Lancaster Bomber W4127

Original Silver Gelatin photograph

16 x 21 cm

Stamped to reverse ‘Copyright this photograph must not be reproduced without the written permission of The Aeroplane.’

W4127, of Sqn 419 (RCAF) was lost on the night of 20/21 April 1944 whilst returning from a mission to bomb the railway yards at La Chappelle. Having taken off from Dunholme Lodge at 22.07 and completed its bombing raid, it was attacked by a night fighter, suffering a fire in one wing, crashing north of Paris. The yards were badly damaged by the bombing, the mission a success. Six of the crew were killed and are buried in Poix de la Somme churchyard, whilst one, Bob Hortie, evaded escape.

The Comet line – the escape line that took downed airmen to Spain whereby they could return to England – found it hard to operate with the destruction of rail and road infrastructure in the period leading up to D-Day and the invasion of Europe. Airey Neave of MI9 therefore set up three camps in isolated forests in Northern France where downed airmen could await the invading allied forces. The camps were supplied – and manned – by the allies through parachute drops. Hortie was one of 152 allied airmen to be in the camp at Fréteval – codenamed ‘Sherwood Camp’. Neave went to France in the middle of August, to Le Mans which was controlled by the Americans and was 75 miles from Sherwood Camp. The Americans distrusted Neave and refused to provide him with transport. He managed to come up with some trucks and buses, which – decked out with flowers and French flags and guarded by a civilians armed with rifles and a handful of SAS men – set out to Fréteval on 14 August 1944 returning the same day with 132 airmen. A further 20 were recovered the following day. Most returned to active service and 38 died before the end of the war. A souvenir from the camp is published here on the internet.

The camps were due to be set up by a team that included Belgian resistance member Michelle Dumon, who at the age of 22 (with an identity card that showed she was 16) had exfiltrated 250 airmen by this point. However she unmasked a German infiltrator into the Comet line just as the camps were being set up and was therefore sought by the Gestapo and had to flee to England. That seemingly simple journey of course meant a perilous journey across France to Spain, crossing the Pyrenees on foot, and being rescued by the RAF.

In this photograph L4127 is without its squadron letters, suggesting that it is fresh out of the factory at the time of the photograph.