PHILLIPS, Donald Leslie, Sergeant (545177), later Flight Lieutenant – No. 150 Squadron – Military Medal – awarded as per London Gazette dated 7 March 1941. From Spink catalogue 30 November 1999. Recommendation states:

"‘Sergeant Philips was the Wireless Operator of an aircraft that was shot down after bombing a German convoy near Vernon on 13.6.1940. He was captured by the enemy and taken to hospital and interrogated but refused to give information. After a stay of about three weeks, he was transported to the Prison Camp at Doullens where he was compelled to perform heavy tasks. A month later, Sergeant Phillips escaped with a soldier. This was accomplished by the aid of a rope, which they had collected in odd pieces and tied together to a tree, and by sliding down a 60-foot wall which was unguarded. Donning a civilian jacket which had hidden under his tunic, Sergeant Phillips and his comrade, who was already in civilian clothes, walked past the prison while being watched by a German guard through binoculars. They hid in the wood until it was dark, and then with the help of a non-luminous compass and a map of ‘present-day’ France, they decided to make for Spain and made their way across country avoiding all big towns. As the bridges across the Somme were well guarded, Sergeant Phillips and his comrade swam the river. They subsequently crossed the Oise by ferry, assisted by a Frenchman, and afterwards a German soldier rowed them across the Marne.

“After crossing the frontier among a herd of cows, they found the population of Occupied France very helpful and willing to supply food. By lorry, Sergeant Phillips and his companion reached Sennecy where they obtained from the Military Bureau railway tickets to Lyons. There they reported to the Military authorities and were put in prison. Changing prison camps twice, they eventually contacted a Frenchman who drove them together with an Army Officer, to Lyons. Here they proceeded by train to Perpignan and then walked across country. On reaching the frontier, about midnight, they were shot at and the Army Captain was last seen dashing into a vineyard, when Sergeant Philips and his comrade made for some woods. They then made their way over the mountains where they wandered for two days, eventually arriving at a Spanish farm. Here they were given food and shelter for the night. Soon after leaving the farm, they were captured by the Spanish authorities and for about two months remained in different prisons, eventually being released and reaching England via Gibraltar on 4.12.1940”.

Flight Lieutenant Donald Leslie Phillips, M.M., was born in March 1920 and entered the R.A.F. a year or two before the outbreak of hostilities, aged 18 years. Posted as a Wireless Operator and Air Gunner to No. 150 Squadron in France in September 1939, his aircraft was twice forced down by enemy action prior to the incident which led to his capture.

On 13.6.1940, while based at Haussay, his crew was detailed to attack enemy troop concentrations in the Seine area. Operating in one of the Squadron’s Fairey Battles, their target was located and attacked but on the return trip five Me. 109s swept into the attack. Phillips takes up the story in Alan Cooper’s Free to Fight Again.

‘They started diving on our tail in line astern attacks while I kept up a continuous fire with the rear-gun and Sergeant Berry handed me full pans of ammunition… One of the 109s came in to finish us off and fired at us with his cannon. He hit the main plane and blew away the camera hatch. He apparently thought we were out of action but came in to about 30 yards range and turned off. This gave me a point-blank view of the 109’s belly and I gave it a long burst. The machine caught fire, turned over and dived into the ground. Meanwhile, we were already on fire at the petrol tanks and were almost hitting the ground. Pilot Officer Gully seemed to be trying to be levelling out, but couldn’t and we crashed into a field and bounced into another one. Sergeant Berry and myself were temporarily unconscious and, when we came round, the whole aircraft was on fire. We got out and tried to get to the pilot, but we couldn’t as the aircraft was burning too much’.

Shortly afterwards, Phillips and Berry were surrounded by Germans with machine-guns and compelled to surrender. Taken to Vernon Hospital for treatment to his burns, Phillips lost touch with Berry and endured an interview with a Gestapo officer prior to being moved to another hospital… Eventually incarcerated in grim surroundings that constituted Doullens Prison – six were crammed into each eight foot by six foot cell – they were employed on heavy lifting work. Meeting up with Private Witton, King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, a fellow inmate with similar ambitions of escape, Phillips made a successful break out with his comrade on the night of 22.7.1940 and, as related above, eventually reached Spain. ‘Exhausted and in tatters’, the intrepid duo had to endure further hardships at the hands of the Spanish authorities, including a stint in the cells of the concentration camp at Miranda de Ebro, near Burgos. At length, the British Embassy secured their release and they arrived in Gibraltar on November 1940.

Rejoining No. 150 Squadron, following a series of lectures of R.A.F. personnel on his experiences behind enemy lines, Phillips was from time to time seconded for ‘special duties’ with No. 138 Squadron at Tempsford, one of two units charged with supply and support of S.O.E. operatives in Occupied Europe. As a Wireless Operator, he apparently helped check and fit the crystals in the departing agents’ transceivers. Following service with No. 150 in Italy, he was commissioned in August 1943 and finally retired from the Engineering Branch of the R.A.F. in September 1954.