Sgt C E L Hare and crew - The Late Arrivals by David Fell
Sgt C E L Hare RCAF and crew.
Christopher E L Hare. Born in Montreal. Office clerk prior to enlistment. Enlisted in Toronto, 22 April 1940. Pilot training in Canada and to the UK Feb 41. 12 OTU Benson and posted to 103 Sqn in the May 41.
He flew seven ops as a co-pilot on Wellingtons and then 12 operations as captain of his own crew which consisted of :-
Sgt C E L Hare RCAF (pilot and captain)
Flying Officer C D R Chappell RCAF.
Sergeant Shirra RAF.
Flight Sergeant Warwick RAF.
Sergeant Jones RAF.
They were transferred to 458 Sq. at Holme on Spalding Moor in Sept 41 and are thought to have completed another 18 ops at least. They were then transferred to Malta with that unit in March 42 and to 37 Sq. in July 42.
At this point they were joined by Sgt Alex Barras RAAF as co-pilot. At the end of that month, on a raid to Tobruk, they were compelled to force land behind enemy lines after suffering mechanical problems. The starboard engine was running rough and the oil temperature rose alarmingly and it quickly seized. Hare bombed Tobruk airfield and the crew jettisoned all guns ammunition and any loose equipment in an effort to get back home. However a force landing was inevitable and Hare found a suitable area and turned the aircraft into wind to make an excellent landing. They were 20 miles south of Tobruk. A long walk home. 350 miles.
Sensitive equipment and confidential papers were destroyed. They had no emergency rations except that which was in the dinghy. This was collected along with the 8 gallon water tank, navigation equipment and the aircraft ladder which was used to carry the water tank in a sling.
They made a plan and marched at night in 3 pairs. One pair carried the water tank suspended from the ladder, one pair carried the other rations and equipment and the remaining pair walked unhampered. They rotated duties every hour and covered about 12 to 15 miles per night.
After 4 days they were be coming very weak but found an abandoned British camp which afford much needed shelter from the extreme day time sun.
In an effort to find more water they headed north but were warned by a friendly Arab of German and Italians in the area. He brought them food - biscuits and rice and directed them to a safe well where they replenished their water supply. Here they rested for a night before continuing their march. They made good progress over the next three nights but efforts to find more water were thwarted as all the wells were dry.
On the tenth day they were on the coast road near an Italian camp but were unable to replenish their water supply. By this time they were living off one cup of water and one Horlicks tablet a day.
They pushed eastwards and came across an Italian camp. In an effort to get water they planned to drain the radiator of a parked truck. They were spotted and challenged. Hare and Chappell were captured. Barras took command of the party and they headed south east.
They were in an area of considerable enemy activity and kept walking even through the day. They feared they were lost. After two more day/night marches they collapsed exhausted at dawn and fell asleep.
They were woken by two Arab shepherds who brought food and took them to their camp where the airmen were treated with great hospitality. Their hosts directed them to the next Arab camp which they reached in two days. Blistered and bleeding feet were now a serious problem.
Here they again enjoyed great hospitality were fed and provided with a camel, Arab robes and a 16 gallon water tank to continue their journey. Two guides accompanied them. The airmen gave them all the Egyptian money they had. The Senussi Arabs were very much pro British and would help downed airmen at great risk to themselves.
They headed south for 20 miles and then east travelling by night. The Arab food proved rather hard to digest and a couple suffered stomach troubles. Foot problems were also causing difficulties. In spite of this they made a good 20 miles a night.
They camped near at Bir Abu El Heiran near some abandoned British trucks and found water plus a rifle and some ammunition. A party of Italians arrived to scavenge parts from the trucks and the airmen were spotted. There was some firing but the they hid in a burnt out truck some distance away. The Italians seem to lose interest at this point. That night they put in another 20 miles march. They were able to make good progress as the terrain was much easier and were careful to avoid the considerable enemy activity they encountered.
On the 22nd day of their ordeal, after an epic 350 mile march, they were at last safe when they made contact with a reconnaissance patrol of the 11th Hussars.
The official report into their evasion details the grit and determination of the 4 airmen which was worthy of the highest praise. Alex Barras was singled out in particular comment having taken over leadership of the party when Hare and Chappell were captured. He was awarded a Military Medal. On being posted to the Middle East he had taken the trouble to learn some Arabic which later proved invaluable in communicating with their Arab helpers.
Meanwhile, following their capture, Hare and Chappell were handed over to the Germans. They refused to co-operate during interrogation. Hare records that, as a punishment, the Germans handed them back to the Italians !
They were both POW at Bari and Sulmona in Italy and escaped in Sept 43 reaching Allied lines in Oct. Hare was awarded a Mention in Dispatches.
Hare returned to the UK and was assigned Central Gunnery School. In Oct 44 he was posted to 150 Sqn as a Flight Commander where he flew a further 18 sorties. He distinguished himself with his determination and steadfast resolution against the enemy, setting a very fine example to the pilots in his flight. On completion of his tour he was awarded a well deserved DFC.
Post war Hare continued in service with the RCAF and was awarded the AFC in 1951. In the late 50s he was promoted CO of 414 Sq. and killed in a CF-100 crash in North Bay. He had a total of around 5000 hours flying at that time. DF.
Written by David Fell. Note. Thanks to Chris Pointon and Hugh Halliday for the info about Hare. Also Graham Pitchfork for the desert evasion account from his book Shot Down and on the Run.