When Bill Knaggs retired at the age of 60, he moved to Stanley to spend the last 23 years of his life. Bill was shot down over Northern France in 1944, only one of two crew members of his Avro Lancaster bomber to survive; Knaggs not only survived the crash, he managed to reach safety with the help of the French Resistance.
Knaggs was the bomb aimer on RAF 106 Squadron Avro Lancaster LL975 (ZN-H) on a mission to bomb a V-1 Rocket construction site at Pommeréval, south of Dieppe, France, on the night of 24/25 June 1944. The weather was fine and 17 aircraft from the squadron had been tasked to join over 700 aircraft attacking seven V-1 flying bomb sites. All aircraft were airborne by 22.23 hours and the good visibility allowed for accurate bombing from a height of 6,500 feet to 9,000 feet. Each aircraft dropped 18 500 lb bombs, two of which were Delayed Action fused.
Anti-aircraft flak was heavy, but no night fighters were seen, or so it was reported. From the bomber force, five Lancasters failed to return including LL975 which crashed in the target area.
A Messerschmitt BF 110 attacked and badly damaged LL975, the crew were ordered to bale-out, however, only Knaggs and Bill McPhail managed to escape.
Knaggs landed safely, despite having managed to get onlybut one arm in the straps of his parachute. He had a heavy landing but was safe, for the moment. His next move was to avoid being captured. For six nights and seven days, he headed towards Rouen where he thought he might find help, all the time distancing himself from any search party that might have found his discarded parachute.
Eventually, he was taken in by the French Resistance (La Résistance) and found safe places to hide until the Allies, who had landed in Normandy on 6 June 1944, arrived. Troops arrived in Paris on 25 August 1944 and Bill met two Canadian officers the following morning in the village where he was been looked after.
Knaggs’ amazing story is told in full in a book, The Easy Trip, he wrote in 2001. It was published by Perth & Kinross Libraries, ISBN 0 905452 34 8.
The title of his book comes from the intelligence officer’s assessment at his flight briefing, he advised ‘ little anti-aircraft fire anticipated in the target area and no night fighter opposition expected, adding that it would be a short, easy trip’.
Knaggs was born in Edinburgh and passed away in Perth Royal Infirmary on 21 January 2008 at the age of 85.
Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson VC, DSO & Bar, DFC & Bar was commander of RAF 106 squadron at RAF Syerston, Nottinghamshire until he was posted 21 March 1943 to command the newly formed RAF 617 Squadron at RAF Scampton, better known as ‘The Dambusters’.
SQUADRON CRESTS AND MOTTOES OF THE R.A.F. (CH 9188) Original wartime caption: The following are crests and mottoes of various R.A.F. squadrons. (Picture issued 1943). No.CVI  Squadron : ‘PRO LIBERTATE’ – ‘For Freedon’. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205449007