE button. Thank you.
Many thanks to MARTIN GRAHAM today for his donation of £50. Thank you

SOURCES:

The Bedford Triangle By Martin W Bowman. 2015 Pen & Sword Aviation.

https://valor.militarytimes.com

http://www.americanairmuseum.com

https://www.abmc.gov

http://www.uswarmemorials.org

This post is also available in: frFrançais

1 comment

  1. Passionnant le récit de l’évasion de Panton, Christie et Bence . Merci aussi pour ces belles photos. Pour les cyclistes : Le vélo spécial “gravel” semble être bien adapté à cet incroyable raid de notre ami Martin ??