Heroes Return Blog – Stories from Second World War veterans’ trips

Hero number 50,000

Former RAF bomber command navigator 91 year old Gordon Mellor was the 50,000th individual to benefit from the Heroes Return grant scheme

“As I stood in the darkness looking at the flames, I had the loneliest feeling of my life”

Gordon Mellor was awarded a Heroes Return 2 grant in December 2010 to fund the commemorative visit he made to pay his respects to those of the fabled Comète resistance group who helped him escape across Nazi occupied Belgium and France and over the Pyrenees into Spain.

The Comet Line was a route by which Allied soldiers and airmen were smuggled out of Belgium and France into neutral Spain and returned to Britain. Their journey usually began in Brussels where the men were fed, given civilian clothing and false identity papers. A network of people organised by a Belgium woman named Andrée de Jongh, who was 24 years old when she started the Comet Line, then guided them through France and over the Pyrenees by foot.

Serving with Bomber Command 103 Squadron, Gordon aged 22 was shot down in November 1942 while his Halifax bomber was returning from a raid over Germany.

“Returning from a short night raid over Aachen we were chased by a Messerschmitt 109. He cracked us four times on each set of engines and we started to hurtle down fast. I managed to bail out and crashed into a tree. The flight engineer came out behind me but his parachute failed and he hit a roof on the side of a house and was killed. I saw the plane burning in a field about 2km away. Inside were the pilot and rear gunner who hadn’t managed to get out. I got out of the tree, stuffing my parachute between the branches.

As I stood in the darkness looking at the flames I had the loneliest feeling of all my life – a desperate feeling of being completely alone. I decided I had to get away as quick as I could so started heading south west across the blackness.” Gordon was taken to a farmhouse and his long journey to freedom began. Dressed in civilian clothes, Gordon, now travelling with other allied escapees, was passed from one safe house to another as he made his way across Nazi-occupied France heading up towards the Pyrenees.

“As we passed through one town we boarded a tram and it was quite full so we stood on the platform,” Gordon says. “Suddenly a group of German soldiers got on and we were all squashed up together on the platform. Further along, five German officers got on, so we all had to squeeze up even more.

“After a while the officers got off and the soldiers gave them the Nazi salute. All we could do was just try to look as nonchalant as possible.

“Sometimes I was certain that we looked different and the local people must have spotted us, but if they did, they never showed it.”

Gordon’s long journey took him through Belgium, France, over the Pyrenees and then to Bilbao, Madrid and finally Gibraltar where he was once again kitted up in uniform and flown back to Britain in a Dakota.

When he returned to France to pay his respects to those who helped him escape to freedom, Gordon said, “It was like going back to meet old friends. The efforts of those people were amazing. They were just ordinary people yet so extraordinary.

“We can never pay back the debt we owe them.”

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