is just a hamlet in rural Bedfordshire. Its inhabitants mostly work
on the land. And none of them knew it, but Tempsford held one of
the big secrets of the war.
that down a little side road marked "This road is closed to the
public" there was an R.A.F. Station. In the Anchor and the Wheatsheaf
they saw the R.A.F. Men. But that was all. They had no idea of
the job they were engaged on.
Names of the pilots and crews who did that job cannot yet be revealed
except for one. The late Group Captain P. C. Pickard, D.S.O. And
two bars, D.F.C., the famous "Target for Tonight" pilot.
When he left Bomber Command, Pickard commanded one of the two
"Special mission" squadrons which the R.A.F. Created as a link
with the underground movement in all occupied countries. He was
an expert in "pick up" flights.
The R.A.F. began this branch of its work immediately after the
collapse of France - with one flight of a bomber squadron of No.
3 Group. By March 1942 Tempsford was in operation, and finally
two special squadrons were being employed.
Tempsford they delivered arms, ammunition, radio sets, food and
other supplies to all the underground fighters from the Arctic
Circle of northern Norway to the Mediterranean shores of southern
big bombers - Whitleys first and then Stirlings and Halifaxes
they dropped their parachute containers. Every kind of supply
went down from skis and sleighs for the Norwegians to bicycles
and bicycle tyres- made in England but carefully camouflaged with
French names - to the resisters in Western Europe.
For three years the airfield, built over what had been a large
area of marsh, was the air centre of resistance movements of all
Europe. Night after night the villagers saw airplanes go off and
probably heard them droning back in the small hours. But they
never saw the people, men and women in civilian clothes, who were
driven down the prohibited road from the airfield, the men and
women who had been brought from Occupied France under the very
noses of the Wehrmacht and Gestapo.
were no secret devices to help this passenger service to operate.
The R.A.F. airplanes simply landed in France, picked up their
passengers and flew off again to Tempsford.
On other trips they dropped Czech, Polish and Dutch agents
in their own countries.
About 700 resistance leaders made the trip. Sometimes the
R.A.F. Brought back documents, maps and messages.
Not all the story can be told even now. There is still the
need for secrecy about how the great organisation was built
The romantic - and a hazardous - side of the job was flying
the old unarmed Lysanders and the bigger Hudsons to the secret
landing grounds in France guided only by the dim lights from
torches held by patriots. All the pick-ups were made in France.
One of the airmen who took part in the adventure said to-day:
"We had to have decent fields so we brought back men of the
resistance to teach them the sort of places to select and
what to do to help us land. Then we took them back again.
Others we brought back were trained in England as saboteurs
and dropped again in France.
HAD TO LIE"
French agent was caught by the Gestapo, who broke his feet
in torturing him. He managed to escape from them and we
picked him up and brought him back to England. He could
not, of course, make a parachute jump again but he insisted
on returning to France, so we took him over. He was a brave
secret it all was may be judged by this - said to me by
another of the pilots: "Even when high ranking officers
who were not in the know asked us about the work we were
doing we had to lie like old Harry. It was court martial
for anyone who breathed a word about the job. Not even
the mechanics knew about the passenger flights."