|26/8/40||“Mr X”||F/Lt E.B. Fielden||Whitley III||Lt Lodo van Hamel, Royal Dutch Navy||Leiden||Netherlands||Completed|
|Pilot||F/Lt E. B. Fielden|
|2nd Pilot||Unknown, if any|
|Wireless Operator||Sgt David Bernard|
|Rear Gunner||Unknown, if any|
|Despatcher||S/Ldr D. Ross Shore, AFC|
|Agent||Lt. Lodo van Hamel|
F/Lt E.B. Fielden made a second attempt to drop Lodo van Hamel on the night of the 26-27th. Louis Strange was not on this sortie, but he wrote that Fielden:
shut his engines right off at 8,000 feet about four miles out at sea, glided right on to the D.Z. near Leiden without touching his engines, dropped Mr X down wind landing him twenty yards from the mark, and was away round Leiden and on his way back before the searchlight opened up on him.
If this account sounds a little glib, it’s still likely to have been essentially true. In any case Strange’s account is the only one there is. Louis Strange was not above embellishing an account to improve the narrative. His own life had been full of adventures, his accounts scarcely credible. Historians have tended to seize upon such irregularities — often, as here, in the cause of others — to cast doubt on the whole. Some may have found it galling to learn of evidence that proved its essential truth. Even allowing for Strange to have improved upon the facts — his narrative of the first attempt allows a morning air raid on North Weald that actually did not turn up until mid-afternoon, by which time he, Fielden and their now-unarmed Whitley were safely back at Ringway — his basic narrative is borne out by official records.
F/O J.A. ‘Tony’ O’Neill accompanied Fielden to North Weald on the second attempt. The Ringway ORB records that he flew to North Weald with Fielden on the 26th, and back the next day. But there’s no entry in his logbook to indicate he flew on the operational sortie, though he had recorded the first attempt on the 23rd and a short test-flight on the 26th. Whoever flew as Fielden’s Second Pilot, if he took one, has not been recorded.
S/Ldr Donald Ross Shore definitely flew on both attempts. Whereas his logbook records both Fielden and Strange as pilots for the first attempt, Shore noted only Fielden as pilot for the night of the 26th. This backs up the evidence in F/Lt O’Neill’s logbook that he did not fly the operation itself; the reason is not recorded. S/Ldr Shore recorded F/Lt Marsh as Navigator on both attempts, but he did not note Sgt Bernard as the Wireless Operator. In 2004 I interviewed Wing Commander David Bernard at his home. His memories, unassisted by his logbook which would have been impounded after his capture in 1941, dovetail with Louis Strange’s account of the successful attempt. At the time of my interview with David Bernard neither of us knew of the Ringway ORB record, or of Strange’s account. I later learned that Bernard had made a recording for the Imperial War Museum.
The date for van Hamel’s parachute drop has been generally assumed to have been the 28th, but the several items of evidence pointing to the night of the 26-27th is contemporary, and therefore most likely to be correct. I have no explanation for the discrepancy: I can only speculate that van Hamel may have lain low before getting in touch with his contacts, to ensure he hadn’t been followed after landing.
TNA AIR 20/2263: Operations Record Book, RAF Ringway.
RAF Museum, Hendon: Typescript for ‘More Recollections of an Airman’, Louis Strange’s unpublished second volume of memoirs.
Logbook: S/Ldr D. Ross Shore
Personal interviews: W/Cdr David Bernard, 2004.