Ardentes to Gibraltar
The Spanish authorities took us into custody at Jaca and put all of us in a
confinement cell. They told us they had notified the American Consulate in
Madrid of our presence in Spain.
The next day we were transported to Pamplona where we were promptly locked up, 4 of us in one cell and 4 in another. The jail reeked of urine and feces and the single toilet had no seat and was about as filthy as I had ever seen. The beds were also filthy and bug ridden. We were all fairly hungry as our last meal had been the C rations at noon the day before. When they finally did decide to bring us some food, it was just a bowl of swill not fit for pigs but it was eat it or starve.
By the 3rd day, we were all sick, with most of us having spells of vomiting and diarrhea. There was nothing we could do but lay on the beds and suffer through it. Lieutenant Brisstol tried to get the guard to do something to help us but his efforts were in vain as the guard seemed to care less about us. Language was also a barrier as no one in our group spoke any Spanish.
The days went from one to the other and after about a week, I was not sure what day it was. From all the markings on the wall inside the cell, many others before us had gone through the same experience, Lt. Brisstol was in the same cell as I was and I asked him about the date.
“Lieutenant, do you know what day this is?
“It’s Sunday, April 9th MacGregor.”
“I sure hope something happens soon Sir to get us out of here.”
“All of us want that. I’m sure the American Consulate in Madrid is working on getting us out as we speak. I imagine there is some sort of ‘payoff ‘that has to be made to Spain for taking such good care of us.”
“I had heard when I was in France that the Spanish Government was teetering on the fence line and at one point Franco thought very seriously about throwing in with the Germans”
“Yes, I heard the same thing. Let’s just hope that we can get moved to the south of Spain and then on to Gibraltar. The Brits have an airfield there and will in all probability fly us to England once we get there.”
“It can’t happen too soon to suit me.”
I seemed to be getting over the diarrhea but the stench of the jail cell was almost intolerable. The toilet would back up and overflow and there was no way to clean anything up. We tried to talk to the guard to at least give us some rags but he just laughed at us and called us American Pigs. I think it was the only English he knew. I started to keep track of the days by marking my own scratches on the jail wall. It was Thursday, the 13th when we heard a lot of commotion out towards the front of the jail and it was the arrival at last of the American Consulate to get us out. We were all herded into the back of truck and taken cross town to the train station in Pamplona. We were a pretty unsightly bunch with all of us needing shaved and cleaned up but it was a good feeling to finally be on our way. The consulate saw to it that we got some food before we boarded the train and it was the first time in over a week that my stomach was not growling.
The trip to Gibraltar was 700 miles and took us the better part of two days. We found out when we got to the very south of Spain that the train did not go into Gibraltar and we had to get off in La Linea which was just to the north of Gibraltar. There was a neutral zone there and we were picked up by British Forces and taken to the British base that had been set up near the airfield in Gibraltar. The best thing for most of us was being able to shower and shed some of the stench from the Spanish Jail in Pamplona.
It was wonderful to sit down at mess with the Brits that night as most of us still had hunger pangs from our ordeal. The following morning we were briefed by a Captain from the RAF who told us what to expect as far as our return to England. He said that this was a rather fortunate time for us because they were ferrying quite a few B-17 bombers from the Mediterranean to bases in England and that it would not take a very long period of time before we were able to get transportation back.
The lucky day arrived for me on April 16th. It was a Sunday and I was told to report to the RAF Headquarters for briefing. Once I got there, I was told that a B-17 Bomber flight was leaving for Molesworth, England at 0200 hours on April 17th and for me to be there on April 16th at 2400 hours to check in. I went back to the barracks and got my things ready. I was still carrying the bag that Menard had given me. It had brought me luck and I didn’t want to part with it. After throwing everything into the bag, I went to the mess hall and had dinner and after that back to the barracks. It was a long 6 hours from the time I finished eating until 2400 hours. I was so anxious to get going that I didn’t know what to do with myself. At 1130 hours, I could not wait any longer and grabbed my bag and made my way over to the air strip. When I arrived, I could make out the shape of the B-17 sitting there in the shadows of a hangar being readied for the flight. There was quite a bit of activity in that it was not a bombing mission but I knew that many things had to be checked out even so.
I was met by the navigator of the flight. His name was Roy Boggs and he told me I could go inside and get comfortable if I wanted. He said I was the only hitchhiker going to Molesworth and that there were some chutes just forward of the waist position. I climbed aboard and made my way to the waist position and found the chutes. Once I had that taken care of, I went forward so that I could see what was going on. I found out that it was about 1100 miles to Molesworth and our ETA was roughly 0900 hours. It was going to be about the same as flying from the base to Berlin and back in distance but this flight would all be out over the ocean except for that portion along the south of England.
We left Gibraltar right on time and for once I didn’t have a lump in my throat at the thought of going up. Once we reached altitude and leveled off, there was just the steady drone of the engines as made our way towards England. The navigator had set a course west, then due north, and then northeast to our destination. It was 0500 hours before we saw the first sign of morning light to the east. We sighted land at 0700 hours with our plane passing directly over Plymouth, England. It was less than two hours to the base now and it felt really good to once again be over England. I had no idea how good until we came on around for our final approach and I felt the wheels touchdown at Molesworth.