On this Day in…

R.A.F. Harassing Italians

Mussolini’s Desert Problems

8th of October 1940

British in Egypt

The RAF has pursued its harassing of the Italians in Egypt with a bomber attack on a motor transport concentration and army tents near Sidi Barrani. Sidi Barrani is the farthest point attained by the Italians in last months advance into Egypt, and it is from their that they will probably launch the expected desert blitzkrieg.

Extensive reconnaissance flights are also being carried out over enemy territory by the British Air Force. Careful watch is being kept on Italian preparations which are though to require a least another couple of weeks.

Tank Chief is Crash Victim

8th of October 1941

Major General Pope

Major General V. V. Pope, Brigadier H. E. Russell, and Colonel E. S. Unwin have been killed in a flying accident in the Middle East it was reported in London.

Major General Pope who was fifty years of age was one of Britain’s best-known tank officers and was the first military member of the tank board.

He served in France, Belgium, and Russia from September 1914 to the end of the Great War, winning the Military Cross and the DSO, was mentioned seven times in despatches and rose to command a battalion on the North Staffs Regiment.

They Dodged Hun for 1,600 Miles

8th of October 1942

Sgt Louis Massey

Escaping from a Nazi prison camp in France, two British soldiers reported missing after Dunkirk walked 1,600 miles in bitter weather through Belgium, Holland, Germany, and Poland to reach safety in Russia. Most of the time they were dodging Nazis, and for long spells they lived on berries, mushrooms and grass; anything they could find in the woods and fields.

It was only when a Russian recently arrived in this country, called at a London house that the parents of one of the men who made the trek knew that their son, Sergeant Louis Massey, 35, was alive and safe. He is now working at the British Embassy in Moscow and has recently been awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

5th Mass for Volturno River Battle

8th of October 1943

Bernard Montgomery

The armies of Clark and Kesselring face each other this morning across the 150ft wide waters of the Volturno River, 100 miles from Rome. Along a seventeen mile stretch from Capua to the sea the 5th Army is massing on the southern bank of this distant moat before Rome. Kesselring is hastily manning his defences on the north bank.

On the Adriatic coast too the Germans have suffered another reverse. General Montgomery, after beating back many counter attacks by Tiger tanks and Infantry at Termoli, launched a brilliant assault which carried his troops to some high ground.

Sergeant Louis Massey: The Great Escape

There are many stories of daring escapes from Nazi prisoner of war camps during World War Two, but the story of Sergeant Louis Massey, 35, of the Royal Army Service Corps and is particularly impressive. Captured during the retreat of the British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk, Sergeant Massey was sent to a German prisoner of war camp in France. In December Massey managed to give his guards the slip and escape from the camp. Trapped in occupied France with only the clothes on his back, Massey set off in Bitter December weather on an epic 1,600 mile journey.

Sgt Massey (R) with a Russian Soldier in Moscow

Hiding where he could during the day Massey only travelled at night in an attempt to avoid German patrols. He was almost constantly starving an ate what berries and mushrooms he could find in fields and woods, plus the occasional bit of food that sympathetic locals could spare from their own meagre rations he managed somehow to make his way through Belgium, Holland and Germany, eventually reaching Poland were he managed to befriend some locals who helped him to cross the Russian border.

The ordeal did not end there though. With no papers to identify him and corroborate his story he was arrested as a spy and sent to a Russian Jail until June 1941 when the Germans crossed the Soviet border and the British Embassy in Moscow stepped in to get Massey released. On his release he linked up with the British Military Mission as he felt his experience in the RASC would be useful. He spent his time organising the transport of supplies and equipment until it was time for him to return home, a journey that took him through Persia, India, Africa eventually taking him home to Hampstead.

Evacuation of the BEF from Dunkirk

For his efforts in escaping captivity and trekking 1,600 miles to safety, Sergeant Massey was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal which he received from the King in an investiture at Buckingham Palace. Following the ceremony Sergeant Massey told the press that “The King, who seemed very familiar with my adventures, congratulated me on my safe return”