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Ted Hankey's Thirteen Days to Freedom

Once more we take a look back at one incident in the Operational Tour of one of our N.C.O. pilots, Flight Sergeant Ted Hankey (later Commissioned). 

Ted joined 3 Squadron at Sidi Haneish, Egypt, in November, 1942, and operated throughout the remainder of the North African Campaign from landing grounds in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia.  He continued on to Malta, Sicily and Italy, and finally wound up with the Squadron in October, 1943, after being engaged on various Fighter-Bomber duties.  Ted was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal.

Report of Escape by F/Sgt E. Hankey

Missing:     6 Oct 43                             Returned to Unit:   19 Oct 43

MEA0814
Foggia Airfield, Italy. c. September 1943.  Pilots of No. 3 (Kittyhawk) Squadron RAAF
 who are operating from an advanced airfield in Italy receiving instructions prior to take off. 
[AWM MEA0814]

On 6th October, 1943, I was a member of the Squadron formation which took off from Foggia Main to bomb and strafe petrol dumps in the Vanafro area.

When preparing to bomb, I was hit by A/A, and my aircraft began to burn.  Informed my leader whilst at 7,000ft that I was going to bale out, but was unable to do so until I had lost height to 1,000ft.  As my chute opened I saw my aircraft hit the ground and explode.

I landed in a ploughed field at N-2399, and was chased by four Germans for 200-odd yards, but eventually evaded them in the scrub in the hills nearby.

I walked south and met a 75-year-old Italian who spoke a little English, but was very suspicious of my being a British airman.  By naming in English the various objects and animals as we went, I finally allayed his suspicions.  During the next two days he advised me of the searching Germans' movements, and shifted me to a safe spot at least five or six times a day.  During the whole of my stay with him, although I had my emergency ration with me, he fed me on rice, grapes, bread, cow's milk, wine and sometimes a raw egg.

It rained consistently for the first five days, and the fourth night he took me into the barn to sleep with three other families, a cow, and a mule - some team!  Their house had been taken over by the Germans.  During the day I was kept in the open scouting around, and saw many Germans, but kept well out of their way.

I made several efforts to leave during the following four days, but the Italian was insistent that I stay with him as the risk of getting through was too great and the Americans were too far away.  On the sixth day I did eventually leave his protection without his knowledge and headed for the German lines on the western side of the hills.  On the way I thought that the Americans were in a town, so walked in swinging a stick.  On finding them to be "Jerries" I did a smart about turn, trying to control my pace as I walked out.  Returned to my friend that evening very much discouraged, but did not tell him what I had done, because he would probably put me in a straight-jacket to hold me.

During the night the nearby village was heavily shelled, and we evacuated the barn and went to the hills, enabling me to make another attempt to get through the lines.  Leaving at 4 a.m., I managed to reach the German front line at about 0930 and found it impossible to get through, so hid out in some bushes in their rear. Two Germans set up a machinegun post in front of me, and, until 1715 I was lying behind these bushes.  While the Americans were shelling the position, one of the machine gunners was wounded.  The shelling was very accurate.  During the next hour I covered about half a mile by moving east, getting between barns used by the German relieving troops as mess huts.

On reaching the Americans it took quite a time to convince them that I was an Australian.  At first they escorted me everywhere, but fortunately, did eventually believe me.

I was able, through my scouting through the hills and my journey forward through our lines, to give the American 5th Army Intelligence Officer considerable information on gun and troop positions, M/T movement, etc.

I did not give my Italian friend any "chit", but had promised him previously that I would visit him after we had passed his home, and intend to do so. While I was there he was my bodyguard with a shotgun, and there was not a thing that I needed and he could give which was not offered me.  In fact he had his own little scouting parties at night time, the score being four good Germans to his credit.

The Italians appear to be sent into the hills from the villages while the Germans occupy the houses, the Germans knowing that the British will not bomb villages or towns.

MEA0853
Foggia, Italy. c. October 1943. Informal portrait of Flight Sergeant Ted Hankey of
No. 3 (Kittyhawk) Squadron RAAF.  He was shot down over enemy territory
and returned to the Squadron thirteen days later, on 19 October, he had many
 narrow escapes from being captured by the Hun, after he returned he found out
 he had been awarded the DFM on the day after he had been reported missing. 
 [AWM MEA0853]

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