A Truly Great Escape
Two members of the 6th Armoured Division, Captain Edward Clark Assistant Division Engineer and 1st Lt. George C Haas, an aerial observer with the 231st Armoured Field Artillery Battalion, were both captured in the region of Brittany early August 1944 and taken to St Malo by the Germans. They were brought by boat to Jersey to avoid falling back in to allied hands. Haas, from Mt Kisco, New York, was captured near Dol near Dinan when his Piper L-4 plane piloted by 1st Lt. John Townley, was shot down by 20mm Flak. Townley was hurt so badly by a shell fragment and the crash that he died an hour later in a German ambulance. Haas was hit by flak and in crashing he’s left leg was broken just above the ankle. When German Ground troops came on the scene firing, one round struck Haas just an inch above his first wound, causing another break. Following treatment on his leg the Lieutenant was taken to a hospital in St Malo, then Still in German hands. Haas and other American prisoners were placed on trucks the next day, enroute to Brest, but when Germans could not reach that point because of advancing American forces, they returned to St Malo. Taken to Jersey on August the 4th 1944 Haas was placed aboard a German minesweeper and taken to Jersey, being placed in the care of the Military Hospital. Clark, whose home was in San Benito Texas, was in the Dinan area on August the 2nd in search of a water point for the division. He and his driver were surrounded by Germans firing small arms and throwing hand grenades forcing them to surrender. Unhurt the two were taken to St Malo and then to Jersey by boat.
Piper L-4 Plane
RAF Aerial photo of the Allied P.O.W Camp (centre left), April 1945
They made their way through Harve des Pas and followed the 60cm gauge railway only changing the route slightly to avoid gun positions. The first property George and Ed visited was ‘Saltaugh Samarès’, this was about a few miles east of the camp. The house belonged to the Laurens family and the Americans arrived there at 8am. The family provided George and Ed with tea and scones. Both noticed that their presence was causing some alarm and decided to shelter in the rough. They dug a slit trench about half a mile from the house and camouflaged it with brambles and leafs. They lived in the trench for a few days during which the weather turned to rain, sleet then snow. Relief was provided by the Laurens who left warm food and clothes at a prearranged point close to their house.
Proclamation Courtesy of Jersey Heritage
With the success of the first memorised address the escapees pushed on and continued east. The pair used the inner roads to get to the area known as Fauvic. The next stop for them was to be at a property called “East Lynne” owned by Deputy Wilfred (Bill) Bertram. Bill, who served in the First World war as a Corporal in the 24th Battalion Canadian Expeditionary Force, welcomed the two Americans in to his home as old friends. They were introduced to two elderly female relatives, his brother Charley and John Bertram, a nephew from Canada who had become trapped on Jersey at the Start of the Occupation. Ed and George were given warm milk, fried ggs and potatoes and offered beds. The Americans declined the offer as they had been alerted to the fact that the Germans had threatened death to any islanders that assisted them. Bill gave the two blankets and took them to a large hay stack close to his property. The early before sunrise the next morning Bill took them to a property known as “Mon Repos” which he had been given the key to from Alexander Woodrow. Alexander, who was not born in Jersey and had been a Captain in the British Army, was deported to Germany in 1942 and had left a key with the Bertram family prior to being deported. After discussion, it was agreed to force a window at Mon Repos to make sure if they got discovered nothing would lead back to Bill and his Family. George and Ed over the next few days would sleep during the day and in the evenings, visited Bill they all listened to nightly BBC news broadcasts and he offered them more warm food and drinks. Bill and his friends desperately looked for a small boat to get the Americans back to France. Bill and his family had already assisted with multiple escapes from the Island but on this occasion the Germans had been searching and checking that all small boats where secure for fear the Americans would try to leave the island.
Above the rough Route the George and Ed Followed.
Ed and George decided they had imposed enough on the Bertrams and feared Bill would get caught hunting for a boat. They discussed surrender but instead decided to try their luck at Gorey Harbour which was very close to their location. In the dark of night, the American officers followed the costal path to Gorey, they encountered a large bungalow blocking the walk and slip down from the seawall to the beach. They then waded to a rowboat. When they ascertained the weather was too rough, they found a beached German trawler and sheltered in its wheel house until conditions improved. At the break of dawn, they started observing the harbour, they soon realised the bungalow was a well camouflaged bunker! and the harbour was a busy strongpoint of German activity. They kept their heads down and watched the patterns of the patrols and German activity.
The bungalow was in fact a type 626 bunker making part of Wn Hafen Gorey
On the 19th of January 1945, they took the rowing boat, and floated out the harbour dodging the ever-present German combat patrols. When they reached the channel, however, the wind climbed to an estimated 60 miles an hour, and waves mounted 30 to 40 feet. This was in some way helpful as all the German Naval craft were kept inshore. The oars for the 12-foot boat didn’t do a great deal of good in that type of sea, but with Ed’s skilful navigating and George’s energetic bailing with a pump, they kept afloat. Snowfall cut visibility to zero for many hours of the row. Sighting land at daybreak, they paddled for three more hours until they came ashore near Coutance. Just before striking land they were fired on by a cavalry patrol, causing them some uncertainty as to what coast they were landing on. When they saw that it was Americans, they were greatly relieved to be safely back on their own lines again after 14 hours afloat.
Above is an extract of the US Armys War Diary on the 20th of January 1945