Group Captain Bill Randle (RAF) MBE, OBE, DFM, AFC. AM

GR Cpt Bill Randell MBE OBE CBE DFM AFC AM

On the night of 16 September 1942 Wellington bomber pilot, Bill Randle, took off on his 19th operation.

Whilst crossing the Dutch coast at 21,000 feet the Wellington was hit by anti-aircraft fire but despite the damage Randle continued to the target where they again came under intense ground fire.

After bombing the target in Essen Germany, the Wellington was hit by flak and the port engine failed and as the aircraft became increasingly difficult to control and was quickly losing height Randle ordered the crew to bailout.

Randle landed in a tree near the German-Belgium border and after freeing himself from the tangled parachute he headed for the coast and travelled by night and hid during the day. After coming across a patriotic farmer, he was warned the coast was heavily defended so decided to make his way south.

During a train journey to Namur, he realised without identity papers he was unlikely to escape so decided to walk towards France.

Randle was then fortunate to come across an elderly man who was also a patriot who arranged for him to be hidden by monks for ten days. It was said Randle was passed to the Belgium Resistance; in fact, he was passed to the Comet Escape line which for security reasons was separate from the Resistance.

After being interrogated to ensure he was not a German infiltrator and his story confirmed by London through their wireless link Randle was given clothes and false identity papers identifying him as a Flemish commercial traveller. Guides then took him to Brussels where he was reunited with two of his crew who were also being helped by members of Comet.

comete andree de jongh

The crew were kept in a safehouse before the escape line organiser 26-year-old Andree de Jongh (cover name Dedee) escorted them to Paris. After two days in a Paris safehouse a young girl escorted them by train to St Jean de Luz where they dressed as Basque farm labourers. Dedee     then re-joined the airmen and with a local guide they quietly walked along narrow forest paths during the night whilst avoiding German patrols. After crossing the river Bidassoa into Spain Dedee briefly left the group and returned with a taxi and took them to the British consul in San Sebastian.

Randle had been on the run for 55 days; Dedee was eventually betrayed but survived Ravensbrûck concentration camp and after the war was awarded the GM (George Medal) for her work on the escape line during which she was responsible for rescuing over 300 allied air crews.

Alan Malcher