P/O Karel Valášek was serving as a pilot with 313 Sqn. when he was shot down in his Spitfire over France. His story of his evasion, capture and being a PoW is:
On the 21st of May 1944, I was shot down by German ground Anti-aircraft fire just as we finished our mission. Our mission that day was to clear and attack ground targets occupied by German military. First was Caen airfield, then German transportations (goods trains) and lorries in Gaumont. In short it meant ….Sweeping the roads in preparation for the invasion.
My ‘plane, Spitfire MK IX B reg. NN-B was was hit by a explosive shell, whilst we were flying at zero height, skimming the tree tops. My engine started to smoke, and lose power, so I was forced to crash-land in the woods below me. It was called Forêt de Cerisy in-between Saint-Lô and Balleroy.
I got out with just a few bruises, and made hasty depart from the site, because there was gun-firing rather close.
After 3 days on the run, I stopped a lady cyclist in a country lane to enquire about the amount of Germans in the area, and when she wanted to know why, I have told her, that I was an RAF escapee. She told me to hide there, and cycled back to a near-by village. In about three quarters of an hour later she came back with a man riding a horse and cart. They covered me with straw and potato sacks, and brought me to a farm, where I was met by three, slightly nervous men. They questioned me, fed me, and then locked me up in room in the loft. The following evening, I was brought down, and introduced to the Chief of the resistance in that area named Monsieur Pique.
I was welcomed and told, that they were in contact with the RAF, that they established my identity. With a recommendation for me to stay with them until we were liberated. (Originally, my plan was to make my way to Gibraltar to emulate my previous Flight Commander František Fajtl, who in 1942 returned to operational flying after 4 months from the day he went down in Northern France during Circus 157.)
I changed into civilian clothes and stayed with them. However, after the invasion started, and Allies advance halted for regrouping, the Germans were bringing reinforcements and actually arrived in to our place, which caused us (M. Le-Chartier, who was my host at the time, and myself) to scramble out through the back door.
I realised, that if I was captured there with them the Germans would shoot the lot of them including women and children. That was the normal procedure at that time.
After consultation with the Chief, I have decided to make my way across the front. On the 20th June 1944, M. Pique took me and two other men (Canadian soldiers who were avoiding capture by the Germans after the invasion) a considerable distance, risking his life if he was captured with us. He stayed until he had guided us across the road to Caen. There he had to leave us to find the rest of the way on our own.
We seemed to be heading in the right direction, but after about an hour, we were stopped by a German officer who appeared from a small path followed by German soldiers. He wanted to know who we were and what we were doing there. I told him we worked there. He ordered us to go through the back door into a nearby empty house, and left a soldier to stand guard over us outside the back door. As he was leaving I noticed that he was semi hiding, avoiding being seem from the lane, which was right in front of this house.
After a short time, we crept out, one by one through the front door into the lane opposite while the guard stood guarding the back door. The lane was heavily lined with thick hedges, which made it slightly easier to keep going.
Suddenly we heard the German soldier shouting, and that was the time we got separated. I jumped into a thick hedge on the opposite side field to hide.
Since we did not leave the house together I could not tell how the Canadians finally faired. Fortunately at that time the Germans did not follow us. I believe the Canadians may have been luckier because they were at the time ahead of me in the lane.
I stayed motionless until the evening, only to experience a heavy artillery bombardment of the zone by the Allies. It was very close and unpleasant.
After it became dark, I heard movements in the lane behind me, so I crawled across a field between dead animals, but then I discovered, rather too later that this was also mine field.
By then, I had no option, and carried on all night in what I thought was right direction.
At first light, I was approaching camouflaged possitiourand I crawled right up to the hedge. There I thought, that I have made it, but I held back making any noiset in case one of the soldiers on duty was trigger happy.
Then I was choked to hear one of the soldiers speaking in German.
By then it was full daylight. I could not back track, so I lay there until 7 a.m. when one of the Germans, while moving the barrel of his machine gun spotted my feet and pulled me down.
I was brought in front of a officer, who sent me to their field HQ guarded by three soldiers.
There an SS officer took over questioning me. He promptly declared me a spy and terrorist to be shot. The usual procedure – name, rank and number was to him totally irrelevant, because I was captured in a German position wearing civilian clothes.
They searched for my parachute, according to his assessment, it would. be impossible for me to come there unless somebody was previously hiding me there.
The following day, I was handed over to the Gestapo and moved to the dungeon in what used to be a fort tower Alencon where I spent ten days in a black cell with unpleasant bouts of interrogations.
I managed not divulge vitals, especially about my possible helpers, which seems to be at the time, their priority.
From there I was moved to Gestapo HQ in Avenue Foch, Paris, for further interrogations, commuting to Fressnes Prison. From there they moved us to a prison in Wiesbaden in Germany, and finally to a civilian prison in Mainz. By then there were about forty of us in civilian clothes.
At the end of August 1944, they were forced to evacuate our prison in what seems to be a great hurry at midnight. During our transportations we were always handcuffed to a chain and made to stand during our journey.
This time, they rushed us out of our cells, and handcuffed us twenty to a chain, without any particular order. It appeared to us, that they are going to carry out the threats, they have been promising to us all along.
Our column of twenty was the first out of prison rushed on the double to a rail station, led by our Gestapo Fuhrer with a gun in each hand. But, I think, he made a mistake when he brushed aside a directive by a German Field policeman to go to different part of the station, shouting that he had a batch of criminals to transport.
He led us to a platform where there was already a train load of prisoners of war. This was supervised by a high ranking German officer who was showing off in front of representative of the Red Cross.
He wanted to know who we were, and we shouted that ‘We are the R.A.F.’
There seems to be a great urgency to move everybody out, so they put us, still chained with with the other P.O.W’s on the same train for further investigation.
That brought us to Dulag Luft interrogation centre at, the beginning of September 1944 and handed over to the Luftwaffe.
Here I went through the same thing again, name, rank and serial number. Thinking of the long winded procedure I was about to go through again, I was knocked-off my feet by a interrogation officer who said “I know you where at Tangmere’ I nearly died when the German came out with this statement. But there was more to come. The Luftwaffe officer stated that he was also at Tangmere and that he was in the Royal Canadian Air Force there, up to 1941.
(To this day Karel says he does not know whether the German was bluffing or whether it was fact. But it was a horrible feeling.)
The date of my arrival and condition, still in civilian clothes to the P.O.W. camp is clearly visible on the photocopy of my ‘kreigsgefangenenkartei’ borrowed from the camp in 1945. This was the first time the Germans informed the International Red Cross of my existence. Eventually, we finished at Stalag Luft VII at Bankau, near Kluczbork, in Upper Silesia, Poland.
In January 1945, with Russians advancing, we evacuated this camp, and were marched 120 miles through Sagan – Wittenberg to Stalag III-A, near Luckenwalde, 30 miles South of Berlin.
Towards the end of April 1945, I left this camp with colleagues, and we reached the American lines. They flew us to Brussels, from there by train to Lille aerodrome and from there, by Lancaster bomber to England on 5 May 1945. On arrival to England we finished in 106 P.R.C. Centre at Cosford. The R.A.F. part of personnel Receiving Centre had my past records correct, including my promotion to P/O.
From there I traveled to the Air Ministry in London for de-briefing (I think it was section P5). There I have learned, that they did know roughly about our movements in France and Germany. Also during my de-briefing, the RAF Officer in charge, wanted to know all the details about people involved in helping me to avoid my capture. I have gladly given him the names of all, as far as I know, except one, and that was the name of the lady cyclist, who first delivered me into the resistance circle, and that is because I never knew her name.
>His final comment was ‘we are all deeply indebted to those brave patriots’
But when I enquired about some colleagues with whom I have shared cells in different prisons, I was told that those, who were tied to the second chain during the evacuation of Mainz prison, finished in a civilian concentration camp where they perished.
During my final interview at the Air Ministry, I learned was told, that in the situation like I was in, they did not give any information out, even when known, that I was alive and with the resistance, or in case of those, just captured wearing civilian clothes. That person was simply listed listed as missing, until there was positive news from the other side through the International Red Cross. In my case, this happened in October 1944.
During my crossing of the front line that night, I missed my freedom by only fifteen degrees. I discovered later, when the Germans were moving me around, that the front line at this point was shaped into almost a half circle.
Article last updated 5 February 2017